18 May 2011

I Look East Redux - New Beginnings with Airbnb

When I arrived back in the states in 2009, I deplaned and went to Venice Beach with my family and closest friends. Over iced tea we discussed the year I had abroad: teaching in Japan, exploring the Mekong and Luang Prabang and riding elephants and trading with hill tribe people in the Golden Triangle. While thumbing through the extra pages in my passport, I promised myself that I would fill those pages before the 2015 expiration date – that I would find a way to get back into the world that had so impacted me. It was late May.

Now, nearly three years later, I have been given the opportunity to give back to the industry that has given me so much and I will be joining Airbnb – a trusted community where you can list, share and book a place to stay: anything from a couch to a castle. This incredible idea is already taking root all over the world and changing the way we travel and interact with each other – and since this is a topic very close to my heart, I am honored and excited to join the team.

Like any PR pro worth their salt, I like to get my hands dirty with a product and experience things first hand, so this weekend I set off to celebrate my new gig by booking a last minute getaway with my mother and sister through Airbnb. I was working on a quick turn-around leaving me five hours to find a place to stay, communicate with the host and finalize our end destination in Monterery. Luckily, I found an amazing listing: a 32 foot sailboat in Monterey Bay’s Breakwater Cove Marina operated by host, Captain Dutch who responded to my query in less than 20 minutes. After a couple quick conversations and payment through the site, we were set up and whizzed down south, through the winding, wooded roads around Santa Cruz and picking up fresh cherries in Gilroy on our way to Monterey.

We arrived at the marina to the shore divers finished up their exploration of the kelp forests, trudging toward their trucks under the weight of their gear. Salmon fishermen docked their boats after hours on the crystal blue sea catching their trade. I wound my way down the docks and met up with Captain Dutch who introduced me to my temporary abode: The Pegasus. Serendipity has many shapes, but tonight she came as a boat that embodied the librating image of a gleaming white, winged horse I had learned about through my travels and obsession with Greek literature. My sister Laura, however, had a much more direct connection to the name Pegasus. Only two days ago, her best friend’s mother went into surgery for pancreatic cancer and the family has been heavy on her mind. Pegasus is the name of their boat, named for this amazing matriarch.

Needless to say, the three of us were overjoyed with our booking and as we sat on the deck drinking pinot noir and eating cheese and crackers, seals began to spring up and circle the boat. Their bodies were sleek with water and in their jaws were massive salmon they tossed in the air to tear apart. Across the waterway, another boat named The Other Office The sun began to set and a storm set in, but my family cuddled around a laptop watching the Twilight Zone until we fell asleep to the light rocking of the boat.

09 September 2010

Soundtrack My Childhood

Beatles sing-a-longs not withstanding, my first musical memory was probably either singing MC Hammer at a water park or going to see the New Kids on the Block in New Orleans when I was five. Needless to say, the 80s impacted me growing up, but not in the zany Cindy Lauper kind of way- more like the cheesy Vanilla Ice kind of way. By the time I got to middle school, however, my sister started dating an artsy guy who listened to The Cure and Alice in Chains, so I got a little better in the 90s.  It took a little while for me to start buying records that didn't completely suck- the learning curve is pretty steep when you're from Baton Rouge and music blogs haven't been invented yet. Two things saved me from the the suburban palate of bland: soundtracks and MTV. Granted, they represent a limited segment of the color wheel (maybe 3 primary colors at best) but soundtracks were the blogs of the 90s- professional mixed tapes, musical tastes customized from the music industry elite.

Soundtracks that sculpted my early musical taste include: Reality Bites, Singles and Good Morning Vietnam.

Reality Bites:
In 6th grade, I got hold of the soundtrack for Reality Bites. I'm still not sure how I managed to smuggle Juliana Hatfield's 'she's such a sucker, he don't wanna fuck her' lyric past my mother (who, for the record, burned Footloose because it glorified premarital sex), never mind Alanis Morisette who's still referred to as 'The Chicken-shit Lady.' The song on this record that stands out the most is still Turnip Farm by Dinosaur Jr. Probably my first exposure to dissonant rock, where the guitar overpowers the simplified lyrics.  It's a great mix of grunge, acoustic and (wait for it) Peter Frampton, with a little bit of revival thrown in there for diversity. 

