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A Just Right Thanksgiving

After a crazy few days of travel and stress, enter Thanksgiving.

In our times, Thanksgiving is thought of as such a holiday of excess. Too many people, too much food, too much consumerism. But this year, it was just right.

I flew back to Baltimore two days ago via Detroit, spent the night at home, then yesterday we drove down to Ocean City, and then today, up to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware for Thanksgiving. There were 25 of us, which is almost everyone on the planet with whom I’m related. My cousins have the most gorgeous beach house, and there was just enough food that I felt satisfied without overeating. Plus, it was nice enough outside afterwards to walk around in short sleeves, and I caught up on some sleep while we had our traditional post-dinner Sharknado marathon. One of my cousins said that it was nice that nobody was gluten-free, but there’s more than that. This year, there was no whining or crying, no cringeworthy or awkward conversations, it just kinda flowed, like the ocean right outside.

Right now, I’m listening to the waves of the Atlantic that I’ve missed so much crashing just outside the house here in Ocean City. I’m still overloaded with stress thinking about work and school and everything, but at least I’m not alone and I’m in on of my most favorite places on earth.

Yeah, kind of sappy, I know, but hey, it’s just been a long few weeks, in many ways. November’s taken a lot out of me, and hopefully December will put some of it back.

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From Isla del Encanto to Charm City USA

I am now in Baltimore, so that happened.

This past week has gone by super fast and it’s only now that I realize that I haven’t chronicled anything in my life for a week or so. I’ve spent most of the past week being tired (and now, for some reason, a little sick, possibly due to a drafty house or my dad’s driving) so I’ll do the best I can to keep it from being completely lost to memory.

Thursday, July 31: Actual date of Ponce trip, amended from the previous day. I woke up and Isabel’s apartment was so quiet that I thought she might have gone to work, so I prepared to have another lazy day until she called me. Then Axel emerged, and apparently Isabel had been working in the back room the whole time and was waiting for me to get up! We were fixing to go to Ponce, just the two of us, due to Riley not answering my texts or calls.

We were just about to get into the car when we realized that I’d forgotten a swimsuit and towel, and just as I had retrieved those items and was locking Isabel’s front door, Riley calls and asks what we’re up to. A short but hilarious conversation later, we were on our way to pick him up in Carolina for the day’s adventures.

The drive to Ponce was about two hours long, through an amazing variety of landscapes. The tropical greenery of San Juan transformed into the arid, barren mountains of central Puerto Rico; from jungle to desert, practically. We drove past several scary-looking bush fires that may or may not have been natural, who knows.

Arriving in Ponce, Riley immediately commented that it felt hotter; it actually did, strangely enough. We walked to the Plaza las Delicias and had a reasonably-priced lunch there. For the evening, we thought it would be fun to explore the nearby Bio Bay (the one with the bacteria that light up when you touch the water) so Isabel went off with her phone to make the arrangements while Riley and I took a walk around town and had some coffee. We met up with Isabel soon after at a bookstore, where she informed us that even though we probably would not be able to swim in the bay, we could definitely get an inexpensive boat tour. Before that, though, we explored town some more and found a geocache; Isabel’s first ever, and it was hilarious watching her get so excited. We tried another one, but it led us to this awesome art-garden-park thing with massive light-up sculptures so it wasn’t too bad of a walk. On the way back to the car, we saw some adorable stray puppies and watched them play.

The earlier hustle and bustle of Ponce was gone, as were we, off to Lajas, in the southwest corner of Puerto Rico. An hour after leaving Ponce, we reached La Parguera in Lajas, which seemed like a cross between a backpacker’s stop and the Catskills. Apparently, Lajas is not a well-known destination outside of Puerto Rico, so it was likely that Riley and I were the only two Americans in town. At the docks, we got tickets for $8 on a Bio Bay tour boat, with about 100 or so of our closest and loudest friends. The trip itself only took an hour, and the bio bay was cool with the glowing water, but what was more impressive was the lightning storm off in the distance and the bright, bright stars overhead, especially when the boat stopped and turned off its lights in the middle of the Bio Bay so we could better see the water. Four guys jumped from the top of the ship and swam around, which was pretty cool, and despite learning the contrary, we could indeed, if we wanted, get into our swimsuits and jump in the water. Well, if we didn’t mind about a four-story jump followed by a climb back up. We seriously considered jumping but with the possibility of broken glasses (Isabel), lost contacts (me), and broken bones/drowning/not being able to swim back to the ship (all three of us, I suppose) we just watched from above. It would have been cool to swim in it though. When we docked, the guys who jumped were passing a hat to collect money, which was kind of expected.

