Amazing Amazigh Villages: June 2024

Tracy,

Browse archives for June 13, 2024
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Lovely morning in the Tataouine region. Off for a full day of exploring. First stop is Ksar Ouled Soltane.

Built by the Amazigh people in the 15th century, it’s another fantastic example of their granary storage buildings. Always at the tops of mountains or cliffs (for good defense), with pleasing rounded windows and doors, and lovely exterior staircases. Definitely feels like a Fantasy setting (vibes of the Finale of the Labyrinth movie). We’d already visited some Amazigh granary buildings (heck, our hotel was in a converted former village). But this one was very well preserved (and possibly was fixed up for tourists?).

There were a few entrepreneurial vendors set up. And 4 Thai tourists doing a very fun photoshoot. But we mostly had the place to ourselves. And again, Tunisia is not a land worried about safety warnings or guidance or really any rules when visiting these archaeological sites. We were left on our own to explore, wandering down alleys

and peeping into old storage rooms,

and free to climb up the staircases. Only limited by our own sense of safety (and balance, physics, etc), which means your girl didn’t climb past the 4th or 5th step, but others were braver. It was very cool to explore.

Then back into our trusty van, driving to our next exploration site. Van Madness may have been setting in. Bit of a maniacal gleam, there.

Next, a stop and a climb up to and around the abandoned historical Amazigh village of Douiret.

The mosque and a few of the buildings are still in decent shape, but many are showing the wear and tear of the centuries past.

While it had a population of a few thousand still in the 1800’s, it was down to only two families in the last several years, and Yassine said even they moved within this last decade.

There is a new town (also named Douiret) at the bottom of the hilltop, with electricity and better water access. Still, very cool to explore.

Here is a photo with an inset closeup of the carving at the top.

This symbol “Yaz” represents the Free Man, and the Amazigh People use it to refer to themselves.

At the base of the historical village was this cool Cafe building, featuring a Coffee Djinn. Couldn’t tell if it is closed forever, or just wasn’t open during our visit.

I hope that they’re able to be open during busier times, because a nice cup of tea after climbing around would have been lovely.

Then off to the village of Chenini.

Another hilltop Amazigh village (they’re always building at tops of hills or mountains). Where we had a nice lunch in a converted cave, which kept things slightly cooler in termperature.

Initially we were the only people in there (they had about 6 tables total) but a French couple and their guide came in partway through our meal. We’re having a nice chat, as we do. And I’d been thinking that our group energy levels felt a little lower. Maybe everyone is just hot and tired, I mused to myself. After the meal, as we wander down the path to begin our climbing and exploring, Yassine returns from the washroom. He is laughing so hard he is almost crying. Through wheezing laughing breaths, he explains that that French couple had come up to him, thinking he was an employee of the restaurant, to complain about the table of Loud Americans. Oops. Also, Bwahahaha. And accurate. (Imagine if we’d been at our Full Strength volume?!?)

95* out this day!!! In the mid-day sun. Insert song about Mad Dogs and Englishmen. After lunch we climbed up and around the village.

Some of the turns featured a spectacular mountain-top breeze along with the view, and those were my favorite parts. Ha!

Shade is hard to come by, but occasionally there’s a rocky overhang or a convenient rocky pillar providing some hiding from the sun’s rays.

the view from the very top!

Back to the van, and an unscheduled stop at the Mosque of the Seven Sleepers. There’s a lot of almost centuries old different religious traditions here. Ancient Christian tradition tells of Seven early Christians, persecuted by the Romans, who are walled up alive in a cave (either done by themselves for protection or walled up by others as punishment). They went to sleep. and years or centuries later, they’re found still alive. This is most often attributed to a cave site in Ephesus, Turkey, although other caves and regions claim this origin, too. The story becomes more complicated, because there is also a Seven Sleepers story in the Quran. And there are a few different sites and countries claiming this holy origin, as well. The charming Mosque near Chenini in Tunisia claims to be the holy burial site of these seven sleepers

. In some stories they also continued growing to be giants! And some of the ancient graves are suspiciously large here. We were shown around inside this charming small mosque, and it was told to us that this site has held several different religious buildings in the exact same spot over the years.

In addition to Christian, I swear he also showed us where a former Jewish holy building was…although a cursory Google search now doesn’t mention it. (Internet details on this mosque are slim). The site definitely felt special, with a lovely calm energy, and noticeably cooler temperatures in the inner most cave-like interior.

Back to the hotel for a refreshing shower (the updated/renovated rooms of this former Berber village are adorable. And having indoor plumbing, in this curved little room at the top of a cliff side in the Tataoine region…so refreshing.

And this room had one of the most powerful AC units of the whole trip. Or at least, the most functional. Several of our stops had an AC unit that was more decorative than cooling…air would blow from it, so it worked as a fan. But not always with a cooling effect. *tiniest violin sound. Hard to complain too much. (We did have some shower adventures our first day. Courtney comes out of the bathroom…well, I’ve turned our bathroom into a swamp. Ya know that thing hoses can do sometimes when the pressure suddenly changes, where they can swing around like a crazy snake? Well, the shower hose did that to her and she managed to spray water everywhere. Ha! And hotels in Tunisia were always VERY limited in towels, so she’s trying to mop it up using her one towel and the tiny bath mat towel. And then, our shower ran out of water when it was my turn. At least I noticed the water pressure was disappearing. So was able to conserve and turn off the taps while shampooing, etc. Camping rules! Happily on this second day, water lasted through both of our showers, no problem!)

Djerba Island, and Dinosaurs on Tataouine. June 2024

Tracy,

Browse archives for June 7, 2024
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(firstly, if you’re seeing this post without pictures, check back in a day or two. Uploading images without WiFi is tricky, so that may need to wait. The featured image was sunset over our hotel in Tataouine As I’m currently updating this, under a beach umbrella after having dipped my toes in the Mediterranean. Pretty darn perfect. Secondly, titles are hard for me. And I’m stuck on the idea of alliteration, so yeah….)

Morning on Djerba Island. We are off to visit El Ghriba Synagogue.

The oldest synagogue in Tunisia and possibly all of Africa. History tends to place it’s construction after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in 6th Century BCE (or possibly after the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE). Legend says the fleeing community brought with them either a piece of the door and/or a stone from the destroyed holy temple, and have incorporated that relic on these grounds.

A very holy and ancient site, the building was renovated in the 1800’s.

Beautiful decorative touches everywhere you look,

you can sense it’s history and import,

yet it still feels welcoming and comforting instead of Overpowering and distancing.

Djerba Island still has a population of around 1,000 Jewish people, as well as Muslims, a Christian church, and some of the Amazigh people. (I’ve learned the term “Berber” is considered pejorative by many, and these people call themselves Amazigh, so I shall try to do the same).

Of course Courtney made friends with another Ginger cat outside. And this Kattous almost cooperated for a great photo opportunity.

Smiling at the English translation on this sign, asking visitors to wear respectful clothing when visiting this holy site. I feel like this is something many Grandparents would shout from their front porch rocking chairs.

Next to visit some ceramic artisans.

Explaining how they harvest the clay from the mines.

They bring a candle down with them, knowing oxygen is scarce. Once the candle starts flickering/goes out, got to get above ground quickly. No more than 30 minutes at a time. Courtney does ever love a cave, and so she and Arthur did some exploring down there by themselves, with a casual “don’t stay down too long” from the workers. This is truly a country un-anxious about safety rules and regulations. I’m sure that’s gotta be near the tippy top of Mazeur’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid (or whatever that guy’s name was).

Then a demonstration at the pottery wheel.

Sarah was enamored of all the paint decorations. When our ceramics guide learned she didn’t have a husband, he was suddenly in semi-serious negotiations. Soooo, if things don’t work out in Seattle, pretty sure she’s got a gig on Djerba painting pottery (and possibly as this guy’s wife). Ha.

Also made new best friends with some camels, including a baby!!!!!!

Visited the outside of this Christian church, too, but I forget it’s name. Record-keeping fail!

And some wandering through more art-wall filled parts of Djerba Island. Michael climbed up onto a wall to get this shot of the Flamingo mural.

Then began the long drive to the region of Tataouine, where George Lucas got the inspiration for, and did some filming of, Luke Skywalker’s home planet. Before arriving at our hotel, we’re told we’re going to see one of the Star Wars locations. Yay! When we arrive, we learn it’s from The Phantom Menace (less of a Yay, but still fun to see).

Hundreds of years ago, it was an Amazigh building (or possibly Bedouin. My notes, again, are lacking. Hopefully I’ll correct this later). Then part was transformed for the movie into the town of Mos Espa, where we first meet Young Anakin and his mother.

And more recently, some enterprising locals have transformed it into a hotel. Beds in the small cave-like rooms, with shared toilets and showers, and a tiny cute cafe area.

We got to wander around and take some pictures.

Then off to our hotel, which was lovely. Also a very old Amazigh structure, where the front half has been renovated into a much fancier hotel (than the Mos Espa set). Each room has electricity, it’s own bathroom, and an AC unit!!! Our group were the only people staying there. Yassine said they’d only recently re-opened after Covid/lack of tourism. Staff was so nice and so happy to see us. Also, in a former iteration, this renovated hotel had had a Wild West theme, as we found in a disused storage area fave, several cowboy themed signs and placards. Also, they once had a DINOSAUR THEME. Because there were still giant dinosaur statues scattered around.

The Tataouinea sauropod dinosaur was discovered here. And clearly the town has tried, in the past, to use that to entice visitors (the hillside along the main road has a giant Tataouinea statue on it). As y’all may have guessed, I LOVED having giant dinosaur friends around.

courtney is only ‘punching’ the dino because the statue had a pre-existing hole in its side, so she wanted to look super strong to have punched into its belly!!

