Man, Meet Foot

It all began as a simple way to let our family and friends know, “Ahhh… we have escaped the rat race… we have arrived; and vacation has begun!”  You’ve seen them before – the legs-at-the-pool and feet-in-the-sand selfies all over Instagram and Facebook.  Mine were posted from sunny spots in Waikiki, Lahaina, Riviera Maya, Fire Island… usually with my cel phone in one hand and some icy, frou-frou cocktail in the other.  I repeat, “Ahhh…”

Unexpectedly, friends began to respond to these posts with complimentary comments about my feet, even going so far as to call them “pretty for a man”.  “Pretty”: not exactly a word I had ever associated with my feet (or my knees or elbows, for that matter); but heck… I had made a conscious and determined effort to take better care of my feet, teeth and skin over the past decade or so… maybe I just hadn’t noticed that my efforts might actually be paying off.

My “relationship” with my feet (that’s what I call it) began on the yoga mat.  I guess, like most men, I had never paid much attention to my feet.  Toenails got clipped only when someone else complained (or expressed horror); and feet got washed quickly and unattentively before being stuffed, unceremoniously, into socks and shoes.  No biggie.  But when you do yoga, you start each practice sitting on your mat, legs stretched out in front of you, looking DIRECTLY at your feet.  There is no way you can ignore them; and that’s when I started paying attention.  I also began to notice other men’s feet; and I felt a lot better about my own, to be honest.  Still, I had the same feeling I had as a kid watching that groundbreaking TV documentary back in the 1970s, “Scared Straight”.  Observing and studying the feet of other men around me, I decided, “Oh, HELL NO! That is NOT my future!”

nani feet oahu

Yoga taught me that my feet were the foundation for all of my standing poses.  Without strong, healthy, well-cared-for feet, my asanas had no base from which to soar.  Little by little, I began to build that relationship with my feet.  We are now BFFs…

I was on that yoga mat in the summer of 2015, doing my morning practice at the campground below Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  I was nearing the completion of a solo camping trip to check off the last 4 states on my bucket list: Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota.  A foot selfie was posted to Facebook: toes wiggling in the golden, morning sunrise, with the geologic wonder of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” fame looming in the distance.  Immediately, a comment on my feet came back, posted by a close, female friend of mine (I’ll call her “T” in order to protect the identity of her husband “M”, also a dear friend of mine, and his admittedly “gnarly” feet):

“T”: “Nani… ur feet look so soft.”

Me: “Haha! Here’s my message to men of the world: ‘C’mon, guys… get a damned pedicure once in a while! Geez!’”

“T”: “I know… I told ‘M’ u wonder y men don’t have a relationship w their feet.”

The 3 of us still joke and laugh about man-feet every time we meet.  And still, no improvement in “M”’s feet.

But just a few days ago, over two years after my return from Devil’s Tower, I received a text from “M”:

“I need to establish a relationship with my (gnarly) feet.”

“T” wins… (the wife always does).

I texted back to my great friend “M” (and post here for the benefit of the adult males in my life and the relief of their significant others) my personal regimen for eliminating ghastly man-foot:

  • Start by getting a professional pedicure – add on the callus-removal service and a foot massage.
  • Reevaluate your footwear. Are they crushing and deforming your feet? Give those babies some room!!!
  • Get a foot scrubber or pumice and scrub the soles of your feet daily in the shower.
  • Get a foot-specific moisturizer and apply in the morning and at night. (The best I have found is Flexitol Heel Balm, though it smells unappealingly like diaper-rash cream.)
  • Keep your toenails trimmed and clean.
  • Once a year (during the dead of winter, when you won’t be seen barefoot outdoors), apply a foot exfoliating mask, which will, in a matter of 2 weeks, slough off all the dry skin on your feet. (I use Changing U Magic Foot Peeling Shoes – yeah, they need a better translator on their product development team – by TonyMoly, which I get in NYC’s Koreatown and Chinatown neighborhoods.)
  • Get a professional pedicure regularly, once a month or so. (Yes, you’ll probably be the only man in the nail salon; and you’ll get lots of stares from the women aestheticians AND customers… big deal… do what I do – stare back… HARD.)
  • Unless the rest of your body is extremely hairy (in which case your feet actually match your body), tweeze the sparse and unruly hairs sprouting from the tops of your feet and toes. (Yes, it hurts like a muthah; but remember – chimpanzee feet AIN’T sexy.)
  • Exercise your feet daily to keep them supple and alive: Curl and flex your toes repeatedly; stretch your arches; rotate your feet at the ankle, clockwise and counterclockwise; spread your toes far apart as possible; do “the wave” with your toes, from big toe to little and from little toe to big.
  • Treat yourself to professional foot massages every so often. They are wonderful; and you AND your feet deserve the extra attention.
  • Take your shoes AND socks off as much as possible… let your feet BREATHE!!!

nani feet tulum

A “Hillary Shill”, you say? Watch me OWN it…

Election 2016, one of the most fascinating, mind-blowing, exciting, upsetting, surreal election cycles I have ever experienced, and I can’t help but wonder how I got here, enrapt in this thing called politics.  I guess it goes way back – back to the way I was raised, both in Honolulu and in Dallas.  Mind you, I didn’t grow up in a political household by any means. I don’t ever remember my parents or grandparents or aunts or uncles discussing politics when I was a child.  Instead, the adults at our family gatherings enjoyed guitars and ukuleles, Primo beer and Spañada wine, infectious laughter and song, “talking story” and hula.  I don’t know whether my parents and grandparents identified as Democrats or Republicans. We never had bumper stickers of any kind – much less political ones – marring the chrome fender of our 1975 Chevy Blazer.  That honor was reserved for the regular dousing of thick, smelly, Trinity River Bottoms mud, from our regular 4-wheel drive excursions to the West Dallas levies. (Yeah, the Mahelonas did mudding before mudding was cool.)  No political signs sprouted from our once-thick St. Augustine lawn.  If there had been, they would have been flattened by my brothers’ constant football games with the neighborhood kids – or by my Grandpa Mahelona’s determined lawn mowing on a summertime visit to our home.  I don’t remember my parents talking about voting or encouraging us to pay attention to politics.  Nope, in my suburban Texas neighborhood in the 1970’s, the focus of parents was getting food on the table, paying the bills, keeping the kids in school, and keeping the family together.  And with the hard-headed persistence and insatiable curiosity I have had since I was little (just ask my parents!), it was destined to happen, anyway. I would find politics; and I would love it.

But what DID resonate with me was the way in which our Texas-Hawaiian community operated, connected, cooperated, succeeded.  Our community had more than its fair share of strong and leading men (case in point, my Dad and my uncles); but the women were the engine, the glue, the nourishment, the discipline, the creativity, the last word.  I learned from my Mom and my aunties that women are leaders; women are strong; women are organized; women listen; women are intelligent; women have a plan; women are protectors; women don’t take any shit from anyone.  I realize now that every cousin and calabash cousin I grew up with shared with me and my siblings as feminist an upbringing as there ever was.  As kids, what we garnered from that was, “I can always count on Mom to look after my best interests” and “Don’t mess with Mom or the aunties”.  But it got filed away in my brain for safekeeping under the heading “A woman has what it takes to lead us to a better place”.

Reflecting back on my childhood, the only political memories I have are 1) TV talking heads reporting on Watergate (which, in my child’s completely literal understanding, was much ado about water), 2) LBJ’s nationally-televised funeral (which affected me deeply, as it was still too close to that of my Grandpa DuPont, whose loss I was still suffering), 3) seeing and hearing Texas politician Barbara Jordan speak on TV (mesmerized by her unique speaking voice and her strong and intelligent presence), 4) political cartoons in the newspaper depicting our newly-elected President Carter as a toothy hick from the sticks and 5) the shocking, attempted assassination of President Reagan.  Government class in high school was a wash.  It didn’t pique my interest in any way, whatsoever.  I had fashion on my mind…

Fast-forward to the 1990’s. By now, I had finished college, survived the threat of nuclear war and the Cold War, had become an Uncle to a niece and two nephews whom I adored, had landed a career in fashion that I loved and which had given me a taste of financial freedom, had witnessed the transition of Texas from a solidly Democratic state to a Republican one, had begun to travel the world and engage in discussions with people from other countries, had become an avid environmentalist and, quite importantly, had come out fully to the world as a gay man.  It was the interaction of these important factors in my life that primed me for an awareness of political issues, that left me open, willing, waiting, ready to get involved.

Enter Ann Richards and Bill Clinton.

Anyone who caught even the slightest glimpse of Ann Richards had to be comatose not to take notice and want to know more about her. With her cool, Texas twang, “big-ass” Texas hair and wicked, biting wit, she had the presence of a big, Texas drag queen – the one who just hit the long, dramatic, final note of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls”, bringing down the house and leaving you standing up and throwing dollar bills at the stage.  And once she reeled me in with her powerful persona, I had a chance to actually LISTEN to what she was saying.  I couldn’t believe she had the audacity to be inclusive of all people, including gays and lesbians.  I was amazed at her defiance against the Good Ol’ Boys’ Club of Texas politics.  I was awestruck by her vision of Texas’ future.  As a Texan-by-choice, I was full-on ready to jump into the fight for her vision… MY vision.  She added another, validating footnote to my childhood intuition, “Women have what it takes to lead us to a better place”.  I was with her…


Photographed by Jim Myers for Texas Monthly, 1992

And while that shake-up was going on in my home state, by happenstance, the same was starting to occur on the national stage with our new president, Bill Clinton.  For the first time, I felt there was a space for power being carved out for minorities, for women, for the LGBTQ community (and that was even before B, T and Q were added to the “family”).  Although I must admit I was distrustful of Bill Clinton at first (a prejudice I had – and still work on resolving – against white, Southern, male politicians who remind me of white, Southern, male televangelists), he quickly, through policy and action, had me in his fold. Despite his marital infidelities (glass houses, anyone?), I still hold FIRM to my belief that he started a chain of events that have shifted the social, political and economic landscape in a positive direction for people of color, women and LGBTQ Americans.  During  his two terms as president, I began to pay attention to policy rather than rhetoric.  I began to read about politics and politicians, an endeavor that once sounded mind-numbing and soul-crushing.  I began to pay attention to my elected representatives – especially their voting records.  Through that research, I began to see a very clear separation between my values and vision and those of the Texas politicians elected to represent me… and it mobilized me.

