From Roots to Soup: A Night with Chef Moshe Basson

DSC_4259For those who know Moshe Basson, they’ve probably heard how his story begins. They might know, for instance, that the man now called “Israel’s Biblical Chef” arrived in Jerusalem as a nine-month-old Iraqi refugee and that his first memories of Israeli are of living huddled in a tiny aluminum shed with his family in the outskirts of Jerusalem. They might know that he planted a very sacred eucalyptus tree in his front yard when he was only six years old, and that, 25 years later, after growing up in his father’s bakery, his mother’s kitchen, and the fragrant Jerusalem hillsides, he would christen his first restaurant and call it Eucalyptus.

20151015_195410

These key facts about one of the most innovative, praised, and renowned chefs in Jerusalem are well-known and documented.

But what those who know Moshe Basson might not know is that he credits his unique cooking method, one grounded in ancient cooking techniques and centering dishes around what is known to some as simply “the accoutrements,” to the women in his young life—and, perhaps even more surprisingly—to a couple of humdrum weeds and roots.

Moshe Basson is not a shy man, either: ask him about his weed-foraging days in the glowing Jerusalem afternoons and he will regale you for hours (he did with us!). When he talks about the ingredients he’s rescued from nearly being forgotten, he seems to glow–it’s clearly his most favorite thing in the entire world.

His menu is full of wild-growing herbs, “sidewalk weeds,” and herbaceous plants and shrubs with names I’ve never heard of, like malva and purslane and hyssop.

Malva
Malva
Purslane
Purslane
hyssop
Hyssop

If you ask him, Basson will gladly pull up a chair at his elegant al fresco restaurant in the Artist’s Colony near Old Jerusalem—which, though it’s gone through many iterations and locations over the years, still faithfully sticks to the name Eucalyptus—and will tell you all about the Arabic, Iraqi, and Syrian women in his neighborhood who taught him about the beauty of the earth’s overlooked horticulture. As a little boy, he followed these women, fellow refugees from war-torn countries themselves, around the hillsides and abandoned gardens between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and he helped them forage, sort, and cook with the new foods of his new land.

Because his family was nearly penniless when they arrived in Israel, they experimented—a lot—with the foods they could find in the wild. In the kitchen, Basson watched his Iraqi mother play with foods completely out of her cultural repertoire, foods like the herbaceous plants he was bringing home and homemade olive oil, neither of which were popular at all in the Iraqi kitchen. His mother, he says, only knew of hyssop as being a medicine and preferred oils made from sesame seeds. While his dad faithfully whipped up the same menu of Middle Eastern pastries and cakes at the bakery each morning, every meal at home was an experiment.

20151015_233130

Though he is often called Israel’s Biblical Chef for his devotion to using local ingredients and excavating old cooking techniques and recipes, Basson will confess that it was never his intention to be connected with Biblical cooking. “So I was just cooking the food of my mom and her mom and others from the region,” he says, gesturing widely at the tables and tables of patrons around him, and, though he has always known that “a big part of the food [at Eucalyptus] is poor people’s food,” he didn’t know that he and his mother were making nearly identical recipes to what was described in the Bible and other ancient texts until years after he opened his first restaurant.

Basson knows, though, that there are certain and unavoidable difficulties with popularizing food that has complicated histories, foods such as the Jerusalem artichoke, a root vegetable (with no relation to the green globe-like artichoke that shares its name) that he uses to make one of his celebrated soups. He tells the story of a time when a French family came to dine and he horrified the grandma at the table when he told them their next course would be a soup made of something many Westerners call a sunchoke. “She shouted and said, ‘No!’ and everybody—I mean, this is a small restaurant under a tree—looked up and she said, ‘No! This was the food in the war. I cannot eat it.’ So everybody was saying OK, they don’t want it, they don’t want it. She said “No, no, no, no, you eat it. It’s wonderful. I cannot.” Then, he laughs. “And then she ate it.” He did not know, he confesses, that Jerusalem artichoke soup—the topinambour in French—was many peoples’ daily rationed food when the Nazis occupied France in World War I. Now, he tells all his French patrons what they’ve eaten only after they’ve eaten it.

