Saturday, December 29, 2018

Lisbon through the written word

Because I had never been to Lisbon, I decided to learn about it through the city's most famous writers. I had about five or six booked checked out at the library, all famous novels that took place in Lisbon and written by Portuguese authors, but only two of them really left an impression on me, enough to share a few quotes from each.

The First is The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa, Portugal’s most famous writer.
Indeed everywhere I went there were cafés named after him, figurines of him for sale in gift shops, and even a monument where he was buried at the Jerónimos Monastery. I could think of no equivalent American writers who were so venerated in society.

The Book of Disquiet is one of his only works translated into English, and it reads more like excerpts from his diary. He makes frequent reference to the Rua dos Douradores in Lisbon, where he lived in a small room overlooking the street. There were a few passages I found from his book that really captured the essence of the city.

Installed on the upper floors of certain respectable taverns in Lisbon can be found a small number of restaurants or eating places, which have the stolid, homely look of those restaurants you see in towns that lack even a train station. Amongst the clientele of such places, which are rarely busy except on Sundays, one is as likely to encounter the eccentric as the nondescript, to find people who are but a series of parentheses in the book of life (Pessoa, 1).
In the plausible intimacy of approaching evening, as I stand waiting for the stars to begin at the window of this fourth floor room that looks out on the infinite, my dreams move to the rhythm required by long journeys to countries as yet unknown, or to countries that are simply hypothetical or impossible (Pessoa, 1).

In these lingering summer evenings, I love the quiet of this the commercial part of town, all the more because it’s such a contrast with the noisy bustle that fills it during the day. Rua do Arsenal, Rua da Alfândega, the sad roads that reach out to the east where the Alfândega ends, and the long, solitary line of quiet quays: they comfort me with sadness on those evenings when I choose to share their solitude (Pessoa, 22).

Praça da Figueira, replete with goods of various colours, fills with customers and peoples my horizon with vendors of all kinds (Pessoa, 28).

As the mask of veils fell away, the features of the city were reborn. The day, which had already dawned, dawned anew, as if a window had been suddenly flung open. The noises in the streets took on a slightly different quality, as if they too had only just appeared. A blueness insinuated itself even into the cobblestones and the impersonal auras of passers-by (Pessoa, 32).

Know that I have only to raise my eyes to see before me the sordid skyline of the houses, the unwashed windows of all the offices in the Baixa and the empty windows of the top floor apartments and, above them, around the garret roofs, the inevitable washing hung out to dry in the sun amongst flowerpots and plants (Pessoa, 94).

The second book that really impacted me, perhaps even more than Book of Disquiet, was the Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by Jose Saramago. Ricard Reis is another famous Portuguese writer, and the fictional  story follows him from Brazil back to Lisbon after the death of his friend Fernando Pessoa.

Here the sea ends and the earth begins. It is raining over the colorless city  (Saramago, 1).

Several bars were open, side by side, murky, their viscous lights encircled by shadows, the silent image of a dirty wineglass on a zinc counter. These façades are the great wall that screens the city, and the taxi skirts them without haste, as if searching for some break or opening, a Judas gate, or the entrance to a labyrinth (Saramago, 7).

When one awaits sleep in the silence of a room that is still unfamiliar, listening to the rain outside, things assume their real dimension, they all become great, solemn, heavy. What is deceptive is the light of day, transforming life into a shadow that is barely perceptible. Night alone is lucid, sleep, however, overcomes it, perhaps for our tranquillity and repose, the peace of our souls (Saramago, 23).

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

What I ate in Tijuana: An homage to one of the world's most delicious cities - 2018 Edition

After venturing to Tijuana in 2017, I new immediately that I would have to return. Not only did the city call me back for soul-searching, but my food list was still too long! There were many things I did not get to eat on my first trip and I simply had to satisfy my curiosity before too much time passed. So I returned to TJ about 3 months after my first trip. 

There were some restaurants I visited again (Alma Verde) and some I tried for the first time (Mision 19). Now that I knew the city better and did more research, I could be more selective in what I ate and where I went. Here's the list:

1.     Food I wished I had but didn't:  Tacos El Franc, the most famous in the city
2.     Food I had but wished I didn't:  a tres leches cake which was sickeningly sweet
3.     What should have been on the list:  Octopus pizza at La Justina – the best thing I ate!
4.     Biggest surprise: how messy it can be to eat Birria when it doesn't come in a pre-wrapped taco...
5.     Most delicious meal: Mision 19 Chef’s tasting menu

Street food

Crickets in hot sauce (again!) 

Street tacos

Biria La Mejor

Pozole (seafood soup)

Gastro- Mexican:

La Justina's Octopus Pizza

Traz Horizonte

Alma Verde(again!)

Cesar’s famous Cesar Salad

Mision 19

Oryx Capital


Cake at Puestro (again!)

Carrot cake from Container

Tres Leches Cake from a bakery

Teponieves (famous ice cream place)


Telefonica - fried chicken burger and fries

Friday, December 21, 2018

Portugal outfit 3

The theme of my wardrobe in Portugal can be summed up in one word: comfort. It was hot and I was pregnant and sick and walking around all the time. So I needed to be comfortable. I'm worn vintage HM denim  shirt on so many trips because it is versatile and comfortable. This was my go-to style in Portugal as well. 

