Apr 182014
 

I’m sure there’s a writer in Portland who’s just discovered, like, the Brooklyn Flea or cronuts or something, and is writing a blog post about how amazing it is, but—latecomers and tourists still count for something, right?

I’m obsessed with spas, not least because I am the owner/operator of two shoulders that are so tight that I can’t straighten my arms. (Even my parents, who are pretty hard to interest in things like this, were like: “That’s weird.”) My shoulders are so tight that when yoga teachers ask if “anyone in the room has an injury,” I have to raise my (crooked) arm and explain the whole situation so they don’t waste their time trying to explain to me how to fix my downward dog. (Spoiler: I can’t!)

The problem with spas, of course, is that they are entirely too expensive, unless you have the time to figure out for yourself which inexpensive ones are great and which inexpensive ones are sort of more like prostitution places. (Unfortunately, they can look quite similar from the outside.) For example, I’m still looking for a place with affordable, non-super-special-occasion massages in New York, where I’ve lived since I was 18. (My super-special-occasion place in NYC is the Trump SoHo, which is unbelievably cheesy and which I only went to in the first place for a story.) I love International Orange in San Francisco, but it’s (a) not like extreeeemely cheap and (b) problematic in that I live 10 hours away from it (by plane.)

Loyly is even farther (er, I think), but I happened to be in Portland two weeks ago, and it had come highly recommended. And, I am both happy and sad to say, it is my new favorite place in the world. This, to me, is exactly how a spa should be: not a one-percenter temple to overwrought luxury where people, staff and clients alike, are forbidden to speak above a reverential whisper, but—yes!—a clean and friendly and therapeutic place where things smell nice. I mean: That should not be too much to ask for. Here, for example, is the annoying Trump SoHo spa “menu.” I did a search just to double-check—and there’s not a single price in it. (“Because if you have to ask, ‘How much….’”) Lord, seriously, give me strength, because this is not how the world should be. It should be more like Loyly, where you can get a massage, a facial, and time in the steam room/sauna for under $100.

Forget the politics, and there’s just this. All people really want at a spa—unless you are going for the weird reverence and the bowing and all that—is to feel nice, and like you’re not being robbed. Paying lots of money is no guarantee of that, I’ve found. My own, under-$100 massage at Loyly was one of the best I ever had, and because I’ve had some pretty pricey ones on the job, I can say with authority that it was world-class. The therapist’s name was Kerrie. If I lived in Portland, I wouldn’t even say her name aloud, because I’d be too freaked out that she’d get all booked up. I told someone that if Loyly was in Brooklyn I’d go every week, but the reality is that if it was in Brooklyn, no one would be able to get an appointment between now and December 2015.

I’m sure anyone in Portland reading this has known about Loyly for ages, so I guess I’m writing this for anyone visiting: Go, immediately. And when you Portlanders come to Brooklyn, let me recommend this place called the Flea.

Loyly
2713 SE 21st Ave
Portland

Apr 162014
 

afterlight

Sometimes I think travel is essentially this thing where you give someone (read: everyone) money, and in exchange, you get to remember stuff. For example, I have the world’s worst memory. I can’t even remember the last thing I can’t remember. (LOL.) I would prefer to think this is more that my brain is full than a degenerative disease, but who knows. I am, for example, the last person you want to ask what happened on last week’s Hannibal, except that I will be sure it was beautiful, and I will be sure that I liked it, except for the bits where he eats people.

My last proper vacation (like vacation vacation) was a trip right after my birthday with my BFF Katie, to Jamaica. We were only there for four days, and this was two years ago now, but I remember every single thing we did. I can almost remember everything we ate. I remember buying Havaianas, and getting money from the ATM, and going kayaking to the next beach and turning around when we realized it was chock-a-block with naked Europeans. By contrast, I just watched three episodes of Orphan Black, and I can barely tell you what happened on them, except that Sarah did that thing with the accent and we still don’t know if Paul is good or bad or what. And this was 20 minutes ago.

I don’t think that “vacation” is the key to this, necessarily, if by “this” we means “having days that are worth remembering”—at all. I do think, though, that it can be a challenge, to jumble up the few variables in a “typical”, non-vacation-y day enough to keep things lively. I mean, of course: Pay attention and there’s always something incredible to see. Paying attention is hard, though, so I think I’m like lots of other people in that I tend to like things that are sort of big and obvious in their intentions toward me. I remember taking the Q train across the Manhattan Bridge one night in December and for whatever reason, fireworks were exploding above the Statue of Liberty: magical. I remember once walking down Bowery and hearing monks chanting—and then seeing them, through a half-open door, into some sort of temple I’d never noticed before, despite walking past it a billion times: double magical.

