travelling outside your age (or, an ode to my cool aunt and uncle)


my aunt jane and uncle dave are legends.

they grew up in the 50s and 60s and have a million stories from high school in pasadena, california. surfing, playing in bluegrass bands like the smooothies, the heady early days of the rose parade, smoking in the mountains, seeing steve martin with an arrow through his head at the ice house. when all four egenes siblings (that’s my dad john, jane the youngest, aunt lonnie and uncle tim) get together under one roof, a lot of eating, drinking, swearing, arguing and laughing usually ensues. normal family things, and things i treasure, for they are rare and wonderful.


it doesn’t feel right to start writing about aunt jane and uncle dave without putting on a record, like rubber soul or django & jimmie. my family is musical: jane a professional violinist and teacher, dave an excellent guitarist, my dad a music lecturer and general music savant. i have meddled in music throughout my life, but was never as cool as my dad and his siblings; never cool enough to have a bluegrass band in high school.


my earliest memories of jane and dave are foggy visions of their house in albuquerque, clad in houseplants and mosaic coffee tables and home-knit throws, and a great big grandfather clock that struck resounding echoes on the hour – and still does.

tonight i stick joni mitchell’s blue on the turntable and wonder if they are gonna hate it that i’m about to write about them. probably, because they are nothing if not counter-culturalists and hippies in a way, as a slacker and member of generation x, i always envied. gen-x’ers wanted to care about causes but we were too busy not giving a shit about the man to bother doing anything.


friday at 3pm in santa maria novella railway station in florence. they appear off the rome high-speed service, dave with his signature lumbering six-foot-five, white-haired lanky figure and jane with her wave of pulled-back dark hair fronted by grey streaks in the exact same place my greys are coming in. hugs are brisk and conversation is immediate and easy despite a year apart.

we are spending six days in florence for what has become an annual international trip together. jane and dave started travelling later in their adult life; they are american baby boomers discovering the world as semi-retirees and they have definitely got the travel bug. watching them figure out the italian public transportation system on their own for the first time, for example, was truly beautiful.


the joy of intergenerational travel (what a terrible term) is not something i’d ever thought about. when we are travelling together, it isn’t like a ‘family trip’ where i imagine bickering and bad meals and complaining. we have pretty similar interests (wine, food, culture, chillaxing), and that makes it easy. but i find myself seeing the world through their eyes, and hopefully they are seeing it some through mine.

one thing that happens is that i slow down. being with them makes it pretty obvious just how fast i take life. i walk at a london pace, quite literally, and a gentle stroll through the piazza della repubblica now becomes a moment of wonderment, as opposed to something you just get past or through. queries about what a building corner’s embellishment is call me to question, wonder, then google a lot of things i probably would not notice. musings on just what, exactly, makes this particular pomodoro pasta so much better than any before it create amazement in the everyday, and confusion with a waiter causes questions in my mind about whether the term ‘marinara’ has a different meaning in the united states than it does in italy. now i’m thinking about things.


these interactions also lead to mindful questioning in a way that maybe my generation never would. we are slackers, we are jaded, we think we know, and a lot of the times we do know. if i may generalise, baby boomers wonder at things, and it is a joy for a member of my grunge generation to experience that purity of questioning.


on tuesday evening, our final night in florence, we crack open the last bottle of chianti classico we bought on saturday’s tour of tuscan wine country. we are all wineaux, that is something that brought us together in the first place. three plastic chairs are perched on a narrow, high patio at our airbnb on the 7th floor of a suburban florentine building. before us, the arno river carving a rust-coloured ribbon through red-tiled roofs and the moon and saturn raising a ruckus over the duomo’s cupola, pinkened by the just-set sun.


dave lights up a cuban and talks about his father and fishing and high-school buddies; jane rolls her eyes having heard these stories a million times before. they got married young in LA city hall (or was it pasadena? because i am a slacker, i fail to remember these details, but i’m sure they will correct me, with the clarity of memory they maintain).

cigar smoke wafts over us in the heat of the italian june evening and we savour this moment, for it is the stuff of life.

santa fe, new mexico sunrise with windmill

rediscovering my home of enchantment (trip report, part 1)

santa fe, new mexico sunrise with windmill
sunrise at mom’s house

it’s been three years since i was back in new mexico. well, that is until three weeks ago, when i finally went home. bill was working out of his houston office, so i took the chance for a couple of days visiting my family and eating lots and lots of green chile.

if you aren’t familiar with new mexico, the first thing you should probably know about is our food. we have very special food. it is not quite mexican, it is not quite native american and it is not quite spanish, but it is definitely a mix of all three. and here’s one for your next pub quiz: new mexico is also the only state in the US to have an official state question, which is, “red or green?”. this refers to our incredible chile sauces, the green derived from unripened, roasted chile peppers and the red from ripened peppers of the same plant.

combination plate at la choza - red and green chile present.
combination plate at la choza – red and green chile present.

i stayed the first couple of days with my mom in my childhood home – a stately little adobe house that sits on a good few acres of lovely, scrubby high desert land with views of the mountains in every direction. we ate at a few of my favourite spots. the first morning was a breakfast of huevos rancheros (eggs with beans, cheese, corn tortilla and chile sauce) at san marcos cafe.

huevos rancheros at san marcos cafe, santa fe, new mexico
breakfast of jetlagged champs: green chile huevos at sue’s.

growing up, this was the only restaurant local to us, as our house is rurally 20 miles south of santa fe. we called it either sue’s (in reference to the owner/chef, susan macdonell), or ‘the feed store’, as there is an actual feed store connected to the back where local ranchers buy everything from hay to halters to live chicks in the spring.

while in santa fe, i also did some touristy stuff – not something most locals get up to. on santa fe’s plaza, most days local native americans from various tribes set up on blankets under the long portico outside the historic palace of the governors (now the museum of new mexico) and sell handmade jewellery, much of it turquoise. growing up in new mexico, wearing turquoise was always something for tourists, but now living away for so long, i really wanted a nice piece to remind me of home. i came away with lovely necklace stone and silver and turquoise bracelet made by a navajo craftswoman – so beautiful.

palace of the governors, santa fe plaza
palace of the governors, where native americans sell jewellery

time goes a lot slower in new mexico than it does in london. there is time to just sit and watch the sunrise. and the sunset. there is the space of the day when dusk falls over the house silently like a blanket of snow. there was time to enjoy that quiet, which i realised i miss a lot. even when london is quiet, the city still has a faraway rumble. and, not least, i got to play with my horsie, ren’ai, who lives at my mother’s house and is a complete dote. some readers here may not know about my past life as a horse trainer, which i did for many years before i became a world traveller and writer.

me and ren'ai chilling out
me and ren’ai chilling out

after not nearly enough time with mom, it was off to a packed day of breaking bad tourism in albuquerque, which is 60 miles south of santa fe, for a work article. my stepdad was the lucky candidate to drive me around the city, where we went from breaking bad location to location, seeing and photographing in the space of a few hours walter white’s house, the infamous “a-1 car wash” (actually the octopus car wash on menaul and eubank) and many others. all of that driving called for a hearty lunch, so we had to stop at my favourite restaurant on god’s green earth: duran’s.

green chile burrito at duran's station, albuquerque
green chile burrito at duran’s station

duran’s has two locations, though the original is literally a cafe in the back of a pharmacy in old town albuquerque where little old hispanic ladies in hair nets cook some of the meanest new mexican fare ever, including homemade tortillas. their second location – duran’s station – opened a few years ago and has become a rival to the original and one much easier to reach, though for atmosphere i still prefer the original. either way, the food is INCREDIBLE and we stuffed our faces.

that afternoon, i was scheduled for a press visit to routes rentals for a breaking bad-themed bike tour. perhaps a bit ill-advised after such a large lunch, but the prospect of beer at one of my favourite albuquerque breweries helped me press to the end. actually, heather and josh (partners and owners) gave one hell of a tour, showcasing the downtown filming locations (such as jesse’s house and tuco’s hideout) and bringing a laptop so we could watch the scenes at their filming locations. the tour ended with a sampler of marble’s heisenberg dark, which i will talk more about on brew travel.

by the end of the day, i was wrecked, but made two last stops: one into the candy lady, to buy samples of the prop ‘blue meth’ used on the show to bring back to colleagues in london, and two into a kelly’s liquor store to buy a nice bottle of wine to bring to my aunt’s house. my aunt just so happens to be a regular customer of saul goodman’s nail salon (breaking bad reference), so we stopped in for a quick pedicure and to chat with the owners about what it was like to have breaking bad filmed in their store.

the evening was topped off family-style, with all of my paternal aunts and uncles turning up for green chile-topped pizza and many bottles of wine on my aunt’s beautiful back patio, overlooking the sandia mountains. there is nothing better than sipping a nice cab in the crisp desert air with family and laughter (and some good old fashioned egenes arguing) all around.

this is part 1 of what will be a 3-part series.

abq in my rearview, prague on the horizon

Photo by M.G. Bralleywe’ve given it 10 long months, but we are saying good by to ole new mexico. for some reason, in the past two weeks since bill found out that he was hired by the prague post (that’s right, in the czech republic), we have done nothing but celebrate and consolidate and i have not been able to pull myself up to this blog and write about it. Continue reading “abq in my rearview, prague on the horizon”

wine diaries: “beginnings”

i have been a wine drinker for the past 7 years, but i have never kept a blog or diary about it successfully. hence the “beginnings in quote marks” title of this blog. two years ago, bill and i unsuccessfully started a wine diary in which we vowed to tear off the labels of every bottle of wine we drank and review them in a special book we got. alas, that never happened (big surprise?). anyway, i am very proud of this little stash we got today, and the act of buying it got me to thinking about how you don’t have to be rich to enjoy wine. Continue reading “wine diaries: “beginnings””

on taking the 66 bus

taking public transport in the western united states is not like elsewhere. in fact, around here, you are lucky if public transport exists at all and, unless you live in the exact right part of town, it probably won’t do you much good.

but we’ve been taking a lot of public transport in albuquerque since we moved into our apartment in university heights and it has served us well. but the 66 bus deserves particular attention. Continue reading “on taking the 66 bus”

on getting a u.s. green card

some of you may not know that, since october, bill and i have been working to apply for his u.s. green card. this mysterious process is very seldom talked about on the INTERWEB except on dodgy forums where you never know just who you’re actually talking to. so, in an effort to put some information out there about this process, i’m going to start blogging about it occasionally.

just to be clear, a green card is otherwise known as a permanent resident card, and there are several ways to go about applying for this. Continue reading “on getting a u.s. green card”