Dinner for One

“You are alone, sir?” the hostess asks.

“Yep, just me.” She leads me to a table near the back and awkwardly takes away the other three placemats.

“Salamat, po,” I say.

Still sweating from the sweltering heat outside, I quickly skim over the menu and order chicken with rice and a glass of water. Now what? I glance around, biting my bottom lip. I watch as the large fan rotates back around, in anticipation of the moment when it will grace my spot with a gift of sweet, cool air.

I wish I could rig this thing to hesitate for a few seconds when it’s pointing directly at me. No one would even notice. Unless everyone else is also watching this fan right now. I look around. They’re not. People are chatting in Tagalog and a few in English. I think I’m the only one sitting alone.

I reach for my phone. Facebook. Email. Snapchat. The default reaction to awkward situations. But alas, there’s no Verizon 3G to save me here. There’s no one to text, either. It’s 3am in America and I only have something like 12 contacts on my Filipino phone. I think there are a couple games on there; I could play those. It’s easier when I’m always busy.

But why? Why have we created such a stigma around being alone in public? And I mean really alone. Not on our phones, not with our face in a textbook, but as fully conscious human beings.

I never went out to restaurants by myself at home. Whether it was Sunday brunch with my housemates, date night with Amy, or a weekday afternoon at the Lodge, I was always eating with someone. During busy weeks, I even had to schedule my meals. I didn’t want miss out on these crucial moments to connect with the people I care about. At least that’s the excuse I gave myself, the facade I hid behind. However, there was a fundamental problem in the way that I dealt with being by myself, especially in public.

This summer has been different, though. While I’ve had a lot of time with others, I’ve had a lot of time alone, too. I knew this would be the case, since I was traveling on my own to another country, halfway around the world. But despite it’s title, the Lonely Plant guide glosses over that part. The trick was to find sustenance in, as Nathaniel Hawthorne once explained, “the communications of a solitary mind with itself.”

After two months here, through the ups and downs of international independence, I can finally say that I am comfortable left stirring in my own thoughts over a plate of chicken and rice. I’m at peace, and that’s enough.

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The River’s Bend

canoe

This past Sunday was the best day of my summer. No question.

My friends and I arrived at the Quapaw Canoe Company in Clarksdale in the afternoon, equipped with watermelon, granola bars, bug spray and copious amounts of sunscreen. I had little to no expectations for the rest of the day, but boy, the Quapaw staff knows how to make a good first impression. Ivy grips the walls of the old brick building they operate out of, which they’ve converted into a hostel for weary travelers. We stepped through the wooden door frame into the main room, which used to be an old bar, to find chandeliers made from tree limbs, a family of hammocks, and a circular bookshelf which housed encyclopedias and works from Beat Generation writers. They stowed our packed dinners into coolers and led us downstairs to the loading deck.

As we were walking towards the stairs, my friend Jacob and I heard laughter from behind us. We turned to see Mark, a brawny river guide whose dreadlocks barely escaped from underneath his ball cap, grinning eagerly. We quickly realized we were about to walk into a storage closet.

“I was gonna let y’all figure it out,” he chuckled as he hauled our cooler down the stairs. We met the rest of the crew down by the canoe.

The driver’s name was Ellis. If you looked up “smooth” in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure you’d find a picture of this guy. He was probably in his mid 50s or 60s with long, black, curly hair that hung from behind his cowboy hat. A pair of black aviators rested on his face, as did a tidy black mustache. He wore a crisp collared shirt tucked neatly into a shiny belt, long slacks and dark boots. The brother of famous Clarksdale blues muscian Super Chikan, Ellis is known for his suave dancing, which he confidently demonstrated for us.

Chris was a young Boston College graduate originally from New Orleans. He had long brown hair; a scruffy beard lined his jaw. As he shook our hands, he flashed his big smile and pearly white teeth. I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone who gave off a more authentic, genuine, free spirit vibe than Chris did.

