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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Why maps beat GPS every time

In cities, design, education, travel, world on July 21, 2014 at 1:34 am

 

Just a few of our large collection...looking forward to re-using my maps of Paris and London this year!

Just a few of our large collection…looking forward to re-using my maps of Paris and London this year!

 By Caitlin Kelly

Call me old-fashioned, but how I love a paper map!

Laminated or not, a map offers so many specific details about where I’m headed, from elevation to campsites to the width of the road to the locations of airports, hospitals — even windmills!

I love the anticipation of reading a map and wondering how the landscape will resemble its contours.

On long road trips, I like having a sense of progression — yup, we passed that exit!

I treasure my battered paper map of Corsica, scene of one of the happiest weeks of my life, anywhere, ever. I had been fired from one magazine job and found a new one a week later, with a healthy raise. Score!

I had one week to enjoy, and knew exactly where I wanted to go, this island off of the southern coast of France, known for its rugged, hilly terrain. I decided to travel by mo-ped, with a top speed of 45 mph, making a circle tour through the Balagne, the northern bit. I used a Frommer’s or Fodor’s guidebook and booked my hotels in advance so all I had to do was get from one to the next.

Heaven!

Imagine driving through the maquis, that scrubby brush filled with sun-warmed herbs, your nostrils filled with its aroma, the sun on your back, winding down hairpin turns to the sea.

I love the details that maps offer -- like all the ferry routes marked here. My solo week in Corsica, July 1995, was one of the best of my life!

I love the details that maps offer — like all the ferry routes marked here. My solo week in Corsica, July 1995, was one of the best of my life!

 

While out there alone, I drove past the Deserts Des Agriates, one of the most eerie and desolate landscapes I’ve ever seen. I had no camera, but will never forget it.

I also love the physicality of maps, how they link us to every explorer before us, from Magellan to Lawrence of Arabia.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve used Mapquest for directions that somehow didn’t work; without a map, I’d have been toast as we don’t have or use GPS.

Imagine one of the Jason Bourne films, (my favorites!), with a robo-voiced GPS instead of him, as he always does in the car chase scenes, driving at top speed through a foreign city while trying to unfold and read an unwieldy map:

– Turn right, assassin to your immediate left!

– Duck!

– Now, duck again!

– Are you still alive?

Here’s a lovely piece about why one man also prefers maps to GPS:

Consider this, though: Using printed maps requires travelers to work together. You become a team. Driver and navigator. Your ability to get along and solve problems is tested in valuable, revealing ways. GPS removes that entire interpersonal dynamic. It encourages a passive form of journeying: sit back and drift, because the vaguely Australian-sounding computer lady will tell you to turn left in a quarter mile.

Driving by map, on the other hand, engages you actively with your surroundings. It makes you observe road signs, be in the moment. And that closer engagement, I’ve found, imprints the landscape more vividly and permanently on your mind. When I return home, I can unfold my maps and take myself back to a town or a stretch of highway.

Often I’ll buy a map months before the trip, and by studying it try to pull the opposite trick — to transport myself into the place I intend to visit. It builds anticipation. Eric Riback, a map publisher in upstate New York who writes a blog called Mapville, described this to me poetically as the “seeking, dreaming part of travel that you can do with a map.”

 

Do you still ever use paper maps?

 

One of the eeriest and most memorable sights of my life -- a lunar landscape I saw, alone in the rain, while traveling alone by mo-ped

One of the eeriest and most memorable sights of my life — a lunar landscape I saw, alone in the rain, while traveling alone by mo-ped

Coming to New York City? 10 tips

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on May 27, 2014 at 12:18 am

By Caitlin Kelly

You’ve seen it in movies and on television and maybe read about it for years. Before you head into Manhattan (or Brooklyn, probably the only two of the five boroughs that make up NYC you’ll visit), a few tips. I’ve lived here for 25 years and you can spot the tourists a mile off…

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Dress the part!

You can always tell the out-of-towners — the teen girls and women have…unusual…hair color, wear heavy  make-up, nude hose, pastels, bright colors and sequins. They have French manicures and pedicures, or chipped nail polish. All of which mark them immediately as someone not from here. A fresh manicure (nude polish on hands) and pedicure are key. New York women are well-groomed!

Like Paris, New York has its own visual style, and understated elegance is a good option, for men and women. Yes, we all wear black, all year round. It’s easy to accessorize and moves easily, if it’s the right clothing and style, from day to evening, usually with a change of shoes. (Bring ballet slippers or flats for comfortable/stylish walking — we walk everywhere. Men might consider a stylish suede or leather lace-up.)

Also not very city-friendly: bulging, enormous backpacks (everything here is small and crowded); chunky white or black sneakers; ripped or super-baggy (or super-tight) jeans; farmer or baseball caps, especially worn backward, logos all over everything, fanny packs.

Get to/out on the water

It’s too easy to forget that Manhattan is an island, and some of the loveliest sights are found on its edges — the bike and walking paths along the East River and the Hudson. The Circle Line takes hours, but the round-the-island boat tour will give you a terrific appreciation of the city, as will the (much cheaper!) Staten Island ferry, which commuters ride to and from their homes on SI. (Rent the classic movie Working Girl, with Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, to understand the importance of the ferry.)

Get onto the water at sunset to watch the city lights come up — and the Statue of Liberty at sunset. You can also rent kayaks and sailboats here.

Walk faster. No, even faster!

No kidding. Nothing is more maddening  and selfish than huge packs of tourists walking abreast — i.e. completely blocking a subway stair or sidewalk — sloooooooooowly.

Move it, folks!

The people who work here have places to go and no time to get there.

