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Guest Posts, travel

A Tasting Menu, Belgian Style

April 7, 2024
Belgian

Stanley Tucci whetted my appetite for sampling a country’s cuisine through travel. I knew my way around schnitzel, wurst, and spaetzle after spending my junior year abroad in Germany. I knew my way around pork on top of pork with pork in Czechia when I had a fiction fellowship in Prague. I knew my way around pork fat on bread, hunter’s stew, mushroom soup, and kielbasa in Poland. I wanted a new challenge, but where? When an opportunity came to present an academic paper in Antwerp this past summer, I saw my chance. My goal was to sample as many national dishes as I could in Brussels, Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp. Unlike Tucci, there would be no cameras rolling, no luxury transportation, no peeking into the kitchens and cooking alongside the chefs. I would be a pure consumer of a Belgian tasting menu, focusing on my physical and emotional reactions and rate the food as if I were a food critic. But, of course, I sampled much more.

The Appetizers

First Appetizer: Beef Carbonnade

My entry to the Belgian food scene came during a day trip to Bruges and Ghent on my first full day in the country. I arrived in Bruges on a luxury motor coach with fifty others I didn’t know. Our tour guide, Eros, a Spaniard, commanded enough English to make jokes, good ones. But it wasn’t long before the uneven cobblestone and the heat got to me. On one narrow street, I sat down at a sidewalk café. The tour guide asked me if I was okay. No, I was not. An American doctor in the group presented me with a cold bottle of water. An American nurse in the group loaned me her personal fan and sat with me while the group moved on. I don’t think I ever experienced such kindness from strangers. Eventually left on my own, I stumbled into a ten-table café simply called Café-Café run by Spaniards. I know this because the place was littered with flags of Spain and photos of the Spanish soccer team. I ordered beef carbonnade, not a typical appetizer of course, but it was my entry point. I detected the piquant taste of beer in the sauce. I suppose I should have ordered a beer, but I needed the comfort of a Coca Cola Lite. The stew came with Belgian fries and mayonnaise. An American couple from one of the Carolinas. They recognized me from the day tour as the woman who had a meltdown. We chatted a bit. Thumbs up on my first Belgian culinary experience. I noticed, though, that when by myself, I became more observant of my surroundings. Would I have noticed the woman working on her laptop near the front window? Or the woman on the banquette next to me nursing a beer?

Second Appetizer: Vol-au-Vent

The tour proceeded to Ghent, and Eros led us past St. Joseph Church to the marketplace. Concerned for my safety and health, he said, “I’m taking the group to the marketplace and then around the city. You can stay at the marketplace.” It was good advice, and I found another restaurant in the marketplace, Jaggers, where I sat at an outdoor table under an awning. I ordered vol-au-vent, a creamy chicken stew with puffed pastry and Belgian fries. I didn’t need to eat again so soon after lunch, but here was an opportunity to try yet another Belgian dish in a major Belgian city. While I waited, I set to people-watch. I spotted the American nurse from our tour sitting on a bench. I invited her to join me. She was gracious enough to do that. She, too, had physical limitations. Mine is obesity. Hers was recovering from breast cancer surgery. She ordered a salad and a blonde beer. She texted her sister and niece to join us and so we had a merry party. I ordered a blonde beer, too. Our server, my first Flemish Belgian, loaned us his squirt bottle/fan, the kind people use on long lines at Disney World in Orlando. His English was superb. He was the kind of person you’d invite to a party to liven it up. I’m sure he didn’t treat us any differently than other tourists, but he made the experience special. I couldn’t say what others were doing around me, because I focused on Randa, her family, and our server.

Palate Cleanser

First Palate Cleanser: Croque Maison

A writer in my writing family history workshop, Helen, introduced me via email to Edith, a French woman she knew from her junior year abroad in Montpelier in the late 1970s. Edith and I arranged to meet at Mokafe in the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, across rue d’Arenberg from my hotel. Although my hotel physically connected to The Foodmaker, I craved real food and not grab and go. Here at the Mokafe was a full menu. I arrived thirty minutes early and ordered the croque maison, a grilled cheese with egg and tomato. It was scrumptious. I studied the vaulted ceilings of the gallery, the sculpted figureheads. I could envision nineteenth-century residents ambling through these balustraded, columned arcades, their heels clicking on the marble, skirts swishing from shop to shop. An American family sat down at a table next to me and ordered waffles. Tour groups promenaded through the archways in a variety of languages.

Edith was a larger-than-life personality wearing a turban and caftan. She immediately assumed a relationship with me, told me the bags under my eyes could be a thyroid problem and that I must have eczema because I was scratching my wrist. Usually people who are that direct I find abrasive and obnoxious. But I couldn’t help but find affinity with her through our shared interests and concerns. Though she’s lived in Belgium a long time, she was not a Belgian national.

Edith and I talked about writing, our various maladies that for both of us included cancer, and love gone bad. She brought me a gift of Neuhaus Belgian chocolates and an artisanal mustard with speculoos, a spiced shortbread. I’d heard of it before as a fan of the Food Network. We sat and chatted long enough to have to find a restroom inside the cafe and to order lunch. I ordered the carbonnade and determined the version I had in Bruges was far superior. Edith insisted on ordering me a beer and she introduced me to fruit beer, much lower in alcohol content. She wanted to get me Pêcheresse Lindemans, a peach beer, but they were out of that. Instead, she ordered me a berry version. It was delightfully refreshing as a sparkling kind of fruit juice. We ventured afterward into Grand Place. We hadn’t gone far before my lower back and the oppressive heat demanded I sit down somewhere. We sat at a café and marveled at the large administrative buildings that bounded the square, a throwback to another bygone era. We ordered Coke Zero. She departed via taxi for her residential district, and I went into Neuhaus on the square and bought some chocolate truffles and an assortment box as future gifts.

Apparently, there are great differences between the various manufacturers of Belgian chocolate. I was instructed to look for how long they’d been in business. Neuhaus was established in 1857 by a Swiss man with Italian roots (the original family name was Casanova).

It was such a delight to be with Edith, because she knew Brussels, she spoke French, we’re about the same age, and we spend a lot of time processing the past. By not speaking the language, I wondered what I could be missing from the experience. Without someone like Edith to guide me, what foods was I not trying?

Second Palate Cleanser: Savory Belgian Waffles

I couldn’t get Belgian waffles off my mind. Near Mokafe I had spotted a sandwich board proclaiming both sweet and savory Belgian waffles. On the way back through the Galeries after saying goodbye to Edith, I stopped at this small shop. I ordered tuna tartare, two of them. They didn’t have enough tuna, so the second one would be salmon. Substitution accepted. Except the waffle was large, 1.5 inches thick and 7 inches tall, and I couldn’t even finish the first waffle. I thought I could take the second one back to my hotel, but the proprietor said I had to eat them fresh. He issued me a refund for the second one. Onto the top of the waffle, into each of twenty-four deep pockets, chunks of tuna piled high, topped with chopped onion, microgreens, and a spicy mayo. I had to eat it with a knife and fork. The crust was flaky and crunchy, the inside softer, made possible by egg whites and yeast. A more-than-satisfying bite.

