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Posts from the ‘The United States of America’ Category

“Où est la clé?” A Harlem Story

There was that time I was hopelessly lost in Bangkok. Or all of the times in Indonesia, so many in fact that I won’t even bother linking or compiling a list. Five years later I still remember the charming older French couple that went out of their way to drive me and a friend to the Matisse Museum in the south of France (really that guidebook map was not drawn to scale!). Travel always comes with challenges and I’ve been thankful for all of the random acts of kindness from strangers that have come my way. I never thought that on my stoop in Harlem I would have the chance to repay some of those acts. It was a warm Sunday afternoon in September. I was just settling into life in New York City — a life that is full of surprises and parades (many of the photos below are from the African American Day parade that happened in my neighborhood). As I walked up my block I saw an older couple with several suitcases standing on my stoop.

Lead It

I was confused. Maybe someone else in the building had grandparents visiting? As I walked up the steps and then punched in the building code, the man and woman said, “Bonjour.” I was taken aback and said, “Bonjour.” The couple both smiled and before I knew it I had answered that “oui” I speak French (a bit rusty, it’s been five years since I lived in Paris). Well, in a very French manner, the couple had made a vacation rental reservation in my building over half a year before and since they spoke no English (they were from a small coastal southern town), they never bothered to email and confirm before arriving. And now, there was no key for them.

Cheer

They handed me all of their paperwork and I became alarmed. The rental was my unit number. My mind started racing. Was this a scam? Had I been scammed with my lease? I had dealt with enough sleazy brokers during my apartment search that I wouldn’t put anything past them. On a side note, searching for an apartment in NYC is a horrid experience that I don’t wish on anyone. If a broker uses the phrase “just imagine it clean” do yourself a favor and turn around immediately. I saw one apartment in Harlem that had floor to ceiling junk. The prior resident had just been evicted and his/her food was still on the kitchen table. I have a vivid imagination, but there are limits.

Old School

I started calling all of the phone numbers on the reservation rental papers. But of course, it was a Sunday. Meanwhile my apartment-mate returned home and brought down some orange juice to the French couple, who then wanted to know “where she was really from” after I had told them America — ah yes, the not so casual French racism peaking through. We sat on my stoop together while I made phone calls and the woman showed me their French guidebook while her husband hand rolled cigarettes. Two hours later after numerous phone calls, I got to meet the Italian speaking owner of my building. She informed me they had cancelled all vacation rentals and converted the whole building into full-time rentals. Apparently emails written in English had been sent.

Panther

Shake

Luckily there was one empty unit in my building which she quickly made up for the couple while I tried to play with her hysterically crying son. I was exhausted after over two hours speaking non-stop, improperly conjugated French. The couple had another older French couple joining them that evening. The husband in that couple speaks Italian so they said they would sort everything out in Italian with my landlord the next day. And people say Americans don’t speak other languages!

Shake, Shake

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Land of Enchantment

It grabbed hold of me immediately. The colorful license plates read “Land of Enchantment” and, well, I found it enchanting.  A month ago, before I moved to New York City and began a life consisting of going to and from the library, I visited my good friend Chloe in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Chloe and I lived in Jakarta, Indonesia at the same time and she’d mention her hometown when we were both craving good Mexican food. I’d never been to the Southwestern part of the United States, so I took her up on an offer made on the other side of the world. It was the vast openness and the way the clouds hung low against the red and orange rock landscape that made me greatly regret that I’d only planned a three-day trip.

Morning Light

Albuquerque is known for its balloon fiesta, which is taking place in early October this year. The morning before I left, we took an early walk and watched the sunrise and a few balloons float over the landscape. Albuquerque has also gained some notoriety as the backdrop of the TV show “Breaking Bad” which airs its finale tonight.

Blue Balloon

Sunrise

From Albuquerque we drove to Bandelier National Monument. I’d seen photos of Bandelier growing up and I used to associate it with a place the ewoks from Star Wars would have lived.

Cave Dweller

You are allowed to climb up the ladders and into the cool hollowed out caves. Here’s a link to the history of the ancestral pueblo dwellers who started out as nomadic hunter-gatherers. Some of their painting is still visible:

Painted Walls

In the Scented Woods

We hiked around a bit and Chloe told me to smell the bark of the Ponderosa pine. It smelled like a mix of vanilla and maybe some cinnamon. I could have stood there for way too long just smelling the bark of the tree.

Smell the Tree

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The California Coast: From LA to SF

I have always said and will always say, that in the fine union of these United States, California is the best state. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t visited all 50 states and there’s a chance I’ll fall in love with another (I recently visited New Mexico and loved it — post coming soon), but California will always hold a dear spot in my heart. It’s one of the most unique places in the world because in a single day you could go skiing, go to the beach, go to a desert, and go pick some fresh fruit. In October, Victor and I took a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco — and since I am moving to New York in a matter of hours, I wanted to look back through these photos. October was a fantastic time of year for the drive — not much traffic, not too hot or too cold and the light, the sunlight was amazing late into the day. So we rolled down the windows, while “take a long drive with me, on the California One” played in the background. Our itinerary involved spending one night in Santa Barbara, waking up early the next day to visit the Hearst Castle, then driving to Carmel and spending the night and morning there and then taking our time getting to that city by the Bay.

