Films for Latin American History Courses

Each year, I teach several Latin American History Courses. These include Colonial Latin America, Modern Latin America, Modern Mexico, US-Latin American Relations, Health and Society in Latin America, and Latin American Revolutions.

In each of these classes, my students respond really well to the films and documentaries we watch. I enjoy helping them connect the historical events we discuss in class with real and fictionalized accounts of everyday life in Latin America, and also to see (usually for the first time) the many environments that make up the cities and villages of the region.

Guided by my constant search for new films to use, and a desire to develop a future course on Latin American History through Film, I’ve decided to start my own Latin American Film Club to make my way through a collection of new-to-me cinema. I compiled my list based on recommendations from colleagues, and welcome any additional suggestions you might have.

I won’t post a review of each one here, but I will give my (brief) thoughts on my twitter account as I go along. Follow me at @steph_opp

For consideration:

A Place Called Chiapas

American/Sandinista

Amores Perros

And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself

Black Orpheus

Blame it on Fidel

Bolivar Soy Yo

Bus 174

Canoa

Carmen Miranda: Bananas Is My Business

Cautiva

City of God

Cocalero

Cooking Up Dreams

El Infierno

El Silencio de Neto

Entre Nos

Eva Peron

Fidel: A Conversation

Fidel: The Untold Story

Four Days in September

Gringo in Mananaland

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman

La Ciénaga

Let’s Go with Pancho Villa

Looking for Fidel

Machuca

Memories of Underdevelopment

Men with Guns

Missing

Our Lady of the Assassins

Pictures from a Revolution

Presumed Guilty

Que Viva Mexico

Rosario Tijeras

Saludos Amigos/Three Caballeros

Strawberry and Chocolate

The Blonds

The Devil’s Miner

The Last Supper

The Official Story

The Other Conquest

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

The Student

The Take

The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

Vidas Secas

Walt and El Grupo

 

Currently use:

Aguirre, Wrath of God

Che

El Compadre Mendoza

Even the Rain

Granito

Herod’s Law

Innocent Voices

Journey to Bananaland

Like Water for Chocolate

Salud

Sin Nombre

South of the Border

The Hugo Chavez Show (Frontline)

The Motorcycle Diaries

The Sixth Sun

The Storm that Swept Mexico

 

Getaway to Savannah

For our anniversary this year, Luke and I drove the easy 2.5 hours east to the Georgia coast. After lovely stays in Charleston and New Orleans, we were excited to explore Savannah…the third point in the triangle of southern colonial cities. I booked a room at the Catherine Ward House Inn based on the recommendation of The Southerly, a beautiful photo blog that serves as a permanent source of inspiration. We were not disappointed.

Catherine Ward House Inn

Catherine Ward House Inn

The Inn is adjacent to Forsyth Park, making it the perfect central location for exploring the city on foot. The weather was sunny and warm, and it was lovely to take our time meandering up and down the grids and small squares that connect the area.

Forsyth Park Savannah

Forsyth Park, Savannah

Juliette Low

Juliette Low and Stephanie in appropriate Girl Scout green

We were surprised and delighted to learn that the Savannah Jazz Festival was taking place over the weekend, offering free Jazz music in the park from midday to midnight. After sampling a few beers at The Distillery, we made our way to Parker’s Market for gourmet picnic items and headed to the park in time to hear Alon Yavnai with the University of North Florida Jazz Ensemble followed by The Greg Lewis Trio.

UNF Jazz Ensemble at Savannah Jazz Festival

Before the night ended, we decided to check out Perch, the rooftop bar of Local 11ten. Fancy cocktails in the treetops and fantastic people-watching, it was the perfect way to celebrate a great day in Savannah.

The next morning, after a delicious breakfast and pleasant conversations with the other guests at the Inn, we drove over to Bonaventure Cemetery to walk through the trees and tombstones in the vein of John Muir.

Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery

We also drove over to Tybee Island to stick our feet in the ocean and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.

Tybee Island beach

Tybee Island beach

At Tybee Island

At Tybee Island

We sat outside of a local bar and enjoyed margaritas with chips and salsa while daydreaming about kayaking through the nearby marshes. On the way back into town, we stopped at Back in the Day Bakery for what I can honestly say is the best cupcake I’ve ever had. And, like every other great place we visited in town, they had the most beautiful antique chandeliers lighting up the place.

