Gilded City

There’s a corner of the American Wing at the museum where I work that has always been my favorite. It’s the one that highlights John Sloan, William Glackens, George Bellows, George Luks, and the rest of the artists known as The Ashcan School. The corner in question features scenes of city life — crowded thoroughfares and fish markets, tenements and the original excavation of Penn Station. It’s a tribute to interpretations of city life in all its gritty glory.

I’ve always loved this particular period of art history, and of American history in general. The Gilded Age, straddling the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was an era of rapid economic growth, robber barons and political machines. My fascination with this particular period began my senior year in college, when I took not one, not two, but three seminars dedicated to discussing it. The Gilded Age was a time not just of immense economic change but also of artistic innovation. Over in Europe, you had the Post-Impressionists and Fauvists, the Expressionists, the Cubists, and other Avant Garde movements. Here in America, we followed Europe’s example with our own spin on Impressionism — folks like John Singer Sargent, William Merritt Chase, and Thomas Wilmer Dewing who churned out dreamy portraits of the upper crust in their Newport mansions, sailboats on the Cape, etc. These works were hugely popular in their day, and continue to be an important part of how we define this period of American art history. But even more interesting for me are the artists who devoted themselves and their art to the flip side, the underbelly, the huddled masses in all their poor, tired, hungry reality.

George Bellows, Pennsylvania Station Excavation, 1909 (Brooklyn Museum)

George Bellows, Pennsylvania Station Excavation, 1909 (Brooklyn Museum)

This is what I love most about the Ashcan School. Sloan, Glackens, Bellows, Luks, and artists like them took the ugly corners of this country (and especially of New York) and painted them for the world to see. These were the things that made the age gilded and not golden. Those giant Newport mansions were just a veneer for the underlying social, economic, and political issues plaguing the country. As industrialism expanded and rich men became richer, the lack of labor laws created horrible workplace conditions. The gap between the rich and the poor widened, population booms forced more and more people into the same space, and living conditions worsened as a result. Sargent and his colleagues painted the gold. The Ashcan School painted the cracks.

So what brought me to this particular place in the museum on this particular day? Well it’s finally decided to be summer here in the city, so I left my sweltering apartment earlier than usual and arrived an hour before my shift, trying to take advantage of how cold they keep this place as soon as it hits 70 outside (a stark contrast to my own AC-free abode). I’ve worked at the museum for a year and a half now, and I’ve seen its offerings a hundred times over, but whenever I have a moment to wander I always find myself back in the American Wing. Sometimes, I skip right past the images of Brooklyn in the first room, other times I linger at the jazz-infused Stuart Davis or the the skeleton painting by Georgia O’Keeffe, but most of the time I head directly to the four paintings by the Ashcan artists. I think my love for the American collection stems from the same place as my love for doing Zelda and Scout. It’s about the many, hugely varied narratives that make up America, and the crazy patchwork of humans that call it home. Hearing and seeing these stories teaches me so much about the country where I’ve spent my entire life, yet which still holds a million corners and characters I have yet to get to know.

John French Sloan, McSorely's Bar, 1912 (Detroit Institute of Arts)

John French Sloan, McSorely’s Bar, 1912 (Detroit Institute of Arts)

Art has always been a huge part of how I process emotions (and the occasional existential crisis). Rothko and Whistler soothe me when I’m stressed; J.M.W. Turner reminds me why I fell in love with studying art in the first place. And when I’m in crisis over New York (which is often, because it so frequently makes me crazy), I turn to the Ashcan artists — to Bellows’s tenements and workersSloan’s pubs and city corners, and Luks’s crowded streets.

I’m approaching my three-year mark in this city, and with it comes a lot of self-reflection. I always told myself this would be a long-term but temporary home, a place to be while I was young but not a place to grow old. So as another year passes, I find myself thinking about what I came here for and if I really want to stay. From the moment I moved here, something about Year Three served as a benchmark in the back of my mind, a significant enough chunk to be able to look around, reevaluate, and see how I felt about sticking around for another three. Three years in, I thought, I would have spent significant time at a “grown-up” job, share an apartment with one roommate (currently, I have four), and feel established in the city. Three, I thought, would be a crossroads, and a good time to figure out my next step.

