TRAVEL

THE BEST LITTLE APARTMENT IN PARIS:

ON AVENUE SECRETAN

Posted JANUARY 2018

The cliche says “Paris is for lovers” but at the age of forty-something, when my husband and I arrived at the 19th arrondissement with several backpacks in toe (his idea for lighter travel which almost gave us hernias) and in the company of not one, not two, not even three teenagers but four, we were far from love but not yet beaten. That would happen later at the hands of a simple key and a stubborn locking mechanism on the sixth floor on Avenue Secretan.

We knew the City of Light would not hold any romantic interludes or enchanting escapades or amorous adventures for the Dickerson couple – the most we could hope for was to check in to our Paris apartment, set up sleeping arrangements (which often meant us cramming into a twin bed so the kids could spread out a bit more) and see if there were any restaurants open late that would serve the non-French well after dinner hours. Much to my surprise, signing for the key was effortless, unlike the treacherous Parisian rush-hour traffic which I cannot detail at this juncture for fear the horrid memory will send me into another post-traumatic stress disorder episode I may not recover from.

We pull up to the curb on this beautiful boulevard-like street. From the corner we could see the entire block lined with neobaroque buildings – monuments of stoic stony grays with just the right splash of color from the cafes, brasseries and other street-level storefronts flaunting their cool blues, dark greens and vibrant red double doors and awnings – Paris knows how to say, “Bienvenue!”

After each of us has poured out of the mini-car, daddy offered to find a meter while we got a head start settling into the place. Sounded like a good idea at the time. Five minutes into the scariest ride up six flights in the world’s smallest elevator (maybe 2X3 because I’m feeling generous), I squeezed out of the elevator or ascenseur and greeted the kids with a psychotic half-smile. It was clear the demented traffic patterns and claustrophobic lifts were beginning to take their toll on my sanity (especially after surviving over ten hours on turbulent flights from JFK to Dusseldorf then into Zurich). I slid through the three inches of space between the kids and the hallway to reach the apartment door – a solid barrier that would prove my first real challenge (since I wasn’t the one swerving through the death-defeaning drivers).

Okay, you would think that step 1: insert key into key whole, step 2: turn said key left, maybe step 3: if key did not open door, you may need to turn key to the right instead and finally step 4: push or pull door open for access. Presto! Door should open, right? Well, the door did not open. Not only did the door not open, the heavy wooden fortress wouldn’t even budge. Teen #1 tried and failed. Teen #2 tried and failed. Teen #3 wanted to try to but stubborn teen #1 demanded another chance. Fifteen minutes into the battle I realize my dear and loving (and much stronger) husband is not up yet. We get to texting Dad to find that, much like us, he is enjoying his own very special Paris moment as he circles the block for parking meters only to be denied over and over again – its as if the City of Light smelled foreign intruders and was trying to keep us out – out of the parking spaces, out of the apartment, just out.

Texting was not urgent enough for me so I yelled at one of the kids for their iPhone so I could proceed to yell at my husband about the door that won’t open because the stupide desk clerk had giving us the wrong fucking key – now we had to defy the laws of physics and maneuver our way across town back to the freaking travel place because it’s of course too much like common sense to have the travel and operations office in the same building or at least in the same zip code – I don’t even know if Paris has zip codes – are those international? My husband finally saw a spot opening up so he got his blinker ready to pounce on the meter. He hung up without giving me further instructions – a sign he too was reaching his breaking point. Ten long and sweaty minutes later, up the spiral stairs came Dad, wondering no doubt why the elevator did not descend even when he pressed for it so many times – when all of a sudden we noticed that the little accordion doors had to be closed for the lift to actually function. He pushed past three kids and snatched the key from the fourth one who was relentless in his pursuit of access. Dad tried and failed. Left. Right. A tug here. A very hard push there. Nothing. Not a millimeter this way or that. He figured at first that the owners were within and had deadbolted the door, hence its resistance. Ultimately we decided, the damn clerk gave us the wrong key, right? So we called the 800 number and mademoiselle suggested in a serene voice and thick accent that we try to catch the super of the building on the bottom floor before he left for the day – a mad dash for the ascenseur which barely held two and the rest of us ran for it down the corkscrew stairs. All of us out of breath on the first floor looking in the dark for any likeness to a service door or a placard that may indicate an office of some kind.

All seemed lost as we prepared our adventurous spirits and minds for an overnight slummer party of sorts. We would descend into the bowels of Paris’s Metro – embracing the idea (despite any guidebook warnings) of spending the night slumming it with the local vagabonds on benches trying to sleep upright – our heads against the frigid comfort of the subway’s tiled-walls.

À notre grande surprise, like out of the thin air appeared a very tall, very French, very cultured, very worldly, very friendly and extremely helpful neighbor. I like to pretend now that his name was Pierre even though we were never formally introduced or if we were I missed it given the exhaustion, rage, helplessness, confusion, etc, etc, etc. After Pierre and I fumbled through some cryptic communication concerning the super – who apparently had left many hours before – my husband and I managed to explain (through an exhaustive amount of hand gestures and universal body language) that our key was not opening the door. Without further conversation he grabbed said key and began up the steps at an alarming rate of two at a time. My husband trailing behind him. On the sixth floor without any apparent loss of breath or composure, our French neighbor from the 8th floor stood directly in front of our apartment door and with key securely in his right hand inserted and effortlessly clicked opened a door that had mocked us for over an hour. He attentively demonstrated the procedure numerous times and before waving off explained that all the doors in the building were difficult to open – a good-hearted attempt to make us feel less idiotic, no doubt.