Dinner at Eucalyptus is a many-course event, prominently placing roots, stems, spices, and homegrown leafy greens like purslane, chubeza, olesh, and malva at the center of the table. The night begins with freshly-baked focaccia bread and five delectable spreads: aioli, pesto with hyssop, red pepper, sumac-dusted tahini, and garlic mayonnaise.

DSC_4215

From there, a soup trio, complete with the infamous Jerusalem artichoke soup as well as lentil and tomato-mint, comes out, and after that, his elegant signature dishes: gnocchi with fresh chubeza, a wild herb slightly reminiscent of spinach, mixed into the potato dough; figs stuffed with roasted chicken and drizzled in in a sweet tamarind sauce; maqluba, the upside-down casserole of rice, chicken, and vegetables, seasoned with fresh saffron and topped with yogurt; fire-roasted eggplant served with tehina and pomegranate seeds; grilled duck breast with mashed potatoes, carrot coulis and berry relish; and thinly-sliced steak served with a mix of ancient greens from his garden.

20151015_20275720151015_20020220151015_202553

Dessert is no less extraordinary and no less attentive, with dishes like semolina cake served with wine-soaked pears and jelly or pate-stuffed macaroons drizzled with sweet raspberry sauce.

20151015_201719

Though Eucalyptus has been in its current home—a collection of wooden tables, hanging pots, and old-fashioned lamps on the terraced steps of Hutzot Hayotzer, just west of the Old City—for six years now, Basson hasn’t forgotten his long journey to find home. In 1962, he planted a tree he hoped would bear fruit to feed his family. Twenty-five years later, in 1987, he opened the first Eucalyptus restaurant near the eponymous plant he raised as a child. Today, after three additional moves, the walls around which his restaurant now sits, made from the same stone as his home in Iraq, nurture his business, his family, and his future.

A future, he tells me, as we clean up after making maqluba together, that includes his young grandchildren, his family of chickens, and a garden made of beloved, complicated vegetables.

20151015_214345

Yours in travel and good eats,

Kristin

Most gracious thanks to Weill and the Israel Ministry of Tourism for hosting our stay in Israel and for introducing me to some of the world’s most incredible places. If you’re interested in visiting Israel, they are a fantastic resource!

 

Dolls, Santas, and Shawls: A Quick-Reference Guide for the Shopaholic in Russia

So, what happens when two bargain shoppers who love a good challenge head to Russia for two weeks?

We shop.

Sort of. I mean, it’s not like my mom and I came home toting extra suitcases full of souvenirs we’ll never look at again, or that we came home saddled with bags stuffed full of cheesy tourist souvenirs made of plastic. During our two weeks on our Viking River Cruises Waterways of the Tsars trip, we shopped carefully, compared prices, kept our eyes on certain items we knew we wanted, and learned some critical Russian phrases to help us when speaking with local shopkeepers and the artisans in the open-air markets. The Viking staff recommended the best markets for bargaining, the best for getting a good price, and the best for finding unique or hard-to-find artisanal products. We took all of their recommendations, zipped up our purses, put on our good walking shoes, and hit the markets everywhere we went.

Here’s what we came home with, complete with the price we paid (roughly translated to American dollars) and where we bought it. As always, shop local, know how to spot imposters or fake products, and make sure to support ethical working conditions for the artists by finding out who made the items you’re buying. Enjoy!

1. Matroyshka Dolls – $12 (bargained down from $20)- Church of the Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg

The first set of Russian nesting dolls surfaced in the 1890s by Russian carpenter Vasily Zvyozdochkin, and since then, the matroyshka (or, “matron”) dolls and daughters have become iconic to the country of Russia.

DSC_3749DSC_3760

Make sure to avoid the mass-produced ones that were painted by machine, unless you don’t care how they dolls were made. The hand-painted ones will likely be signed by the artist on the bottom of the biggest doll and will likely have imperfections, some dripped paint on the insides, and personalities all their own. Because I bought my dolls on my first day in St. Petersburg (oh, the newbie!), I’m pretty sure I bought machine-painted ones….

