On ‘Shrill’, by Lindy West

Shrill: Notes from a Loud WomanShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Witty. Brutally honest. Raw. Genuine. Empowering. Righteous. And unapologetic.

I love this book. So, so much. And I love that I feel more empowered reading it.

Thank you, Lindy. You rock, girlfriend! I have no idea what you look like, but you embody beauty beyond measure.

View all my reviews

2018

I will not miss this year. At. All.

It’s proved challenging. It’s tested my limits. And, it’s frayed my nerves. It’s brought successes and bitter disappointments, sometimes simultaneously. It’s brought the pain of loss and grief. And it’s been emotionally and physically exhausting.

But, this year also brought love. Kindness. Patience. Support. And laughter, so much laughter, at times through tears.

This year, 2018, is once again not defined by things, but by the people in my life. I am enormously grateful, humbled and honoured to have so, so many amazing people in my life.

Naturally, there is that one person who stands out, namely, that constant known to me as ‘Sweetie’ or “Twewtie’, and to many as The Cuban. As we move into our 14th (holy shit, time flies!) year together, I am still amazed by how much more meaningful each day is through the simple act of sharing time and space with this most incredible human. As much as I love many of you, I am not afraid nor ashamed to say there is no one on this planet I’d rather spend time with.

But so many others in our life, those both near and far, those at once virtually and physically near and dear, have provided both strength and hope, kindness and solidarity, silliness and seriousness when we most needed and least expected it. And we are grateful beyond measure. You’ve cheered our successes, shared our outrage at injustices and aimed to make this world just a little bit better, and we love you for it.

As the clock ticks towards another day and another year, we thank you for sharing your lives with us in 2018. And we wish you boundless happiness and joy, love and laughter, and endless hope and prosperity in whatever way you measure it in the coming year. May 2019 exceed your expectations and dreams. And may we cross one another’s paths as often as possible in the near future.

Happy New Year!

Vintage 8 in Torremolinos, Spain

Spain is lovely, with plentiful sunshine even on the rare ‘cloudy’ day. Clouds in Helsinki provide an alternate reality and entirely different notion of just what a cloudy day looks like I suppose. But, one thing we didn’t really think much about when we booked this holiday was food or the cuisine. One comment I heard several times before leaving was that Spain is not kind to vegetarians, and finding anything beyond chorizo, serrano and manchego would be a challenge.

Challenge accepted.

[As an aside, but related to this tale of gastronomic bliss, sometime in September this year during a sleepless night, I made the mistake of watching a documentary The Cuban found, entitled Dominion. I haven’t been able to eat meat since and my diet now borders on veganism. I’ll spare you the details of the documentary. But unless I know definitively that the pig, chicken, cow or fish I’m about to ingest enjoyed a happy life and was slaughtered in a way which wasn’t delightfully and gleefully cruel, I ain’t touching it.]

Anyway…thus far and two weeks into our sorjourn to the sun, we’ve been rather underwhelmed by the food. Aside from a lovely Italian bistro down the block from our home away from home, the food we’ve had can be best described as ‘meh’.

All that changed yesterday. And, we have Vintage 8 to thank for the dining delights, an experience we plan to repeat several times before we depart back to the land of darkness.

We found Vintage 8 after searching for solid restaurants in the area, thinking it’d be a nice place to meet up with old friends. Since its situated at the end of the route for our daily evening strolls here on holiday, we decided we’d try it yesterday rather than hit up our favourite Irish pub for a pint of Guinness before dinner. Typing out that comparison seems like such an insult both to the restaurant and the chef, because the only thing the two options have in common is that they lie rather closely to one another by happenstance. But, that’s part of Vintage 8’s charm. It sits on a block of utterly incongruent choices — Burger King and a Chinese-Thai place both provide alternative options to this gastronomic gem. But, the reviews. Just about every review of Vintage 8 sang its praises. And, a few of those reviews came from vegetarians, which intrigued me.

