Monday, December 12, 2011

Liz's Mix Volume 9: Discoveries from 2011

One of my favorite holiday traditions began about 7 years ago when my friend from high school moved to England. At the time, I was in Philly being completely inundated with the indie music scene. We both shared a love for music and would make each other a mixed CD of music we had discovered while on either our travels in Europe or the warehouses of North Philly. Despite the later opportunities to easily shoot a you-tube link over in mid-discovery, we continued to send each other a tangible CD every year around the holidays. We have similar taste in music, so receiving each other's album gathered over the course of a year is like reliving that magic moment of discovery in one sitting. Tonight, I don't feel like writing the novel, and this kid in the cafe is sharing an awe-inspiring iTunes library (thanks "killer hip hop" from Earthmatters Cafe), so I've decided to put together my music discoveries of 2011. I have to admit, this year I'm playing catch up, as many of these songs are from a few years ago, but they each tell a story. I'm not going to tell it. The beauty of music is that I get to write less.

The List:
1. Never Give Up - Robin Thicke
2. Te Mando Flores - Fonseca
3. Vocal Chords - Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
4. Through the Roof - Gogol Bordello
5. Mi Primer Millon - Bacilos
6. Inevitable - Shakira
7. The Broads - Minotaur Shock
8. Hold You - Gyptian
9. Obsesion - Aventura
10. Best Thing I Never Had - Beyonce
11. No I/ Ain Ani - Fools of Prophecy
12. Vanished - Crystal Castles
13. Take off Your Cool - Outkast (feat. Norah Jones)
14. Brother John/ Iko Iko - The Neville Brothers
15. Lucha De Gigantes - Nacha Pop
16. Bring on the Wonder - Susan Enan
17. Eterna Soledad - Los Enanitos Verdes
18. Ciega, Sordomuda - Shakira
19. Lamento Boliviano - Los Enanitos Verdes

Thanks Pandora, indie flicks, primetime dramas, WERS and my obsession with learning Spanish through music lyrics.

Do Christians need the promise of an afterlife to be good people on earth?

Can’t I be a good person, not because I am expecting eternal life in return, but because I just want to be a good person? Sure I have my day-to-day struggles in my attempts to live like Christ. In a world where cutting in line and cheating to get ahead are the norm, I sometimes walk away questioning why I make things harder for myself through these honest yet hard choices. But the idea of “suffer now, go to heaven later” has never entered my mind. In fact, the more that I give blindly without expecting something in return, the better I feel, so much that knowing that I did something right, whether it benefited me or someone else is reason enough to continue doing it.

Now, how can I take this thought and relay it to those who challenge my belief in God and heaven? I want to tell them about how Christ lived and how contagious love can be when transferred blindly from one to another. I want to say, yes, I believe in God and an afterlife and I’m looking forward to it, but one’s decision to be kind to others on earth is irrelevant to whether or not I think I’m going to heaven, so not believing is no excuse to be dishonest or hateful toward anyone.

Be good, because you want that for the rest of the world. Be fair, because you want everyone to have a fair shot. And be honest, because you want to hear the truth. You might not get this completely in return, in fact, you won’t, but as many times as you give kindness, someone else will receive it.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Absent in blogging, present in the fictional world

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted something… I’m aware. But this month may be a little scarce, since I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a novel in the month of November, or at least 50K words of one. And if you register with, and track your word count through Google docs, you can enter the writing competition, which will select a winning novel after the month is over with cash and publication prizes in tow. I’m not officially enrolled in the competition, but I’m using this as a way to motivate myself to finish my existing novel. Through online forums and twitter (#nanowrimo is trending with vigor), I’ve found a great amount of support and camaraderie for my writing. I see it as though I’m running a marathon with several others, except I’ve already run 10 miles and I don’t have to cross the finish line at any particular time. So, while others are stressing about making their nightly word count, I can relax knowing that if I just open my word file once a day consecutively for a month, I’ll be doing more than I did last month. Of course, it would be nice to hit 50K well-written, edited words.

On top of this goal, I am eager to finish a new music review of Joe Lovano and Us Five, an amazing jazz ensemble featuring Esperanza Spalding on bass. It’s been a challenge translating my two-hours of a spellbound face into words that follow my review style, but should I find myself procrastinating from the above project, you just might see my more recent review.(

Also on the radar is a review from the famed DJ duo Curry Smugglers, who have created the now necessary platform for up and coming artists with a South Asian influence. (

BAMF creative lost their (our) first pitch which was a big let down, but we’re looking to win back the next one and blow them away with our badass ideas. The next campaign, due in January will have to completely take over.

See? I’m writing. A lot. And I have a job. Where I write more.

Monday, October 03, 2011

All Day I Dream Of You--DJ Lee Burridge Review

September 18, 2011

In a barren and industrial part of Brooklyn, outside of a concrete warehouse-turned shitty apartment building, thirty flamboyant hipsters and a bouncer stood in isolation. The heartbeat to house music steadily throbbed from the rooftop and echoed throughout the neighborhood, assuring those below that the ever-so pedestrian action of standing in line was only temporary. I had been in this line before, but I didn’t get in the last show. Now, with ticket in hand, I was guaranteed admission, at some point. The kid in front of me wore tattered jeans and a black silk jacket with a patch, which read “SILK JACKET” stitched on the breast pocket. He bent his knees and squirmed before turning around to talk to me.

“I have to piss. Can you hold my place in line for me?” After I assured him that his place in line was safe, he handed me two colorful pills. “So, you know I’ll be back.”

“That’s okay, I believe you,” I hastily blurted out as I handed him back his stash. He didn’t come back.

Before I knew it, we were fighting the 10-flight walk up to the rooftop. After a quick check-in, a fuzzy hippie branded each of us with an “All day I dream of you” stamp, and the line dispersed into the crowd. Bright orange cloth streamers and lanterns hovered effortlessly above the crowd. There were tents selling tacos and drinks on rooftop corners and plush couches with fluffy pillows.

In the center of it all were the high crowd, the nodding crowd, the dancing crowd, then the inner layers of the hypnotized crowd, who pressed as closely to the speakers as their ears would let them. Nestled deep in the seed of this energy, was the man responsible for it all, Lee Burridge. Unlike other DJs, who either remain behind the curtain or perched on a platform for those to admire, Lee was clearly responsible for this magic but put himself at eye level to identify with our emotions. It’s as if he depended on our energy to feed his fire of talent, and we didn’t disappoint.

I started at the outskirts of the high people and eased my way closer to the stage. Between the head nodders and the dancers stood a hybrid of sorts. This girl had her eyes closed and her mouth open and she swatted her arms at the air with every measure. My friend and I were completely spellbound by her. We watched every tone change sweep through her body and widen her smile.

“She doesn’t look high.”
“I think she’s just feeling the music.”
“Oh... can we do that?”
So, we decided to close our eyes and “feel the music” for about two minutes before checking in with each other afterward. About a minute later, we caught each other looking to see if the other one was bored yet.

The music was good, but I felt like we were watching everyone around us ride this exhilarating roller coaster, simultaneously experiencing the same bumps and loops with lofty expressions, but we had missed our chance to buckle in and were stuck holding everyone’s shit.

A new theme took over, and we were instantly drawn like mosquitoes to a bright light. The drumbeat echoed through me as the bass line established a strong foundation, and as Lee stacked one track over another, song samples mathematically strung together in perfection, my eyes closed and my jaw fell open.

Deeper into the song, I felt this powerful uplifting charge moving amongst the crowd. With the combination of Lee’s music and the crowd’s energy channeling through me, I felt pure freedom from everything I ever learned to know. I left this show with more than a new-found appreciation for house music. I now have further support that music is the reason why I live.

This show taught me a valuable lesson. House is not just a genre of music. You can’t judge it by downloading a 20-minute song and simply hearing. You need to be in a musty basement feeling the cold air wisp by, despite a tight sweaty crowd of blissful attention-deficit kids. You need to be on a rooftop watching jaded city girls close their eyes and let go. You need to be patient enough to saturate yourself with every feeling of animate being before you can honestly transgress to the next stage. You have been chosen to become the advanced listener. Don’t blow it.