Once inside the five-hundred square-foot accommodations, we found it to be the most chic and quaint little enclave in all of Paris. In retrospect, the apartment’s beauty may be attributed to an old adage that goes something like this: Nous voulons que ce que nous ne pouvons pas avoid (we want what we can’t have). We’ve already decided in a year and half to return for another summer in Paris and of course we will stay in the same cozy apartment where Dickerson memories where made: The Best Little Apartment in Paris – on Avenue Secretan – the one with the key and the stubborn lock.

 

Venice. The. Best. Coffee. Period.

Published September 2017

When we teetered off the water bus at the stazione Arsenale, we were careful to follow the directions from our reservation – we had traveled to Venice two years before and remembered how easily a tourist could get turned around in its intentional maze – so we followed the Grand Canal over two small bridges and then we were to walk a few hundred feet to the two “bows” where a friendly face would guide us the rest of the way to our vacation rental. Oops! We had reached the park and the directions specifically stated “if you arrive at the park you have gone too far.” We backtracked and stood puzzled in front of a three-story apartment building adjacent the lush grounds – this structure had two tall arches that had been carved out to make two winding alleyways that disappeared in the distance as they made a left turn. These have to be the two bows they’re talking about, right? These arches? After little deliberation, impatience, hunger and fear of finding ourselves circling eternally to the left in a city designed to get lost in, we phoned the number below the directions.

Less than a minute later a thin, Euro-chic brunette in a timeless combo of blue jeans, black chiffon blouse and black flats appeared from the shadows of the alleyway and smiled and waved her way toward us. She was beyond pleasant – much more understanding and accommodating of stupid American tourists than the Italians had been two years ago when we drove down their southern coast making a quick stop in San Remo. Our host spoke absolutely no English and though my Spanish is littered with cognate words that would work in Italian, she and I struggled a few seconds to communicate – thankfully in Europe, due to the multiplicity of cultures that intersect everywhere, she continued to pry for other possible languages and to our surprise, this lovely Euro-chic fabulous forty-something wasn’t Euro-anything. Our host turned out to be from Chile, thus fluent in Spanish. We both celebrated like little kids who had found a hidden treasure; our common language. Because I am terrible with faces and even worst with names, I will christen her Graciela which I am 57% positive is actually her real name. The logistics going forward were simple: the exchange of a few hundred euros for our keys and a personal recommendation from Graciela to try the food at Sottoprova on the Via Giuseppe Garibaldi just off the Grand Canal (this eating experience is one that merits its very own narrative so I will force myself to wait and bite my story-telling tongue for now).

We were still jet-lagged after checking into our little apartment above the breezy and ultra quiet alley on Calle Colonne at the Two Bows. But we were also famished. The choice to venture out and grab some sustenance was easy and unanimous despite our exhaustion. As we strolled down Riva S. Biasio and then over another little bridge to Riva Ca di Dio, we witnessed the afternoon sun fighting through Nimbus clouds that darkened the horizon to create a magnificent rainbow spectacle over the isla San Giorgio Maggiore.We fought to gawk at the food on people’s plates as we past Ristorante San Girgio, Carpaccio and a few others. It was pranzo, the Italian lunch rush and a table for five was going to be near impossible to find but we just had to eat something. “Hey, that place she told us about have a bunch of tables opened. Just a couple of bridges back,” a desperate teenage voice assured us over the melange of tourist and locals that had congregated along the Grand Canal. As if in unison, we pivoted and dragged ourselves back over those little bridges, that under extreme exhaustion became a gigantic feat, and found a rather empty outdoor trattoria with plenty of accommodations. The blonde waitress pushed two small tables together and sat us underneath terracota-colored umbrellas facing the canal. By the way, the rumor about Venetian canals reeking of stagnant water is absolutely false. We have visited twice, sat waterfront every time and never in all our time of winding and weaving down the alleyways of Venice along its snake-like canals have we caught even as much as a whiff of unpleasant air. The people were friendly and helpful, the view was priceless and the food was just, wow! This might explain why, despite the endless choices of great eateries throughout the island, we returned for dinner without hesitation later that same night.

After lunch, it was time to walk off that incredible risotto and find some good local gelato for the kids. I was holding off for some coffee – this time around I had planned to fulfill my life-long dream of siting at one of the Piazza San Marco’s outdoor cafes and order a cup of coffee (or two as it turned out). The last time we came through Venice, not only were we on a day-trip and lacked the time needed to lounge at the many cafes on the island – we had also failed to properly budget our stay for the offensive cost of a beverage at any one of these establishments. But this time around it was going to be different and so it was.

The kids licked their gelato cones as we marched with the crowd toward the coveted San Marco. We made a right at the corner of the Palazzo Ducale (where Othello was filmed) and we were instantly in awe (yet again) at the Campanile de San Marco – the impressive large tower that sits at the center of this great big square.

But enough about the tower – lets talk best coffee in the world. No exaggerations and no metaphors here – along the perimeter of the square is a great little place called Caffe Lavena that serves up the best coffee ever. The husband and I settled among one of the tables that faced the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica, looked down at their menu and decided, despite the high prices, to order five coffees and a sampling of their hazelnut, coffee and chocolate gelato plate.