A little worryingly, when we first arrived at the hotel, there were 5 police/military vehicles parked there, and two men with AK-47’s on the roof. Ummm….what’s going on? Michael said he saw armed soldiers climbing around the un-renovared historic half of the structure at night. In the morning, we were told it was military training exercises. Possibly. Also, our hotel was at the very top of the hill, offering great sightlines, and we were near the Libyan border. In an economically depressed area. When I’d asked what the main industries in town were, I was told “Smuggling.” So whether these were training exercises or active exercises, that was a bit unusual for me. The soldiers didn’t bother us, and they were gone on our second night.

Again, we were the only people staying there. The staff roasted a goat leg for us, served with some peppers and a honey sauce and it was friggin delicious!!

Each meal in Tunisia begins with fresh bread, harissa hot pepper sauce, and some olives. And often includes either a fresh salad with tuna fish, or some grilled veggies. And they served us a giant platter of fresh fruit for dessert. (We’d made a cat friend earlier in the afternoon, wandering the lovely courtyard areas. And then the cat wandered into the fancy dining room they’d set up for our dinner. While Courtney and Sarah were extra delighted at an illicit feline dinner guest, we all expected the staff would shoo her outside. Nope. The man in the large chef hat (a nice touch!!) carving the goat table side (so fancy) just gave the cat a knowing look and then went about his business, as the cat stretched under the table next to ours. Delightful.

Visual Gems in El Jem and Djerba: May 2024

Tracy,

Browse archives for June 5, 2024
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Next we were off to visit El Jem. I hadn’t done any research about this ahead of time, so it was a real surprise. The bonus of a tour is that someone else is in charge of the itinerary ahead of time. And it also meant I didn’t want to do too much research in case I found things I desperately wanted to see that wouldn’t be included. While i’d researched some of it, some has been new discoveries. El Jem provided a Truly impressive and huge Roman Amphitheatre (the third largest in the world!!!).

We got to explore all over,

including the cells underneath,

and climbing all the way up to the third floor.

“This is some real Indiana Jones shit,” says Michael. Ha. Not quite my pop culture take on it (definitely leaning more towards all the Swords and Sandals movies), but the “is this real or a movie?” quality sure rang true.

i also always absolutely love the juxtaposition of such ancient ruins with a modern city built up all around it.

We then toured a 2nd century Roman villa. With more super cool mosaics (including this of Dionysus riding a lion… instead of his more typical donkey).

And more fun with statues!

Yassine has asked us if we wanted to eat lunch at the hotel (boo) or wanted something different (yes please!). Stopped at this amazing roadside place, where they are serious about grilling meats. You’ve got to call in your order ahead of time, and it’s cooked in this giant underground ovens. Here they are using the electrical winch to pull up the meats!

Very very delicious lamb and chicken. Delicious thick soft rounds of Berber bread, to scoop up the grilled veggies and obligatory harissa hot sauce. Place was full of local families and had great vibes. No interior decoration. Bare bones tables and chairs (but clean). Arthur was a bit worried and out of his comfort zone, But ended up enjoying it too. Now sated, we continued our drive to the ferry docks for Djerba Island. Where we found lovely blue waters and the cutest tiny ferry (holds maybe 20 cars).

Djerba Island is lovely. And in recent years, has had an international wall mural project.

So wandering through town is extra beautiful,

finding all this fantastic art everywhere.

As we wander down one alleyway, we hear the maniacal laughter of children and I look up. On the balcony above us are two middle school aged girls, dangling a water balloon over the edge, and gleefully giggling with their whole bodies. We appropriately cower and surrender and beg for mercy. They wave us through.

Later we hear more laughter pealing down the alley, and we know they’ve found a new potential victim. We spend the night at delightful guest house Dar Dhafia. And they have a pool!!

It is tiny. And adorable. And I’m excited about it. We totally spend an hour floating and swimming before dinner (Sarah and Michael joining us, but staying in the chairs/dry side of things). We all opt for a lighter dinner, after the grilled meat feast at lunch, and then it’s time for bed. Wonderful day.

Mosaics, Mosques, and Monkeys: May 2024

Tracy,

Browse archives for June 3, 2024
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okay, that title is a bit of a stretch, but I enjoy the alliteration, so that’s what you get! *Laughs* but we did indeed see all of those things for our next two days in Tunisia (editor’s note: monkeys may have been of the plush variety).

Next we headed off to Sousse, a busy port city. Explored their archeological museum. Totally fell in love with this round-faced Medusa mosaic.

Something so intriguing and appealing about her. Also, the actual museum display is great, as you view her reflection in a mirror!! Not only is that helpful and fun for a floor mosaic, but wonderful in terms of the Medusa story, too.

Also really enjoyed these gossiping tigers! Maybe they’re supposed to be impressive and ferocious (should that be Fur-ocious?), but to me they just look like they’re telling fantastic stories to each other.

And three cheers for headless statues that one can walk behind. *Smile*

Wandered through the Sousse markets. Found some more monkeys , thereby continuing to fulfill the subtitle of this blog. Ha.

Then off to the city of Kairouan, where we experienced some dramatic weather patterns while viewing the outside of the grand mosque

, and wandering the charming twisting alleys.

Lots of decorative doors, and so many cats.

we even were rained upon for a little bit

Met a local artisan who demonstrated his weaving at the loom, and then sort of forced Courtney into participating too. But she was a good sport about it, and didn’t lose any fingers or nothing.

“Now we go to see something you’ve never seen before,” Yassine tells us, as he leads us inside a building and up a flight of stairs. To find a camel. Inside a building on the second story. Attached to an historic but still utilized well system. The camel walks circles around to draw up the water. Definitely wasn’t expecting that! I ask what the camel’s name is. “No, I don’t think he has a name,” says Yassine. But the camel’s owner understood my question and said his name was Kaseem.

(Just had to Google for the spelling. Turns out there are several spelling options, and Arabic meaning is “one who distributes goods” which is a pretty excellent name for a camel, then). A young arabic boy (around 6 or 7) and his mother came up the stairs to see the camel. His eyes got huge. But then he was too shy of us tourists so didn’t want to go any closer. We decided we were done camel viewing, so he could have a turn. 🙂

The next morning was more exploring around Kairouan, in the blazing sunshine.

Then a special visit to the Grand Mosque. Huge, and impressive.

Then on to a mausoleum built in honor of Abu Zomaa al-Balaoui, a companion and barber of Prophet Muhammad. Beautiful building, inside and out. So many gorgeous carvings and tiles. And we were offered a splash of orange blossom water for our hands and head, as a welcome and blessing (and it smelled amazing!)

And this dramatically colored and friendly cat was wandering inside. Demanded, and was given, pets.

Later during our explorations, there was another American visitor with her guide, and she also made friends with the cat (Yassine said he’d never seen a cat inside their before, but this was clearly a well cared for pet who wandered by). In the next room, as we’re seated and being told some history, the cat jumps up and curls onto Courtney’s lap. After a few minutes, that other American walks in. Her guide comes over to us, “Excuse me, but my lady has already claimed that cat.” Ha! There followed several minutes of chuckling debates over who could provide a better cat home “Oh, Seattle will be too cold for this sweetey. He better come live with me in Dallas.” Ha.

And we got to end the afternoon with a relaxing float in our hotel pool

(La Kasbah hotel is built partially within the historic walls. It is lovely!). And then my typical hiding from the sun, under an umbrella and sarong cover. But still enjoying the vibes while reading my book. The staff are super friendly. The man serving hot dishes at the hotel buffet is very friendly and playful. Joking around with us, and ducking for cover behind the counter. Truly delightful. He was happy about my few Arabic phrases, and has been trying to teach me more, which isn’t super successful as I generally need to visually see the words to help learn them. (A hotel buffet is never my choice when traveling, but it’s included in the trip, and food was decent, just not very exciting). Still, it was a lovely place to spend two nights. This trip has been a blast so far! Can’t wait to keep exploring.

Carthage Explorations (no elephant sightings): May 2024.

Tracy,

Browse archives for June 1, 2024
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Okay, heading off to Carthage, which i’d mistakenly thought was just one big ruins site. Instead, because it was such a giant city back in the day, it is many many different excavated sites scattered throughout the modern Carthage neighborhood. And because we did some of our scheduled Tunis sight seeing yesterday, we were able to visit many more things today. Bonus.

Yassine, our guide, is a Big History Buff, and we are learning loads. Including all the Roman negative propaganda against the Phoenicians and later the Vandals. It’s very cool. Also amazing how recently many of these sites have been excavated (most didnt start until after the French colonizers left and Tunisia got to govern itself in the 50’s or 60’s. And many in the 1980’s and even making discoveries today). The Phoenician dry docks were interesting, and fun to see the Million Dinar homes along that prime waterfront (only $333,000 US dollars).

The site of the Antonine Baths was very impressive (largest Roman baths in all of Africa). Huge, well excavated, with a current dig site we got to see, too.

Tunisia is also a country without guard rails or anyone around to stop people from touching or climbing on everything. We saw several Instagram Influencers climbing atop pillars in their obligatory flowing garments. It was very cool to wander through all the different rooms.

Saw several more places of archeological and or religious or historical importance, but I didn’t take notes on their names (ha) so will have to research that later.

It was very cool, though. Including some Phoenician burial stones. And a French Cathedral from the 1800’s (which incorporated several North African decorative styles). And saw this sweet dog.

(Cat sightings are Definitely about 300 to 1 compared to dog sightings).

Then lunch overlooking the water. When we’d finished our meal, but before plates were cleared, some very smart cats wandered over. Yassine is also a cat fan, and encouraged us to give them a few pieces of the lamb still stuck to the bone on our plates. Ha.

Afternoon was spent wandering through the small alleyways of a ridiculously charming (and expensive) neighborhood. Gorgeous decorative doors and expensive cars. Lots of tourists from all over the world. Came across two different fashion shops doing photo shoots to promote their wedding clothes stores. One for Berber outfits, and one for Tunisian.