This is all why I decided to walk from my apartment to an area of Paris called La Défense today—it’s where they put all the skyscrapers, and it is fucking crazy. I find that I can’t get any writing done unless I have a routine—but highly regimented days get same-y, and then you end up in that place where you’ve done the same thing every day for two weeks and it’s all a big blur of same-y, weird days. So I try as much as possible to do something worth remembering, and leave the rest of the day very structured (half and half, sort of). So I decided to spend my morning walking to La Défense.

I didn’t realize until I got back that it’s almost seven miles—but it’s like literally one turn: right at Bastille, and then straight. You can actually see the Grande Arche de La Défense from outside the Louvre—it’s the weird, modern-looking thing waaaay down Rue de Rivoli—and so I just headed that way. I’ve done most of this walk—from Bastille to the Arc de Triomphe—a billion times before, and it’s usually a little too jam-packed to actually be enjoyed. By the time I got past Etoile, I was beyond bored. By the time I got to Porte Maillot—literally the edge of Paris and where you get the bus to the terrible Ryanair airport in Beauvais—I was ready to finally give in and download Uber and just go home.

I didn’t—if for no other reason than I wanted to be completely rid of any remaining impulse I had to see La stupid Défense. After Porte Maillot, you come to a lot of boring, fancy stores, and then you come to the Seine, which is lovely as ever. Then, finally, you come to La Défense, and you realize you are totally in crazy bananas land, like if The Jetsons had been made in the 1950s about the 1980s. Or something that’s totally futuristic and totally retro-futuristic at the same time. Once you get past the Seine and the weird highway overpass and everything else, it’s this bizarre collection of interconnected esplanades and plazas and fountains and public art pieces, including a Richard Serra that I didn’t even know was there until Googling it right now, and French middle-schoolers practicing parkour. After hating everything about it for the three hours it took for me to walk there, I loved it.

afterlight

Here’s the thing: whether I ended up loving it or hating it, I’m not going to forget it. I know people give foodies a hard time when they, like, go to Michelin-starred restaurants and Instagram everything they eat, but I sort of get that: They are literally making memories. God, it sounds so incredibly cheesy—but I get it. I’m not the kind of person who’s going to look askance at a day on the sofa—few things are nicer—but in general, I’d prefer to Make a Memory. (I know, I know, but still.) It’s really not that hard: It can be as easy as a two-block diversion on the way to the office. I used to work in Midtown, with no fewer than four Starbucks within a block-wide radius, and I still remember the morning I went to “the other one.” (Specifically, the one on 43rd and 6th, rather than 43rd and Broadway.) All I’m saying is that routines serve a valuable purpose—but roughing them up a little bit is a necessary element in a full and well-felt life.

And I know, I swear I do, about the connection between this idea and that millennial thing of recording every moment, of curating a life to post about it on Facebook later. I resist that notion, so totally—the show-off-y part of it. But I must admit that part of the impulse behind it, I believe, is a good one: to do things that are worth talking about. After my seven-mile hike today, I started thinking about how long it would take to walk from here to London (not that long, really.) Then I put that idea on the shelf. Tomorrow, I am going to enjoy my sofa, and catch up on work, and spend a couple hours in the park with the Parisians because everyone’s on vacation here anyway. Friday, though: I’m going to make some big plans for Friday.

Apr 042014
 

After five months, one chest X-ray that I thought was urban legend until they told me to (a) take my shirt off and (b) arrange my hair into a “high ponytail,” a level of styling specificity I am sure is unique to the French immigration experience (c’est couture), and a forest of trees killed to provide the paper needed to produce all my forms in triplicate, I am now legally permitted to buy things in France forever*, as well as enter the United Kingdom without being sent back to the border. To be honest, the entire long-sejour visa process, though so nerve-wracking that it involved explaining my affection for France in French while simultaneously STARING AT A SCAN OF MY OWN LUNGS AND WONDERING WHAT TERRIBLE ILLNESS IT REVEALED (an experience that suggested that my lungs are fine but has, delightfully, resulted in my first-ever diagnosis of high blood pressure: French doctor: “Do you have the syndrome of the … [touching her jacket]….?” Me: “IT’S CALLED WHITE COAT SYNDROME AND YES I DO.”) was surprisingly gentle: There are no words, issued from the mouth of a French immigration official, more melodious than “C’est pas grave,” when you’ve just realized you’ve shown up for your appointment with all the forms, all the photos, all the receipts, even the copies of your subletter’s phone bill you never thought you’d need—everything except your actual passport.