Enjoy a drink at one of the city’s vintage bars

Fanelli’s, Old Town Bar, Sardi’s, McSorley’s, The White Horse Tavern, The Landmark. Manhattan offers some fantastically old, weathered taverns with deep wooden booths, pressed tin ceilings and decades, even centuries of history. Settle in and enjoy.

(If you want to go seriously upscale — and dress well! — splurge on a cocktail or two at The Campbell Apartment, the King Cole Room at the St. Regis or Bemelman’s.) Yes, cocktails can cost $12, $14 or more. It’s New York, kids.

Keep your Metrocard filled

Taking the subway or bus is often a lot quicker and cheaper than trying to find a cab and getting stuck in traffic. Keep your card topped up. When you get on the bus, dip your card quickly in and out of the fare box. Then move to the rear!

Ride the bus

There’s no better way to really see the city. Skip the tourist buses and spend a few hours riding the M104 (Broadway) or the M5 (Fifth Avenue.) Comfortable, safe, cheap.

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You will not find a cab at 4:00 p.m.

That’s when all the drivers change shifts and all those cars are going to whiz right past you, no matter how much you flap your arm. We know it. Take a bus, or subway or walk.

But…if you beg, nicely, you might still hitch a ride if someone is heading that direction.

If you take a cab, tip at least 15 percent

Or prepare to be brow-beaten.

Carry a small umbrella

Few things are more frustrating than getting caught in the rain and not finding a cab to rescue you. Be prepared.

Eat at Shake Shack

Forget the calories and the lines. Just do it. So damn good!

The world’s sounds: muezzins, halyards, woodpeckers

In beauty, behavior, books, culture, life, nature, travel, urban life, world on May 1, 2014 at 10:33 am

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By Caitlin Kelly

Close your eyes.

And just…listen.

Birdsong (which ones?)

Traffic.

Someone’s footsteps (what sort of shoes are they wearing? Are they young or old? Thin or heavy?)

The distant echoing whistle of a passing train.

The hum of the refrigerator.

Your dog’s whimper as he naps.

Your children, laughing (or crying!)

Blessed with sight, we often forget how much we hear, or could hear, in any given moment if we stopped to pay closer attention. If you live in a noisy, crowded city — car horns, engine sounds, cellphones, sirens, the beeping of a truck backing up, bus brakes sighing — it seems counter-intuitive as we we’re always trying to block it out.

But stand somewhere quieter, eyes closed, and you’ll be amazed how many sounds you’ll pick up.

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Some of my favorites include:

Street singers, walking and clapping their hands, in Andalusia

The clanging of metal halyards against metal sailboat masts

A bird in Kenya whose call sounded just like a beeping alarm clock

The muezzin’s chant from a tower in Istanbul

The chatter of coins dropped onto a small china dish, change returned in Paris

The click of my husband’s key in the front door as he returns from  work

ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT CAITLIN KELLY 2013.

Wind soughing through tall, fragrant pines

The gurgle of a canoe paddle pushing water

The specific thwack of  a well-hit golf ball

The specific clang of a well-hit softball off of a metal bat

A coyote howling beneath our (suburban New York!?) windows

A baby’s giggle

The crunching of car tires on gravel

Tea being poured into a bone china teacup

A woodpecker

Jet engines revving — a trip about to start!

That odd sing-song-y noise before the subway doors close in Paris

I love this recent book idea, a sort of catalog of global sounds:

But you do not need to be an acoustic engineer armed with a stun gun and sophisticated measuring tools to be awed by the singing sands of the Kelso Dunes in the Californian Mojave Desert (caused by an avalanche of very dry sand down a steep slope) or by the cascading roar of the sea inside Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, which inspired Mendelssohn to compose his “Hebrides” overture…

Mr. Cox also plays with, and explains, the acoustics of whispering galleries like that of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London or the one by the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Terminal, in which sound is guided along the tiled archway.

And I wish I were in England at the end of May for this amazing outdoor concert.

(I added the bold/italics as I think this is so cool!)

Two pioneering composers are turning forest plants and animals of Thetford Forest into virtual conductors this summer, creating ‘Living Symphonies’ where visitors will be able to hear the sounds of the forest in musical form from 24-30 May.

The artists, James Bulley and Daniel Jones, have been working with Forestry Commission ecologists to map the true extent of woodland wildlife and plantlife in one of the East’s most beautiful forests, reacting to all that is alive within a forest. The composers have then created a musical motif for each organism living in the forest, then, with speakers hidden amongst the trees, digital technology generates the full symphony in real time – when an animal moves, so does their music.

If a flock of birds moves across the canopy the visitor may hear a cluster of clarinets move with them. When rain causes some animals to emerge while others hide away; it will also trigger moisture sensors causing their musical counterparts to do the same. The animals and plants become the conductors.

Together they hope to create a remarkable new way for audiences to explore forests with their ears as well as their eyes. As the visitor explores the music they will also become aware of just how complex an eco-system a forest is.

I really like it when songs include sounds — whether the croaking in Frogs’ Lullaby by Canadian band Blue Rodeo or the rattling and squeaking of a carriage ride in Katell Keinig’s Waiting for You to Smile or the match striking at the very end of Shawn Colvin’s murder ballad Sunny Came Home or the whining jet plane sounds at the start of the Beatles’ 1968 classic, Back in the USSR.

What sounds do you love to hear?

Bleecker Street: cupcakes, coffee and guitars

In beauty, business, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on April 26, 2014 at 3:07 am

By Caitlin Kelly

When people dream about visiting New York City, they usually think of Times Square, (noisy, dirty and horribly jammed with other tourists), or Fifth Avenue, (now depressingly lined with Big Box retail names, with a line-up to get into Abercrombie, selling the same schmatte you can find in Iowa or Kansas), or maybe 42d Street — all movie theaters and junky restaurants.

I always urge visitors to head instead for one of my all-time favorites, Bleecker Street.

