Is there a quiz to see how normal your obsessive thinking is? I’m walking down the street in downtown Seattle and I just keep thinking, surely I’m crazy. But don’t we all think that? Of course we do.
It seems like I jumped off a train a few years ago and I’m still floundering around in the bay under the tracks. Are you down here, too? Dog paddling like a motherfucker, certain the veil is a little too thin between you and every gosh darn preacher on the corner with an amp and some passion.
How many times will that boy with the flag play that same song?
It’s sunny here in Seattle this week. Like, global warming sunny, and dang if it isn’t beautiful.
I’ve sworn off social media (again) due to intense overwhelm (hey, old friend), so writing on my website that no one reads seems like a solid way to ease this need to SHARE. Just pour it into a public black hole. Who even visits website blogs anymore? There’s not even a video in this thing, for god’s sake.
Which, by the way, is the message the young preacher boy with the red flag, standing on the amp on the corner of Pine & 5th in downtown Seattle, would like EVERYONE TO KNOW. God’s sake is the word.
A lot of people crossing laugh, bemused by his earnest lip syncing. He looks a bit like he’s floating on a spectacularly small boat, balanced on the top of his amp, hugging a 9-foot bamboo pole—a red flag flying atop—the same song booming on repeat across the pedestrian intersection in front of the Nordstrom Rack.
I’m guessing he’s not in the habit of second guessing himself. His brain probably doesn’t loop, ad infinitum, on the me he thinks he’s supposed to be. In fact, I’d wager, he’s downright certain that his boat ain’t sinking.
Where’s the line between introspection and self-obsession?
Am I crazy? Please send the quiz.
*I tried to find him again after seeing him three days in a row, to take a picture for the very post he inspired, but he’d vanished. Hence my artistic rendering.*
I love Prague. It sings in my bohemian heart. I imagine it’s awakened my slavic roots. Or maybe I just love the fact I can navigate the public transport with more ease than San Francisco’s MUNI. This city that feels like home.
I’m roaming the streets and museums, bundled in winter wear, feeling free. The grey sky has no hold on me. I’m alive. Cool rain and snowflakes affirm the inevitable sense of soaring. No matter that I have the lag. It’s physical, not mental. And for that, we can all be grateful.
I’m not even scared of eating at the hotel buffet these days. I don’t imagine the staff eyeballing me, curiously upset at my existence. I have shit to do.
I go each day to see art. To have this dawning realization that people make weird shit because weirdly it feels good. Just the simple act of being willing to create, that action in and of itself is artistic. All that is required is the willingness to create. Not the willingness for it to be the best, or the willingness to do it with a guarantee. Of something. Nope. The only gettouttajailfreecard you get is the fact that it’s done. You’re welcome, you.
*3 days later*
I don’t even remember writing that. I forget things so soon it seems. In my defense, it’s been a busy three days, but still. I’m in my 30s, not a convalescent home. Today I got out my voice recorder because I’ve been having these fucking proclamations ringing through my head. They feel hilarious and important. Like I want to share them, but with who?
I ate dinner tonight, roast duck with honey glaze and these peculiar berries. So heavy it felt like my tummy had migrated east, started a new republic. We walked home, the cold air snapping against us. It feels militaristic, this cold. The sharp edge of it keeping time with my steps.
Let’s all move to Porto. Azulejos— colorful, hand painted tiles—cover every imaginable vertical surface. The Duoro River snakes along the southern border of town, spilling into the Atlantic Ocean. Blissed out golden sunset views beckon from the Ponte Dom Luis I. And, there are no wildfires. All good reasons to live there, right? Also, my Portuguese is really coming along so I’ve got us all covered.
Azulejos made their way to Portugal in the 14th and 15th centuries from Spain via North Africa. Portugal’s second-largest city, Porto (or Oporto in Portuguese), has particularly embraced these hand-painted tiles. From the city’s southern riverfront to the hilly northern neighborhoods, from watch repair shops to Carmelite convents, tiles grace every city block in an explosion of colors and designs.
