If it’s Tuesday, this must be . . .
Recently my web guy emailed me. He was worried that there was something wrong with my website because when he logged on, it said there had been no updates since August. Um … wait. Is it FEBRUARY already? Well, hey! How have you all been?
Okay. I’m lame. But I’m also in France, which has been my go-to excuse all year. My other go-to excuse, “I have a book manuscript due,” is temporarily on hold, however, since I handed it in last week. And I have been updating my Instagram feed frequently . . . no, constantly . . . no, obsessively . . . so please check out my pictures. If readers check out my Instagram feed, then taking pictures on my iPhone and playing with filters counts as “work,” at least on an emotional level.
So! Here we are.
Though perhaps not as awkward as doing a presentation to international middle school students and realizing halfway through that about half of them probably don’t speak English.
Questions? Any questions??
Okay, I’ll talk to myself. After all, that’s pretty much what writing is, anyway.
Q. What is it like living in Paris?
A. I don’t know. I live in Strasbourg.
Q. Wait — you’re in Germany? I thought you were in France.
A. Strasbourg is in France. But it is right next to Germany. And it has been under German control many times throughout history, which means there are huge German influences in everything from the food to the architecture.
Q. So, how’s your French?
A. When I arrived, I spoke bad French. Five months later, I speak bad French with a slight German accent.
Q. Will you show me some of the pictures you have taken?
A. Sure! I’ll post some here! Plus you should check my Instagram feed!
A: Yes, it is.
Q: Are you sure it’s not in Germany?
A: I’m positive.
Q: You know, it really is lame that you haven’t posted anything on your website for five months.
A: It’s actually been five and a half. And that wasn’t a question.
Q: How often can we expect web posts from you from now on?
A: I DON’T KNOW! Don’t you understand? I AM A CREATIVE PERSON!!! I cannot live by rules and schedules and, and . . . all that other stuff that matters to you left-brained, in-the-box people!
A: I’m shooting for a couple of times a week. But once a week at the very least.
Q: So, just between you and I —
A: You and me.
Q: Between us, is your entire writing career just something you do in the hopes of gaining more Instagram followers?
A: You’re on to me.
In the spring of 1986, my college roommate Kim and I boarded a ferry from England, where we were both spending our junior years, and headed for the continent. We had rail passes, a copy of LET’S GO: EUROPE, some travelers checks, a few clothes, and . . . that was pretty much it. We didn’t bother plotting out an itinerary because that would have been, like, unspontaneous. And also, it would have required effort.
First stop: Bruges, Belgium. Two thumbs up!!! Next stop: Luxembourg. Two thumbs down. And then came Strasbourg, France. When we came out of the station, it was raining. A hobo accosted us, and we quickened our pace. We found a payphone and inserted the required number of francs. (Yes, this was olden times.) I dialed the number for a pension recommended by LET’S GO, all set to launch into my stilted French, but the number was disconnected.
That did it. Strasbourg was out! We headed back to the train station and jumped on a train just departing for Munich (which, as it turned out, was due to arrive at midnight, so we kept going to Vienna).
Fast forward to now. My husband, son, and I have been given the opportunity to spend a year in, yes, Strasbourg. If I’d had Google image search back in the eighties, I would have braved the rain and the hobo and pushed forward to what appears to be a kind of fairytale city.
We fly out in two weeks. It still seems a little unreal. But my son is enrolled in school and we’ve got an apartment waiting for us with our names on the mailbox, so I guess it’s really happening.
Stay tuned for details. I, for one, can’t wait to hear what I’m going to say.
Whenever I talk about my writing, someone inevitably asks where I get my great ideas. (Okay. Fine. They just ask where I get my ideas. I like to believe the “great” is implied.) My answer is a two-parter: one, I am perhaps less engaged with reality than, say, your average accountant. (I have a sister who’s an accountant. She has way more life skills than I do.) And two: I know a good detail when I steal one.
I set my next young adult book, Bubble World, on a magical island called Agalinas. I stole the name from my son, who as a very young child, invented an imaginary place to house all his imaginary friends. And I stole the basic geography (and more) from Santa Catalina Island, which is only an hour by ferry from Long Beach, California, but feels like it exists in an entirely different dimension.
The rest of the book I made up entirely by myself. I swear.
Anyway, here are some of the things I love about Catalina:
Thanks to the Catalina Island Conservancy, 90% of the island can never be developed.
Golf carts (and feet) are the preferred mode of transportation. Car ownership is strictly limited. But that doesn’t matter because the only real town, Avalon, is so small that you can walk anywhere.
Wild bison, the descendents of animals brought in to film a 1920’s western, roam around the interior of the island. Also, there are lots of feral cats, which I realize is not a selling point for everyone, but I just really love cats.
Colorful tiles made on the island decorate much of the architecture.
