On Tour with Caitlin | Exploring Germany

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Two weeks into my tour, I really had to be torn out of Spain. Inside my mind, I was kicking and screaming as I carried all my luggage to the airport. I imagine that’s a common feeling for visitors leaving Spain. It’s such a lovely place to be existing.

I had a 14-hour travel day to wean me off of the tapas, siestas, and the joy of speaking Spanish. I made my way via the DeutscheBahn to a city called Groningen in the northeast part of the Netherlands. This was a one-off gig in the Netherlands before two weeks of shows in Germany, with maybe one night off. It’s not that I wasn’t excited about Germany, it’s just that the pressure was on and the work was beginning. It was my third tour there, so the ‘adventure’ element of it kind of took a backseat to the ‘work’ element.

To be totally honest, I was most nervous about the show in Holland. I really didn’t know much about the gig, and I am not very familiar with the Dutch culture. I found the venue online somehow and started chatting with the owner about a show via e-mail, but I had never met him. He set up a show around my schedule, and he offered me accommodations. It all sounded great, but I had to trust a person I was e-mailing back and forth with, who I had never met before. I had a gut feeling that the people hosting me for this concert would be nice, and that they were.

I was greeted at 10:30pm at the central train station by a tall Dutch man, Jan, with very hip spectacles and a warm smile. He grabbed some of my luggage and took me to his home where Helma, his wife was waiting for me with cheese and bread and a cold beer. As I sat across them at their kitchen table, they smiled at me and said in deliberate and thoughtful English, “We both agree that what you are doing is very brave, traveling alone and doing these shows.” It meant a lot to me, because sometimes it is scary and I don’t feel very brave. But then, as I sat there and ate bread with the most delicious olive spread ever, I thought to myself, “what if I had been too afraid to do this? I wouldn’t have met these wonderful people and witnessed how generous and kind strangers can be.” Of course, it’s important to be smart and safe and careful, but I don’t think the answer is just to say no if it doesn’t feel comfortable all the time. It would have been easier for me to say no, but if I had, I would have missed out on a pretty remarkable experience.

We discussed politics and the United States over the beer and cheese that night, which was fitting because the next day, the day of the show, was September 11th. I was treading lightly in how to approach this, as an American playing a show outside the states. I wanted to honor the anniversary, but I also wanted to be delicate about it. Jan said that there would be a small tribute to mark the date before my set. The show was the opening ceremony of Open Monument Day, a festival where all the monuments in this town were free to the public. They held the concert in a 13th century medieval church in the small town of Godlinze. To commemorate the anniversary of September 11th, there would be an organ player playing American compositions on the church organ, which I thought was really cool. I asked if it would be appropriate for me to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” during my set and they said yes. As a singer, that song is so fun to sing. You kind of have to use your whole body, the way it is written, so I love to do it. When I sang it, everyone in the church stood up and by the end of it, some people were in tears. (Here is a video…the quality is not the best, but it gives an idea.)

I am a little teary-eyed while writing this, it was so moving to me. Here I was in this small town in the Netherlands, and all these people stood up while I sang my country’s national anthem on the anniversary of September 11th. It pretty much knocked me flat, and I was really inspired by it. As much as countries may have differing opinions about things and maybe they don’t always see eye to eye, 9/11 was just as much of a tragedy and a heartbreak to that room full of people as it was to me. It was a special night, and a very memorable gig.

After the Netherlands, I hit the ground running in Germany. Since I have done tours there a few times now, Germany feels familiar. This was good because it was JAM PACKED. I had one night off, traveling to a different city every day. It’s difficult to choose what to recount because it was all so unforgettable and different. I played a show in a small city with a full band of jazz musicians: a drummer, bassist, pianist, electric guitar player, and two backup vocalists. My friend and frequent drummer on tour, Max, set up the band and the show for me, so when I arrived, I basically just jumped into this 7 piece band of people playing my songs note for note like the recording. It fed my soul quite a bit. I don’t often play with a band on tour because it is hard to make that financially feasible at the indie level, so this was a treat for me. We recorded the show, so hopefully I’ll be able to share more of it down the road. In the meantime, you can get a little bit of the feel from it here on my Facebook page.

Since this blog can’t be two weeks long, I will try to summarize the Germany leg of this tour with some highlights: I played at a night flea market with about 200 people in it. I played at a venue owned by Die NotenDealer, a German boy band and they harmonized with me and it was magical. (Proof here.) I played for a classroom full of 8 year olds in Eastern Germany and they were so darn cute. (Proof here.) I played shows at a photo studio, in a beautiful barn, at a jazz club, in the attic of a student building, in a record shop, in a castle. I got to see a big statue of Karl Marx’s head that permeated history of communism in Eastern Germany. I got to see old friends and made some dear new friends. I ate falafel pretty much every night, sometimes twice a day (touring musician’s diet, yummm…). I tried to speak some German and learned that I am not very good at it. And as usual, people were kind, generous and supportive of what I was doing and the music I have made. It was jam-packed and pretty exhausting, but it was rewarding all the while. Next up, ENGLAND.

 

Socks and Lightsabers

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The main thing I realized while waiting in line for my Star Wars, Episode VII audition is that socks are an essential part of life.

