Took a quick weekend trip to Memphis with Michael to get out of Bozeman for the weekend, see his boyhood home, eat an irresponsible amount of BBQ, and laugh at the Bass Pro Shop. Figured I’d put together a mini guide of the highlights based on our three days there.

memphis-2

memphis-10

memphis-9

memphis-8

memphis-7

memphis-6

memphis-5

memphis-4

#1 : DON’T GET MURDERED
This is genuinely important. My protip on this one would be to have a local navigate or stick to the main-est of the main drags. When we’re in Memphis, Michael says things like, “I’m not saying this for the shock value; my brother genuinely used to find bodies in the dumpster where he worked.”

#2 : Peabody Duck Parade
Memphis weirdly has more than its fair share of live animal displays and the Peabody ducks are the most famous. Every day at five pm, the Duck Master gives a grand speech about the history of the duck parade, then marches the ducks out of the fountain, down a red carpet, and into the elevator where they retire for the night to what I can only assume is the duck penthouse. During duck parade time, the lobby is thronged with people, so either snag a spot on the second floor mezzanine looking down, or get there early and get a table near the fountain where you can sip adult beverages (if you’re an adult) and luxuriate in your rockstar seating.

#3 : Barbeque
And fried chicken. And beef brisket. And then more barbeque. Gus’s Fried Chicken is the famous fried chicken hot spot. Their fried chicken was good. Their fried pickles made me want to cry. For barbeque options, Central and Rendezvous are two of the most popular. I can personally vouch for the glory of Central barbeque. We didn’t get to make a complete lap of the barbeque scene, but we did hear a story about a dude who was blogging about eating at all the barbeque spots in Memphis and wound up in the hospital with what felt like heart palpitations. Being confronted with the Memphis barbeque scene on a short weekend trip is like being presented with a million dollars and told you have one minute to spend it. I was specifically instructed not to underestimate the amount of BBQ in Memphis.

#4 : Sun Studios
Pretty much the most famous stop in Memphis, all I can say is that my upbringing left me wildly under-educated regarding the early days of Rock and Roll and the rise of The King. I’d never heard of the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ before and I’m sure there are a lot of people who will never speak to me again now that they know that.

#5 : Beale Street
Beale Street is the famous portion of town with bars and music and, my personal favorite, Silky Sullivans. As mentioned in the Peabody duck paragraph, Memphis really shines on the random animal front. Silky Sullivans has goats in the patio area that, much to my disappointment, did not do anything interesting while we were there. This was very much a ‘DANCE, CLOWN. DANCE.’ situation and they refused to participate. We also caught some really great blues at the Blues City Cafe. So. There is still truth in advertising.

#6 : Bass Pro Shop
Not the best of the Memphis must-dos from a purely objective standpoint, this is by far the one I found most amusing. The Bass Pro Shop is located in a pyramid that resembles the Vegas Luxor. Inside are live fish and alligator displays, enough taxidermied animals to shame a natural history museum, an under-the-sea themed bowling alley, lodges that you can rent, and an outrageous amount of outdoor apparel, hunting and fishing gear, and four-wheelers. It is hillbilly redneck amusement park central and I loved every second we spent in there.

memphis-22

memphis-21

memphis-18

memphis-16

#7 : Train Bridge
The one Memphis activity that might offset all the BBQ and fried chicken, the train bridge has been converted to include a walkway. You can walk all the way across the Mississippi to Arkansas. What you do when you get there is a mystery, but I loved the view back to downtown and seeing the mighty Mississippi below. I loved the whole river walk as well, and if you look closely on the left portion of the skyline in the photo below, you can faintly see the outline of the Bass Pro Shop pyramid. It is genuinely difficult to find a view in Memphis not dominated by its Bass Pro glory.

memphis-11

memphis-14

#8 : Sears Crosstown Building
This one snuck in under the radar, but it was such a cool stop. The Sears Crosstown Building has been renovated from the days when, to quote Michael, “Bums lived here and we used to hear screams coming from this building.” It’s the old Sears building that the city has rebuilt in a live / work / eat style and there are even mini galleries scattered throughout. If I lived in Memphis, I would spend a lot of time hanging in the Sears Crosstown Building drinking coffee and double-checking my hipster status.

#9 : Ponchos Cheese Dip
Also known as Southern Crack. This deserves its own category. It is literally the best cheese dip on the planet and I honestly think making sure you encounter this Memphis specialty is more important than Sun Studios, Stacks, Graceland, and anything else you might confuse as slightly more relevant than a bucket of cheese.

#10 : Graceland
We didn’t make it to Graceland but I’m not going to make a list of top things to do in Memphis and leave Graceland off. Next time.

bismarck-20

bismarck-26

bismarck-23

bismarck-22

bismarck-21

I’m feeling a little like Carrie Bradshaw. Well, a PG version of Carrie Bradshaw anyway.

I have an ex. Not just any old ex — the most recent one. It’s been a year and a half. He’s in a new relationship. I’m in a new relationship. Everyone is merrily going on their way and that is good. But I must admit to some curiosity about his current girlfriend. I want to know what she’s like. I want to know what she looks like. I want to know how smart she is. It’s easy for a fantasy to exist in the aftermath of a relationship where we hope the other person misses us and wants us back. Part of that fantasy involves hoping they realize we’re the best they ever had, even if it wasn’t the best relationship for either of us, even if we don’t want them back. But put as bluntly as possible, I want to know how his new girlfriend and I compare.

