Archive for the 'Family' Category

Thai Beach Resort Pool Deck Flashback

I was sitting in a lounge chair of a cheesy beach resort, sipping a fruity drink with a twisty straw and a flower AND a friggin umbrella, resting my sun-scorched skin and listening to my ipod and generally doing everything one ought to do in a Thai beach town, when I looked across the pool deck and saw this father and daughter. Real pink, real British, having a conversation straight off the Friends and Family ESL book companion CD: “Have you got on your sun cream?” “Yes, I put it on this morning.” “You ought to reapply; ask mum for the bottle.”

And I kinda smiled to myself, staring out and thinking about nothing really, watching this dad rub sun block across his daughter’s shoulders and back, when I had a flash of, “Man, I remember that.” So I wrote this—which is far more introduction than one ought to ever give a poem, let alone one written on an iPhone.

Can you remember the feel
of your father’s hands?—
When you were young,
they’d close around yours,
their massiveness a cave
of callouses and rough patches
that turned dark
when you flew inside.

You could live there,
you’d thought,
blind against that rock
when you crossed the street,
when he’d reach behind the driver’s seat
of that tin-drum car
and click your seatbelt shut;
when he’d rub on the sun block,
all those hardened places
scratching against
your smooth
unblemished
in the summertime,
on the swim deck,
where you’d laid on your belly
with your friends and he’d said,
“These are the happiest days of your life,”

You’d felt something small
and crushing coming.

And it’s not so smooth now, is it?
It’s sun-spotted and speckled
with moles they want to scrap off
and biopsy;
it’s red and wrinkled
like deep drought ditches
in the morning,
in the mirror,
all of the mirrors of the world,
all the cheap hotel rooms
that have become your homeland
and you can’t believe it was ever smooth,
that you were ever young.

You can’t remember the last time
you held your father’s hand
and felt like you could get lost inside—
a bat flapping
its song against the rock.

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Travel Tip: Tattoo Party

Nothing so helps you remember a trip like a permanent souvenir etched into your flesh.

We largely have the British Navy to thanks for the tradition of travelers getting tattooed, little relics of ink and miles, swallows instead of passport stamps. Though in the present-day we may be tortured with Sailor Jerry paraphernalia and hepatitis-factory street shops in beach towns like Puerto Vallarta, the basic idea of getting a tattoo to commemorate one’s travels remains a solidly good one.

Even better is to have a DIY tattoo party with your travel companions. During my last trip in Hawaii, we did just that. It was a fabulous after-dinner family bonding experience.

Zaia gives me a neck tattoo.

Hella cupcake-core—what you got to say?

Alicia goes under the gun/wet washcloth.

Nothing says “I’ve learned about spirituality through my travels” like a yin-yang.

Ankle tattoos are sexy and subtle.

Tribute tattoos, especially to significant others, are always a strong move.

Get chicks with a mean rose-and-thorn arm band.

But of course, you’ll want to let all those young backpacker girls know that you’re not looking for anything serious…

The beauty of the neck tattoo is that, even with long sleeves on, you’ll look like have a shitton of tattoos. Everyone will know how cool you are, whether you’re on the beach or hiking in the Alps.

And contrary to popular perception, no one is too young to join in the tattoo craze:

Let those cute boys down the hall know just how ready to party you are with a traditional tramp stamp.

At the end of it all, you’ll end up looking both tough and well-traveled…

… and have the coolest souvenir of em all.

A Circle of Stones

“I believe that the land has memory—that the earth remembers the things it has seen.”

Lucille Clifton said that at a reading I went to as a teenager, in introduction to her poem “Auction Street,” about how it felt to stand at former slave auctioning blocks in Memphis. I hadn’t traveled yet, hadn’t experienced much outside of the Bay Area, but something in me knew she was right: that rocks and trees and dirt have memories, maybe even dreams—that they hold little pieces of their histories in them, stored emotions, tender and swollen as our own knotted muscles.

I kept thinking about that line, said in passing in some beaming wooden room years ago, on my last trip. Walking amid the wordless rocky ruins of an abandoned village with a heat in my chest and a trouble in my mind, nothing seemed truer. Because, after all, Hawaii is a tragic place.

I stayed along the Kona Coast, a barren, burned-out mound of volcanic rock where the resorts stand out like green sores: lush, overly landscaped swaths of palm and grass against the expansive silence of lunar black.

