Tag Archives: USA

Up in the Adirondacks

I’ve always wanted to raise a family near wherever my parents are living because I grew up far away from my grandparents. My mum’s parents live in Montreal, QC where I was born and my dad’s parents have moved from Montreal to Toronto, ON where most of my cousins live. Seeing my grandparents was always a scheduled event involving a car trip, overnight bags, passports, and green cards (which we forgot once). I was always envious of friends whose grandparents picked them up from school and friends who saw their grandparents whenever anyone wanted. Spending time with grandparents has really always been something that I’ve treasured, which was exactly the case during our week in the Adirondack Mountains in good ole upstate New York.

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Our dog, Puck, posing for a photo on the dock

In order to bring all of us together, though we missed my brother who couldn’t take off work, my parents rented a cabin on the lake just outside the adorable little town of Old Forge, NY. We went into town for ice cream, Mum’s daily latte, and to visit Old Forge Hardware, which sells everything and is a delight to explore.We didn’t have cell service and wifi only worked in certain corners of the cabin, so I read a lot and was very happy to disconnect for a while.

In true holiday fashion, we quite enjoyed our view of the world from the cabin porch:

We had a pontoon boat and a kayak to play with and were out on the water every day. My dad and grandfathers went out fishing a few times and I went with them for the sake of the scenery. In six days, the three men managed to catch two fish. That, according to my dad, is why they call it fishing and not catching.

I love being out on the water.

I also love hiking! One morning, my parents and I hiked Black Bear Mountain and we decided to bring Puck along just to see how he would do. Turns out, the dog is part mountain goat and it’s a good thing, too, because the trail was fairly steep and very muddy.

The view from the summit was beautiful, too:

Later in the week, my dad and I hiked Bald Mountain, so named because it’s very rocky (as opposed to leafy, I guess). It’s a much shorter hike and therefore was also more crowded. I’ve never spent time in the Jurassic Age, but I think it looked like Bald Mountain.

We climbed this tower at the summit . . .

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. . . from which my dad pointed out all of the seven lakes that make up the central region of the Adirondacks:

And of course, because that’s what you do up in the mountains when it gets cold after sundown, we made a fire every night. My trusty Syracuse University sweatshirt reeked of smoke (and so did my hair) but I had packed it just for that reason. I’m a bit of a pyromaniac when I’m allowed to be; I love watching the flames dance and hearing the crackle of the wood and the whistling of the fire. Had some good fun with my zoom lens, too:

In sum, that was the week. Time outside to hike in the mountains, boat and kayak in the lake, and run along the trails. Quiet time to read. Singing, telling stories, and laughing over the fire. Being together with family. Very relaxing and very simple. Can’t ask for more than that.

Travel Guide: Washington, DC

Last week, I spent three days in Washington, DC with the seventh grade students at school. The most difficult part of the trip for me was not knowing any of the students I was chaperoning. It’s hard to manage a group of 60 when I’m constantly trying to describe what I’ve seen or overheard to other colleagues because I don’t know who I’m talking about. For example:

“Three boys with glasses and brown hair are standing in the back of the bus.”
“A tall skinny girl is crying in the hallway.”
“I think two kids were out in the hall after lights out but I don’t know if they go to our school.”

Etc.

But DC itself was fun! The highlight for me was seeing my brother, who is a sophomore (second year, for those not attuned to American school slang) at a university just outside of DC. He joined us for lunch and a trip to the National Archives one afternoon.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How did our 60 students spend three days in DC? We ate a lot and visited a lot of washrooms, but managed to take in a few cultural sites, too.

Washington, DC is about six hours from New York City by bus, so we left first thing Monday morning. Our first stop upon reaching DC was the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which I cannot recommend enough. It opened in September and it’s quite difficult to get tickets – and I completely understand its popularity. The museum is designed so that visitors begin at the bottom, in the “belly of the boat,” as it was explained to us. From there, visitors work their way up through the darkest hours of African American history in the United States, including the slave trade and the aspects of America that were built on the backs of slaves. The exhibits devoted to the civil rights and Black Power movements were fascinating, too. The museum ends in sun-soaked galleries highlighting achievements in sports, the arts, and politics, as well as a look at how discrimination stills plays a huge, ugly role in American history and culture.

The design reminded me a lot of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and the stories run parallel to each other in dark, sad ways. When we “other” the people around us, we lose our collective humanity and we do terrible things to each other. That’s the sorry moral of the story that society has yet to learn.

I truly wish we had time in the museum without students. I could have read every single artifact description, all the names of slave ships etched on the walls, all the names of those sold at auction. Like when visiting Holocaust museums, I felt this pressing need to pay my respects to those who died at the hands of people who didn’t consider them people. I’d love to go back on my own when tickets are easier to get so I can spend more time learning than I was able to on this trip.