George Benjamin Luks, Street Scene (Hester Street), 1905 (Brooklyn Museum)

George Benjamin Luks, Street Scene (Hester Street), 1905 (Brooklyn Museum)

But as usually happens in life, nothing has turned out quite like I expected, and a year that I thought would bring answers has only brought more questions. And so I find myself staring introspectively at a painting by George Luks in an oft-overlooked corner of the American Wing on a weekday afternoon. Most of the Ashcan School paintings, especially the ones on display here, highlight the city I now call home (at least for the moment), along with a handful of the other nameless people that made their lives here before I did. There’s something comforting about Luks’s vision of a crowded Hester Street in 1905. People have been coming to this city for ages. They’ve been searching for their lives and their purpose in New York for 391 years. And I’m one of them. I too have been on Hester Street on a busy morning, in my own way. I’ve felt what those people felt.

So maybe looking at these paintings doesn’t necessarily make me feel good about living in New York. But it does make me feel okay about seeing the cracks in a city that so many other people see as golden. If there’s one thing the Ashcan School can teach us, I think it’s that seeing those cracks and making something out of them is worth the work.

 

Summer in the City

Summer is finally in the air here in New York City, and thus commences the portion of the year when we spend as much time as possible outside of our non-air conditioned, or air conditioned but very expensive, apartments. Luckily for us, New Yorkers love to get their outdoors on. The city boasts some of the best parks in the world, and it’s bursting with fun activities en plein air when we want to get a little fancier than just lying on a green patch and soaking up Vitamin D (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Best of all? Many of them don’t cost a thing. Here are some of my personal favorite freebies for the fair-weather months. Now grab yourself an iced coffee (or a frozen daquiri…) and hit the town! Winter is coming eventually, so you have three months to make it count.

Outdoor movies: New York is always a pretty film-happy town — whether it comes to watching movies or making them right here in the city — but summer is when the cinephiles really come out to play. From hotel roofs and harbors to parks in every borough, spanning decades and genres, there are very few nights in the summer when you can’t find yourself a movie playing in the outdoors. Thrillist has put together a handy guide, which they update as more schedules are announced. Some of my past favorites (who have yet to announce this year’s line-ups, unfortunately. Update: Bryant Park just released theirs! And it’s awesome.) include Bryant Park (pretty and conveniently located near French pastries) and South Street Seaport (get there early if you want a seat, and bring cash for the food trucks).

Concerts: As previous posts have established, there are few things we love more in the summertime than listening to music outdoors. We could shell out big bucks for Governors Ball, or we could see awesome acts for free (take a guess as to which way we’re leaning this year). Central Park SummerStage and Celebrate Brooklyn are the big kahunas when it comes to free outdoor music events (both groups charge for a few of their benefit shows, but the vast majority of them are free). This year SummerStage is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and they’re pulling out all the stops with shows in all five boroughs and acts from our favs Lake Street Dive to the Metropolitan Opera. Celebrate Brooklyn, which puts on shows in the Prospect Park Bandshell, has a kickass line-up this season: Chaka Khan, Punch Brothers, The New Pornographers, the list goes on and on. And if you’re feeling truly classy, don’t miss the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, which brings world-renowned musicians to some of the city’s cozier parks.

The theater, the theater: I dedicated a huge chunk of my college experience to outdoor or site-specific Shakespeare (and Shakespeare-related) productions, so there is a special spot in my heart for performances of the Bard on a green. Shakespeare in the Park is the biggie, putting up world-class productions in Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. Now while these shows are free, they do charge a significant admission in terms of time; if you want any hope of getting tickets, you’re going to be getting up at the crack of dawn or camping out overnight. For a slightly chiller (and less time-consuming) Shakespearical experience, there’s Shakespeare in the Square, a group of NYU grads that performs in Washington Square Park, and Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, which does shows in an East Village parking lot (as the name might suggest) as well as in Bryant Park. And if Shakespeare isn’t your jam but adorable and talented actors attempting to do sports is, make your way to the Great Lawn for Broadway softball, presented by the Broadway Show League, and watch your favorite Tony-worthy shows duke it out for the awards that really matter: home runs and bragging rights.

Get your tourist on: Now, normally we would rather endure Medieval torture than any sort of tourist activity come the high season. But there are two exceptions to this rule, both of which are best suited to sunshine and, that’s right folks, completely free. The Staten Island Ferry offers beautiful views (including Lady Liberty herself) along with food and beer; just make sure you avoid peak commute times. And walking across the Brooklyn Bridge is a quintessential New York experience, one that is particularly lovely if Smorgasburg awaits at the other end. Both are on my bucket list — for life, for New York, and for this summer.

Just plain silly: A giant game of musical chairs. A swing dance flash mob. A bubble fight. When the mercury gets high, New York gets…silly. Maybe it’s the heat making us stir-crazy, or maybe it’s just our inner kids coming out in this season of Mr. Softee trucks and hydrant fountains. Whatever the cause, we are totally on board.

May Round Up

Oh May, you of the sunshine and storm clouds, with your 85 degree days and 45 degree nights getting us all discombobulated. This month started off with a bourbon-soaked bang and proceeded to fly by, full of visitors and job changes and the return of our favorite beer. Scout’s been filling her downtime filming a web series with one of Zelda’s college/her New York friends (their bestiedom is, to date, Zelda’s most successful matchmaking venture), while Zelda was counting down the days until this past weekend’s trip to Providence for Campus Dance, a capella concerts, cupcakes, and approximately one zillion reunions. And now June is busting out all over, full of promises of iced coffee, outdoor movies, and all the parks we can get our bare feet on.

IMG_8825
What We’re Doing
: A good chunk of this month was spent getting psyched for the summer season, from music festivals of the South to dreams of road trips we want to take. We paid homage to the Southern road narrative, to the characters that make the best Southern books tick, and to our favorite Home Away from Home bar here in Brooklyn. Mamrie Hart wrote a book (out tomorrow!), Caroline Bologna talked to us about NOLA (one step close to Just Folks Southern state bingo!), and Zelda worked on her spiel.

(Via All Dylan)

(Via All Dylan)

What We’re Listening To: For this month’s playlist, we turned to you guys! We both tend to have very strong associations between particular songs and places or periods of our lives, and so we wanted to know if you guys felt the same way. We asked which songs defined New York — your New York — to you, and you told us. From jazz to indie rock to soundtrack classics and a lot of Avett Brothers, it was a wonderful, rich, eclectic mix — just like you folks.

We also love: One of Zelda’s all-time favorite acts, The Milk Carton Kids, just released a new album! She has dived head first into Monterey, and couldn’t be more excited to see the duo live this fall.

What We’re Watching: Zelda was one of those a capella girls, so she was of course stoked for the sequel to 2012’s Pitch Perfect. To be fair, Scout was equally excited for two hours of four-part harmony and synchronized lady dancing, despite her lack of personal experience with it. The sequel was everything we wanted it to be (a lack of Skylar Astin aside), full of laughs and feels and Flula Borg, and we’ve firmly integrated “Aca-believe it” into our everyday vocabulary

We also love: Mother’s Day had us both revisiting our friend Sarah Kay’s poem “B,” and its accompanying TED talk (not that we need an excuse). Scout’s favorite food-tubers (aka YouTubers who cook stuff) Sorted Food, set out an adventure this month. The four British dudes will spend this summer traveling the United States eating only what and where their community recommends. The #LostAndHungry challenge started at the beginning of the month, and they’ve already hit Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Las Vegas and Austin. Needless to say, she is hooked.

sddefault

(Via YouTube)

What We’re Reading: If Mamrie Hart is doing something, you can bet we’re on board. Live shows, road trips, collabs, movies — she’s done it all. And now she written a book! We’re both super excited for You Deserve a Drink to arrive on our doorsteps tomorrow (we pre-ordered it, duh!). Because everything Mamrie touches turns to comedy gold, and her boozy misadventures are sure to have us in stitches, we have so much faith that we’re recommending it before we’ve even read it. Mamrie has yet to fail us.

We also love: This tribute to the awkward older sisters of the internet, who make us laugh and tell girls every day that they are enough. This examination of the inherent difficulties of ending a beloved TV show (for the record, Zelda was very please with how Mad Men decided to do it). This story about a wacky and weirdly wonderful performance art piece in Central Park, part of Creative Time’s Drifting in Daylight Festival.

IMG_3911

What We’re Eating: There are many things Zelda loves about going back to Providence, but one of the biggest is the chance to revisit her favorite culinary haunts. From lavender honey cupcakes to sushi and bubble tea, last weekend for her was throwback central — a nostalgic 48-hour feast that took her back to her college days.

(Via YouTube)

(Via YouTube)

What We’re Drinking: The always adorable Ingrid Nilsen has cooked up some easy and refreshing summer cocktails that are perfect for those warm days (if they ever deign to actually stick around), sitting on the porch in your sunglasses watching the people pass by. She had us at lavender ice cubes. Also, our favorite summer beer hit shelves again this month! South Carolina’s Westbrook Brewing makes our favorite Gose, and we’re positively thrilled to have the sour, salty, deliciousness back on accessible shelves just in time for the warm weather.

What’s On Our Wishlist: Have the good people of Old Try been reading our diary??? They teamed up with Lazarus Ministries of Atlanta this month to bring us a new print based on our favorite Scout Finch quote (and the namesake of our Just Folks series): “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.” We’re all part of this great human race, and sometimes we need to be reminded of that. Plus, it totally goes with our future office aesthetic. Scout is lusting after this bracelet from the Maritime Supply Company at Huckberry, while Zelda has been on a Mary Elizabeth-inspired shoe kick, filling her carts with patterned heels on patterned heels on patterned heels (none of which she has yet to buy, because, let’s be real, who wears heels on the subway)

Want more Z&S in your life? Don’t forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest to make sure you don’t miss out on a single bit of Southern-fried, Brooklyn-based goodness.

So Here’s the Spiel

There’s an episode in the first season of “Girls” when Hannah Horvath/Lena Dunham goes home to Michigan for a weekend. The ostensive purpose of the trip is to see her parents (if I recall correctly, an anniversary is involved), but our favorite would-be Voice of a Generation manages to squeeze in a date with her mother’s pharmacist (and her former high school classmate), as one does. She’s psyching herself up to go out, tossing hair and swapping 80s sequins for a buttoned-up lace number, and she says to herself in the mirror, “You are from New York, therefore you are just naturally interesting, ok?” One more adjustment of the dress, and she’s off to the races (if by races you mean a benefit for another former classmate who disappeared while on spring break, followed by supremely awkward sex).

I’m not a regular watcher of “Girls,” but that quote really stuck with me, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I prepare to head back to my alma mater this weekend for various commencement festivities. On the show, the mythos of New York is enough to give Hannah a sheen of je ne sais quoi (at least in her mind), a suit of worldly armor to protect her from the inevitable inquiries about her current job (none), relationship (complicated), and life goals (no fuckin’ clue) status. In practice, I’m not sure it has the same effect, particularly since, like me, many of my classmates have also made their way to the Big Apple post-college. Nevertheless I think there’s something to be said for the cachet of New York — at least, the fantasy version of pop culture lore — as a way of polishing up one’s spiel.

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 1.02.25 AM

The spiel, as I call it, is the 30-second sound bite one recites when asked by an acquaintance one hasn’t seen in a significant period of time, “So, how’s everything going?” Reunions, like visits to one’s hometown, are rife with queries like this. And everybody has that neat answer you can spout on cue, carefully tailored to make your life sound totally awesome, with some semblance of having your shit together. Going back to college (particularly a “name brand’ university like mine, which comes with a whole extra level of Post-Grad Expectations baggage and subjects you to questions like “So, you’re a barista? But didn’t you go to Brown?”) has a way of plunging you back into the academic mindset, one where checkpoints fall along a clear path and there are easily quantifiable measures of whether you are succeeding at meeting your goals — or even excelling, as years of straight A’s and well-rounded extracurriculars have made people (yourself included) believe you should.

So the spiel, especially the college reunion edition of it, is tailored to meet certain perceived societal parameters for where one should be X years out. Certain details are highlighted, others are glossed over, and some areas of your life may be omitted, not being suited to the super successful narrative you’re trying to spin. Me, I’m lucky: I live in New York (automatically cool and interesting), in the hip neighborhood, and I work at the fancy publication that everyone has heard of. My life sounds great on paper. I leave out the fact that at said fancy publication I mostly answer the phone and monitor emails, I fail to mention that my roommate and I have to find new housing by the end of the summer and probably can’t afford to stay in the cool neighborhood, and I omit the “relationship status” and “five year plan” categories from the conversation altogether. So great to see you, let’s grab a drink next time you’re in the city! And scene.

IMG_3922

But the problem with the spiel, and with the mindset that shapes it, is that after college success stops being a quantifiable thing. Rather than being on the same track, with the same tests of our abilities and progress, the second we move that tassel to the other side of the cap we start to diverge. Our paths wind and meander, diving off into detours or venturing into dark abysses alone. And so you can’t use the same metrics to define your success any more, to others or to yourself. This is something I spend a lot of time thinking about, and discussing with my fellow young alums. We spend the first two decades of our lives being told that success is measured in numbers and letter grades, being president of the club and captain of the team, going to the good school and graduating with lauds and laurels. And when we enter the real world and leave that academic framework, we’re left unmoored, with no compass telling us which way we’re supposed to be going, no progress report to tell how far we have to go until we get there, wherever there is. So you have to make your own road map: figure out what a successful life is going to mean to you.

IMG_8800

So how is everything is going? I live in New York, in the neighborhood with the great iced latte and the apple pancakes at brunch and the laundry lady who always chats with me about the weather. I have an apartment that feels homey, with a roommate who will dance around our kitchen to Taylor Swift and the Four Seasons with me at 1 a.m. I work with smart and talented and kind people, at a place that makes me feel like part of something bigger than myself, and I’m proud of the moments when the machine as a whole succeeds, even though I am just a tiny cog. My work is often unengaging and menial, and my schedule is not ideal, but I think I’m maybe on sort of the right path? I have wonderful friends who send me silly snaps when I’m having a bad day or a slow shift, who stay after the party ends so I don’t have to do the dishes alone. I have an amazing, sassy yet wholesome family who I don’t see often enough, siblings who I want to fly across the country or oceans to visit and parents who told me they were proud of me just as often when I was a starving barista as they do now that I have a big girl job.

And this weekend I’m going to Providence, to dance on the green and sing with my a cappella group and march down the hill with thousands of my comrades. I’m going to go to my favorite cupcake place and coffee shop, and pick up a bag of the tea that got me through every finals period. My life is far from perfect, and there are many days where I feel totally lost and confused, inadequate and behind the curve. But overall, when it comes to the things that really matter, I’m doing ok.

GRITS: Mamrie Hart

This article is part of our series “GRITS: Girls Raised in the South,” in which we profile some of our favorite Dixie ladies and the things that make them awesome. Got an idea for a fabulous femme we should feature? Shoot us an email at zeldaandscout@gmail.com! (Alliteration optional.)

mamriehart1Name: Mamrie Hart

Hometown: Booneville, North Carolina

Profession: Comedian, Internet Personality, Lush, and Goddess Among Women.

