Category Archives: travels

Making Good (Plus a Giveaway!)

Hello, Hello! I don’t know why you say good-bye . . .

Jocelyn here, with an update: I’ve been to London and back! I was serious about that list, folks; and even though I’ve not quite chosen my final “to do,” I took the opportunity of an unexpected fall break to grab my mom and carry her across the pond.

Many of you have already seen the lovely UK (this was my first visit), so I won’t spend too much time gushing. But highlights included:

Westminster Abbey! (home of Elizabeth I’s bones, Poets’ Corner, and the oh-so-famous recent royal wedding)

Buckingham Palace

Trafalgar Square (See, Nanch loved this place)

High Tea at the National Portrait Gallery

Tour of the Tower of London with a Yeoman Warder

. . . and all sorts of other things. We only had a few days, but I’ll say that we did pretty well to see the highlights, especially considering how the Tube was limited due to construction and the buses kept dropping us off at the wrong spots.

So! In celebration of bloggery, and in celebration of completing one of the first big tasks on my 30-before-30 list (“to go abroad again”), I’ve brought home some loot for one of you.

For a chance to win a box of Jasmine green tea from Fortnum & Mason (the Queen’s grocer) and a Beatles coaster straight from the British Library, leave a comment letting me know your favorite place you’ve ever travelled. Comments left before noon CST, November 1st, will be entered into a random number generator that will pick the winner. Update: The giveaway is now closed. Thanks to you all for the comments!

Have a happy Wednesday, friends!

Cheers,

Joce

PS – Here are a few links that might help you plan your own trip to London.

Oui, oui, Paris! (Wanderlust #1)

A few weeks ago, I fell down the stairs and broke my foot.

This will surprise no one, seeing as I’m remarkably prone to tripping over my own feet or in this case, tripping over nothing at all.

It’s not a bad enough break to put me on crutches (thank goodness), but it has landed me on the couch even more so than usual. And recently—during one of many sedentary hours—I ran across the first episode of No Reservations in which Anthony Bourdain hits Paris.

Tony with Eric Ripert and Joel Robuchon (from travelchannel.com)

Have I mentioned before how much I adore Tony B? He has the most perfect job in the world, if you ask me (travel + food + great company); and to be honest, my crush on him is not small. A friend of mine told me she met him at a book launch party one time, and I nearly had a heart attack.

This episode was perfection, and set the standard for the show’s success. Between trying absinthe and hallucinating in the hotel bedroom where Oscar Wilde died, and enjoying  a croissant for breakfast in one of Paris’s many cafes, Tony cruises up and down French streets taking in the daily atmosphere of one of the world’s most luxurious cities. Heaven on Earth, I say. I can almost taste the cheese.

SatC - "An American Girl in Paris"

Paris fascinates so many of us Americans for a lot of reasons, but I think it’s mostly because we think Parisians live a life that is diametrically opposite to ours. The slow, daily romance of Paris stands in contrast to the American grind. Long Starbucks lines versus a leisurely pastry and cup of cappuccino in the morning. Aged wine versus Coca-Cola. Utilitarian office buildings versus Montmartre.

Like most girls my age, I wanted to visit the Paris of Amelie.

And that’s exactly what I did in 2002.

I spent my twentieth birthday in Bayeux, Normandy, and Paris, eating quiche and frolicking along the Seine like a fool. We gawked at the lights along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and ate nutella crepes until we wanted to barf. My friends and I stalked photo booths in Paris Nord, looking for our own version of Mathieu Kassovitz. We spent five hours at the Louvre, though we could have spent five days. I was so exhausted from taking it all in that I fell asleep against a wall in the Musée d’Orsay. It was an incredible time, and looking back on it now, I cannot believe how it was almost ten years ago.

So as I sat on the couch feeling sorry for myself because I could barely walk down the street (let alone travel anywhere), I thought bringing Paris to me would be the next best thing to being there with Tony. And what says “Paris in the morning” more than a hot, flaky butter croissant?

I’d made these once before and had been so impressed with the recipe that I tried it again. You can find it all here at Epicurious.com.

It’s not a quick procedure, making croissants. It basically takes two days, and lots and lots of rolling. But once the dough is ready to take shape, it rises and rises on its own, which gives it that light-and-airy quality.

After being shaped on a baking sheet and allowed to sit (in a garbage-bag balloon contraption) for a few hours, the dough rises beautifully. You can already see the layers forming.

The first time I made these, I could not believe how well they turned out. They looked like the real thing, and they tasted pretty good too. This recipe is a labor of love, but it was worth the payoff. And if I can do it, you most definitely can too.

Anyone else feeling wanderlusty right now? Any tips for taming the anywhere-but-here beast?

Au revoir, mes amis!

*Joce

To Mary Flannery: In Memoriam

It’s August 3, 2011; and it was exactly forty-seven years ago today that my all-time favorite writer—Mary Flannery O’Connor—died of Lupus complications at the young age of 39. When this day approaches every year, I can’t help but take a moment to reflect upon the bizarre, uncommon woman whose authorial presence influences everything I write and even read. Sometimes when placed in puzzling or upsetting situations, I have wondered to myself, “What would Flannery O’Connor say about this? What would she do?” From what I know of her, she would say something morbid or shocking and above all, hilarious. She would reveal the hidden and immortal layer of things. And she would do it by bringing you to tears of joy, sorrow, or gratefulness. To be sure, Flannery will not take you on a leisurely walk in the park.