Nothing ever prepares you for the best – that holy-f***-what-is-that? kind of feeling when an unexpected rush of goodness comes your way. The silver tray came to the table and looked like a normal assortment of coffees and ice-cream – leaving us completely fooled and unprepared. How does one describe the indescribable? There will never be words concrete or precise enough to share what we tasted that day. We were convinced that some of it had to do with the quality of the Italian coffee being served but there was no ignoring the fact that it was the cream – whipped cream, ice cream, who knew? It was some kind of miracle velvety cream that came from a magical Venetian cream cow – a cow so happy to live in the rural outskirts of the beautiful island of Venice that she produces only the smoothest and most delectable cream any cow has ever produced in the history of cows.
Because the shots of espresso in each serving were very small portions, we poured all the cream into it – leaving us to order more cream for the kids’. This also left us with very cold coffee – and yet we were amazed that this cold coffee was still the best coffee we have ever had – this coming from a Cuban that was born and raised on daily doses of cafe con leche – plus we’ve also had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours on a layover in Dusseldorf airport where the latte was some of the best we’d had until Lavena. And so it goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – the best coffee in the world resides in an adorable, historic outdoor establishment lovingly referred to by the locals as just Lavena. If you are ever in Venice spend the ten or so euros on this delicacy. You won’t regret it. As a matter of fact, I can bet you will splurge and order a second cup like we did. Our total bill for the two rounds of Lavena lattes – a whopping 110 euros – and zero regrets!

 

RAINY DAY AT A PARIS CAFE – Posted DECEMBER 2017

We were just a few blocks from the Parmentier Metro station when it started to rain. A subtle but steady Paris rain that makes everything look gray with a kiss of soft lighting, as if the sun were trying to break through the Parisienne firmament. The No.3 Line had transported us from the quaint little neighborhood on the 19th arrondissment north of the city’s center where our Paris apartment sat snug between other neobaroque buildings on Avenue Secretan. Parisians walked on undisturbed under heavy drops, solidifying the French term “flaneur” or idle wanderer. It was easy to spot the tourist running about for a bit of cover – I insisted my troop casually walk to the nearest cafe as if making a very scheduled stop. Nothing worst than not being Roman when in Rome. A quick but inconspicous look down at our iPhone to verify the GPS had us on the right track for la tour Eiffel. But after more than two decades waiting to experience this architectural wonder, this delectable cliche, this unmistakable iconic superstructure, it seemed Paris would have us wait just a few minutes longer, as we ordered the prescribed creme brûlée for dessert and countless rounds of cafe creme. The empty cups and accompanying saucers, drained of all foam and caffeine atop the three tables we’d managed to cram together under the cafe’s striped awning, were like abandoned ceramic carcasses from a past era. And for a wonderful, memorable and elusive instant we forgot our itinerary, we forgot where we were heading to next in our “must-see” list, we forgot about the rain, we forgot to take pictures, we set aside all the things that prevent us from living in the moment and we were at that precise time…in Paris.

 

A Paris Story: Flanuering & Ginormous Cokes – Posted NOVEMBER 2017

The last guidebook I bought cost me $6.99. It was an impulse buy at the checkout counter, where all impulse shopping lives. I’m convinced that if sex was on sale at the “impulse stand” everyone would leave their grocery stores pregnant – not one of those you-have-a-glow-about-you kind of pregnancies, but the one-nightstand-I-can’t-remember-anything-after-I-got-into-the-dancing-cage kind of nauseating feeling that forces us to scramble through our wallets and purses for a return receipt we know we don’t have. Needless to say, the guidebook now lives wedged between a greasy cookbook and dirty saucepan at the corner of my kitchen countertop where it will remain forgotten until next week’s trash goes out.

Paris guidebooks today are still sending hungry travelers to the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs de Elysee and other “must-see-sites.” They may even spend a few chapters recommending best French eateries, best hotels, best values and best ways to get around the city (the Metro being on of the most popular ones, as it is said to be the most clean, timely and effective subterranean train system in the world – well…not so much that it is said, as much as I just decided to say so – so there).

Recently, the only way to get the real world right between the eyes is to watch Antony Bourdain’s episodes of Parts Unknown where he personally (and often painfully) guides you through the get-your-fucking-hands-dirty and prepare-to-eat-shit-with-the-locals kind of experience every worldly adventurer craves. Unfortunately, Paris is yet to be on his list of destinations as his producers tackle Beirut, Miami, Korea, Budapest and New Jersey just to name a few exotic locations – but he did manage two great episodes about Paris on his series, No Reservations and Layover, in which he specifically warms viewers against the common touristy traps and recommends a lot of eating, a lot of drinking (after all this is Bourdain) some great ice cream and sex with a Parisienne among other guilty pleasures.

But after waiting two years to get back to this great city of lights and romance, magic and mystery, I knew to stay away from any guides. Period. This time I fought the urge to type up and categorize an itinerary which I would have packed with way too many things to enjoy properly. This time we would just be true Parisienne flanuers.

When you look up flanuer in the dictionary it mistakingly defines this beautiful philosophy by using two crude synonyms: idler and lounger. These terms aren’t so much wrong as they are oversimplified. A true flanuer is not idle. Idle congers visions of some motor engine just seating there on for no reason and going nowhere. This is quiet the opposite with a flanker since their main goal is to wander – aimlessly wander about their city with no specific destination, appointment or agenda. A flanuer moves about from place to place following an initial whim, a distant call to no place special and yet manages to make great discoveries along the way – a new city park they haven’t seen before, a quaint corner bookstore quietly out of sight, or a master boulanger with late night hours.

