The following is a love letter I wrote to the city of New Orleans for Get Lost Magazine. At the moment, NoLA is getting hit pretty hard with COVID and besides my hometown of NYC, it’s one of the worst places affected. My heart goes out to everyone, especially the vibrant, loving, passionate people that makes New Orleans my favorite city on the planet.
It’s so much more than drinking and partying. There is an ecosystem of creation there that cannot be rivalled, that spills from art, to science, to soul in dizzying fashion. This is probably why they have perfected drinking and partying.
While this piece focuses on Mardi Gras, it really applies to any day of the week in New Orleans for Mardi Gras is always New Orleans as New Orleans is always Mardi Gras.
Besides the people of NoLA I dedicate this film to Lisa Dunn & Peter Boggia … two natives that took me in and showed me what real New Orleans magic is like. I also dedicate this film to Aubrey Rector & John Greco for being the simply the best there is.
Stay safe out there folks, and consider donating to the NOLA Relief Fund if you feel moved to. Otherwise just be good to each other.
New York City, my birth city, is hard to beat. It has everything from glitz to gore, and will feed you well, in stomach and in spirit. There is no city as cool as new york.
Except for New Orleans.
New Orleans, or Norlans or NOLA doesn’t care what you call it. This city doesn’t know it’s on earth, yet its connection to humanity from gutter to steeple is unlike any other. There is something unique about NOLA’s beauty. both rough and gentle like satin covered sandpaper. Somehow vulgar in a very polite way. The streets here are lined with salty dreamers who wear their passion on their sleeve spilling it on cheap folding tables for wanders to consume. It’s a city where there is no such thing as an inanimate object; spirit here permeate every aspect of life.
I consider this a truly american city where “America” refers to its namesake Amerigo Vespucci, who upon reaching the correctly identified new continent quotes “The victor here eats their vanquished, and the women are intensely desirable being very lustful, [they] cause the private parts of their husbands to swell up to such a huge size that they appear deformed and disgusting”. That’s the feeling I get from this city.
What NOLA loves:
NOLA loves gas lamps.NOLA also loves it molding. NOLA really loves being covered in patina. NOLA loves in all sizes. From the grandiose to the two step manor, to the one step railroad, to the tiny bywater shack too adorable not to sigh a smile at. Perhaps what NOLA loves best, is a good party. A party to New Orleans is more than just a good time; it’s a hall pass from bullshit, where who you are, who you really are, is all you are allowed to show, and smiles become the only currency you need buy a good time.
In NOLA you quickly find yourself forging ahead with two best friends into the streets seamlessly becoming part of the fanatic fabric of festival. Without effort you are now part of the parade, among the fellow freaks and fantasy folk who seem to be there not only to entertain each other, but themselves. The streets are a river of color and shimmer where “spectacle” takes on a new meaning that forever removes it from your daily vocabulary. Here there is no wrong, or off color or incorrect, just the perfect marriage of fantasy working in reality.
These are not costumes like they are in other cities in other festivals. These are expressions, deep and obtuse who’s meaning shifts throughout the day depending on how much you’ve seen or how long you’ve been on mushrooms. While it may all seem fractured and without curation, there is one common line that connects the madness. A bass line. A second line. A line of music that rumbles through the city, overlapping, fading in and fading out, driving forward and igniting movement. From the streets to the roof it chases you through the city relentlessly.
No city celebrates inebriation like New Orleans. They have perfect the art of imbibing and have found ways to reinvent the act of getting shit-faced a thousand times over. The city is a giant house party. Living rooms become street corners, and kitchens become oilbarrel bbq lined sidewalks. It’s BYOB and no one’s parents are home.
Bourbon street may be sluttiest street in the world. It doesn’t care who you are, you’re getting in its pants. An aroused army of revelers storm the street looting beads from every balcony, every perch, every outcropping. Here you see things you simply can’t explain, both comic and tragic in an Orwellian way.Here spirits run free, and there is dancing and magic everywhere. Where even dropped fishbowls of booze somehow don’t spill. Pure sorcery. Then there are the parades; flotillas of frenzy that slice through neighborhoods, flooding the streets with the echo of stomping boots and screaming brass as you trip the light fantastic.
The quarter bell tolls and it’s time to switch up the scene, so you descend down frenchman to familiar caves filled with some of the best damn music you’ve ever heard. When that tires, you head over to One Eyed Jacks and perhaps fortune favors you by witnessing the legendary Quintron and Miss Pussycat break off a piece which sets off the dance floor stupid crazy. When you need to bring it down a notch, you mosey over to Saturn Bar to sing some sea shanties with the Valparaiso Men’s Chorusand whoever is left standing in the Bywater. When that quiets dies down you take it back to the beginning: back to the streets.
The cloak of night darkness is pierced by led lights and sulphurstreetlamp which guide the funeral procession to the parties final resting place. Along the tracks and down cobbled streets everyone dances the festival through the last stretches of town, clamoring and hugging lost friends found along the way. finally, reaching the levy, the frenzy ignites its primitive roots in effigy as you stand humbled.
You have been up now for 24 hours.
Many emotions, drugs, and experiences have passed through you and you find yourself in a Fellini film walking the crest of a levy in the purgatory of the party. Nothing makes sense which makes perfect sense. The movable feast begins to roll like a magnetized ferrofluid and collecting under a broken warehouse canopy you are presented a puppet show. It’s both callow and complex, much like this strange time, in this beautiful unique experience which is simply called, New Orleans.
Reykjavik, despite being frozen most of the year, is a city that is constantly blooming. One area in full bloom is the reclaimed Docks just north of the Old West Side. Old rusted warehouses are now giant canvases housing pop up bespoke shops & savory nibble spots that definitely emit Brooklyn vibes.
This area is just lousy with Pinterest perfect shops selling couture cod liver oil, bespoke boutiques with enough black to satisfy an upper east sider, quiet coffee clutches where you can finally find an outlet, sick street art that will challenge your perspective, and a bunch of bad-ass breweries where bros get their barley on.
While this treasure trove of hipster delights will surely intoxicate you, there is one place that will have you blackout drunk. May I introduce you to Omnom, Iceland’s only chocolate factory.
So, Omnom was founded by childhood friends Kjartan Gíslason and Óskar Þórðarson in 2013.Omnom sources their beans from three farms just straddling the equator, chosen not only for the unique quality of their fruit, but also for being all fair trade, organic, and independently owned. Bertil Akesson’s Madagascar beans are fruit forward with a punch of bright acidity. Simran and Brian’s beans from KoKoa Kamili, Tanzania are smooth and fragrant and Ingemann’s in Nicaraguaare earthy and robust, and all of them are fair trade, independently owned, and environmentally conscious. When you consider 2 million children are used as labor to supply the world’s chocolate demand, finding ethically sourced cocoa beans is a really really big deal.
And while their cocoa is definitely special, the real magic to Omnom’s chocolate comes from their Icelandic milk.This protected breed of cattle brought from norway over a thousand years ago have a unique grazing habit and diet that give their milk a beautiful rich quality that simply is unlike any other cow juice on the planet. This is Viking milk after all.
Omnoms attention to detail doesn’t end in their unique recipe, but continues even in their artful packaging. Designed within an inch of its life they are hand wrapped with care, and sheathed in beautifully illustrated envelopes, some with hidden easter eggs.
All organic, all giving back to the communities, all sourced by local farmers,these bars of true Icelandic joy are handmade, heart forward and happy, making them not just tastes good but feel good chocolate. and quite certainly the best thing to come out of a gas station.
I hope you enjoyed this documentary. Just so everyone knows I wasn’t paid in any way to make this; it comes purely from the respect I have for what this company does and the joy their product brings (like all our films;). It was written, shot and edited by me, Roberto Serrini, with some supplemental footage that I linked to down below (thank you!) to help tell the story of cocoa and it’s delicate trade process. Please be conscious of your consumer choices, it does make a difference. Click here If you would like to know more of how child labor/slavery affects the cocoa trade and how to help.
The world is being destroyed by tourism and I am the cause. There are currently 1.4 billion tourists out there and that number is only growing at an alarming rate. The world is addicted to travelling and I am one of the many pushers out there on the streets giving them their fix.
I have been travelling seriously since I was 15. An only son of two Airline parents I would hop a companion pass and take off with a few dollars in my pocket. Back then there was no internet, not smartphones, and the only information you had about a destination was what you brought in with you, usually in the form of a bent and beaten Globe Trekker guide that had 4 year old outdated information in it. It was an adventure to survive a city with every street a new possibility to have your mind blown. Not knowing what to expect was the greatest gift to travel.
I have watched the world, travel, and tourists change drastically over the last 20 years slowly building an acute awareness that we are destroying something that is not only a multi-billion dollar industry, but a true pure passion for most. Travel used to mean going someplace new, and more importantly, unknown. It meant discovery. It meant frequent bad meals, and quasi-dangerous hostels between getting lost, and very lost in places that simply had no use for another random person. However that environment yielded something that most travelers never even experience these days; discovery.