The Entrees

First Entrée: Moules Frites

Moules frites is a Belgian national dish. I’ve always liked mussels, but at Legal Seafood in New Jersey, the mussels had gritty beards and so many did not open during steaming. In Brussels, at La Marmiton, a restaurant at rue de Bouchers within the Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, recommended to me by the staff in my hotel, a double decker pot came my way. The server lifted the top pot to reveal a heavenly aroma and gleaming obsidian shells with soft meat inside them. The top pot was to be used for the empty shells. The mussels swam in a peppery, white-wine broth with chunks of carrot, celery, leeks, and onion. Naturally, a net-like metal container of Belgian fries accompanied the mussels and came with mayonnaise. I ordered Pêcheresse Lindemans, the peach beer that Edith had first recommended. I could not stop scooping up the broth with my spoon, not even considering that was what the bread was for.

I watched other tourists, in particular, one group of Japanese men, order and enjoy the moules frites. It was the right thing to order in this place at this time. Moules frites and beer just went together like peanut butter and jelly. A Spanish couple and their daughter sat at a table across from me. They did not order the mussels, but I watched the wife order bread basket after bread basket and wondered why I hadn’t thought to dunk bread into the moules broth.

Perhaps I wanted to drown my aloneness in the food, in the white wine sauce, in the cream, in the act of pulling mussel meat out of the shells and letting the empty shells clink against each other in the blue pot. With every sip of beer, which I never ordinarily drink, I let go of the person I was to maybe become the person I wanted to be: a younger, svelte cosmopolitan.

Second Entrée: Waterzooi

Liz, an eighth-grade educator from Westchester, New York, was presenting at the same Antwerp conference as I. We’re colleagues from Gratz College where I received my Ph.D. in Holocaust & Genocide Studies and she’s nearing completion of her dissertation. It was so good to meet up with someone I already knew. A wave of relief washed over me when she came through the revolving doors of the Hilton Antwerp. We ambled to ‘t Pukte, which I had scouted out in the Grote Markt in Maalderijstraat during the afternoon, because we both wanted genuine Belgian food. I had to try the waterzooi, a chicken stew in a cream sauce. To me, it wasn’t as comforting as an American chicken pot pie. Maybe you need puff pastry for comfort like Liz’s vol-au-vent. I could see waterzooi as a dish served on a cold winter evening to warm up the bones from a day out in the city or village. Leeks, potatoes, carrots, cream, chicken stock, chicken breast, and butter. I didn’t notice what other people were ordering or eating. I only noticed the temperature dropped and it became quite breezy, even chilly.

Third Entrée: Moules Frites Redux

I yearned for moules frites again and decided to revisit ‘t Pukte by myself on my second night in Antwerp. This restaurant offered fourteen different entrée versions of mussels. I ordered the “Antwerp” version, apparently made with local Antwerp beer, not white wine. The broth did not have the depth of flavor or the seasoning as at La Marmiton. A pot of mussels was brought to a table of two German men. The pot I should have ordered. I asked the server what version of mussels that was. Her response: the chef’s special mussels made with white wine, garlic, spicy herbs, tomatoes, and I imagine too the butter, leeks, potatoes, carrots, celery, and onions. Maybe I was too tired after a long day at an academic conference at the university. Maybe I was still disappointed that a Flemish children’s writer I had met a decade ago at an event at New York City’s Flanders House had cancelled dinner with me. I almost spoke to the Germans in German, but I didn’t.

Fourth Entrée: Another Beef Carbonnade

On my last night in Antwerp, I tried the carbonnade again at my hotel restaurant. Not only was the service deplorable, but also this version was the least successful among my tastings. The meat was tough. I could not taste the beer. It was clear to me that it was time for me to return home.

Dessert

First Dessert: Cuberdons

Edith introduced me to the cuberdon, a traditional Belgian candy, a jelly-filled cone, almost shaped like a Hershey’s kiss but taller. The traditional flavor is raspberry. I bought an assortment, and through meticulous taste-tasting, preferred the honey flavor. It reminded me of the gummy, honey-flavored Pine Bros. cough drops that I sucked on as a kid whether I had a cough or not.

Second Dessert: Cheese Platter

At La Marrmiton, I opted for the cheese plate as dessert. Despite my lack of a gall bladder and the ability to process dairy, I did fine with three slivers of Belgian cheese, one of which may have been the most local cheese, Fromage de Bruxelles, a cow’s milk cheese with a rind. These two remaining cheeses could have been Postel, a hard cow’s milk cheese with a nutty flavor and no rind, and Remedou, a hard cow’s milk cheese with an orange-brown rind. I will never know for sure. I wish I had thought to ask what these selections actually were.

Third Dessert: Belgian Waffle

Dinner with Liz at t’ Punkte in Antwerp’s Grote Markt ended with my order of a Belgian waffle with sliced strawberries and whipped cream. It was much easier to eat such a waffle as a dessert. The cream just eased the swallowing of the flaky crust.

Fourth Dessert: Belgian Chocolate Mousse

While the Hilton in Antwerp disappointed in many ways, it did make the creamiest Belgian chocolate mousse, accompanied by the most exquisite Belgian chocolate truffles that made me say out loud, “Oh, my G-d, yum.” No one heard me.

If I had been traveling with Edith, I think we could have ventured into the kitchens and watched the chefs create their traditional fare, even if the food was planned to satisfy tourists more than nationals. But by being alone, I managed to observe a fuller menu and a fuller complement of cultures and their reactions to Belgian food.

Maybe I need a theme when I travel, especially when I travel alone. I’m looking for something outside myself. Some sort of connection, a raison d’être. I’m not Belgian. I have no Belgian roots. Yet, I experienced the country intimately through its food, through the consumption of carefully curated ingredients into delectable delights.

Barbera Krans

Barbara Krasner holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her essays have appeared in The Manifest-Station, South 85, The Smart Set, Gravel, Collateral, and other journals. She lives and teaches in New Jersey.

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Wondering what to read next? 

This is not your typical divorce memoir.

Elizabeth Crane’s marriage is ending after fifteen years. While the marriage wasn’t perfect, her husband’s announcement that it is over leaves her reeling, and this gem of a book is the result. Written with fierce grace, her book tells the story of the marriage, the beginning and the end, and gives the reader a glimpse into what comes next for Crane.

