Old Town Shenkeng is famous for it's stinky tofu. As soon as you arrive the pungent smell invades your nostrils like a men's locker room. There's so much to see though, and it's a charming quaint street lined with all kinds of shops for eats and goodies...mostly different kinds of eats, with each shop offering you all sorts of samples, so it's almost like having lunch at Costco, but better.
All good things must come to an end, and alas...I can cancel my Hulu subscription. Just kidding...well, I probably could, but that's not what's important here. What's important, is that The Mindy Project has come to end. That show is actually the reason I subscribed to Hulu in the first place. I've loved this show from the get-go, and Mindy Kaling is probably my spirit animal.
My husband went out with the guys one night this week, and while I had a ton of things I needed to do, I decided to treat myself to a solo date night, and finally got to see "Lady Bird," Greta Gerwig's directorial debut and starring Saoirse Ronan. Greta also wrote the screenplay. I adore Saoirse, but I was worried it was going to be another long, drawn out, indie drama that required me to use my intellectual brain to find the deeper meaning and artistic vision, and ultimately leaving me depressed and uninspired--it's just what I've come to expect of many film festival selections. But, it was actually brilliant and I LOVED IT.
I did not know I could be so inspired by battle rap. Next to Don't Talk to Irene, this was my second favorite movie out of the Toronto International Film Festival this year. It's about half an hour too long which makes some of the battle rapping feel overly redundant. However, I really enjoyed how the filmmakers addressed diversity and political correctness in a way that isn't forced and uneducated.
This was definitely one of my favorite films out of the festival this year. It is so fun, so witty, so heartwarming, at times heartbreaking, and so on point. This "little" Canadian film stole my heart away. I laughed out loud so much my face hurt afterwards.
Unicorn Store, directed by and starring Brie Larson, was the first film I got to screen at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year, and one that I was super excited to see...I mean, it's Brie Larson and something to do with unicorns! How could I not be excited?? In reading the logline and based on the photo used on TIFF's site, I thought, this could be really cute or really indie arthouse weird. Of course, there's nothing wrong with indie arthouse weird, I've enjoyed a number of such films. I am an emotional film watcher, so I enjoy almost anything I emotionally connect with, but I honestly had no idea what to expect, because you just never know with some of these films at film festivals. I guess what I was really hoping for was just not the kind of depressing ending or an ending that leaves you with a sort of vacant and unsatisfied feeling that many of these more arthouse films tend to leave you with. Let's just say at the end of the movie, I was pretty happy and satisfied, and ready to let my inner unicorn out if I hadn't already.
Our arrival in Lisboa was a vibrant one, and began lively like a funny movie. Our Uber driver (yes, you can order Uber at the airport in Lisboa!), Thiago, zoomed up to us and popped out of his little white Hyundai wearing bright pink polarized sunglasses. He was full of the vibrancy you see all around the city and we realized we could communicate in Spanish together. Although, at some point he switched back to Portuguese, but we still had a largely, mutually comprehensible conversation with him speaking Portuguese and us speaking Spanish. This was much the case throughout our trip. Portuguese in Portugal sounds very different from Portuguese in Brazil, I have to say. It's much harder, and oft sounds like they're speaking Russian or German. It was strange and a little confusing, but if they spoke slow enough I could understand them.
We stayed in Alfama, the Old Town, and he couldn't actually drop us off in front of our Airbnb, so he got us as close as possible, dropping us off at Portas do Sol, a spot with a breathtaking view over looking orange tiled rooftops and out onto the river. There was a giant cruise ship docked in the river and it made it feel all the more like vacation had arrived. Then we walked down several flights of winding stairs until we we were greeted by a woman yelling down the alley way in a wretched voice that echoed between the centuries old walls and I thought she was crying and screaming at someone. When I turned my head to look at who she was yelling at, I realized she was just greeting her friend. Loud, and I mean LOUD fado music bellowed from her windows and I thought, "we made it!" This is Lisboa! A loud bellowing woman!
I picked the spot particularly for the old town charm, and there's certainly no shortage of charm here. The stairs and buildings are colorfully picturesque, with pretty paintings on random walls, and sometimes random paintings on random walls, football team flags hanging from windows, clothing hanging out windows, and on our street in particular, colorful streams lined the alley above our heads as if they were preparing for a large quinceñera or parade. You never know with old European towns, because you could just wind up in a dark, crumbling alley that smells like piss. Thankfully, I've not had that pleasure. So, we've been really fortunate with our Airbnb stays. It's also nice, because we like to stay in each city for at least a minimum of five days, we feel like we become part of the city and live a little like the locals.
Alfama reminds me of the Gothic center in Barcelona--you never know which each street is going to take you, and what you might stumble upon...sometimes literally, so be careful walking the cobble stone roads. I highly recommend bringing good shoes, because you'll walk a lot of hills, stairs, and cobble stone roads. I oft bring and wear my wedges when traveling because they look nice and they're comfy to walk in, even all day. However, I did not once touch my wedges on this trip. After realizing how uneven the streets were, and never knowing what we'd encounter, I opted for safety. Also, bring shoes or sandals with good grip on the soles if you can, because a lot of the cobble stone can be slippery. I was quite careful when I walked.