P. was supposed to be one of them. Not a resort, but a tract of vacation homes: 7 acres divided into 10 lots, like much else along the winding 3-mile road that led from the highway to the coast. The land had belonged to a Hawaiian family who, amid the 80s mad-dash of development, could no longer afford the property tax and was forced to sell the land to a shady enterprise. A wealthy philanthropist came into contact with the family, bought P. from the enterprise, and built a personal vacation home there. My brother married the daughter of a the philanthropist’s good friend—which is how I came to find myself vacationing in a private, ocean-side villa earlier this month.

Sure, there was a gym and a media room and a billiards room and WiFi and groundskeepers and a gated entrance. But it wasn’t like a private resort. Not really. Because something had been retained, kept, preserved—not bulldozed and landscaped over (just landscaped around). The place quivered with a peculiar spiritual energy that made me hippie-out on heavy vibage. (And feel like I was on Vicodin.)

P. had once been a small Hawaiian village, abandoned for unknown reasons around the time Westerns arrived. Through a kind of cheat-the-locals-out-of-their-land swindle, a family came into possession of the land in the 1930s when they swapped their more lucrative property on a lusher side of the island for the rocky tangle of coast. As they bush-whacked into the overgrowth, the family discovered the rock-mound remains of the old buildings, as well as a burial site for what was later determined by archeologists to be a chief. The family was old-school, and believed in respecting the ruins; they didn’t move a stone, but left it in homage to their ancestors.

When the philanthropist came into possession of P., he respected the original family’s wishes and built his home around the ruins. He hired the son of the family, T., to be the property manager, an effort to maintain the sacred integrity of the place and undo some of the bad mojo that had cheated the family from their land.

That was as much of the story I knew as I walked the property the first day. Barefoot, the thick grass felt like carpet, and the air was soft and heavy and feeling of paradise. The path of grass snaked between the ruins, dotted by dense tangles of native trees. Neon birds flitted past, and the weasels darted like small, hungry ghosts.

I approached a perfectly circular mound to the immediate right of the house. Shaded by trees and covered in the round shells of their nuts, it seemed like a particularly potent spot.

As I got closer, I felt a warmth in my chest, rising into the base of my throat—not entirely unlike how I remember that first sip of alcohol: the healing heat, how something from the outside got inside, and suddenly made me feel more whole, less empty and aching. It was a curious, jarring feeling, at once intensely comforting and, well, disturbing in its unapologetic power.

I steered clear of the spot for the next few days. Frankly, I was freaked out. There was plenty else to do: I floated around the pool in an inner tube, did yoga on the deck, lounged in a hammock and read my self-help book on love addicition and co-dependancy. I’d glance sideways at the mound, avoid it, like it were a person watching me with too-blue eyes: it had seen through me and sat waiting.

T. came over to attend to some maintenance issues one day, and we got to talking. He filled in more of the history of P.—how he’d spent his summers there as a kid, how his grandmother had always told him about the spiritual power of the place and how he’d always felt it, even during his wild party days. He talked about respecting the land, saying thanks and being in tune. He told a story about an owl that lived on the property, that may or may not have been the spirit of his deceased grandmother, that had once come out in the middle of the day to watch him repair some of the stones the archeologists had moved.

If it were a movie, T. would have been wearing a lion cloth and the lights would have dimmed when he spoke, the sound of far-off drumming accompanying his tales. As it was, he wore flip-flops and a t-shirt, wrap-around sunglasses and an American moustache.

“P. has always been a healing place,” he told me simply. “I’m just glad that G. bought it, and it was able to stay the place it had always been.” He looked around the stately furniture in the vaulted-ceilinged living room, the hint of a wistful smile in the lines around his eyes. It was a far cry from the rustic shacks of his childhood, but I knew what he meant: it turned out as best it could, for the situation.

“That mound over by the house,” I pointed. “What was that?”

“Heavy, huh?” T. smiled. “We don’t really know. The archeologists thought it might have been a women’s house. Either way, it’s got some of the most powerful energy here.”

Later, I went over to the mound. Thinking of what T. had said, I bowed my head a little and asked permission before I entered into the center. I sat down cross-legged and breathed.

I felt the heat come—not a burning, but a warmth. I tried not to fight it. (He left.) It reached down, to some very tiny place inside, a very old and glowing wound. (A black kitchen and a birthday cake.) I looked at the trees, imagined their roots reaching down, back, on in at something (purple sores, swallowed by black)—like the pulsing red roots of teeth, the throbbing behind the bones of things. (He was sick, I loved him, he left.) The wind was gentle but urgent, speaking in a language of leaves (if I could have loved them more), like a mournful ballad sung in a language you don’t understand. (And left me here: gone.) The stones scratched and the shells dug in.