We arrived early by Spanish dinner-time standards (probably around 18.45). And, we were the only folks there other than the chef, who performed dual functions until later in the meal, taking care of our every need as well as cooking up some insanely delicious treats.

The menu itself is a delight, with whimsicial, playful names featuring giants like John Lennon, Ella Fitzgerald and Paul McCartney in various dish descriptions, along with flavours I’d never imagined but wanted to try. Nothing looked uninteresting.

I opted for the tasting menu, which the chef was incredibly and kindly willing to adapt to my annoyingly vegetarian food habits at the moment. The Cuban, rather bravely, also decided on the tasting menu (his first ever!), opting to try both fish dishes rather than the lamb or chicken which typically closes out the four-course meal. Here’s the truly crazy part to both of us: the four courses we each were about to savour cost an astoundingly cheap €19.90 each, and included a beverage (red wine for me and water for The Cuban). This culinary adventure also included a starter and dessert, both of which were just as delicious on their own as they were a part of this culinary journey of Morrocan and Mediterranean fusion food. Oh, yes, we will be back, my new best friend.

So, here’s what we had. [I’m rather sad that the pictures here do very little justice to the food, and don’t include each course. Our next visit, I’ll have my proper camera so that I can capture these insanely lovely tasting and beautifully plated dishes. I’ve included some photos, however, just to give you, dear reader, a bit of salivatory satisfaction for now.):

  • Mushroom croquette: I gladly could have eaten a mound of these, but I love mushrooms and all things fried. The Cuban, who is not exactly enamoured by fungal foods of any sorts, loved them as well. And, the beginnings of a happy food face first emerged across the table from me.
  • Vintage 8 Egg: This won the ‘best tapa’ award and it’s clear why. This seems like an egg, but borrowing from The Cuban, it is ‘the best egg I’ve had. In. My. Life.’ Served with deep-fried onions and fresh bread rolls which you dip into this most divine egg. So, so much more than ‘just an egg’.
  • John Lennon’s Pacificism: Goat’s cheese with a tomato and aubergine compote and fresh greens.  A couple sat near us just before we left and were underwhelmed by the goat cheese course. I hope that they ate those words when it arrived. I love cheese of all sorts, which is perhaps my number one reason for not going full-on vegan. This dish blew me away completely; not because of the cheese, but because of everything else happening within the dish. There is this slight crunchiness to the dish that I couldn’t work out, but which delighted my taste buds further. The chef shared his secret with me; and I shall carry that secret to my grave. Suffice it to say the flavours work perfectly. Note that the picture looks like a mound of salad greens. Clever.

[At this point, our dishes diverged, whereby I had two non-menu item courses made ‘just for [me]’, and The Cuban had two fish courses. I must say, his looked incredible as well and judging by both the clean plates and his face, they rocked.

  • ‘Just a veggie burger’ mini-burger. If you know anything about my food preferences, you know I do not do onions. This burger had what I think were carmelised onions and I ate them all. I LOVED them. A little tiny mini-veggie burger entirely for me served with fresh crisps and a little green salad with hearts of palm. Yes, please. Oh, yes.
  • The Cuban had prawns wrapped in filo dough and fried with perhaps the best description of all time, aubergine and ‘black magic fuckery’ tomato  sauces. He was scraping his slate plate.
  • For my final course to this meal-I-never-wanted-to-end, I had a filo pastry base topped with Morrocan spiced vegetables and tgenerous slices of fresh cheese, which resembled an incredible combination of parmesan or manchego (perhaps an aged manchego?). Honestly, this was unreal.
  • The Cuban’s last course was salmon over potatoes, which sounds rather plan but was anything but. In TC’s words, ‘Wow. Just wow’.

As if this wasn’t enough, we still had dessert to conquer. A divine date and almond biscuit topped with a lime sorbet and covered in an avocado-mint sauce. (According to The Cuban, this dish beats my brownies, which, okay, stings but I admit defeat. Because chef is a bloody genius!)

