I’ve been hearing about the Belgian city of Gent for seven years now since I met my friend Griet. Griet and I met in a hostel in Cali, Colombia, the world capital of salsa, in 2010. She asked me to go out to a tango club the week we met–and the rest is his(her)story. We recognized each other as kindred spirits and we wound up spending the next two months together taking tango classes, and then, we went to Buenos Aires together for two months to discover the “real stuff” of tango together in Argentina.
Through it all, over many coffees and bottles of wine, we talked about where we had come from and where we were going. We had both quit jobs that didn’t feel true to ourselves to open ourselves to what would come next. For me that was the fast-paced, screen-obsessed world of Silicon Valley that I felt was more bent on addicting people to make money through advertising than anything else (I felt then just as Tristan Harris does now–as he sounds the alarm that most technology companies are working to drain our attention spans for their benefit and not our own), and for Griet that was organizing activities at a community center. We were both single back then, and many times, Griet told me, “Just come to Gent. We’ll find you a nice Belgian man!” She also described Gent as very cute.
Griet changed the course of my life by bringing me into tango, and just by being herself, a woman of high vitality who always says things like, “If I’m really honest. . . ” From Griet I learned that a turned-on life based on things you really want to do and embody begins with the phrase, “If I’m really honest. . . ” So I knew, when I planned this trip, I would have to visit her in the famous Gent! It had been five years since our last meeting in Asheville, North Carolina. This would be our fourth country, and our third continent, since we met in Colombia, then in Argentina, then in the U.S. five years later, and now, in Belgium!
the reunion of sasha and griet in gent!
Much has changed in both of our lives. Now I live in Buenos Aires (not Silicon Valley) where I have a tango business combining the dance with coaching (I also coach people one-on-one on everything from career to sexuality and write). Griet settled down with a man, and has a two-year-old with another baby on the way after opening a vegetarian restaurant. So I was excited to go and see Griet again. I expected our reunion would be great. I had no idea what to expect of Gent.
Belgium itself is vague in the imagination. The headquarters for the EU, Belgium always seemed to me a small place sandwiched between France and the Netherlands with no big personality of its own. I knew Belgium was split in two parts: people speak French in the south and Flemish in the north. I mistakenly thought Flemish was a language of its own. In my week in Gent, I realized Flemish is actually Dutch–a revelation on its own! In a lot of ways much of Belgium seems quite similar to the Netherlands. But it’s a small country between two big countries. I can identify with small places, having grown up in Rhode Island. I know there’s a special power in being the underdog, overlooked place.
So Belgium?! Gent?! What was it all about? People don’t really think about Belgium much–you have your Belgian fries and your Belgian beer, but beyond that, what can you say about Belgium? I would soon find out with Griet.
gorgeous Gent on my first night
On our first night we went out for a bike ride around Gent after Griet’s son was asleep. Already I was feeling bowled over by the beauty of the residential streets where Griet lived. Very simple, row houses of different hues, and most of the houses had bikes parked in front of them. It was like an alternative universe where instead of cars parked outside (though there were some) you had bikes parked outside with locks built into the structure of the bikes and the tires. Often the bikes had baby seats on them. Some of them were bikes built for two. To an outsider Gent looked like it was going through a baby boom where all the parents rode around with small children on their bikes.
the bikes in gent!
We biked past canals on bike lanes (reminiscent of my trip to Amsterdam 20 years ago) on bikes with big bags on either side of the wheels in the back. All the bikes in Gent had these bags. Then we arrived downtown and to put it mildly I was stunned. The city center of Gent is a gem. I was expecting “cute” from Griet and Gent was actually beautiful. Maybe this is part of the Belgian personality: modesty. The French have their rakish charm, the Belgians are more humble. I find that small places often have that quality. The Uruguyans too are modest and approachable compared to Argentines. (Small place next to big country.)
Gent is not so small. The city has 250,000 people and the city center is large. Here’s what Lonely Planet says: “Here hides one of Europe’s finest panoramas of water, spires and centuries-old grand houses.” I would add to that, canals, bikes, cute people, and lots of biological (organic) cheese. Gent is a kind of fantasy of urban planning: small houses, bikes, small families on bikes, and tons of organic food everywhere. Seriously, if you are looking for a great, livable, more than cute city, Gent is the one.
biological cheese! bio, or biological, means organic in Europe. Gent abounds with cute bio places.
One our first night, we went to a bar that is famous for catering to travelers. I got a mojito, Griet got a virgin mojito since she’s pregnant. We started to catch up, finally getting to the man situation for me. Would I need Griet to find me that Belgian man? I told her about the latest in my love life and after that a guy a few tables over waved us over. He was an American, obviously–we had overheard him. He was from Dallas by way of New York and his mother had started a magazine in Belgium which somehow got him established in Gent. He had been living there for years and loved it.
The American gave us his critique of Gent: “mundane.” He thought life could be mundane in Gent because everyone was expected to settle down with a partner, buy a house, and pop out a kid or two. Of course that’s what Griet had done. She agreed with the critique–that life in Gent could be mundane.
I asked Griet if she thought I would feel isolated since I’m not married and don’t have children. She thought not.
I wasn’t sure if mundane was so bad when you have bikes, biological cheese, and beautiful canals.
Would it be mundane to live in Gent? So what is life in Gent like? For now I can’t really know, but here are some pictures to show you how fabulously cute–and beautiful–the city is.
Just one of the many bikes with child on board. So many versions of accommodating parent and child.
we ate them all!
Griet ate some Belgian fries too!
chairs at the cafe at voorhut, an old socialist hall transformed into a modern cultural center
this alluring bra shop got my attention in Paris. Soldes means Sales!
I couldn’t help but take notice of the store windows on my first morning in Belleville, the friendly neighborhood in Paris where I was staying for a week in early July.
The signs on the bra shop screamed, “GRANDES TAILLES, MEILLEURES PRIX”! “BIG SIZES, BEST PRICES”!
For a woman with an ample chest a good bra–and a good bra store–is hard to find.
With the promise of BIG SIZES, BEST PRICES, I felt a need, even an obligation, to enter. I actually even need bras. In Buenos Aires, where I’m living in 2017, there don’t seem to be any bra stores with sizes above DDD. I sometimes feel excluded when I pass lingerie stores in Buenos Aires and even a low-grade panic, what if all my bras break at once? Sometimes underwires pop out, or bras get damaged in the wash.
But the store looked mysterious. Signs covered the windows. The shop didn’t look like your average bra boutique. For days I delayed.
On Saturday after four days in the neighborhood I finally ventured outside with a mission: check out the bra store.
I opened the door and stepped inside, finding myself in a small, disorganized, square-shaped shop, the walls covered by little white cardboard boxes, presumably with bras inside, and bins full of merchandise on sale: bras and underwear. The shop was a mess, a far cry from the feminine, carefully decorated boutiques I’m used to in the States. It was not what you would call aesthetic.
A short bald man with a paunch belly stepped out from the back room and greeted me, “Bonjour.” He was the only one working at the shop, and there were no other customers. I froze. Who was this guy? Why was he the only one in the bra shop?
How could I exit gracefully? I didn’t want to be trapped in a bra store with this little bald pervert. When I go bra shopping in the States, a woman often comes into the dressing room with me to measure me and assess whether the bras fit. Would he want to go in the dressing room with me?
It was a long thirty seconds before I uttered the words, “I’m looking for a bra” in French. Those words took all my courage in the world in that moment to say.
“36G,” he said, naming my size.
“Yes,” I said, astonished that he had hit the mark. He was such a bra expert he could judge my size just from my appearance. It took me a long time, until years ago, to admit that I wasn’t a D and get a bra that actually fit properly.
He went in the back and pulled out two black and nude bras and handed them to me.
“Is that all you have in my size?” I asked. These bras looked matronly. A few years ago I made a commitment to myself, I will wear bras I find attractive and sexy, that don’t make me feel like a grandmother.
“Don’t worry, I have many options.” he said.
“I’m looking for a pretty bra,” I said in French. “Jolie.”
He smiled, “Pretty? You don’t think my bras are pretty? I only sell pretty bras!”
I started to laugh too, and then pointed out the styles I found appealing, including a peach and gray leopard print a mannequin was wearing.
32 euros! amazing sale price!
Another woman came in at this point, and he started to service her giving her options to try. She and I alternated using the sole small dressing room while he found bras for us. She seemed to love him. “This store is a gem of the neighborhood,” she said. “And he has great sales.”
She came out of the dressing room with her top on to get our opinion.
I gave her a thumbs up; so did he. I also tried on bras, then putting on my shirt to let them assess the bra fit.
In fact, I found an unusual abundance of options. I settled on two cute bras. The peach and grey one I adored and it was on sale for 32 euros, a fantastic price since the same brand would cost $80 in the U.S. The gray pinstriped one was 56 euros, an average price, still cheaper than what I paid in Oakland last year.
While he was ringing me up, I explained that I’m American but live in Buenos Aires where there are not many bra options for “full-sized” women. He laughed, “Oh, you’re American. You must stay in Buenos Aires far away from Trump!”
I left laughing and feeling uniquely uplifted (pun intended) by the encounter.
We question gendered assumptions about women’s roles. What about questioning roles for men? Can a man sell bras? Apparently.
I tried to ask if it was common for men to run bra shops in Paris but the question got lost in the shuffle and I didn’t get an answer. If I could go back in time, I would also ask, What made you open this shop? How did it happen that you’re a man running a bra shop?
Life is full of surprises when I breathe past my fear and find the courage to buy a bra from a man in Paris.
Here’s our guy!
Want to find the magical bra shop? Go looking on Rue de Belleville just a block from the Metro Jourdain in Paris.
New experiment. I’m starting my Forever Young European tour this week. When I was leaving Rhode Island earlier this week to come to Paris, my mother remarked, “It’s just like you’re going off for two months in Europe after college!” I said, “That’s true!” I traveled alone in Europe for two months after college graduation, and that trip came in between my time in New York City and my time in San Francisco. Twenty years later, I’m going to Europe again for two months. So perhaps this will be a pattern, every twenty years (or let’s make that every five or ten years) I will do two months in Europe and call it the Forever Young Tour.
During my 2017 Forever Young Tour, I’m going to do a recap on the first 24 hours in a new place, or a place where I have visited before. I’ve heard it said that there are two ways of doing travel writing: you can write about a place from deep knowledge, or you can capture your snap impressions. I’m going to experiment with capturing the first impressions, with all humility and acknowledgment that they are the impressions of a first day in a new place. It’s not the same as writing about a place where you have lived for a long time–see, for example, this post from a woman who moved to Mexico with her husband who had been deported from the US. Still, there’s an aliveness and freshness to new eyes that older, more inured eyes can’t compete with. So here’s my contribution.
So my first 24 hours in Paris! Impressions! I used to think of Paris as bourgeois and stuffy but my overall impression after 24 hours is a freewheeling, artsy, super-diverse city with a lot of joy for living. I got that idea last time when I met a bunch of Parisians who complained about coldness, but I haven’t experienced that this time. People seem very warm. Maybe it’s the weather. I was here in December last time, now it’s steamy July.
Here’s a little spontaneous video I made after arriving, on the first day:
More globalized than ever
I arrived at 6 am at Charles de Gaulle on July 4 and took the RER train then the metro into my airbnb in the 19th arrondissement. On the RER train we shot through the suburbs. I had stayed in the suburbs one night last time I was here in 2009 with a Tunisian friend made from Couchsurfing, and I’ve read enough about Paris to know that the suburbs are where people from former French colonies have felt isolated and cut off from economic opportunity. The challenges of a post-colonial world are real. All that said, I have to say, Paris felt remarkably diverse and peaceful on the train on the way in. Over my first 24 hours I saw a lot of cultural and racial mixing in the cafes near my apartment in the Metro Jourdain area, a lot of interracial friendships too (how can I tell the women were friends? You can just tell). So while I can’t pretend to know the ins and outs of post-colonial racial mixing in Paris, I will say, I have never seen a city with more people in hijabs, or women in saris, or people of all races–and everyone basically seems to get along on the buses and metros. Fascinant. Oakland is the only other place where I have lived and seen such mixing. Cities like New York are diverse, but I never really felt that people mixed.
I’m staying in the perfect neighborhood
I am staying in a neighborhood called Belleville near Metro Jourdain and the people seem very mixed to me.
I am in love with the idea of people sitting drinking beer, coffee, wine.
paris cafe near metro jourdain
Wandering Paris is Parisgasmic.
During the first 24 hours, I needed to sleep, but by day two I could start to wander and it came back to me: I love being a flaneur in a new city. A flaneur is the solitary observer who wanders the streets and observes the crowd, a term coined by Baudelaire in Paris in the 19th century. There is no city where it’s more intoxicating to be a flaneur than Paris. Paris is beautiful. It is an aesthetic experience to walk the streets, to look at the way the light hits the buildings, to walk along the Seine. I don’t see any need to do touristy things in Paris. All I have to do is walk the streets and magic will come. Today I went looking for this delightful restaurant and cafe where you can literally work on your laptop inside a bathtub or on a bed! On the way I stumbled on the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Later my friend Alexa said it’s the most beautiful park in Paris. There’s always something beautiful around the corner.
Near Metro Jourdain
The fashion feels more expressive than formulaic
I used to think there was a Parisian uniform that was neat and trim and always involved a scarf. I used to think I could never blend in Paris and I would always stick out as a gauche American. I feel more breathing room in the fashion now. The fashion is still expressive, fun, unique, but the fashion seems more diverse and expressive. My guess is that’s because there’s so much global influence now there appear to be more ways to be French.
Jumping into the global tango culture
One of the best parts about being a tango dancer is that you always have somewhere to go at night when you visit a new city. On my first day, I slept six hours so I could get up my energy to go out and meet Sabine, who had come on a Tango Adventure in March in Buenos Aires. Sabine sent me an email two months ago inviting me me to meet her at a milonga on the Seine. Sabine lives in DC but she is from France and happened to be visiting. My friend Alexa was also planning to go, so we went and met up with Sabine and Senami, who had both come on the March Tango Adventure. How magical it was to dance tango on the Seine on July 4. Tango is a global culture and it’s always fascinating to plug in in a new place.
When I left the milonga the metro had already closed so I had to figure out a way to get home. A taxi was an option but maybe it would be very expensive. Some new French friends guided me to the bus stop and we found another French woman who agreed to tell me the stop to get off at, Gambetta. I didn’t have a European chip yet for my phone, so I had no GPS. But there’s nothing like new friends to be your own personal GPS. That’s part of the magic of traveling alone, especially as a woman traveling alone. People come out of the woodwork to help you along get where you need to go. (It’s easy to forget this when fears come up about traveling alone, but strangers really do help out.)
Next door to the cafe-barge hosting the milonga there was a big USA party to celebrate the Fourth of July too. (Don’t worry about traveling in the Trump era! Generally people know how to separate people from their leaders.)
Walking along the Seine looking for the milonga. La vie est belle!
Paris milonga on the Seine on a cafe-barge (the night I arrived!)
Senami and Sabine joined me in Buenos Aires for a Tango Adventure. Amazingly we met up in Paris on the day I arrived at a milonga.
The food is still a delight, even as a celiac
During the first 24 hours I have a special challenge in any new country: eating. I was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2010 a year after my last trip to Paris. This means I need to make sure that my food is gluten-free with no traces of contamination. We’re the people who have to take gluten very seriously. Undaunted, however, I had read up on eating gluten-free in Paris and knew it had gotten better for celiacs over the last five years.
On my first day, I went in to this lovely cafe two blocks from my apartment to explain my needs and ask if they had anything gluten-free. “Nothing sans gluten,” the bar man said. “A salad?” I asked. I explained to them what it means to do gluten-free. They said sure, they could do a salad. The waitress brought the salad out with a piece of toast on the plate. Of course I had to say no. She snatched the toast away thinking this would be sufficient and I had to say no again. A piece of toast on my salad plate is clear cross-contamination. (All a celiac needs to activate the disease is 20 parts per million of gluten–a miniscule amount.) “I’m a celiac, it’s a rule,” I explained in French. “Un regle.” I asked her if she would go back to the kitchen staff to explain. She came back and said they would replace the salad, this time being careful, washing their hands and everything.
Here was the poached salmon salad that came back. it was gorgeous and delightful. I ate all of it.
poached salmon salad–gluten-free.
Update: My French friend Eric read this post and told me, actually Belleville the neighborhood where I am staying is one of the most “popular” (meaning down-to-earth, mixed, and racially mixed) neighborhoods in Paris, and that many of the other arrondissements feel like rich, white ghettoes to him where even he, being white, feels uncomfortable. Some people like that, and some people don’t. So my sense of a different Paris was confirmed. f you want that friendly mixed feel you should try staying in Belleville, or at least visiting it.
Chris Tyre over at the lovely blog Nomad + Camera interviewed me about why and how I chose to leave Silicon Valley tech stress for a more artistic life in South America. And how I got here. Plus you can read up on the tangasm. Why wouldn’t you want to read about that? Here’s the lovely Nomad + Camera interview that’s published today!
Chris Tyre interviews digital nomad types all over the world about how they have created new lives for themselves. The interviews are well worth reading.
David Foster Wallace (RIP) and his hilarious essay “A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again” on the “nearly-lethal comforts of cruises” shaped my opinion of cruises. In 1996, Harper’s Magazine asked Wallace to go on a cruise and write a long postcard back and the result was a hilariously snide series of paragraphs that made cruises sound like hell: floating germ factories of overconsumption. After reading the essay, I thought I would never go on a cruise. Plus, I’ve generally been an independent traveler who likes to get deep into the culture and meet people when I travel. Going on a cruise was not on my bucket list. More like my not-to-do-list.
When I got the opportunity to go on a “social impact cruise” for free this year with the newly formed wing of Carnival cruises Fathom Travel, dedicated to social impact travel, I had to wonder, do cruises and social impact go together? What does that even mean? Fathom invited me on as a blogger to spread the word to my readers and I thought, well, volunteer work on a cruise in the Carribbean. Interesting.
Fathom, a dot.org, it turns out, is a very unique newly launched line within Carnival, one of the largest cruise ship lines in the world. Founded by Tara Russell from Boise, Idaho, who has a background in startups and nonprofits, Fathom has a mission to combine personal growth, volunteerism, and travel, to bring out the greatness of human potential through travel, cultural immersion, and what they call “social impact” volunteerism.
Mother-Daughter Bonding, Meeting Up in Miami
I invited my mother to join me, since I live in Buenos Aires and she lives in Rhode Island, this would be a chance for mother-daughter bonding. We would meet in Miami. My mother said yes but she told me later she was afraid she would hate being on a cruise. I felt the same way, but I had actually looked at the website and saw the cruise was integrating yoga, meditation, storytelling and design-thinking workshops along with service projects in the Dominican Republic. I nudged her along to keep an open mind, and so we made our travel plans and we met finally in downtown Miami, the day before the cruise was set to sail.
7 Days from Miami to the Dominican Republic, and What Would Happen???
The cruise would be 7 days long, Sunday to Sunday. We would start off from the Port of Miami, sail to the Dominican Republic docked for three days to do the service projects and tour the country, then sail back for a day and a half to return on Sunday.
The Sunday to embark finally came, and it was thrilling to finally be ready to see what “cruising,” which I would learn is a verb, is all about. I felt a glee when we first boarded, as I walked through the elegant lounges, bars, and dining rooms, and then out on the soupy-air Miami decks looking at the incredible blue of the water. When I proclaimed that I felt like I was on the Titanic on Facebook and my long-time friend Sara commented that only a true Titanic lover would happily make that comparison. I wasn’t really worried about sinking, no. I was just expecting tacky. The aesthetic of the ship of dark woods, antique lamps and artwork, combined with posters with inspirational travel messages, was really appealing.
The Adonia holds 700 people, as opposed to the 4,000 or so that go on a normal Carnival cruise (the kind Wallace was writing about). The sales director later said they consider the Adonia a mix of English country and rock and roll, and that’s fair, since they also had a cover band on the ship with dancing nightly (which brought together all the generations to dance). At our first dinner we shared a table with Monica, who works for Carnival, who said a normal cruise is as big as a football field and you would have to plan your entire day when you leave the room. To me, that sounded awful. But the Adonia was manageable.
The food — and the service — was fantastic, I must say. I was nervous since I have celiac disease and double-checked to be sure they would have gluten-free options. Not only did they have gluten-free options, they had two special diet cooks who would make me almost any dessert I wanted. Every night a waiter would take my order for the next day so they could prepare special meals for me. In fact, if anything, the food was too good. Even as a celiac I ate way too much. David Foster Wallace was right about the overconsumption if not the tackiness.
The people? There were a lot of families and traditional folk, but there was also a bit of everything. We met an Ottawa woman who worked for the Canadian Army in a long-distance relationship with an economics professor from Mississippi, who met up for the cruise. We met single travelers who came just because “they needed to do something” and the trip was a deal at its launch. We met adult sisters traveling together, an aunt who took her nephew on as a graduation present. I connected with some fabulous travel agents who want to do purpose-oriented boutique trips for their new travel agency Intention Travel. They may collaborate with me on the Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires. Here’s us having drinks.
Making a clay water filter with liquid silver and sawdust with the organization Wine to Water in the DR
So what about the social-impact part of the cruise? What did that actually mean? The Fathom staff was made up of mostly young people, some Peace Corps volunteers and Teach for America alums on the staff, and they had partnered with local nonprofit organizations on the Dominican Republic to organized half-day or day-long activities where the ship’s passengers could sign up to “make an impact.”
The impact activities ranged from helping to pour a cement floor for families who had only lived on mud floors, and planting trees to helping create water filters using liquid silver in pottery to kill bacteria and provide safe drinking water, to teaching English to kids and adults in communities and schools who wanted to learn.
My mother and I took part in two “impact activities.” One one day we worked with the local chapter of a global organization called Wine to Water that’s helping to create technology for safe drinking water around the world. Fathom charged $30 for the water filter activity, which went to support the project. The technology was fascinating: we helped make clay water filters that blends clay, sawdust, and liquid silver to kill bacteria.
Another day we trucked out to a village to meet with a community of kids and adults who want to learn English. We met in their homes to practice vocabulary. Here are two of the kids we practiced English with. When you imagine they are getting to practice weekly with native speakers you realize this adds up over time and can make a real impact on a community.
So were the social impact activities genuine? Do they make a difference? I wondered if the social impact would be real, but my mother and I were both impressed in the end. At our final dinner, she said, “You go to church or read the newspaper and people are all talking about these problems with the environment, safe drinking water, poverty, and then here’s this company that’s not just talking about it, they’re doing something and it’s actually effective.” It is impressive. Some of the cement floors are going to families who have infants.
We participated in the sixth cruise to the Dominican Republic and the cumulative impact so far of the cruises have been:
• 728 English learners learning English from the participants who come to practice with them
• 8,000 seedlings for plants in a reforestation project
• 1,679 cocoa nibs sorted for 49,000 chocolate bars
• 3,850 sheets of paper create for a recycled paper project and job opportunities for the women who work on this project
• 16 homes poured with cement floors
• 316 water filters made with liquid silver, sawdust and clay helping 1500 people get safe drinking water without having to buy bottled water, reducing disease and lost time from school and work
Some fun stuff: Waterfalls! Is there anything funner?
We also did fun stuff in the Dominican Republic. My personal favorite was climbing up waterfalls and then shooting down or jumping off them. I must say my mother was quite the trooper for doing this seven-waterfall hike. We’re lucky no one hurt any joints or limbs. Many thanks to our incredible guide Leoni Vargas who took these photos and was able to navigate these wild falls with his phone in a little plastic bag to keep it safe, then he sent me the photos.
Back to a “supposedly fun thing I would never do again.” Would I go on a Fathom cruise again? Yes. It actually was really fun. I love being wrong sometimes. Life is much much more interesting when you are wrong and discover something new.
Here you can see my mother and I discuss the “Fathom Experience” over cocktails by the beach in the Dominican Republic, by the “Malecon” (boardwalk) of Puerto Plata, near where the ship was docked for three days.
If you missed us LIVE, we have the replay of our boldness hangout on video! YAY!
This Hangout is great to put on at night when you are chilling out . . .it gives you ideas for how to increase your confidence in dance, life, AND dating. It’s also a great preview of the people you will meet in Buenos Aires if you join us and what to expect for this week of “intense enjoyment”!
On the Hangout is Nele, tango dancer and psicotanguera, my Estonian friend who is the co-guide for the Quirky Heart Tango Adventure (and also a great lead dancer who will invite you to dance if you come! that offer is made in this hangout!) and Carissa, world-traveler and new tango dancer who joined us in Buenos Aires in May as a total beginner.
Here are some of our favorite moments from the Hangout.
3:19 I show you how to show desire through your eyes to invite someone to dance–use this dating and meeting new people!
5:52 Nele talks about sometimes going out and feeling frustrated when no one asked her to dance, then learning how to invite men to dance–use this to learn how to ask someone out
13:24 Carissa shares how our psicotango workshop helped her break out of her shell and put herself out there–this has applications for learning to put yourself out there more
18:37 Nele tells us about her first tangasm in Italy—she was a total beginner. Your first tangasm is one you will never forget. And it’s accessible to you even if you have never taken a dance class before.
Spaces are filling up for the next adventures. Choose your week February 21-28 or March 14-21.
If you sign up by December 1, you only need to put down your deposit of $800 to secure your space.
Amanda practices with Nele, our guide extraordinaire, at La Catedral in Buenos Aires
This week I want to share two stories with you from Carissa and Amanda, two awesome women who joined me in Buenos Aires this May for the Quirky Heart Tango Adventure (note new name).
Carissa and Amanda shared with me how tango continues to reverberate in their lives in unpredictable ways.
While some people who joined our Adventure already danced tango, Carissa and Amanda were both total beginners when they arrived. Now Carissa is dancing in Tampa, Florida, and loving her “tango hug time.” Amanda hasn’t taken up tango in Portland *yet* but she is thinking about tango when she thinks about relationships.
Six months after the trip, I caught up with Amanda to see how tango is resonating in her life. Amanda is super insightful about how learning tango has changed the way she looks at relationships. This is why I teach “quirky tango”–learning deep lessons through your body, through dance in particular, can change your life in a different way than “thinking” your way through a problem can. When you learn something through the cells of your body the lesson sticks.
Later this week I’ll share Carissa’s stories of tango hug time in Florida. Stay tuned.
What did you learn through tango about creating a healthy relationship?
I learned what constituted a healthy relationship; the ability to give generously to one another without losing sight of one’s own needs. I also learned how to recognize an unhealthy relationship and walk away.
I learned that learning relationships is like learning to tango; it will take a lot of practice to become moderately good at it but that practice can (and should) be very enjoyable and you can practice with the same person as long as you are both making an effort to improve. You don’t have to enter into a relationship (or the dance) as an expert and when you do start dancing with someone new it will take some adjustment before you moved seamlessly.
What you have applied to your life now that you have been back almost six months?
Tango provided me with a concrete example of how relationships require self-awareness and the ability to recognize and respond to another person’s emotional state. I also realized that my inclination to make excuses for a communication gap in a relationship was counterproductive for all; I just had to imagine how we might tango and how uncomfortable it feels when you are being led by someone who doesn’t seem to notice or care where your weight in centered or how awkward it would be to lead someone unable or unwilling to follow.
Tango is an intimate conversation, much like relationships, and it’s critical that we understand ourselves and each other on a very basic level so that we can communicate effectively.”Read More
“Do what you love, and the partner will follow.” I wish someone had drilled that into my brain six years ago when I was stuck in a swamp of self-doubt, and I thought I needed to stay put in a life I did not enjoy, do the online dating treadmill, and meet a man before my expiration date made me unattractive (read: “unfertile.”)
That is why I want everyone who is single (or coupled) and questioning the best way to live their lives to listen to this podcast. My friend Amy Scott, the creator of Nomadtopia, interviewed me. Whether you have dreams of a location-independent lifestyle or not, listen in. We are talking about living the life you really want to lead and trusting that vitality and confidence will attract the people you are meant to meet. As opposed to sitting around and waiting to meet the “right partner” and then going off to live the life you want to lead.
Amy Scott is a writer and coach who helps people to create lives of freedom and adventure they really want. Amy has been on the location-independent path for over ten years. Amy and I first met when I was about to move to Buenos Aires. We have supported each other along the location-independent and quirkyalone paths. (Amy is married and I’m not, but we are both quirkyalones.)
Amy interviewed me for her Nomadtopia podcast, which is all about “real people living global lives,” sharing stories of inspiration so you can live and work wherever your heart desires. We talked about my the life churn I’m chronicling in my new book (in progress) Wet that led me to these realizations about doing what I love first, my Quirky Tango Adventure in Buenos Aires, the importance of leading the life you really want to lead and questioning societal packages–for example, getting married or buying a house doesn’t necessarily mean “settling down” and being in a relationship doesn’t necessarily mean being joined at the hip.
Reclaiming quirkyalone: it’s about being happy on your own firstSasha: “The limited idea of quirkyalone I was running away from was that it’s just about being happy single. There can be this overreaction about reclaiming singlehood where people then flatten out the concept and think it’s just about being happy single. There are people who are totally committed to being single and that’s wonderful and appropriate because that’s how they feel, maybe they change their minds or not, that’s great, but that’s never what quirkyalone was about.”
“The word alone has 2,000 meanings. For me ‘alone’ means an independence of spirit and you approve of yourself. Classically when I came up with ‘quirkyalone’ it was about being willing to going to a wedding alone as opposed to with a date because going with a date is social convention. You’re willing to live your life and it goes to the level of Nomadtopia. You’re willing to leave your life and go off on this adventure alone because that is what you really want to do.”Read More
Note: I get so many fabulous questions from my readers. So I have decided to start answering them. This will be an ongoing column, “Dear Sasha.” If you have a question, send it in!
I’ve been thinking of having my own sort of “Eat Pray Love” journey in Brazil and any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. I haven’t planned anything yet, but researching for now. Eat Pray Love for me means re-discovering yourself through travel, visiting a country and discovering a culture and people and learning to love yourself. I’ve been drawn to Brazil since I was young perhaps because I’m from a very mixed background and there are so many mixes in Brazil and also from reading Brazilian literature.
This may be a stereotype but I feel that happiness and joy for life and simple things is ingrained within the Brazilian culture, and also there is a sense of women being strong, sensual and owning themselves as women. I need to be around that 🙂 Samba, music, the sea…and discovering a new culture. I also feel there is a great visual aesthetic and relationship with beauty, colors, patterns, craftwork and I want to explore that more.
First, let me say that your intuition is right on. Brazilian joy may be a cliche, and it’s true. Brazilian people do have a very special kind of joy, and that alegria knocked me out and changed my life when I first visited Brazil in 2007.
I get an emotional tune-up from Brazil each time I visit. Brazilian people have more than their share of misery and difficulty, of course. Many Brazilians suffer with poverty, long commutes, and violence. But in general, Brazilians make the choice to be connected and to smile and to look at the light side of life more than we do in the U.S. They are more connected to each other through joy. They make the choice for humor, to say tudo bem (all good) and really mean it. (Tudo bem is the way people ask each other, How are you? All good? All good.) Another possible greeting is “E a‚àö‚â†, beleza?” which is a way of asking, “Hey, over there, beauty/great/fabulous?” They throw their arms up in the air and choose life. Brazilians are also masters of living in the moment. I wrote about that here.
I have now visited Brazil four times and lived there for a total of 8 months. A third of my next book Wet takes place in Brazil and in that book I’m sharing my stories of what I learned from Brazil.
Let me give you some bits of advice and refer you to some of my favorite posts about Brazil.
If you feel the urge, you must go
If you have an instinct to go on any adventure to discover yourself through travel, I say go. It can be scary. That’s the point. Going into the unknown will teach you so much about yourself.
How do you create your own Eat Pray Love journey in Brazil or anywhere? There are many ways, and you need to find your own. You certainly don’t have to figure it all out before you go. Be sure to leave yourself some free time for exploration in the moment. Elizabeth Gilbert constructed Eat Pray Love in the book in a very orderly way, saying she was exploring x in this country and y in another. That’s usually not how life works. I recommend setting an intention for what you want to explore, but also know that you will discover so much more than you initially intend. We have a hunch, but then the waters of life rush up to meet us and fill in the rest. So I say, set your intention, and then be open.
Traveling alone without a plan is brilliant. Going with a friend is also great, though you will likely have more experiences of self-discovery on your own. You will need to make your own decisions, and this is a big challenge to meet on your own. When everything is stripped away from our patterns of everyday life, you find a blank canvas. What will you choose to do? In essence, where will you put your attention, what will you do, whaat will you choose to create? Traveling without a plan is scary and exquisitely creative. Your life truly becomes art.
Let yourself be open to what happens. There is a Brazilian samba song called “Deixar a vida me llevar” which means “I let life take me.” This was my anthem during my travels, to get off my to-do list mode and let life happen, let life take me. To travel without a plan. Brazilians are probably more likely than Americans to travel without a guidebook, to let the unexpected happen. Take your cue from them and try out this style of travel if you have never tried it. And listen to this samba song for inspiration.
Learn some Portuguese, even just “tudo bem”
Brazilians will love you if you take the time to learn some Portuguese. At the mininum, learn how to say “oi” (hi) and “tudo bem?” Brazilians embrace foreigners and if you learn even a little bit of their language you will be one of the family. Perhaps because they are surrounded by Spanish, they feel “quirky” and different and will appreciate your effort. You will be loved.
Brazil is a super quirky country. Enjoy.
In addition to being a sensual country, Brazil is a quirky country. Read about my favorite quirky spots in Brazil here.
I'm Sasha and I'm here to help you stay true to yourself and live with pleasure and confidence.
I coach smart, creative women and a few sensitive men.
I write books.
I like to invent stuff like "quirkyalone" and "pussywalking."
I create business and courses that are part of my growing feminist empire.
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Sasha Cagen is the author of the cult favorite Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics and To-Do List: From Buying Milk to Finding a Soul Mate, What Our Lists Reveal About Us. Her work as an author, life coach for women and entrepreneur has been featured everywhere from NPR and the New York Times to CNN and Vogue.
In her well-loved newsletter going to thousands who identify with "quirkyalone," Sasha is the voice for people who don't want to settle--in any area of life.
In her coaching practice, Sasha helps smart, successful women (and a few sensitive, self-aware men) get clear on their goals and achieve them while always helping her clients focus on core issues such as self-worth.
Through her Tango Adventures, she helps people go deep in the authentic tango scene of Buenos Aires while using tango as a mirror and a metaphor to help each person discover what tango has to teach them.
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