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The following is a reblog of a piece I wrote today for culture: the word on cheese. I don’t even have it in me to try and come up with a snappy hed to this post.

“I have the best job in the world. If I’m unhappy, it’s a failure of imagination.” —Anthony Bourdain

I met Anthony Bourdain in the summer of 2012, when “The Layover” was taping at my former place of work, a now-shuttered cheese shop in Seattle. Like so many, I’d been an ardent fan since reading Kitchen Confidential, his ground-breaking memoir-cum-expose on the dirty underbelly of the restaurant industry.

That book launched his career and, as has been well-documented, turned the former chef and recovering addict into one of the world’s greatest authorities on food, culture and travel.  Bourdain was a complex man of giant contradictions: Fiercely opinionated yet insatiably curious, cantankerous yet compassionate. Of the recent chef and restaurateur scandals exposed by the #MeToo movement, he’d of late seemed a curious mix of furious yet apologetic for his industry’s- and what he perceived as his own- failings.

None of us can ever know why he chose to end his life and regardless of how you felt about him, there’s no disputing the fact that Bourdain put himself out there in person and in print and on television. He deplored inauthenticity and celebrated the common man (and woman) through his deep-dive, documentary-style television shows.

Bourdain exposed millions of viewers to culinary customs and foods that have sustained regions or families for generations, and approached the traditional aspects of cooking, eating and wandering the globe with a fervor and intellect more often seen in academics trained in anthropology, sociology, political science and world history. Bourdain made food and travel greater than the sum of their parts. He changed the way we think about eating, and other countries and cultures for the better and for that, we should thank him for his not inconsiderable gifts.

Whatever personal demons Bourdain suffered- and he never shied away from admitting his quirks, neuroses and bad habits- he was also a man who adored his young daughter, was respected by his peers and was in the rarefied position of more or less writing his own ticket, it would seem. None of us can possibly fathom the pressures he faced nor the internal struggles related to being responsible for so many employees. The greatest tragedy is that he was clearly suffering and saw suicide as the only recourse.

We’re facing a mental health epidemic in this country of epic proportions and by remaining silent about our struggles (I, too, suffer from depression and this morning, after learning of Bourdain’s suicide, I made a promise to start using my journalism to help destigmatize this often-insidious disease), we perpetuate the shame.

The only good that can ever come from high-profile suicides like those of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and countless other “celebrities” is a greater awareness of mental health issues and the need for more funding and better ways to provide help and treatment for all. A digital or print footnote for a suicide hotline isn’t a solution.

After “The Layover” taping (during which, he charmed all of us with his off-the-cuff comments and obvious love of cheese/repeated requests for “just one more” sample) at the shop completed, I shyly approached Bourdain, holding a copy of my recently published book, Cheese for Dummies (written with culture co-founder Lassa Skinner). Aware of the fact that his life was one of constantly being accosted by fans demanding things from him, I apologized for bothering him and said, “I’m in no way trying to make it look like you’re endorsing this, but would you mind taking a photo with me while I hold my book?” He graciously complied, and after I thanked him, I said, “Have a great time in Seattle.”

He put his hand on my shoulder, gave me what by all appearances was a genuine smile and said, “I always do.” And with that, Bourdain left the building.

Bourdain has left the building, and television- and the world- will mourn the loss, but his legacy, books, articles, interviews and reruns will remain. As the man himself once said,

“If I’m an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

Rest in Peace, Chef. We miss you already.

Watching the taping.

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Photo love: Pulp Covers

For some reason (see: bank account balance), my international trips always require no fewer than five flights and at least one painful layover (there’s also the four-hour drive to/from Denver International Airport, which is but one reason for my forthcoming move to Austin). I’m not complaining: I love travel so much that I’ll fly in a cargo hold if that’s what it takes (Pass on the overhead bin). Last month, seven consecutive flights were required for me to get from southern Patagonia to Denver, which is less a commentary on my endurance than it is the size of the Americas.

Before sharing my duty-free pillaging hacks, allow me to explain why I’ve stepped up my pre-flight skin prep game. Five years ago, I had a rather traumatic experience while obtaining a Bolivian visa at 3am. I’d been in transit for a day and a half and didn’t realize I’d have my picture taken on the spot.

I’d include a copy of my visa photo here, but I’m single and need all the help I can get. Let’s just say I now know what I’d look like as a cadaver.

With apologies to Paramount Pictures

But. I have problematic skin (dry/”mature”/cystic acne- a lovely trifecta) and maintain a care routine at home, but I can’t afford the really good shit. So, before I board a long-haul flight destined to suck every molecule of moisture from my body, I hit a duty-free shop and slather myself with samples of costly serums, essences, creams and mists. I marinate in these luxurious products in-flight (I also try and drink as much water as possible, but the downside of Xanax is that I sometimes sleep too much and wake up feeling like/resembling a piece of jerky).

I took these photos during a day-long layover in Istanbul a few months back- it was part of a grueling, 40-hour journey home from Zimbabwe. After a month spent camping, rafting and trekking, I was pretty tore up and duty-free was a glittering oasis of redemption.

Step-by-step, here’s how to prep for a long-haul flight if you’re a broke-ass dirtbag:

During layovers or before a red-eye, I first cleanse my skin with micellar water (duty-free aside, I also carry this stuff in my daypack, as it’s perfect for camping, mid-flight and realllly long bus rides). I then begin my greedy regimen, experimenting with new products each time (the more costly, the better). Psst, this is how I discovered the miracle that is Kiehl’s Daily Reviving Concentrate.

Yaaaaesss.

Regardless of your age, your eye and neck areas will suffer in-flight; by the time you deplane, you’ll resemble an FBI age-progression image. Heavy eye creams can cause clogged oil glands (ew), so I use an antioxidant serum followed by a light moisturizer. I then slather my neck (thanks a lot, Nora Ephron) with lifting cream followed by an overnight mask. These steps are critical: Since starting this routine, I no longer want to put a bag over my head upon landing.  I draw the line at wearing a sheet mask in-flight because…I’m not a fucking supermodel.

This photo just confirmed my worst fears about my nose, which I broke twice over the course of two weeks last year. Tip: Turn on the light before you stumble to bed after a Netflix binge- sometimes the wind blows doors shut. Ow.

I highly recommend you only use skin care samples housed in pump dispensers, because…germs. I can handle being a walking biohazard, but other people’s pathogens? Nope.

Okay, so your face is primed, but what about the rest of you? You know that gross feeling, when you haven’t done laundry in two three weeks and you’re only halfway through a 30-hour journey home? No? Anyway. After an-insert-ethnic-slur-of-choice shower (aka baby wipes) in the restroom, I mist my clothes and hat with a light cologne from duty-free (hats are mandatory for travel- if I’m coming home from a backpacking adventure, I likely have quasi-dreads due to my fine hair. If there are hair products, I work some leave-in conditioner or oil-based serum into my ends to undo the damage).

Yes, really.

Don’t forget the sunscreen if you’re on a daytime flight: UV rays are brutal at altitude, so I always pack a lightweight scarf for my neck, as well. Pop a Xanax, don a pair of shades, cinch a hoodie around your head and drift off, with the happy knowledge you’ll wake up to better skin. And yes, you are correct: I won’t wear a sheet mask in-flight, but I’ll willingly look like the Unabomber. I’m vain, but not that vain.

And there you have it. Follow these steps and I promise you’ll arrive at your destination looking…passable. You’re welcome.

Got any duty-free beauty hacks to share? Comment, por favor.

I’m not a complete animal. Here I am brushing my teeth while camping on the Zambezi River. Stash a travel-size toothbrush, paste and floss in your daypack, in case your luggage goes missing. Or, you know: Mile-High Club.

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Ready to head to Africa in September!

You know you’ve made it as a travel writer when you’re headhunted to write about diarrhea.

 

 

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The #OOTD

I woke up the other morning in the back seat of my car, which was parked on a side street in Idaho Springs, Colorado. Still bleary from the Xanax I’d taken to ensure a decent night’s sleep and clad in the above attire, I stumbled to a small park populated by resident tweakers and assorted vagrants, in dire need of the public restroom. I looked- and probably smelled- like their kin, so it seemed right I not get hoity-toity about the toilet situation.