Possibly more important than socks is the fact I auditioned for the movie Star Wars, Episode VII. It’s true. They were looking for a female lead, 17 years of age. 28 isn’t that far off. They wanted athletic! Do my intermittent office squats count? And beautiful! I had just sprouted a chin pimple that day.

Disney announced they’d be holding open casting calls in various cities around the world, and my city, Chicago, happened to be on the list. At first, this barely phased me—not just because I’m a Star Wars dilettante but because I hadn’t auditioned for anything since arthritis ended my dance ambitions. But after a mundane day of analyzing the severity of my tennis elbow and answering questions about whether basketball was a possible major at arts college, I decided I had nothing to lose.

Pre-audition, I had some naive, borderline delusional thoughts including:

· “I bet it won’t be too bad.”
· “Maybe I have a chance! It’s a random weekday, in the middle of the day.”
· “Who would actually go to this?”

People like me do. The types who sit in their windowless offices daydreaming about fighting across a fictitious universe of 70s-looking creatures while sporting Princess Leia-style buns. Did I mention I’ve never acted in my life?

No one was more aware of this fact than my husband, who upon learning of my impulsive endeavor asked, “How long can a quarter-life crisis affect you?” I brushed away his comment with a nonchalant flick of my free hand, while the other hand was holding the script I’d printed off the Star Wars website. “Come well prepared,” it said.

So, on a random Wednesday afternoon I found myself in spandex (prepared to show off my high kick, chorus-line style) and wearing an unusual amount of makeup. At 3 p.m. I dismissed myself from the office for a “dentist appointment,” feeling secretly mischievous about my afternoon adventure. Two buses later, I finally arrived at the Park West theatre in Lincoln Park and noticed a short line out front. Not bad, eh? As I turned the corner, however, eight city blocks of hopeful 17-year-olds were revealed. Athletic! Beautiful!

Where are all of the nerds dressed as Ewoks and Gartos and Dashta Eels and Lava fleas?

I glance down at my resume; a long list of dance performances and admissions experience stares back at me. I have a choice: Recognize my sad reality— I’m one of a gazillion hopefuls who itch for stardom— or indulge in my fantasy for a little while longer. Choosing the latter, I make the long walk to the back of the line, my flicker of hope too difficult to extinguish.

An hour into it, I am freezing (it’s October, 30 degrees and I’m wearing ballet flats) and thinking, “This is stupid.” Friendliness is fizzling as the line inches toward the door. One guy embarks on a voyage of intense name-dropping. There is an onslaught of competitive eyeballing. My neighbors are rattling off credentials and noteworthy experience. The look on their faces when I tell them I studied dance, not acting, is similar to the face of a male cashier when you buy over-the-counter UTI medication— equal parts pity, amusement and disgust.

Two hours in, it is dark, colder and the smell of Halloween and disappointment starts wafting over the line. Out of boredom, I point to a hooded man across the street and mutter something about child molestation. Later in the evening, the hooded figure is bringing his daughter a blanket from the car to keep her warm while she waits for her audition. It then occurs to me my lust for stardom is approaching a dangerously inhumane level.

Three hours in, my husband calls: “Where are you? We’re supposed to meet Alex in like twenty minutes for the movie!” I say something miserable about really wanting to get inside and shake hands with the casting directors, even if they say: “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.”

After I hung up, there was a disturbance in my forest. False expectations for the night collided with reality, disintegrating somewhere in a deep, dank chamber of my stomach. My breath became labored and Darth Vader like. I realized I knew no one in this line and was a decade older than most. This realization, combined with my sockless feet, now stiff as chunks of arctic land, and disappointment about not seeing J.J Abrams in the flesh, produced a heavy, circulating cloud of guilt. I didn’t use to feel this guilt as a 21-year-old when I would roll down steep hills in 20-degree weather or drink whisky out of a thermos in broad daylight. I suddenly envisioned the word “SPONTANEITY” receding horizontally into a galaxy far, far away.

An intern appeared on the curb of the sidewalk and shouted— “They cut the line. If you want to hand in your resume, do so here.”

Aging causes disillusionments of sorts. While waiting in line, I began to wonder if my extemporaneous yester-years were starting to flicker like a broken lightsaber. This post quarter-life spontaneity was starting to interfere with the important things in life, including showing my husband and friends I cared enough to make the movie.

I bolted over, cut through the crowd and threw my resume over heads into the arms of the disheveled intern. Sprinting down the middle of the street I tried to Jeti-summon a cab.

Some has-been performers wish for a comeback. Despite my non-dance achievements, I continued to search for a break, a way of escaping adulthood and entertaining my youthful but unfounded reveries. For three hours, I’d been waiting in line for something, maybe for my adolescence to start all over again. Instead, I decided to run from those years and headfirst into a new day, a new beginning.

Mostly, I just wanted to get home to warm socks.

(Photo by Chanté Robinson)

 

On Tour with Caitlin: Exploring Spain

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I write this while drinking a cafe con leche in a plaza facing los Torres de Serrano, a landmark special to Valencia, Spain, but particularly special to me. I lived right around the corner in 2010, studying at Florida State’s campus in Valencia (more on that in a bit), so returning here to play music has been so special it is hard to find the words. But I will try!