The guy who let us into the building walked up a few minutes later looking like Jesus got a bad haircut and was a character himself. He was also named Thiago. After we settled into our quaint studio apartment, we walked down to the grocery store located in a train station and picked up some basics like water, cheese, saucisson, chips, and cherries. Again, we really like to settle in and make each city our home for the few days we're there. It's actually really great for budget travel, not just because the accommodations are cheaper. We then also don't have to eat out for every meal. Eating out for every meal gets heavy and sometimes after a long day of sightseeing you just want to put your feet up and have a light meal.
Our first evening I made a reservation for us at Sr. Fado to help fully immerse ourselves into Lisboa culture. Alfama is like the center of Fado where there are loads of places you can dine at and enjoy a taste of Portuguese and Lisboa culture--literally and figuratively.
That was a full evening. We arrived at the restaurant at 19h30, as soon as they opened, because after 15 minutes you risk losing your table and left around 23h30. It's a very quaint space, family style. The whole experience is much like dining in someone's living room, and what I loved about it was that there were guests from all over the world--Poland, Germany, Sweden, Australia, France, Iraq, the States. As soon as you arrive, a basket of soft fluffy bread sits on the table next to a tray of cheese and charcuterie. This is all included in the menu, unlike regular Portuguese restaurants where they charge you even for bread. The cheese gave off an unpleasant odor which made me question how I was going to enjoy the long night, but then it was so delicious I soon forgot the smell. The second course was seafood heaven! It was a big pot of baccalau, shrimp, clams, and squid all stewed together and we ate it over rice. The dessert was very interesting. We were both anticipating one of Portugal's famed pastries, so what we received was a bit underwhelming--a plate of strawberries, whipped cream, and something that looked like thinly shredded cheese. It was not cheese though. It turns out it was actually egg yolk, that they somehow made look like shredded cheese, and it was sweetened. It tasted lovely, and the strawberries were so fresh and delicious, they came straight from the family's farm. I suppose it was a good choice for dessert because it wasn't too heavy. Finally, around ten past ten the Fado started. Fado reminds me of the lyrical storytelling of classic country songs like that of Hank Williams, it has the power and soulfulness of Etta James' voice, and sometimes sounds like Russian folk music. It's certainly comparable to the blues, as it's very poetic and sad, but it moves through you like a particular energy that only music can create. The melody is led by the 12 string Portuguese guitar and it's a beautiful experience. Make sure to experience fado when you're in Lisboa. For us, it was the perfect introduction to the city, which like the music, is like a sexy old woman...neglected, but as alive as ever. My friend describes Lisboa as a beautiful old woman, like an opera singer. That's a much prettier description, and just as accurate.
Keep in mind, Portugal is quite a poor country. The gap between the wealthy and poor is great. We did see some nicer neighborhoods outside the center, and our apartment was nicely renovated; but in general, the infrastructure is not well maintained, and the working wage is low. Chris and I noted, that the city reminds us of a mixture of Barcelona and Tijuana--which we enjoy both. It's great fun and a wonder, and it is becoming more and more popular a destination.
If you get the chance, we highly recommend it. Stay tuned for more on our experience in Lisboa.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
I got a lot of funny looks and “WHY???” when I told people I was going to visit Nürnberg on this trip. To be quite frank, how I originally landed on this charming medieval city was totally a logistical decision. When planning this trip, I just knew I wanted to visit Amsterdam and Austria (Salzburg and Vienna, in particular), so then I just filled in the rest. I looked for a German city I had not been to, near Salzburg, and voila. After a bit of research, Nürnberg ended up being one of the cities I was most excited to see --and I was most certainly not disappointed.
I watched two really great documentaries this week on HBO—“Ethel” and “Love, Marilyn.” I had been wanting to watch “Ethel” for a long while, and I’m so glad a finally did. What a wonderful woman and legacy. I look forward to the day someone does a movie on the love story of Ethel and Bobby Kennedy, because it just has to happen. It’s such a beautiful story about two such beautiful people.
What I really enjoyed about these two documentaries was that they were about two strong women, and strong in very different ways. Ethel, as the matriarch of America’s most famous family, she’s practically like the Queen Victoria of our country, minus the incestuous marriages and unions of her children and grandchildren. More than just having a rather large litter (eleven kids), she is a woman full of sass, strength, and love. She’s wonderful. This documentary sort of traces her life with Bobby’s, and how she herself was as much a political figure and influence as her husband was. Both of them seem like just such stand up people, as well as incredibly loving people. Her story, and their story, is inspiring. It truly is.