That evening, we took a boat cruise on the Potomac and I was completely in my happy place. I love water and boats and it was sunny and the kids, though not the best museum-goers, were excellent DJs.

The next morning started with a visit to the US Capitol, which I don’t remember doing the only other time I was in DC about seven years ago. We had a really interesting tour and learned about the architecture of the building. There’s an awful lot of patriotic symbolism in there! And, no surprise, there were differences in political opinion each step of the way, lately regarding selection and placement of statues, which are gifted by the states but placed by the federal government.

I was responsible for picking up House and Senate passes from our local Congressional representative, which was fun because the Congresswoman’s aide gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the underground connecting hallways of the Capitol when she brought me back to my group. She told me how the whole underground structure was redesigned after 9/11 to allow safe access from the Capitol to other government buildings across the street.

The House wasn’t in session (what do they do, exactly, aside from pass healthcare bills that will ruin all of us and then promptly exempt themselves from regulations?) but the Senate was! After yet another round of metal detectors, locking up all of our belongings, and still another metal detector, we were let into the gallery overlooking the Senate with strict instructions to remain silent. For a few minutes, all we could see were pages fetching water or sitting around and talking to each other. Senators occasionally entered the chamber and walked through it to one of the three or four doors along each wall. Just as we were about to leave, Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey began to speak. From where I was sitting, all I could see was the cameraperson filming his speech. Without that speck of a visual, he was just a disembodied voice, though one speaking very passionately about healthcare. The strange thing, at least to me, was that he was speaking to an empty chamber. He addressed the presiding officer who was seated on a dais looking out over the Senate desks. A few minutes in, Markey noted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s entrance to the chamber and gave Schumer the floor. Again, Schumer spoke into a camera in a room empty but for pages, Markey, and the presiding officer. It appears that the senators often watch speeches from the comforts of their offices rather than on the floor. Who knew?! Schumer, too, lambasted the Republican healthcare bill and it was so exciting to hear him. Especially because I know I was not alone among our trip staff in voting for him!

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We lunched in the Sculpture Garden across from the National Archives and that’s where my brother met us. We fed him and he joined us for our exploration of the Archives. As a former student of history, I love old documents. It’s fun to piece stories together and to find accounts that corroborate and contradict each other. I still remember the thrill of finding the source when I was writing my undergrad thesis on the Hitler Youth movement. There are some really amazing memoirs out there by people who were children in Nazi Germany! The National Archives are a lot of fun because they freeze moments in time, moments when key decisions were made that shape the history of this country.

Every school trip to Washington, DC includes visits to the monuments. We started at the Lincoln Memorial . . .

. . . which is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech . . .

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. . . and provides a great view of the Washington Monument, which we did not visit because it’s closed.

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A lot of the kids were tired after the Lincoln Memorial but about half wanted to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and we gladly obliged. The kids know very little about Vietnam and they’re not alone in that. While most students can talk about World War II starting in elementary school, the vast majority of students I’ve taught know nothing about Vietnam until we bring it up in class. And they have a lot of questions. One of my favorite lessons involves Vietnamese textbooks that explain the Vietnam War in very different words than the (*cough*) big name, biased, overly simplistic, corporate, Texas-influenced US textbooks (*cough cough*) use. Having been to the War Remnants Museum (formerly known as the Museum of American War Crimes) in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam since my last visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I had a different understanding of the pointlessness and devastation of Vietnam. Land was burned, lives were lost, and stories were buried. That’s what shame means, I think. And that’s why the memorial is important. It’s a black expanse of wall that lists names of the fallen, explains nothing, and invites questions for everything. The kids asked those questions and I was glad for the opportunity to answer them.

I was also glad to spend a moment at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, which I hadn’t seen before.

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The next day, we spent the morning at the Newseum, which was full of flashing headlines about the FBI. As good a time as any to talk about freedom of speech (and the press and religion and assembly and petition)! Now that I’ve lived in Malaysia and Singapore, neither of which have all of those freedoms, I find myself wondering about the merits of such a free society. For instance, freedom of speech in the US led to an acceptance of hate rhetoric, which led to Trump. So I wonder.

Before hitting the road for our drive back to New York, we stopped at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which was a nice bookend to the National Museum of African American History and Culture that started the trip. Martin Luther King, Jr. was my professor’s chosen case study for a required college course on rhetoric and argumentative writing, so I am very familiar with King’s life, writing, speeches, and civil rights partners, including the SCLC, SNCC, and the NAACP. It was really powerful to see his words carved into stone, especially because of their implications for our choices and policies today.

One of my coworkers kept laughing at my penchant for taking pictures with my well-traveled Converse and suggested I try one with my hand instead. So I chose to photograph my hand with the word that seemed the most meaningful, the most important, the most pressing.

