traveling companions: the significant other

I know a few free-spirited folks who favor solo travel–setting off to parts unknown completely untethered, able to go where you please and when you please, and meet new people along the way. Personally, I usually prefer companionship, but it’s crucial to know who makes a good traveling companion. I’ve been fortunate to have had more good ones than bad, but the bad ones have unnecessarily ruined some trips that could have otherwise been outstanding, and wasted a ton of my money and time. In a series of posts, I plan to review the most common categories of traveling companion and evaluate the merits and demerits of each, as an excuse to revisit some old travels and lovers and friends.

Let’s start with the most common, the significant other. The significant other can make a great traveling companion if the relationship is on solid ground AND if you both have similar travel styles. I had wonderful trips to Montréal & Québec, New Orleans and Washington, DC with J, a pretty easygoing but adventurous guy who enjoyed a healthy mix of seeing the sights and spending time lounging in bars or cafés, with appropriate amounts of napping and sex thrown in. Long car rides were no big deal with this good-natured and fun-loving companion; we’d listen to music and sing harmonies and occasionally pull off onto a country road for a quickie. Oh, to be young and in love.

I went up north and down through Wisconsin and Chicago with a different J; that trip worked also, mostly because he let me dictate everything. Not as exciting or sexy, but a pleasant way to spend a week out of town. At the time, he was very much a homebody and this was pretty much the only trip we ever took in 5+ years of dating. Ironically, he now spends most of the year on the road, touring in a rock band. How times change.  We stayed in cheap up north motels and watched the leaves change color and stumbled on the “cool” part of Milwaukee by accident and went to Shedd Aquarium and had a generally lovely week.

M, however, was a different story. To start with, we had very different ideals of the perfect vacation… his involved being near-catatonic on a beach somewhere, preferably with a huge spliff in one hand and an icy pastel-hued libation in the other. I am much more on-the-go, preferring to rise fairly early to take in some sights, followed by a leisurely lunch, nap, a little more sightseeing and then dinner, drinks, etc. I feel that it’s also important to know how someone will react when outside their element. M hadn’t traveled much prior to dating me, and everything always seemed to present some kind of problem or issue. How much of this was innate vs. him just wanting to be cranky with me personally is a matter of debate; he subsequently traveled to some borderline third world areas and had a grand old time. My hunch is that his filters were set not to complain on that trip since he was with a business associate and not his romantic partner. But that just goes to show that those things are subjective and you CAN choose to overlook minor inconveniences rather than complain and spread misery. I will never understand that… I always feel so fortunate to get to go places and do things that a little discomfort is no big deal.

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bodega naranjuez: the natural wines of antonio vílchez

This is a re-post from my old blog, originally published on May 12, 2012, and has been slightly edited from its original version. I wanted to re-post not only because it fits the theme of this new blog, but because I have recently revisited Antonio’s wines and wanted to give some context.

antonio vilchez natural wine vineyards

Wandering Granada’s Albaicín neighborhood on a rainy April afternoon, M and I decided to take shelter in a tiny café called Bar Kiki. We were leery that it would be a tourist trap, as we were adjacent to the mirador San Nicolas (a popular vantage point from which to view the city and Alhambra), but we entered anyway to warm up with a glass of wine and some rabo de toro (oxtail stew). It turned out to be a great little spot, with a friendly bartender who was happy to answer our questions about different drinks and menu items. My chatty inquisitiveness paid off; when a local winemaker came into the bar to make a delivery, the bartender offered to sell us a bottle at their cost. We started talking to the winemaker, Antonio Vílchez, and before we knew it he had invited us to come to his bodega, about 45 minutes away, for a tasting and tour of his vineyards.