There was also some type of competitive scavenger hunt/puzzle game happening between different teams of friends around the area. Different stations set up, with a puzzle to solve or dart board, etc. Led to lots of laughter and raucous shouting around. Fun to observe, and a very clever idea: competitive combination scavenger hunt/escape room.

Then we went to the North Africa American Cemetery, where the US dead from WWII African campaigns are buried. It is the only US Military Cemetery in Africa. And it happened to be Memorial Day. Museum was closed in the morning because of the holiday. Which seemed a little strange to us. Later, talking to the on site director, it is closed to your groups on American holidays, but anyone with a US passport can still visit. In any case, it was opened again that afternoon when we arrived. Somber and lovely. Definitely more “Memorializing” than I normally do on the average Memorial Day. Extra wreaths and flags set up around. There’s a long ceremonial wall with the names of the missing carved into it.

And several of the burial crosses are for unidentified bodies. “Here rests in honored glory, a comrade in arms, known but to God”.

The director on site gave us some interesting information. There are two of the Tuskegee Airmen lost in the African campaign who are honored here as well. The plaque in the office included a large memorial coin for the Tuskegee Airmen. Michael goes in close and reads the initials on the coin. “I know her,” he says. He’s a graphic designer and has several friends who work for the US Mint. And apparently the offical coin designers get their initials put on the coins (I’d never noticed before).

Random, but I thought it was kinda cool. Learning!!

We also explored a site of ancient aqueducts.

and the Roman Amphitheatre of Carthage (where St Perpetua was killed).

All in all, it was a very nice day. A great mix of history and modern Tunisia, some delicious foods, and lots of new cat friends.

Cousins adventure begins in Tunisia. May 2024.

Tracy,

Browse archives for May 30, 2024
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Holy crap. How is this possible!?! This trip that’s been a “maybe” on the calendar for months is finally happening. My cousin Courtney has been trying to interest me in a trip to somewhere in the desert for years, but I am not a desert kid. And monkeys tend to be scarce in the hot sands. But she took a trip last year with small tour group through Atlas Obscura (to Slovenia) and friggin loved it. I’m not generally interested in group tours, but was willing to consider it. So we looked through the available itineraries. Final choices were either Bhutan (which requires a tour guide to visit) and Tunisia, which I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing solo. And the Tunisian itinerary was really appealing. Mediterranean time. Carthage. Djerba. Desert Glamping and star gazing. A really interesting mix, all in one country. So we paid the down payment. And then the waiting. They require a minimum of 4 people for the trip to happen (maximum of 12). Waiting. Waiting. And finally an email one day saying the Trip Was Happening!! Woohoo!

We had a tight 1 hr 5 min transfer in Paris, which we’d been nervous about from the time of buying our airfare. But Air France maintained it was possible (even though you have to go through security again at Charles de Gaulle airport!). And we both had our carry-ons flagged for extra security checks, by the slowest most methodical security employee EVER!! Then more airport rushing! (Because while the flight departed 9:20am local time, when given our boarding passes at SeaTac, it included a chilling asterisk *gates close at 9am. So now we only had 45 minutes to get off our plane, run through airport, to through security again, and make it onto next plane. Eek! Happy to report we made it to our gate with EIGHT WHOLE MINUTES TO SPARE!!!! Also, the gate was still full of people and hadn’t actually started boarding yet/was running late. But even if it had been on time, we would have just barely made it.

AND I fulfilled my “off to see some monkeys” agenda, because a young girl on our flight had a fantastic large plush monkey toy…and her dad had the most magnificently intense large curling handlebar mustache. I wanted to take pictures of both the monkey and the mustache, but it didn’t feel polite.

At Tunis airport, it is hot and crowded. Waiting for our luggage. Waiting. One of our bags arrives, but not the other. Long line at the lost luggage counter. Those poor employees. Only two women for all the airlines arriving at Tunis. Every single person is yelling at them. Ugh. She can’t find my bag in the computer system at all, asks her coworker, and then asks me to stand off to the side. Eventually she calls me back and sends me into a side office with different employee. He also can’t find my bag in the system. Creates a report with a number and says to keep checking this website. And gives instructions on how to file a claim if bag isn’t delivered to hotel after 3 days. #Adventure. Also, I’m a little worried as it’s been over an hour since we landed and I’m not sure the hotel provided airport transport person will still be waiting for us. Luckily he was! And was very proactive on assisting with the missing bag. Tells us, despite what the form letter says, they never bring bags to the hotel. You have to go back to the airport to pick it up (which matches what some people in line were experiencing earlier).

We check in and get that glorious shower after long travel day. Grab a patio lunch. Stunning purple Jacaranda trees. Our hotel is in the French colonial neighborhood and it’s full of charming boulevarda. We do a little shopping trying to replace a few lost luggage items.

The man at the shoe store was as delighted to practice his English as I was to test out some of the Arabic phrases I’d memorized. “I am hungry. I am tired,” he says to me (after learning we spoke English). Me too! He was very sweet. Ended up sharing pictures of his 3 month old granddaughter Sara. He was so proud of her. Threw in a pair of socks with the shoe purchase, “My gift to you. You come to my country and lose your luggage. May things be better soon.”

Street cats are everywhere (boy is that an understatement. As this trip has progressed, the number of cats seen has increased exponentially. And some of them are ROUGH looking. It’s tough out here on the streets. But I wasn’t quite expecting to see so many of them missing one eye. Yikes). Courtney is much more willing to pet the ones who come over. I’ve made friends with a few in later days. And ones who looked a little better off (maybe with less chance they’re full of mites and fleas?). Ha.

We wander a little bit more and see the city lit up at night. Saw a crowded sports bar watching soccer match. Later at an outdoor cafe, giant TV screen shows the match 90th minute going into stoppage time. Sadly, the Tunisian team lost to the Egyptian team 1-0. Folks were, understandably, very sad. Later I looked online and they lost because of an own goal, which is even harder. But I did learn that the the Tunis team has some Rad nicknames. “Espérance Sportive de Tunis, known as ES Tunis or simply EST for short, and nicknamed “Mkashkha”, The Elder of Tunisian Clubs, the Blood and Gold Club and The Beast of Africa.”

Found dinner at a very stylish loosely Italian themed restaurant. Crowd was a mix of very stylish Tunisians, and some UK and European tourists. TV was showing the French Cup soccer match. Mostly strong party vibes and lots of drinking. We’re just tired, wanting food and then bed. Someone starts setting up microphone and DJ equipment. “Is there going to be karaoke?” Not exactly. A woman in a stunning Red Carpet worthy gown arrivesz and starts singing a Christina Aguilera ballad to a track (that includes backup vocalists). She proceeded to sing a variety of tunes, including some songs in Arabic that had the crowd singing and clapping along. As well as an Italian folk song that Courtney also knew, that drew in the crowd. Unexpected but fun.

Our tour wasn’t scheduled to begin until 6pm welcome dinner the following day. So we’d have a day to explore the city of Tunis on our own. But we’re told that the other tour folks (3 people, for a total group of only 5!!) also arrived a day early, so we’d be starting with a welcome breakfast at 8am instead. Huh, but okay. What ended up happening was, because we were all already in the city, our guide decided to change up the itinerary and do a few things earlier so we could have more time and see lots more around Carthage the next day. Which was great (even if it did cut down on solo exploration time).

We meet everyone at breakfast. A woman our age, Sarah, who also happens to live in Seattle (small world). And a Gen X son from Orange County traveling with his dad who lives in Northern California. The guys (Michael and Arthur) are exceedingly well-traveled. Like, been to more than 100 countries. Many of the trips taken together. Conversation is an avalanche of travel anecdotes! Smile and Arthur, the father, is so deadpan in his delivery as he is almost constantly telling a story that turns out to be a joke. But 30% of the time it’s a real story, not a meander to a punchline. Courtney catches on quicker and starts trying to beat him to the punchline. She’s often successful. And adorably, he doesn’t let this rattle him and he still continues on and says the end of the joke himself too, but with an acknowledgement that she earned points. His constant joking in a serious tone has led to frequent confusion and concern from our guide Yassine, though. Humor (especially such dry silliness and pretend complaints) doesn’t translate across language and cultural barriers. And I’m sure Yassine has had to deal with tourists who are constantly complaining and having issues with everything. So he’s constantly trying to suss out what the issue is, and either Arthur or one of us will have to let him know that he’s joking.

We got to visit the Bardo Museum, which has one of the largest collections of Roman Mosaics in the world. Truly some stunning self. And so many of them were huge! I particularly enjoyed the expression of this servant, holding up a mirror for the lady of the house.

Also saw a monkey shaped vase, so more monkey goals achieved.

Wandered through town, getting a chance to see so many of the gorgeous decorative doors for which Tunisia is famous.

Panoramic view from the roof of a restaurant, but happily lunch was inside (not in the sun).

Lovely conversation as we’re all getting to know each other. Giant platters of couscous and other Tunisian dishes. Brik a thon (a savory fried thin dough stuffed with tuna and egg). It’s explained to me that eating this is a test! I’m instantly competitive. Waiter brings over disposable napkins (as you eat this with your hands). Sometimes the egg is over-medium instead of hardboiled and the goal is to hold it and eat it in such a way that none of the yolk drips. It’s very hot out of the oven, but I want to prove myself! Once I finally got down to the filling, turns out my egg was more fully cooked, so not a challenge after all. Ha.

Next off to the medina for some sightseeing. Now, because this itinerary item was moved ahead one day, we’re here on a Sunday and 90% of the stalls are closed. But actually that’s okay, as we walk along each tiny hallway. Still cool to see, and there’s still plenty of sellers trying to get us to stop and purchase. We all recognize that being there when it was officially open and packed full of local shoppers and tourists and merchants would be overwhelming.

