Monday, April 26, 2010

Passport to Dehydration

Before I even had a chance to do laundry from Coachella, I found myself repacking for a weekend in Sonoma. Truth be told, my apartment is not looking its neatest as of late. It's pretty much an explosion of receipts, various charging devices and a complete color wheel of size 6 high heels. And, as of this weekend, more wine than any one girl needs to consume any time soon--unless it's tooth discoloration + a raging case of Diabetes she's after.

For those of you who have never been to Passport Weekend, here's how it works:
  • Rent a house with a bunch of wino friends--somewhere in Sonoma county. Ours was on The Russian River (literally). And if you're Dayle and Larry, you also rent a "tasting" van for you and 10 of your pals--complete with sober driver.
  • Plot out your tasting course in advance. These were the wineries that participated this year. (On average, I think we visited 15 vineyards a day. Eek.)
  • Wake up on Saturday morning and hit the Dry Creek Valley. The first winery you visit (pre-scheduled when you purchase your ticket) will provide you with your "passport" which looks a lot like a real customs passport, minus the mortifying photo.
  • You and your crew roll from winery to winery, each one stamping your passport with their logo upon arrival.
  • Sunday: repeat but try to drink more water this time...and bring some Advil. Ugh.

What's fun about this event:
  • Each winery makes a valiant effort to throw a theme party, most of which end up being really fun. Party details include on-theme decorations, incredible local food, and often a live band. Even though one vineyard's down home BBQ with a country band and seats made from bails of hay RULED, I was partial to the Mexcellent Vino Fiesta. This vineyard not only provided maracas for drunk people to shake, but they also served Pino Cones consisting of chopped ice + cold Pino Gris. Ole!
  • What better event to study well-off, middle-aged white people? What curious creatures they are with their fanny packs and wine holders, slow dancing to Jimmy Buffet songs. Matt really got into the musical aspect of it all, devising a game called "Guess the band's next song and I'll buy you a bottle." Zetta was a big winner at Ridge Vineyard with "Margaritaville" and I think somebody still owes me a bottle for "Friend of the Devil."
  • You get to watch all sorts of people devolve throughout the day. My favorite were the fancy older woman practically crawling to the cash register to buy just one more bottle of Sauvignon Blanc...with their husband's signature Visa card.
  • Everyone is in high spirits. And why wouldn't they be...with the sun glistening off their wine glass and a zinfandel pork slider made from sustainable, local pig in their hand? Just don't try to talk to anyone after 9pm when they're painfully dehydrated and their wine sweats start to kick in.

And my favorite part about Passport Weekend? Asking the pourers at one winery if they would turn us away if we have a stamp from "that other winery" like how the US supposedly won't let travelers through US customs if they have a Cuba stamp in their passport. Thanks to drinking almost as much as they poured, they thought our question was as funny as we did.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Goin' Out In Style

Final Stop: Palm Springs
On the final day of our sunshine sweep, we packed up our tent and cocktail hut and hit the road for Palm Springs. Upon a recommendation from the one and only Matt Graves, we dropped in for brunch at The Parker Hotel Palm Springs. Not only did we feel like celebrities hanging out in this super stylie locale, but it turned out that we were among them. It's true! Jay Z and Beyonce showed up while we were on our tour of the grounds. Had I spotted her before she placed her order, I would have tipped off Miss "Be" to get the Mango Lobster Salad. Yum.

After our first real meal in days, we took off for our spa appointments in Desert Hot Springs. Best. Idea. Ever--by the way. It turns out that a deep tissue massage and a few hours in the outdoor mineral hot springs is the winning recipe for xtreme festival recovery. Plus, we got to use their shower, which meant no more need for germ-defending flip flops.

And we almost passed ourselves off as buttoned up spa-goers...until our exhaustion kicked in. At that point, Jen accidentally dropped her panties next to the front desk where some lady in gold boots picked them up for her. Meanwhile, I was busy ripping off my festival bracelets with my teeth. It was time to go home.

Red Rover, Red Rover, Let the Canadians Come Over!

Fourth Stop: Coachella Music Festival

Post-desert expedition, we hosed off a bit before heading to the festival. I even put on a pair of wedge heels (flash forward: reeeally bad idea). What happened next involves a few logistical fails that no one really wants to remember, including me: crazy gridlock, stand-still entry lines and utter cell phone melt down—all while basking in the hot SoCal sun.