He’s not really a social media type of guy so the normal form of post-relationship stalking is out. I’m not really a follow-someone-in-my-car type of girl so a casual glimpse in real life is unlikely.

However, there was a recent holiday party that mutual friends attended. He was there with his girlfriend. I was given a brief synopsis. One friend told me I’m better looking than she is. And it was somewhat shocking to notice how much weight I put on that. That eye-opening realization is the reason I’m writing now. This post isn’t about my old relationship. This post is about women’s relationship to beauty.

It startled me to notice how much less I care if she’s crazy smarter than I am… or kinder (Things.That.Matter.More.) Beauty still feels like the trump card.

WHAT THE HECK IS UP WITH THAT???????

Did anyone ever mention that writing about oneself feels risky? Fiction would definitely be easier. Fiction would mean not admitting that it was me that had that thought. I’m not proud of that one. It’s not great to admit that I took some satisfaction in the thought that I’m more attractive than whoever he’s with now. There are so many levels to why that’s messed up. But I’m also aware I’m not the first woman to think that and I won’t be the last. Like the (debunked but well-known) statistic that men think about sex every 7 seconds, women probably think, “I’m prettier than her.” or “She’s prettier than me.” twenty times a day. At least. The real question is: How many other women do they see a day? Because that’s probably the correct number. Women are constantly measuring worth against the metric of prettiness. Constantly.

This is such a wild concept.

Let’s break this down a little. In a lot of instances if we are prettier than another woman, we honestly feel like we’ve “won” in some way. We feel like there are rules about what men will do for a woman that are directly proportional to her beauty. Nobody started a war for a hideous Helen of Troy. We are literally indoctrinated to equate beauty with male effort. The ugly duckling becomes the swan, thank GOD, or life would have continued to be hell.

So we’ve got the entire fairytale genre working against us. Make note of that. We’ve got a million personal examples of boys falling all over themselves for the hot chick in chem class. Dumpy McGee doesn’t get her books carried for her. Then add on the notion that we are societally conditioned to seek male approval. The typical way that plays out follows the premise that if we are attractive enough and pleasant enough, men will like us. What’s step two? Not sure. But step three is PROFIT. If men like us, we win. Win what? That’s a whole other blog post. But have we stopped to ask ourselves that question? Have we noticed the pervasiveness of that concept? I think it’s 95% subconscious — just a little thread that runs through everything. But are we aware of how much power that little thread has? That particular thread is made of steel.

And I wish it was just all of that. If it was, it might be simpler to unravel. Unfortunately, this whole effed up relationship to beauty is also rooted in biological realities. In the wild wild west of our ancestry, we were literally in competition with other females for a male that would protect us. We were literally pitted against each other in a game where the criteria was attraction and the prize was survival. As a result I’m sure there’s a part of our lizard brain we can’t turn off around all of this.

I suspect there are whole novels to write on each of the preceding three paragraphs. Do we honestly think that how lovable we are is correlated to how beautiful we are? If we don’t, then why do we care about beauty so much? Why is is it so critical to be as attractive as we possibly can be? Can we separate our worth from the value we place on prettiness?

We have to try. Our self-worth as women can NOT be tied to that. Our judgment of other women can NOT be tied to that.

Luckily, I think we can take a cue from research around first impression bias. The most effective way to combat first impression bias is to be aware that it exists. That is THE most powerful tool for counteracting its potential inaccuracies. So starting to name some of these problems in women’s relationship to beauty is a crucial first step. There are also levels of proficiency as we encounter challenges. At the very base is the notion of conscious incompetence. Conscious incompetence means we’re still not good at doing the thing differently (we may not even know how yet, in fact) but at least we’re now aware we were doing it poorly. Before we didn’t even know there was a problem.

I’m going to end this post on the most mind blowing thing I realized as I was thinking about women and beauty and self-worth. In general, men tie their self worth much less to physical attractiveness. Not that it’s not a factor, but they get a lot more mileage out of things like power and money and productivity and being funny. And those non-physical characteristics of worthiness are much more malleable. They have a lot more control over those than women have over their basic level of attractiveness. Quite frankly the main physical characteristic that men tie their self worth to is penis size. But here’s where that difference gets really fascinating: MOST of the people they meet will never know the status of that one. Hopefully. Versus a woman’s prettiness? It’s the first and ONLY thing you know about her as she’s walking towards you on the street. You may never know anything else about her. But you will always know that one thing.

In conclusion:

It’s nice to know I’m prettier. But that is NOT a math equation for worthiness. I hope he loves her more.

If there’s one thing I’m good at by this point in my life, it’s seeing things from more than one angle. In my personal life, this sometimes makes it hard to get indignantly mad about anything. (Some. Times.) There’s sort of a perpetual voice in my brain saying, ‘That’s nice. But here’s the completely opposite perspective and you know it makes sense to you too.” It’s annoying. More importantly, it’s good background for you to have as I write my way through my love / hate / ‘are we ruining our ability to be the best possible version of ourselves???’ feelings towards Instagram:

I love Instagram for the inspiration it provides. I love that it’s a platform that carries with it the opportunity for community and empowerment. I love that it gives people the chance to share their journey, their story, the way they see the world. I love that there are uncounted numbers of wonderful humans showing up there with vulnerability and courage. I love that people are starting to call out the difference between what life looks on Instagram and what life is like behind the feed. It matters that people are taking the time to clarify that a glossy lineup of their perfect hair / highlight reel moments is not necessarily the whole story. It’s good to be reminded of that.

