Travels on the Dance Floor by Grevel Lindop

Travels on the Dance Floor

Salsa has somewhat taken over my life this last year, and one night recently I found myself searching Amazon for something to read that would fuel my new-found passion. It was then that I stumbled upon Travels on the Dance Floor by Grevel Lindop. I read the description on Amazon and within minutes I had ordered the book.

When poet and biographer Grevel Lindop takes up salsa dancing in rainy Manchester, all he has are size 12 feet and excruciating adolescent memories of ballroom dancing lessons. But salsa has a way of getting into your blood. Intense and intimate, sexy and addictive, the adrenalin-pumping Afro-Latin-American dance style soon becomes an obsession. Inspired to learn more, Lindop decides on a solo adventure to find the geographical and cultural roots of salsa. From the streets, bars and dancehalls of Cuba, Venezuela and Colombia to those of Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Miami – land of Cuban exiles – he stumbles across a colourful cast of characters and a raft of new tricks. His quest also gives rise to basic confrontations with himself: can a 6’4″ white, English poet really dance? And what happens when he does? “Travels on the Dance Floor” is Lindop’s vibrant and evocative account of his odyssey, written with wry humour and a poet’s eye for colour, detail and atmosphere. Funny, passionate and inspiring by turns, it is a book that will be loved by dance addicts and armchair travellers alike.

What makes Travels on the Dance Floor such a readable and fantastic book is that it is written by someone who can actually write. I had not heard of Lindop before, but clearly he is a man who has a way with words and who knows how to create a mood or a scene using the simple power of language. From chapter one, ‘Cuba Libre’, I found myself instantly transported to this Latin world which Lindop had explored and discovered. “The buildings are a fantastic vision of every possible architectural style, all of it cracked and crumbling. Curling iron balconies are adored with birdcages, washing, bicycles, old TV ariels. The narrow pavements are plentifully daubed with the leavings of the packs of friendly stray dogs I’ve encountered every few blocks on my way into town. Elaborate classical facades, moulded with flaking stucco nymphs holding swags of fruit and foliage, adjoin concrete 1940s shop-fronts which have lost their plate-glass windows and had them replaced with sheets of plywood. Mysterious hammerings come from cavernous ground-floor spaces behind metal grilles.” If this was Cuba, I wanted to jump on the next plane and discover it for myself!

Travels on the Dance Floor is also an excellent book because it is real. Lindop is an everyman, and his adventures show both his successes and his failures. He dances in every city he visits, but not all dances are successful. He is learning as he travels, and both his joys and his frustrations are evident throughout the story. I wouldn’t want to read a story about a showman who travelled the world wowing everyone he met with his moves – a story about a man who is learning, and who is still learning at the end of the book, is much more appealing.

As well as being a must-read for anyone interested in salsa, this is also a rather brilliant travel book. Starting in Manchester, Lindop visits Havana (Cuba), Caracas (Venezuela), Bogota (Colombia), Cali (Colombia), Panama City (Panama), San Juan (Puerto Rico), the Dominican Republic and Miami. I find it hard to even pin most of these places on the map, despite loving the music I’ve discovered from these countries, and I found it fascinating to go on a virtual tour with a musical theme. Everywhere Lindop travelled he described the differences in the dance moves he found there, the music, the atmosphere, the clubs, the people, the streets… I felt like I too had been on a whirlwind tour by the time I put the book down.

And it was very reluctantly that I did put the book down after I had devoured it. I wanted more, but I don’t think another book like it exists. Do tell me if it does and I’ll order it immediately. I don’t believe salsa can be taught in a book, but part of learning to dance (for me, at least) is learning about the music and the culture of the countries from which salsa comes. That way, I hope I might learn more than just the steps and the moves, and one day I might find my dancing is filled with ‘el corazón’ as well.

 

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Daily Prompt: Quote Me

I don’t think I would ever have enough time to respond to all of WordPress’s ‘daily prompts’, but this year I hope to do some of them when the mood takes me. Today I feel the urge, so here I am responding to the challenge of sharing my favourite quote and explaining why it moves me.

Here’s the one quote I always return to:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. (Mark Twain)

I think it’s fairly obvious why I like this quote – it’s all about following your dreams, throwing caution to the wind, and not being afraid to have a go. Although that’s not a philosophy I’ve always stuck to in my life, it is something that is generally in the back of my mind when I’m making big decisions (like when I quit a well paid job in publishing to go and live in Japan).

This quote usually comes to mind whenever I see the sea. The sea calms me, but also excites me, because it makes me think of adventures and travel. I love the idea of literally throwing off my bowlines and sailing away from the safe harbour, off into the distance, in search of adventure. We’ve got it all too easy these days, what with hoping on planes and being able to communicate so easily with people on the other side of the world. Sometimes I long for the days when people had to go on epic journeys because there was no other way to get from A to B, and when the journey was all part of the adventure. Now everything seems to be about how fast we can get from A to B, and how much we can distract ourselves with technology along the way. When we get to our destination, we already know what we’re going to find, because we’ve seen it all online already.

We must never forget to explore, dream, and discover, wherever we are.

View from Enoshima Observation Lighthouse

View from Enoshima Observation Lighthouse, looking back to Kamakura, Japan


NaNoWriMo 2012 – Winner!

Well folks, November has been quite a month! I’ve battled a lingering cold, fought with the pavement (the pavement won, temporarily causing me to have to limp everywhere, but I’m ok now), worked full time (plus the occasional late night), worked as a reporter for three days on top of my usual job, drunk a LOT of coffee, taken a gajillion photos (none of which I’ve uploaded yet), written 2 blog posts on AliMuskett.com and 10 blog posts over on Haikugirl’s Japan, attended a few workshops and exhibitions, and somehow… somehow… managed to write a 50,000 word novel for NaNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMo 2012 certificate

Yes, The Shizuka Tea Shop which I promised to write way back at the end of October is finally in first draft, sitting comfortably at 50,106 words.

The whole point of NaNoWriMo is to get the words out and to lay the inner editor to one side for a month. That part has been hard – my novel is riddled with spelling mistakes, typos, things I could have worded better, facts that need checking, but all of that can come later – early next year when I start the editing process. I do absolutely intend to come back to this manuscript and edit the hell out of it to turn it into something publishable. The idea is there, and I think it’s a good one, so just watch this space.

I can’t say too much about The Shizuka Tea Shop at this point except to say that I’m calling it ‘travel chick-lit’, which is a title I would apply to books such as Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s set in Japan and England, and is pure fiction, although I have drawn on some of my own experiences to set scenes. The Shizuka Tea Shop is a book I hope people will simply enjoy for what it is – a sweet, funny, story about people everyone can relate to. Oh, and it would probably make a pretty good film, too. Just saying… 😉

Thank you everyone who has supported me during this month of madness. It’s been an interesting experiment to see if I really do have time in my overly busy life to write – and I’m happy to have found that I do (although it has been hard to force myself to actually do it, and I’ve been writing right up until the bitter end). It’s worth noting that I wrote more than half of this book using Pages on my iPad. When I bought my iPad I originally told myself it was so I could get some writing done on the Tube, but really that was just a lie to myself because I wanted a new toy. Well, my iPad is finally being put to good use! I’m no longer just playing Scrabble and Kumo Lumo on it, or watching catch-up TV in bed, I’m actually using my commuting time to write, and that’s a habit I hope to continue.

November is nearly over, and December will be upon us tomorrow. Before we know it, it will be Christmas and then 2013. It’s a little early for a New Year’s resolution, but I hereby promise to keep the spirit of NaNoWriMo with me throughout 2013, although I don’t intend to write 50,000 every month.

NaNoWriMo Winner 2012


Music in Pictures Contest: Better Days

This week’s Music in Pictures Contest is on the theme of one of my favourite songs: Better Days by Eddie Vedder. Whenever I think of the song Better Days, I think of this:

View from Enoshima Observation Lighthouse

View from Enoshima Observation Lighthouse looking out towards Kamakura (Japan)

I first heard Better Days in the film Eat, Pray, Love, and so I will always associate the song with that movie. In the movie, and the book it’s based on, the main female character decides she likes the Italian word “attraversiamo”, meaning “let’s cross over”. That phrase could also be applied to this picture of a bridge connecting mainland Honshu and Kamakura to Enoshima, in Japan.