And so in order to allow ourselves to discover Paris rather then plan it out like a CEO would a merger, we checked into our same little apartment on Avenue Secretan in the 19th arrondissement – the one with the key and the stubborn lock that refused to budge and had induced so much stress, embarrassment and profanity two years before. The one that this time opened as if we had whispered abracadabra. Once inside we sat our luggage down throughout the four corners of the 450ish square-feet of urban space then quickly squeezed our way down the breezy hallway toward the tiny elevator that would descend six stories – ejecting us into the streets of Paris with no specific destination, appointment or agenda – true flanuers.

Well? Maybe not completely without agenda. We were, as usual, starving. So finding a descent place to eat was crucial if we were going to successfully continue to flanuer about the city – because one thing is certain, you cannot be a careless wonderer when your belly’s hurting for sustenance. The French secret to flanuering like a pro is eating great food. Step one, eat. Step two, go. But since we went without first eating, thus follows the story of how we ordered the largest Cokes in all of France.

Recipe for adventure: five hungry people in an unknown city accepting the invitation of a salesman-like waiter that stood on the sidewalk to snatch tourists off the street and lure them into cute outdoor cafe tables armed with lunch menus and a shifty smile. We were in for a treat. He looked at us: no French and no clue. He knew this would be the table.

“You are thirsty, yes?” He assured in a really cool French accent.

We replied in the affirmative – hook, line and sinker.

“Then you order the large Cokes, yes?”

And so we answer in the affirmative again only to be jaw-droppingly-shocked when he returned with the largest Cokes we had ever seen. Somebody call Guiness, these things were ginormous!

The kids challenged themselves to race to the finish but the forty-something adults were in complete fear of a very plausible sugar-induced coma so we were going to proceed with caution as if drinking something that clearly required the Sergeant General’s warning label on it.

After the shock of the ultra-sided Coke had passed we were still quiet unprepared for the sticker shock. These fizzy puppies came at a whopping fifteen euros each which converted to a hefty $16 each for a grand total of $80 in drinks alone before desserts, taxes and the tip were added to the bill. Ouch!

Unlike the greatest cup of coffee in the world we had in Venice at Lavena in the Piazza San Marco, this was an $80 mistake we would not be repeating. But after lunch we did have a reason to wander about the parks and side streets of Paris along la Siene and further complicate things for ourselves in a city we did not know but were so eager to discover.

Happy To Be Back Home

 

Returning to Paradise – A Journey Home (Part One) – February 2018

Three years ago when we left the island paradise of Hawaii, after living there for six incredible years, we did it under the pretext that we had to follow our children (who weren’t really children anymore) in order to help them settle into the college life.

After making the tough decision to leave a place that had not only been home for many years, but FELT like home (the first place to actually feel like a true home) – my hubby and I felt the need to start identifying and tracking all the things that irritated us about our dear island home. We complained about the limiting culinary choices at our disposal, even though we knew that downtown Honolulu had become a mecca for all things foodie. We found fault with the dearest and most hospitable people on the planet and we even started bashing the rainy season that cools and keeps our beautiful windward side so lush, green and radiant.

We needed to find a legitimate reason for leaving and since we didn’t have one, we made some up. This was a strategy we had used before, which our middle child quickly picked up on and pointed out. Jessica explained that any time we wanted to leave a place or abandon something we had started, her dad and I looked for reasons to walk away and start over. Apparently, when actual reasons did not present themselves, we quickly jumped on the creative side of reasoning and logic (which of course does not exist – because, by definition there is no creativity in logic) but we fabricated whatever truth we need to validate our choice to leave the paradise island that had become our home.

Fo the past three years, we were in the beautiful, waterfront community of Newport Beach in Southern California. Unfortunately, despite being at the water’s edge, surrounded by endless and delicious food options (which as foodies was important to us), we could no longer ignore the pull our Oahu island had on our hearts. We know it when we heard a Hawaiian song come over the car radio – and when it was Izzy’s “White Sandy Beach,” there were bound to be tears. I guess we knew, without any doubt or hesitation, that we had to return to our island in the Pacific. When my husband and I cried through Disney’s new animated film, Moana, we knew the next step we would take, was buying one-way tickets back to Hawaii.

 

How Our iPhone Saved Our Lives:

A Death-Defying New Year’s Hawaiian Adventure

GOING ON AN EXCITING HIKE SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD IDEA FOR A NEW YEAR’S CHALLENGE – sure! But only if you’re not totally stupid! Only if you are well equipped!

I spent my New Year’s Day yesterday hiking the Maunawili Trail in Kailua with family (which includes my 65 year-old mother). Not only were we dumb enough to try a hike with everyone before scouting it first but we started the adventure at 4:30 P.M. It took us a whole hour 1/2 just to reach the falls through slippery knee-deep mud (it’s been raining a bit here lately…our version of winter). The steep steps and 300-foot drop down from the narrow ledge that overlooked the Koulau Mountain range and beach town was like something out of Man vs. Wild, expect he would be recommending against our choices.

