Dear Stranger,

I have been meaning to write.

Only it’s been such a chore, what with life, and death and all. It was the beginning of a new year when we last spoke and since then I have seen and I have heard and I have felt- holy smokes, have I felt. Somehow I managed to swim to the other side of that turbulent, stinking sea of heartbreak and now consider myself all the more human for having done so. As it turns out, life goes on, despite what we might think while in the thick of it. I quit my job, that job I never told you about in the first place because I never considered it worth mentioning, only now I realize that monotony is sort of beautiful and integral in our understandings of each other’s lives. Social media has become the portal through which we research one another, and such creates this construct in which we are viewing others’ lives through this blurred kaleidoscope of bullshit.

Scroll through my social media feed, and you will see that I make weird art, have a dog, spend a lot of time on airplanes, eat elaborate breakfasts and have an affinity for clowns, yellow flowers, taxidermied (google says this is a word- I am skeptical, but it needs to be for now) polar bears, antique coin-operated toy machines and squashed pennies. These are basically the components of my life- I travel around the world dressed like a tattooed librarian, slow dancing with strangers in the street, eating decadent breakfasts and surrounding myself with music and beauty and magic. I must be utterly interesting.

This is true every once in awhile. The rest of the time I am floating amidst the slow current all things tragically mundane. In a week’s time I will probably cry in traffic at least twice. I will accidentally curse in front of a small child and receive a scornful glance from a neighboring adult. I will act a fool, develop a stutter and lose control over the volume of my own voice in the presence of someone, just because I find them to be, attractive or interesting. I literally stumble and injure myself while walking on flat ground (I am currently still in recovery, after a week’s time, from falling down and spraining my ankle). At least once I will both forget to take off my makeup before I go to bed at night and then forget to look in the mirror before I go out into the world. At least a dozen times I will say something completely stupid, knowing how stupid it sounds before it comes out of my face but I won’t be able to stop it in time. Countless times I will do my best and it won’t be good enough. Life can be pretty confusing and overwhelming, after all. Thank goodness for the little things.

So I quit my job, I suppose in search of more decadent breakfasts and yellow flowers, and, you know, romance and adventure and all of the standard things that one dreams about. And I found those things.

There is a lake in Berlin at the end of one of the train line. On one of its beaches locals are sunbathing naked. On another, families are sitting on picnic blankets. The women are wearing wide brimmed hats and everyone is pink from the sun. The water is cool and clean, and if you swim out far enough there is a patch of wild blackberry bushes reaching their branches out and over into the lake. You reach up to pick one, sample its juicy tartness, and then immediately gather as many as you can into your hands before  floating around the cool water, snacking on fresh blackberries and wondering if this is heaven.

*c/w for the faint of heart and exceptionally human: In the following short paragraphs there is a rather abrupt (which is how it happens in real-time, too, it turns out) mention of illness and death.

When I returned to New Orleans, I received word that I would have to find a new place to live. The community events I had been hosting at the “Spaghetti House” (formally the Spaghetti Speakeasy Listening Room and Library of Art and Wooden Chairs, as it were) were decidedly too well-attended and the landlady saw the home better fit as an air-bnb. So it goes.

A few weeks later I received a phone call with word that my dad, back in Georgia where I had spent much of my summer, had been escorted from his own birthday bbq dinner to the emergency room and that the doctors had found a series of spots in his brain which would days later be diagnosed as stage four melanoma. On my dad’s 65th birthday he was diagnosed with brain cancer and told he would have 6 months to live. He didn’t make it that long.

I could write an entire book about the four months I spent as an impromptu caretaker. I won’t; not here, fret not, but it is a rich soup of stories and feelings and life lessons. Some stories would surely the little hairs on the back of your neck stand on end while other anecdotes are downright funny and endearing. My dad was a character, and that’s the best thing to be.