I arrived in Madrid, on no sleep as usual, one week ago, completely ecstatic to be here. I have one carry on suitcase that has maybe 4 outfits and at least 100 CDs. It’s a very colorful Sakroots carry on, probably made for a weekend trip, but I am now using it for a six week trip and using it to its full capacity! That suitcase along with my guitar, ukulele and a really big purse are what I’m carrying from city to city. I look forward to (hopefully) offloading a lot of these CDs as I go which will lighten the load, but in the meantime, I like to look at my luggage as a portable gym, building muscle with every travel day.

Back to Spain. This is the lightest my tour schedule will be for the next six weeks, so it was a good way of easing into tour mode (also good for the jet lag). I played three shows this week, each one very different and wonderful. The first one was in the center of Madrid, at a great listening room called El Buho Real. I shared the bill with a local cantautór called Carlos Eleta, who became a pal the minute I met him. We got together and jammed the day before the show and ended up collaborating on some tunes. (Check out a little bit of “Twist and Shout” on my Facebook page. He knows how to get a rise out of the crowd!) It was a very full room, which always feels like a gift as a touring artist, especially for a show in a new city. All the other shows I have played in foreign countries were places I did not speak the language, so this was an interesting new experience to play in Spain and attempt to speak in Spanish. My accent was a little rusty, but it was exciting to try!

The next show was in Zaragoza, the hometown of my friends Chus and Sara. Earlier this year, Chus found my music online and reached out to me to grab a drink in NYC. We stayed in touch and when I found out I could go to Spain on this tour, I asked him if he might know of any places I could play. He set me up with the show at Buho in Madrid and with another gig at a market in Zaragoza called Terraluna Terraza. Set outside with gorgeous weather, I played to a bunch of families and people hanging out having cervezas and enjoying their Sunday. It was the best. One little boy in the crowd came up to me after the show. He said in Spanish that he was leaving, and that he would like to give me ‘un beso’ and kissed me on the cheek. SO CUTE!

I can sum up my experience with Spanish people in two words: generosidad and karaoke (generosity and… karaoke, ha!). Chus and his girlfriend Sara drove me around, set up these shows for me, and invited all of their friends and family to come experience my music. Carlos spent the whole time we were hanging out helping me with my Spanish. They made me dinner, or insisted on picking up the check, despite my attempts to treat them as a thank you. I was wrapped in the kindness of these new friends who felt like old friends I had known for years. As I mentioned in the previous post, the generosity of people I encounter on these tours is something that knocks me on the ground, stops me in my tracks. It’s totally inspiring. It’s also a nice reminder to me to pay it forward. In New York especially, it’s easy to get caught up in my busy day-to-day, but taking time to meet traveling friends and treat them to coffee and show them the sites – it’s so important and rewarding!

Oh, yeah. I said there were TWO words that could sum it up. We did Karaoke twice. Both times it was amazing. It was fun to hear what the typical Spanish karaoke hits were, but many of the songs were the usual karaoke anthems: “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” among them. I sang Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” one night, and then Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and then did a duet of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” with Carlos. We discovered early on that we are both big Boss fans, so I felt right at home.

The third show was sort of a full-circle experience for me. Florida State University has a campus in Valencia, with dorms and classes offered to students. I had the opportunity to do a concert for the 117 students studying at FSU Valencia this year. The majority of them are freshman, participating in FSU’s First Year Abroad program. It’s only their second week abroad, which is still a transitional time for many of the students. I gave a little talk about my experience studying in Spain and shared some tips that helped me make the most of that time. I was honored to have the chance to perform and talk to the students. Plus, they sang along with me on the covers which was really cute.

I was able to spend some time with the students during the few days I was in Valencia, and that was really special. It also made me realize I am like…almost not that young anymore, which was weird. I am 26, and most of these students were 18.  They were telling me about their goals and where they want to travel, and I was bursting with pride and excitement thinking about all the growth and great experience ahead of them. See? I am officially on my way to old lady-dom. I’m alright with it.

Next up, stories from the Netherlands where I played the opening ceremony for Open Monument Day in Groningen, the Netherlands. The concert was held in a medieval church on September 11th, and it was a very profound experience for me! Then a couple of weeks of touring in Germany! Until the next post, I say, “Hasta luego, mis amigos.” :)

 

Singing My Way Through Europe

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My life changed with a phone call around 7:15AM on July 29, 2013. I was walking to my “day job” in midtown Manhattan when my phone rang. I assumed it would be a telemarketer, but I answered anyway.

On the other side of the line was a friendly woman speaking English with a German accent, calling regarding my submission to the Songs & Whispers tour in Germany. She said their company really liked the songs off my EP West for a While and would like to offer me a slot on their circuit for a three week tour through northern Germany. Whoa.

I had been working as an administrative professional in New York City for the past three years, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was singing at open mics, taking voice and guitar lessons, writing songs, and recording. My toe was in the water of a music career, but my full time job kept my lower east side rent paid and groceries in my fridge. Subconsciously I must have been looking for a change, because I kind of carelessly applied to this tour in Germany with a couple of clicks on a music submission site. I didn’t think I would get chosen. I had never been to Germany, except for a day trip to Munich during my study abroad. I definitely did not speak German. The idea of my first real music tour experience being in a foreign country was terrifying and totally enticing at the same time.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I was racking my brain on how I could go and make this work. After some research and a little soul searching, I made a quiet plan to do the tour and committed to Songs & Whispers. I picked the brains of my friends who were seasoned tour veterans, and I invited friends along for the adventure, truly having no idea how it would all play out. I told myself, if this is sketchy or doesn’t work out, I’ll just backpack around Europe for a few weeks. The people running the tour were strangers until I met them on January 3rd, and they, along with my tour mates, became fast friends and remain dear friends to this day.

