India

I went to India in April with some of my best friends and here are the pictures to prove it.

The group was, from left to right, Abby, Jessa, Andrew, and myself. Andrew and Jessa are a couple of my best friends and I’m sure Abby would be too if we ever lived within 1,000 miles of each other, which I’m pretty sure has never been the case in the quarter century we’ve both been around. So needless to say, it was bound to be a super fun trip and MAN was it great.

 

First stop: tea. This was taken from a cable car that leads from the north end of Darjeeling down to the tiny village of Tukvar. For a negligible amount of rupees, this was an awesome 15 minute ride above the foggy valley where some of the world’s finest teas are grown. We also had no idea the cable car existed until our driver just dropped us off and was like, “Ride. Tea. You like.”

 

Abby and Jessa, henceforth known as “the babes,” enjoying a nice milk tea in Tukvar at the bottom of the cable car route. Andrew and I started calling them the babes after multiple creepy Indian men asked to take pictures with them or of them. Behind Abby was a sweet poster of Avril Lavigne, who we continued to see posters of throughout the trip. Who knew that Indians loved Avril so much?

 

They were laying out the tea immediately after it had been plucked that morning.

 

All of us outside the tea processing building, with our “tour guide” there on the left. I put him in quotes because he was just some guy who walked up to us as we were having tea and asked if we wanted to tour a tea estate (Um, let me think about it… YES). We bought some tea from this place and it was super good. You can actually read about the exact estate we visited on their website.

 

On top of Observatory Hill in Darjeeling, which I think is actually a site for both Buddhists as well as Hindus. The colorful flags are prayer flags, a common sight in the Himalayas, but there is a big Hindu temple on top of the hill as well. Oh, and tons of monkeys. I hate ‘em. By the way, I think the prayer flags are pretty cool. From Wikipedia: “The Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all.” I can get on board with that.

 

On our second day in Darjeeling it decided to rain a lot, so we headed back to our hostel – which really was more like a cabin – and had some tea, warmed ourselves by the fireplace, listened to Bon Iver, and had a nice chat.

 

Back in New Delhi we endeavored to make the 200 km journey to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. We were told it was a three hour drive (which would make a totally reasonable average of 70 km/hour) so we headed out at 7 a.m. with our driver, a friendly Sikh from Punjab. It turned out to take 5 full hours to get there due to the insane traffic and road conditions in India so we basically just got out and saw the Taj, had lunch, and drove back to New Delhi, but it was a fun day nonetheless.

 

The Taj needs little explanation. It’s a huge mausoleum that Mughal emperor Shah Jahan built for his wife way back in the 1600s. It’s pretty impressive.

 

I feel like we’ll look at this picture in 30 years and laugh.

 

Back in New Delhi Andrew, Jessa, and I went to visit the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India. You’re not allowed in if you’re wearing shorts or a tank top, so we had to borrow some fabric to drape over our vanilla skin. When the call to worship started we were kindly asked to leave.

 

So we left the mosque and wandered the back alleys of Central New Delhi until we stumbled upon a guy making some Masala chai on the street. We stopped and enjoyed a cup of the brown stuff despite the sweltering heat.

So that was India. We were only there for a little under a week, which – I know, I know – is much too short. But it was a lot of fun and absolutely worth it, even if it was short. The babes left and headed back home while Andrew and I got on a plane and made for the mountains of Nepal. Next post will be our adventures through Kathmandu and the surrounding Himalayan foothills.

Old friends in The Old World

In the month of July I had the chance to spend some quality time with two of my old friends, Andrew and Lydia. Andrew came to visit me here in Berlin and I went to Belgrade to see Lydia.

 

Andrew and I had a bonkers good time and the ten days he was in Berlin went by in a flash. We did some normal Berlin things like barbecue on the river:

Andrew happened to come during fashion week in Berlin. The company I work for is deeply involved in the Berlin fashion industry and was producing a runway show for a Berlin-based designer that week so Andrew and I ended up helping out with that. Andrew actually ended up serving gin and tonics to the guests:

The next day we both got to go backstage at another fashion show, a little treat in return for our hard work. Then I took Friday and Monday off from work and we went to Warsaw for a few days. We ended up with some amazing Couchsurfing hosts Dorota, Piotr, and Pawel. They cooked us some delicious meals like this breakfast:

Warsaw isn’t the most aesthetically beautiful city – most of it was destroyed in World War II and rebuilt by the communists afterwards – and we got a lot of rain the weekend we were there, but we honestly didn’t mind since we had such great hosts. We ended up just hanging out with them in their apartment most of the weekend. We did check out a few sights like Palace of Culture and Science, built by Uncle Joe, and the Warsaw Uprising Museum (Warsaw Uprising) which were very interesting. But the most fun was hanging out with our hosts and talking about movies, music, Polish culture, American culture, Tim Burton, etc. Andrew and I learned how to drink vodka properly. First you should stick to vodka the whole evening, but the key is to accompany your drink with some nice heavy foods. We had some tasty meat, white bread, and pickles to wash down our Krupnik:

Piotr also got out his hookah pipe. I’m not a big hookah fan, but the way he used coconut milk or whatever it was to cool and flavor the smoke was pretty nice. And Piotr could blow mad smoke rings.

 

So, that’s a bit of what Andrew and I did. Then a couple of weeks after Andrew left I made a weekend trip to Belgrade to visit my dear friend Lydia and her parents who just moved to Belgrade.

We mostly just walked around town a lot. Here we had some traditional Serbian food, which is basically just meat and bread, but is quite tasty.

I bought a book about the best coffee shops in London for 100 dinar ($1.50). It was published 15 years ago, but I couldn’t help myself.