But Instagram is tricky. It carries with it this great power for good… while at the same time fueling massive fires of envy, comparison, shallowness, hypocrisy, and connections that are forged out of wanting to get something from the other person. (The follow / unfollow game is the least offensive example I can think of.) It’s probably like anything, whether the tool itself is good or bad is entirely dependent on the nature of human who wields it. But how cognizant are we of being brave and kind and uplifting out in the real world and not just through the funnel of a computer screen? Are we sure the habits Instagram forges don’t bleed over into our IRL interactions?

IMG_6094

Europe was gorgeous, amazing, and fun… and I also felt insecure, lonely, and out of sorts. I did not take pictures that showcased the latter three. Okay, maybe one, but not only is it weird that I took a picture of myself crying, there is also a clearly limited set of humans I disclosed that photo to.

I don’t say that to take anything away from the humans who are as authentic as they appear to be on social media. I know there are a lot of them out there. I know a handful of them personally.

I say that because I’ve been thinking a lot about Brené Brown and her work on vulnerability and that makes me wonder if we are doing ourselves a disservice by sharing our brave selves in Instagram captions instead of to humans who love us. Maybe we’re doing both—there’s no reason the two can’t exist in the same place. But (of course there’s a but), it’s sometimes easier to feel good about ourselves when a personal post gets likes and comments than it is to admit to a real person that something they did pissed us off or confused us or hurt our feelings. Instagram can give us this lovely bubble of people who barely know us who are on our side. People who only affirm us. People who have never spent time with us when we’re crabby or tired. People who have never disagreed with us about what to get for dinner or frustrated us because they always show up thirty minutes late. People who have never hurt our feelings because they didn’t invite us to a party. People who like what they see online but who couldn’t possibly love us in a real way because they don’t really know us. And all of that makes me think of Brené Brown because her premise regarding courage and vulnerability revolves around allowing ourselves to be truly known. And being truly known revolves around allowing ourselves to be truly seen. And we can’t be truly seen (not only metaphorically, but also literally) when our interactions with a person (or thousands of people) are only ever online.

If there’s an option between a whole bunch of people who like what they see online and give us a continuous rolling river of affirmation in the form of little red hearts versus a real person who loves us but is NOT happy with us in any particular moment, it can be very very tempting to take solace in the superficial over the real. It can be very appealing to retreat behind the comfort of shallow affirmation—to use it as a shield, to skirt the unpleasantness. Shallow can be very soothing. If interactions never move beyond a certain point—a certain closeness—the honeymoon period can exist indefinitely. It’s when you spend time with someone that the shine wears off. That’s when there’s room to misinterpret each others’ motives. That’s when you question if you can have someone in your life who disagrees with you on a fundamental issue. That’s when you say one thing but they think you mean something else, and not in a good way. Real means working through ugliness sometimes. Real absolutely guarantees discomfort.

Brené’s work encourages us to not shy away from the ugliness and discomfort that is a guaranteed side-effect of authentic relationship. The world of Instagram hints we can skip it.

IMG_6095

If you feel any envy when you look at these pictures, you shouldn’t. I promise you there are things about your life that I would be envious of too. Not that envy ever does anyone any good, but I generally think it helps to remember that.

Does Instagram truly damage our ability to stay present for the hard stuff? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s something worth being cognizant of. It’s something worth taking into account. Our brains are remarkable molds. What is habitual in one area of our lives tends to spill over into others. If we are disciplined in our exercising, we tend to be more disciplined with our eating habits. If we are careless with our finances, we tend to be careless with our keys. If Instagram trains us to be satisfied with pleasant superficial interactions, there is real danger we will fail to engage when the deep ones get hairy.

That’s worth paying attention to.

But I also love that Instagram serves as a visual reminder of what we have to be grateful for. I once heard the wonderful blogger / podcaster Jenna Kutcher say she considers her Instagram feed a sort of personal diary. I loved that notion and have thought of my Instagram the same way ever since. If I’m feeling down about anything, it’s hard to feel too sorry for myself when I can look back at the past week, or month, or year, and actually see the amazing humans in my life and some of the stunning places I have been lucky enough to experience.

I think we all have some equivalent of that. I’m lucky, I know. I get to travel a lot. But if I didn’t, those visual reminders of gratitude would be something else—the first flower of spring, the christmas tree decked out with lights surrounded by sweet children, the view from a mountain peak, a basket of mozzarella cheese sticks. Those wouldn’t be evenly distributed, btw. If travel wasn’t one of my current blessings, cheese would probably visually represent 90% of the things I valued enough to document.

IMG_6092

Not depicted: the hundreds of non-flattering pictures of my face that were also taken. Also not depicted: the hundreds of hours I spend alone editing pictures and writing blog posts and being in a co-dependent relationship with the glow of my computer.