This. Meal. Honestly. We were happily stuffed when we left, but not to the point of feeling sick. The Vintage 8 tasting menu is a steal, and provides so much seriously delicious food that we honestly can’t wait to return. And, when we return, I’m taking the proper camera. And, a healthy appetite. I intend to work my way through whatever chef puts in front of me.

Should you ever find yourself in Torremolinos, Spain, or anywhere near here, go to Vintage 8. You will not regret it.

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The After Flow

My (misspent) youth featured who knows how many concerts, shows, festivals and gigs, ranging in size from the small local pub with sometimes fewer than 10 to 20 of us devotees to general admission behemoths featuring tent cities and reincarnated walls of sound with 200 000-plus music-loving freaks all sharing a moment. Almost exactly 20 years ago, I attended my last large-scale festival in the United States, the Lemonwheel in upstate Maine quite literally on the Canadian border (featuring actual mounted Mounties!) for the most epic of Phish shows during four days of camping and two days of shows.

Today, festivals at least in Helsinki, appear much more grown-up in many ways. Or, perhaps it’s the attendee. That was my impression of the Flow Festival. Situated near an electrical power plant and the heart of Helsinki’s rather more colourful districts, this festival blew me away. With around 28 000 attendees each day, and featuring acts I’d not expect in Helsinki, surprises lurked around every corner of the venue. Ten stages, loads of amazing (mostly vegan and sustainable) food on offer, and plenty of port-a-loos, some which even flushed, this was fantastically fun. (My last festival could boast no such luxuries, and the port-a-loos were an unbelievably unpleasant experience by the second day of that misadventure! Trust me.)

I confess: most of the acts at Flow aside from Patti Smith (who rocked the house contrary to the review the Helsinki Sanomat), Lauryn Hill (who slightly disappointed me only because she played short, the song was off and she did not reprise any classics from The Fugees) and Kendrick Lamar (who connected and amazed me, even if I did fear the bruising from the hyped up audience at moments)  were utterly unknown to me before this weekend. Some I’d probably heard on one All Songs Considered or another. However, I’d never heard of most of them, particularly the Finnish acts. But, what a treat they all were.

Sunday began under dark, ominous clouds and threats of rain. But, as our crew entered the venue, the skies appeared a bit clearer and the air was filled with anticipation and excitement and joy. Overwhelming joy just being at Flow. This was a common theme across the three days. Everything up to that point had been oodles of fun. Why shouldn’t Sunday be any different?

Finding a man in a jacket with my husband’s name on it was one thing; my husband he most certainly was not. The first song I made it to by a Finnish band, Pyhimys, featured a kitty cat. Purrfect. Lyrically I understood nothing, but I liked this act. A lot. Not understanding the lyrics represented another common theme to my weekend. But, that mattered not. The vibe was funky and sweet. So sweet in fact, a little girl appeared on stage and sang along with the band and the crowd. More of that, please.

Next up was a lot of random-stage hopping and a bit of food.  One take away from the previous two days was eat early if you plan to eat at all or don’t want to wait an incredibly long time for so-so food. The queues get long the later in the day you eat. Whilst the previous day featured Ethiopian food to die for, Sunday offered up another Helsinki favourite, Na’Am Kitchen. North African and Middle Eastern flavours combined creating some of the most tasty treats imaginable. Spicy red lentils and black-eyed peas never tasted so good. Unexpectedly, there was even salad — fresh, gloriously crunchy mixed greens! And, this was at a festival cooked out of a tent! If you happen to be in Helsinki, go to their brick and mortar location. You will not be disappointed.

Next top was Moodymann, a Detroit legend, provided some of the best dance music I heard all weekend. From New Order to more contemporary funk, he had us all grooving and feeling fine. I rather regretted dashing to get to the next stage. But, that is also the Flow experience. So much is happening simultaneously that you have to sacrifice the beginning or end of one show to catch the next. And, on it goes….