Gorgeous sunset view from our room. The black specks are hundreds of swallows swooping and feasting on the millions of mosquitoes. The cries of the birds are intense…so many of them makes it very noisy.

We then have our welcome dinner (pushed back until 8pm). It’s at the hotel buffet, which I generally find less intriguing/exciting as an option when traveling. But it’s convenient and not my decision to make. Smile perfectly decent food. And the staff are all great. Then it’s off to bed to prepare for tomorrow, visiting multiple sites throughout the Carthage area!

Rainy Oregon Coast: January 2024

Tracy,

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Spent two of the Rainiest days ever at one of my favorite places, Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast.

And being the Pacific Northwest, even though it was soggy so often, we’d have breaks of 10-20 min, allowing for some lovely views The dog was unimpressed by the bad weather, often looking back at me, seemingly asking me WHY we were out in this miserable windy rain. But then weather would lighten, and she’d once again revel in all the fun smells and trying to chase seabirds while on leash.

On our second day, exploring a relatively isolated beach area near Manzanita, two dogs and their owners are exploring off leash. These pups seem a perfect energy match for Tilly. They’re playing nicely and excitedly with her still on the leash. And so i relent, and allow the dog some freedom to go play her favorite game in the world: chase!! And for 5 minutes they’re having the best time ever ever ever. Then Tilly veers off and dives face first into the seagrass, and proudly emerges with a dead seagull carcass in her mouth! I yell “Oh God!” And “Drop it!” As Tilly starts playing keep away & using the dead thing as chase-enticement. She rushes up to me, and shakes the carcass so vigorously that feathers and bits of dead bird go flying EVERYWHERE… including into my mouth! Oh my god! I may NEVER stop internally screaming.Back onto the leash and back to the car, me sputtering and grossed out to the max! Happily I’d recently been to the dentist, so had the small free sample mouth wash in the car. So Much Gargling! (Glad to have this option, as i might’ve started considering the hand sanitizer). Ugh. Convincing myself it was just a tiny bit of feather, because that’s the least worse of the options. *Shudder*

I then proceeded to text many pals the story, beginning “So if i die, know this is why.” Reactions were appropriate. Lots of laughter and commiseration and some shared gagging. Ack!! (Worth noting that only a small percentage of those I texted did a Proof of Life check in the next day. To them, many thanks. To everyone else, I see how it is. *Side eye*)

Hope Tilly truly enjoyed the beach chase game to its full potential, because she will never be off leash again!!!! Never ever!! The next day on the beach, walking past different sea grass that must also have been hiding dead things/wonderful stinky smells, dog did her best to convince me to let her off leash again. But couldn’t conceal the CRAZY in her eyes. Ha.

And then proceeded to gloriously roll on her back in what was assuredly a Stinky Spot on the beach. The joys of Dog Life.

*Laughs* Despite this HORRIFIC experience, the rest of the trip was very nice. Cozy reading time by the fire place, lots of damp beach walks and some park hikes. As a lifelong Pacific Northwest kid, I knew to pack TWO rain jackets, because often one is still sodden when it’s time to go outside again. Three cheers for a Black Friday sale offering an awesome mid-week rate in January that allowed for such fun adventures. And for a glorious 25 minutes of actual sunshine our final morning!

Favorite Books Read in 2023

Tracy,

Favorite books read in 2023

Here’s what stood out to me of the 80+ books I read this year. 

“A Memory Called Empire” by Arkady Martine

This was so flippin’ good. You’re dropped almost immediately into a “who dunnit,” with a newly assigned ambassador to the Gigantic Teixcalaanli Empire. This is a rushed assignment, and Mahit has to hit the ground running, try to figure out how the previous ambassador died, while trying to do the complicate political dance to continue preventing the empire from colonizing her small space station. Add a dash of some unreliable information sources: the people of Liesl space station have implanted imago devices, which carry a long lineage of the personalities and lived experiences of generations of their predecessors. It’s a fascinating bit of world building, but Mahit’s imago is 15 years out of date, so the only memories she can access from the previous ambassador are soooo old. Plus everyone she encounters likely has secret motives and multiple plots (she is a “barbarian” ambassador sent to the Empire’s seat of power). All the swirling diplomacy and false smiles and misdirections and personal agendas. It’s just fantastic! Plus the World Building is sooooo cool. The Teixcalaanli are fascinating and watching the way that their media has spread and shaped them and their conquered planets. The pacing is soooo good. Discoveries and secrets and adventure and mysteries and ever-present lurking threat and immediate dangers. It’s just such a well written and plotted political quagmire. And while Mahit’s concern for the death of her predecessor and for preventing the colonization of her people is obviously SUPER important to her, that’s all just a minor blip amidst all the power struggles within the seats of power in the Empire (having a murky line of succession will do that). And there are hints of a looming outside threat to the entire Empire, too! Truly wonderful. And the author deftly keeps it all grounded inthe very real personal and very understandable emotions. Our characters are interesting and well-rounded and complicated and flawed and very human. Space Opera is best when this genre allows us to see so much of ourselves and learn so much of ourselves. From the Vox review: “When you live in a place filled with power and wealth, it can be difficult to see how power and wealth breed destruction radiating out from the center. The empire can’t help but knock over smaller, independent nations, because even when it doesn’t try to, its pop culture and brand of politics infect everything around it. Smaller nations can stay alive through crafty diplomacy or military might or some combination of the two, but they still have to coexist in a world built by people who don’t realize how much chaos they’ve caused. The chaos becomes oxygen. It’s all around, so it must be normal.” BIG ideas swirl amidst the page-turning fun. I also really loved the sequel “A Desolation Called Peace”

“I’ll Give You the Sun” by Jandy Nelson

One of my favorites for the year. The narrative voices of the twins were SO PHENOMENAL. Fully unique and compelling and alive and imaginative and artistic and the way each of them orients to and within the world is amazing. Noah’s chapters are taking place at age 13, and Jude’s chapters are taking place three years later. Alternating between the timeline and their individual viewpoints was so effective. I felt instantly transported into their brains and worlds. Noah, as a visual artist, sees and describes things in such fantastical imagery. I honestly had to stop and check, two pages in, that this wasn’t actually a fantasy novel (as he was talking about being chased by giants and other metaphorical images. Wait, are these REAL giants?!? Nope, high school bullies. But so evocative). There’s real heartache and grief and the magic of first friendships and first loves and the complications of growing up and navigating early dating and hurts. It’s all wonderfully real and capital T true, and told in such compelling and immersive ways. Grown up issues and kid issues and it was just truly gorgeous and transportive and cathartic.

“Harlem Shuffle” by Colson Whitehead

I am consistently impressed at Whitehead’s wide RANGE of genre and tone and character building. Every novel I’ve read of his has been fantastic, but they are often so starkly different. This is a fantastically fun (and funny) heist, crime, low-key gangster period piece, set in the late 50’s/early 60’s of Harlem. It’s instantly engaging. The writing is phenomenal. The characters are so fully formed, you can feel them breathing from the page. The plot keeps the pages turning. We’re following Carney: striving furniture salesman and family man by day, with some less savory connections and dealings in the shadows. The lines between right and wrong are sometimes not so clear, and other times VERY clear but you can still often understand why a character chooses to cross them. Especially as the very real systemic problems and rigged systems of doing things “the right way” continue to be exposed and made plain. It’s also just dang entertaining. I saw Whitehead speak in Seattle for the release of the 2nd book “Crook Manifesto” and that helped spur me onto finally reading this novel, that’s been sitting on my shelf for a few years. Also my aunt Ellen was raving about it too, so I knew it was time. And so glad I did. Proved a fantastic companion for a trip to a cabin at the beach. I’ll leave with some words from the reviewer in The Guardian “And finally, you’ll discover a tenderness beneath the swagger. Whitehead draws his roster of secondary characters, especially the ones that could easily become stock figures such as crime bosses and petty thieves, with as much care as the primary ones. His portraits are never mean-spirited; instead, Whitehead renders the humanity of hustlers. He gets their sweetness down. Some of them have clean aspirations of farm life or higher education. He makes us love them the way their mamas must. Take, for example, Pepper, an enforcer who would be played perfectly by Samuel L Jackson. He asks our humble furniture salesman, Carney: “What made you want to sell couches?” Carney replies: “I’m an entrepreneur.” “‘Entrepreneur?’ Pepper said the last part like manure. ‘That’s just a hustler who pays taxes.’””

“Babel: Or, The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution” by RF Kuang.

Such a compelling and immersive and propulsive experience. This alternate history of 1830’s Oxford contains a really fascinating magic system. This world and history is very very much like our own, but there is Magic. But this isn’t faeries and vampires and wizards. The “magic” is created by scholars through the power of translation and definitions. When inscribed on silver bars, translated word pairings can create magical effects. Really wonderful discussions about language and power and the inherently tricky work of translating ideas and what is “left behind” shifting from one word/culture to another. And in Kuang’s Oxford, that “left behind” bit creates power. Magic that can be used for amazing healing and help in the world. But is most often weaponized by those already in power, or used for frivolity by the 1% (making garden fountains on grand estates burble more pleasingly or roses bloom year round). The journey our main character (and friends) go on feels so very true and believable. As this cohort of immigrants and women (people who would NOT have been allowed in Oxford in 1830, but are grudgingly accepted as necessary for the work of the magical translators) find each other and friendship and hardship and then, at different speeds, begin to start questioning the systems around them. And that sure sounds like it would make for a grim read, or at least, something that feels Heavy and like Work. Yet Kuang has crafted a novel where the pages just fly by. Plus, footnotes in fiction!! I’m always such a sucker for those. It’s wry and oftentimes hilarious. It’s also full of real world pain and trauma. And found family. Struggle and success. In essence, it’s life. Exploring the role and consequences of Empire and Colonialism. Of systemic hierarchies. Of class struggle and instransigent governmental structures. BIG ideas. Multiple and differing choices we all face when we are faced with/learn about injustice. And the multiple and differing and messy ways we all respond. Pretty much everyone in book club devoured this novel. Been thinking about it for months now. Truly, one of the best things I read all year. Really appreciated the nuanced and flawed characters throughout. They all felt REAL and believable, even when some were taking actions that hurt your heart or angered or frustrated you. And fascinating watching Robin’s internal and external journey.  