We also visited Lydia’s grandparents, who are very sweet. They lived in New York for many years and her grandfather speaks decent English, but her grandmother was limited to the occasional Serbian interjection. They live in an apartment block typical of late Yugoslavian communism, if I’m not mistaken. So a little more cheerful and nice than a concrete block from the 50s, but still patently communist.

So, some good times, some cities and countries with tortured, tumultuous recent histories, but most striking to me personally was the sudden revelation of old friendships. It was a marked contrast to my social life in Berlin. While I’ve made some good friends here, there is something about the deep knowing that happens once you’ve been friends with someone over a period of years. I haven’t known anyone other than my parents longer than I’ve known Andrew, and that’s not something you can conjure up in a year long friendship no matter how well you get along. And I realized that Lydia has now become one of my “old friends”. I met her my first year in New York and we became close friends in the second year when we lived in the same building. Now when I look back I realize we’ve been all over the place together: LA, Iceland, Niagra Falls, Toronto, New Orleans, and now Belgrade. So it was really nice to be reminded that I have some really great old friends, even if I don’t get to see them that often at the moment.

Reflections on Fasting Caffeine (ie, Coffee)

So I fasted caffeine for Lent this year. I’ve never fasted anything for Lent before nor was it particularly spiritually motivated; I was just curious and had been drinking tons of coffee.

As expected, the first several days were monumentally hard to get through – sitting at my laptop I regularly battled sleepiness at work – but I lacked the infamous withdrawal headaches. I told myself that it would get better, that of course the beginning would be tough, and it did get better, but at an imperceptibly slow pace. By the end, I had sort of gotten used to it, and even considered (however briefly) continuing the fast past Easter.

Anyway, those are the facts. But what’s perhaps more interesting, at least to me, is what to make of it all. I started drinking coffee, and thus caffeine, in significant amounts sometime during sophomore year of college, I think. It was a combination of college and having free coffee at my internship. Then I really got into it after I came back from Germany at the beginning of 2009. I started making it myself and drinking it black. But all along, or even before I started drinking coffee in the first place, I had wanted to keep it to a minimum, to make sure it was something I did when I wanted not something I did in order to feel normal. I remember growing up watching my parents drink coffee every morning, setting the coffee maker to brew automatically before the alarm even went off, and thinking how I didn’t want to be like that. Well, in short, I think I’ve come to terms with being like that. I like coffee. I like the way it tastes. I like the habit and the occasion and the ritual of drinking it. I like caffeine. I like how it affects my mood and my general countenance towards the day. Yes, I can live without it, but I think that’s like saying I could live without chocolate, or without Advil. Yeah. I don’t need it. But it makes my life better, so I’m going to enjoy it.

I’d love to hear feedback on this. As with most things I think about, my mind is yet to be fully made and my feeling on the matter is subject to discussion and change.

The Job

Soooooo. It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything on here so there’s lot’s to catch up on. Let’s start back in December. First my pal Jeff came and visited from New York:

The sign reads: “hot, long, tasty.” Don’t know why he wanted to stand there.

Jeff, Parker, and I went to Dresden.

Libby and Brittney, some friends from the Midwest, happened to be in town at the same time as Jeff.

Then there was Christmas. A photo for each of my family members:


My beautiful sister.


My crazy father.


My dear mother.


My stud of a brother. He got a freaking snuggie for Christmas.


The Christmas tradition at Grandma’s house.


Some beverages from my birthday party. I didn’t take many pictures, but the Mexican Coke and German beer were highlights.

Then I was back in Berlin for New Year’s Eve:

So. With all that out of the way we can talk about my job. First of all, I got hired. They asked me to stay on after the internship is over next month, so that’s exciting. The main thing, or at least the coolest thing I’ve been doing is interviewing actors and film directors. One of the things the company does is this type of journalism: We interview someone, type up the text, edit it, write an introduction, and sell it to magazines or sometimes newspapers. It’s funny that I can sort of say I’m a “journalist” right now. I’ve never considered myself a writer or really liked writing and if you’ve known me for a while you know how much I hated English class in high school. The thing is, I write well enough to do what we do pretty well. In fact, being a native English speaker makes me an asset to have around since we sell to a lot of international markets. But, the part that I really like is that I get to talk to people about movies a lot, people who are making movies, and I get to see free press screenings. I’m in tune with the industry and what movies are coming out when and who’s getting Oscar buzz. As an aspiring filmmaker, I think it could be quite a beneficial environment to spend some time in.

Now for something really exciting (at least to me). This Friday I’m interviewing Wim Wenders about his new film Pina. If you don’t know who Wim Wenders is, he’s one of the most well-known German directors around today and he’s made some amazing films. If you’re interested, check out Paris, Texas. It’s one of my favorite movies. He also made this short documentary in 1982 called Room 666 (only because that’s the number of the hotel room it was shot in, people) that I saw in college that really affected me. Here’s the specific part:

So I’m excited to talk to Mr. Wenders. I respect him a lot and hope to learn something from him. And his new film Pina is really great. It’s a documentary about Pina Bausch, an innovative German dancer and choreographer, shot in the best 3D I’ve ever seen. Avatar included, suckers.

edit: a few updates. I forgot some things. I also was in New York for a brief spell. I stayed with these three wonderful ladies:

And then in January my friend Meredith visited from New York. We went to see some old castles and stuff:

And finally, I want to suggest that everyone go listen to Seryn. They are a band from Denton, TX that my good friend UA told me about. Their debut album just came out this week and it’s sooooo good. I can’t stop listening to it. Listen to some songs here. Then buy the album on iTunes.

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