The Magic of Living: Part 1

 

Part 1: How I Found My Inner “Yes Woman”

This is how magic happens:

Spontaneously. Unplanned. Unexpected. Without searching for it.

Since uprooting across the country to San Diego on my own, I have expanded healthily into my personal courageous form of “yes woman.” I suppose we could reference the Hollywood film involving Jim Carey, but I’m not too exposed to pop-culture in that sense (though I do love Drake, some tropical house music and Game of Thrones) and I thoroughly enjoy molding my own, experiential meaning into things.

“Yes woman” is a form I have embodied wholly in my young adult life just once before. I was reaching the conclusion of a 4-month South American backpacking journey with my adventure-partner when it was time for our paths to part: he returned home, I went on alone to Brazil.

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Wandering the boardwalk in Rio de Janeiro.

It was my first time traveling alone internationally, and while Brazil was the country I had been subconsciously journeying toward, it was a complete surprise and self-learning moment on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro when I burst-morphed unexpectedly and excitedly into this mentality and state of being.

It was a spontaneous and eye-opening moment of lying on the beach in the city that I had always dreamed of visiting and the revelation that I was indeed looking at the small ocean-islands of vegetation, the inland hill-mounds hosting favelas, a boardwalk of sun-kissed, active sunbathers, and Brazilian vendors selling bathing suits, Caipirinha’s and crawfish. I had done it.

 

And I decided in that very moment, in utter joy, that I was going to do everything. Try everything. Taste everything. I was going to dive into my experience and live it fully. Granted, my day did end in a tourist police station with the Brazilian cop ordering me dinner, but that’s a story for another time.

Morphing into one’s version of “yes person” usually occurs when one realizes and accepts that they know nothing. One who has lost sight of, discarded, and removed oneself from everything that is familiar and close to them. Every direction is equally the “right” direction to take, because one has no destination, and nothing will leave one any worse off because one just doesn’t know any different. One no longer has the comfort and luxury of knowing. And that is when the magic happens. The magic of not knowing, of trusting and of welcoming. The magic that can never be planned.

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@Goodgrateful: The view from Sugarloaf at sunset.

 
Now, let me disclaim here, for the sanity of my parents and others who care about my well-being, to enter a state of “yes woman,” or “yes person,” means accepting every opportunity that comes, within one’s own safety. It requires a great deal of courage and flexibility, but even more-so, self-awareness, the willingness, ability and practice of self-exploration and knowing and setting personal boundaries.

Alas, in this Sun Diegan stage of my life, I am once again, “yes woman.” So when I received an invite to surf this morning after having planned to apply to 1,023 jobs, I said yes. To justify this, I determined that I would start my morning earlier, healthier and more clear-minded if I allowed the ocean to humble me. And I did. And it did.

And that was when the magic happened.

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@Goodgrateful: Iguazu Falls in Brazil, looking into Argentina.

 

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!

 

The Great American Road Trip: Part 4

In the spirit of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday this week, we proceed on the Great American Road Trip from sweet, flashing Nashville, to the entirely magical NOLA.

New Orleans, L.A.

My first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, had me head-spun, swamp-enamored, voodoo-entranced and quite possibly considering ending the cross-country road trip early and setting up shop. It was in all senses delightfully overwhelming and magical. A melting pot concoction of culture seeps from the city’s every crack, crevice and corner, and my anthropology loving mind was absorbing it all like a sponge.

New Orleans, a province of colonial Spain sandwiched between two periods of French rule, retains traces of around-the-world today as it exists as part of the U.S. under the 1803 Louisiana purchase. Toss in an incredible amount of African influence and the ever-entrancing voodoo religion, a touch of spicy cuisine and blaring brass bands, and the high-energy, semi-addictive personality types (like my own?) who have come to get a taste of this culture-soup and gotten their feet happily planted in the Louisiana swamp. Now, paint everything with the brightest, most vibrantly cheerful and charming colors and year-round Christmas lights and celebration beads: NOLA.

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Some of the beautiful colors of the Big Easy.
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Valence Cemetery. Much of NOLA is below sea level, so the graveyards are above ground!

 

Our killer weekend in the Big Easy began with nothing other than piles of crawfish at the local NOLA brewery, beautiful art at the NOMA, and even better live music: an intimate show of Arkansas blues-duo Handmade Moments, at the Apple Barrel, a cozy venue that plays live music every night of the week.

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Crawfish at the NOLA Brewery!

City tip: The Apple Barrel bar is located in Marigny, a history-rich, authentic NOLA neighborhood. Live like a local and delve into the area’s delicious food and great music, or, start your night here and make your way down to the French Quarter, where the craziness is only a stroll’s away.