We all know Instagram and Facebook aren’t the whole story at this point. We remember to tell ourselves that a smile on social media doesn’t mean self-actualization in real life.

I think we should expand that into a question of whether Instagram teaches us to chase a flawed notion of being known. If it grooms us to believe that being ‘known’ by enough people equals success, we should look for ways to combat that. Notoriety isn’t being known. And real relationship only exists where reciprocity exists. Knowing someone else is just as important as being known by them. Instagram is also pretty damn good at skewing our relationship to that dynamic.

When we tell ourselves that a smile on social media doesn’t equal happiness, let’s also retrain our brains a little in this category. Let’s remind ourselves that a few words exchanged with the cashier at the grocery store have More. Real. Value. than the fifteen likes we’ve gotten in the last ten minutes. Let’s tell ourselves to value the fight with our significant other—a person who gets annoyed with us, thinks we do things that suck sometimes, and sticks around—over the twenty new followers and that one really flattering DM.

I do realize I’m trying to work through something important using the precise medium I’m criticizing—which either makes me a hypocrite or a pioneer or just a really big fan of circular reasoning. But if you ever want to grab coffee (weird how I misspelled wine just there), please know that I would vastly prefer that.

The amount of posts that have been started and discarded since September could fill a blog. (Ha. Just a little I’m-terrible-at-blogging humor to get this post rolling.) I realized a bit earlier this year that my inclination is to reach a tipping point where I feel I’ve let too much time go by then ‘solve’ the problem by letting more time go by. This all became crystal clear to me as I was standing in my kitchen one day, staring at an avocado on the counter that I feared had gone bad. My instinct in those moments is to stare tersely at it, then ignore it for a week in the hopes that it will somehow get less bad if I don’t investigate. However, this time I wisely told myself that waiting wouldn’t improve the odds of not having a rotten avocado. I cut into it and it was perfect. Letting time go by between blog posts is a bit like that. 

The idea here has always been to use this as a venue to share the places I travel, showcase a bit of my photography, and occasionally give you all way too much insight into the workings of my gray matter. So in spite of my tense this-avocado-has-already-turned feeling, here we go with the annual (bi-annual on a good year!) blog revival. And I would like to sincerely thank the first weekend of 2018 and Philipsburg, Montana for being so beautiful and charming I felt obligated to share.

party-edited-12

party-edited-28

party-edited-33

One of my projects in 2017 was to create some mini travel guides (here). I want to do one for Philipsburg, but where this scheme tends to fall apart is when I don’t have a female friend handy to be my model—and that was very much the case this weekend. To fulfill my vision for the ‘Your Perfect Day’ guides, this means that I’m either taking pictures of myself on a tripod (this has happened exactly never in public) or badgering my reluctant boyfriend into playing photographer for me. (He thinks I social media too much… which is only true if posting constantly to Instagram is a problem. Psychology hasn’t weighed in heavily yet on this one, so until a therapist tells me otherwise, I will continue hanging with my BEST FRIEND all the time.)

I consider Philipsburg the perfect small town weekend getaway though, so here is my recap + suggestions for how to fill a day or two in this sweet little area.

Start with AirBnB in the Georgetown Lake area. I wish I could give you the link to the cabin we stayed in, but since it’s simply the cabin of a generous friend, AirBnB or one of the cute little bed and breakfasts in Philipsburg is your best bet. I like staying at Georgetown Lake instead of in Philipsburg, but preference there probably comes down to whether you’d like to oooooh and ahhhhhh over a lake + mountain sunset or be within walking distance of Philipsburg’s greatest attraction : the brewery. So just ask yourself ‘Am I the type of person who wants to feel good about communing with nature or the type of person who is going to realize too late that Philipsburg doesn’t have Uber’ then choose accordingly.

Two of Philipsburg’s best summer activities are panning for sapphires and visiting the Granite Ghost Town State Park. You can still technically do both in the winter, but after this weekend, I advocate for saving them for a less snow-covered time of year. We attempted the ghost town and even got our car within a mile and a half of it before the road went to shpoop. We started walking, but ultimately decided that cribbage and pints were a better use of the afternoon daylight. The Discovery Ski Hill is just a few miles away though, so the winter activity = more than covered.

party-edited-30

party-edited-47

party-edited-48

party-edited-29

Because we drive over from Bozeman, we made hitting a hot springs part of the roadtrip. We went to Norris (somewhat on route) but Fairmont is also an option (more on route) for anyone rolling in from the east. We did a quick pitstop in Anaconda to try out their new (GORGEOUS) brewery, Smelter City. We also swung into an antique shop that would have been cool if I could handle a lot of taxidermy and hundreds of pelts, but I can’t. When I round a dusty corner, I need to be greeted with old china and rusty lamps, not a stuffed goose on a heap of skinned beavers. Too intense. Stuff of nightmares.

Moving on from Anaconda, there are some amazing little shops in Philipsburg (most of them dead animal free; you are in Montana) and it’s fun to spend an hour or two popping in and out of every single one. The heart of Main Street is the Philipsburg Brewing Company. We like to hang out there for hours in the afternoon playing cribbage, slowly sipping beers, and listening to live music. Other than that, it’s all pretty much just coziness around the fire, fuzzy socks, making dinner in the cabin, wine drinking, and enjoying the views for us. We keep it simple when we go to Philipsburg.

party-edited-18

party-edited-20

party-edited-21

party-edited-31

DSC_7590

party-edited-32

Moral of the story, I have a huge crush on Philipsburg that shows no signs of abating AND it feels good to be back on the blog train.

