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It’s so strange that when I look back at this month, one random little memory comes to mind.
I was standing in the CVS on Broadway and 93rd St., fresh from a training session at the gym, picking up a bottle of coconut water, wondering whether I should pay my trainer more for analyzing my love life in between squats and deadlifts.
And then a song came on overhead — Sugar Ray’s “Someday.”
I was filled with nostalgia and warmth.
CVS was where I worked in high school; “Someday” was a popular song on the radio then. I remember the video, the band grooving on a beach in black and white, Mark McGrath all frosted tips and swaying hips. As it played, I moved over to the nearest speaker and danced a little bit, coconut water in hand, trying to pinpoint the feeling swelling through me.
Just close your eyes and I’ll take you there,
This place is warm and without a care…
The song ended too soon. I made my way to the self-checkout, feeling like something had been taken from me, but glad I had experienced it.
New York, New York
Reading, Beverly, Lynn, and Boston, Massachusetts
It was so nice to get back to Boston — I actually haven’t spent much time in the city proper since I moved to New York. I used to know Boston like the back of my hand; now that I haven’t lived there for six and a half years, I barely recognize some parts of it.
Meeting my feminist heroes. This was a fantastic month. I had no idea I’d be meeting feminist icon Gloria Steinem! My friend Amy invited me to an event honoring Dr. Willie Parker, reproductive rights advocate and author of Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice.
(John Oliver was there, too, and gave a hilarious introduction. Olivia Wilde was there as well, as an attendee, and I cracked up when Amy said, “Hey, Olivia, your backpack is unzipped so I’m just zipping it up for you now.”)
I got a chance to briefly chat with Gloria and tell her about the work I do to fight gender inequality in the travel blogging industry and elsewhere. (“Travel blogging. That’s interesting,” she said.) “I’m continuing your work,” I told her. “No,” she gently corrected me. “You’re continuing your work and I support you.” My heart felt like it was about to burst.
I also met Lindy West, one of my favorite writers in the world, whose book Shrill I named one of my favorite reads of 2016. She was giving a reading at the NYU bookstore. We had a nice discussion about the ramifications of standing up for your beliefs when it can negatively impact your career.
Enjoying flower season in New York. I’m glad I actually got some good photos this year! The cherry blossoms are so beautiful. Spring is one of my favorite times of year in the city. I love when you can ditch a jacket and have a coffee or drink outdoors.
Trying out crazy treats in New York. I’m on a mission to photograph some of the crazier foods in New York, so I waited in line for a cronut at Dominique Ansel Bakery in SoHo (and ran into two lovely readers while doing so!) and tried the fish-shaped ice cream at Taiyaki in Chinatown. Pro tip: if you want a cronut, go right when they open.
Trying out vegan restaurants in New York. No real reason for it; I just happened to try a few this month! I know I have some vegan and vegetarian readers, so here are some tips: if you want something high-end, check out Candle Cafe on the Upper West Side or Upper East Side. I loved the “lasagna” with tomatoes, pesto, cashew cheese, and thinly sliced zucchini. For something more casual, try out Sun in Bloom in Park Slope or Tribeca. They make sandwiches in collard green wraps and they got me to say the most Brooklyn thing ever: “What’s your Brazil nut latte like?” (It’s actually really delicious; you should get it, too.)
Returning to the Boston Marathon. The last time I attended was 2013, the year of the bombing, which was a very scary day. You can read about my experience here. I always find the marathon to be a moving event, and it especially was for me this year. I also got to cheer on my friend Matt, who is an avid marathoner but was running his first Boston.
Spending Easter at home with my family. It was a good time to go home. I also got my chowda fix at Legal Sea Foods. If you want the best clam chowder in Boston, that’s where you go (and don’t even THINK of getting the low cal version); if you want the best seafood chowder in the world, go to The Maine Diner in Wells, Maine.
Hanging out with a cool puppy with a bright future. My sister volunteers for Puppies Behind Bars, an organization where prisoners train puppies to become service animals for wounded vets. The puppies need to be socialized outside of the prison on a weekly basis, so Sarah gets to have a puppy stay with her overnight a few times a month. I loved hanging out with Waldo the black lab; he was so sweet. Also, you can bring a service animal anywhere, which is pretty cool.
Overall, this was a very good month, and I’m grateful for that. Nothing worse than a traffic-filled bus back to New York that took nearly seven hours as opposed to the usual five.
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The Most Photogenic Places I’ve Ever Visited — Points for Copenhagen, Istanbul, and Lake Ohrid!
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This photo from Samara, Costa Rica, taken two years ago, was just the prescription on a cold, rainy day.
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They say it takes a few months before your most observant friends and family notice any kind of weight loss. I’m glad to say that roughly 3.5 months into my fitness regimen, people are finally noticing and telling me how much skinnier I look. It feels awesome.
