Dancing in the Desert: Coachella

That rare, beautiful occasion when the stars align and your job sends you to a music festival you’ve been dying to go to. Coachella is exactly how you’d picture it. People were there just as much for the fashion as they were for the music. Everywhere you turned, people were taking pictures of themselves against the gorgeous palm tree/ferris wheel backdrop. One thing that I didn’t really expect (and didn’t particularly love) was that the festival is basically LA transplanted into the desert for three nights, with VIP, list-only parties in Palm Springs, and the gritty music lovers camping at the actual festival in Indio, California hating on the VIPs but secretly wishing they were part of that crowd.

I so wanted to believe I was a gritty music lover, but let’s be real: I’m not in college anymore, I was staying in Palm Springs and I hadn’t heard of 75% of the bands playing (in my defense, I didn’t pretend to know who they were a la this hilarious Jimmy Kimmel clip).  I was excited about a few bands – Passion Pit, Of Monsters and Men, Local Natives, Vintage Trouble, Lord Huron, Tegan and Sara, Phoenix, The Lumineers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and more. I only got to see the first few because work called and I unexpectedly had to leave the festival early to go on yet another unexpected but pretty cool adventure (post about that later, but you know what I’m talking about if you follow me on Instagram). Regardless, I had a great 1.5 days at Coachella and enjoyed the hell out of it while I was there.

I’ll start with my money shot:20130421-144756.jpg

We watched a ton of bands, this photo was taken during Local Natives. I love them and if you haven’t heard of them by now, you will soon.20130421-144718.jpg

When you enter the VIP area, it’s like a garden oasis in the desert amidst the chaos of the festival. Once inside, my co-worker and I spent an inappropriate amount of time on this double swing. Classy.

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The art of Coachella:20130421-145137.jpg

At night, we danced under the stars:20130421-144648.jpg

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I was sad to leave, but the drive was pretty beautiful.20130421-145043.jpg

And I wore my festival arm gear for another day after I left. A minimum of five bracelets per arm is pretty much a Coachella requirement.20130421-145118.jpg

The fact that I had to leave this beautiful festival early gave me major FOMO, so upon my return I convinced my friends to come with me next year and plans are already in the works. Stay tuned for more updates from this little Cali trip!

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Buenos Aires Beats: La Bomba De Tiempo

We were exhausted after our day in Uruguay. All we wanted to do was go back to our hotel and throw ourselves into bed. But we had heard of this supposedly cool drum show that only happens on Monday nights in Buenos Aires, and this was our last night there. So we carried our tired bodies off the Buquebus and over to the Konex Cultural Center where we entered what looked like a parking lot.

The show didn’t even take place there. We were led behind the parking lot to what almost resembled a dreary looking alley with concrete pillars. In the alley, a handful of girls dressed in ordinary cotton t-shirts, tank tops and cargo pants, one wearing a jean skirt with leggings, walked out to the center of the crowd. There was no way to know until they took their places behind the various percussion instruments that these were the evening’s performers. Leggings girl gave a little howl and they were off. Once they started playing, beating the crap out of these instruments to make the most awesome rhythmic experience for everyone around them, we understood the big deal about this show. I also loved that it was all chicks – one girl playing drums is somewhat of a rare thing to see but a dozen amazingly skilled ladies conducting and playing synchronized percussion? One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. Check them out – the ladies of Bomba de Tiempo

Watching the leaders as they took position in front of the group was another thing that captivated us, we couldn’t stop watching as they used the most simple hand motions to direct the whole thing, speaking their own language to each other and allowing us the audience to witness the beautiful music that came from it.