The leader of this eclectic crew, owner and founder of the Quapaw Canoe Company, was John Ruskey. He had a long, greying beard and wore a skin-tight swim shirt that was some kind of compromise between tribal and floral print. He was an unforgettable character for sure, but I’ll get to that later.

We loaded all of our gear into the magnificent twelve-seater canoe that they built themselves. According to Chris, building that canoe was one of the most beautiful processes in the world. All eleven of us piled into their SUV, which was dressed in bumper stickers that read things like “Eco Warrior” and “Leave No Trace.” A dreamcatcher hung from the rear-view window and the front headrests were decorated with Hawaiian print. A feeling of familiar comfort blanketed my soul as I was reminded of coffee shops and farmers markets in Carrboro. My thoughts were interrupted by the slam of the trunk; Mark, Chris and John were crunched up in the very back of the old SUV.

“We can fit more people in our canoe than in this car,” John muttered as the engine sputtered into gear.

We lugged the canoe on a trailer behind us for about fifteen miles, past the levee, until we reached a serene grove of trees which led to the muddy bank of the Mississippi.

Mark hopped into the first seat at the stern and John took his place at the rear, our captain for the day. Jacob, Joanna, Jacqui, Rachel, Mehul and I, plus Chris and a journalist from Germany, filled the remaining seats, two in each row. We pushed off from the bank and began to paddle.

In order to keep from colliding paddles with Chris, who was in front of me, I had to synchronize each row with his. We whisked through the muddy water with brisk, harmonized strokes. I stared downstream and was immediately awed by the vast, tremendous river.

At some point, we passed a group of people in baseball caps lounging on the bank with their ATVs.

“Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!” one of them yelled.

“Hoo-wee!” Chris howled back. “When the river rat meets the redneck…” he said, smiling as we resumed our unvarying rhythm.

We veered off into a back channel behind an island, where lush plants lined the riverside. Willows hung over the edge of the water, swinging in the wind.

“Okay, here’s where you can swim!” John yelled as he dove into the water. Chris joined him, completing a front flip off the side of the canoe. Jacqui, Joanna and Rachel followed, leaping into the water to cool off under the hot Mississippi sun.

Mark turned to his right and started laughing. John was sprinting through the woods, filled with jubilation. He returned to the canoe breathing heavily and with a two-foot rip in his sleeve.

“Hoo-wee!” he yelled.

I spent most of the next hour or so listening to Chris and the German journalist talk about music, literature, and to my amusement, energy policy. I interjected to make a couple points, but I really just felt like listening. At some point, the conversation reached Beyoncé (as it always should) and the journalist asked if Beyoncé was a common name in the United States, or if it was made up, since “it is common for that ethnic group to make up names… like LaQuisha.”

A little taken aback, Chris smiled and countered, “Yeah… it’s kind of bullshit here when white people make fun of black people’s names.” He proceeded to tell a story about a “bad-ass” schoolteacher of his who chewed out a white student for making fun of a black student’s name.

The teacher said, “Carly? Carly? What kind of a unique name is Carly? Your name isn’t unique at all.” Naturally, I brought “James Smith” to his attention, and we all laughed. The progressive attitudes of this diverse group of river guides was refreshing, especially in a part of the country where racism is definitely still alive and very real.

At this point it was probably about seven o’clock, though I didn’t have my phone or my watch so I had no idea. We floated up to the shore of a massive sandbar in the middle of the river for a dinner break. After a mud fight and a brief swim, we settled down on the beach in a circle and unpacked our dinners as the sun began to set over the looming clouds of an impending thunderstorm. John pulled out a guitar and started to sing. Everything was so perfect. The moon suddenly appeared over the gentle curve of the wooden canoe. It was so bright and full I thought it was going to burst.

I picked up a stick of bamboo, jabbing it into the earth as I walked across the cool sand. Through the brush, I saw Chris doing a hand stand on the other side of the island. I strolled over and to my surprise, he asked about my tattoo. We started talking about life and school and all sorts of things. He told me that not many locals go out on the river with them.