The Rio Duoro
The majestic Duoro river winds down from Northern Portugal’s border with Spain, through the hillaceously stunning Duoro Valley wine region, out toward the coast where it divides the city of Porto from the (no-longer so small) fishing village of Vila Nova de Gaia. Six bridges span the Duoro River through Porto before the water spills into the sea. For ultimate river glory, walk the Dom Luis I Bridge as the sun sets into the Atlantic and the city of Porto turns solid gold. Do not resist the selfie opportunities.
The Ribeira (riverside in Portuguese)—Porto’s UNESCO world heritage neighborhood that borders the Duoro—is home to the Sé Cathedral, the 14th-century Igreja do São Francisco (Church of St. Francis), and medieval cobblestone streets. After the obligatory tourists sites, enjoy a view-rich riverside ride on the Line 1 tram (departing from Infante stop in front Igreja de Såo Francisco).
The tram is totally tourist, but just roll with it. Cruise the electric rails up the river bank to hop out at Jardim Passeio do Alegre. Then walk (or take an electric scooter!) to Lapa Lapa for the darling boho brunch scene that really had me needing a caftan. At Lapa Lapa, like everywhere in Portugal, make reservations.
Hot tip, on the tram, sit on the left or stand. The right hand seats have the least water views.
Pastries, cured pork, salted, dried cod (bacalhau), and the bonkers Francesinha sandwich are culinary staples in Porto. Definitely eat at family joints, but a progressive meal of regional specialities from upscale food hall Mercado Bom Successo is an easy place to start. Also, go to Venham Mais Cinco (thanks Autumn + Guy!) for their prego sandwich. Once you recover, walk into virtually any cafe for a Francesinha—arguably the meatiest, fattiest, fry-iest creation in the world with ham, steak, fresh sausage, linguisa, cheese, a tomato-beer sauce and a fried egg on top. I left that sucker alone.
Butter-rich pastries are everywhere and it goes without saying you’ve gotta try the Touchino do Ceu—a sugar sweet squash and almond-based dessert cooked with lard. The name in Portuguese means Pig from Heaven.
In Porto, and most places, we begin with a free walking tour (tip your guide!) to orient ourselves and take in major sites. After seeing the Sao Bento train station, the Dos Igrejas, and the rest we were free to roam the city. I adore Porto’s history, but also love its modern life, its tile-covered neighborhoods, charming coffee shops, friendly residents, and nooks and crannies. You can’t get that from a guidebook, you just have to wander.
Cedofeita (both a street and neighborhood) is perfect for city strolling. Sip espresso at the mid-century fabulous O Consulado, shop the well-curated consignment and secondhand clothing stores, find jewelry and regional food products at CC Bombarda, then have a craft beer in the secret back garden of Catraio. (Or, if you’re like me and don’t drink, have a Lemon Pedras Salgadas…my new favorite mineral water). After, stroll the scores of contemporary art galleries lining Rua de Miguel Bombarda (but, like, plan ahead because no galleries are open Mondays and only sometimes Wednesdays and definitely only after 1:00pm and before 6:00pm, etc.).
Then, venture further afield. Go wild! We did a wonderful urban hike through Gaia with PortoCampo which took us into tiny back alleys with breathtaking views, past aged port wine warehouses, and through romantic, abandoned farm manors. Boavista neighborhood has the Bom Successo food hall, the Cemetery of Agramonte (with fabulous statues and beautifully gothic mausoleums), and the architecturally glorious Casa da Musica. Walk and discover!
Museo de Serralves
Spend an afternoon at the fabulous contemporary artland of Fundação de Serralves. This 44-acre campus includes the Serralves Museum (we love a modern art museum), the amazing (peachy pink!) art deco villa built in the Streamline Moderne tradition, an elevated wooden tree-top walk, outdoor sculpture gardens, an art cinema, and rotating exhibitions from an excellent mix of contemporary Portuguese and international artists. The restaurant museum and tree-lined Serralves park cafe are also dreamy.