The island is a treasure trove of Southern California history. And yes, I did giggle I typed those words. But it’s true. Google it.
There’s always something going on in the center of town. Like: sand castle contests. And art festivals. And rubber ducky races.
It feels too perfect to be real.
Ha! Kidding. Obviously, it is.
Until this week, I’d only been to New Orleans once, for a family wedding. Our hotel was on Bourbon Street, which was kind of like a never-ending frat party, only with way more neon. Also more transvestites. My daughter was six. We went to the aquarium. On the way to the rehearsal dinner, an extremely tall transvestite-mime presented my little girl with Mardi Gras beads. The next day we went to the wedding, and then we went home. I sensed I had not properly experienced the city.
Kidding again. But I DID spend hours taking pictures of the spectacular architecture, which I then dutifully edited and posted on Instagram (not to brag, but I’m up to 18 followers). And I got a pina colada out of one of those frozen drink machines and walked around with it — on the street! (It’s legal, assuming you are over 21. You can assume I am over 21.) Okay, I split the drink (size small) with my husband. But the night was young. (And we are not.)
The French Quarter is a place of joyous sensory overload. Music is everywhere. There’s jazz in plenty of clubs, of course, but I most enjoyed the street musicians. Two young ukelele-strumming women sang “Hit Me Baby One More Time” on an otherwise quiet street, while on another corner, a young man played an electric African bass harp. (I know because he had a sign that said, “What is it? It’s an African bass harp.” I’m clever that way.)
There’s so much to see. Like: leftover Mardi Gras decorations (we showed up on the second day of Lent), Eighteenth century buildings painted in bright hues, art galleries, tarot card readers, creepy Easter bunnies, coats of armor, vampire stores . . .
I’d been to the waterfront before (see aquarium reference, above), but not in the evening, when the tourist riverboats pipe haunting music into the air. If the French Quarter attracts creatives — artists, musicians, and oddballs of every stripe (though maybe not writers since sensory overload tends to mess with our productivity) — the waterfront attracts teens and young adults even closer to the edge. Which is another way of saying that it looks like a casting call for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” But not in a bad way.
Food. Wow. We wandered into a restaurant called Sylvain because it looked suitably interesting and sophisticated but not stuffy. My husband’s fried pork shoulder was one of the best things either of us has ever tasted. If Sylvain were in L.A. they would call the fried pork shoulder something like, like — oh, I don’t know even. Something so pretentious that you’d have to ask the waiter, “Um, what is this exactly?” And the waiter — who was this close to getting a part on a new series on the WB — would go out of his way to describe the dish without ever using the words “fried” or “shoulder.” Or “pork,” for that matter.
We also ate beignets, a.k.a. “French donuts.” I am not a big donut eater, but if you go to New Orleans, you need to eat these things. They’re that good. And besides, if you’re in New Orleans, you can’t think too much about calories.
Last time I came to the French Quarter was pre-Katrina. Coming back, it was impossible not to think of all that was lost. But there is such a spirit to the place and the people. It’s not like they don’t know think bad things can happen — they do. So you might as well grab a pina colada, listen to music, and enjoy the beauty of the moment.
Once my husband and I were at a Mexican restaurant with an English friend. Unfamiliar with several of the menu items, he asked the waitress what “fah-gee-tahs” were. Isn’t it cute how he mispronounced “fajitas”? We all thought so! Once we finished laughing, our friend told us how he’d amused Californians by mentioning La Joe-La, an affluent seaside community on the north side of San Diego. Of course we laughed at that as well.
Free tip for Brits, Aussies, Scots, Irish: In America, you can say pretty much anything and we will think you are either clever or adorable or both. (Sorry, Canadians: your accents are too close to ours.) Sadly, the reverse does not apply, plus you get points taken away if you sound like you’re from the New York area.
Over the Thanksgiving break, my family headed down to La Jolla to visit UC San Diego and The University of San Diego, which I’ll write about some other Tuesday. (I don’t travel much; I need to drag things out.) We stayed a block from the beach, in a really, really nice hotel within easy walking distance to some really, really nice stores and some really, really nice restaurants. My mother bought some lemon-infused olive oil at an olive oil store. Because La Jolla is the kind of place that has olive oil stores.
Even better, La Jolla has the Pacific Ocean: miles and miles of spectacular coastline. It’s got sea caves, surfers, and seals. Lots and lots of seals. Seals caused quite a bit of controversy a few years back when they took over a beach originally intended for children. La Jolla is the kind of place where seals count as a problem.
They say a picture paints a thousand words. They also say that when you start using cliches like “a picture paints a thousand words,” it’s time to upload some photos and wrap up your blog post. So, enjoy these shots of La Jolla, which is a nice place to visit even if you, like me, can’t afford to live there.