lady vs. food

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Space Planning in Muir Woods

“Look! We could put the kitchen table here—next to the fireplace! And there’s a room for my granddaughter behind those ferns!” Her blue eyes wide with excitement, she pointed and paced. All weekend, she’d chatted about her current favorite TV shows on the home and garden channel, and the grand Coastal Redwoods leapt forward as another fantasy real estate venture.

Besides creative space planning opportunities, a walk on the short, paved loop at Muir Woods just outside of San Francisco was truly a multi-purpose excursion:

“It’s good to spend time in nature,” my father-in-law matter-of-factly stated.

“Hmmph, no cell phone reception,” (that’s my husband, poking at his phone, then dejectedly slipping it back into his pocket.)

And me, “One more loop around and we’ll earn our scoop of ice cream!”

DIY-television references aside, it is good to spend time in nature. I’d play along. We ventured further into the park, the mythical trees shading the ground almost entirely. Clover was the groundcover—I couldn’t help searching for a 4-leaf sprig. Then straightening my neck, my eyes wandered up a massive redwood trunk to see an oak hugging its side, wrapping itself around the beast to soak up a bit of sunlight. I followed the ray back toward the ground to a green shoot that produced a bright orange bud, right in the spotlight.

We stood up tall, posing for photos in front of fallen branches, rings and loops showing hundreds of years of growth, of history. We leaned over bubbling streams searching for schools of wild salmon among the mossy rocks. In a particularly dense area of growth, we noticed a circle of trees—five younger with a wide, decrepit tree in the center, a family. I’d read about this. When a tree is under distress, its roots grow deep and strong to produce new shoots at its base. Eventually, the older tree is surrounded by small, supple growth, protecting it, forming a family of support—a neighborhood.

“What was your favorite tree today?” I asked my mother-in-law later over ice cream.

“Oh…” she licked her cone. “There were so many nice places…”

Monday, June 6, 2011

Hostelling on a Budget

“No no,” she waved me away, muttering incomprehensibly in Danish.

I pointed to the sign indicating the kitchen closed in the afternoon; therefore was presumably open to boil an egg for breakfast. Another worker appeared and I eyed him pathetically.

“Can I please cook my egg?” I gestured to my carton and pan.

He ushered me in, an inconvenience. Relieved, I heated water for my meal, a bit of protein to sustain me for the long walk to the train through a springtime snowstorm.

Inconveniences aside, Hostel Copenhagen Amager is clean and quiet, not a rowdy youth hostel but a refuge for travelers of all ages. Resting on a “green space” across from the spectacularly slanted Bella Hotel, the clean lines of Scandinavian design are epitomized even in budget accommodations. Though located on the outskirts of Copenhagen, the nearby train is quick and modern. Or experience a commute as true Dane—bicycle rental is available on-site from the hostel staff, who directs guests to the must-see attractions around Copenhagen and the Hovedstaden region.

Guests can expect a comfortable bed in a shared dorm for 145 DKK per guest ($28). For those accustomed to staying in hostels, extra expenses are expected. A charge for linens is acceptable; Internet fees understandable. Here, the add-ons become bizarre. If you plan to self-cater, pans are provided, but disposable dishes must be purchased from the front desk. The shelf that holds staples like salt, sugar, and a sketchy bottle of oil? That’s been wiped clean—but seasoning packets are available for sale. And don’t even think about eating in your room unless you want to risk an automatic $20 charge.

Inevitably, numerous additional charges led us to wonder the costs of the architectural marvel across the street. Travelers who don’t require a kitchen (and prefer to have their linens already on their beds upon arrival) will be pleased to know the Bella Sky Hotel starting rates are around $130—not too much more than “budget” accommodations.

After checking out, my husband races to the car. “Let’s get out of here—the woman from the kitchen caught me throwing out wrappers from the chocolate I ate in our room yesterday!”

Hostel Copenhagen Amager

Vejlands Alle

200 2300 Copenhagen, Denmark

Tel. +45-32-522908 Fax. +45-32-522708

Hostels need not be limited to college students—they offer a unique experience for travelers of all ages. Here are some others to consider:

Stockholm `af Chapman & Skeppsholmen' Hostel

Flaggmansvägen 8
11149 Stockholm
SwedenTel. 46-8-4632266

A special hostel experience indeed, this Swedish treasure allows guests to stay in a traditional room or on a ship. The historic boat serves as a glowing landmark for newcomers to the city—its masts are lit in the evening and can be spotted throughout the Stockholm archipelago. Rates for dorm-style rooms start at about $21 per guest.