By this point we were a little hungry. Riley tried tiburon, or shark, in a sandwich, to which I said, “no thanks, but enjoy” and Isabel and I shared some fish nuggets, mofongo (mashed plantain balls), and amarillos (sweet plantains). It was about 11 PM at this point, so we phoned it in and I drove us back to San Juan, where we arrived after 1 AM and zzzz….

Friday, August 1st: Slept in (well deserved) and said goodbye to Isabel and Axel to head over to Riley’s place in Carolina for Phase II of Operation Puerto Rico Vacation. Riley’s place in Carolina was quite different from Isabel’s in San Juan, but as soon as I dropped my stuff off and changed, we were out to Isla Verde for a night of dancing and debauchery. I practiced a bit of my ballroom moves but mostly danced to the hits of the 70s and 80s. It was basically a Bar Mitzvah without the torah reading. That was only the beginning of the night; the remaining details I cannot divulge but suffice it to say that it was 4:30 when we got back to Riley’s.

Saturday, August 2nd: Tropical Storm Bertha decided to pay a visit so it was mostly an indoors type of day. It was an adventure staying at Riley’s apartment, but after one night there I suggested we take a meta-vacation and check into a hotel back in San Juan so we could really enjoy the last few days together. So we headed over to the Doubletree San Juan for a vacation-within-a-vacation, regrouped, and had dinner at Plaza de las Americas, the biggest mall in the Caribbean. I’m not a huge mall fan, but it was very sleek as far as malls go.

Sunday, August 3rd: Back on the adventure trail! They said, “go west, young man,” so go west we did, along the northern coast of Puerto Rico. Our goal was to get to Isabela or Aguadilla. We did a few stops along the way, both for geocaches: first, at a lookout point in Quebradillas that we later learned is one of the premier lookout points on the island, with mountains in one direction and beach in the others, and second, in Isabela, at a giant stone carving of a man which actually turned out to be not-so-ancient. We turned north slightly and took a smaller road through the tiny, windy town of Isabela and ended up on Villa Pesquera, a rocky beach. The waves breaking along the rocks were incredible to see, as well as the tide pools and the huge crabs hanging out in them (didn’t get too close though!) At a swimming beach nearby, Riley went for a snorkel while I relaxed in the shallow water and the low, gentle waves, protected by the rocky spit that absorbed most of the impact of the crashing water.

After maybe an hour there, we drove towards Aguadilla, where Isabel’s favorite Thai restaurant is. We arrived at the place only to find that due to the tropical storm delaying a shipment of supplies, they had limited options, so we backtracked to the next best option, Golden Crown. Cultural (con)fusion notwithstanding, it was a really good Chinese place, despite being in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, which is as far from China as you can get. Although not getting to see Aguadilla proper, we headed back to San Juan after a day full of fun.

Sunday, August 4th: Final day of the trip 😦 although I would get to see my parents that night, so 🙂 for that. Wakeup was early so we could check out of the hotel and I could drop Riley off. Before I had to return the car, though, I went on a little adventure of my own.

I drove east, picking out a geocache near El Yunque National Rainforest as my goal. Isabel said it should be less than an hour, and indeed it was, only forty minutes from busy San Juan to the middle of the rainforest. It was raining heavily the whole way there, but as soon as I paid the entry fee and parked at El Portal, the visitor center at the entrance to the forest, the sky cleared up and the sun came out. Due to a landslide, most of the park was closed, but the visitor center offered great views and geographically we were in the rainforest, so, I’ll take it. I found the geocache and after a short walk around, went further east to see what Puerto Rico had to offer.

