Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Life No Longer Unknown

"La Vida Desconocida" means "the life unknown" in Spanish. I started this blog in 2007 when I moved to Chile, and since then have used it to document my adventures around the country and the globe. Now that I've settled down in one place, my life is a little bit more "known" and it feels like time for a change.

Today, I officially retire My Unknown Life. It's been a wonderful outlet for my thoughts and photos, and I'm so glad I have it as a lasting record of the last six years.

But, as they say... onward! If you want to follow what I'm up to now, you can find me over at My Ukiah.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Philadelphia, this time last year

I lived in Philadelphia on and off from 2005-2008, and I have made an annual spring trip to Philadelphia ever since, sometimes for as long as a month but never fewer than 10 days. This will be the first year I don't make the pilgrimage, so I thought I'd pay homage to my one-time home by writing about last year's trip (which I never got around to doing before) and my awesome friends back east. Today, April 12, was the first day of my eleven-day trip last year (just two days after I got back from my three-week road trip through California during which I decided to come back to Ukiah. I had no idea then that I'd stay here forever).

Adam and Lydia

Every year I stay with Adam and Lydia. At first it was the spare room in their Rittenhouse Square apartment on Pine street, then there was one year in the spare room in their row house in south Philly on Montrose, then two years in their industrial loft on Washington street. This year I would have gotten the guest bedroom in the house they recently bought near Passyunk Square. The good news is I will get to see them at their wedding in Seattle on June 1.

Every year, we go out to at least one fancy dinner. Last year they took me to their favorite restaurant, a chic spot called Fond that serves haute cuisine without the haute attitude. They know the chef and he came out and chatted with us several times. We had course after course of incredible eats. Here's a picture of us at some point during the meal:

A short while after I left town, Adam took Lydia to Fond and proposed!

I can't fully express my gratitude to Adam and Lydia for letting me stay, year after year. Some of my favorite memories are Sunday nights on their couch, eating take-out or something yummy that Lydia made, watching HBO or Showtime originals. A close second? Long, lazy, hot afternoons in the backyard of the Jamaican Jerk Hut, drinking booze from a tub of ice, listening to live music, playing board games, and waiting an hour or more for our food to arrive.

I know that if and when I make my way back east, they'll throw open their doors for me.

Matt and Katharine

Like everyone other than Adam and Lydia (and Apex coworkers), I met these two in the free poker league that was all the rage in 2005. Their steadfastness is reassuring - they've lived in the same house since I met them, even after a fire required them to temporarily relocate across the street while repairs were made. Every time I visit they throw me a party, and they love cooking and eating and entertaining as much as I do.

Katharine's work schedule usually means I only see her at night, but Matt has always had a lot of flexibility that allows him to pick me up from and drop me off at the airport, for which I always repay him via one of Phila's infamous sandwiches. Last year it was Paesano's in the Italian Market, and it was so good the first time that we ate it on our way back to the airport eleven days later:

We also tend to go on mini adventures around the area. Last year we trekked out to the Delaware Water Gap (which is not in Delaware) on a particularly hot day. Matt took pictures and I went swimming.

This is the closest I'll ever get to doing the Appalachian trail.
I remember at one point along the river there were dozens of frogs mating. We watched that for awhile until I decided we were invading their privacy.
Matt among the frogs
The Water Gap area is huge, so we drove around to some different spots for pictures and sight-seeing. The last place we went was a swimming hole under a waterfall. There were some local teens there jumping off a rock into a narrow but deep pool (at least they weren't drinking). Once they left Matt and I spent a few serene minutes there enjoying the quiet rush of water before driving back to the city.

Someone had made quite a few of these piles.
Teens enjoy the swimming hole
As my trip was coming to a close, Matt and Katharine had a dinner party in my honor.

Making their famous pork dumplings
From left: Han, Matt, Tim,  Katharine, and Tim's brother Matt
Rita, Nick, Lydia being an adorable dork, and Adam
Many heartfelt thanks to my dear West Philadelphia friends for always being so genuinely enthusiastic about my visits, and for feeding me on a regular basis.

Millar (and now, Chrissie!)

Mike, or "Millar" as we more affectionately call him, was also part of the poker gang. His is a strong personality, but what else would you expect from a NY-raised city boy? At his core he's a puppy, and I was blessed to spend several evenings with him and his girlfriend Chrissie who I met for the first time during last year's trip.

Millar and I always organize a baseball outing, and it ALWAYS includes at least one and often two giant subs from Primo's hoagies (conveniently located on the same block as their new house). We had a great group - Millar and Chrissie,  Matt and Katharine, Lydia and me. We usually get pretty nice weather and this year was no exception. I can't tell you if we won or lost but I do remember having a great time. For some reason I always particularly enjoy riding the subway there and back - three cheers for public transportation!

