Little Puerto Rico


How much do you really know about Puerto Rico ? The island is part of the United States, but few people really understand the culture or the territory that comes with it. There are many similarities between Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries like Mexico and the Dominican Republic, but there is one underlying difference : the Northeast Corridor. To discount this incredible region of biodiversity would be to miss the defining characteristic of this geographic location.

I live in Humboldt Park, which is little Puerto Rico of Chicago. It’s all about street culture: street art, street food, and street music. Cumbia and tango blast from the neighborhood joints on the weekends, and it’s not uncommon to hear music coming from jukeboxes as families picnic in the fields of the park.

You should not be afraid of Humboldt Park. It’s a convenient location to get close to nature, play a pickup game of soccer, or go swimming in the playa (much cleaner than Lake Michigan). The historic boathouse is the symbol of Puerto Rican culture. See the kids go in one day and emerge as adults 12 years later; the Puerto Rican community is strong and nurturing, propping up all the children to be proud of their Borinquen culture. Plus, Humboldt Park is just a hop, skip, and jump away from the loop, with an awesome view of the skyline as you hike through the greenery, the weeping willows framing your view.

Try some plaintain in the park, say “hello” to the old grandpas playing cards on the corner of California and Division, and frequent some of the local haunts, like Hunter and Tail and Bullhead Cantina. This is a place to celebrate diversity and let go of your apprehension about people who don’t act and look and think like you do. Just embrace the difference and see what’ll become of the time you spend here.

6 Music Genres You May Not Know


Nothing new in your stereo is a sad, sad thought. Listening to the same old music is a surefire way to bring you down via auditory deprivation. Your ears need music that sounds good, and you’re not getting it from that wasteland known as the radio. Unless you have satellite radio, in which case you’re a step

Listening to different types of music not only keeps you stimulated, it gives you something to talk about when you meet someone new. Nothing makes a better conversation starter than a new song you like. Here are some suggestions to expand your musical taste.

1. Americana

What is Americana ? It’s a mix of blue grass, folk, rock, and everything in between. Although this music uses a traditional repertoire of acoustics, it has an electric sound that is unmistakably contemporary. Think Lana Del Rey, Allison Kraus, and Kacey Musgraves.

2. Trip Hop

A mix of hip hop and trance, trip hop started in the UK (specifically, Bristol) in the 1990s and made its way across the pond thanks to promotion and modern technology. It combines downtempo beats from soul, funk, jazz, and hip hop. Tricky, Massive Attack, and Bonobo are examples of the atmospheric, bass-heavy beats that give this genre its urban roots. If you want to know more, NPR’s Vivien Goldman did a recent overview of trip hop.record

3. IDM

An offshoot of the popular electronic dance music so many of us know and love, “intelligent dance music” is a term coined by listeners of electronica that wanted to distinguish the tunes the loved from the rest of the pack. Ambient, groovy, and synthetically produced, IDM is best exemplified by artists like Autechre, Aphex Twin, and Crystal Castles. It’s prodcued in museums, laboratories, and institutes, and it started in the Netherlands (go figure). Although artists think this is a pretentious label, there is an IDM mailing list and community for all those interested in this heady music movement.

4. Tribal House

If you like world music, you’ll love tribal house. It’s a synergy of synthesised drums and ambient sounds that will make your ears do a double take. If dark and deep indigenous rhythm is your thing, check out Afefe Iku, Zoe Badwi, and Robbie Rivera.

5. Gypsy Jazz

Deep in the throes of soulful music is gypsy jazz. Known by some as ‘jazz tsigan’, ‘manouche jazz’, or ‘jazz swing’, Jean “Django” Reinhardt got this ball rolling in France in the 1930s. Reinhardt literally set the bar by making it standard to not using major/minor chords. Instead, the major 7th and 6th chords are substituted for a sound that’s trill-tastically harmonic. Besides Django, John Jorgenson, Stephane Grapelli, and Tim Kliphius are all great places to start being eclectic.

