travel

Talking to strangers in Idaho

OK, everyone keeps asking me why I was in Idaho and Montana for the last 8 days. A section of the novel I’m writing takes place on a wildlife preserve in Northern Idaho. In the story, there’s a conflict between the local hunters and the conservationists, and since I’ve never been to Idaho and I’ve never spoken to someone who hunts, I thought it was about time to check both of those off my list.

I flew into Spokane, Washington, rented an amazing Subaru, and then drove 700 miles, stopping at every dinky diner, every remote visitor center, and every tiny museum. I even interviewed people as they scraped snow off their cars. What I lacked in a plan I made up for in chutzpah.

On the fist day of driving, I followed signs for The Museum of North Idaho. It was snowing hard (with already a foot of snow on the ground), and when I arrived at the museum it looked closed. Hilariously, there was a sign to pay at the “parking machine” which was a stack of envelopes for people to send a dollar to the city. The door of the museum was locked but a kind gentleman said I could come in just to get out of the cold. I started telling him about my book, and it turned out that he was the leading historian on Northern Idaho. He spoke with me for over 2 hours about Idaho and why the people don’t like government control, how hunting is a part of the culture, and what originally brought people to that region. It was fascinating. I’ve read a lot about Idaho, but his knowledge was so much more intense and nuanced. 

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Gil and his animals

A few days later I talked with Gil Mangels, owner of The Miracle of America Museum and Pioneer Village. He killed all the animals in the picture above and had a story about each one. Before coming on this trip I thought hunting was the dumb man’s sport. I had a picture in my mind of guys getting drunk on bud light and shooting whatever moved. Gil, and every hunter I spoke to, loves animals, loves being out in nature, and loves the fine craftsmanship and history of guns. He can tell you about every species of plant, the difference between a white tail deer and a mule deer, and the year and make of practically any rifle. His aim is a point of pride because he knows he will hurt the animal more if he’s not well-practiced. he eats all the animals he kills and even says a prayer for them after he brings them down. Gil and the other hunters I spoke to gave me such great insight for my story. 

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I never thought I’d get to hold a gun.

I realized half way through the trip that my main character was going to have to shoot a gun at some point in the story so I should know what it’s like. I found a gun and rifle club in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and introduced myself. I spoke with the NRA representative who couldn’t have been nicer. I was a little scared of talking to him because I don’t think people should own guns, but he believes as long as people want to own guns it’s his responsibility to teach them how to use them safely. He taught me how to shoot a 9mm hand gun and holy camoly that thing is scary. I could feel my arm shaking for a few minutes afterward. I cannot ever imagine pointing that thing at a person and I don’t know how anyone could carry it on their body, but to each their own. I’m glad I got to try it out, and meet so many people I normally would never come across.

 

My Journey Out West and Within

The beautiful mountains of Montana!

I’m getting ready to head over to Idaho and Montana to do some research for the novel I’m writing. I’m excited for the adventure, but most of all I’m proud to be taking my writing this seriously.

Last year I was hesitant about spending $300 on a writing course, now I’m spending twice that just on the rental car for this trip. Someone, and I can’t remember who, once said, “show me your calendar and your bank account and I’ll tell you what’s important to you.” I got to a point where I realized that I wanted to be a writing but I wasn’t backing up that claim with time or money. Not only is this trip going to help crystallize the details of my novel, it is a symbolic gesture of my commitment to the craft; a honeymoon for me and my writer-self.

I can’t wait to share more about it in upcoming posts. Wish me luck!

Jumping into an Open Mind

Reynolds Creek Experimental Watershed in the O...

Reynolds Creek southwest of Boise, Idaho.  (Wikipedia)

My reward for finishing the first draft of my novel is a trip to Idaho; however, I wasn’t that excited about going to Idaho. Correction: I’m really scared to go to Idaho. In my story, the main character visits a fictitious big cat (cougars, lynx and bobcats) sanctuary in northern Idaho in late January by herself. My idea was to recreate the trip. It was very easy to come up with excuses not to go:

  • I don’t know anyone in Idaho
  • Plane tickets are expensive
  • It’s still the first year of marriage, I can’t go on a trip by myself!
  • There’s no guarantee my book will get published so this is a lot of time and money to spend on a potential hobby

Last week I decided, what the heck, I’m going to buy those tickets. Here’s how I responded to those excuses:

  • People are friendly; I’ll just stop in different dinners along the way and introduce myself as a curious writer.
  • Yes, plane tickets are expensive (about $600 to Boise), but a ticket to Spokane, Washington, which is closer to my ideal location anyway, is only $250.
  • Ok, the marriage excuse is just ridiculous. I’m scraping the barrel of excuses here.
  • My writing will certainly remain a hobby if I don’t take it seriously. My book takes place in Idaho so how can I possibly not go to Idaho?!?

