Writing, reviews, interviews, photography.

Posts by A. Frankel

Travels: Egypt

Posted on November 5, 2019

Five Days in Egypt

The Civilization the World Obsessed Over | September 2019

I recently traveled to Egypt which marks my first time in the Middle East in about 10 years and first time on the African continent in my life. As one might expect, Egypt shares more qualities in common with its Southwest Asian neighbors (Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, etc.) than it does with nearby Sudan or Ethiopia so I get to check the continent off on a technicality though it doesn’t feel like the most solid of check marks. I think my general consensus on the visit was I’m glad I went and I had a great time but I don’t need to go back for a variety of reasons which I’ll get into later in this article but for the time being, see below for a picture of the Sphinx and pyramids because, let’s be honest, that’s the real show here.

It’s nothing short of mind-blowing to look at these monuments, mostly tombs given Egypt’s historical obsession with the afterlife, and try to compute in your mind that these are some of the oldest things on earth and quite literally some of the oldest man-made structures still standing. Western cultures throughout history have garnered a penchant for Egyptomania beginning famously with Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign and filtering into Greek, Russian, British, and American cultures, hailing worship from societal visual vocabulary. Just look at our Washington Monument or the reverse of our dollar bill for the Eye of Providence floating above a pyramid. These symbols, adopted by some of the greatest civilizations to ever spend time under our sun, are still standing and readily available for you to visit. I think my father said it best when standing in front of the Sphinx. “Well…there it is.”

Let me give you some context on this trip. Every once in a while I take a trip with my Dad. He travels internationally for work and frequently to some strange or rarely frequented places by Western travelers. This is appealing to me for a variety of reasons so whenever he extends an invite to come along, I drop everything to go. Just two white dudes traveling in a country where we don’t look like we belong.

I think my father said it best when standing in front of the Sphinx. “Well…there it is.”

I flew out of LAX, through Chicago and Amman before arriving in Cairo. In Amman, I ran into a former work acquaintance from Philly about a decade ago purely by chance in the Royal Jordanian airline lounge as he was sipping Arabic coffee. He asked if I’d ever been to the Middle East before and I said I had, though it had been quite a while. “Be careful,” he said. “You’re really going to…stand out.” I excused myself to the restroom and when I came back he was gone. Arabic coffee was offered on the RJ flight leaving Chicago as well as Amman. I obliged for the Chicago portion but there was a soapy taste to it so I skipped it on the second leg, also realizing I would need to sleep within a few hours of my arrival. I landed in Cairo at sunset and arrived at an airport that looked like it had just woken up from a winter’s hibernation. We had hired a fixer for this portion of the trip as, from what we had heard, getting through immigration could be tricky. The fixer met me just before immigration where there were massive queue stands in place but no one in line, no one working, and not a soul in sight. A man abruptly stood up from the floor behind one of the immigration desks as he heard us approach, looking very much like he had just woken up from a deep sleep, and waved us over. The fixer said, “give me your passport, your immigration papers, and let me talk”. A brief conversation in Arabic ensued, money was exchanged, and we were through. My guy stepped around the vacant x-ray scanners at the security checkpoint, ushering me to follow him which I did and we were out at the street. A van pulled up and the rear door slid open. “Have a nice time.” The fixer shook my hand and walked away and I never saw him again. Click here to read the full article.

Travels: Havana, Cuba

Posted on May 1, 2016

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Four Days in Havana

The American Forbidden Fruit | April 2016

A few weeks ago I travelled to Havana, Cuba, an increasingly common destination for Americans though still not entirely a simple maneuver. You may have heard about relations being relaxed between the US and Cuba in July of 2015 and the shiny new embassy being opened right on the Malecón; the challenge still lies in getting to the country. While you can pay a tour group to organize your trip and fly you straight from Miami to Havana, this is excessively expensive and you’ll be stuck to an itinerary for your entire journey. Currently, this is the only way to get into Cuba with the US Government’s blessing. We opted for the less licit route, flying through Mexico City instead. This option is, admittedly, somewhat nerve-wracking given that your entry to the country is entirely at the mercy of two governments (Mexico and Cuba) who are not your own. I know you’ve heard it from every news outlet imaginable but now is the time to go. The hard reality for Cuba is that it’s infrastructure simply cannot handle the sheer amount of money that’s about to pour into the country from hotel chains and waves of legal American tourism. It’s a fragile flower floating just off the coast of Florida that’s mere months away from being swept away by the tall waves of capitalist influence.

