a new year’s non-reflection

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It’s the cusp of the new year and after a few weeks of burning the candle at both ends, I’m looking forward to ringing in 2019 on the couch, lazing about.

The change of year does not really inspire deep reflection in me the way it seems to for so many others. I don’t do much soul searching, and I certainly don’t make any resolutions. So, I have nothing profound to share here before the countdown to midnight. On the contrary, I have only one shallow musing to post, and then I plan to return to watching Netflix.

A few days ago I checked my blog stats and was delighted to see that in the past year, it has been read by people in almost 150 countries. And in the five years that I’ve been writing on this site, people in about 175 countries have visited.

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screencapture-wordpress-stats-day-countryviews-talkforeigntome-com-2018-12-31-18_45_35Considering that there are 195 countries in the world, give or take, those numbers blow my mind. I’ve got a United Nations of blog readers. Someone in Brunei has read my blog! French Polynesia! Kuwait!

As I said, I have no resolutions for 2019, but one of my goals is to get someone from Suriname to read my blog. Also Guyana and French Guiana. Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea, too. Madagascar. Etc. It would be really, really cool if in 2019 I could say that every country in the world has visited my blog.

On that note, THANK YOU SO MUCH for taking an interest in my little corner of the internet this year. Even though this post does not make a good case for it, you are all so much more than numbers to me. I am very grateful for every post you’ve read, “like” you’ve given, and comment you’ve left. It makes me feel seen – as strange as that may seem for someone who a. barely posts pictures of herself and b. is deeply cynical about the digital world.

Anyway…

Happy new year! I hope 2019 brings you much joy, laughter, and magic.

 

songs for my cities

Variation on a theme

Certain songs are inextricably connected to the cities I’ve lived in, either because they are about that place, or because I listened to them so much while living there, or because they have a sound that quintessentially belongs to that city, or some combination of all three.

Here are my favorite songs about the cities I’ve called home, whether for a few months or many years:

New York

Paris

Here’s why.

Dakar

Austin

Los Angeles

Shortly after I moved to L.A., The O.C. premiered and it became my guilty pleasure. I used to watch it every week with my roommates and we would sing-shout along to the lines of the opening theme song by Phantom Planet: “California here we come, right back where we started from, Californiaaaaaaaaa, here we cuuuuuhhh-ummmmm.” Now whenever I’m about to visit L.A. I listen to this song on the way to the airport, sing-shouting along. Its 100% pertinence – I’m going back to where I started my adult life to the soundtrack of this song – gives me goosebumps every single time.

And I have to include this one, too, which feels SoCal in an almost synesthesiac way.

Dublin

And for 100% nostalgic reasons:

Philadelphia

All of these are clearly very sentimental choices.

London

No idea why, but every time I hear this song I feel visceral nostalgia for my five year-old self who lived in London. I don’t remember ever hearing it there, but it was released as a single in September, 1985, which is when I was there, so maybe I did hear it and housed it somewhere in my subconscious, to make me teary-eyed at that distinctive guitar riff decades later.

This one is more on-the-nose London appropriate:


And just for good measure, here’s my favorite song that, though not necessarily about my home state (although it very well could be), is by the band I most strongly associate with New Jersey (and whom I adore).

fa la la la la, la la la la

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I only have a handful of days left in New York before I fly to Dakar in the new year. Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment in the Woolworth Building (above) and I realized that the last time I was there – nearly three year ago – was also right before leaving for Dakar.

Things are different now. I’m not going indefinitely this time, or even for long enough to count it as a relocation. I’ll just spend two or three months there for work, and then I’ll come back. At this point in my life, that’s the perfect set-up.

So, I don’t have any of the bittersweet preemptive nostalgia for the city that I had last time around. Still, since the Woolworth Building reminded me of my imminent departure, and since I was just a couple of blocks away from a stunning hotel, I decided to have an espresso at the hotel bar instead of at the midtown coffee shop across from work.

On my way, I passed another gorgeous building that I swear I’ve never seen before… though in reality I must have.

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Also this beautiful ghost signage.

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And here’s my destination, the Beekman Hotel.

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I have been to both the hotel’s bar and its restaurant before, but I’d never been inside Augustine, its French-style bistro. It was just as stunning as the rest of the place.

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I had the best $6 espresso I’ve ever had, both because I’ve never paid $6 for an espresso before and because it was delicious, and then I passed other lovely buildings I’ve never considered for long enough, on my way back to the subway and my everyday office life.

The whole detour lasted maybe forty minutes but made me feel a certain sense of wonder the rest of the day.

Grab those little moments to be a tourist in your own city, people! It has a disproportionately beneficial effect on your mental health.

40 for 39

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At the age of 38, I realized that I had been to 39 states and 38 countries and territories, and that felt pretty neat. Because I like finding arbitrary ways to make my life needlessly challenging, I decided I would always try to keep my state and my country counts at or ahead of my years-on-earth count.

