Monday Morning, Prospect Park

It’s a misty morning and I know rain’s coming soon, either that or insufferable heat, which is why I’m up at 6 on a Monday putting my running shoes on. I’m headed to Prospect Park, 585 acres of green in the middle of Brooklyn. It’s a mile from home, a gem designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux after they finished Manhattan’s Central Park. Prospect Park opened to the public in 1867 and while it’s experienced a wax and wane of public interest through its lifetime, the Park flourishes today as a highlight in the neighborhood. Of all the times I’ve explored the park, no two trips have been the same and no trip is without some degree of lostness. There are forests, fountains, lakes and streams, waterfalls carefully constructed to look as if they’d always been there. There is a private Quaker Cemetery hidden on a hill, blackberry brambles, and stables and horse trails. There are several long lawny meadows that fill in the summers like a Georges Seurat painting.

I leave  my apartment at a walk that soon turns into a run, joining the other runners and cyclists entering through the Eagle Columns across from Grand Army Plaza, past the statue of James Stranahan, the Park’s father of sorts, its first Commissioner and a dedicated protector of Olmstead and Vaux’s vision. We veer right at the fork, running the pavement loop of West Drive that will eventually turn into East Drive. It’s a well-worn route among the local exercisers but it’s my first time trying it. The road is lined thickly with trees, elm and white ash, rising taller than I ever expect trees to rise in the City. I make it past the bandshell and the ball fields, past Quaker and Lookout Hills where I’m tempted to veer off and wander. Children who seem hardly old enough to be upright are in cleats and jerseys fumbling industriously with soccer balls while mothers and nannies watch on. Dogs run past with their owners.

And then, the lake. The green opens and there it spans, a wide mirrory gray to match the clouds above. A swan swims with its puffy young cygnet in shallow water near the bank. I catch a few words off a conversation between two men. Something about spirit, awakening, and emotional expansiveness. There are people in fishing hats with fishing poles cast. A tired mother bends away from her crying child for a drink at a fountain. I won’t assume we are all here for exactly the same reason, but there is a necessary peace a place like this offers, especially when not too far off is the endless metallic rattling of trains and several million people trying to claim their place in a never-sleeping city.

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I’m at the south end of the park when I give up running. There is too much to see and only slowness will grant me that. This is what inevitably happens on my runs, but this is also part of the reason for going out at all.

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Something’s in bloom and the air smells like honey.

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A red-winged blackbird flashes her fire against the dull sky. I catch an oriole on her way into hiding. I lean in to watch the bumblebee and instead catch the damselfly, narrow and still.

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As in all things, the closer you look the more you see. I get lost in the seeing and walking, grateful for time and aliveness and the words that wake up to keep me company. What, after all, is the point of any of this brief mortal exercise if we don’t stop to take a look while passing through?

Wherever you are, notice things, always.

By the time I curve northwards again to find East Drive I am tired. It’s a couple stops on the nearby shuttle train to get home so I leave the park through Concert Grove, past the unlikely busts of Mozart, Beethoven, and Washington Irving. I’ve bypassed Midwood and the Ravine and the whimsically-named Vale of Cashmere where I’d ordinarily start my trek, getting good and lost before I had the chance to be found.

I’m almost to Lincoln Avenue when I notice soft purple squishing underfoot and look up to find a mulberry tree, its branches hanging deliciously low. I spend the next several minutes collecting the berries in the front pocket of my pack. They’re delicate and flowery and just washed by last night’s rain. I eat a few right there for every few I save for later and get on the train to go home.

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The Brooklyn Chapter

IMG_0019It was New Year’s day, 2014. Back from a year’s travels, I was in San Diego and I was miserable, if anyone can be miserable in such a beautiful place. So I did the foreseeable.

I bought a one way ticket.

My suitcase and I showed up in New York a week later on the coldest day of winter. I had a sublet in Flatbush and that was about it.

Much in ColleenGetsLost fashion, I’d never set foot in Brooklyn. I didn’t know anyone in Brooklyn. I’d never thought about Brooklyn. I had no idea what Brooklyn even meant. It was just cheaper than all the other options.

And that’s how I unwittingly became a cliche.

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Brooklyn, at least the grittier, wannabe circa 80s East Village Brooklyn of Crown Heights/Bed-Stuy/Bushwick, is full of young college educated wanderers, sandwiched between the longstanding black/Haitian/Jamaican/Hasidic community. They come because it’s cheaper than Manhattan and there’s some sort of “scene,” which is I guess why I’m here. Except that they are 10+ years younger than me and walk about in an enviably stylized state of dishevel.

And so I became an old cliche.