A funny thing happened as soon as I stopped making excuses, and bought the ticket: opportunities began to appear. My brother’s sister’s college friend said she’d host me in Missoula, Montana (only a 4 hour drive from Spokane). She also said I could visit her parents in Idaho. I found another person who works with wolves who said she’d meet with me.

By opening up my search to Washington and Montana I made this trip possible. My advice to anyone who’s making excuses: keep an open mind and leap whenever possible.

Mini Memoir Monday: The Worst Massage

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Whole Foods, Kathmandu style. The red thing is a pig being sold by the cross-section.

Kathmandu is one of the most overwhelming cities in the world. When my mom and I traveled there two years ago, we needed to take a nap every time we returned to our hotel. The dark alleyways are barely wide enough for the intense foot traffic, let alone the constant rush of beeping mopeds and the occasional car that would push through, making the pedestrians squeeze up against the sides of buildings to avoid losing a toe under the wheel.

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Would you walk next to this with 100 monkeys swinging from it???

A thousand sticks of incense burned all around us, blurring our vision and stinging our noses. Monkeys swung from the electrical cables over our heads. Store owners yelled at us to see their merchandise, grabbed at our arms, and whistled. I can’t tell you how many times random men would open their coats in front of my and I would wince, thinking they were flashing me, but really they were just showing off their wide array of stolen watches and tiger balm. Yes, tiger balm. I was getting offered tiger balm so often I began to think it must be code for something.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Nepal is one of the most beautiful, interesting countries in the world. I even wrote about it in my top most amazing countries series. Just make sure you pack a ton of Tylenol if you go there.

On our last day in Kathmandu I decided that I was too tense and wound up for the 20 hour plan ride home. I left my mom in the hotel and searched the streets for a place to get a massage.  I wanted to use up my last few rupees (about $30 worth). Ignoring all the tiger balm hawkers, I went into all the fancy hotel spas, but they quoted me prices that were way out of my budget. I walked deeper and deeper into Kathmandu, through alleyways where the buildings were so close together the sun never touched the ground even at high noon. Finally, I saw a sign that said, “Cheep Masaje.” Considering the typos, I figured it would be affordable.

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The river where most of the funerals take place.

I walked up two flights of stairs until I saw the sign again. I pushed the door open only to find a family eating dinner in their kitchen. I apologized profusely, and began to step out, but the mom grabbed my arm and pulled me in.

“Pretty lady, I give you massage,” she said, plopping me down into a plastic lawn chair. I could feel its legs buckle under my weight. “But first I give you paint.” She pulled a  ziplock bag of nail polish out of her pocket. She searched the bag and decided on an electric blue color. Before I could protest, she was already lacquering my nails. Her four daughters surrounded me, playing with my hair and touching my cheeks like I was something magical.

“Oh so pretty,” she said, blowing my nails dry. “How much you want for massage?”

I pulled out my remaining wad of rupees.

The woman looked at the money and nodded. “Take off clothes.” She yelled something to her daughters and they scurried out of the room. She pointed to a dirty cot in the corner of the kitchen. I cringed thinking about the possible source of all those stains, but at that point, the lady was already pulling my shirt over my head.

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Traffic on the main highway.

“OK, Ok, I can do this,” I said to her, grabbing my shirt back.

She raised an eyebrow and got up to turn off the light. She turned on the boombox that was on the kitchen counter, and new age music filled the room.  She step out and closed the door behind her.

I moved to the cot where their was a folded sheet and towel. I laid out the sheet, and then rested on top of it, covering myself with the towel. I closed my eyes, and tried to relax. The smell of cooking oil overwhelmed my senses.

A minute later I heard the woman enter the kitchen again. I took a deep breath, praying the massage would be better than the ambiance. She put her hands on my shoulders, and I was surprised by how small and delicate they were. Then she folded the towel down to my belly button. I thought this was strange but I had never had a Nepalese massage before so I figured it was normal. It took me a second to register the bizarre fact that she was pinching my nipples. I shot up.

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The impressive Buddhist monuments.

“Whoa, hold up,” I yelled. Opening my eyes for the first time, I saw that it was not the older lady, but one of her young daughters. She couldn’t have been older than 10. I held the towel to my mouth to keep from throwing up.