“Reading about another person’s pain should not be this enjoyable, but Crane’s writing, full of wit and charm, makes it so.”
Kirkus (starred review)

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Guest Posts, travel

The Gravity of Human Life

August 4, 2021
sour

by Alexandra Steffgen

“Take me somewhere beautiful.” I requested of Sour, my dear friend and favorite tuk-tuk driver, one September evening. I was desperate to shirk my responsibilities for the next few hours in search of a different perspective. Earlier that day I’d walked through the school doors, and braced myself in the air-conditioned teachers’ lounge. I’d stood in classrooms with boarded up windows (the school director thought views of the busy street provided too much distraction), I’d fought to raise my voice above the ricocheting whispers, and assuaged the restlessness of the second graders with a word search puzzle. After four hours, I’d set out toward my second job, onto the uneven sidewalk where bits of jungle reached through the cracks, past pop-up restaurants and tuk-tuks hung with hammocks. I’d walked into the choking, melting heat, alongside the swerving, droning traffic until I’d reached the Greek restaurant. There, I’d changed out of my sweat-stained shirt and skirt, straightened the tables, and joined the kitchen ladies in the attic for salty kor stew. I’d watched as tourists passed under our electric blue awning, served them when they came in. When the boss, a tall Turkish man twice my age, stopped by, I’d swallowed as he told me, “You look like a sexy secretary in those glasses.”

When I finished my shift, I fought the urge to return home, knowing my boyfriend was probably sitting in our garden, getting stoned and drinking beer. I knew that the tension between us was drawn so tight that any wrong move would cause it to snap. Life was weighing me down, and I needed to be reminded of why I had forsaken a college education, a life in the US, to be an expat in Cambodia. I needed to be relieved from having to be strong six days a week, while I worked two miserable jobs that barely paid enough for me to afford rent and a frozen margarita on my day off. I needed to forget that my relationship was precariously balanced, that the thought of breaking up and having to make a new home by myself in a foreign country as a 20-year-old made my stomach hurt. I needed to be coaxed out of the confines of my mind.

Dust lifted at the sides of the tuk-tuk as Sour swung onto a red dirt road. The concrete of the city gave way to unruly foliage, splayed out palm trees, plots of land where kids played soccer. Trenches by the sides of the road revealed lounging water buffalo. A sinewy cow passed by so closely that I had to jerk my hand back from the armrest. The road came to an end where the flooded rice paddies began, and a row of wooden huts formed a barrier between land and water. Locals sat on overturned boats and reclined in hammocks, snacking on rice and crunchy shrimp cakes. They turned to look as we pulled up, and I could imagine them thinking, “Is that a barang, a white person?” Half-naked kids raced into the flooded rice paddy, seeking relief from the sticky warmth of the day. To our left, dark clouds gathered and spit out rain on the fields below. To our right, the sun shone. Two rainbows ran down the middle.

“This ok, Sister?” Sour turned around on his bike. “Perfect, Bong.” I answered, using the respectful word in Khmer for an older friend or relative. The languid locals, the double rainbow, the greens and blues and reds around me, they provided just the right dose of awe to pluck me from my inner pains and plant me right down in the presence of the evening. Sour stuck a thin cigarette in his mouth and approached a family sitting nearby. The woman threw her head back to laugh at something he’d said, her kids prodded each other toward a stand that displayed sugary snacks. I took a deep breath, craving the sense of abandon I’d felt on many of my travels. “Should we swim?” I asked Sour. Without waiting for an answer, I kicked off my flip-flops and waded in.

The mud was slimy under my feet, so I dove under, letting my own momentum carry me through the lukewarm water until my lungs begged me to resurface. Swimming had always brought me peace. As a kid, I’d spent my summer days splashing around in lake near to my house, emerging shivering and prune-y, hair plastered to my head. Sometimes when I couldn’t sleep at night, I’d imagine I was plunging into a clear blue lagoon, letting the water relieve me of gravity’s pull, relieve me of the pull of human life. Sour took off his shirt and joined me. We got up the courage to plant our feet in the slippery mud, then watched the rainbows shimmer and taunt us with their ephemeral beauty. Sour took a photo of us, smiling with the joy of unplanned fun, a reminder that we were very much alive.

When I finally trudged to shore, the white and black striped skirt I’d worn to school showed no signs that it had once been white, my shirt dripped water the color of coffee with cream. I wrung out my clothes and enjoyed the breeze through their dampness on the ride back. At that point the sun had eked out its last rays, and the first stars appeared through the smog. Calm spread from my heart out toward my fingers and toes. As we rode, my clear mind began to sneak back to its darkest corners. I imagined the conversation my boyfriend and I might have that night, the look in his eyes when I told him about this outing. Suddenly, an image appeared, as if it had been dropped into my head. I was swimming in a river with my boyfriend, looking up at looming mountain peaks, letting the current sweep us along. Maybe it will all be ok.

That night, seated at our picnic table in the garden, watching the geckos shimmy up the doorframe, I told my boyfriend about the vision. “Usually when I see things like this it’s showing me the future. We will be together somewhere like that, I believe it. And I hope for it.” He scoffed and looked over my shoulder. “So we’re supposed to stay together just because you dreamed it?” Lying in bed a few minutes later, in the thin stream of air coming from the AC, I imagined I was diving back into the muddy water, shedding the gravity of the day, the gravity of the conversation.

Often the biggest moments in our life are disguised. They enter, seemingly innocuous, then prove to be earth-shaking. At least that’s what I would come to believe a few months later, lying in a hospital bed with an IV leaking into my arm. The words of my doctor in the US echoed in my head. For someone with Cystic Fibrosis, staying in Cambodia is, frankly, crazy. You picked up an E. Coli sinus infection from a flooded rice paddy, and you will only come down with worse. My boyfriend and I had broken up the night after the swim, in one of those fights that seems to escalate in slow motion, then suddenly explode, sending us careening towards the end of the world, then fizzling out in stony silence. With the help of friends, I’d moved into my own apartment, where I could shut the door on my adult burdens and dance with my solitude. Those same friends offered me temporary jobs, gigs that would pay the bills and allow me to escape from the misery of teaching and being underpaid by a creepy restaurant boss. With some distance from my former pains, I sought to make the most of what I’d soon find out would be my last months in Cambodia.

Two years later, that same boyfriend and I sat on the banks of the San Miguel river, except this time as husband and wife. The memory of him showing up at my apartment and falling into my arms, the memory of his promise to stick with me through my sickness, of his decision to sell his business, of the discussion on the plane flight back to the Western world with all our belongings in tow—they were all faded now. We had long since shed the gravity of my infection and the infusions in the local clinic, the flights to a hospital in Bangkok, the slow deterioration of my body, for a lighter reality. Outside the courthouse in the small ski town where we made our next home, we had promised to love each other forever. Then we’d sought out a private spot on the river, a place to sit and read our vows. Our silence now meant that we were both thinking of Cambodia, aching for it. We watched the swift current swirl around silvery trout. Rust-colored hillsides, dancing aspens, and craggy mountain peaks blurred on the surface of the water. And all the reds and greens, the blues and silvers, provided just the right dose of awe to pluck me from my inner pains and plant me right down in the presence of the afternoon.

