Sister Magic: Massachusetts

November 9 – November 14

The first time I ever was on a plane was with my sister, three years ago. She was headed to New York in July for a business event and I was tagging along for the adventure, for the milestone in my life that would become the floodgate for my love of traveling.

In 2017, we found ourselves together again, driving along a narrow road as twilight turns into a cold evening in a town thousands of miles from home again. She’s following the lagging Google Maps directions from Salem’s waterfront towards an old neighborhood off of Proctor Street. At the corner of Proctor and Pope, we accidentally turn off from the directions down a winding road past a park they call Gallow’s Hill. That’s exactly what we’re looking for now, the true site of the hangings in a time in history so fixated in the imaginations of me and my sister growing up. Except now we’re driving far away from what we came to see, thousands of miles from home, together.

It all starts from a plane bound for Boston, going nowhere near Boston for more simpler, charming pleasures of the old towns along the eastern seaboard. This was a new adventure in the making– my sister hadn’t been outside California in those last 3 years since dating her ex and now since her ex was slowly coming out of the picture, new sights were set for quality time away from the hurt and struggles of work and the breakup back west. Out here, it was all just us.

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We’re not the most aligned sisters. She’s outgoing, blonde, and loves her country music. She can’t stand San Francisco. I’m too weird and awkward for her– but to her, that is exactly why we’re on this trip. One night when we’re in the hotel– the charming Inn at Crystal Cove on the shores of little Winthrop on Boston Harbor– she was on the phone with a friend.

“I love being with my sister,” she says. “Her weirdness brings me out of my comfort zone and to have the most fun.”

This whole weekend is out of our comfort zone– 20 degree evenings, frustrating traffic circles at almost every turn, Dunkin Donuts, and rustic names for towns all dated to the 17th century like Lynn, Revere, Marblehead– Salem. I personally found myself drawn to the New England life in these past few months, just as autumn approached. Something about the stiffness, the unchanged tune of these roads and towns sitting among the salty Atlantic air that once was proclaimed the New World. Something charming, that’s what I see. I try my best to plan this trip to the best of my adventurous abilities following preppy bloggers and diving deep into recommended restaurants and activities on their stomping grounds of the North East. Google mapping these cities as if I had lived here my whole life, and that for this weekend I was showing my sister around town.

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It isn’t the perfect time, losing phones in apple orchards and an overcrowded little diner when we were desperately in need of coffee. No Warriors games, but plenty of Patriots fans, flags flying high, knitted beanies snug on the heads of teens and liquor store shoppers alike. Being out of the comfort of the West Coast doesn’t mean excitement at every corner, especially when that next corner might be an accidental exit that nearly drives you into the ocean.

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But, at least my sister is here. No, at least I can be here for her. And together, we enjoy the bumps in this road trip so far from home, along the 95 North towards Amesbury bristled trees with the last of the fall leaves latched to their branches, to the coast where we avoid toll roads and beat the sunset back to our town where Parmesan truffle fries and pistachio martinis await. The memories we share will always flood back when we sip peppermint hot cocoa (“We don’t have syrup,” the young lady at Rockport Fudgery laments, “but I can add some of this peppermint creamer instead?”), listen to Joni Mitchell, and find ourselves in the company of police officers– my sister particularly fond of officers since she exchanged numbers with one. But the best reminders will be Salem, for that was where we both found amusement and true magic in the history of the town, the hanging dried herbs for Wiccan altars and the various stones we plucked from baskets to add to her much-sought Love elixir that we read in the mini red velvet spellbook we were buying. Discussing the formula– stones of different values and energies soaking in drinking water for 7 hours– was the main course of lunch at the Witch’s Brew Cafe. The stones, forever stored away neatly in the cotton satchel embroidered with pretty pink and purple flowers, those we’ll save for when she needs them the most.

Salem is where I conclude this tale of New England, turning back on that dark road past Gallows Hill Park to where the directions tell us that up ahead on Pope Street, we will find Proctor’s Ledge. I know it’s dark out now, and there won’t be much to see, but to be so close to where much of this town’s legacy is rooted will be a wonderful way to pay our respects before we’re called home. Pope and Proctor come up, and onward we drive, 300 feet, 100 feet, 50 feet–

“Was that it?” My sister asks. She’s looking back at the dark hilly patch nestled between big new homes before coming back up onto the corner Walgreens. “That was,” I tell her, realizing the car is too far gone to reverse or make a U-turn or to do anything to redeem and savor those few seconds of seeing the Ledge. Well, it was a shot we took, albeit a shot in the dark.

We’re still at the red light near the Walgreens. “Do you want me to go back?” My sister asks me. I shake my head, she’s already been complaining about her dry eyes and barely seeing the road this late. Still, she turns left and left again back onto Proctor Street, going back through the neighborhood to give me one last, lingering look.