If you are not familiar with O’Connor or her work, consider your life the worse for it. I remember reading “Revelation” (one of her short works) for the first time and believing that it was the most perfect short story ever written—which is exactly how I still feel about it. In fact the last two paragraphs of that story may be the most perfectly-composed paragraphs I’ve ever read, as we see the same vision of heaven that Mrs. Turpin—the story’s arrogant and self-righteous protagonist—experiences:

There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven.

The prose is beautifully aflame, and O’Connor’s vision of the heavenly pageant is more transcendent, graceful, and apocalyptic than any other. Beyond the grit and grotesqueness that have made her so distinctive, she still delights us with a nonpareil image of the supernatural grace that ordered her life and her universe.

Last year it was my great pleasure to visit both of Flannery’s childhood homes. I convinced my family to take a detour on our way to Savannah, Georgia, so that we could visit Andalusia—the home in Milledgeville where O’Connor did much of her writing and lived the last years of her short life.

Set back from the main drag in Milledgeville, and even further from the old downtown, Andalusia is a beautiful, quiet old farm with rolling trails and plenty of shade trees. One can imagine Flannery, even in her weakened state, taking a walk around the grounds and being inspired by the simple beauty of the place.

Inside the home visitors can see some of Flannery’s books, her crutches, and other items that furnished the home. Some of the books on display include her snarky marginalia.

downstairs bedroom, with Flannery's crutches

"M.F. O'Connor - a splendid book"

"This is absolutely the worst book I have ever read - don't read it. M.F. O'Connor"

Though they aren’t from the bloodline of the several peacocks O’Connor kept around the farm (in her essay “The King of the Birds” she reckons she had around forty altogether), Andalusia has a few of the beautiful creatures on the grounds to keep the spirit of the place alive. Of peafowl, O’Connor wrote: “I have never known a strutting peacock to budge a fraction of an inch for truck or tractor or automobile. It is up to the vehicle to get out of the way. No peafowl of mine has ever been run over, though one year one of them lost a foot in the mowing machine” (“The King of the Birds,” Mystery and Manners).

In a sentimental act common to readers, I couldn’t leave Milledgeville without paying homage to Flannery’s grave. After stopping by the Sacred Heart Catholic Church—where O’Connor attended mass most days—we found her stone along the edge of the nearby city graveyard beneath a shade-bearing tree. As I stood and reflected on the short life she had lived—and the eternal one she never lost sight of—I imagined her being a tour guide in heaven, showing her readers around the pearly gates with the most sarcastic and odd commentary eternity has ever seen.

To Mary Flannery, my friendliest of literary friends: thanks for the art you have given to the world, and to me. Like you, it is immortal.

Love,

Jocelyn

PS — Go here for an audio recording of O’Connor reading her story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” It’s even better in that Georgia voice.

PPS — Check out the Flannery O’Connor Conference I’m thinking about attending at Loyola University Chicago.

A Week Ago Today . . .

I woke up very early to some terrifying news. As I turned on the television at 5:00 in the morning, reports were just coming in regarding the 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Japan, and the incredibly powerful tsunami that had already washed away the shore. While most of us Americans slept soundly, peacefully, obliviously in our beds, thousands of others were enduring the kind of fear and devastation that I can barely imagine.

My first instinct was to panic. As some of you all know, I was supposed to be headed to Japan this week to visit my cousin Blake, who lives and works in Tokyo. Though I don’t worry much about Blake (he’s done his fair share of globetrotting and taking care of himself), the first natural tendency is to fret over the ones you love. I called my dad to see if he’d heard from my aunt Barbara, Blake’s mom, then hit the social networks. Fortunately, Blake was able to contact us through Facebook (thanks, Zuckerberg), letting us know that he was fine.

So, needless to say, I won’t be headed to Tokyo tomorrow. In fact, in light of the nuclear problems, Blake has already returned to the states for what he’s now calling a “surprise vacation.” Though I know his life has been interrupted (having to leave house and home, friends and work), we are glad he is safely here. My prayer is that the brave souls sacrificing their health and safety in Fukushima will be able to control the nuclear crisis, and that folks like Blake can return to living their day-to-day lives in that incredible country.

Of course the nuclear problem (a gigantic problem in its own right) is hampering the efforts on the coast, where thousands still remain missing, and where over a half million people have become homeless or displaced. People are still searching for loved ones, and the damage is apocalyptic.

  • photos from NYtimes.com

It’s easy to feel helpless in moments like this, when the suffering seems so great in a part of the world so far away from our own. But I’ve accumulated a list of links that will direct you to organizations that are accepting donations or selling items with proceeds going toward the Japan relief efforts.

  • The American Red Cross. You can donate at their website, or you can text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to have $10 added to your cell phone bill.
  • WorldVision. A Christian organization, WorldVision has locations in all areas of the world, and distributes live-saving supplies to victims of natural disasters. You can also donate on their website, or through Amazon.com.
  • For all of you Lady Gaga fans, check out her online shop to purchase a “We Pray for Japan” little monsters wristband for a mere $5.
  • I bought one of these beautiful limited edition art prints of Shinjuku for $20 at 20×200.com. Again, all proceeds go to Japan.
  • Pre-order this cool t-shirt through the Salvation Army. You can also text “Japan” to 80888 to send $10 to the SA World Services Office.
  • For today only (March 18), any money spent at Forever21.com goes toward relief efforts.

Let’s keep Japan in our hearts and minds, even when the media has forgotten. I’ve turned on the news this morning, and the stories are already slowing down in the way that the news is always looking for something bigger, scarier, and more scandalous to report. But Japan, you will always be the dream in my heart, the place where I sing Karaoke with Bill Murray, the place where old meets new, and where I eat my weight in sushi. Tokyo, we’ll meet some day—I promise!

Love,

Jocelyn (aka Charlotte)