So as I was saying, I’ve been meaning to write, only it’s been such a chore, what with life and death and all. Vulnerability is one of my greatest fears; then again I heard somewhere that it is butterfly season, and so I am beginning to scratch my way to the surface of this cocoon.

 

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There he goes. The collector. The lone wolf. Stardust of another universe.
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We Set A Christmas Tree Named 2016. On Fire

You know that thing that happens on new years eve- when everyone is shouting “ten! …nine!” and then all of the sudden, for ten seconds, time slows down to an incalculable speed, just like in a dream, and you’re suspended into a world that’s separate from your body and you become an omniscient spectator to your past year of life who can fly and teleport and speed up and slow down time? You know, that thing that happens? It’s sort of like that scene in a bazillion movies where the protagonist is about to die. And then there it is, the last ten seconds of his or her life, and the grim reaper is off in the distance shouting, “…ten! …nine!” and all of the sudden your cinema hero is catapulted into a roller coaster time lapse of the most glorious and poignant memories of their life leading up to that very moment. It’s sort of like that, subtract the the death and add booze and glitter. …And then you hear the crowd shouting faintly from a distance as hurl yourself back into real time, “…three! …two! …ONE!” and someone appears from out nowhere and plants a big wet kiss on your face.

I might be a romantic, or nostalgic and quixotic, but for ten seconds there, I am telling you- I was gazing up at a hundred-foot-tall mechanical elephant in France. I wasn’t reminiscing; I was there. I was in Spain being carried through the sea and I could taste the salt and I could feel my body moving weightlessly over the waves. I could smell the rain in Paris and I could hear the train approaching in Berlin. All of those feelings of awe, of love, of grief, of bliss, surged into my heart and grabbed hold of it, forcefully, for ten seconds, and then they let go. Just like that. Happy new year.

Here are a few sweet moments from the new years eve party I hosted last night in my home. We were serenaded throughout the evening by beautiful and interesting live music, and by the slow dance machine intermittently. So much love in the room.

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Please do check back for more stories about this past summer.

Summer of Slow Dance Romance

PART 1: Berlin

This is a relatively new project and already my ambitions seem to outweigh my ability to show up to the at the end of the day and write something down. I’ll try to reminisce with as much whimsical and entertaining detail as possible in this post, working backwards.

Today I am spending my last evening in Neukolln, Berlin, Germany, in bed with white covers, in a bedroom with giant windows, in a flat with two strangers and one former lover and current friend, above a bookstore. Alberto, the bookstore’s owner is built like a telescope and wears large round glasses. His eyelashes touch the lenses when he nervously blinks during conversation. Alberto is from northern Spain and speaks five languages, at least. His shop carries books in two dozen languages, at least. On Tuesday I was gifted a book of poems, by my aforementioned friend, written in Georgian and translated into French. Next door there is an empanada shop with wonderful food and terrible coffee. Two blocks in either direction are ice cream shops who serve affogatos. Every morning we walk to one or the other. Our favorite of the two has a yellow sign. I don’t know its name. The owner is an Italian man with a small beard and a big belly who wears suspenders, makes all of the ice cream himself and knows four ways to make a cappuccino. I don’t know his name. At the end of our street is Tempelhof Feld, an old commercial airport since turned into a public park full of kites, bicycles, picnics, yogis, musicians and rollerbladers. Today I met some beautiful friends there. Giedre is both a beautifully poised and whimsically goofy swing dancer from Lithuania. Jack is an impossibly pleasant and beautifully talented musician from Australia. We spent a sunny afternoon together with the slow dance machine, some fruit from the Turkish market, and this bale of hay.

 

On Sunday, this one and every one, there was a giant flea market in Mauerpark. For whatever incomprehensible reason I woke up feeling like a slug that day. Motivation was a challenge and my feet felt as though they weighed a hundred pounds apiece. Summoning the strength of poverty, I rode the train there with a few snarky hearts and the slow dance machine. I shuffled through an outdoor sardine can full of shoppers, trying not to suffocate within the crowd before exiting on the other side. Finally I found peace and refuge next to a raised flowerbed on the sidewalk, a block away from the entrance to the market.