In September I went to Idaho for the first time, sliding into 40 states one month ahead of my 39th birthday. Last March I went to Vietnam and Hong Kong, which I thought brought me to 40, until I realized I could count Vatican City and Palestine and be all the way up to 42.

In January I’ll be visiting Togo and Ghana for the first time, which means I will be relatively safe in the countries department for awhile. However, I’m already a little anxious about how I’m going to rack up state number 41. I’m overdue for a visit to Missouri to see my friends, Ryan and Tom (hi!!!), and that’s probably what I’ll do. But I keep thinking I should knock out Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, and Arkansas in one fell road trip swoop and you know it’ll take me like ten years to execute on that plan. I could more easily go to Georgia, the only state on the eastern seaboard I haven’t technically visited, but I have grand plans for that state, too. When it comes down to it, I have grand plans for everywhere I want to go, so I either need to start spending more time and money on vacations or become more at peace with breaking them up into little bite sized chunks. I’m not sure which option is less improbable.

Revisiting the past

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I use the terms “foreign” and  “travel” loosely on this blog, to refer to anything strange and unfamiliar on the one hand, and any journey – physical or emotional – on the other. This post is about psychic time travel, through music. 

As is my tradition (in the United States at least), I went to a Stars show by myself last week. The first time I saw them live was around twenty years ago, when they were just starting out and played in the basement of my university chapel. I don’t think I was alone that time but I can’t remember who I was with… All I remember was that I went on the advice of my little sister, I was blown away, and when I ran into the singer/guitarist Amy Millan in the bathroom I gushed to her about her angelic voice and awesome dance moves.

In 2002 I was 22 years old and I had just moved to Los Angeles. I saw that Stars was playing at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood. I had no friends to go with me, so I went alone. I had recently gone to my first movie by myself, which felt really awkward at first and really liberating by the end, and I figured this would be similar. It was not. I felt really awkward the whole time. But still I was glad I went, and in the times I’ve seen Stars since then I’ve almost always chosen to go alone. It seems fitting for music that is thematically all about solitude, nostalgia, longing, and bittersweet loss.

At the show last week I thought about all of the different me’s I have been each time I’ve seen Stars live (which is too many times to count), including the me I was when I flew on a whim to see them play in Paris, not by myself this time, but coming into my own in a way that made me feel very singular.

Sometimes you’re communing with the past so hard that it’s practically running alongside the present, and that’s how I felt at the show – awash in my various ages. The words of the songs and Torquil Campbell’s always flamboyant commentary kept uncannily echoing the feelings all those memories evoked.

At one point he told the audience, “Put your fists up for your ghosts. They’re on the guest list. Bring ´em along,” and I just thought, Yup.

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These musings are apropos of nothing; it’s just that I’ve written about Stars a few times here and I find it interesting how they’re always weaving in and out of my own personal zeitgeist. 

diner tours

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One of the only things I liked about growing up in New Jersey, and one of my favorite things about living in New York, was the ubiquity of diners. I have been a regular at many of them over the years. Whether they are in the original rail car-style shape, of the stone-faced mid-century variety, or in the more expansive multi-room form of the 80s and 90s, there is something uniformly familiar and inviting about them. I feel comfort, security, and joy wherever and whenever I see them. 

Almost a decade ago, my high school friends, Jenny and Jennie, and I planned a drive around North Jersey to visit the oldest remaining diners in the area.

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It was a day filled with beauty: stainless steel, milk glass, neon, Formica, and pastel table-top jukeboxes.

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Also, indigestion. I discovered you should really only eat a diner breakfast once per day at the absolute maximum. 

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Since I got back to town in January this year, we’ve relaunched the diner tour concept and expanded to luncheonettes, coffee shops, soda fountains, delicatessens, and other very old, fast, and cheap food joints. We’ve also become far less stringent about what we eat in these places – sometimes a coffee will suffice. The point is not the food but rather to absorb the ambience and energy of places that have been communal cozy gathering spots for decades. 

Diners are falling like flies these days, an allegory for the death of both affordable and soulful New York. It feels really important for me to get to as many of them as possible in the time that they have left. 

So far, we’ve done the Northern New Jersey diner tour, a Bronx / Manhattan diner tour, a Brooklyn / Queens diner tour, a Staten Island diner tour, and a lower Manhattan diner tour, and I’ve also visited a bunch in my solo wanderings. Here is a photographic compendium:

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my new wanderlust wish list

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Four years ago I made a list of the places near and far that I most wanted to visit. At the time, I was coming out of a long student debt-induced travel lull, so I didn’t expect to cross much off the list very quickly. But I did – I lived in Senegal and I traveled to Burkina Faso, Cuba, Mexico City, and Tanzania. 

That leaves a lot of places still on the list, hopefully for one day in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, other places have captured my imagination and taken precedence. Here is an update: 

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