I took a few new classes this month: I tried out Orange Theory Fitness, which is an hourlong combination of running, strength training, and rowing in a small group setting. You wear a heart rate monitor and it tells you how many calories you burned. My friend Beth loves OTF, so I joined her at the Park Slope studio in Brooklyn. It was awesome — I loved the technology, the high calorie burn (635 for me), and how it feels like you’re on a team! I’ll definitely be back.
I also tried a combination trampoline and weights class at The Bari Studio in Tribeca, which was surprisingly hard, especially the weights portion, and I sweat SO much! Super fun, though. And I loved dancing to Beyoncé in Beyoncé’s neighborhood. (Me texting Beth: “DO YOU THINK THE BABIES HEARD US DANCING TO THEIR MOM?!?!”)
And if you’re ever around 145th St., check out Brahman Yoga. It’s a nice yoga space with cheap $8 drop-in classes. They specialize in vinyasa for all, from beginners to advanced practitioners.
These days there are two classes that I commit to at Equinox on W 92nd whenever I’m in New York: Zumba on Fridays with Adam, which is my favorite of the Zumba classes, and The Cut on Sundays with Chris, which is a hip-hop kickboxing class. Both Adam and Chris are fantastic instructors.
I will say, however, that I’m struggling a lot with diet this month. I need to smack myself back into shape.
What I Read This Month
This month I read six books and am now 23 books into the 52-book Popsugar 2017 reading challenge, putting me comfortably ahead of schedule. Here’s what I read:
The Trespasser by Tana French (2016) — I chose this from Book of the Month and I also suggested it to my book group. Tana French has written several novels about the murder squad of the Dublin police department; each novel focuses on a different detective. This book is about Detective Antoinette Conway, the only woman and person of color on the squad. There are two focuses: a case where a young woman is murdered and her new boyfriend would seem to be the obvious culprit, and the awful treatment Antoinette receives from her fellow detectives, from having her papers stolen and her coffee spat in to them urinating in her locker and worse. Because she’s a woman and biracial.
I don’t usually read thrillers or crime novels, but I loved this one. It unfolded slowly but soon I was wrapped up deep in the story, and I loved feeling like I was surrounded by Ireland. There were some weak points (and if you read it, you will probably agree on the same weak points), but I found this to be a compelling story along with a scathing account of what it’s like to be a woman in an aggressive male-dominated profession. Category: a book with a red spine.
Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh (2017) — This book first came to my attention when I saw that Zadie Smith, an author I love, recommended it in her NYT By the Book interview. When it was an option from Book of the Month, I had to get it! Moshfegh has already published a novel, but she’s better known for her short stories and this collection has been highly anticipated.
I’ll be honest. A lot of people would hate this book. I liked it. The stories are uncomfortable; the characters are unlikeable; there are a lot of bodily functions described in great detail. That discomfort reminded me of Elena Ferrante’s novellas — it’s like holding up a mirror to your worst self. But if you love great literature and can handle a bit of feeling off-kilter, read this book. Her stories are sharp and tight and I’ve never read anything quite like them. Category: a book recommended by an author you love.
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul (2017) — I got this from Book of the Month as well because it seemed like the kind of book I’d love — a collection of humorous essays by a rising star and Buzzfeed writer. Her parents immigrated from India to Canada and the book includes stories on being brown in Canada (especially when compared to being a light-skinned Kashmiri in India), sexism and rape culture, and why Indian weddings really aren’t that great, among others. It sounded like it was right up my alley.
Unfortunately, this book did not gel for me at all. I found the writing to be disorganized — Koul would veer off into different random topics in the middle of an essay, then circle back without making a point. She also seemed immature, which makes sense because she’s in her early twenties, and she wrote about her boyfriend constantly even though he had nothing to do with most stories. I did appreciate some of the stories, though, especially the one on body hair. I would totally be open to reading more of Koul’s work down the line, hopefully if that work is in the hands of a better editor. Category: a book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you.
Girls in the Moon by Janet McNally (2017) — I needed a book that took place in two time periods, and when I heard this one told of time perspectives from both a mother and daughter, it seemed like a good choice. It was a Book of the Month option as well, but it was actually a bit cheaper on Amazon, so I got it for Kindle. This book is told from the point of view of Phoebe, a 17-year-old girl visiting her older sister in New York. Her parents were once rock stars, but broke up and their mother abandoned fame to raise her children while her father chased fame and abandoned them; her sister is now becoming an indie rock star and following in her mother’s footsteps more than she will admit.