No mind. Fast forward a year and I have a lease in Crown Heights, where I moved because my window didn’t look out at a brick wall (shockingly common). I’ve held more jobs in these 18 months than I’d had in the previous ten years. I’ve grown a spine and some guts and a pair. I’ve also grown some hefty hefty calves. I’ve explored Brooklyn: Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy, Park Slope, Sunset Heights, Flatbush, Gowanus, and onwards. I’ve seen Manhattan from tip to top and ended up in Queens more than seems possible from missing a Manhattan train stop. I’ve hiked in the Hudson River Valley and crossed over into Jersey.

There are Chinese hand-pulled noodles here, and markets with live fish. There is such a thing as train traffic. You get yelled at at the Bodega by the kind person behind the counter who insists on putting milk and sugar in your coffee for you. People are nicer than you’d think. Everything is harder and smellier here, somehow, than anywhere else.

Stand for ten minutes on my street corner on a typical day and you’ll see a woman in a burqa, a gender ambiguous couple kissing, a Hasidic man on a fork lift doing business with Nigerian construction workers, some gang bangers, and a lot of tattoos, floppy hair, and chunky glasses. I swear I have landed in some sort of cultural tower of Babel. It keeps me hungry for more and running home for respite on a daily basis.

So what EXACTLY am I DOING here? 

The easy answer is living, like everyone everywhere else. I’ve found work, made friends, started volunteering and going to interesting events. New York has a very visible population of “giggers,” people who survive working various gigs in order to maintain a lifestyle that incorporates creative work, or where you just have time to be human. While I worked 60-hours a week like a “normal” person for several months, I’ve also done a collection of other things trying to figure out what fits me best.

Happily, I still get lost, on a near-daily basis, whether actually or metaphorically. There is always an alternate route, a noodle shop, a new friend, a new park trail, a new subway stop to try. And as a newly fledged gigger, I now have the time to tell you about it.

 

Hiking in Los Angeles: Fern Dell and Griffith Observatory

“Wanna go for a hike?”

“Where?”

“Fern Dell.”

“Where?”

“Fern Dell.”

It was five miles from my sister’s house in Los Angeles and she’d never heard of it, a sweet shady walk along a trickling creek that led to a wide trail uphill to the Observatory at Griffith Park.

Green, lush, stream, trail, are not words usually associated with Los Angeles, but there are many wonderful green spaces in the city, and miles of trails and parkland.

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What do you do after you’ve been on the move for a year, every day an adventure, every minute unexpected, making it up as you go along? You keep on exploring, of course! Even though that exploration might be closer to home.

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So I’m in the hills now admiring them in the golden glow of a Los Angeles sunset, the din of traffic softened by the trees and brush.  It’s a city I’ve lived in most of my life. I know all the good places to get lost, can drive from one end to the other solely on side streets, and have more friends than I have time to visit. But it’s not holding me. It’s not telling me to stay.

I have some ideas about what’s coming next, but I’ll leave that all a surprise. For now, suffice it to say life continues to be one adventure after another, whether I’m on the move or staying put.

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Back in the States Update

So it’s been a quiet few weeks over here at Colleen Gets Lost since I’ve come back to the U S of A.

I still haven’t written about Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Prague, Rome, Tuscany, or Venice, but I might get around to it eventually.

About a month ago I flew from Amsterdam to Boston and worked my way north to Vermont and south to Washington, D.C. before flying back to my starting point in Los Angeles just this afternoon. While on the East Coast I had the chance to catch up with plenty of family and friends, eat all the foods I’d been missing, and slowly adjust to life back in my home country.

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And it is my home country. That’s the important thing I came to terms with. Standing under the looming columns of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C bundled up against the November cold, looking out toward Capitol Hill and the Washington Monument I got a little choked up and a little voice came up out of nowhere to say, “This is home. You’re home.” Not that particular city, but this particular country.

I’ve never been patriotic, and I’m still not very, not at all, but I think I can handle life here now, tune in more to the good, try to drown out the bad. We don’t have everything figured out here, I wouldn’t even go so far as to say this is the best country in the world, but it’s a pretty cool one and it’s home for now.

Now where exactly in this large country my home will be is yet to be determined.

There was no doubt in my mind, as my sleek space-age-interiored Virgin America airbus with purple backlighting landed at LAX, that LA wasn’t it.

I knew I’d know it when I got here, and I know it now, a single effortless realization. Nope, this isn’t home. Not this city, not if I can help it.

This was a part of the journey I was and wasn’t expecting. I didn’t think I would NOT want to be here so badly. Maybe I’ll feel differently after I meet up with old friends for drinks and have my first taco in over a year, but something tells me I’ll be moving on elsewhere sooner than I know.