Hostel Puerto Iguazú

Av. Guarani N°70
3370 Iguazu Falls
Argentina Tel. +54-3757-421295
Fax. +54-3757-421295

The Iguazu Falls area is a true rainforest experience, and the Hostel Puerto Iguazú is a perfect place to relax after hiking the legendary waterfalls. Guests can cook their own meals at the outdoor kitchen, or spend an evening lounging by the pool. A real bargain for $10 and up.

Busan - Busan YH Arpina

45 Haeundaehaebyeon-ro
South Korea
Tel. +82 51 740 3228
Fax. +82 51 740 3233

The South Korean culture is epitomized in the Busan Hostel. No comforts need be sacrificed—guests are offered a fitness center, massage parlours, and even a driving range within the facility. With all of the amenities, advance booking is recommended. Dorm accommodations start at $22.

insecurity, anonymity, & an onsen

A tall white girl walks nude into a Japanese bathhouse…It could be the crux of any number of bad dreams. I stood up awkwardly, pale and gawky, completely naked in a room filled with a hundred or so women. But they were all naked too. I felt the tension leaving my body, hovering and then evaporating into the steam that enveloped me. This was to be enjoyed, even cherished.

Following informative brochures I’d been handed upon entering the onsen in Tokyo’s outskirts, I had stripped off my colorful kimono and walked through the doors into the oasis that housed a dozen steaming pools. Slipping into a little booth and, propped on a short wooden stool, I washed myself thoroughly. First step, done. No faux pas yet.

Gripping the tiny towel I’d been allocated along with the kimono, I sank into my chosen tub—fresh, still water in an outside basin encircled with uneven stones and bamboo. The chilly air hit the hot water and bathed me in a fog, completely anonymous though I couldn’t look more different than any woman near.

Surely, there were nuances that I was missing. I couldn’t understand contentious conversations among mothers and daughters, didn’t know if teenagers were critical of their changing bodies. But from my blissed-out point of view, I snuck a glimpse of something truly beautiful. Women of all ages, shapes and sizes; bathing together. Groups of college-aged girls gossiping in a bubbling tub, a wrinkled grandmother gazing peacefully at a smooth-skinned toddler poking her toes into a warm pool, tense and tired middle aged women draped over private buckets, damp cloths covering their faces.

I felt a twinge of envy. Could my own often nightmarish insecurities have been quelled by a culture that embraced the freedom of lounging publically unclothed with all generations of women? Feelings of vulnerability and acceptance were palpable. Acceptance of one’s body seemed to quite literally be a foreign concept.

dirty fingernails & department stores

Kicked out of my bedbug infested B&B for a declined credit card, hyperventilating into a phone in a red booth to my mom.

A few hours later, reaching out a grubby hand to touch a Prada jacket.

The few times I’ve passed through London, a stop at Harrods has been an absolute must. My dad flew to England in 1982, the year after I was born, to play violin with his post-hippie band at a music festival. Snippets of his experience pricked throughout my childhood in small souvenirs. The canvas Piccadilly Circus bag, a tiny, wood-framed picture of a mouse plucked from the ground of the mythical Underground, a commemorative mug from Charles and Di’s wedding from the regal department store…

A year out of college and burned out from uninspired day jobs, I impulsively hopped a European flight. A backpack, a crumpled travelers checks, and a credit card with a $500 limit was all I carried.

First up: Ireland. Easy—free! Friends with couches, brown bread with butter.

Next, a budget airline flight to Glasgow; Edinburgh; Rome. Stays in hostels and square slices of pizza on the street are the visceral experiences of backpacking adventurers, but lack of planning would soon catch up.

My trip would be bookended by solo weekends in London, a charming city. English-speaking, subway-loving, familiar.

Unfortunately, the US dollar plummeted somewhere over the Atlantic and I bottomed out my meager funds quickly.

Unless you’re out of cash. Then, you’re nothing but a clumsy girl without her crumpled travelers checks who could really use a shower, deciding if sleeping at Pattington Station in 40-degree weather would be prudent.

So, how did I find my way to Harrods, fondling designer outerwear?

Nostalgic and generous parents couldn’t turn down their only daughter, naively broke in London. They made some calls, got me a bit of cash, and I got a new (and happily bug-free) room for the night. A shower, scoop of ice cream, and cup of coffee later, Harrods was my playground.

The food halls, perfume rooms, china floor, wine cellar; sensory overload, no purchase necessary.

Next, I hesitantly ventured into the Women’s department. Plush carpets, pristine garment racks, and well-suited salespeople fronted the goods-- Dolce and Gabanna, Chanel, Armani.