“The Oleander Sword” by Tasha Suri

So friggin’ good. I’d delayed reading this sequel, because I was on an (ultimately fruitless) search for an intensely detailed recap of the first book. While I’d remembered over-arching plots and characters, the story was so lush and rich and full of intensely gorgeous and detailed world building (each kingdom with its own rules and religion and cultures), I’d wanted a refresher. I did find several reviews that went over the first half of the book in details, but then stopped for fear of spoilers. So I ended up skimming some of the previous book and just plain re-read the final 80 pages or so, which was a delight. These words flow so pleasingly across the palette. And this sequel drops you right into the action. (So maybe wait until third book is published, so you can just read all three at once?). Some new POV characters, and old favorites. The stakes continue to be Intense with a capital I. Loyalties are stretched, hearts are conflicted, further discussions of empire and power and the murkiness of both. The ways in which power (who can have it, the cost of striving for it, collateral damage along the way) affects everything, even those just trying to live their lives on the sidelines. Truly fascinating new things are revealed. The cultures and religions described are so rich and vibrant and fully realized and wonderful to explore. Malina and Priya continue to be compelling characters. But truly, all the characters are fascinating and detailed. It’s just a phenomenal piece of writing, and Suri continues to show us that a “happily ever after” isn’t a part of the real world, and that conquest and power (regardless of motives) is damaging and hard and complicated, whether it’s being sought/wielded for moral reasons or not. Intense stuff. 

“Remarkably Brighty Creatures” by Shelby Van Pelt

Oh, this was lovely! Can’t remember who mentioned it so that I added it to my library holds list, but soooo glad I did. I had NO IDEA half of this is narrated by the Octopus at an aquarium, counting down the days of his captivity. The unlikely observations and interactions between the octopus and the elderly cleaning lady at the Aquarium. I’m smiling just remembering this story. Characters felt Very real, and sometimes frustratingly so (I’ve known too many Camerons in my life, and his understandable but frustrating inertia in life). This story is just plain charming. Some real emotions and true human moments. Plus, did I mention that part of it is narrated by a Giant Pacific Octopus?!? Wonderful. 

“Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Novel” by Tyler Feder

Beautiful and sweet and sad and appreciated. A dear friend gifted me this awhile ago, after my mom passed, with a heartfelt note that I may not be ready to read this, and I may never be interested, and that was okay, but here it is. Took me 18 months to be ready, but it was a very touching little memoir. Specifically focusing on her experiences of losing a parent when you’re younger (she was a freshmen in college, and her sisters in high school). About the lack of resources where she saw herself reflected, so finally deciding to write her own. And it’s also a lovely and poignant examination of the process of losing someone, and finding a way forward. The family dynamics. The interactions with the larger world. It was very touching. 

“The Swimmers” by Julie Otsuka

What a strange and lovely little book. It starts with a We narration representing all the different types of people who go swimming at the community pool. Long evocative lists and varied adjectives are piled upon each other, in rhythmic paragraphs mimicking the rhythm of swimming laps. There’s a meditative quality to it, but it’s also full of hyper-specific details. Our bookclub was split on how we each consumed these words, some focusing and absorbing each detail, and others letting the details wash over them. Both methods were found to be effective. The middle section introduces change. A crack appears in the pool. There is an ongoing almost Kafka-esque quality to this crack and the various vague but excessively named bureaucratic agencies that inspect and respond to the crack. We explore the different human reactions to this change. Eventually it is announced that the pool will be closing temporarily and then indefinitely. The frustrations and grief and anger and emotions such a loss causes. Reading this after having lived through the first years of Covid gave the metaphor extra power. What happens when something beyond our control shows up and throws our daily routine into a tizzy. There’s curiosity and worry and superstition, and things continue to change and we’re powerless to stop it. We’re shown such a variety of human reactions to such happenings.

And then we get to the final third of the book. I was NOT expecting this and was not prepared. One of our many colorful character gang of swimmers is Alice, a woman with dementia. But when she slips into the water, she remembers exactly what to do. In the final section of the book, we are following her story now that the pool has closed. Once again we have a “We” narration, this time it is the voice of the senior living Memory Care institution. Always smiling, always using euphemistic language. Always pitching things in a positive light, but very upfront about the costs involved and how being able to spend more money will garner a much better experience for your loved one. We also get some You narration, describing the behavior and emotions of the woman’s adult daughter. They’ve a strained relationship, and it’s emotional and tough and beautiful and real. Watching the daughter get glimpses into her parents’ relationship and learning to see more love and care there than she’d noticed before. There’s long rhythmic hyper-detailed paragraphs again, listing all the things Alice has forgotten and the things she remembers. She remembers details of being forced into an internment camp as a child. She remembers her daughter had a cat named Gasoline. She has forgotten the name of her husband. Again, some let this information wash over them, and others of us absorbed each descriptive word. Both approaches yielded satisfying results. Having not read the back of the book before reading this, and because Alice was just one of many swimmers for the 1st two thirds of this novel, I didn’t expect this change in focus/subject matter. And this is how I became the woman quietly crying, while reading this book poolside on vacation!! Having had my own experience’s with my mom’s dementia, this hit me! I found it powerful and beautiful. (Also I sat in further gratitude, that my relationship wasn’t difficult. And that my mom passed before her dementia got so bad that she was forgetting people). “Don’t mind the crying lady on vacation.” Ha. Turns out these servers are probably used to people crying for a whole host of reasons. They all just went about their business and didn’t inquire or interact. Also, the parts written about the Memory Care facility were full of wry cutting humor, but sometimes a laugh-to-keep-from-crying type of funny. It was all terribly true (in the same way the observations and reactions from the different bureaucracies were terribly true). And having worked in a pool in college, the descriptions of swimmers felt very accurate, too. Every subculture has it’s own vibes, and we’ve got several former lifeguards and swim coaches in book club, and they all felt the realness of these descriptions.

So it’s a book about all the different types of swimmers, about mundane habits and tasks and finding meditation and meaning in those things. And how we change, often against our will, when those things are taken away or changed. And then we follow Alice as the loss of this routine and her dementia grows and we follow her husband and daughter as this happens. And then my pal Sarah pointed out that there could be a larger metaphor here. The pool and the swimmers in all their variety and emotions and different experiences, this could represent your mind and your memories and experiences. And then the cracks begin, as dementia begins. And different parts of your brain react differently. And you try to paper over the cracks, and tell yourself they aren’t a big deal, and become superstitious, and all the myriad ways we respond. As some swimmers (memories?) leave the pool earlier than others. Until finally the pool is shut down. Woah. This book is tiny but powerful, with lots of layers, and carefully chosen words, and so many descriptions and ideas and words for you to swim through. Lovely and humorous and sad and upsetting and real and affecting and sweet. 

“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” by Gabrielle Zevin

Enough people finally told me to read this, so I did. It’s instantly engaging. The characters are so real and complex and flawed and human. The story is interesting, and while they’re older than me, I still had lots of nice nostalgia moments. Wishing characters were better at communicating with each other, as you watch lots of misunderstandings and hurt feelings and the consequences of making assumptions and then actively re-framing years of friendship and interactions. Narrative plays with time, bouncing between past present and future in a wonderful way, that explores layers and keeps the pages turning. Also really interesting reading about the different games that they develop. Sam talking about how you can’t reason/logic someone out of their perceptions of you really hit home. Understandable (and sometimes not) fumblings and missteps as they’re growing and learning to be adults. It just felt very real and immersive and interesting. Issues of alienation and isolation and finding your people and how to fit in or not within established systems. Learning and experiencing all the parts about being human. It’s stories within stories, like the video games they design.

“Stay True” by Hua Hsu

What a beautifully written memoir. So many times i was struck by a turn of phrase or description. In this memoir of his early college days. Strong sense of place and sense of time/era. As well as what that growing up post high school and into college experience is like. How friendships and formed and lost. Early fumblings at relationships and finding out who you are and how to be an adult. Evocative and brought up several of my own memories. And it’s also a beautiful and real examination of death and grief. Don’t remember who told me about this so that I added it to my library queue. Not generally drawn to memoir (unless it’s a travel memoir), even from people I know. But this was a nice and shorter read. And he is a very very wonderful writer. Many many quotes that i highlighted.

“Murder on Sex Island” by Jo Firestone

This was a god-damned delight. Jo Firestone is so friggin funny and I cannot recommend the audiobook highly enough. Wonderful getting to hear her unique voice (often full of humorous emotion) narrating this ridiculous story of Staten Island divorced social worker turned alter ego Private Investigator. Hired to to undercover on a “Love Island” style reality show to solve a murder. Ha. Observations are ridiculous and hilarious and it’s also a fun who-dunnit. I’ve only ever watched one episode of Love Island (on an Oregon Coastal get away with a dear pal who was obsessed, so we had to watch the two hour finale. It was a fascinating experience, and gave me some tiny insight into just how REAL the things being done on this fictional “Sex Island” reality show are. But still, this will be hilarious good time for anyone who hasn’t watched this type of reality show, too. 

“The Moor’s Account” by Laila Lalami

Compelling and lovely and fascinating historical fiction. Envelopes you in this world of 1500’s Americas, following a group of spanish conquistadors who get lost for many years. The true facts around this novelization were WILD!!! And the imagined way Lalami intuits and fills in the gaps all seem eminently plausible. The pages turn beautifully. The descriptions and interactions and variety of human experiences are quite telling and fascinating. Whether celebrating in Cortez’ looted riches or fighting the mosquitoes in a swampy quagmire, the reader is transported. And man’s pride and folly and care and harm for each other. This historical novel has ALL the twists and turns. Soooo good. 

“Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America” by Matika WIlbur

Truly stunning. These photos are gorgeous. The profiles are touching and powerful and funny and real. There’s so much joy and reality and pride and truth here. Amazing hearing the author speak of her 10 year project and the true collaborative nature of this project… moving away from a Western Journalism perspective where these photos and stories would Belong to her alone because she took them down. Instead, she thought of this project as communal and in partnership with her subjects. Which required lots of effort and back and forth communications. And has resulted in something powerful and beautiful and real. This book is such a gift.

“The House in the Cerulean Sea” by TJ Klune

I was completely charmed and taken in by this book. Hadn’t read the back or anything about it. But I’ve had multiple people, from very disparate parts of my life, recommend it over the last year. Grateful my pal Peter gave me his copy when I was over for dinner one evening, “Just, take it. You have to read it.” Hadn’t expected I was going to get this wonderful cast of wayward magical kids. You’re transported on this journey, and you fall in love with all these characters. A few in bookclub had quibbles about the plot (and one person did not care for Linus and had major issues with the book, but still loved the orphanage characters). But pretty much all of us enjoyed the journey. If you’re looking for a sweet escape, full of hijinx and memorable characters and things working out in the end (even when maybe realistically they shouldn’t have been sorted as cleanly), this book is a great comfort. Found family and finding confidence in ones self and being fiercely protective of those you love. It’s a simple story, well told. Just lovely. And then there’s magical beings, too. 

“Atlas Alone” by Emma Newman

Hoo boy. I’ve loved each one of the books set in this imagined future, and have really appreciated that each is so friggin’ different from the previous books. Newman is one hell of an author. (honestly, the first book of the 4 is probably my least favorite, and I still quite liked it). This one is wrapping up some of the plot points left hanging from the second book, and continuing with a few of those characters, but with a new narrator with a fresh new viewpoint. Nefarious plots are investigated. Lots of continued big ideas, and small scale traumas and hardships. Glimpses into the truly gross and inhuman corporate excesses and fanaticism of the elites on this ship. Big ideas and grand scope, yet it’s such a smaller scale intimate and very human story. Masking and hiding, being so isolated and unable to trust even ones closest friends. It was a very good read, and I’m left itching for MORE MORE MORE. But Newman is taking a break, a long one. I hope she decides to return to this world. But the journey and different glimpses into different peoples and timelines have each been wonderful and dynamic and keep my guessing and turning pages. Such fascinating character studies and mysteries and adventure stories with Big Ideas swirling all around. Great stuff. 

“Hild” by Nicola Griffith

This was one of my absolute favorite books read in 2013 when it came out. And I was thrilled to learn Griffith had written a sequel ten years later. But I also knew I’d want/need to be re-reading this first. This is such a gloriously descriptive and dense novel, that never feels heavy or unweildy. You luxuriate in the prose and the descriptions. Since Hild’s “superpower” is from being hyper observant, it works so so well. The way important details are revealed through an observation of a wild thrush or an embroidery pattern. Which sounds like maybe it would be boring, but it is so beautifully immersive and engaging. But also, it is a BIG novel. And I was hesitant to give 500+ pages back to this world in preparation for giving 500 more pages in the sequel. So I was thrilled to find the library had an audiobook version. 22 hours(!!) but I decided to give it a shot. And basically tore through the whole thing in three days. It was wonderful being back in this world, and to have a narrator be there to be so confident in the old english pronunciations and vocabulary and names. This historical novel is such a joy and so well trodden and lived in and human. Here’s how I recapped it at the end of 2014: “Oh, how I do love historical epics. Gorgeous full story inspired by the seventh-century woman in ancient england who would come to be revered as Saint Hilda, who worked as the Seer to one of the kings. One reviewer said it was as “immersive as a river in rain. Her prose is so startlingly beautiful that reading description never feels like work — which is no mean feat, considering that many of her descriptions are about the running of medieval households.” It’s lovely and complex and well researched with taut/complex political maneuvers and clever and wonderful.” And then here was my initial review for myself when I first read it ten years ago: “Loved loved loved this. Sweeping historical epic, but the characters and events felt so small and personal…lovely minute details added such a richness and fully fleshed world, without ever feeling boring or slow. (I can’t quite think of buttermilk the same). Man, I swear you could almost taste the tastes, smell the smells, etc. The character of Hild is so fascinating and such a keen observer of her world. The plot DID NOT go where I expected, but it was fantastic.

The Old Irish and Old English names are a real trial. Very hard for my brain to deal with, and having so many characters with names so similar (while I’m sure it was accurate, it was VERY confusing). Griffith makes NO effort to hold her reader’s hand. if you aren’t paying attention and can’t remember, too bad. There is a family tree at the beginning, but one would really REALLY benefit from a full list of characters, because so many folks are mentioned who play key political roles, but we never even meet them. And they’re not part of Hild’s family. Also, the glossary and pronunciation guide are at the BACK of the book. I only discovered this halfway through. Would’ve been more helpful initially.”

—-Honorable Mentions—

“Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage” by Stephanie Coontz

This impeccably researched history of marriage throughout the ages is one of the books I’ve definitely thought about the most this year. Fascinating look at the institution of marriage and how it has changed over millenia and across cultures. While the first third, and some of the conclusion, deals with lots of interesting different cultural versions and ideas over the years, the majority of the book is mostly tracing marriage across western europe and north america. Lots of new information, and other things I already knew. Great resources and very well researched. Led to a super engaged and dynamic book club conversation. 

“Shutter” by Ramona Emerson

Ohhhh. This was fascinating, following a Navajo crime scene photographer (who also happens to see spirits. Which, as you can imagine, is an inconvenience if not a problem when combined with her job). Chapters alternate between current day and hee childhood and past. Keeps the pages turning, layering in important character insights, and just really nice little moments. Each chapter subheading lists the specific camera(s) used in that chapter, which was fun and gave great sense of place/purpose to this story. Real moments of loving connections with her grandmother and others in her community. And just very real interactions with coworkers and neighbors and the spirits. All of it was interesting, fast paced, and well done.

The pal who recommended this wasn’t sure if it would be too scary for me. So i was a bit worried. But didnt need to be. Its got some good atmosphere, and several ghosts hanging around their crime scene bodies (so descriptions of violent crimes and mutilations). But even though there is some supernatural menace, it wasn’t too scary. 

“Any Way the Wind Blows” by Rainbow Rowell

I found this a very satisfying wrap up to these characters adventures and finding themselves as they’re growing up and testing out adulthood. Some big truths and some bigger emotions (this is a Rowell book after all). Complicated family relationships remain complicated but people eventually start using their words and finding ways forward. The concept of lots of new “Chosen Ones” popping up in the magical world was interesting and unexpected new subculture to explore. And Baz and Simon start actually using their words, even though it’s a struggle. It was realistic but also reassuring. Loved Penelope’s journey here. And several of our side characters get interesting journeys of self discovery. I enjoyed the “peek behind the curtain” discoveries in lots of different ways. Finding out that things and systems and peoples are as binary nor as sorted as you’d thought when a child. It all felt very real and true, set in a world that also have magic and magical creatures in it. Some of the best things one wants in their YA.

“Passage West” by Rishi Reddi

What a complicated and emotional and very human story. You can tell how much research went into this tale of two Indian immigrants to the US Pacific Coast in the early 1900’s. From logging camps in Washington to sharecropping in California, we spend years following these two men, through friendships and hardships and fights and celebrations. The complex relationships, the cultural and political currents around them, familial obligations and oppressive laws. It’s mostly illegal for immigrants to own land, and the sharecropping system has so many pitfalls and opportunities for abuse. It’s also almost impossible for immigrants to bring their wives/family into the US. But also, the racist miscegenation laws make it illegal for many racial groups to marry anyone already in the US. So these men are often forced into long years of isolation and loneliness. There was so much history here, while following these very human stories. I’ve found myself often thinking about this novel throughout the year. 

“The Last True Poets of the Sea” by Julia Drake

This was a lovely journey. Our narrator is so raw and confused and quick to assume everything is her fault. In other words, she’s a teenager. After her brother’s suicide attempt, she’s shipped off to spend the summer with her uncle in the town of Lyric (founded by her great great great grandmother, the sole survivor of a shipwreck all those years ago). There’s mystery, and working at the aquarium, and a nice gang of quirky kids, and learning to find out who you are, and learning to communicate, and lots of explorations of mental health and emotions and family drama and trauma. As well as complicated teenage romantic relationships. And lovely writing. And funny word play. And clever pals. And lots of shipwreck discussion (historical and metaphorical). I loved being immersed in this narrative voice. It was a beautiful and easy to read journey. “A warm, wise, strange meditation on developing the strength to be vulnerable.” -Kirkus

“A Court of SIlver Flames” by Sarah J Maas

While the first book felt a bit formulaic and just average, appreciative of the pals who told me to stick with it, as this series took some interesting twists and turns, delving into the darker and traumatic effects of these high fantasy epic battles and the problematic nature of the relationship in the first book. All the content warnings. And so it was a fun way to pass the time, and this final book was good, too. Enjoyed getting to read Nessa’s story. It’s always interesting to read through the eyes of an unlikeable character. We get to see inside her head and learn a lot more of the layers and complex emotions and traumas she’s dealing with. Interesting reading about our Scooby Gang with an outsider’s eye. From someone who is constantly invited in, but stubbornly chooses for her own complicated reasons to remain on the outside. The journey towards healing. Enjoyed learning more about the library and the sanctuary it provides to those who find it. I enjoyed spending more time in this world and furthering the journey. I appreciate that things aren’t easy or pat, even though these are still novels where Good ultimately wins. But it’s all messier and more complicated (but in a way my heart can still handle write now. Not TOO grim or dark. But there are definitely stakes and consequences. And alliances are fraught and murky. The politick-ing is complex and well wrought). Appreciated getting more nuance and insight into Cassian, too. 

