The Parisian Burrito

My weekends are a Mexican feast for the eyes and the senses. It’s my comfort food. I love it spicy and authentic. I even pour chilly powder into my salad for a little “ay corrumba.” On Saturdays, my dad and I usually head to the Mexican market and order the works, carnitas, chile rellenos and homemade style beans.

Mexican food is one of my favorites. I would step off the plane from New York and have my dad quickly drive me to the nearest taco stand. Literally, I was dreaming of the Mexican delights on the 6 1/2 hour flight to the West Coast. The urgency to quench my cravings took hold. Once, I bit into the carne asada burrito life was complete. My dad didn’t get it. New York is the best food city. However, burritos and tacos just taste better in California.

On a trip with my dad to Paris, we had a food escapade. France is renowned as one of the world’s culinary epicenters. The French eat well; butter and cheese are not frowned upon, but highly coveted for the taste buds. Our trip to Paris was a gastronomic delight. We ate lovely neighborhood brasseries around the Right Bank. We ventured into St. Germain De Pres’ fashionable, but tasty cafes. We even delighted in old-fashioned French cuisine on the Ile de St. Louis.

The taste of rosemary, fresh formage (cheese) and buttery garlic danced in our mouth like a well orchestrated can-can number. However, after nearly a week of garlic meets buttery, I craved some of the food, which makes my inner Californian do a little jig in delight, Mexican. Paris isn’t a town with taco trucks. Although, a taco truck scene in France would be a welcome change.

We found a Mexican restaurant in the Latin Quarter. It looked and smelled authentic. So, there I was in escargot meets crepe happy Paris ready to enjoy a burrito with a side of beans and rice. The food arrived; it looked different from the Mexican I am used to. One bite into my French burrito with Mexican indigents and blah, it was bland. My dad didn’t like his meal either. Nothing tasted authentic. After dinner, I had a huge crepe and returned to French delights.

Each city has the food, which attracts the masses. In Southern California, I miss my New York foods, pizza, bagels, Jewish deli, Chinese and Italian. However, my current location provides me with a wonderful taste of Mexico, which is difficult to find everywhere in the world.

The Pigeons Of London

Pigeons flock to London like David Bowie to a microphone. They nestle themselves in the capital’s most lavish squares and leafy parks. London birdies love tourists and especially fancy carbohydrates. Although, these pigeons are a serene sight in the grey London skies, they still are a most aggressive group.

One hazy and chilly London afternoon, I took a break from museum hoping to enjoy a sandwich. I bought a big New Yorker sandwich at Pret-A-Manger. The restaurant was packed, so I took my Yank inspired creation with a cappuccino to a bench in near by Marble Arch. I was dressed in a distinctive blue pea coat with a grey sweater, looking quite proper for London standards.

I opened up my sandwich, which was oozing with mustard and meat. A pigeon flocked to me. How adorable I thought. Another pigeon arrived, followed by more feathery friends. I bit into my sandwich. They politely circled around me (it is London after all). I was reliving a moment from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” as a flock of pigeons vied for my lunch. They hoped I would drop a crumb or even the whole sandwich.

Unfortunately, for them I just continued munching. They flew around me, flapping their wings loudly. However, I didn’t budge. My bench, the sandwich and I were going to commence bravely. The birds persisted. In, the end I won the battle. Victoriously, I left my beloved bench for the tube and more London adventures.

Birds may flock together. However, I won the battle of the New York sandwich. Lesson learned, eat in a cafe away from attacking pigeons. However, graceful birds flock when it comes to food, they become quite aggressive.

The Germ Capsule

Purell is a dear friend of mine. It keeps the germs away and makes me smile. No orange juice needed when I have the 99.9% germinator. However, there were those moments in life where I proclaimed “Oh shit, I left the Purell at my apartment.” Even after a careful survey of my messenger bag, no hand sanitizer to be found.

As an avid rider of the New York subway, my days without Purell were the equivalent of a Medieval soldier without his shield. On those days, there was always that one sick person, who happened to sneeze up a storm. Their favorite seat was always right next to mine, of course.

A couple days later, I made an art form of breathing out of one nostril. It inspired me to stock up on Purell and aggressively find a seat on the subway (as opposed to hanging on to a poll). Sometimes, there were the moments when I was the Loch Ness monster of the public transportation system.

In Tokyo, surgical masks are as common as black coats in New York. Everyone has them; they even come in a vast array of colors and styles. They use them for the obvious, to prevent germs spreading. However, I didn’t get the memo to bring a surgical mask to Japan. Hence, I became paranoid to sneeze. I would often times wet my lips, just so I wouldn’t sneeze in the middle of the metro.