It runs the width of the city through Greenwich Village and goes from a north-south axis on the west side to a west-east, (or vice versa!) route after dog-legging at Seventh Avenue.

Those of us who’ve lived here a few decades remember the old, funky, dusty Bleecker, with the Japanese store and Afghan store, Nusraty’s, filled with jewelry and rugs and Leo Design, now a few blocks west on Hudson Street, which sells a wonderful mix of early boxes, mirrors, pottery and decorative objects, much of it English.

Here’s how bad it’s getting:

Bleecker Street Records was reportedly ousted from their space at 239 Bleecker by a rent increase that would have required the store pay $27,000 a month in rent. Fortunately, the store has found a new place in the neighborhood—no small feat given the escalating rents and the competition from stores intent on replicating the vibe of an outdoor shopping mall or a high-end highway rest stop: the advertisement for Bleecker Street Records’ former space boasted of its proximity to Amy’s Bread, David’s Tea, L’Occitane and 16 Handles.

Here’s an excellent post from one of my favorite blogs, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, detailing the huge and rapid gentrification of this once charmingly bohemian street:

New York Magazine publishes a major profile of the Bleecker boom in an article on micro-neighborhoods: “Soho took fifteen years to become a handbag colony. Bleecker took only three.” One local shopper complains, “I’m not so happy about the Guccis and the Polos coming in here. It seems like we’re losing our neighborhood feel.”

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Today, the western bit of Bleecker is crazy expensive, a long line of spendy designer shops like Ralph Lauren, Lulu Guinness and New York jewelry-maker Alexis Bittar, whose distinctive work is beautiful indeed; here’s a pair of his earrings.

Here’s a blog post naming it one of the world’s best shopping streets; true if you’re planning to drop serious coin. If you like perfume, French perfumer Annick Goutal recently opened a shop on the street.

The original Magnolia Bakery — which opened in 1996 purveying cupcakes — is still there.

But stay with it and head east, and you’ll find the block between Seventh and Sixth a fabulous mix of food to buy and food to eat: Murray’s Cheese, Amy’s Bread, Rocco’s pastry and Porto Rico Coffee and Tea, in business since 1907, with the most wonderful store interior — enormous battered tins of tea and dozens of huge burlap bags of coffee beans beneath a pressed-tin ceiling.

Don’t miss it! You can find every imaginable kind of coffee bean and loose tea, mugs, string shopping bags, even some spices and candy. It’s one of my favorite places anywhere.

And Blind Tiger, an ale house I used to drink in in the 1990s when it was on Hudson Street.

At the east end is this theater, which I recently visited for the first time.

And this elegant restaurant, Saxon and Parole, where Bleecker ends at the Bowery. It’s a great-looking space but expensive; the cheapest entree was a $18 hamburger.

Here’s one of my favorite songs, by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, about it:

Fog’s rollin’ in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Hides the shepherd from the sheep

Voices leaking from a sad cafe
Smiling faces try to understand
I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand
On Bleecker Street

A poet reads his crooked rhyme
Holy, holy is his sacrament
Thirty dollars pays your rent
On Bleecker Street

I head a church bell softly chime
In a melody sustainin’
It’s a long road to Caanan
On Bleecker Street
Bleecker Street

Here’s a fantastic, photo-studded blog post detailing Bleecker Street.

 Is there a street in your city or town that you especially treasure? (In my hometown, Toronto, I like Queen Street, East and West, Kensington and Yorkville/Cumberland.)

Tell us about it!

Why you really need to leave the country (preferably for somewhere new to you)

In behavior, culture, education, journalism, life, travel, US on March 29, 2014 at 12:05 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Jose's passport

Jose’s passport

A stunningly small percentage of American students ever study abroad, writes Nick Kristof in The New York Times:

American universities should also be sending people abroad, but they are still quite insular. The number of Americans studying abroad has tripled over the last 20 years, but, still, fewer than 10 percent of college students study overseas during undergraduate years. Three times as many foreigners study in America as the other way around. (note: my emphasis added.)

(A shout-out goes to Goucher College in Baltimore, which requires students to study abroad. Others should try that.)

All young Americans should learn Spanish — el idioma extranjero de mayor importancia en los Estados Unidos — partly because growing numbers of seniors will finance retirement by moving to cheaper countries like Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Yet it makes no sense to study Spanish on a college campus when it is so much cheaper and more exhilarating to move to Bolivia, study or get a job and fall in love with a Bolivian.

And it’s not uncommon for Americans, of any age or level of formal education, to speak only one language, English, while Europeans who speak only three or four feel embarrassed by their cultural incompetence.

Canadians grow up in a nation officially bilingual, with every bit of packaging and all government messaging dans les deux langues officielles.

Melbourne -- which I visited in 1998

Melbourne — which I visited in 1998

And, compared to other nations, relatively few Americans  travel beyond their borders, even to Canada, where I was born and raised. From the Huffington Post:

Well, this can be said: somewhere between 11.6 and 14.6 million Americans actually traveled overseas in 2009, taking a trip lasting on average seven nights (students and travelers visiting family and friends stay significantly longer) and usually visiting just one country. These four major geographic areas are our most likely destinations: Europe (35% of all U.S. trips), Caribbean (21% of all trips), Asia (19% of all trips) and South America (9% of all trips).

America’s most popular overseas countries are: England (9% of all trips), France (7%), Italy (7%), Germany (5%), Dominican Republic (5%), Jamaica (5%), Japan (4%), China (4%), India (4%) and Spain (4%). Other significant countries visited include: Bahamas (3%) and Costa Rica (3%). With just six percent of Americans trips going to the Middle East, and even fewer, just three percent, visiting the whole continent of Africa, and two percent going to Australia/New Zealand.