There is so much pink in Porto and I love it. Arguably some of the pink is faded red, and there’s a healthy amount of peach in the paint and tiles, but it’s fun to make up nicknames and Porto Pink has a real ring to it. From grand homes on Rua da Cedofeita to ramshackle barns in Vila Nova da Gaia to wall tiles wearing pops of fuchsia, the buildings of this city are not afraid to rock the rosa. May we all be inspired.
Day Trips from Porto
Portugal is relatively small, but each new region has its own culture, culinary specialties, church extravaganzas, and architectural styles. So fun and easy to explore if you have rental wheels. In our two-week Porto stay, we took day jaunts to the medieval town of Guimarães, saw the Catholic religious complex of Bom Jesus do Monte in Braga, visited Ponte de Lima with its medieval bridge and faced the biggest plate of pork innards I’ve ever seen my wife eat, explored the annual International Garden Festival in Ponte de Lima (thanks to a hot tip from Autumn!), and took in sweeping Atlantic Ocean views from the Santuário de Santa Luzia in Viana do Castelo before driving through beachy outpost towns back down the coast to Porto. Each adventure was less than 90 minutes away.
The Social Factor
I love so much about Portugal. The language, the chill nature of the people, the beautiful and unique regions, the Pedras Salgadas bubbly water. Certainly Portugal has work in regards to reconciling current-day racism and a painful colonial history (they began the transatlantic trade of enslaved people from Africa). That said, I greatly appreciate the wide-ranging protections for LGBTQ folks, the astronomically small number of gun-related deaths, the (relative) lack of people living on the street thanks to effective drug treatment programs and the Basic Housing Law which ensures housing as a citizen’s right.
Maybe it’s the social policies, maybe it’s the beautiful hand-painted tiles, but of all the many wonderful places I love on this planet, Portugal is only one of three places my body has told me: we should live here.
Of course I want to live everywhere. Of course I love many places. But it’s as though a molecular piece of me fits better when I am in Portugal.
Do you know what I’m talking about? Where does your body want to be?
Jet lag is a merciless beast. Flying frequently doesn’t mitigate the pain of hurtling body and brain across multiple time zones in one sitting. But weird beauty awaits in the early morning streets of Copenhagen for the sleepless, the weary and the brave.
I woke up at 1:51am Copenhagen time, anxiety brain in full gear. It was a dark night of the soul, full of ego crises and work panics and deathly aloneness while my sweet wife slept at my side. Sleep meditation apps are useless in the face of rapid time zone change.
WebMD tells me to avoid exposure to early morning sun so as not to fuck up my circadian rhythms even more, but that’s hard when the Copenhagen summer dawns at 4am and the Danes don’t believe in blackout curtains. My eye mask is no match for the flood of light in this flat.
By 4:30am I was sitting down to meditate. By 5:30am we were out the door, in hunt of the city’s best pastry (dare we say danish) shop that reportedly opened at 6am.
Encounter 1. Botanical garden in full summer glory with nary another guest. Could be because we wandered in an unlocked gate at 5:45am and the park didn’t open until 8:30am. What do these people do with 4.5 hours of sunlight and a city that’s still asleep?
The quiet air and brick buildings, the ivy framed windows and bicycles lining the streets are picturesque northern Europe. I was thinking the still morning was the calm before the storm, but of course the storm is all on summer vacay—that lull time in European countries where the gang goes to the country house and coffee shops close till mid-August.
The Botanical Gardens were just a ruse, really, to get us walking across town to Sankt Peder’s Bageri, Copenhagen’s gluten masters since 1652. It’s been 7 years since I’ve consciously eaten gluten, a health choice based on vanity, a friend’s encouragement, and my attempts to improve my useless digestive system. This morning at 7am I knowingly chucked that choice. See exhibit A below:
Apparently danish pastries are Viennese in origin but the Danes are doing a hell of job with the concept. The black sandy looking one was filled with a slightly sweet almond paste that made me real happy. Potential gut destruction aside, the walk through the streets of Indre By neighborhood prior to Sankt Peder’s 7am opening was a delightful re-introduction to the nightlife I can no longer stay awake long enough to participate in.
