Your Outdoor Festival Camping Checklist

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Going to a festival this season?

Wondering what the hell you should pack? No worries, DF5K has the ultimate outdoor festival camping checklist for you!

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“If it’s not one thing, it’s another!”

It’s just about enough to make me do something almost drastic, like use up all of my sick days at once, and cash in those precious frequent flyer miles I’ve been coveting since I don’t know when and fly to Tuscany. I’m not kidding.  Let me be clear–I’m good under pressure. You want me around in a crisis. But juggling a real-estate money-pit quagmire gone-wild,  a currently frightful work environment, and a 19 year old with Aspergers announcing his intention to drop out of high school for this week’s excitement, topped only by being rear-ended hard by an iron-giant Monster Truck driven by an apologetic soldier…

As a lark, I actually looked up whether Mercury was in retrograde right now. Guess what? Mercury wasn’t, but Mars AND Saturn are, until freaking April!

But what’s a formerly positive person to do?  After much pouting, and not much sleep, I begrudgingly acknowledge that I’m in this current lovely reality as part of the journey, and that the challenge is not to continue let this rain on my parade, and at least wear my awesome psychedelic rain boots.

A few of my tried and true coping strategies:

1.  Denial. Really. It works. It may piss off your mother when she calls and wants details on everything, but otherwise, I highly recommended this while waiting for the universe to straighten itself out.

2.  Do something awesome for someone.  I’m trying to pay into the cosmic debris and tilt this thing on its axle. Rotate, damn it!

3.  Breathe. I’ve never been big on breathing, but I’m working on it. People tell me it helps.

4. Arts and Crafts. Making those Voodoo dolls was very cathartic.

5. Watch only  vintage television like “I Love Lucy” or “The Brady Bunch” where everything is predictable and always works out in the end.

6. Although I am not a big drinker, I have come to believe in the relief of a well timed glass of elegant Pinot Noir.

And if all else fails, remember… in the words of Roseanne Roseannadanna, “It just goes to show ya! It’s always somethin’! If it’s not one thing, it’s another! Either you smoke or you have a sweat ball hangin’ off your nose!”

Valentines Day: Just another Hallmark Holiday?

It’s not that I don’t like chocolate, cards, and flowers. I love these symbols of affection and yes, I will take them any day of the week you care to send them to me. But I’m somewhat suspicious of any commercialized holiday where we are encouraged to recognize a particular group on a particular day, i.e. Mother’s Day or Secretaries—er—Administrative Assistant’s Day. My feeling is that there are ample opportunities to honor those who are special to us in meaningful ways on random, unexpected days when we are motivated internally rather than by a Hallmark holiday.

So how did the Valentine’s Day tradition grow to such behemoth proportions that it is second only to Christmas in the amount of cards and gifts that are exchanged for a holiday?

The Original Valentine: Saint or Sinner?

St Valentine (Maxfield Parrish)

As with many good love stories, this one has mystery, is rooted in truth, and is largely embellished. Although there were several early Christian martyrs named Valentine, the namesake honored on February 14th appears to be St. Valentine of Rome, a priest who was jailed and martyred in the mid-2nd century after refusing to succumb to the Roman (non-Christian) rule of Claudius II. Valentine performed secret wedding ceremonies for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry for fear this would usurp their strength. Legend has it that when the church discovered his disobedience, the priest was imprisoned, fell in love with the warden’s daughter, and sent her a romantic letter on the night before his execution signed, “From your Valentine”.

Despite little proof that any of this actually happened, by the middle ages, the martyred St. Valentine had become the calendar boy for romance and love in France and England. In 1969, the church removed him from the list of Saints, citing lack of real evidence that he had done anything to earn Sainthood.

A Little Pagan With Your Chocolate?

Lupercalia Pagan Festival predates Valentines Day

Never ones to support those lusty pagans, there are theories that support the idea that in 469 A.D., the Church decided to position St. Valentine’s feast day in mid-February, and make him Patron Saint of Lovers and Engaged Couples. This was an attempt to Christianize the pagan ritual of “Lupercalia”, a fertility festival involving animal sacrifices and bloody rituals, (don’t ask) culminating in a giant ball where the city’s bachelors would pick eligible ladies names out of an urn and become paired for the year. This appears to be the beginning of the modern day Valentine romantic tradition.