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The madness of Bourbon Street in the French Quarter.

The city embraces an open container law, so our walk to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street was extra warm and enjoyable. Like in Nashville, live music typical of the city sounded from every bar. Some of our quieter moments that night were stumbling upon an open-air artist’s market on Decatur Street and Galerie Rue Royale, a sweet and small art gallery that was bustling even at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.

City tip: The French Market District teems with trinkets, treasures, traditions and tasty treats and makes for a great daytime activity. Don’t forget to get a beignet from Cafe Du Monde: the cafe is famous for the city’s traditional treat of a square of fried dough topped with confectionary sugar. Check out the nearby Mississippi River to imagine the historical trading, importing and exporting that took place in this port city in years prior.

After a night on Bourbon Street, our Saturday in the Big Easy called for a relaxing morning of yoga and wandering through Audubon Park. The low-key day prepped us for dinner at the famous Parkway Bakery and Tavern for what USA Today named “The Best Po’ Boy In Louisiana” in 2016. The Obama’s even made a trip there!

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The best shrimp po’ boy in all of Louisiana at Parkway Bakery and Tavern!

 

 

City tip: Po’ boys originated in New Orleans as free, hearty sandwiches for union workers on strike. It comes from the term, ‘poor boy’, a name that gives insight to the work ethic and conditions of NOLA natives in the 1920s and 30s. Order it dressed– topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise– to sound like a local!

 

We topped off the best shrimp po’ boy in the state with the best spontaneous performance of NOLA live music one can hope to find: the epic, up-and-coming Tank and the Bangas. An eclectic combination of jazz, soul, funk, folk and extremely high energy, this band is a name to remember. Check their upcoming tour dates to see if this band is performing during your Big Easy visit- you won’t want to miss it.

City tip: Get a better taste of the magic encompassing you in the Big Easy: check out the Historic Voodoo Museum near the French Quarter and gain a deeper understanding of the mysterious religion. The museum is a small, dimly-lit hallway that connects three rooms full of voodoo history, talismans and shrines. The voodoo religion has its roots in Africa and arrived to the U.S. during the time of slavery in the 1800s: a cloud of racism combined with the religion’s lack of scripture and inaccurate Hollywood portrayal all contributes to its mystery and conceptions of evil. In truth, it is benign and empowering like any religion.

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Beautiful architecture in the French Quarter.

There is only one way to end your weekend and Sunday in NOLA. The final adventure capping off your Big easy experience is to witness and partake in a second line parade. Second line parades descend from the city-famous jazz funerals, and usually take place on Sunday afternoons with joyful dancing, brass bands and outrageous uniforms. Today, many organizations perform second line parades, and while for varying reasons and in varying neighborhoods, at any given event you can find locals and tourists alike spilling their open-container drinks, dancing and walking the route.

We danced and paraded with the second line members for miles until our feet ached, our stomaches growled and our cheeks had tightened from laughter. It was time to wrap up our New Orleans adventure and we had one last experience to cross off our city bucket list.

In the spirit of Mardi Gras, we bought a King Cake: traditionally a Christian honor to the three kings and now, a NOLA Mardi Gras favorite. The King Cake comes with a small plastic baby, in which you hide somewhere in the cake. The story goes that the person who receives the slice with the plastic piece in it must throw the next party. We enjoyed our King Cake with some wine and friends on the Mississippi River as the sun went down: our weekend in magical NOLA had us contently partied out.

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An incredibly decorated (and delicious) King Cake!
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Sunset on the Mississippi River.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beneath the captivating surface, locals helped me understand that NOLA was a city of extremes. For every vibrant house, there was a homeless person in the French Quarter asking for a sip of beer. For every victorious band, like Tank and the Bangas, there were the sounds of second line parades that once voiced their aching losses of loved ones. For every tourist that comes sweeping full force into the city to get a taste, there are natural disasters, like flooding and hurricanes, that the area is prone to enduring. For every person that gets sucked into the magic of the swamp, there are people who cannot get out and get un-stuck from the sinking land.

New Orleans was a bursting city, overflowing in every aspect. It wasn’t until our drive out of the swampland to our next destination of Austin, Texas, that I felt a moment of clarity about my heart-set move to San Diego. It was as if I regained consciousness after a trance that had claimed me finally broke– but for a colorful moment there, I had my feet and heart firmly planted in the swampland of NOLA, too.

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Colorful, bustling artwork by talented Deveney Williams Productions. More at deveneywilliams.com.

 

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