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.
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.
We like traveling where people are encouraged to be openly in love, so we researched LGBTQ rights before going to Singapore. Like many places, it’s a mixed bag. Read on for pretty photos of Singapore and my interested, but undereducated, take on Singapore politics and laws.
Regardless of who you love, I think most tourists probably feel safe in Singapore. It’s a safe-feeling place.
As for romance, well, the world is funny about sex and love. There are rules and laws and, then, passive loopholes. In Singapore, two men can be imprisoned for same sex love, under Penal Code 337A (“Outrages on decency”), but the law is rarely enforced. You might think no harm no foul, but of course it’s harmful to announce that someone’s love is a crime. It puts a damper on romance.
Although same sex marriage isn’t legal and LGBTQ rights aren’t exactly celebrated in Singapore, the city-state has a progressive streak in their conservative society. There’s Oogachaga, a vibrant LGBTQ center with a proud presence. There’s an annual pride parade (but only for Singaporean citizens, so don’t think of making this your destination party place). There are gay bars and openly gay people. Trans people are legally recognized and permitted to marry people of the “opposite legal sex.” Public opinion is slowly shifting around LGBTQ rights (as of 1/2019, six in 10 people aged 18 and 25 believe same-sex marriage is not wrong), but that don’t make it easy.
Singapore is a wild demographic mix with four official languages: Malay, English, Mandarin, and Tamil. With the languages come four unique cultural traditions and religious beliefs. These coming out stories, (as reported to Vice) show how LGBTQ youth from Singapore’s different cultural backgrounds struggle to find their way in conservative Singapore and their conservative homes.
As two married ladies we’re safe in Singapore. There are no laws against lady + lady love (why are governments always so scared of men?) but our marriage, although legal in the U.S., isn’t legally recognized in Singapore. That means if my wife took a job in Singapore, I would have to apply for and get a work visa separately to be able to live with her. The government wouldn’t grant me a visa to live with her as her wife (as they would with a lady + man marriage). Good thing we’re not moving to Singapore.
So, although the government says no to our marriage, our local friend explained that most people either A) don’t care, or B) are too polite to react to same sex love. At the Fullerton Hotel, no one batted an eye (although they did double check, “Are you sure you don’t want two queens?”) when we checked into our king size room. On the streets, no one appeared affronted when we held hands or otherwise acted married.
Visually, Singapore is beautiful, like a dream of what Vegas might hope to be. (If Vegas had fresh water and a less slippery soul, that is. Relatedly, capital punishment—by long rope hanging—is the penalty for drug possession, so people are less likely to party so hard as Vegas. But I digress.)
Singapore’s architecture is stunning. Each building more elaborate, futuristic, green, spectacular than the last. The colonial past is also present in buildings, so a strangely harmonious mix of old and new winds through the waterside town. There’s crazy money in Singapore. It’s a tax haven for multinational companies and international business is booming.
Speaking of architecture and housing…in an intensely controlling and apparently effective social peace exercise, the Singaporean government implemented their ethnic integration policy in 1989 via the Housing & Development Board (HDB).
The government balances the number of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and ‘Other,’ people that live in each of the publicly funded, high-rise, high-density housing blocks. Larger HBDs are like mini-towns with recreation areas, clinics, markets—all contained within. The policy hopes to prevent insular communities, isolationism, and potential tension between cultural groups by essentially forcing different groups to live together. As of 2018, over 80% of Singaporeans lived in these HBD, so the government does really get to choose your neighbors.
The strategy seems to work. For such a range of religions and languages, there seems to be relative harmony. And while the government forces integration, it also celebrates each ethnic community and offers equal city space (cultural neighborhoods), event time (parades for religious holidays, etc.) and opportunity to each group. No one is favored over the other.
In that same vein, the Singaporean presidency has to be occupied by the Chinese, Malay, and Indian / “other” communities in equal balance—meaning some years there may only be eligible candidates from one ethnic group if they haven’t been elected to presidency in recent years. I don’t know how it works in real life for the inhabitants of Singapore, but on paper it all seems so fair.
To be fair, Singapore didn’t become an independent country until 1965, so there was plenty of time to learn from other countries’ mistakes. Certainly Singapore has been accused of being authoritarian, but people also seem to have a really high standard of living. Hopefully LGBTQ laws will change soon.