In addition to those wins, it’s nice to power through one of my inner monologues of “Oh God, it’s been three months since I last posted. IT’S TOO LATE NOW. ABANDON SHIP FOREVER. Nobody’s paying me to do this and nobody dies of cancer, but I HAVE FAILED AND THERE’S NO WAY TO RECTIFY THIS SITUATION.”

The avocado is fine, Sonia.

party-edited-46

party-edited-45

party-edited-25

Just a few words tonight. One of the most pressing realities of the recent adventure has been a very real and omnipresent sense of FOMO. So what if I hiked to the top of a beautiful Croatian mountain? I didn’t make it to the post-hike board games. So what if I was so tired today I thought I was going to die? I missed the island-hopping boat tour. So what if I ate fresh squid at that one little restaurant? I didn’t get the Dalmatian meat medley at Cafe Dvor. So what if I drank champagne with part of the crew? I didn’t hop in the ocean with the other group. Oh god. And on and on and on. And we haven’t even gotten to ‘So what if I did my actual job for the required amount of hours to keep my actual job? I didn’t get to hang out at the wine bar.’

HOWEVER.

I would very much like to get a movement going to oppose FOMO. So, after almost exactly one week abroad and a handful of discussions with fellow digital nomads, I feel confident moving forward with NOMO: Not Opposed (to) Missing Out. NOMO FOMO.

As long as the percentage of days I literally don’t set foot outside my apartment remains somewhere in the < 15% range, I am cutting FOMO off. (I think it's good to have boundaries. I don't want this notion to go so far that I'm like 'So what if I haven't toured the Old City yet? I've watched 37 episodes of Always Sunny in Philadelphia. NOMO for liiiiiiiiife!')

I also think it's relevant to keep in mind that whatever you did with your life on any given day is likely just fuel for someone else’s FOMO. So for the remainder of my time over here, I am embracing, as hard as I can, the thought that wherever I was, whatever I was a part of, THAT is the thing that I am grateful for. Nothing more. Nothing less. Today? Today I’m grateful for the nap and the tea and the emails home to some loves that I desperately miss even though the boat trip did looked bomb, y’all. And you know what else? Sometimes I want to hang alone on my balcony with a book and I don’t like it when FOMO talks me into a different plan. I’m an introvert. FOMO has the power to ruin my little introvert life.

All of that said, I’m damn glad I was a part of yesterday’s stunningly lovely Mosor hike. Even though I did skip the beach sunset. ;)

lightroomed-2mosor-hike-22mosor-hike-17mosor-hike-27mosor-hike-28mosor-hike-6mosor-hike-24mosor-hike-25mosor-hike-31lightroomed-5mosor-hike-32.jpgmosor-hike-3.jpg

*This post contains no implications the exit will be graceful*

Subtitled : Wikidont let RyanAir ruin your life with irresistibly low fares the way I let it ruin mine

Sub-subtitled : Life lessons on a Chicago subway

[What. A lot happened on my way out of the country.]

lightroomed-7

lightroomed-5

lightroomed-6

lightroomed

I spent a day or two in Chicago with Michael before flying to Croatia. It was a somewhat brilliant moment between the chaos of leaving and the intensity of arriving. On the one hand, all the decisions had already been made. I’d either gotten all my shots, or I hadn’t. [I did. Except for rabies. If I get bit by a bunny in Croatia, steer clear.] I’d either packed enough underwear, or not. [Too soon to know.] I’d either moved everything out of my house, or Susie hates me now. [I hope Susie doesn’t hate me now. Sorry about the freezer rhubarb either way.] At that point, the flurry of leaving was over and the stress of a full day of Euro-travel + a whole new life had yet to commence. And so, Chicago became my deep-dish pizza oasis between Bozeman and Split.

We stayed at an AirB&B in Forest Park, near Oak Park, and spent Friday down at Navy Pier. We went out for a fantastic final date night dinner at The Publican. We drank a grapefruit Leinenkugel near the water in celebration of their 150th anniversary. For the day, I got to turn off the stress of all the upcoming solo travel between Chicago and Split. My tactical error was thinking that I could save money with a RyanAir flight.

Here’s the thing. If you book RyanAir, please please please, before you do, I’M BEGGING YOU, run the cost of all the non-included expenses that are the unspoken part and parcel of RyanAir’s brainwashing program. Here’s how the brainwashing program works: You’re a normal adult human. You see that you can fly from London to Zadar for thirty six American dollars. THIRTY SIX DOLLARS. You think about all the times you’ve spent more money on a pitcher of margaritas. You immediately buy the ticket. You don’t even care if you really plan to take that flight. Whatever. You’ll just book a different $36 dollar flight from one glamorous end of Europe to another. You’ll buy an extra one, just for funsies. Just because you can and because your mom sent you a birthday card with a fiver in it this month. You can do anything.