Live and learn 🙂

2. Faberge Egg Charm – $30 – Viking’s Gift Shop

DSC_3766

3. Chinchilla Scarf – $32 (bargained down from $40) – Open-air market in Uglich

This was something my mom debated for a long time about buying. A chinchilla scarf isn’t something she’d normally have in her closet (who would?), but after we walked up and down the Uglich open-air market, she kept coming back to the soft, rabbit-like fur scarf on the rack outside a small clothing store’s kiosk. Though there were many markets selling chinchilla scarves around Russia, she was particularly drawn to this one because it had a sweet rose in the center and it was just long enough to be stylish but not overbearing. After a little bit of negotiating (you’re welcome, mom!), the seller agreed to sell it for 2090 rubles (about 32 USD). She’s absolutely thrilled with it and had no buyer’s remorse whatsoever, so I’d say that regardless of whether or not it’s real chincilla, a rabbit, or faux fur, this is one souvenir that’s going to get a lot of face time in the winter.

Knitted-REX-Chinchilla-Rosette-Scarf

4. Father Frost Statue – $10 (bargained 2/$20 instead of 1 for $15)- Open-air market in Uglich

I love the story behind the Father Frost statues, because it demonstrates–at least for me–the resilience and power of language in the face of religious prosecution and political oppression. (And yes, they’re also really cute). In the early years of the Russian Revolution and the establishment of the Soviet regime, Christmas traditions were obliterated, arguably due to their alignment with religious, bourgeois society and Western influence. Even displays and depictions of Ded Moroz, the non-denominational Russian wizard of winter (commonly known in English as “Father Frost”), were banned, likely due to being too closely aligned with Western ideologies and the American version of Santa Claus. However, a decade later, in the 930s, Stalin reintroduced the cultural icon of Father Frost throughout the Soviet Bloc as a way to inspire nationalism and instill a sense of cultural pride in its citizens.

In terms of what to look for, it’s most common to see the Father Frosts wearing outfits of snowy scenes filled with snow maidens, angels, children, and traditional Troikas (three horses pulling the ubiquitous sleigh). Though this is somewhat controversial, some towns have even gone so far as to “Westernize” their pieces, adding in scenes of the American version of Saint Nicholas, aspen Christmas trees decorated with balls and ornaments, nicely-wrapped presents, and families sitting around a fire in a living room reading books or drinking hot chocolate.

Note: Sadly, I’ve already packed away my box of Christmas ornamentss, so in lieu of my own photo, here’s an example of what my Father Frost looks like (thanks, Ebay). My own Ded Moroz will resurface in December 🙂

father frost

5. Lacquer Box – $8 – Open-air market in Uglich

Lacquer boxes (perfect for storing jewelry or keys) is a popular Russian souvenir. Basically, they started being produced after the Revolution by unemployed artists who formally created religious art and icons to supplement their loss of income. After the fall of the Soviet Union, perspectives on religion were compromised and, quite frankly, pretty negative, so the artists began thinking about what people would like to buy and decided to start producing small colored boxes with lids displaying images of Russian life, architecture, and landscapes that could be sold to children, tourists, and women.

DSC_3737DSC_3735

It’s a labor-intensive process, with each layer on the boxes being painted individually and requiring a lengthy drying time. This means that a single box can take months to make…and now, as the buying demographic has shifted to tourists, it also means that the boxes are incredibly expensive. A hand-carved, hand-painted lacquer box can cost upwards of $100. A counterfeit one, on the other hand, can be as cheap as $5-$10. As you can see by the price I paid above, I am quite sure I bought a counterfeit one, but I really, really needed something to hold my ring when I go the gym, so I bought one. And even though it’s not authentic, I love it.

6. Homepathic Tea – $6 – Mandrogy Market

DSC_3778

First things first. Russians love tea. They are not a coffee-drinking culture (I didn’t know this until I got there), but rather a tea-drinking one. According to legend, more than 85% of Russians drink tea every day. I have no idea where this statistic comes from, so take it as you will, but even still: that’s a pretty hefty number of daily tea drinkers.