Takeaway? Singapore is gorgeous. It’s completely over-the-top. It’s expensive (aside from the amazing hawker center street food) and it absolutely is a great place to go. As long as you don’t want to live there with your wife.
My next post I’ll share pics from and tips for walking the cultural heritage trails, gorgeous street art, and eating street hawker food.
Like every Italian town, Lecce loves coffee. Caffe, caffe macchiato, caffe latte, you know the drill. But the real specialty in Lecce is the caffe in ghiacco or the caffe in ghiacco with latte di mandorla. These sweet, cold drinks are particular to the Salento region of Puglia and are said to have originated in this charming, baroque city.
Caffe in ghiaccio—a short espresso over ice with a healthy amount of sugar—is perfect for a hot afternoon. Caffè in ghiaccio con latte di mandorla features that same iced espresso with a frothy sweet almond cream poured over top. Both will get you fired up real quick. In addition to beautiful coffee drinks, Lecce itself is magical.
Lecce is the perfect landing spot for exploring the northern region of Salento. For the visually-minded, Salento is best known as the heel of Italy’s boot. From Lecce’s vantage point you can quickly reach gorgeous beaches on the Adriatic and Ionian coasts, plus explore the interior of this stunning olive- and wine-producing region. Beyond strategic positioning, Lecce the city shines. The centro storico has ruins dating back to the 3rd century B.C. and the city reflects the range of cultures that have held power since then. Narrow cobblestone streets, medieval and baroque architecture, painfully cute piazzas and squares and a whole boatload of beautiful churches to rival Florence and Rome. The walled-in original old town was constructed from pietra leccese, a local soft, yellow limestone that causes the entire old town to glow as the sun sets. All in all, Lecce is the perfect place to stay awhile.
Perhaps most importantly is the really, really yummy coffee. (I never cared too much for coffee, but my very clever wife changed that when we met, thank god. Now I cannot imagine wanting to start my day without it.) Lecce’s local pastries—my newly acquired passion—will make you weep. The pasticciotto, reported to have been born here, is a small bun-shaped morning dessert (let’s call them what they are, people) filled with a creamy, oh so subtly lemon custard. Sometimes there’s a variation on the filling (nutella or pistachio cream) but lemony vanilla is the norm. The texture of the pastry is closer to a cookie than a cake. It almost reminds me of the texture of cornbread. Did I mention it’s delicious? It’s not too sweet, it’s smaller than the palm of my hand, tastes great with une caffe, and is totally legit to eat before 10am.
Where you drink coffee in Lecce (in all of Italy, really) depends on how you want to drink your coffee. If you prefer a leisurely beverage and newspaper moment, you’ll pay for ‘servizio.’ This means that in addition to the cost of your order, you’re paying the waiter to take your order and bring it to you. Sitting at a table can take a long time so if you are in a hurry don’t opt for this. Seated service is fun only if you’re not in a rush. If you want caffeine inside you, quick, or if you are in a hurry, you must order at the counter. Personally, there is nothing more satisfying than an espresso knocked back while standing at the bar and then chased with wee glass of bubbly water. Perhaps this is a holdover from my booze drinking days, but I adore the experience. It provides all the perks of taking a shot on the go (like a bar crawl!) without any of the booze-y impairment—just wonderful coffee superpowers. The counters are for standing only, so don’t get any airs about asking for a barstool. You order directly from the barista, then pay after you drink. Oh how I imagine that my limited Italian sings when I say, “une caffe macchiato, per favore!”
Here are my favorite places for drinking coffee, and the ways in which to drink them, and some hot tips on the best pastries in Lecce:
Word on the street is Caffe Alvino prescribes to the traditional pasticciotto recipe, which contains shortening. So beware if you’re a veggie. The shortening does make the dessert damn fine and super moist. The Caffe Alvino cappuccino is creamy and smooth and the patio seating in front of the cafe provides an ideal spot to overlook the ruins of the Roman amphitheater built (NBD) in the second century, B.C. Enjoy your morning respite while tourists and locals come and go on the Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Inside are miles of marble and chandeliers and mountains of cakes and ornately pastel pastries that will boggle your eyes. Their rustica (a mozzarella and tomato filled phyllo dough savory pastry) is a good alternative to sweet. Cost for two cappuccino, two pasticciotto and a table: 5 euros.