Denim shirt: gift from mama
Tank: Target
Pants: Uniqlo

Monday, December 17, 2018

Tijuana Diaries 2018

I thought I would return to Tijuana with a head full of new information on the city from all the books I would read. But instead I returned knowing only more about myself, not the city. Perhaps that was the topic that would be most relevant to my journey back. That it was really about me all along, not the city. And that until I knew more about myself, I could not embrace new knowledge of the city. I needed my new eyes and ears and mind to be able to grasp it, and hold on to it, and live it and dream it.
I needed to form my own impression of the city, my own narrative before I could understand and learn from the narratives of others. Their perceptions are not insightful or alarming until I have a perception of my own. Until I have some context in which to understand the city. The images and smells and feelings color my own story. And I weave the stories of other’s through that.

I woke up today at 8:00am when my friend left for work, then I decided to go back to sleep. I woke again at 10:00am and ate my leftover pasta. Then I went back to bed and woke at 11:30. I cannot remember the last time I allowed myself to sleep in so much. 
This morning, it was as though I was sleeping-in three different times, three days in a row. It was glorious. It was mine. The bed was so comfortable, the room so dark and cool and quiet. And I am free. 
Yesterday at the San Diego airport I was overwhelmed with this sensation of freeness. It is a feel that only comes to me when I am alone, and when I am traveling.As I was walking through the airport to go to the rideshare pick up zone, I realized suddenly that I was free. I had not one with me to consider, no where to be urgently, nothing that I must do. If I wanted, I could have taken a seat by the cinnamon role stand and sat there for as long as I liked. I could have walked slowly past the tree that stood in the center of the sky bridge to see if they really were fig trees, as I suspected. I didn’t have anywhere urgent to be. That's how I felt again when I awoke this morning. The sun would be waiting for me when I woke up all the same. The lavender coffee would still be delicious. And, because I know it’s Mexico, the cafe would not be busy until night and lunch doesn’t even start until 1:00pm. I could have stayed n that bed all day if I wished. I had no one else to consider but myself and it was glorious.
I stepped out onto the street at a quarter past noon and the fierce sun greeted me with onyx shows and gold-plated neighborhoods. It is a sun I only know on this latitude.
I am so happy to be here. I am smiling without anyone looking at me. Smiling not out of kindness or human connection, but out of joy. That’s not all too common of me, I’ve realized.
 I asked my friend later why he lived in Tijuana. He recited a line from a church song he learned as a child, “Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bare.”
When he lived in other cities, he had a fear-of-missing-out all the time. He felt like he needed to go out every night or else the world would continue on without him. But in Tijuana, because the partying happens every night consistently, he feels like he is not missing anything. He gives himself permission to get off and back on when he wants. The party will still be there for him. This city gives the illusion that every opportunity is available to you all the time. Time and age and experience and circumstance will never eliminate the choices you have. This is perhaps the fantasy. In everywhere else in the world, it is known that if you wait too long you will miss your chance. But here, the options will be handed to you, tonight, and overnight, but not in endless monotony or repetition, because the city reinvents itself constantly, so the choices are forever new….

- Except from my diary, January 12, 2018

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Tijuana: the highs and lows

Tijuana is a place on contradictions. One of the most murderous cities in the world also happens to be one of the most fun. In one day lunch might be a $1 street taco and dinner might be a $60 chef’s tasting menu. 

I don’t do a “highs and lows” post for every city. In fact, I’ve only done this one for an entire country (Pakistan) and once for an entire region (SE Asia). I seem to be inspired to do posts like these when I there is a clash of feelings, like I shouldn’t love a place but somehow I do. I felt this clash in Pakistan. I felt the clash throughout my 6 months in SE Asia and the many ups and downs I had there. 

Tijuana is still different. I did not have a set of extreme experiences there, but rather, it is a city of extremes in and of itself. Take a look at my list and decide which outweighs the other.

Things I loved 

  • Gourmet food: Mision 19 may be one of the best meals I have ever had. And my favorite octopus pizza at La Justina is not to be missed. 
  • Street food: ubiquitous and abundant, everything can be found on the street in all delicious varieties. I have yet to get sick from eating anything. 
  • Nostalgia: Tijuana evokes memories from me of places all over the world. Perhaps because the city itself is a crossroads of sorts, harboring refugees from Haiti and Latin America, a confluence of people of many cultures. No wonder the city reminds me of all places at one. 
  • Cars stop for pedestrians: of all the safety concerns you may have in Tijuana, getting hit by a car should not be one of them. 
  • The nights: while days can be plenty hot, nights are cool and breezy. Going out at 10:00 or 11:00pm is the perfect time to savor Tijuana’s nightlight outdoors. 
  • Uber English: Uber is easier to use than ever! 
  • Fluid queer culture: there is a thriving gay scene in Tijuana that attracts people of all genders, ages, races, abilities, and life circumstances. It was great to see so much diversity. 
  • Pace of time: time moves slowly and quickly in Tijuana. Slowly, when you are in the moment, and you can savor ever bit of the presence, but quickly because the days pass in an instant. As my friend calls it “Time slides” 
  • Coffee flavors: The lavender lattes cannot be beat. And the vanilla doesn’t taste like vanilla anywhere else in the world. 
  • Sunsets: magical moments that can be appreciated from any street corner or rooftop in the city