I realized there was a clear implication common to one group of politicians and their supporters: “I got mine; you figure out how to get yours”.  Alternately, there was a clear message from another group of politicians and their supporters: “I’m willing to give up some of mine so that we can all have some.”  The distinction was apparent, in varying degrees, among my friends, my colleagues, everyone with whom I had engaged in discussions of social issues.  And every cell in my body, every thought in my head, every pang in my heart, screamed its membership in the latter group.  It was just the way I naturally moved through life.  It was just the way my parents and grandparents raised me and my siblings.  It was just the way my Hawaiian heritage and culture spoke to me through countless generations.  It was just the way the most important Hawaiian word my Mom ever taught me, “malama”, “to care for, to preserve”, embedded itself deeply in my soul.

I… was clearly a Democrat… at least in its current, early-21st century meaning.

And so it was in the years that followed that I weathered the barrage of “I vote for the person, not the party” or “Both parties suck” or “I hate politics” points of view, expressed in ways ranging from casual, disinterested comments to snide remarks to foaming-at-the-mouth fits.  (I think these people a) haven’t been paying attention or b) watch too much TV… or most likely, both.)  I say there IS a distinct difference between the parties.  Just look at the policies each party has put forth.  Just look at the way each party votes.  I say that everything we want for our lives, everything we want for our children’s lives, is dependent on politics.  To run from politics is to muffle one’s voice, to give up every chance one has for achieving these desires.  Meanwhile, I just kept paying more attention, began holding my elected representatives accountable, and made it a point never to miss voting in an election, whether it be at the local, state or national level.  And I began encouraging others to lift their voices, as well.

Rewind for just a bit to Bill Clinton’s presidency.  Two important things took place.  Hawaii began the push for marriage equality in 1993, dropping the pebble that rippled the water that steadily grew into the tsunami that became the law of the land 22 years later.  And first lady Hillary Clinton bravely (and with great opposition) began the quest for universal healthcare in America, the lack of which had wrought devastating effects on millions of people and entire communities.  Both of these issues were of supreme importance to me; and they have been the litmus test in my analysis of politicians for over two decades.

Since that time, I have paid very close attention to Mrs. Clinton.  I pre-judged her early on, after her Tammy-Wynette-Stand-by-Your-Man-Baking-Cookies snafu.  But I have watched her work, listened to her own vision (separate from that of her husband), listened to those who have worked with her, scrutinized her voting record, sorted through all the fact and fiction surrounding her.

So, yes… I was thrilled to have her as my senator when I left my longtime home of Dallas, Texas for bluer pastures in New York City.  And in 2008, I donned my “Give ‘Em HILL” campaign t-shirt and got active in her first presidential campaign.  And yes, I was disappointed – no, devastated – when she lost her bid for the presidency to Senator Obama.  And I could have remained there, sulking and bitter; but SHE showed us supporters how a champion does it.  Following her lead, we picked ourselves up and focused on WHAT we wanted to have happen, on WHAT we had been fighting for, not on WHO we had supported.  We discovered our values and our dreams were in alignment with – not opposed to –  those of President Obama and his administration.  And look how amazing the past 8 years have turned out for us: we have BOTH marriage equality AND universal healthcare.  (I love how life often takes you where you want to go – just on a totally different and highly unexpected road.  Are you paying attention, Berners?!)

The rise of social media has changed everything.  I love it for the broad and easy access to information it provides us, for the ability we have to share knowledge, spread awareness, find commonality, acknowledge differences, build relationships and strengthen alliances. But it requires diligence and hard work, to sift through the barrage of information to separate the fact from fiction, the sound bites from the subtle nuances.  That work has been incredibly rewarding.  It has made me a more informed voter and political participant.  It has opened my eyes and provided a tool for me to open the eyes of others.  It has given me an opportunity to call out untruths and hold those in my social media circles to the same, higher standards to which I try to hold myself in terms of sharing information (not that the “calling out” has always been well-received.) C’est la vie.

The work of operating within the social media environment during this election cycle has emboldened me in my fight to support and promote a politician who stands for diversity and inclusiveness, who has at their core the desire to serve others and lift the conditions of all citizens, who will protect the environment, and who can work as a strong and cooperative leader on the world stage.  It has also given me better insight into the opposing side, the values and philosophies entrenched within.  It has made me more determined than ever to prevent the rolling back of all the accomplishments we have achieved together through the years – women’s empowerment over their bodies and their health, healthcare for all, the right to love, and so much more.

Call me a “Hillary Shill”, a bleeding heart liberal (although I never quite understood how that term could be taken as derogatory), or whatever the insult-of-the-month may be.  Try to shame me for “being political” or reprimand me for being “negative”.  It won’t shake me from my personal stand; the stakes are too high for the future of my grandson, for my nieces (now numbering four) and nephews (now numbering three), for my grandniece and grandnephew, for my aging parents, for my siblings as they (we) enter middle age (what?!), for the happiness and pride of my lifepartner and me.

I support and stand, proud as ever, with a candidate that embodies my values and vision for a better future.  I defend vigorously a candidate that has survived with grace decades of attacks and false scandals and misogyny to the nth degree.  I vote for a candidate that will make a positive difference in the lives of the majority of Americans.  I stand by her the way she has always stood with me and my people.  I’m with her.  I’m with my grandson.  I’m with my nieces and nephews and their children.  I’m with my parents and my siblings.  I’m with my lifepartner.  I’m with ME.  And now I don’t just have a sense – I KNOW – THIS woman has what it takes to lead us to a better place.


Photographed by Mario Testino for Vogue, 2016

Ziggy Stardust, you glitter-bombed my heart…

Photo/drawing courtesy of im-sorry-thx-all-bye

I remember watching late night TV in the early 1970’s with my family when this fascinating creature – part alien, part geisha, part spider, part butterfly, part robot, part vampire, part drag queen, part English dandy – appeared on stage. I have to admit – we were terrified as hell, having never before seen anything like it in our lives. Faced with the unfamiliar, the desire to resist and dislike was definitely there. But there was something else, too – our upbringing, perhaps, and the generally bohemian and very accepting lifestyle of our parents – that manifested itself in curiosity and exploration, instead. May we always face the unknown with openness and interest, rather than fear and hatred. And may that curiosity reveal, as in the case of David Bowie, one of the most treasured artists of our lives.

Photo courtesy of Masayoshi Sukita

San Antonio Memoir

Paseo del Rio - San Antonio Riverwalk

On a recent trip to San Antonio, Texas with our grandson Jackson, Ralph and I were reminded how magical a place it is in the eyes of a child; and a wide-eyed sense of adventure and imagination was reawakened in us.  Time is fluid as the river here – ancient Spanish missions smack-dab in the middle of bustling city attractions, ghosts of bygone warriors and settlers very much a part of the modern, urban landscape.  What follows is an old memoir I wrote back in 2010 after a business trip to San Antonio.  Responding to the time-warp nature of this city, I post it here – a 4-year-old memoir recounting my childhood memories of great family vacations (particularly one in San Antonio in the 1970s), a subsequent disappointment in the inevitable changes time brings, all illustrated with photos of our 4-year-old grandson experiencing the same fascination I had as a child (which served to rekindle that feeling in me and his Grandpa), creating the wonder and memories to grace his own, wide-eyed future…

San Antonio-bound!

San Antonio memoir,  July 2010

Here on a business trip to San Antonio, walking along the city’s famed Riverwalk(a brilliant civil engineering project, bringing bustling tourism to a rather nondescript, Texas mission town), memories of one of our best family vacations welled up in me like the great San Antone flood of 1921. Ahhhh…family vacations. Think back on all the great ones you had growing up; and they will likely come flooding into your brain with absolute clarity, in living color. It shows what an impact they make on a child experiencing the world. Whether it was a big production of a vacation (a flight to California to experience Disneyland in its heyday), or you just piled into the family automobile and headed out to rough it in the country, it colored your world, opened your eyes, taught you valuable lessons, and left an indelible mark on your psyche that remains vivid as the blue skies, vermillion sunsets and glowing campfires that “wow”ed you.

Paseo del Rio - San Antonio Riverwalk

During the early part of my childhood in Hawaii, we didn’t really “go” places on vacation. The islands are one of the most remote places on earth; and air travel for our big kit-n-kaboodle was way beyond our means. Not that we didn’t have GREAT summers…our motherland was always there to entertain and sustain us. We had no complaints! But the concept of packing up and going somewhere else after school got out for the summer was foreign to us. We were perfectly content to go on fun-filled beach picnics with our cousins; and I looked forward to summer afternoons with my older brother at CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) Camp, fishing in mountain streams with the nuns or learning to string koa seed leis with a needle and thread. (The pungent smell of the koa seeds boiling in water to soften them still piques my powerful scent-memory!)

My Grandma Mahelona did, however, take my brother Stephen, sister Malia and me on our first trip out of Hawaii, to “The Mainland” when I was five. To a kid from Hawaii, “The Mainland” is a big, foreign, fairytale kind of place…filling all our storybooks, TV shows and movies; and going there for the first time is not just a rite of passage…it’s practically a rocketship ride to outer space! That first big trip, by the way, didn’t just  open my mind…it blew a freaking hole in it! My siblings and I experienced our first jet airplane ride, saw our first squirrel and snake (a 2-headed one, no less…at the San Diego Zoo), picked wild, Georgia blackberries, tasted cheesecake at Disneyland (which I thought tasted disgusting at the time), fell in love with a dish called “lasagna”, went to the Santa Ana horse races, tasted Burger King hamburgers (and wore the paper crowns on our heads for days), gathered our first, treasured pine cones and…er…experienced racial hatred for the first time…so shocking to us, being so far away from our idyllic, racial melting pot in the Pacific.