The Mother Of All Valentines

Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne…all the early romantic writers memorialized Valentine’s Day, leading up to the Victorian era (1837-1901) when printed Valentines cards offered less literate folks a way to express their affection, and even allowed anonymous card-giving. The first mass-produced cards were made of embossed paper lace in the 1850’s by Esther Howland, the daughter of a Massachusetts stationer who is known as “The Mother of the Valentine”, and are memorialized in many museum collections. Other entrepreneurs knew a good thing when they saw one, and the card industry was born. Later cards in the early 20th century included various pop-out, unfolding features with movable, slide-able parts, and are quite charming.

Esther Howland

1940’s mechanical card

Seratonin for the Sweet?

Perhaps it’s the clinician in me that wonders if all this romance in the air is a result of the release of phenylethylamine , a naturally occurring amino acid which CHOCOLATE contains, along with tryptophan, a building block of serotonin, one of the brain chemicals involved in.. yes, you guessed it, sexual arousal?

In the 1860’s, William Cadbury, a British confectioner, and in the 1940’s, the American Whitman, recognized their opportunity to jump on the Valentine’s Day sweetheart train, and began to market heart shaped boxes of chocolates. This type of mass marketing I don’t take issue with, surprisingly enough! (Admit it. You love obsessing on the little diagrams on the bottom of the lid as much as I do.)

My verdict on Valentines Day?

A holiday that has its roots in antiquity, touches on paganism, spans the earliest centuries, encompassing multicultural millennium of love, romance and admiration is actually rather appealing to this girl.

And in case anyone is wondering? I’m partial to chocolate covered marzipan, anything with lavender flavoring, and never met a flower I didn’t like.

Saltimbanque Chocolates in Seattle.. must..have..

The Sapeurs: Dandies of the Congo


As someone who is familiar with the urge to change my outfit multiple times a day to fit my state of mind, I have been fascinated with the phenomenon of the Sapeurs of the Congo, the exceptionally well-dressed dandies from the French-speaking capital cities of Brazzaville and Kinshasa. These dapper dressers elevate fashion and culture to a whole new level. The Sapeurs derive their name from the acronym SAPE: Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, which loosely translated means, the “Society for Persons of Elegance and Ambiance”.

Despite living in conditions of incredible poverty, rival fashion factions compete not through physical violence, but through flamboyant displays of one-upmanship and a strict code of conduct. But there is more to this story than meets the eye, although there is plenty to see.

A Tale of Two Cities

To understand what a truly unusual phenomenon the Sapeurs are, one needs a sense of the economic deprivation and difficult conditions which exist for most of the 12.5 million (combined) inhabitants of both the Democratic Republic of the Congo (African name: Kinshasha), and just across the Congo River, the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) which was briefly but memorably known as Zaire between 1971 through 1977. For at least the last two centuries, the entire area has been under the control of European colonial rule, namely Belgium and France, before the recent return to fractured African rule.

The World Bank in 2009 cited the poverty level in Kinshasha as 71%, with a life expectancy of 48 years. In Brazzaville, the U.S. State Department estimates that unemployment in the 16-34 year old population is at more than 42%. These two capital cities, rife with internal political upheaval and intermittent civil wars, then, are where the Sapeurs have sprung like unlikely birds of paradise.

A Historical Glimpse of the Birth of Sapeurism

The roots of the movement can be traced back to the early 1920’s when Andre Grenard Matsou, a Congolese revolutionary for human rights and freedom, and a national hero, lived for a time in Paris while working for the French army. Matsou returned from Paris dressed as an authentic Parisian, instead of traditional African robes. This caused an initial uproar, and was then the impetus for admiration and the birth of the SAPE movement.

Julius Soubise

Of course, there are also much earlier beginnings of a different type of “dandyism”, where African slave owners would extravagantly dress their slaves to blend in with their aristocratic surroundings. After slave trade was abolished, the newly freed men continued with their own sense of style.

Since this time, particularly in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the SAPE movement turned heads worldwide through Congolese rumba musician Papa Wemba, known as La Pape de la Sape (the Pope of Sape), who had an obsession with French fashion after multiple trips to Paris. In the 1970’s, while the Democratic Republic of Congo was ruled by the horrifyingly strict and violent Mobutu regime, any association with Western culture in what was formerly the Belgian Congo was forbidden. Papa Wemba was all for African authenticity, but drew the line at having to give up his newly adopted fashion. His defiance became a symbolic gesture in the midst of a dangerous political dictatorship. He actually formed a small village within Kinshasha where he dubbed this fashion as “Ungaru”, which was reminiscent of the elegant 1930’s era; tapered trousers, larger shoulders, and stylish caps worn at an angle.

