Accomplished: Visit San Francisco!

Last Thursday, I took a trip to San Francisco with my father for the weekend. I hadn’t been there since I was a baby. Fun fact, we almost moved there when I was an infant—sometimes I wonder what the West Coast version of me would’ve been like. Probably, I’d have dyed hair and be saying ‘namaste’ all the time.

golden gate gaby

Things about San Francisco:

  • The hills are enormous. I expected them to be hills, not miniature mountains. My legs were so sore after all of the walking we did!
  • Food. Food everywhere. Of every kind. If I lived in San Francisco, I would go all Pac-Man and eat everything
  • Bikers, joggers, dog-walkers… this is your city! It was lovely to see so many outdoorsy people out and about, being active
  • Diversity! The city’s population is one-third Asian, which was a welcome change from growing up in homogenous suburbia
  • Weather – perfect with a dash of more perfect. Although not quite hot enough for me, San Francisco weather was lovely, breezy, and warm enough to not be bundled in a billion layers

So what did we do?

Friday, we went to the Presidio, which is this re-outfitted army base. It was gorgeous. We visited the Presidio Graduate School, a wonderful, innovative graduate school that bestows MBAs/MPAs, but with a focus on sustainability at the core of every lesson. All of the students and professors were so passionate and motivated. It reminded me of my alma mater, seeing how much people actually cared.

After visiting a class, my father and I went to the Golden Gate Bridge and then up and over it. My inner middle-schooler was screaming because the tv show (Charmed) I was obsessed with back then used the bridge as a frequent backdrop! I had no chance to climb up and stand at the top, unfortunately.

Golden Gate Bridge, the view of the hills from our hotel, and some pretty accurate graffiti

Golden Gate Bridge, the view of the hills from our hotel, and some pretty accurate graffiti

We went toward the Muir Woods, though we didn’t have a chance to explore. Those winding, curvy turns with no guardrail and a steep tumbling drop made me super nauseous. Even my father, a bit of a thrill-seeker, was saying how often they must have to rescue people (or recover bodies). I could never drive there.

On our way back into the city, we went to this cliffside that overlooks the bridge. When the fog rolls in, you can see the top of the bridge poking out from up there. People were biking up there. People were biking everywhere in San Francisco. I don’t know how they tackle those crazy hills.

We had dinner with people from the graduate school. Presidio Social Club is a renovated army barrack and my goodness. If I lived in SF, I would be SO FAT. Luckily everything is super expensive, so if I lived there, I couldn’t afford any of it. And I tried raw oysters for the first time.

On to Saturday!

Full House!

 

We started off by driving around the piers and people-watching. The piers had a huge open-air market that made my veggie-loving heart happy. We drove to the Full House house, and there were a bunch of bros who got there as we were leaving and they were all, “IS THIS THE HOUSE?! I need a picture!”

We drove by the Painted Ladies, and then stopped in the neighborhood of Haight-Asbury. It’s where the Summer of Love originated. There were the quirkiest stores there: Rasputin Records, East Asia hippie-dippie stores, a huge vintage clothing store, among countless others. It was Greenwich Village, turned way up. There was a guy in a tie-dye shirt with a beard crossing the street just as we were, holding out a plastic baggie of pot, totally nonchalant about it.

Haight-Asbury: Vintage store, Rasputin Records, a really awesome outfit

Haight-Asbury: Vintage store, Rasputin Records, a really awesome outfit

After that, we explored Chinatown and from there, we made it down to Union Square, where there was an art exhibit going on. I particularly enjoyed heart sculpture with Yoda’s face on it. We had lunch at a sushi place, Sanraku and omg. I can’t get over the food in this city. The population of San Francisco is extremely diverse so there is every connotation of food (and some of it gluten free!) around. And the roll I had was amazing – avocado, cucumber, and tobiko on the inside, with salmon and lemon slices on top. NOMMMM.

We explored North Branch, and passed by Coit Tower, which overlooks the whole city. We saw the spiraling of Lombard Street. We made it to Fisherman’s Wharf again, where we watched as the fog eclipsed Shutter Island and as piles of sea lions basked in the attention of tourists.