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We started out in LA and paid a visit to Venice Beach, a tourist favorite. I’ve never been a big fan of Los Angeles, but for a weekend there are worst places you could be.

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One of the best parts of driving 8+ hours from southern California to northern California are all of the beaches. We pulled off at Leo Carrillo Beach and watched the surfers and explored the small tide-like pools.

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We pulled off at another beach just in the nick of time to catch a beautiful sunset:

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From East to West: Happy Holidays

Last Christmas I hiked a volcano in Indonesia. This year, I’ll be comfortably seated in California with family. In the past few weeks I’ve been on both ends of the US. In NYC, we did the traditional 5th Avenue Christmas stroll. There was a 1920s theme at a lot of the department stores, perhaps because The Great Gatsby movie comes out in the spring? (Click the individual image for a slideshow and enlargement). I must say, there really is something about New York during the holidays.

Rock Tree

Skating

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Jakarta Bound

“Tomkiw, Lydia. Occupation: Journalist. Jakarta, first assignment as foreign correspondent.” -Adapted from the film “The Year of Living Dangerously” (really, all I did was change the name)

Well, the above statement is almost entirely true. So here it is – I graduated from Wesleyan University. College is over! I’m having a really hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that come September I won’t be returning to Middletown, Connecticut. I love New England fall and I even begrudgingly grew to like winter. I got used to having four seasons. And, now I am moving to a place where there will certainly be no snow although there will be two seasons, one much wetter than the other.

Brief interlude on college before I explain next year: I loved college. I loved Wesleyan. I loved the classes I took; the professors I had were fantastic people passionate about their subject matter and just interesting people to talk with. The friends I made there – well, I can’t say enough about them. If anything ever went wrong they were there and when everything was going right, they were there too. I probably owe them all several rounds of drinks, but that will have to wait for a year. I am so incredibly grateful to my parents who twenty-some years ago thought I’d want to college and made that possible. All in all, college was a good time and hey, maybe if I ever make any money (ha) I might donate (ha).

So, now what? Well, I am glad you asked. In a few days I will be moving halfway around the world. I got a Princeton in Asia Journalism Fellowship so I will be living and working in the capital of Indonesia, Jakarta at The Jakarta Globe newspaper. Asia, you say? Yes, this student who studied Europe, speaks French and Ukrainian is moving to Asia. Why? Because why not? I get to write and travel and that’s exactly what I wanted for a year or maybe two after graduation.

So, what have I done to prepare? Well, I typed in “Jakarta” into my local library’s website and then ordered what came up. I watched Anthony Bourdain’s Indonesia episode and am now very intrigued to try a durian fruit (he described the inside as “custard”). Bourdain fell in love with Indonesia and since he is such a cynical character I think this bodes well for me. I watched the Mel Gibson (before he was crazy, and when he was young and really, very good-looking) movie “The Year of Living Dangerously” which is adopted from the novel by Christopher Koch which is all about a foreign journalist in Jakarta in the mid-1960s when President Sukarno is about to fall. I am going to start a novel by Indonesian author Pramoedya Anaata Toer, who I gather is, one, if not the main, big name in Indonesian literature. I have been listening to podcasts to learn some bahasa Indonesian.  And I bought a modern history of Indonesia book and a phrasebook. Victor bought me a very useful book “Culture Shock: Jakarta” by some Brit ex-pats who have assured me that I will hate Jakarta and then love it immensely. It is a hilarious and helpful book, so I will have to quote it later. I owe many thanks to several Wesleyan students who are all from Indonesia and took the time to talk with me about their hometowns and their country and put up with some very silly questions that I asked: Erwin, Jourdan, Mita, Lana, and Elena – terima kasih (God, I hope I got that right. It’s supposed to mean thank you). They explained to me that Jakarta (a mega city of 9 million plus) is the NY, DC, and LA of Indonesia.


Everything is about to change. I’m getting nervous, anxious, and excited. I’ve gone to my local taqueria three times in as many days to get my fill of Mexican food before I go. The plan for the next week is get to Jakarta and then from there go to the town of Yogyakarta where I will take a week long language intensive. Yogyakarta is one of the most visisted areas in Indonesia. Close by are two incredible temples: Prambanan and Borobudur. I’m hoping to visit both as well as the bird market and palace in town. I plan to update this blog every few days, much like I did in Paris, with stories, photos, stories and photos about food, and my general impressions and maybe even some short creative non-fiction stories (that may be ambitious). There is a link on the side of this blog to “subscribe” that way each time I post something, you’ll get an email with the post instead of having to try to remember to visit the site. For now, I leave you with a classic that’s become a bit of a theme song now: