07 December 2018

six thousand miles and counting

Hanging out to dry in Genoa, IT

I am a big advocate for celebrating discomfort.  So much so, that I left a very slight incline of a film career in Hollywood, a measly one hour drive from where I grew up for the past 24 years, to live as an au pair in Torino, Italia.

I am 6,000 miles from home, and after solo tripping across the country for two weeks back in August, a trip which consisted of me and Fran tip-toeing along the Canadian / US border for 5,444 miles, a 6,000 mile move seemed doable.

I am a sucker for change. I call myself spontaneous, but maybe at my age, spontaneity is just an optimistic word for being rash. See, I can cross borders, rivers, and oceans, leaving familiarity in a billow of dust behind me, but I can't run from myself. Six thousand miles and I'm still afraid of commitment. Three months and I'm still making excuses as to why I did not write today. One month till I'm 25 and here I am considering if I should start a food blog when I get back to Virginia.

Allora has a better ring to it than "so." And yet: So, this is me saying I am grateful that I get to live in a city with a cinema museum, reminding me of the career I can return to in a few months. This is me saying I am thankful for the rare opportunity to be so far away from home by choice, learning a new language and new skills for the kitchen. This is me saying that I have met incredible people from all over this beautiful pale blue dot, whose post cards can fill my walls in the years to come. This is me admitting to myself, yet again, that my curiosity is a gift, but it only takes me so far.

What's after these 6,000 miles?

11 October 2018

vanilla spines amid parisian nooks

Paris Afternoon
sept 12, 2018

Shakespeare & Co. did not have the same feeling as it did in 2014 – many more tourists taking photos instead of shopping for books in this peak travel season, and the newly attached cafe next door is overpriced. I miss quiet nooks, unexplored and overlooked, books that smell of sweet mildew from years left closed. I walked around with my head down, looking at my phone for side streets to wander down. It was only wen two bums drinking beer sitting on the sidewalk said something in french like, "she has the iphone 10" that I put it away, afraid to draw a thieve's attention, aware of how little I was paying attention. I used my feet to guide me down alleys and backends, and finally found the type of bookstore I desired – The Abbey Bookstore – a tiny hole in the wall with aisles so narrow you have to squeeze past. A Canadian native named Bryan owns and operates this space full of used, rare, and newly found treasures. I scoured through the vintage classics, a new trend of mine when I travel, hoping to score an addition to my collection waiting at home full of little known A. A. Milne and R.L. Stevenson stories. I contemplated getting something I know, such as Rudyard Kipling's Travel Journals or The Jungle Book, both editions dating back to the early 1920s, fragile, held on by a rubber band. Upon further consideration, mostly having to do with the amount of money I was willing to spend, I decided to go with Washington Irving's, "The Sketch Book," or Libre D'Esquises. This man is unknown to me, but within a few sentences, I fell for his voice. I bought this based on the preface alone, loving the familiarity of an american who travels to europe for a different pace of life. It begins: "I was always fond of visiting new scenes, and observing strange characters and manners. Even when a mere child I began my travels, and made many tours of discovery into foreign parts and unknown regions of my native city, to the frequent alarm of my parents, and the emolument of the town-crier." I said a quick Bonjour to Brian, and after explaining my recent travels to canada, his home country, he offered me some coffee and a place to sit out front.

I sipped espresso out of a paper cup, balancing on a rickety white stool while I read a few faded lines from this new old book, turning the delicate pages carefully between nose dives toward the spine. It was quiet, secluded. An external nook haven in a busy Parisian district. Other travelers came by, wanderers, discovering a bit of magic you can only find if you turn your brain off. I finished the espresso, fingers and toes ringing with caffeine, thanked the Canadian, and started towards the park. I laid on the damp grass of Luxembourg gardens with honey beer on a wednesday afternoon, melting away under a setting sun, watching a man drink milk out of a carton and a toddler running up to me saying bonjour. Barefoot feet in the air, I felt the wind pick up, tickling my soles and marking the end of summer. Leaves tinged the earth red, teens adorned sweaters, but the sun still brought out a gathering of strangers for a sweet stroll through the gardens.

02 September 2018

Where's my porridge?

griffith park | sunrise | 120mm | may 9, 2018

I haven't written in so long that I'm afraid I'll forget how to do it. I'll forget to forgo my filter of brain to fingertips and wind up with a blank page. But this is something.
I'm eating fig jam on toast at midnight, at first thinking it's hunger keeping me up, or too many thoughts, but upon finishing the toast and getting some words out, I now remember about the coffee I drank after dinner.
I'm licking up crumbs in an unfamiliar kitchen feeling disoriented, because I don't know where Sweet Briar falls on a map of Virginia, I don't know whether the sun will rise out of this window to my right in the morning, I don't know the nearest place I can get avocados, which I'm now realizing I should have picked up at the Whole Foods in Charlottesville when I had the chance. Whole Foods, an hour away! All that I love so close to a town that doesn't show up on my car's navigation.
I did not expect this. I thought I left Whole Foods back where avocado on toast costs $17, topped with EVOO, edible flowers, unicorn tears and a shaman's blessing. Unexpected is what I've come to love, the pleasant surprise of a clear night after a smoky sunset or the serenity of service-free Montana on a stretch of land that elevates loneliness. Hm, not loneliness. Solitude. An introvert's haven. Though, my dream place is more of a nook with a book on a comfy couch, which does not seem to exist in this house. Books, I have plenty, but all these cushions are too soft or hard as a brick, and I'm relating to Goldilocks too much for comfort. Where's my porridge?
This is what my problem is. After two weeks of traveling on the road, camping next to rivers and talking to myself, I expected my mother's place homier. I thought there'd be a nice porch to read or watercolor, and that we'd spend the days catching up in the kitchen over dinner or silently sprawled in the drawing room turning pages of books between sips of tea. But Virginia is hot and humid, not a place you want to drink hot tea. There's not a seat on her porch, because she doesn't have a porch. And they must not like people sitting still here because no matter where my butt lands, it's unhappy. Expectations: not met.
While my butt adjusts, my eyes are fixated up above. Virginia has these vast blue skies with roaring poofy clouds begging to be photographed, and that's something I love about this place. Green rolling hills. Trees for miles. Lightning storms that bring back memories of my mom and I staring out the window. It's the pace in which I'm living here that's upsetting me. On the road, while I ultimately had a gameplan of where I'd end up, I figured out day of which town I was to set up camp, what sites I should see, if any. I want to read or watercolor or talk over dinner because there is a mindfulness that comes with these activities. I'm present. For the last few years, I feel that my relationship with (not just) my mother has slowly drifted from engaging to murky. Muddled with cell-phoned eye-contact, phone calls, tv, emails, cameras. I miss that Sarah who watched a storm with her mother in the backseat of a car, too mesmerized to move from the middle of a parking lot. No phones to record video, no texts for distractions. I miss presently experiencing the world with the people I love.

22 July 2018

feeling goodbye

Telluride, CO | May, 2018 | Nikonos V | Ilford HP 5 400, pushed 2 stops

I begin this note much in the same way as I began this quest for Italy: sparked by a death of a food critic and fueled by many short videos from Bon Appetite.

I am beyond excited to join Isabella and her family in Turin. Torino. An epicenter for skiing, museums, vegetarian food. I've already picked out my climbing gym. 

As the days get closer and I'm crossing things off my list (visa, schedules, tickets, duolingo, pizza), my mind has more space to think about what I'll miss.

I'll miss coming home to Juliet's post-spin salad, where we talk in the kitchen about art and relationships, a few feet from the corner where masterpieces are stacked away from appreciative eyes. Her paintings remind me of swimming in a clear Puerto Rican ocean - a feeling of complete buoyancy, clarity. She is a light of positivity, a unicorn of tenacity. Thank you for showing me a good six months on Detroit st.

I'll miss hours spent at the rock climbing gym with Nick as he sings some off-tune (but on rhythm) song while I struggle to climb a route which he has the patience to belay. Arms pumped, mood elated. He doesn't sugarcoat what I need to hear, and for that, I am grateful.  It won't be easy finding a friend, photographer, and climber who I trust so completely with my life, and I'll miss his post-climb, pre-ramen hugs between sessions of vegging out on padded floor. I won't miss the ramen, but I will miss lazy nights on the couch and a million conversational tangents in the car. Thank you for being there to catch every fall and to answer every call. Don't get any more concussions, thanks. 

I'll miss the gentle embrace of Sara's angel hugs. She is a bundle of serenity, the sweetest yogi you will ever meet, and with an understanding of the world I hope to reach someday. She gives guidance in times of struggle and silence in times of gratitude. Sara, you are a beautiful yam, and I've loved getting to know you with each outdoor adventure (also, you definitely know me a bit better after Bears Ears. Thanks for laughing at and with naked desert goddess sarah). Thank you for having an open heart, and for showing me that family is the people you surround yourself with.

I'll miss the everything about this ginger devil. There's a playfulness in her bite of a no bullshit personality. Under mini horns lies a deeply caring, completely genuine individual with a passion for our political future that I, frankly, do not understand, but I love it all the same. I have learned so much from her in the last few months. Korina. How do I even describe the influence you've had on my being? With your help, I've become more comfortable at who I am at my core. You've taught me what respect looks like, how it feels in too-warm hands, how to tend to it like a fire. I am so grateful for this mutual unfolding of discovery. Thank you for your continual support. I will love what I find, even if it's not what I'm looking for. 

I'll miss the pistachio of awesomeness that is one Emily(ia) Padilla. Despite miles and schedules and days and years, we've turned a random housing assignment into bestfriendship. Emily has experienced the highs and lows of being my best friend: the high pitched whine comparable to a pteradactyl of a crush unrequited, the low voice of after-night phonecalls. She's the kind of friend you can call at any hour of the day to share excitement or woes which feed waves into life. Selfless as they come, an Emily Teresa to outbest the mother. We've come far and haven't at all since freshman year of college. You are the Ron to my Harry ( or am  the ron? ), the Hufflepuff to my Slytherin-turned-Hufflepuff. You are the best god damn redvine in the packet, and I will miss you so dang much. Thank you for reading through my B.S. and for being an utter saint in this world full of Malfoys. Love you, and come visit me. 

I'll miss the first friend I ever had, the best sister a girl can ask for. Johanna is a willowtree - a shelter to outside forces, a blanket of shade in the dead of summer. Together we've scraped knees, gotten beestings, dreamt engagement rings... We've grown up together and in the last twenty years, we've experienced each other's joy, heartaches, thrills, and hardships. I can't wait to see you and Christian grow together, and I am so happy to be a part of this chapter (and every chapter) of your life. I will miss your laugh and your hugs. I am still jealous that you're taller than I am, and that you can eat anything and not gain a pound. I so appreciate witnessing the love between you and Christian, and it makes me believe in a love greater than myself. I can't wait to see you next June for your special day.

Each one of you has a piece of my heart (and probably a piece of my property - sara, nick). You (and so many others) make it hard to say goodbye. I love you. I will miss you. I'm definitely not getting emotional while drinking Porto on my front porch the night before a shoot. Thank you for showing me love, for making me feel less alone, for being more than okay with my craziness, and for not holding back. I'll see you in a year (and some change). 

16 July 2018

even when i'm without you

june | 2018 | act hotel | los angeles || portra 400

29. Even when i'm with you, i'm missing you. We cuddle facing each other. Cuddled. Holding hands. That first night after I slept over, we slept with our hands entwined, facing each other. I told you I don't do that - I sleep on the edge turned away, huddled in a ball of just sarah. But not with you - at least, not at first.

Usually after a breakup, I focus on every single thing I don't like about the person i dated: why we didn't work, their stupid mannerisms... but today, I went surfing and I thought about that kiss a few dates in, when we walked along the beach right before softball got cancelled, and we kissed in the rain. The drops of water hardened spots on the sand as we ran to the strand looking for cover. I felt self-conscious holding your hand in public, not yet normalized with this side of my sexuality.

As I'm preparing my italian exit, I think of all the stuff in LA I'll miss. I try to fit time for museums and hikes and friends, but you come to mind. I think about what I'm doing this wednesday morning. our usual sunrise hike comes to mind, only i won't be worriedly laughing as you slide down the mountain. I refrain from telling you to buy a pair of hiking shoes. 

The days leading up to the breakup were great, some of the best we had. Fourth of July was a dream. Hiking, getting lost, finding ground, eating bagels, making burgers, making out, holding each other under thousands of explosions. You were so good to me. I wish I could have returned the favor.

jul 16, 11:32 //

21 April 2018

mother nature

giant forest | sequoia nat park | march 29, 2018
badger, ca | march 29, 2018

grant grove | sequoia nat park | march 29, 2018

I owe much of who I am to my mother.

I could write about my need to organize things, my knack for financial control, my hard work ethic… but other than pushing me to be an accountant at the ripe age of 10 (spoiler: did not pursue this path) and my adoration of cooking, my mother embedded in me the love of travel. From the redwood forests to the waterfalls of Hawaii, the many roads of Spain and the edges of England, there’s one string that ties all of these trips together: it’s the vastness of my surroundings.  My memories of such escapades first glimmer at five years old. The mind hazily glimpses moments of tomato columbia jackets worn various ways while hiking through dense trees in Yosemite – petting moss on giant blankets of bark, learning about nurse trees which have fallen but give life to saplings. Redwoods as tall as buildings. I still feel life’s wonders when I stand under the umbrella of car-sized branches looking up at a multi-century old tree, in awe of its endurance. My mother is a giant sequoia –– strengthened by the fires that have burned her outer shell yet whose smoke opens opportunities and priorities otherwise unseen.

Mom and I have spent a lifetime on foot, in car, seeing olive trees growing in the countryside of Spain, drinking copious amounts of lattes together over a map, getting lost on foot and nearly peeing our pants in search of el baño. She’s there when I need a life-calming hug (only a mother’s hug can transfer waves of peace when anxiety runs high). She’s on the phone with me on drives back from the trees, when I have four more hours to go and need to stay awake. She puts up with me when I project to her my frustrations of circumstances which I can’t control, and accepts my apology hours later when the dust of uncertainty settles. I think of her when someone mentions The Sound of Music – how I hurt her when I said I didn’t like her rendition of “edelweiss” (I get my singing voice from her, too.)  I think of her when I order food at a restaurant and decide to alter a dish or two. I think of her when I take the day off to ski, wary of any sticks that should be present should I take a fall.

My mother is moving to Virginia in ten days, and I’ve been thinking a lot of what this means for our friendship. It scares me, not having the ability to go home for a hug at 11 pm. I know she’ll enjoy nature’s offerings at Sweet Briar, that she’ll read by the fire in the wooden walled library. But I want to be there next to her, digging my cold feet under her back for warmth. I’m homesick for my youth – early morning Starbucks runs on the way to volleyball tournaments; late night essays with bowls of popcorn; a mother-daughter trip across the globe. My mom and I once dreamed of renting a trailer to drive across some european country, and with each passing day I’m realizing that this is not really a possibility. Watching opportunities pass by like kodak moments in the passenger window terrifies me. I can be on the phone with her while doing so, but she can’t comment on my cartwheels or my balance on a painted curb from Virginia. Is this what growing up is supposed to feel like? A tad lonesome mixed with the rattling of a youth consumed by the fog of yesterday?

I should end on a hopeful note. My mother is going to love the work she does at Sweet Briar. She will be busy but surrounded by trees. She can sleep with the TV on or vacuum the house at 7AM without bugging anyone. She has a house I can road trip to, and while she will not be in the car with me getting there, she'll greet me with a glass of wine and a hug on Virginia's doorsteps.

11 April 2018

the corner

Four alarms, three phone calls, one cigarette and an orange before dawn on a Wednesday: That’s how this trip began. 

We had been talking about this for weeks, but this winter has been flat. Still, boards rock on top of the roof as wheels churn north towards open waters, eagerly awaiting salt and sand. Rolled down windows whip through yielding hair, steady as changing conversations over a shuffle of familiarity.

A book sits on your dashboard, pages somehow still in the chaos that is an empty Los Angeles freeway. Rincon. Nook. I find myself hiding in those, curled up much like how I sit in this passenger seat, legs crossed or hugging close to my chest.

A steady pace at 50 miles per hour gets us there in two. The sun reveals itself on the road we pull off of, first glance among rocks. They look hollow, made of limestone which crumbles under slippery feet.

coffee shop hunting | carpentina, ca | 3.28.18 | tri-x p-3200 pulled 1 stop

"You see that?"

I nod at her vastness.

 + + +
We hit pavement again, searching for this corner on the coast. A dirt path reveals drifted wood, pods of dolphins dancing for an intimate audience, a shack with old surfers drinking cold ones at 8 am. 
This is the place.

rincon, ca | 3.28.18 | tri-x p-3200 pulled 1 stop

A cup of coffee and an hour later we’re in our finest: barefoot in neoprene waxing longboards on a patch of grass.

The flight out isn’t smooth, much like the shore scattered with stone, dipping unevenly beneath cold toes. It's a guessing game.

We wait it out. I get to digging, curious of another's inner-workings, some path that brought you here besides the 101. Puerto Rico, the other Rincón.

matt | rincon, ca | 3.28.18 | tri-x p-3200 pulled 1 stop

billy | rincon, ca | 3.28.18 | tri-x p-3200 pulled 1 stop

You asked me why I do this? It’s the numbness. I surf because I can’t feel my hands.” It's not what I was expecting. 

The horizon is scattered with bobbing heads waiting for a wave, anything, to say hello. Hurry hurry wait for hours until fingers and toes turn blue.  I wade, lick the lens, rest my back on silent waters. Stillness sets in, and it's getting harder to adjust the exposure knobs.  

searching for a shoulder | rincon, ca | 3.28.18 | tri-x p-3200 pulled 1 stop

Unable to bend my fingers, I head to land. I try to get blood flowing with handstands on the sand, and it's working. Glimpses of an upside down shoreline warms me with each inversion. Hair tickles specs of shell and minerals until my head swells with whooshing akin to the tide, until my heart aches to linger in the impact zone. I'll get stuffed, and one day the nose could break mine. And life goes on.

part of billy 

half of gil

all of matt

Exposures hit zero, and I call it before you. A couple of one more's and we're back on land. I cartwheel and handstand and topple over in the sand until that runs dry. We dip our toes into tidepools, our fingers into sea anemone, sticky tentacles grasping for grub. In an instant, I'm transported back to Oregon, where six year old Sarah spent hours mesmerized by stars and cucumbers, bright sea life so readily available to explore up close. I could stay here for eternity.

Except my stomach growls, and mexican sounds good. So we board up, we dress down, we warm up and scarf down, each bite less saltier than the last.  

11 March 2018


porto | los angeles, ca | jan 27, 2017 | portra 400 | nikonos v
mike o'hara
porto | los angeles, ca | jan 27, 2017 | portra 400 | nikonos v

When it rains, my heart pangs for the sea. My feet long to walk unsteadily on damp sand, leaving footprints filled with droplets to the shore. Hair, sprinkled with a california rain, searches for a soak. My nose tickles for seawater that sneaks its way to slightly chapped lips. There's a woman at work who has inspired me in more ways than she knows how. Mary Margaret tells me that ever since our shoot at Dockweiler, she's driven by the sea each day to work. I tell her I've been doing the same. I wake up extra early, go on a run by playa del rey, have a cup of tea at Tanner's, and take vista del mar as far as I can, glancing too often at waves crashes as sailboats glide into the marina. We've bonded over the serenity that comes with being underwater, completely surrounded by the weight and pressure that only oceanic depth can provide. It's a dark cold hug that brings to life a soul so often scattered on land.

what draws us to the people we stick around? I'm asking the wrong question. How curious is it that, of the 80,000ish people I will meet in my lifetime, I know within two encounters that we will someday be best friends. Mary left the office on friday. She is something else. Mary Margaret gives self esteem a boost with one, "WOWZAH". She dances, she directs, she is determined, she is a bundle of adventure. This sixty year old woman has lived five lifetimes, and I'm only just discovering a tithe of the surface she has walked on: freediving in the caribbean; meeting shamans in the amazon; yoga certification in hawaii; meditation in the morning; moving to spain to film and study flamenco.

My roommate, Juliet Sikora (an amazing painter, look at her stuff here), told me a month into me moving in that she has a best friend in every decade of age.  I hope Mary Margaret will act as that for me, a 60 year old with a 22 year old's energy. I'm actually writing this on the couch as Juliet dances around the living room, paint brush in hand, ideas swelling from her fingerprints onto the canvas below as Alt-J resonates throughout the room. This is what I imagined when I moved into this house in hollywood - artists staying up past midnight, brains firing off ideas in whatever way we know how. I love the sound of a brush pattering on canvas. I love the smell of coming into a house with candles burning on every surface. I love this oversized lamp casting beams of pyramidical light on a miniature wooden figurine next to a picture of uncle bill while cars drive from one side of the french windows to the other, a peak of the world outside, however fleeting.

I've been in a funk for the last month and a half -- that's how long it's been since my body has been in the ocean. Work is eating away at any energy I have saved for the things I love, like road trips and photoshoots and running and writing and sleeping and music discovering. Life is a balance and I've been losing it. Tomorrow, I'm going to the ocean. Tomorrow, I'm walking around a museum. Tomorrow, I'm hot tubbing it up with Mary and I can't tell you how excited I am for such a wonderful Sunday. The future and the present holds so much life that staying stagnant is not an option for me anymore. Here's to days full of opportunity, discovery, creativity, curiosity, and love.

07 February 2018

Blue Butterfly

shay falkenstein | jan. 13 2018 | nikonos V | ilfordHP-5 plus 400, pushed to 1600 | el segundo, ca
For a couple years, I've had this yearning deep within to get on a board and catch a wave. It started with my uncle, who spoke about surfing in San Diego or camping in Mexico, ditching school for weeks at a time with only his jeep, a board, enough for gas, and a camera. When I was twelve, we went out to Malibu. From his white truck cranked "Blitzkrieg Bop" between moments of traditional mexican music on a radio station lost in time. The hula dancer danced on the dash as a mid-morning sun shifted across her hips, casting mini dancing shadows that stretched and shrunk depending on direction. We parking across the street from a set of secret stairs. A surfer walked by us, board under his arm shoulder, wetsuit arms swaying with each step. Uncle Jeff threw a thumb at him as he said to me, this is how you should carry it, right on the shoulder resting against your head, no effort. And he did just that. We walked down the steps to the rocky shore, hopscotching across pebbles to find a diagonal break that I blamed for my inability to stand.
Defeated, I took eleven years for a second attempt. And let me tell you, riding a surfboard until my toes hit the sand felt like stepping off a rollercoaster – when the blood is rushing back to where it belongs but I want to skip the line and sit right in the front. It's the same feeling of a first kiss after a big build up – we both can't help but smile and I'm washed over with the liberation of turning a one day into a finally.
It’s been a few months since I’ve been in the ocean, due to a shoulder injury. A few weeks ago, I met a guy at a coffee shop (thanks, cool pants) and after a few back-and-forths, we dove right in – he, with his surfboard; me, with my camera. I forgot how happy I am floating over waves. And looking up at the warm winter sky, blue as can be with stretches of white streaked like cotton balls being torn apart. The water seeped in through thin wrists and thin ankles, but my breath was steady in the cold winter water. Peace rocked me back and forth. I think of the current, reflective grins, water sneaking through my toes, and the morning light sliding softly on a warm wash, highlighting eternity. I make note of how trusting I am with this stranger, with this camera, first dive. I notice the particles that bounce under water during a moment under the surface, eyes open. I see green below, a dark blue above. The colors of the earth draw me in: foamy white, auburn hair, pink skies, golden light, pure blue and a luminescent green, which sits on a polluted skyline. These photos don’t show how sunday’s sky was paintbrushed, but know that the day held the same freshness as stepping out of a six hour roadtripped car and taking the first breath of forest air. It felt like finding the sunny spot on a brisk day when a cast of light warms my soul, and I can’t help but look up and smile, shoulders relaxed. The day was a deep breath which expands the stomach after months of realizing I’ve only treated my body with shallow breath.