My recent working trip to Nicaragua made it the 38th country I’ve been to, so far; I was fortunate to grow up in a family that valued travel so highly and could afford to visit Europe and Latin America and the South Pacific.

And my own work in journalism, has also sent me — on others’ dime — to places as far-flung as Copenhagen, Istanbul and Sicily. I’ve lived in England, France, Mexico, Canada and the U.S.; each place has taught me something I never knew before.

I lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico for four months when I was 14, which instilled a life-long love of that country and created the basis for my Spanish-language skills, which I used in Nicaragua once more. The photographer on our recent trip lives (!) a few blocks from my old apartment in Cuernavaca, so speaking Spanish meant I could chat with him as well.

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, where I lived at 14

Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, where I lived at 14

Yes, you can read blogs and books and watch movies, but nothing can really prepare you for the sights, sounds and smells of real daily life in a land far away.

I like the old joke — one fish says to another: “How’s the water?”

“What water?”

Living your entire life in only one country/culture/language is severely limiting. It’s hard to appreciate that you live in any sort of economic/political/religious/social culture, (i.e. accepting and conforming to norms and standards of behavior) until you plunge into a quite different one.

And, yes, it’s scary!

What if you get sick? (Most places have doctors and hospitals.) What if you get lost? (People are generally kind and helpful.) Will the buses be safe? Maybe not. But you’ll figure it out. There’s a kind of self-reliance to be gained from straying beyond the normal and known that creates a terrific self-confidence, especially for women.

One of the best-read blog post here at Broadside? How to travel alone safely as a woman.

Learning to dress and speak and behave in culturally-respectful ways — (never touch a Thai person’s head; don’t ask a French person to show you around their home; present a business card to a Japanese person with both hands) — can only serve you well in a globally-connected economy.

And understanding that owning more than one pair or shoes or books or a television — or eating even once a day — means wealth to millions of people is a helpful exercise in awareness and gratitude.

Here’s a post by an American photographer who took the plunge:

I’ve come a long way in realizing my dreams. And that was by just going for it. I never did make a plan. Once on the road, with the narrow margins of profit versus costs in travel, I never saved money. Making money while traveling is an exception, not a rule.

Even so, in my mid-thirties now, I have only a few regrets. Chief among them is the people who have been negatively affected by my lack of plan or savings. I’ve overextended my stay on friends’ and relatives’ couches, for example, when breaks between press junkets lasted longer than I thought they would. I’ve had moments where I couldn’t afford a plane ticket home.

But I don’t regret the nights spent sleeping in bus stations or the days without food to save money…It hasn’t always been easy, but I wouldn’t change the decision I made, those four years ago, to leave everything and travel.

I would advise others considering a similar decision not to listen to those who do not support your dream. But do not shame them for doubting, either. We are all different in our levels of courage – and in the way we view how life should be lived.

Last week I had dinner with a young photographer friend, who’s 26 and still in college and $70,000 in student debt and dying to go live and work work in Beirut, Lebanon.

Go! Jose and I told him, without hesitation. The hell with two more years sitting in school, writing term papers on journalism in Chicago; he’s already got excellent skills and we’ve already started hooking him up with people who know the place and have recently lived there.

Here’s one of my favorite newspaper columns, Expat Lives, that runs in the weekend Financial Times, in which men and women talk in detail about why they chose to leave their home country and what life is like in their adopted one.

Do you speak languages beyond English? Which ones and why?

Have you traveled beyond your country’s borders?

How has it changed your perspective?

A week working in Nicaragua: Lessons learned

In behavior, culture, domestic life, journalism, life, travel, women, work, world on March 25, 2014 at 12:03 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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Have you ever been to a place with no electricity — or refrigeration or candles or kerosene lanterns?

No running water?

No postal service?

A place where ham radio or a transistor radio are the one reliable link to the rest of the world?

A place where the bus comes past twice a day, and a trip in it to the capital takes 24 hours — a 90-minute prop plane 12-seater flight?

We spent one night in Ayhua Tara, a village of 10 families in a part of the country called RAAN; an autonomous region of isolated villages near the northern border with Honduras. To get there meant traveling a washboard road of red dust so thick I wore a kerchief every day to keep my hair clean. (It worked, sort of.) The road was in the best shape it had been for a few years, freshly graded with gravel, but still had multiple dips probably several feet deep for most of our journey, slowing us and jolting us all.

We rode in a small van: a team of five people and all our backpacks and video and camera equipment and lots of cold water.

The families we visited live on land granted to them as members of the Miskitu people. They live in wooden houses high atop stilts, their animals snoozing beneath and around them in the shade — a muddy piglet, a snoozing dog, a hen and and her tiny chicks, a goat or two.

We were welcomed as family. We brought our own food, which they cooked in the dark — with one small boy holding up a flashlight as they cooked on their small clay woodstove, waist-high at the back of the large kitchen.

A few moments:

We met new animals, like the coatimundi chained up at a Bilwi restaurant where we ate lunch one day. Or the turkey at Linda’s house who followed us everywhere, desperately showing off his fluffed-up feathers. And the pavon, an endangered species of bird  — with a brilliant lemon-yellow beak and what looks like a very bad black perm — that perched on the wall over the stove while Linda was cooking.

The pavon.

The pavon.

When traveling in hot/dusty places bring plenty of clean cotton bandanas: use as a napkin, towel, mouth-covering, (useful when we visited a live volcano in Managua and the foul steam started to hurt out throats), neck gaiter, blindfold, pillow cover, carry-sack, head covering, neck covering (soaked in cold water as often as possible) — and a bit of style!

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Lifesavers are the best! My bag of mint Lifesaver candies were the hit of the week when we were all feeling weary/hungry/thirsty/tired — offering a portable bit of sweet, saliva-producing relief.