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I met a man named Sven who gave me a dollar for ice cream, exchanged funny faces with a toddler who was mesmerized by Fats Domino, had a few dances- a few paid, many didn’t, and sold one heart. I spun a few Sam Cooke records for these sweet peas.

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In the evening, I caught up with my dear friend Jimbino, who just so happened to be in town from Paris, on a musical tour that would finish in Finland. After they played a swing dance concert at Crack Bellmer in Kreuzberg, we convened with several hours to enjoy before the trains started running at 5am. We had a few slow dances, a few more fast ones, sprinting races and rail climbs at the train station and on the train route home. For a moment Jimbino had nearly half a train car full of people hanging upside-down on the safety rails by their feet.

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…to be continued (later this evening, check back in)…

11 October 2016

By later this evening, I must have meant to say months later, back home in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Whoops.My goal as of now is to become a more skilled writer and a less skilled procrastinator.

So, where were we? Working backwards:

Part 1 and a half: Berlin, still.

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I spent a little over three weeks in Berlin having daily picnics with friends from home and from afar, making art, dancing in the street, having an unforgettable time. Nearly every weekend a friend from home was in town playing a show in a charming basement bar or swing dance venue. Jimbino Vegan and the Jazz Cannibals were touring from Paris through Germany and Estonia up to Finland. The Panorama Jazz band from New Orleans and the Jumbo Shrimp band also from New Orleans were both touring europe and stopped through Berlin while I was in town. I barely missed a New Orleans honky tonk friend, Todd Day Waits Pigpen. How could I be homesick when some of the best elements of home had accidentally followed me here?

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This is my dear friend Matt, known to many of my friends as Foghorn Leghorn. That’s another story. I believe I mentioned him earlier in this post, having bought me a book of Georgian poems translated into French from Alberto’s bookstore. Foghorn Leghorn teaches Anthropology at a university in Washington and spends one month in Berlin every summer studying psychobilly culture, doing his hair and partying like a wild maniac. He’s a pretty good slow dancer, and a damn near professional slow dance wrangler- it doesn’t hurt that he speaks fluent German. Matt is the brother of a friend in New Orleans. I met him briefly once at a bar in New Orleans called The Holy Ground. We had a conversation that lasted probably no more than thirty seconds and may as well have run off into sunset together. We began writing to each other and sending little sentimental gifts in the mail. This went on for several months before we began flying back and forth to visit each other and realised that our distant romance was only functional because it was in fact distant, and that in fact we are just downright hilariously incompatible as lovers. Still we are dear friends who meet in Germany once a year to eat ice cream, make fun of each others’ outfits and bicker about unimportant things.

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Part 2: Barcelona

(For another day, but here’s where I build an outline to fill in later)

Part 3: Jamaica

Part 4: Paris ()

Part 5: Lisbon

Part 6: Paris (a Paris and Portugal sandwich, if you will)

Part 7: New York

to be continued

Barcelona, Spain

I didn’t capture many photos in Barcelona. I think I may have been distracted.

 

Edit 8/12/18:

I’m coming back to this one later because, though it ended rather tumultuously, this was easily my favorite love affair and I can recollect now with fondness rather than disgust. Funny how the heart heals, and thoughts that were once agonizing become memories that are sweet and far away.

The morning I woke up to leave for this trip, I couldn’t find my passport. Not on the kitchen table where I knew I had left it. Not hiding under a stack of papers, in the couch cushions or in the produce drawer of the refridgerator (no place was left unstudied). Not anywhere. I made a bozillion (at least) frantic phone calls to every place I could remember having visited in the last several days; I turned my house upside down, I got mad, I even made an appointment to get a new one. Meanwhile I was hosting a friend of a friend in my house, and though we were both trying to be politely calm for one another, considering we were basically strangers, the poor guy had to watch me unravel.