Hopefully your curiosity has led you to listen to at least one of these genres by now. Diversifying your musical collection is an inexpensive way to develop a new interest and share it with other people. Music’s been around forever, and it’s constantly changing. It’s to your benefit to stay on top of those changes and keep your ears entertained.

What’s your take on music ? Classical all the way or modern must-haves ?

What is the Cultural Significance of DIY Collectives ?


The process of creation is as mysterious as the process of destruction. Say ‘Yes’ to the exploration of both.

My last job had everything to do with me cranking out articles about how to make easy DIY crafting projects. Ever since I left the corporate world, I’ve been bombarded with situations in which I say to myself, “You could totally DIY that.”

I was covering a First Friday event at the MCA in Chicago and saw Jason Lazarus’s Phase 1/Live Archive exhibit right at the entrance. It had a bunch of picket signs that didn’t seem like they were of the beaux arts type. Like so many contemporary works of art I encounter, it was screaming “DIY” to me.

Jason Lazarus exhibit

It’s been said that the best ideas are the ones you wish you’d thought of yourself. This got me thinking: how is DIY culture connected to the anti-corporate mentality ?

The internet defines DIY culture as being part of the punk, anti-consumerist movement. Let’s be real though. Anti-consumerism gets more widespread the less money people have. Makers are mavericks in the years of the “Great Recession”.

2013 DIY collectives : 1600s Crafting guilds ?

My series on the one-year anniversary of the Occupy movement explores the new developments in modern protest culture. More and more people and organizations are using crowd-sourcing platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to make their goals financially possible. Nowadays, DIY culture is everywhere. The microsites at the company I worked at had over 6 million subscribers. Whether it’s cooking food, sewing clothes, or making decorations, all of us DIY something everyday. This fad is beyond anarchists and hippies, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

Individuals that are well-off tend to not ask others for favors and often live more isolated lives because of it. Be proactive, collaborate with your community, friends, pets–even your alter-ego.

Say ‘Yes’ to the satisfaction that comes from making something. You will find countless doors opening to let you inside.

Squats That Went Straight: Dispatches into Alternative Art Culture in Paris


By: Kera Mogue

Wisps of smoke intertwined with music escape through the window, which is cracked open ever so slightly to properly air the studio. Pascal is oblivious to the steady flow of observers that walk through his open air gallery as his hands craft the next project: a canvas that uses the principles of light perception to optimize the visual experience of the observer. “When I was invited to work here, my only condition was that I wouldn’t work in trash”. Pascal prefers the company of his clients to the solitude of his courtyard, where he used to design his masterpieces. He could care less that artists at illegal squats look down on him for “selling out”.

At the 59 Rivoli art gallery, 30 artists spread their studios over 6 spacious floors and have the opportunity to interact with their visitors on a daily basis. The artists welcome local bands and singers to expose their work by contacting the administration. Located in one of Paris’s most commercial districts, this squat-turned art gallery is undergoing an audit by the government of Paris to verify that all artists are properly paying their dues, among approximately 40 other items on the list.

The Story Behind the Squat
Before 2001, “59 Rivoli” was the shortened address of a squat called “chez Robert électron libre”: a community of artists illegally living and working in close quarters. “It was a tree in the forest of other squats in the city,” explains Pascal. His good friend and fellow artist Gaspard found the building, which had been empty for 15 years and belonged to Crédit Lyonnais. As the leader of the group of artists, he fought for their right to stay there when the city of Paris threatened to seize the building and expel them.

Gaspard hired a lawyer that insisted they use the “lois d’hiver” (laws of winter) to their benefit. The laws of winter state that squatters may stay in a building from November 1 to March 15 without being expelled as long as they did not enter the building by force. So they stayed where they were. Before winter had turned to spring, the giant snowball of the press and the public had melted into a puddle of success; the squat had gained such a large acquaintance that the city of Paris decided to purchase the building in 2001 and let the squatters stay as long as the association paid its monthly rent.

Today, that rent equals €130 per artist, or €3,900 euros total a month. The audit being carried out by the Mairie of Paris is to verify that each and every artist whose work is on display in the gallery is paying rent to 59 Rivoli to prevent ongoing squatting and undue exposure for friends of resident artists. The audit also involves making sure the gallery is open when it says it will be and that the building meets fire codes. The results of this audit will determine whether or not the Mairie decides to renew the contract with the 59 Rivoli association.

“If the audit fails and the City is not happy, it’s all over,” says James Purpura, an artist from Ohio.

Although James’ 6 month stay is almost over, he hopes to move up on the waiting list. But competition is rough. “It’s very communal here. People here feel like they have the right to make use of an abandoned space. This is owned by the people, it’s accessible to everyone.” Indeed, the gallery’s open door policy and free entry represent the change in attitude toward alternative art galleries in a culture that prides itself on prodigies of the past.
The political attaché of the city of Paris said : “The politics of squats has evolved since we bought the squat and is continuing to change.” It is true that in the past decade, the political aspects of squats consisted of a binary pitting classist ideology against that of a counterculture. When trying to make a statement about homelessness, individual resistance and collective resistance are not synonymous.

According to Cécile Pechu, artistic squats in Paris are traditionally collectives based on the counter-cultural concept of redistribution of wealth. Pascal Foucart’s baguette sculpture says it all: a 2×4 row of freshly baked baguettes are lacquered in brightly colored acrylic paints, illustrating the daily action of buying bread without realizing that some people are too poor to afford such a luxury. While this work of art is a clear example of counter-classism, today it is appreciated by the public thanks to the government’s purchase of the property in 2001. Without 59 Rivoli’s current level of exposure, Pascal would still be painting in an empty courtyard.
Jeux Politiques
As the politics of squats softens, the housing market in Paris gets even more competitive.

“Squats, especially the illegal kind, have a short life-span”. Pascal references La Miroiterie in the 20th district of Paris, which has recently been shut down due to property laws. A dozen artists will have to find a new home, and 8 others will be losing their workspaces.

Despite the level of culture the squat contributes to the neighborhood, they have no choice but to concede to the property demand. For galleries like le Point Ephémère, being endorsed by Paris is good news, as it gives structure to their exhibits and allows them to be creative in other ways. Still, Le Point Ephémère is about to be closed, too, and art-loving Parisians are buzzing about it.

Not all artists have a circulation of over 40,000 people a year in their studio. Some of them do not want this kind of traffic because it disrupts their creative process. Still, the future forecast for squats can’t be too cloudy if the government is going along with the concept of alternative art in an abandoned space.
The results of the current audit at 59 rue de Rivoli will determine the future of a place that offers 30 different perspectives and a cultural spot different from all the rest. Like the sign on the second floor says, ‘Earth’ without ‘art’ is just ‘meh’.

For more information about expositions and upcoming events, visit the official gallery website of 59 Rivoli.

Note: This piece was also published on Citizenside. You can find the original here.

Paris : La Bohème Expo at Le Grand Palais


Wikipedia: Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic, or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds

“Je sais quand je suis né, mais pas pourquoi…” – Proverbe Rom

Walking through the archways of Le Grand Palais is sort of creepy. Nobody expects to find themselves in a damp wooded labrynth with gilded paintings and burgundy tapestries. La Bohème Expo in the Grand Palais gallery is coordinated to match the Bohemian lifestyle, which is to constantly be living in tune with nature, and to always be on the move.


Artists started recreating Bohemia right around the plague— in other words, the mid-15th century. The paintings featured a chaste virgin/tempting gypsy dichotomy. Gypsies, or Roms, had been around in Europe for centuries before art made them famous, though. Their traveling lifestyle formed the foundation of the philosophy based on living off of the good intentions or naiveté of others. Roms found their way to Western Europe through Bohemia, or what is now called the Czech Republic.
The Bohemian

“La Bohèmienne” – Pierre Auguste Renoir
PHOTO: Gilles Nèret

The exhibition begins with plaques written in French and English, explaining the history of Roms in Central and Western Europe. The first statue is a marble bust of a chaste Bohemian woman. The following paintings show gypsies and women who wore their hair down and curly (gasp), defying social norms and rendering them rebels of the times. Renoir’s “La Bohèmienne” has a girl with long wavy hair and a worried look on her face, probably due to the auspicious bulge in her stomach. Audio guides go into further detail about the alleged inspiration behind each painting.
Van Gogh

“A Pair of Shoes” – Vincent Van Gogh
PHOTO: Leslie Parke

Vincent Van Gogh’s painting resonates with the traveling spirit of Bohemianism. It’s not about the quality of the shoes, it’s about where the person wearing them has been and what they’ve experienced.
“Qui voyage beaucoup, apprend beaucoup…” – Proverbe Rom
At one point or another, every Bohemian gets the travel bug. But this is a specific kind of wanderlust, the kind that makes people crave crépes and hot wine. The Montmartre neighborhood in Paris has aging cafes and cabarets that draw artists like flies to honey. Le Chat Noir is the family crest for people that used to thrive in these social boxes, whether it was to philosophize, commiserate, or participate in some harmless debauchery. The painter, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, was born on the hill in Montmartre.

“Le Chat Noir” – Theophile Alexandre Steinlen

Glorified by counter-culturists to this day, the Bohemian era is still not over. Each decade, the creative milieu reinvents it to incarnate the sentiment of the times. The beatniks, the hippies, the squatters, and the ravers of today all have one thing in common: a reverence for all things Bohème.
A bunch of people at the exhibit were dressed up like the museum was a themed party. No one else got that memo. I guess the freedom of La vie Bohème is too attractive to pass up.

Survival Cannibalism: Rugby Gone Wrong ?


Toothpaste for dessert ? Sounds questionable. For the survivors of el Milagro de los Andes (the miracle of the Andes), Aquafresh was a rationed delicacy. On October 13, 1972, a chartered aircraft was on its way from Montevideo, Uruguay to Santiago, Chile for a rugby match. Tensions were running high as the players anticipated beating their long-time rivals, who had an outstanding record in their league. But all of these fears got pushed aside when the plane crashed in the Andes mountains, killing 29 passengers and the pilot. Of the remaining 25 people, 16 people survived by rationing the meager supply of chocolate bars, biscuits, and other snacks scattered among the wreckage. Every time someone died, the crew would do the unspeakable–skin them and roast their flesh for sustenance. When life is reduced to primitive instincts, these are the kinds of decisions people have to make.

Cannibalism has been around for centuries, but that doesn’t change the fact that people tend to avoid talking about it. For regular carnivores, meat, fish, and poultry seem to suffice. Why would someone even think about consuming a fellow human being ? As a species, we are not genetically inclined to eat each other. We need to multiply, and we have the tools to kill other animals. So why is it that some people choose to partake in this obscure ritual ?

     The Korowai tribe of Papua New Guinea has been eating people for years. Not just any humans, though. They claim to only eat khakua (men they consider to be evil witches). The tribe lives in tree-houses up to 45 meters high about 100 miles inland from the Arafura Sea in a country that already has a low-density population, putting them out of reach of any “civilized” metropolis. Dutch missionaries lived among the Korowai between 1978 and 1990, observing their behavior in detail. For Westerners, their accounts are gruesome. According to cultural relativism, each society has its own moral codes and social norms. These tree-house dwellers have clashed with police for eating their own people, but the practice continues, though on a more clandestine level.

A Korowai man stands in front of a traditional treehouse in West Papua. PHOTO: MARKUS FLEUTE

