If every city had a word, what would the word for your city be? Now I am by no means claiming Paris as “my city,” – never lived there, only been there once. But when I was thinking about cities and their essence, and what one word describes that essence – Paris’s word screamed out at me, making itself clear; while every other city’s word just sorta timidly came forward as a possibility. If that makes sense…
So what do I mean by “the word”? Well, I was watching my favorite part of Eat Pray Love recently (when she’s in Italy of course), and they started to discuss the different words associated with each city: “Stuffy” for London (I’d say expensive ha!), “Conformed” for Stockholm, and “Sex” for Rome . And by the way, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Rome, and that wasn’t the first (or second or third) thing that came to my mind, but whatevs.
But this got me thinking, if you could unequivocally describe the essence of a place in a single word, what would that one word be? Of course people experience places differently, so perhaps you and I may think of different words for a place. But do you think it’s possible to agree on a word that so perfectly encompasses the spirit of a place?
Here are a few of my votes:
- Napoli: Chaos (in a good way, if that’s possible :))
- New York: Ambition (totally agree with the clip)
- Amsterdam: Free
- Los Angeles: [insert nicer word than “fake” here] 🙂 Please know that I really do love L.A. though. I lived there for a minute and it was tons of fun but you gotta call ’em like you see ’em!
- New Orleans: Soul
- Rome: Passionate
Oh, and you want to know the word that jumped out at me for Paris? It’s the only word that describes the ability to hold a cigarette so seductively that it would make me, the anti-nicotine queen, consider a little puffy puff. That word, my friends, is….
Let’s keep it going. Do you agree with any of my words? What are some words for other cities?
“Whether you’re sitting by the pool or on the beach, it’s the perfect summer read. I couldn’t put it down.” –Gabrielle Union
I couldn’t agree more with this quote I found on the back cover of Passport Diaries, a novel I discovered through Twitter (shoutout to @monicalwilliams!). I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a semi-biographical travel-related novel and this summer I’m on a mission to read any and every piece of travel literature written by someone of color. Enter Passport Diaries. This book took me all of a day to read. I literally devoured it. It was an easy read, but it was so much fun and I really felt like I was with my homegirl (or the protagonist) Kia as she journeyed through London, Paris, and Mykonos. I say “homegirl” because Kia’s voice is so clear and so real. She’s a successful lawyer from L.A., 30-something, single, and ready to celebrate her next birthday internationally. And much like me, she’d rather go on a trip solo than cancel it because other people changed their minds, didn’t want to go, flaked, whatever (although it took a little prodding by her travel agent). But really, you can’t wait on someone else to live your life. I feel you Kia!
I had no idea what to expect when I opened up the first page, but couldn’t help but smile when I recognized Kia’s voice as that of, well… my homegirl. For example, take this passage I came across within the first couple of pages:
“Every black woman has beauty-shop horror stories. It’s our cross to bear. It’s like going to church. We know we have to go, even when we don’t feel like it. Afterwards, though we feel like a different person, like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders. But, good God, why does it have to take so long? Does the paster really have to take up two collections? Does the hairdresser really have to double-book appointments? Inquiring-minded people with a life really want to know.”
I could also relate to Kia’s frustration with the lack of traveling or international awareness of our fellow countrymen. When the book was published (2004), only 16% of Americans had a passport, which means we’re making progress, no? To that figure Kia remarks, “It seems we have a strong desire to rule the world; we just don’t want to travel it.” You can say that again. Just like all travel-related fiction, Passport Diaries, not only tells a cute story, but it also makes me want to dust off my passport.
Definitely give this one a read, it’s light fiction, not too deep, will take you a weekend at the most and will have you laughing out loud and wanderlusting it up all at the same time. And Tamara T. Gregory gets bonus points because she details Kia’s itinerary in the back of the book. So you can relive Passport Diaries by staying at the same places, eating at the same restaurants, and visiting the same attractions. Click the image above to find the book on Amazon – or do like me and hit up your local library. 🙂 Enjoy!
If anyone else out there has read Passport Diaries, what did you think? And what are some other books out there for me to check out?
Welcome back! I hope everyone enjoyed their annual overdose of forced patriotism over the last few days. I did. Anyway, back to the #travelchallenge. I didn’t post yesterday – I spent most of the morning asleep and most of the afternoon figuring out who was still having happy hour and which one started earliest (shout out to El Centro on 14th street!). Regular holiday duties of course. And then we caught the fireworks while chilling on the National Mall.