A cathedral, Union Square, and Chinatown

A cathedral, Union Square, and Chinatown

Dinner that night was at a club called the Battery, which is more of an actual club, than a nightlife club. We ended up sitting outside, having more wine!, and getting vittles. I had these rice crackers with black sesame seeds in them, and tuna poke, which was chunks of raw/seared tuna with avocado, macadamia nuts, and big tobiko. See?! I WOULD GET SO FAT IN SF.

We walked back to the hotel afterwards, and my legs were crying. And then it was our last night… very tragic, but we did enjoy all the TCHO chocolates the hotel left on our pillows.

Like all trips, it was over far too soon. Hopefully my next trip will be sooner rather than later!

Love always,
Gabriele

Accomplished! Chinese New Year Parade in Chinatown!

Happy belated Lunar New Year! For the first time, I went to the Chinese New Year Parade in Manhattan’s Chinatown. I’d been to Chinatown once or twice before but never for the Lunar New Year. And with it being the Year of the Ram beginning, I had to go. One’s Chinese zodiac year only comes around every 12 years, after all.

Luckily the weather actually agreed. I felt warm in the sunshine, despite the slush under my feet and the piles of snow on the sidewalks. Vendors sold firecrackers along the parade route, while business went along as usual for some. Fish markets laid out their catches openly and my friends joked I should have a raw fish or two while they pigged out on dumplings. We ooh’d and ahh’d over all the jade figurines and fans we wanted to buy. But… later! There was a parade to see!

lunar new year 2015

Once the parade started, it was magnificent! Performers drummed and danced along the street, decked in colorful costumes. Floats all flaunting pictures and symbols of rams drifted by. There were even people dressed in adorable lamb onesies. Oh, and of course there were dragons, which were my favorite! Oddly enough, some of these floats were sponsored by the most random assortment of companies: Wells Fargo and Verizon among them. Even Senator Chuck Schumer was there.

Firecrackers went off all around us, sending glitter and confetti twirling into the sky (and tangling impossibly in our hair). People watched from the rooftops, and some on the fire escape even joined in filling the sky with more confetti (and… our hair). A child on the shoulders of their parent reached out to catch the confetti in his tiny hands.

We went exploring for dumplings and food after a while. But since my friend’s family owns a Chinese restaurant, we didn’t consider it too big of a sacrilege when we settled on a Japanese barbecue place!

gyukaku

I’ve never been to Gyu-Kaku before, but there are several in the city. You order some meats or veggies (all veggies, in my case), and they marinade them in different soy sauces. You then get to have the fun of grilling them right in the center of your table, like your own little hibachi. Chef hats not included.

As someone with celiac, I always worry about cross-contamination and getting ‘glutened’ but there’s a fresh grill on the table for each use. And I just grilled my veggies before my friends had their food. So yummy! Will definitely need to go back.

So. My celebration of the Lunar New Year is complete. I hope this year of the Ram is a fantastic one! My next related bucket list goal is to see Lunar New Year in an actual Asian country! Maybe by the next year of the Ram?

Love always,
Gabriele

Accomplished! Seeing Daniel Handler and Neil Gaiman

Ahhh! One of my dreams came true this week! I saw Neil Gaiman and Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, have a talk at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Tuesday. I’m still giddy with fangirl mania.

It’s been hard to have adventures in the cold, but I packed on layers and layers of clothes and trudged down to Brooklyn for the chance to see two of my absolute favorite authors.

I met up with BiblioSmiles editor and fabulous friend Danielle, and her equally lovely roommate Caitlin. We had dinner at the Haitian restaurant La Caye. I’d never had Haitian food before, and I think it needs to make some regular appearances in my diet now! Yum!

Too excited to be cold!

Too excited to be cold!

Then we went into the splendor of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which was way classier and swanker than we had expected.

I was nearly bouncing up and down in my seat. Two chairs awaited on the stage below. The talk was called ‘En Garde!’ but despite Daniel Handler practicing his best evil laugh, he and Neil Gaiman did not engage in any sword fighting.