After about an hour the ladies were done and another group took the stage – all men, dressed in professional, matching uniforms, doing the same thing but on a much larger scale. By then the crowd had nearly doubled (I guess locals don’t come for the opening act) and the vibe of happiness and excitement in the space was palpable. Our exhaustion hadn’t completely gone away, but we just kept dancing, too busy getting caught up in the whole experience to care about how tired we were. The men put on an amazing show but the ladies who kicked it off deserve a ton of credit. I walked away thinking I should do everything in my power to bring this show to the states. But maybe it belongs here, in this alley in the back of a parking lot in Buenos Aires, where every Monday night, locals and tourists get to experience what is likely the best drum show in the world.

Beneath the Matala Moon

Here’s a song that makes me want to hop on a plane and just go ANYWHERE in the world:

Carey by Joni Mitchell

There’s something about the way Joni Mitchell articulates exactly how she felt while in a place she was traveling to, while spending time with the people she met there. She knows exactly how to paint a picture with her words and make you feel like you were there, too.

“Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam, or maybe I’ll go to Rome,

And rent me a grand piano and put some flowers round my room,

but let’s not talk about fare thee wells now, the night is a starry dome,

And they’re playin’ that scratchy rock n’ roll beneath the matala moon…”

Making Friends Over Fado Music

We had spoken to Ricardo, the concierge at the hotel who booked our trip to Lagos, about the Fado music he played, and he wrote down the name of the restaurant he was playing at on Thursday night, the night of our return from Lagos to Lisbon. He played there every week, but he warned us that there was a chance he wouldn’t make it this time because his wife was nine months pregnant. Still, with no cell phones or way to contact him, we decided to take a cab to the restaurant to see what kind of adventure we’d have there.

As our cab pulled up to the restaurant, I heard Randi speaking to someone out the window. I stepped out and saw a woman with a full pregnant belly, who ran up to us, kissed us on both cheeks and said, “Ricardo, these are the girls you told me about? Oh I’m so glad you came!”

Ricardo and Elena led us into the restaurant, and Elena sat with us as Ricardo went to set up his guitar with the other musicians. It was a small restaurant, with only about 10 tables inside. Everyone in this restaurant clearly knew each other very well and looked at us quizzically, wondering why these foreign strangers had come to join in their weekly Fado tradition. Elena introduced us to our waitress, Matilda, and then suggested we order the cod. I was so sick of cod by this point in the trip, but I really wanted to take her up on this recommendation, so I agreed.

Elena told us about her upbringing in a small town outside of Naples, Italy, and how she met Ricardo while working in Ireland. He won her over by playing an acoustic version of “Hit Me Baby One More Time” on his guitar one night in their hostel. Elena was engaged to someone else back in Italy, but after meeting Ricardo, she decided to marry him instead. They had a traditional wedding near Elena’s family in Italy, but they now live in Lisbon, close to Ricardo’s family.

Before the music started, Elena prepared us for exactly what was about to happen, which we were so grateful for. The tradition of playing Fado music is very different than anything I’ve seen in America. The closest form of music I can compare it to is opera. After our meal was served, the lights in the restaurant were dimmed, everyone grew completely quiet and the four men softly began playing their Fado guitars – these beautiful, round bodied string instruments. A man from the audience stood up and began singing a slow, emotional tune, which I was fascinated by, but Elena whispered to us that he was one of the worst Fado singers in their group. Other singers from the audience took their turns, performing about three songs each. Then, to our surprise, our waitress, Matilda, took her turn. Once this petite woman began singing such an emotional, moving piece, Randi and I finally understood why Fado was such an incredible art form. She put her entire soul into this performance, conducting the entire thing with her eyes closed, and bringing the entire restaurant to tears. Elena told me that earlier this year, Matilda had lost her husband to cancer, and this was her way of expressing her grief. I couldn’t understand the words, but I could feel how much Matilda ached by listening to her song.

We eventually finished our meal and said goodbye to the group, and Ricardo and Elena drove us back to the hotel. We hugged them and thanked them profusely for giving us this amazing, truly unique and authentic Portugese experience on our last night in Lisbon.