Zanny Steffgen is a young woman who uses writing to explore her transition from life in the US to expat life in Cambodia, then the jarring return to the Western world. Her travel essays have been published on The Mindful Word and Verge Magazine, among other publications.

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Margaret Attwood swooned over The Child Finder and The Butterfly Girl, but Enchanted is the novel that we keep going back to. The world of Enchanted is magical, mysterious, and perilous. The place itself is an old stone prison and the story is raw and beautiful. We are big fans of Rene Denfeld. Her advocacy and her creativity are inspiring. Check out our Rene Denfeld Archive.

Order the book from Amazon or Bookshop.org

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Guest Posts, Health, travel

My Japanese Handkerchief Masks

April 12, 2021
Japanese

by Wendy Dodek

During this pandemic my thoughts turn to Japan, a country where masks are part of daily life. Yet not so many years ago I ignored a mask offered to me. I knew Japanese etiquette yet scoffed at wearing a mask.  I then proceeded to infect my Japanese friends, not with a deadly disease but a generic cold.

Perhaps, that is why, early in the pandemic, I took an elegant Japanese handkerchief, and with a few simple folds and two rubber bands made a functional mask as a shield against the coronavirus. My self-made mask has soft green floral patterns, made from a handkerchief I acquired when I lived in Tokyo over 30 years ago. It was part of a gift box I received from a group of nurses.

Every Friday night I’d leave my tiny apartment, walk 15 minutes and board the orange train. After 30 minutes, I transferred to a bus for another 20-minute ride to reach the Kyorin University Hospital where I taught English to 12 young nurses and one older nurse-supervisor. At the end of every session, with a deep bow and two extended arms, supervisor Miss Kikutake would hand me my fee, the yen placed in a small envelope. In addition to the money, this tiny woman with gray speckled hair would raise her arms and hand me a beautifully wrapped gift.

It’s customary for patients, about to be discharged, to give farewell presents to their nurses. I believe most of my presents came from this never-ending supply of gifts. What to do with the surplus of Japanese sweet bean treats, cookies and handkerchiefs? Give them to the English teacher. When I first received handkerchiefs, I was baffled. I never used handkerchiefs in the US. I thought of them as old-fashioned and unsanitary. I’d rather blow my nose in a tissue and then quickly discard it. Yet no Japanese person would leave home without carrying at least one handkerchief. And never would those handkerchiefs be used for nasal secretions. What a horrifying thought to Japanese.

Over time, I learned handkerchief culture and I too, carried them in my purse. I carefully would choose based on the seasons: cherry blossom pinks for spring, crimson maples for fall, purple irises in summer and some forgotten winter pattern. Like everyone else, I would take my handkerchief, dab my forehead during the sweltering Tokyo summers and dry my hands after visiting restrooms that offered no towels.

When I returned to the US in 1988, I brought home about 50 new handkerchiefs of exquisite colors and designs. I offered them up to my American friends although many seemed puzzled by these beautiful cloth squares. I then began to use them to wrap small gifts, instead of traditional wrapping paper. My closet now has just six handkerchiefs left. Just enough to repurpose them when the US medical community reversed course and urged the public to wear masks.

I doubt if any Japanese person would think of my handkerchief creation as a proper mask. The blue surgical variety are a common sight in Japan, long before this virus appeared. Have the sniffles? Wear a mask. Allergy season? Don a mask. Shortly after I moved to Tokyo in 1985, I saw a subway engineer in his prim blue uniform, matching tie and cap, and face draped in a mask. My newsletter home was entitled, “Riding on a Train Driven by a Masked Man.”

I lived for three years in Tokyo with occasional head colds but never considered wearing a mask. It would just get in the way when I needed to sneeze and blow my nose, I reasoned. Wrong attitude. Japanese do not blow their noses in public, instead they sniffle. That snorting sound may be unpleasant to Westerners, especially on crowded rush-hour trains, but preferable to Japanese.

The first time I was given a mask to wear was just eight years ago on a return visit to Japan. Within a few days of my arrival in October 2012 I developed a scratchy throat and tickly nose. Unfortunately, my husband and I had already embarked on a four-day excursion out to the countryside, accompanied by two Japanese friends. Together we stayed in an 18th-century farmhouse and all four of us shared one large guest room, family style. Each person was given futon bedding, which was spread out on the earthy tatami straw mats. Limited heat came from the smoky hearth in the center of the house. By the time we arrived at our next destination, a hot spring town, I could no longer hide my cold. My Japanese friend took me to a drugstore where the pharmacist prepared medicine and tossed two masks into the bag. I was standing by my friend and I imagine she noticed the masks but didn’t say anything. Perhaps, she wanted to see if I would wear one.

I put on a mask just long enough to pose for the camera with sad eyes and slumped body. My expression screamed, poor me, I am sick! But I was just posing. After my husband snapped the photo, I ripped off that mask with no intention of wearing it again. How could I blow my nose, which was running like a faucet, while wearing a mask? And how would I cough wearing a mask? I did not think about how Japanese manage or if my friends would contract my cold.

Over the next few days both of my Japanese friends (and my husband) got sick. I felt like a selfish foreigner, willing to contaminate my friends with my germs. All those years I had prided myself on being a good “gaijin”(foreigner) in Japan. Good foreigners do not lick ice cream while walking down on the street. They did not chew gum in public. They do not speak with a loud voice in the subways. And yet here was proof, I was a self-centered foreigner.

When my friends got sick, I expressed remorse for contaminating them but wondered if I should apologize for not wearing a mask. I had known these women for 25 years yet I didn’t know how to respond. My Japanese friends did not say anything, no overt recriminations. They acted like nothing was wrong. They said their colds were mild. Yet they immediately covered their faces with masks when their symptoms arose. I sensed they were disappointed in me, the person they viewed as better than the stereotyped selfish Americans.

In the US, the public is being urged to wear masks. So why not use my Japanese handkerchiefs? I reached into the back of my closet and examined my unused stock. Not my favorite handkerchiefs, those were all given away. Still, I can be draped in fashionable Japanese cloth and hope for protection – for me and for all those around me. I can picture Ms. Kikutake’s smile as she handed me box after box of treats, some to be consumed quickly and others to last a lifetime.

Wendy Dodek was the Lead Educator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston until the pandemic. See also teaches art and history related ESL courses for recent arrivals to the US. Her interests include arts, travel and writing.

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Blow Your House Down is a powerful testimony about the ways our culture seeks to cage women in traditional narratives of self-sacrifice and erasure. Frangello uses her personal story to examine the place of women in contemporary society: the violence they experience, the rage they suppress, the ways their bodies often reveal what they cannot say aloud, and finally, what it means to transgress “being good” in order to reclaim your own life.