I heard a hoot. My eyes shot open and my spine twitched.

I heard it again, a belly sound, a calling. I thought of T.’s story: his grandmother owl in the middle of the day, watching over him.

It could have been a dove, cooing at the wind. But in the center of that circle, the ancient black of rocks, it sounded like the voice of P., the voice of the past—whatever it was, still was, had been and was still being, despite the house and the sprinklers and walking of foreign feet: a place of healing. A place that could somehow get down, down into the tightly clutched hurt of things, and coo.

Does the earth remember what it was? Does it carry its past in special little pockets, like a wound we hardly remember, but keep reliving, searching to heal? Well, fucked if I know. All I know is that, with all its resorts and rental cars, Hawaii feels like a beautiful young girl who’s been forced to marry a man she doesn’t love—and P. feels like the place where she goes, not to weep, but to pretend, to dream, to whisper her fantasies to herself, in the voice of the wind.

A Woman in the Sun

I sat in the sun, butt naked and heat dazed, my starving skin soaking up all the UV it’d been hungry for since my trip to LA. The sulfur smell of the hot springs had stopped burning my nose, and I was in that drool state of relaxation where everything floats in and out of your consciousness like a dream. The bits of conversation from down the deck came to me in whiffs, like BBQ or the burning of some far-off fire.

“You know, Mark called me on Friday. And he started up again. And I said, you know, like we’d practiced, ‘I am not going to participate in this conversation with you.'”

The words roused me a little. Not so much really the words, but the careful way in which they were recited—deliberate, practiced, the memorization of an actor who knows the scene but hasn’t quite figured out their character’s motivation.

The patter of bare feet and a sleek ripple of water. “Oh, Myra, I didn’t tell you,” the voiced repeated. “I got to use that tool we talked about, when I told Mark: ‘I am not going to participate in this conversation with you.’ It felt so good!”

Wilbur Hot Springs is a retreat place, and that’s what I’d come for. That’s what we’d all come for, driven the two-line highway through pastoral postcards, past cheese-commercial cows, down a bumping dirt road where the dust plumed and twisted behind us like everything we’d meant to leave behind.

Wilbur is the kind of place that makes you lapse into cheesy cliches (partly because your brain is too full of steam to think straight). A Victorian mansion “nestled” into the “rolling” California hills, it’s an uber-NorCal experience, an “oasis.” Everything is solar-powered. The natural hot springs are directed into four flumes clustered around a clothing-optional deck. There’s a communal kitchen where guests cook their own meals, and instruments for evening jam sessions. Everyone talks in low, soothing voices, and the place smells like well-oiled wood. Sustainability and spiritualism; regrouping, reconnecting, getting off the grid and soaking in 114 degree water—you know, the kind of hippie shit a punk rock kid like me used to scoff at. Until I went up on a gift certificate a couple years ago with a similarly suspicious friend.

We’ve been jonesing to get back ever since.

Retreat is what these chatting women on the deck had also come for, and like retreat, they were something, a certain kind of woman, a younger incarnation of me would have scoffed at: middle-aged, middle-class, white, all-American. Bad hair and worry lines. I’ve grown less judgmental in my old age, and in my hot-spring-infused sedation, observed them detachedly, from an almost anthropological distance.

They’d come on day passes. They weren’t entirely comfortable, held their robes and towels around them self-consciously, seemed self-conscious about being self-conscious—they averted eyes, glanced this way and that before letting go and slipping naked into the steaming water.

I’d pieced together their conversations, about ex-husbands and astrology, how to figure your aura energy by the kinds of animals you attracted (“You got lizards and butterflies; I got bit by a tick!”). This day trip to Wilbur appeared to be the culmination of a healing workshop. The leader of the group was some kind of psychic—not a predictive one, she assured, but one that dealt more in energies, a kind of cosmic therapist. They weren’t super New-Agey about it, talked in a kind of down-to-earth tone that made them seem less like people on board some kind of bullshit train, and more like people genuinely seeking, genuinely lost and hurt and looking for something, some kind of solidity.

“I am not going to participate in this conversation with you.” The statement rang in my ears, plucking me out of my sun-drenched stupor. The speaker’s voice held in it all the excitement of a pupil who’d just felt a switch flip—who’d practiced the arithmetic but wasn’t sure the equation would work for them, with their own dull and trembling pencil. But it wasn’t a young voice and a glance at the body from which it issued revealed a gravity, breasts heavy and hips wide, a child-bearing body.