“There’s a specific type of person who comes out here. They have to seek it out,” he said. He told me about some of the interesting characters he’s met out on the river, and how this was supposed to just be a summer job.

I admire Chris so much for doing what he does. He’s just another college grad, but he actually did something he wanted to do with his life. He didn’t change his major to fit the requirements for some fancy job, or sell himself out for the money. Everyone says they want to do things, like move to the mountains, or travel the world, but they never do it. Ever. He decided against going back for grad school and instead moved from Boston to Clarksdale and became a river rat on the Great Mississippi. That doesn’t make him a failure or a screw-up, and it doesn’t mean he’ll do this for his entire life. It makes him real, that’s what it makes him.

We all got back into the boat as the sun was about to set. It was no longer visible over the clouds, but shining just enough to make the sky glow. Behind us, the scene was so picturesque. Everything had been painted beautiful, varying shades of blue, from the water, to the trees, to the clouds in the sky.

Chris started playing an old canvas drum. Knock knock DONG, knock knock DONG! The sound reverberated across the water with such ease. He handed the drum to Joanna and her face lit up with excitement. Beaming, she continued the slow, methodic beat. I coordinated my rowing with the rhythm of the drum. Chris lit a small wooden torch, tied together with rubber bands. He held it above his head so we could all smell the sweet, earthy smell of the burning plant.

As it got darker, we put away the instruments and the guides got out head lights. Suddenly, we saw some frantic movement on the left side of the canoe, right near Chris’ oar. He jumped and everyone froze for an instant. Slowly, John’s head emerged from the water, hootin’, hollerin’ and cackling at his practical joke.

“You got me again!” Chris exclaimed, still a bit flustered. We all laughed.

At that moment, we heard a loud crack of thunder. A storm was coming. Flashes of lightning illuminated the sky and the boat began to sway. It was still somewhat light outside when it began to rain. John told everyone to stop paddling and we soaked up the moment, sitting together in the canoe, rain dripping down our bodies.

All the light finally disappeared and a wave of cool darkness kissed our sun-soaked faces. The river seemed so tranquil for awhile, like the stern was breaking a film of stillness when it pierced through the water.

We chatted amongst ourselves and sang songs, but at some point everyone made an unspoken and collectively unanimous decision to row in silence. It was one of the most relaxing, unbelievable experiences of my life, and I still don’t really know why. I sat crisscross-applesauce with one foot resting on the side of the canoe and the other on top of the cooler between Mehul and I. I stopped rowing and put my right hand over the side of the boat, feeling the water between my fingers. My breaths were steady and deep. It started raining again. Really hard. I turned my face up to the sky. There was something so powerful about that moment, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put it into words.

Before I knew it, we were back on the muddy bank. The next half hour or so I was kind of in a trance. I kept to myself. I remember walking off towards the woods when our guides were loading everything back up and strapping it down to the trailer. I was listening to all of the insects and I remember them being so loud. Like I was in the middle of the crowd at a rock concert. Without thinking, I started picking up trash and water bottles that people had tossed into the grass. I put it all in my lunch box.

As we drove back, I started coming down from my natural high, back to reality. We said our goodbyes to the river rats, thanking them for everything. Seriously, if you are ever anywhere near Clarksdale, Mississippi, please go on these guys’ river tour. It was exceptional.

My friends and I finished the night with dessert at McDonald’s. In case you didn’t know, the McDonald’s in the Cleveland, Mississippi (the town I’ve been living in for the past 2 months) is the most frequently visited McDonald’s in the Southeast United States. Take that as you may, but my dipped cone was fantastic.

Sunshine Reflections

Each day’s drive home from work is indistinguishable from the next. I stare through the frames of my dark sunglasses at the barren Mississippi highway with my windows down, filling my lungs with the sticky, sweltering summer air. My left arm hangs down the side of the car, drumming along to the beat on the reflective metal. My right hand idly guides us along the flat, straight strip of concrete, constantly trying to minimize its contact with the scalding leather steering wheel. Beads of sweat materialize on my brow and trickle down my neck. Yesterday, as countless rows of corn and soy beans elapsed my fleeting vision, Atmosphere’s “Sunshine” came blaring through the stereo. If you haven’t heard this song, the chorus goes:

“Sunshine, sunshine, it’s fine
I feel it in my skin, warming up my mind,
Sometimes you gotta give in to win,
I love the days when it shines, whoa let it shine…”

I could have used any number of song lyrics to make a statement about this summer, but as I reflect on my experience as a whole and what I’ve learned, I think Sean Daley’s 2007 hit comes closest.

For the past seven weeks, I’ve been working as the director of a summer youth program in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Overall, everything has gone really smoothly. We’ve had many refreshing, positive breakthroughs as we taught our students about healthy living, sustainability, literacy, world cultures and entrepreneurship. On good days, I am filled with hope and joy for these kids I’ve developed close relationships with.

But with every storybook moment comes a shocking step backward. For instance, none of the students could correctly label the seven continents. None of them could even point to Mississippi on a world map. Not even the 7th graders.

Grammar, literacy, sexual activity and food quality are also major problems in the lives of these elementary schoolers, as a result of issues ranging from the non-existing economy of Mound Bayou (there are literally less than five currently operating businesses) to frustrating inconsistencies within the school system here. Families in Mound Bayou are trapped in disastrous cycles of hardship and poverty. Reform, especially for education, is needed dearly.

For me, it’s hard not to want results. I see the injustice and automatically want to help bring about change and equality. Not to mention, ever since the 6th grade, my success has been quantified by numbers, positions and awards. This summer, I have spent hours and hours each day preparing creative and interactive lesson plans, but I’ll likely never see the results of my efforts here. And that’s something I’ve had to come to terms with and accept. My perceivable results come from day-to-day interactions and small glimpses of growth. I’ve had to stop worrying so much about improving test scores and solving problems, and instead, focus on being there for the students when they need someone to talk to, or being a positive role model.

And so with that in mind, this summer has been successful. I have gotten to know the culture and community here. I have developed close relationships with the students in my program, and have been working to build up their self-esteem and learn from them. I taught a curriculum that I felt was important and I exposed the students to topics they probably won’t ever cover in school. The kids responded with enthusiasm and energy. That’s all I could ever ask.

On a personal note, I think I’ve become a better version of myself this summer. I’m a better team member, I’m more honest and more real with people. I’m more confident and self-assured. I’m happy and I feel good.

However, as the song lyrics go, I had to give in to win. I had to let go of my result-oriented perspective and learn to measure success through the little moments. Yesterday as I sat outside in the parking lot on a foldable metal chair (to the dismay of my co-workers) and ate my lunch, I realized that my good days this summer were sometimes measured through simple, humble joys, like witnessing immaculate rays of sunlight. I love the days when it shines.

StGabes

Fortune Cookie Blessings

Yesterday, we passed out fortune cookies to conclude snack time before delving into pictures and videos of Indian and Chinese culture. I cracked open the thin shell of my one of the extra cookies to reveal the coveted slip of paper hidden within. No matter where I am, those simple little cookies always transform me back into a joy-filled, naïve child, patiently awaiting my gift on Christmas morning. I carefully split the wafer’s sweet framework, slowly unwrapping the shred of paper as if determinedly building the anticipation for just a few extra moments would somehow reward me with a better fortune.

I rolled over the parcel in my fingers and read, “You will receive some high prize or award soon.”

“Solid,” I thought, unexpectedly impressed with my results. Having only briefly glossed over the letters, I focused my attention on the sugary, short-term satisfaction of crunching the cookie between my teeth. I promptly glanced back at the white slip nestled in the crease of my palm, this time letting the words marinate in my mind for a moment. I tried to think of a high prize or award that would satiate my selfish desires… and I blanked. It was in this instant that I realized how truly blessed I am.

My life at home hasn’t always been perfect, but I have friends and family who care about me, and who I truly love with all my heart. I couldn’t ask for a better collection of people to share my life with. As the son of a literacy professor, my educational opportunities have been ubiquitous from the beginning, a blessing that I’m only now starting to fully recognize. I don’t have to burden my family with the cost of college, and I have a rewarding job at school. I’ve had the opportunity to enhance my perspective through travel and experience. I never have to worry about feeding myself. In fact, I’m blessed to be able to vote with my wallet, having the choice to eat healthy, sustainable and ethically produced foods.

I hope this post doesn’t come off as boastful or arrogant, for that’s definitely not how I intended these words to strike. I’m just unbelievably thankful, and I wish I did a better job of expressing that in my everyday life.

I’ll update this blog again soon with details about the youth program, for this week was a pivotal one. But for now, those are the thoughts whirling around in my head on this lovely, sun-soaked morning in Mississippi.

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Down in the Delta

Image

I lied flat on my back; the boat was slowly drifting across the water. The lake’s glossy surface seemed to radiate moonlight. Like the frosty tips of tiny icebergs, the stars refused to be consumed by the immense black sea that was the night sky. The muffled voices of my friends, lost in conversation, and the gentle hum of the pontoon motor were barely audible over the silent stillness of the water. I filled my lungs with the crisp night air and closed my heavy eyelids. This midnight boat ride across Lake Tuscaloosa was the first time I allowed my racing mind to stop and reflect since beginning my summer internship two and a half weeks ago.

For those of you that don’t already know, I’m directing a seven-week youth enrichment program at St. Gabriel’s Mercy Center in Mound Bayou, Mississippi for 1st-7th grade students. This historically significant town, the first in the U.S. founded by freed slaves, is home to just over 2,000 people. However, what used to be a vibrant cultural downtown area has been reduced to a cluster of dilapidated buildings with tattered lettering etched on their sides and broken windows boarded with rotted wood. As far as I know, there are only three operative for-profit businesses in all of Mound Bayou: a burger shack, a pottery shop, and a convenience store equipped with a deep fryer.

I’m living in an apartment on Delta State University’s campus with five other college sophomores, two from UNC and three from Duke. Delta State is located in Cleveland, Mississippi, which features an odd assortment of establishments, from pawn shops to indie cafes to monogram stores (yes, you read that correctly…) They even have a beloved FroYo store called Delta Dairy, which we’ve become more than acquainted with. Cleveland is definitely not what came to mind when I first imagined where I’d be living this summer, but having a Wal-Mart and Kroger within walking distance is definitely convenient.

The contrast between where I live and where I work is somewhat unsettling. It feels strange to retreat to Cleveland each night, fleeing the poverty, hunger and sky-high unemployment rates of Mound Bayou for coffee shops and upscale fitness centers packed with Teach For America employees. It’s too comfortable, too accommodating, too familiar. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely appreciate life in Cleveland, and I really enjoy spending time with my housemates (on that note – Joanna, Jacob, Mehul, Jacqui and Rachel, if you’re reading this, you’re awesome and thanks for being so friendly and welcoming). Maybe I’m just overanalyzing the situation, but I definitely feel some sort of guilt about it all.

On a different note, my youth program is going pretty well so far. It’s been exhausting and time-consuming, but exciting nevertheless. Jacqui and I have planned out units for each week, including things like environmental sustainability, business/entrepreneurship, world cultures and literacy/art. We just finished the first week, which we called “About Me” and taught about healthy living, psychology and goal setting. Our main goal is to expose our students to things they normally wouldn’t come into contact with in their public school system. The experience has definitely been a struggle so far, especially discipline, lesson planning and feeling a lack of tangible results from our efforts, but it’s the little things that make it feel worth it. One student wrote about her aspirations to go to college and support her family, setting goals to study every night and pay attention in class. Another day during warm-ups, one of the little boys wrote “I appreciate my family and getting to see another day of sunshine.”

I feel a lot closer to the community here than I did at the start, and I’m definitely getting a real sense of the Delta culture. I’m just trying to soak everything up and experience all that I can while I’m here.