The waterfall was beautiful and we even saw people climbing the rocks and diving in. But nothing was worth the death-defying return we had to make at night when the sun set at 6:24 and we were still an hour deep in an unfamiliar (and UNMARKED) trail that had involved three separate and challenging river crossings. When pitch black fell upon us and my oldest said “Hell no!” we brainstormed how we would continue without having to call Rescue. We used the flash from our camera (to provide us with 5 second flashes of the terrain ahead)and the life-saving glare of hubby’s iPhone to help lead the dark and dangerous way. We inched along the forest floor stepping over giant tree roots and unexpected rocks hoping not to slip and land on anything that would split our skull and spill our brain matter along the narrow stretch of mud that trailed the rocky river. Hubby tried to keep things light as he joked and recommended we try and evolve into a higher order species that could see in the dark…but an hour and twenty minutes later when we lost the trail humor was lost too.

Finally, we spotted the blinking light from a pair of guardian angels in the distance. Josh and Silus had been diving off the rocks into the pool at the base of waterfall for their New Year’s dare/challenge before they decided to head back home. I’m positive they were not as happy to run into us as we were to find another living species on the same trail. In our fear, confusion and desperation we would have followed a wild pig if one was stupid enough to be out there. But even wild pigs know: YOU DON’T HIKE A TRECHEROUS TRAIL WITH KIDS AND SENIOR CITIZENS AFTER A RAINY DAY IN COMPLETE DARKNESS!

With the somewhat askew guidance of what I referred to as “Silus the GPS” we found the three river crossings, scaled the slope out of the river and last of the muddy steps. Two long hours later we recognized a familiar tree branch (in a sea of tree branches) and a semi-paved road that lead out of the trail toward the comfort and safety of residential lights. Those of us who are true LOST fans looked at our watches and realized we stepped off the official trail at 8:15 on the dot and that all we needed was the additional deadly presence of the Smoke Monster chasing us down the trail for a complete LOST experience-who says you need Universal Studios or Disney to feel the “Magic”–after our four-hour ordeal we had just about as much “magic” as we could handle.

At the edge of the parking area, we all rushed the car and my 11 year-old son spread his arms wide and hugged our Grand Caravan saying, “Thank God we’re ALIVE!” Nobody cried, nobody was injured but we were all starving. Under the glow of the street lights we could see we were smeared in streaks of brown from head to muddy toes. Ahhhhh, to sit down! After scarfing down some McDonald’s meals we all crashed and knew we would be sore as hell for days to come. But we had started the year appreciating LIFE just a little more than the day before and none of us will EVER take our eyesight or basics of life (like the flashlight we left stored in our shed back home) for granted. IT WAS INDEED A TRULY HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR US. We didn’t die!

 

PACKING FOR PARADISE

It was a typical cold morning in May for the Northeast. A paper-thin layer of ice covered the bathroom windows defying Spring and nature’s careful balance. It was Saturday the tenth. This meant we were only four days away from our 14th wedding anniversary.

Soft hands gently rocked me out of a deep sleep. My husband has always hated waking me—knowing my affinity for sleeping in—especially on dark frozen mornings. The red from the digital three and zeros of our alarm clock created a somewhat eerie crimson glow against the darkness of the room. I began a slow motion stretch that ended in an embarrassing shriek I couldn’t control. What is it about certain bodily functions, like sneezing, yawning, shivering, and farting that take over, sneak up on us and render us dysfunctional, not to mention hopelessly uncool?

After I slipped back into unconsciousness following the exhausting yawn, Arthur’s rocking and gentle tapping developed a desperate edge—it’s ironic how the body sends yawning signals when you’re trying to become mobile. Yawns always drain all potential energy; like a double-dare to stay in bed and ignore my duties. This must be a common obstacle for early morning productivity, with the exception of those demented nocturnal creatures intent on beating the sunrise everyday; we lovingly nickname them “morning people.” These strange humans come equipped with what can only be described as an insane, but rather innate desire to be conscious everyday. While the rest of us struggle to pull the covers over our heads to hold the warmth and darkness hostage just a few minutes longer, these curious “morning people”, like my dear hubby are already showered, shaved, and raring to go—naturally vibrating, naturally caffeinated beings that operate on ultra-high speeds without the assistance of any stimulants.

We had packed everything but the toothbrushes the night before, in a grown up effort to be well prepared. Sadly, this left Ready Arthur nothing else to do but wait impatiently at the corner of our bed. I tried to take the fastest shower ever—I didn’t even wait for the warm water to come—the shock of an icy-cold spray would aide in revitalizing and finally waking my ass the hell up.

By the time I was done, I had slipped on the way into the stall and pulled a muscle trying to stay vertical, managed to somehow rub minty toothpaste in my right eye which was blurry for hours, and crunched my little toe against the sink’s cabinet while sliding into wet slippers—I was wide awake now and wondering if “morning people” resort to using paralyzing pain as well.

I popped my head out of the bathroom and squinted across the brightly lit room to find Arthur rearranging the smartly stuffed luggage—no doubt waiting for me to hand him my toothbrush; the last item to officially finalize our packing.

“Can you hurry it up? We had to be on the road at three. We don’t know exactly how long it’s gonna take to find the long-term parking at Newark.”