Reasons she’s awesome: Who do we think most deserves a drink this week? It’s everyone’s favorite ginger who is bursting with zingers, that boozy vlogger who prefers gin over lager, Mamrie Hart! Now we’re pretty unabashed in our love for this red-headed funny lady. One third of YouTube’s Holy Trinity, her videos are a weekly staple of ours. This week is especially big for our favorite virtual bartender (she wrote a book!), so we wanted to toast her the way we know best: in writing.

Though she was born in New Jersey, Mamrie spent the bulk of her childhood in a tiny town in North Carolina, the daughter an English teacher and a TV actor. Her father, David Hart, had already moved down South to shoot the cop drama “In the Heat of the Night” in Georgia, so her mom decided to venture down to Dixie too, to be closer to her sister and to put the kids within driving distance of their dad. It took Mames some time to adjust to the the Southern cadence and the one-stoplight town, where everyone knew her as her famous daddy’s daughter. But she grew to be proud of (and joke about) her middle-of-nowhere Southern upbringing, using ain’t’s and y’all’s like they were goin’ out of style. She threw herself into extracurriculars to pass the time: cheerleading, dance, sports, etc — plus she got to spend the summers she wasn’t being a camp counselor on the set of her dad’s TV show eating craft services.

With her dog Beanz Hart (via YouTube)

Mamrie with her dog, the one and only Beanz Hart (via YouTube)

She went to college at UNC, Chapel Hill, and studied drama and communications, embraced the stereotypical collegiate experience (beer pong! keg parties! etc!). She even founded a Topless Tuesday Club with her friends, dedicated to ladies hanging out topless, crafting, drinking bourbon, smoking cigars, and becoming comfortable with their bodies (to which we say a resounding “Fuck yeah!”).

But despite her love for the big hair and big drinks of the South, Mamrie was ready for the big city. After college, she moved the New York, with $400 and an air mattress to her name. She worked a day job and performed sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade and the People’s Improv Theater, where she met sketch teammate and future BFF Grace Helbig. It was also through Grace that she was first introduced to the wild, wacky world of online video and the rapidly growing YouTube community. After many a boozy midweekend brunch (mimosas at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday? Right there with you, Mametown), Mamrie came up with the idea for her own series, “You Deserve a Drink.”

The Complete Trinity, Mamrie with Hannah Hart and Grace Helbig (Via TrinityMemes)

The Complete Trinity: Mamrie, Hannah Hart, and Grace Helbig (Via TrinityMemes)

Every week on YDAD, Mamrie uses her decade-plus of bartending experience to create a drink for the honoree of the week — from fellow YouTubers to celebrities and fictional characters — all mixed in with a healthy dose of terrible puns and jokes about queefing (the best part? the built-in drinking game, of course). And her expertise expands beyond boozy banter and ridiculous terms for lady parts. She vlogs over on her second channel, Mametown, which combines her trademark wit and honesty with $10 hauls and a character named Tiny Mouth. She wrote and starred in the film Camp Takota (available on Netflix, y’all). She performs live with Grace in  the touring show “This Might Get Weird, Y’all,” and with Grace and Hannah Hart in “#NoFilter.She and Grace star in the online travel show “Hey USA,” getting up to antics all over America. And you may have seen her on Comedy Central’s “@Midnight,” where she is a frequent and hilarious guest. Basically, Mamrie is a jack-of-all-entertainment-trades (just don’t let her cut your hair…). We’d watch her eat breakfast (probably in a crazy wig and definitely with her beloved dog, Beanz Hart, at her side). Mostly though, we’re excited about her new book: You Deserve a Drink: Boozy Misadventures and Tales of Debauchery! We’ve both already pre-ordered our copies. Why haven’t you?

Favorite Videos:

 



Just Folks: Caroline Bologna

Mondays on Zelda & Scout are all about you! In a series we call “Just Folks,” we talk to Southerners who have found their way to New York about where they’re from, where they are now, and what home means to them.

This week we have Caroline Bologna. As a writer and editor extraordinaire (in Zelda’s (entirely biased) opinion, having spent many a late night editing a college magazine together), Caroline always knew New York was the logical choice for her. But she’ll forever be a New Orleans gal at heart — the kind that “drinks at funerals” and is bursting with pride for her hometown.

IMG_6494 - Version 2

Name:

Caroline Bologna

Hometown:

New Orleans, Louisiana

Age:

24

Current City:

Brooklyn, New York

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m an associate editor at The Huffington Post. I always knew I wanted to write for a living, and I feel so lucky to have landed such an incredible job right out of college. I publish about 3-5 short pieces every day. Beyond work, I love to explore the New York food scene and try as many desserts as possible.

Time North of the Mason-Dixon line so far?

1 year

What brought you to New York?

I tend to joke that I just follow my older siblings wherever they go. My sister has lived in New York for 10 years, and my brother’s been here for 4 years. New York is also the go-to city for editorial work, so it was kind of a no-brainer that I would end up here.

What’s the most common reaction when people learn where you’re from? What’s something about life in the South that you have to explain to non-Southerners?

A lot of people say, “But you don’t have an accent!” I have to explain that a lot of people from NOLA just don’t have accents — though there is the yat accent, and most of my friends who went to big Southern state schools for college came back with a little twang. I also have to explain the debutante culture behind Mardi Gras, which most people from outside New Orleans don’t seem to know anything about.

Describe life in NYC as people at home picture it. Describe life in NYC as it actually is.

I think they picture me living some sort of fabulous, Manolo-filled, Carrie Bradshaw life. In reality, life in New York means spending a ton of time walking around outside (so high heels just won’t cut it for me).

Where do you consider home? Why?

New Orleans will always be home. There’s a lot of pride in being a New Orleanian, particularly for people who lived through Katrina. NOLA is a city that is truly unlike any other — the music, the food, the art, the people, everything is unique. And I couldn’t be more proud to have grown up there.

Do you miss where you’re from? Do you see yourself going back?

I definitely miss it sometimes, though I don’t see myself moving back any time in the near future. Still, I wouldn’t rule it out as a “never” for later on.

There’s this famous quote by a local journalist named Chris Rose that a lot of people like to reference: “She is a New Orleans girl, and New Orleans girls never live anywhere else, and even if they do, they always come back. That’s just the way it is.”

Do you consider yourself a Southerner? Do you consider yourself a New Yorker? Why or why not?

I consider myself more a Southerner than a New Yorker. Where I’m from will always be part of my identity. And I’ll never stop saying “y’all.”

Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines New York for you?

Food: 99-cent pizza, soup dumplings, Shake Shack, Dominique Ansel treats, artisanal donuts, Momofuku birthday cake truffles

Songs: “You Go Down Smooth” by Lake Street Dive, “So Sleepy” by Fiona Apple, and Tove Lo‘s whole “Queen of the Clouds” album

Art: Peter Max’s Statue of Liberty series

Which food/drink/song/book/movie/artwork/quotation/gif/etc. defines where you’re from?

Food: jambalaya, crawfish monica, oysters Rockefeller, sno-balls, and anything from Galatoire’s, Mother’s, or Sucre

Songs: “A Lifetime” by Better Than Ezra and “They All Ask’d for You” by The Meters

Book: A Confederacy of Dunces

Quotes: “There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better.” — Bob Dylan

“We dance even if there’s no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of others who don’t.” — Chris Rose

What is the best cure for homesickness?

Calling my mom while making the long walk to the L train.

Bagels or biscuits?

Biscuits.

Left My Troubles All Behind Me

Zelda and I had an English teacher that liked to say that there were a limited number of stories in the world, and everything we read was just a variation on one of them. (I never heard the whole theory, but I remember being skeptical at the time. I’m still skeptical, actually.) The quest narrative was one of the tropes she talked about, and it’s a story I’ve always liked: the hero’s journey, the overcoming of obstacles to find redemption or treasure or what have you. And for me, the ultimate journey — the ultimate quest — is an American road trip.

There’s something about car travel that is distinctly American. It’s the best way to see the country, and the only way to really get to know it as you travel on through, from mountains to prairies to skyscrapers and Cracker Barrels. There’s something lovely about passing the sign that says Welcome to *Insert State Here* with your hands triumphantly in the air, and there’s something equally wonderful about the fact that you can drive for two days and not leave Texas. Climate change be damned: The United States is a car country.

Now leaving Kentucky...

Now leaving Kentucky…

Now I’ve written on this blog before about my love of driving itself, but this is something more. Maybe this longing comes from my own inherent, indefatigable wanderlust. Something in me has always thrilled to the idea of a full tank of gas, a great song on the radio, and an open road stretching ahead, full of possibilities. (Even the driving part of the trip is negotiable: I can wax poetic on my love for train travel for pages on end.) Maybe it’s because I was inundated with imagery of Great American Journeys from a young age. So many of my adolescent favorites — in books, in film, on TV — take place on the road, and no matter the protagonist or the place, no matter how many times I reread or rewatch them, I always long to jump in the fictional car and ride along.

There’s the already discussed O Brother Where Art Thou?, in which George Clooney, as Ulysses Everett McGill, leads us on a hero’s journey through Depression-era Mississippi, pursuing a treasure in a car, and by foot, and on a train. Then there’s the disfigured Violet and the story told in her eponymous musical — a story of finding love for self and love for others on a bus from North Carolina to Oklahoma. There’s the tale of Q, Radar, Ben and Lacey (and soon, Angela!) driving a beat-up minivan up I-95 in search of a girl in a Paper Town who means something different to all of them. Not to mention Edward Bloom’s tall tales of Big Fish, and Thelma & Louise’s titular adventure…and those are just a few of my favorites.

485117_3064261884531_2038340097_n

This idea, this narrative, had an effect on me from a young age. I wanted my own adventure that — forgive a cliche — wasn’t necessarily about the destination, but the journey. I wanted the road, the tracks, the trail to guide me. I didn’t much care where I ended up when I was done.

As I got older, I made a few attempts to scratch the persistent itch. Zelda and I embarked on many shorter trips: up to Chicago under wintry blue skies, to Indianapolis in the heat of July for a super secret mission. I did four solo trips back and forth from Louisville to Baltimore for school, so many that I knew the locations of all the rest stops in West Virginia by heart. The closest I ever got to a true coming-of-age, epic quest was spring break of my senior year, which I spent on a trip through the Blue Ridge Mountains with two friends from school. We let the road guide us to fantastical attractions and beautiful overlooks, strange family connections with my travel companions, and a man called Turkey. It was a wonderful trip, one of my best, but with only ten days and limited funds, I didn’t quite get my fill.

Sometimes you just have to pull over and enjoy the view. After all, it’s not the destination…

At its heart, I think Zelda and Scout is a sort of virtual manifestation of my American wanderlust, allowing me to explore the nooks and crannies of this nation from the comfort of a Brooklyn apartment. My soul longs for the highways of Alabama and the back roads of the Smoky Mountains, sunrises over the Appalachians and sunsets along the Gulf of Mexico. Pictures and words don’t replace rolled down windows and the wind in my hair, while Zelda and I shout out the lyrics to On My Way (hers far more melodious than mine). But for the moment, this is what I’ve got. It’s a journey made up of people and stories, which I make from the comfort of my bed (and with some kickass soundtracks to boot, if I do say so myself).

And so I keep daydreaming of car karaoke and poetic reflection. And in the meantime, I’ll dive further into the books and films that led me to this life of longing in the first place, and cling to the secret hope that someday we’ll take this show on the road.