catching up on 2016 before it’s over

Above, a belated shot of the Los’ Christmas spread this year. I got home from my three week-long shoot just in time to celebrate with them. Note the turkey! I have managed to make my mark in Senegal… The family loved our Thanksgiving turkey so much that they decided to make it again for Noël instead of their usual mutton. Unfortunately, I think there was a bit of beginner’s luck at play with the first one, because this second attempt didn’t turn out quite as delicious. I hope they nevertheless turn this into a new Christmas tradition, so that I can leave a legacy here!

Below, lots of links I wanted to share this month but didn’t have the time to until now:

Ten food names with unusual origins.

A world map of every country’s tourism slogan.

A visualization of what each country is best (or worst) at.

Italy’s last bastion of Catalan language struggles to keep it alive.

How i became I.

As double-dutch wanes in New York, competition comes from abroad.

On non-Swedes’ obsession with “hygge” (and the ironic conspicuous consumption that accompanies it).

32 movie accents analyzed by a dialogue coach.

FOLO = fear of living offline.

Atlas Obscura’s greatest finds of 2016.

Spin the globe to listen to radio stations around the world.

This makes me so sad, and it’s one of the reasons the call back to New York has grown fainter and fainter for me.

What each country is most worried about, and how satisfied they are with the direction of their country.

Comedians from repressive countries offer words of wisdom to Americans devastated by the election.

And on that inappropriate note, happy new year to all of you! Thank you for reading my blog this year, and for encouraging and commiserating with me as I grope my way towards French proficiency (while forgetting all the Spanish I’ve ever learned). It’s been way harder than I naively thought it would be when I arrived in Dakar. Writing about the ups and downs makes it so much more bearable, perhaps because I feel a confidence in English that I lack completely in French. Nice to remind myself that I can at least speak one language well…

Anyway, I wish I were more prepared to look back at 2016 and make some sort of meaningful statement about it the way everyone else seems to do when they have a blog.. but the only thing I’ve been capable of for the past few days is listening to George Michael and wallowing in angst about my lost youth and our doomed future.

I should have quit at “Happy new year”….

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Ová it

When I used to do silly things as a child, my mother would tsk tsk me, “Rootie Schtootie,” because schtoot in Hebrew means nonsense. Today I am Rootie Schtootie-ing myself on her behalf, because my idiocy / vanity has cost me my best West African adventure yet. (Though my mother – who is, to put it mildly, not a fan of my travels – will be thrilled.) Continue reading

Havana mi amor

This day last year was a very, very good day.

It started with me getting high as a kite on my first espresso in maybe ten years, at a paladar in a nondescript apartment building overlooking the city and the sea…

I then proceeded to the Callejón de Hamel to hear a Sunday rumba session that got me higher than the espresso did. The woman above was one of the dancers, and she floored me. Too bad my internet connection stinks or I would upload one of the videos from that day, which I keep on my phone for emergency pick-me-ups.

Then I ran into the guys above, just up the block…

…followed by this man, who called me over to ask me in very broken English where I was from. When I answered, “The United States,” he exclaimed, “Elvis Presley! Whitney Houston!” before starting to strum “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” on his guitar. I sang the words and danced along in the middle of the street, feeling like I was in my own private movie. He gave me his address and mimed a request to send him the pictures I took. Since the resumption of mail service between Cuba and the US had been announced that very week, I promised him I would. And I did, though I will never know if they reached him, and what he thought when he saw his face smiling back at him.

Then I took a walk to visit these guys…

…and I quite literally pinched myself because it felt like a dream. The same feeling I had in Burkina Faso, where I was shooting this week. When you finally get somewhere you’ve wanted to go for years and years, it’s almost unbelievable to actually be there.

And the dreamlike feeling was also because it was as much time travel as geographic travel. Scenes like the one above needed absolutely no airbrushing to look like the golden age of Hollywood. Midcentury is such an emotional punch in the gut for me. I don’t know why. Maybe I grew up in the 50s in my past life.

And thus concludes the epic romanticization of one of the best days of my life, one year ago today.

[P.S. I “stole” this post from my Instagram account, where I also posted photos from the shoots I just finished in Mauritania and Burkina Faso.]

Thoughts on Poutine

poutine_melanie_k_reed.jpg

[More bored airport musings.]

Whenever the French newscast scrolls an all-caps headline including the word “POUTINE” across the bottom of the screen, I wonder excitedly what my favorite dish of French fries with cheese curds and gravy could have possibly done to vault itself onto the world stage.

Then I remember. Ah yes, the Russian president.

I really wish the French would reconsider their spelling. It thrills then disappoints me, every single time.

[Photo: Melanie K. Reed]

Leave it to a French fashion magazine…

slang.JPG

…to explain English slang to me. I was never sure if bae meant boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, or something else entirely. Now I know.

Next, who can tell me what chanmé or grave means? (In slang, that is.)

P.S…

shit for your hands.JPG

Only the French would appropriate English with such ass-backwards (pun intended) aplomb. Whereas Asian appropriation of English is usually bizarre and thus adorable, the French specimen above mildly annoys me. It seems to indicate a total disregard, chez les français, for the actual meaning of non-French words. It did not occur or does not matter to the cosmetics company, nor to the magazine that so breezily embraces their product, that no one in their right mind wants to think about rubbing their hands with shit. Even jasmine-fig scented shit. It does not matter, perhaps, because in the French consciousness ‘shit’ does not mean ‘shit’ but rather ‘cool and somewhat edgy English word that becomes even hipper when plopped into a French sentence.’

Perhaps I am reading too much into this… And the company could be American for all I know. I’ve been sitting in the Casablanca airport for nine hours waiting for my connecting flight and I’m a little stir-crazy.

I could have used that time to post my Benin pix but I was too tired after a week-long shoot in Mauritania (pictures of which I will post after I get back from the second, third and fourth leg of the trip).

Onward!… In four more hours. Ughhhhhh.