Who could blame him? After all, he had been waiting a lifetime to visit a Pacific paradise. Tahiti was often the topic of conversation on frigid winter nights as we sipped from our hot coffees and flipped through a stack of travel magazines at the local bookstore—falling in love with the endless cobalts, saphires, emeralds, jades, and deep cerulean blues. The bungalows and small fishing boats that seemed to float in its clear waters off the nearby palm-line beaches perfectly completed the desired paradise effect. But the captions under these Polynesian photographs should be replaced with a Surgeon’s-General-type warning that reads: Warning, this dream vacation could cost you a limb.

When time came to make the Pacific choice, hubby understood the dangers of getting a second mortgage on the house to spend a few days living like the rich and famous on a glass-bottomed bungalow that stretched over a turquois Polynesian sea. The choice for Hawaii was a no brainer. That’s not to say that a Hawaiian paradise was second choice—I just think Tahiti always had a more exotic ring to it. After all, it was not a state so it held a certain mysticism. But the Hawaiian islands also promised a dream-like journey he couldn’t wait to embark on.

As for me, well, I was filled with an overwhelming touristy-infused skepticism. I was born on the island of Cuba, I lived for some time on the island of Puerto Rico, I also visited the U.S. Virgin islands for a few weeks one summer, and after this island-hopping experience I concluded only one thing, an island is just an island. In their simplest form, islands have sandy beaches that cram your privates and undies with its coarse irritating substance, swaying coconut palms that are scarce and rarely give proper shelter from the unforgiving sun, and the cool ocean breezes that make it impossible to stay on the right page of that summer novel you’re forcing yourself to finish. Needless to say, I braced myself for the Don Ho experience, unaware these tropical islands sprinkled smack in the middle of the vast Pacific ocean would change my path forever…

 

COFFEE, TEA OR PARIS?

Kate sat at the end of the long coffee counter, back by the bathrooms and public phones, crossing her legs back and forth. She stared numbly into the disappearing foam of her sad cold Cappuccino. Normally, the European-style café only sat twenty on its busiest night. Ten along the bar. Another ten at the tiny circular bistro tabletops. But due to an unexpected afternoon downpour, there had to be over thirty people. Everyone wedged and crammed into every nook and cranny, seeking shelter. The smell of damp earth mixed in with gourmet coffees, steamed milk, teas and assorted baked pastries, took Kate back to the afternoon when she first found this charming little Upper Westside getaway and thought her life had taken a turn for the better.

It was almost two years to the day. The rain that afternoon was coming down exceptionally hard. Kate remembered being lucky enough to have managed a seat at the bar just as the place got slammed with unexpected patrons. She recalls the tall man with salt-and-pepper hair in blue jeans and a designer shirt sitting in a relaxed pose on a stool adjacent hers. He had placed his New Yorker down on the sticky counter and had attempted to get the barista’s attention with no success. Along the same sticky counter, Kate was paging through her Real Simple magazine, looking for the article “Creating Your Own Place of Peace” the previous issue had promised.

With the attendant finally back behind the counter the gentleman was able to order. “Café Au Lait and a croissant, please,” he said while noticing how little Kate was enjoying the murky lemon-water, that tried to pass for tea.

“Sorry to interrupt. But I’ve always believed, behind every tea drinker is a coffee lover waiting to come out.” She remembers how he lifted his empty Cappuccino cup to tempt her.

“Are you buying?” She had responded with a shy grin that surprised even her. Like someone who was unsure of what to say, but too curious to pass up the opportunity. Soon the watered-down glass of tea was cast aside and Kate was taking the first sip of foam-filled Capuccino to her lips. And so coffee had given way to hours of effortless conversations and a connection two years ago.

It was this same seasoned gentleman, who now kept Kate waiting for over two hours in the same crowded coffee shop. The people were so many and the noise so much, that at one point Kate heard all the conversations intersect into one chaotic melody of murmurs; occasionally muffled by the sounds of the Espresso machines and heavy raindrops on glass window panes. The day was turning out to be a totally wasted Saturday. For the first hour or so, she excused his lateness on account of bad weather. After the second hour she fed herself stories of car accidents, along with a very late brunch consisting of a flaky croissant, an apple tart and a cool Italian soda.

But it had become impossible for her to continue down the road of understanding, so she marched straight for the phones. Even if he wasn’t home, she’d be sure to leave a piece of her mind on his answering machine. “…and don’t forget to leave your message after the third beep. Beeeppp… Beeeppp…” Kate threw the receiver down before the third beep. She stared at a neon sign above the phone that blinked the word “Paris” with a crude sketch of the EiffelTowerascending between the “a” and the “r”. How wonderful would it be to get away from it all? To travel and discover new places, with new people and different faces? Paris!

Behind her a man whispered something she couldn’t make out over all the noise. The man deliberately repeated, “Excuse me, are you finished with the phone? I need to make a quick call.”

Kate was startled to realize the man behind her was addressing her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. What did you say?”

The man in a nicely tailored suit with briefcase in hand, was captivated by her face; so much so that he’d forgotten the phone call he was trying to make to his office.

“Are you okay?” He asked carefully , in order to not seem too forward.

“I’m sorry. I’m in your way. You need to use the phone, right?” Kate stepped away.

“Actually, I can call later. Will you join me for some tea?” The mention of tea took her back to the days she use to sit on stools, alone, relaxed—sometimes reading a magazine, other times writing her sister letters. But never did she sit waiting for hours on end for anyone.

“Thank you, but I have to get going, I’ve gotta be somewhere.” She humbly lied and made her way through the smoke-filled crowd that still cowered from the rain.