I scrambled to the floor, and got dressed as quickly as possible. The little girl just stood there whimpering. Her mom came in, turned on the harsh halogen lights and began yelling at her daughter. I grabbed my purse just as the mother came in barreling towards her daughter. I ran out of there as fast as I could.

Moral of the story: don’t be cheap when you’re getting a massage in another country.

 

Where the Sidewalk Ends (the final part)

We are now down to the last mile! If you haven’t read my earlier posts, I am recounting the walk my husband and I took a few weeks ago. From the northern tip of Manhattan to the southern tip, 13.5 miles, over 200 blocks, we really got to see the city I call home.

In the last post, we had just finished dinner in Little Italy. It took us a little while to find our bearings after dinner. Once you walk south of Houston St., the easy to navigate grid of Manhattan all but disappears and you’re left wondering the twisted, diagonal streets of downtown. If you’re interested in the urban planning of Manhattan, I recommend this interesting article. The grid of Manhattan was originally described as the “republican predilection for control and balance … [and] distrust of nature.”

After the hectic crowded streets of Little Italy and Chinatown, the city bursts into a collection of impressive, European-looking municipal buildings and lit-up sky scrapers. I always expect to see Batman flying around this area.

During the daytime, Wall Street is bustling with pedestrians and cars, but at night it is nearly empty. This is a really great place to visit (during the day) if you have kids. The South St. Seaport has fun museums and a boardwalk. You can take a boat ride around the city, or just walk the cobblestone streets.

No trip to the Wall Street area is complete with out a visit to the famous bull. It’s always fun to watch people pose in front of the bull and wait for them to come up with the brilliant idea of posing next to the giant bull testicles in the back of the sculpture. This happens almost every time. People are very predictable.

It’s also worth it to visit this area at night to see the construction lights of the new World Trade Center.

By this point in our walk, Broadway, the avenue we had been walking down for the entire day, disappeared and we were just hoping that we were still going in the right direction. I hate to admit how many times I’ve walked this area thinking I was going east when really I was going north. It’s super confusing, I tell you!

Finally finally finally, we reached the Staten Island ferry; the southern tip! We quickly posed for a picture and then ran in to use the bathroom and got some more water.

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We made it!

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The Statue of Liberty is hiding somewhere out in that darkness.

We were tired and exhausted at this point, but we couldn’t go all this way with out stopping by the water and enjoying a few moments of peace. It was now 10 pm, but the docks were busy with men who were fishing. They all seemed to know each other and looked at us like we were the odd ones. Perhaps we were the odd ones. After all, who walks the length of Manhattan in one day?

Would I do it again? Absolutely.  I had been to almost every neighborhood we walked through before but it was so nice to see how they all fit together in the massive quilt of diversity that is New York City. Nowhere else can you see so many different styles of architecture and so many different kinds of people. Nowhere else can you eat so many different kinds of food and hear so many different accents and languages. Walking down Manhattan felt like a tour of the world.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 5)

Sorry for the delay in this series – I was in L.A. and Santa Fe for the last few days. I’ll tell you all about that soon, but, first things first, I need to finish telling you all about our journey from the northern tip of Manhattan to the southern tip.  In the last post we were enjoying some tasty dogs in the flatiron district.

For the next ten blocks, we kind of stumbled around in a tired, over-stuffed stupor. At first I thought I was imagining all the bells and singing, and then I realized that we were in Union Sq. just in time for the Hare Krishna show. For my first few years in New York, Union Sq. was definitely my favorite part of the city. My sister went to NYU and her dorm was right around the corner. When I’d come to visit her, I’d tried to spend as much time in the square, watching all the skateboarding punks, the old men playing dominos, the street performers, and the people selling jewelry and apple pie. Even now, with a Whole Foods, DSW and three Starbucks, I still think it’s the perfect spot to spend the afternoon people-watching and getting a true sense of the diversity that makes NYC so unique.

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The Hare Krishnas in Union Sq.

Just when I thought I couldn’t walk any farther, we crossed the 200 block marker, and I felt a sudden rush of energy. “Let’s walk to New Jersey!” I joked.

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200 blocks!

A good representation of Little Italy

We made it to Little Italy just in time for dinner. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures because I was too focused on finding a restaurant and it was pretty dark, so this is someone else’s picture of the garlic scented streets.

Here’s my advice for eating in Little Italy: be careful of the specials. We chose a restaurant where the entrees were all between $15-$20. I ordered one of the pasta specials and as the waitress was leaving to put in our order she casually said, “oh yeah, because it’s a special it’s going to cost a few extra dollars. That’s ok, right?”

“Sure,” I said, and then fortunately added, “Wait, how much exactly?”

“$69.”

