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Turning 5 Years Old

IMG_4824Late last month, Lulu turned five.

It’s been five years since 2010, the year that was by far the most challenging of my life to date. To think that a beautiful child would blossom out of that period, and that it would be the start of a brand new love, I could not have ever possibly imagined– it proves rainbows truly do come after the rain.

Which makes it appropriate that Lulu asked for rainbows, and Madeline (see here) as parts of her birthday theme. I’m not usually one to throw a birthday party, but as she was turning 5, and for the first time has classmates with whom she wanted to celebrate, I thought it’s about time to make a big deal of her birthday– and about time I celebrate everything she has brought to my life.

We held it at the Marionette Theater in Central Park here in New York City, one of her favorite places to visit every season for each new puppet show. After a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk, we toasted with cake and champagne. The same close friends who threw an epic baby shower (house party!) for us five long years ago were also there, as we remembered once celebrating a baby bump, who today has become a little lady full of personality.

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Björk, Vulnicura, & Paddington Bear

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The other day Lulu and I joined some friends to see the movie Paddington Bear in Brooklyn. I had planned to blog about the adorable young bear from Darkest Peru and his antics in another great destination, LONDON, but I got sidetracked as you will soon see. The movie was enjoyable, and turned out to be a whimsical, perhaps unintentional way to promote travel to London.

While waiting to enter the theater, there was a hushed excitement between the adults. The singer Björk was on line several people behind us, also waiting to nab good seats to watch the film.

“Björk?” I asked with doubt. “The ethereal musical artist from Iceland? At a kids’ movie in Brooklyn on a Sunday afternoon, waiting in line with us ordinary people?” That seemed implausible.

Sure enough, it was she. She ended up sitting two rows in front of us, presumably with her daughter. After leaving the movie, I remembered reading a headline recently on the music site Pitchfork about her as “The Invisible Woman.” This could not be further from the truth, of course, and after a quick search on my phone, I discovered just days before she had released a new album.

Yesterday, as I prepared to hunker down for the record-breaking-snowstorm-that-wasn’t, I skimmed the New York Times and on their “suggested listening list” for their snowed-in readers was her new album Vulnicura. I bought it, and looked again for that Pitchfork interview to read. (So worth the read, I’ve included the link.)

I learned that her latest album is yet another musical triumph, in her long history of influential work. But to my surprise, it is also a very personal album, as she sings painfully about the dissolution of her relationship with the artist Matthew Barney, the devastation to her family, and her loss.

One particular paragraph of this article, written by Jessica Hopper, stood out to me:

“As much as this record is about him, it is also about Björk returning to herself. In motherhood, one quite literally becomes a vessel—a role that often continues postpartum. The young family takes precedence, and ambition takes a back seat; a mother can become the net around her loved ones, their needs veiling her own. It is the natural exile of domestic life. And it is a strange and powerful thing to imagine that one of the most singular vocalists in modern music could lose the tether, just like any of us. But here, Björk opens up about coming back to music from such a scene, filling her house and her days with loud songs.”

These lines were like catnip to me. And it altered my perspective on Björk and her music, as subjects we relate to as individuals tend to do. I always admired her as an artist, her music, even as an actress in her incredible role in the 2000 film Dancer in the Dark. But reading about her as a mother coming back to her identity, after mourning the loss of love and the death of her family which she valued dearly– well not only was it familiar, but it also humanized Björk as a person.

Death of her family. She actually uses those words in the song “Family.” Death sounds like an extreme word to use, but I knew that exact feeling of mourning over family lost, with which I grappled for the first years of Lulu’s life.

So this album hits close to home. But other than the powerful lyrics, the music itself is a beautiful mix of grandiose strings and eclectic electronic beats. At moments the music sounds heroic, at the same time the lyrics can be heart-wrenching– an intoxicating combination. And to give an idea of its orchestral impact, she will be performing in March at Carnegie Hall here in New York City. Carnegie Hall, that marvel of acoustics! I hope to sit in that audience and be transported by hearing her perform live.

An explorer bear who takes himself halfway around the world for adventure, and an artist whose recent creativity was inspired by changes to her identity after loss and motherhood. Who knew a Sunday afternoon could bring two random subjects together, yet both so near and dear to my heart?

Vulnicura is now available on iTunes.

Björk’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC opens on March 8th.

Paddington Bear is now in theaters.

Mambukal Mountain, The Philippines

Waterfall at Mambukal Mountain from Travels With Lulu on Vimeo.

As we are nearing the official start of winter, my mind is brought back to Southeast Asia, specifically to the Philippines. It was deliciously hot when we visited last winter– which inspired me to armchair travel today back to Mambukal Mountain.

Mambukal Mountain is on the island of Negros Occidental, outside of Bacolod City. We took a long drive through the Philippine countryside to arrive from Bacolod. The landscape was a rustic blend of rice paddies, skinny palm trees, tall fields of grass, and brooks of murmuring waters. The cars and buses we passed wore brown layers of dirt from driving along unpaved roads. Children sometimes roamed the streets in flip-flops, dressed in sleeveless t-shirts and worn gym shorts, or in neatly pressed Catholic school uniforms. Multiple people piled onto bicycles. It was a welcome contrast from city life, either the urban chaos we witnessed in Manila or what we live daily back in New York. The quiet foreignness of it all made it a soothing drive.

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When we arrived to Mambukal, we discovered a deep dive into nature. The surroundings are filled with lush tropical vegetation and flowers. Seven waterfalls beckon, although with Lulu, we only made it to see about three (to see all seven, the climb to each was more challenging than the next.)

And considering what I learned previously about the country, mostly about its congested capital or its spectacular tropical shores, discovering this abundant mountain, tucked away in a quiet pocket of the Philippines, made for an extremely satisfying day.

If only I could trade in these upcoming frigid days of winter, for the hot, sweaty, challenging climb to the 7th waterfall of Mambukal Mountain…