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Croatian vacation

23 Sep
Trsteno Arboretum

Trsteno Arboretum

I’ve just returned from a beautiful place. You can see it in the photo. The morning after my return from Croatia, as I walked through the cold, windy streets of San Francisco to work, I could still see that brilliant blue sea in my mind. I hadn’t gazed upon it since leaving the coastal city of Split several days prior. My Mom and I had a long trek home- Friday heading north to the Croatian capital, Saturday west to Paris, and Sunday morning we left Paris, and after 12 hours in suspended animation, we were in San Francisco, technically only 2 hours after we’d left Western Europe that same morning.

The details from the last days of our trip are more in focus than those from our earliest days. When asked to talk about Croatia, I initially felt unprepared. Which was my favorite place in Croatia? I wasn’t sure I had a favorite. Would I go back? No. I loved the country, but I feel like I have seen it now, so I don’t need to see it again. I did love the country, more and more each day, so that as our plane departed Zagreb, I felt a twinge of sadness. I knew I was leaving an enchanted little place I’d likely never see again.

Why do I love Croatia? What were my impressions? Why did I even go? I admit some embarrassment over my initial interest in Croatia. It’s because I learned that many of the most scenic parts of Game of Thrones are filmed there. That was what lit the spark for me and prompted me to learn more about the country. I wanted to travel to Europe this year, but somewhere in Europe I’d never been. Northern Europe? I wasn’t particularly interested in the efficient countries of Scandinavia. I didn’t want frigid waters. I wanted the blue Mediterranean, terra cotta roofs, medieval lanes. Including Zagreb in the itinerary would give me the taste of Central Europe I craved. I bought Lonely Planet Croatia. I had the whole summer to plan, and research, and daydream.

Walking the streets of Zagreb on our first night, I felt giddy. Back in Europe for the first time in six years, I strolled among street vendors selling roasted chestnuts, musicians playing traditional tunes, students at bars, families with babies. We witnessed people in a beautiful, peaceful city halfway around the world living their lives, one of the joys of travel. And then, the next day, we headed to Dubrovnik, the walled city jutting out into the Adriatic that I had been envisioning for so long.

The physical setting around Dubrovnik is breathtaking. Shimmering blue ocean dotted with islands; my Mom and I had to take a 15 minute bus ride from our hotel into the Old Town every day, and we’ve both confessed that that scenic ride, rumbling past beaches and resorts and banks and supermarkets and sweeping ocean views, was one of the highlights of Dubrovnik for us. Seeing how locals live amidst the beauty of that town. It was also nice to get this window into local life before entering Old Town Dubrovnik which, while picturesque and lovely, was very, very touristy. Not many locals live there any more, both due to high rents and the fact that no one would want to live in a place that was all souvenir shops and mediocre pizzerias and bumbling tourists toting cameras. I focused on the beauty of the place- the many alleys, the stone carvings etched into the sides of ancient churches, the evening light over the cobblestones.

Next we headed north to Split, the second biggest city in Croatia and the major hub of the Dalmatian coast. I was curious to experience Diocletian’s Palace, the ancient heart of the city and one of the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhoods in the world. For three days and four nights we made our corner of Diocletian’s Palace our home, greeting the restaurateurs and shopkeepers with “Dobar Dan”, the Croatian “Good Afternoon” which we heard so often during our stay. We marveled at the confluence of Egyptian, Greek and Roman influence in the quarter, we strolled along the Riva, the city’s waterfront promenade, watching the passing scene, playing “Tourist or local?” as we peoplewatched. We took a day trip to the mountains and traipsed around the Upper Lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is studded with turquoise lakes and rushing waterfalls. We ate local prosciutto, local cheese, drank local wine. Those last days in Split were languid and low-key. I smell the sulphur of the main harbor (this is supposedly what drew Diocletian to the city), I hear the commotion of people walking by under our window early in the morning. I recall the warmth and humor of the woman who owned a restaurant near our hotel- I had a wonderful lunch there our first day, and we chatted with her for the rest of our time in Split.

For after all, a country is more than its castles and churches and museums and national parks. The impressions that last, the memories that linger after we fly home, are the people we meet. So yes, I think of the owner of that restaurant. I think of Marija, the bubbly young Dubrovnik local who lead our Game of Thrones tour (from which the photo above was taken). I think of Bari, our guide through Plitvice Lakes, and his wry sense of humor and easy smile. I think of Dabor, the Zagreb native who drove us from Split to Zagreb and shared with us stories about life in Croatia and discussed the travails of raising a teenage daughter. Towards the end of our trip to Plitvice Lakes, Bari gave us some parting tips for enjoying the rest of our stay in Croatia and humbly asked us to “tell people back home about our country”. The Croatians that I met were proud people who were happy to share their lovely country with us, and I think they’re pleased that the country’s profile has been elevated so much in recent years. Mentioning their national soccer team doesn’t hurt either. All in all, I took home wonderful memories from the jewel of the Adriatic. Hvala, Croatia.