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At the end of the day, that’s what we’re working for.

Travel Guide: New Orleans, LA

Prior to leaving on this long weekend with my mum (the first time we’ve traveled somewhere together!), I had the following conversation with more than a few friends and colleagues:

Curious person: Oh cool, New Orleans! Are you going for Mardi Gras?
Me: No, that’s not until next week.
Curious person: Oh right, of course.

To all of you who asked such a good question, I owe you an apology. I was completely wrong and you seemed to believe what I said without question (likely because I go a lot of places and do a lot of things and usually sound pretty confident when I speak, the latter of which is largely smoke and mirrors anyway). Mea culpa. Lessons learned: Factually, trust no one (as aptly phrased by Kyle) and always, always research.

The Mardi Gras season, as the extremely friendly and hospitable New Orleanians (I may have made up that word) told me, runs from Epiphany in January to actual Mardi Gras day (Fat Tuesday). As the locals explained it, Mardi Gras is an excuse to do as much sinning as possible for 5+ weeks in order to have something to atone for over Lent.

So yes, I was in New Orleans for part of Mardi Gras. And it was amazing. There were parades everywhere at all times of the day and night. Most of these photos are from the Krewe of Cork parade in the French Quarter:

My mum and I thoroughly enjoyed collecting as many beads as we could and ogling in astonishment at the parades, costumes, and general debauchery, especially on Bourbon Street. There are no open container laws in New Orleans, which was a lot of fun and probably explains much of what we saw:

More importantly, we learned a lot about the rich history and culture of New Orleans, which has been Spanish, French, and American throughout its history, creating Creole and Cajun cultures that give the city a flavor and a pulse unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The food is darn good, too, and this is coming from a vegetarian. If I was impressed, omnivores will be even more so.

I have to admit, however, that I still don’t like doughnuts. It was a lot of fun to eat beignets and drink café au lait while walking down the street, but I just don’t like doughnuts. That said, I’d still recommend a visit to Café du Monde, if for no other reason than to say you did. We got there around 8:15am on Saturday morning and beat the lines by about a minute. And the café au lait was truly delicious.

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Mum and I really love wandering along streets and in and out of shops and galleries wherever we are, which is how we spent most of our time. We explored the French Quarter and French Market on our own and also took a French Quarter walking tour to actually learn a thing or two about how New Orleans came to be. We were amazed at the beauty of the streets and buildings, and delighted with the art and music that were everywhere:

Another really excellent walking tour took us through Lafayette Cemetery and the Garden District. There were some incredible homes in the Garden District, with a remarkable diversity of architecture based on sheer whim of the wealthy homeowners.We learned about the burial laws of New Orleans (as long as you wait a year and a day, you can open a tomb and shove another body inside) and some of the history of the city’s wealth from trade. The first burial in Lafayette Cemetery took place in the 1840s and the cemetery is still active, which is really neat:

We also spent one evening on Frenchmen Street where there was jazz everywhere, as well as an art market. The hard part was picking a bar to visit (we chose The Spotted Cat based on several recommendations) and a place to eat afterwards! And then we were interrupted by the Krewe of Chewbacchus parade in Marginy, which was so much fun. Unfortunately, I’m a rather petite person and couldn’t get close enough to the police barrier to take any decent photos of the parade itself. But here’s Frenchmen Street:

On our last night in the city, we took a ghost tour to learn about the haunted history of New Orleans. I’m glad that we did the French Quarter tour first because the histories are obviously intertwined, but I don’t know that I’d seek out another ghost tour. I enjoyed hearing the stories and visiting a possibly haunted bar that doesn’t have electricity, but I got a lot more out of the daytime walking tours. That’s probably not surprising, considering the supernatural is questionable at best.

I’ve always admired the “doors of” posters of various cities that are often on the walls in waiting rooms, so I decided New Orleans was a good opportunity to work on my own collection of “doors of” photos. My favorites, including one set of mailboxes:

The most surprising aspect of New Orleans was the culture of the city and the genuinely open, receptive, and free spirits of all the people I encountered, from the man in the suit to the young couple in togas to the woman wearing only glitter. People playing music on the streets seemed genuinely excited to be doing it and artists hung their work anywhere they could and worked wherever they were standing. Palm and tarot readings were readily available and the voodoo shop we visited could not have been more welcoming; they even suggested a different shop when we couldn’t find what we wanted!

(Full disclosure here: Friends have read my tarot cards twice and palm once, and while I don’t know if I “believe” any of what they said, it sure was telling. And, in hindsight, frighteningly accurate.)

Maybe it was Mardi Gras or Southern hospitality, but there’s something truly wonderful about a place where what is normally considered “subculture” is just everyday being.

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