I found myself in Luquillo, known for some of the prettiest beaches on the island, and it did not disappoint. It was Monday but it felt like a lazy Sunday as I rolled in, parked, took a walk, and had a leisurely final breakfast of huevos rancheros, iced coffee, and crepes with banana and Nutella. After finding a geocache at a nearby park and mailing postcards from the Luquillo Post Office, which wasn’t even on the map, I headed back to San Juan to return the car and return home. Suffice it to say that it was not a fun experience at all, and by the time I got to the airport I was good and ready to get back home, which I did shortly after midnight, San Juan-Charlotte-Baltimore.

August 5, 6, 7: Basically, nothing…a few days of actual vacation-like vacation, doing nothing important and eating home-cooked food. Highlights of my time here have been getting to see my sister and bake challah with her and my dad; getting a tour of the neighborhood with my mom and dad and seeing how it’s changed since January; taking a quick jaunt to Washington; and getting my teeth cleaned and hair cut. Exciting stuff, I know.

But it’s good to be home, even though in one week and two days I’ll be back in action and back in Madison. I’ll have my parents with me for a few days, but then it’s goodbye summer, hello 2nd year of PhD. Also, hello to my newest visitor, my first from Tunisia.

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Mi Primera Post en Puerto Rico

Greetings from Puerto Rico, where it’s day 3 (I think?) of my trip to Puerto Rico for the week. I think that this is so far the most surreal leg of the trip, but I’ll quickly give a rundown on the funzies in Arizona first.

Getting to Arizona, I was immediately greeted by ATHE, in a way; my friend and fellow dramaturg Walter ended up having a ticket on the same shuttle as I did (his flight from Newark came in slightly after mine). Also in the van was a woman who was going to ATHE who hadn’t been in years, but was glad that grad students were there.

At the Fairmont Princess, I check in to the conference first and the room second (priorities!) and see the first of my three roommates, Kathleen, on the way, walking with Carrie and Sarah. At our room, C1122, which is actually in a pretty good central location, I see Bryan, the second of the three roommates, and find out that the fourth in our group, LaRonika, hasn’t arrived yet due to storms delaying her plane in Baltimore. The first night of the conference is usually blah, waiting for something exciting to happen, but the most excitement I had was spending $40 on a margarita and a tiny bowl of grilled vegetables, and going to the Transit Performance, which wasn’t spectacular but did lead me to meet Eleanor, Matt, and Dorine, the latter two of whom I kept running into throughout the weekend. LaRonika finally arrived at some late hour and we prepared for an early wakeup call for Pre-Con.

Thursday: Pre-Con! The first dramaturgy Pre-Con ever! Hooray! Bryan rented a van and packed twelve of us ‘turgs inside (Walter, Carrie, Sarah, Kathleen, LaRonika, Shannon, Kristin, Ben, Jean, Maria, Lindsey, and myself) for a day at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s southwestern home. It normally costs $32 to get in, but with grants and a deal, it ended up costing us only $5 each! Char, our tour guide, was fascinating and the home itself was brilliant, with light and beauty around every corner. We all had a great time. Afterwards, I bought a tiny journal in the bookstore, and asked everyone to offer some thoughts or reflections in it over lunch. Being dramaturgs, everyone wrote something meaningful, and I spent most of my lunchtime catching up with Maria, who was sitting next to me.

Opening night! The keynote and official opener were great as always, and Luis Alfaro was pretty funny. The reception at the exhibit hall was great; I wasn’t as boozed up as last year so I think I probably made less of a fool of myself. I met Cissie, a wonderful new friend all the way from the Netherlands, spent awhile talking with Jane, and then found Iris for our traditional wine-glass-selfie, this time in front of the ATHE banner. We spent awhile hugging and catching up with each other and it’s just so great that she’s lucky enough to come in from Taiwan every year. I picked up the usual stack of catalogs, and then hit the pool for awhile with Bryan and Kathleen.

Friday: Panel time! In the morning, I saw Bryan/Kathleen/Aoise/Sarah’s panel, and then went to a panel on playing games where I saw Annalisa. My panel was, unfortunately, poorly attended (3 panelists and 2 audience members) but it was in the death spot, where everyone is doing stuff at the SAME TIME, including ANOTHER dramaturgy panel with Walter, Talya, and Joan. The plenary was that day, I think, and I sat with Karen Jean the Dramaturgy Queen.

