Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I’ve been busy. There was Berlin. Before that: Philadelphia and Newburyport. After: Austin, Texas, and then up to Maine. Call it distraction, escape, vacation, whathaveyou. I won’t deny that the last four months have been tough; it’s been nice to get outta town.

Austin, especially, was great. I met my friend Becca there for an extended weekend of nothing-but-fun. (Long-time readers may remember Becca. Seven (!) years ago we were reenacting Iron Chef in the kitchen we shared in Providence.) 

In Austin, Becca and I walked a lot, ate and drank a lot, exploring the nooks and crannies of this odd Texas city where neither of us had ever been.

Some highlights include the dinner that we ate at the bar of Uchiko, a “Japanese farmhouse” restaurant, and the “Dark and Amari” cocktail I inhaled sipped at Bar Congress downtown. We ate everything from tacos to snow cones out of the omnipresent food trucks lining the city streets. One afternoon we drove out to Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas, to consume barbecue. A half-pound of brisket and ribs later, I smelled like meat and like smoke and, man, that was awesome.

Over the course of the weekend, Becca and I wandered among coffee shops, antique stores, and clothing boutiques, where I bought, among other things, a (couple) cocktail dress(es) that I certainly don’t need. We visited the Whole Foods flagship store, and sampled (tart) blackberries and (sweet) green tomato jam at the farmer’s market. At night, we moved between restaurants and bars, taking in the scene, the smells, the music that never seemed to end.

I’ve been sitting here on my couch back in Cambridge for a while, trying to come up with a kicker to this post, to leave you with something beyond the laundry list of things I did in Austin. I’m trying to figure out how I can relate barbecue to the fact that I’m feeling better than I have in a while. Or to the fact that I’ve been thinking about how much I value the female friendships in my life, how much they buoy me up, keep me floating, moving me swiftly along toward whatever will come next. But as I write it’s the Monday night of Memorial Day weekend, and my brain is as frizzled as my hair from the last few days in the sun, and I think that I’ll just leave you with a piece of advice. First and foremost it’s advice for eating at Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. But it’s probably advice for a lot more:

When it comes to brisket, and you have the choice between lean and fatty, pick the fatty. It's better.

Friday, May 11, 2012


The last time I was in Germany I was with Matt. It was 2008. I had just been laid-off from my job as a newspaper reporter in California. He was working as a journalist in France. We spent a few days exploring Paris and then drove into Germany to see the tiny towns of Bavaria, where Matt had lived during his Army years. On that trip we skirted the cities, moving quickly from spot to spot, hitting the historical locations, the tourist attractions, planning and unplanning and trying to see it all.

It was just barely autumn, and I remember that the weather was perfect. I remember the exhilaration I felt when Matt drove—fast—along the autobahn. I remember being anxious about money. I remember the beer. The beer in the tiny German town of Bamberg, in particular. It was a smoked beer, a rauchbier, and, as a result, it tasted kind of like bacon. It was an acquired taste. I acquired it pretty fast.

I landed in Berlin last Wednesday afternoon for my second attempt at Germany, this time alone. I went to be part of a symposium on the sense of smell, hosted by the Einstein Forum, in the charming town of Potsdam. There were seven of us speakers, all from different corners of the small and strange world of smell. We each gave a talk, one after the other, over the course of one day. It was a long day. A fascinating day. My mind is still buzzing, in fact.

After the symposium, I spent the weekend in Berlin by myself.

While there, I walked around the fancy boutiques and funky galleries of Mitte. I meandered through the gentrified streets of Prenzlauer Berg. I visited the Neues Museum, where I saw the bust of Nefertiti, which looked just like it did on the cover of my art history textbook years ago. A local friend gave me a tour of Kreuzberg, all parks and impromptu concerts and smoky cafes, wandering along the canal in a rainstorm.

I read novels in bars, nursing a Pilsner or two. I lunched at Das Lokal with a friend of a friend, and took myself out to dinner, chatting with friendly people who sat nearby. I ate mackerel and potato salad, schnitzel and sauerkraut and pretzels, carrot soup and delicate greens, hearty breads with sour cherry jam, and more. The food was often good, sometimes great, but in the end it wasn’t the food that mattered.

It’s been a while since I’ve traveled alone. I’d forgotten the freedom of it. The in-the-moment-ness of it. The hours spanning out ahead, the hours in which anything could fill. I’d forgotten the pleasure of that. And a bit of the stress. But mainly I’d forgotten the possibility of being somewhere foreign, somewhere new, somewhere completely on my own. A lot has changed since I was last in Germany. And as I walked through the streets of Berlin—streets that burst with the musky scent of people, of brewing coffee, of car exhaust, of fresh fish and old trash and new rain—for the first time in a long time I thought: hey, okay, I can do this on my own.