Here’s to Better Days

I feel part of the universe open up to meet me
My emotion so submerged, broken down to kneel in
Once listening, the voices they came
Had to somehow greet myself, read myself
Heard vibrations within my cells, in my cells
Singing, “Ah-la-ah-ah, ah-la-ah-ah”

My love is safe for the universe
See me now, I’m bursting
On one planet, so many turns
Different worlds
Singing, “Ah-la-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah, ah”

Fill my heart with discipline
Put there for the teaching
In my head see clouds of stairs
Help me as I’m reaching
The future’s paved with better days

Not running from something
I’m running towards the day
Wide awake

A whisper once quiet
Now rising to a scream
Right in me

I’m falling, free falling
Words calling me
Up off my knees

I’m soaring and, darling,
You’ll be the one that I can need
Still be free

Our future’s paved with better days


Travel theme: Sunset

I find myself dreaming about running off into the sunset recently, so I decided to join in Where’s my backpack?‘s Travel theme this week. Here are some beautiful sunsets I’ve had the pleasure of viewing…

Red sky at night...

London sunset, 5th March 2012

Sunset in Nagoya, 28th March 2011

Sunset in Nagoya (Japan), 28th March 2011

Sunset in Finchley

Sunset in Finchley (North London), 24th August 2011

Laguna sunset

Laguna Gamagori sunset (Japan), 14th December 2008

London sunset

London sunset, 6th May 2012

Chasing sunsets...

Brighton sunset, 2nd January 2011

Thanks to Autumn in Bruges for introducing me to this blog and weekly travel theme! 🙂


Sex & the City? Do it yourself!

When I went to New York in December, one of the things I really wanted to do was see some of the famous places from the Sex & the City TV series and films (1, 2).

(Image source)

I looked into the options and soon discovered that the organised tours you could pay for were pretty expensive (around $50 per person). These tours also included a number of places that didn’t really interest me. (Rabbit hunting in the Pleasure Chest with my mum?  I don’t think so!) When I thought about touring around New York City in a bus full of (most likely) women, trying to cram in all of the “memorable” places from Sex & the City, my skin began to crawl. The only option seemed to be to design my own tour, with just the places that I wanted to see!

The two sites that I considered unmissable were Carrie’s house (66 Perry Street) and the Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleeker Street). These are really close to each other, both in Greenwich Village.

Luckily, we were staying quite close to Greenwich Village, so we started the day by walking there. It was much more interesting to walk than it would have been to take the subway.

On the way, I saw this great shop:

Shoegasm

As far as I know, this is not in Sex & the City, but with a name like “Shoegasm” it really should be!

We soon reached Bleeker Street.

Bleeker St

I hadn’t planned to go to any of the fancy shops that Carrie likes to shop in (what’s the point if you can’t afford to buy anything?) but I passed a Jimmy Choo shop and did stop to have a peek through the window.

Jimmy Choo

We got to the Magnolia Bakery nice and early, and I got a birthday cupcake.

The Magnolia Bakery

The Magnolia Bakery - birthday cupcake

One disappointment was that the bench where Carrie and Miranda sit in the TV show wasn’t actually there. I wonder if it was just for the show, or if they had it removed because too many people sat there?!

(Image source)

Just around the corner, was Perry Street.

Bleeker St & Perry St

Carrie’s house is obviously quite a big tourist attraction, but it is actually a privately owned house. The poor people who live there must get so annoyed with all the tourists coming by to take a photo. They’ve actually put a chain up now, and a sign asking you not to sit on the step, which is fair enough I think.

66 Perry St - Carrie's House

(Image source)

After a wander around Greenwich Village, we walked to Soho to find Onieal’s Restaurant and Bar (174 Grand Street), which is known as “Scout” in Sex & the City. Scout is the bar which Aidan and Steve opened together.

ONieal's

(Image source)

It was a nice bar, and very quiet when we arrived.

ONieal's

We decided to have a bit of lunch and, of course, a Cosmo.

Cosmo in ONieal's

Our timing was so good. Just as we were finishing our drinks, a tour group flooded in. I was so glad we could leave and not be a part of it!

ONieal's

Of course, there are many other locations around New York which are used in Sex & the City, but all of the above was enough for me!  As a bonus, we also stopped by the HBO shop (1100 Avenue of the Americas), where I picked up this great book, Sex and the City: Kiss and Tell:

The book includes a Sex & the City map and list of places to visit. I was quite happy to see that there were no additional places I wanted to see. If you’re into brand shopping or bar-hopping there are a lot of other places which I haven’t mentioned. You might want to check out this list for more information. You might also want to read this great article about why organised Sex & the City bus tours suck.