That first European tour changed my little life. I sang my songs in front of audiences night after night for 6 weeks. After many shows with 4 people in the audience and late open mic nights in NYC, I was playing to full, quiet rooms. Listeners on this tour were into my music and my performances, and the tip buckets (‘der hut,’ the hat passed at the German shows) reflected that success. I thought, “Wait. I can do this. I can DO this! and people like it!” I found my purpose. Making music, writing songs, and making connections with people who wanted to hear those songs, with the hope of putting a little good into the world. Boom. That’s what I am supposed to do with my life.

Executing the tour, and the tours I have planned and gone on since then, have been extremely empowering and a whole lot of fun. I drove on the autobahn at 170 km/hr. I saw castles in Ireland. I played at a farm where I met an emu named Emile. I fell a little bit in love (with Emile the Emu, obviously).

It was not without fumbles. Literally, my tourmates took my song “Spin” and wrote a parody chorus of “I spill, and spill. Crash and I knock it down.” Let’s just say, I’m lucky to have a pretty singing voice because I am otherwise…not so graceful. I spill and drop everything. (You can hear the actual lyrics of the song here, to get the idea.)

I experienced a lot of mini-failures, which I now see as moments of growth.  One slight “failure” happened when I forgot to follow up on a car rental issue, and I ended up having to rent a really expensive car because it was the only automatic one they had available on such short notice. (Note to self: learn to drive stick shift at some point in life.) So on our indie tour where we were staying on friends’ couches to cut costs and busking to afford the falafel that we ate for every meal, we were rolling in a brand new BMW. It was comical, but also very comfy for those long drives, and after the initial shock of it, I was able to laugh it off and speed up on the autobahn again.

Since that first tour, I hit the ground running, booking indie tours as much as possible. The shows have been rewarding and fruitful, and the friends I have made along the way feel as close to me as my best friends who live down the street in NYC. Traveling feels familiar, crossing oceans doesn’t seem as daunting. Going to a country where I don’t speak the language is exciting, like an opportunity to broaden my horizons and learn about a life that is different than the one I’ve known.

Indie touring is also a revelation in the generous spirit of people. I had so much help from my musician friends who had toured in the past. They set me up with their friends and gave great advice that has shaped how I am able to do this successfully now. I have slept on a lot of couches, and had great conversation at so many kitchen tables. One audience member made us tour cookies! People are kind and so giving, and that has been a true source of inspiration for me.

So, now to the reason for this introduction. I am inviting you to come on my next tour with me. This September, I will go back to Europe to promote my latest album, Spin, and I will share some stories with Quarterlette along the way. I have shows booked in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and the UK. I am excited to return to Europe and look forward to sharing the journey with you!

Until the next post, you can learn more about me and my music at caitlinmahoney.com. When you sign up for my mailing list, you get a free song download along with some very pink e-mails. :)


			

 

10 Places to Explore in Paris Like a Parisian

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Before traveling to Paris this past March to study French for a few weeks, I must have googled “best places to go in Paris” and “must see in france” at least thirty times. And I have to say, I didn’t find a lot of helpful articles. Of course, I found lists of the obvious sites and attractions, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, but what I really wanted was a list made by someone like me, on little-known places to see that were equally as quaint and amazing.

So, I decided to do the research and put together that list myself. After spending some time time in Paris exploring the city, here is what I came up with (please excuse the lack of accents. I’m typing this on an American laptop). 

1. Musee de l’Orangerie – this museum houses Claude Monet’s famous waterlily paintings. The museum itself is designed in an oval shape with the paintings hung around the entire perimeter. This is the way Monet intended his art to be enjoyed, and let me tell you, the effect is breathtaking. The combination of colors he used is almost otherworldly, and the paintings are big, so when you step into the rooms you feel as if you’ve fallen into one of the ponds he based his paintings on. An essential for anybody of any age.

2. BHV – this department store, located in the Marais area, has absolutely everything you could imagine. Although it is not as well known as Galeries Lafayette, I liked it better because it was less crowded and less over-the-top flashy. There’s a floor entirely devoted to books and stationery, which I could have spent all day in.

3. Le Calbar – a friend of mine who lives in Paris brought me to this tiny bar, located on Rue de Charenton. A favorite hangout of local Parisians, it’s a great place to go with friends. The bartenders wear boxers and bow-ties and will ask you a series of questions about your favorite flavors, then mix you up a “surprise” drink.

4. Ile St. Louis – this little island is a great place to wander around and shop. On my last morning, I had breakfast with my friends at Le Saint Regis, an amazing cafe on a street corner here. The streets are old-fashioned and picturesque, making it great for taking photos as well.