My God, I thought, to have lived that long and only now have learned to say that.

The woman’s comment, the thrill with which she yielded it, struck me as tragic, in a particularly female kind of way—that a woman could go that long in her life without having learned to say no before.

Boundaries. Standing up for yourself. Not taking shit. They’re vital things for us girls to learn. You flat out won’t make it in this world without them, I’ve come to believe, and I don’t just mean with manipulative ex-husbands. You’ve got to learn where the world stops and you begin, what is and is not okay with you, and how to be firm and true to that. Cause you’re not going to make it—ride the buses or walk the streets or, shit, travel the world—you’re not going to survive the barrage of shit hurled at you without learning the word “no.”

And there, on that sun deck, a wave of gratitude swept over me, like the spring breeze on my pink and steaming body, for my mother. My tough-as-nails, take-no-shit mother.

My mother, my model: pretty and blond and trained in karate. She worked in factories, held her own in the male-dominated world of politics, worked in West Oakland during the worst of the crack years, dared a scab to follow through with their threat to punch her on the picket line (they punked out). It stems from that: my childhood love of Tina Turner and my vow that if, when I was older, I ever went on a date with a guy who tried to make me do something I didn’t want to, I’d “kick him in the nuts with my high heels”; my busted-Converse affection for Riot Grrls, Le Tigre, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath. And it stretches before that: my grandmothers, no-nonsense Midwest girls who endured Depression poverty and marched in Civil Rights protests.

I come from a long line of tough ladies. I can’t ever forget I stand upon the ground they forged for me. It’s a generational adventure, this learning of how to be a woman in the world, and what my mother and grandmothers fought for is in me, my blood. So much so that it still surprises me, blinking-eyed shocks me, when other women ask me how I have the “bravery” to travel alone. It simply never occurred to me to not have the bravery.

In that sun-drenched moment, any residual judgment melted away, just like the knots in my lower back unclenched in the hot, healing water. It may have seemed tragically late to learn how to make boundaries, she may have had to take a healing workshop with a psychic, but this woman had learned. And she sat now, naked and free, gently turning pink in the sunlight of it.

Meet the Reason

… I won’t be traveling for a couple months. (Well, not the only reason, but the biggest, which is actually the smallest and the sweetest reason…)

Baby Naomi, my brand spankin new little niece, born on Tuesday, April 6th. I’ve got other nieces and nephews, step- and half-, but none whose birth I’ve been around for. None I’ve gotten to hold when they’re pink and trembling and less than 24 hours old, blinking in the strangeness of light and the world—everything blank, yet-to-come, a suggestion of stars and planetary alignment, the etchings in a palm that’s too small to read yet, to gently uncurl or do anything but hold.

The world can wait. An impulsive trip to the renaming ceremony of John Fante Square in LA can be ditched. My inbox can fill like rising water and my page view stats can sink. There comes a time to sit still, when even the itchiest feet need to stay rooted.

This is definitely something I wanna be around for.

Relatives and Revelations: What My Brother’s Wedding Taught Me about Travel

Photo booth fun

“What can I say? When you’re children get married, it’s one of the happiest days of your life.”

That was my dad, toasting at my brother’s wedding two weeks ago. Simple, but true: celebrating my brother’s marriage to a rad lady will definitely go down as one of my happiest days. Aside from the awesomeness of why we were all there, it was a gorgeous event at the Julia Morgan Ballroom in Downtown San Francisco, complete with caviar and a five-tier chocolate fondue fountain (that’s right, you heard me). I was surrounded with life-long friends and far-away family, flown in from the Midwest and East Coast.

Of course, as a travel person, my antennaes were perked by all the out-of-towners. Watching them all come in—arrive at the hotel, rent cars, hang wrapped dress clothes in closets—I realized I only travel a very specific way, and it’s lent a very limited perspective.

I’d argue that most Americans travel the way my family did two weeks ago: domestically, in hotels, either shelling out for a rental car or attempting to traverse poorly funded mass transit systems. It’s pretty far-off from the international ramblings I do on second-class buses and cheap pensions/hostels/couchsurfing. The weekend resulted a series of travel revelations—“light bulb moments,” as I’d once heard them described on Oprah.

Before the guests arrived

What shocked me most was the sheer expense of it all. Even at an off-season rate, further discounted for the wedding party, staying in Downtown San Francisco is not cheap. Renting a car is not cheap. Eating at the restaurants and cafes Downtown is also not cheap. No wonder people ask me “But how can you afford to travel so much?” I used to feel that travel within the US was kinda a rip-off. I don’t take it that far now, but I will say you get a lot more bang for your buck elsewhere. (That being said, I have done New York City on $40 a day, so maybe I’m just a cheapskate.)