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Going Viral

8 Jul

I wrote a viral post on this blog years ago about the encroachment of social media on our very minds- the notion that we were beginning to mold our thoughts and observations according to what would garner the most likes once shared. The whole post, now that I reread it, seems quaint- it was before I owned a smartphone, when I would wait to get home to log in to Facebook from my laptop. Now, social media apps are a click away, in our purses, pockets, and within reach at all times. You can share your thoughts, your photos, your life as it unfolds. You can even share other people’s lives as they unfold. Who needs privacy when real life drama is all around you?

I refer of course to the viral hit of a few days ago, known as planebae. A woman and her boyfriend sat behind two attractive strangers on a plane and livetweeted their flirtation to an audience of thousands. People loved the story- who hasn’t wished to sit next to the love of their lives on a plane- and it blew up. I admit, I followed it. And then, I felt guilty. When I heard that the “pretty plane girl” was refusing to go public with her identity, I thought, good for her! She didn’t ask for her private conversation to go very public. And now, her wish for privacy has been violated, since some committed internet sleuths have doxxed her, and she’s shut down all of her social media accounts.

It seems that to some young, extremely online people, life is one big Instagram story. Pics or it didn’t happen. We’ve all gleefully agreed to make ourselves famous for 15 minutes, or try. Add the filter to your selfie that will get you to 1,000 followers, to 1000 likes. Each new notification from social media is like a little hit of dopamine. I’m liked. I’m loved. More, more. I don’t think the woman who livetweeted the budding plane romance did so maliciously. But she did so without any concern to the privacy of those two people. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I would not want my private moments unknowingly shared with thousands. Yes, there is face recognition technology out there that captures us virtually anywhere we go. Hackers across the globe can monitor your actions online keystroke by keystroke. Is it too much to ask that we have some privacy when we’re in public spaces? Or will our lives inevitably become someone else’s content? If your dream is to end up on Today and Good Morning America, super. If not, brace yourself.

 

 

They let it happen

8 Feb

Donald Trump is our President. It seems incredible, surreal, like a bad joke the cosmos are playing on us. Is the reality show guy, the guy from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, actually sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office occupied by Barack Obama just 18 days ago? Life in America right now is so maddening that I, someone who lives firmly outside of the right-wing bubble, have to ask, how on Earth did we get here?

I keep going back to Reince Priebus. Spineless little worm Reince Priebus. He was the nominal leader of the Republican Party. Reince Priebus never discouraged Donald Trump from running for the Republican nomination. Once he began winning elections, Reince Priebus didn’t pull Trump aside and ask him to drop out for the good of the party. He didn’t ask Trump to tone it down once his rallies became ugly and violent. Throughout the long primary and then general election campaigns, the man in charge of the Republicans let Trump highjack the party, foregoing the good of the country for political gain.

And Paul Ryan? He felt empowered enough to criticize candidate Trump, but now? He is lockstep behind his party’s President. Hard to recall that just four years ago he was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate. I suspect that neither Ryan nor Priebus is driven by right-wing talk radio-driven hate and xenophobia. Priebus’ RNC produced the infamous 2012 autopsy that recommended that Republicans expand outreach to minority communities if they were to thrive in an increasingly diverse America. Ryan’s GOP pays lip service to vague concepts like liberty and opportunity, but when these ideas are made concrete and put on the chopping block by President Trump (I still shudder to type those words), like badmouthing federal judges and not divesting from his businesses, the Republican Speaker stays silent. There is no room for principle when there is a seat at the table and one is thirsty for power.

The ascension of erstwhile Ted Cruz supporter Kellyanne Conway, former RNC hack Sean Spicer, and the aforementioned Ryan and Priebus all show how tempting it is to succumb to access to power. I also suspect that there is an element of fear at play here- these people feared that if they couldn’t beat him, they’d have to join him. And so they joined him. So how did we get here, with a cruel ignoramus as President, with his slender fingers just one push away from the nuclear button? It happened because, one by one, people with scruples fell all over themselves to accommodate him and aid his ascension. They let it happen. Don’t ever forget it.

“The Girls” and the Mansons and Growing Up

7 Sep

Last month I read one of the best books I have read in a long time: “The Girls” by new author Emma Cline. My first exposure to the book was in the tasting room of Cline Cellars in Sonoma, when I thought it was odd that a winery would sell a novel along with cheese boards and wine bottle openers. I asked the friendly woman pouring for our group about it, and she proudly exclaimed that the book was on sale because it was written by the owner’s eldest daughter. I had seen at least two people reading it on my morning ferry into San Francisco. A coworker eagerly lent me her copy, and I finally read it.

If you were once a 14 year old girl, it’s not an easy read. It takes you back where you may not want to go. Cline recreates the ennui and uncertainty and insecurity that go along with being 14, lurching from 8th grade to freshman year of high school. The book details Evie, the protagonist, as she tries to make her way in the world: among other things, she tries in vain to look cool to the boy she likes, only to get teased; she feels terribly alone after her best friend dumps her and she has no one to spend her long summer days with. Cline expertly details what it is to be an adolescent girl in the suburbs. It felt particularly relatable to me because Evie is a 14 year old in Petaluma, the North Bay town only miles from where I grew up. She referred to streets and landscapes and hippie mindsets that I knew. Although the novel is filled with 1969-era period detail (every item of clothing described is straight out of a time capsule), the confusion of being 14 and lonely appears to be timeless. One line that stands out, indicative of Cline’s lyrical literary chops: All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you — the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.