I bought a little bag of homeopathic tea from a sweet young girl dressed in traditional Russian clothing in a very touristy-trap kind of place, but I have to admit: the tea is spectacular. I bought it not because I had to have the tea, but rather because the girl and I had such a lovely time talking with each other that I couldn’t resist buying something. The tea is handmade in Mandrogy, and the young shopkeeper and her husband (along with their one-year-old baby) live there year-round, cultivating the tea for half the year and selling it to tourists for the other half. I’ve been drinking the tea, which has lots of lemongrass and mint in it, in the mornings when I’m writing, and it’s wonderful. I’ve been brewing three cups from the same leaves!

6. Decorative Shawl – $20 – St. Petersburg

My mom bought this shawl from an open-air kiosk in downtown St. Petersburg. I don’t know much about scarf culture in Russia, but I can tell you that shawls are pretty ubiquitous here. Nearly every city we visited was selling them, so if you’re into pretty decorative pieces for your fall and winter wear, I highly suggest one of these beauties 🙂 Thanks for the photo, mom!

shawl

7. Kremlin Vodka and Kizhi Flask – $18 (vodka) and $6 (flask) – Moscow and Kizhi Island

Now, I know I said above that it’s not like I toted home a whole extra suitcase full of souvenirs here, but when it comes to the Kremlin Vodka, I almost wish I had. For one thing, it is SO AFFORDABLE in Russia – I bought an entire bottle for my husband from a supermarket in Moscow for less than $20. Here in the States, you can find it, but if you want to buy it, the same exact bottle sells on the internet for nearly $75. Secondly, my husband Ryan absolutely LOVES it. Though he’s no real connoisseur of the stuff, he told me that this vodka is the best vodka he’s ever had, period. Talk about a successful gift!

DSC_3747Similarly, the little faux-leather flask I bought Ryan to go along with the vodka was a nice addition. I bought it in one of the gift shops on Kizhi Island, particularly because I love the word Kizhi on the front and the embossing of the Church of the Transfiguration. Ryan loves it, too, because he can now drink his vodka stealthily and in secret, no matter where he is….

Enjoy!

Yours in travel,

Kristin

A special thanks to Viking River Cruises and the staff on the Viking Truvor for hosting our stay and for making sure I knew what to buy when it came to supporting the local Russian economy!

Down the Svir and the Volga: Reflections on a Russian River Cruise, Part 2

From May 29th to June 11th, my mom, Kay Mock, and I joined Viking River Cruises on their enigmatic and incredibly special Waterways of the Tsars cruise, an experience that changed both of us in unexpected ways. Neither of us had ever been to Russia before, and what made this trip even more special was that it was my mom’s first international voyage. That, along with getting to know Russia much more deeply than I expected, are what made this trip one of the best of my life. In this special three-part series, my mom and I share our experiences as a baby boomer and a millennial—women with two very different perspectives on a country that, above all else, is full of surprises.

Kristin: After our three days in St. Petersburg, mom and I were devastated to leave our new favorite city, but we knew we also had a lot of exciting stops along the way as we sailed to Moscow. As this was my first cruise, I had no idea what to expect during “cruising days,” or, days that were spent primarily sailing down the rivers rather than docked at a port, but I assumed I’d be sleeping in, drinking a lot of coffee, and writing.

ON THE SHIP

Wow, was I wrong. We never sat still! We attended all of the free courses Viking’s crew offered, including history lessons on the Romanovs, Russia during the Cold War, contemporary Russian society and culture, and Cyrillic language lessons. We took pelmeni cooking classes (remind you to tell you about that experience sometime), attended vodka tasting classes, and went to every cocktail hour and Russian food tastings up on the deck. It’s quite possible to drink at every hour of the day on a Viking cruise, should you want to… 🙂

DSC_2725DSC_2726DSC_2735

Because my mom and I are both language nerds, we took serious notes during the language lessons and had the entire alphabet down by the second lesson. For me, I’ve become pretty fearless with stepping all over my tongue while practicing a new language, so I’m no longer embarrassed when my Dobraye ootro comes out a little mangled (by the way, for those of you non-Russian speakers, that’s “good morning”). My mom, on the other hand, was a little bit of a harder sell: getting her to practice took a bit of cajoling and pep talks, but by our second language lesson, I had her practicing her Russian with the staff and crew on the ship.