So fancy. Brooklyn, you did good.

So fancy. Brooklyn, you did good.

Last May, I had already seen Daniel Handler at Book Con. But this was my first time seeing Neil Gaiman, who is kinda, sorta, my favorite author. Daniel Handler is also in that top five. You couldn’t have chosen a better two matched authors for this talk; both Neil Gaiman and Daniel Handler are known for their quirky, dark humor in their writing and their wry honesty.

I’ve loved Neil Gaiman’s writing since way before it was appropriate for me to. In middle school, I became obsessed with The Sandman and that raised multiple eyebrows as adults asked my parents if they thought I really should be reading that. (I have a lot of strong feeling against censoring kids from books, but that’s a whole other blog post). And then my mom and I both read Coraline, which is supposed to be a children’s book but is delightfully creepier than any children’s book I had read before.

Daniel Handler, meanwhile, is best known for A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I didn’t finish reading until college. His writing is terribly funny for both kids and adults. He goes and finds the boogeymen in children’s nightmares, and basically provokes them until they attack. Give them a read, if you haven’t!

Where the legends sat.

Where the legends sat.

So, some cool things about the talk?

  • They both picked Reykjavik as being the place to visit aside from the US/UK. More Iceland love! Yes!
  • Speaking of Iceland, each country seems to have something gross they get away with, according to Neil Gaiman. Fermented shark in Scandinavia, natto in Japan, the UK has marmite, and the US has… things that aren’t cheese
  • They both write longhand as opposed to on the computers—apparently having to name your work when you save it is too much pressure, says Daniel Handler
  • Daniel Handler’s favorite word is defenestration. Neil Gaiman’s is sinople
  • On Poetry:
    • Neil Gaiman: Publishing poetry is like throwing rose petals into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the boom.
    • Daniel Handler: I’ve heard it’s like wetting yourself in dark pants—you feel warm but no one else knows.
  • When Neil Gaiman read Stardust translated in French, he was alarmed by the inclusion of footnotes that were describing it as an allegory to Pilgrim’s Progress. It’s not.

Clearly, I’m still geeking out about this amazing talk!

I have no cares about ever meeting a A-List celebrity or sports player. For me, authors are the ones that I would love the honor of meeting. They have such vast, infinite worlds inside them. Their stories are such a gift to the world! I’ve been very blessed for having been able to see so many of my favorites already: Rick Riordan, Anne Rice, Ann M. Martin, Gail Carson Levine, Daniel Handler, and now Neil Gaiman too.

Do any of you have someone you’d be completely starstruck to meet?

Love always,
Gabriele

Welcome 2015

Happy 2015! We are living in the future, or at least Back to the Future 2 (doesn’t that take place in 2015?). I still have my fingers crossed that the 2020’s end up to be as roaring and fun as the 1920’s.

Gosh, what even happened in 2014?

Welcoming in 2015 with lovely ladies!

Welcoming in 2015 with lovely ladies!

I started writing for BiblioSmiles, Danielle’s literary blog, and by doing so I have had so much fun and so many bookish adventures with her and my college friends. I went to BookCon, met Anne Rice, and explored both the Strand and Books of Wonder. Plus we have super adorable parties.

In March, I visited both Disney World and Harry Potter world with my best friend, and then spent two amazing weeks with my cousin Linda, in her lovely home that overlooks a canal. The Florida sun baked my soul, which is tropical and hates the winter (and anything below 60 degrees, really). We explored the Everglades and parts of Florida that seem like a completely different country. And fed some wild peacocks with my cousin’s cute-as-pie twins.

I rekindled this blog! There’s another fun thing. Even if only a handful of people read it, it’s a nice way to keep up with everyone. Oh, and I cut all my hair off. Can’t forget that.

I spent the Fourth of July in the Hamptons with my European safari bestie, and then back to the Hamptons again for a reunion with the group of people I’m so blessed to hang out with.