All my memories of Tokyo take place in the winter, flu season. On one faithful metro ride to Ginza, my nose started to itch. I wet my lip and the sensation went to the back of my head. The itchy nostril feeling returned bringing its spew of menace into my throat. I was in the one train where everyone was sporting the surgical mask. The urge persisted I fought against it. However, troop sneeze-a-lot prevailed. I let a sneeze so loud; Godzilla would’ve run for cover.

I looked around and nobody cared. I am sure they were thinking “Purell, Purell where art thou?” Everyone was napping or playing on their mobile. Still, I didn’t catch on to the surgical mask trend.

These days, I drive a car. I feel like the boy in the bubble. It’s a relatively germ free place. However, I still miss my buses and subway, even if I am exposed to germs, the excitement of being in a big city makes up for a cough and sneeze later.

Traffic Jam Of The Poetic Mind

Haiku, narrative, soliloquies make my heart pound with beautifully illustrated words. Poetry is therapy for the grid locked brain. This is a form of writing which is expressive and all around fun. Like most interesting experiences in life, I fell into poetry rather than seeking it out.

As a high school student, my mom grounded me for a month. Due to a bad report card, I could not watch TV or listen to music. Home became a four-wall hellhole. In order break free, I had to rely on my own creativity to substitute for cool tunes. During that time, we were studying poetry in school.

During my month confinement, I discovered the Harlem renaissance through Langston Hughes’ eloquent words. The Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and Maya Angelou’s poetry opened up my senses like spicy Indian curry on a rainy London night. Not only, did I admire many poets I also wanted to write my own poetry.

Growing up in a very traditional American home, I had a curiosity about the world outside my own community. It inspired my poetry. I wrote about Paris, Cubism, cigarette smoking, the Mediterranean and even homoerotic thoughts. I kept all my poetry quietly hidden in a three whole notebook with a Versace advertisement as the cover.

My goal was to share my poetry. I went to my first open mic night in college. The poets were grand. It was in the basement of this old independent coffee house. In the middle of summer, it was a gathering place for humidity and intense heat along with free thinkers.

However, poetry served as an exodus for the uncomfortable conditions. The poets were very talented and even performed free-style rap and songs they wrote, which intensified the poetic experience.

They were a tough act to follow up, but I gave it a shot. I went up on stage and was schvitizing (sweating) under the bright spot light. The crowd had faded into the darkness.

The first couple seconds of my story of rhymes was intimidating, but then I warmed up to the idea and soon my confidence grew. I made it through my first poetry reading. The audience applauded as I whipped the sweat off my brow.

From then on I continued with poetry readings. The open mic stages of obscure basements felt as cozy as my modest New York apartment.

As I grew older, I also expanded my appreciation for poets, reading the works of Allen Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein. The four wall confinement I experienced as a youth brought a revival of creative thinking. Therefore bringing my mind from traffic jammed Fifth Avenue to a speedy Downtown 4 express train.

Outspoken

Protests are life’s interpretation of free theatre. There is a cast of characters with a goal to make their voices heard. Than there is the opposition (who ever they maybe) who just wants them to shut up. Both sides battle vigorously. Going out and standing up for what you believe is a dizzying and often intimidating task. However, it’s one that must be done.

In society we all want to be well liked and make people happy to a certain degree. Protestors go out and put their liberties on the line to make a point. Throughout the years, I have witnessed an anti-fur protest outside Barney’s New York on the Upper East Side, joined a parade of marchers through Union Square to protest prop 8 and even snapped photos of the campgrounds of Occupy Wall Street in moderately conservative Riverside, CA.

Growing up a gay teen in a highly conservative environment taught me the value of standing up for my belief system and myself. People criticized everything about me. I didn’t want to sell out to make someone else happy. So, I continued not being well liked and that’s ok.

My teen years transformed me into a politically active adult. I helped out my causes by volunteering. The art of volunteering time is a great way to help get your belief system out there. Not only are you making a difference in one’s perspective community, but also meeting like-minded people.

We Americans love a good protest. Someone speaking up for their cause impacted everything from Women’s suffrage to The Civil Rights Movement, positively. Reading and keeping up with what’s going on in our world opens the mind. It inspires one to go out and stand up for something.

Glittery Disco Balls

I don’t boogie, but I am a night owl. Hoot, hoot says the owl of night. Going out to a bar and dancing on a table isn’t my cup of miso soup. Often times, I have a natural buzz from pondering life’s philosophical questions, “how can I say thesaurus without lisping?” or “why aren’t there any dinosaurs in the bible?” These thoughts happen while the city morphs itself into a sleepyhead. All I want to do is walk, even in the darkness.