     The Uruguayan rugby team members had to choose between life or death. Far from the societal constraints we know all too well, they separated the concept of body and soul to help keep their own bodies from disintegrating. The basic desire to survive drove 19 year-old Roberto Canessa and 21 year-old Fernando Parrado to search for help. Stocked with plenty of flesh for the trip, they set out on a 10-day journey from the snow-capped peak of Tinguiririca that culminated in a free meal from herdsman in the foothills and a long-awaited rescue mission for the teammates who stayed behind.
     Sleeping bags made of plane insulation may be a relic of the past, but the living survivors of the crash hold vivid memories of those 72 days of isolation. On October 13, 2012, the team took a plane to play that rugby match that had been post-poned for 40 years in Santiago, Chile. This time, winning and losing was not a priority. The sense of togetherness and camaraderie overshadowed any lingering bad memories and the plane ride home was simple, as they all live within a 5-mile radius of each other in Montevideo. Their fellow passengers helped them live through hell, and they honor their lives by donating money to a charitable sports foundation in Uruguay so that children in poverty can play rugby.
     Some like to think they would never stoop so low as to eat human flesh, and perhaps they are right. There are many people who would die to uphold their convictions. But no one knows until they are sitting on a mound of snow, shivering, wishing the body in front of them were a feast of gargantuan proportions.

Survivors of the crash honor their dead teammates with a moment of silence in Santiago, Chile. PHOTO: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Paris : Edward Hopper Expo at Le Grand Palais


It takes a prestigious exhibition to make the French miss their leisurely lunch break. The Edward Hopper exhibition at Le Grand Palais in Paris attracted throngs of hardcore fans when it opened to the public on October 10, 2012. Le Grand Palais is an haute-gamme gallery located in the 8th district of Paris near the Champs-Élysées with display halls that are vaulted and angled like veritable culture caves.Walking up the gilded staircases, at least three different languages were being spoken amongst the crowds gathered in the towering arched doorway.

Two security checks later, we entered the first room, whose high ceilings give the impression of an endless treasure trove. Excited whispers scurried past my ears like mice on a cheese-hunt. These were die-hard art lovers who lied to their bosses to come see an expo an hour after it opened with their Cartes Sesames, which grant them full access and line-cutting privileges to the most popular museums in Paris. The Louboutin heels and glistening watch bands say it all : we were made to critique. And critique they do.

Born in Nyack, New York, Edward Hopper struggled for recognition before leaving to expand his perspective in Paris. When there, he associated with the likes of Charles Burchfield, Alfred Stieglitz, and Reginald Marsh. The progression in his style is obvious; Hopper’s painting got better and bigger after he studied in the City of Lights. Eerie lighting gives off a Tim Burton-esque vibe that only intensifies in grim pieces like ‘Night Hawks” and “Soir Bleu”.


“Nighthawks” – 1942

"Soir Bleu"

“Soir Bleu” – 1914

As one of the most famous realist painters of the 20th century, Hopper takes unexpected scenes from everyday life and turns them into masterpieces. In “Gas”, a row of petrol pumps near the highway are showcased in all their ordinary splendor.


“Gas” – 1940

Oil painting was Hopper’s medium of choice, but Le Grand Palais reserved a room just for his etchings. Regardless of where it was completed, his work is so relatable that it serves as a bridge between American and French culture.


“The Lonely House” – 1923

Comprising over 100 pieces, Hopper’s oeuvre evokes a plethora of moods by illustrating the tension between tradition and modernity, cities and nature, men and women. His work is immensely appreciated by people of various backgrounds in French culture. A woman I spoke to at the museum said : “I think Hopper has a rare talent. He can make people marvel over the greatness of a house standing in a prairie, or gas pumps on the side of the road.” For the French, Hopper’s work is an enlarged exoticism of American culture, with just the right touch of nostalgia to reach beyond the retinas of Old World residents.

Real American Cheesecake


Nothing says ‘thank you’ like cheesecake. Chocolate and flowers are nice and easy, but impersonal. I had a brief stint as a hostess at the Cheesecake Factory in downtown Chicago my sophomore year of college, and that job made me despise the dessert. The truth is, though, I wanted to make a better version to show up my past. And that version would be New York style.

When I came back to Paris for work in August, I spent my first two weeks with a family very close to me that helped me through all the faux-pas and idiotic blunders that culture shock entails. I thought I’d never be able to pay them back.

Authentic American cheesecake is hard to find in France, even in Paris. To get the real thing, you need to shell out some hefty euros, and you have to know where to go. The French version of cheesecake is a lukewarm joke. My friend from Boston (cream pie) recommended a recipe to me, and I hesitated. Would the Frenchies like this indulgent Yankee treat ?

One Sunday, I mustered up my motivation and bought all the cream cheese off the shelf of my local grocery store. The Philadelphia cream cheese containers come in 150 g portions, and I snagged 5 of them along with 2 containers of a French brand called Elle & Vire. I figured that would be enough. Graham cracker pie crust is really obscure here, like Coachella or North Coast (not). Instead, I got some digestive biscuits to crush up for the crust, knowing there would be baking essentials at the house. I also grabbed a small container of vanilla extract, heavy whipping cream, and sour cream and headed out of that Franprix holding more dairy in my arms than I have ever carried in my lactose-sensitive life.

I took to the streets with a spring in my step, because to me, this cheesecake was more than just a gastronomic pleasure. It was a cultural exchange that represented my country. I could not fuck this up.

I got to the house and immediately began crushing up 200 grams of Petit Lait digestive biscuits for the crust, mixing the crumbs with President brand butter (the best kind) and cane sugar. Since I’m incapable of following a recipe, I added some nutmeg and cinnamon for good measure, pressing my aspiration in with the crust so that it molded to the glass cake pan, forming the hopeful foundations of my culinary experiment. I put the mold in the fridge and got to work on the filling, which simultaneously made me salivate and gag. That much cream cheese in one bowl is a rare sight.

Thanks to Google conversions, I realized I still did not have 1 kilo (1000 grams) of cream cheese and made a run to the nearest grocery store. I finally found one that wasn’t closed and bought all of their Philadelphia cream cheese, plus some salty cheese spread for the last 100 grams. Walking home, I realized that cheesecake is more than just cheese. It’s layers upon layers of fat.

I made a melange out of the cream cheese, sugar, flour, eggs, heavy whipping cream, vanilla, lemon syrup, and a ton of cinnamon, which took some serious upper body strength. I took 3 breaks while making the filling and reflected on the evolution of my housewife skills. This cake didn’t just represent my country, it was a symbol of my self-imposed domestication.

I licked the spoon because I was too curious not to. It was intense. I baked the filling in the crust at 180 Celsius and took it out, spreading the topping over it like in the old days at Coldstone Creamery when I used to decorate ice-cream cakes. Turns out that job wasn’t so useless after all. The pan now weighed roughly the amount of a gargantuan newborn child. I put it back in the oven and passed out on the couch for an hour and a half, dreaming of camembert cake with bleu cheese frosting.

At around 4:30, the cake was ready to leave the comfortable heat of the oven. The most important step was to run the spatula along the edges of the crust to prevent cracking. I was surprised– the cake surface was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. My kitchen child chilled in the fridge for 4 hours before we sampled it at 8:30 after a dinner of hachis parmentier and tomato mozzarella salad. It was so decadent and rich that half of us couldn’t finish an entire piece. “Zis eez rheal Amerrhicon cheezKEK!” they said eagerly through cushions of yellow creaminess. They adored it, but “in small doses”. It’s good to indulge–sometimes. God, the French are so right.

I took two pieces to the office and was met with the same reaction. That kitchen adventure took so much out of me that every time somebody took a bite, it was a bonding experience for us. I liked seeing people’s faces light up and knowing I could please their tastebuds, even if it was only for a few seconds. I keep wondering if I’ll ever make it again, and I honestly don’t know. But the important thing is that I can. That I’ve grown, that I can do things in the kitchen without lighting it on fire. And that I showed people I care about that I can supply them with cheese and whine.



Those with the most discriminating taste buds swear that Lyon is the foodie capital of Europe, or that Italian cuisine is the most refined. I am here to tell you that the food in Amsterdam is the bomb diggity, not because I was ripped like something awful, but because I ventured out of my comfort zone to try new things, such as :

1) Croquettesen – Breaded cylinders shaped like egg rolls, these delightful treats are often fried and are filled with either meat or peanut satay sauce. Why peanut, you ask ? Well, Indonesia was a Dutch colony way back in the day, and peanuts are apparently abundant there. The ones I had were savory and peanutastic, and I sincerely hope to find them here in France, if not back in the States this summer.