Also in summer, I began working for a literary nonprofit, which has been a wonderful experience in learning how there really are people who are driven to do good in world, who embrace creativity and altruism with open arms, and are always looking for new ways to let others join in their vision. The kindness of the people and children I work with has no limit. Plus, I got to go to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe to see some truly awesome spoken word poetry.

In October, I went to the first wedding of my hometown group. Jen was a beautiful, gorgeous bride, and I hope her new life is full of blessings and happiness.

A week later, I went to Comic Con! It was my second time going, but it was so much fun. Nerd culture is more and more mainstream these days. Now, if we could only make these things actually a reality. I’m ready for my Hogwarts letter, still. Or Gandalf to tell me to lead a quest. Or a blue box to appear on my doorstep. I also went to the Halloween parade in Greenwich Village for the first time! There was a place for some magic to happen.

And in December, I was a secret santa, attended an aforementioned BiblioSmiles shindig, celebrated the holidays and friends’ birthdays. So much, all at once to say goodbye to 2014!

Told you our parties were adorable.

Told you our parties were adorable.

This year, I also spent a lot of time with my family, and I feel closer to them than ever. I think most people have a tumultuous adolescence, and I like to think I’m out of those woods now! While there continue to be minor dramas with tertiary family members, both my family and I have learned that is possible to say “enough”.

Speaking of that, 2014 was also a year for some hard lessons for me. I realized that I relied on certain people too heavily, and I have an idealistic personality that causes me to raise the people around me up onto pedestals. Which is usually seems like a good thing, at least to me, because then I believe in them so much and am fiercely in their corner. But people, even my beautiful, wonderful friends, are only human. We all make mistakes, we all disappoint one another. What we do from there is what matters. And that’s a lesson I continue to learn. I am eternally grateful for the friends I do have, the ones who stuck by me through the years and as we grew up, despite our blunders and mistakes and being-humanness. Shoutout to my twin and safari buddy, among others. Y’all rock.

I’m learning to relax. I’ve written before about being enough, and how my mind goes a million miles at once, that I need to be doing ALL THE THINGS, and never ever take a breath. By having tangible, measurable goals, I think I can work on that.

I’m hopeful for 2015. Usually I make a long, endless list of resolutions, but I don’t think I’ll do that this year. I’ll settle for just a few thoughts as my resolutions.

To focus. To slow down and be more present in my thoughts and my actions. To take deliberate steps in the right direction, and be confident enough to take them. To stand on my own two feet, as much as is possible. That’s a big one.

To be kind. Both to others and to myself, which is often such a hard thing to do. We’re all on this planet together, all trying to piece together some sort of semblance of meaning. We all have burdens we struggle to carry upon our back, but we also have such capacity for love, and joy, and kindness. There is so much wrong in the world already. At least, I can try to brighten my own little corner, and the lives of people I meet.

That’s what has driven me all my life. Into reading, writing, sharing people’s stories. Into journalism, and into making friends with people who had had their wings clipped. I wanted to smooth their feathers, and help everyone fly again. I just need to make sure I can fly too.

Here’s to 2015. Here’s to love. To kindness. To joy. To hanging onto the things that matter, and letting go of the things that don’t. It’s a brand new year.

Love always,
Gabriele

Accomplished! Attend New York’s Village Halloween Parade

There’s a long list, when you live somewhere notable, of things you really ought to do, but never get around to. As a New Yorker, this list is pretty long. Tourists who are here just for a day complete the list quicker than we do in decades of living here.

As New Yorker’s we really should get around to going to the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. We should see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, followed by a Broadway show or ballet at Lincoln Center. Have a picnic in Central Park, and spend a summer day on the rides at Coney Island. The list of New York musts goes on and on.

Well, this Halloween I finally crossed off an item on the list! Along with some awesome friends, I gallivanted down to Greenwich Village to see their famous Halloween Parade.

Halloween 2014 costumes

Little Red Riding Hood and the Witch are super excited for the parade. But first, coffee.

