Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My relationship with Chicago is probably my most forgiving relationship. If I could choose, I would live in a place where you could hike on the weekends, somewhere quieter and smaller where houses have yards, maybe down South where winters aren't as long (a city in North Carolina perhaps?). But Chicago is home, one that I both complain about and defend. It's a complicated, loving, real relationship. 

At times, it's easy for me to find its allure. Things are happening in this city - not as much as in New York or LA - but the art scene is expansive, stimulating, and inclusive. Its tree lined streets, bungalows, and lakeshore add to its charm. Even though the land is flat and fairly unexciting, there are some nice Midwest hideaways like lakehouses in Michigan or farms in rural Illinois or Madison, Wisconsin. And the advantage of living in a big city means that no matter how long I live here, there are always pockets I stumble upon that I never knew existed before.

I've wanted to do a guide to my hometown in this space forever so here it finally goes...

The Lake - Lake Michigan is the largest piece of natural beauty in the city. Head to the lake shore for a run, a walk, or a bike ride. Sit on its concrete steps with a glass of wine or in the grassy areas and read. It is by far my favorite place in Chicago and a must-see if you come visit.

iO - The second best place in the city. Every night hosts multiple improv shows. I tend to go on Wednesday nights when the shows are free and the lineup hosts two of my favorite improv groups (Carl & the Passions and the Virgin Daiquiris). Bonus, the new location is right across the street from Chicago's largest Whole Foods, which is indulgent and obnoxious and really fun.

Millennium Park - The Art Institute, the Bean, the Pritzker Pavilion, and Maggie Daley Park all sit nestled together in the loop. Even if it is a debt-ladened endeavor, like most Chicago ventures, it is well done. The Bean never fails to amaze me, the Art Institute is my favorite place to spend an afternoon, and the Pritzker Pavilion (an outside concert venue) has movies in the park and live music during the summer. Everyone comes to gather in the pavilion after work and picnic on the grass with wine and cheese on warm days.

The Green Mill - The Green Mill is an iconic jazz bar that keeps its crowds small and always makes for an enjoyable night out. For other nightlife options, I've been meaning to check out Rosa's Lounge, a blues bar in my neighborhood. For dancing, I love Berlin, which (as yelp puts it) has "a diverse, no-attitude, all-orientations crowd on the dance floor." I recently discovered CumbiaSazo, a monthly dance party in Wicker Park that plays cumbia and other Latin music all night long, and Beauty Bar hosts nineties themed dance parties that are popular. Chicago has an endless amount of dive bars; for example, Delilah's, Rainbo Club, the California Clipper and Happy Village. I could really keep naming bars forever. Board games at Guthries Tavern in Lakeview is a favorite as well.

The Music Box - There are many movie theaters in Chicago that I love but for a visitor, the Music Box is the best. The theater plays Godard films, midnight showings of Jurassic Park, Sound of Music sing-a-longs, and other foreign films and cult classics. It touts itself as "the year round film festival", hosts a live organist at some showings, and is Roger Ebert's favorite.

Museum of Mexican Art - The Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen is a nice contrast to the modern, white walls of the Art Institute. Though its a small neighborhood art museum, it hosts impressive exhibits. An added plus is that afterwards, you can wander down 18th Street for pupusas, cheap tacos, Mexican hot chocolate or take a walk through the neighborhood to look at the murals that line its side streets.

Devon St. - Devon Street is a ten block stretch of Indian, Pakistani, Iraqi (though mostly Indian) restaurants and shops. It's a wonderful example, as one of my professors said, of a non-gentrified, thriving commercial corridor. Its full of languages and aromas. For my birthday last year, I came here with friends for a dinner and bought a mortar and pestle that sits in my kitchen, beautiful and unused. 

Chicago Neighborhoods - Chicago is broken up by neighborhoods, with each one deviating a little from the next. Head to Wicker Park for a strip full of record stores, book stores, and vintage clothes. Logan Square has amazing bars and restaurants (I recommend Lula Cafe for brunch and Longman and Eagle for dinner). Andersonville feels like a quaint Michigan town and Pilsen, noted before, has wonderful murals and Mexican restaurants and cafes. I spend most of my time in those four neighborhoods but Chicago is big and endless so there's a lot to explore.

Here's to hoping you do.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I've been meaning to a do a house update with photos of my new apartment since I decided to stay and move in after almost a year of changing, tentative plans. But I left my camera battery at home a few weekends ago and am still awaiting it in the mail. Oh well, until next time.