Lee Burridge’s music is an intricate collection of whimsical stories powered by the energy of the crowd he entertains. Find a show and get your tickets early. This guy has some serious followers.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

BAMF Creative

I've worked in the ad industry for a while and it's not the industry I thought I was going into when I was in college. I couldn't wait to be in an environment of endless stimulation, surrounded by these incredibly creative people that continued to blow me away with new ideas.

I've worked at large holding companies, small start-ups, and conflict shops, and it's all the same...

Each project is full of too many chefs with the least creative people in the world making the most important decisions, beating good ideas down so hard that they have lost their vigor and meaning by the time the project is out the door.

You don't have to be in an agency to know what I'm talking about. The media is all about stimulation, but they have continued to throw shock without meaning so many times that they have desensitized the most horrific moments and appalling language (ahem MTV). Talented musicians are selling their sounds one hook at a time, only to be rehearsed to the point of exhaustion. Nothing is fresh anymore.

I feel like the media is trying so desperately to get our attention that they are constantly fighting to shock us. If they were to paint a picture, they would want to throw out all these bright colors at us, but because all these non-creative types get a hand in it, they unknowingly mix all the colors together, and instead of painting this beautiful piece of art that they pay so much money to market, they instead create that nasty purple/brown mud color that can only come from cheap generic paint. For all of you who weren't design majors,, see below for clarity.

If I had my own ad agency, this is what it would be like...

-We would only hire people who have their own side projects that we believe in (real creatives believe in themselves other than their ability to write about Ritz crackers and Cialis.)

-Our clients seek us out to come up with that one amazing marketing tactic that works better than waning drawn out campaigns that cost the same and don't work.

-This is a new age: people don't pay attention to long drawn out campaigns (unless it's 5 commercials strung together during the Superbowl), they say "Remember the time when Kayne interrupted Taylor Swift a day after his clothing line, Pastelle, failed...oh you don't remember that second part? It's called good PR.

-If a client offers us tons of money to do something boring or stupid, we wouldn't do it (maybe we'd have a list of non-clients on our site titled, "People who asked us to do something stupid or boring")

-We would work on standard media like print, digital and social media campaigns, but we would also offer other services like guerilla marketing tactics, psychosocial marketing tactics and creating new media platforms that blow their fucking minds away

-No pharmaceutical advertising (too many rules)

So, we're starting it right now: one account director, one copywriter and one art director. The plan is to continue business as usual at our real jobs but work on these two pitches at night. That's right, two pitches. Two companies. We rock. We're called BAMF creative. Follow us on twitter. @BAMFcreative

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hot-blooded and Unabashed: A Band Review of Gazelle

Sunday night I arrived at the upstairs lounge at Pianos in the Lower East Side. A small place to house a powerful voice, I thought, as Pianos tends to host bands with a metallic flair that would require good sound diffusion to appreciate.

About to start were the acoustic duo, Gazelle. Armed with a short blue dress and some serious copper pipes, the lead singer, Zeena Koda stood in unapologetic confidence, ready to either blow us away or take us all out. With the ever-present resilience that could only stem out of Jersey City, she already told the audience and myself that we fucking suck at least twice before the show even began.

With a swift methodic kick of the amp below him, the bearded quieter half, Jason Urbanski, wove the makeshift bass drum into his rarely amplified guitar with a whirling rhythmic motion that sent us all into a trance.

Koda’s smooth sultry voice opened us up to her world, and jaws dropped as her voice fluidly progressed into a powerhouse of endless capacity that drew consistent throughout. Deep into the show, it was clear that she could take us on an emotional high in an unyielding rasp that moves you like that of the Wilson sisters without the dramatic hook.

I followed the impressive oscillations, and though pitchy and raw at times, one particular melancholic tune at the end of the set convinced us all that a Gazelle show is a ride worth taking.

Self-described as a “beat laden slap in the face,” Gazelle has this impassioned sound that will push limits as far as an acoustic guitar can go. Just make sure you see them in a venue with enough room to support a powerful voice. It was difficult to find the sweet spot in the upstairs Pianos venue, and personally, I like to keep a safe distance from those of Jersey City.

Friday, August 05, 2011

ToughMudder: how much do you really love mud?

I thought the Tough Mudder would bring back those momentous child opportunities to jump in mud puddles without the contrition of getting dirty. Dressed in an ensemble that I was prepared to discard afterwards, I arrived with the idea that I would be in a cross-country foot race with a few obstacles meshed between to keep the running part less boring. But having never looked at the course map and without a hint of mudder-dedicated training, I was far less prepared than I thought.

The first few miles fulfilled my desire to engage in several deviant acts that wouldn’t warrant judgment, like throwing mud at strangers. But the decreasing temperatures made me question how much inner child I was channeling on this 9-mile trek. As I sit solemnly, achingly, wondering how I bruised my kidney, I can’t help but wonder if anything good came out of this.

To help you determine if sacrificing your warm soul is really worth the orange headband and free beer, take these lessons as you will.

Lesson One:
Maybe training isn’t a bad idea
I hadn’t run in 8 months, but climbing 3 times a week gave me the false sense that I was in amazing running shape. I was very wrong. The climbing didn’t go unnoticed, for one of the most challenging events was the inclining monkey bars, which I completed successfully and earned a free slice of pizza, but had I trained properly, this may not have been the sole highlight of this race.*

There are several helpful training videos you can follow. I ignored all advice because many of the videos end with the trainees shaving their heads and grunting into the camera, but they all serve a helpful purpose.

Lesson Two:
Even space blankets have their limits: Dress Warm
The base of Mount Snow was 60 degrees, the perfect temperature for a road race. Of course, I didn’t account for the rapidly declining temperature as we ascended further up Mount Snow, or the several obstacles, where we were submerged in frigid waters. Whether we jumped off a 15 foot platform into a recently unfrozen pond (Walk the plank), waded through a river with a snow maker shooting a storm at us (The ball shrinker), or dumpster dove into red dye and ice cubes (forgot how to read at that point), the space blankets that the organizers gave out were hardly considered generous. At least I have the priceless memory of burly tattooed men grasping their aluminum sheets in desperation.

A layer of Under Armor or other quick drying material will save you from being one the 150 victims of hypothermia in each Tough Mudder race. A pair of neoprene socks isn’t a bad idea either.

Lesson Three:
There are several different types of mud, and your ankles will hate them all
The snowmakers were working full-time to ensure there was not a dry grain on the course, which created mud of different viscosity levels, and each required a different approach to avoid a twisted ankle.

Some of the more memorable kinds to watch out for:

Step, Step, Sink- The unleveled bottom of the mud puddles in the woods creates some comic relief as even a careful canter can result in a single leg covered in thigh high muck

Swamp of Sadness- Move too fast in this dense clay mass and you will likely trip over your heavy mud-gathered sneakers and face plant, move too slow and the suction will steal your sneakers altogether. After mile 7, you won’t notice the difference anyway.

Wintry Mud Mix- The snow bits provide some much needed traction to climb uphill, and shuffling quickly downhill will ice your sore calves.

Overall, the Tough Mudder is a spiteful challenge that gives you a pool of vinegar to crawl through after falling down a hill of sharp ice and makes you run through dangling live electric wires after getting soaked from an icy waterslide. Of course, every obstacle is optional, and you still get your free beer if you don’t finish. So your level of sadism is completely up to you.

Good luck Mudder Muckers.

*Tough Mudder is not a race, it is a “personal challenge” as they advertise, but it’s still a race against your diminishing body heat.

Saturday, July 02, 2011


Another long drive with Chico Max and Leo, and the 20-song playlist was starting to annoy me. They let me play my music for the last hour of the trip, despite their dislike in my chick rock taste. I had just bought the Florence and the Machine album and insisted on playing it.

“Please, no more!” Leo begged me to stop. Changing wetsuits in front of each other didn’t phase the two genders, but certainly music choice was where the line would be drawn. I could tell they were in agony, and I eventually surrendered my music privileges to their 20-song playlist.

We came to the quaintest little touristy beach town yet. With tents in the center of town selling t-shirts, shells and nearly everything else with the words “Pichilemu” on it, I knew that surfing wouldn’t be the only exciting thing I did here.