Despite their headline as an internet cafe, these guys don’t have a website. Searching ‘Rosso e Nero’ won’t do the trick easily, either, as Rosso e Nero is as ubiquitous as Caffe Valentina or Quattro Cafe…it’s a shout out to the type of coffee they use. In any case, follow this google maps link to this local spot. It’s only open until ~6pm. The baristas were so darling when we were there (which was almost each morning for a week) and the macchiato just right, at approximately 80 cents. Their pasticciotto had a healthy amount of cream and came in two sizes. I also loved their cornetto cioccolato (aka chocolate croissant). A few guys also ordered caffe correctos, which is morning drinking in the way that only Italians can make elegant: espresso with a shot of grappa slipped in to correct things.
Classic caffe in ghiacco with almond syrup: Bar Alvino
A short trek from the main city center but worth the experience, Caffe Alvino is famous for this sweet almond drink. It’s counter service inside the cafe, so belly up and don’t be shy. The bartender specially froths the almond cream to order and puts on a whole show of layering the ingredients, which of course makes the experience fun and playful.
Wherever you go in Lecce you’re bound to find tasty coffee and tasty pastiocciotto. We tried a pistachio one so you don’t have to. It wasn’t bad, but hot damn those vanilla ones are good. Beyond just caffeinated beverages Lecce has delightful regional cuisine (like orecchiette with parsnip green pesto), fascinating museums and a wonderful contemporary art museum called MUST. I learned the hard way while using the ladies room at MUST that what I thought was a pull for flushing the toilet was actually a 911 bathroom alarm that reverberated through the entire museum complex, so we certainly made some friends that day. I’ll write more on our September 2018 Puglia trip soon. Until then, here are some more Lecce photos.
This time jet lag snuck in the back door, resetting the clocks like a teenage daughter out till dawn. Back in our Oakland bed, home from Denmark, I had a whole week of sleep, cycles, and serenity. Yes. YES.I have finally transcended jet lag. Then the crabbiness , the microscopic analysis of domestic affairs, the subtle bickering with my wife. And there it was, bursting into day eight of our return like a real concern, the un-emptied dishwasher becomes the central focus of my silent sulking. Delayed onset jet lag, you sneaky snake.
We’re home and antsy. Finding problems to fix. The punishment for hurtling through multiple time zones. Is this why I meditate? So I can remember there are no problems? Jet lag is a luxury not a problem. Empty the dishwasher.
Oakland’s shifting summer weather is like Copenhagen, but higher highs punctuate the fashion climate. Back home I am in a short sundress, the room so muggy one night it’s hard to sleep. Two days later, I wear a pea coat. The witchy Bay weather never settled for long.
In bed, I order shoes—both lamenting and justifying such a quick 180 from my new slow fashion resolution. Copenhagen gave me an awakening of conscious: Think about what business practices I support with my spending. Did jet lag cause me to forget? Miz Mooz, are you slow in your fashion? Do you sustainably source your materials, protect the environment, and respect workers’ rights and wages, or do forced hands and smushed lives stitch the darling mauve leather Shay sandals I just had shipped? I swear though, the shift is happening. For years I’ve been opting not to pay attention to who makes my clothes. What do they call that, an inconvenient truth?
Maybe awakenings can be gradual. As a result of slow fashion research, I have foresworn Forever 21. Not that I’m surrendering to the age gap—god no. I forever love the trashy fashion they churn out. I’d wear that shit all day, gold bomber jacket perfectly matching my gold foil leggings. But I’ve started to feel like an asshole if can afford to buy fair labor clothes and I don’t. I would never feel like an asshole in gold foil leggings though.
My wife hasn’t slept all week. Jet lag swooped her up and tumbled her hard. I slept like an angel baby for 7 days straight. All week I reveled, free from intense self-obsession and self-centered fear. Is this the promised land, I thought? Is this how normal, sleep-hydrated brains work? Have I finally arrived? My years of fitful sleep and anxious brain chemistry miraculously rewired by the fresh, Copenhagen air. I finally solved life.
And then day 8. Delayed onset no sleep. Delayed onset internal clock rebooting to a 9 hour time zone change. Delayed desire to be helpful and empty the dishwasher. Is this domestic bitchiness attributable to jet lag or am I passing the buck?*
By the way mom and dad, so sorry I would come in late and reset your bedroom clock on the weekends. Like you didn’t have a watch at your bedside. Like this actually worked?