wine tasting bodega Spain

The next day we were heading for Córdoba (the exact opposite direction), but decided to take a detour to the east to visit Antonio’s winery. After all, when would we get another chance to have a personal guided tour with a Spanish winemaker? We drove towards Guadix and found our way toward the tiny (300 inhabitants) town of Marchal. On the way into town, we spotted a gypsy caravan on the side of the road, as well as cave dwellings in the surrounding cliff side. After pulling up in front of the tiny ayuntamiento (town hall) and getting some curious looks from the townspeople, we located Antonio and he showed us into his place. The operation was small and unglamorous- he produces a mere 8,000 bottles per year- but it was great to get an inside look at how a small winery operates. Continue reading

act like you like it

“That’s Jillian,” the woman at the bar said reverently. “Do you recognize her? She’s been in so many things, like, I can’t even turn on the TV without seeing Jillian, but she’s always stressing that she isn’t getting enough work. She’s in the Jack-in-the-Box commercials, you must’ve seen those, right?”

No, I said apologetically, we don’t have Jack-in-the-Box where I live and I don’t actually even have a TV. (I did mention that I watch stuff occasionally on Netflix and Hulu so as not to offend her and/or come off as a complete Luddite.) She nodded distractedly, mentally dismissing me and calculating how long she had to sit with me to be polite before taking her leave to go chat with the fabulous Jillian and her other industry friends.

One of the great things about travel is getting to know the particular cultures of different cities, and the best way to do this is, of course, by hanging out with a local. While in LA I had the pleasure of staying with an old friend who, while from the Midwest originally, has lived in LA for 8+ years. Many of his friends are in the entertainment business, so I got a small but interesting glimpse into that subculture while visiting.

While T was living in Chicago in the mid-’90s, he became friends and bandmates with actor Eddie Jemison (Oceans 11/12/13; Hung; the Bud Lite “Yes I Am” commercials, among other stuff). At the time T moved to LA, Eddie had already been there for a few years, and the two reconnected to form another band with Vance DeGeneres (brother of Ellen) and another guy, Dave Gibbs, who I didn’t get to meet. As luck would have it, they were playing a show during my visit to celebrate the release of Eddie’s directorial debut King of Herrings, which he also wrote and starred in with his lovely wife Laura. It was at this show that the above exchange took place.

Luckily that night, through the magic of Tinder (T’s, not mine), I got to meet another really amazing woman named Lulu who sat with me through the show. She’d had a date with T and showed up to the bar solo, so I got to chat with her while T’s band was playing. Her playful eyes and adorable bleach-blonde hair, cropped ultrashort save for a cute wavy forelock that stuck up in front, belied her 47 years. We gabbed about men and divorce and sex and heartbreak and possibility in the way that only two strangers can (the gin and tonics didn’t hurt). Her ex-husband was in the entertainment business but not her, and she seemed pretty blasé about the whole thing- it was just a job. It was nice to talk to someone whose eyes weren’t roaming sideways to see who else they could be talking to that was more important.

The upside to T’s connections with the acting world was that we got invited to a private reading in the Brentwood home of a lovely couple who are part of Eddie’s weekly acting group. Their friend Champ Clark, a writer for People, is also a playwright and  wanted to try out some material with a live audience. We sat on folding chairs in the dining room and watched maybe a dozen short plays read aloud, performed without the aid of props, costume or staging; it was one of the coolest theater experiences I’ve ever had. T admitted that he probably wouldn’t have attended if I hadn’t been in town, but was glad he did. The material was laugh-out-loud funny for the most part, with some more serious and/ or surreal scenes woven in. After the reading, we ate, had some wine and mingled with the actors, who were of all ages, shapes and sizes. It was a completely unpretentious crowd and very welcoming to a stranger.

Before I visited LA for the first time in 2000, I hadn’t had any great desire to go there; I’d imagined it as this place where everyone was phony and plastic, i.e. not the type of place where I’d fit in or enjoy myself much. Both times I’ve been there, I’ve definitely encountered those types of people, but it was the overwhelming minority. Shame on me- kind of like someone assuming everyone from Detroit is a blue collar line worker or nerdy engineer. I should be so lucky to go back and get another first hand peek into a fascinating and worthy art form.

Eddie (bottom row, second from left) and his acting group. Photo credit Angela Gollan.
Eddie (bottom row, second from left) and his acting group. Photo credit Angela Gollan.