Max drove us to the big break at Punta de Lobos. We walked to the cliff edge and watched as 9 foot waves threw a surfer on his board down one of the longest runs of the day. I watched in awe.

“You’re not going to surf this. We decided you’re not ready.” Max informed me that I’d be surfing at La Puntilla. I trusted their judgment, but felt left out that I was succumbed to a petty little place called Little Point as opposed to Wolf Point.

One of the highlights of Pichilemu was the hostel we stayed in—Hostel Case Verde. I walked in and was instantly greeted by four girls talking about how excited they were to go surfing the next day. After claiming our bunks, we collectively exhaled in the common area and mingled with the characters of the hostel.

I shared about my time in Puertocillo and my surfboard injury in a more noble light. When they questioned my story, I lifted my chin, revealing the shiner that was growing in vividly.

Nim had worked as an iBanker in the financial district of London until the death of her father led her to decide whether banking was really worth her hard-earned time on earth, thus sparking her traveling journey of at least 6 months. And traveling beside her for the last month was Miriam, a Dutch girl, whose American-taught English was slowly transforming and was gaining a bite of British influence adopted from the outspoken Nim.

Jasmin had made a promise back home in Germany to her newly divorced parents that she would find an internship by the end of the summer, before she was allowed to spend their money. The loophole? Traveling as much as you can, and spending what you can until your parents get a hold of you is a good plan B and a good deterrent for avoiding a bad home situation.

These stories led me to think if I was running from anything. My iPhone was soon hijacked by Nim out of boredom for better music and without contest from me.

“Oh, I love Florence and the Machine,” she said and I chuckled, wishing Max and Leo were in the room to hear that. The new album was interrupted by ringing noises, which caught me off guard since I knew I couldn’t afford anything other than airplane mode. Somehow I had wi-fi… and a voicemail from home.

I took the phone to the bedroom and realized that yes perhaps I was running from something. My very drugged-up sister had left me a message in English words that made no sense. Having spent a week in Chile, where no one was collectively fluent in the same language, I was looking forward to a coherent conversation in my home tongue. This wasn’t it. I finally decided that I was far enough away to let it go and trust that she was in good care, which she was. I needed to be this far.

With the little count of reality still scratching at my mind, I wished for some luck on the water at La Puntilla.

I was on the water now and left behind all my inner-thoughts at the rocks. Jasmin and I followed Leo to the bigger breaks. We paddled past the crowd of beginners, past the plastic boards, past the friendly “holas” and the “olas buenas” conversations to the deeper part that no beginner dared to brave. Of course, that wasn’t enough. Jasmin and I had dreams of surfing Punta de Lobos, and this was a sad compromise. That was until we realized the waves approaching us were overhead. This was the best setup. We were in deep waters away from rocks, so we could afford to take risks, but I didn’t realize that the waves were also a lot stronger. Each steep ramp threw me down the wave so fast, I forgot to stand, and then had to hear from Leo about how real surfers stand earlier. This was my first overhead wave, and I didn’t want to risk falling, so I bodyboarded each time down and stood when I felt comfortable to Leo’s dissatisfaction.

The next wave was different. I paddled, caught it, stood, fell, without even realizing I had caught anything, and of course without taking in that security breath, just in case I was where I was, on the wrong side of the ocean. Instead of light, fast and exhilarating—dark, tortuously slow, and terrifying. The calm, fetal position wasn’t working, so in a panic, I swam toward an unknown direction as sure as I could be, but quite honestly, I couldn’t tell you what that did other than waste my energy. I surfaced and gasped with tears and whimpers following. After a few more deep breaths, I quickly gained my composure and prepared to pretend as though nothing had happened. I looked around for Jasmin and Leo, but I couldn’t find them. Another big wave came through from the distance, and Jasmin emerged on top of it for a few seconds before taking a painful spill on her board. I found her when she came up, and the panic of being held under for her didn’t go away.

“I came up and I was like where am I? I couldn’t find anyone or the shore or anything.”

Having just experienced the same thing, I suggested that we spend some time near the beginner waves to gain our self-confidence back, and Leo agreed that we needed some more practice responding to the fast moving waves.

There we met up with some familiar faces from the hostel among hundreds of others. This was a place where every wave was a party wave, meaning several surfers would paddle for the same wave at once, but no one actually ever caught it, which was ideal for the people who could. This was until we saw two surfers collide, and then shrug and laugh. I was relieved to be in this joyous atmosphere, but my fiberglass board was cringing, so we headed back to the hostel for lunch.
Waiting solemnly at the bottom of the stairs were more hilarious characters staying at the hostel.

Tiger was an actor who had shot a movie in Pichilemu that took 2 weeks less time than he anticipated, and decided to simply not change his return ticket, but from his attitude, it seemed as though he would have been content with never returning at all. He fully embraced the town by taking Spanish classes, surf lessons and making friends with the locals. Tiger had also just come from La Puntilla and had broken his third rental board in 3 days. He stood there like a child in trouble, holding a short board with a slash mark across the tail. Pete was one of the owners of the hostel and shook his head in disbelief looking at the damage. How would he explain this to his close friends at the surf shop?

The Casa Verde Hostel and its owners and temporary dwellers collectively made me feel at ease, like a home should be, and the surfers and I made an intense routine out of our days that a home base to retreat to was needed.
Chico Max

7AM watch the guys surf Punta de Lobos
9:30AM breakfast
11AM I surf at La Puntilla
2PM lunch
4PM afternoon surf session
7 dinner
…sometimes we had an early dinner and a sunset surf session. This was my life for a week.

A week into this surf trip and my appetite was no longer shy. On Friday, Leo and Chico Max brought out Tilapia and rice with a side of sliced tomatoes and avocado for lunch, I amazed them with the ability to finish before them. Having gone on surf trips with guys before, I became increasingly impressed with my surf guides’ master cooking abilities. Marinated pulled pork, seasoned steak, fresh fall-off-the-bone fish, with veggies and rice on the side. I could easily get used to the rigorous schedule they had me on.

“Liz G, it’s the last weekend of summer, and the hostel is having a seafood night for dinner, tomorrow. What do you say we relax, enjoy seafood night with our new friends and go out to the club?”

I know I needed a break and I was looking forward to bonding with everyone from the hostel. Two more travelers came in a few days before, Tim and Kai, and I felt like I didn’t get the chance to greet them yet.

Like a real household, we designated chores for each other, setting out the forks and bowls and expanding the table, while Pete worked his magic in the kitchen. A huge steaming pot came to the table consisting of mussels, clams, scallops and several other shelled creatures boiling in broth. If Casa Verde wasn’t a home already, sharing this feast together made it real.

A few times, I had been reminded that other than the residents of Chile in the room, everyone else had been traveling for several months with many more to go. And up until seafood night, I wasn’t traveling, I was “vacationing.” I say I needed a home to come back to at the end of the day, but these guys needed a home to come back to after leaving Bolivia. And it all seemed to make sense why Nim made her bed everyday; this wasn’t like home to them. This WAS home.

Although bonding made me want to spend more time with my temporary family, the schedule of the week I was used to made me restless after a few hours.

“I want to go surfing,” I exclaimed, but Chico Max and Leo made plans based on what we agreed to before, so instead I walked to the beach, board in hand with Tim and Kai.

Tim was an arborist from Melbourne, Australia, a rugged, resourceful and remarkably selfless guy, who was Punta de Lobos worthy. But because he was also go-with-the-flow, and willing to do anything to surf, he accompanied us to La Puntilla for the smaller waves.

A few paddles past the rocks, I started to reconsider whether putting all your weight on your stomach after eating a seafood feast was a good idea. It wasn’t. Although I had come a long way to surfing overhead waves this week (still bodyboarding at the crest, but standing much earlier), I had also been breaking new ground on different types of surfing disasters. So far, I had been hit in the face the hardest, held under the water the longest, and thanks to seafood night, I was now puking in the water. Check!

Later that night, Pete set a campfire, and the Casa Verde family sat outside nursing pisco colas and wrestling with the dogs, Pichi, Turi and Flaite while music blasted from the house. We took all the surfboards and wetsuits out of Chico Max’s SUV and headed to town for the Waitara Club; a crowded place that I barely remember.

I woke up at noon. Max suggested that if we eat something lean and healthy we would feel better.