Pick up a copy at Bookshop.org or Amazon.

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Anti-racist resources, because silence is not an option

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Click here for all things Jen

 

Guest Posts, travel, Young Voices

Camino

August 11, 2019
santiago

By Anna Linskaya

“So you’re doing Camino, right?” the Argentinian sitting next to me said, nodding at the trekking pole squeezed between my knees.

“Yep,” I replied.

“Alone?”

“Yep.”

“That’s a bad option in winter, especially for you.”

“For me?”

“For the girl.”

I shrugged, and he continued: “Do you even speak Spanish?”

“No, but it’s not a big problem,” I answered, thinking to myself, everything happening right now is a big problem.

“Let’s see when exactly the sun goes down,” he said, taking out his phone, “Ok, you have to be at your overnight stay by five.” Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, travel

Tearing off the Supermom Cape

April 11, 2019
buddhist

By Dena Moes

“SIXTY THREE!” I shouted at my husband Adam and daughters Bella and Sophia. They had wandered into the kitchen expecting me to serve a meal one Saturday afternoon like I always did, with a smile and cloth napkins, most likely Genetically Modifed Organism-free and locally sourced.

“Do you know what that number is?” I asked, staring into their surprised faces. The girls, ages thirteen and nine, shook their heads, eyes wide.

“That is the number of times I feed you each week. Can you even believe it? Sixty friggin three. That is three meals a day for three people, seven days a week. And it is not even counted as a job. It is extra, taken for granted; on top of my actual paying job, plus laundry, paying the bills, keeping up the house, and arranging and chauffeuring all your damn activities.”

“What’s with her?” Bella asked Adam as I stormed out of the kitchen and into my office. I opened my laptop to scroll Tripadvisor.

Adam and I were plotting to rent out our house and spend a year India, visiting family, traveling, and learning. In the meantime, this unexpected thing was happening to me. Now that I knew we would be breaking the routines of our American family life, my patience with them and my belief in their absolute necessity dwindled. I had been holding down so much for so long. Sixty-three meals a week for thirteen years of parenting and I don’t even like cooking.

*** Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Manifestation Retreats, travel

Turn on The Light, Mother F*%cker. Post Italy Blog.

July 2, 2017

By Jen Pastiloff

I don’t blog often here on the site anymore but I wanted to share about my last Italy retreat. I so rarely stop and write things down and for that I beat myself up. I regret that I didn’t do it because I forget details so quickly. But do we? Do I? Don’t they stay in us somewhere? All the things, all the people? All the forgottens? My son is clawing at my feet and I am trying to type this quickly in my terrible nogoodineverlearnedtotype typing fashion. He is trying to grab my coffee cup. He wants to push the keyboard. He wants my boobs. (How does anyone ever get a thing done with a toddler?)

Jet lag has been rough. I have been to so many places and dealt with far greater time differences but this go-round was particulary rough. Charlie couldn’t adjust so our whole house (the 3 of us) were backwards for a few days. I feel like I am just coming out of a fog and I am missing Italy and the people who came something awful. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Manifestation Retreats, Retreats/Workshops, travel

How To Manifest Under The Tuscan Sun With Jen Pastiloff.

October 15, 2016

First, discover Jennifer Pastiloff accidentally. This is after the boyfriend leaves, after the mom gets cancer, and after you start asking Is this all there is? Let her crack you open in a crowded Manhattan yoga studio, show her your broken heart, read to her your list of fears, and let her place a hand on your knee and lean in closer. You will sit like that for awhile, with her hand on your knee and all of your tears puddling on the mat. The woman next to you will place a hand on your back, someone will offer you a box of tissues, you’ll hear a voice nearby say It’s ok, I got you. You’ll find that this is what Jennifer creates: space to be heard, space to listen.

Fallinloveable. She’ll say in her deep and raw voice, That’s what you are. Fuck yeah. Completely Fallinloveable. She says it in a way that makes you believe it too. It happens just like that. Then, you laugh through the tears, something Jennifer calls “letting the snot fly”, and the feeling of connectedness will cocoon itself around you.

Months later, you might forget how fallinloveable you are and you’ll scroll through Jennifer’s Instagram feed searching for a reminder. She will be there telling you not to be an asshole, especially to yourself. She will post pictures of her retreat in Italy and you will sit at your desk every lunch period swiping over images of people laughing, drinking wine, and dancing. The pictures alone ignite something inside of you, you will call it hope. You decide to go despite a full-time job with little vacation time and your lack of money. Listen, because this part is important: start with willingness, even if you don’t know how you will ever get the time off of work or the money in the bank, begin with willingness to believe in possibility, willingness to be transformed. Trust me. The rest will take care of itself.

Then, something like this will happen:

You will arrive in a van filled with strangers. Driving down a narrow, dusty road in the Tuscan countryside, you’ll find yourself equal parts nervous and excited. As you pull up to the sprawling villa, all of you will promptly and unanimously decide that none of the photos do it justice. Jennifer will meet you in the main room outside of the kitchen and insist that you take a tour right that minute. Go. Drop all of your heavy bags and follow her.

In fact, that’s pretty much good life advice: Drop the heavy shit weighing you down and let Jennifer Pastiloff show you how to stand in awe and wonder.

You’ll find one perfect-for-napping-writing-and-manifesting-nook after another, a large, dimly lit wine cellar, a gym, and several uniquely beautiful bedrooms with wooden windows that open to postcard-worthy views. You can even see the rolling Tuscan hills from the bathrooms. Take a minute to really see all of the beauty and notice how even the air smells different, fresher, full of hope. Consider this practice because Jennifer will ask you to hunt for beauty all week. She won’t ask you to take yourself too seriously or even yoga for that matter. Actually, least of all yoga. But. She will ask you to listen, to say yes, to sit in your discomfort, and to sit in the discomfort of others. This is the work, she’ll say, not turning away from someone’s pain, from their vulnerability.

You will remember the box of tissues at your feet in the crowded Manhattan yoga studio, the warmth of a stranger’s hand on your heaving back. You will watch Jennifer untie knots in your new friends and you know what you will do? Put a hand on their back, hand them tissues, and tell them I got you. I got you.

This is what Jennifer creates: space. Safe, open space. She asks you only to bring your willingness and a journal. Then, she listens. She listens with no agenda and no judgement. This is why it all works. Because we all begin listening to one another simply to hear, to understand, to say I got you, I got you. Don’t get me wrong, there is as much laughter as there is crying, as many heartfelt secrets being shared as there are dirty jokes, for every long, beautiful hour of quiet, there is another of loud, magical conversation around the dinner table, there is as much dancing as there is … well, there is a lot of dancing.