Papa Wemba

The Code of Sapology

The Sapeur follow a very selective regime of dressing and social codes called Sapology. This includes their own conception of ‘high fashion’, preferring very luxurious, exclusive, and expensive brands. There are specific codes of dressing which must be adhered to: heights for socks, a pocket handkerchief stuffed, not folded, a suit sleeve’s cuff button left undone. In Brazzaville, a three-color combination limit for an outfit, including accessories. In Kinshasha, the look is more flamboyant, featuring a colorblind assortment of hues and patterns. But in both groups, designer names are at such a premium that rival sapeurs will do battle of a different sort with each other; flashing their labels, in an effort to one-up their opponent, stripping all the way down to their undergarments if the battle requires this.

Photo: Badouin Mouanda

Photo: Baudouin Mouanda

Photo: Daniele Tamagni

The sub-culture also has rules of behavior including a non-violence approach to resolving disputes. If this sounds reminiscent of a fashionista’s version of West Side Story, Hector Mediavilla Sabate’, a photographer who has been fascinated with the Sapeurs since the beginning of the decade says, “It’s combat, and the clothes are the weapons.” He noted that they are respected not just by the younger members in their group, but by the general public, and are seen as a positive force by many in their community.

Photo: Hector Mediavilla

Why do they do it?

At first glance, it seems unfathomable-ridiculous- for anyone to spend a year’s wages on a designer outfit when they are faced with such economic crisis. Best to first ask Congolese themselves. Young and talented photographer Badouin Mouanda, a member of the Congolese Photography Collective shared his insight in a fascinating interview with Marion Nur Gonde in Africultures:

“I realized that S.A.P.E. played a very important role in Brazzaville in 1998-1999, after the civil war. There wasn’t anything left to do in town; everything was shut down. The sapeurs recreated the atmosphere that is part of Congolese day-to-day life. For the traumatized population, the attraction of the sapeurs was to show that you had to have hope. Their message was, “We didn’t get dressed up to stay at home! We have been spared by the hostilities and we are lucky to be alive. There’s no point in fighting; we can talk and take each other by the hand”. The sapeurs often advocate this peaceful message. That’s why I, as a photographer, wanted to follow them. Images travel and spread messages. I want to show that a joyful Africa exists.”

French pharmacy attendant, “Olivier B.” son of Brazzaville parents, and blogger www.sape-bz.com/ was interviewed by Alice Hines in 2011 on the Brown University’s Global Connections Website and shared his perspective:

“La Sape is a pastime, it’s a hobby. It’s like a sport, or even a way of life. But in the Congo, la Sape is also one of the only leisures left. Today, in Brazzaville, there is no infrastructure. Development is very difficult. People live in misery while all the different oil, mine, and uranium interests control the country. It hurts our people. There’s a lot of opportunity in Africa, contrary to the vision that is described in the media. But right now, it is mostly the Chinese who are seizing them. Africa is a brand new continent”.

What, then, is fashion, if not a way to costume ourselves, to cloak ourselves in possibilities? For these generations of Congolese, in the absence of good possibilities of social and economic and political identity, a new identity has been created.

For more information, and stunning a stunning photo-essay, see Daniele Tomagni’s Gentlemen of the Bacongo on Amazon.com.

An evening at the 35th St Bistro in the funky Fremont neighborhood of Seattle

So much about tripping over adventures revolves around a willingness to change plans mid-stream, say, when a wrong turn steers you to a new neighborhood, or your boyfriend suddenly decides that he’s no longer in the mood for a full-fledged Moroccan feast in Ballard. Both of these things happily conspired in my favor last night.

I’d been to Fremont before, but only during the daytime, for the famed Fremont Street Festival, to see the Fremont Troll, and to explore some of the vintage shops and a pub or two. There was something about wandering the streets of this funky neighborhood on an early Saturday evening in January that made everything seem brand new. I’ve always been a sucker for white lights spiraling and glowing through tree-lined streets, and these remnants of the holidays seemed to accentuate the magical atmosphere of this Brooklyn-like enclave. Well, Brooklyn-like for this gal, who has been craving a BK fix for quite a while now. Enter Fremont.