5. Rue de Bourg Tibourg – this is a very tiny street in the Marais area. The reason I included it is because of how adorable the shops and signs are, especially Mariage Freres, a tea house and shop. Walking into this place is like entering something out of Harry Potter, with the tins and tins of different types of tea lining the walls and the elegant but very helpful waiters holding out samples for you to smell.

6. Places Vosges – this is another shopping area, but I had to include it because of how beautiful it is. It is square-shaped, with a park in the middle with trees and fountains. On all four sides are little shops and boutiques, including more tea houses (they’re becoming very popular in Paris!). Even if you don’t want to buy anything, just go and look around.

7. Shakespeare & Company – the famous bookstore! This shop sells books in English, which can be a relief for an overwhelmed American who doesn’t speak French very well (like me). The inside is chaotic in a beautiful way, with books everywhere. There are two floors, and even a section with incredibly old (and rare) books.

8. La Grande Epicerie – this was one of my favorite places to go and explore. Connected to Le Bon Marche (another department store), it is, in simplest terms, a large supermarket. There are sections of food from all different countries, and things like Eiffel-tower shaped sugar and spices you can only find in Paris. It smells amazing inside because of the huge bakery, and you could honestly stay here for hours, just looking around.

9. City Pharma – this is a pharmacy located on Rue du Four. What makes this place so special are the shelves upon shelves of French beauty products. The downside is that it is always extremely crowded, as it is a pretty famous place. However, the prices are amazing if you are from America, where French beauty products are sold at Sephora for
a much higher price. Some of the brands sold here are Nuxe, Caudalie, and La Roche Posay. Even if you’re not into beauty, it’s fun to look at all the bottles of elixirs and lotions.

10. Lenotre – last but not least, I decided to add my favorite macaron shop. Pierre Herme and Laduree are the most well-known upscale French macaron brands, but Lenotre, I think, is one of the best. The macarons sold here are certainly the prettiest, decorated with edible glitter, and some of the most delicious, too. As it is a chain, there a few shops located around the city.

Hopefully, if you’re planning a trip to Paris, this list will help you in some way.  Enjoy my favorite spots and Bonne chance!

*Photo credit: Diana Urquhart

 

What Salvador Dali Taught Me About Life

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While recently visiting the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL, I became completely fascinated with him. Upon hearing the interpretations to his brilliant art, I couldn’t help but relate to his insights. It was as if Dali was a twenty-something post-grad going through his soul searching period, like I was.

I graduated a little under a year ago with plans of landing my dream job in a city far away from home. After countless job applications and cover letters followed by system-generated responses of rejection, back home to mom’s it was. Should I go back to school, should I advance at my current job that has nothing to do with my degree or should I just call it quits with my responsibilities and buy a plane ticket to Europe? Confused was an understatement.

But after discovering Dali’s works and their deeper meanings I realized that everything happens for a reason and that everything would fall into place in time.

This is what Salvador Dali taught me about life:

 1. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture

Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea by Salvador Dali

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This painting examines the dual nature of our world. Up close we see Gala (Dali’s wife) in all her glory, gazing at the rising Mediterranean sun. But if you step back to twenty meters from the piece, the image becomes a pixilated portrait of president Abraham Lincoln. Inspired by an article about visual perception, Dali was challenged by the idea of the minimum number of pixels needed to recreate a human face. At 121 pixels Dali successfully symbolizes the fleeting nature of beauty, creates a portrait of Honest Abe and teaches us all a lesson in perception. Not everything is what it seems. In any circumstance, whether it be a job, a relationship or simply a bad day, remember: always take a step back and examine the situation from every angle, because in time (or at 20 meters) you can see that there is actually an alternate meaning.

 

2. Time is what you make of it

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali

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Arguably one of Dali’s most famous surrealist paintings —you know the one with the trippy melting clocks — The Persistence of Memory makes a statement on the arbitrary concept of time. Dali was enamored with the psychology of dreams and the subconscious mind. This painting has multiple interpretations; not only does it depict a dream, a world where time is irrelevant and erratic but it is also a depiction of Einstein’s theory of relativity, that time is relative and not fixed. Either way we can take something away from Dali here: time is what you make of it. We all have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyoncé. So instead of making excuses about how you ”don’t have time” to apply for that job, think of Dali’s melting clocks and remember: time is a concept. You can construct your future on whatever time frame you choose.

 

 3. A new start is always possible

Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man by Salvador Dali 

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This Dali painting is making a major political statement re World war 2. The man emerging from the egg is said to be portraying the United States, and the blood representing WW2. What Dali is morbidly showing us is that no matter how much pain and suffering we have been through, we can always move past it and come out as newer, stronger versions of ourselves. We always have the ability to start anew, and be the major force we are meant to be. I’m sure if Dali were here today, he would tell us “If Brittney Spears could get through 2007, you can get through your day.” Thanks Dali (insert sassy emoji).

 

4. Always be open to love

Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dali

Metamorphosis of Narcissus 1937 by Salvador Dal? 1904-1989

The story behind this painting is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, the god of vanity, known for breaking many hearts. According to Greek Mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection looking into a pool, and eventually died trying to embrace it. The Metamorphosis of Narcissus is Dali’s interpretation of this myth. On the left we see Narcissus unsuccessfully seeking his reflection in the muddy water. To the right he transforms into a hand with an egg cracking, symbolizing new life- hopefully one with a better fate for poor Narcissus. The moral of the story here is that we need to let love in. Yeah, independence is great but allowing someone else to love you as much as you love yourself is even better. Life is too short to spend alone; find someone to share life’s beauty with. Don’t be a John Mayer in a world of Justin Timberlake’s, okay. Just don’t.