At which point I nearly choked on my water, and immediately ordered something else. Pasta needs to be covered in gold if I’m going to pay that much for it. That really rounded out my experience of feeling like a tourist.

Ok, we’re so close to the end – only a mile and half to go.

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Where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 4)

In the middle of our 8 hour walk of Manhattan (which you can read about from beginning here), we started to pass through the region that most non-New Yorkers think of as “New York.” Oh Times Square, I have such a love-hate relationship with you. While I can sing every line of Rent and Les Miserables, and I love knowing that so much culture and creativity is jam packed into about an acre of land, the never ending hoards of tourists who don’t know how to walk in a straight line brings out the most spiteful, bitter New Yorker in me. When I walk through Times Sq. I have Al Pacino’s voice repeating in my head, “hey, I’m walkin’ here!” And while I’m ranting, why does anyone go to the M&M store? Seriously? You can get M&Ms at any grocery store.

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Why do I always forget that Letterman is based in NY?

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how many t.v. shows are filmed in NYC. From Good Morning America to Saturday Night Live, from The Daily Show with John Stewart to The View,  you can see the live filming of almost any show here.

On this particular day there was a campaign to raise money for breast cancer research. What better way to raise money than sending out a bunch of naked models clad only in paint and feathers, asking for donations? I never saw the Elmos and Mickey Mouses so neglected.

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At this point we were super tired and hungry but I refused to eat in Times Sq.

We made it out of Times Sq. without tripping over any kids, or getting sold comedy tickets – phew. Next up, the Flatiron district. Mad Sq Eats, a collection of food booths that represent some of the tastiest restaurants and food trucks in the city, sets up across from Madison Sq. park during the spring and fall. There’s nothing like having a beer in the middle of busy intersection and watching the sun set on an icon of New York City architecture, the triangular Flatiron building. I got to try Asiadog for the first time, but if you ever get to this spot during the right time of the year, I recommend Roberta’s, or Red Hook Lobster. Warning: it’s super crowded and it sometimes takes 30-40 minutes to get your food.

OK, we’re getting so close to the end, but there’s still Union Sq., Little Italy, Chinatown, Wall St... on man, I’m getting tired just thinking of it. Stay tuned!

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Where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 3)

Three weekends ago, Mike and I had the brilliant idea of walking from the northern tip of Manhattan to the southern tip. In the last post, we had just finished walking 100 hundred blocks, or 4.5 miles. We could do this walk every weekend going down a different avenue (avenues run north and south, streets run east and west) and the experience would be totally different. On this particular walk we went down Broadway for the whole trip.

Walking down from 107th st to the 70s, we noticed all the bodegas. Until I met my husband, a Hoosier, I didn’t realize that bodega wasn’t a universal concept. Bodegas are just small grocery stores where you can get everything from plantains to sorbet. They’re on practically every corner of this city. I always love the fruit and flower stands in the front. It’s a nice pop of color on the otherwise gray sidewalks.

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A typical bodega

Finally, we reached the 70s. This is where some of my favorite architecture of NYC stands. When you visit this area, you really get a sense of the wealth and history of old Manhattan. I’ve never been to Paris, but this is what I imagine it to look like (especially The Astonia building).

Next up, we reached Lincoln Center. On this particular day, there was an arts and craft fair and a farmer’s market. We’ve been to Lincoln Center for lots of different shows, but it was nice to see it during the daytime.

As we approached Columbus Circle, we noticed the drastic change in the buildings. Chrome and glass started to appear. Everything got much higher and squarer. No more frilly French architectural details 😦

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The buildings are like the people – so many styles all crammed together.

Alrighty, we’re about to enter midtown. 8 miles down, 5 more to go. Stay tuned!

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Where the Sidewalk Ends (Part 2)

In my last post I wrote about the beginning of our walk from the northern tip of Manhattan to the most southern tip. Walking south of the George Washington bridge, we stumbled on some churches with unique architecture. At one point, we crossed a Jehovah’s Witness church that was just getting out, and we walked through a crowd of people who were more dressed up than I’ve ever seen in my life (lace gloves, hats, canes as accessories, parasols, you name it). We felt pretty shabby.

In another twenty blocks, we arrived on the hallow blocks of Columbia University. It’s very easy to think you haven’t aged at all since college until you surround yourself with college students. Mike and I felt ancient. It didn’t help that we were sore from walking for over an hour.

We almost reached the hundred block mark without realizing it, but we were distracted by a party for the Pope. One of the great things about NYC is that there is always a party go on.

100 blocks down, nearly 200 to go 🙂 In the next installment, I’ll show you some of my favorite buildings!

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