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Kindness and generosity know no language. We stayed in a home where no one spoke much Spanish, only Miskitu. We worked through an interpreter, but their welcome to a bunch of strangers was warm and touching. We walked through the forest one morning with Linda, her mother-in-law and grand-daughter.

Jennifer was handed tiny orchids and some beans by Exelia, the little girl, while Ailita, 69, wearing rubber boots and a torn, repaired man’s shirt, gestured to me to wipe down my bare legs and arms in case I’d brushed against something noxious.

Water is heavy. Many people here carry buckets of it back and forth every day, multiple times, from a well or river. When you see a tiny child of four or five, (their growth stunted by chronic malnutrition, so they might well be seven or eight), with a filled plastic bucket in his head or in her arms, straining, you’ll never leave a tap running again.

Accessing water takes time and physical energy that might be better used for earning income or being with your family. When you need water in a place like this for any purpose, and you need to get it from a well, that means six cranks of the wheel to get enough to fill a small-ish cup. I watched a youngl girl straining just to reach and turn the wheel; I’m a strong adult and it still took energy — in 98 degree heat, direct sun and humidity.

Then you have to fill an entire bucket, if only for your own use. Now add the needs for cooking, bathing and cleaning clothes for a family of six or more who work in muddy fields and hot sun all day.

Traveling pleasantly and efficiently for a week in a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-national team — two Americans, two Canadians, a Mexican and three Nicaraguans, (driver, interpreter and community contact), means being flexible, calm, gentle and fun to be around. I had met Alanna, the communications director, in New York but none of us had met before or worked together until we raced off together on our very first day.

Our team! Jennifer Barbour; blogger; Alanna Imbach; media director; me; Rodrigo Cruz, photographer

Our team! Jennifer Barbour; blogger; Alanna Imbach; media director; me; Rodrigo Cruz, photographer

I was happily surprised to see how quickly and easily we fell into a rhythm, sharing water, sunscreen, Lifesavers, nuts. Maybe because we’re all professionals. Maybe because we’d all traveled, and worked, in fairly tough conditions before. Even pushing the dust-encrusted van to get it started every time wasn’t a big deal as long as we were still laughing about it. I heard no whining, despite hot, 10+ hour workdays starting at 8:00 a.m. or earlier.

Focus is energizing. We never touched, or needed to touch, money: our week was sleep, work, eat, repeat. We wasted no time on shopping, laundry or cooking. If we wanted to Skype with our loved ones, we did so at 6:00 a.m., since they were all two hours ahead in time zone.

Passion is galvanizing. Journalism is a desperate business these days, rife with insecurity and peacocking, whining and competitiveness. To spend a week with a team of smart, warm people passionate about social justice, and wise in its folkways, was deeply inspiring to me.

Pre-industrial life has a rhythm we rarely, if ever, live. When it is dark by 6:15 and there is no light beyond a headlamp or flashlight, and your day has been hot and physically demanding, you go to sleep early because you’ll rise before, or with the sun. The soothing chatter of the transistor radio hung on a nail, or the indignant gobbling of a turkey are the sounds lulling you to sleep.

When you walk through the field to weed your crops, why wear a watch? The work itself will tell you when you are finished.

I read Facebook and Twitter, posting when we had Internet access — freshly struck by how many of our “conversations” are purely trivial. That was instructive.

There is beauty in simplicity. I will not romanticize poverty. But I appreciated the smooth, wide wooden boards of Linda’s scrubbed, swept hardwood floor beneath my feet, the children’s tiny stuffed animals hung from nails (no shelves), a bright yellow flower growing in a blue plastic tub, the region’s purple, turquoise, emerald green and mustard yellow painted houses.

In a poor country, concrete and glass are luxury materials. In a week of travel through several RAAN villages and Bilwi, I saw perhaps six houses with glazed windows and few homes made of concrete, let alone two-story ones. Ironically, the most pristine, spotless, freshly-painted building I saw anywhere — new red metal roof, fresh banana yellow walls — was a large church.

Our host, Linda Felix, paddling her canoe

Our host, Linda Felix, paddling her canoe

We all work. We all struggle. Watching Linda and Ailita head off to work in a dugout canoe, whacking their way through the fields with a machete, claiming the hard-won prizes of enormous white squash and sun-warmed cucumber, felt familiar, even though all of it was new to me.

Work is work.

Fear of economic loss — while theirs is truly dire, and means not even lighting a cooking fire in the worst months because there is no food to prepare — is not unique to the beleaguered American or European middle class.

The Mexican freelance photographer with us told me he’s waited up to five months to see his invoices processed. That, too, was familiar.

I spoke for an hour, in Spanish, to a woman whose 25 year old sister stopped speaking for 18 months. She sold two cows and went to a curandero, a traditional healer, whose ministrations didn’t help. Then they went to a psychologist in Bilwi, then to a psychiatrist in Managua; health care is free, but the cost of distant travel hammered their ever-fragile finances.

“If you want to eat,” she finally said, “you have to work.”

Managing your emotions — and the roller-coaster of beauty/squalor — is…interesting. It was a week of truly dire poverty, with many people living on $1/day with six or eight children in a one-room wooden shack with a rusted, patched corrugated tin roof or walls; Haiti is the only nation in this part of the world poorer than Nicaragua.

You want to cry, but you don’t. It will all be there the next day as well and you’re there to observe and interview, not indulge your feelings and reactions.

Then you stare into the deepest, darkest silent sky-full of stars and want to weep at its beauty, lost once you return to the town filled with light and noise.

A shy, tiny girl hands you an orchid as you tramp through a field of pumpkins with her. Another little girl lets you comb her hair into a ponytail.

You crawl into a narrow, muddy, tippy dugout canoe and pray you don’t tip out into the river.