She slows down this time. Still dark, but in the dimness I can make out the slabs of cement where in the daylight you can see the names of the victims from 1692, a single tree at the center of this newly-minted monument to honor them in unison. My view wasn’t much better from the first time. My sister asks if I want to go back and see it again.

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We’ve made it this far, twice now, but that’s all I needed from this last night, a memory that now holds more magic than anything we’ve seen in this Old World. And I’ll only have to look back on a memory, the kind of magic that can never be lost.

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A Week in Europe: London

5.8 -5.12

I am here. That’s all I can really say— feel about this place; it only took me 10 years to get here. It took Moses 100 to get his people back to Israel— this was nothing.

Upon leaving Saint Pancras Station you’re greeted by the big red double-deckers hurling by on opposite directions of traffic from what I’m used to. The little black cabs weave through the congestion like professional that they are, straight from the scenes of films I’d only ever saw in The Parent Trap or Notting Hill. I watched Notting Hill on the plane, fell asleep to it with a plastic cup of cheap Spanish red wine in my hand. Here I was, two airports and a tedious second train in through the English channel later, the land of my favorite bands and literary heroes and quaint tea-time in the twilight of a cold, dim-lit dusk.

I always dreamt of London and London came true. I wake up to it in the twilight.

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It’s like the financial district, this little part of what’s called Marylebone. Men and women bundled in wool coats and dark trousers pressed against each other at this crossing where my mommy and I sit in Costa coffee. I’m having tea— she asked for a coffee but had to get an Americano, without milk. American style with the simple drip and helping of sugar at your discretion does not exist.

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Costa is a big coffee chain as with Pret a Manger, Boots pharmacy, and Ladbrokes— a betting establishment for soccer games. Pubs aren’t hard to find. It’s England.

The Underground saves us. Navigating the tube was thrilling, especially as the announcement is made that based on the next stop, you’re going in the right direction. Connecting can be tricky— but all is straightforward. For how overwhelming the map looks— the intersecting lines of Jubilee and Circle or the Victoria crossing Bakerloo— I felt my most confident in London taking the Tube.

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Not so much on walking on the wrong side of traffic, however. Or ordering food, asking about whether my card will work of if my coins make up 7.50 exactly. There’s a colder, indifferent disposition to Londoners. You honestly feel stupid sometimes, just asking these little questions— questions in English. Sure, they smile, but out of politeness you might suspect these manners are just to display their pity.

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It makes me a little sad. Not the feeling stupid, but just how once, only a few years ago, I would have felt better being so because dating an Englishman boosts your confidence in their crudeness. Instead of feeling like a stranger as I do now, I would have felt some comfort with all the friends and faces from this country I once knew, now estranged, only feeds on Facebook. From the photos I have posted online, some have reached out— telling me to come visit up north in Chester where “proper” English history (Welsh, Roman) resides, or down to Exeter to experience The Garden of England. All lovely gestures, all outside of London. But here in London, we are alone.

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On the last night of my stay in London we are at the Allsop Arms down the street on Gloucester for some wine, and steak in  peppercorn or hollandaise sauces and chips. Our order is done up front at the bar— so strange that I need to sign everything and they have to look at your ID to match up the signatures— and then we waited for our meal. A lovely window seat dinner becomes spoiled when the meat has a bad cut with two much tendon or heavy fat that I trim off, and on the arrival of a young couple in college taking their seats next to us. The girl is American, her boyfriend is English. They’re hosting their friends visiting from outside of London at their flat on the other side of the Thames and who would even show up. I wonder where the girl is from. She’s a bit heavy with brown hair and a floral dress underneath an unbuttoned chambray and crossbody purse. She’s not from the South or midwest, maybe East Coast. They’re talking and it makes me sad because that girl– all my life I thought I would be here, the American abroad and happily settled into this life. My life is different now. A lot changes in 10 years. And when I was dating Matt, I saw that a lot can change in just 3.

I message him occasionally throughout this trip. I tell him on the last night about how London made me feel. He says firmly, “I hate London.”

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Snapshots from a Weekend in New York

November 29 – December 4

I started out for New York less than a week ago. I wanted to go big for my 25th birthday and not alone, so my oldest friend would meet me at the airport just a month after I’d celebrated my birthday, and less than a week before she would celebrate hers. So smack in between us late bloomers, was a journey to a city. After a bumpy, clouded red-eye from SFO into JFK, there at Gate 19, we were united and headed out to town in gold-gilded paper crowns and no plans of sitting still.