Moving to Texas a few years later gave our family a newfound mobility that had been out of our reach in Hawaii. Mom and Dad could pack all 5 kids into the Vista Cruiser station wagon with loads of egg salad and tuna sandwiches, coloring books and boxes of Crayolas; and road adventures by the dozen would entice us beyond the borders of our new, Lone Star home. Crossing the astonishing Mississippi River, awakening at a rest stop early in the morning to the sound of bobwhites calling, catching a sugar rush off a Stuckey’s Pecan Log (grudgingly shared amongst the 5 of us), posing for Polaroids at the Brazos River, squeezed, smiling, in a gigantic dinosaur footprint in the riverbed, and digging huge snail fossils from the terracotta mud of the Red River…these were just a sampling of the many family adventures (misadventures?) awaiting us.

It was the late 1970s; and my Grandma Mahelona, who shared many of our great summer vacations, was visiting us from Honolulu. This time, it was the Mean Green Machine, Dad’s notorious, green-and-white ’75 Chevy Blazer, that transported us from our suburban home on the prairie to the Home of the Alamo. I was pretty darned excited; as I had studied the Alamo in 3rd grade – even garnering a front-page photo in the Grand Prairie Daily News for my depiction of the famous mission’s façade!  The Alamo, as it turned out, was SO much smaller than its legend had built it up to be; but the city of San Antonio absolutely captivated me.

Mision San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo)

It was another world from another time – so different from anything I had experienced at that point in my life. When I was little, I remember elders and aunties describing me as having “itchy feet”, remarking how I LOVED to “holoholo”, a Hawaiian word for taking leisurely journeys (and an indicator that I would be one ensnared by the love of travel). That truth, combined with my inherited sense of adventure and my own, overactive imagination, transformed even ordinary places into worlds of wonder.  The thriving, modern city of San Antonio “became” the wild, “Tejas” frontier, filled with suspicious Tonkawa warriors lurking in the reeds, watching our tourist-packed motorboat putt-putting along the muddy, “alligator-infested” river, while hungry puma stalked us from the boughs of ancient live oak and cypress overhead.  While my boating companions marveled at the city’s towering needle from the 1968 World’s Fair, I carved new paths into Indian territory. It would take way more than the tour guide’s lame jokes or the tinny Tejano music blaring from speakers in the trees to snap me out of my great adventure!



One of my fondest memories from that trip was the day my parents took us to have lunch at the famous Mi Tierra restaurant, which anchors the farmers’ market, El Mercado.  It was a humid, sweltering day while we strolled excitedly through the outdoor stalls: brightly-colored flags flapping in the much-appreciated breeze and hawkers selling big, embroidered-velvet sombreros and little, tin and onyx trinkets.  I licked my lips as we passed big, cool jars of “aguas refrescas” in thirst-quenching lime, watermelon and tamarind flavors.  My inner adventurer immediately grabbed my hand and took me off to Old Mexico.

Sugar Ray the burro

In the old hacienda, our noble “familia” was served a grand meal: great platters of steaming enchiladas, savory frijoles, cooling mounds of guacamole and stacks of fresh, pillowy tortillas. As strolling mariachi musicians sang to us and beautiful Mexican women dressed in colorful, voluminous skirts smiled and gracefully flitted about, we stuffed ourselves silly. I know now that this was the beginning of my lifelong addiction to Mexican cuisine. (And I had yet to discover the margarita!)

Paseo del Rio - San Antonio Riverwalk

Paseo del Rio - San Antonio Riverwalk

Paseo del Rio - San Antonio Riverwalk

If our beautiful meal had been an awakening of the senses, our stop in Mi Tierra’s bakery on the way out was a full-on assault as powerful as that of General Santa Ana. We stopped dead in our tracks in front of the big, glass cases filled with sweets and pastries of every shape and size, a riot of color and sugar, all competing for the attention of the 5 drooling Mahelona kids. We were bedazzled by the unfamiliar and scrumptious-sounding Spanish names: empanadas, pan dulce, campechanas; and we were especially enticed by the little coconut squares fluorescently dyed in the red, white and green of the Mexican flag. I was most intrigued, however, by the large chunks of glistening, sugar-soaked sweet potatoes and “calabazas” (pumpkin); and I savored them, little by little, on the long drive home and for days afterward, trying to hold on to that vacation as long as I could, to make those awesome memories stick.

Paseo del Rio - San Antonio Riverwalk

As I sit here again at a table at Mi Tierra, some 30-odd years later, I realize they did, indeed, stick….swirling around me as deliciously as the icy, salt-rimmed margarita in my hand. But has San Antonio, or the world in general, changed so drastically…or is it my jaded, adult worldview that has changed…so different from the wonder of my childhood? The food tastes like cafeteria fare, not like something “abuelita” cooked over a hot stove in the back of the restaurant. El Mercado is now a series of air-conditioned indoor shops, all selling the same cheap, mass-produced tchochke. And the mariachi bands I have always loved so dearly? They’re still here; but their beautiful, acoustic “canciones” are drowned out by the plugged-in, Ecuadoran flautist playing the Everly Bros on Peruvian pan flute. (Hey, is this the same guy from the subway back home in New York City?!  And…what exactly does this music have to do with the culture and heritage of San Antonio, Texas?!)

I frown in disappointment at the world’s great destinations losing their unique identities; then smile at having had parents that continually fed my sense of adventure and discovery. I pay my tab and thank the young, Hispanic waitress, her tattoos and multiple piercings clashing with her traditional Mexican costume (somewhat stylistically, but more so anachronistically, like a Victorian woman wearing a space helmet). I’m glad I revisited; but I doubt I will eat here again this trip. On my last day in San Antonio, however, on my way to the airport, I make a stop at Mi Tierra’s bakery, still as eye-catching (and popular) as ever. I buy a bag of golden, guava campechanas for old times’ sake, to take to my brother and sisters in Dallas. And as our first buttery, flaky bite gives way to the sweet-sour fruit within, it all comes rushing back to us, that fabulous family vacation…and we know we will always, always “Remember the Alamo!”

Paseo del Rio - San Antonio Riverwalk

Am I blue? (pondering defeat in the midterm elections…)

Am I Blue?

A loaded question, for certain.  I awake with the feeling – a dread – that a major disaster occurred through the night, and a scorched landscape is revealed by the sunrise.  The political landscape, that is.  (OK, I’m being a bit of a drama queen, I admit.)  The midterm election results are simply disappointing at face value, but troubling at a deeper level.  Hopes of a new guard in Texas and Kentucky and elsewhere have proved fruitless, but still remain active, put on the back burner to simmer and allow the flavor to develop fully.  Disappointment in the minority group in Congress that behaved like a bratty child in the midst of a meltdown when it couldn’t have its way has been replaced by trepidation over how recklessly that same group will behave with its shiny new toy, Majority.

So what am I worried about, exactly? I live in New York City, for crying out loud!  We have marriage equality here.  Women have the support here to be masters of their own bodies.  No one has to SELL us on universal healthcare.  Diversity?  We don’t just talk the talk; we walk the walk…and we do it with a sassy groove.  Samba, salsa, merengue, bhangra, Horah, Yoruba…pick your rhythm.  We GET that our city flows smoothly through the toil of immigrant workers; and for that, we are thankful, not resentful.  We respect and revere our cathedrals, temples, synagogues, churches AND our mosques.

freedom tower

My fiancé, Ralph, and I moved to New York City for new jobs, for excitement, for new perspectives. But the political/social/cultural/economic environment here, so markedly different than the Texas model in which we had grown up, KEEPS us here.  Upon our arrival as residents rather than visitors 10 years ago, it felt as if we had been cloaked in comfort, in freedom, in promise – as if we had been handed the last piece of a large and challenging jigsaw puzzle and bestowed the honor of popping it into place.  I’ve had this conversation with many friends who live or have lived here:  New York City is a tough Mother; but she is loving and just.  She won’t spoon-feed you; but she will reveal opportunity and give you the kick in the butt you need to pursue…no matter WHAT shade of human you are.  Living in New York City, our political, social and world views finally felt in alignment with our surroundings.  Local politics, though scattered with a few shady characters right out of film noir, is generally something we worry very little about.  For the most part, in this area of the country, there really IS a “we’re all in this together” attitude.  So when we vote here, it doesn’t have the same excitement as REVOLUTION.  We vote because it is our honor and privilege; but we aren’t changing the face of politics here or upending the apple cart.  Everyone at the polls is pleasant and calm; there are no camera crews filming outside, no electricity in the air.  We smile at one another, with the mutual and unspoken acknowledgment that we are doing our part to make the political process in New York serve EVERYONE.

So why the HELL do I get so worked up at election time? Why all the petitions, the donations, the political PSAs and voting encouragement on the social media stage? Why all the teeth-gritting and politician-exposing and the twitching finger constantly on the verge of hitting UNFRIEND? Because politics isn’t the same in other parts of the country as it is here in New York City; and I worry for those I love who live in those places.  I worry for my sisters and nieces to have control over every decision regarding their bodies and health – EVERY decision.  I worry for my grandson to have the scientific research and funding to combat the serious and chronic disease that picked the lock and unpacked its sorry luggage.  I worry that my niece has the freedom to love whomever she chooses and has the legal support to protect her relationships.  I worry for the right of all the children in my life to have good, well-funded education based on SCIENCE that will prepare them for the world stage.  I worry for the freedom of my loved ones to worship whomever or whatever they wish, or dismiss it altogether – without anyone getting “all up in their (Holy) Kool-Aid” about it.  I worry for the future of my loved ones to be one of prosperity, not indebtedness; one of abundance, not scarcity.  I worry that in the face of government’s shameless trysts with Big Business, the people I love are becoming faceless.  THAT’s why I get so damned worked up at election time.  Am I blue?  Maybe it’s not so much sadness, but rather, the twisting discomfort of worry that troubles me.  That’s it – I want a color for worry.  We have red for rage, yellow for jubilance.  We need one for worry.  Am I blue?  Maybe I’m just dark maroon.

But, alas, Texas, Kentucky, Iowa, Arizona, Colorado, (fill in any state here), I can’t do it for you.  It’s like being in junior high school and knowing your kid sister is getting bullied in elementary school – you’d kick the bully’s ass if you were there, at the same school.  If it were even remotely an option, I would have cast my ballot to vote out of a job your useless Governors and Representatives; but I can’t.  YOU have to vote.  YOU have to make the difference.  YOU have to hold your elected representatives accountable for representing YOU.  YOU have to pay attention to politics.  YOU have to usher in the new guard.  YOUR life depends on it.


So why is it so different here, in this city, this state, this Northeast region? Is it because the memory of immigration is still so fresh, here?  Is the history, the channel to freedom and opportunity, the Great Melting Pot, still alive, here?  Is it because the abolitionists thrived and did their great work in this region?  Is it because the labor movement triumphed here?  Maybe it’s because here, we get to see the beautiful Lady every day, standing strong in the harbor, reminding us:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame. With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

             -Emma Lazarus


I love the adoration my little loved ones hold for the Lady. We are determined to turn the wheels of politics in a direction that benefits them.  I hope that by our example, they will remember and honor the Lady’s inscription; that their world views will be driven by compassion and giving, intelligence and respect, honor and honesty.  I hope that they will soon find a government in service to THEM, a true democracy in which THEY drive, THEY benefit, THEY prosper.


And oh…Am I blue? HELL yes – Democrat blue, tried and true!!


Cleaning out closets…and keeping life clutter-free

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Well, it’s that time of year – time to regroup, refresh, reevaluate, reprioritize. A big job, yes; but it’s easy to start those wheels in motion through the simple act of cleaning out closets, which will lead to cleaning out cabinets, which will lead to the desired action of taking stock of what you own, what you need, what is meaningful…and what is not.  It’s not an easy process to jumpstart; but once the process is in motion, look out!! The process became much easier for me when I moved to New York City. With cracker-box-sized apartments the norm around here, there is just no other way around learning to keep your space (and life) clutter-free. Otherwise, holding on to an otherwise normal amount of possessions just becomes hoarder-like. I have learned over the years to take stock of what I own and reduce on a regular basis…not just yearly, but every couple of months or so. It’s a good thing – it makes it seem like we live in a “new” apartment every few months or so. The constant editing keeps the things I surround myself interesting and filled with meaning – objects that have a story of an exotic locale I visited or an interesting person who gifted them, or spark conversation with visiting guests – rather than just pretty, catalogue purchases that go in and out of fashion. Here are my top ten personal “rules” for keeping my surroundings and my life clear, open, refreshing and vibrant:


Rule #1: “Do I like it or LOVE it?” If I like it, it goes…I only keep things I love. (This works for relationships, too!)

Rule #2: Have I worn this garment or used this item in the last year? If not, it goes…but if I really LOVE it, then do I REALLY see myself wearing it or using it this year? If so, I keep it; if not, it goes….once something has not been worn or used for 2 years, it’s obviously served no purpose in my life.

Rule #3: Is there someone or some organization that can make much better use of this item than I can, who would be so honored and happy to have it? If so, then it goes to them. The spirit of “lovingly giving something away” can be so freeing from the guilt of “getting rid” of something. I regularly make donations to my local Housing Works thrift store (which supports HIV- and AIDS-related research and support services), Goodwill Store and area schools. (And don’t forget to get a receipt to claim the monetary value of your donations as deductions on your tax return!)

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Rule #4: Plants: It’s always a guilt-ridden task getting rid of something that’s alive. I always remind myself that the reason I buy plants for the home is for DECORATION – not to save the planet, not to add extra oxygen to my living room, not because it’s some endangered species that needs to be propagated. No – for me, it’s just décor. So, if it isn’t pretty – if there are only 3, yellowed leaves left barely hanging on, if I’ve tried to water and fertilize and care for it and it’s still brown, wilted and pathetic – out it goes. There is a famous gardener’s quote that says, “My garden is not an infirmary for diseased and dying plants.” That’s me; that’s my apartment. Out it goes, to someone who has the time and energy, correct amount of light and, yes, the GREEN THUMB, to make it grow and bloom. I’m fortunate to have a community garden next door that lovingly rescued a fern and a succulent that were struggling in my new apartment. I now get to walk past the garden and see them flourishing, as they deserve to be doing!

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Rule #5: Craft/art/building materials: These are difficult to get rid of for us creative types because we always assume we can use them one day. If they haven’t inspired me to use them in a year, out they go – their beauty and usefulness is being wasted by my laziness and procrastination in doing something with them, in releasing their potential fabulousness! Chances are, there is someone who is much more talented and deserving of these materials than I am – someone who will be inspired and energized by them. (Besides, if at the end of a year, I haven’t used those tubes of paint, yards of fabric or skeins of yarn, I can do a quick, impromptu painting, sew up a pillow cover or knit a quick scarf – and get to keep them another year without breaking my ruthless 1-year rule! Sneaky!)

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Rule #6: I’m a real sentimentalist; and objects that have sentimental value are the hardest to let go. I’ve had to learn that I can maintain the good memories of someone or some event in my life without having the physical objects associated with them lying around and literally zapping my life energy. I know that that special person whose memory I want to honor wouldn’t want their mementos to be the source of a heavy, immobilizing sense of obligation for me. And letting go of the objects eases, somewhat, the “letting go” of the person. I can remember the “having” of that person in my  life and smile, rather than feel my chest and stomach clench with the memory of loss.

Rule #7: If it’s really, really worth being a part of my life, it should be used, worn, or displayed prominently and proudly in my space – not banished like a prisoner to some dark box, closet or (God forbid!) rental storage unit. All things, living and inanimate, have a purpose and should be allowed to fulfill that purpose and shine – not be shut out and wasted in darkness and uselessness. They should be able to tell their fascinating stories, sing their beautiful music.

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

Rule #8: (Well, this one is more of an unseen benefit than a rule.)  The end of a day of cleaning out my clutter (and my life) is like emptying a large jug – the temporary feeling of guilt, loss and need is gone, providing a clean, open space for feelings of contentment, clarity and giving to flow back in, freely, like cool, fresh water.

Rule #9: Sometimes, you don’t always have to get rid of stuff – you can just get much, much better at organizing it. Learning to organize what you keep is just as important as learning to get rid of what you don’t need. The thing about organized living is, however, if you don’t know exactly where everything is, it’s not really organization. Time to rethink the “organization” escape hatch and go with rules 1-8, above.

Rule #10: One in; one out. This is probably the most important of the rules. Once you have done the difficult work above, the key is to maintain that level of clarity and simplicity in regards to your possessions. I employ the (often challenging, I admit) “one in; one out” rule. This rule dictates that for every object I bring into the apartment, one similar object has to go. If I buy a new shirt, an old shirt has to go. A new pair of shoes or a gorgeous flower vase? Out with the old ones! This is the ONLY way to sustain; no way around it. I promise – this one does get easier the more you adhere to it. But honestly, the most beneficial of the top ten rules, for sure.

Happy editing! Happy organizing! Happy New Year!!!

Interior design by Kanani Mahelona

The New York City Blackout: 10 Years Later


Today is the 10-year anniversary of the great blackout of 2003, which affected much of the Northeast, most notably New York City.  I was living in Dallas at the time and on a business trip to Hartford, CT.  As luck (or lack of it) would have it, I would end up making a last-minute trip down to New York City on that fateful day – and have one of the most surreal experiences of my life.  Here’s a light-hearted account of it all, recounted from an email I sent to friends and family a few days after returning home from the ordeal:

Thursday, August 14:

Ralph hears about the blackout in New York on the news while at work in Dallas. He thinks to himself, “Wow…thank GOD Kanani’s not in Manhattan!”

Minutes later, he receives the call from me. “Hey…guess what..I had to make an emergency trip to Manhattan today for work; and the power just went out all over the city. I think I’m trapped here.”

Some big, karmic, practical joke? Nope…but as events unfolded over the next day, one would wonder.

I wasn’t even SUPPOSED to be in New York. I was in Hartford on a business trip. One of my coworkers in Connecticut was asked to do a last-minute product demonstration in our New York office. She agreed; but after thinking about it, she realized she was not the best person for the demonstration. That’s when I entered the comedy of errors that was about to play itself out over the next 24 hours.

Cath asked me if I would take her place at the AccuMark software presentation in New York while she took over the class I was teaching to our international trainers. It made perfect sense. She knew the subject matter I was teaching; and I was used to doing last-minute, high-pressure software demonstrations for high-profile customers. Plus, a day of excitement in the city would be a good shot in the arm for me. (Be careful what you ask for!)

At my hotel in Manchester, Connecticut, I gathered my cushiony yoga mat and a bath towel, just in case the presentation ended in time for me to do a late-afternoon yoga class in NYC, then get back to Hartford for the company dinner that was planned. Though I had a rental car for the week in Hartford, I was advised by my coworkers Andi and Rodolfo to make the hourlong drive to New Haven, CT, then catch the Metro North train into Manhattan to avoid traffic into the city. It made perfect sense; and that’s exactly what I did, taking along a big bottle of water and a big bag of trail mix. (I guess that would be the foreshadowing element to this story, huh? Trail mix….as if I was going “camping” or something!)

I left my rental car at the train station in New Haven and boarded the train to Grand Central. It was a full train, loaded with people heading to New York for a long weekend before school started. I sat next to 2 teenagers who talked the whole trip about the fake ID’s they had purchased and their upcoming weekend of bar-hopping and drunkenness; how they would “beat” the system; how they had groomed themselves to look older; how they were so much more mature than their real age; how they were so cool; how they would “conquer” Manhattan. They were so IRRITATING, rehearsing their lines for the moment the bouncers asked them when they were born. Role playing. One would play the bouncer, the other would convince him they were 21. Then, they’d switch roles. I felt like turning to them and telling them how IMMATURE they sounded and how seasoned NYC bouncers were…and good luck in getting past the velvet ropes; but I held my tongue, remembering how I at their age, around 17 or so, was just as cocky and irritating…if not more so. Looking back at the weekend, I guess they never got the chance to “conquer” the New York City night scene. I guess they were the brunt of that karmic prank, too!

We arrived safely in the Big Apple. My demonstration at the office went well; but it lasted longer than expected. No way to make that afternoon yoga class. At 4:05 pm, I headed back to Grand Central Terminal. On the way, a storefront I was looking into went dark. I figured their electricity simply went out temporarily. I stopped by a sushi joint to grab some maki rolls for the train ride; but their lights were also out. I thought it strange that they were already closed for the day. No biggie. I’d grab something at the food court at the train station. On the way, I began to notice that traffic lights weren’t working. Then, I began to hear people talking…the rumor mill had begun. The whole city was out. No, the whole STATE was out. No, everything west of the MISSISSIPPI was out. WHAT???!!!!


I watched the first emotional stage of the city develop…Frustration. People were ticked off that they wouldn’t be able to get home on time. Wasn’t there a ball game on TV tonight? I thought about the company dinner I would miss in Connecticut…I was REALLY looking forward to lobster and steamers! DAMN it!


Getting home any way you can…

Stage 2…Anger. It was HOT, for God’s sake! No air conditioning! People began to pour outside from the buildings, the shops, their homes. Drivers, gridlocked and going absolutely nowhere, started honking their horns, cussing at other drivers out their windows. Working women began to cry, worried about their kids at home…across the river in Jersey, in Brooklyn. Not only were we not going to get home in time…we may not get home TONIGHT…PERIOD!


Heading home by foot over the Brooklyn Bridge

Stage 3…Acceptance. Nothing we can do about it. It’s way too hot in the interior of the city. Move to the edges, to the waterfront. I made my way to the Christopher Street Pier, newly renovated in recent years with landscaping, picnic tables, paved walkways, shaded pavilions. Along with tons of other people, I found a spot on the grass and rolled out my yoga mat. Took off my shirt (now drenched), dug out my book, read and enjoyed the sunshine and cool breeze off the water. A quick call to Ralph and Mom to let them know I’m okay. I noticed city employees setting up lamp posts and generators along the piers. Hmmm…they know something we don’t. At this point, it was kinda fun. People throwing Frisbees, conversing, eating pizza and Chinese (takeout restaurants made a KILLING), doing yoga on the grass. GOD, I love New York!


Weary outside the main Post Office

About 7 o’clock, I decided to make my way back to Midtown. No electricity yet…and maybe an 8 o’clock yoga class would take place. I sure could use it right now! I walked through Greenwich Village, which was like a big street party. Grocery stores were practically giving away all forms of ice cream, which was melting quickly in the heat. Everyone you saw on the street was digging into a carton of Häagen-Dazs or munching on Eskimo Pies. Restaurants weren’t serving food; but they were taking advantage of the lack of air conditioning by continuing to sell drinks, mostly of the alcoholic variety. Maybe those 2 teenagers on the train DID get their share of libations, after all! Everyone was outdoors, in the streets…standing around, laughing, eating pizza, passing on rumors. I noticed that lots of fire hydrants had been opened; and kids were playing in the gushing water…just like the movies!

Power out across East Coast

Although yoga class was a long shot, I figured they might do it with candlelight, which would be oh-so-woo-woo! Apparently, only one other person thought so, too. I waited with a guy named Casey outside the door. The buzzer wasn’t working; so we had no way to know if class was on or not. It turned out he was a gym rat who had never done yoga before (a “virgin”)…tonight would be his first class. He asked me what it was like; and I told him how wonderful it would be; how much he would enjoy it. By 8:20, no one had shown up to let us in. Casey was so bummed that he would miss his first class. He asked me what hotel I was staying in. I explained that I didn’t have one – that I had never intended to be in the city past 6pm – that I was basically, well, trapped. He got really concerned and gave me his address, in case I needed a place to stay for the night. How sweet! How New York. That’s what I love about this city…the people. Up-front and in-your-face, but compassionate just the same. Always getting an undeserved, bad rap from the rest of us. Anyway, he was WAY too cute to spend an evening in total darkness with. Thanks, Casey-the-Hot-Yoga-Virgin, but no thanks.

Stage 4…Fear. The sun set quickly…and everything faded to pitch black instantly. You could feel the fear in the air. You could cut the distrust with a knife: it was so thick. You could barely see in front of your face. People continually looked behind them as they walked. I remembered the lamp posts and generators along the waterfront; so I made my way back downtown. By the time I arrived, most of the grassy areas were taken. Families with children, tourists, Manhattanites, gays, straights…everywhere. Thank goodness for my yoga mat!!! I set down for the evening and enviously watched the lights of Jersey City across the Hudson River. Even watched a skyscraper there burn. Strange what passes for “entertainment” when there’s nothing to do. Watched amorous couples who were thrilled by the total darkness. Too bad the moon spoiled their fun. When it rose, it was bright as a searchlight, like Cosmo’s moon in “Moonstruck” – absolutely breathtaking. As the night progressed, the air became cooler – too cool, in fact. Thank goodness for my hotel towel – a useful substitute for a blanket. I was set. I ate my “dinner” of Evian and trail mix….and I was suddenly exhausted.


Friday, August 15:

At 2:00 am, park employees came by and kicked everyone off the waterfront, shining flashlights at everyone and telling everyone to move on, the park was closed. WHAT???!!!! I was so blown away by the idiocy of it. Where in the hell were these hundreds, if not thousands of people to go???!!! A mass exodus back to the interior of the city…past all the sidewalk sleepers who had been expelled from the hotels due to fire safety regulations…to the parks and greenspaces, where there was more soft grass to lay on – where it felt safe.  How ironic it was that one of the safest places to be that night was Central Park!

News was still hard to come by…mostly rumors passed from someone’s aunt in Philly via cel phone to someone else to someone else to someone else. I needed the real scoop; so I settled down on a sidewalk near the Port Authority in Midtown. A makeshift security guard, hired to watch someone’s shop through the night, had his car radio on. The news channel. I listened for about a half hour. Not good news. Metro North would not be running the next day. My only hope of getting back to Connecticut (and then, back to Dallas) shriveled. I passed out on the sidewalk (again, my soft yoga mat saved me) until about 4 am, when I heard people cheering and clapping. The newscasters said that the lights had come back on in Midtown. LIARS!!!!

I rolled up my mat and decided to take a chance on the news, anyway. I trekked over to Grand Central Terminal, stepping over the mass of sleeping bodies outside the Port Authority – families waiting to catch the first buses in the morning to Jersey. That’s when it hit me how surreal it all was – everyone’s chance to experience homelessness for one night. Bum for a Day!!! Or worse…it was like a massive die-off, with hundreds of bodies lying everywhere. World War III. Armageddon. It gave me the creeps.


Grand Central was a bust. No electricity, no trains, no activity whatsoever, except for the long lines to the restrooms and payphones. Cel phones were still not working well…the lines jammed. Plus, my cel battery was on the blink; and I had to save any cel time for only the most important calls. I needed to be patient for a few more hours…I might as well get some more sleep. Bryant Park was just down the street. Step over more people, find a (stone) bench, roll out the yoga mat, cover myself with my towel, collapse.

I awoke to yet another surreal experience. The voice of Liz Phair singing…LIVE. Apparently, she had a mini-concert scheduled in the park first thing in the morning. It was either being televised or broadcast on radio; I couldn’t tell which. But her cheerful, folksy voice was welcome after the strangeness of the previous night. People were enthusiastic and cheered her on. It felt like we were WWII GI’s; and she was with the USO. I thought to myself, “They can bring in all these power generators for her concert…but not for lighting in the parks the night before?” Bizarre.

The guy on the bench right next to mine was from upstate New York. As I looked at him, I thought he must have looked handsome 24 hours ago….in his crisp lavender shirt and maybe a burgundy necktie, briefcase in hand, on the way to the office. Now, he just looked pathetic – crumpled shirt, severe case of bed-head (or should I say bench-head?), dark circles under his eyes, exhausted, lost. He had spent the night in Central Park and, like me, had made his way in the wee hours of morning down to Grand Central in hopes that Metro North trains were running…then fell asleep in Bryant Park. I had to break the bad news to him – that they would not be running until probably Saturday. We were both starved; and the remaining trail mix I had just wouldn’t do. I found a little, corner bodega that was selling coffee and pastries left over from Thursday morning. With the line that had formed, it took me 45 minutes to get 2 cups of watered-down coffee and 2 rock-hard Danishes. But I wouldn’t have traded them for Starbucks…they were delicious to 2 starved strangers. We broke bread together, wished each other luck and parted ways – each pursuing our own plan of escape.


After a hard night on the sidewalks of NYC

I called Mom and Ralph to let them know I survived the night; and that I was okay, not to worry. By this time, I was going home, come Hell or high water. Another important phone call to Linda Ryan, our Gerber Technology travel agent. She would become my lifeline for the next 10 hours. I couldn’t leave my cel phone on because my battery was nearly dead. We had to communicate through voicemails left on my phone in Dallas. She would try one option for me to get home, then leave me a voicemail. I would check my voicemail to find out what the options were, then call her back. She was AWESOME!

Plan A: Wait for the electricity to come on, then for the trains to get organized, then catch Metro North to New Haven. Grab my rental car in New Haven, drive to Hartford, catch my 6:40 pm plane to Dallas. WRONG! No trains would be running today, even if the electricity actually DID come back.

Plan B: Go to the Port Authority to look for a bus to Connecticut. WRONG! “Stay AWAY from the inter-state buses,” warned Linda. They were a mess. If there even WAS a bus to Connecticut, we’d be crammed like sardines onto it. And no one has bathed since Thursday morning. (That included me…and I could barely STAND myself by now!)

Plan C: Limo service to Connecticut. Yeah, right…or maybe a private jet or helicopter. NEXT!

Plan D: Rent a car from Manhattan to New Haven. Drop off the rental car in New Haven and grab my original rental car there. WRONG! No rental cars available in NYC.

Plan E: Rent a car from Hoboken, NJ to New Haven. WRONG! No rental cars available in Hoboken, either.

Plan F: My coworkers Jenni (in Dallas), Walter and Suzanne (both in Jersey) have a plan. Walter, the NY salesman for whom I did the presentation, also got trapped in the city, along with another coworker, Summer. Walter and Summer were able to get back into the Gerber Technology office and spend the night there last night. This morning, they were able to catch a Path train to Suzanne’s house in Hoboken. Walter’s wife was driving down from Connecticut to take him back home. I could catch a ride with them back to New Haven. WRONG! The Path trains were so packed by the time I got the message, that Walter’s wife arrived before I could even get to Jersey. Nice try, though.

Finally, Linda calls me with Plan G…but timing is gonna be close…REALLY close! Find a way to get to the airport in Newark, NJ. A rental car is waiting for me there; but I have to pick it up by noon. (It’s already 10:30.) Having made the trip from NYC to Newark Airport many times in the past, I knew exactly where to catch the airport bus. I run to the corner of 42nd and 8th for the Olympus bus, praying that it is running. It is. (Maybe Plan G will actually work!) They only take cash on the bus. Thank God I saved what little cash I had. I was tempted several times to grab a drink at one of the bars during the night…or buy something to eat for dinner rather than my trail mix; but something told me to save what cash I had. There were no running ATMs; and credit card machines weren’t working, either. Out of cash, out of luck!

I arrive at Newark Liberty International Airport. First stop, ATM for some much-needed cash. Then, I hop in the rental car and speed to the Interstate. Unfortunately, the way around the city was closed; and I was redirected back through Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel. That meant I had to start at the bottom of the island and drive all the way up to the top – some 200-plus city blocks – with no traffic lights working along the way. It added another hour and a half to my trip. I was pretty stressed out by now. I kept doing my yogic breathing…telling myself to “let go”…that if I missed my flight to Dallas, at least I would be in a comfortable hotel in Connecticut…with a BATH!

I finally get through Manhattan and onto I-95 North to Connecticut. But the karma still isn’t good. Traffic is horrific. A normally 1-1/2 to 2-hour trip to New Haven took me over 4 hours…..again, eating away at my time. If I had nails, they’d be chewed up by now. If I smoked, I’d be through a whole carton by now. If I had a bottle of anything ALCOHOLIC in the car? Honey, I’d have pulled off the Interstate by now and headed to the nearest beach and been THROUGH wit’ all o’ this!!!

Thank God for Linda, my travel agent extraordinaire!!! She was so calm and encouraging on the phone:

“Kanani, you’re gonna make it. Don’t worry. I’ve made that drive from New Haven to Hartford many times. If you get the rental car dropped off in New Haven, pick up your original rental car there, and get back on the interstate by 4:30, you’ll be at Bradley Airport by 5:15 – plenty of time before your 6:40 flight.”

“But what if I don’t get out of there by 4:30? Is there a later flight I can take? Or one first thing in the morning?”

“We aren’t even GOING there. You’re gonna be fine.”

Gotta love her. Little did she know that after picking up my original rental car in New Haven, I STILL had to drive back to my hotel in Manchester, CT to get my stuff, pack my suitcase and check out BEFORE heading to Bradley Airport! (I had never checked out of the hotel in Connecticut, under the assumption I was going to return from NYC the same day I ventured out.) That was gonna be at least another 45 minutes added onto my trip. There was NO WAY I’d make it. More yogic breathing. More “letting go”.

And…more karmic “prankstering”. As it turned out, the National Car Rental office was not at the New Haven train station, as I had assumed. It was over a mile away. After several unsuccessful calls to find out where it was, I asked a bus driver, who gave me directions. Made it there. Dropped off the car. WHAT??!! No drop-off service to the train station to pick up my original rental car?! Call a cab. Wait for the cab. Get to the train station. Hop in my original rental car. Drive like a bat outta Hell to Manchester. Pop the trunk, run into the hotel. The Gerber Technology Denmark contingent had just arrived for the 2nd week of training at the Gerber Technology office the following Monday and were checking in at the registration desk. “Hey, you’re back!” they said, in their gorgeous Danish accents. “We heard you were trapped in New York!” Wow…if traffic had traveled HALF as fast as the news of my dilemma had traveled to Copehagen, I’d be home by now.

A quick “Farvel!” to the Danes. Run up to my hotel room. Throw my stuff into the suitcase.  Change out of my sweaty, smelly clothes. No time for a quick shower, damn it. Off to Bradley International Airport.

And as Linda assured me, I made it…but just barely. I was the very last person on the plane…but on the plane, nonetheless. A quick phone call home:

“Hey, I made it. I’m sitting on the plane in Hartford. I’ll be home TONIGHT.”

“I can’t BELIEVE you actually MADE it!” exclaimed Ralph.

I almost didn’t believe it myself. I’m just gonna close my eyes and breathe until I open my eyes on the DFW runway. Open these weary eyes in my OWN car. Open these happy eyes at HOME.


Grandma’s Gift: A Love of Textiles


One of the greatest things I’ve experienced since leaving the corporate world has been a reawakening of creative thoughts, time to slow down and really “see” little details around me that I was in too much of a hurry before to notice – time to again pursue creative interests that, once passionate about, I had left in a state of “hibernation”. One of the quickest of these to raise its head has been the field of textile design.

Since childhood, I have been surrounded by colorful textiles. Any child growing up in Hawaii has the same experience – these brightly-colored botanical prints following us from the soft blankets (“kihei pili”) under our infant bellies to the billowing cloth of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ cool, cotton mu’umu’us, to the crisp and handsome “aloha shirts” of our fathers and grandfathers. When these were outgrown, worn out or damaged, the textiles were recycled – pieced together in colorful, patchwork blankets and quilts. A particularly brilliant one graced the pune’e (daybed) in our living room; and I spent hours lounging there, lost in the imagery represented in each swatch of fabric. Like a riotous, fabric jigsaw puzzle, I would look for the same print design in various pieces scattered throughout the blanket. I never tired of it. Who knows, decades later, whatever happened to it; but I would give anything to have that beautiful “kihei” again, wrapping me in my Hawaiian childhood.

Here I am at my 5th birthday party in Honolulu, surrounded by my siblings and cousins, all of us aglow in brilliant, 1960’s Hawaiian-print textiles (Yes, that’s me in the blue, mosaic print and shiny hair!):

My 5th birthday party, Honolulu, Nov 1969

My 5th birthday party, Honolulu, Nov 1969

That fascination in graphic design applied to the surface of cloth was soon followed by a curiosity of the structure and construction of the cloth itself, beneath the printed design. Watching my mother stitch flat scraps of Hawaiian-print fabric into clothing that conformed to the contours of mine and my siblings’ little, sun-tanned bodies was amazing. Studying her working that ancient, black Singer treadle sewing machine – amazed at how, all at once, she controlled the stitch speed with the filigreed foot treadle, raised the presser foot with a knee lever, and used one hand to guide the fabric while raising and lowering the needle with the other – she may as well have been a wizard or a one-man band from outer space, playing for an astonished-but-appreciative crowd of spectators. I noticed the difference between those soft, cotton broadcloths and the rough, course weave of the canvas fabric my father stretched over wooden frames for his paintings and thought, “Hmmmm…”

My grandmother spent hours at a time crocheting the most intricate doilies, tablecloths, shawls and jewelry, dripping with pearls or incorporating 3D bouquets of orchids and pansies in brilliantly-colored cotton thread of the finest denier. My sisters and I loved digging through bins of her work at her tiny apartment in Honolulu; and still, the acrid scent of naphthalene in the moth balls she used to preserve them takes me back to her, and my childhood. Our house was ornamented with her brilliant throw pillows quilted in the Hawaiian style – one brightly-colored botanical design appliqueed against another, brightly-colored ground. My brothers and I slept (and drooled) on them, engaged in mad pillow fights with them, and built giant piles of them on which to land, safely, from daredevil leaps on high. And when she, probably in an attempt to keep me and my sister busy and out of her hair, cut a square piece from a cardboard box, slit it in regular intervals on all sides and taught us how to weave a pot holder on it using strips of colored scrap fabric left over from her own sewing projects, I was smitten.

That love of textiles never left me; and I followed it, willingly, through a career in fashion design, then a passion for computer-aided textile and surface design, to a late-found love for interior design. And no matter what artistic twists and turns I took, from pottery to lighting and home furnishings, the influence of textiles – particularly the structure of the basic, basket-weave pattern – always revealed itself in my work:

woven bowl

Ceramic bowl, 2001

stitched bowl

Ceramic and copper wire bowl, 2002


Paper lanterns, 1999


Wood and bungee cord chair, 2013

Living in New York City has continued to nurture that passion. I took up knitting in the East Village back in 2005 as a way to occupy myself on my daily subway ride, and to “connect” spiritually with my grandmother. About a year ago, I began practicing the free-form Japanese art of weaving, Saori, in a small, basement studio on the Upper East Side. The possibilities and offerings in this city are endless – at the tip of one’s fingers, one can seek and find classes in upholstery, shibori dyeing, portrait embroidery, lacemaking, yarn spinning, silkscreening, reverse appliquee or felting.

A few weekends ago, I stepped into a fairytale land of creativity and experimentation. Through some of my recent textile print-design work, I was notified of an opportunity to spend a weekend at the Textile Arts Center, experimenting with textiles under the guidance of Pascale Gueracague, textile designer for the fashion house of Helmut Lang. Knowing this fashion collection well for its pushing the boundaries of textile surface design and construction, I jumped at the opportunity to work with its creator and hopped on the R train to Brooklyn for the weekend.

Expecting a haughty, strict and probably judgmental European teacher, ruler in hand, ready to pounce on her hopeless and untalented American wanna-bes, I was thrilled to find instead a beautiful, young, half-French-half-American woman with a huge smile and kindness oozing from her pores. As she sat with her Mac laptop, struggling to make it “talk” to the video projector and ready to pull her hair out, I thought, “Ahhh…she’s one of us!” Little did I know that once she got the technology in sync and began her presentation of visual ideas and trends, me and the other handful of students in attendance would be completely and overwhelmingly inspired, our creative juices running amok, chomping at the bit, ready to start our weekend of artistic abandon.


But, oh, no…forget about those baubles and beads, those brilliant prints and fabulous embellishments we all brought in our backpacks to work with! Au contraire! This will be a series of EXERCISES, of “quick studies” that will challenge us to analyze a fabric’s properties and take that fabric to a completely different level, Pascale tells us. As she leads us to the table of fabrics we are to work with, we are all, at some level, disappointed, challenged, confused…no, HORRIFIED at the selections cast before us. No Gaugin-esque, painterly prints in sight. No luscious limes, funky fuchsias, sparkly metallics here. No rock star, no Disney princess, not even a Downtown drag queen would be caught dead in these fabrics. (Well, there IS this one blindingly fluorescent orange fabric – a strange, stiff, transparent knit that could only be described as “radioactive construction-worker ballet-tutu”. We all stayed WAY away from that one!) “Breathe, release, accept the challenge,” I tell myself. “Hmmm, should I pick the flesh-colored toile, the spiderweb-colored organza, or the gray-black, casket-liner satin?!”


Luckily, as it turns out, none of us have to pick at all. Pascale has chosen for us – a very pale gray crepe de Chine. We are all given a piece of the same fabric and a pair of scissors. Our challenge is to create a new fabric using only scissors; and we have 20 minutes to do so. Surprisingly, as soon as the fabric touches my skin, I am energized, excited, ready to take this on. I add yet another challenge on top of Pascale’s – to resist cutting the fabric into more than one piece and reconstruct it – but rather, to keep the entire piece intact. As if summoned by some silent incantation, I notice my creative self rising to the surface, leading me in the project. Folding the fabric in half lengthwise, I make a series of horizontal slits, cut the floating strips in the center of the fabric in half, and tie each half together in a knot:



Once our time was up, we all pinned our swatches to a large, felt-covered presentation wall and described our thoughts, our processes, and received feedback and guidance. It was AWESOME!!! I think we were all completely hooked on Pascale’s process. The weekend consisted of one challenge after another, sometimes with fabrics Pascale chose for us, other times with fabrics we chose ourselves. Oftentimes, Pascale gave us a particular method/process with which to create; and at others, we could go “wild” and create our own challenges, using whatever method/process we felt compelled to use: sewing, pressing, cutting, tying, gluing, tearing, puncturing, stretching, sanding…the gerunds here could go on and on.

Challenge: Play with texture and “motion”. Rough-cut circles, sanded to fray the edges, plus a zigzag stitch on the sewing machine, creates both stationary and “moving” layers of texture. This would be fun to dance in:


Challenge: Experiment with layers. I wanted to play with layers both at the main visual plane, above the main visual plane…and even beneath the main visual plane. I sandwiched 2 pieces of somewhat-transparent fabric together and stitched parallel rows across the entire surface to create texture at the initial visual level of the fabric. To add more texture ABOVE the initial visual level of the fabric, I cut small pieces of the fabric and stacked/assembled them into 3D fabric “roses”, attached with embroidery floss:



And when, as a soft and feminine dress, its wearer passes the light of a window or doorway, the fabric reveals yet another, surprise level of texture – small pieces of the fabric “floating” between the two sandwiched layers, caught in the parallel rows of stitching:


Challenge: Use the same fabric as before, but go in a different direction, using textures and layers, to transform it from soft, feminine and delicate to something harder and more “threatening”. Free-form, black zigzag stitching on two, sandwiched layers of flesh-colored fabric, then scissor-snipping and sanding to rough up the edges, creates a slightly ominous, “botched-surgery”/“Frankenstein” effect:


Challenge: Tackle the freaky, DayGlo orange knit. Pascale encourages us to “sit” with a piece of fabric for a while – touching it, observing it closely, manipulating it with our hands to identify its innate qualities and characteristics. It was stiff-but-stretchy, bold in color but delicate in transparency…a very intriguing textile. I noticed when I pulled it in the bias direction that it began to curl inward or, by contrast, expand outward. It reminded me of an unusual sea creature – a coral or anemone, a sea fan or manta ray. At the sewing machine, I pulled it on the bias while stitching darts across it surface. To my astonishment and delight, it began to take a new and unexpected shape – a prehistoric, “living” creature, ready to attach itself, at just the perfect, stylish angle, to the head of some eccentric, Downtown fashion maven:

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Pascale models an amazing, iridescent, sequin-encrusted jacket she designed. Once we have gotten over the shock at its beauty and detail and ended our photo-taking frenzy, she explains that she used iridescent gift wrap from Party City, had it sent to India to be made into sequins, and had the sequins sewn all over the base garment:

IMG_3111 IMG_3112

Challenge: Explore non-traditional materials and incorporate them into a sculptural textile. An avid “dumpster-diver” who has rescued many a “treasure” from a municipal-landfill grave (see wood chair pictured, above), I immediately head for the trash bin. Lo and behold, someone’s plastic, take-out salad-bowl lid calls to me. A quick rinse, a few snips of my scissors, some tearing of fabric, and some quick finger-weaving result in large, “sparkly” medallions – “Les Miserables”-style embellishments for the hem of a voluminous skirt in blood-red, duchesse satin:



Challenge: Experiment with quilting in a different way than usual. Since poly batting is usually only used for loft and softness but never actually seen (since it is sandwiched inside 2 outer layers of fabric), I wanted the handler of the textile to actually SEE the batting. I sandwiched it between 2 layers of transparent fabric, a pale gray organza. After stitching my design for the quilted area, I hand-trimmed all the excess batting away, then continued to stitch the 2 layers of organza together with parallel rows of stitching. For additional texture, I shredded one side of the textile and left the other intact, creating a “jellyfish” effect:



With light passing through the translucent fabric

Challenge: Use only waste material to create a textile. As many of us in the workshop spent lots of time shredding fabric to create “fringe”, it occurred to me that on many fabrics, the selvages (the lengthwise edges of a woven roll of fabric) are naturally “fringed”. In addition, on the production floor, all these selvages are cut away (not used in the final garment) and discarded. I gathered up lengths of selvages from the various fabrics we had been using in our quick studies throughout the weekend, reveling in their varied colors, widths and textures. I stitched them together, stacked one upon the other, to create a fun, colorful and highly-textured fabric that Pascale thinks would make a great, Chanel-style jacket:


Challenge: Manipulate a striped fabric by incorporating the striped design into something new and unexpected. Pascale purposely had us work with solids the whole weekend, in order to concentrate on the structure and construction of the textile, rather than the surface graphic design. For our last challenge, though, she now wanted us to use a striped shirting fabric, giving us the opportunity to manipulate the visual graphic, as well as the structural qualities. I imagine the bright red stripes yearning to escape the staid, conservative fabric; so with a few slices to release every other stripe, then restitching the resulting gaps, my stripes leap from the 2D surface into a 3rd dimension, capped off with a knotted end to give them weight, movement and “life”:



As our last day came to an end, no one wanted to stop. We were, as Pascale put it, “in the zone”. That’s the best place you can be as an artist or designer, with ideas swirling in your head, a cooperative and cohesive energy flowing between you and the other participants, a feeling of “oneness” with the materials you are handling, and an overwhelming sense of well-being. For me, I was also overcome with a mix of love, sadness and gratitude. Having lost my grandmother earlier in the year, this weekend connected me to her talent, her teaching, her love. My parents and siblings and I engaged in so many great discussions during and after our loss of her; and one of the common threads (no pun intended!) was the way in which immortality manifests itself through one’s teachings. We all learned from her and were inspired by her in different ways. For me, it was her textile arts – her gift to me. What greater gift can someone give to you than a lifelong passion? Mahalo nui, Grandma! I felt you next to me all weekend!

Dedicated to Rose Mary Ku’ualoha Mahelona, 1929-2013

Me and Grandma, Dallas, 1999

Me and Grandma, Dallas, 1999

Immigration and America


A few days ago, my longtime friend, Rodolfo Ramirez, became an American citizen. I was honored to be able to travel by train to New Haven, CT to witness his naturalization ceremony, along with his partner, John, and his dear friends, Maria, Gitte, Marge and Roberto. I have witnessed this wonderful, loving and talented man transition over the years from a young and magnetic coworker in Mexico City, to a wizened, mature and passionate teacher and resident of Connecticut, to a lifelong friend and confidant – and full-fledged citizen of the United States, to boot!



The train ride through New England, and the purpose for the journey, awakened the ghosts of the original American patriots who lived, defended and died here. It made me reflective of my own sense of what patriotism feels like, and what role immigration plays in the spirit of national pride.

Upon arrival at the grand, column-flanked steps of New Haven’s US District Court, overlooking the well-manicured and snow-flecked New Haven Green and the stately, brownstone buildings of Yale University beyond,  a sense of formality, tradition and solemnity overwhelmed me. It was intimidating enough for an American-born citizen such as myself; but I can only guess at the magnitude of feeling instilled in those being naturalized today as they scaled these same, daunting steps, heard the clickety-clack of their heels echoing in the hallowed halls, lowered their voices to whispers soft enough that the sound of their racing heartbeats emerged. What must it feel like, the joy and sadness, of renouncing allegiance to your Motherland, but to finally be able to partake of the American Dream?


As I passed through the metal detectors – a sad sign of the times – and surrendered my “deadly” Blackberry, i-Touch and NYC subway pass to the attending authorities, I marveled at the sheer diversity of ethnicities ahead of me in line, all going through the motions of surrendering their own, “dangerous contraband”.  (Can you tell I’m just slightly peeved by all this threat-of-terrorism brouhaha?!)  Mexicans, Colombians, Russians, Romanians, Indians, Filipinos, Portuguese, Chinese, Jamaicans, Ghanaians – it was so beautiful: the gorgeous, colorful, varied, happy, nervous faces.

As Rodolfo’s equally-nervous-and-excited cheering section, we settled into our row of seats in the soaring, wood-paneled-and-gilded courtroom; and it struck me that our row alone – each of us flanking our dear friend on his special day – were as diverse and varied ethnically as the crowd filing in.  Each one of us has proud, immigrant roots:  Rodolfo and Maria emigrated from Mexico, Roberto from Argentina, Gitte from Denmark.  John’s family emigrated from Portugal; and Marge’s family escaped the great Potato Famine in Ireland.  Some of my ancestors immigrated to Hawaii from Portugal and China, others from New Jersey via England and Ireland.  Even my “kanaka maoli” ancestors, the native Hawaiians, left their original homelands of Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands to establish a life in paradise.

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One of the things I love most about living in New York City is its thrilling cultural diversity.  I love being able to stand on a street corner and hear dozens of languages spoken all around me.  (Ralph and I love to eavesdrop, trying to identify all the musical, foreign tongues!)  I cherish the ability to have breakfast at a Ukranian deli, lunch at a Tibetan cafe, dinner at a chic, Peruvian hot spot – and then repeat the next day, with 3 completely different cuisines!  I feel fortunate to be able to cheer and clap along with the myriads lining the streets during Manhattan’s parades, celebrating the people and cultures of Puerto Rico, China, Ireland, India, etc.

On May 1, 2006, a year and half after moving to this amazing city, I left the office on my lunch break to attend the “Day without Immigrants” rally in Union Square.  This was a day in which immigrants nationwide didn’t show up for work (attending the rally, instead), to show how much their adopted cities depended on them to function smoothly.  It was a brilliant response to the anti-immigrant sentiment spreading through our nation at the time – a sentiment that concerned and troubled me.  I figured this sentiment had, at its base, a simple and understandable fear of the unknown.  I reflected on my own feelings; and though I had always had an open mind about it, I did find little “specks” of fear and discomfort in myself.

Day Without Immigrants - May 01, 2006, Union Square, New York - Photo by Daniel Alexander

Day Without Immigrants – May 01, 2006, Union Square, New York – Photo by Daniel Alexander

Attending that NYC rally was just what I needed.  Rather than mobs of conniving, opportunistic devils caricatured in political lampoons, here were masses (over 100,000 people) expressing their love for the United States and the American dream, appreciative of opportunity, with a willingness to work their fingers to the bone for little pay, few or no benefits and very little respect – just to be able to make a better life for their children.  I imagine my deeply-revered immigrant ancestors, as well as those of my fellow row-mates in this courtroom (and, quite frankly, all those here today to pledge their allegiance to our country), possessed the same dreams, hopes, determination, self-sacrifice and love for the U.S.

union square

I stood in awe of, and in solidarity with, this triumphant, unstoppable force of humanity.  My fears diminishing, an awakening began in me.  It became clear that this spirit, this influx of determination and drive, this willingness to “make do”, to improvise, to invent, to bring to the table a completely new range of achievements and experiences in overcoming adversity, is what made this country great – and will make it great, again.

My friend, Rodolfo, doesn’t take for granted the benefits, opportunities and privileges now afforded him.  He cannot wait to vote, to serve on a jury, to dive – face first – into the American Pie (one of which, hilariously, Gitte brought to the courthouse as a gift for him!).  He symbolizes the American spirit for me and encourages me to reawaken that spirit in myself.  Thank you, Rodolfo!  I am honored to be your FELLOW American!

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Backpacking-through-Europe Part VI: Vienna

Backpacking-through-Europe Part VI: Vienna

Sent Wednesday, April 01, 2009 9:11 PM

Before I visited Vienna, I had pretty strong visions of the city…and all of it, well, “classy and luxe”: The Vienna Opera House, the Viennese Waltz, Mozart, the Lippizaner Stallions, the grand ball held by Christopher Plummer and the wickedly gorgeous Countess in ‘The Sound of Music’, the Vienna Boys Choir, the mouth-watering Sacher Torte and other, luscious pastries. My first longing for Vienna, I sheepishly admit, started back in the ’70’s on TV, when those General Foods International Coffees commercials ruled the airwaves. The spot for Cafe Vienna hooked me, with its romantic images of sipping steaming cups of coffee from beautiful china cups at a charming Vienna cafe. I’m sure I bugged my Mom relentlessly until she bought a can of the hardly-Viennese, just-add-water, sugar-loaded coffee-flavored powder. But, on a chilly, Texas-winter day, it sure warmed my insides and made me feel, well, “classy and luxe”! (Oh, yeah…the not-so-little “dash” of Kahlua I snuck in there helped, too!)

And then there’s Vienna sausage; but somehow, those pale, watery, mushy fingerlings have no association with my grand visions of the legendary Austrian city. Incidentally, in Vienna, they call their city “Wien” (pronounced “vee-EHN”); and someone (or something, such as a sausage) that comes from Wien, or is in the style of Wien, is called “Wiener” (pronounced “vee-EHN-er”). How we took such a beautiful pronunciation and twisted it into the awful-sounding “WEE-ner” is beyond me!

Vienna did not disappoint. Its city center, within the well-trafficked “Ring”, is spotless-clean and filled with beautiful, wedding-cake buildings containing layer upon layer of ornate architectural flourishes. St. Stephan’s Cathedral (under construction since 1147) and the “twin” museums – Naturhistorisches and Kunsthistorisches, veritable palaces dedicated to, respectively, the sciences and the arts, are not to be missed. The Staats-Oper (Vienna State Opera House) is beautiful and iconic, but tastefully subdued, not garish. Arrive for one of the nightly musical performances in a glassed-in, Cinderella carriage pulled by a team of elegant horses. Afterward, finish your evening by crossing the street to the Sacher Hotel, home of the famous Sacher Torte: the indulgent, dark-chocolate-and-raspberry sweet.

Outide the “Ring”, government buildings, such as the towering Rathaus (City Hall) and the gleaming-white, classical Parliament Building, are a delight. My favorite visit was to the Naschmarkt, a bustling, open-air market. The fruit, vegetables, meats, cheeses and spices are an explosion of high-intensity colors and enticing aromas. Make sure to sample some of the mouthwatering dried fruit, little cheeses wrapped in prosciutto, honey-sweet dates and pickles so salty-sour that, once your lips start puckering, you’re in danger of sucking your own face right in! While you sashay down this epicurean catwalk, you can also pop into one of the myriad wine bars and cafes serving delicious Viennese fare. (You’ll never taste a wienerschnitzel or apfelstrudel as amazing as the ones you’ll find here, right in their own hometown!)

Like Paris (but much, much cleaner), wide boulevards, manicured parks and symmetry in building abound. Like Rome, the scale, detail and drama in Vienna’s mythological statuary are amazing! You know by now that I like a little “rough-edge” aesthetic in my cities; and except for the area surrounding the Wien Südbahnhof rail station we pulled into, Vienna might have been (a wee bit) too polished, a movie set, for my tastes. (However, I can understand how this is the very thing that makes Vienna so attractive to the traveling set, compared to some of its rode-hard, European sister cities.)

But, what I came to Vienna for most was her museums; and she does have some fantastic ones, mainly clustered (as Berlin had done) in a beautiful, open-air square known as the MuseumsQuartier, once the royal stables. In my last travelogue, I mentioned the hours spent in the library in college. My parents’ artistic, slightly-off-center views of the world had already begun shaping (misshaping? Haha!) my own outlook; but burying my head in glossy art books and cutting-edge design journals blasted a hole in it! ‘Twas here that I met the artists, designers and craftsmen, both past and contemporary, that would become my personal deities: Frida Kahlo, Dale Chihuly, Egon Schiele, Louise Nevelson, Cindy Sherman, Gustav Klimt, Francis Bacon, Phillipe Starck, Thierry Mugler. I’ve come to Vienna to worship two of them – Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt – sons of Vienna, both.

These extraordinarily talented men, contemporaries of each other at the turn of the last century, are both particular favorites of mine. Klimt is the better-known of the two…his work, especially his hauntingly beautiful, Eastern-inspired (and controversially erotic at the time) paintings of fin-de-siecle Austrian high society, have been exhibited around the world. These are here at Vienna’s LeopoldMuseum, too; but it’s also amazing to see his less-well-known landscapes, as well as earlier work before he developed his signature style. It’s also heartbreaking to see sketches and photographs of his greatest works, lost in a fire at the ImmendorfPalace in 1945.

Egon Schiele was a student of Klimt; and I have to say that I admire his work the most. I’m thrilled to be at the Leopold, which has the world’s largest collection of Schiele’s legacy. His paintings are dramatic and dark; but I’m most captivated by his drawings and watercolors…not just erotic, as with Klimt, but dripping with unabashed sexuality. His self-portraits are my favorite, revealing a rebellious, slightly tormented, sensual creature. He draws his subjects in slightly twisted, almost unnatural poses…and they look you, bold and defiant, right in the eye. Both artists shook the art world in their day, breaking several times from the art “establishment”. In 1918, Klimt died of a stroke. Schiele sketched the last portrait of the great master at the morgue and then, at the age of 28, died that same year. Their art remains, surprisingly contemporary…and powerful as ever.

Tonight, my hostel roommates, Edmund (born in Malaysia, living in Seattle and moving to Washington, D.C.) and Dimitry (born in Russia, living in Boston, moving to New York City) and I are celebrating our last night in Vienna. I’m heading to Budapest in the morning; they’re on to Prague. Edmund is the first hostel roommate I’ve had on this trip who is gay. He’s a party-boy…always wanting to go clubbing (kinda like me when I was young!). Dimitry is straight and studious, always on his laptop, checking on the status of the economy. (He’s moving to NY to work for Citicorp.) The three of us have been sightseeing separately, then meeting back in the evening at the hostel’s lounge to share our experiences of the day over boxes (yes, that’s BOXES!) of cheap wine. Tonight, though, we’ve finally given in to Edmund’s pleas to go out for one drink on our last night. Dimitry has never been to a gay bar; Edmund has already researched the name (The Village) and location (not far from our hostel) of a bar; and I am looking forward to sampling a few more European beers.

We stop for delicious, 2.5-euro doner kebabs on the way.  We arrive at The Village, a slow (no…dead) Sunday night; but the music is great. Dimitry is a great sport…a little nervous at first; but doing fine. Since the bar is empty, Edmund and I don’t have to bust out our Evil Gay Ninja moves to protect him from Leather Daddies or Lumberjacks. After finishing our Austrian Ottakringer and Puntigamer beers and listening to a few more songs, we shake hands with our bartender and walk back to the hostel…a subdued evening, but a great one amongst new friends. Dimitry arrives in NYC at the end of June; and Edmund will come into the city from D.C. to visit. We’re planning on getting together for a little reunion then, the 3 of us…The Wiener Boxwine Gang!