Successfully transcending the chaos, we eventually made it to our first set of shows*. And thanks to Jen, we would still be able to find one another despite modern technology failure, for we had Friend Locating Devices (FLDs). Note to self for next year: sitting on a pretty blanket listening to incredible bands from around the globe with the sun shining above and the Coachella mountains in the backdrop is well worth all the logistical negotiations necessary to make this moment happen. Amen. (below pic from LA Times)

Sleep Away Camp—For Hipsters

Reflecting on our next 3 days at the festival, I’ve come to think of the experience as something akin to Hipster Sleep Away Camp. Not only did Coachella participants all sport camp uniforms (consisting of stylie festival-wear and the requisite assortment of plastic ID bracelets), but we all found ourselves in that childhood zone of unadulterated freedom.

It’s true. For 3 days, everyone’s schedule is pretty much dictated by nothing other than fun-filled extracurricular activities (i.e. music appreciation, lunchtime, social hour). Days were spent palling around with various friends (old and new) whom you saw in all possible states—party mode, play time, rest time. Just like at camp! I swear if people had broken into a game of Red Rover, it would not have surprised me in the least.

What really solidified the camp analogy for me was the relationship that Jen and I forged with a group of Canadian boys who had traveled to Coachella as part of a 14-man bachelor party (or a “stag party” as they call it up North). On the first night of the festival, we introduced a few of them to the FLD concept as the Vampire Weekend show was rapping up. This undoubtedly high-brow conversation (ummm?) led to teaming up with some additional members of their crew for the Jay Z/Beyonce show, which, in turn, led to additional palling around. (check out the below LA Times pic to see what if feels like to be there at night.)

Never Have I Ever

The more we saw of these boys over the next few days, the more intense became my nostalgia. Vivid memories from long summers spent at sleep away camp and visiting the former Miss Donahue at her New England summer home flooded my mind. Those fabulously teen-angstie times were without a doubt defined by getting to know boys from other parts of the country and continually reconnecting with them in what felt like a magical haze. There was something about those experiences that seemed fateful, and they clearly made a lasting impression.

Since those teenage summers, I’ve had all sorts of life experiences, yet I can name only a handful of situations where I’ve felt so close to those memories. Yet here was that feeling again. Maybe it was because Jen and I were ostensibly “sneaking out” of our camp site to stay up til dawn with our neighbors from the North. Or perhaps it had something to do with a throwback to the days of setting up a meeting place and a secret communication code (the FDL). Or, it could have been related to the fact that we were really taken with these guys. Pretty much all 14 of them. Yeah, maybe that was it.

And how could we not be? Not only were they notably polite, cute (see below!), accomplished and clever, but their group consisted of an Olympic bobsledder, a semi-professional Rugby player, a for realz economist and a body builder who also happened to be a gymnast and son of a Canadian folk artist**. We just couldn’t get over how darling they were, shepherding us through the crowds; tending to us at their bachelor pad (“Would you like me to make you a smoothie? Set you up on the lawn chair? Direct you to the washroom?”); and asking us all about our lives in SF.

Pen Pals 2.0

When it came time to part ways, it felt like that last night at camp when you trade addresses and heartfelt farewells around the campfire. Although I may not send hand-written letters on unicorn stationary like I once did, I’ll certainly keep up with these boys on the Interweb. After all, the union did feel sort of fateful.
*Friday: She & Him, Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, LCD Soundsystem, Vampire Weekend and the one and only Jay Z; Saturday: XX, HOt Chip, MGMT, Muse, Flying Lotus, Tiesto, 2ManyDJs; Sunday: Mayer Hawthorne, Matt & Kim, Spoon, Phoenix, Orbital, Thom Yorke, Gorillaz

**He even sang us one of his dad's songs one morning at sunrise...about a pirate who takes a bubble bath. Adorable. Beyond. Words.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Camping...with a Bit of Flare

Third Stop: Camp Site

It took us a little under 2 hours to get from Costa Mesa to La Quinta, a perfect stretch of highway for listening to some of the Coachella bands we wanted to check out. Jen took this opportunity to introduce me to (read: insist that I experience the splendor of) Mayor Hawthorne, her new favorite artist/crush (see above pic). Extolling the glory of Absinthe, his song “Green-Eyed Love” has been a top choice on her ipod for a little while now. Approved.

