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6.25.2015

reading: summer vacation edition



I'm not a snob about e-readers—I love mine, and discreetly read the entirety of the Twilight series on it while traveling a few years back (there, I said it). There's just nothing quite like having a beat-up paperback lying around after the return home, though, still scratchy from sand and smelling of sunscreen, with wrinkly bloated pages from too many inadvertent dips in the ocean, pool, bathtub, etc. I normally prefer a book with some substance for vacations; it seems to make travel time go quicker and the days go by slower—so if, like me, you're looking for a book to buy for an upcoming trip that has some metaphorical heft, here are ten I've enjoyed: 


The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, if you're looking for an extraordinarily creepy, slow read that takes place in a crumbling aristocratic mansion in the English countryside soon after the end of the second World War. Involves: spinsters, polite baffled young doctors, a lost child. Not for: the impatient. 

Stiff by Mary Roach, if you're looking for a quick nonfiction read about the lives of cadavers: in other words, what happens to your body if you donate it for research purposes after your death? Involves: medical school gross labs, real-life crash test dummies, forensic crime analysis, and lots and lots and lots of dead bodies. Not for: the squeamish. (PS: for the squeamish, Roach has a bunch of hilarious science books that involve less corpses). 

Moonwalking by Einstein by Joshua Foer, if you're looking for a true-life account of a journalist who decided to randomly enter the World Memory Championships, train for a year, and see what happens (spoiler: he won!). Involves: the building of memory palaces, people memorizing the order of an entire deck of playing cards in under two minutes. Not for: those among us with an active disinterest in improving memory, I guess. 

The Cuckoo's Calling, if you're looking for a smart, contemporary adult mystery by the author of the Harry Potter series. Upside: you'll likely zip through it quickly enough to warrant picking up the sequel as well (The Silkworm, which is even better!) Involves: Hagrid and a grown-up Hermione Granger solving mysteries, basically. Not for: those expecting another Harry Potter-like series—this one involves people being boiled alive. Sorry. 

The Lost City of Z by David Grann, if you're looking for an account of the real-life mystery of explorer Percy Fawcett's ill-fated 1925 expedition into the Amazon jungle to find the lost empire of El Dorado. (Nobody ever heard from him again.) Involves: hair-raising accounts of the murderous flora and fauna of the Amazon, the last of the Victorian explorers. Not for: the squeamish. 

Blood River by Tim Butcher, if you're looking for a true-life account of one journalist's distractingly rash replication of the explorer H. M. Stanley's 1874 expedition along the Congo, during which he mapped the river. Involves: poor decision-making, one of the most dangerous places in the world, a potential whiff of British colonialism. Not for: the militantly practical.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, if you're looking for a thoughtful, dreamy novel that ruminates on the themes of fate and reincarnation for both a woman and her country. Involves: World War II England, amor fati and deft handling of normally insufferable philosophy, multiple lives and deaths. Not for: the intensely literal.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, if you're looking for a beautifully fictionalized account of the last execution to take place in Iceland, which took the life of Agnus Magnusdottir, accused of murdering her lover. I actually read the entire thing on a baby-free international airplane ride. Involves: Iceland in winter, snow, snow. Not for: those with a lack of appreciation for a novel's atmosphere (the setting is the best part about this novel!).

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, if you're looking for a real-life Victorian murder mystery surrounding the tragic and brutal murder of a toddler boy and the detective's conviction that someone in his immediate family had committed the crime. Involves: one of England's first detectives, obsession, murder, and declarations of innocence. Not for: the particularly sensitive.

The Paying Guests, also by Sarah Waters, if you're looking for a book whose first half appears to be a slow and extraordinary romance up until the moment a giant bomb is dropped on the reader and the second half of the book unfolds at a frenzied, nail-biting pace (I'm not sure I got up to pee for the last third of the book). Involves: interwar England, courtroom drama, and sex scenes to make even the most unflappable of us blush. Not for: the easily flustered.


We aren't doing any crazy traveling for the summer—I was originally planning a weekend away with a few girlfriends, but it was a little too ambitious considering our recent move back—however, we're hoping to get out of town for a few weekends, including the upcoming Fourth of July holiday! I'm looking forward to reading this sequel to Life After Life, finishing up Fourth of July Creek, and this winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. 

6.23.2015

sakura bloom sling diaries: community

meaaronsling1

This is the third entry of the Sakura Bloom Sling Diaries: Better Together. For the first two entries , click here

When Aaron was very young, we took him far away from our home and our friends for a year and a half to an unfamiliar country, with an unfamiliar language and unfamiliar sounds. Right before he turned four months old, we packed up our Brooklyn apartment and left the quiet familiarity of our tree-lined street in Park Slope; twenty-four hours after that, we were plopped unceremoniously in the middle of Istanbul's gridlocked traffic. 

My husband and I met while living in South Africa: after finishing law school, both of us had randomly moved there on the logic—independently and separately arrived at—that it was the furthest place away from our respective homes that we could think of, and that made it a pretty neat place to be.  Together, we drove through the middle of Namibia's desolate scenery and took the Trans-Mongolian railroad to Ulaan Bataar from Beijing, where we spent a week wandering aimlessly in the Mongolian grasslands. Once, for no better reason than because it was cheap, we took an ill-advised overnight trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg on an old Soviet troop train, which we'll both solemnly swear was one of the strangest experiences of our lives. Seven hours after we stumbled home from our wedding, we flew to Rwanda to track mountain gorillas. We travel out of a host of personal reasons, but mostly for the pure joy of it. We promised each other that when we had kids, we'd try to spend a few years abroad with them, at the very least. So, a few months after Aaron was born, we packed up the aforementioned apartment and moved to a city in which we knew nobody.