However, I’ve had my share of splendid nights out on the town. In New York, everything runs 24 hours, since the workdays are long and people are always up doing something. The subway, diners and Dunkin Donuts welcome those who are sleep deprived. Even in the world’s most happening cities, not everything runs 24 hours. Sure, some places have all night debauchery, but their metro/subways close early, wringing in the urbanite’s dilemma.

It’s a lesson, I learned the hard way in Tokyo. I ended an evening out in frenetically paced Shinjuku and had the need to take the subway down to Shibuya to fulfill a sweet’s craving late at night. After devouring a crepe and sipping on the most magnificent coffee, I walked to the metro station. Surprise, it was closed, since it was after midnight. Even though, I was on holiday, I didn’t want to spend my whole night wondering around. Therefore, I did the unthinkable.

I took a cab back to my hotel in Asakusa, which was quite a schlep. My sweet tooth cost me too many yen. However, seeing Tokyo by night was well worth it. I didn’t learn my lesson about catching the subway on time in London.

On my last trip to London, I met up with my British posse Sophie, Ella and Matilda. It was the dead of winter. The English capital felt like an Eskimo’s dreamland. Cold winds penetrated through my layers of clothes.

London is one of my favorite cities in the world. My English buddies took me all over. We hit a traditional pub complete with a portrait of the Queen mum pouring beer to display authentic British-ness. We then hit a couple of bars around the West End, from a gay bar to Soho House to a cave like watering hole, which served delicious booze and played Green Day (it really looked like a cave inside).

After too many laughs and whiskies, we emerged into the chilly London evening. I felt jet lagged and was determined to take a cab back to my hotel. They were going to North London, while I was off to Bayswater next to Notting Hill. We hailed for a cab, but all of London seemed to be in the classic black cabs.

I strategized a plan to finally obtain a proper cab. We positioned ourselves on all three different corners of Oxford Street. Alas, no cab would stop. I saw the distinctive red hued double decker buses pick up the survivors of the night, but I just wanted a nap. Finally, an hour passed and no cab. The wind chill effect took place. I used the collar of my pea coat to protect me from London’s harsh chilly winds.

Finally, Sophie suggested we take a car service home. After a quick sandwich stop, I left the West End in a chauffeured car, rather than a black cab and the cost was the same. London was more magical as my car made it’s way past the parade of window displays on Oxford Circus.

I got back to my hotel and slept wonderfully. The next day, I absorbed all my booze with a full English breakfast (toast, sausage, bacon, eggs over easy and a grilled tomato). I met up with my child hood friend, Rochelle that following night. Instead of playing cab spotting, we had tapas, hit a pub and grabbed the tube before midnight.

Nothing beats a night out in London, Tokyo and New York. I do enjoy the quiet nights in my backyard under  nature’s disco ball, the moon. I daydream, while remembering my adventures on late night subways and the taxicab scavenger hunt.

The Strand

Dark corners have always been places of self-discovery for me. In no other place does intellect and beauty mesh more eloquently than a bookstore. I love independent bookstores (the chains are great too). There’s always a great selection of local authors, interesting interior design and a proper infusion of new and used books.

I have fond memories of discovering my first gay magazine at the indie establishment. XY magazine during the late 90’s was targeted at gay youth. The mag not only had interesting articles, but funny comic strips and even a little poetry. I took the magazine to the bookstore’s uninhabited frontier, the gardening section.

There in a riveting sea of books about dirt, soil and tulips, I had an epiphany. Through the power of written words, I realized I wasn’t the only gay boy in this big bad world. It soothed my soul like wine on a warm Spanish afternoon.

The gay magazine sensation still caught my interest. However, as an out gay man in New York City, I wanted to keep cultured beyond magazines. I went to the theatre, museums and was very exposed to the cultural quilt of the city’s five boroughs. One of my favorite activities was to check out the Strand Bookstore.

The King Kong of independent bookstores, the Strand advertises itself as 18 miles of books. Any time, I entered the multi-leveled shop it felt more like a small city. Books were substituting for buildings and it had a dense population.

The Strand has always fulfilled my curiosity of the world. Through its travel section, I learned about Brazil and China, the two countries I most want to visit. I also re-visited the many museums, sidewalks and history of my favorite cities already checked off my travel list.

While satisfying my wanderlust, I also wanted a feast for my eyes. The Strand’s wide selection of art books expanded my world of knowledge. The graffiti art of Keith Haring, surrealism of Salvador Dali and the eccentricities of Julian Schnabel paintings were not only pleasurable for the eyes, but taught me about eclectic art genres.