Enter Kendrick Lamar. Poet. Rapper. Historian. Urban fable-ist. Artist. Former thug-turned-performer. Pick your label and apply as you will. Kendrick was fun. I completely lost all of my peeps before he went on — the main stage area was jam packed like sardines by the time Kendrick’s performance began, which made it all the more interesting in many ways. I have no idea how long he performed — I don’t really care. It was fun, it was compelling and he had us all right there with him. The best bit of irony of the entire weekend also popped up at this point. Flow sent out messages to attendees via its mobile app and displayed huge screens asking the audience not to film or photograph Kendrick’s performance. (We appreciate your kind request and mostly rejected it.) Yet, somewhere in the middle of his set, the man himself asked us all to pull out our ‘lights’, which consisted of thousands of mobile-phone powered torches. Naturally, no one took a single photograph. Uh-huh. Well played, Kendrick. Well played.

The final act I caught was St. Vincent, and I honestly do not have the words to describe what I witnessed. Massive power guitar. Haunting lyrics and vocals. Surreal costumes and choreography. And, boundless beauty. Girlfriend is quite honestly gorgeous. I immensely enjoyed this act, but it was also time to go home.

Flow introduced me to an incredible amount of music, most of which I’m still listening to thanks to the Flow Playlist on Spotify. There’s so much I didn’t see. But, there’s more than enough for just about everyone.

My takeaways:

  • Use the earplugs. It’s Thursday after Flow and my ears are still ringing ever so slightly.
  • Pace yourself. Don’t fret about what you might miss; something else will intrigue and delight you just as much. And, you might be surprised by something utterly unexpected and/or unintended.
  • Pick your landmarks and make sure your crew knows them well. It’s damn near impossible at times to find folks.
  • Spend a bit of time people watching. This weekend gave me such a different perspective on Finns. And, I’m infinitely grateful for and endeared by it.
  • Removing that three-day wrist band is weird. I’d grown to rather love it.

So, when do we get to do it again? Here’s to Flow 2019. I don’t care who is playing; I’ll be back.

On Anthony Bourdain

Finding Anthony Bourdain was a complete accident. Flipping through channels in Moscow on a completely ordinary day, I stumbled across this weird dude on a military boat saying, ‘Not how we expected this show to end, huh?’.

Anthony Bourdain in Beirut, 2006 from Andrew MacGregor Marshall on Vimeo.

That dude was Tony and he was filming an episode of No Reservations in Beirut. The problem was all hell broke lose on his first day of filming and he, his crew and many others were trapped in a hotel until they could get out of the country safely. He, the star, seemed more concerned about his crew, the other hotel guests (particularly the kids) and the hotel staff, as well as all those beyond the hotel living in hell on earth. He cooked for his crew as stress relief, and mostly he showed such a rare degree of honest compassion for everyone else in that episode that he was just … some dude who happened to have this really cool gig, talking about food and eating it on camera. In a war zone.

I was hooked.

I watched him through the last episode of No Reservations. I mourned the closing of El Bulli with Tony.  I have watched almost all of Parts Unknown faithfully, although I am a bit behind.

I love his perspective on food, his commentaries on the cultures in which he finds himself and his interactions with the people he meets as he eats and pontificates across the globe. He makes the different seem not so bad. And, not quite so foreign.

When he traveled to Cuba in 2011, I was equally thrilled and horrified. My biggest fear was ‘which’ Cuba he would see; which Cuba would he show his legions of followers from the couch. But, before that show aired, he wrote the following:

It’s easy, I know, to over-romanticize the unspoiled. Especially when “unspoiled” means “poor”. But look. Look.

Whatever your politics, however you feel about Cuba–look at tonight’s show and admit, at least, that Havana is beautiful. It is the most beautiful city of Latin America or the Caribbean. Look at the Cuban people and admit that they are proud and big hearted and funny and kind–and strong as hell, having put up with every variety of bullshit over the years. On these things, I hope we can agree.

That episode made me weep for the country which has embraced me and which also breaks my heart just a little every time I think of her and her amazing people. He got it. And, better yet, he showed it to everyone else.