“Our language is so special because we even have the sound a bug makes.” –Andrey, our tour guide and language instructor on how to pronounce the letter ж

Kay: I still can’t believe I learned the Russian alphabet.

20150603_042434

Kristin: The best part was when I got home, gave my husband the bottle of Kremlin vodka I’d bought him, and basically translated the language on the bottle for him. He was floored! (And by the way, I am not getting paid in any way to endorse this vodka, but I will tell you this: Ryan had one sip and declared it the best vodka he had ever tasted). And it is SO MUCH CHEAPER to buy in Russia…I bought a bottle at a local supermarket for 1150 rubles (about $18) that sells here in the U.S. for nearly seventy dollars.

Kay: As our itinerary continued, I was struck constantly by the number and significance of the treasures Russia has within her borders. It may sound naïve, but I was enchanted and amazed by the number of sights and the history we experienced but also by the level of artisanship in each and every site we visited. Clearly, the creators and builders of many structures we visited were masters of their trade.

MANDROGY

One of the nicer aspects of a river cruise is the visits to places along the way between the major cities. Mandrogy, a quaint village along the Svir River, boasts a vodka museum and places to shop for handmade Russian crafts. I chose to participate in Matryoshka doll-painting while my daughter chose a Banya (traditional Russian bath house) experience. I was glad I chose the doll experience. My daughter Kristin was pleased with the Banya.

DSC_2207DSC_2192DSC_2203DSC_2204

DSC_2150-001

Kristin: It took me forever to convince my mom to do the painting class—but she learned so much! She told me about their origins as wooden dolls in the late 1890s, and the celebration of mothers and daughters that the dolls represent. She even told me that each doll has a story “written into” it: those who hold roosters in their arms, for example, are celebrating their happy marriages.

Here’s my mom’s gorgeous matroyshka doll, all painted, with a rooster in her arms!

20150602_065823

2015080795193652

As for me, I’m leaving the Banya for another story, but I’ll tell you this: Any bath house is going to test your ability to strip down in front of strangers, but in Banya, not only do you keep your bathing suit on (typically), but you even wear a huge Russian wool hat that weighs about 10 pounds. Stay tuned….

Kay: Mandrogy has a lot of boutiques and shops near the ship docks, too. After the painting class, I purchased two beautiful necklaces, one for a friend and one for me, made of Eudialyte, a rare lovely purple crystal found expressly in the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Supposedly, Eudialyte carries positive vibrations, and has an ability to assist heart based loving energy to fill your life. It has a strong ability to cause coincidence or synchronicity to occur in your life. Well, I don’t know about that….but I will take all the help I can get. Besides, it’s very pretty!

“I’ve been working on cruise ships for 17 years and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Viking is my home base now.” –Wilhelm, our Hotel Manager on the Viking Truvor

KIZHI ISLAND

Kay: Other stops along our way were a welcome continuation of a fabulous itinerary. We took a bit of a detour up Lake Onega to the island of Kizhi. It is less than 200 miles from the Arctic Circle! There we marveled over this UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the oldest inhabited sites in Russia. The island presents the incredible Transfiguration Church, built entirely of wood without a single nail, including the 22 wooden onion domes. We learned that the only implement available to the original builders was the ax; I could not fathom how the intricately designed shingles adorning the onion domes could have possibly been created with just an ax. However, we stopped by to watch a very talented gentleman carve identical ones to be used in the current and ongoing restoration of this lovely construct using, yes, only an ax.

DSC_2327DSC_2305DSC_2356DSC_2348DSC_2374DSC_2346

An interesting aside to this church is the play of light on the carefully carved and arranged shingles. While they are wooden, as is the entire structure, they shine silver in the sun.