Ok, now really… back to the #travelchallenge.
I can think of a few “firsts” while traveling internationally. Some more meaningful than others, but here goes:
- First solo travel experience – I saw Paris by myself. Only for a day or two before my friends arrived. But still, looking back sometimes I still can’t believe I did that! I just remember that I had no intentions of leaving Europe without seeing Paris. With flights from Italy being less than $20, there was no way that someone else’s indecisiveness was going to stop me from eating some crepes and croissants, seeing the Eiffel Tower, and getting cultured Parisian-style (even though seeing the Mona Lisa was completely underwhelming). Everyone else finally realized how awesome my trip was going to be and booked flights for the next day or something like that. I’m glad I did it though – I’m not afraid to go anywhere by myself now.
- First intercultural relationship – I wasn’t sure whether to use the term interracial, international, intercultural? He was black, but he was was Senegalese, French, and Italian. Whatever, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian (or French) and we carried on a 3-month something. Sounds like fun, no? Eventually, I did learn Italian pretty well but that first month or so – whew! It was tons of fun – he would show me around parts of Milan I never would’ve discovered on my own and we had some really great times. But when we “argued” it was probably the most hilarious thing anyone has ever experienced. “Arguing” usually consisted of me muttering stuff in English and him not responding because he had no clue what I was talking about – then he would say his piece in Italian. Needless to say our “arguments” didn’t last long. And that’s a good thing right?! 🙂 Anyway, his name was Romeo and how can you spend any time in Italy without finding an authentic Romeo. It just wouldn’t have been the same if he spoke English!
- First rude awakening to the global perspective of Americans – Growing up in the U.S., all you hear is how great this country is and how we are saving the world and helping other countries do this, that, and the third. But why would your American history teacher, who’s never even stepped outside of Tennessee, let alone America know anything about whether or not these other countries want America’s help? Being outside of this country gives all Americans a big dose of humble pie – but most tourists have their noses so high in the air they can’t even see the humble pie sitting right in front of them. Don’t get me wrong, out of all of the global discussions I’ve had most people have nothing against the single American traveler or the person who is really coming to learn about their country – but they definitely had choice words for the U.S. government and that American tourist who complains about how different and inconvenient everything is in other countries. Nothing was more eye-opening than this piece of graffiti I witnessed while visiting Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona.
The message speaks for itself right? It’s in Barcelona, but it’s not in Spanish. Who do you think it’s meant for? That was definitely a wow moment – and it solidified for me that I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler :).
We all know the benefits of traveling: exposure, vacation, yadda yadda yadda… but what about the inherent history lesson that sometimes plays out before you? When I was in Amsterdam a few weeks ago I was reminded of a little known (at least to me) piece of history – that Suriname is a Dutch colony. Now, I’m sure I learned that in high school at some point, but reading a textbook and looking at a map showing arrows connecting all of the colonial empires just didn’t last long in the “long-term memory” of my brain.
Most of the Black people I met in Amsterdam were Surinamese, which really caught me off guard because that is not a country you hear about often. (By the way, Suriname is a very small country on the NE coast of South America.) The 2nd largest group of black people that I ran into were Moroccans. And the varying levels or racism that exist among these groups is another story for another day. Being in Amsterdam at that moment and learning about some of the modern-day effects of colonialism has a much more lasting effect than anything I could read in a textbook. Meeting a young Surinamese man who rarely goes back home and who would be punished for using his local Surinamese language in Suriname instead of Dutch, learning about how the Dutch mine Suriname for promising football (soccer) stars, witnessing the tension between Surinamese-born blacks and other Dutch blacks – all things I could easily wrap my head around now that I’m seeing a history book come to life.
When I was in Milan, I met a lot of Senegalese black people who were actually from Paris and all spoke French. And the effects of the colonialism were all the same. The black country was made to believe they were inferior, stripped of their native tongues, convinced that their schooling had to come from the colonizing country, and brainwashed to believe that their native traditions and native customs weren’t important. The younger generations especially were very disconnected from their home country – sound familiar?
I’m by no means a history professor or an expert on colonialism – I just think its amazing that colonialism is still alive and well today in so many forms (both subtle and overt). I’m only sharing what I’ve learned through my international travels and reflecting on one of the many little thought-about benefits of jet-setting around the world. More than anything it makes me think about my own country and how the effects of colonialism are still manifesting themselves on a daily basis through our media, our education systems, language, and so much more. I also think it’s quite interesting that many of us living in places like Harlem, not realizing that NY itself was a Dutch colony. Not until you visit Haarlem in Holland will many of us make that connection. So travel, if not for the beaches, the statues, and the museums, for the history and to learn a little more about yourself and the place where you live.