Since August, my weekends have been full. I went to a street festival one weekend to see Gaby Moreno live, traveled to New York City to celebrate my sister's 30th birthday, and volunteered at the NPH fundraising gala, among other things. When I'm not running around, I'm settling in, working on house projects (thrifting, painting, setting up a worm compost) or cooking (blueberry crumble, apple-cinnamon-cardamom pancakes, huge pots of rice and beans).

I'm always divided. Sometimes I want to minimize my belongings so I can up and travel at any moment and other times, I think there is something magical about staying still. I talk a lot about living away from the city but in the summer, with some greenery, it's not so bad. Right now my apartment is full of hand-me-downs and thrift store finds but for the first time, I've also been able to start collecting household items (glasses, plates, mugs, crock pots, artwork, blankets - although all still secondhand). I hope that this time they'll make their way with me from place to place.

Having a place of my own after a couple years of instability does lead me to over-think, daydreaming about taking the little savings I have and going across the border to Michigan, where town populations are nil and land is cheap, to buy a house to fix up. I could afford it; I'd have acreage and access to undisturbed lake shore; I'd be a few hours away from Chicago when need be. But life usually makes more sense in the city being that it has access to jobs so most likely, one day I'll probably just transition to the 30-year-old version of my neighborhood (Andersonville). 

Neither plan sounds bad but then again, why daydream and plan for the future when right now I can have a glass of wine in my backyard among sunflowers in full bloom? 

Pictured above: the Rockaways in New York City; my back porch

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Perhaps its an obsession with borders or the natural curiosity of wanting to know your neighbor or most likely the many nights in college spent watching Y Tu Mamá También (that last scene where the Spanish woman shouts to Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, “You’re so lucky to live here. This place oozes life!”) but either way, I have always had a fascination with Mexico. Places like Guanajauto, Merída, Chiapas, Oaxaca sound ideal, relaxed, disorderly, colorful to me but since I only had a week to explore and dislike packing in too much, I figured Mexico City would be a good place to start. Finally this July, for a round trip ticket that was less than my plane ticket to NYC last weekend, I made my way to Mexico.

“Travel is only glamorous in retrospect,” Paul Theroux wrote in The Patagonian Express, and accordingly, my trip to Mexico City involved a lost phone (left it in the cab), a little bout of sickness, and many unforeseen delayed flights but still I can’t stop thinking about mezcal served with a side of orange and Frida Kahlo’s garden and our apartment in La Roma near a roundabout full of little cafes. 

I’m lucky to have a friend who wants to vacation in Mexico City with me, and beyond that, I’m lucky to have, between us, three friends who have lived in el Distrito Federal previously, who sent us detailed lists of places to visit. From what they recommended and what I gathered, here’s my list of favorite sights:

Roma and Condesa – Our guidebook laid out a walk through Roma and Condesa, the two bourgie, upper-class neighborhoods of Mexico City. The walk led us pass outdoor cafes, city plazas, a few bookstores, and 18th century style buildings. On any given day, I love walking and people-watching but even more so when I’m traveling and gathering my bearings so this happened to be one of the highlights of my trip. My friend and I went on a walk at dinnertime so the city was especially alive after everyone had come home from work. Be sure to stop by Mercado Roma when dining, Parque España when relaxing, and El Péndulo Bookstore if you’re in the mood to browse.

Dance salsa – I may be biased because I dance salsa but I think  the worst thing you can do when travelling to Latin America is to seek out trendy bars that only play English music because it is de moda these days. If you don’t dance salsa, just go and humble yourself, take a seat, enjoy the music and watch. Or dance – I swear, you’ll end up enjoying yourself. In Mexico City, Mama Rumba is the place go but there’s also La Hija de los Apaches if you’re feeling adventurous.

The Frida Kahlo Museum – The museum is worth it for the trip to Coyoacán alone. Coyoacán feels like a quaint town inside the massive city and offers some respite from the hustle and bustle. The museum is an ode to one of my favorite artists but also in general, a pleasant house and garden tour. Coyoacán’s center plaza and markets are great for wandering through, especially when all of the university kids and families have filled the square at night.

Bosque de Chapultepec – Most come here for the Anthropology Museum, which if I hadn’t been fighting off a stomach sickness, would have been fascinating. I thought the bigger attraction though was the park itself with its 1,695 acres. I only saw a peek inside Chapultepec (the largest park in Latin America and also the lungs of Mexico City) but I’d say it’s definitely worth exploring.

Tepoztlán – I recommend taking a day trip outside of the city. While the capital is a creative force and full of energy, most of Mexico’s magic lies in its countryside. I ended up heading to Miacatlan to visit Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, the organization I worked for in Honduras, but I hear great things about the mountain town of Tepoztlán and am quite said I missed it.