Kristin: I seriously cannot imagine what life was like up there in the 17th century. It must have been really, really cold.

Even though we had to take a bit of a detour to get all the way up there, traveling north to Kizhi Island—and walking around inside the magnificent Church of the Transfiguration—was one of the most magical experiences we had in Russia. Not only is there something, well, hauntingly wonderful about being so close to the Arctic Circle in the summertime, but Kizhi has a kind of aura that I’ve never really felt anywhere. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a “new age” spiritist, but I do believe that there’s something really special up there on that island. Go there, walk around, feel the wind as it winds through the long yellow grasses, watch the water lap up onto the shore, and listen to the sounds of the gulls as they perch on the balconies of the churches….and I guarantee you you’ll feel it, too.

KIRILLO-BELOZERSKY MONASTERY & YAROSLAVL

Kay: We then proceeded on to Kirillo-Belozersky along the Volga-Baltic Waterway and cruised on to Yaroslavl, a Golden Ring city, many of these figuring prominently in the history and establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church. Founded in the early 11th century, it is picturesque and architecturally significant. A highlight here was a visit to a local food market where many of the vendors wanted a picture with us, tours of the incredibly intricate cathedral interiors, and a visit to the Governor’s Mansion, where we were treated to a chamber group who performed for us in the ballroom. I was too nervous to get up and dance, but some people did!

Kristin: I definitely did not get up and dance. Those poor Russians would not have wanted to see this awkward girl try to ballroom dance.

By the way, did we mention the monastery was founded in the early 11th century?

DSC_2384DSC_2389DSC_2401DSC_2403DSC_2410

UGLICH

Kay: Then on to Uglich, where the oldest records of the town date to 1148. Some of the most beautiful churches and monasteries are here and the history of them is fascinating. A small group of us were invited to the home of a lovely resident, Elizabeta, who served us vodka, the requisite pickle chaser, tea and cake while showing us family pictures and her considerable kitchen garden. And by the way, the pickles and vodka were homemade by Elizabeta.

DSC_2620

DSC_2651

DSC_2636DSC_2642

Kristin: Let me say this: Andrey had to talk me and my mom into the excursion at Elizabeta’s house, and I am so, so, so glad he did. Before we went, I worried that the excursion would be like this: a horde of tourists traipsing through a local family’s home, taking photos of everything the family holds dear and exoticizing everything about the way they live their simple lives, while the local family tries to act gracious and await their tips.

I don’t know why I thought it’d be like that—Viking doesn’t do cheesy, invasive, or disrespectful. Everything they do is integrated and immersive, but in a highly respectful way. Our trip to Elizabeta’s was up there with my absolute favorite activities of the trip.

DSC_2681

DSC_2692DSC_2671DSC_2675DSC_2666

First, there were only 12 of us (by no means a horde!), and we took a local bus to her house instead of driving up in the huge tour bus. We got off at a stop near her house and went up as a group to her front door, where she was waiting with her two grandkids. Though she didn’t speak any English, she took us on a tour of her home, showed us her outdoor garden (cabbage, kale, and carrot lovers take note—her garden puts any other summer vegetable garden I’ve seen to shame!), introduced us to some homemade vodka she’d made by pouring us really liberal shots (extremely liberal pours are kind of commonplace in Russia!) and talked to us a little bit about life in Uglich. A math teacher by trade, she showed us pictures of her and her students, and with the help of Andrey’s excellent translation skills, talked to each one of us about our lives, our jobs, and our families. Because I’d been practicing my Russian so diligently, I’m proud to say that we had an entire conversation in Russian (albeit a short one!), and I told her how delicious her moonshine was. Delighted by my burgeoning Russian skills, she poured me another. Keep in mind, it was still before noon, and I was three shots of homemade moonshine in….

