new places: india

So much to say about the last three weeks, but some initial reflections (and pictures, of course)…

India is an experience in near-collision. On the streets of New York City, you brace yourself for the shoulder-check of a hurried stranger, recognizing that New York just requires a hardened version of yourself to walk the streets. In India, rather, it feels as if there just isn’t enough space for everything. You share the road with rickshaw wallahs, taxis, bicyclists, merchant carts piled high with fruit or carrying a steaming gas-powered stovetop, mangy stray dogs, sacred cows, goats climbing over garbage piles…not to mention 1.2 billion people and counting.

You clutch the strap of your bag more tightly not for fear of danger but in the way you would clutch the safety bar at the peak of a rollercoaster when one last imploring sign reminds you: Hold on.

You squeeze your eyes closed and wait for the collision––even so, India assaults you. Smells pleasant and rank, foreign and familiar. Cardamon, cinnamon, steamy chai tea, a pleasant potpourri of spices rising from bubbling pots––all jostle for position against the inevitable smells that accompany allowing cows the right of way on city streets. Your ears too fill with the rhythm of life here, sometimes cacophonous and other times a sweet symphony.

This is India: an experience in duality––modernity and tradition, wealth and poverty––where all ways of life, all everyday experiences, are played out unashamedly in public. In contrast to a culture that feels, at times, overly safe or sterile, India overwhelms. So you do all you can think to do: clutch tightly the strap of your bag and jump in.

900 pictures to sort through, but here are a few initial favorites…

Read the rest of the New Places series.


behind the lens.

Whenever I travel, I’m always the person holding the camera, keeping it ready and close. I’m the person who demands that the car be pulled over for a shot, who trails behind the group, head swiveling from side to side. I’m the one who slows everyone else down, who needs to change lenses constantly, who carries an extra bag of supplies. I like to think it makes me a nice travel companion when I share the snaps after we’ve returned, but I’ve never asked anyone I’ve traveled with how they’ve felt about it.

I’m not walking through the woods — I’m hunting. And the world is to discover.

Some friends have said to me, “Doesn’t it keep you from just experiencing the trip, always staying behind the lens?” But for me, it’s just the opposite. Carrying the camera heightens my senses, makes me more attentive to details, which are my favorite things to shoot. It’s not for everyone, but for me, I experience travel more deeply than I otherwise would when I have my camera in hand. I see colors and contrast. Light and shadows. The power of a detail or of a panorama.

I’m not walking through the woods — I’m hunting. And the world is to discover.

I’ve taken over 200 pictures so far from my 3 days in India. Unfortunately, I seem to have left my camera cord in my apartment back in DC, so unless I can find one while I’m here, I may have to wait to post photos until I’m back. But there will be plenty then.

new places : seattle

There comes a moment, every few weeks, when I realize with a sigh that it’s been two…four….six (!?!?) weeks since I’ve updated the blog. Alas. So to compensate I’m publishing two in a row, and they’re both full of pictures. Get excited.


I’ve been to Seattle once before so, like New York, this wasn’t technically a new place. But my first Seattle encounter was somewhat…subpar. It was New Years Day––which, in Chicago, doesn’t really constitute a holiday, meaning that, you know, bars, restaurants, etc. are all still open. Seattle on the other hand…

Walking around outside for twelve hours. In the rain. Literally the only thing open was a sushi dive, and so raise our glasses of saki we did.

Still, everyone raves about this west coast paradise, so when we made plans to return to Seattle for our friends’ wedding, I knew the experience would be redemptive. And truly, it was. Coffee shops. Farmers markets. The ocean on one side and mountains on the other. A noticeable lack of sweltering humidity (in fact, I wore a scarf and cardigan pretty much every day…in July…English major’s heaven).

A beautiful, beautiful place. I hope we go again soon.

Read the rest of the New Places series.

new places: ireland.

On one hand, Ireland is exactly what you expect. Boisterous, friendly people. Fiddle and accordion duets (called “trad sessions,” trad meaning traditional) in snug but well-lit pubs where every man, woman, and child is raising a glass of Guiness. Oh, and green. Very green.

On the other hand, Ireland surprises, disarms. First of all, for a nation with such significant cultural influence (at least to a Chicagoan), it’s really tiny. In just over a week, we saw the east, west, and north coasts. But mostly because you think you know what to expect out of Ireland, and even if you’re mostly right, it still blows all your expectations out the water.

A quick recap of the trip:

We drank Guiness is 5 different cities.

We watched the rolling pastures of southern Counties Kerry and Clare turn into the craggy, windswept vistas of northern County Donegal.