A nice couple stopped mid-walk 10 feet ahead of us (after she kicked the toilet paper off her shoe) and dove into a doorway for a 6:45am full exposure, sweet love making session. I’m not sure if they just met, but her red plastic heels looked terrific in the morning light.
A group of young men, too wildly over exuberant for the quiet streets invited us to join them, not sure where they were going or leaving from, but my pink socks weren’t ready for the party.
A crabby English lady saw her preferred pastry wasn’t ready at the bakery and refused to wait outside the door with us until it opened.
All this to say, a night without sleep generally makes me stabby in the brain. But the gorgeous blue skies, the cream cheese frosting, and the beauty of young love makes it all worthwhile.
If you go to Chiang Mai please visit the Maiiam Museum on the outskirts of town. Even if you’re visiting Chiang Mai for the ancient temples, the rich cultural history, or to start off on a trek, the Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum is a big deal. Here’s why.
Sometimes I don’t know what I don’t know until I am presented with more information. The Maiiam museum opened my eyes about the incredible talent of contemporary Thai artists and the relative lack of visibility that Thai artists receive on the international art scene. The artwork housed in the Maiiam museum is amazing, plus, the space is architecturally gorgeous and their cafe and bookshop are fabulous. Just grab a Grab (Thailand’s Lyft-like app) and hop over there.
I love contemporary art. I like how I feel when I stand next to big colors and big courage and the ability of different artists to transmute big emotions into something tangible. A light turns on inside me.
When we travel, we seek out art and we visit museums. And while we’re museum-ing, we notice that certain artists are everywhere. In addition to the Warhols adorning almost every major modern art museums, there are other artists who are ubiquitous. For example, in the span of a few years, we’ve seen Anselm Kiefer in Copenhagen, Paris, San Francisco, L.A., and New York. His pieces are massive—scorched landscape murals and torched airplane hull installation art—the muted destruction of post-WWII Germany as experienced by a child. Everyone who is anyone has their hands on his stuff. It’s fascinating, and it’s also everywhere.
My wife and I remark that surely he is the art world’s most recent darling, but I wasn’t grasping the bigger picture of who wasn’t hanging on the walls. Where is space for the rest of the (non-Western) world when the same artists are showing up time and again?
Inside the Maiiam’s bathroom was a photographic reproduction of a guerrilla art installation by artist Thitibodee Rungteerawattanon. In 2010, the artist smuggled contemporary Thai artworks into the men’s bathroom of the Tate Modern in London. He covertly installed the works in the bathroom and then photographed the exhibit, titling it ‘Thai Message.’ His commentary was clear—was this the only space for these Southeast Asian artists in the international art world?
Sometimes I get so used to looking at what is given to me to see that I forget to question what isn’t being shown. There is underrepresentation by non-Western artists. We are shown a sliver of works by a disproportionately small group of artists. How can this cultural hegemony be shifted? Some of that shift can start with me looking deeper than just accepting what is presented to me. Thanks Maiiam museum, for sparking me.
Speaking of internationally unsung artists, Diaspora: Exit, Exile, and Exodus in Southeast Asia is phenomenal. The exhibition features modern artists depicting the experiences of the many groups of people whose lives and cultures have been shifted and/or harmed by movement. My wife and I were crying.
One particularly moving series of portraits was by Hmong artist Pao Houa Her. Born in Laos, her family escaped the violence of the Laotian ‘Secret War,’ fought in tandem with the Vietnam War. They eventually settled in Minneapolis and she began documenting the idea of identity for Hmong Americans. Her ‘Attention,’ series showcases Hmong Veterans who fought alongside U.S. troops, but didn’t receive military recognition or honors until 2018—over 30 years after the Vietnam war ended. The men are photographed wearing self-sourced medals and uniforms. The photos are beautiful, dignified, and honestly so heartbreaking.
I wish I could tell you about each artist and each collection.
What I’m trying to say is, when you’re visiting Chiang Mai—a visit to Maiiam Museum is a must. Get a ride using the Grab app and don’t go on Tuesday when it’s closed.