Calle Regina – Calle Regina reminded me of a spot in Granada, Spain I used to go where the street was closed for pedestrian use and outdoor cafes sprawled out onto the brick lane but true to Mexico, it was a bit too chaotic to be considered charming. Students and artists flock here at night, which will make you feel in the know but then again, will also mean you have to ward off the piropos that men send your way as one of the few gueras on the street. Per the advice of a friend, I went out to La Burra Blanca, an anarchist dive bar with cheap beers and live cumbia.

Mezcalería – There are too many mezcal bars in the city to direct you to just one but you can’t leave the city without sitting down and sipping on mezcal, served with orange slices and sal de gusano (salt ground with dried caterpillers). On my last night in the city, my friend I wandered in the rain to find a spot to end the trip and after walking into two slightly unimpressive bars, we finally stumbled upon a mezcalería that had full tables and played salsa quietly in the background. Hearing Spanish all around me, sipping on my mezcal, I looked at my friend and realized I needed to come back every year I can.

Also worth mentioning: the Zócalo, the Palacio Nacional for Diego Rivera’s murals, Xocimilco, the ruins of Teotihuacan, Arena México for a Lucha Libre fight, Fuente de Cibeles, La Lagunilla market for antiques, this wonderful Airbnb, and the list goes on…

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I got into Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital city, three hours late, not knowing if I would have a ride to where I was staying forty minutes outside the city. Two friends were waiting for me at the airport and so I was saved from taking public transit with my suitcase, all of my belongings, my passport. I got into the car and said a few words to my friends but as we started moving, windows open, the noise of the city was too loud to maintain conversation. I looked out the window instead, held my bangs back as my hair blew with the wind, and stared at familiar sights, taking it all in a year-and-a-half later.

The exhaust of the other cars caked my face as we rode through Tegucigalpa. Plastic was burning among the dust at the road's edge, smoke rose up from garbage bins. I looked at the men who called the side of the road their home, the women who sold watermelons, pineapples, unripe mangoes. We soon moved passed the city into smaller villages, the remote mountains that sat just minutes away from Tegucigalpa. It's my second home, Honduras. A place I love hesitantly. Only as one can when it hasn't hurt you yet.

Every time I go to Tegucigalpa, I feel like I’m searching for an answer to a question I’ve had since I first got off the plane years ago. Every person I meet, ever encounter I have – whether its a 19-year-old girl who takes me shopping at the city mall or the 65-year-old gringo who is living here on his social security – is an investigation. Amidst all the chaos, am I naïve to think there’s beauty here too? 

I’ve heard too many stories to know that the media reports are true. But I keep asking questions because I’m curious, a fledgling journalist, also an outsider who can’t wrap my head around organized violence. I keep collecting testimonies from taxi drivers, the people next to me on the bus, the men I go on dates with. 

During the week, Wilmer takes me to Café Paradiso, a café with an outdoor garden in the center of the city. He’s 30-years-old and learned English by listening to jazz, blues, classic rock. We talk about the state of affairs in Honduras because it’s as common a conversation as talking about the weather. His band plays at the protests that occur in Tegucigalpa every Friday. He’s been protesting for years, even during the coup d'etat of 2009. I hear myself saying, It’s hard to know what you can do when the problems are so big. But here we are, he reassures me, luchando. Fighting.

After a plato típico, a walk through a museum, and fresh juice in the shade, I ask him if he has problems living in the city, having grown up here. No, no tengo problemas, he says. He’s found a job. Though not very lucrative, he can pocket the money instead of having to pay impuestos de guerra, or taxes to the neighborhood gangs. It’s more who you hang out with here, he says. Por eso, no tengo problemas. It feels nice to hear a Honduran express a thought I’ve felt guilty for feeling, traveling the country and falling in love bit by bit. 

Perhaps it's the afternoon soccer games in the pueblo or the popsicles at the neighborhood pulperia, the warm ocean with children swimming in their clothes dodging the jellyfish, the school buses that charge through the mountains, the herds of cows that cross my path on my way to work. Perhaps it's the novelty of it all. Perhaps it's the community that greets me with a hug and a kiss.

During my week, I pass the days with my old friends and hundreds of children on a 2000-acre ranch. Every night, I watch the sun set, the sky become lavender, the eucalyptus trees a charcoal gray. At the end of the week, I ride home, not sure why I am returning. Brandon Stanton said it all of so well this week. But so did a simple line of graffiti I saw spray-painted on the side of the road while riding to the airport. Que tus suenos sean mas grande que tus miedos, it read. 

May your dreams be bigger than your fears. Slightly mawkish, but seems worth fighting for.

