Category Archives: Things to Do

One lifetime in a day

One day can feel like a lifetime if you let it.

That’s how it was today.

I was up at the crack of dawn to make sure I made it to my appointment on time. I was even early, and for a split second, I thought I was too early, early enough to be the first. But no, the waiting room was packed.

The good news is that there was good news. The second mammography screening showed nothing but fatty tissue. As in nada, negative: when relief is spelled with an 8-letter word.

Chester met up with me afterward, we took the train to Soho for breakfast.

Bleecker street was alive and kicking. We stopped into LPQ for coffee and a croissant and on our way to his salon, we passed the KITH store on Broadway and Bleecker with a line around the corner, a posse of urban skateboarders and street artists waiting for the doors to open.

New York City is proof that life is one continuous breath.

Back home, I took a nap and then worked on one of my ghostwriting projects before getting ready for girls’ night out.

We bought tickets for World Masquerades Presents at Hudson Terrace and found ourselves in a penthouse lounge overlooking the Intrepid Museum.

 

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View from Hudson Terrace, @prez13

 

Guests were dressed in black tie and masks. I forgot mine at home and improvised with a lace hair tie purchased at Duane Reade. Oh, and the red-nose they sell to raise funds against child poverty.

Jack and Ginger, my drink of choice, served in an old-fashioned lowball glass. Lots of ice. For $17 each. This is one of the reasons I prefer entertaining friends at home. For $17 you can get a magnum of whiskey; enough for a dinner crowd.

Ah, dinner, if only I had eaten before going out the day might not have felt so long.


peace in the city

Tonight CC and I attended a member’s reception at The Rubin Museum of Art. The Rubin presents contemporary exhibits that “emphasize cross-cultural connections” with the art and ideas of the Himalayas and surrounding Asian cultures.

I was first introduced to the museum by Lulu when we attended a Mirror Meditation seminar last fall. The session included a silent walking meditation through one of the galleries followed by an immersive meditation using mirrors to reflect the inner self. The whole experience was calming and zen-like, one of the first times I’ve felt completely at peace in the city.

The museum architecture is perfectly attuned for sound. This evening there was sitar music playing at the bottom of the stairway rotunda and a life-size gong signaling time for the keynote presentation by executive director Patrick Sears.

We were invited to participate in the OM Lab, where individuals record an intonation of OM (A-U-M, phonetically) as part of the largest collective chant for The World Is Sound exhibit opening in June.

 

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The OM Lab, Rubin Museum of Art @Prez13

 

Chanting OM is one of the favorite parts of my yoga practice and I love the idea of contributing my voice in collaboration.

If you’re located in the metro New York area or plan to visit the area before May 8, 2017 you can, too. Details here.


Last Few Days in Siem Reap

Flashback March 2016

It’s hard to leave Angkor Zen but more adventures await.

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The road back to Siem Reap’s city center. (c) Andrea Preziotti

My final two days in Siem Reap are a short tuk-tuk drive away. I chose to stay at the Golden Temple Residence, a hotel highly recommended by Trip Advisor and friends alike, located in the heart of the old town and a block away from the Night Market.

Over the top. It’s the only way to describe the level of service at the Golden Temple. From the stone Buddha at its entrance to the welcome ice tea and fresh fruit at check-in. The room is spacious, almost as big as my New York City apartment. The bathroom alone is triple in size. This transition is awkwardly decadent given my minimalist practice at the retreat center.

From the balcony I can see a view of the city, it also overlooks the area where GT performs the Aspara dance show. Interesting perspective watching the dance movements from above. The proof is in the detail, the turndown service included cookies and milk, and a bedtime story written on a card. Very nice touches. I am curious about the need for the amenities price list, essentially a cost for everything portable in the room–I’m guessing some guests at Golden Temple mistake it for a shopping mall.

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Bedtime story, Golden Temple Residence (c) Andrea Preziotti

An evening stroll through the night market. Not many ‘bargains’ to be had, although the prices were wickedly less $$ than NYC. I stopped for a mani-pedi (a whopping $6) and had dinner at a local eatery with live music. I an obsessed with the Alibaba harem-style pants and I may have gone a bit overboard with shopping tonight.

On my last day in Siem Reap, I made my way to the Angkor National Museum, a collection of ruins from the Angkor temple complex. There was a special exhibit of batik paintings from Pascal, an artist local to Southeast Asia. One, in particular, caught my eye, an interpretation of the apsara dance, and will be moving to Brooklyn. Next, we stopped in at the McDermott Gallery for a trio of black and white prints showcasing Phnom Bakheng in the clouds, ‘Monk in the Wind,’ and Apsara performers. Although my treehouse walls may be few they will be well represented with Cambodian art.

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Phnom Bakheng ‘in the clouds’ print

 

All that cultural art viewing calls for a snack at the Foreigners Correspondents Club in Angkor where I had lunch. I ran into the professor from UC Davis (we met at Borei Angkor previously), and we caught up on our travels over tea and ice cream.

The view from across the river is like a window back in time. Tuk-tuks remind me of horse-drawn carriages. There are bicycles and people on foot, and the occasional SUV or minivan bring me back to reality.

One last trip to the night market. This time the bidding war was fierce and now four elephants and two giraffe t-shirts are joining the ark to Brooklyn.

Next stop on the flashback tour: Vietnam 


Yoga, Cats, and Meditation

Flashback March 2016

Pickup from Siem Reap by tuk-tuk. I meet Dianne from Malta, an ER doctor in Preston, UK. Upon arrival at the Angkor Zen Retreat Center, she reacts skittishly to the dog, insistent that Cambodian dogs are the worst.

First impressions are tricky, and despite being skeptical about my accommodations I forge ahead. And I am so glad I did: a four-day retreat turned into five. It truly was an arrival into paradise, one greeted by a litter of yogi cats.

Yoga three times a day, meditation daily. A vegetarian meal plan that includes breakfast, lunch, tea time, and dinner. The food is surprisingly amazing for this carnivore and has swayed me to start thinking about vegetarian first. If only I could get my hands on their cookbook (they make everything from memory /scratch).

House rules are strict about connectivity, the idea is to disconnect digitally and reconnect spiritually. With the exception of a woman from Dubai, everyone is down to earth and real. Your free time is at will and can be spent in the pool, in town or in the communal living space. There are hammocks and Papasan chairs, communal tables for long conversations and then the yoga shala where your transformation begins.

The yoga studio is an open air shala. Thatched roof with Tibetan meditation flags hanging from its center. Tufted floor pillows for meditation and communal yoga mats: use, clean, repeat. The shala is open on 3 sides, facing the surrounding landscape. There is a monastery down the road and oftentimes you can hear the prayer calls and chanting. In the far left corner, there is an altar paying homage to Buddha and Ganesha. This is especially peaceful during meditation and practice. Inevitably one of the yogi cats makes an entrance and stakes claim on a mat or a pillow. Practicing yogis learn to adapt and create harmony in its space.

There are two yogis in residence. Katia from Colombia, strength training Vinyasa. Tammy from California, specializing in Hatha, meditation and alternative yoga practices like Laughter, Partner, Sound, among others. The cooking crew is a mix of local Cambodians, including the owner and Joy a Canadian. Angkor Zen has both resident cats and dogs. Cats with their diamond-shaped heads, stub tails, and sleek bodies. Dog. Singular. A labrador puppy who loves bread.

Tammy introduces us to partner yoga on my first day. The practice strengthens your poses by aligning with another yogi, using each other for balance to mirror the asanas. Federica and I are paired. She is an Italian living in London and works for an environmental agency on climate change. She travels frequently throughout Southeast Asia and is about to buy her first home in the UK. It’s hard not to bond while doing partner yoga, you learn to lean in to support one another. The Italian connection doesn’t hurt either. Over dinner, we plan to head into Old Market Siem Reap for lunch the next day. Dianne decides to join as well. We arrive in Old Market, on the hunt for a coffee (they only serve tea at Angkor Zen) and after a stroll through the day market, Federica and Dianne have burgers (shh, don’t tell) on the brain and so we stop for lunch.

Angkor Zen Gardens tranquility is the saltwater pool. Each day begins with vinyasa yoga followed by breakfast then Pranayama meditation. The Center has the added bonus of the best massage therapists ever. The top massage for my entire trip was my first Khmer massage (pure heaven) at Angkor Zen. There is a separate shala for spa treatments, located behind the dorms. Open air on 4-sides and covered in a canopy. Stepping stones lead to a bamboo bridge; lilies and orchids line the path. There are several meditation ponds on the grounds too, all of them filled with blooming lotus flowers.

I follow my massage with restorative yoga and twilight swimming. It’s nearly sunset and there’s a hammock with my name on it.

