India at last!

Before summer falls to autumn, I thought I’d share the story of its passage, starting with my trip to the Sangam House near Bangalore, India in May.

First some background: India is the country I have most wanted to visit for more than two decades now. In 1999, I landed a job at a feminist magazine in Delhi, bought a plane ticket and a visa, and even secured an apartment—only to cancel the trip when my dad was diagnosed with cancer two weeks before my departure. Thankfully, he pulled through like a champ, and when it seemed like I could reschedule the trip several months later, I bought a package of Hindi language tapes to start preparing. Every single one of them, however, was blank. Then I visited the local Indian restaurant (in Corpus Christi, Texas) to try to find a language tutor there. Nope: it had just gone out of business. At that point, an Indian friend sat me down and said, “How many signs do you need? It’s clearly not the time for you to go to …

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Hoppin’ John Fiddle Fest

Things I Seen, Things I Done at the 7th Annual Hoppin’ John Old-Time and Bluegrass Fiddler’s Convention in Shakori Hills, North Carolina:

* Getting asked “Where’s yer fiddle?” by every other person I pass, and “Where’s yer banjo?” by all the rest

* A guy who stands nearly seven feet high, naked beneath his overalls, walking through the forest playing a ukulele

* A woman with the voice of a Dixie angel, strumming a guitar with a strap depicting The Last Supper

* A boozy woman telling her boozy husband, “You’d never keep me home if I had a voice like that,” to which he replies, “Well I wouldn’t want you to. If you had a voice like that, we’d have ourselves a destination.”

* Three fiddlers, two guitarists, a banjoist, and a stand-up bassist huddling beneath a tarp in the forest, playing fiercely through the rain, and then, when their song draws to a triumphant finish, introducing themselves to each other

* An older woman with tattooed breasts wishing to sit, finding a chair occupied by a banjo, picking …

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48 Hours in Quebec City

Up here in the North Country, the surest sign that there will, in fact, be an end to the long, dark months of subzero nights and triple-fleece days is not the melting of snow or the emergence of squirrels or the arrival of V-flying geese, but the curlicues of fragrant steam rising from tiny wooden sugar shacks out in the forest. It is maple-tapping time in upstate New York, which means all the trees are wearing tin buckets around their waists, which emit a marvelous plink-plink sound when the sap trickles out. I have, in the past two weeks, discovered the joys not only of hot maple syrup slow-boiled in a sugar pan for six hours and drizzled over oatmeal, but also maple butter, maple cream, maple lollipops, maple cookies, and maple leaf-shaped lumps of maple sugar.

Another sign that spring will someday surface: a weeklong break from university life! My family flew out to join me for a road trip to Quebec. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I’ve been working …

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Going Down Under

As 2012 fades into memory, I wanted to share one of its personal highlights with you: my two-week journey Down Under. I could say its impetus was the NonfictioNow Conference, held this year at RMIT in Melbourne and sponsored by my alma mater, the University of Iowa, but the truth is, I’ve been dreaming of Australia since I was eight years old and started swapping stickers with another little girl there. I’d send her Lisa Frank stickers of rainbow unicorns; she’d return fat envelopes spilling with kangaroos in boxing gloves, koala bears with googly eyes, and scratch-n-sniff jars of Vegemite, all of which seemed impossibly otherworldy to me. Australia was the first place I ever hoped to visit.

Counting from the moment I rolled out of my driveway in Canton, New York to the instant I pulled up to my hotel in Melbourne, it took 38 hours to get there. Rather than collapse into bed, I called my dear friend Sree, whom I met last year at the Overseas Writing Workshop in the Philippines, and she …

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Living in the North Country

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I recently left my cozy writer’s pad in Iowa City and moved up to the North Country.  Where’s that, you ask? I could say “upstate New York,” but to some folks, that indicates anything north of the Bronx. No, my friends: the North Country is north of the Catskills, north of the Adirondacks, north of Syracuse, even. The only thing we’re south of is Canada (and that’s just 20 miles away). It is the most isolated corner of the Empire State, a starkly beautiful region of rolling hills and glimmering lakes and pine trees you can breathe.

So what is it like living in a town of 6,000—nearly half of whom are undergrads? Well, I hadn’t been here a week when I opened my back door one morning to find an armload of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions piled atop the mat. Whoever left it wrote no note; it would be a month before a colleague mentioned it was her husband. “We just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood,” she said. Indeed. There is …

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48 Hours: Twin Cities

With one month left of Midwest residency, I’m scrambling to see as much as I can. Last weekend, a friend and I hit the Twin Cities—a bucket list destination for me, as Minnesota was the second-to-last state I had yet to explore (Hawaii being the final 50th). We spent weeks plotting the trip, prioritizing food and art. Here’s the skinny:

ST. PAUL 

F. Scott Fitzgerald is St. Paul’s sacred son, so our first quest was tracing his route to literary fame through one of the city’s prized neighborhoods. (This helpful site provided the deets.) The historic homes here were beautiful: Queen Annes with scalloped woodwork and wrap-around porches alongside Romanesque brownstones draped in ivy. I especially liked the snippets of prose engraved in the sidewalk, including this poem by Carlee Tressel called “Second Love”:

He kissed the girl in the ballerina skirt. It was a long one— like the kiss— drenching her sneakers in tulle.

Most of the sites were scattered along Summit Avenue, which Fitzgerald famously (and drunkenly) ran up and …

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Spain & Lisboa: Let’s Go-a!

Friends: I have returned from one of the most restorative viajes I’ve taken in a long, long time: two weeks in Spain and Portugal (well, Lisbon anyway). The impetus was the 8th International Conference on Chicano Literature in Toledo, where my good friend Santiago landed us a slot on a panel, and an invitation to speak at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. But really, who needs a reason to roam around Southern Europe? You pack your Don Quijote and Pessoa and you go-a.

I arrived to Madrid on a 7:30 a.m. flight and, without having slept in 22 hours, raced off to see my friend/former student Tomas, who lives in a fabulous apartment owned by Penelope Cruz’s agent in the Malasana district. Much rejoicing ensued as we hit the cobblestone streets. Two prized finds: Ojala, a most excellent boutique where every item is designed and hand-stitched by Paloma del Pozo  (and where sleep-deprivation almost induced me to buy a 285 Euro flaming red raincoat that would have required the …

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