Havana is so thickly layered in culture you could cut it with a knife; from the incredible, yet tragically crumbling architecture of a bygone era to the music playing on every corner and out of every home, this felt like a barrel-aged moment out of a Kodachrome-steeped imaginarium of sound and color.

I can’t say enough positive things about my experience in Cuba. Havana is so thickly layered in culture you could cut it with a knife; from the incredible, yet tragically crumbling architecture of a bygone era to the music playing on every corner and out of every home, this felt like a barrel-aged moment out of a Kodachrome-steeped imaginarium of sound and color.  I wanted to take this trip strictly as an observer and I think I successfully accomplished this. It’s, unfortunately, rather easy to get sucked into the tourism industry in Havana (which is their main source of income, anyway) and I wanted to do my best to avoid that. If I were to do it again, I’d travel with someone who spoke Spanish fluently as the extent of mine can find me a bathroom and that’s about all. English is not widely spoken, and while I can rustle up some French in a pinch, we found that Spanish is king here even if you’re in a French hotel. I felt incredibly safe walking around the city at all times. I opted not to take my huge Nikon D810 and instead brought my Fuji X-T1 thinking it would make me a little more inconspicuous. Unfortunately, the second anyone sees you with a camera, they’re all over you to get you to come to their cousin’s restaurant or to let them give you a tour for a fee. Everyone’s in it to make a buck so be travel-wise and just say no. That being said, at no time did I feel unsafe walking around day or night. See the full writeup here.

 

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Otis & Eleanor Bongo

Posted on December 20, 2015

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I don’t review a lot of tech gadgets here but this is the first of a few I have coming up and what better way to start it off with a bit of a potential holiday gift item. I’ve spent about two months with the Bongo Bluetooth Speaker by Otis & Eleanor and while a bluetooth speaker isn’t something I had considered as a purchase decision before, it’s now on my radar as something that people should absolutely own. The thing about gifts is you want to get the person something they’d really like but probably wouldn’t purchase for themselves. This takes the cake in that department; I think a bluetooth speaker is a great gift for folks who already have everything or won’t cough up what they really want. As a form of further affirmation, this has passed the “significant other” test with flying colors; my girlfriend loves this thing. Click here to view the full article.

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Pop-Up Flea: Los Angeles

Posted on September 21, 2015

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I’ve been going to Pop-Up Flea since 2010. Can you believe it? I sure as hell can’t. I’ve been doing The American Classic for over 5 years. Man, how the time has flown. So many public-focused “buying shows” have shown up over the years that this one feels almost like a reunion of sorts, though it seems the only people who have stuck around since the beginning are the dudes from Billykirk. During this sweltering heat wave in LA, Pop-Up Flea managed to rear it’s head in it’s first West Coast showing at The Grove, of all places, here in Los Angeles. Outdoors, and held on top of a parking garage just 8 stories above the same spot where Unionmade closed their flagship LA doors just a few weeks ago carrying many of the same brands. The dudes working the Tanner Goods booth sure seemed a little shellshocked by this.

Despite the heat, the brand turnout was nothing short of excellent. Our pals from Teranishi, Wittmore, Bison Made, and 3sixteen were there in addition to plenty of folks we respect but don’t know personally along with some newcomers, namely Corridor, that we were super excited to find out about. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves but in case you wanted to see some earlier tomfoolery, here’s the link to our 2011 and 2012 posts. Apparently I was too bashful to shoot the 2010 iteration. Credit, as always, due to Michael Williams at A Continuous Lean and, somehow, I’m sure the fine folks at Paul+Williams were involved. Click here to view the photos.