Back in the Day Bakery

Back in the Day Bakery

That night, we took a Savannah Hopper down to the river and enjoyed a celebratory meal at the Olde Pink House. Our driver shared ghost stories with us along the ride and encouraged us to check out the basement bar of the restaurant to experience stepping back in time. Dinner was lovely, crab stuffed grouper for me and halibut with pearl onions and green beans for Luke, and the bar downstairs quaint but crowded. We opted instead to walk the streets of the city and window shop.

Dressed up

Candelabra

We tried to find a place for a nightcap that matched our quiet, romantic mood, but instead ended up in a loud, expensive “jazz” bar filled with bachelorette parties and octogenarians performing covers of all the slow jams by the Eagles. We left after one overpriced drink and made it back to Forsyth Park to enjoy the last act of the Festival, Tom Scott with The Savannah Jazz Orchestra. The Inn was close enough that, even after leaving the park, we could still listen to the music while sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch before climbing into bed.

The weekend was full of great food and drink, fresh air, beautiful surroundings, and heartfelt talks. All the things we love.

*All photo credits: Luke

Driving South

An assortment of moments captured as we made our way from Philadelphia to Milledgeville:

Wednesday 9:02am: The movers arrived in Philadelphia to help us load our U-Pack pod. We’ve narrowed down our belongings significantly, and with Luke’s predetermined layout, were able to (just) fit everything into the crate.

Luke loads the last of our belongings into the pod

Luke loads up the pod

There goes our little pod - see you in Georgia!

There goes our little pod – see you in Georgia!

Wednesday 6:25pm: Our last night in Philly, we headed back to Monk’s Cafe for Belgian beers and food. Delicious!

Monk's Cafe

Monk’s Cafe

Thursday 12:26am: Road construction continued for the second night this week. We’d sold our a/c units, so keeping the windows open was a necessity. Sadly, the city chose this week to strip and repave our street. Doubly painful, they worked at night when there were fewer cars on the road. Jackhammers, the beeping of machines backing up, and the yells and whistles of the construction crew woke us up throughout the night.

Thursday 12:37pm: On the road! Irritated by the constant construction of Philadelphia, we made a pact to state things we’re thankful for during our year-long adventure here. For me, it was a year to discover what I want to do for a career, to set personal goals, and to continue developing the confidence I need to achieve them. For Luke, it was a year to explore the east coast, take advantage of our proximity to the Italian Market, and have meaningful conversations about our future.

Thursday 7:30pm: Dinner at Evening Star in Alexandria, VA. Good conversation with great friends and yummy food. Nights like this remind us how important it is to make time for the folks we care about, and to make a solid effort to be social in our new town.

Friday 11:02am: Stuck in traffic outside Richmond, VA. Laughed together at the lyrics to “How Many Drinks” by Miguel.

Friday 5:30pm: After a long day of driving, we set up camp at Badin Lake in North Carolina. Luke made a fire, and we played Gin while waiting for the thunder to turn to rain.

Badin Lake campground

Badin Lake campground

Friday 9:02pm: Fell asleep to the sound of rain plopping off our tent.

Saturday 5:30am: We’re the first site to wake up at the campground. We had the showers to ourselves, followed by breakfast and coffee around the fire. Ready for the drive to my parents house in South Carolina!

Saturday 6:45pm: A full homemade Southern dinner at Mom and Dad’s, including baked ham, potato salad, fried green tomatoes, crowder peas covered in hot chow-chow, cornbread, and peach blueberry crumble.

Sunday 9:15am: A full homemade Southern breakfast at Mom and Dad’s, including biscuits, gravy, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs with cheese and green onions, fresh tomato slices, and cantaloupe. With full bellies, we made the final (and easiest) leg of the trip down to Milledgeville.

Saturday 4:32pm: After unloading the car in our rental cottage on the lake, we drove into the downtown area for exploring. A trip to the grocery store on the way home, followed by settling in back at the cottage.

Relaxing at the lake house

Relaxing at the lake house

We’re happy to be in Georgia, and look forward to sharing more of our adventures here with you soon!