So, if you are wondering if you should go, just go. You don’t need to go looking for transformation, you don’t need to be sad or lost or grieving to go. You, right now where you are, can be delighted with your life, you may be filled to the brink with gratitude. Go. Share it. Show up with what you have wherever you are and let Jennifer greet you at the door, take you by the hand, and say How unbelievable is this? You won’t know whether she is talking about the view or her hand in yours or this moment in your life and it won’t really matter anyway.

Go. I got you. We all do.

 

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Lexi Weber is a writer, certified health coach, and newbie World traveler. Currently, she is writing at home in Annapolis, Maryland, but she always has her suitcase packed and ready to go. You can find pictures of her latest travels and smoothie bowls on her Instagram account @_lexiweber_ and read more of her writing at lexiweber.com.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany June 17-24, 2016 by clicking the photo above. Please send an email to retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com letting us know why you would like to attend.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany June 17-24, 2016 by clicking the photo above and putting down a non-refundable deposit. Please send an email to retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com letting us know why you would like to attend.

 

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 9-16, 2016. Please send an email to retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com letting us know why you want to attend. Click the photo above to put down your non-refundable deposit.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Tuscany Sep 9-16, 2016. Please send an email to retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com letting us know why you want to attend. Click the photo above to put down your non-refundable deposit.

Binders, Friendship, Guest Posts, travel

Manolos and Genocide: A Love Story

September 3, 2015

By Hillary Kaylor

“What shoe size are you?”

This is how she hired me. At twenty-three, I was looking for an identity, and found it by becoming the assistant to the publisher of the most coveted foodie magazine in the world. A magazine glamorous in a gleaming midtown office building over a hundred years old that used to house carnival acts in old New York at the turn of the century. The place was wild with beaming chefs’ events and exclusive parties and in its office on the 9th floor, multiple test kitchens roasted whole chickens, prepared six different crusted pies for the November issue in the cold spring months, cinnamon-spiked hot chocolate in July, all manners of honeyed fruits and roasted vegetables, and next to our own wine-tasting room, a nearby counterspace where a bounty of fancy boutique packaged cookies and tins of toffee stood unscrewed and slashed for testing. It was a gate to a heaven of kinds.

As soon as I said 7 ½, she went over to the sleek metal locker. As she slid it to the side, I held my breath.

The shoes. Oh, the shoes!

Prada. Dior. Chanel peep toes. Sky-high wedges by Sergio Rossi. Leather and suede, silk and satin, all colors and styles. There were shelves and shelves of them. All size seven and a half.

“Yes.” I nearly shouted when she offered me the job. I would become like her. I would be queen of New York—gorgeous, rich, important, and well fed. Just like her. I could be someone.

The most beloved pair of shoes she gave me in the years that I worked as her assistant, was zebra pony skin pumps with a knife-sharp toe and an un-sensible heel.

They were also the shoes that I wore to her funeral.

Working for her was complicated, though we formed a close relationship from an intense routine. She was organized and put-together and I fell in line. Because everyone knew her, everyone had to know me, and it gave me purpose. I was important enough to run someone else’s life, and I rose to the occasion in a way I didn’t in my own.  I filled her fridge with glass-bottled organic milk while the cheap stuff curdled in mine. When she needed her designer bags to be curried to the high- end vintage shop, or when she needed a personal trip booked door to door to Hong Kong, and I could deliver, the world changed. It seemed conquerable.

Each morning I shrugged out of my boyfriend’s arms early to pick up the morning papers and arrive at the office. Then, I cut out the front-page news, anything business-related, and the fashion sections. Once the sheets were cut and pinned, I ordered her morning fruit shake: strawberries, de-seeded black berries, skim milk, a shot of bee pollen, blended with extra ice, served with two straws.

At 8:30 AM sharp, she would roll into the office, dressed to thrill in stilettos and a Balenciaga skirt suit, fresh from a personal session at her pilates studio, and I would stand, wearing what I thought at the time to be a particularly good knockoff Chanel jacket.

She’d eye my outfit, furrow her ash blond brows, take the papers and drink and retreat to her office, closing the door.

When she invariably complained her shake was too icy but demanded I did not remove any of the ice, I’d shove it into my lap and cup both sides of it, warming it between my stocking legs.

I continued on. I had broken through to something. It was a world of fast deadlines and style, of travel and class. Once I had to get her a new passport because hers was already full of stamps. I held it in my hands like a badge of honor as I went to the passport office. When I returned, she merely tossed the old one back at me to shred. As if it was nothing! I kept it instead in my pencil drawer for years. I wanted her world for my own. I loved her, and she loved me almost as much. She remembered everything: my birthday, my favorite color, wrote me cards, treasured my work.  I went through boyfriends with a vengeance, but whenever they told me I had to choose between my job and them, I always chose her. The boys came and went. My boss and I were here to stay. Our love lasted through my twenties, as long as it took for the magazine publishing houses to begin to fold.

She began having long meetings in her office with the door closed, and then for a while, no meetings at all. A promotion was pushed upon her to assist another magazine in the company. Then she was fired. Or downsized. Or reorganized as an outside consultant. The company never said why, and I was too polite to ask.

When she walked out of the doors of her office for the last time, she said, “It’ll be an adventure!”

“I’m going to quit,” I told her. “I’m not staying without you.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she gathered her favored calendar: a buttery, camel-colored Tiffany book. “Anyway, you know I’m going to call you for help.” She showed me: she’d already marked up the “Hillary” days.

She called often at first. I spent months setting up her home office, reorganizing her contacts, and typing up job prospects in her living room.

Later that year, she was invited to just six of the many usual Thanksgiving cocktail parties. When Christmas came and she still hadn’t gotten a new magazine job, she was invited to none. I attended three, and lost an expensive gift bag in the cab home.

More time passed, and she called me to help her less. She never contacted to see me socially and when I asked, she was suddenly busy. She’d been hard to love in life at times, even harder to love unemployed. Her edges sharpened, her niceties became lax. She seemed bitter and angry; people whispered.

“Did you see how FAT she got?” a pretty and interminable gossip who Anna had been particularly cold to, nudged me from behind, and thrust her phone forward with the offending photo. That’s what people said about her, if they said anything at all. I’d since gotten two promotions since she left. I felt the strange pangs of survivor guilt.

Soon, her presence faded from the circle in New York that she’d valued the most, her place in pictures filled in by fresher, hungrier faces. Once it was gone, she didn’t seem to want to find another. She stopped taking my calls. I walked by her apartment on occasion on the Upper East Side, a far cry from my Williamsburg tenement, and rang the bell. She never answered.

When I was told she was found dead, I sobbed in the ladies’ room as my cashmere skirt dipped into the toilet bowl. The world was big again; dark and wild territory. That summer it seemed to rain every day, hot rain, soaking through everyone’s bright summer clothes. The city itself began to wear black. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Jen Pastiloff, Jen's Musings, travel

Be All In.