“The Girls”, as every review will remind you, is loosely inspired by the young female adherents of Charles Manson (although it is much more than that). But yes, Evie spends the summer of 1969 falling in with a group of girls who pull her into the orbit of a charismatic cult figure. We see the filth of their rural outpost, the squalor that one girl’s baby grows up in, the casual cruelty with which the girls address each other and their abandonment of all sense of self to devote themselves to their leader and his delusional dreams of pop stardom. Cline shows how it could be appealing to a young girl eager for the kinship and attention provided by the cool girls. The sense of belonging, of common purpose, the perverse joy in subverting societal norms- they are all so important to teenagers. You begin to see how this, plus copious amounts of mind-altering drugs, could lead some girls down a truly frightening path.

After finishing the book, I perused reviews of the book online, and came across this article in Australian Elle.  It mentioned the You Must Remember This podcast, which I promptly downloaded and listened to,  12 episodes devoted to the Manson family (focusing on the Family’s Hollywood connections).  Karina Longworth delves not only into the nitty gritty of Charles Manson’s life and the trials for the Tate/LaBianca murders, but also how the time, 1969- and the place, freewheeling San Francisco and Hollywood- affected the movies that were produced at the time, and how the Manson murders had an effect on future films (Shampoo, Chinatown, Easy Rider, just to name a few). Longworth effectively makes the argument that the masterpieces of 1970’s cinema were inevitably influenced by the horror of the Manson murders. Listening to this podcast was the perfect bookend to reading this magnificent book. It is the reason why I spent August of 2016 in the canyons of 1969 Los Angeles.

Brave/Foolish

6 Apr

The past twelve months have been a whirlwind. Last year at this time I was living and working in Mexico City; by the end of April, I had decided that I would give my boss a full one month notice, and my tenure with the company would be over by the end of May. I then spent the month of June traveling in Mexico, as well as spending time in Mexico City in what had become my favorite spots, seeing friends. Just before I went home to San Francisco on July 2nd, a friend had offered me a job running his boutique ad agency. I happily accepted, relieved that my gamble at leaving my previous job without a parachute had resulted in a soft landing elsewhere. The plan was for me to spend two months back in the U.S., then return to begin my new job in Mexico in the fall.

Sure enough, while I was at home in California over the summer, I communicated with the company in Mexico, and we had some discussions regarding pay. I decided that the pay was too little for me to live off of, and so reluctantly declined the job offer. Thus it was that in mid August of 2015, my plans were once again up in the air. No longer with a job waiting for me back in Mexico, the prudent plan was to begin looking for work in the San Francisco Bay Area. And so I did, though with some sadness, as I realized that my dream of living abroad was really coming to an end. I told myself that ten months of living in Mexico City were sufficient, and that I was still enormously grateful for what ended up being an amazing year. But I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to that lovely life I had created for myself. The culture shock of going from walking tree and flower-lined streets, passing by roving street musicians and vendors, and spending time with interesting new friends to relying on my car to get around in suburbia, driving to Costco and the mall, was real and abrupt. So my transition to life back home was difficult.

I even flirted with the idea of moving back to Mexico in December and January, when I interviewed with another company there. But my gut instinct said it was not the right job for me, and I didn’t want to rush into another job if it didn’t feel right. So I applied for jobs in the Bay Area, hoping to break what turned into month upon month of unemployment. If I am not gainfully employed in two months, it will be a full year of not working, with the notable exception of November and December, when I temped at a friend’s company. It’s the only reason I still have money in the bank. So I apply and apply, tweak my resume, and hope. Hope to be productive again.

I’m also choosy in my next role because during my last months in my last job, I felt my confidence in my abilities erode. My confidence has taken jab after jab in the last year; I am eager to do something that I am good at, where I am fully using my talents and doing work that puts a smile on my face. I don’t want to return to the old Sunday evening dread.

So have I been brave in my choices, or have I been foolish? It’s the question I turn around in my head. What would I do over, what would I do different? How did I end up unemployed and confused in my mid-thirties? I believe the answer lies somewhere between foolish and brave, depending on how I am feeling at the moment. But I am soldiering on, which is what’s important. Never backward, only onward.

2015 in review

30 Dec

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,000 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 33 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Are you a writer?

2 Sep

Yesterday, as I left the doctor’s office, I held the door open for an elderly woman, and we both entered the elevator together. She looked at me with a glimmer in her eye and asked me, “Are you a writer?”. I didn’t know how to answer. I stammered, “No…but I did some writing as part of my last job”. I was intrigued. Did I look like a writer? Did she figure I must have a job with an unconventional schedule to be at a doctor’s office on a Tuesday morning? In any case, I liked the implication. I liked that this woman looked at me and saw a writer. I eventually asked her, once we were out of the elevator, if she was a writer. She smiled and replied yes. Perhaps it takes a writer to recognize another. In any case, this stranger’s question prompted me to get back to this blog.