Salvador Dali is a man of many talents: his surrealist paintings, his ability to tap into the subconscious mind and most importantly his sweet mustache growing skills. We can also add one more thing to the list, a twenty-something’s best friend. Dali really gets us twenty somethings. Life after college and in the real world is a stressful and confusing place. But Dali is here to remind us the world is a beautiful place, full of love, beauty and wonderful things to come.

As for me, I am now working at a job in my field that I enjoy, have just returned from a European getaway, and am writing this article that is about to be published. It seems life has a funny way of working out.

Sometimes all you need is a sign (or a piece of art) to remind you that everything is going to be okay.

 

But It Doesn’t Have To Be California

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But it doesn’t have to be California — that’s only one of the places, and probably the least likely. It could be San Francisco, or Daly City, or Oakland. Hayward, Alameda, or Redwood City. I like the sound of there. There probably aren’t redwoods anymore, what with the city springing up around them, but I like to imagine the office buildings nestled in between the roots, trunks so close you could reach out and stroke the bark like a cat waiting to purr.

But it doesn’t have to be California, or Portland, Oregon, skyline framed with white-tipped mountains, and I could hang around Powell’s until they either gave me a job or accepted me as someone whose first name they ought to know. We could build our tiny house there, or live in some loft much like the one we have already, the wood floors scuffed by so many grunge lovers passing by.

But it doesn’t have to be Portland, or Seattle where I’d need to buy a slicker and boots, and would walk to the coast, hoping to see orca whales. I would vote for Roderick for city council, and make better friends with Danielle, perhaps sitting in her house, bouncing the baby on my knee and writing together after he’d gone to bed. I could go home to long lines of rain on the windows, and know the rocky coast was out there, leading to Alaska.

But it doesn’t have to be Seattle, or the artist’s refuge Austin in the desert of conservative desert. I’d wear my cowboy boots to death, and learn where the barbecue places were cheap, and buy another pair of boots, real Texas boots from a girl in a bolo tie and drive outside the city limits into the flatness of dust and drawls, maybe picking up smoking again in the Southern tip of everything America.

It doesn’t have to be Austin, and it certainly isn’t New York City anymore, that overcrowded island and the lovely sadness of the Coney Island amusement park, tucked away from the pin-stripes down by the Wall Street bull, and the greenery of the Village I fell in love with when I was seventeen, falling equally in love with a pylon-orange shirt and green army pants, wondering who on the street would be my college friends, and I never lived there, but meant to many times.

I went to Boston, and felt claustrophobic, being able to walk the entire city on a whim, and feeling like Cambridge was another world, though it was only cross the river. But there were solitary moments of dancing above the traffic to outdated songs on my iPod mini and strutting through the pathways, pretending to be a model because I was 18 and filled with romantic ideas of loneliness until the romance fell away and it was only me and the cold Atlantic Ocean, and nobody else.

It has to be somewhere, though, and I only started with California because of Joni Mitchell lilting and chirruping about coming home from Paris, Greece, and Spain amidst all the dismal newspaper headlines that had become the world. Now I know all the words, and especially the longing when you see something of home hiding in among the worldly news, the small smattering of words tugging at your breastbone through the streets of strangers and onto a plane through clouds and sunrises or sets until you’re somewhere beautiful again in that old familiar way.

I haven’t been there yet, but I ask it every day oh, will you take me as I am?

Take me as I am.

 

The Perfect Travel Partner

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As a graduating law student, I am looking forward to taking my “Bar Trip”- a trip many law students take in the period between the bar exam and starting practice. I dread, however, the inevitable question that comes up when telling people about my plans: “Who are you traveling with?” Sometimes, this question comes in the form of a suggestion, as if the person were trying to really ask “Can I come too?” Other times it comes across as more of a concern for my safety: “You know your dad isn’t Liam Neeson, right?”

The truth is, though there are many people whom I enjoy spending time with socially, the number of people I believe would be good travel partners is limited. Lest I sound selfish, while it is true that the wrong travel partner can spoil a trip, what is more important is that a ruined trip can lead to a ruined relationship. With that in mind, here is a list of common travel companions and things to consider when deciding whom to travel with.

Friends:  There are a lot of reasons to miss the college days, but one I never took into account was how easy it was to plan travel as an undergrad. In college, my friends were all on the same schedule and on similar budgets. As we entered into the real world, lifestyles began to change and along with it, travel styles. There are the most obvious differences such as differences in budgets, but you can’t overlook other lifestyle changes as well. Does your friend have a high-stress job in a big city? She might want to spend her two weeks of vacation in a luxurious resort. Maybe the buddy that was always down for any trip now has to divide her time between visits home for the holidays and the four weddings she is attending this year. While “viva la différence” is generally a great motto to have when it comes to friends, be aware that when it comes to travel, differences in lifestyles can lead to resentment when neither party gets the vacation they wanted.