This was the Parade’s 41st year. It grew out of being a walk from house to house for the neighborhood children, into the wild event it is now. It’s estimated that 2 million people spectate each year and 60,000 participate! The Parade has been honored by past New York mayors and transformed into a cultural tradition of the city. I’ve been dying to go since I was little and watched it on television after trick-or-treating.

(Last year, due to a new taxi driver and some bad directions, my friends and I ended up in the last dregs of the parade as it was being cleaned up and broken up in the rain. So that didn’t count. No, this year it had to be seen good and proper.)

And oh my goodness, it was amazing! We decided to watch rather than walk in the parade. The theme this year was “The Garden of Earthly Delights” and the parade’s 2014 Grand Marshall was none other than the fabulous Whoopi Goldberg. I still can’t believe I saw Whoopi Goldberg.

At the Parade

Skeletons jangle their bones, serpents alight the sky, and the wonderful Whoopi Goldberg blesses Halloween with her presence

There were floats and people on stilts, over 50 marching bands, and a man in a bunny suit with a sign that read, “I thought this was the Easter parade”. The whole thing was super crazy, over-the-top, which you have to expect when it’s put on by New York’s spectacular and artistic LGBT community.

And, be still my gluten free heart, because there were two vans from the company KIND and their granola bars were being tossed into the crowd. My friends, always looking out for my delicate intestinal track, snagged me two. Nom.

I love that anyone can march in the parade, so long as you have a costume. You can even volunteer to be one of the puppet holders in the parade. If we go next year, I think our names will definitely be on that list!

Now that Halloween is over, there’s another New York tradition looming on the horizon… The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I already was wearing four or five layers of clothing to this one… I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle 6 am in late November! Still, we must make sacrifices for our bucket lists!

Love always,
Gabriele

Accomplished! New York Comic Con

Okay, okay I’m cheating. Last weekend’s New York Comic Con wasn’t my first rodeo. Er, convention. I’ve been to a handful, with a go at NYCC a couple years ago. I’ve also been to the Javitz Center quite a few times, on both the attending and working side when I was a Nespresso brand ambassador.

(Working is just as fun as attending! But maybe I’ve just naive, and was totally hyped on caffeine back then)

Anyway, this year’s NYCC still counts as an accomplishment because it was a few of my friends’ first time there.

NYCC my friends and me!

New York Comic Con is fun for so many reasons. There are panels for your most beloved fictional worlds, both lauding and dissecting the tropes within them. The stars and minds behind those worlds are there in the flesh and not about to issue a restraining order on you for approaching them. Publishers with their geekiest books, who are clearly after my own heart. Artists and vendors so you can score some serious swag.

But I think my favorite part of it all is the costuming. I love seeing the creativity people put to celebrate their favorite fictional characters and works. I love the parents who bring their children and dress up along with them. I love the accepting environment. There are people whose costumes qualify as art and belong on professional film sets. But even if you just put on a pokemon hat and a jacket, you’re good. You’re with your people.

And as my friend excitedly said to me, “Gaby! Here, we’re the extroverted ones!”

We were dressed up, because that is half the fun. The best is when you have a costume that is recognized by others, and makes them smile. I was Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service, a Miyazaki film. My friend was Kiki’s cat. So many people stopped us for a picture. Our other friends went as Link from the Legend of Zelda, Sherlock Holmes, and a character from Arrow. We looked pretty phenomenal, but I’m biased.

So what were some of my favorite costumes?

NYCC costumes 1

This father and his son, dressed up like two different Doctors. This guy, Han Solo, complete with Millennium Falcon and Chewbacca. And an adorable little snookum who wore the same costume as me!

NYCC costumes 2

There was a gentleman dressed as the Mad Hatter, selling mini top hats and my friend bought one for her bunnies. This posse of Disney villains, who somehow kidnapped Esmeralda and brought her along with them. And this ensemble of Orange is the New Black was spot on! There were so many Elsa’s and Anna’s from Frozen, and even one Olaf. And a lot of people just wearing fezzes – clearly they miss the Eleventh doctor. And despite Harry Potter being done with for seven years, there were a good amount of wizards and witches. I saw a great Ravenclaw quidditch player!