I shifted through the Gucci and Versace’s of fashion books, read proper old English literature from Charles Dickens to Jane Austin in the classics section and discovered Sylvia Plath’s dark side via poetry. Having a moveable feast with Ernest Hemingway also meant I met Gertrude Stein through her very poetic words.

I also found a smorgasbord of gay literature at the Strand. A true testament to being out and proud meant no more hiding in the gardening section. I read my gay books out for everyone to see. Dark corners were as antique as the first edition of Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer.

Leaving the Strand always had the sensation of a very cultured holiday. There was plenty of art, sights and high culture to fill the brain with pleasant memories.

The cozy smells and sounds of page turning make reading into a very simple but lovely life experience. No need for a symphony orchestra when I have a world of words to provide escapism.

A Slice Of Americana

Like a proper Norman Rockwell painting, football is quintessentially American. For those of us on the right brain/arty side of life, it was the one sport, which we despised the most. It represented the quintessential jock image, which is often associated with arrogance.

During my youth, I drifted into a world of art and drama. However, my high school wanted to ensure I take part in some physical activity. So, I was forced into P.E. class. Our teacher’s favorite sport was football. The boys loved it. I thought it was okay. Secretly, I loved watching it on TV. Hot guys running around, tackling each other with high testosterone levels is much better than sitting through three hours of My Fair Lady.

They saw me just wandering the field one day, not really caring if I caught a ball or not. One of my classmates suggested throwing me the ball. Yeah, that was a great decision. So I rolled my eyes and they tossed me the ball. As predicted, the second I caught the ball, I was tackled to the ground by this huge 6 foot something guy. Not only did he tackle me, but swung me around first. I didn’t want to let go of the ball. Finally, we both fell in puddle of mud and he ended up grabbing the ball. They continued their game, no hard feelings. It was just a friendly game of football in P.E. class.

Although, I never attended an actual football game, watching it at the pub can be fun. With the new season starting season, I have an excuse to eat Buffalo wings and drink beer. I just watch it, since it has men running around. I don’t root for a certain team or get emotional. However, I have a good time enjoying America’s favorite pass time with a bunch of men folk (of course).

The Tourist Trap

Times Square, half of my working life in New York took place here. I’ve jaywalked the crossroads of the world in the middle of a blizzard, maneuvered my way through the people traffic and avoided the urge to eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp. Sure, it’s the center of the city, but it’s a Disney-fied collection of chain restaurants one would find in Middle America.

That said, working in Times Square had its perks. Late at night, I’d turn off all the lights and watch the bright lights and extravagant outdoor ads smiling back at me. It was always a real treat.

Not so entertaining was catching the subway back to my apartment. Tourists tend to struggle with swiping their metro cards. At 42nd street-Times Square station, you could write a whole three act play, while these bewildered people attempted to enter the subway.

Times Square is classified as a tourist trap. This is any place prominent on a guidebook that is looked down upon by locals. Unlike a mousetrap, a savory slice of cheese is not needed to allure unsuspecting tourists. The only cheeses around are the souvenirs and overpriced caricatures, which are a mainstay of the tourist trap.

Even I have fallen prey to the tourist trap. Travel guides make some places completely alluring. Paris is a sophisticated town filled with high culture and an endless amount of tourist traps. Montmartre (the hill over looking the French capital) and the Eiffel Tower are more like a shrine to postcards and snow globes than anything the cool French bobos (French upwardly mobile bohemian crowd, somehow the French make hipster look chic) would ever frequent.

My favorite French tourist trap remains (drum roll) the Louvre. I’ve been there twice, I always took a picture in front of the pyramid entrance way. The art collection is overwhelming literally. The best art is skipping the Mona Lisa. It’s so small in real life. Paris will always be my pick for the world’s most beautiful city.

In Buenos Aires, the architecture screams Paris. There are cluster of buildings in Buenos Aires, which look as though they escaped chilly French winters for the humidity of Argentina. My most morbid tourist trap experience was the Recoleta Cemetery. It’s where high society is buried and Eva Peron, remains it’s most famous resident.

Not to culture shock anyone, but I was obsessed with the Evita soundtrack as a kid. I’m a huge Madonna fan and loved the film. I would hum and sing, ” Stand back Buenos Aires.” Some guys had loud hip-hop growing up, while I pumped up my Evita soundtrack. While in Buenos Aires, I wanted to see Eva Peron’s grave. Recoleta looks more like a small colonial town than a cemetery.