Paris for Introverts

It was early September in Paris and autumn was nowhere to be seen, just blue skies and warm sun.

I arrived from Rotterdam by train and walked down a few platforms to meet my Danish friend T, who would be arriving soon from London. Knowing our introvert tendencies, we wanted to make sure our time here was as satisfying and stress-free as possible.

Here are a few modifications we made to the usual tourist must-do list:

Climbing the Arc de Triomphe, NOT the Eiffel Tower

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Why not climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower? Because you can’t get a view of the Eiffel tower from the top of the Eiffel Tower. But really it is just a pile of metal, and a much protested one at that. Before it was built people called it a “truly tragic street lamp” and an “iron gymnasium apparatus, incomplete, confused and deformed.”

Also, the Arc de Triomphe has no lines, less stairs, and is easier on the pocket book (although this last one shouldn’t be taken into consideration. If you want to climb the tower, climb the dang tower because you’re probably not coming back to Paris again anytime soon.)

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Going to l’Orangerie, NOT the Louvre

There are so many museums in Paris it would make even the most die-hard art enthusiast want to gouge her eyes out to try to see all the works in all of them. Plus, both of us being classic introverts the crowds at the Louvre made our skin crawl.

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We went to see Monet’s waterlilies at l’Orangerie instead. It was a piece we both loved so why not spend some quality time with it. I think I sat in each room for half an hour the first day then went back again the next for another couple hours.

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Taking Naps

Paris has a great Nap-in-the-Park culture. Everyone lies around on the grass in nice weather. No problem. Wake up next to your favorite statues. Unless your favorite statue is Rodin’s  Thinker. We got in trouble for napping under that one.

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I did not get in trouble for napping near these lovely ladies, though.

Eating Wherever We Plopped Ourselves Down

Sure you could pour over restaurant reviews, but unless you’re going for a particular food experience most of the eateries serve the same French classics. We chose places based on ambiance and rarely had a bad meal.

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Visiting Dead People

Historic Pere Lachaise cemetery was two blocks from the flat and full of some really famous dead people. We paid special visits to Doors singer Jim Morrison, classical music composer Chopin, and Irish writer Oscar Wilde, among others.

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Resting Our Feet

Along the same lines as napping, there are lots of places to rest your tired pups in Paris. What’s the rush? There’s great people watching meanwhile.

Find a fountain or a chair at the park and put em in/up.

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And a Good Time Was Had by All

Do I feel like I missed out on the real Paris because of our itinerary modifications? Not at all.

As always, the key to having a good time as a traveler is tailoring your experience to fit your needs. We loved wandering aimlessly, people watching while sipping Pernod on hot afternoons, and catching impromptu accordion performances on the metro. In the end, we had a satisfying time without the stress and exhaustion.

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Staying Fit on the Road at Fitline Sportschool, the Netherlands

You know how Cheers is the bar where everyone knows your name?

Well, Fitline’s like the gym equivalent of Cheers.

This was possibly the friendliest gym I’d ever been to. Anywhere.

(By the way, Sportschool = Gym in Dutch.)

It’s hard to keep an exercise routine going when you’re traveling around so much, so while I was visiting my Aunt Mimi in her small suburb in the Netherlands I finally had the chance to get some much needed workout time in. Before leaving to gorge myself on cheese in Paris and undoing all the good I did, of course.

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There was a hangout area with free coffee, tea, water, and juice. Who doesn’t like that? It was great getting to know the other members over gossip and coffee after class.
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This is the lovely Patrick. Loved his spunky Zumba and Club Yoga classes. Rachel, Lulu, and everyone else I took classes with were fantastic, too. Even though I don’t speak Dutch I picked up a few survival words to get me through. For the rest, the instructors were kind enough to throw in some English to make sure I didn’t trip over myself.

Gym Survival Dutch

Left = Links

Right = Rechts

Arm = Arm (woah, easy!)

Foot = Voet (pronounced fote)

Other side = Overkant

Up = Omhoog

Down = Omlaag

One, two, three = Een, twee, drie (for all other numbers just keep going until everyone else stops)

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Great new equipment! Definitely more high tech than the YMCA back home. blog_fitline facade

Located in a historic building alongside the canal. Isn’t this the cutest Dutchiest gym ever?

blog_fitline canalA huge thank you to the kind folks at Fitline for letting me sneak into the gym during my visit! You were all such fun, positive people and made me feel at home. Also, your workouts kicked my lazy tourist butt. That was awesome. If you happen to be in Maassluis, or near any Fitline gym in Holland, go say hi and get your sweat on!