Volume 2: The Mother Lode

Merhaba, and I hope that you are well. Thank you so much for all the support and feedback on my first newsletter. I am very grateful to be surrounded by such a great community and I am full of excitement about finishing 2019 strong, focused, and satisfied.

I recently returned from a spectacular trip to Miami and Key West with my partner, Steve, to visit his family. In Miami, I rode a bicycle through the alligator-filled Everglades National Park, saw a $120,000 banana at Art Basel, and soaked in the ocean water hot pool at the infamous Russian and Turkish Baths. In Key West, I rode a different bicycle to second place in a duathlon, saw countless sea turtles and sharks, and flew in a sea plane to the Dry Tortugas National Park. I feel so blessed and the full details are below.

I am thrilled to announce that I was promoted to Creative Director at Archimedes Banya. In my new role I will oversee the visual aesthetic of our Banya and will refresh our brand’s identity and website. I am very excited about the road ahead and serving the Banya community.

 River of Grass

The Everglades are the nation’s slowest and widest river covering 1.5 million acres of wetland. It’s endlessly flat, which made exploring a 15 mile bike trail absolutely dreamy. I rode into no man’s land past spoonbills, egrets, ibises, alligators, and turtles that were thriving and were surprisingly comfortable when I would wander into their space. As the sun went down early that night, we sped through the shallow waters on an airboat, sucked naturally filtered water from swamp grass, and drank tropical juices from El Palacio de Los Jugos. There was joy in all directions, at all moments.

Jettersetters, Vultures, and an Absurd Type of Consumerism

We booked our trip and later discovered Art Basel would be opening our last night in Miami. Today’s contemporary art fairs are gigantic productions that saturate a city. Art Basel was no different and it was impossible to avoid the gravitational pull into the miserable traffic jams and head-pounding house music. The fair itself was similar to ones I’ve attended in NYC, Istanbul, and SF: superficial, mediocre, and with very few examples of original work. However, the people watching is world class. It’s painful to admit, but most of these instagram-friendly shows lack exceptional talent. I came across this interview with Avelina Lesper, a Mexican writer and art critic. She sums up her views with a one word description of contemporary art: “fraud”. Walking through Art Basel, where a rotting banana taped to the wall was the biggest news, I was resonating with Avelina’s points.

Idi v Banyu

Miami is flashy, parties hard, works out, and tans too much. The beaches and art deco are nothing short of iconic, but the overall feel is plastic. I could definitely get by on the tropical fruits and will probably return just for the Russian and Turkish Baths in the basement of Hotel New Point in North Miami Beach. The whole structure reminded me of Salvation Mountain, Leonard Knight’s visionary environment in the California Desert. Both are surreal to the eye and feel like a psychedelic trip to the mind. RTB is as strange as it gets. It expands your comfort zone and your awareness.

RTB combines a heavy duty ocean water waterfall in the ceiling, an actual size sculpture of tigers fighting, and over 30 years of celebrity photos, newspaper and magazine articles about the Banya or its NYC sibling facility (see Open Heart Vol. 1). RTB is surreal, kitschy, and its heat is extra hot. The schvitz (russian sauna) is equal parts temple and dungeon. The thin plywood benches would ordinarily burn your ass, if it were not for the continuously running cold water pipes filling buckets to dump on your head. There’s a polar bear room that is just a walk-in freezer, a neon red room with large amethysts, and a room with no lights and a fire hose for hydrotherapy that is equally enjoyable for the person aiming the powerful stream of water as it is for the person being hosed. The pipes snake up the walls and ceiling and the whole system is spectacularly rudimentary. RTB is not a minimalist spa for the mainstream, but that’s what makes it so delightful. We got lost every night in Miami soaking and sweating at the RTB. No Art Basel party can beat that.