“Go ahead, you can touch it. It is meant to be enjoyed.”

My fingers brushed across the sleeve, buttons, hemline. A moment of undeserved glamour made me think, just for a moment, that this place of excess could hold treasures for anyone, even me; maxed out credit card in my pocket and tiny red bug bites under my chin.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Already flustered, we entered the theater-cum-church in Berlin at 11:15 on Sunday morning. A gregarious friend from back home recommended we check out this service, as the pastor had connections with the church we attend in Los Angeles.

The stickler for details I’m not realized quickly I had misunderstood our dear friend. The morning service did not, in fact, provide any sort of English translation. And why would it? A kind yet not overly helpful girl handed us a bulletin. My husband, coming off a lecture from yours-truly (something about asking questions instead of looking things up on his smart phone), softly said to the girl, “We don’t speak German. Is there anyone who can translate?”

Before she could respond, a woman piped up from behind us. She was sitting by herself, had arrived early, poised and quiet.

“I can translate for you.”

Brief introductions revealed that it was her, Ann’s, second week at the church. She had just left her job and was searching for her true calling in her work, in her life. Ann excused herself and came back moments later with paper cups of steaming coffee and some hard sugar-coated cookies.

“Can I sit between you so you can both hear me?”

My husband and I exchanged glances, struck with the generosity of this stranger.

For the next hour, she translated every word that the pastor delivered, flawlessly. Spoke to us in lyrical words over the German prayers, readings, even hymns; told us when to stand up and sit down again.

After the service was over, the three of us sat in silence for a moment. Then Ann said, anxiously, “I’m so sorry, I was not prepared to do this. Perhaps if you visit again, I can be ready for you and do better.”

We thanked her profusely, repeatedly; offered to take her out for lunch—or at least coffee? But she quickly left, fading away into the dismal Berlin afternoon. What a gift she had given to us, despite our naivety!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Transport, Translation, and Tourists

Ending a balmy night at an outdoor café; white tablecloths and red wine. We’re finishing our asado and Malbec; but in Mendoza, Argentina, that goes without saying. Enter two middle-aged Argentinean men and one tiny chocolate poodle.

Because we must have our steak and eat it too, our supper was forgotten, plates with lingering halos of meat juices cleared. My husband’s attention had completely shifted to the pup, a trembling mound of curls poking between chair and table legs, a compelling contrast to the robust, spirited men she accompanied. Did I mention we have this often embarrassing but always entertaining goal of meeting a dog each day of our extended travels? It’s sort of an exchange program to make up for leaving our standard poodle at home without her “parents.” But its masters don’t speak English. And the two of us don’t speak Spanish.

Argentineans are friendly. They spend copious amounts of time relaxing; in the afternoon, late at night, in cafes. They enjoy their food, enjoy conversation, and are willing to surrender their silverware and sausages to engage with most anyone, even us. Surrender they did—we trudge through the basics, first greeting the dog, perro. We have one too! Su nombre es Lucy. Don’t we all love dogs? Beyond that, it is quickly determined that my husband’s strengths lie in technology, numbers, and enjoying a good steak. Linguistics? Not so much.

But they are determined to continue the conversation; join our table; buy us espresso.

I’m up for the challenge, tiny yellow dictionary in hand. We talk travels, comings and goings; relational statuses, families and food. Work? Sure. We can talk about that. I work in la colección de mode; “fashion library.” Close enough, they get the picture.

Lots of gestures ensue as they describe to us what industry they are in. Sweeping hand motions. Avión. Airplane. America—sur. The South—Kentucky! De transporte; transport. Caballo. Horse. Horse? Swirling confusion and excitement, dictionary pages flying.

I’ve got it! They are in logistics—transportation. They bring horses from Argentina to compete in the Kentucky Derby. Really? Really.

Cheers, cheers! Another round for everyone!

Just the next day, I’m crumpling in tears at Mendoza’s bus terminal, last night’s victory giving me misguided confidence in conversation. An assumption between AM and PM had mistakenly led us to purchase two tickets to Iguazu Falls—a trip that would confine us to our economy class seats for 36 hours. And that was just one way.

Paranoia keeps me from eating much of anything while on any mode of public transport. Irony aside, how could I possibly find myself near starving in the land of abundant red meat? Language barriers were superficially masked by kindness, generosity, and a comparatively cheap cost of living, but mistakes could be awkward; borderline dangerous.

With no choice left but to dejectedly shove our bus tickets in my purse and huff out of the station, my husband tagged behind, trying to hastily “remedy the situation.” Smart phone in hand, he spoke quickly.