June 15, 2015

Book Girl Power: You Are Enough now! Space is limited. Sep 19 Princeton! Sep 20th NYC. The book is also forthcoming from Jen Pastiloff.

By Jen Pastiloff.

I got up before the sun this morning. The room was dark and I didn’t know where I was. I am in a twin bed, I am shivering and sweating, the sun is not up, where am I? I’ve been grinding my teeth really badly. I unclenched my jaw a little and felt my plastic night guard in my mouth, but still, I couldn’t quite place where I was. It’s funny when that happens, isn’t it? You wake up and have no idea what day it is or where you are or if you are late to work or what the fuck? Do I even have a job? Am I still waitressing? Am I late for school? School? I am a grown-ass adult, I don’t go to school, where the fuck am I?

 

Okay, okay. I am in Aruba. I remember. Calm the fuck down.

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We are going on a sunrise hike and I have set my alarm for 5. Just 5 more minutes, I lie to myself. My mouth guard cracks inside my mouth. Are you kidding me? I still lay there with plastic pieces in my mouth, refusing to swing my legs over the edge of the small bed. This night guard that cost almost $500 and I just bit it in half. I still don’t get up. Just don’t swallow the plastic and die here on this twin bed in Aruba, Jen, I say to myself, and also, Are. You. Fucking. Kidding. Me?

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Who clenches their jaw so hard they bite their night guard in half? What am I holding on to? I don’t panic though. I lay there calmly chanting don’t swallow don’t swallow and then make myself laugh because it reminds me of blow jobs and I feel like a teenager for laughing. Like when someone’s name was Dick and we’d laugh. Dick and blow jobs and plastic in my mouth. I better get up.

 

At least I can laugh because this piece of crap plastic is going to cost another $500 unless I want to crack my crowns. I recently got two crowns, one of which is gold. Classy.

 

*

 

Now I am on the plane. I am nestled against the window with the best $20 investment I have ever made (EVER): a pillow and blanket I purchased in the World’s Worst Airport otherwise known as Ft. Lauderdale.

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I went to Chili’s in my 3 hour layover and got a vodka soda and salmon. My waiter was very accommodating and gave me black beans instead of rice and when I asked for salsa, brought me a huge Styrofoam container of it and some plastic cutlery. It brought back visions of the people I used to wait on who would ask for plastic silverware. (I guess it was a germ thing?) It also brought back memories of those skinny women who would come in shaking and saying, It’s so cold, when it was 65 degrees, Can I get a hot water with lemon? I hated those ladies. I wanted to tell them to eat a sandwich. (They always ordered the Tuna Deluxe, no rice, no dressing, and they never finished it.)

Anyway, I took a bath in my salsa and drank my drink and ordered another because 3 hours. Ft. Lauderdale. I asked the lady at the table behind me if the chips were any good.

 

“They’re greasy but they’re okay. Have one.”

 

I reached over and had one. She was right. They were meh, at best. I would just eat my salsa out of the Styrofoam with my plastic spoon sans chips. This is my first time in a Chili’s. They play good music. I’ll give them that. Steely Dan, Hey 19. A little David Bowie.

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The hike was 5 hours long. We started before the sun came. Rooi Tambu, a long trail through a dry riverbed within the Arikok National Park of Aruba. I poured coffee into a plastic cup and spilled it all over myself in the car. The sun was still not up when we began.

 

I read a sign that explained that the dry riverbed was named after the sound of the tambu, a musical instrument used by inhabitants from African descent who were brought to Aruba to work as slaves. They used to hide in the dry riverbed to perform their dance rituals and play music, as it was forbidden by the Spanish catholic colonists who occupied Aruba from 1499-1636.

 

Isn’t it amazing how humans have the capacity for self-expression and creativity, no matter what? How art is so often born of brutal circumstances? How survival is contingent upon the making of that art? I bent down low to touch the earth, dirt on my fingers, on the backs of my calves, this is holy dirt, I thought, and wiped a streak on my face. The sun was rising. What was once forbidden flourished here.

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We continued to walk until we reached the coastline. I climbed up on the rocks and tried to do a yoga pose but it was slippery and I was scared so I stood there with my arms in the air as my friend Yulady took a picture. I was wearing a tank top that said Be All In and was I ever. My feet were aching, my skin was filthy, I was soaked from a wave that had crashed on the rocks, but my god, was I all in, knee-deep in, waist-high in, up to my neck in, I was in, and I would keep going in, deeper.

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I thought of Mary Oliver’s poem The Journey as I stood on that rock

 

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

 

I read that poem a lot in my yoga classes so I could almost hear my own voice speaking it. God, I’m so dramatic. I climbed down off the rock, pleased with myself that I got up and did the hike instead of sleeping, that I stood on a wet rock on the beach and heard a poem in my head as if the sky was talking to me, as if I hadn’t been laying in bed just a couple hours before with plastic pieces in my mouth and a deep confusion as to where I was in the world, as if the clouds were reminding me to go out and make art, no matter what, make art, create, stand on rocks, recite poetry, get up and climb on rocks and forge your way through the world and do not be confused as to where you are: You are here. You are here. You are here.

 

 

Yeah, I was all pleased with myself. I am not a hiker. I hopped down onto the sand and laughed at myself for thinking the clouds could talk. Then I remembered that the minute I stopped believing the sky could talk, I was dead, I was no longer a poet, I no longer had an imagination, I would no longer make art despite the unflinching pressing of time on my body- that if I believed the sky went quiet, I might as well swallow the pieces of plastic and confine myself to a life of quiet choking, of relentless blockage, a life of words being stifled in the back of a throat. I would suffocate. So yes, the sky can talk and I can fucking hear it despite my near deafness. I can hear it and I am all in.

 

I am happy I came on this hike. I fly out in a few hours, to go home to L.A. and this will tucker me out for the plane. It will stay with me for days on end, the Manzanilla trees and the crabs with the big eyes, who looked dead until you got close and they scurried away. The way the ghosts of the music-makers from long ago lingered like any good art will. Art does not disappear. The clouds do talk.

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My friend Yulady and her husband Gerry are also with me on the hike.

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Yulady had breast cancer and now has a colostomy bag. She doesn’t complain. She made a video for me the other day where she says, I poop in a bag, and yet, she doesn’t complain. I learn from her.

My legs hurt so I squat down and my friend Mike says, No pooping, Jen. This makes me laugh and I think how poop jokes always do. Like swallow and the name Dick. No pooping, Jen.

 

Yulady has to poop in a bag. She is my inspiration. Amazing, like I said, how art is so often made through brutality? She tells me that life has not been easy for her. But she doesn’t complain. I want to rub her skin and take some of her back with me to Los Angeles.

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I complain that my feet hurt and I have get home to finish packing. That I am hungry. That I am getting sunburned. I tell myself to shut the fuck up.