“Act of Oblivion” by Robert Harris

Excellent historical fiction about events after Charles II is made king, and the Regicides (those who signed the king’s death warrant along with Cromwell) are hunted down. While I knew a few of the large historical bullet points, there was LOTS that I learned. Honestly hadn’t ever heard of “The Act of Oblivion” itself, and found this idea of official “plugging your ears and saying La La La” law fascinating. What a way to ignore the years of civil war, king’s execution, and Cromwell’s rule. It’s full of fantastic historical details. Harris writes well and paints very evocative scenes. Often painted so well they help reinforce that I have ZERO interest in living in the 17th century. Yikes. You can basically Smell some of these descriptions. Ugh. Two of the “at large” regicides have moved to New England. The invented character of Nayler provides a great focus for this manhunt. We meet tons of historical characters and important and interesting events. There were so many factoids that I kept needing to tell friends about. Some of the descriptions and interactions with the Native Americans felt cringey and uncomfortable. While it seemed an intentional choice to be seeing these people through the eyes of our Englishmen in hiding, there was definitely some weird “noble savage” stuff happening that didn’t feel great. But the descriptions and settings and differences between the different religions of England and New England were explored in ways that felt organic and informative. The main characters are given interesting depth and rich internal lives. This is a story on the edges of the Royal Court and machinations, with some interesting insights. But it truly shines when exploring the lives of more average peoples during these days. Through the Plague and great fire. Through horrible torture and executions. Through lives in hiding and risk. Totally interesting read. Shout out to the giant billboards all over London’s tube stations in Sept 2022 that got me to add this to my library hold list. 

From Central Park to Brooklyn: Final NYC Explorations. June/July weekend 2023.

Tracy,

Browse archives for August 9, 2023
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And now, per tradition, my final trip update is being typed up a month after I’ve returned home. And I’m now humming Fiddler on the Roof to myself, which happens almost every time I say the word Tradition! And it’s even a little related this time, as we had dinner at the delightful (and delightfully named) Lazer Wolf Restaurant. But let’s go in order, shall we?

Sunday morning sees us getting up early and getting dressed up, as we’re off to mass. It’s important to Laurena to go to weekly mass. She was very sweet and emphatic that this was not being required of me; just something she needed to do either Sat night or Sun morning. But I was kind of looking forward to it, too. First time just doing a regular Sunday mass (not a holiday, wedding, or funeral) in a few years. I did a bit of internet board sleuthing earlier, trying to find who gave a really great homily or had a fantastic choir or beautiful church. But majority of people just said to go to St Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s gorgeous, used to lots of drop-ins for every service, and it’s big! So we took the bus and went to the Cathedral. It was lovely. And the giant floral sways surrounding the carved doors were gorgeous (I’d seen them in autumnal colors last October. Fun to see the lovely spring pinks this time).

The 9am service was very nice. The main pews each had memorial plaques on them (donate x dollars to the church, and you get your name on a plaque). And while this is the seat of the Archbishop in NYC, it’s also named after an Irish saint. And over 90% of the names on the pews were VERY Irish, which entertained me. I was a bit surprised when the Junior Priest (those 12 years of Catholic schooling are failing me here, as I’m pretty sure that’s not his official title) started singing the responsorials in LATIN!! Now, growing up Catholic in Seattle, we’d often heard “the farther from Rome…” to mean that the west coast of the US had a much more lax attitude than east coast masses. But still using Latin in 2023?!? At a church service also attended by lots of tourists and non Catholics? Color me very surprised. So I appreciated when the Head Priest (Again, totally 100% accurate title) gave the homily and mentioned his surprise at the Latin as well. He gave a brief explanation of the Catholic calendar and how each mass has a set theme and responses etc. And he was pleasantly surprised to hear that today’s involved a Latin response. I was just glad to learn that’s not the standard. But it was fun to listen to. This big ole Gothic style building was full of gorgeous windows and arches and flourishes.

Now it’s 10am on a Sunday, we’re Hungry, and Rena wants a bagel. Which means we are standing in a long and kind of chaotic line, as the options for mid-town bagel shop with a decent rating is just this one place. It was tasty and we were fine waiting, but boy do I have some operational notes for the ownership. (Which I did not volunteer. My experiences in other places has always seemed chaotic at first glance, but then it actually works great. This time, that first glance impression of chaos was maintained throughout. Only having one cashier, and having that “waiting to pay” line weaving backwards and throughout the “waiting for your ordered bagel to be prepared and handed to you” line, led to lots of confusion). Still, yummy stuff.

We wandered up to the Plaza to check out the sites and think fondly of Eloise. We’d briefly considered doing the VERY EXPENSIVE afternoon tea service. But on 4th of July weekend, it’s an even more expensive and non-traditional selection of foods (fancy BBQ sliders, etc) that just didn’t have the vibes we were seeking. Super pretty, though.

Then it was a lovely but hot and MUGGY wander through Central Park. AT least the air quality was only moderately bad today. And we found a booth selling slushies. Woohoo.

Partway through the park and Laurena says she’d maybe like to see The Met Museum. We’re wilting in the heat. Sure thing, although afternoon on a Sunday might be busy. That turned out to be the understatement of the year for this most famous of museums! The line went ALL THE WAY down the multi-block long museum entrance and around the corner. She decided she didn’t want to see it that badly. Ha. We walked a few more blocks and checked out the Guggenheim instead. Fun to finally make it inside the building to explore their rounded ramp gallery spaces. I quite enjoyed the exuberant Sarah Sze installations and collages.

But most of the ramp space was dedicated to an artist called Gego. And these simple looking wire grids and squares and sculptures were just Not For Me. And that’s okay. I’m sure there is history or knowledge or context that made this art important or popular or whatever. But to me it felt bland and uninspiring. Like Laurena in the Noguchi Museum, I was the one sort of non-plussed by the offerings. Ah well. The building space was still neat. Some of the permanent exhibit was fun. And we really appreciated the climate control and seltzer water in the café. Priorities!

We came across and Episcopal Church performing “Jazz Vespers” and that was fun for about 5 minutes, then we snuck back out again.

The decision is made to spend a little time reading and relaxing back in our climate controlled hotel room before dinner. Genius! And our timing was perfect, as it started POURING down rain 5 minutes after we got into our room.

Later, it’s off to Brooklyn for our 8pm dinner reservations at Laserwolf! So delicious. Still dreaming about the harissa chicken wings. And this giant platter of different rotating things to try.

The lamb skewers were good, and the tuna was a surprise star. Fresh baked pita. Lovely view (even if the rains meant there wasn’t much of a sunset). Totally cute spot. Then it was a lovely late night wander through Williamsburg and back to our hotel.

Final morning, and we’re off to The Strand bookstore for a shopping spree! A pal had given me a gift certificate as a Thank You gift (as she knew about my impending trip). What a fun excuse to spend an hour in a bookstore! Looking online for a quick lunch option nearby, and forgot that I’ve been warned over the years that the Southeast Asian food scene in NYC isn’t great. So when we saw a well reviewed thai spot, that seemed perfect. And it was just mediocre. Perfectly serviceable and food was made fresh and fast. But very underwhelming. The space was super cute, though, with gorgeous painted murals on the brick walls.

(I think I’d been lulled into a false sense of “Their SE Asian food is good” because of my beloved past experiences at Khe-yo (for trendy Laotian) and at the wonderful Malaysian street food place Kopitiam). But that’s okay.

Then a brisk-ish 1.5 mile walk back to the hotel to grab our luggage and head to the airport. Continued the tradition of crying at movies on airplanes, by watching “Women Talking.” And then I spent a good hour staring metaphorical daggers towards the woman violently open-mouth uncovered coughing two rows ahead. For over an hour. Sheesh. You don’t have access to a mask to put on when you’re actively coughing? Rude. I don’t expect gen pop to mask up anymore (dramatic sigh) but didn’t we learn to be more conscientious when we’re actively sick?!?!? Even if it’s not covid, I still don’t want your cold! Nor do I want to bring your germs back to my housemate who is a caregiver for family in cancer treatment. Rude!

During the flight, Laurena brings up a map of New York City, and we discuss the geography and places we visited, etc. I’m amused that she’s doing this a post mortem, rather than before or even during the trip. Turns out, we are different people with different ways of doing things. After looking at the map for a bit, she says, “NOW I finally understand Billy Joel’s ‘Uptown Girl’ song” and I about die laughing. God I love my friend! Landing in Seatac, we are greeted by an aggressive amount of T-Mobile Pink. They’ve got all the “Welcome to the All Star Game” signage and wraps up, decorating the luggage carousels. So that was kind of fun surprise. And it’s good to be home, with air blessedly free of smoke, and getting to see my dog again.

About a Lizard Boy. NYC weekend part 2: June/July 2023.

Tracy,

Browse archives for July 3, 2023
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Fri morning, off to a food and history tour with Manhattan Walking Tours. https://manhattanwalkingtour.com/ Beginning with a tour of the Highline, and then food tour of Greenwich Village. Our guide Claire was a total delight. Hilarious and full of wonderful anecdotes, and lots of bouncing energy. “Did you know there’s a supply chain issue with Adderall right now? There is!” *Points at self* Ha!

Air quality is not great all day, bouncing between “unhealthy for sensitive groups” to just plain “unhealthy for everyone.” But it’s so hot and muggy, it’s extra brutal to be wearing our N95’s outside. The hazy smoke from the Canadian wildfires definitely is blocking the views that are allegedly normally available. “if you look down that street, you can see…well, you could normally see…” :/

Walking through the meatpacking district and we’re shown a building where Beyonce used to live. Woman asks, “is that where Solange beat up Jay-Z in elevator?” Yes. Then we all gossiped about the Lemonade album forever. Ha.