Admittedly, I heard most of this record on repeat through my sister's wall, but exposure to 90s Seattle gunge was a huge deal in the sheltered South.  My virgin ears learned Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam -- doubtless some of the best bands of my formative years.  In fact, when recently polled on my favorite records of all time it was *very* difficult not to include Jar of Flies in this mix.  Another huge favorite (though not from Seattle) from this record was The Smashing Pumpkins - still one of my all-time favorite bands (Mayonnaise kills me).  And though I didn't learn about Jimi until my dad busted him out on a road trip much later in life, Hendrix's "May This Be Love" made its way on to the record.

Good Morning Vietnam:
Way before Forrest Gump was even an idea, Adrian Conauer taught me about the 60s with some great tunes and really dirty jokes (which I can quote to this day).  A lot of these bands are past my time, so this soundtrack spark a musical adventure, but it did function as a complete piece of art that encapsulated the energy and pain of the Vietnam war.  "Nowhere to Run To" by Martha and the Vandellas - yes!" and the Supremes, "You Just Keep Me Hangin' On" are great favorites - with their brassy ladies leading the charge with tambourines and sparkles to back them up.  The Beach Boys got hooked up with three songs here, including "I Get Around" and who could forget Louis Armstrong closing the record with "What a Wonderful World" which is played as Saigon takes on gunfire.

Honorable Mention -- Dangerous Minds:
It would be hyperbolic to call this whole soundtrack earth-shattering, but Gangta's Paradise really was.  Beyond my dance team picking up an edited version for our half time performance (true story), this soundtrack opened up rap and hip-hop in my school.  Master P, C Murder, Mystikal and the 504 Boyz quickly popped up as we all tried to rebel against the status quo with really bad Gangsta Rap.

08 September 2010

The Housewife and The Hipster: BR vs. NOLA

I've been meaning to get back to Louisiana for quite some time, but there's something that makes me procrastinate the pilgrimage. Part of me in undeniably proud of my culture. We have the best food in the country and the warmest hearts, great music, Cyprus drenched wetlands and iconic self-expression that includes words like, "DIN" (pronounced, daa-gn, as in Boudin).

But for me, there is an incredible schism between what exists between New Orleans and Baton Rouge- and it's a lot more than 60 miles and a few feet of elevation. Baton Rouge. No matter how far I travel or where I go, it's a word that I can't escape because - though I feel a sharp sense of self-loathing at admitting this - it was and is a huge part of me. It's not that I'm ashamed of who I came from- as my grandparents are the most amazing people on the planet- it's regret that I put up with the city for so long. They are the types of things that are hard to explain unless you've been there...It's that right in front of the Budweiser distribution center, there are 3 massive crosses that stand 10 stories tall. It's the gigantic outdoor store and the concrete shopping center after concrete shopping center that stretch across the entire 'city.' It's that there's next to nothing going on, unless you're into football...and if you're not into football, there must be something wrong with you.

But, as long as it's been, I still know the short cuts to avoid traffic and I still know where to go to see the best view of the LSU lakes. The most redeeming quality Baton Rouge has is that in houses 3 of my favorite humans in the world. My maternal grandmother, Beverly, and my paternal grandparents, Bebee and Will. Bebee's house is straight out of the 40s- it's not dwarfishly small ceilings and a upstairs that feels like you're living in Barbie's house. She and Will both have their designated sitting chairs, though they'll give you the honor of sitting in the chair of your choice when you're their guest. Will shuffles to the door from his chair, pulls his glasses down to the string around his neck and says, "Hello, Em-ly. God bless you" and gives you a tight hug and kiss.

There's something about the smell of their house that used to unnerve me, but now it feels like the safest place on earth.  Perhaps it's the Civil War swords mounted on the wall or the way they carry orange juice on a tray to serve you with their shuffling steps. Looking at them and their complete devotion to each other makes me think I might be able to love someone if I could stop dissecting everyone and everything for 15 minutes.

It's literally gotten to the point where I feel nervous about returning home and facing all of the emotions that have taken me a lifetime to sort through - or pretend to sort through. The religious presence is stronger than ever, positioned alongside the daunting social class stratification it's hard to believe that I came from there.  From the skyscraper-tall white crosses that portal you into the city -- the ones that we've joked about painting in rainbow colors -- to the insistence that we pray at every meal, religion is the South.  It's a beacon that they don't even see or notice, the proverbial elephant in the room. 

And yet, to all that Baton Rouge is -- it's rules and simplicity, camoflauge and football games -- New Orleans is its stepsister.  Both beautiful females, one is a docile home-maker and one is a renegade hipster running on 4 nights sleep a week. 

