Here’s the song, for those of you that don’t like foreplay.
For those of you who want to know how Baby K came into my musical world, read on.
We used to travel a lot, before Lady Castleton consented to allow my wholly unworthy, dollar-store DNA to combine with hers, like a penguin somehow mating with a tiger.
And when you have children, things change.
For me it was travel. I spent time travelling whenever I could when I was younger, like with every cent I had and for as long as I could. I’ve been around the world twice. I’ve traversed jungles and swam in hidden waterfalls and negotiated with actual chieftains and been on safari and jumped out of airplanes and scuba dived the Pacific and the Indian and the Atlantic. I’ve been to Europe more times than I can count. And when the kids came along, I had to hit pause.
Or rather, I thought I was hitting pause.
Really I was hitting stop, because these days I’d never take the risks I took when I was younger now that I have people who count on me.
That being said, I have to be honest: I miss it.
It was such a thrill to go places no one else would go. But it’s not even the big moments, like pulling a panicking swimmer out of a churning rapid or narrowly escaping with my life as an angry mob attacked my taxi in Africa (not my fault), or holding hands and singing with four thousand people from 150 countries in Sweden or being caught on a ferry in the middle of an insane Aegean storm or making eye contact with an actual terrifying witch doctor or getting the bends or riding horses in the ocean (like actually riding bareback on a swimming horse in the Pacific) or eating a crocodile or a bat or any one of a hundred crazy experiences I had.
It’s the little things. A wave from a stranger as you enter a village for the first time. A smile from someone when you pronounce their language wrong, but they admire your attempt. Different kinds of food. Open air markets. Slow meals. Foreign fashions. Ancient history. Different sports. Heated conversations. Strong-ass coffee. And music. All kinds of music.
Like, I remember when I first heard Leonard Cohen. I was fifteen years old on the lesser known Greek island of Sifnos.
It was a small enough island that my parents felt comfortable letting me wander around without them, and I had met a couple of college-aged Americans on the beach who my parents - for some reason - thought were trustworthy.
The girl attended a small liberal arts school in Illinois and her name was Myla, which means ‘apple’ in Greek. She was basically the amalgam of every high school boy’s ultimate dream girl and I was just following her around like a puppy. The dude was a thickbodied horse’s ass named Topher who went to UVA and was a complete imbecile who got drunk and made a fucking ass of himself. I remember him distinctly because watching him stand on tables and yell stupid shit like “eat my shorts!” and “Moscow sucks!” made me see Americans like a non-American for the very first time.
So I was sitting at a table with Myla and all of a sudden there was a mixed drink in front of me. I was like whaaaaaa? And she just smiled and raised her glass to mine and we clinked them together and then I heard ‘First We Take Manhattan’ for the first time.
You might remember Leonard Cohen from such breathless, staggering hits as True Detective Season Two Opening Title Song…
…and Chelsea Hotel #2, where he sings about getting snogged by Janis Joplin.
‘First We Take Manhattan’ isn’t Cohen’s most iconic work, but it was that voice, in that taverna on Sifnos, with an intoxicating ocean breeze blowing through the open dance floor, sitting across from a girl named after an apple with a flower in her hair, looking at me over the rim of her daiquiri, as alcohol that was ordered for me touched my lips for the first time. Man, that’s just a scenario that would have been unattainable in my quiet suburban life.
And it was the music that tied it all together.
That’s how it works when you have travel in your heart. Horizons that are expanded are not easily crammed back into the bag they originated from. You don’t get to hear that European or Asian song that probably wouldn’t catch on in America, but is something you’d like anyway. You don’t get to sample that local cocktail that you can only get in a certain hamlet. It’s those little things, those exciting little discoveries, that help make travel uniquely interesting.
Like I said, I miss it. And someday I hope to imbue my own children with that lust for discovery and passion for new places and new people. But they’ll have to be older and I’ll have to be not shit poor.
In our self-imposed exile, Lady Castleton and I have developed some new habits. I’m more of the nester, so I’ve invested my energy in fixing up the house on weekends, finishing the basement, refinishing furniture, freecycling, and generally managing and organizing the preposterous amount of shit you accumulate when you deign to add four humans to the universe.
Her habits are much, much cooler. And much more thoughtful. She knows how much I miss that kick of discovery, so she’s developed some skill sets that have made our comparatively stationary existence significantly more interesting.
I’ll give you an example. For my last birthday she Leslie Knoped me to the Big Apple, where she had an extensive itinerary of my favorite authors planned. She had emailed my friends and family in advance and they had each sponsored a location, so when we arrived there, I would get a note from them and a gift. Each one was something amazing, like a place where an author I love used to live or an old bookshop where a friend had a first edition waiting for me or a bar where a famous author would drink. We saw a show and went backstage (all set up by friends). We were let into unlabeled, underground speakeasies. We were shuffled into hidden garden rooms. We had a cheese plate on a rooftop. It was amazing, and my friends from all over the country who couldn’t physically be with me were all part of an amazing day.
This is the kind of person she is. Hence the penguin/tiger analogy above.
In addition to all of that, she’s developed a welcome ability to create custom cocktails for holidays and events. When our daughter had a big Star Wars themed 10th birthday, Lady Castleton made these. This is the Theed Waterfall. (Theed is the capital of Naboo)
Vodka-based lemonades with fresh basil and blueberries, pre-mixed in Mason Jars. Guests just went to the cooler and cracked one open. Masterful. There were rum based ones, too. Called the Fort Tusken Rumrunner. On Father’s Day we had these:
Is that Block Island Wildflower Honey around the rim? Yes. Yes it is. On Easter we had these.
On Christmas we had these:
This was on Oscar night:
And this one was on New Years:
Do we have a drinking problem? Hell no! We only really drink on national holidays and weekdays and weekends. Honestly, we rarely drink, so we enjoy it when we do. It only happens on certain holidays, and when it does, it’s usually with one of her playlists playing in the background. That’s the second thing: She makes great, great playlists.
Specifically for me, she scours the popular music from other countries and incorporates the good ones or fun ones or catchy ones into our playlist. And because I’m the type of person who listens to a song over and over and over again until I get sick of it, it’s a coup for her when that happens with a song I wouldn’t typically like.
That’s what’s going on now.
It’s the #1 song in Italy. It’s the #1 song in my head. It’s the #1 song to end the summer. Maybe you know it. Maybe you don’t. But I challenge you to listen to it all the way through and NOT tap it out the rest of the day.
It’s by Baby K, a girl who was born in Singapore, grew up in London, and ended up becoming a hip hop artist in Italy. (If I had a nickel for every one of those…) For those of us who have had our international itineraries temporarily put on standby, it’s got the kind of cheesy-but-addictive euro vibe that makes you just feel less…shackled. Don’t overthink it. Italian is so mellifluous. Just let it wash over you like a hungry teenager walking through Sorrento toward Nonna’s house.
You can smell the ciaccino baking, can hear the sizzle of the braciole, and you can almost taste the Zima that doesn’t exist anymore, but completes the picture. And somewhere, a club is playing this…
Ahhhh. That’s fun. And the car in the video has an Illinois license plate, which brings it all full circle. And you can’t argue with Baby K’s wardrobe, either.
If you’re a person who has that wanderlust, you’ll know exactly what I mean. And if you’re someone who has yet to expand your horizons and see the world through different eyes? Give yourself the green light to do it. You’d be amazed what emotions ride on the back of a foreign wind.