“To me, the social importance of the banya is reflected in a popular Russian idiom ‘Idi v banyu!’ — a politer equivalent of ‘Get lost!’. Indeed, getting lost (entirely relaxed and detached from reality) inside the banya comes naturally.” — Vitali Vitaliev

Super Soakers

Due to a bonus overtime schvitz and the aforementioned Miami traffic, the ocean highway trip through the Florida Keys unfortunately happened in the dark. And our first Key West morning began in the dark before the dawn… with a race. With only a few hours of sleep and barely enough time to adjust my bicycle seat, Steve ran and I biked under the name Super Soakers in a duathlon relay, while his ambitious and determined father completed the triathlon and his cool mother was the lifeguard on a jet ski :) Despite our lack of training, the Super Soakers triumphantly received second place medals and stood on a podium outside a barbecue joint in downtown Key West.

The Mother Lode of Ibis

I continued to bike all over the small island, which has a distinctly outsider and transient energy that seems to escape the consciousness of most of the cruise ship tourists. Unofficially, it’s the Conch Republic and locals and the football team are conchs, but no one embodies the spirit I felt more than Lloyd, the old guy with a serious fruit hookup and an uncensored bike tour. I appreciate people like Lloyd, who have their own rules and different ways of doing things. He was a super fit, sunbaked transplant from the Bronx and likely a different world entirely. We blindly followed him through backstreets and back issues of Lloyd’s 50 year tenure on the island, while he picked and fed us fruit from the yards of his neighbors. At Lloyd’s assurance and without hesitation, I sampled Caribbean cherries and avocados, cactus, berries, and an egg fruit that tastes like cheesecake. It came as no surprise to anyone when Lloyd detoured the rare fruit bike tour to an animal sanctuary and summoned a "mother lode" of long-beaked ibis to eat seed out of my hands.While chopping coconuts with a machete, Lloyd shared with us some of his core beliefs that resonated with me: we are interconnected with animals and plants, we are all just space dust. 

Dedicated to the Ocean

We had the unique gift of flying in a seaplane to the wettest National Park: the Dry Tortugas. I sat next to the pilot for our 30 minute flight to Fort Jefferson and spotted countless sea turtles while we flew over the shallow protected marine sanctuary. The experience was full of smiles and when we landed next to the fort, I climbed out of the plane and onto the beach. In front of me lay a beautiful and remote world that expanded my senses. I climbed to the top of the unfinished ramparts to drink in the scents and colors of the ocean and gray blue sky. It is mind blowing that hundreds settled at the fort in the nineteenth century and even crazier that park rangers still live there (though I am told a seaplane delivers a pizza from time to time). It’s a special kind of retreat. The universe was generous to us on the return flight and sent rain clouds and shooting rainbows dissolving into the submerged sand dunes below. 

Be Like the Earth

My days and my heart are filled with joy and I feel like I have reached the mother lode. 2019 was a transformational year filled with a variety of micro wins and fails. There were immeasurable improvements: in my career, art, thoughts, and relationships. I am proud of myself for all the hard work and growth. 2019 has been wisdom, victories, failures, struggles, love, new excitement and awarenesses, and a brand new mindset. I am now vigilant, diligent, positive, creative, peaceful, gentle, and honest. Like all the previous years I had obstacles, I struggled, I cried, I failed, but I accepted my failures. This gave me strength and now I am shining brighter than ever.

“Be like the earth, which supports all living creatures indiscriminately, without distinguishing good from bad. The earth is simply there. Your practice should be strengthened by the difficult situations you encounter, just as a bonfire in a strong wind is not blown out, but blazes even brighter.” — Dilgo Khyentse

I realize how lucky I am to be sharing my journey with you. This is one of my ways of giving back. I am dedicating my life to be in service to others and do meaningful work, and I am looking forward to 2020 to explore new ways to be a better human.

You are today where your thoughts have brought you;
You will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.
” — James Allen, As a Man Thinketh 

“An open heart is an open mind” — His Holiness the Dalai Lama

May all beings be endowed with happiness and its causes.
May all beings be free of suffering and its causes.
May all beings never be parted from well-being, free of dissatisfaction.
May all beings dwell in impartiality free of attachment and hostility for those near and far.

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