You sleep under a mosquito net and hope it works; malaria is no joke and the region you’re in is the country’s worst for it.

Fear, joy, awe, anxiety, exhaustion, guilt, inspiration, confusion.

Yes to all of these, and more.

Trust is key. Trust that the van will start. That the water won’t make you sick. That those weird itchy bites on your ankles are nothing, really. That the food is safe to eat. That the very small plane won’t crash.

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That your outraged bowels will calm down soon. That all those long, hot tiring days filling our hearts and heads and notebooks and cameras have gathered valuable useful insights.

That your team is as smart, funny and professional as they appeared to be. That you won’t want to tear each others’ throats out after a super-intense week. (We didn’t, nor did we want to.)

Have you been to a place that changed how you see your world?

Tell us….

Off to Nicaragua with WaterAid!

In culture, education, journalism, life, travel, women, work on March 16, 2014 at 2:44 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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The left shoulder got the polio shot, the right one got the hepatitis shot. I took my typhus vaccine orally, four pills over eight days, which made my head feel like a block of cement.

Next up, Malarone, for malaria.

malariapills

I leave today from my home in New York to fly to Atlanta, then on to Managua. Tomorrow morning, we fly in a plane so small we all have to get weighed, 90 minutes northeast to Puerto Cabezas, on the Caribbean coast, our headquarters for the week.

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From there, we’ll travel two hours inland to visit villages where WaterAid, a British-based charity, is helping to create better sanitation. The team includes Jennifer Barbour, a blogger from Maine, Rodrigo Cruz, a fellow freelancer, and photographer from Cuernavaca, Mexico, and two WaterAid staff; Alanna Imbach, who invited me, is listed here.

Jennifer’s post about the trip offers a lot of great detail about the country.

My role on this journey is to report and interview locals and in-country staff about their experiences with WaterAid, then write stories for the group that they can use in any way they find useful — sending them to the media or to potential donors.

Eighty per cent of the inhabitants of this region have no access to clean water or toilets.

I’ve never done anything like this, so I’m excited and honored to be given the opportunity and challenge of making a remote and unfamiliar place, and the work they’re doing there, into compelling narratives.

But the fundamentals of reporting remain constant:

listen, ask thoughtful questions, watch carefully, behave with cultural sensitivity in dress and demeanor, take photos for later reference, soak up the atmosphere so a reader thousands of miles away feels like they’re sitting beside us…

The other remote places I’ve previously been? Rural Kenya, Tanzania and an Arctic village of 500 near the Arctic circle, Salluit, Quebec — all in my late 20s, a few decades ago.

Alanna has warned us that the poverty we’ll see is quite devastating, and will likely affect us emotionally.

I speak Spanish but we’ll mostly rely on interpreters into the local language, Miskitu.

I’ve never been to Nicaragua before but was lucky enough to know a guy in Colorado who writes its guidebooks and referred to me a young woman in-country who gave me ace advice.

This will be the 38th country I’ve been to (so far!)

It’s a working trip, with long days; our one free day is the last one, in Managua.

I’ll be blogging from there, with images, so I hope you enjoy the journey.

 

The movies I watch over and over and over — Jason Bourne — and why

In behavior, books, culture, life, men, movies, travel, work on March 4, 2014 at 12:02 am

By Caitlin Kelly

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A great post from Slate about why we love Jason Bourne:

Why do we love Jason Bourne? Why does this brooding nobody command our immediate allegiance? Because his mission is not to take down a cartel, destroy an undersea fear factory, or cripple a billion-dollar interstellar weapons system. It’s not even to save a beautiful woman. His mission is the essential human mission—to find out who the hell he is.

Plucked nameless from the Mediterranean, a floating corpse, by the crew of an Italian fishing boat (water: mother-element in the Bourne movies); rebirthed on the wet deck, his twitching hand eliciting gasps of atavistic wonder; tended to—healed—with gruff inexhaustible charity by the ship’s doctor (“I’m a friend!” insists this heroic man, as a panicked Bourne rears up and starts choking him. “I am your friend!”); recuperating on board, at sea, strengthening, doing chin-ups, tying fancy seaman’s knots and asking himself who he is in French and German—indications of hidden skill sets, strange aptitudes and attainments …

Here’s the Wkipedia entry explaining Bourne and his backstory.

I’ve watched these films so many times now, I know scenes, dialogue and the theme song off by heart.

Why, exactly, are the adventures of a desperate black ops asset of such compelling interest?

I can shoot a Glock 9mm quite nicely, thanks to my weapons training while researching my first book, about American women and guns. But I’ve never been chased across the rooftops of Tangier or had to throttle someone on a kitchen floor or evade very determined and well-paid bad guys across multiple continents…

I have stayed in some really cheap and seedy hotel rooms, in Granada and Copenhagen, as Bourne often does.

I have had to fling myself into stranger’s lives for succor, as I did when rescued by Gudrun in Barcelona, dizzy and sweat-drenched when I arrived at her home after a train ride from Venice.

I have been alone, ill and afraid in foreign countries — Turkey, Portugal, Italy, Denmark — where only my wits, cash and passport kept me safe and sound. That theme, repeated in every Bourne movie, also resonates deeply for me.

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As Bourne does, I’ve also had some spontaneous romantic encounters in far-flung spots — Carlo in Sicily, Zoran in Paris, Pierre in Montreal; you’re never more open to such possibilities as when you’re single, traveling solo far from home and with no ties restraining you.

But you never see Jason Bourne having the sort of normal life most of us lead most of the time: waiting at the carousel for his luggage, (he never seems to carry any!); ordering another mimosa at brunch, (Bourne definitely doesn’t do brunch) or even waiting, really, for anything — beyond the arrival of the latest asset with orders to terminate him.