I’ll go ahead and wrap this post up before I ramble on for too long. Everyone in my apartment has already gone to bed and it’s only a matter of hours before my alarm will interrupt my sweet, sweet sleep and bring me back to the reality that I have work early in the morning.

ATL Food Tour

My first stop this summer was Atlanta, Georgia. I visited for about a week after I finished exams.

One day, the wonderfully creative Amy Dingler and I decided to split appetizers at five restaurants rather than ordering a full meal at one place. We rated each restaurant from 1-10 on six different categories, and then calculated a final score out of 50. Next time we’ll take more pictures!

First up, The Vortex in Little 5 Points (http://www.thevortexbarandgrill.com). We ordered Southern Fried Pickles with lettuce and spicy jalapeño ranch dipping sauce.

  • Decor: 10
  • Environment: 6
  • Menu: 10
  • Service: 6.5
  • Food quality: 7
  • Price: 9
  • Positives: It looked awesome! You have to walk through the mouth of a skull to get inside, and there were all kinds of cool posters and license plates on the walls (and ceilings). Unfortunately they left out North Carolina 😦 Also, prices were fair and the menu was really funny and unique (see for yourself: http://static.shopify.com/s/files/1/0147/1442/t/1/assets/Food_Menu_2-13.pdf). Our favorite description was for their coffee: “We don’t offer any half-caf, non fat, pump mocha, whole-milk foam kind of bullshit here. It comes black, in a cup.”
  • Negatives: We were seated at an awkward table near the door despite there being plenty of room elsewhere. It was also really cold inside, and it wasn’t just the ice water 🙂 The service was just okay, and the pickles weren’t anything spectacular, but well done for a fried pickle.
  • Overall: 40.50

Our second stop was R. Thomas’ Deluxe Grill on Peachtree Street (http://www.rthomasdeluxegrill.net/index). We ordered the mini fajitas, which had sautéed peppers and onions, zucchini, avocado, tomatoes, chopped tempeh (soybean cake) and tortillas with a ginger sesame sauce, served with really good salsa and sour cream.

  • Decor: 10
  • Environment: 8
  • Menu: 9
  • Service: 8
  • Food quality: 9.5
  • Price: 7.5
  • Positives: This place looked really cool, too. You walk past multiple parrots before you get to the front entrance. The whole restaurant has a cool, relaxed, earthy vibe. We sat outside on the screened-in patio and all of the lights were colored, which gave the room a green tint. Our waitress was really nice and had no problem with us only ordering an appetizer. The menu had a ton of really tasty and healthy options. The biggest positive for R. Thomas’ was the food, though. I don’t think it was what either of us were expecting for fajitas, but it all tasted really good, especially the salsa. I’m a huge fan of avocado, and they were perfectly ripe, so that really won me over, too.
  • Negatives: It was a tad bit on the expensive side, for the amount of food we actually got.
  • Overall: 43.50

Third on our list was Sufi’s, a Persian restaurant right next door to R. Thomas’ (http://sufisatlanta.com). We were hesitant about going into such a fancy-looking place and just splitting an appetizer, but they were super welcoming and understanding. We ordered Sufi’s Special, which was a spicy sautéed eggplant with onion, garlic, chick peas and spicy tomato sauce. They also served us pita bread with butter, feta cheese, olives, cucumbers, gourmet walnuts, mint and sage for no extra charge. We actually did remember to take pictures at Sufi’s, so check them out below.

  • Decor: 8
  • Environment: 7
  • Menu: 6.5
  • Service: 9
  • Food quality: 8.5
  • Price: 10
  • Positives: Our main server was really friendly. Before we sat down, we asked him if it would be okay if we just split an appetizer and he was totally cool with it. He also gave us helpful advice on what to order. The appetizer we ordered was really good, and we didn’t expect to get pita bread, cheese and veggies for free on the side. We actually got so much food for our money that we had to take some home.
  • Negatives: The menu was fairly short and for the most part, pretty plain and boring. The restaurant looked nice and fancy inside, but was not very decorated, especially out on the patio where we sat. Also, for some reason, the only thing they had to dry your hands with in the bathroom were tissues. It may not sound like a big deal but I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to dry wet hands with a tissue. If you haven’t, try it sometime.
  • Overall: 42.25

sufis1 sufis2 sufis3

The fourth restaurant we visited was Uncle Julio’s, a Mexican restaurant located a little bit further down Peachtree Street (http://www.unclejulios.com/index.php). We ordered the Ceviche Royale, which was shrimp, scallops and tilapia marinated with lime, lemon juice, tomatoes, onions and cilantro. Of course, it was served with chips and salsa. We didn’t get any photos of the food, but we took a couple outside, including a shameless selfie.

  • Decor: 10
  • Environment: 8
  • Menu: 8
  • Service: 7
  • Food quality: 1.5
  • Price: 5
  • Positives: It looked really cool from the outside, and was decorated inside too. They definitely went all out with pictures and designs on the walls. The waitress was pretty friendly, and gave us a “menu tour” since neither of us had eaten there before.
  • Negatives: The food. I don’t know if we just ordered the wrong appetizer, but it was really bad. If it gives you any indication, we spent half the meal trying to decide whether it would be better to subtly flick pieces of seafood into the nearby bushes or if we should spread the uneaten food around our plates and hide it under pieces of tortilla chips. It was also fairly expensive, especially for the poor quality.
  • Overall: 31.50

julio1 julio2

Our fifth and final stop was for dessert and coffee/tea at Cafe Intermezzo, located on the corner of Peachtree Street and 11th street (http://www.cafeintermezzo.com). I ordered the Sencha Kyoto cherry rose tea and Amy got an espresso with orange flavoring. We split a slice of cake called Candy Bar Explosion.

  • Decor: 10
  • Environment: 9
  • Menu: 8
  • Service: 6.5
  • Food quality: 9
  • Price: 9
  • Positives: Again, really awesome decorations. They did a great job with the classy, old-timey theme. There were chandelier-type lights hanging from the ceiling, beautiful pillars, and other decorations. The drinks were really good but Candy Bar Explosion really took the cake, no pun intended. It was so good. Just take a look at the picture below. It tasted as good as it looks. Our waiter was nice and friendly, and the prices were reasonable. The menu also had so many drink options we didn’t know where to start.
  • Negatives: The menu was almost too long. It was hard to choose a drink, and the waiter didn’t have a complete knowledge of everything, so he wasn’t all that helpful in picking something out, especially the espresso flavorings. Inside, the cakes were not labeled in any way, so we couldn’t really tell what was inside each one. There was a woman showing the cake to customers, but she was kind of cranky and made a big deal of having to give us the run-through when she had just done it with another group. The only other negative was that the seating was pretty cramped. We could hear every word of what seemed like a first date between the couple sitting next to us.
  • Overall: 43.00

intermezzo

 

 

Now I have a little insight into the daily life of a food critic – not too shabby. It ended up a really close contest between Cafe Intermezzo and R. Thomas’, but in the end, R. Thomas’ was the best spot overall, when taking everything into account. The only place we probably wouldn’t return was Uncle Julio’s. Maybe the hot entrees are better, but I don’t think I’ll take the chance.

During the rest of my time in Atlanta, I saw a performance at the Goat Farm Arts Center, which I definitely recommend (check them out here: https://www.facebook.com/TheGoatFarmArtsCenter). I also had to stop by the infamous fast food joint, The Varisty (http://thevarsity.com), for lunch one day, and I tried all 65 flavors of soda at the Coke Museum.

A Theory on Travel

One of my favorite authors, Mark Twain, once said,

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

This quote has always stuck with me. I love to travel, both for the thrill of it and because I think it makes me a better, more aware person. My travels so far have completely shaped the person I am and the things I believe. I can only imagine that they will continue to do so as I get older and have more experiences away from home.