I kept asking people ” where is Eva Peron’s grave?” There was group of elderly American tourists. I followed them. There in a black marble grave was Evita’s grave. It wasn’t anything to really write home about.

Buenos Aires has this eclectic cosmopolitan population. Jewish, Italian, Spanish and Chinese make up a collage of cultures. However, one rarely sees the gaggle of American tourists (the stereotypical ones in tour groups, usually elderly and armed with fierce fanny pack) on the streets of Buenos Aires. They’re always too busy trying to find Eva Peron’s marble palace at the cemetery.

A hop, skip & jump over Brazil, the Equator and way up the Atlantic is London. It’s one of my favorite cities.  The red double decker buses, the novels of Charles Dickens, Brit pop from the 90’s, pubs (obviously), the edgy fashion and even the royal family’s history inspire my love of Cool Britannia. Like Paris, London makes tourist traps into very historical sites.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey are quintessential and important slices of British history. All are touristy, but incredibly interesting to visit.

I love the National Gallery and sometimes-even love hanging out on Trafalgar Square and staring at Big Ben from the distance. However, one touristy part of London, I can’t stand is noisy Leicester Square. Think Times Square meets Meatpacking District (douchey nightclub bottle service heart of trendy New York). The fast-food chains and huge discos don’t exactly inspire haikus.

Living in touristy New York, visitors were always identified by a fear of jay walking, a love of movies turned into Broadway musicals & stopping traffic to capture the city for their friends back home to enjoy. My current home in California is not a tourist trap. At times I do miss taking the subway at Times Square and the energy.

All cool places have their tourist traps. Regardless of how un-cool a typical tourist looks, I do give them props for exploring new and exotic worlds, even if they are armed with fanny packs.

The Great Train Ride

In Spain, I convinced my dad to take a trip to Barcelona. He argued it would be too expensive. However, I was desperate to see the world’s largest concentration of Gothic architecture (aka funky cool building), eat more tapas and touch the Mediterranean Sea. With great persuasion, we bought train tickets to Barcelona. The night of our departure, a snowstorm hit Madrid. Also, I grew ill and lost my voice.

No matter, what mama nature gave us, Barcelona was our destination. Of course, I spent the 8-hour train journey hacking up a storm. The thought of seeing hills and the sea kept me smiling. Spain’s countryside was hidden by snow and dark skies. Our train arrived in Barcelona in the early morning. I touched the Mediterranean Sea, climbed Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and enjoyed street performers on Las Ramblas. However, we took another train back to Madrid at night. From then on, I decided not to take another nighttime train.

These trains are convenient like red eye flights. However, I’d rather see the endless spans of Spanish countryside as opposed to feeling oblivious.

Although, I spent plenty of time basking in the joys of cosmopolitan Spain, I took a less touristy path in Japan. Tokyo makes me feel like a kid in the world’s coolest record store. There’s so many cool sounds, interesting buildings, funky neon lights and the fashion is the best in the world. I took a detour from the glossy catwalks of fashion forward Ginza and Shibuya.

My buddies Bryan and Yuki lived in a small town two hours from Tokyo. I took the bullet train for the first time. No train trip could be complete without Japanese goodies.

Kit Kat bars are quite popular. They come in a variety of flavors from exotic green tea to tantalizing grape. I stocked up and paired the chocolaty delights with a bag of pizza-flavored potato chips. These curious potato chips have always been hard to find outside Japan, but (surprise) actually tasted like pepperoni pizza. With goodies all in place, I was ready for more laid back surroundings.

As the train left Tokyo station, the Japanese capital looked like it just jumped out of an anime cartoon. The train progressed; Tokyo’s steel and glass wonderland remained in place.

Half way through the trip noisy Tokyo turned into snow-covered lands. Classic Japan emerged; the houses were all traditionally (you guessed it) Japanese.  They were like miniature Imperial Palaces. As the train came into the station, even the culture changed. Fashion forward Tokyo turned into a more down to earth, homey environment. It was the equivalent of going from New York’s Grand Central Station to a far out suburb.

It was lovely to see my friends and visit a side of Japan not splashed in neon and loud rock n’ roll. We celebrated my arrival by going to a traditional style diner. Curry was the cheeseburger deluxe of the menu. Bryan and I always enjoyed it with cheese (which is added into the curry) dripping from our chopsticks

Seeing Japan during the light and its many facets remains a favorite travel memory. My first long distance train trip was to Barcelona. I’ve ridden trains in two continents (not including depending on the subway every day). However, nothing beats looking out the window at a nation’s splendor. Not matter how boring grass and hills become, it’s always inspiring.

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