Cambodian children seeing a drone fly for the first time.
For most travelers they have already taken the trip before leaving their laptop or cellphone. They have had a full blown case of FOMO from seeing it on instagram, they know what the best restaurants are and even what the food tastes like, they know all the cool spots, secret menu items, and wifi passwords before stepping out the door. At best they will be walking through a memory yet had, expecting everything, being let down often, and seldomly being surprised. They will fake excitement to everyone not watching them eat something online, and they will return unfortunately with all the satisfaction of finishing a series on Netflix. Paint by numbers travel is the status quo, and I have been doling out these colors for years. No more.
I have extreme regret for what I did to destroy the world. Worse then what bankers did to our trust in economics, because I killed something living and breathing. There are so many voices out there forcing people to do this, see those, and eat that that we just seem to be running in circles of each other. Dreaded “top 10” lists are unnaturally formed, since most travellers only consider the most rated items on sites like Expedia, Kayak and Trip Advisor, which I have contributed nearly 1,000 reviews. I am the Baba Yaga of travel, and need to repent.
“We are drowning in tourists,” Guðmundur, one of the only locals that actually befriended me during my time there, passionately tells me over an 18 USD crap draft beer. “We can’t eat, we can’t drink, we can’t walk down the street. We are infested with tourists. And I hate you.” Harsh, perhaps a bit intoxicated words, but true nevertheless. Iceland opens its doors to over 2 million overnight visitors each year, which is 6 times the countries population if you can believe it. “The tourists are like locust. That are loud, and fat and only go to see the stupid waterfall or sit in a man made pool to take pictures.” Guðmundur clearly has had enough but his point is made. Iceland’s greatest export is tourism at over 40% of their GDP coming from travel. With the end of WOW air, the country faced yet another collapse in their economy, one that travel tried to save. It is wholly unsustainable however, and more gravely, destroys the exact thing people are coming there for, the culture.
Beer is 18 dollars a glass. A $5 foot long Subway sandwich is 25 dollars. Renting a car requires a down payment of 300k dollars. That last one isn’t true, but that’s the feeling you get. When I tell you it is easier to rent an apartment in NYC then go out to eat in Reykjavik I’m not kidding.
Worse of all the people don’t want us. They don’t like us. We make everything expensive for them, we crowd the streets, and we are consuming disposable culture. “We are only interested in the 5 year friend, not the 5 minute friend.” Guðmundur tells me is the reason why no one even wants to talk to me at a bar. They know I’m just passing through.
In all my years of travel I have never felt so disgusting in all my life. Despite always trying to be a model tourist, there was no salvation here. It was a wake up call, that my love in life was threatening to implode on itself, and there is no way of stopping it.
There is, however, a way to avoid it.
There is a way to bring back the discovery, a way to bring back that original, irreplaceable feeling of wonder that I have been trying to maintain for 20 years. It takes a little work, and definitely courage, but it for the most part will ease the pain of an over-touristed planet. People are going to be irresponsible. They are going to take the easy road and top-10 themselves to death never to know the true beauty of being a professional traveler. We can only lead by example, so here are my 5 commandments to being a good traveller.
1. Be nice.
I start with this as it is the most important tool in your arsenal. Niceness will always get you the most out of any situation, period. Flight oversold and you’re stuck? Don’t yell at the poor human that is in front of you. Be nice. They’ll help you out if they can, or they won’t, but yelling is never going to make the odds of that any better. Someone purposefully trying to be a dick to you because they don’t like your accent/shoes/man-bun? Be nice, because it’s an opportunity to open their world to a new perspective, or at the very least you’re less likely to get shived if that was their plan. Just be nice. In general everyone around the world will open up to you if you show genuine interest in who they are and their culture, and if you’re nice about it, they’ll want to share. Don’t be afraid, be nice.
2. Be different.
I love Instagram. I love Trip Advisor. I love AirBnB. They tell me exactly the places to avoid writing about at all cost. If a country, a city or an experience is part of a top 10 then there is no reason for me to write about it. It’s had its moment in the sun, and I guarantee you there is better amatriciana, a better little museum, or a better secret bar just waiting to be discovered, mainly, because it will be yours, and the people there will be so happy to see you. SPREAD TRAVEL AROUND. That is your job as a travel journalist, to find NEW experiences for people to have, not to regurgitate well tread garbage. Sure some things need to be seen like Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia or Machu Picchu, but don’t leave out Amsterdam’s Cat Museum or a visit to the oldest lightbulb in the world.
3. Be honest.
No one fails at vacationing. Or do they? I think failing is one of the most important parts of travel, yet, you would be hard pressed to find some of the most popular instagram accounts with anything less then impossibly perfect travel shots. This is garbage. Travel is hard. Bags are heavy. Communication can be difficult. Jet lag is real. Be honest. Be honest with your travel, and you will get so much more out of the experience of sharing it. If everything is so damn fabulous then how do you know it’s actually fabulous? Share bad experiences, and more, just be real with your audience about what is happening. Do they really have to eat this donut? Will it really blow their minds? I hundreds of reviews on Trip advisor, you know how many I’ve given 5 stars to? only 3. It’s no secret people find bad reviews more telling then good reviews.
4. Be ready.
If you like to make things to make things while you travel like me, you know that having the right gear is key. Too much and you’ll weigh yourself down, too little and you’ll be cursing yourself for not bringing “that lens”. Be ready. While technology changes constantly, I have a pretty solid set of tools I like to bring with me on any job. Here’s a quick little film I put together before my last trip:
And here is a rundown of the gear. Mind you I’m not sponsored by any of these brands. This is just my honest opinion from my experience as a traveller.
Perhaps the most important tip is to get lost. Getting lost is the only way to really discover anything about a place, and about yourself. If you research everything before you go, your experience will be predetermined. It is what is plaguing the world right now, channeling millions of people to the same city to eat the same meal in the same restaurant. How very boring, and dangerous, to the travel industry. Instead, be lost. Put the phone away, turn off the internet, forget the top 10 places and explore. Try talking with people that live in the city. If you are going to use social media, then reach out to locals for their advice. That’s what we did when we made films for WOW airlines and while TripAdvisor, Travel & Leisure and Culture Trip are great resources, we wanted what locals knew best about their city in hopes to give intrepid travellers a more authentic experience. If you are running into other tourists at places on trips, you may want to rethink your strategy.
They are simple guidelines I like to follow that hopefully will not contribute to the pandemic travel malarkey that is shrouding our world. I have always believed that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness” but unfortunately it’s becoming less effective. Hopefully this is a growing pain of a world getting smaller, and people will become more savvy looking for real experiences other then just virtual instagram moments. Finally, because I love “top 5” lists, I’ll answer the top 5 questions I get.
Q: Do you ever have any trouble with the TSA with all that gear?
A: Depends. There is no rhyme or reason when they will stop and search a bag of mine, despite literally packing it the same way for a decade. I do have TSA pre and Global Entry which helps a ton, but overall rule number one of “Be Nice” seems to be the only real salvation in a TSA situation.
Q: What phone carrier do you use? Is it not really expensive traveling as much as you do?
A: Google Fi on a Google Pixel. Before Google Fi I had AT&T for my iPhone, and yeah, it sucked. I did buy a cheap Samsung that I could pop a local SIM card in, but that was a pain too. Google Fi changed all that as I can literally go anywhere in the world and my phone works for the same data rate. It’s a game changer.
Q: Do you need a permit to fly a drone in all those countries?
A: Yes. You do. Legally. Drones are amazing tools that really take travel filmmaking to a new level. The key with them, as with anything, is be professional. I am FAA and IAA certified and licensed. I never fly in dangerous areas and don’t break laws. More importantly I don’t ever fly if I’m going to annoy someone or ruin their experience. Drones are loud, and people don’t like them, so be invisible, be quick, and be safe.
Q: Are there any specific clothing brands you like?
A: Socks I like Stance. PrAna also makes great travel gear that looks swank, great jeans and pants and shirts that don’t wrinkle. Buck Mason makes great lightweight clothes that look good dressed up or down. Duluth makes great tactical underwear. Yes tactical underwear.
Q: Do you know any travel hacks?
A: Hmm… well one thing I do is always keep an old hotel key with me in my go bag. Reason being is that most modern hotels these days require you put a key in to get the outlets to work, and if you’re charging batteries, then you best leave a key in while you’re out.
Ok… so maybe I’m biased … but my new travel channel TravelClast is the best travel blog vlog youtube channel IN THE WORLD (2019). Why? Cause we go to all the good places, all the bad places, eat all the good things, and the worst things, and are two idiots living the dream, meaning, you can too. Trust, if we can do it, you can too. That’s inspiration (seeing other people fail at what they love to do and still succeed. #truth)
Anyway, I do hope if you dig the trailer you check out some of our videos and hopefully subscribe! Would love to hear what you think!