His life is one of urgency, forever using his lethal skills to save himself and whichever woman he’s with. He bristles with competence, switching passports and languages, finding whatever he needs as he rustles, injured and bleeding, through a Russian medicine cabinet or distract the Moroccan cops chasing him by tossing a can of hairspray into a brazier so it explodes.

“Real” life doesn’t exist for him.

I suspect all of us are, in some measure, running fast and away from something: a fear, a hope, an unrealized goal, an unrequited love, or racing toward a future we can’t quite see, but which we hope lies on the other side of a border we haven’t yet reached — whether the Greek island where Bourne re-finds his love, Marie  — or something closer to home.

Here’s a terrific movie-focused blog, organized by decade. This blog, Cinema Style, explores how films reflect, or lead, design and fashion.

I admit — I watched the Oscars last night, all the way to the end. I cheered for Cate Blanchett winning Best Actress, for her searing role in Blue Jasmine, a part that required her to be sweaty, disheveled and frenzied, on the verge of madness.

Is there a film hero or heroine with whom you somehow identify?

Prisoners and pelicans and bears — oh, my!

In culture, life, nature, photography, travel, US on March 2, 2014 at 12:09 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Many people will never visit the bit of Florida where we just spent a brief five-day vacation. Its white sand beaches have the consistency of fresh brown sugar, but it doesn’t have, blessedly, rows of condo towers or huge hotels.

Tucked between Panama City to the west and Tallahassee to the east, closer to Alabama than the rest of the state, it’s called the Forgotten Coast.

photo: Caitlin Kelly

photo: Caitlin Kelly

Jose and I had each been to Florida several times, for work and pleasure. I’d visited Key West, Miami, Orlando, Tampa and St. Petersburg. But we’d never been here.

My father and his partner rented a house — like most on St. George Island, set high atop stilts — and invited us; we flew on points, rented a car and drove the 90 minutes west from Tallahassee, sharing our small aircraft with South Florida University’s women’s tennis team.

The very day we arrived, carrying our usual pile of weekend newspapers, The Wall Street Journal ran a cover story on Old Florida, naming only a few historic towns, one of them the one we were heading to, Apalachicola.

The town is tiny, barely 2,000 people, but cars lining the main street bore license plates from Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, others, like us, desperate to flee winter for a while.

There are many small, one-storey houses and several enormous, beautifully-renovated ones, Victorian-style, with large windows and gingerbread trim, painted soft yellow or pale green, and clearly the second (or first) home of wealthy outsiders.

There’s a small, narrow bookshop, in a building from 1900 and a place selling home-made Turkish delight. You can buy a natural sponge or a jar of Tupelo honey, all very exotic to a Yankee.

It’s home to fisherman, whose daily catch of fish, scallops, oysters and shrimp made for a delicious, healthy change from the frozen lumps imported from Thailand that pass as “shrimp” where we live.

Can you imagine this many oysters?!

Can you imagine this many oysters?!

To reach the town, we passed Carabelle, Sopchoppy and Panacea, then saw Lake Morality Rd. — leading to a state prison. We also saw multiple road signs warning us of bears, then bears with cubs.

photo

In Florida?!

We also saw a neon-pink sign: State Prisoners Ahead.

Here are some of my images:

The biggest lichen I've ever seen: sponge-soft and hand-sized

The biggest lichen I’ve ever seen: sponge-soft and hand-sized

This lovely faded green seemed to appear everywhere; this is the door of an ancient barber shop in town

This lovely faded green seemed to appear everywhere; this is the door of an ancient barber shop in town

lizard

shadow

heron

shells

I loved driving across the causeway and having a pelican whiz past me, at eye-level, heading the opposite direction. The island is surrounded by marshland, filled with wildlife and birds: osprey, heron, pelican, bald eagles.

As we drove back to the airport, every pelican sat atop its own wooden pole at the water’s edge, and sunlight backlit the Spanish moss, draping from every tree.

Closer to Alabama than the rest of Florida, this region is definitely the South — with White Lily flour and pralines at the local grocery chain, named Piggly Wiggly, grits and biscuits for breakfast and hush puppies at dinner.

I stopped to photograph one of the town’s major industries — oysters — warned to stay far away from the loading dock by one of the workers. I felt like Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s film The Birds, as seagulls swooped past my head, diving into the growing mountain of discarded oyster shells dropping from the factory’s conveyor belt.

gull and oyster machine

We had poor weather — so cold one night we layered on multiple blankets — but it was still a brief relief to shed our hats, mitts, boots and coats for even five days, heading back to more bloody frigid winter for at least another month.

It’s too easy to forget how many other worlds are out there for the discovering. At the table behind us one night, a huge, burly fisherman, hands the size of plates, gently cradled his tiny baby, gurgling in her pink onesie. You don’t see that where I live, in manicured, overpriced, suburban New York.

Sunset, our last night. photo: Jose R. Lopez.

Sunset, our last night. photo: Jose R. Lopez.

How was your last vacation?

Or do you have one coming up?

20 lessons New Yorkers learn

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, US on January 27, 2014 at 12:06 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Have you visited or lived in New York City?

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It’s a great place, but — oy!

The city resembles a small child, at best bursting with charm, all winning smiles and irresistible, 24/7 energy. At worst? Projectile vomit, much throwing of small, sharp objects and/or prolonged shrieking at high volume.

You never know which city you’ll get.

After 25+ years of living and working around New York City, here’s a random list of 20 things I’ve learned:

— After an exhausting day at a conference or trade show at the Javits Center, a hulking structure on the western edge of town, your poor feet are raw, since there’s almost nowhere there to sit down. Food is crazy expensive and not very good. When it’s time to go home, you head for the taxi rank, naively expecting, (hello, it’s a taxi rank), to find…you know, taxis! Lined up, lots of them, eager for business. Wrong! You will give up and trek long blocks in the pouring rain in search of one, praying you don’t miss your flight home.