People think New York is a big, confusing city—and it is. If a giant hand descended upon New York and somehow twisted all the streets so they turned every which way, plucked away all the stoplights and street signs, and then crammed 9 more million people into it, you'd get an approximation of how big and confusing Istanbul is. I was certainly taken aback by the amount of time it took to settle in. Having prided myself on being able to adjust fairly quickly in new environments, I underestimated—wholly, naively, ignorantly—how important my community of friends and fellow mothers had been back in Brooklyn. And to be lonely in a city with 17 million people in it might be a more intense feeling to be lonely in a small town with 40 people in it. In the end, it was fine. Through a combination of badly butchered Turkish and wild gesticulations, we managed to figure out grocery shopping and restaurant dining. We made friends, both Turkish and foreign. By the time we left, it'd felt like home. We were sorry to go.

But, anyway, this isn't that story.

During the most difficult moments of the first several months in Istanbul, I wondered why we even moved. Normally, people have babies and immediately surround themselves with friends and family. They do not promptly flee the country with their newborn. I had a lot of time to think about the whys of what we did because there were a lot of hard, crappy moments in Istanbul: when I was stuck in traffic with a screaming baby, and realized I'd forgotten his bottle and pacifier. When I one day, pathetically, dissolved into tears on the way back home from the greengrocer, because I forgot how to say "banana" in Turkish and could only keep miming a vaguely phallic symbol with my hands.

This was why Istanbul was so important to us:

As a parent, you have a lot of dreams for your child. Some of them are silly and funny—you hope that they'll be musical prodigies! you hope they'll become a soccer star!—and some of them are serious: you hope they'll be kind. You hope they'll have integrity. You hope they'll learn humility before it's a lesson life deals them, cruelly and surprisingly. But I think, as parents, we all have a pet one: something serious, something personal, something you're lacking, something you were never taught, something you pride yourself on having. Whatever it is, you can think: if I can just see this quality in my child, I'll know I did a good job.

This was mine: I hope my son can see outside the confines of his own community. I hope, at times, he'll make himself a willing stranger to it, the better to see with clear eyes when the community he belongs to—one that gives him extraordinary privilege, one that might make him feel safe and accepted, one that rewards him for using the resources he was lucky enough to be born with—acts wrongly and unjustly. I don't believe that travel is the only way to facilitate this, of course, but given that we had the resources, moving to Istanbul was merely the simplest way to begin teaching him the following: as important as a strong community is, it is exponentially more important to realize that it won't always be right. That there's something valuable in willingly shaking off the placid comfort of belonging in order to place yourself, however temporarily, as an outsider in a strange community—where people act differently, and pray differently, and speak differently—to better understand the follies of your own.

For Aaron, at best, there might only be a moment of familiarity when he hears the chatter of Turkish, or maybe the brief resurfacing of a long dormant memory if, many years from now, he finds himself standing once again by the Bosphorus, along whose winding side he learned to walk. But, like most things parents do for their kids, it was a precedent we wanted to set, an admittedly strange gift we wanted to give, regardless of any conscious appreciation or lessons learned from his end. When my husband and I promised each other that we'd keep traveling after kids, it was really a series of promises we made to Aaron.

We promise to show you as much of the world and its people as we can, so one day you'll better understand your place in it. We promise to teach you the importance of venturing outside your community, so one day you'll better understand how to think and speak and act separately from it—how to challenge it. And we promise that, on all these points, when the time comes, we'll do our best to lead you by example.

I am wearing Aaron in the Classic Linen Sling in Driftwood (now archived). My husband and I took these photos on our last day in Istanbul, during a final wander through its spice market. 

market lokum meaaronsling6 sling2 spices meaaronsling7 spicemarketstore teas collage1 meaaronsling maarnarajk

6.17.2015

old family photos of new york



(an old skyline)


One thing I love about living in New York, once again, is the sense of place I feel about many parts of the city. Over 25 years ago, my parents moved to Hell's Kitchen in the mid-80s, and then to Queens, where I spent several years of my childhood. When I visited the Transit Museum with Aaron the other week on a rainy morning, I recognized an old subway car as the one I sometimes rode with my mom on her commute to work in the late 80s, when I was a tiny thing. (Of course, then, they were all covered in graffiti, inside and out.) Reminded me I had dug up some of these old photos during a visit home over the holidays.



(mom, on a roof)



(dad and friends, on a beach)



(mom, in chinatown)



(parents and friends, during a solidarity protest in '89)

6.16.2015

reading: eiger dreams



This is a photo of John Gill, known for his meditative style of bouldering, who's also the subject of the second essay in Krakauer's collection of mountaineering articles, Eiger Dreams

It's the last book of Krakauer's that I haven't read, and—after the extreme disappointment of Missoula and on the recommendation of too many people to count—I finally picked up a copy. I have no idea why I waited so long. It's funny, touching, and profoundly inspiring, whether or not you like mountains. 

P.S. Footage of one of Gill's climbs begins at 0:20 in the video linked above. It is completely, terrifyingly, awe-inspiringly insane, and it's probably just a ho-hum day for him! And, apparently, in the twenty-odd years since the publication of Eiger Dreams, he hasn't slowed down

6.12.2015

happy loving day



In case you were wondering: Loving v. Virginia.

it rained last week







He's currently enjoying some time at his grandma's—I pick up on on Saturday—and we miss him so much! New York is chugging along while he's on vacation, but there are tons of stoops that need sitting on, and subway poles left unlicked (just my kid?).