He showed so many parts of this crazy world to us all, and showed us the unpolished, unvarnished, unsanitised versions. Because that’s life. For all of us. Regardless of the perfect images we personally choose show to and share with the world.

‘Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.’
Anthony Bourdain (No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach

This past year, he’s also been a rather vocal ally to women, supporting #metoo, understanding the inherent irony of a chef from an incredibly chauvinistic and misogynistic profession giving voice to acts of misogyny and sexism. But, you know, having that ultimate dude as an advocate for women calling out powerful men meant something.

All of it did. It does.

Now, in a world in which we won’t have his wit, his curiosity, his insatiable appetite for all of the food, his uncanny skill with words and their descriptive beauty and power … I’m simply heartbroken.

Thank you, Tony. You gave us too much. And, forgive me, but I really, really, really want to punch you right now.

If you feel at all at the end of tether, before you do anything, please call / reach out to me. Reach out to someone. Anyone.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. Take a moment and know that you are loved.

Until then…

We are nearly off. And, I cannot tell you just how much we both desperately need a nice long, luxurious kip for about a week.

I’m not sure when I’ll post here again — it may be later this week or sometime next year. As we’ve prepared for our annual escape to the sun and the land in which we unplug and unwind, I’ve had a bit of time to also reflect upon this past year.

What. A. Year. I can’t say that I’ll really miss it.

Rather than look back, though, I’m looking forward. 2017 has proved more than a little challenging, and more than infuriatingly frustrating at times. But, it’s also been a whiplash-inducing mixed bag. My year has been stellar professionally (if not utterly exhausting) and personally rewarding. Yet, 2017 was horribly marred by politics and current events. Unfortunately, those politics inevitably bleed into my own life, partially given my political junkie tendencies, but also because of the reality in which I reside as an American expat (member of the diaspora?) married to a Cuban living in Europe.

I have no idea what 2018 will bring. But, I’m ready. All I really know is that I can continue to work on this corner — this tiny seemingly insignificant part of the world I inhabit. I can do my best to ensure that it is fair. That it is compassionate. That it is just. And, I can work towards increasing the ripples of that world ever-outward, hopefully extending that fairness, compassion and justice if not by my own deeds at least by my own example.

So, dear reader,until we, meet again in either a few days, weeks or two months’ time, here is my wish for you:

May your holiday season be filled with boundless joy and delight, and may the New Year bring you peace, prosperity and better days. 

 

2017-2018

‘Be silly. Be kind. Be honest.’

Yesterday. Yesterday was a week of bad days smushed into a mere 24 hours.

By the time I returned home, nothing mattered, other than crawling into my favourite pjs and crabbing a giant gin and tonic (although we were sadly out of gin). If I’d had the energy, I would have grabbed my colouring books and pencils, built a blanket fort and hid from the world until next week.

Call it the end of a long, long year, the need for our holiday to begin N O W, a case of being overly tired from lack of sleep or simply a bad day. Regardless, yesterday sucked.

Evidently, my husband thought it best to channel Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both men’s mottos are ‘Be silly. Be kind. Be honest.’

Knowing that yesterday wore me out—psychologically and physically—The Cuban aka my hero sent me the perfect email sometime after I drifted off to sleep. (Never mind the weirdness of a couple who work from rooms next to one another sending emails back and forth—we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) are forgetful at times and email occasionally works best.) This email was silly. It was kind. And, it was honest. And, it was precisely what I needed to put yesterday behind me.

As the holiday season descends upon us, it seems as though everyone is overtaxed and overly tense and perhaps more than a little sensitive. Words and facial expressions and simply sighs may be taken out of context and in ways not fully intended. Individuals may be stretched to their absolute limits to such an extent that a smile can ease their minds or bring them to tears. This all rings true for me at the moment.

So, let’s all channel Ralph Waldo Emerson with a slight update: Be silly. Above all be kind And, be honest (unless it contradicts the first two).

And, for everything else, here is a picture of The Cuban’s grandmother with a rooster. Just because.

lady1080