2) Pancakes – I know what you’re thinking–that’s SO AMERICAN. Yes, pancakes are American– but these were super pancakes. And actually, pancakes originated in medieval Europe, so props to the Old World on this clever creation. I got a Chilean pancake and had to restrain myself from worshipping the table. Although the portion was way too big, the spices were incredible, and I highly suggest you go to the Pancake Bakery if you’re ever in Amsterdam wandering around the 9 streets of Jordaan.

3) Stroopwafel – Effectively the Oreos of the Netherlands. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but these round wafers have either honey or caramel in the middle–sometimes both–and are enough to make any salt lover savor the flavor. Dangerously addictive for sugar lovers. Dip them in your coffee for an enhanced experience.

4) Rendang Groeten – The owner of the local Indonesian restaurant suggested this dish to my friend when she asked for something spicy and coconutty. She decided on something else with a thousand year-old egg in it, but I felt bad letting such a brilliant idea go to waste; I ordered the beef Rendang. I won. The fire in my mouth after the fifth bite was priceless. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how taste buds get desensitized.

5) Kip – This chicken sausage was in my going-home salad, and it made me not want to go home. I’ve never been one to rave about meat, but this one’s for the meat lovers : A smoked sausage flavor that still manages to pass for chicken and doesn’t overpower the other flavors on your palate. Substantive and light, kip goes well with a light meal or a traditional German meat and potatoes production. After all, Dutch culture is heavily influenced by the Germans.

kip with curry sauce

kip with curry sauce

It’s been said that food is a great way to immerse oneself in an unknown culture, and I can vouch for that. I may not be a food connoisseur, but I do know what I want out of my culinary and gastronomical experiences, and that is one simple thing : diversity. I don’t like the concept of staying within one cuisine, and that is what I love about Amsterdam. The multiculturalism, the tolerance, and the acceptance of all tastes, no matter if they are savory, sweet, spicy, or smoked (sometimes too much). If you ever make it out there, don’t be afraid to throw caution to the winds and explore the world of food.

“Vrij zijn in Amsterdam” – be free in Amsterdam



“Happy Hour”. When in Paris, the phrase itself has little to do with emotions and more to do with the prices– cocktails and beers are half-priced, and that is what makes this block of time so joyful. Of course you are there with your friends or your work buddies, and that in itself is enjoyable. But cheap drinks are to a rocky day what sandpaper is to splintery wood.

Highlander Pub is nestled in the corner of Rue Nesle (Nestle ?) and Rue de Nevers, and it is the creme de la creme of pubs in Paris. After having finished a long sejour in Scotland, I can tell you that this place is not mimicking Scottish pubs–it is one. Tonight’s special is haggis, neeps, and tatties. For those of you that have not yet visited, haggis is the intestines and liver of a sheep minced up and served in a traditional Scottish pub bowl. ‘Neeps’ are turnips, and ‘tatties’ are mashed potatoes. Another notable about the Highlander is the Screaming Orgasm cocktail. Mixed with amaretto sour, Bailey’s Irish cream, and whipped cream, this drink’s name is most certainly not false advertising. Luckily, nobody but the bartender and me were in the pub to hear Rebecca’s bloodcurdling banshee shriek upon taking her first sip of this concoction. Screaming Orgasm is truly the nectar of the gods. If you have a fetish for grapefruit juice, try the Sea Breeze– it’s like a post-work out drink that gets you tipsy.