Things that will be a factor, the breakdown:

1) When you forget (or don’t realize) that if you don’t print your boarding pass, they charge you $60. That’s right ladies and gentlemen. If you don’t show up to the airport with a physical copy of your boarding pass, you immediately owe RyanAir TWO pitchers of margaritas and all your loose change. (This is an analogy.)

2) The bag you definitely have to check. Tack on $40.

3) The price of travel from wherever you are to wherever the RyanAir flight leaves from. The two locations are guaranteed to not be the same thing. Usually between $20-$45.

4) The price of travel from wherever RyanAir takes you to wherever you ACTUALLY want to be. Also usually between $20-45. In this case, it was the fact that Zadar is not Split, Zadar is two and a half hours from Split, and I needed to be in Split. $30 for the taxi from the airport to the bus station. $15 for the bus between the two cities.

5) Extra money for all the food / water you have to buy while this elaborate travel plan unfolds. Typically in the $10 range.

I basically have #1 and #2 dialed at this point, but I still always forget about the plethora of expensive transitions needed to ferry me to and from the RyanAir nightmare of a good idea.

And none of that even touches on the cost of the time that all of that takes. Or the toll on my psyche. The infuriating thing is that I know all of this about RyanAir. I’ve known it for a long time. I lived it two years ago. And yet. One $36 plane ticket on my computer screen literally erases all prior knowledge of how much I’m going to regret it.

So please Wikidont buy that alluring RyanAir ticket unless you’ve done the math on all the other considerations as well and it still seems like a reasonable plan. And don’t be half a bottle of wine in when you try to determine this.

lightroomed-4

lightroomed-8

lightroomed

Secondly, although I know I tend to stay some version of light on here, it’s honestly because I haven’t figured out how to do the real deal stuff yet. Or it’s because I feel that the serious stuff and the ludicrousness of a RyanAir rant exist in separate spheres and I’m uncertain how to blend them. Or it’s because it’s late and I’m tired and it’s easier to skip through a travel roast than it is to address deep-seated issues like racism and privilege. Whatever the case may be, we find ourselves at the portion of this post where I was graced with an education on a late-night train in Chicago.

Michael and I were working our way back from dinner at The Publican and we overshot a train transition because we were on the wrong line. The stop we wanted to be at looked like an easy cut across if we walked, but Michael asked the gate attendant if that was a good idea and she gave us a hard no – not safe. She chatted with us for a little while about the crime in Chicago and how it’s the young guys stirring up trouble.

In Forest Park, our AirBnB was on Harlem Avenue in an area where the white population was a noticeable minority (although still a decent area). As the correct train home ran down the line, the number of people on it slowly thinned.

Five or six stops from ours, a younger black man got on the train. He was the type who would have made me nervous if I was on the train alone; he was loud, amped up, possibly drunk. And it was because that was my perception, when he got off the train and the younger black woman sitting near the door tapped on the window as he left and said to him, “You be safe out there. You hear?”, it was the exact opposite of what I expected. It was the exact opposite of my reaction. My safety crossed my mind. Not his.

That moment alone would have been enough to gut check me. But then the woman who had told him to look out for himself started talking (more or less to herself) and no matter how many news articles you read about shit going down in places like Charlottesville and how much you care or empathize from a distance, nothing’s real in the way it is when you hear it expressed by someone who sounds so heartbroken and furious about it that they will speak it out loud to a train of other silent humans. I live in Montana. I don’t often have the opportunity to deeply understand the daily struggle and omnipresent reality this is for so many humans in other places.

So we sat and listened to her talk about how she’s lost five friends in the past month. We listened to her talk about the silver spoon of white privilege and heard her be bitter about white people passing hate down to their children. And honestly, some of it felt unfair because there are plenty of white people who haven’t had everything handed to them either. And there are plenty of white people who are putting so much heart and soul into fighting hate like that. But on the other hand, it clarified this gap between that notion and the reality that there is some built-in additional ease to being white. And that it’s easy not to notice or credit it having the impact it does.

She talked about how black people are survivors. About how white people wouldn’t last in the world that she and her friends and family have had to live in. But that they’re strong. So strong. So much stronger than the rest of us – so much stronger than the ones who’ve had life handed to them on an easier platter. And it hit me hard. Because it’s true. My struggles are nothing compared to anything that woman has experienced. And when you’re surrounded by people who are in the same boat, it normalizes so that things that are mildly difficult seem like the standard for genuine difficulty. But then you wind up on a train like that and watch the gauge get reset. And you wonder if you’re going to let the lesson change you and your approach to the world and other humans, or watch it move into the past and become theoretical, simply something that you think about when you want to feel like a human who pays attention and cares about the struggles of others.

Like I said, this is a tricky thing to write about, especially as a white woman, so please grant me a little grace if it’s insensitive in a way that I don’t have the perspective to see from where I stand but that you can see from where you are. I was grateful to be shown something that night that I admittedly don’t have more than a cursory understanding of. I hope I know a little more now.

And with that, it was adios America. Thank you for the reminder of unearned privilege as I make my way to new parts of the world.

[This blog is in a constant cycle of drought / resuscitation. It is currently being Lazarus’d as I embark on a month-long trip to Croatia, followed by a month-long trip to Prague, followed by either a similar progression of countries or a return to the homeland.]