A shirtless meth head, his wiry, tattooed body muscled like a fist, saw me and smiled. “I love your outfit,” he said cheerfully. When I snorted in surprise, he said, “Seriously. It looks really cozy!” Never underestimate the sartorial assessment of a guy who’s been awake for three days.

Indeed my ensemble was cozy, because I’d slept in it. I’d driven up to Idaho Springs from a food conference in Denver the night before, having engaged in a bit too much day-drinking with my publisher and colleagues (I’d had every intention of driving home after manning our booth, but then the Bloody Mary’s commenced, and there was nary an affordable room to be had).

After a sweaty car nap on a sketchy block downtown, I was sufficiently sober to drive the 30 minutes to Idaho Springs, but too exhausted and night vision-impaired to make it home. Even the dumpiest motels charge extortionist rates once you hit the mountains, and what the fuck, I’ve lived in my car before (see, Summer of ’94, San Diego). I’d just conk out and hit the road in the morning.

Photo love: YouTube

This very scenario is why I keep my car-sleeping essentials in the back seat at all times. In addition to a sleeping bag and blankets for padding/emergency blizzards, I have an LED headlamp (you don’t want to drain your car battery, nor draw attention to the fact that you’re, you know, sleeping in your car) extra batteries, baby wipes (No shower? No problem), reading material, a pair of sweats and a winter jacket, drinking water and a sleep aid. I’m an insomniac of epic proportions- there’s a reason this blog is dedicated to a certain pharmaceutical.

I know I’m not the only dirtbag/cheapskate out there who actually enjoys sleeping in my car, so I’ve provided the following tips to make your experience a little more comfortable and a whole lot safer. And fyi, Idaho Springs is adorable- it’s just off the I-70 corridor so it attracts some nefarious types at the fringes. Solo female travelers who sleep in their cars are attuned to these things.

Without further ado:

Do your research
If you’re somewhere urban, be sure to scope out signage so you don’t end up ticketed or towed, or arrested. It’s a fairly well known fact that most Walmarts allow overnight RV parking. It ain’t the Ritz, but it works in a pinch.

A large cup
How do I put this delicately? Sometimes, you’re just not parked in a place where it’s feasible, as a woman, to pop a squat. I learned this while “living” in San Diego. All of the homes in the cul-de-sac had motion sensor lights and a lack of shrubbery, making bladder relief extraordinarily complicated. After complaining to a fellow car-dweller, he told me, “Dude, you totally need to get a Big Gulp cup.” Dude, it totally solved the problem. Just remember to dump it down a storm drain, and not on someone’s landscaping- you’re not a fucking animal.

A shower plan of action
Depending upon your situation, you can often shower for free at the beach (skip the soap and shampoo or ask a ranger or lifeguard if biodegradable products are okay to use), or pay at a rec center, gym or campground. I confess I’ve snuck into campgrounds before and poached a shower but I try to avoid such shady behavior, mainly because I’m afraid of getting caught. Also, keep a towel in your car-  you’d be amazed by how useful it is (providing traction when you’re stuck in the snow, anyone? Anyone?).

Lock your doors, but crack your windows
Don’t compromise your safety, but you do need fresh air.

Be sure your cellphone is charged and within reach
This is useless if you’re in an area without service (if you have an inkling that’s going to be the case, call, text, or email a family member or friend with your approximate location for the night before you get out of range). A phone can prove invaluable if you run into trouble. Sweet dreams.

Sweet Idaho Springs. Photo love: Mille Fiori Favorti

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When you Google your name, looking for an article you once wrote:

True story.

Photo love: Cafe Press

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Austin’s new Native Hostel. Photo love: Charles Reagan

I admit it: I’m a grown-ass adult who stays in hostels. This is less about my enthusiasm for sharing dorms with frat boys and contracting Athlete’s Foot, than it is a desire for a sense of place and community when I travel, combined with my modest writer’s income.