(Image source)

I’m a big fan of seeing places that are used in movies and TV shows, but I’d highly recommend organising your own trips rather than taking a tour. There’s so much information on the Internet, that it’s easy to plan. And now, with this post, you know how to see the highlights from Sex & the City all by yourself. 😉


Going to church, and letting it be…

I did something completely out of character while I was on holiday in New York in December – I went to church.

I’ll begin this post with a little disclaimer, just to cover my back. I went to a Roman Catholic church when I was a child, but stopped going before I became a teenager, through my own choice. Now, I don’t practice any particular faith, but remain open to most ideas. I don’t mind what other people believe or do, so long as they accept my choice to believe and do as I choose.

So, it was December 19th, pretty chilly, and I was in New York. The first stop on my itinerary was the World Trade Center site. When planning the trip, my mum and I had discussed going to the World Trade Center Memorial, but had both concluded that it seemed a bit clinical and lacked the personal touch that we had hoped to find. Instead, we decided to go to St Paul’s Chapel, also known as The Little Chapel that Stood.

St Paul's Chapel

Neither of us are particularly religious people, but we wanted to see the chapel’s exhibition of memorials for people who lost their lives in 9/11. The items on display were incredibly touching, even heartbreaking at times.

St Paul's Chapel

St Paul's Chapel

We didn’t really plan on staying for a service, but it was Sunday, and a service was about to begin. Out of curiosity, and to pay our respects, we decided to slip in at the back and stay for a while. It was made clear that everyone was welcome, whether local or visitors, and that it was fine to leave part way through the service.

I’ll admit that the idea of sitting through a church service was a little daunting, but it was cold outside and I was interested to know what it would be like. My experience of church-going was mostly Roman Catholic, and the older I had got the more I had disliked the style of worship in the Roman Catholic church. I found the hymns largely full of doom and gloom, and didn’t like the idea of going to confession (especially as a child). To me, the Roman Catholic church seemed to be more about confessing sins and repenting, than celebrating life or faith.

Everything about the service in St Paul’s Chapel surprised me, but nothing so much as the sermon by The Rev. Clayton Crawley. He spoke about the rush and panic up to Christmas, about the stress of having to tick everything off our to-do lists and get everything done. I guess his point was that we ought to remember the real meaning of Christmas, but what he emphasised was the need, in general, to slow down and simply… let it be. He kept repeating the phrase “let it be” and I knew what was coming. He suddenly broke into song, and sang the beginning of the Beatles’ classic:

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the broken hearted people living in the world agree
There will be an answer, let it be
For though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

And when the night is cloudy there is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow, let it be
I wake up to the sound of music, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
There will be an answer, let it be
Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

(Lyrics: Paul McCartney)

I hadn’t realised how absolutely incredible those lyrics were until that moment when the Reverend began to sing and I felt a lump in my throat.

Couldn’t we all do with letting it be sometimes?

St Paul's Chapel

I had thought that my church-going experience in New York was pretty unusual until I discussed it with a good friend today. She’s a Christian, but not a Roman Catholic, and she made me realise that I had been basing my views on church (and perhaps religion in general) on my childhood experiences in the Roman Catholic church. This visit to St Paul’s Chapel, followed by a conversation with my friend, made me realise that there are a whole bunch of different ways in which people worship, and that people celebrate their faiths in so many ways.

Thinking back on the songs I used to sing at the Roman Catholic church I went to, the only one I can remember liking was Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. When I Googled it, I discovered that Sinead O’Connor has covered it, and it’s beautiful. So, if Sinead O’Connor can record songs that I used to sing at church, why shouldn’t songs like Let it Be, that perhaps weren’t intended for church services, be sung at church?

St Paul’s Chapel was interesting to visit from a tourism point of view, although I did feel a little awkward about taking too many photos of the memorials. If you happen to have the chance to visit there, I would recommend staying for a service, or even just part of a service. If, like me, you don’t really call yourself a Christian, don’t worry. I found it to be an inspirational and moving experience, with or without the belief in God. I believe in music, and I know that I will be humming Let it Be to myself all year, especially when I feel stressed or under pressure.

St Paul’s Chapel is on the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street, but I went in the back from Church Street. I got off at the World Trade Center stop on the Subway.