Then there’s Marilyn Monroe, who everyone remembers as a sex symbol and a tragic figure. However, people often overlook the incredibly sensitive, strong, and smart woman that she really was. She knew how to play the game as well as the creators of the game—the game that was “Hollywood.” This documentary was interesting in that several actresses, including Marissa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Glenn Close, and several others help narrate the pages of her diary to help us paint a more tangible image and understanding of the icon. Beyond the plastic surgery and the dumb blonde characters she was oft casted as, she was truly an inspiring woman. She wore her tender heart on her sleeve, and saw the world through beautiful eyes.
There’s a lot to be learned from both women, and I’m grateful to both of them for being the women that they were/are. It’s important for us to see that strong women come in various shapes, sizes, and colors as well.
***Both these documentaries may be viewed on HBOGO.
BIG LOVE & HUGS
I’ve been very blessed to have traveled the world, and to have been able to do so feeling very at ease in most foreign lands that I’ve found myself in—from Istanbul to middle of nowhere America, I love it all. Since relocating to the south, however, I’ve definitely realized just how “California” I am, and I have a new found love and appreciation for my sun-kissed soul. I think just acknowledging my soul makes me so California.
Viva la California! Here are some stand out ways I've noticed, that seem to make me noticeably from California.
1) Missing salad—when people ask me what kinds of food I miss most while I’m here, I always tell them salad…and Mexican. I miss good salads, and having healthy options easily at my fingertips. I have to admit though, Nashville has changed so much in the last year, and the options are getting better. As for the Mexican food, well, I am on a hunt for at least one really good Mexican restaurant here. So stay tuned for my adventures in that escapade.
2) Give me earthquakes—when there is an intense storm, tornado warnings, and whatnot, I sometimes yell, “Just give me an earthquake, I know what to do with those!”
3) Jaw drop—when I was told that the pool in my apartment complex was closed during the colder seasons, I thought, “Wait, what?” Since when does the pool ever close? And my jaw literally dropped.
4) Double jaw drop—when I was told that the pools around here are not heated. Que????
5) Biscuits & tea—one time, when offering a friend biscuits and tea, there was a bit of confusion. Finally, I realized he thought I meant biscuits—like the biscuits and gravy kind of biscuits—and sweet tea. No dear, no. (I realize that this doesn't actually make me Californian--it's just a weird side affect of my parents' rearing, but it still makes me a foreigner.)
6) Freeway vs. Highway—I use them interchangeably, but only recently realized that “freeway” is a Californian term, while I guess everyone else calls it the highway. I don’t know, but I was slightly baffled when someone brought this to my attention.
7) Blueberries cost $6 (a tiny box!)—I was shocked the first time I moved to Nashville, to find that produce, amongst other grocery items, is ridiculously expensive. Aren’t I in the freakin’ country? Where are all the farms? The bulk of what I buy at the grocery store is produce, but I refuse to pay $6 for a tiny box of blueberries, or $3 for a bloody avocado. I refuse. I don’t get it. Cost of living is supposed to be cheaper here, but the cost of eating is not.
8) Where are you from—when people ask you where you’re from around here, it’s only because 95% of the people in Nashville are transplants. In California, “where are you from” typically means, “What is your ethnicity?” But I like to piss people off and respond to the literal translation of that question, because let's face it. Some people follow that question with a more idiotic one when they ask you where you're from, and mean what is your ethnicity.
9) Overdressed in bright colors—the dress code here is generally very casual. My business casual here, versus when I’m back in L.A. is like the difference between going to a BBQ and going to a funeral. And sometimes I get annoyed that I have all these awesome outfits with nowhere to wear them, but I just wear them anyways. You can take the girl out of L.A., but not without her shoes! Also, when I first got back, I was wearing this very colorful, summery dress out to lunch with a friend, and he told me I needed to put the bright colors away, because it's autumn. I laughed. He said we Californians, especially southern Californians, have no sense of seasonal wardrobes. 'Tis true. But then an old lady at church, who was in awe that I had come all the way from the best coast, said, "No dear, keep your colors. We could use a little bit of California here." I love her.
10) Abbreviations—apparently it’s a very California thing to speak in abbreviations. I’m from L.A.—I swim in the Pac. Oc.
11) Green—I hate that recycling is not regular here. And I think people look at me weird when I walk into a regular grocery store like Publix or Kroger’s with my own shopping bag. At Trader Joe's or Whole Foods it's not as weird. They get me. But I don't think I've ever seen anyone else bring their own bag.
12) Sarcasm—apparently not a universal language.
13) Friends and foreigners—people here are very nice. It’s that whole southern hospitality thing, I think. It’s great. I love it. But it’s funny, because sometimes I can’t help but wonder why someone is being nice to me, or feel like it’s weird. I mean, I don’t think us Californians are cold people…we’re not New Yorkers! (Just kidding, I love New York, and New Yorkers). But here, people aren’t just nice; they’re really friendly. Not everyone is of course, but it’s rare to meet someone who doesn’t make you feel like you’ve been long time friends.
Wherever you hail from, and wherever you've picked up your quirks, just remember as different as we all our, we are all also quite similar. So love. Just love.
BIG LOVE & HUGS