Proudly holding the giant subs
Millar sports the subs while Chrissie smiles
In addition to the baseball game I spent an overnight at their south Philly rowhouse which involved late-night ping pong and diner breakfast the next day. I really hit it off with Chrissie and I couldn't be happier that my friend has found such a great gal.
Chrissie is one badass chick (yes, that's her bike)
Erica and Ben

Ben was one of the original poker crew too, but unfortunately he finally finished his PhD and moved back to London. This was the first year he wasn't around and his absence was sorely noted.

Ben and Katharine dyeing Easter eggs
during my 2011 trip.
Erica is also a poker friend and a girl who likes to have organized fun as much as I do, so that we always manage to spend a little time together during my visit even though her schedule is packed. She was key in orchestrating my first (and only) Six Flags experience in 2010.

Last year she agreed to meet me for a tour of the Masonic Temple. This is something I'd wanted to do every single year, and I intuitively understood this would be my last opportunity for who knows how long. It was another hot day (I lucked out with the weather - April is usually lovely but can be iffy) and it was nice and cool inside the lodge. Built in 1873, it's one of the most famous Masonic temples in the world. It's also huge - the cornerstone alone weighs 10 tons!

Masonic Temple facade
There are seven "decorative" rooms that are used for various meetings and ceremonies, all with a specific cultural theme. I especially liked the Oriental hall, which was copied from a place burned in my memory: the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. The most impressive element of the whole building was that every detail was carved out of plaster! It looked like real wood, real marble, real you name it, but odds are, if it's a decorative detail, it's plaster. Those crazy freemasons sure know how to use a trowel.

Oriental hall
Egyptian room?? It's been awhile so my memory is bad...
Erica admires the room
From there we walked through Love Park...

...down the Avenue of the Arts, through Logan Square (my favorite of all the fountains), and to the art museum itself. We were thinking about seeing the Van Gogh exhibit because Erica had some free passes, but 1) the passes didn't apply to the exhibit and 2) the next available time was two or three hours away. So we skipped it and I'm pretty sure went out for drinks instead...

Thanks Erica for being a friend and one of my blog's biggest fans!

These are our "boo Van Gogh" faces.
Me on a bear, because... why not?
NYC Crew

Of the four people from Argentina I still keep in contact with, two of them live in New York City: Beth and Kim. I always make the 2-3 hour trek via bus to NYC for one or two days to see these gals. Beth graciously lets me sleep on her comfy couch and generally humors my whims, and the three of us always go to a nice meal with a bottle or two of Argentinean wine. To them I am and always will be Eli (pronounced Elly), and I love that we have remained friends - in addition to being wonderful people, they're a connection to a strange and significant part of my past. I think we're all that for each other, actually; there's something about living abroad together that creates lasting bonds. Les amo, chichis.

Also in NYC is the first person I ever interviewed and subsequently hired to work for me, 9 years ago at Apex. Jacob has always made time to see me when I'm in his adoptive city, despite the natural distance that has come between us in our busy lives. I'm grateful that he is the kind of friend who I can spend an easy and enjoyable few hours with once a year, almost always over soup dumplings in Chinatown, without either of us worrying about the next time we'll see each other or making hollow promises about keeping in touch. Just knowing he's out there in the world doing his thing makes me smile, and that's enough for me.

A terrible picture... Sorry, Jacob, but it illustrates the
scene so well!
Other Favorite Memories

No Philadelphia trip is complete without at least one visit to Reading Terminal Market. I eat wonton soup from Sang Kee, a soft, buttery pretzel from Miller's Twist, a cannoli from Termini brothers, or a turkey sandwich from the Dutch Eating Place (love the Amish). I have on at least one occasion eaten all four of those foods in a single day. But sometimes I go just to wander, people watch, smell local soaps, taste jams and pickles, and hopefully catch the sounds of a sweet old lady at the common-area piano.

A more recent tradition is pizza and wine with Millar and Katharine at Zavino. We always manage to snag one of the outdoor tables, the service is impeccable, the pizza divine, and the price tag totally reasonable. I can always count on my Philadelphia friends to be ready at the drop of a hat to get a drink, grab a bite, or pull up some grass in a park - the enthusiastic social scene is one of my favorite things about the city.

I know in my 11 days I did more and saw more people (including former Apex coworkers and other poker crew originals) but I feel like I got the essence of this trip - and really, all my trips - down. For now my life is taking me in directions other than a spring visit to Philadelphia, but I'm sure I'll make it back to my east coast home one of these years.

Thank you again to everyone who made my time there so memorable. 

My first and always favorite site.
City Hall, one day I shall see you again.