So: a big shout-out to the nation of France for allowing me the privilege of buying your goods, visiting your gardens, drinking your stress-reducing wines, and introducing your citizens to bike helmets and Luon for more than three months at a time, and to the fellow refugees, actual and conversational, I met this morning: the former cradled babies, the latter cradled iPads, some cradled both, one guy was like OMG CAN I GET OUT OF HERE while taking out his aggression on his Blackberry. Here’s hoping all of us find the sanctuaries we seek.

Mar 282014
 

My lifelong inability to drink like an adult complicates a trip to Cape Town, which is, along with Napa, Sonoma, and the regions of France literally synonymous with drink-menu items—Champagne, Burgundy, Bourdeaux, etc.—one of the world’s great destinations for sophisticated appreciators of alcohol. Of course, I am not among those sophisticated appreciators: The first glass of wine I ever drank came out of a hose snaking up through the floor of a Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side. To me, wine is either “tangy” or “less tangy.” Hose wine is tangy. I find that more expensive wines tend to be less tangy, but that is the extent of my knowledge of wine. [more]

Mar 232014
 

lithuania

I’ve had my share of Goodreads-induced nightmares (detailed in their mundanity here). However: I love books. Who doesn’t? I love people talking about books. Who doesn’t? And so it seemed like there had to be small foothold for even someone like me there. I am happy to say that I have found it, and I wanted to recommend it: Around the World in 80 Books.

I was never as enthusiastic a reader as I was in elementary school, when, of course, there were prizes: Read 100 books over the summer and get cake. As an adult, I have found the book-cake relationship not as durable as I might have liked, and of course, the whole issue of reading becomes complicated, I think, when your job is to write: It got to the point where I actually couldn’t read without becoming distracted by my own books: the ones I hadn’t written, the ones I’d meant to write, the ones I’d meant to write better, the ones I should have been writing right that very second. This is why I started making maps, and watching a lot of television. Also, reading military histories. It was not a good time.

It is surprising to me that Goodreads supplied the answer to my problem, but there it was: Around the World in Books. I’d picked up a copy of “City of Women” at a bookstore in London because a friend had recommended it, and then found myself looking for the real-life story of a woman in Berlin—and found it, appropriately, in the memoir “A Woman in Berlin.” From here, I posted my first Goodreads review (and trust me: I will never have it in me to give a book fewer than three stars; it’s literally impossible). Then I found the Groups (excuse me if this is all sounding like: “You won’t believe the craziest thing I found online—it’s called Twitter?”), and among them, Around the World in 80 Books. It’s pretty straightforward: Every month, the group reads a book from a particular country (or state, or county in the U.K.)—the month I started, the book was “Purge,” by a Finnish author about Estonia. The book itself was fine—not amazing, not revelatory, but the literal foreignness of its subject matter let me just read the book. And that was awesome. I mean, this is the fault of my own timid book-selecting process, but I’ve read very few books in translation, and it was just a huge pleasure to read about a completely different time and place. I knew nothing about life in the Baltics during World War II. I now know next-to-nothing, but that’s still something, and it’s impossible to stop going down that road once you start. So then there’s those twin compulsions: for me (and I am so susceptible to this), there’s the satisfaction of ticking boxes on a list—I really do plan on reading a book from every country. And then there’s saying to yourself: “Well, that’s what it was like in Estonia—what about Latvia? Or Lithuania?” So then you find books in those countries—for me, respectively, “Baltic Countdown” and “Between Shades of Gray.” Or: “So what will be my book for England?” Which becomes: “What amazing book [that I haven't read already, because I'm using that rule] do I think might sum up, in some small way, the experience of the English?” I mean—it’s impossible, which is why, in fact, the group frequently divides up a country—the U.S. into states, the U.K. into counties, and so on. But it’s exciting. It’s an adventure. And given all the agita Goodreads has given me in the past, I’m actually shocked to discover that it’s given something back to me: my love of reading. For now, at least, that’s a trade I can live with.

Recent countries:
Estonia: Purge
Lithuania: Between Shades of Gray
Latvia: Baltic Countdown

- If you want to check it out, here’s the group on Goodreads
- And here’s my whole country list

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