If you ever find yourself in Tegucigalpa


Cien Anos
Sabor Cubano

El Picacho - A park with a large statue of Jesus, a view of the city, a zoo and gardens.
La Tigra - My favorite place in Honduras. There's an inn run by a German couple who are very hospitable, also incredible cooks.
Santa Lucia - A mountain town outside the city with a tea shop that's model after los teterias in Granada, Spain. The shop sits underneath the trees, on top of the city, next to a charming one-room church.

Pictured above: photos from the archives when I lived in Honduras a few years ago; for more updated photos, feel free to flip through my instagram @sallywafflez

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I turned 25 this week.

It sounds old to me but if I think about it, the reality of my life is not so far from what I envisioned as a girl lusting over the thought of one day being in my mid-twenties. I don't feel strong and independent but I suppose I am. The reality of my life is more Broad City than what I think I had in my head years ago but that's most likely a good thing. 

More than anything, I've found that right now I'm much happier working than I was studying. I'm learning the names of my state legislators, how their budget cuts affect families, the difference between SIJS and U visas, how to dance a decent salsa. I also think that all the schooling I'll ever need comes in the mail every week inside the pages of the New Yorker.

I'll update soon with Mexico and Honduras posts but for now, I need a Sunday night spent making a pizza bagel and doing nothing but 
sitting on the couch watching the new Tig Notaro documentary on Netflix.

For more interesting content than I can muster, HONY's Pakistan tour is beyond incredible. The landscapes, the brutal honesty, the humor, the multitude/diversity of stories encapsulates everything I love about well-done media and art. Also, I just came back from vacation but cannot stop scrolling through the Airbnb website. If summer were longer, I'd escape here for a weekend. I suppose I can always escape in the fall or winter but there's something lovely about the summer. All of this Vitamin D has just got me feeling some type of way.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Hope everyone had a wonderful Fourth of July!

While everyone else went off to their lakehouses, I stayed at home and slowly made my way through a list of errands while listening to this album on repeat. It was glorious. I also headed to Lake Michigan for fireworks a night early only to find Chicago discontinued Third of July fireworks years ago because of budgetary issues. Whoops. Lucky for me, wine by the lake with an old friend is still magical on its own. I might be pretty quiet on this space for a little bit because soon (!) I'm off to Mexico and Honduras. HASTA ENTONCES.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

I did not grow up going out to eat. I grew up in a family of four kids, with a stay at home mother and a dad who turned down certain jobs so he could spend his weekends at home with us. We were a road tripping and motel-staying family, a pack-your-lunch-when-you-head-to-Great-America kind of crew. My parents thought they wouldn’t be able to swing a vacation one summer because expenses were too tight but then they decided against it, driving us all to the Rockies and managing to never surpass their $100 a day budget (that was total to feed, shelter, entertain six humans). When we were home, we always, every night, had dinner at the kitchen table.

So to me, the eating out lifestyle seems a bit excessive. I'll enjoy a meal out because food and company is enjoyable but mostly, the simpleton in me would rather be at home, cooking a meal. The places that do get me blissed-out excited aren’t necessarily the trendiest (although I admit, I love a trip to Lula). The places I frequent are the places that cook what I could never make. Pupusas with curtido, cabbage slaw and vinegar. Korean stews with kimchi. Veggie biryani and a big side of naan. There’s a place two blocks away from my house that I swear por la virgin sells the best tortas in the city, and I'm the happiest little drunkard whenever the tamale man comes by a bar.

Usually I don't venture outside of my neighborhood too much but a couple work events have taken me to the outskirts of the city lately. I went through Archer Heights and into Englewood the other week, and go up to Bronzeville every week to volunteer, with my eyes scanning the streets of Chicago that are still unknown to me. After driving up North one day, I stopped on Devon St. after work, heading to Ghareeb Nawaz, an Indian restaurant that I haven’t been to since I moved to Chicago six years ago. A man was eating his Indian food alone at my table, and after introducing himself, he asked out of the blue, “Hablas espanol?” I looked at him, blonde-haired and green-eyed, and laughed, saying, "Yes, I do speak Spanish." He was Colombian, a teacher. We talked about Honduras, A Hundred Years of Solitude, the West side of Chicago all while we ate our biryani on a metal plate. 

Chicago is very flat, concrete, and big but what it lacks in terrain, it makes up for in cultural richness. I could watch Anthony Bourdain for days - and I did once when I had mono - but I forget that sometimes out my door is the best Korean, Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese dishes I’ll have without stepping onto a plane first (which reminds me of Bourdain's Bronx episode). The beauty in the ethnically diverse make up of my city just seems like an important thing to acknowledge right now, especially since so many current events make you realize that others still have trouble seeing the privilege of it all.

Pictured above: Pupuseria El Excelente in Pilsen; Joong Boo Market in Avondale