After zig-zagging through the general main drag, we ended up being drawn back to the 35th Street Bistro in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. I’ve been having a recent love affair with Parisian and Italian bistros, so this one caught my eye. The menu looked simple and appealing, and seemed like just what we were looking for. We were there early for a Saturday night, about 6 pm, and there were a just a few tables seated in the dreamy pale blue dining room. The atmosphere was cozy without being fussy, subtlety romantic, and was very welcoming. The young hostess asked if we had a reservation, (and after eating here I can see why you would want to make one on a Saturday night) and seated us under a beautiful tall Ficus. 

A wall sized chalkboard listed the specials: daily artisinal cheeses and charcuterie (both dishes offered at $3.50 per selection or a plate of five for $15), a pasta special (potato and mushroom ravioli with a chanterelle sauce), soup du jour ($6) and a daily mac and cheese special($7).

Insert “record screeching to a halt’ sound effects: Did someone say cheese selections?? I literally swooned as the waitress set down one of the most sensual cheese platters I’ve ever seen; slices of cow and goat cheeses, each one better than the next, laid out enticingly on marble, accompanied by paper thin crisps of buttered toasted raisin bread and accompanied by small dishes of honey, pickled cabbage, and grainy mustard. We ordered a fabulous bottle of 2008 Bordeaux, while checking out the menu.

Since i would often rather sample small plates than a heavy main course, I was thrilled to find that the menu has lovely appetizers and salads, including my selections, a Tarte Flambé, which is a small round “pizza” with caramelized onions, bacon and creamy Gruyere ($7), and an Arugula salad with apricots and Manchego cheese ($10). Fan’s of Trader Joe’s Onion, Gruyere and Ham Tart will flip for this genuine article, as I did, which was a perfect combination of crispy thin crust, rich and creamy Gruyere cheese which melts in your mouth, offset perfectly with the salty ham. The Arugula salad was a very generous serving of peppery leaves, Manchego cheese shavings, and bits of Turkish apricots dressed in a light vinaigrette. This is a girl who was in bliss.

My hunky dinner companion ordered a tasty and beautifully presented Trout Amandine ($18); herb crusted pan-roasted trout with haricots verts, roasted tomato quinoa, toasted almonds with beurre noisette (butter cooked until it gets brown and has a nutty aroma). His only complaint was that the fish was a bit dry.

As we sat and sipped our wine, we noted how well the restaurant is designed. One of the striking features of 35th Street Bistro in Seattle is the charming small bar/lounge area, which is completely walled on one side by smoky glass, at once shielding patrons from the draft of the front door, while cleverly providing the illusion of an entire separate room. Several small tables, as well as some comfy leather furniture provided an intimate space for drinking and dining. Tucked away slightly towards the back of the main room was a lovely dining alcove, painted a Mediterranean orangey/pink, which could provide a semi-private experience, or accommodate an extra large party.

The bistro had filled up completely by the time we were eating our dinners, and we watched, envious of the bowls of Baked Onion Soup with a puffed crust ($8) that were whisked to tables nearby. Service was attentive and excellent, without being intrusive. Dinner was spendy as a result of the wine splurge, but minus the wine, would have been a very reasonable tab.

Trippingdelightfantastic rating? An enthusiastic 4 thumbs up!
The 35th Street Bistro in Fremont is located on 709 N 35th St, (between N Fremont Pl & N Aurora Ave) in Seattle, WA. Phone is: (206) 547-9850. Closed Mondays.

What’s in a name?

Tripping the Light Fantastic, besides the amazing visuals it offers, is actually a phrase which originated first with John Milton, from his poem L’Allegro, published in 1645, where he comments on the graceful dancing of the goddess Mirth:

Come and trip it, as you go,
On the light fantastic toe;
And on thy right hand lead with thee
The mountain-nymph, sweet Liberty;

The notion of a dancing goddess of mirth was practically too much for me, coupled with with the idea that I’ve been wanting a colorful container to celebrate the experiences of life, whether they are delightful and fantastic or they are of a more challenging nature. Trippingdelightfantastic!



Trip the Light by Brian Wyers

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