“I want pizza.”
“Really? You don’t want grilled vegetables and rice and fish?”
“No, I want pizza.”

After a short tour around the town, we found a pizza place and I ordered two pizza “slices.” Although, it tasted like something from an elementary school cafeteria, the grease and simple carbs did the trick.

By Monday, I was well rested and ready for a long session. Half of the surfers from the previous week had gone back to Santiago to work or start school. The swell in La Puntilla had increased to overhead in all parts, and I had the best 3-hour session of the trip, standing at the top of the wave and riding the fast waves through until they fizzled out. Unsure of what the previous week’s struggle would amount to, I was relieved to be making some noticeable progress.

Back at the hostel, there was a more serious tone. Pete’s girlfriend, Michi, asked me if I felt anything bizarre. There had been a small earthquake, a rumble, while I was on the water. I came here knowing that rumbles in Chile were common, but the serious tone brought a reminder that the yearlong anniversary of the record-breaking earthquake was the next day. Although the center was hours away, in Pichilemu, alone, nearly 300 people had died.

“Tag it or lose it.” The awkward silence was broken as Pete discovered that someone forgot to tag their food in the fridge. He took out a yogurt and pretended to open it before Nim and Miriam came barrelling through the door to stop him.

“Tag your food, ladies, or I eat it. That’s the rule, and I like strawberry yogurt.”

Pete knew he had a needed role to keep the atmosphere light, and he put on some Bob Marley and shouted the lyrics to make us all smile again.

Summer was officially over and our family was preparing to disband, and had I not been reminded that I was working the next Monday, I would have followed one of them. Some travelers were headed North toward the hotter beaches of Peru, and others were headed South towards Patagonia or to climb the volcanoes in Puccan. Pete and Michi were going back to Santiago, and housekeeping duties were replaced by Benjamin, a crazy surf nut, who made up words and had a liking for Nim who he nicknamed Lady Gaga. Nim called him Jamon, ham in Spanish, which the rest of the house adopted.

The waves these next few days were pathetic. On the water, I would see something promising headed toward me, then I would turn around and paddle, and by the time I turned around again, the wave would disappear. This was quite frustrating, but shorter sessions allowed me to further bond with my family before they left—before I left.

We were running low on food, and this cute little restaurant at the bottom of the driveway looked promising. At this family-owned joint, you could order one of three kinds of fish, grilled or fried, with rice, veggies or mashed potatoes. We ended up going three times after that and I learned more about Tim, Kai and Nim, the only ones left other than Miriam, who had met a Dutchman and disappeared often.

Leo was getting tired of speaking English and went back and forth a few times with Chico Max in their singing Chilean dialect.

“Pasa la cola, ahuevonao.”

That was not how you say pass the cola, man. These weeks taught me not repeat anything I learned from them. On top of Chile having a separate sub-language of dialect and expressions, Jamon and Leo had become known to make up their own words and expressions as well.

“Mira,” said Leo. Look in Spanish, but to Leo, it was also an expression that something was amiss. A limping dog came to greet us at the restaurant. It was the neighbor’s dog, Nerd, which was good news, because Nim thought she had lost him nearly a week ago, when she went to take the dogs for a walk. The hostel owners would remind her about it frequently and tease her, but they knew Nerd would find his way home, eventually.

With Nim and Miriam on the bus headed North, the rest of us decided to take a day trip to Puertocillo one last time before we went back to Santiago.

Leo and Chico Max said I was ready to surf Puertocillo again.

“The waves are the same height, but you have your sea legs, now. You can do this.”

Our hostel picked up and relocated to Puertocillo for the day. I wish I could say that I trumped those 7-foot waves, but my mind wasn’t in it. I focused on the waves closer to the shore and had some unsuccessful half-assed attempts. I got what I needed out of this trip, even if I didn’t ride out a barrel, I was ready to go back to New York. Tim, Kai and Jamon went in one car, and Chico Max, Leo, and I went in another, back to Santiago.

On the ride back, I wondered if anyone at Casa Verde would remember me amongst the several others they would encounter on their continued trip. I will never forget them.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Through the Roof and Underground.

I saw the film, Wristcutters this weekend, which exposed me to some great music...and these guys are from the LES too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


The beach point ended in steep and porous rock with sharp edges I could feel through my thick rubber booties. We walked to the end as Chico Max explained to me how there were still some sharp rocks hidden beneath the beginning of the break and how to maneuver around the tight wave sets.

One by one, we jumped off the rock and into the Antarctic-inspired Pacific, board first, hipbones second. One hand motion after another, I followed Leo as we made a wide turn around the break line.

“Hurry up, Liz G, or you’ll have to…” I held my breath and got ready for the first head dunk as I ducked beneath the wave in front of me. Ignoring the icy headache, I kicked and struggled, unconvinced that I missed the strong cycle above me, but when I popped up shortly behind Leo, I was reassured.

Leo and Max each caught one with ease, and I got more impatient as I saw their heads dart by, then disappear beneath the overhead. Finally, behind me, there was something forming, and as the shimmer got closer and the peak formed, I realized I was in the perfect spot. I looked around and other surfers lined up beside me, waiting for me to fail. My polite grin turned into a gritting as I paddled to meet the break.

I went from being among a group of surfers sitting in still water to being encompassed by a steep declining ramp with a white giant throwing me from behind. This was the strongest wave I’ve ever been on, and call me what you will but I bodyboarded the drop before even considering to stand. I stood unevenly. My forward leg cramped and I collapsed in front of my board. With my hands over my head, I felt my right ankle pull in alternate directions as my board tested its tight tether in the cold cycle. But it was soothing to know that other than the rocky point, we had nothing but black sand and cold water to worry about.

I came up unharmed with the energy of that strong push still circulating through me. Catching my breath, I attempted to make that same wide turn around the breakline, unaware of where the first wave had carried me. I was now deep inside the swoosh of the point fighting a current that wanted to take me back to the main beach.

“You’re out of shape. Paddle, paddle, paddle, duck and paddle some more” I told myself, but watching the rocks on the beach move swiftly by, despite my reverse efforts, I gave up and walked to the beach to ascend my walk of shame back to the point.

Once I was out of the water, my relentless determination miraculously metamorphosed into apathy. My arms could barely hold my board. I was tired, but while in this daze, I managed to tiptoe around the sharp rocks at the point. I passed a barefoot man and his dog sitting at the edge of the point looking out, collecting thoughts and images. I felt a pinch in my toes and wondered how the man made it to the edge. I was distracted as I jumped off the rock, probably still looking for that man’s shoes, I voluntarily dove right into a tight set of high waves. My hybrid board didn’t have the most aggressive nose, and I tended to miss ducks during tight sets, because it took me a while to sink the board sometimes. I thought of this and looked behind me to see where I might end up if I got caught in the wave cycle again. Sharp rocks. The rest of this session was filled with obligatory paddling and missed ducks.

I knew waves were different everywhere, but I had been nurtured with light fluffy waves and wide sets. Chilean waves had a lot of powerful cold water behind them, and the sets were lined up waiting to drown the weak and keep the experienced happy. This early in the trip, I had already determined I was the weak one.

My thighs felt thick like they were covered in jelly, and my breath was shallow and faint. As I lay in the hammock at the Puertocillo Hostel, counting my breaths, I wondered if I could honestly make it to 10 days, or if these surf guides, really strangers I knew nothing about, would let me wither away.

“Liz G!” someone yelled. I woke up to three huge piles of pasta on the outside patio with Leo and Chico Max waiting patiently for me. With my body startled from constant struggle, I was eager to gain back energy with food. A few bites in and I found myself struggling again, realizing that my gasping for life muscles were so closely connecting with my eating muscles. I watched entertained as Chico Max and Leo shoveled the pasta in their mouths as fast as they could swallow.

“No more, Liz G?” They kept addressing me as Liz G, but in a lower gangster rapper kind of tone.

“Tell me, Liz G, why are you called Liz G?”
“I’m not. Why do you keep calling me that?” Max looked confused then took out his phone to show me the string of emails between us, where I signed each time, Liz G. In work mode, I was unconsciously discerning between myself and the other Liz in our office, which in the Southern Hemisphere translated to an elusive gang name title. So used to the drone of work, I applied my habits everywhere. I smiled knowing that I was where I needed to be, away.