DSC_2701DSC_2702

DSC_2706

“A Russian won’t lie to you—instead, she’ll ‘hang noodles on your ears.’ –Elizabeta, our host form our home visit in Uglich, on the character of Russian people

It’s also interesting how Viking has found hosts for these special, intimate host visits. I asked Andrey about it after our trip as we headed back to the Truvor, and he told me that they hold interviews every summer before the summer cruises start and hire a few families every year who agree to open up their homes to the visitors from Viking. As the ship only goes back and forth a few times throughout the summer, the families don’t tire of the work: and they often have just as much fun as the tourists do.

Kay: Those pickles and tea cakes: delicious! I could really get used to this. Thanks for the treats, Elizabeta!

Up next: Next week, Mom and I will be dishing about our journey to Russia’s capital, the gorgeous city of Moscow.

A very special thanks to Viking River Cruises and the team on the Viking Truvor for hosting my mom and me on our unforgettable first river cruise. If you’d like to see the full itinerary, you can see it on Viking’s site or in my previous blog post!

Just a Day in greenwich Village

What do you do if you have one measly day in one of the world’s most fantastic cities?

You go to a coffee shop and write.

20150308_174934_Richtone(HDR)

At least, that’s what I did two weeks ago when I was in the city and found myself wondering what life would be like if I lived here. So I decided to do whenever and wherever I am: I find the nearest spot where I can order a hot drink and park myself for a few hours among some strangers.

The place I stumbled upon, Stumptown Coffee, had an odd name but a huge line, so I guessed their cappuccinos were most likely up to the standards of the many literary voices and writers who’ve passed through its doors.

20150309_163152

As I looked around at the NYU students eagerly catching up on their assignments, the writers lost in thought, their faces lit up by their computer screens, the foreign visitors pouring over their travel guides written in Mandarin, I decided I’d park it for a while here, catch up on my people-watching (it’s kind of a weird hobby of mine—thanks, mom), and pop open my laptop and—Gasp!—write something.

I should clarify that: I mean write something that is not my dissertation.

I put on my headphones, found a playlist of happy indie music, and got to work. I pretended I was a real New York writer, with a dedicated agent, a fancy publisher, a big book deal and plans to traverse the nation talking about my amazing new memoir. I should mention that I don’t often daydream about these things, partly because I’m always so insecure and busy that I hardly ever give myself the time to daydream, to imagine other possibilities, to let my mind drift to places I’d forgotten existed.

20150309_162336

I felt like I was twenty again, stepping into my first creative writing classes, getting my first passport photo taken, wondering what in the world was in store for my young life. Then, I used to daydream. When we grow up, we all too often push those thoughts aside, make ourselves get back to the business of being smart professionals with illustrious careers (or at least serviceable ones). But we don’t often let ourselves imagine what we could do if we just had the time, just had the money, just had the freedom, just had the (INSERT NOUN HOLDING YOU BACK HERE). Now, ten years later, I found myself sitting at this perfect little coffee shop full of intelligent, creative people, and I was daydreaming again.

Of course, I should mention that being twenty wasn’t all glory and glitter, and that in-between feeling very out-of-place and weird most of the time, I had absolutely no clue whatsoever what I was going to do with my life. The only thing I was convinced of at the time was that I knew I wanted it to be something special.

I still don’t really know what the purpose of life is, but I still know that I want it to be something special. Maybe I don’t need a swanky book deal with a big New York publisher. Maybe it’s something else, instead. I don’t know—but at least I should keep myself open to the possibilities. Maybe that’s what adulthood should teach us: to be more open to the possibilities.

I went to the beautiful Big Apple for an interview, but though I didn’t leave with an employment contract, I left having reconnected with a “me” that I’d long buried underneath grading piles of students papers, writing freelance articles, and just plain getting through the hectic daily grind. I’d thought the job I was applying for would give me that–would free me from the monotony of writing a dissertation and being a poor graduate students–but perhaps all I needed was a day there. Maybe, at least for now, I don’t belong in New York. And that, I’m learning, is OK.

20150309_162632

The morale of all this? I’ve decided that more of us should park it in busy coffee shops in Greenwich Village from time to time.

Yours in travel,

Kristin