And just a sidenote: My favorite part of all this is meeting Black people who are fluent in 3 or more languages – English, their native language, and their colonizer’s language – while I’m still struggling with my 2nd! Just lets me know I have to do better.
What other ways does living history manifest itself in International Travel?
It took me a while to finish this book (Click here for the original post and Amazon review). Not because it wasn’t good (it was grrreaat a la Tony, our favorite Tiger), but because I have reading A.D.D. I start dozens of books – all within a week. And I have had a couple of trips in the midst of it too, but I’m notorious for leaving a library book on a plane, in a hotel, at a restaurant so I didn’t take it with me. Although it would have been excellent plane reading for that 9-hr flight to Amsterdam. Anyway, here goes. My take on Black Girl in Paris:
First of all, I know this book is considered a fiction novel, but the details and the pure “rawness” of Youngblood’s descriptions have you wondering just how thin that line is between fact and fiction. Her writing is beautiful, often poetic, but at the same time so very real. Just by reading some of the notes about the author we know that quite a bit of it is based on the author’s life: Youngblood traveled to Paris, was an au pair (fancy word for nanny), artists’ model, and poet’s helper – just like the protagonist Eden. And even if we didn’t have that particular footnote, some of the details Youngblood uses just couldn’t be made up.
This book literally had my jaw dropping at some of the adventurous escapades Eden takes us on. Other parts had my head nodding in total agreement because I can relate to some of her experiences as a black girl in Europe, more so as a black girl just wanting to travel. Eden goes to Paris to follow in the footsteps of many other great African-American writers – Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and the elusive James Baldwin whom Eden tirelessly attempts to track down for just the slightest slimmer of inspiration. She so fittingly describes a story as a “map.” Of her journey to Paris she says “I’ll make maps so other people can get there too, adventurers like me.” And that’s really what it’s all about. Shay Youngblood, Black Women in Europe, ME! – we’re all attempting to write our own maps to share with you. It reminds me of this Aldous Huxley quote related to creating your own guidebook that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Get out there and take what you want out of life (as Eden’s aunt instructed her when she found out about her desires to go to Paris), make your own maps, don’t follow someone else’s plan.
The thing I love about travel literature in general, and Black Girl In Paris, in particular is its double entendre quality. You could say that the purpose of this novel was to tell a great story, which it did. But at the same time you could say that it is an attempt to inspire others to follow in Eden’s footsteps. Only after re-reading parts of the story did I remember that reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin “lit a fire” in her – the simple act of reading a book pushed her across the threshold from desiring a life in Paris to making reservations for a one-way flight. Just like Giovanni’s Room inspired her, Black Girl in Paris can be someone else’s catalyst.
The other admirable aspect of Black Girl in Paris (and again, with most travel literature) is it’s ability to serve as a tour guide and to introduce ideas, monuments, landmarks, activities, historical events and so much more that are particular to a specific place and time. Never had I been so vividly introduced to Turkish baths. I never would have imagined getting a job as an artists’ model or as a poet’s helper. I was also briefed on the terrorism and racial tension of the time and what it’s like to be a Black American – a minority of a minority – in Paris while comparing it to my experience in Milan. You also learn little secrets that can help you if you ever decide to live or travel abroad. But I won’t divulge those, you’ll just have to check out the book and read it yourself! Trust me, it’s worth it.
Disclaimer: I am in no way responsible for sudden urges to check prices for round-the-world flights, the sudden desire to quit one’s job and move to Paris, or any other passport-required epiphany you may experience after reading about Eden’s escapades in Paris. However, I can’t deny that my heart would smile just a little at the thought of such an adventure 🙂
Another fun way to be exposed to new cities, cultures, and experiences is through books. So on my blog I will try to incorporate books and book reviews about students or young adults in new, international places. (Although I must admit I don’t know of very many). You may have never wanted to visit a place until you see it from someone’s eyes who’s actually there. What I love about travel literature is that it allows me to “visit” Paris (or Italy, or Australia, or Morocco, or Rio) even when I can’t.
I’ll review a couple of the books here. First up: Black Girl in Paris by Shay Youngblood.
I just started the book today so until I finish, here’s the review from Amazon.com: