Tag Archives art

Alleys and Alleys of Murals in San Francisco

Like many cities in the US, San Francisco is experiencing a wave of gentrification that some residents welcome and others deride. Often central to the debate is the Mission District, an eclectic enclave whose formerly large working- and middle-class Latino population moves further south as the gentrifiers roll in by the dozens: well-paid, largely young, white, male, and employed by tech companies. Their presence brings with it priced-out renters, long waits and lines at a growing number of trendy restaurants and cafes, and a fear of cultural and historical erasure.

The Mission’s Latino and Chicano influence is visible in the bright and elaborate murals that decorate the alleys for several blocks, tucked between the streets in a less polished section of the neighborhood. Inspired by the work of Mexican artist Diego Rivera and the Chicano Mural Movement of the ’60s and 70s, some of the artwork reflects reactions to social and political changes. Other pieces illustrate life in the Mission in the midst of the City’s growing pains.

A few weeks ago, I toured the murals with my younger sister, who was visiting from Texas. We picked up a map at Precita Eyes, a community mural center and headed for Balmy Alley, which boasts one of the largest collection of murals among the alleys.

A classic

Michael Jackson Mural in Mission, San Francisco from The Girl Next Door is Black



We lingered in front of this mural. Almost every inch of paint seems to hold meaning.

We spent a bit more time with this one, as well.

Robots / Tech In the Mission Gentrification Mural, San Francisco, CA


A few more murals that stood out to me.


This is by no means all there is to see of San Francisco street art. You could easily spend 3-4 hours touring the alleys across the city, absorbing the messages in the work. If you ever get the chance, I recommend checking them out! Keeping it real though: it’s probably better to plan your visit for the daylight hours.

Sisters-at-Mission-Murals, San Francisco, CA - The Girl Next Door is Black
Me (R) and the sis

What symbolism / meaning do you see in the murals?

Four Days in Historic Warsaw

Things to do, see and eat with 4 days in historic Warsaw, Poland. See more on The Girl Next Door is Black

When the bellhop left the hotel room after depositing our luggage, I broke into a touchdown dance.

“This room!”

I dove onto the bed, a European double, spaced at least 3-feet away from a second bed. Larger beds and no tripping over luggage, boots and each other? Minimal upgrades that seemed positively luxe when compared to our accommodations in the past 15 days.

Things to do, see and eat with 4 days in historic Warsaw, Poland. See more on The Girl Next Door is Black| Polonia Palace Lobby at Christmastime Warsaw
Polonia Palace Lobby festively decorated for the Christmas holidays.

In Copenhagen and Berlin, we stayed in hostels. in small rooms reminiscent of my college dorm days. There was the budget hotel in Prague with an Internet connection so slow it literally made me cry (I blame travel fatigue). We reveled in the amenities of the 4-star hotel we’d booked in Warsaw, the last stop on our 3-, turned 4-city, self-directed tour of European capitals. Thanks to Warsaw’s inexpensive cost, four nights at the Polonia Palace Hotel cost just a tad more than one night at the hostel in Copenhagen.

“Keisha! We have a real tub!” Z exclaimed from the bathroom. I danced some more. The queen life.

The train ride from Prague to Warsaw was a long 7.5 hours, so we took it easy that night and enjoyed dinner in our hotel’s restaurant, Strauss.

Like Prague, Warsaw has its own historic town center – the Old Town Market Place  our first sightseeing destination the next morning. Everywhere you turn in the massive square you’re treated to enchanting view after view, bordered on one side by, what else? A Royal Castle. The beautiful square had to be rebuilt in the mid-20th century after being destroyed by Germany in WWII.


We found a giant panda on skates.

Beyond the square, in Old Town, are shops, cathedrals, landmarks, schools, restaurants and a touch of merriment courtesy of the lingering holiday decorations.

These are no ordinary light displays!

And a McFit? Yes, it’s what it sounds like: a McDonald’s gym. McDonald’s.

Things to do, see and eat with 4 days in historic Warsaw, Poland. See more on The Girl Next Door is Black| McFit Display Ad Warsaw

It’s just as charming at night.

For dinner we chose Dwie, a Mediterranean fusion restaurant. “Fusion” restaurants bring out the skeptic in me, but I went for it.

In the end, the food presentation delighted me more than the actual meal. The dishes seemed to be trying too hard to be something.

The next day – a particularly chilly and dreary one – we visited the Warsaw Zoo. I love animals, but I’m not necessarily a fan of zoos. In the winter months, zoo admission is half off. The zoo is small, quite a few of the animals sheltered themselves from the cold in hidden places, and the big cats paced creepily. We left not feeling any better about zoos.

Things to do, see and eat with 4 days in historic Warsaw, Poland. See more on The Girl Next Door is Black | Animals at the Warsaw Zoo

Things to do, see and eat with 4 days in historic Warsaw, Poland. See more on The Girl Next Door is Black | Warsaw Pygmy Marmoset
This adorable pygmy marmoset was the highlight of the zoo for me. I imagine he’s saying, “Da hell YOU lookin’ at?”

Poland is known for pierogis, the ravioli-like dumplings served boiled or fried, with a variety of fillings that may include meat, cabbage, potatoes, or even fruit. We decided on an early dinner of pierogis at Zapiecek, which at 5pm already looked filled to capacity. Luckily we quickly snagged one of the last tables and were soon rewarded with delicious, real-deal pierogis.

Things to do, see and eat with 4 days in historic Warsaw, Poland. See more on The Girl Next Door is Black| Palace of Culture and Science at Night Warsaw
The night skyline in Warsaw includes the tallest structure in Poland: Palace of Culture and Science which we walked by on our way home.

While indulging in late night desserts at a restaurant with an extensive sweets selection, Smaki Warszawy, fresh fat snow flakes started falling from the sky coating the city with white powder in minutes, making it seem more romantic – for other people. We saw a couple engaged in a flirty snowball fight on the short stroll back to our hotel.

Łazienki Park, a gigantic park in the center or Warsaw, is one of the most visited spots in Warsaw. To visit the day after fresh snowfall was a treat. The park’s full name translates to “royal baths park” and fresh snow also meant all the water in the park sat frozen or empty. Similar to Central Park in New York, visitors to the park are a collection of tourists and locals, families and friends, and couples taken by the magnificent parkscape.

Within the park is a museum, a white-tablecloth restaurant, sculptures, statues, and a palace. One of the most famous statues of of Polish composer, Frédéric Chopin, resides in the park. We witnessed a young guy use his footsteps to draw a heart in the snow around the perimeter of the empty pool in front of the statue. His adoring girlfriend watched at the base of the monument.

We picked our lunch spot by default that day. As it turns out, January 6 is a holiday in Poland, Three King’s Day, and as such, nearly everything was closed. Happily, Być Może, an airy cafe with high ceilings, served up tasty sandwiches on freshly-baked bread.

Our sightseeing adventures ended earlier than planned due to the holiday closures, which gave us more time to enjoy the comforts of our hotel and watch music videos on Eska tv, a Polish music channel. Their video lineup included the usual Top 40 suspects interspersed with local artists, like a rapper who looked and kinda sounded like a Polish Eminem. I couldn’t understand a word of what he said, but the beat and flow worked; I liked it. Notably, every commercial break contained at least one pharmaceutical commercial.

The next morning, I arose at a bleary hour, way before the birds, first to depart back to the United States. Bittersweet best describes what leaving felt like. For three weeks, Z and I were lucky enough to travel around Europe soaking in cultures, learning history, trying new foods, meeting interesting people and forming unforgettable memories. What a trip! Nevertheless, back in San Francisco awaited the comforts that only a place called “home” can provide.

Things to do, see and eat with 4 days in historic Warsaw, Poland. See more on The Girl Next Door is Black

Exploring Copenhagen’s Beauty & Culture

Despite the cloudy skies and ever-present rain, Copenhagen is still quite beautiful. We spent our third day in the city exploring stunning views of the city and some of the art culture it offers.

Just around the block from our hostel we found plenty of architecture and design to marvel over.

Almost everywhere you look the scenery is beautiful.

Seeing Copenhagen from above was a must-do, so we visited the 110ft+ high Rundetaarn (“round tower”) and climbed the unusual spiral passage to the observatory.


After seeing the magnificent Copenhagen cityscape we ambled over to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an impressive museum filled with paintings, sculptures and ancient artifacts.

Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek

Often our excursions took us down Strøget – one of the longest pedestrian-only streets in Europe – the Fifth Avenue /
Champs-Élysées / Bond Street of Copenhagen with a splash of Melrose Place. Up and down Strøget are shops, restaurants and boutiques hailing from many countries ranging from the most upscale like Gucci to more wallet-friendly options like Zara: a shopper’s paradise. Side note: the Danish are really tall; at 5’1″, I feel like a toddler clumsily climbing onto stools that are too high and ducking the flailing hands of passers-by in conversation.


For dinner that evening, we opted for a Danish meal at a restaurant within the freetown of Christiania, Spiseloppen. To say that the restaurant’s location is sketchy would greatly understate the level of anxiety we felt as we climbed each narrowing step, rising higher and higher away from safer ground, bypassing a group of thuggish-ruggish looking twenty-something men I named the “Danish Get Fresh Crew,” one of whom whistled at us as we passed by. Happily, we avoided our own Law & Order: SVU-type tale when we opened a heavy-wooden door to a perfectly respectable-looking restaurant with an affable host/server and warm and comforting dishes.

At the end of our meal, our server informed us that it was the last night the restaurant would be open until January 17th. “We’re taking a much-needed break for the holidays.” I told my friend I couldn’t imagine a restaurant in the United States closing for almost a month to give everyone time off. We’re opening up shops on Thanksgiving Day now for goodness’ sake!

In honor of the occasion he comped us free pints of the Danish seasonal holiday beer, Tuborg Julebryg, along with a traditional Danish Christmas dessert or rice pudding topped with a cherry sauce. Tuborg, isn’t my favorite. I must admit, I prefer German and Belgian ales and lagers, but the gesture was kind nonetheless and a lovely way to end a great day.


Tuborg Julebryg Beer Copenhagen | The Girl Next Door is Black
Tuborg Julebryg, seasonal Tuborg brew

In Defense of The Sensitive Person

“You’re such a good listener.”

Photo cr: crazyspeechworld.com
Photo cr: crazyspeechworld.com

It’s something I’ve heard often, that I’m a good listener. It’s probably the trait of which I’m most proud. Who doesn’t want someone to listen to them? Who doesn’t want to be heard? You can change the tone of a conversation or an argument just by letting the other person know that you are listening to them and reflecting listening behavior.

I value strong listening skills because too often I have felt like I have no one to talk to who will really listen. My closest friend tend to be those also described by as others as good listeners. By good listener, I mean, if sharing a story, they don’t interrupt to tell you their own story; clearly engaged in conversation such that their eyes meet yours, they nod in comprehension, their expressions change to reflect the intake of narrative. If you have a problem, they listen and offer support in the way that you need it, rather than tell you what they would do if they were you or what they think you should be doing. If you say something hurts your feelings, they don’t invalidate your expression of emotion by asking, “Why are you so upset by this?” or dismissively comment, “Maybe you’re being a little sensitive?”

Sensitive. That word. I’ve long hated that word. It rarely seemingly used in a complimentary way, especially when directed at women. Sensitive people or expressions of sensitivity are sometimes viewed as weak, emotional or neurotic. The US is a society that applauds typically masculine traits and too often derides more feminine traits, such as sensitivity, so it’s no wonder many, including myself, consider it insulting to be told they are sensitive or even worse, “too sensitive.”

PLR_XSThis past spring, I participated in a past-life regression session with a friend of mine who does past-life regression therapy for a living. Her goal is to help people move past the trauma holding them back in their current lives, by uncovering the source of the pain, which is sometimes rooted in past lives.

We were bridesmaids together last year and I met her for the first time not too long before all the bridesmaids planned the bridal shower together. We bonded during the bachelorette party as we discussed everything from the significance of Jason Collins coming out to the potentially dicey topic of religion.

Something about her makes me feel like I can trust her with the kinds of secrets & vulnerabilities we hold nearest to ourselves for fear of being exposed for who we really are or who we fear people will think we and have our vulnerability used to hurt us, tortured by our own Kryptonite. When she offered to do a regression for me the next time I was in Los Angeles, but warned me it could get pretty emotional and raw, I had absolutely no qualms about taking her up on the offer.

Prior to beginning the hypnosis part of the session, she asked me a series of questions to assess my susceptibility to reaching a deep meditative state. She asked me if I am more of a visual or auditory processor and while I always thought of myself as more of an auditory processor, she helped me realize just how much I “see” life as a series of stories, images, themes and patterns.

The entire experience was incredibly intense and emotional, as promised. She said to me, “You have a sense about why people do the things they do and you see things in the world in a way that only a small number of people do. It can be isolating.” Even though I was in a “hypnotic” state, I could still comprehend her words and respond to her. She finished with, “It’s probably why you can get upset with people easily, because you see things they may not even be aware of and it frustrates you.” She’d practically reached into the depths of my past, unwrapped a box I had stashed way deep down, and seen a part of me I usually protect, hiding for so long I don’t even think about it.

photo cr: Rook-XIII
photo cr: Rook-XIII

“You exist on a different ‘plane’ than many people. Not that one plane is better than another, they are just different. You probably feel like an outsider sometimes. Even in your family; like no one understands you. It’s probably why you live so far away from them. You wanted to find where you belonged.” Girl, yes! Like it’s not enough that I’m a short, black, left-handed, female living in an America that prefers tall, white, right-handed males, I am even the weirdo in my own family.

So wait, I’m not weird? Why has no one ever told me this?

hspWhat she said really stuck with me. I began reading up on visual processing which led me to a series of links about a book named The Highly Sensitive Person by Dr. Elaine Aron. Of the book, a Marie Claire article shares:

…what all HSPs share is an uncommon ability to pick up on subtleties that others might miss — a look, a feeling, a message embedded in a seemingly straightforward statement. “It’s like they’re wearing an extra pair of glasses,” she says.

This sensitivity I’ve been beating myself up over for so long is actually much of what makes me who I am and there’s a lot of meaning in that one word. Being sensitive means:

Wrinkles emotions1. I Hate to See Others in Emotional Distress
Last December, on my way out of the office with my boss and co-worker to have drinks before our holiday party, I noticed another co-worker dressed up and ready to go, but solo. I asked her if she had plans to get to the party and when she said “No,” I invited her to join us. My boss looked at me with a bit of wonderment and commented, “Keisha, that was so nice of you. So many people would have just left and not said anything.” Exactly. So many people do do that and miss out on opportunities to reach out to others. I’ve done that. I’ve also been in situations where I’ve felt alone or passed by as though I were invisible, whether intentional or not. It sucks. I didn’t ask her to join us because I felt pity or because I wanted to feel like martyr, I did it because she’s always been polite to me and I hate to see anyone alone if they don’t need or desire it. We’re human beings. We are social animals, whether some of us care to admit to it or not, and we seek acceptance and welcoming by others.

2. I am a Loyal Friend

If I decide I care about you, you can expect I’ll throw down for you, without question. I’ve been in three fights in my life that got physical (once with beer) and two of those times were in defense of a friend being picked on by an asshole (whom I am often good at spotting). The third time was a stupid fight with my sister, M, when we were in middle school, over whether you had to have seen Halloween III to understand Halloween 4. I don’t remember who won, but my mom came home in horror and put a stop to the fisticuffs. We were dumb.

3. I Can Smell Bullshit

You’ve heard the phrase, “Never bullshit a bullshitter”? Well, I have a very vivid imagination and know how to spin a tale and I can hear when someone is trying to sell me a baggie of crap. I can spot a bullshitter with ease.

4. I Love Animals
I got my first dog at five. I had him for one whole weekend and then he disappeared. My dad claimed she got sick or something, but I think he didn’t like that the puppy pooped on the floor and sent him back where he came from. Some of my friends laugh when I say I want to have a ranch one day with some of my favorite animals. Giggle all you want, but I will have an alpaca buddy one day. For now, I have the two kitties and not-so-secretly hope to meet an eligible suitor with a lovable dog.

Emotional-Intelligence5. I am Sensitive to the Moods of Other People
I have to protect myself from situations and people who are energy vampires or carry too much negative energy because I absorb it without intention. Last week at work, I had to leave a very heated meeting – one of the top 3 most painful meetings I’ve ever sat through in my entire worklife – because people were tense, argumentative, confrontational discontent, and frustrated with each other. Like a fucked up family dinner with no food and no alcohol for maximum suffering. Each unhappy sentence rolling off tongues felt like being hit with repeated soft blows by invisible balled up fists of bad energy. The minute I left the room, two-thirds of the way through this hour and forty minute torture session, and took a walk around the building, I felt better, freed from the emotions contained and simmering in that hot conference room.

6. Sometimes People Think I’m Psychic
When a guy I dated broke things off with me a few summers ago, I told a friend of mine, “He is going to marry the woman he dates after me.” My friend looked at me doubtfully, attributing my words to post-break up grief, I imagine, “How can you know that?” Sure enough, less than a year later, he was engaged to the woman he dated after me and they are now married. I just knew. The signs were there. I’m not psychic. I just saw the cues.

I’m rarely surprised anymore when someone I work with announces they’re leaving. The signals are almost always there, some people just notice them more than or before others. I am one of those people.

I’ve many a time been called perceptive and insightful and less frequently had people jokingly ask me if I’m psychic. I’m often not consciously looking for signals, but the patterns are there in the world, you look and listen for them.

Etiquette for Women7. I’m Conscientious
I’ve been told I’m polite and at times in frustration, I’ve had people tell me I’m too polite. I treat people the way I wish to be treated. My conscientiousness is the result of a couple of things. I have a mother who went to charm school growing up and thus taught her daughters how to be “charming.”  Secondly, I simply believe in being considerate of others. That seems to mean a hyper-awareness of social observances that other people may not have. Boy do I get pissed in the BART station when some people don’t notice that everyone else is standing on THE RIGHT SIDE of the escalator, and you are the only clueless boob standing on the left, blocking the flow of stairclimbers. It initially strikes me as a rude move by someone who isn’t thinking of others, and I can’t stand when people are inconsiderate. Get some home training! However, as I am often reminded in life’s mysterious ways, not everyone thinks the way I do about manners and consideration and I have to demonstrate patience and give others the benefit of the doubt. Else, I risk spending too much time being too through with people for not behaving as I think they should. Life is too short for that.

8. I’ll Pass On The Violence

The older I get the less I am able to withstand images of violence or people in pain. Once, while trying to decide what to watch on TV with an ex-boyfriend, he landed on a documentary about the Holocaust.

“I can’t watch this,” I said.

“What? Why? This is important.”

Amsterdam“I know that. Trust me, I’ve done plenty of reading and watching about the Holocaust. Horrifying images are seared in my head. Joseph Goebbels is a disgusting human being and obviously Hitler should burn in 80 million hells. But, it’s going to make me really emotional to watch this. I just can’t. I’ll start crying and it’ll be a mess.” I could barely keep it together during the opening scenes of Up. It’s for that reason that I still haven’t seen Schindler’s List, even though I know it’s a highly lauded and important film. I visited the Anne Frank house when I was in Amsterdam and I had to take a seat. It was too real. I recovered at a “café.”

9. I Love Beautiful Things
When I went to Paris almost five years ago, I fell in love with Picasso at the Pompidou Museum. I understood what the fuss was about. His art drew me in and that trip to Paris will always be linked in my mind with my discovery of Picasso and a new perspective on art. A lovely and romantic experience in a Paris museum, just me and Picasso.

Members of the Class of 2014
Members of the Class of 2014

I also see beauty in different ways, not only in classic or tangible aesthetics.  My youngest sister graduated from college a couple of weeks ago. Her area of study is largely majored in by women. The graduates comprised of a plurality of ethnic groups including black, Latino, white and Asian students. Women, graduating by the hundreds. Women, who less than 100 years ago, couldn’t vote in this country. Women, who less than 50 years ago were barely accepted in the workplace. Black men and women whose enslaved ancestors only could dream about the freedom to study in a school, alongside people of different colors and graduate with a college degree. Individuals whose families may have struggled to reach the point where they could send someone to college. I imagined the ghosts of our ancestors sitting alongside their family in the audience, beaming with pride. In that moment I really felt the weight of the meaning of my bachelor’s degree for the first time since I earned it over a decade ago. That’s beauty.

10. My Sensitivity Isn’t Always Appreciated

I’ve had people tell me my thoughts are too intense or that I ask too many “serious” questions. At times it’s resulted in my retreating, reluctant to express my thoughts. A feeling of, “Don’t get too deep. Play dumb and light to get along well with others.” Again, that’s isolating, there’s a feeling of being unable to express your true self lest your observations or theoretical questions are met with a blank stare and a slow, “Uh…yeah, that’s interesting. What made you even think of that [weirdo]?”

More and more studies emerge suggesting that having high emotional intelligence, which is linked to sensitive traits like self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy, makes for stronger leaders. Sensitivity is being rebranded.

Being sensitive doesn’t have to mean being neurotic, weak, dramatic or soft. If you’re sensitive, embrace it; you’re normal and it’s okay. If you know someone who is sensitive, appreciate what they have to offer, perhaps they’ll help you see the world through a different lens.

I don’t know if I’m one of those “highly sensitive people”. I don’t feel the need to label myself with yet another adjective. What I am though is someone who can be sensitive and I choose to see that as a positive trait and not something to hide in shame. I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing, being who I am.

36 Hours in Barcelona

36 Hours in Barcelona | The Girl Next Door is Black blogWe made it to Barcelona without incident and hopped on the Aerobus – an inexpensive shuttle to the city center and various Metro stops. As we exited the Metro station that first night on our way to the hotel, the familiar smell of ganja smoke wafted past us, not just once, but a few times. I gave my friend a knowing look. It’s like home in San Francisco!

However, unlike San Francisco, Barcelona was really humid. The subterranean train station felt like a steam room, yet somehow I didn’t feel like I was getting free skin exfoliation.

Humidity aside, Spain’s cosmopolitan capital city is definitely worth a visit and we made the most of our 36 hours in Barcelona.

It’s true what they say: the Spanish really do eat late. 

The hot time to arrive at dinner in Spain appears to be sometime between 9:15pm and 10:20pm (or 21:15pm and 22:20pm in the spirit of the country).

That first night, we grabbed a (late for us) dinner at Paco Meralgo, a tapas bar and tavern in the Eixample district.

It’s probably a good idea to buy tickets early to visit La Sagrada Familia

By the time we arrived at the tourist-magnet, Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia church, the line was days long…if you didn’t buy tickets online.

Ham is kind of a big thing

We visited La Boqueria, an open-air market in the center of the city and we saw ham, ham and more ham.

A walking tour is the way to go

Many cities offer free walking tours and Barcelona is one of them. It’s a great way to get a condensed history lesson and see the sights the city is known for. Our tour guide was a young guy from London who’d been living in Barcelona for three years. His energy and humor made for rich tales. Along with us on the tour were couples from London and Denmark, an Aussie duo and a trio of girls from Mexico.

Art is everywhere

Barcelona doesn’t mess around with its art. Even things you think aren’t art, are art. You’re walking on the sidewalk and the tour guide tells you, “Oh, by the way, you just stepped on a Miro work.” Well, damn. I don’t expect to find intricate mosaics beneath my feet on the daily! What other groundart have I been missing?

The buildings look magnificent at night

There is so much more to see in Barcelona and I only hit a fraction of it. Another 24-36 hours would probably have been sufficient. Lack of time notwithstanding, I consumed enough of Barcelona to decide that it’s a dynamic, artful and cosmopolitan city. I get why people love it.

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