Without fail, every time I'm in New Orleans it feels like I've eaten a vitamin filled with all the nutrients I could need for my spirit.  All of the things I miss when I'm away -- everything is music, dancing is unencumbered, smiles are unbridled and creative inspiration is like the humid air taken into the lungs, to the arteries, to the very cells in my body.  This is the very fiber of what matters in life - it is something to cherish and to protect.

As I leave the city, on less that two hours sleep, hungover in last night's makeup on the longest one hour drive known to man to a ladies brunch at my grandmother's posh town house in Baton Rouge, I'm reminded that I am both of these worlds and I am neither. 

22 January 2010

Purple Lights, Pointe Shoes and Cupcake Dresses

After the Gala last year, I knew that I wouldn't miss another kick-off of the SF Ballet season.  While I'm normally a low-maintenance type of girl, there's something about this environment that turns me into a total priss.  Put me in a gown with a train, add a spectacular updo (by Lindsay at Acme) and the next thing you know, I turn into a princess.  The "hold your train and wait in the car for the dude to open your door" type.  Hopefully Dan & Andrew - cause the lady needs two escorts - didn't mind too much.

The program was beautiful.  Last year, the program consisted of 3 distinct pieces with a theme that was beautifully conveyed through the music and choreography.  It included the entire range - from the company to the soloists - without breaking the continuity of the pieces.  The downside of this is if you're not into the theme, but when it's great it's *great*  Last year, I heard/saw "Within the Golden Hour" and I started crying within the first section of the piece.  It was like the moment I first heard Max Richter, such surreal beauty that you think you could die with fulfillment.

I've gone to quite a few ballets since that night (and before) and I will say that the way the SF Ballet chose to organize this year's program catered to the short attention span of the SF startupper.  While you're not commitment to a piece that wasn't quite doing it, you also miss the chance to fall in love with the stuff that's really working.  There were 6 pieces that really stood out last night, bu it's not as clear because there wasn't enough time for me to get attached to each section.

I am so proud SF Ballet community!  If you haven't yet seen them perform, get a taste on YouTube and come out for the season.  It's magical.  If you don't have time, you can also check out amazing photos like the one above, taken by a rising star in the company and stunning photographer, Quinn Wharton.

17 January 2010

a tribute to beck, jurassic park and houston texas

my musical preferences were transferred through the wall i shared with my sister. the first time i heard beck might have been on the radio, but it was that wall that taught me all the words to 'beercan' and made me envy her CD of the month club membership (the one that she was technically too young to apply for, so they never had a binding agreement so she never paid for any of the CDs she got- including that first Oasis record.)

those were the days when i made a mixtape of all of my sister's CDs and finally got bjork on my walkman. i took her and beck and the soundtrack from flashdance on a walk through the woods to the snowball stand. it was really hot, mosquitoes attacked me because i tasted like wedding cake syrup. i came home with over 50 bites on my shoulders and legs that afternoon.

i decided that i should venture into less hostile woods, where dens of mosquitoes weren't pent up to attack their next saccharine infused victim, so carly dwyer and i trekked out to the woods around episcopal prep school. when i say trek, it's more like a casual meander, but everything feels far when you're an 11 year old suburbanite. i had just finished reading jurassic park, so that i could go see the movie for my cousin coco's birthday without spoiling anything, so i narrated the plot to carly while skipping over branches and puddles, working my way through the paths where the older kids came out to smoke cigarettes and get felt up.

i took that mixtape on the bus to houston with my 7th grade class, on a field trip to astroworld. while my peers stuck pringles in their mouths so they looked like duck bills or peered over fashion mags, naming all of the models, i was boomboxing like it was 1987- dancing up and down the aisles to 'beercan' and alanis morissette.

i remember almost all of the lyrics from the songs of those days.  someone recently told me that i must have been the coolest kid in the 6th grade because i remember all the lyrics to roi from the breeders (and here and now by letters to cleo & smells like teenspirit by nirvana).  it's true, the 90s has shaped my musical taste.  to this day, beck is one of my favorites and i have mad respect for dinosaur jr.  i just hope kids growing up now have a sliver of the experience i had then, but i guess that's what fanatics of the beatles and the stones say about me.

My Cat is Insane: Certifiably

Charlotte the cat- misunderstood and loathed by most, particularly my roommates. It's true, Charlotte the cat is a fucking handful.  She's never satisfied and in constant need of attention, yet when you show her any affection she goes tearing down the hall in the other direction.  Ah, cats.  So much like Cosmo Girls.