As it turned out, another guest I had hosted a few days before had accidentally taken my passport off the kitchen table, where I knew I had left it, in a frenzy to catch a flight to Washington D.C., thinking it was hers. She didn’t notice until she became the recipient of one of my frantic phone calls.

So I flew to  Washington D.C., had her buy me lunch and then took a plane one day late which granted me one entire day in Barcelona.  Romance is a thing for which I will power through all sorts of ridiculous obstacles.

In Spain we slow danced in the sea and in the street. In Barcelonetta, he had a little table set up where he wrote poetry for passers by on an old typewriter and across the way I was set up with my record player, twirling with tourists and charming strangers. Occasionally he would cross to my side of the street and have a dance, or I would cross to his side of the street and sit and listen to the noise of the typewriter, swimming in nerves and occasionally confirming the spelling of a word.

Kingston, Jamaica

Dance Hall Parties take over the streets at night. This is some of the most inventive and incredible dancing I’ve ever seen.
Donut Man: Portmore Beach Snacks
Handmade Postcards from Jamaica
Recruited Slow Dancer and Slow Dance DJ

Happy Night

Here’s an excerpt, because the rest deserves to maintain its intimacy, from letter I sent to a lover after a poetry reading at Au Chat Noir in Paris. We were in a fight. I felt heartbroken but the night was determined to boast its magic.

“Can I tell you about the rest of my absolutely perfect, wonderful evening? Great. After we left Au Chat Noir we played the record player and danced in the metro station. Everyone clapped and cheered. Then on the metro a man was singing and playing guitar and we got everyone dancing. On the big train we played the record player again and though folks went on with their lives and pretended not to notice, they were all grinning to themselves.

‎It’s Ramadan. don’t know if you happened to look up at the apartment windows near the place we were, but as we were walking we looked up and could see the shadows of people praying simultaneously in dozens of windows. So cool. So beautiful. Prayers go until 4am- that’s why all the Arabic stores were open late. It’s incredible, all of these people sharing in this nightly celebration of breaking fast. Isn’t it? Can you imagine? When we arrived in St. Denis the restaurants in the square outside of the train station were crowded. We had one dance to Sam Cooke. The whole square was our stage. Everyone loved it. They laughed and smiled and cheered. As we skipped away, Jimmy said, “man I wish I knew how to say goodnight in Arabic”. Somehow, I knew! I announced : “leila saida!”, and I swear a hundred voiced yelled back in unison, “leila saida!”

Which literally translates into “happy night”. Perfect.”

Slow Dancing on Decatur Street

Polaroids courtesy of the lovely and talented Lily Nickelson.

 

Ben & Annie Lou #filmportrait #fujiinstax #instantfilm

A photo posted by Lily Boo (@portrait_of_neworleans) on Jun 8, 2016 at 10:22pm PDT

 

Slow dances with Annie Lou #instantfilm #fujiinstax #filmportrait #45s

A photo posted by Lily Boo (@portrait_of_neworleans) on Jun 8, 2016 at 10:21pm PDT

 

Slow dances with Annie Lou & Sabine #filmportrait #fujiinstax #instantfilm

A photo posted by Lily Boo (@portrait_of_neworleans) on Jun 8, 2016 at 10:20pm PDT

 

Annie Lou & Michelle #instantfilm #fujiinstax #filmportrait

A photo posted by Lily Boo (@portrait_of_neworleans) on Jun 8, 2016 at 10:17pm PDT

 

Slow dancing on the bus…

…is hard.

On my first night back in Paris, after a brief adventure in Nantes, I somehow amongst the labyrinth of the train stations, no phones and no knowledge of French, found these magical people. My friend from New Orleans, and his lovely friend (now mine too- lucky me) Zoe from Bristol. I met them at the train station in Nogent and we immediately boarded the bus and switched on a 45 of Fats Domino. Though you may not be able to tell from this photo, everyone really got into it…eventually.

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