Let my life be a cautionary tale to you. If you travel too far, too frequently, or for too long a time, you forfeit your ability to be a normal person. Let that sink in for a minute before I qualify.

DSC_0173 copy

Me, at Bhutan’s #1 tourist attraction, Tiger’s Nest. #2 is the local post office so I would definitely say they put all their eggs in one basket.

Your forfeit your ability to be a normal person if that definition includes replacing intense preparation for months of travel abroad with the nonchalance of a weekend trip to Portland. Did I throw in some underwear, a couple extra t-shirts, and a toothbrush? If yes, then packing = pretty much covered. I’ll buy a converter and body wash when I get to Croatia.

You forfeit normal if ‘normal’ means thinking a year away from loved ones is a devastating amount of time and ‘not normal’ is thinking a year-long exodus is simply no big deal; the people who love you will be there and love you 365 days later too.

You sacrifice normal when the great big, unexpected world starts feeling like a trip to the local grocery store. Guess what? There’s some version of Oreos & potato chips everywhere. Not only that, but if you’re American, Canadian, or Australian and you spend any significant amount of time in Europe, I promise you’ll run into other people you know while you’re there. There’s some level of inevitability to it.

This shift away from normal doesn’t happen overnight and it certainly doesn’t happen on the first long stretch of travel. But your normal does change. It moves. Your new normal creeps away from your previous normal until suddenly, three pairs of black stretchy pants in a carry-on intended to see you through an unknown number of days in Europe is just a moment of “Yeah, of course. Black leggings for liiiiiiiiife.” It’s when you understand that the mandatory amount of belongings for a human all fit in one bag.

[This post has not been edited for complete accuracy. I believe the actual outcome was two pairs of black stretchy pants, two jeggings. But the moral remains the same. I refused to bring any bottoms that won’t triple as attire / workout gear / pajamas. In a dire situation, they could probably also serve as scarves. And as a sidenote, don’t get me started on my hero worship toward the guy whose entire packing plan was toothpaste, a toothbrush, and a bar of soap in a FANNY PACK.]

hampi

Me, in Hampi, India’s prehistoric temple playground. Don’t f with the temples and don’t piss off the indigenous goatherds, but other than that, do what you will.

There are times I miss the intense foreignness of first-time travel. There are moments I wonder if normal means committing to a place and knowing it deeply, in a way you can never understand a city you live in for a week or a month.

But feeling like the whole damn world is available?

Irreplaceable.

 

Just wanted to pop in for a moment today to wish everyone a very Happy Easter. I alternately spent the day with a hot yoga class, an Easter mass, a chair on the lawn in the sun, my family, a book, and one damn fine cocktail from Bozeman Spirits. These were good life decisions, all, even though the start of that list sounded like I was irretrievably headed down a Dr. Seuss path. I hope all your Easters were just as fine. <3 <3 <3 <3

lightroomed-39

lightroomed-38

lightroomed-33

New Delhi, India | Day 23 | India Gate and Humayun’s Tomb

When I travel, I get braver slowly.

It’s laughable how foreign Galway, Ireland first felt upon arrival when I traveled there two years ago. But after returning to the Emerald Isle after months in Europe proper I had to sit myself down and ask myself what I was initially intimidated by. Everyone in Ireland speaks ENGLISH (comprehension not guaranteed, but the baseline language remains my own) and Galway doesn’t exactly make headlines as a menacing city. Still, I realized that I have a fairly distinct pattern for warming up slowly to the lack of jeopardy of a place.

learningcurve

The line of ‘How safe I actually am’ might need to be ratcheted down a bit for India and a few of the other numbers may be a little skewed, but the pattern remained the same. And so, by Day 23 of the India travels, I was ready to do a solo excursion into the wilds of New Delhi.

Because New Delhi is where Vandana’s family lives, it was home base between all the other jaunts ’round the country. Her family members expressed an extreme lack of interest in any of the sights of Delhi but I didn’t want to miss out on any major attractions because I was too lazy or timid or lazy to venture out on my own. And so, feeling bold (a mere three weeks into the travels) decided that the proper approach was a Hop On Hop Off (referred to as a HoHo) bus tour to facilitate my newfound sense of autonomy.

Even with that my ambitions were relatively low. I figured if I made it to India Gate and Humayun’s Tomb, I could call the New Delhi sight-seeing a success.

Samaira and Suhana, Vandana’s nieces, aged 9 and 7, scoffed at India Gate. “So boring,” they said. But I was pretty into it. Among other things, it was the first place I’d been other than Hampi where there was actually room to roam. Crowded, perhaps. Packed full of vendors with street snacks, ice cream carts, tourists and elephant rides, yes. But it was also expanses of avenues and open grassy areas and I could WANDER. And eat ice cream sandwiches. Multiple ice creams sandwiches. Because when there are literally dozens upon dozens of ice cream carts, you don’t have to feel shame for repeat visits; you simply spread the wealth. WELL PLAYED, INDIA. Please take all my money in exchange for ice cream.

lightroomed-29

lightroomed-30.jpg

IMG_7369

After India Gate, I wound up on the bus for an hour or two. That was probably not strictly necessary but it was low-pressure and I could press my face to the glass and watch the city roll by.