No wonder New York is a literary treasure, where writers are born, or at least flock to in giving birth to something from their imaginations that only this city can bring about with its endless characters, sights, sounds, and, especially to each their own, memories. It’s old, it’s rich, it’s a universal consensus that all and any happens in this town. It’s also why I feel that for visiting New York, there wasn’t anything new to tell of it. The great writers before me, who I hope to be, all tore down and ripped the streets of New York to shreds with their stories of the lost who were found by readers around the world. It’s the definitive zeitgeist of storytelling, or launching a story for the masses, so for the masses this city belongs to and always in the public eye– always something seen by everyone.

So let me just brief you on the little moments, the quiet ones not captured by my camera and only remembered in that moment of the sleepless nights had in four days. It’s not much, but that’s the point.

And in the little that I reveal about New York City, it’s a reminder of my grand, personal duty to my own city, San Francisco. It is up to me to be a part of the narrative of this little sister to the literary legacy before it, and she’s got a lot of catching up to do– and not without my help, to write down the stories I keep living here.

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SIGHTS

Rose Pink geraniums, the green tiles of the Bryant Park Bathroom.

Glittering decorations at Rolf’s.

Subway sign mosaics.

Bounded Christmas trees, fresh from Vermont, leaning against wooden frames for sale as their chicken wire reflected the twinkle lights strung from the vendor’s cash register.

Heart-shaped leather seats at Café Lalo.

Silver glitter atop sprinkles and whipped cream and the cherry atop Frozen Hot Chocolate. Accompanied by a single pink striped birthday candle.

Igloos. NY gets obsessed with these things around this time of year.

Yellow leaves of the Villages, East and West.

Boarded-up brownstones in the Barrio.

Rats.

Porcelain dolls with their eyes cut out for steam punk jewelry on the Broadway Market expo.

The Roosevelt Island tram whizzing threw the air past the heavy flood of headlights to and from the Queensboro bridge.

The dried trees of Gramercy Park.

Nameless antique shops on 10th Street.

Dave the bodega cat.

The dancing pie waiter at Lalo.

Cracked knuckles against the bitter cold of New York.

Black-stained steel of the staircase of our apartment.

Brick walls.

Sea green dinnerwear that served our ham and cheese omelet and pineapple-banana-orange juice in mini Coca Cola tumblers.

The Empire State shrouded in mist.

The worn lions that guard the Public Library.

The soft handwriting of Alexander Hamilton to his brother.

Captain America kissing Wonder Woman in the center of a black and white Times Square, circa 1945.

Seeing Johnny Weir’s skating outfit through the screen of a man’s phone ahead of us in the growing crowd.

SOUNDS

“You guys have fun, *whispers softly* take some very cute pictures” – 230 Fifth

“You ever see a cocktail?… I haven’t.”

“Thanks! H&M, Winter 2013 collection.” – The Auction House

“NO FUCKING WAY, Rachel.” – Houston Street, Lower East Side

“The closest we’ll get to Hamilton!” – New York Public Library

“Instagram!!” – Dumbo

“Okay folks let’s move in– make plenty of spaces for beautiful faces!” – Elevator going up to the Top of the Rock

“Kill!… Okay maybe tomorrow.” – 59th Street Subway

“Oh is it gonna be televised?” – Bryant Park

“What the DICKENS!… And I do mean Dickens.” -East Harlem, AirBnB

“I do birthdays, weddings, Batmitzfahs…” -Rolf’s

“Gonna Shrek it up and layer.” – AirBnB

“If you guys are willing to pay the bar minimum tonight, $200 for the two of you.” – Lavo

“Fuck these shoes, let’s dance!” -Joshua Tree

“Everyone, we have two birthdays in the house!” – Serendipity

“This couple is really getting romantic and I’m just mackin’ on chicken nuggets.” – 230 Fifth

Silver bells. Well, red ones.

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Scenes of New York: Big Summer Adventures for P!

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I am still living and daydreaming within a New York minute.

Two weeks ago I had the incredible opportunity to finally go beyond my borders of the West Coast and see somewhere new, let alone somewhere so praised and mythologized as the great city of the East. It was also my first plane ride. No, not scary at all!

From this remarkable journey I sure was inspired by the sprawl of skyscrapers, stifling heat, and  the masses of nameless faces, each passing in a second on the street to replace the face I’d just seen. The city’s energy has rubbed onto me, and I am very excited to write a lengthy travel essay that captures the spirit of me during those four days in  New York. If only I hadn’t come back to California so busy though!

As I slowly dive into the writing process of producing my work, Fresh Apple, I’ll leave here snippets of the many photos I was glad to have taken in the duration of this trip.

Wishing you all a summer going lovely as mine has (so far… the future is always uncertain!).

♥ P

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