Delaware, At Last

One of the perks to moving around a lot as a child is the number of new states you get to explore. As my parents and I moved from location to location, we happily pulled out the map to see which new states we’d get to add to our growing list. Coupled with a love of national parks and road trip vacations (both as a kid and as an adult), I have happily come close to visiting all 50 states.

To help make this dream a reality, Luke planned an amazing adventure to Delaware. It’s so close to us — we’ve been through on the train many times — but we’ve never made a concerted effort to explore the state and really sink our teeth into it (the criteria for making it onto The List).

We started our day’s journey at the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The area consists of preserved tidal salt marshes where thousands of migrating shorebirds return north to Canada from the Gulf of Mexico every spring. Egrets, heron, and ducks abound! So do mosquitoes, which is why I am donning head-to-toe coverage in July.

Egrets, Bombay Hook NWR

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Birdwatching

Birdwatching

Fun in the sunshine

Fun in the sunshine

Happy day!

Happy day!

Next, we drove into Wilmington for a bite to eat. I’d read this review of Juliana’s Kitchen when we first moved to the area, and wanted to be sure to check it out before we moved away. We were not disappointed. After a delicious Ceviche de Pescado, I enjoyed the Bistec Apanado con Tacu-Tacu (amazing breaded steak with rice and beans) and a Pisco Sour. Luke had Pescado a lo Macho (fish fillet with a delicious, spicy sauce). This was easily one of the best meals we’ve had this year.

We ended the night by attending the Delaware Shakespeare Festival’s performance of “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” at Rockwood Park. It’s a beautiful outdoor venue with open seating on the grass, so we grabbed our camping chairs and set up along one of the aisles connecting the center stage to the main house.

2013_DSF_Twogents_FINAL

The staging of the play was really lovely – set on the grounds of the Rockwood Mansion, the backdrop and costumes gave the performance a “Great Gatsby” feel while maintaining the original language of the play. The bridges and walkways of the park become part of the set, and surrounded by stringed lights and colorful umbrellas, you really do feel like you are at a magnificent lawn party.

Rockwood Park mansion

Rockwood Park mansion at sunset

A few Klondike bars kept us cool throughout the event.

It was amazing to have such a great afternoon and still be able to drive home in 25 minutes. Delaware, I’m so glad we finally met.

Look out, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho. One more great road trip (and family visit!) and my map will be completely colored in.

A week in Colonial Williamsburg

First, thank you all for your thoughtful notes regarding my last post. I appreciate having such supportive friends and family. There are a few irons in the fire at present, and I look forward to updating you on that front again soon.

In the meantime, Luke and I just returned from an amazing family vacation in Colonial Williamsburg. Together with Luke’s parents, brother, and aunt and uncle, we explored the “birthplace of America!” Happily, my dad drove up from South Carolina to join us. A great family reunion all around!

Each day, we woke at our own varied paces, leisurely enjoying coffee and breakfast before venturing into the colonial village and/or the nearby National Parks of Jamestown and Yorktown. We’d explore the museums, have lunch in a cafe or tavern, interrogate our park rangers and historical actors to learn even more, and then make our way back to our townhouse for late afternoon naps and relaxation. At the end of each day, we’d gather together again for a home-cooked meal and conversation, followed by a movie or episode of Mr. Selfridge. So good!

Here are some highlights:

Phil at the Wheelwright, Williamsburg

Phil at the Wheelwright, Williamsburg

Storms abrewin'

Storms abrewin’

Phil learning a new game

Phil learning a new game

The Governor's Palace kitchen, reminds me of all the amazing dishes Mrs. Patmore on Downton Abbey

The Governor’s Palace kitchen, reminds me of all the amazing dishes made by Mrs. Patmore on Downton Abbey

Luke and Phil exploring the Governor's Palace gardens, Williamsburg

Luke and Phil exploring the Governor’s Palace gardens, Williamsburg

The maze, Williamsburg

The maze, Williamsburg

The cabinetmaker, Williamsburg (aka wood shop paradise)

The cabinetmaker (aka wood shop paradise)

Luke and Phil learning about furniture making

Luke and Phil learning about furniture making

Brickmaking - ready to jump in the clay!

Brickmaking – ready to jump in the clay!