Upon arrival at our destination city, we hit up the Trader Joe’s for our camping food and, of course, a stunning assortment of cocktail ingredients, not least of which was a bag of dried chili-dusted mangos. I guess if you’re the kind of person who travels with a lemon press (e.g. Miss Jen), you’re also the kind of person whose buys dried chili-dusted mangos to add a little flare to your camping cocktails. Why the hell not? After all, I was In It to Win It this year, wasn't I?

Gourmet food and beverage in tow, we pulled in at our campsite and found that our fellow campers would be within our general age range, contrary to the photos of retirees from the Eisenhower Generation featured on the campground Web site. An hour later, our tent was pitched, our cocktail hut was erected, and a few lucky campers were invited to join us in the first batch of top-shelf margaritas. We even let them sit in my new camping chairs. Let the games begin.
Full disclosure: I was the one who both owns and brought a collapsible cocktail hut to Coachella. I guess all that
glamping last summer really made an impression. So be it!

Where The Streets Have No Name

Second Stop: Joshua Tree

The next morning we were up and at ‘em* with the sun, and zipped over to Joshua Tree National Park. Not only did we arrive in the nick of time for the height of the wild flower season, but we also spotted a desert jackrabbit as we pulled into the park, darting into the brush. Win!

The desert was gorgeous this time of year, with views clear to the Salton Sea and Mexico. Colorful rock formations (see above pic), cholla cacti, and of course the famous Yucca brevifolia, better known by its common name (for you bourgeoisie commoners), The Joshua Tree (pic top of page). All of it was really, really pretty…in a succulent sorta way.

*I feel compelled to admit…again…that I used to think that phrase was “up and Adam” before my mom and sister pointed out yet again the horror show that is my spelling.

Underground in The OC

In case any of you were wondering how the 5-day Sunshine Sweep worked out, from desert to dance-offs to deep tissue massages, I’d say we were victorious.

First Stop: The OC

While Jen was busy bouncing around from dive bar to bakery in LA, I made a beeline for The OC where I had dinner with Heb & Co at their new home—complete with an authentic SoCal swimming pool. The next morning it dawned on me that I had a Coachella gift from Jen in my bag—a blinkie light yo-yo type toy for use as Friend Locating Device (FLD) in the dark.* Thinking that little Mewsie might like the light-up colors, I pulled down the shades in his room, broke out the toy and turned it on. He was instantly mesmerized.

Heb then had the genius idea to get out Mewsie’s Japanese music game and let him pick different electronic songs to accompany the light show. Before you could say “underground nerd alert”, we had created a full-on raver scene—at 9:00am—in a room with a changing table. Too bad Mewsie doesn’t use a pacifier as that would have completed the picture, especially with his fierce dance moves.

Before Auntie Laur had a chance to break out the ring pops, Jen arrived in our rental car and we were off to the desert.

*The gift giving explanation when a little something like this: “Lauren, put this in your festival bag and swing it around when you’re trying to find me. There’s no way I’ll miss it. It is henceforth our homing device. Keep it close at hand and I shall do the same. For AT&T cannot be relied upon.”

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Desert and Daquiris: A Plan

I've been starting to feel like all I do is plan things. Every day, my inbox sees all sorts of action re: flight research, rental car coordination and requests for me to bring along my set of fun new camping chairs (thanks Brother EJ). It reminds me of that stage of life before you leave for college, when everything is just a series of plans and the actual departure seems so far away--and slightly unreal. You know, like when you have to pick your meal plan before you even see the university cafeteria? True story: my University had an on-campus bar where you could use your meal card. What campus official approved that arrangement? Really. Bad. Idea.

Anyway, all the planning is finally starting to transform into actual adventures. First up: my maiden voyage to Coachella! The Sunshine Sweep begins tomorrow when my friend Jen and I fly down to LA where we'll be visiting our respective friends for the night (Heb!). Then it's off to our curious little campsite near Joshua Tree coupled with 3 days of xtreme music festivaling. Our final stop will be a day of recoup in Palm Springs workin' it all out here.

My vision for the trip pretty much consists of us in a various assortment of sundresses and bikinis, drinking Jen's organic cocktail delicacies while shakin' it (err, I mean while looking standoffish and uberhip) to Hot Chip. Oh, and this vision includes Joshua Tree and Coachella Valley wildflowers in the backdrop, just so you know. Speaking of Jen, I was reviewing our packing list last night, and right between "tent" and "IV bags" she had written "lemon press." Who flies with a lemon press, let alone IV bags? God, I love that girl.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Exodus--in Thermal Underwear

As it turns out, I have a lot of Jewish friends. I didn't plan it this way--it just kind of happened. Heb has a theory that unless you're from New England or the Mid-Atlantic states, you probably don't have a good sense of humor. However, she notes 3 exceptions to this rule: gays, Jews and people with trauma histories. (Recently, someone submitted another exception for consideration, but I'm not going to mention it until Heb officially signs off.)

Anyway, maybe I surround myself with so many Jews since their quick-wit keeps me smiling. That, and after all, they are my people--halfsies style. And my friend Sherry is definitely my people. I was hoping to spend Passover with her this year, but it turned out that she wasn't simply going to attend a seder. Nope--she was going to recreate the Exodus experience in the desert. Ummmm?

So while I was at EJ's seder getting loaded on Manachevitz-tinis with the A-gays, Sherry was "wandering" through the Southern CA desert where she was awoken each morning to the sound of a shofar in preparation to pay homage to the end of Israelite enslavement to Pharaoh. Upon her return, I pretty much forced her to tell me all about her experience with "Passover In The Desert." Following is what she had to say.

1. How was the trip set up?

The participants were separated into 10 "tribes." These groups were smaller posses where people knew you, could support you in your journey, check in, etc.

Each morning, we were awoken and called together for activities by the sound of a shofar (see above pic). There were pre-breakfast "offerings" such as women's yoga, chi gong, deep ecology hikes, and a Jewish vision quest. On afternoons, you could hike, vision quest on your own, take part in other offerings, or just lounge in the dome (see below pic) or the "sanctuary".

There were Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services and (Saturday evening) Havdalah services held in our dome and around the campfire. The services included hand drums, chimes, singing, and dancing out in the desert wind.

On Saturday night, the different tribes acted out elements of the seder around the campfire, with some playful-yet-provoking riffs on the story. There was also an ancestors theme, in which we were asked to recall and share stories about our ancestors.

2. How many people participated? How would you describe them?

There were 80-90 people on our trip whom I would describe as open, connected, clear, playful, intelligent, and loving.

3. Did you guys keep kosher?

The meals were prepared by an Israeli chef and were "ecokashrut" (sustainable, local, seasonal, organic and kosher for passover). This was way deeper and more meaningful for me that just plain kosher for passover.

Mostly we ate soups, quinoa, salads, eggs, some fish, fruits, olives, nuts, and of course, matzah. I didn't get around to baking matzah in the solar oven as I had planned--there was just too much going on. Also, someone else had pre-made "shamura matza" (meaning that the flour has been guarded and never touched water before the 18 minute prep time allowed for baking kosher matzah).

4. Does anything stand out as particularly memorable or special?

It was truly awesome to have an actual Torah out with us in a wilderness area. This particular Torah was rescued from the Holocaust (see above). Also, hearing the story of Moses and the 10 Commandments as chanted by four women--out in the sun, wind and dust--was pretty powerful. I also loved being summoned together by the sound of the shofar.

5. The organization's website notes that the group will "travel far from home and into unfamiliar surroundings to experience the original holiday, get away from the mundane “enslavement” to our everyday lives and habits and see whether observing Passover in the wilderness deepens our appreciation for and understanding of the teachings around Exodus." Would you say it did?

Definitely. It was pretty powerful to have a conscious, cohesive Jewish community of like-minded outdoorsy, enviro, Burner types. It was also breathtaking to experience this in a desert environment, connecting to the land and to Jewish tradition.

6. Would you go again? Recommend to friends? Absolutely!

Fun fact: In Hebrew, the land of Egypt is called Mitzrayim, which literally means “the narrow places.” Metaphorically speaking, Passover is an opportunity to liberate oneself from whatever is constricting or enslaving you.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hamsters and Hiccups

While I'm in the process of finalizing Hammocks and Hot Tubs' first exclusive interview (coming soon!), I thought I'd share something funny that happened last night.

A few friends and I were at The Pheonix (no bar fights this time) and the topic of blogging came up. I talked with this psychologist grad student guy about how I've been writing a blog for a few years, and he asked me what it was called. I told him the name, and as I was leaving a few hours later, he asked me to please send him the url for "Hamsters and Hiccups."

Is it too late to change the name? :)