Friday night was one of my favorite conference times, DNO or Dramaturg’s Night Out. It was more of a Dramaturg’s Night In as we congregated at the Plaza Bar. I met newbie and recent grad Jacob, and immediately liked him for his name. At least he is Jacob D. and not H. I got to say hi to Joan, and had a nice catch-up chat with Cindy. By the end of the evening, I’d talked to so many people that I can’t remember them all, probably I’ve already mentioned everyone but D.J., Julie R., and Shelley, who made a surprise appearance, driving in all the way from San Diego. And then it was pool time, where I met Rosa and her friends who drove in from Los Angeles for their Saturday night performance.

Saturday: Panels, panels, panels. Also attended a workshop. Also, it was Dramaturgy Focus Group membership day, where I gladly handed over my title as Grad Student Rep. Honestly, I think Walter and LaRonika probably did way more than I this past year, but all three of us got some very nice praise. I had a quick chat with Talya, which turned into a several hour chat over Starbucks. (I think that happened Saturday but I might be wrong). Dinner was at La Hacienda with Bryan, Kathleen, LaRonika, Sarah, Carrie, Walter, and Jacob D., and even though it was, again, expensive, it didn’t really matter because we were all together, our little family, and we had so much fun and booze. After, we went to see the Banned Plays performance. We missed the first piece, but came in midway through the second, which was Rosa and her group – who were amazing – and stayed for the third, which was also awesome. I ducked out for the final performance though.

I get back to the room, and a lightning storm hits, and of course, LaRonika was planning for this night to be her pool night, so she was feeling blah. But we cheered up when she did a dramatic reading of the spa menu; I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in a long time. That spa menu though. It dried up outside, and while Bryan took a phone call, LaRonika, Kathleen, and I shared a swing – we fit perfectly, just like roomies! – and when Bryan came out, we moved to a ledge, where we sat, drank, and laughed for awhile, mostly about equipment and Kwame Kwei-Armah/Quvenzhane Wallis. So many other ATHE people walked by but we were too drunk to care.

Sunday: The worst day of the conference, every year; time to say goodbye. Bryan and Kathleen left rather early, and LaRonika got some pool time in before leaving as well. My flight was not until 1:15 AM, so I caught up with Claire, found a geocache, and took a swim before heading to the airport.

Fast-forward to Monday.

8:00 AM EDT: I arrive in Charlotte, dazed and confused because I got on a plane four hours prior in Phoenix where it was 1 AM. My breakfast was something from Starbucks, and I jumped on my San Juan flight, totally in disbelief that this was actually happening. I watched Saving Mr. Banks on the way, which was delightful, even though I was super tired. We touched down early in beautiful San Juan and I managed to get to Thrifty pretty quickly and use my Spanish to pick up the car, and then…I was on my way! Driving in San Juan! Crazy!

My directions took me not to Isabel’s place but a lovely nearby church where she came and found me. We hung out, caught up, and then Axel came back and we went out for dinner. Four meals (us three + an extra for me should I get hungry at night) was $50, only slightly more than 1 meal at the Fairmont Princess. I wasn’t tired, but by the time we got home around 8 PM, I was getting there, and officially turned in at 11:30 after being half asleep for two hours.

Yesterday: Early wake-up to go exercise with Isabel and Axel, something I haven’t done for ages (more like two weeks). It was fun and we went to a panaderia (bakery) afterwards for food. Eventually, after resting at home, I went to find Riley, which was really tough because iPhone Maps and Puerto Rico are not friends. It took me way too long, over an hour, but we went back to Isabel’s place, walked to Condado Beach, and had four glorious hours of swimming and laying on the beach. We had Pizzeria Uno for dinner – surprisingly cheap! – and then I took him home.

Today (finally): Was supposed to go with Isabel/Riley to Ponce, but it didn’t happen for various reasons 😦 maybe tomorrow. Instead, we went for a lovely breakfast, and I just rested until about 3, when I went out to Old San Juan for 4 or so hours of exploring. I found 6/7 geocaches I looked for in pretty good time, and just about sweated my face off. My phone died, but I’m clever enough to get back here on my own, and that’s where I’ve been for the past two hours.

Going to get some dinner now, probably on my own, and then see what tomorrow’s plan will look like.

Vamonos!