Also, I have to mention my friend Marissa who had a crazy awesome Daenarys costume with a Drogon she made herself! No idea how, but that girl is a costume wizard.

No Face and me!

I think my absolute favorite was running into No Face from Spirited Away, which is another Miyazaki film. I didn’t notice this until after our picture, but No Face was holding some Snickers, which then he proffered to me. In the film, No Face always offers to others what they want most, which ends up usually not as a good thing. I turned down the Snickers… but that was more because I don’t like candy (my child self is horrified by that development, by the way).

Ahh, I love festivals. All sorts! Farmers’ markets, street fairs, Icelandic viking festivals, the Renaissance faire. Sometimes the media makes it seem like everything social in grown-up land has to happen after dark, in a booming club, with endless shots of brightly colored drinks. I especially love anything that celebrates stories and fiction and art, so NYCC was my sort of field trip.

I need to find more of these sorts of adventures!

Love always,
Gabriele

Accomplished! Visit ALL the bookstores!

On Sunday, I journeyed with the lovely Danielle downtown to the shop, Books of Wonder. I had no idea that such a phenomenal place existed! It’s only YA and children’s books, and Danielle and I spent much time wandering their aisles, gazing at covers, and cooing over their rare books collection.

Danielle and I were so happy to score signed books from the authors!

Danielle and I were so happy to score signed books from the authors!

Then we were lucky enough to attend the First Time Authors for Teens panel, where five authors premiered their books. Only maybe twenty people were in the audience, so it was very intimate and friendly. Like any masterful storyteller, the authors regaled us with great anecdotes. There was Adi Alasaid, who told us of meeting a homeless man named Ohio, while on a road trip. Ohio proclaimed himself to be the thumb push-up Guinness World Book of Records champion. To this day, Adi has not been able to replicate a single thumb push-up, though not for lack of trying.

There was Isabel Gillies, who has acted on “Law and Order”, and now after writing memoirs has turned to penning fiction. Katharine Howe, who grew up on Bloom County (which I did too, though it flew over my head as a child of the 90s) and writes about witches (still after my heart, there). Amanda Maciel, who managed to write a book while also being a senior editor at Scholastic. And Amy Zhang, who is publishing her first book at age 19!

Before the panel and after the panel - books went fast!

Before the panel and after the panel – books went fast!

After we had books signed and managed to drag ourselves out of the panel, Danielle and I went to the Strand, because we were only a few blocks away, and well, why not turn the afternoon into a total BiblioSmiles field trip? Visiting the Strand has been a longtime bucket list item for me, and until now it’s been a taunting failure to myself as a literary New Yorker.

 

The communal bookcase at the Bean, a recommendation at the Strand, and Danielle meeting the authors

The communal bookcase at the Bean, a recommendation at the Strand, and Danielle meeting the authors

We needed coffee after that, so we stopped at this cafe called the Bean, where they have a communal bookshelf next to the register. Then we wandered around Union Square. I have a feeling it was one of our last beautiful days of the season, so I enjoyed the chance to soak up sunshine while watching kids play, old men play chess, and Hare Krishnas chanting right across from a man holding up a doomsday poster.

New York City, darlings, anything goes.

 

Top: Hare Krishnas; bottom: doomsday Jesus lover. He was not happy I was taking his picture but I wasn't the one holding the sign

Top: Hare Krishnas; bottom: doomsday Jesus lover. He was not happy I was taking his picture but then again I wasn’t the one holding the sign

It was a very successful, very book nerd outing! I loved it. I think finding a niche post-college has been so important. I’m glad that after a year, I’ve managed it. You have to take care of yourself – physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. It’s so less exhausting to just be yourself.

There are places and people for every niche. If your thing is sports and drinking, well, then you’re probably going to have an easier go of finding your people. But if your thing is Dungeons and Dragons, or historical reenactment, or tai-chi, or political discourse, well there exists places for you too. Just poke around. Find them.

I have, and am so happy for it.

Love always,
Gabriele