— If you actually need a NYC taxi between 4 and 5:00 pm. — also known in most cities as rush hour — fuhgeddaboudit. There are 20 percent fewer cabs on the street then, as that’s the drivers’ shift change. But, if you beg, really nicely, sometimes a driver will in fact take you. Will you get a safe and experienced taxi driver? I once got into a cab, barked “Laguardia” and got a quizzical glance. (It’s one of NYC’s two major airports.) I directed him to the right tollbooth where the collector said “Take the BQE”, (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a major artery). That didn’t register either.

– NYC — huh? — has shockingly lousy radio. We have WNYC, and the fab Brian Lehrer, (talk, call-in, 10-12 each weekday morning),  and Leonard Lopate, (talk, culture, noon to 2pm, weekdays), and Jonathan Schwartz (American songbook, Saturdays and Sundays.). We have WFUV and WKCR, Columbia University’s station,  (love their eclectic schedule — from troubadours to 60s reggae and ska),  and WQXR. Then…WBGO, a jazz station from Newark, NJ.

– Be very, very careful if you choose to cycle or even cross the street here; a shocking number of people, including children, are killed here every year by careless drivers. Don’t be stupid and focus on your device while trying to navigate the crosswalk, if there even is a crosswalk — that text you’re reading or sending could well be your last.

Here’s a heartbreaking story about a family whose 12-year-old son died this wayAnd a bicycle deliveryman. Four people were recently killed by vehicles in just one weekend.

— Getting a traffic or parking ticket of any kind in New York City is really expensive; I recently got my first-ever ticket, for going through a stop sign — $138. (If I’d run a red light in Manhattan, it would have been $270.)

— But the cop who slapped me with my $138 fine also confided, since it was my first offense, how to get out of paying it. (I paid anyway.)

— If you see a taut line of fishing wire atop lamp posts along certain streets, an eruv, it was placed there, at a cost of $100,000 by several Jewish congregations, for religious reasons.

— To enjoy the terrific skating rink erected for a few winter months in Bryant Park without being knocked down by people who can’t skate, get there as soon as it opens for the day. It has great music and an easy-to-reach midtown location. It’s also gorgeous at dusk as the city lights up all around it. I like it much better than the costly, tiny rink at Rockefeller Center or crowded Wollman Rink in Central Park.

— Tourists. Gah! We hate freaking tourists, especially when they walk three or four abreast, slowly, entirely blocking the sidewalk for the rest of us. It’s totally awesome you have all bloody day to stroll, chat and stare. We don’t. Speedupalready!

– Yes, we can tell just by looking that you’re tourists. It’s not just your maps and foreign-language guidebooks. It’s your hair color/cut, choice of pastel clothing and/or white sneakers and/or lots of purple and pink and/or the volume of your conversations. Also, that glazed look.

– Please, do not whine about what things cost here. Yes, the prices are insane — $50 to park for four hours in a garage or $20 for a midtown cocktail, $8 to cross the George Washington Bridge, $10 for dessert or $15 for an appetizer. We know how expensive it is. We also pay a shitload of taxes to a state and city government forever sending its elected officials to court or prison for fraud, sexual harassment or corruption. I once simply drove my mother to the airport — $13 for tolls and 20 minutes parking. Puhleeze.

– The suggested donation at the Metropolitan Museum really is only a suggestion, no matter how intimidating its full fare of $25. If you can muster the chutzpah, offer 25 cents or a dollar.

– Even the most mundane blocks offer fascinating bits of history. This midtown firehouse, on its upper stories, has deeply incised salamanders — which have a deep and historic link to fire. Isn’t it glorious?

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– The city has a few early cemeteries where you’d least expect to find them, like these three ancient Jewish graveyards, all within walking distance of downtown shops, homes and modern day offices. Bronx students recently found a possible slave burial ground.

– Two places you can always find a bit of peace? The many pocket parks and plazas dotting the city and the pews of any church.

– You’ll see an entirely new city with each season, and softer or sharper, less or more angled sunlight it brings. I was walking south on Park Avenue the other day — at 2:30 on a sunny January afternoon — and passed a 1960s building I’ve seen hundreds of times. But I saw it wholly anew, as the light’s angle created pockets of shadow clearly intended by the architect, in metal indentations below each window. It was lovely.

Do you know about Manhattanhenge? Very cool!

– Museums charge a fortune, like $14 or $18 admission, but they all have a night of free admission.

– Here’s a terrific daily update of free/cheap/fun stuff to do in the city, The Skint, created by my friend Elizabeth who, natch, is also the lead singer in this amazing band playing 1920s tunes, The Hot Sardines, who often play at the Standard Hotel and Joe’s Pub.

You can even, for a week in late January every year, watch world-class champions playing squash in a glass-walled court inside Grand Central Station. Crazy!

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– There  is beauty in almost every single block, if you look carefully. It might be a hanging lamp, a brass marker inlaid in the concrete, a gargoyle, a church spire, leaded windows, exquisite ironwork, a tiny snowman with pretzel hair. Despite its insane rushrushrush, New York City is actually a place that rewards a slower pace, (off the busiest streets!)

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– New Yorkers may look mean, tough, unfriendly. We’re really not. We are usually in a hurry, (knowing the taxi, if we can even find one, will take forever to get there or the subway will break down). We’re probably rushing somewhere to get more something: money, opportunities, friends, whatever. But so many of us have come here from somewhere else that we get what it feels like to be scared, overwhelmed, lonely — and thrilled to finally master this place, even for a while.

Or…am I completely meshugannah?

Feel free to argue loudly. Hey, it’s what we do!

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