We left for New York the next day, and our vacation was over, but Randi and I now have lifelong friends in Portugal.  Two weeks later, we got an email that baby Francesco was born, weighting 3.320 kg, and the family couldn’t be happier.

Morocco, Day 4 – Fes and Midelt

April 14th – We wake up and Rebecca leads us in a brief yoga practice in the lobby of our beautiful Riad. We enjoy a breakfast of homemade yogurt, fruit and croissants. We leave the Riad and proceed to the famous tanneries, where they cut and dye leather. We visit the shop where Nest’s leather bags are made, and Rebecca speaks to the men for a long time about making some changes to the design based on the sample they had provided her with. The leather bags are paired with patterns from our rug weaving cooperative in Midelt, and we’re trying to figure out a way to adjust the design to make it more appealing to a U.S. market.

We walk outside to the roof of the shop that overlooks the tanneries. In one area, they are washing the leather; in another they are cutting the skins. In one central area, there are large vats full of colorful dyes. You have to hold a mint leaf to your nose to mask the smell, since the dye is created using pigeon stool. After observing this wonderful scene for awhile, I go back into the shop and again bring out my stellar bargaining skills to purchase a beautiful orange pair of shoes.

The drive to Midelt is breathtaking, with views of mountains, fields and wildflowers everywhere. We stop the van to let some sheep cross, and the herder picks up a baby sheep and gives it to our driver. Joya is at the front of the bus in an instant, and takes the baby sheep in her arms. Kate holds it too, since she’s also a lover of sheep. Have you heard about her Yurt project? We give the sheep back to the herder (the mama sheep is not too pleased) and continue our journey.

Once in Midelt, we park on a narrow street and are ushered through a door, greeted by a number of traditional looking Muslim women with head coverings, long skirts and some with long grey tattoos down the middle of their faces. I’m told this tattoo is an ancient Berber symbol for marriage. They kiss us twice on each cheek and we enter the home. We sit around three large tables and are served chicken, bread, cous cous, carrots, fruit and an abundance of it. After dinner, we see the women bring out a few brightly colored handheld drums. The music, dancing and singing begins, and this Jewish white girl finds herself in the home of traditional Muslim women, dancing with her friends and family the way she does with her roommates back in NYC.

And this is why I do what I do. The rest of the evening was unforgettable. We visited the cooperative that Hayat founded and where the other women work alongside her. At some point, I mention to Hayat that I want to try to get her cooperative into rug trade magazines back in the U.S. I hope I can actually do this. We return to her friend’s house, where the women are still dancing and singing, and one woman gives us henna tattoos. They serve us tea and dessert.

At some point in between a woman teaching me how to do their shrieking technique and playing with another’s little girl, I realize why I spend so much of my free time doing things for Nest, why I spent so much of my savings to come to Morocco and meet these women. As I relay these thoughts back to the group at the hotel, I know we’ve all come to the same conclusion – we are part of something phenomenal. Rebecca sheds a few tears as she talks about the women we met today. Most of them are unmarried or divorced, mostly because, according to Hayat, the men don’t work as hard. Clearly to these women, hard work is a huge value. I think about how this relates to my own life and what I’ve seen in America. I suppose the laziness of the male species transcends cultures. Though it does seem that our American Peace Corps volunteers certainly break this mold. But I digress. Rebecca is overcome with emotion because she is so happy we made a difference in the lives of the women we just met. She’s thrilled that there are 14 women around her that share her passion and have just connected on a deep personal level with the women they’ve been helping from their hometowns back in the U.S. by throwing parties and fundraisers. This is a whole other level from admiring the pretty jewelry we buy from the website and sell at our NYC events. She tells the story about how Hayat was able to go to a rug fair in Germany earlier this year, probably the first time someone from her village has ever left Morocco, to show her cooperative’s rugs to an international market. She is able, despite cultural and religious constraints, to be an independent business woman in her village. And Nest has a big role in that, all stemming from our little parties and fundraisers and the pretty things we sell back in the U.S.