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Playlist: Summer ’15

Posted on August 31, 2015

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It’s been a little while since I’ve had a chance to publish a playlist but here’s our fourth installment in our musical journey through the soundscapes of Spotify. As a reminder, you don’t have to be registered with Spotify to listen to our playlist, just play it in-browser at the end of this post. Summer’s beginning to wind down; the kids are headed back to school and Halloween stores seem to be popping up everywhere in our little corner of Los Angeles but it’s still hot as hell and the unforgiving heat combined with unusual humidity has us dragging our summer day trips on for just a few more weeks. Per usual we’ve been doing a lot of driving with the AC blasting and when not driving we’re parked on the couch trying to avoid working up a sweat by moving, even slightly. Whether you’re driving, working, or trying to beat the heat by sipping a few cold ones this playlist is sure to have something to get you by.

There’s a bunch of instrumental tracks on this one combined with some Americana goodness to remind you of the mountains and maybe some cooler days that lay ahead. There’s plenty of standout tracks here from our favorites Wilco and Dawes along with some newcomers to the playlist: The Six Parts Seven, The Barr Brothers, Alluvium, Gardens & Villa, Other Lives, and more. There’s also the classic track “Jane” by Jefferson Starship nestled in the first half of the playlist with a heavy nod to the revamp of Wet Hot American Summer. The list concludes with a completely out of character but necessary track from Kamasi Washington who recently released his solo endeavor, The Epic, for which I was fortunate enough to attend the incredible release show for. If you like jazz, this one should blow you away.

The cover art for this playlist is from our annual summer pilgrimage to Yosemite National Park. We summited the legendary Half Dome this time around and found this epic cairn (it’s called a cairn, I had no idea…) situated at the top. Full post on that trip coming soon but here’s a little piece from it now. Click here to listen to the full playlist.

Spruce Grooming Cream

Posted on August 17, 2015

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I have a pompadour hairstyle, if you will, and that takes some serious stuff to keep it in shape on a long day. My day-to-day changes frequently and these days I find myself more often in the field filming or shooting rather than sitting at my desk. Sometimes I just don’t want to put in the god damned effort to make my hair stand up all day and on those days I typically wear a hat, though recently I’ve been searching for a solution that will make this mess still look somewhat clean and styled while taking super minimal effort.

Enter Spruce Grooming Cream. A thick, pasty substance that looks like cake frosting but functions like a dream. This stuff goes in thick, but not too thick so that it rips out hairs while you’re working it in. On two shoots thus far it’s held it’s own in keeping my hair up and out of my face while taking no more than ten seconds to apply and not looking like a helmet. Lucas Larson, owner of Spruce, likes to emphasize that this stuff also smells great. You might think, no shit, it’s a grooming product – why wouldn’t it? You’d be surprised at how often the stuff I come across either smells like chemicals or like nothing at all. It’s a nice change of pace. I don’t need my hair to give off an aroma (I have cologne for that) but it’s nice to know there’s something there pulling double duty. Click here to view the full article.

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Weekend Adventures Vol. 3: Big Sur, CA.

Posted on March 17, 2015

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I’m reprising an old series here, “Weekend Adventures: The Art of Getting the Fuck Out”. I go in cycles with Los Angeles, like almost anywhere I’ve ever lived. Sometimes it’s the place. It’s the only place. It’s where I have to be and I’m thrilled with it. Sometimes I really need to get the fuck out. These are the chronicles.

My girlfriend and I go to Big Sur every few years. People ask me, what’s so great about Big Sur? What do you do? The answer, my friends, is everything and not much. And that’s what’s beautiful about it. Think about all the time you spend packing shit in on your weekends just trying desperately to get the most out of the few waning hours you have to royally fuck off. Now go on vacation to Big Sur and cut that shit out. You can do everything and you can do nothing. It’s your time, you’re an adult. Spend it as you wish. The best part about it is that you can be just as happy running around on trails as you can be with a beer in your hand and your feet dunked in the river. Last time we went we weren’t entirely prepared for it’s majesty and were blown away by it’s incredible splendor. This time around, we knew what we were getting into and prepared both our eyeballs and our tastebuds for what was to come. Stocking the car up with our usual pumpkin/sunflower seed blend and plenty of water and coffee, we hit the road. Click here for the full article and photo set.

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