Over the course of those five days, I meet some remarkable women: Amber, mother to Herschel on a mommy adventure; Margarita, a Spaniard by way of Copenhagen now living in London; Nina, from Cologne on her own personal sojourn through Asia; along with Katia, Dianne, Federica, and Tammy. In that time over the course of dinner conversations, meditation, and yoga practice we connect on a deeper level. (And thanks to social media, we still keep in touch.)

It is on that last day before Amber leaves that we solidify our friendship over the mediation circle, learning how to let go. Tammy leads us in meditation, our first task is to find a natural offering in the nature around us. This is followed by a devotional and hugging meditation practice that involves an exercise on heart centering, followed by a walking meditation. Tammy’s wealth of knowledge for alternative yoga practices has been enriching and I’ve gained a greater appreciation for yogic meditation and its benefits.

Photo credit: (c) Andrea Preziotti


Siem Reap: Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm

 

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Bodhisattva/Buddha faces of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap (c) Andrea Preziotti

 

The road to Angkor Thom passes over a causeway lined with devas (gods) on the left and asuras (demigod/ demons) on the right. The gates lead to the last Imperial city, where Bayon temple –most noted for the smiling faces of Buddha–sits at its center. The bodhisattva statues should be one of the seven wonders of the world, the detailed and exacting efforts to create emotion and facial expressions through the placement of each stone a complex puzzle of shade and gradient are truly miraculous.

A quick walk through the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper Kings both of which flank the Royal Square. After six hours of nonstop temple touring the only sign you need is the one pointing to the WC. I wish I had thought of a better way to signal my driver and guide. We had agreed to meet at the big tree on the crossroads but that proved way more difficult than anticipated at the high heat of the day, especially without cell connectivity. There must be a hundred tuk-tuk drivers under the boughs of the tree.

The last stop of the day: Ta Prohm, the forest covered royal temple monastery of Angkor. Two trees support the core of the structure, the silk cotton and strangler fig species both of which take root and work their way through the masonry. The site is maintained in ‘apparent neglect’ as an example of the natural state in which Angkor was discovered in the early 19th century.

 

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Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat Temple Complex (c) Andrea Preziotti

 

From a photo perspective, I’m not certain that any image capture can do it justice. The natural effects on the landscape are something to be seen in-person. And it is forever changing, as trees are affected by storms, as they flourish and then die.


Cambodia, A Sunset Tour

Flashback March 2016

Tonight I booked a sunset tour of Tonle Sap and the floating village of Chong Khneas with its houses, markets, villages & schools. I am solo, with a tour guide and driver. As we begin our journey, we stop to admire a landscape vista of lotus flowers, a deeply important flower in Buddhism and symbol of Southeast Asia. Next, a city built on stilts, where residents live in squalor surrounded by refuse and rubbish, glaringly visible in the dry season. Residents walk between the structures on the riverbed and build fires to burn the waste. Come wet season the area will be submerged in water, transport accessible by boats and baskets. Despite the lack of many comforts, i.e. running water and plumbing, connectivity and television access reign supreme. Satellite dishes are the highest visual point above the rooftops.

We drive onward to Tonle Sap Harbor and the floating villages. In the wet season, the lake is one of the largest freshwaters in Asia, swelling to an expansive 12,000 km. This is hard to imagine in the dry season, the water level is low and brown, resembling coffee milk. The brightly colored boats stand out a rainbow of red, blue, orange, and yellow against the shore. Tourist boats are everywhere. It makes me wonder how much of this experience is staged, how much of it is ‘real’. The color of the river deepens and is almost black the closer we get to the middle of the lake.

There are three floating village communities. Phom Kandal, is the larger floating village, home to ethnic Vietnamese displaced by both the Pol Pot regime and the Vietnam War. Chong Khneas is the smallest, inhabited by natural-born Cambodians. Motor boats and riggers are the main modes of transportation, and commerce thrives as villagers sell their wares and barter from the comfort of their barge. It functions as any city would making do with the resources at hand. There are a 2-story elementary school and a church nearby with a cluster of houseboats, anchored to bamboo reeds in the middle of the lake.

The lake feels like an ocean, the shoreline invisible to the naked eye. The stillness of the houses on the water’s edge brings back a childhood memory of launching newspaper sailboats on the rainfall streams running curbside to the gutter at the end of the street. A time when parked cars were few and streets were safe from unwieldy traffic.

The sun sets, its reflection shimmering on the water. The houseboats a silhouette against the blue-gray sky. The warm wind rustles nearby, boats come and go on the horizon. We stop for dinner at a homestay with a family of five: three adults, a young child, and a toddler. The youngest waddles over to the edge of the boat and instinctively knows when to stop.

The sun descends and melts into the sky revealing shades of purple, orange, and pink. The tour guide takes my picture, in every one my eyes are closed. The night is falling, the twilight witching hour has begun as the tour boats feverishly head back to the pier. It’s a frenzy as they jockey the shallow waters, waves water crashing against the sides. My boat hits a sandbar and we are landlocked amid the rubbish. I watch the water buffaloes graze the shore while the crew figures it out.


Cambodia, The Kingdom of Wonder

Flashback to #soulstrengthspirit tour, March 2016

Tuk-tuk to the hotel. The streets of Siem Reap are filled with color and dust. Orange cloaked monks ride sidesaddle on the back of motorbikes. A cart filled with natural weave baskets, golden yellow bicycles. We pass the city center, the royal gardens, a foot bridge with a 7-headed serpent (Naga). It is 90 degrees outside but motorbike riders are dressed for a NY winter. A common sight throughout my travels.

 

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Tea time at Borei Angkor Wat, Image Credit: @prez13

 

The sky view from the sunbed is blue, the sun hiding behind the clouds. Almost ethereal.

Food in Cambodia is influenced by neighboring nations. My lunch on the first day poolside at Borei Angkor Wat includes fresh greens and peanuts (it’s a good thing I’m not allergic), pork fried rice served in a bowl with a sunny-side up egg. Equal parts starch and protein, and a side of mixed vegetable salad. I learn later that there is a strong Thai influence to the cuisine, leftover from the first occupation before the Khmer Rouge took reign.

During the course of my trip, I will have many massage treatments and only two will cost more than $20. The first one is the (2) hour Mudita Signature Spa at Borei Spa, much needed after a 24-hour flight. Every massage in Eastern culture starts with a foot bath ritual, where a copper or ceramic bowl is filled with hot water, flower petals, and lime slices. This attention to the feet is rooted in the respect for the spiritual power of the human body. A centralized location of well-being, the feet are widely and deeply respected as part of the Eastern tradition. It is common practice to remove slippers upon entering temples and private homes. There is a respect for the feet as a reflection of our inner soul, and grounding for our body. If our feet are relaxed, then so are we. As your feet are bathed with a salt scrub then rinsed, it’s hard not to feel calm and at ease.

Jet lag adjustment, sunrise musings are easy. My hotel room, although set back, faces the road. Ambient sounds of the street: motorbikes, tuk-tuk drivers, I wake to monks chanting, incense heavy in the air. The hotel is large. You are greeted with a welcome drink, directed towards a couch where a cultural vignette unfolds beside you as musicians play.

They place me in a room at the far end of the floor next to a fire door. Not something that would happen in the West, especially as a solo female traveler. Life is different here, the threat of bodily harm and violence is almost non-existent. I have reason to believe the Cambodians have a very different perspective on how to treat humans after suffering at the hand of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

I love breakfast in Cambodia. A beef noodle soup with sprouts and greens. Very similar to Vietnamese Pho. And then there’s the coconut juice, served fresh from the fruit. Yum! One morning I share an outside table with a gentleman from California. Paul is a professor of agriculture at UC Davis working with local farmers to streamline the harvesting and planting process of the rice paddies. Typically rice fields get 2-3 harvests from one swath of land, and in Cambodia, much of the labor is manual which results in long-term physical injuries. That conversation will prove to be invaluable as I continue on my journey and observe rice paddies production in Viet Nam and Indonesia.

Backstreet Academy connects locals to tourists, an opportunity to immerse oneself into the local everyday culture of a city. I sign up for a lesson with a local Apsara dance performer. There is miscommunication, then a missed connection. Apparently, a local guide is supposed to accompany me to the performers’ home but we cross paths and never meet. There is confusion with regard to the location but ultimately the tuk-tuk driver finds his way.

 

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Backstreet Academy listing for Apsara dance class

 

Apsara is a traditional dance once performed only for the royal family, and now solely for tourists. The lesson is performed on a platform in the middle of a homestead. There are 2 half-built structures and in the front of the property a shala-like structure where men are working. There is a poster promoting Apsara and I learn that the young woman performs weekly at a local hotel. The instructor, a young woman of 20 speaks no English. She dresses me in a costume sarong. The lesson itself was a bit frustrating, not having a translator to explain the steps and movement and how it tells the story of the Apsara dance. We do our best at communicating. I’m amazed by how far the instructor’s fingers and legs can bend backward. The instructor’s impatience with my lack of flexibility to do the same shows on her face.