My not-so-favorite-things 

  • Random shooting: I would put Narco-vioence in a big category of “what sucks about Tijuana” but the worst is when innocent bystanders are shot simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
  • Drugs: Not only are there plenty of drugs flowing from Mexico into the US thanks to warring cartels, but there are plenty of drugs swimming in Tijuana. Syringes on the street are a commons sight, as are junkies. As a foreigner, I also have to worry about being harassed by police who think I might be buying drugs. 
  • The sidewalks and roads: One of the very legitimate dangers of Tijiana is it’s poorly constructed roads. Drivers have to worry about seriously deep pot holes, while as pedestrians we worry about gaping cracks in the pavement and huge curbs. 
  • Trash and sanitation: parts of the city are very, very dirty and the trash can be overwhelming. For my friend who lives there, sometimes the water can get shut off and there will be other basic issues with infrastructure. 
  • Things open late, or not at all: Many cafes and restaurants are simply not open until 12:00 or 1:00pm. If you are early to rise, I have no idea what you will do to pass your morning. Also, businesses might show they are open online or have hours posted, but be closed. It seems every place has a relaxed about when to open. 
  • Aggressive street hawkers and taxi drivers: Only on Revolucion blvd will you get called at by hawkers. It’s annoying but they are easy to ignore. Taxi drivers are aggressive and scary. I avoid them at all costs.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Portland Cafe Guide: Northwest


As soon as I started typing up my first post on Portland’s many wonderful cafes, I knew it wouldn’t be my last. It took me over a year to visit all the cafes on that first post, and I knew I had barely scratched the surface. Most of the additional cafes on this list have actually only opened in the time between my last post and now, so I’ve had a lot of catching up to do. I realize this is still not a complete list of all Portland cafes, so I will have to provide a disclaimer again that these are just the ones I find worth mentioning. Onward…

As a recap: 

I compiled this list based on a few factors: 
1) lattes
2) seating
3) atmosphere
4) decor. 

I am also dividing these posts into 4, because there are almost 90 cafes I am documenting and that’s too much for any one post. To break it down, I am focusing on one quadrant of the city at a time. I used to post them in order of favorites, but my tastes are fickle and new cafes are always popping up, so they are in alphabetical order instead. 


Northwest Portland

The Northwest Portland covers exclusively Chinatown, the Pearl district, and the Alphabet district. This is a small area of land with a high concentration of new development. Of all the quadrants of the city, this is the one where I still have the most cafes left unexplored. Ironically, I used to live in NW until about three years ago. But in that short amount of time at least a dozen or so cafes have popped up and I haven't gotten to go back often ever since. 

Barista on NW 23rd

A popular shot for meeting due to the deep booths and bar counters. Not a place to work on your laptop, but still a great Barista location. 

Barista in the Pearl
The original Barista location is a small stand with a few seats adjacent to a furniture store. The coffee is still amazing if you are lucky enough to snag a table. 

Coffeehouse Northwest
Owned by the same people as Sterling, this case also boasts their incredible caramel latte, but with more seating. I frequent come here to write or to have meetings. 

Good Coffee - NW

The same great cafe I love in SE finally opened a branch in the NW alphabet district and it is impressive. The largest of the three branches is located in a newly developed retail-office-apartment complex with stylish interior. It was as busy as every when I went in on a Tuesday morning. 

La Perlita
A tiny coffee stand in the lobby of the Ecotrust building does have something unique to offer to this neighborhood. I enjoyed the "Real Mexican Mocha" which was fragrant and bold in flavor. I recommend their original offerings if you stop by.

Local Roasting
A decent café off NW 23rd Ave with a grungy atmosphere.  

Nossa Familia
The original location is more of a coffee stand amidst its huge factory. Come for the Mocha with whip, which is the classic drink here. 

Modern café in the Pearl district with a signature Moroccan latte.

Society Cafe
A fantastic café in the lobby of the Society Hotel in Chinatown, a welcome addition to a neighborhood with few café options

Sterling Coffee Roasters (closed 2017)
The first place I fell in love with in Portland still holds the top rank in my heart. When I first met Sterling it was a small stand wedged between a flower shop and Trader Joes. And that is where I had the best caramel latte in the world. Even now that it has outgrown its humble beginnings and now has a small storefront, the staff and the lattes are still the best ever. 

Sterling Coffee Roasters (2018-)
Sterling finally outgrew it's shared space with the wine bar and moved into a home of its own. The new location is spacious and filled with natural light, but the tiny round tables make it not ideal for working, and I miss the cozy intimate atmosphere of the original location. 

The Commissary 
Chic little café with specialty biscuit sandwiches. 

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