We stopped at a lovely French bakery (Aux Merveilleux du Fred. Which just entertains me, because I find it hard to say “Fred” with a French accent). But Fred really knows his stuff. The Merveilleux are these chilled little puffs of deliciousness. Maybe cream and merengue? I’m not sure of ingredients, but definitely order the coffee flavor one. Soooo good.

At Myers of Keswick, we had a tasty English pasty! And our choice of strange English soda. (“Nobody tell me what Burdock is. I love it and don’t want to know any more.”) I got a black currant drink, which I always enjoy.

Plus this tiny English grocer and deli has a deli cat named Gracie, and has customized bunting (of the cat’s face wearing a birthday hat) decorating the window. “This is more decorations then they put up for the coronation.” Ha.

Bleeker Street Pizza. This elderly man (Greg) is original owner’s brother. He comes out to talk about their family recipe, etc. Then, in a move that is totally On Brand for New York, he demands we each hand over our phones, and starts to take pictures of us holding our slices. Starts to chastise the couple next to us ‘Hold up your pizza higher!” “Be sure to mention my name in your review!”

Next door is the delicious Taco Mahal, where we have delicious Indian Tacos (as in India, not Native American), so it’s fresh roti, filled with delicious Indian food!! Soooo many flavors and sooo good. More wonderful stories all along our route, from Stonewall to John Wilkes Booth to Taylor Swift to Bob Dylan, and everything in between. Learned lots of fun new historical tidbits. Claire keeps checking in that it’s okay she’s running behind schedule. “Y’all are so fun and I’m enjoying telling you All the Things!” Happily, none of us had firm afternoon plans, so we got to keep laughing and learning.

Final stop at Rocco’s is for cannoli. Apparently one of the few spots that still makes their shells in house. I’ve always been underwhelmed by cannoli in general, and this was no exception, so can’t fairly judge. Ha. Claire encounters the other tour guide from her company working that morning (small company, only 7 or 8 employees total) and ropes him into telling us “the proposal story.” He shares about what happened once on one of Claire’s tours. Nearing the end of the tour, a woman announces that they’ve eaten So Much Food that she just cancelled her and her boyfriend’s dinner reservations, because they’ll be way too full. Then she goes to restroom. The bf turns pale. He was planning to propose at that restaurant!!! They’d made reservations 3 months in advance. He calls restaurant in a panic, but their table has been given away. They can be put on wait-list but no guarantee. He’s freaking out, but says he has the ring with him, and could Claire find them a special spot in Central Park where he could propose on tour? So she scrambles and changes their intended Park tour path, finds a lovely place. He proposes, she says yes, everyone cheers. Thus ends the proposal story this tour guide tells us. Then Claire says to us, “Here’s the thing. NONE of that happened.” *We gasp* “What happened was a couple was on their honeymoon. Big Food Network watchers. Made reservations at some restaurant 2 months ago and ended up canceling because they were too full. The end.” Ha. The male guide is laughing. He doesn’t know how, but his brain mixed up this story, turned it into something way more dramatic, and he genuinely thought the proposal thing was true. And he told that story to his groups for three years until one day Claire overheard. Ha! Memory is a fickle beast.

It’s a small group tour (8 people max). Mostly adults but two girls (age 10 and 13). The 13 yr old was mostly unimpressed by everything (which is on brand) until we passed a building and learned a Taylor Swift connection. Then she got excited and made her dad take lots of photos of her, while she posed all cute and was excited. Glad she got that moment!

Back to hotel to get ready for seeing “Lizard Boy” the musical written and starring Seattle’s own Justin Huertas. We start to take a selfie as Laurena tells me air quality is now deeply unhealthy for everyone. And the selfie managed to catch my “unimpressed by that news” face!!

We meet up with Joseph and Michelle again, which is always lovely. Theatre Friends!!

The show Lizard Boy is great!! Saw it ten years ago when it was first performed in Seattle. And through social media have seen updates over the years. Fun to see and hear the changes in person. Hope their month of performing off Broadway was super successful for them!

And what a fun excuse for Laurena and I to take a trip to NYC! Because we’d been on food tour until 3pm, too full for an early dinner before the show. But now at 10pm, we are looking for the nearest spot. Which is how we ended up eating some thoroughly mediocre middle eastern food. The man running the shop was super friendly. But a decided lack of hot sauce or spices. Which, come on! Still, it was edible and open and on our route, so that was just fine. We’d also been spoiled with some truly excellent food that afternoon.

Saturday morning, and Rena’s down to go to the delicious Kopitiam (Malaysian place Alison found last time I was in town). So we explore Chinatown a bit, and eat all the different things (savory and sweet and spicy and mild. Luxuriating in different textures and flavors. Yum!), along with some strong and delicious hand pulled coffee! Then make our way out to Astoria Queens. The plan is to wander, see a museum, and eat lots of different great food for dinner. Little Egypt neighborhood, and lots of great Greek places. Honestly, so many options!

First we explore the Museum of Moving Images, on Michelle’s advice. Didn’t quite know what to expect, but it was great. Lots of historical items and film equipment through the ages. Starting in 1700’s with magic lanterns and through today. And had lots of different interactive sections, letting you try your hand at different jobs related to film making. I’m enjoying myself at the Make Your Own Stop Motion Station. (I should be able to upload a short video in a few days, so check back). A very excited teenager sees it, sits down at a booth and says to his friends “okay, I guess I’ll see you all in about 12 hours!!” There’s an Additional Dialogue Recording booth where we got to practice dubbing over different movies. Rena was power tripping on her director/producer role while I was doing my best Eliza Doolittle. Got to add our own Foley sound effects to a clip from Jurassic Park. Chose a new score for some films. Just fun! Then there was a big Jim Henson exhibit (I wanted to take a selfie with Big Bird, but there were always too many kids in the way. Ha). Labyrinth and Dark Crystal puppets. Some cool special effects exhibits.

Now it’s mid-afternoon and so hot and muggy outside. Hey, there’s a Tiki Bar called Highwater with good reviews. And so we spent a fantastic time, relaxing in the fake tropics and having delightful conversations with the bartender and staff. Really great adult cocktails. And then ended with a delicious (and strong!) boozy slushie version of a passionfruit aperol spritz).

Talked dating apps and knowing yourself and claiming your life in your 40’s. Bartender mentions she’s 45 and Rena is having a freak out (as bartender looks amazing). Throughout the rest of the trip, at different moments, Laurena will, out of nowhere, exclaim “Forty Five!!!!” Ha. Genetics (and moisturizer).

Rena says she’s feeling that buzz “in her hips.” I give her a quizzical look. “The alcohol gives me loose hips” and she demonstrates by wiggling down the sidewalk!! Not exactly how I experience it, but delightful to watch.

Because air quality is still bad, we look for another indoor activity. And see the Noguchi Museum is nearby. And this is how we learned that Laurena is not a fan of these Japanese stone sculptures, although I am.

The hard part is the strict No Touching rules. I mean, I get it. But these often giant sized stones are just Begging to be touched, especially where there are interesting smoothed sections or fun ridges. So that’s sad. There are info cards in each room, and I create a game where we quiz each other, trying to guess the year each piece was made. There’s lots, spanning four decades, so you can sometimes get close to the year/see a progression or theme emerging. There’s a lovely garden/outdoor sculpture section too. Afterwards, Rena says, “thanks for making a super boring museum Way Fun.” Ha. Her main complaints are #1: it’s harder for her to see the effort and work that went into creating some of the pieces, as many are boulders with minimal obvious “sculpting.” And #2. No touching. Which feels like a waste when they so obviously want to be touched. I agree with #2. But then I learn another way in which we are different people: whereas I want to rub my palms along the marble and stone, feeling the different textures, she is instead drawn to the shapes. When she sees a carved or smoothed bit, she sees which body part seems the same size, and wants to insert her knee or shoulder or thigh or head into the similarly shaped hole. Ha!

For the record, I didn’t think it was a boring museum, but since it’s just one artist, if you aren’t into his stuff, it ain’t gonna be for you. Now we’re off to wander along the river. Parks are full of families having cookouts. It’s a great vibe.

We wander the Socrates Sculpture Park, which is a very different vibe/types of sculptures. Some amateur-ish looking statues of athletes. And big wonky pieces. And small colorful pieces. It’s a big mix.

I met an amazing English Bulldog named Daphne. Wearing a hot pink spiked collar. Just covered in tons of gold spikes. I asked if I could say hi. Owner (wearing black leather jacket with spikes and fringe) says absolutely, but know that Daphne is often unsure and takes awhile to warm up. I let her sniff me, and she wiggled down low/submissively, but crawled right up to my legs. Then stood up for good pets/scratches. Then settled in, sitting on my foot and leaning her whole body weight against my knee and thigh, which also meant pressing her many many spikes into my knee and thigh. Ouch! But worth it. And while i did discover that I had a few broken skin pricks, I didn’t bleed. Ha. If I end up getting tetanus or something, worth it!

We wander some more and are thinking of heading back to the Little Egypt area for foods, but a restroom is needed and Laurena would rather not use porta potty at the park. We come across the Arcadia kitchen and bar. And Rena likes the look of the menu, so that ends up being dinner (and a nice clean restroom). And it was great. The zucchini fritters (with mozzarella) are lovely.

And the burger is huge and tasty, too. So we did not do the self guided World Food Tour we’d initially thought to do (sharing one dish at a few different places). But a lovely and tasty respite.Then it’s more leisurely walking back towards Manhattan, checking out the neighborhood and vibes.

Until we finally decide we’ve done enough walking (and a Google search says our plan of walking across Queensboro Bridge isn’t actually that nice, because you’re too close to the cars). So we get a ride back to the hotel. Shower off all the muggy sweat and hazardous air, and go to sleep.