I got off at Humayun’s Tomb. As a quick aside, India (Hindi) often makes me feel verbally dyslexic. I have had to google Humayun’s Tomb literally every time I try to spell it. My little American brain does not lock down the letter / pronunciation combination of that place very well. Hiyuman, Hamayuman, Huyamun, Swimmy, Swammy, Slappy, Swanson… SAMSONITE. I was way off… (Dumb and Dumber #facepalm)

A miniature bit of India trivia is that there are always two lines to get into historical places. This might even fall under the category of Travel Protip. Foreigners (THAT’S ME) have an entirely different line than nationals. And that line is always short. And that line always costs approximately 2500% more than the other line. Normally that percentage would be a massively inflated number for dramatic effect but in this case it is cold hard facts. 500 rupees for the foreigners to visit Humayun’s Tomb. 20 rupees for the nationals. At least I’m helping fund more than just the ice cream stands.

This is important to know for another reason I noticed in my travels. Tour guides will try to sell you on the fact that they can ‘help you skip the lines’ at busy attractions. This is complete nonsense because all they’re doing is hoping you don’t realize that as a foreigner you get to ‘skip the line’ anyway by going straight to the foreigner line. The ratio of foreigners to nationals in every place I visited in India was approximately 1:100. Very sneaky, would-be tour guide. Luckily I have a deep aversion to being taught anything historical about a place for 200 additional rupees and thus, through a combination of deliberate ignorance and parsimoniousness, inadvertently avoided all of that.

lightroomed-24

lightroomed-25 copy

lightroomed-23

lightroomed-18

lightroomed-27

lightroomed-26

This picture below is, at last, Humayun’s Tomb. (All previous ones are auxiliary tombs on the grounds.) Humayun’s Tomb was least partially the inspiration behind the design of the Taj Mahal and because it is the tomb of a king, it is the masculine representation. It has four gates, one for each of the four winds. The fascinating difference between this and the much grander Taj Mahal is that the Taj Mahal, being the tomb of a queen, is the female representation and only has three gates that lead in. This is because the female is considered the embodiment of paradise and there could be nothing greater on the far side of paradise. For a country not traditionally known for their treatment of women, I do appreciate that particular sentiment.

(I have to tell you all this about the Taj Mahal now because when I do finally write about my experience there, I promise you I will be so focused on the confusing mix of traumatization and awe I experienced that I might forget interesting historical tidbits.)

IMG_7370.JPG

^ This photo brought to you by travel camaraderie. When you meet the other white girl wandering around Humayun’s Tomb and find out she’s from D.C., you team up, take pics of each other, swap travel stories, and stop just shy of trying to be her best friend forever.

And with that the HoHo tour bus expanded my previously established New Delhi safety zone. Before the day’s brave lone foray it had included the rather eclectic subset of Vandana’s parent’s house, the enclave immediately outside Vandana’s parent’s house, Kahn market, The National Gallery of Modern Art, Indira Gandhi International Airport, and most Uber rides.

Which brings us to : Guess what! There are only three official India trip posts left to go! Two from Bhutan, then the Taj Mahal (truly the grand finale of my time in India), and that’s a wrap! And then we can go back to my regularly scheduled life of eating an impressive amount of breakfast food in Bozeman, Montana and grousing about snow in April.

I was doing some photo-editing tonight because I have a great idea for a post I find amusing (which is how I typically try to roll) when I was taken completely unaware by an emotional reaction to one of the photographs. It was powerful enough to prompt me to post this, without much thought, without much craft, and throw something relatively off-the-cuff on here.

(Also, I’ve had a giant glass of wine tonight (um, at least) and that makes me both more dramatic and more careless than usual.)

My dad had specifically requested more pictures of humans, because, as he put it, “That’s what I picture India as. People. People everywhere.” I have a real tendency to attempt to scrub a photograph of the humanity of a place. I’d rather have composed architectural lines where the architect, at least, was composing deliberate beauty than the unpredictable messiness of personhood, especially in quantity. If I crop out the humans, I de facto clean up aesthetics I don’t find appealing: the fanny pack, the disheveled hair, the chewing gum, the clash of unmonitored emotions, the disregard for form and function that most humans display, and so on and so forth. It’s like sweeping the litter out of a photo.

But because I know my dad is right – that it’s the faces and the nuances and the dirt-under-the-fingernails of the humans that make the layers of a place compelling – tonight I was sifting through my photographs of Agra that included the peoples.

And I came across this picture. One I never intended to take. I had been quick clicking, attempting to capture the serenity of this lovely auntie, standing half in the shadows and half in the sun, and didn’t even realize this is what I captured until tonight.

And this photograph is everything I don’t know how to say yet about my time in India.

lightroomed-17

It’s all the things. It’s the dignified woman in her beautiful sari completely unaffected and deliberately unaware of anything else under the ancient walls of the Red Fort of Agra as all three of the men gawk at the white woman. It’s her grace. It’s the unintended capture of the head swivel always prompted by being a white woman in India, camera aimed that way or no. It’s the divide between cultures. It’s my uncertainty and foreignness, anchored by the utter implacability of the woman who has stood her ground for decades. It’s strength and courage. It’s presumption and assumption. It’s accident and revelation.

lightroomed-16

This isn’t the picture I was trying to take either. But it stands hand-in-hand with the other, and in it she is perfect to me.

%d bloggers like this: