On Forgiving Go Set A Watchman


I belong to a book club founded by Southern women who might possibly be the biggest fans of Harper Lee: the Mockingbirds. They so love this iconic author that I interrupted a shoot in Alabama to send them these pictures from her hometown of Monroeville.

In the plaza of the courthouse that inspired the movie set. Ten more seconds and I would have had heat stroke In the plaza of the courthouse that inspired the movie set. Ten more seconds and I would have had heat stroke

So I couldn’t have picked a worse time to be moving back to Washington DC and missing the meeting where we examine “Go Set a Watchman.” We’ve been procrastinating on scheduling this particular meeting for months in part because of spoilers that this book would devastate readers who have grown up treasuring “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Not me. I had to read Mockingbird in high school in Oregon and it didn’t have the same cultural resonance where there were only three African Americans in…

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Ariel isn’t a mermaid, she’s a rock-star sushi chef in Denver


Regular readers already know that I am a dance snob. And a pho snob. But I am also a sushi snob. A little ironic given that the idea of eating raw fish repulsed me well into my 30’s. That’s when I met my husband and started traveling to film shoots in Asia. He coached me through the easy stuff at first, California rolls and the like, and soon I was drooling over live mackerel still quivering on the skewers that brought it to my table. I realized I’d become a sushi snob when I couldn’t convince a client to even try sushi on Kyoto’s famous Pontocho street and it stuck me as tragic.

photo by Gary Geboy, with Ariel Bilyeu's permission photo by Gary Geboy, with Ariel Bilyeu’s permission

So given my hard-earned expertise (that’s a euphemism for conceit) I did not expect to be wowed by sushi on a recent shoot in Denver. Frankly, I picked the…

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Pho snob eats her words in Atlantic City


I am the least logical travel blogger to write about Atlantic City. I’m that person you shouldn’t stand next to at a slot machine because my eyes are glazed over and I exude buzz-kill vibes. It’s not a judgment thing, exactly. Just being inside a casino bombarded by flashing lights and incessant mechanical noises makes me feel like an epileptic seizure is imminent. Which is not entirely unfounded — if you’ve read my memoir you’ll know why.

But I’ve found myself in this neon-throbbing, cash-flashing city twice in the past year, doing PR and media for sporting events. This time I head straight for the sushi bar with cell phone in hand to distract myself and earbuds ready to block out the noise. But Lady Luck is with me because I meet a chatty, handsome barkeep named T.J.

He’s a recent veteran and an Atlantic City native who was trained as a…

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My Portlandia Pilgramage




Thirty minutes into the line for Voodoo Donuts recently, it occurred to me that the Portland I grew up in wasn’t nearly as edgy, earthy or hipster as it is today. I texted my sister, who also grew up in the Rose City and then lived most of her adult life on the East Coast.

“Why wasn’t Portland cool when we were growing up?” I asked.

My attention wandered as I waited for her reply. A witty Millennial functioning as line motivator/donut huckster was describing how one uses the pretzel extruding from the trademark voodoo doll-shaped donuts to stab its belly until raspberry goo oozes forth, ensuring a tasty curse.

“Because we lived there,” my sister texted back. Touché. A response worthy of an ad-libbed line from the fame-inducing series Portlandia.


She’s right, of course. But when I was in high school the town was still in the awkward, pre-pubescent…

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Bless Berkeley’s heart, and I mean that with syrupy Southern sweetness


Inside Berkeley's city hall Inside Berkeley’s city hall, and yes, that’s Fidel

Outside South Carolina's capitol Outside South Carolina’s capitol

As a travel-loving, non-religious feminist living and writing in the state of South Carolina, I confess to often feeling like an expat in my own country. I am inspired by the beauty of the place and the eccentricity and humor of its people but find it tough to reconcile things like a confederate flag flying on state capitol grounds. Or that our senators vote against women’s rights while declaring family values. Beaufort, my adopted hometown, actually lobbied to let the world’s loudest fighter jets train, day-and-night, over residential neighborhoods and mostly black public schools. When a famous modern dance company staged a performance for the Byrne Miller Dance Theatre, a city councilman in Beaufort threatened to cut funding over scant costumes.

dancemuralSo when I flew to Berkeley, California to shoot a video last week I should have felt…

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The Florida foreigners see


I wore the right jacket at least I wore the right jacket at least

As a travel blogger and author regularly enchanted and transformed by other countries, I’ve often wondered what aspect of traveling in my own country appeals to foreigners. It’s not as obvious as you might think. We’ve got awe-inspiring natural splendors and incredible geographic diversity – but nothing a native Argentinean couldn’t find in Patagonia, or a European in the Alps or an African in the Sahara. As for history, even our 300-year old landmarks would underwhelm tourists from places more long in the tooth.

I’m convinced that the stories travelers take back from the United States have more to do with how proud (and free) we are to fly our freak flags. Take last weekend in Florida, for example. I make the 6 hour drive down I-95 to Orlando as infrequently as possible. Too many wrecks. Way too many weirdos. We were driving…

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Art: the Slave of Inspiration

Which comes first, the art or the inspiration?


“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”

Maya Angelou

In interviewing both artists whose joint show opens this Thursday at the Rebekah Jacob Gallery in Charleston, it struck me how seriously Tom Nakashima and Gary Geboy take inspiration. I’m not talking about the refrigerator magnet affirmation kind of inspiration, but the demanding mistress kind that compels them both to create.

That light bulb moment most of us imagine as how artists “get” inspired — the way the light hits a pile of upended trees or the delicate symmetry of the veins in a single crinkled leaf – that’s the natural, organic part for Nakashima and Geboy. Art is how they make sense of the world around them but transforming that inspiration into paintings and photographs requires less mysterious tools.

For Nakashima, the tool is often a photograph he…

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Photobombing Burma

Photography in Burma goes mobile — you read it here first


me, trying to be incognito me, trying to be incognito in Myanmar

In less than 24 hours I feel like a celebrity in Myanmar. I’m drenched in sweat, my hair is haphazardly clamped up off my neck and I’m sporting none-too-sexy cargo pants yet natives keep taking my picture.

Ferry captain in Yangon -- and cell phone photograper Ferry captain in Yangon — and cell phone photograper

I am walking around the docks of Yangon with my photographer husband who is happily capturing the magic hour of golden light when it first happens. Gary always asks permission of the people he approaches. So I’m not surprised when the young man squatting on the prow of a motorized dugout canoe nods a casual yes. Or that Gary instantly offers the camera’s viewfinder up so this man who ferries chickens, bananas and street food vendors across the river all day can see his own portrait.

In most third-world countries where we travel and shoot, the subjects…

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Neck Rings and Bullets to the Head


Ma Moo Oh -- www.garygeboyphotography.com Ma Moo Ooh — http://www.garygeboyphotography.com

I’m trying to be more moderate. Really. But I’m standing at the corner of a National Geographic moment and a slap in the face. I’ve just met Ma Moo Ooh – or at least that’s how I think she spells her name. She is thirteen years old and her job is to pose for photos with tourists visiting her Padaung aunt’s weaving shop on stilts above Inle Lake in central Myanmar.

Right now I’m distracting her but a glimpse at the smile on her aunt’s face tells me it’s okay. We are playing a game. Ma Moo Ooh writes a word in my spiral notebook and I try to copy her beautiful scroll while she collapses in giggles.

It’s part of Padaung custom for girls to begin wearing gold rings around the neck at age nine. Ma Moo Ooh loves her ten rings – it’s…

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