She grabbed her sweater off the stool and pushed her way through the double doors. Outside, the drops were like tiny traces of mist as the sun began showing its brilliance through the tall New York skyline. Kate stood confident and tall at the edge of the curb, waving her long, thin arms to hail a cab. After several troublesome minutes of waving and screaming out “Cab” she finally managed one.

“La Guardia Airport, please”, she instructed looking through her purse for cab fare.

“Where’re you off to, Miss?” asked the cabby, trying to make polite conversation.

“I’m going to Paris.” Her voice filled with affirmation. She knew she had to stand in line to get her ticket and was prepared to pay the premium price associated with last-minute purchases. She’d have to exchange currency and book a hotel, perhaps even rent a car—necessities of traveling she was fully ready to face. She daydreamed about the Champs D’ellysses, which she’d only seen on the Travel Channel. She enjoyed the freedom of her choice with a broad smile. She rehearsed the message she would leave on his machine later that night when she called Mr. Salt-and-Pepper of two years and drop him.

 

HAWAII EATS: Kailua Beach’s own Buzz’s Restaurant

This steak house and grille offers a tasty lunch menu for a very reasonable price considering that 1) you have waterfront views of Kailua’s world-famous beach line and 2) you can sit almost anywhere in the place and get the emerald bay views and scattered white crests breaking in the distant reef. Their calamari steak is unique and delectable. This is coming from someone who has had their share of calamari (and not always the good kind). Not only is the calamari tender, it sits in a buttery bath of capers, lemon, a splash of white wine and other secret ingredients. Couple that with their TSS (Teriyaki Steak Salad) with fresh Nalo greens with a light vinaigrette, sprinkled with blue cheese and cranberries. All for under $40 for two without the wine.

 

Zen Coffee? Confuse Me! (a rant)

It’s always best to start with the absurd, the ironic, the puzzling. This way you can spend the rest of your valuable time working backwards through the insanity,  until you find a world that makes sense, or at least one that should make sense. Therefore, let us start with Zen Coffee. Talk about your oxymorons. These two concepts are more than just “strange bedfellows”…they are at war (if you pardon my lack of Zen-sitivity). They live in opposing enemy camps plotting and rooting for the other’s demise. Tranquility & Caffeine, a great battle if ever there was one. How then, can we so easily photograph this contradiction? How can we just accept it? What is its purpose? Is it to fool us into relaxation? “Here, Zen your cares away into a soothing cup of caffeine?”–a cup that will surely have you vibrating and trying to paint your house at two o’clock in the morning. Or is it to reveal the deep dark secret of mankind? To expose us for the duplicitous frauds that we are ? To remind us of the quiet but shameful realization, that “we are not what was intended.”

 

Coffee Art

Dirceu Veiga, a Brazilian designer living in South Brazil works as an illustrator for children’s books. Because of Dirceu’s love of coffee he combines his illustration talent and passion for coffee to create fantastic works of art using coffee as ink.

Creating “Coffee Art” has become a very cool artistic movement that more and more artists are experimenting with.

For more than a decade, Andrew Saur and Angel Sarkela-Saur, have been involved with this art movement by creating art using coffee as the medium. Check them out on their site and browse their inspiring gallery and works. If you love coffee as much as I do, you’ll be more than inspired, you’ll be moved to grab your keys and wallet and speed to your favorite coffee house to satisfy the caffeine need.

Tremors (in their gallery) is my absolute favorite because it depicts my coffee just the way I like it: up close and personal!

 

 

 

“Just Black”

This next section is for people who don’t like life sugar-coated. This is for the “Just-Give-It-To-Me-Black-No-Cream-No-Sugar” crowd. No subtleties here. When you read these dark caffeinated pieces, if I’m doing my job, it WILL be controversial enough to put sufficient hair on your ass…so proceed with caution and enjoy the DARK BREW.

Rant #4: When you want to change the settings and the setting Gods refuse you…argggggg!

It’s hard to follow this title with details because I know everyone who has ever used any kind of computer and thus computer software has suffered under this feeling of helplessness and violent rage toward the “machine” – even when you know deep down inside it’s PEBCAK problem – for anyone unfamiliar with that acronym (Problem Exists Between Computer And Keyboard). ARGGGGGGGGG!!! I am simply trying to get my post to move down a bit on this page. You’d think the goddamn spacebar, which was specifically created to create spaces between characters THUS moving further down the page would be the most logical answer for my desired task but NOOOO – every time I press the space bar IT (the paragraph I am attempting to move) appears to follow logic and moves down the page and so I proceed to “save” the changes and refresh to see the changes take effect but NO – zero changes – nothing saved – nothing different at all – as if the computer and program (because I can almost here both hardware and software laughing at me in tandem) saying, “Ah little girl, are you trying to move this down the page? Well, no, not today, negatory. Why? Because we say so and we are the Gods in the mysterious domain called your computer, so be nice, get us faster wifi and maybe we’ll rethink this spacebar issue you are struggling with – haha.”

And I can’t even get into the evils of auto-fucking-correct without getting completely homicidal.

Rant #3: No Manual Included – So when all else fails just SCREAMMMMM!