Here are a few things she's done to date:

  • This is Lazer. Charlotte aimed to prove who wore the pants in her household, so she attacked this dog.  A perfectly timed attack, she literally sat in the hall waiting until he had to pass her and his guard was down when she kitty punched him, claws drawn and hissing, sending him yelping and cowering down the hall.  Yes, she instilled a lasting fear in poor lazer. #fierce.

  • Charlotte has an advanced palate for a kitty. She's been known to eat spinach, raw ground beef (that she steals when your back is turned while cooking) and raw pasta,

  • Charlotte is always desperate for attention, but refuses to be picked up and held. I discussed this problem with a co-worker to sent me this link, which got me thinking about spanking the cat. I've always thought of cats as snugly creatures, but Charlotte's weird, so I tried it. I shouldn't be surprised- she's a lot like a character from a Dostoevsky novel.

She can be cute sometimes, though.  Not to sound like a cat lady, but she does this roll when she wants your attention that just kills me.  She also has amazing taste in music - she loves The Beatles White Album and The Shout Out Louds.

    15 January 2010

    Mixed Tapes + Mixed Media

    Some of us communicate with Tweets or blog posts. Others through phone calls or coffee meetings. For me, music has always been the catalyst for emotion, enlightenment and understanding, so there's no greater gift than a mixed tape. I used to think it was the collection of old memories associated with the songs that made the mix so powerful. My buddy Alvaro used to make mixes chock full of Phish songs and obscure Latin music that made me laugh. They reminded me of dancing in the streets during El Primero de Agosto in Nicaragua and his river home in the hills of Birmingham. Those were humid porch nights, playing drums and listening to the bugs hit the screen, attracted to the lights.

    Mixed tapes are stories - audible memory books of silicon and shine.

    Over the years, I've discovered that playlists are actually messages themselves. Talented mixologists- have the uncanny ability to speak through the music they put together. It's beat and lyrics, the memory of the past tied with your present state of mind. Looking back, a couple mix tapes stand out as the best among many because these mixers have something to say and it's translated with lucidity through the music.

    "Bread & Circuses" is an election mix created by a fantastic underground DJ and above-ground high school Civics teacher: Matthew Owen Reininger aka DJ CNTRL. This piece is a raw critique of our failed government and the consumer culture that enslaves and blinds us from justice. CNTRL was one of the most artistic and innovative DJs on the Miami scene, but his music was a complete work of art that didn't fit into the scene of Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Peter Bjorn & John fans. I sincerely hope he's still making him music. It's bold and tangible and I am looking for a link.

    UPDATE: 1/20 -- CNTRL has just sent me a link where you can download Bread & Circuses for free.  It's a MediaFire link, so it's likely to expire.  In the meantime, Go crazy, kids!

    My next shout out is to the guy who gave me Frightened Rabbit, The Raveonettes and Andrew Bird through his weekly Academik podcast. Andrew Kippen is an inspirational human- a quick witted, snappy dresser who's the master of all types of facial hair. As my office mate and dear friend, Kipp taught me about Lala, Hype Machine and wireless networking. Of all of his podcasts, two have made my time in San Francisco. The September Electro Mix got me running in the panhandle every morning when I first moved and The The Mix got me addicted to The Kills. Now that Kip's working for boxee.tv, podcasts come out less frequently, but you can check out the whole list here: http://feeds.feedburner.com/Academik.

    My newest mixer may have the most experienced palate of anyone I've ever met- DJs, Musicians and music analysts beware of Matt Graves aka mgrooves. Matt has over three thousand CDs and a weekly routine of scanning the stacks at Ameoba to see what's new. Matt has an uncanny ability to playlist on the go, as if he's conversing with you through his iPod. He rarely repeats songs- with a massive archive that's to be expected. Unlike novice playlisters, Matt's got epic mix skills from his years of being the voice of what was imeem. Matt's playlists went offline when MySpace pulled the plug on imeem (and put up ringtone ads on people's websites where the playlist used to be), so I can't share mgrooves with you here. I will say that listening to Matt's most recent playlist- a seamless 75 song, 5 hour long giant- is like looking at a 15 foot tall collage of pictures that, when you step back, form a greater piece than the sum of its gorgeous parts.

    I'd like to end this with a shout of to my friend Ryan Humm, a videographer I met when I lived in Japan. He composed this mix of visuals from his experience in Hong Kong, IndoChina and Japan and layered on top of M83's We Own the Sky, it is breath-taking.

    m83 - we own the sky from YouHadMeAtASL on Vimeo.
    There is so much talent seeded in the people around us. I hope this post encourages you to find the Matthews, Andrews, Matts & Ryans around you and thank them for sharing the gifts that matter the most.