I’d never been to Harlem until Dana had decided to bunk there during an improv festival in New York City. We were volunteering there, and my shift was at 7:00am. I decided to stay the night with her because waking up and taking the train at 6:30am is a lot easier than waking up at 5:00am to catch a train from Long Island at 6:00am that would probably get me there late anyway.
Harlem is a place where people say you’ll get stabbed for looking at the sidewalk too long. This is white-person speak for “multi-ethnic.” At first I was hesitant to head beyond Columbia University, but then I thought to myself “Honestly, this is New York City, not a slum. There are lights and people everywhere. If I keep my wits about me, I should be fine.”
And it was true – everything was fine. I found Dana’s guesthouse right near the subway, and I was pleasantly surprised – it was an old, turn-of-the-century Brownstone divided into several rooms. Her own lodging had a little kitchenette and a bathroom, and luxurious furnishings, including a settee and a chandelier. I wanted to stay for longer just so that I could take advantage of the spiral staircase, whose stained-class skylight was something to look up to.
In Puerto Vallarta, the horizon goes as far as the eye can see. From ziplining in the Sierra Madre mountains, to jet skiing on the beach, there is always something further to look out at. That’s also the way it felt to vacation in Mexico – always something more to discover, always somewhere new to go, someone new to talk to.
I’m not really one for passive, relaxing vacations. Trips where I’m involved in a lot of things, up from morning until midnight, with itineraries and arrangements made in advance – that’s how I like to travel. Squeeze in as much as I can because who knows when I’ll be back? But vacationing in Puerto Vallarta was different. It felt nice to kick back and lie on the beach with as much alcohol as I wanted. I loved swimming in our private plunge pool and admiring the Mexican landscape. I felt like I was in another world…
Our resort included excursions as well. We took advantage of the sunset cruise out of the harbor. It was a nice, intimate group and the sailing was so much fun. We drank margaritas at sunset and posed for photos. The Bay of Banderas is absolutely stunning and we felt like we were the only boat in the ocean that day. I will never forget that sunset – thank god it didn’t rain!
The icebergs that drift on the shores of Iceland’s black beaches look like diamonds shimmering in the sun. They float downstream into the ocean from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon on Iceland’s southeastern coast. You’ll find large chunks and small pebble-sized bits that will melt at the touch of your hand.
These are some lilies that my mom planted in the yard of her house. She planted them while I was living there. Lilies are very interesting in that they only bloom once a year, and not for very long. You get to enjoy each bud for maybe a week or so before it crumbles and dies. But the cool thing is, that once you’ve planted them, they will always grow back, every year. Kind of a Zen thing really, when you think about it – something might be regular in your life, but you only get to enjoy it for a little while.
So cherish it while you can.
I started off doing dishes next to the bar where Nika served the booze-hungry crowd at Stanica. It was the only way I felt I could help – clearing out cups and mugs so she could faster sell liquor.
“I need to take a break,” she told me. “Will you watch the bar?”
There was a line of customers out the door, waiting for a drink. That’s how I started bartending.
Bartending was fun because it kept me busy, but also, it involved all of my friends. Dušan, Ints, Nika and I would all take turns providing beer or Kofola or shots to the hoards of people who wanted to get drunk after some art show or some concert at Stanica. I learned the Slovak words for different drinks and learned to make change with korunas.
I could have stayed there my entire life.
Soon, I began running the bar all by myself. One time, Dušan was with me, and it started getting busy, so he began doing the dishes along Nika’s daughter. I loved that little girl, she was curious and would hang out with me when everyone else was busy. She loved my computer and we’d make funny faces and take photos on it. She was great.
Dušan is one of my most favorite people in the world, and this photo is partly why. I don’t know what he was saying to her in Slovak, but it was funny, because both of them were laughing as they washed the dishes. Dušan doesn’t know how great he is, and I wish he did. I know he loves Slovakia, but I wish he would come to America, because, being an insanely talented photographer, he’d thrive here. He’s kind and resourceful and good with kids.
This is one of my favorite photos from Stanica.
You’ll find these all over the Moravian countryside.
For almost forty years, the Czech Republic has been a predominantly atheist country. The Soviets discouraged idolatry (with an iron fist, of course) and I suppose Czechs, once free of Communism, had other things to deal with than re-instituting religious doctrine. There are churches in the Czech Republic, temples and other houses of worship, but despite that, only about 19% of citizens believe there is a God.
I know the symbol is reminiscent of the Eastern Orthodox double cross of the Byzantine era, but it was puzzling as to why such a cross would be found in the Czech Republic. They spoke a Slavic language but their ancestors were predominantly Catholic, or Jewish. Was this cross here before Communism’s quash of religions? Was it placed there during the time, as a symbol of Russian solidarity? Or something that came after?
Our hosts in Slavonice were taking us on a tour of the Czech countryside, showing us remnants of projects under communism that were never finished.
“They came in to our town, destroyed buildings and homes that had been here for hundreds of years, to replace them with new Soviet constructions,” Zdenek tells us. “But they would run of money, or get bored. So they just stopped.”
He has no knowledge of the double crosses dotted along the Czech countryside. “I think, maybe, they were markers of where towns began, and ended,” he says. “I don’t think they are religious really.