A few hours of “napping,” or restless mind racing from body shock, and Max and Leo were ready for another session.

The water didn’t seem any different, but this time I had a much easier time getting out and reading the waves. Chico Max and Leo were at the first lineup, closer to the rocks, while I stayed further back with the polite surfers who always let me inside, always. There was something wrong. Nothing is worth the gift of giving good waves away. I was so flattered that these gentlemen were being so generous, until I found out what they were doing.

A wave crested in the distance. This was my chance. Off I went. Paddle, paddle. Breath, Liz. Don’t forget to breath. Shit, paddle! (I talk to myself) I wasn’t paddling fast enough, and the wave went over me, conveniently, just in time for the next guy to catch it. Sure, these guys were being really friendly, even coaching me in the right spot, but I was put on the inside, because they didn’t think I could catch the waves.

I paddled back to my lineup and smirked at them. “I’m gonna catch it this time.”


They didn’t read the conviction on my face. They put me right inside and smiled.

Another wave came, perfect for our lineup. (Why do I always hold my breath) I took off right away this time, and exerted what I could without breath, until I finally peaked with the wave and prepared to drop. But wait! Why are these guys still paddling? Why are they dropping? I’m on the inside. This one dude, my encouraging coach for the first twenty paddle strokes was less then a foot away, dropping in on MY wave. We dropped together and I panicked. My board isn’t one with precision, especially when I’m on it, and I would have run him over indefinitely. I dove inside, without thought. Even though I was in a sandier, safer area, the panic left me more disoriented than usual, but I surfaced with my board in front of me. When my eyes came to focus, I was right in front of a fast moving wave on the inside with two surfers competing for it with my board blocking my face to the wave. No time to hop on my board, no time to duck, no time to move. The wave threw my board to my chin and the force of the wave went right up my nose, crashing waves of salt water on my brain. I rose to the surface in terror, and Leo was there to see the tremble in my face, although there wasn’t much I could feel at the time.

“Is my nose broken? Is it bleeding?” He inspected my face with empathy.

“Everything looks in tact. Do you want to go in?”

Day one and I’m already injured and going in early, I thought. What a terrible first day that would be.

“No. I’m going out there and beating up those fuckers.”

Thankfully Leo still thought I was incapable of such anger and chuckled silently at what he thought he heard.

My arms were done, and I half-assed a few attempts, making the other guys in the lineup happy with my misses, before paddling in.

I was really looking forward to dinner. Leo unwrapped a steak on the counter and seasoned it with salt and pepper. I pretty much had skipped eating all day and was looking forward to some form of rejuvenation, whether it be in food or confidence. I was in luck. Chico Max saw the whole ordeal of other surfers trying to take my waves and retold the story, focusing on my insistence to drop and ignoring my messy spill. He would later use that story to deter the other surfers from scheming to take my waves. While I was dealing with some drama in my lineup, the guys had some turf wars in theirs.

“Eh concha tu madra, dejame correr. Soy local. Mis reglas aqui.” The guys spent the rest of the night mocking the line they heard that day.

“Pass the salt, man, soy local.”

My frustrating day was abated by the comic relief of these guys. Chico Max inspected his last piece of steak. As he peeled back the pink pithy ends, a surge of white puss emerged. After an exchange of uncomprehending Chilean slang, they burst in a fit of laughter.

“He said a joke,” clarified Leo, realizing the words may have been lost.

“Yeah, I know.”

The next few days of surfing Puertocillo were uneventful, since I didn’t drop anything without body boarding my way down, and bright purple bruises were shining through on my hips and ribs, proof that I was a coward doing some serious tummy time.

I had already lost focus. Spanish conversation around the barbeque fire was getting faster and I could no longer pick up snippets of conversation. I zoned out and stared at the fire, making out animated faces in the glowing coals.

The last day we went climbing, and I saw Chico Max and Leo in another light. Max the short, tough, aggressive man on the water was terrified of heights and falling rocks, and he left out of boredom in 20 minutes. Leo and I made up a route that took us the whole afternoon to actually complete.

“What are we gonna name it?”

“La MaƱosa, because it’s very moody. It has high and lows. It’s really easy, then really hard.”

It was the perfect name for it. I helped set a route that Leo claimed was two grades harder than my personal best. Whether I truly believed him or not, my confidence was gained back, and I was ready to conquer the next shanty beach town.

Monday, April 25, 2011


I woke up at 8:30; both startled that I was late and surprised that I woke up at a decent hour. I ran downstairs for breakfast and ran into Chico Max and Leo, my surf guides, who I would spend the next 10 days with.
“Ready to surf, Liz G?”
Honestly, I was a bit foggy, and this was the first of many experiences where I would have great difficulty balancing a physically demanding surf trip with a hostel lifestyle.

We went behind the hostel bar to pull out some surfboards including mine, and the flashbacks set in. It was only 3 hours ago that I drunkenly talked some Brazilian guys into breaking into the unattended bar so they could see my 6’6 biscuit board that I hadn’t used since September. They were quite impressed, and I neglected to tell them that this was really a beginner’s board in disguise, or a hybrid—the marketing euphemism. But there was something about a board with thick love handles that I couldn’t part myself with. Sure, I sometimes missed a duck or two and got slapped in the face by a cold wave, but the ride was always smooth. And I thought of this when Guillerme, the Brazilian, let his grip go, leaving my board to be pulled to the floor by a gravity way out of it’s element.

“No!” Sacrificing my knees to the concrete bar floor, I kneeled with my arms out and eyes shut, ready to catch my little biscuit. I opened my eyes, and Guillerme had regained his once fumbling grip. We later resorted to plastic boards that we straddled across the bar counter, so that I could practice my paddling maneuvers with the Brazilians cheering me on.

After regaining focus, I was back on the road with Chico Max and Leo. Leo connected his mp3 player to the speakers, and I quickly grabbed my notebook, eager to discover what Chilean surf music was. By the end of the ride, I had a page of songs by mostly Australian beach bands and purposely omitted Leo’s obsession with “A Tribe Called Quest” and “Method Man.”

“Where’s our first stop?”
“Puertocillo. It’s a secret surf spot,” confided Max. After hours of highway driving, we found ourselves on an endless bumpy and narrow dirt road. The tight turns seemed to hug the cliffs overlooking the vineyards, and I retracted my head into the car to put my seat belt on.

“No, Liz G. If we go over the cliff, wearing a seat belt won’t help any of us. If we do go over, you need to be free so you can jump out the window.”

Cliff driving aside, I was more frightened by how much thought Max put into the possibility of the gravest emergencies. His comment reminded him to hand me a pamphlet about how to be safe in the event of tsunamis, earthquakes, avalanches, and volcano eruptions. I memorized some of the terms in Spanish, just in case.

We passed droves of wild raspberry patches untouched by anyone, which spurred the first of many daydreams, beginning with, “If I had a tent, I could live here.”

Some Sublime tunes came on as we came over the last hill, exposing an animated Google Maps view of the cleanest and closest wave sets I’ve seen yet.

I took in a deep salty breath, knowing that my journey hadn’t even yet begun.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Wait for me in Valparaiso- Chile Part 2

I came to the Dominica Hostel in Santiago with two weeks worth of laundry fresh clothing, but thanks to my self-proclaimed professional traveler friend, my luggage had narrowed significantly to a small duffle, including only 3 shirts that I didn’t care about but secretly favored. I threw the bag under the stairs and ignored the others in the nearby living room who were ignoring me. Exhausted by picking out known Spanish words overheard by those I pretended to ignore, I meandered down to the kitchen for a second breakfast with a more amicable group. Twenty minutes later, I was on a bus to Valparaiso with new friends.

The urban bus station emptied out into a desolate environment of urban filth and deserted dogs, further discredited by buildings, whose foundation still had noticeable cracks and gaps from the earthquake a year before. But a few turned corners and palm trees later, the scene had quickly shifted to a lively port town surrounded by its twenty-something hills, covered in houses displayed in a fantastic array of heights, sizes and hues.

I knew Valparaiso was a place that many visit, but I wasn’t expecting the sloping streets to be so crowded. As we were making our first accent up hill one, a cyclist flew off the gazebo, over our heads and down a ramp that I hadn’t noticed before. Cerro Abajo is an urban downhill race that brings mountain bikers from all over the world to ride the challenging hills of Valparaiso, and we were right in the midst of it, and definitely on the wrong side of the orange tape. Hiking further up the hill, we were finally able to discern the race path from the rest of the narrow street, until the orange tape would seem to tie off at a doorstep or a wall, and I would assume that perhaps this is where the race started. Then a whistle would blow, the crowd would hold cameras to the sky, and a biker would fly off the roof, land past the doorstep and continue the path set by the orange tape. We were fooled several times after, as the jumps got higher and seemingly less believable until someone appeared out of the sky and back on the set path to disprove our simplified minds.

We eventually found the starting line and joined other tourists and dogs at a pier wall, which overlooked the entire point, with ships and barges passing busily below. I had seen so many dogs lying apathetically in the streets, from the time I arrived in Chile, and the dog lover in me would collapse each time. Pretending that they all had homes and loving owners waiting for them kept me walking past. I had avoided contact with them in fear that they may be dangerous, but once I was told otherwise, I found myself breaking multiple travel rules in a short time.

I only had to look into Juanpi's eyes for a short moment to know we would be the best of friends. He skipped with me up and down the pier as tourists oohed and awed at our instant connection. I thanked him with a rather generous scratch behind the ear, and his eyes opened wide and his eyebrows softened—a humble response I thought, until he rolled onto his back, bearing a stomach in need of a rub. This time, my eyes softened, and unaware of the dirt, oil and hair collecting on my hands and fingernails, I pretended Juanpi was my own dog at home in my backyard, scratching out any memory of any fly that had ever tickled him. I wrestled him to the city ground and growled in his face, and he responded with a long lick from chin to forehead. My new friends, disgusted by my actions, strongly suggested I stop, and threatened to walk away.

“Ciao, Juanpi. perro bueno. I’ll miss you.” Either my pronunciation was way off, or Juanpi didn’t want to say goodbye. The scratching triggered an unconditional attachment, and Juanpi and his girlfriend became two more travel companions, which completed our temporary Valparaisian family.

After an exhausting steep trudge and a sampling of antibacterial gel from everyone in my group, we stopped at the top of yet another hill inside one of many seafood restaurants for a late lunch. Juanpi and his girlfriend waited patiently outside. There I learned more about my new travel friends: a collection of nannies, students and a motorcyclist from all over who had been traveling for months. Logan was the motorcyclist making his way through South America with others he met along the way until his motorcycle broke down. He was waiting in Santiago for nearly a month for a spare BMW part to be sent from Germany. I couldn’t believe his patience. I was almost embarrassed to admit that I was only going to be in Chile for a few weeks.

After a satisfying meal of fresh fish, rice and a soft-boiled egg splayed over it all, we made our way toward the Pablo Neruda house. Throughout our journey, there were several gorgeous paintings on the walls. The locals called it graffiti, but it was so well done that I didn’t want to attribute a negative name to so many beautiful pieces of work.

We passed a man with 7 or 8 dogs following close behind him. I started to laugh, knowing just how he had acquired his canine entourage.

We walked faster past him, thinking nothing of our dogs crossing paths until I heard my little Juanpi give a threatening growl to the others, and then we were suddenly amongst a pack of angry dogs with only two in our defense. When a set of teeth brushed my leg, the allure of having a pair of loyal guard dogs to defend us disintegrated quickly. We ran ahead leaning into our knees up the hill with the intention of losing the dogs but they proved to be endlessly persevering. We stopped in little art shops and went out alternate exits, but they found us. We went down steep winding stairs that initially frightened Juanpi, but his attachment to me forced him to face his fear, lucky for me.
getting creative on our path to Pablo Neruda's

I felt guilty for wanting to abandon him, just as he had been sometime before, but the reality that he would never leave made me want to run even faster. It turned into a cruel game, like trying to lose your annoying little brother in a shopping mall. When we arrived at the Pablo Neruda house, they followed us through the gates as usual. I shrugged at the guards, when they looked at me and explained that dogs weren’t allowed. “Then don’t let them in,” I grimaced.

The outside of the house had been restructured to look like a dull museum, but the inside of the house was breath-taking. Neruda’s various collections and house arrangement depicted a clever persona that painted a clear portrait of who I always imagined he was through his poetry. I was immediately drawn to his love for the water and was reminded of my surf trip that was close ahead. We exited the house in peace and almost forgot about the dogs, when Logan quietly nudged his head at Juanpi’s girlfriend whose loyalty had been distracted by a large woman, tempting the dog with food and head scratches, while they both posed for a photo. Juanpi was nowhere to be found, so we made a quick escape, and the guard locked the gates behind us. Closing time had worked favorably.

For the next hour we would be looking behind us, stressed that Juanpi would find us again. We stopped for a snack, and chose to eat inside in case Juanpi had followed our scent.
Another dog watching over his new-found owner

It was getting late, but we hadn’t yet taken one of the many notorious free elevators, so we hastily squeezed that in, the old screeching death box traveling up a vertical un-climbable cliff to the top of what we would declare our last hill of Valpo. Knowing that the only other way down was a long and steady trail to the bottom, we decidedly forgot about our canine stalkers.

The misty blue sunlit scene made the view down at the pier seem vapid. And of course, waiting patiently at the top of the cliff underneath a park bench, was my forever-loyal friend, Juanpi. We were instantly on our backs with laughter over his miraculous appearance and joked about him showing up back in Santiago.

Unlike the states, the suburbs of Valparaiso were more dangerous and more prone to pick pockets, and it was getting dark now, so we headed back with Juanpi walking in front of me, ready to protect with my approval. He followed us all the way to the bus station entrance, where we left him waiting patiently outside with a hopeful smile, and he will undoubtedly remain there until I come back.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Travelogue series begins now--Chile

Thanks everyone for your patience. It has taken me some time to organize my ideas and edit the seven or eight part series, which I'll release intermittently, because that's the way I roll. For the surfers out there. I don't surf until part 4, so you'll just have to wait.

Chile: February 19- March 6

ATL to SCL: Long flight to a long place
February 19-20
“We get dinner?”
“Yes, and just when you thought you’ve fallen asleep, you get rudely awoken at 4 in the morning for breakfast,” my well-traveled neighbor assured me.

I had been so used to shitty domestic American flights that deprive me of good nuts as the company slowly goes under, I forgot all about dinner. I also never recalled checking off “vegetarian” when I bought my tickets but shrugged knowing I had been in a major health nut phase a few months back. As I gnawed on my stringy veggies, a fit of apprehension came over me as I wondered how a pale person tarnished with winter could be freshly plucked out of New York and expected to perform with tanned summer suppleness. I didn’t want my trip to be wasted on getting back into shape. I came with one solid goal in mind. Like any surfer, I wanted to get shot out of a barrel, and I had decided that I wouldn’t come back until I did just that.

I spent the last few months taking yoga classes and climbing to strengthen core and balance, but at this moment, I knew it wasn’t enough. Yes, something very vital to surfing was left out of my plans to defy winter weakness. I usually discover around Memorial Day that I have lost all paddling endurance, a problem that could have been resolved with a few months of swimming. Thankfully this realization came early this year…while gagging on stringy veggies in February… on my plane ride to Chile. "Could I last?" I thought, as we flew over Costa Rica. I finally dozed off only to be abruptly awoken again—a sharp foreshadow of my surfing journey in Chile.

Friday, March 11, 2011

It's about time...

I've been gathering stories and experiences over these last two months, and I look forward to getting something out here by Saturday. Thanks guys for your patience. For the ones who haven't been patient and have repetitively nagged me since February, thanks for the extra kick in the pants.
-Liz G

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Free Noise Brigade: More than a beach town band from Long Island

If you are trapped inside, during a harsh New York winter and long to escape to a beach bonfire in mid-July, it’s time to check out the Free Noise Brigade’s self-titled EP album. This young-blooded reggae band based out of Long Island, NY has an unfixed yet calming air that transcends limitations prematurely set for reggae music.