Parents: I get along great with my parents, and when I travel with them, I know I will eat well and sleep somewhere that doesn’t involve a bunk bed in a room full of strangers or a high risk of fleas. The downside is that at this phase of their lives your parents, quite understandably, might prioritize comfort over adventure. Thus, if you’re dying to backpack around the Andes for two months or party in Ibiza, and your Dad has been complaining about his back as of late, you’re likely not going to see eye to eye on the kind of trip you want to take. That being said, in my experience parents are much more willing to indulge your own personal interests. It can be hard to convince a friend to splurge on cooking classes or a hot air balloon ride, but often those are just the kind of experiences that parents are willing to go for.

Siblings: The good news about your siblings is that they’re pretty much obligated to keep you in their life no matter how annoying you may be. The bad news is that you’re pretty much obligated to keep them in your life no matter how annoying they may be. Seriously, the mantra “blood is thicker than water” works to the traveler’s advantage here. Even if you do have a big fight during your trip, siblings are more likely to just put everything out in the open and work through it. The last thing you want when traveling is resentment building up (ok, the last thing you want when traveling is a parasite from unwashed fruit, but pent up resentment is a close second). Siblings are much more likely to be straightforward with each other, even if it means a few hours of argument. If you can get over the hurdle of not having mom to referee each and every dispute, traveling with a sibling can be an amazing bonding experience, especially if you’re at a phase in your life where you only get to see them in a family setting during the holidays.

Significant Others: I’ve heard of studies that say that traveling together is an even better indicator as to whether a relationship will survive than cohabitating. Traveling is a great way to see how your significant other does in a new environment. Are they someone who needs to micromanage everything? How does that person react when confronted with lost luggage or a stolen wallet? Traveling together can be enlightening as to the state of your relationship, but be prepared to see a side of your significant other that you haven’t seen before. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised, or you may find yourself newly single. Either way, approach a trip together, especially if it’s your first, with an open mind.

Yourself: People are often surprised to hear that I love traveling by myself because most people are either scared to go somewhere unknown by themselves or are worried they will get lonely. In response to the first concern, traveling by yourself requires a bit more planning and diligence, especially as a solo female. Obviously it requires a lot of common sense safety precautions such as being extra careful when it comes to drinking, avoiding walking alone at night, or even picking your destination. It’s important to do your research beforehand to make sure you’re not putting yourself at risk. If you’re willing to put in the extra effort in planning, however, traveling alone can be a transformative experience. Being by yourself forces you to meet new people along the way, meanwhile giving you the flexibility to travel exactly on your own terms. Like traveling with a significant other, traveling alone teaches us things about ourselves we couldn’t discover in the routine of our day-to-day life.

Photo by Emily Long

 

9 Things No One Tells You About Moving Abroad

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After becoming totally consumed by wanderlust in 2011, I bought a one way plane ticket from my hometown of Sydney, Australia to London. Shortly after, I packed my favourite belongings into a single suitcase and moved across the world on my own. These are the things I learnt (the hard way) along the way.

1. You will get lost. It won’t be romantic and beautiful like a Hollywood film. It will be after 35 hours of flights, three stopovers, one delay and two declined credit cards. You will possess a phone that has no reception to make a call, let alone use GPS.  No one in the street will have heard of the place you are looking for and they will all stare at you like you’re crazy. After all,  you’re a deranged mess with matted hair, bloodshot eyes and socks under your sandals, dragging around a suitcase. You’ll finally hail a cab, the driver will rip you off and you’ll leave your favourite book on the back seat, but you will get to your destination. Bed will feel amazing. Free Wifi from your bed will be the kind of bliss you can’t even fathom.

2. Everyone sticks to their own kind. They form communities, live in shared houses with people from their home country, hang out with their friends from back home, and go to locally themed pubs. You will soon realise this isn’t for you and you are missing out on a huge chunk of the international experience by limiting yourself in this way. You will force your way out of your comfort zone after you go to a party and run into several people from your home town, spiraling some sort of ‘why did I even leave?’ depression. It will be one of the best choices you make on your journey.

3. Even if you speak the same words, sometimes you still aren’t speaking the same language. There will be cultural misunderstandings you will laugh over, but there will also be the kind that will cost you a friendship. You’ll have a light bulb moment six months later when you finally figure out why.

4. If you go to a country where you have little to no grasp of the language, you will find yourself in a situation, either in a café, pub or pharmacy where you are desperately trying to mime to a staff member what you need. They won’t understand you and both of you will grow more and more distressed as the communication continues to break down and your hand movements become increasingly desperate.  You will leave the establishment without your painkillers/beer/whatever feeling dejected, embarrassed, headache-y or thirsty and repeat the whole process over, somewhere down the street.

5. You will break down and cry because you need your mum. It will probably be in public, at a bus stop before work at 7am. You will wipe your nose on your sleeve and alarm the person next to you with your hiccup-y sobs. Sorry, it’s going to happen.

6. You will end up living in a share house with at least one person you hate. It’s probably going to be that French girl with the cool clothes that found you on Gumtree. She will have loud conversations in French in the lounge room while you and your other housemates are trying to watch Friends, she will leave plates of food on the floor of your shared bedroom, leading you to find a dead mouse in a bowl under your dresser one night while you’re looking for a lost sock. Her cool clothes aren’t so awesome strewn across your bed when you get home from a bad day at work and want to sleep.  Eventually you will kick her out in the most laughably passive aggressive manner.  All your housemates will pretend you are being evicted, so as to not hurt her feelings.  You will even pack some of your belongings in boxes to authenticate this ruse.