Sometimes life throws curveballs, gives you lemons, serves you shit, closes doors, is a big joke, serves up a glass half empty and all the rest of these adages that suggest that we (I guess) keep your eye on the ball, make lemonade, eat shit, wait for another door to open, laugh at the joke and somehow, miraculously make the glass half fucking full. But the thing with life is that whoever, whatever thought, fabricated, created or spit us up forgot to include the goddamn manual. When something like a Poptart comes with instructions what makes us think we can maneuver through the complications of life without step-by-step visual aids, a call center, a tutor or mentor, a reset button or the delete function??? Not possible – not possible without causing quite a bit of carnage and lots of collateral damage. So the next time life hands you curveballs, shits, lemons, closed doors, jokes and half empty glasses, get the balls, the shit and the lemons and blend them up into a nice life “smoothie” pour it into the glass, aim it at the closed door and chuck it as hard as you can while screaming your favorite joke – and when all else fails, just screammmmmmmm…

Rant #2: Get Pissed! Lose Weight!

 Forget the exercise journals! Forget getting yourself a walking partner! Forget handing your paychecks over to a gym! Don’t even think about a personal trainer unless you make three figures! And I’m not going to mention the endless diet plans that promise miracle results — we don’t have enough time and there are too many to list. Avoid any and all “quick-weight-loss” books, programs or promises—there are no shortcuts. Losing weight hurts. It’s frustrating. It’s demanding. It’s exhausting. It’s time-consuming. It’s disappointing. It’s a thankless job. It’s worth it! So get pissed and lose weight!

How do you get pissed? The best way to achieve the perfect state of wrath, the kind that will propel you from self-loathing into action, requires you to reflect on the deep-seeded anger fueled by years of continuous failure. And if this doesn’t work just look in the mirror, or pull those jeans out of the closet. The ones that are already huge and still won’t fit. Get mad! Then use that pent-up energy to pedal harder or walk faster or even run in quick jolts or spurts of rage.

“A year from now you’ll wish you had started today.”

“Start now, go slow, don’t stop.”

Rant #1: Treasure to Trash

I am sitting at my desk trapped in my own skin. Piles of unfinished tasks continue to clutter my overloaded brain. With every item I check off my “mental rolodex” five more unrealistic obligations get added on. Where do they keep coming from? Is there some special, all-powerful, malevolent entity assigned to me, sending it all my way? When I get a three-hundred dollar tax cut, I immediately inherit a nine-hundred and fifty dollar debt I didn’t see coming. And just to add insult to injury I must suffer the idle sounds of ignorance ringing constantly in my ears (from intruders, that call themselves friends) “You’re so lucky” , “You’ve got a great life” , “I wish I were in your shoes” , and my personal favorite, “You should be happy”. Who truly can ever accurately assess what should, will, or make another happy? Some say, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, so by the same token, wouldn’t it follow true that, one man’s treasure is another man’s trash?

 

 

Dark, sinister stories beyond this point…you’ve been warned…

Don’t ask…just read:

Hunting for More

The young woman set out for her customary morning ride after a cup of French Roast and a few forbidden drags of a cigarette. The grass wet from the previous night’s rainfall, splashed up as her horse raced forward. Tall furs lined both sides of the dirt road, forming a straight path toward the seaside cliff. The woman rode for the enjoyment, the beauty, and the tranquility. The day held the promise of serenity. Rain had a cleansing quality about it, as if to wash way all that which needs washing, she thought.

The woman continued to ride, unaware of the darkness the island’s winds had carried in on a cold westerly breeze.

Just past the heavy foliage, the edge of the cliff beckoned. The perfect vantage point for catching the sunrise. 

The woman’s ride was interrupted by a silhouette standing in a clearing in the woods. Intrigued by the rare occurrence, she dismounted and tied the reins around the trunk of a nearby pine. She crouched and tiptoed in an effort to remain unnoticed. The wet grass soaking her sneakers. The squishy noise startled some birds pecking for sustenance on the forest floor, and in turn they startled her. Her heart beat faster with excitement and anticipation. And as she got closer, she was able piece together the fuzzy picture.

Standing just a few feet away from the male figure, she realized it was a hunter. The fifty-something man was abnormally tall and wore the usual hunting gear. A bit disappointed her surveillance didn’t garner anything more interesting, the woman turned to walk away but something felt wrong.

She decided to stalk a little longer. Observing. Spying.

Ready for the hunt, the man stood in plain sight. He was pointing his gun at something, but he was trembling with fear. The woman saw that at the edge of the cliff stood a powerful creature. Majestic, it stared into the horizon. The curves of its beautiful horns seemed to pierce the clouds. She watched them both attentively, the man and the beast.

She was still hiding behind the abundance of multi-colored shrubs undetected when the hunter aimed and shot the steel-like monument off its pedestal. As if in slow motion, the creature’s limp body fell over the edge. Down it went. Crashing against the rocks at the end of a long abyss. This once mysterious and astonishing forest dweller was nothing more than scraps for scavengers and vultures.

Without a single effort to collect his prize, the hunter turned away from the cliff ready to move on. In search of another kingdom to destroy, the woman thought. She was still hidden behind the tall shrubs when she saw the man turn back in the direction of the abyss and looked into the sun. He took a few slow steps to the edge of the cliff where he looked down to what must have been a bloody scene.

Then, with grace and determination, he made one last move. The man turned the riffle on himself and with a long steady right arm, he pulled the trigger to execute his final hunt. And, as if in slow motion, the hunter’s limp body fell over the edge. Down it went. Crashing against the rocks at the end of a long abyss. This once mysterious forest dweller was nothing more than scraps for scavengers and vultures.

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