Crazy cool tree, Williamsburg

Crazy cool tree, Williamsburg

Having chocolate with Luke in the Coffeehouse, Williamsburg

Having chocolate with Luke in the Coffeehouse

The cavalry arrives! Mom sends along homemade sausage balls and monkey bread!

The cavalry arrives! Mom sends along homemade sausage balls and monkey bread!

Dad joins the party!

Dad joins the party!

Ready for teatime. LOVE the crazy neon green varnished walls.

Ready for afternoon tea. LOVE the crazy neon green varnished walls.

I hope you like photos, because here come some more!

Bedroom - ready to step into Jane Austen film. I especially love the locked spice cabinet on the dresser.

Bedroom – ready to step into a Jane Austen film. I especially love the locked spice cabinet on the dresser.

Back at the wheelwright.

Back at the wheelwright

Gardens, Willamsburg

Gardens, Williamsburg

Pretty

Pretty

Want these in our next place

Want these in our future home

Shoemaker

Shoemaker – boots in progress

Milliner, hat in progress

Milliner – hat in progress

Capitol, Williamsburg

Capitol, Williamsburg

So it seems I forgot to take photos at Jamestown and Yorktown. Maybe more soon from Luke’s camera – but regardless, it was a great time with family, and chock full of American history which, it turns out, is more exciting than I sometimes remember.

Exploring Philadelphia with my Parents

My parents recently drove from South Carolina up to Philly for a week’s visit. It’s always fun to (re)explore your city with new guests, and this was no exception.

By far, our greatest new discovery is the Independence Seaport Museum. The large space houses two floors of Philadelphia maritime history, complete with displays from the Ship Model Society and in-action boat building at the Workshop on the Water. Adjacent to the museum are two historical boats to crawl around on – the cruiser Olympia (launched 1892) and the submarine Becuna (launched 1944).

If you are planning a trip to Philly, we will definitely take you there. Look how happy it makes people:

Dad on the Olympia

Dad on the Olympia

Luke on the Olympia

Luke on the Olympia

Mom on the Olympia

Mom on the Olympia

Dad and Luke on the Olympia

Dad and Luke on the Olympia

Fun!

Fun floor signs!

Another highlight was a walk through Independence Park, followed by a trip to City Tavern. This has become our go-to spot for a sightseeing break. Plus, it’s fun to try the historical beer recipes.

Dad at City Tavern

Dad at City Tavern

We had lots of great meals and wonderful conversations over the course of the week.

Family at El Vez

Family at El Vez

Finally, we took a mini-vacation to Atlantic City for a little fun at the casino. Luke was the big winner of the night (no surprise!) – turns out penny slots are entertaining and profitable!

Luke in the casino, Atlantic City

Luke in the casino, Atlantic City

It was lovely having my folks in town. We are super excited to have Luke’s parents here in May!

Spring Break in San Francisco

After a bumpy flight across the Rockies, we landed on Friday afternoon to a beautiful sunny day in Northern California. Our itinerary was nicely divided into three parts – weekend tech conference in Santa Clara, three nights in Marin County with our friend Andy, and four nights in Oakland with our friend Nicole. Sunshine every day, and a much-needed break from school and job applications…welcome to my Spring Break!

With lots of great Chicago friends in town for the conference, it was nice to catch up with everyone over dinner. Luke attended many sessions, networked like a grown up, and ran a 5k. I ordered a lot of room service and took many naps. Off to a great start!

Luke just after completing his first 5K

Luke just after completing his first 5K

Sunday afternoon, Andy came to collect us and drive us up to San Francisco proper. We stopped at the Dovre Club for beer, whiskey, and twice-baked potatoes (it was St. Paddy’s Day, after all), then drove to the top of Twin Peaks for a panoramic view of the city. Dinner at an amazing Thai restaurant, then a walk to the end of the Ferry Building for a view of the Bay Lights, before heading across the Golden Gate Bridge and up to the Fairfax/San Anselmo area to Andy’s home.

Andy's apartment

Andy’s apartment

Sunny and bright apartment with greenery out every window

Sunny and bright apartment with greenery out every window

Luke, Andy, and I all worked during the days, then spent the late afternoons and evenings together.

Luke and Maddie hard at work

Luke and Maddie hard at work

Among our many adventures, we drove out to Point Reyes for a beautiful view of the coast:

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Point Reyes Lighthouse

Point Reyes

Point Reyes

Point Reyes lighthouse

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Quite the nice digs for the Park Ranger, Point Reyes

Quite the nice digs for the Park Ranger, Point Reyes

We hiked along the hills behind Andy’s house (sliding in places, but worth it for the views):

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Andy and Maddie

Andy and Maddie

Luke

Luke

We spent a nice afternoon in Sausalito, delighted by the Heath Ceramics Factory Store and the Bay Model Visitor Center:

Bay Model, Sausalito

Bay Model, Sausalito

Rainbow!

Rainbow!

followed by a tour of Golden Gate Park and the Presidio:

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Luke on a steep bridge, Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

Luke on a steep bridge, Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

And we all curled up to watch “About Schmidt” with steaks, wine, and Cowgirl Creamery cheese. I still say that movie’s a comedy. Andy and I also went to Open Mic night at Peri’s. It was all magical.

Wednesday night, we drove across the bridge to Oakland, where Nicole was there to greet us! A group dinner at Homeroom (at last! I’ve heard so much about it) before Andy left us in Nicole’s care. Her new apartment is also lovely – brand new hardwood floors and appliances mixed with old-school California character.

Nicole was also able to work half-days, which meant lots of great time to catch up in person! On Thursday, we ventured out to Bakesale Betty for an unbelievably good sandwich.

Fried Chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty

Fried Chicken sandwich at Bakesale Betty

Then we walked through Temescal Alley and over to Rockridge for coffee and a good heart-to-heart. We stopped into George and Walt’s for a beer, then decided to stay for another, along with an exciting bit of March Madness. Next, we walked down to Piedmont for a snack before meeting up with Luke for pizza at Boot and Shoe Service. We ended the day with a nightcap at Smitty’s, although we left before our selection, “2 legit 2 quit,” came up on the jukebox. I’m sure the other patrons enjoyed it in our absence.

Friday, Luke finished work early and we headed up to Rockridge for beers at The Trappist.

Yummy!

Yummy!

Luke at The Trappist

Luke at The Trappist

We returned home to find Nicole with freshly dilated pupils from her eye exam. At least she can rock the optometrist’s shades.

Nicole, who can't see in this photo, but looks gorgeous nonetheless

Nicole, who can’t see in this photo, but looks gorgeous nonetheless

That night, we enjoyed food trucks, beers, and salsa dancing as part of the Oakland Museum of California’s Off the Grid. Then we bar hopped, enjoying drinks at Beer Revolution, Liege, and Nick’s Lounge, where one of my favorite Nicole rituals resurfaced–Karaoke to “Baby Got Back.”

Terrible photo, but I love that the lyrics came through

Terrible photo, but I love that the lyrics came through

Saturday, we rode BART to the Mission, where we toured the awesome murals in Clarion Alley.

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Luke in Clarion Alley

Luke in Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

Clarion Alley

We grabbed lunch from Ike’s Place (check out their incredible sandwich selection) and picnicked in Dolores Park. Then we strolled around the local shops before settling in for yummy desserts at Mission Pie. Nicole headed home to prepare for that night’s dinner party, while Luke and I meandered through Bernal Heights and daydreamed about our future.

Our last night in San Fran was the perfect combination of good friends, food, and conversation. Andy rejoined our group for dinner, and returned again ridiculously early to drive us to the airport for our Sunday morning flight. It’s nice to be reminded what incredible friends we have – Andy and Nicole went out of their way to make us feel welcome, toured us around their favorite local haunts, and took time away from their busy lives to have great, important talks over pints of beer. It was a lovely break, and we can’t wait to do it again!

Research trip to Dallas

After New Orleans, Luke and I spent two weeks in Dallas while I did archival research in the DeGolyer Library at SMU. We didn’t have a car, which meant we didn’t see much outside of our hotel room other than the campus and In-N-Out Burger (yum).

To compensate for feeling cooped up, we decided to rent a car for the weekend and promptly drove to Austin. Ah, sweet Austin. So much lovely wrapped up in a nice little city.

The Austin Motel was the perfect combination of kitsch and comfort. We were able to park our Chevy Aveo and walk the city, visiting friends for brunch and bars at random, before retreating back each night for our Canasta championship.