I’d rather spend my money on great food, outdoor pursuits, live music and a well-made cocktail or three than a pricey hotel room. Like many travelers, I’ve stayed in my share of hostels, and unfortunately, there’s a reason the term has negative connotations for most Americans.

Loft room. Photo love: Charles Reagan

I’m not alone, which is why North America is jumping on Europe’s boutique hostel trend (think stylish décor and innovative design, often with on-site restaurants and bars emphasizing regional food and drink). They’re more about creating a cultural milieu than the average hotel or budget hostel, and strive to provide guests with more of a “local” experience.

Enter Austin’s Native Hostel, which opened in mid-May. The nation’s only luxury boutique hostel brand, Native has already become a communal hub for visitors and locals, which I can attest because I had the good fortune to be the first paying guest on the books. I spent five nights there while attending Hot Luck Fest last month, and was subsequently asked to review the property for Austin Monthly (note that I’ve repurposed snippets into this post).

One of Native’s many lounge areas. Photo love: Casey Chapman Ross

My initial impression was that “hostel” was perhaps an unfair descriptor. When I later mentioned this to GM Margaret Burke, she understood. “(The owners and I) have had an ongoing conversation about our identity and that word, and we feel that the concept is integral to what we do,” she says. “We’re really community-based and the crux of our business model is about engagement between locals and travelers. We decided we couldn’t leave ‘hostel’ out of our name, so it’s about reinterpreting it, while staying true to the concept.”

‘Nuff said. Read the rest of the review right here, y’all.

Photo love: Charles Reagan

Photo love: Charles Reagan

The Parlor. Photo love: Casey Chapman Ross

“Twin Peaks” night includes housemade cherry pie and coffee. Photo love: Native Hostel

Photo love: Charles Reagan

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When I was seven, my parents took me and my older brother on a ski trip to Vail. The thing I remember most vividly isn’t schussing the slopes, but rather, a restaurant named after a convicted cannibal. If you know anything about my childhood, this should come as no surprise.

In search of a place for dinner one evening, we stumbled upon a creekside eatery called Alfie Packer’s- I can recall my parents cracking up at the name. I think I had a mouthful of cheeseburger when they explained the story behind the restaurant’s moniker, thus instilling in me a lifelong obsession with cannibalism and a lust for fucked-up survival stories.

Just to clarify, it’s a happy memory.

Alferd Packer. Photo love: Lake County-Hinsdale County Chamber of Commerce

For the uninitiated, the “Colorado Cannibal,” Alferd (née Alfred) G. Packer, was a prospector convicted of murdering and eating his five companions while trapped at the base of Slumgullion Pass, outside of present-day Lake City, during the winter of 1875. (read the dirty details in my post for 5280 magazine).

Packer was eventually released on parole, and became a Colorado folk hero of sorts. The embodiment of pioneer badassery, gumption and fortitude, he’s been immortalized in everything from film and song to food service (the University of Colorado Boulder cafeteria is named the Alferd Packer Restaurant & Grill; when it opened in 1968, its catchphrase was, “Have a friend for lunch!”). My brother lives in Truckee, and I’m fond of pointing out that California could stand to get a sense of humor about the the whole Donner Party thing (note that both of us live in areas infamous for cannibalism: Coincidence? I think not).

“Downtown” Lake City. Photo love: LCHC-CCC

This Memorial Day weekend, Lake City is bringing its defunct Packer Days festival back from the dead (sorry, had to). It’s less a celebration of cannibalism than survivalism, featuring events like a Run for Your Life Survival 5k, a Mystery Meat Cook-off, and Scavenger Hunt.

Lake City is worth a visit even if you don’t consider cannibalism cool; it’s a bitch to get to, but the region’s alpine lakes, outdoor pursuits and scenery are worth the effort. The town itself is just as alluring, nestled as it is in a pocket of the San Juan Mountains. It’s a legitimate relic of the Old West, boasting well-preserved buildings, a dusty main drag, and a handful of saloons, restaurants and a truly excellent museum; just up the road is the famed Alferd Packer Massacre site and Cannibal Plateau.

Ready for a road trip? Hit up the Lake City Chamber’s site for details, and don’t forget to pack some snacks- you can never be too prepared.

When in Lake City…

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