Lead singer, Ryan Dobby, takes you through this musical exploration, from his clear pop voice in the bright opening tune, Good Day, to the hard rock raspy tones in the mostly acoustic Lights Down Low.

Throughout the album, which explores several of the reggae subgenres, you can catch the drummer deceptively wandering outside the boundaries of standard reggae cadence with crisp well-thought fills that enhance his cross rhythm style and heavy Sublime influence.

Laced with meticulous bass line variations, and a dub-style intermission [Choreomania Dub] that weaves in an acid rock jam session, these kids will show you that you don’t have to speak Jamaican Patois to start breaking reggae barriers.

The Free Noise Brigade has proven their ability to transform an empty cold dancehall into a hot summer beach night, but a sophomore album will truly determine how a band with this degree of aptitude will develop as they find their own skin.

Keep a sharp eye out for the Free Noise Brigade: their rooted Amityville townie fans are definitely onto something.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


"It was Halloween in the West Village. A stage of space had cleared amid the unruly crowd to make way for Lady Gaga emerging from a cardboard escape pod covered in a Chilean flag. Surrounding miners wearing sunglasses and headlamps proudly lead a chant of hundreds to a country so obscure to them, while Spiderman begged to go next. I never thought that 5 months later, I would be in Chile, trying to make sense of the past associations I made with this place."

The next travel blog is coming in March. I'm very excited to go visit my friend, make new friends and experience the elusive Chilean mindset that no one can explain.

In the meantime, a band review of Long Island's own Free Noise Brigade will be published, and I'll share it here (if they let me repost it; batting eyes) and a fiction narrative about an early 90's Boston band is in the works as well.

Friday, January 07, 2011

How I feel today! this world of bitterness, you've got to take a chance.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Tahoe Snowboarding Adventures: An Oxygen-Deprived Euphoriant Narrative

I had let several winters pass before I was able to truly exercise and build on my snowboarding abilities. I had been incrementally falling in love with every other board sport out there, so when I was invited to visit a friend in Lake Tahoe, I knew I could finally verify if I could just pick up where I left off, and continue my learning curve, as if I never resented snowboarding for giving me my first broken bone—as if I never decided to discredit winter altogether.

I was three when my dad first put a set of cross-country skis on me—a good head start to a love for granola winter sports, had I not performed a shrieking tantrum several miles into the wilderness. I demanded that my skis be removed convinced that it was the skis and not the long hike that made me so tired. My dad, probably annoyed by my whining, shrugged and unfastened my boots from my skis. I took one step away from the weight displacement and quickly sunk waist high in the snow. I cried to exhaustion, and my dad, thinking he had taught me a valuable lesson, pulled me out of the snow and carried me back to the lodge.

As I grew older, the abilities and interests of each family member separated, and we found ourselves no longer trudging in one line on the green trails, but sparsely divided along the mountain. Skiing became an independent journey that I could take with these little conundrums I could figure out on my own, and keep to myself if the proposed solution found me waist high in the snow again.

Then I discovered snowboarding, and I couldn’t wait to try it. I rode a sled standing up over that kid-made jump at the local sledding hill. The Oakley Country Club was notorious for sending kids to the hospital, and I ensured the place’s reputation. That jarring sound, a brisk crunch shuddered throughout my body. Clutching pieces of my shattered sled, and using my broken collarbone and concussed logic to climb back up the hill, I immediately blamed the winter for breaking my immortality at age 10.

It had been years; I had gone snowboarding intermittently, but with no intentions of letting go or adopting the craft as my own. Instead, I would ride both toes forward, continuously breaking with concentrated precision. It was incredibly boring, and I eventually gave up on pretending to love it, despite encouragement from friends impressed by my balance.

Last Sunday, I landed in Reno. In this high altitude, there were no substandard hills. Mountains seemed to compete with each other to reach the sky. Even the dirt piles at the airport were eager to peak at their full capacity. The intimidation had me dithering about trying to snowboard again.

“Normal or goofy?” The woman at the rental place asked.
I couldn’t really answer. I skate normal, I prefer starboard tack on the windsurf/kiteboard (normal), I surf depending on the direction of the break, but snowboarding? Did I want to tell the woman renting me her gear that I’m so chicken to choose a side that I ride breaking the whole time? I volunteered a side. Left. Normal. Whatever.

“Describe your level. Beginner. Cautious. Moderate. Expert.”
Without feeling slighted, I yelled out, “Cautious!” I knew I was more advanced than that, but ‘cautious’ described my feeling on the board. Cautious, guarded, on-edge. Eventually my ego took hold of the conversation.

“Cautiously moderate!”

The first day on the Nevada side of Heavenly was clear, sunny and balmy. The rows in the fresh-groomed snow were glistening and I couldn’t wait to break through it. I took the Big Easy ski lift to warm up on the Easy Street trail, a short green trail that would surely clear the cobwebs of my muscle memory before I moved onto the fun stuff. As I left the lift, the bench encouraged my board to move smoothly out of the lift’s divot and onto the trail. I conducted a structured fall to strap myself in. Insecure about my abilities, I had a desire to let the lift operator know that my fall was indeed done on purpose. With my boots and board resting in front of me, I stood erect with strong fresh arms, and made my descent down Easy Street. Feeling guarded, I rode facing downhill, digging my heel edge so deep so I barely moved at all. As I was hogging the narrow path, onlookers rolled their eyes at my technique as they swept by. The redness of anger pooled in my cheeks as I realized the alienation I was creating for myself. Time to let go, Liz. I put pressure on my left foot and shifted my hips so I could ride edge-free. For a few seconds, I was fine, and then I shifted too much. I was now facing the top of the mountain and digging my toe edge to stop from riding backwards. I was way out of my comfort zone and I was gradually making my way toward a cliff. I couldn’t dig my toes in far enough, so rather than falling forward, I did the snowboarding unthinkable. I leaned back, caught edge on my heel side, and the board propelled me, back first down the mountain. I heard a crack I had grown accustomed to hearing since first discovering I was mortal, and a wind deep inside my lungs became presentable in forced exhalation. Deceleration forces startled my internal organs when meeting the hard surface. Everything I had injured in the past started to throb—a reminder of previous events in which this one could also be catalogued. I rose up surprisingly unharmed, and inched down the hill, both toes first, riding slow as my organs retracted back into their assigned cavities, my eyes wide open, alert, and moderately cautious.

I had three days of rented gear and prepaid lift tickets that quite possibly had been a complete waste. I knew the movement I had to adopt but had lost trust in the snow that made it possible.

I swallowed my pride, which eased my stomach and signed up for Level One snowboarding lessons to occupy my day. After some routine direction, we hopped on a lift to test out our skills. At the instructor’s amazement, a few of us had picked up the basics quickly, and I later learned that I wasn’t the only one keeping a secret. The fear of letting go had bottled up in many of us and brought us together to face this fear head on.

The top of Sam's Trail

The instructor led us down Sam’s Trail, a wide blue path, synchronizing some routine drills: front and back falling leave, slow C turns, and slower S turns. Then he let us ride the trail on our own, while he focused on those who really belonged in Level One. On the lift up, I couldn’t stop staring at the trees. They looked as though only the east side of the pine trees were covered with large cotton balls. I was told that the snow is so wet that the snowflakes collect into little balls, and the top of the mountain can get so windy that they fly horizontally until they stick to the trees. Amazing how odd weather patterns can create such beauty.

With the cobwebs cleared, I focused on carving, knowing that my fear lied in catching edge during the transition and possibly injuring my left shoulder for the 4th time to date (left shoulder injuries: age 10, sledding, break; age 16, soccer, break; and age 22, windsurfing, dislocation) My left shoulder throbbed at the thought, but I became preoccupied with all of the little puzzles to figure out on this trail. I had falling skiers to dodge, acute turns to make, and moguls to ride over. I stopped thinking about the fear and started experiencing this trail as a self-made journey, the way I saw skiing when I was younger with a little more independence gained. With this trust that the instructor had in me, I had what I needed to move forward. But after the first day, I was panting and my thighs were burning, and I was finally convinced of the effects that high altitude, dry air and low oxygen could have on a person.