We drank whiskey for lunch.

And checked a fourth continent off my “camping around the world” list.

We drove the “Ring of Dingle” and were stunned into silence by beauty “so amazing it makes your heart ache,” as Jon put it.

We learned about a tragic (and tragically recent) religious conflict that still has whole communities living in homes so fortified, you’d be more likely to think you were visiting Kabul or Baghdad.

We checked off the new country year of intention goal. We took a breath of cold sea air. And we fell in love with a beautiful place.

There’s too much to say for a single post, so I have a few more updates I’m mulling over that I’ll be posting soon, including lots more pictures.

With that, erin go bragh!

year of intention: travel

I realized in my last New Places post on Maine that I actually never wrote about my Year of Intention goals related to travel. I tried to link to them triumphantly after saying how pleased I was to be able to check off the “travel to a new state” goal. And I’m preparing for a new New Places post in the next few weeks. So here we are, tardy but nevertheless…

The travel goals are, for the most part, the most difficult and the most important for me. Because travel often seems the product of a luxury of time or money, neither of which I can seem to scrounge up much of. The travel goals, therefore, are the most difficult to accomplish because they require a wily resourcefulness––because after a long week of work I usually just want to spend my weekend at the farmer’s market or reading on the couch. And the reality of the matter is there will never seem to be enough time, and there will never seem to be enough money. But if travel is a priority, then even if you can’t scrounge up much, you can find enough of these things to go wherever it is you want to go.

But, particularly for the smaller trips, the travel goals require discipline, prioritizing, budgeting. They’re slower to check off than goals like “sign-up for a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share” (which we did last week!), but they are absolutely crucial. But since they take time, the year-to-year goals are modest; this year: (1) two new states (done!), (2) two new countries.

Saturday, Jon and I are leaving for the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to check off the new countries goal. Stay tuned for a New Places post, pictures, and other wanderlusty musings since, after all, the best writing is done on the road.

new places: maine (and new hampshire)

So excited to be able to check off two states from the to-do list, as well as one goal for the Year of Intention (the goal being to check off one state from the to-do list…). Also excited about my first trip north of Bahston on the East Coast. Plus, the terra incognita states are now down to twelve, and it’s looking like one more might be checked off later in the year. All good things.

New Hampshire and Maine.

I feel a little bad for New Hampshire because it only got a drive-by, but those are the rules. Airport terminals don’t count, but road trips through a state do. Some friends and I piled into a twelve-passenger van and road-tripped ourselves up to Sugarloaf in northern Maine for a weekend of snowboarding, hiking, and playing ridiculous games.

Two moments struck me most in terms of being in a new place––besides all the bearded men in flannel…seriously. The first came during dinner on Saturday. The food was almost all gone, only a mouthful or so of beer left in people’s glasses. Everyone had moved around to different seats, and then I realized that our waiter had been talking to my friend for about 15 minutes. Just standing there talking. And none of his other customers were in any way annoyed. Not something that would happen in the city.

The second moment was coming off the chairlift on the summit of Sugarloaf. A couple thousand foot altitude. The panorama of mountains as far as the eye could see. The thin, cold air. Canada within sight, according to a trail guide next to me. Welcome to Maine.

new places: nyc

NYC is not a new place exactly, but somehow last weekend was the first time I remembered to bring my camera (seriously….I know…).

One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it felt. ––Georgia O’Keefe

I love New York the way a dog loves sticking its head out the window of a car. The rush of adrenaline that swallows you when you emerge from the Penn Station subway stop. It’s all-consuming, electrifying. There’s no telling what New York could make out of you. A city so big, you know it must hold all the possibilities of the world.

When I got back to DC after a short weekend trip up to the Apple, the cab driver who picked me up from the train station to take me home asked me if I was going or coming. Was DC a visit or home? Home, I told him, from a weekend in New York. “That’s the way to do it,” he told me. “New York is too busy, too crowded and loud. It’s great, but you wouldn’t want to live there.” I smiled, nodded, said nothing and thought, I would.

new places: new orleans

New Orleans is a city externally defined by the influence of visitors who come under the impression that they are permitted to do pretty much whatever they want.

New Orleans isn’t really a new place––my family passed through on a road trip when I was a little kid and, according to my mom, I hated it (“too racy”). I’m happy to say that age (and probably travel) have made me a little more open-minded, so when I had an afternoon in the Big Easy free after a work trip to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, I found the city immediately endearing. The sleepy Caribbean rhythm, French details, and music-filled streets––”Nawlins” is a city full of character, something I miss intensely in much of DC.