The night of the wedding, my parents decided to not add battling the Bay Bridge to the day’s ledger, and booked a room, which I piggy-backed on. Which brings me to the next travel revelation I had: looking good on the road is a major hassle.

As far as hassles go, mine were pretty minimal: the morning of the wedding, I dropped my shoes, dress and fancy jacket off at my parents’ house in Oakland before taking BART out to the city to get my hair and make-up done. I toted with me my overnight bag, in which I carried more make-up and hair products, as well as jewelry, nail polish, etc. My parents brought my dress clothes; I met them at the hotel and changed. The next day they took my dress clothes back to the East Bay while I hung out with my cousins. Not bad at all, considering I didn’t even have to negotiate riding the train with a hanger of dress clothes.

Classy as shit

But considering the way I normally travel, this jaunt across the Bay was complicated exponentially by the need to wear something other than jeans and sneakers. When I travel, all bets are off: I bring my most utilitarian clothes, no makeup, a dabble of hair gel and loads of sunscreen. I look like a total ragamuffin—handy, since it tends to decrease the amount I’m hit on. Wanting to look not just presentable, but my drop-dead best, is tricky enough; doing it out of a bag was even harder. I garnered a new appreciation for business travelers, beauty pageant contestants and all other non-backpacker/dirtbags travelers.

Here’s another thing I learned: logistics are tough. Organizing big groups of people, getting them here and there when they don’t know where they are, is really hard. No wonder tour companies charter buses. And no wonder people trundle on them happily.

I’m the kind of traveler that loves transit. I grew up riding buses and trains, and I get a kick out of figuring out new metro systems: where train lines connect, what lines run where, the fastest and easiest way to get from Point A to Point B. There’s a skill to transit, and I’ve honed a kind of sixth sense for the rhythm and order of it. So when my dad started to fret over how we’d get everyone from the Downtown hotel to a Sunday night pizza dinner at my brother’s house on 27th and Dolores, I responded, “We’ll have them take the J-Church.” Easy, right?

Well, it was easier than shuttling loads of people back and forth in the couple of rental cars, but not as easy as you’d suspect. I played transit tour guide, leading everyone to the Montgomery Station, through the turnstiles, down to the platform, on to the train (luckily, we all got seats). I alerted everyone to our stop, got us all out of the back doors (although almost lost my grandfather in the process), and down the two blocks to my brother’s house.

There’s not a lot of hand-holding or coddling on MUNI, and I like it that way. MUNI’s not most intuitive system—you can only pay station turnstiles in coins, have to retain a transfer ticket, and all lines eventually come aboveground, where stops are unmarked. But it’s still cheaper and more comprehensive than BART, long-distance commuter trains that double as mass transit for the Greater Bay Area, with a pathetic number of inner-city stations and a whopping $7 round trip fare from my neighborhood in Oakland to Downtown SF. In my mind, this makes BART infinitely inferior to MUNI. Who needs plush seats and timetables anyway? I’ll take hard plastic and a vague urine smell over a $7 fare any day.

iPhones have no flash, but you can still kinda make out five tiers of fondue.

But riding the train with my relatives, I realized that transit can be damn stressful. If you’re not already in the groove of it, or don’t share my nerdy obsession with maps and routes, it’s really just a pain in the ass. The potential to get lost is huge: you could get on the wrong train, get off at the wrong stop, end up god-only-knows-where. It’s confusing, station agents are exasperated, locals impatient. My relatives that rented cars were hit with overnight parking fees and having to traverse a maze of one-way streets, but when they got lost, they were warm and dry, and could easily turn back around. I realized why, despite the costs, so many travelers opt to rent cars over riding transit. Guiding everyone through the process, I also realized why tour guides carry those little colored umbrellas.

In the end, everyone got to and fro and everywhere inbetween safely. We gussied up, boogied down and had a killer time. And that’s what weddings are all about, right?

Havana in Pictures

To end my series of Cuba posts, I’m bringing you photos from my brother’s trip to the forbidden island. Aside from being a far better photographer than me, my brother traveled with a Cuban-American friend and his family, so he had even cooler adventures (cooler than wrecking plumbing? I know, it’s hard for me to believe too). All photos are from Havana. Enjoy, and  thanks for all the comments and feedback throughout the series.


Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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