All posts filed under: learn

Your Journey Has a Personality. Discover It!

“People don’t take trips—trips take people,” wrote John Steinbeck about his two-month journey across the United States in a small truck he named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse. Plan all you want, Steinbeck wrote, but a journey has a personality of its own and it always finds a way to surprise you, to take you places you would have never dreamed of: “Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness… And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless.” Steinbeck’s road trip across America in 1960 had a clear objective: after spending over two decades dwelling in bubbles like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, he needed to once again get to know America, to “feel” it. He wanted to know: “What is America? Who are Americans?” On the outermost level, Travels with Charley in Search of America is a chronicle of this inquiry. But Steinbeck’s journey …

Swell Waves: A Song for Grandpa

Three days after I arrived in Guatemala in June, I woke up at my dark hostel dorm room in Antigua and rushed out to catch the 9:00 am Yoga class across town. I hadn’t walked two blocks through the cobbled-stoned streets of Guatemala’s old capital when I flopped down on the sidewalk, crying uncontrollably. I had been expecting the news my phone had delivered on that fresh morning ever since I started this journey over one year ago. I knew this moment would one day come and whisk me away from whichever corner of the world I happened to roam. Yet the news came like a flash flood and there I was, curled up like a scared rabbit, frozen on the damp, cold stones of Antigua’s streets, as if the entire world had caught on fire and I was the first to know. “Your grandpa is in a coma,” my father said on the phone. It didn’t look good. My grandfather had been unwell for some time and he hadn’t called me in over two …

Form versus Content in Art, Travel, and Life

In the last few weeks, I have been busy stuffing my clothes in vacuum bags, stacking my books in the closet’s unreachable shelves while standing on wobbly chairs, and packing everything in my Tel Aviv apartment that says “Nathalie” into a dark storage room in preparation for Part II of my journey to unknown destinations. As of March 12, I have officially released my apartment for sublet and begun my journey anew. After a short detour visiting my grandparents in Istanbul, I have arrived in the warm homes of old friends in London. On my first day in London, I chanced on a tiny temporary exhibition presenting selections from The Museum of Innocence at the Somerset House adjacent to King’s College. As fate would have it, I had visited the original museum that stands in a small street in Beyoğlu, Istanbul just a few days earlier, also without conscious intent. The Museum of Innocence is the physical manifestation of the Orhan Pamuk’s 2008 novel by the same name and comprises small vitrines showcasing items collected by the novel’s …

War (and Peace) of the Sexes: Duality in Mesoamerican Sexuality

(Since I wrote to you, sap sprang free in the masculine blooming, which is rich and puzzling to my very humanity. Do you feel, distant dear miss, since you are reading me, what sweetness fuses willingly in the feminine chalice?) -Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. John J. L. Mood For pre-Colombian Mesoamerican cultures the universe existed in strict duality. The masculine and the feminine symbolized the polarity among the forces of nature. The celestial sphere was the masculine representing maturity, fire, heat, light, force and life. The underground was feminine: it was germination, water, cold, darkness, weakness, and death. This opposition between the sexes held great significance for the balance of the universe as the Mesoamerican civilizations understood it. I learned this while visiting an exhibition in Mexico on the ancient Western Mesoamerican conceptions of sexuality. The exhibit “Semillas de Vida: La Sexualidad en Occidente” (Seeds of life: Sexuality in Western Mesoamerica) showcased an impressive collection of pieces ranging from 2000 BC to 400 AD from the region that are the modern states of Colima, Jalisco, Michoacán, …

Living with symbols: Frida’s things against all things Fridamania

These days Frida Kahlo’s face is on many a “things.” Her stern mien is plastered on store windows, embroidered into colorful pillows, stamped on fridge magnets. Mexico City is the epicenter of “Fridamania” that invaded museum gift shops since the artist’s revival in the 80s. Resolved to squeeze the artist’s legacy to the last peso, Mexico’s tourist industry parades her on books, mugs, sneakers, and baby bottles. From luxury stores to street markets, one can buy Frida earrings to match Frida shirts and take pictures next to an amateur copy of a Frida self-portrait. In the city reputed to house more museums than any city in the world La Casa Azul (the Blue House), boasts the longest lines. The museum is the house where she was born and where she lived with her husband Diego Rivera until her death in 1954. Even though Kahlo’s paintings were well received during her lifetime, the most she charged for a painting was $4,000 pesos (about $1,000 USD) in 1947 for The Two Fridas, one of her masterpieces. Soon after …

My First Spanish Lesson in Mexico City: Difunto

Difunto. It means deceased or plainly dead. I am aware that this is not the most pleasant word to learn while traveling. Besides, my Spanish is pretty good and I already knew this literal definition. It’s the metaphorical definition as used in Mexican slang is what I learned on my first week in Mexico City that I am focusing on here. Just bear with me. My Spanish teacher during my days in La Roma and the woman who is credited with teaching me “difunto” was Eva, my AirBnB host. Eva is a woman in her early 50s and lives in the first floor apartment of an old building with neighbors she describes as “traditional.” Eva is by no means a traditional woman. She makes kambucha and kefir, composts her organic waste, and has a turtle living in the back patio. Teamed up with her neighbors she greets by saying “hola, vecina,” she created a little garden by the sidewalk. Eva spends her days doing all kinds of community projects in the neighborhood she loves. Her …

From One Sleepy Town to the Next: Feeling at Home in Barichara

As hard as it was to leave Villa de Leyva I was excited to go to Barichara, dubbed the most beautiful colonial town in Colombia. I would be going from one sleepy town to the next. According to incoming backpackers on the reverse route, I would find a quiet village with nothing to do after 20:00. Perfectly fine with me, I thought, more time to relax, read, and write. Since all of my new friends had already left a couple of days ago, I was to take the three-leg bus journey on my own. There is no direct bus from Villa de Leyva to Barichara, so one must first take a local minivan to the closest big town Tunja (about 45 min) and from there a bus to San Gil (around 4 hours) followed by another half-hour local bus to Barichara. I was a bit nervous for my first intercity public transportation experience. Bus stations, I was told by all experienced South American travelers, are one of the most dangerous places with pickpockets and thieves …

First Stop: Opening Closed Doors in Paris

It’s hard for me to admit but I do believe in signs, messages from the universe that I am in the right path. In Western secular culture a binary divides people into believers (be it in religion, a creator, or superstitions) and the so-called logical persons who don’t. But even the non-believers see logic in Murphy’s law. Ever since I bought my ticket to Colombia, I’ve been thinking a lot of about these signs. After I left the hairdresser in Istanbul, with a confirmed ticket sitting in my inbox, everything seemed to be going eerily smooth. The day before arriving in Paris, a family that I had only met over three days in Spain last year invited me to stay with them, relieving me from a last-minute hostel search in Paris. I was picked up from the bus station in Étoile and quickly ushered into a lovely Shabbat dinner with shrimps as appetizers and delicious cheese as dessert. My first night in Paris was capped with draft beer and entertainment from a group of French boys …