Enough about alcohol ! Paris is the city of culture, and bar culture is nothing to laugh at. Parisian etiquette is different from that of America’s in several ways. First of all, there is “la politesse”. Every time you walk into a public place in Paris (apart from a grocery store,) you are obligated to say “bonjour”. Every time you leave, you should say “Au revoir” or “Bonne journee”.  This etiquette may seem trivial, but it is what forms the impressions of Americans in Paris.  Therefore, it is crucial. Also, taxes and tipping do not exist here. The French economy is such that the tip (la pourboire) is included in the price, which means that the bartender or waiter is not working for tips. This means that they are not obligated to be friendly and helpful, customizing your order in any way they can. In fact, when you walk in to a restaurant or bar, the listed menu is seen as something recommended by the chef; therefore, it is the best possible combination, and to suggest changing it would be insulting, and it is just not done (unless the establishment is American or uncharacteristically flexible). That being said, I ordered a Blue Lagoon and was disgusted with the orange-flavored blue guck in my glass. I asked the friendly Irish barkeep to replace it and was pleased to find that he did not give me a hard time. Something about the Anglophones binds us like no other commonality ever could.

On dealing with creepers at bars….

The number one rule : Do not make eye contact. Even if this person grabs your face and forces you to look at them, do not make eye contact. Just make like the French women and assume that every unknown man that tries to speak to you is dangerous until he proves otherwise. If you let a man buy you a drink, you are more or less handing your night over to the person who’s footing the tab. I assure you that unless you can lose them in the crowd, that six euros would be better spent grabbing a cab home and getting some sleep rather than chatting to a lonely businessman that just got back from Thailand. In evading this type of situation, you might even save yourself from some STDs along the way.

Flowers are exceptional, and they are the manifestation of earth’s bounty. That being said, many of the people who sell flowers in Paris are exploiting the natural beauty of plants to make money for their underfed families. My advice ? Politely say “Non, merci” with a firm undertone and go pick some flowers at Jardin des Plantes instead. Not only will you get to explore a new part of the city, but you will avoid being harassed by these vendors as I once was in a bar in the 5th arrondissement. I am adamant in all things involving the word ‘no,’ and it’s sad that flowers had to be involved in such a basic dispute.

It’s normal to receive a check after one round of drinks. Drinks after Happy Hour are expensive, so bartenders don’t necessarily expect you to stick around for a second or third verre. However, if you want to order some more booze, you need to track down that barkeep and let her know you need her service, because she has better things to do than to wait on you and your friends– things like smoking her Lucky Strike, texting, and shooting the shit with the regulars…… “No tips, don’t care”.

Finally, I have read about Tiger Mom and I am pleased to say that although I am a first generation child, I cannot imagine myself ever giving kids such a hard time in life. It could be that my upbringing in America has softened me, or it could be that I’m just not meant to have children. Either way, I don’t think practicing the violin for six hours a day is conducive to a well-adjusted childhood. Every thing and concept is effective in moderation. It is much easier to not do something at all or to do something constantly than to do it in moderation, and that is the issue with so many movements today, including Tiger Mom’s parenting philosophy. Asian culture may value education about all else, but those that live in America know that in order to succeed, it’s not what you know that matters, it’s who you know. If you’re constantly confined indoors practicing your violin, drilling long division, or escaping into a work of fiction, you’re not going to form strong bonds with your peers. And let’s face it, if you’re an immigrant, your peers are the ones you’ll turn to later on in life, since your family doesn’t exactly have strong ties yet. So these kids may grow up to be violin prodigies, but will they ever learn to find their own path, make their own decisions, or acknowledge their own passions ? Doubtful. But at least they’ll have the right amount of self-discipline to study for the LSATs, get into law school, become lawyers, and make lots of money so that one day, their children can pursue their dreams like their parents never could.

What I would like to be is a responsible and courteous human being. Way too many people jump ahead to think about their weddings, their future children’s names, and adulthood in general without ever trying to focus on the present, thereby escaping any and all opportunities to improve themselves. What if off-white wedding dresses and posh baby names were put to the side, and we all just learned how to say ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ and how to apologize when we were wrong ? But that would be too hard, and the time wasted on that could be better spent studying, making money, or practicing that sacred violin. Someone once told me that 30 is the new 20. So why are so many people tweaking out about bridesmaid colors and centerpieces ? We should all just pax it and get on with our lives, spend that money on a killer honeymoon or something, anything other than goody bags and bouquets.