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Learning to play Canasta

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The Jackalope Bar, featuring “Dune”

One definite highlight was dinner and a movie at the Alamo Ritz. Bottomless popcorn, whiskey sours, and pizza made their way to us while we laughed with the crowd at the cult classic, “Noises Off.” This movie never fails to remind me how hilarious John Ritter was, and how surprisingly funny Christopher Reeve could be.

Another was the lightening-fast late night swim we, er Luke, took in the motel’s pool. Turns out 50-degree water is cold, even in Texas.

Austin was the perfect escape, and just the temperature and cultural boost we needed for our second round in Dallas.

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Luke in Austin, TX

On the last night of our trip, we ventured south to Lee Harvey’s, a great bar with a great set of stories from previous adventures. The jukebox still houses an awesome collection of tunes.

New Orleans

The day after New Year’s, we packed up our things and headed to New Orleans. I was attending a conference, and thrilled that the timing worked for Luke to come with me. After a day filled with attending panels, I’d meet up with Luke for dinner each night excited to explore the city together. Here are some highlights:

Carousel Bar

Immediately after checking into our hotel room, we ventured over to the famous Carousel Bar in the hopes of taking a spin. We were not disappointed, as two seats opened up right when we walked in. The bar does indeed spin very slowly while you imbibe delicious New Orleans cocktails – sazaracs and old fashioneds.

The Carousel Bar

The Carousel Bar
Photo credit: Luke

Spinning into view

Spinning into view
Photo credit: Luke

Coop’s Place

Stopped in here for dinner our first night, then talked about this meal for the rest of the week. Really great fried chicken served with either rabbit and sausage jambalaya (Luke) or red beans and rice (me). Their fried oysters also looked amazing.

Bennachin

This African restaurant is on the northern tip of the French Quarter, making it a perfect combination of good food and few(er) tourists. The place is BYOB, but we took advantage of the drinking-in-the-streets policy and had a beer along our walk there. And maybe one more for the walk back?

Photo credit: Travel and Leisure

Photo credit: Travel and Leisure

Central Grocery

You have to appreciate a place that just makes one sandwich REALLY well. The menu is simple – whole or half. The verdict is also simple – DELICIOUS!

Yummy Muffaletta

Yummy Muffaletta with BBQ chips

Algiers Point

Right across the Mississippi is the quaint neighborhood of Algiers Point. The free ferry makes for a pleasant ride, and we set out with the intention of following the Historical Jazz Walk along the levee. Sadly, wind and rain and cold and muck made the history lesson brief. Instead, we ducked into a local bar for po’ boys and Guinness before heading back to the warmth of our hotel room.

Luke on the levee

Luke on the levee

Fried oyster po' boy with onion rings

Fried oyster po’ boy with onion rings
Photo credit: Luke

River Pelican

River Pelican
Photo credit: Luke

Three Muses

This bar-restaurant-jazz club is every bit as good as it sounds. No cover charge, wonderful small plates for nibbling, and $3 margaritas during happy hour – we were already smiling. Then Luke Winslow King walked in with a dobro…

Luke waiting for the music to start

Luke waiting for the music to start

Cheers from the Three MusesPhoto credit: Luke

Cheers from the Three Muses
Photo credit: Luke

The dobro in action

The dobro in action
Photo credit: Luke

Also during our stay, I presented my paper and chaired a panel, we met up with friends for coffee, and we curled up with pizza in our room to watch the Packers win. Thank you, New Orleans!

NYC and NYE

The work week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a tricky one. Your brain and body know that you should still be on vacation, and yet there is work to be done. By the time the following weekend rolled around, Luke and I were both ready for another escape. Luckily, our friends Tara and Alex arrived in NY from Chicago and invited us up for a visit!

We hopped in the car Saturday morning and made the much-talked-about-but-never-attempted drive up 95 to New York. The road was calm, we suspect due to the light snow that began to fall right as we were leaving. In less than two hours, we made our way through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, across the bridge to Staten Island, and across another bridge into Brooklyn.

We had a hunch that on clear days, the views of Manhattan from either bridge were pretty great. Today, however, we had to settle for drawing an imaginary cityscape in rough proximity to where we remember the famous buildings to be. Is that the top of the Chrysler building? Or a bird?