 

We finally finish the hike and get back to the house.

 

I thought about how I got quiet during the walk. Real quiet. It was nice. It was needed. How unquiet we are sometimes. Me. I am. With the constant ringing in my ears and my own chatter and the nonstop information and distraction of social media- how unquiet. During the hike, you couldn’t look up because of how rocky and uneven the earth was and that was okay.

 

One foot in front of the other, paying attention, getting quiet. How needed it is. I got soaked as I sat on that rock and I thought life is good. At least in this moment.

 

It’s good to get quiet. My legs covered with filth from the walk, my hair tangled with sea water, salt on my skin. Maybe I’ll stay like this a little longer. To remember.

*

 

I place my broken night guard carefully in its blue container and put it at the bottom of my backpack. I wonder if I can superglue it?

At the airport the long is long and women with heavy blue eye shadow and t-shirts that say Aruba: The Happy Island wear too much perfume. My bra strap breaks in line and my boob starts to hang out. I ask a stranger to fix it. (Not my boob. The strap.)

She kindly does. She is flying to New York with her husband. They have arrived at the airport almost 5 hours early. I, on the other hand, am worried I will miss my flight and my bra has just broke.

 

Two hours later, I make it though all the lines and my bra strap breaks again. I get in line at the Happy Bar and order a white wine, which he gives me in a mini bottle with a Dixie cup of ice. I take it to the gate. Thank you, Happy Island, for allowing me to walk through the airport with a plastic cup of wine. In the States, we can do no such thing.

 

Night guard breaking, bra strap busting, what next, Jen? Your head going to roll off?

 

I sit down next to a big guy who is partly in my seat. He sleeps with his head pressed into the tray table in front of him, from takeoff to landing, while his wife absent-mindedly traces the hair on his legs with her French manicure, as she reads a paperback. He lifts his head only once, to turn around and yell at (I am guessing) sons, “There’s enough room back there. Knock it off.

 

In Ft. Lauderdale I somehow have to go through security. Again. Fourth time in one day. I am so cold that I feel like one of those women who ask for lemon water. I am freezing. I buy a pillow and blanket in the airport shop and attempt to find a place to eat. This brings me to Chili’s. The Ft. Lauderdale Airport really does blow. (Ha ha blow jobs again.)

I am sad to leave Aruba. I wish I took more photos. I close my eyes and rest my head on the table at Chili’s and start to make art in my head. I rearrange words and create sentences out of fragments of stone and wind and blue, blue water. I remember a poem I wrote 12 years ago.

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I am in awe of the things that cause change.

 

The forces, natural and apocryphal, that cause us to evolve-

The catalysts, those things working in our favor-

The impetus for us metamorphose, to mutate and transform.

Whether being trapped inside the earth in heat so blasting

A Guatemalan volcano has to spew its ashy breath-

Or having an old friend come to stay for a week.

 

We change.

 

We change shapes and figures over and over again.

We exchange one body for the next, one precious

Stone for a different one.

One pleasure for another.

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I wonder about the things working in my favor. How I have been changed by this trip? By the Rooi Tambu? By other people’s pain and how their music settled into the bones of the earth so that when we walk over it, our feet touch their hearts. I wonder where my waiter is with my drink. I wonder why I clench my teeth so badly. I wonder what life would be like if I went all in, like really all in, like I stood on that rock as if I could never slide off. As if nothing could stop me. I wonder what being all in felt like. I checked to see if my boob was tucked in, if my bra strap was hooked. Yes. I was all in. I made myself laugh. This is important.

I wonder if I will make my flight.

I do.

I get home eventually.

Meanwhile, I cuddle in my blanket and pillow next to a Chinese man with a mask over his mouth. He eats peanuts and I eat salsa out of Styrofoam and I think that both of us are all in. He nods at me as if to say hello with his eyes and I turn my head to the clouds out the window of the airplane because they are speaking. Of course they are. I must get quiet to hear them. Shhh. Goodbye.

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The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for June 20th cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the March cleanse. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the new season of spring. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

 

 

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015. It is LIFE CHANGING!

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat Sep 17-24. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! It is LIFE CHANGING! You must email info@jenniferpastiloff.com to book.

 

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough. Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

March 13 NYC! A 90 minute class for women, girls and non-gender conforming folks (we encourage teens 16 and up) and all levels that will combine flow yoga, meditation, empowerment exercises, connection and maybe, just maybe, a dance party. This will be a class to remind you that you are enough and that you are a badass. It will be fun and empowering and you need no yoga experience: just be a human being. Let’s get into our bodies and move! Be warned: This will be more than just a basic asana class. It will be a soul-shifting, eye-opening, life-changing experience. Come see why Jen Pastiloff travels around the world and sells out every workshop she does in every city. This will be her last class before she has her baby so sign up soon. Follow her on instagram at @jenpastiloff and @girlpoweryouareenough.
Jen is also doing her signature Manifestation workshop in NY at Pure Yoga Saturday March 5th which you can sign up for here as well (click pic.)

beauty, Guest Posts, travel

The Greatest Country on Earth.

November 21, 2014


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By Jill Moffett.

My flight landed in San Francisco on Halloween night. I had $300 in my pocket. I was alone. It was a warm evening, and I paid $12 for the shuttle to take me to my destination. I spoke to no one. Outside the van window I saw fat nuns in silver boots, pink-haired girls on roller skates, a pair of vampires with blood dripping down their jaws and a 200-pound Rainbow Brite in a tutu. Everything sparkled and I wondered about the future.

I was 25 and alone. I had left Montreal that morning because I had to. I was run out of town by my own bad habits. I drank too much, I slept with too many people, I let my untreated depression get the best of me. The streets of the city seemed haunted now, every place I went held memories of bad behavior or an unbearable sadness. I left because it was the place where my boyfriend had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, had locked me in the apartment while he talked to a dead telephone, and threatened to throw my off the balcony if I tried to leave. I left because the last apartment where I had lived was too dark and too quiet. It gave me nightmares to live alone. Besides, in Montreal it was cold all the time.

I was raised to believe that to be a grown up was to leave where you had come from without looking back. You did it out of necessity. Leaving your home was like growing three inches over summer vacation when you were a teenager, painful and completely out of your control. After high school graduation I’d gone to Ireland with my best friend, hoping to connect with my roots. I though maybe I’d move there. But it wasn’t like I’d imagined. My grandmother didn’t answer her phone, my aunt was welcoming but harried, overwhelmed by the demands of her two young children. The guidebook told us to visit the Aran Islands, and we obliged. One night two drunk men we’d ignored in the pub that evening climbed through the window of the isolated hostel where we were staying, hunting for us in our beds. I left the country the next day and returned to Ottawa, the city I called home. It wasn’t really home though. My parents had moved five hours away two weeks after graduation.

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