7. You will miss food from home. So much so that in a moment of total weakness, you will end up paying $8 for a jar of vegemite and $10 for a packet of Timtams (must haves for any true Aussie).  You will gorge yourself on the Timtams and immediately feel sick. The Vegemite, however, you will forget about after one slice of toast and not discover again until you’re clearing out to move home.

8. Strangers will be mean. That bus driver will not stop for you when you’re already late for your first day of work and the lady selling train tickets at the newsagency will rip you off when she realises you don’t understand the system. You will be robbed twice in the space of twelve months, and almost scammed numerous times. You will lose a couple of jobs over the most ridiculous things (See point number 3).

9. People of the opposite sex will want to date you because of your accent. You will be flattered and feel like some sort of exotic bird, or rare jewel. Eventually things with this person will wear thin and the two of you will be left with the shell of something that wasn’t really that great to begin with.

(Bonus) But finally, everything that they DO tell you about moving overseas is also true. Even through the frustration, tears and homesickness, it will be one of the richest and most rewarding experiences of your life. You will gain so many life skills in a short amount of time and forge the tightest bonds with the friends you make. You will step out of your comfort zone and try things you wouldn’t have dared before. Moving overseas is actually pretty wonderful.

Photo by Emily Long

 

Tourist is Not a Bad Word

Tourist_Quarterlette

Photo by Emily Long

I have two friends that personify the extremes of what I like to call “the tourist spectrum.” The first one, whom I will call Melissa, eschews all things touristy. Melissa strives to travel to remote areas of the globe that none of her Facebook friends have been to, and when she does go somewhere popular, she proudly declares that she didn’t step foot in a museum or take any guided tours. Her favorite adjective when talking about travel is, “cliche” – a word which she uses so frequently, yet so derisively, that she has actually become one.

On the other side of the spectrum is Kerri, who approaches travel like a to-do list. She likes having her days planned out with clear “must-sees.” Though she takes no personal interest in art or architecture, her traveling days are filled with snapshots of every pretty cathedral or famous work of art listed in her guidebook. After a recent trip to Barcelona, she commented on how beautiful the Sagrada Familia Cathedral is, but had not actually read up on who the famous architect that designed it, or why it was so unique.

Both of these friends are extremes, but when traveling it is hard to strike a balance between seeing everything you’re “supposed to see” and not being a totally lame tourist. The problem with Melissa’s approach is that in wanting to avoid being a “tourist” (and to impress people on Instagram), she may miss out on some of the best the world has to offer. This approach is comparable to being invited to someone’s house for dinner, where they have set up a beautiful table and prepared you a delicious meal, and insisting on eating ramen in their bedroom because it is “more authentic.” Yes, the Taj Mahal is a very touristy place, but there is a reason for that. If you’re not careful, the quest for “authentic” experiences can result in deliberately seeking out the bad and the ugly, and forgetting all about the things that often are a source of pride for a country. When admiring the David, standing in awe of the wonders of the Great Wall, or ziplining in Costa Rica, we are not merely being tourists; we are engaging in a sensory experience shared by millions of people over hundreds of years. Is the view from the top of the Pao de Azucar in Rio any less breathtaking just because other people have also stood in the same spot and felt the same way?

This is not to say that the other extreme is desirable either. The Kerri approach results in a perfect photo album of all the must-sees, but leaves little room for the wonderful stories and personal growth that comes from spontaneity. When the day is so rigidly scheduled with things that you haven’t taken the time to truly appreciate, you miss out on some once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I still laugh with my friend Angel about the time we crashed a midnight birthday party in Buenos Aires in a hair salon. One of my family’s favorite memories is the time we stumbled upon a bullfight in a little town in Provence. And let’s be real, the opportunity to make out with a cute local and ride on the back of his motorcycle is not going to happen while visiting your 3rd museum!

The word “tourist” shouldn’t be a bad word, but how do you strike a balance between the desire to discover uncharted territory and the need to make sure you haven’t missed out on the best the place has to offer? The first thing is to take a step back and examine your motivation for doing a particular activity. If you’re honest with yourself, do you really want to do this thing or see this place, or are you seeking bragging rights? A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it cannot etch into memory an entire sensory experience quite the same the way being present in the moment will.

I like to pick a theme, and do some research before a trip to help me better understand and appreciate the things I see, and even be able to engage in intelligent conversation with locals. I will be going to Berlin in a few weeks and have decided that the theme will be Cold War Europe. Hopefully, when I go see the Berlin Wall or take a tour of the amazing graffiti, or wonder about the “modern grunge” personality that the nightlife there has taken, I will have some historical context with which to better understand the city.

The most important thing is to be curious! When you are curious, you seek out the highlights because you wonder what makes that particular place or experience so important or appealing. Gives equal importance to the history museum you’re visiting and the people watching at the local bar. Don’t poo poo experiences or live for the approval of other travelers or Twitter followers. Being curious means exploring the world to find the answers to questions about the world and yourself. And if you’re doing it right, you may develop new questions in the meantime.