“Guess what they have in Mendoza? A WAL*MART. That’s where we’re going to go. We can take the local bus; it’ll be fun. We’ll buy some snacks, take the 36 hour ride, then find you a nice steak when we get to Iguazu.”

Sucker that I am, he managed to stop my tears with the words “fun,” “snacks,” and “steak.” He took charge and we were soon on a public bus, bumping and jostling our way to the familiar American superstore.

But somehow, so quickly we forgot what poor bus passengers we are. The vehicle soon emptied, no destination in sight. We reached the end of the line, a dusty neighborhood of makeshift houses some distance from the city. It was dusk, and the driver motioned for us to disembark.

Our ignorance burst forward—lost, silly Americans trying to find what? An imported chain store? A small boy popped over our seats. Speaking fluent English, he ushered us off the bus and back in the opposite direction—abandoning the snack mission in favor of getting back to the city before dark. He apologized to the bus driver on our behalf as we thanked him profusely.

Back to where we started: the Mendoza bus station. Then back to the hostel. The next day, we’d be in the middle of Argentina, on a bus, looking out the windows at the cows that could be on my plate, the vines full of grapes that could fill my glass. Couldn’t we just stay in Mendoza? Find the nice men from the restaurant again, their dog? Surely they had hospitable housewives who prepared pots of humble stews, grills filled with meat, hell, a trash can-turned-remedial cooking vessel and a bag of charcoal?

But no. We would go see the waterfall, ride the 36 hour bus; the 72 hour bus. There would be no perros on the bus. He knew that, right?

After an anxious night of sleep, it was decided a taxi would take us to Walmart, pacifying me with some supplies for our journey.

96 hours later, we’d hiked and rafted under the magnificent Iguazu Falls, met a entrepreneurial woman with an artisanal yarn shop, picked fruits from a giant avocado tree, cooked at a hostel with an outdoor kitchen, and eaten two nice steaks, our dirty elbows sinking back into white tablecloths drinking wine cheaper than water.

We were invincible again, language barriers superficially masked by kindness, paranoia subsiding into a protein-induced nap time.


Why a bus, you ask? Why not a train, an airplane? Buses are the travel method of choice in South America and are quite unlike the systems North Americans are accustomed to. The bus runs like a train—inexpensive long trips with infrequent stops, vehicles equipped with restrooms, cabin service, even complimentary beverages, new-release movies, and the business or first class (available for a nominal upgrade fee) seats recline horizontally for a surprisingly comfortable night’s sleep. Trains and airplanes are few and far between, and costly. For reasonable prices and reliable service, try the companies Andesmar, Flechabus, or Via Bariloche.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Film and the Farmers' Market

Any outsider can blithely say that the film industry is the machine that runs Los Angeles, but the heart of the city is in its markets. Will a film school parking garage really put a damper on Sunday’s Hollywood Farmers' Market?

As a downtown resident with a borderline obsession with humanely raised meat (going as far as taking butchery classes), barely-legal raw milk, and piles of fresh, organic berries, the market is an oasis. A fifteen minute train ride from Pershing Square (where neighboring grocers are limited to a grossly overpriced yet indispensible Ralph’s and a half dozen Famima franchises) will take me to the Hollywood and Vine Metro Station, just two blocks away from the best of California’s local foods.

But what about those who aren’t just looking for persimmons, truffles, or free-range bison? Tuesday’s data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show Los Angeles currently has an 11.7% jobless rate (a number that nearly doubles in the outlying agricultural areas where market produce is grown). Dozens of stalls reliably offer cheap staples like bags of citrus, potatoes, and greens to healthfully feed those with lower incomes. Vendors even accept food stamps, EBT cards, WIC and Senior FMNP.

Changing the location or restricting the size of the market has wider impact than just limiting the varieties of heirloom tomatoes or fresh flowers for sale. Taking away space for vendors at the large Hollywood market drastically reduces income for the small farmers, which in turn reduces their abilities to sell at smaller markets. The Huffington Post reported, “With the loss of that income, 7 other smaller farmers' markets in low income areas like Watts, Crenshaw, South Central, Echo Park, East Hollywood and Atwater Village that are supported by the Hollywood Farmers' Market could also be forced to close.” Limiting reasonably-priced fresh food to struggling families only exacerbates their struggles, as well as delivering them directly into the hands of fast food chains and convenience stores.

As for the film students? How about staying up late to catch that extra movie on Saturday night—and then stop by the market for some fresh snacks on the way to the labs. I hear they give some great deals at closing time.