My friend and host, Natalie, and I stopped home and filled up on hot tea to defrost and hydrate ourselves before heading out to the Grocery Outlet to pick up dinner. This Grocery Outlet is the most bizarre grocery store I’ve ever been to. When I arrived, I understood how Natalie and her friends had such a hard time describing it. The Grocery Outlet seemingly carries only products that were rejected from mainstream grocery stores for one reason or another, and the Tahoe locals make a game out of trying to determine how each product got there. I walked by this can of Cream of Celery soup by Heinz, which probably wasn’t too popular at ShopRite, but at 99 cents, someone was bound to buy it. We picked up a bag of sausages, which must have been rejected for being packaged twice in hard plastic and impossible to open. On our way out, we walked by chip bags that must have been packaged at sea level and the altitude had caused the chip bags (interestingly only half of them) to inflate so much that I swear if the bags were one shelf higher, they would burst. They were just asking to be opened and relieved of such pressure. I sympathized and bought a bag.

I was awake at 5am, not really fighting jetlag, since my friend had to be up shortly after and I as well, since she was my ride in. Even though my knees were covered in purple bruises, I was wondering why my arms were so sore. And then it occurred to me how many times I had fallen and gotten up. Many.

The bottom of the mountain was overcast, calm and not too cold, but 15 minutes up the Gondola, I was in a cold and windy snowstorm. (I’ll save my exaggerations until later, because day 3 was a lot worse.) I stuck around the Nevada side again and was determined to break out of this fear I had been haunted by for so long. I had this urge to let go, and by the end of my vacation, I promised myself it would happen. So what is letting go? Letting go is when you don’t have to think about what you’re doing and trust that you can handle the bumps and the obstacles in front of you. And only when you trust your abilities can you truly enjoy the ride presented to you. I’ve achieved it with nearly every other board sport (I find it difficult to feel free on a skateboard when surrounded by angry traffic) and I had high hopes for achieving this in three days.

I tried to take the most challenging trails, but each time, I found myself not able to focus on what I needed work on. On one supposed blue trail, the Nevada Trail, I ended up taking off my board and walking, because the flat skating path seemed to never end. On another trail, I was about to turn the corner and discovered a wind tunnel that was so powerful, it was physically stopping me from going forward down the steep mountain. After crouching down, I finally inched by the wind tunnel. I couldn’t stop thinking about how cold I was, but I continued to study my movements, and the movements of others who had a seamless ride down the mountain. I pretended I was on the slopes even when I wasn’t. While I was in the lodge getting lunch, someone stepped in line to take a napkin, and I eased back, heel side, subconsciously thinking I would carve out of that guy’s way. The snow and wind picked up as the day went on. I managed to get in a few good runs, but I was still not satisfied. While in line to take the Gondola back down, I passed this little girl with messy blonde hair and a cold red face dripping with sniffles and tears. She kept repeating, “I’m cold. I want to go home.” Had I not been stealthily cutting her in line, I would have told her how much I understood her. I wanted to go home too. This day had left me physically and emotionally defeated.
The long line home when you're cold and tired

Later that night, the weather got worse, but I was on a mission. After a hot shower, and watching my face wash bottle explode yet again, I was going to cross something off my bucket list. No only does Tahoe have the snowiest mountains to ski on, but several natural hot springs, which isn’t surprising considering all of the other bottled and packaged items I’ve seen close to eruption. The snow was coming down so hard, you could barely see the cars in front of you. We drove easily with our snow tires, although the wet snow was testing the wipers. We passed clusters of cars, which had stopped on the side on the road to put on chains or give up and wallow. It reminded me of the mountain trails, when you ride by groups of boarders on the side who may have stalled out shortly before gaining the confidence to continue. We passed signs that said, “If you don’t have chains on, you WILL BE turned around.” Then we hit standstill traffic and decided to turn ourselves around. Ambulances and firetrucks hastily heading ahead of the traffic confirmed that we would have been there for a while.

I woke up really chilly, but my exhaustion ensured me a full 8 hours of sleep despite the coldness. Our power had gone out. I looked out the window and saw at least a few feet on the ground…and it was still snowing pretty hard.

It was my third and final day of snowboarding. This time, I went to the California side, the only group of lifts that were open. The other ski lifts were buried and had no signs of being dug out. At the bottom of the California Lodge, there’s a double diamond trail called Gunbarrel, which is so steep, it basically allows people at the bottom to see the full trail, and every embarrassing mistake the boarders make on it. For about 20 minutes, I watched as boarders struggled with this route. Old packed down moguls were buried in three foot powder drifts. Watching the beginners trying to make their way down, was like watching a mouse try to find its way out of a maze, until they got caught in a snow drift and had to detach their board completely and walk down the mountain.
A Beginner Face Plants on the Gunbarrel Trail

After warming up on some green routes, I took a few lifts until I was at the top of the Canyon Express, nearly 10,000 feet above sea level. Any laughter or warmth I kept inside my layers had blown away by the time I reached the top.
The lift to the top; getting snowier

If you have ever walked into a house of screaming people, and you think to yourself, “I need to get the fuck out of here.” Well, that is how I felt at the top of that mountain. It was snowing so hard, I couldn’t see where the trail started, and I could only follow the shadows of other boarders in dark jackets. It was so fucking windy, I could easily describe with precision how far away the air was to any area of my skin. I felt my nose running a warm liquid, and then that warmth froze off into a snowdrift.

This new altitude found me tired and lightheaded. I collapsed in the pool of white to strap myself in. I sat with my ears close to my chest, and realized I was breathing heavily. It was weird to notice my body doing something different in another climate, the arid arctic at 10,000 feet. I was already at the top of the world. All I could do is count on the lack of oxygen to keep me from hyperventilating.

I stood up and eased down the mountain once again and fought with the cold for the first few minutes, my burning thighs battling with the caustic air. I still couldn’t see anything in front of me. Like an underexposed photograph, there was no depth or texture for me to discern where the moguls started or how steep the trail was. But then, I found out why snowboarding on powder is the most amazing euphoric experience in life—other than lack of oxygen. I flew through that powder like I was flying in the sky, cutting through tepid buttery air.

I forgot why I hated winter. Then, I hit a mogul, which became a ramp, and I jumped into more white and had no idea when I would land or how I would fall, but somehow it just happened in the smoothest way a snowflake could be placed. A seamless jump. Elated from this, I carved myself all over this endless wave in thanks and praises, letting the moguls come as they did, and just trusting myself in whatever my underboard encountered. The surf was sometimes bump and jump like windsurfing over steady whitecaps. Most of the time, I felt a push from behind, as if the water was pulling crazy vector forces, throwing my surfboard on a plane ahead of the double overhead. Then in a heated moment of compassion and love for the powder, I carved a sharp toe-side turn and leaned forward to touch the stuff that had initially fed me my mortality, and it melted, inferior to my hand. I had conquered this mountain.

I rode faster and the wind howled through my helmet. I thought I heard city sirens, and I stopped short to look around out of habit. I had to remind myself I was the only one around, and there were no streets around the corner from me.

Time to keep moving. I shifted my hips and nothing happened. The snow was so thick in my sight that I didn’t even realize that the trail had leveled out. I unbuckled my back foot to skate ahead and it sank thigh high into the snow. There I was, like that three-year-old who was scared and tired, although this time, my dad couldn’t pull me out and carry me home. Focusing on trying not to fall, I stepped out of the drift with my hands high over my head, restrapped my back foot in and ooched like crazy for several lonely minutes, until my board started to accelerate on it’s own. I finished out the High Five trail and transitioned into the Powderbowl Run, wearing the most deliriously wide smile winter has ever seen.

My day ended at the Turn 3 Peanut bar, where we overheard locals talk about the power lines setting trees on fire, and how the bartender tried to smuggle bacon fat in her suitcase on a holiday flight. I was still smiling. Something had changed in me and made me want to seek out anything else I ever feared.

On the flight home out of LAX, the plane flew over the Pacific Ocean, and I stared into the dark grid of conflicting waves. The sun hid behind the plane wing until the Pacific was presented in front of me. Then the sun let itself fully reflect over the water, which fed warmth and nourishment to my dry weather-beaten face. Through this warmth, the sun expressed to me, “It’s time to explore more of what I see. The world is for you to find.” Then the plane turned around and headed east.

…next time, I’m going somewhere sunny.