This is technically a Young Adult book, which I didn’t realize when I bought it. As a result, I felt like the young characters were FAR more mature than their ages (not unlike a Baby-Sitters Club book) and a little too perfect. But to my surprise, I actually ended up really liking the book and rooting for all the characters. I related quite a bit to the mother when she became more and more uncomfortable with fame, and I love that much of the book took place in Brooklyn Heights, one of my favorite New York neighborhoods. Category: a book set in two different time periods.
American War by Omar El Akkad (2017) — Yet another Book of the Month pick! I had been looking forward to this book’s publication ever since I first heard about it. It’s a dystopian book about the Second American Civil War, starting in 2074 and fought as climate change destroys the planet. America has prohibited the use of fossil fuels; the South rebels. The story of the war is told through the life of a young girl named Sarat, who goes from a six-year-old in a refugee camp to an indoctrinated instrument of war.
There were things I liked and didn’t like about this book. I loved the premise, as frightening and realistic as it could be. I loved how it was interspersed with academic papers detailing the war. But I felt like it held Sarat and other characters at so great of a distance that I couldn’t understand their actions and motivations (not unlike American Gods, which I read earlier this year). I will say, though, that the book makes a big shift at about the 75% mark and it becomes much more engrossing. Definitely worth reading. Category: a novel set during wartime.
Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, And What It Means For Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan and Cecilia Jethá (2012) — I bought this book a few years ago on the recommendation of Dan Savage, but only read a few chapters before losing interest. It was time to pick it up again. The book seeks to educate people that humans are not naturally monogamous. Monogamy between humans did not exist until the dawn of agriculture. Prior to that, we were hunter-gatherers and everyone had sex communally and indiscriminately with children being raised collectively by the tribe. This book is a dense tome of anthropological evidence, but it’s also quite funny at the same time.
Does this mean that everyone should give up monogamy? No, but monogamy is definitely not the best choice for everyone. I think this book is valuable in gently pointing out that you’re not a complete failure if you’re in a committed relationship, yet become attracted to someone else — this is how we’re wired. And perhaps more people would be happier in their long-term relationships if they rethought their views on monogamy and infidelity. Category: a bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read.
What I Listened To This Month
This month was all about Kendrick Lamar’s new album, DAMN. Kendrick is one of my favorite artists and I knew it would be tough for his new album to measure up to the tour de force that was To Pimp a Butterfly. But you know what happened?
Kendrick Lamar created an album I actually related to. A lot.
I feel like a chip on my shoulders
I feel like I’m losin’ my focus
I feel like I’m losin’ my patience
I feel like my thoughts in the basement
Feel like, I feel like you’re miseducated
Feel like I don’t wanna be bothered
I feel like you may be the problem
I feel like it ain’t no tomorrow, fuck the world
The world is endin’, I’m done pretendin’
And fuck you if you get offended
It’s rare for me to relate to an album, period (though Miguel’s Wildheart is the closest I’ve found so far); it’s even rarer for me to relate to a hip-hop album. Most hip-hop is about the experience of being black in America by artists whose lives are nothing like mine. I appreciate it; I learn from it; I seldom relate to it.
But so much of this album is about Kendrick’s insecurities and internal struggles, particularly after achieving success as an artist. And on that level, I felt like he was singing from my life.
I practiced runnin’ from fear, guess I had some good luck
At 27 years old, my biggest fear was bein’ judged
How they look at me reflect on myself, my family, my city
What they say ’bout me reveal if my reputation would miss me
The whole album is fantastic, but my favorite tracks are FEEL, XXX, FEAR, DNA, and DUCKWORTH.
What I Watched This Month
Who’s watching The Handmaid’s Tale? It’s outstanding. Beautifully filmed, scary as hell, and updated appropriately to take place in our current times. I read Margaret Atwood’s book years ago, and it’s amazing how it’s just as prophetic today as it was in the 1980s when she wrote it.
This is a dystopian show in the near future where America has been taken over by a militant theocracy. Environmental disasters and war are ravaging, infertility has severely declined, and fertile women become “handmaids” or forced surrogates to have sex with and bear children for the most powerful men in society. This is the story of Offred, a thirty-something Boston woman whose family is ripped from her and is then forced to be a handmaid.
The acting is fantastic across the board, but the biggest surprise is Alexis Bledel. I feel like this is the first time she’s been in a role where she can show her talents.
If you’re in the States, it is well worth getting a Hulu membership to watch it. But they’re only releasing it episode by episode, so you might want to wait until the whole series has been released.
Image: Stefan Jurca
Coming Up in May 2017
This month I’m heading back to Europe for two weeks. I’m starting in Bucharest, Romania, where I’ll be taking part in a multi-day event promoting Bucharest as a city, and after I’ll be exploring Moldova and Ukraine on my own.
I’ve only briefly been to Bucharest in the past, and Moldova and Ukraine are two of only seven countries I haven’t yet visited in Europe (the others are Russia, Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Cyprus). It should be fun!
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