This was our first trip to Brooklyn, and we were delighted to find it even more hilly and slope-like than we’d imagined. It’s also a lot bigger than we’d expected, encouraging us to make an on-the-fly decision about which section to explore over our lunch break. While Luke kept his eyes on the road, I tracked down the one place in Brooklyn I’d always wanted to visit – Catbird.

CatbirdPhoto credit: catbirdnyc.blogspot.com

Catbird
Photo credit: catbirdnyc.blogspot.com

Catbird is a small store in Williamsburg that sells the most beautiful, delicate jewelry. The online store is my go-to spot for daydream shopping, and the in-person store is equally enjoyable. Several people gathered around the few cases of goods, and while my initial reaction was to stare them down in the hopes that they would step aside and let me ogle alone, I realized two important things: 1) Most of these people were actually intending to buy something and 2) My stare-down technique is not as menacing as I’d hoped. Nevertheless, the store is lovely.

Around the corner, we ducked into Fornino to warm ourselves inside and out with wood-fired pizzas. So many amazing specialty pizzas to choose between, Luke opted for the Patate E Salsiccia (Mozzarella, Cherry Tomato, Fennel Sausage, Fontina, Fingerling Potato, Roast Peppers) while I chose the Margherita Classica (Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil, Olive Oil, Parmigiano).

After lunch, we strolled along the neighborhood streets and made our way to waterfront. Still no real views of Manhattan, and the wind, rain, and snow made it quite brisk. Soon, we were seated in a coffee shop for another round of warming.

Finally remembered to take a picture with both of us!

See Manhattan? Nope.
Photo credit: Luke

By mid-afternoon, we returned to our car and finished the drive up and over to Long Island. Greeted by Alex’s family, we quickly found ourselves surrounded by enormous plates of pasta, eggplant parmesan, and crab salad. Delicious!

That night, a group of us took a trip into the City. Our destination – the Phish show at Madison Square Garden. The 45-minute train ride was a great combination of beer, friends, and conversation. Arriving at MSG, we stopped in the basement to enjoy $1.99 beers before heading into the show, where dancing and more dancing took place. Another train ride back, this one a little quieter as we’d all exhausted ourselves.

Sunday morning, we gathered around the kitchen island to drink coffee and continue catching up with each other. Alex and his father set up a small film projector to review several reels they’d recently found at his grandmother’s house. Around lunchtime, several of Alex’s cousins and their families arrived and a feast of sausage and peppers, pasta, pizza, and more eggplant parmesan ensued. Luke and I commented that we need to make eggplant more of a feature in our cooking – so yummy, every time.

Alex and Joe working on the projectorPhoto credit: Luke

Alex and Joe working on the projector
Photo credit: Luke

As we loaded up our car and thanked our awesome hosts for a wonderful weekend, we were given bags to pack up our favorites from among a long table of sweets – cannoli, cookies, cakes, and candies. Hugging our sweet friends good-bye, we began our drive back across the bridges, finally catching a clear view of Manhattan.

As we crossed the state line from New Jersey back into Pennsylvania, I realized that I had Tara’s drivers license in my purse (from the concert). Shoot! A few phone calls later, and Tara was hot on our trail, making it to Philly not long after we did. It was great to show her our apartment and neighborhood, and grab one more hug before she headed back to NY. All in all, it was a whirlwind, wonderful visit.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair – cards and champagne, and nudging each other awake until midnight. We made jokes about becoming old, while also relishing in being far removed from the chaos taking place in the streets outside.

On New Year’s Day, we woke early, filled our travel mugs with coffee, and walked over to Broad Street for the famous Mummers Parade. This is, hands down, the strangest and funniest thing we’ve done in Philly. After reading countless articles about the history of the parade, I still can’t confidently tell you what it’s about. Our experience with it was watching many groups perform song and dance numbers, all with beers in hand and wearing make-shift costumes with themes like Elvis, High Vis, and Frogs. Elaborate (and not so elaborate) floats followed behind, along with bead throwers, ribbon-clad judges, and U-Haul trucks to transport the props. It was amazing.

Mummers Parade

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

Mummers Parade

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

Mummers Parade 2013

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke