2013

My first drunk New Year’s brazenly betrayed my parents’ trust.

“No drinking,” my mother emphatically reminded me over the phone. I struggled to hear her above the revelrous noise of her friends in the background, beckoning her outside to the makeshift shooting range in their backyard.

“I know, I know,” I chided back, my voice sharp with an edge that read, “I’m an honors student with a laundry list of extracurriculars and big dreams. You know I wouldn’t do that.”

I clenched our cordless house phone between my chin and shoulder while my best friend and I soundlessly debated which bottles we could skim off in concocting our celebratory jello shots. We ended up with a piss-colored measuring cup comprised of various whiskeys, liqueurs, cheap diamond-clear vodka, and old brandy. We poured it into the red powder and stuck our final product in the fridge, eager to enjoy.

We had one other friend on the way. A relentless fear of missing out governed my life, and at 17 years old, that fear reached a fever pitch. I absolutely hated the idea that wherever I was, there was something infinitely more vivid and important going on elsewhere. To be anywhere other than the heart of the action haunted me, suggesting that I wasn’t properly utilizing the gift of being alive. Finding myself alone on a Friday night implied that I was at the mercy of circumstance rather than dominating the reality surrounding me. Drinking mitigated this fear’s grip, because when I was drunk, everything felt extremely important. That New Year’s Eve, we would make do with what was available; three friends, an empty house, and my parents’ alcohol.

We removed the jello before it had fully solidified, too impatient to wait any longer. “It tastes like Hitler’s intestines,” one friend remarked, but we gorged anyways, straight from the measuring cup, messy hands and ruby lips. When the jello’s meager buzz proved insufficient, we turned to my parents’ beer. We didn’t do anything at all, just talked, then yelled, then danced. I made my obligatory drunk calls. After midnight, we decided to make pasta. I remember one friend sticking her hand directly into the pot of boiling water while we cackled cruelly.

The first day of the year I was set to graduate high school, I awoke to the familiar sound of my mother’s enraged rebel yell. Though it never felt like we had made a huge mess while drinking, the truth told a different tale in the sober light of day. Spaghetti water had crystallized into a crust across the stove, and at some point our Christmas tree shifted, scattering antique ornaments on the floor below. As if the debauchery wasn’t evident from that, my mother happened upon the beer bottles in our recycling bin. I simply shrugged my shoulders, as if to say, “So what?” I suppose she agreed, and we moved on.

Adult life, as it had been demonstrated to me, unquestionably revolved around drinking. My family’s stories involved countless misadventures, drunken tumbles where wine spilled and glasses shattered. Distant relatives earned infamy for their covert car beers, concealed in sippy cups, hidden from curious cops’ questioning eyes. Every family trip started with a drink at the hotel, and my restless pacing while my mother insisted, “just one more minute.” Sitting at my makeup table, my aunt recounted her struggles losing weight, how drinking always made a sandwich sound good. I counted calories like a penance to the Lord and glanced at her through the mirror in front of us with horror. “Why would you drink if it makes you fat?” I throughout in my childhood, more times than I could count. In the half-decade that followed, I woke up every day with a surrender, “I guess this is just my life now.”

2014

Returning home from my first semester of college, I gathered my high school friends for a New Year’s party at my house. That was the year I became obsessed with decadent wealth for wealth’s sake, aspiring to embody my own Kardashian image. The gathering’s theme was “Victoria’s Secret Angels.” We meticulously adorned our hair and makeup before donning robes for the occasion. I set out a spread and several oversized bottles of wine.

Earlier that day, coked-up on stolen ADHD medication, I’d ordered my ex-boyfriend to meet me for coffee to discuss the end of our relationship. I don’t know who I was expecting to explain themselves to whom, but I was angry and someone had to pay for it. Confronted with the reality that someone could simply lose interest in me, my mind found itself utterly baffled. I’d be damned if I would let a scab turn to scar tissue, I picked it open until it bled again. By evening, my face was white with blood loss, but the drinking helped me recover some color. It confined my confusing emotional conundrum to a mere twinkle on the horizon. One friend ran through the screen door that opened to our back patio, where my mom sat with us, smoking a cigar while we passed around blunts and cigarettes.

2015

We spent the next year at a house party in an upper-class development of the neighboring municipality. I wore a spandex mini skirt, wedged heels, tights, a brand new gold necklace with a triangular amulet. I stuffed half a bottle of sugary blue instant-release Adderall into my crumb littered coat pocket, arranging three lines to rail in the bathroom as soon as we arrived. Old faces I hadn’t confronted in two years crowded the cozy home. Sipping a screwdriver with proportions like a jackhammer, I tried to convince my old volleyball teammates of how well I was doing. I bumped into my younger brother, bewildered by his attendance. Were we really that old?

After nearly an hour of tenuous catching up and feigned smiles on my part, the host huddled us into a back room and turned out the lights. 40 or so underaged kids clung to each other with bated, sticky breath while she talked to the cops, who’d arrived for a noise complaint. When she returned, I waited in the beat of silence before she said, “Run.” Like that, the back door slid open and we poured out, throngs of exhilarated, reckless children. I had bowed down to authority my entire life but fueled by amphetamines and bottom shelf liquor, I hardly stopped to evaluate the picket fence before me. Adrenaline eliminated the chaos all around. I stood alone with the wooden boards that separated me from freedom. “I just have to throw myself over this,” I rallied in my fervor, incurring near-sphinctal splinters in the process. Wedged boots be damned, I sprinted up that hill until the disco flashing spotlights could no longer be seen.

A block away, I encountered my brother’s friend. “Have you seen him?” I asked. Miraculously, we stumbled upon my brother, three lone mavericks solely out for themselves. We stalked the neighborhood, looking for a place to hide until reconnaissance agents could pick us up. I swallowed the remaining pills in my pockets, just in case, before guiding our trio to the next development over, where we would quietly wait in an abandoned cul de sac. Safe in a grownup’s car, we laughed upon learning that our idiotic cohorts had stuck together in a raucous mob and been ambushed by police.

2016

I was too spooked to drink the night we rang in 2016, with last year flickering in my memory like a warning. Besides, by this point, I had come to rely on the trustworthiness of pills. Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, these faithful fortifiers gave me the confidence and artificial happiness I sought in drinking, with a much lower likelihood of negative side effects like oversharing, boorishness, or crying. Before commencing, a close friend and I went to get our nails done in one of the many desolate corporate plazas littering our town. Hers gleamed sharp and red, mine black and square. We arrived at a house party in the swankiest neighborhood in tight dresses and fur coats. A stoner from our high school lauded our success in faraway metropolitan beacons. “Damn, you guys are really doing it,” he wondered, “and look at your nails!” It still wasn’t the spot where all the things were happening, but this exact brand of praise was the trophy I wanted more than anything else in life.

As an addict, I’d become well acquainted with that point in the night when things lose their shine, the palpable shift from shiny party to tired hangout. I had been charming people with accomplished sweetness all evening but turned sour when the change became evident. As I played pool with a few men in the basement, I turned to one, talking to him about the merits of suffering for creativity. “I mean, look at Amy Winehouse. I don’t think she could have done all that without her vices,” I said, a girl struggling to justify her own demise. He turned to me and replied, bluntly, “That wasn’t glamorous. That wasn’t artistic. She destroyed herself.” When I pushed further, he told me his brother had died of a heroin overdose. I didn’t know how to respond, it was my first brush with reality.

2017

If I could tell you about 2017, I would, but I had turned 21 that year and all the nights blurred together into one mass, rudely interrupted by the daylight hours where I was forced to work.

I’d relinquished the false pretense that I required a situation to rationalize my drinking. The drinking became both the means and ends in itself, as I finally capitulated to my base instincts.

2018-2019

This year was my second New Year’s sober since starting my recovery. The first year, I was barely out of the ravaging days, so utterly robbed of any fight or energy that I easily succumbed to an evening in with my Italian landlord’s family and near-endless trays of home-cooked food. It was freezing while we welcomed in 2018, and I enjoyed the comfort of returning to my own bed just two floors above promptly after midnight. I spent the next day in the company of strangers, on a first date with a man who would help me more than I’d ever let anyone else, and then in a recovery meeting afterward. The year ahead loomed full of promise, hope.

I am fine most nights. I am a 23-year-old street art journalist living in New York City. I anticipate the struggles of sobriety, which seems to allow them less power. But as 2019 arrived, I entered the subway sweaty from exercise and frizzy from the rain and found the car full of polished strangers in their holiday best. Anger rose in my throat until my jaw trembled, enraged by these people who were obviously going to try their novice hands at my most refined skill. I hated the way these people would drink, thinking three shots was “a crazy night, bro.” By age 17, Bacardi 151 was my liquor of choice. What did they know? How dare they? I buried my face in my damp cheetah print coat and felt the rain droplets tango with my hot, angry tears.

When I told my editor TK I would soon arrive at his shindig, he tempted me with the promise of a present. “What could it be?” I thought to myself, slightly lifted up by the attention. Food? No, that wouldn’t work, I’m on an endless diet. It seemed unlikely he’d endeavored to buy me beauty products or clothing, the only earthly pleasures remaining at my disposal. When I arrived, he presented me with a bottle of sparkling cider. “That’s still calories,” I thought to myself before the warm glow of kinship washed over. I was touched by the sensitivity, especially after the subway’s apathetic assault. I can keep myself sober through sheer force of will, but only the support of my closest friends can make it enjoyable.

It’s infuriating in retrospect, all those New Year’s Eves spent gloating only rang in years where I fell further. Common wisdom taught me that only humility can bring glory, but I always thought not me, a blind trope of terminal exceptionality. I didn’t know anyone with an apartment in Manhattan when 2018 began, but I ended it over bubbly juice and video games with close friends who have precisely that. My story is no different from anyone else who discovered the intimacy they sought in bars outside, in genuine human connection. Still, it is mine, and I had to run through screen doors, jump fences, and reluctantly watch the sunrise, to find a relief that still feels like torture in the wrong moment. •

I park my scooter and enter the office of the collective taxi station at Pointe Simon. The smiling black receptionist with the straight hairdo and metropolitan French accent tells me, politely but insistently, that she prefers I actually meet with one of the social workers before being issued the application form. She gives me a number, and I take a seat — among the host of black single mothers.

Interminably, I wait for my number to come up on the screen above. At first, I calculate that I can safely absent myself for 30 minutes, given the delay between numbers called and my own 124.  But the numbers seem to jump erratically — in no time at all, 125 flashes across the screen. There is nothing to do but eavesdrop on the two women speaking Creole behind me. They are in agreement about the bad behavior of some nine-year-old kid — “he’s almost ten already, he should know better.” Complaining — be it in the tongue of Molière or the abbreviations of Creole – is de rigueur in the Antilles.

Thus, have I entered one of the sacrosanct institutions of the French overseas departments: the Caisse d’Allocations Familiales, familiarly known as the CAF, part of the ubiquitous welfare system of la République. Just for having children, the French state gives you money. My children are French; we are entitled to apply. But even to pick up an application form, you need to wait 45 minutes.

Never mind that I am not French. In the overseas departments, unlike in metropolitan France, the man is automatically, officially, the head of the family. Even though it is my wife who is French (and Martinican), and it is she whose bank account will be fattened by the child payments, I, the man, must apply as head of household.  “Oh, there are many differences with France,” the social worker explains to me. “It is 7,000 kilometers away.” More… “American Welfare Dad in the French Antilles”

There’s nothing to indicate that this evening’s 20-minute amble to the Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum will end differently. We take to the block like another of our twilight strolls. Down 150th, greeting neighbors and their dogs. Up Broadway, passing the flower shop, Taqueria San Pedro, a bodega that smells inexorably of frying bacon. Along 153rd, the cemetery to our left walled off by gothic concrete and iron-slat gates. And back down Amsterdam, the litter of Styrofoam, plastic bags, empties, trees clotted by discarded wrappers and shit, except for the church by 152nd whose constituents are invariably kind and welcoming and who make a concerted effort to maintain their area.

Rosetta does quick piss-upons, mawkish marks her spot, seeming almost sad or ashamed to be asserting her presence. She sniffs at noisome interests. She raises her hackles at unassuming brothers and sisters.

It could’ve been anything, really. It could’ve been a cat in the road. It could’ve been miscommunicated direction. It could’ve been my fault. It could’ve been my finest hour. More… “The Canon of Guilt”

We almost always assume that a writer is most influenced by other writers. They’ve read piles of books, they’ve decided that their skills best synch up with what a given number of other authors were doing, and they take a bit here, take a bit there, mix that in with their own sensibilities, and voila, a style is born.

I’ve always found this a slipshod way to go, in part because I don’t believe a great author ever has a single style. It’s one reason I rate Hemingway as at best mediocre, and often quite terrible, like the authorial version of some droning, one-note song that can’t leave its initial starting key or augment what it is doing with additional chords.

You should know, when you read a great author’s work, that it could only be by them, usually within the space of a single paragraph, even a clause. They have a way of inhabiting worlds and characters, while possessing reams of that most overlooked of all literary qualities: energy. Their energy will be unique, and it will animate their characters, and their narrative, in unique ways. More… “Writing with a Brush”

For a lot of people, the line between red and blue is a bit fuzzier in real life than it is on Twitter. For me, this is true even though I’m firmly on the side of le resistance. I think it’s because there are some threads woven into my own biography that keep tying the two sides together, in spite of all the enmity. Maybe, I just have an odd intellectual history, but I wonder if others share something like the story I’m about to tell. I hope it’s not a story that ends up in one of those both-sides, can’t-we-get-along, dead-end morality clause cul-de-sacs. I hope my thinking isn’t as lazy as that. But the threads the story traces are definitely the common ones, and I’m going to take the risk of equivocation in order to follow the story to a conclusion that’s a little more complicated (and a lot less satisfying) than “blue is right, red is wrong.” More… “Red Pill, Blue Pill”

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot

The tiny dot — a period traversing the face of a solar flare — wasn’t much to behold. If you didn’t know where to look, you would miss it. As small as it appeared, even with the assistance of a telescope, this speck was the planet Venus traveling across the sun.

39 light years away from our solar system, seven new worlds that are part of the constellation Aquarius partake in a dance similar to that of Venus. They cross in front of a star that is 12 times less massive and much cooler than our own. This planetary system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for the telescope in Chile that first discovered three planets in the system. TRAPPIST-1 is so far away that we can’t watch this system’s planets crossing in front of their star, as we were able to when Venus visibly crossed between Earth and the sun. Instead, the sight is only visible to us through the marvels of astronomy research, which transcends borders, languages, passports, and the limitations of human vision in order to transcend the skies. Astronomy researchers rely on global collaborations to characterize planets like TRAPPIST-1 outside of our solar system that radiate the possibility of habitable surfaces and atmospheres. This saga is set against the backdrop of human dysfunction, when instead astronomy research’s ability to let us “see” planets farther away than we could have imagined should, Sagan exhorts, humble us and remind us to deal more kindly with each other.

Infrared (IR) astronomy is the study of the universe using light that isn’t visible to the naked eye. Rather, the light captured by telescopes is “infra” or “below” red light. In the space between galaxies, interstellar dust absorbs visible light and re-emits it as infrared radiation. Looking at infrared light can reveal things that using visible light alone can’t — like the extremely cold material that coalesces to become stars.

Dr. George Helou is executive director of the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and deputy director of the Spitzer Space Telescope, a space-based observatory that contributed critical data to the discovery of this new planetary system. “Infrared astronomy opens a unique and rich window onto the universe,” Helou says. “[IR astronomy] uncovers new phenomena that challenge us to rethink the accepted knowledge of the universe.”

On September 19, 2016, the same day the United Nations held its first summit to discuss the movements of refugees and migrants, a team of physicists including Helou launched a three-week campaign to use the Spitzer Space Telescope to measure the amount of infrared light emitted by the TRAPPIST-1 star. A planet crossing between the telescope and the star casts a shadow, reducing the amount of light transmitted back to the telescope by measurable amounts and for specific time periods. This created dips in the amount of light “seen” by the telescope. Researchers studied light levels from the star long enough to determine which repeating light depressions matched particular planets, which totaled seven, and published their results in Nature in February 2017, shortly after US President Trump signed an executive order blocking refugees and citizens of seven countries from entering the U.S. Sagan’s distant image of our own tiny world and “images” of these new earth-like planets juxtaposed against our constant battles over borders vividly demonstrates Sagan’s “folly of human conceits.”

“Spitzer’s ability to observe almost continuously TRAPPIST-1 for 21 days was critical to deciphering the structure of that planetary system,” Helou says. He notes that studying planets beyond our solar system and the study of anything in space as a variable of time requires following the behavior non-stop as much as possible, which sometimes can’t be done from a single observatory. To accomplish this, Helou explained, international collaborations deploy a string of observatories in different time zones around the globe so the “sun never rises” and night-time observation can continue around the clock. The Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen (GROWTH) collaboration is one such example. Led by Caltech, this international collaborative gathers data on cosmic events in the first 24 hours of detection to answer explore how elements formed and what events generate gravitational waves. GROWTH operates 18 observatories in the northern hemisphere including in India, Sweden, Taiwan, Japan, Israel, Germany, the UK, and the U.S. When darkness falls on one location, observations continue from other locations that are still in the dark in order to provide nonstop monitoring of an event.

Spitzer’s infrared data combined with observations from ground-based telescopes around the world helped paint a clear picture of the new planetary system. After the initial discovery of the transiting planets, and around the same time that citizens of the United Kingdom seriously contemplated leaving the European Union through the Brexit referendum, researchers launched a global photometric monitoring campaign in May 2016 to learn more about the characteristics of the planets. This involved ground-based observations of the star from TRAPPIST-South telescope in Chile, TRAPPISTNorth in Morocco, the UK InfraRed Telescope (UKIRT) in Hawaii, the William Herschel and the Liverpool telescopes in Spain, and the South African Astronomical Observatory. Working with data from these telescopes helped determine what data from Spitzer alone could not: at least seven planets with sizes and masses similar to Earth revolve around TRAPPIST-1, and they have temperatures low enough to make the presence of liquid water on their surfaces a possibility.

Even before Helou began working on collaborative astronomy projects like TRAPPIST-1, he was well-versed in the idea that the pursuit of knowledge knows no boundaries. Entranced by the stars as a child growing up in Lebanon, his passion for astronomy and curiosity about the universe eventually catapulted him across the Atlantic to complete his Ph.D. in astronomy at Cornell University. He has devoted much of his professional career to using infrared technology to explore space, inspired by the 1983 launch of the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, which was a joint project of NASA, the Netherlands Agency for Aerospace Programmes and the United Kingdom’s Science and Engineering Research Council to survey the sky and measure the intensities of more than 200,000 infrared objects. Perhaps fittingly, his inspiration to pursue astronomy research was the result of a collaborative effort involving researchers across the world.

“Many research projects require teams, large and small, with diverse skills and interests,” Helou says. “When you are building a dream team for a given project of discovery, the best could be anywhere in the world, could belong to any culture or ethnicity . . . If we are limited to national boundaries, we simply won’t have our dream teams for pursuing the most important fundamental questions.” Scientists that worked on the TRAPPIST-1 discovery were from the U.S., Chile, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and France. In order to make these kinds of phenomenal discoveries, people must move beyond the things that appear to divide them and instead focus on commonalities – in the case of astronomy research, this takes the form of a goal that lies literally beyond the stars and man-made divisions on Earth.

Physics and astronomy research also rises above manmade boundaries because of economics. The tools behind this research require major investments and equipment, like particle accelerators or IR telescopes in space. “International collaborations can mobilize resources not available to the research community within a single country, the U.S. included,” Helou says. In his own field of IR research, Helou describes the forward movement as the result of “an exemplary relay race” between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, with each agency taking the lead on their own missions with contributions by others.

Helou isn’t alone in recognizing that tapping into resources from around the world is critical to advancing the field. The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine collaborated with NASA to develop a science strategy for the study and exploration of planets outside our solar system, detailed in a September 2018 report on Exoplanet Science Strategy. Among its recommendations are funding and building large ground-based telescopes, as well as launching an imaging mission to collect data on planets orbiting Sun-like stars. The report also honed in on opportunities for coordination between international partners.

Recognizing that “ground-based instrumentation is a strong point of European astronomy, and exoplanet science in particular,” the authors emphasize that working in tandem with existing large European telescopes will be beneficial to future NASA projects building the same, with open sharing of technology and ideas across borders speeding up technology development. Similarly, a launch mission to collect data on exoplanets involves such significant cost, lead-time, and technical complexity that collaborating with foreign space agencies, scientists and engineers is a logical, perhaps necessary path. Coordinating between international resources and even industries will be key to avoiding unnecessary duplication and consumption of valuable resources –a rather more practical and financial angle to Sagan’s reminder of humankind’s “responsibility to deal more kindly with one another.”

“Physics, like all science, is global in character, belongs to, and is the responsibility of all humanity. It is natural for the species as a whole to collaborate on understanding the fundamentals of the physical universe or the essentials of biology,” Helou says. Peering into the depths of space is a reminder that the differences that sometimes appear to divide us aren’t quite so substantial after all, or are “foolish and pointless,” as Helou says, especially in the face of fundamental questions like: Does life exist on planets orbiting other stars? Are there habitable planets in other solar systems? The remarkable ability of astronomy researchers to pull together to explore worlds outside our own adds perspective to the things that appear to divide us here on our tiny world. •

Images illustrated by Barbara Chernyavsky.

Art is remarkably popular these days. When I tell people that I am an academic working on the art market I often get an approving nod of the head that almost makes me feel like I am doing something meaningful with my life. But one also starts suspecting that the art market may be becoming a bit overexposed when you hear opinions on the merits or sale price of a Leonardo painting while having your hair cut. There are few other markets, except for those relating to technology, that has grown so spectacularly over the last decades – not simply in terms of the actual size of the market, but in cultural prominence. Art has entered the realm of the collective unconscious, exhibiting a cross-generational pull that bodes well for its future. It is not simply that the superrich are lavishing millions on paintings – it is also the increasing attendance at museums worldwide that is pointing to a thriving economic sector. The Louvre has broached the mark of 10 million visitors per year, New York museums are charging $25 per ticket, yet the constant flow of visitors is showing no sign of abating.

I had firsthand experience of that combination of cultural edginess and a trending market when I offered a course at a business school on Aesthetics and Art History. I intentionally avoided any reference to the art market in designing the course, promising nothing more than an overview of the history of art in ten sessions, emphasizing the principles of formal aesthetic analysis. The unexpectedly high enrollment, the enthusiastic response of the students and unusually strong work ethic throughout the trimester made me think that I have stumbled upon something deeper than just extended course offer and bored students craving excitement. Many of them were destined for careers in banking but were remarkably open to the opportunity of discussing visual representation. Experiencing a sense of forbidden pleasure for exposing future bankers to the history of art, I marveled at the relative ease with which brains attuned to complex calculations switched to the analysis of visual patterns. The combination of finance and art that unfurled before my eyes was truly intriguing, with their appearing as more compatible than even I had imagined. More… “When Gekko Collects Art”

One May afternoon, my son Evio and I played with a red rubber ball in the public park at Russell Sage College. We kicked the ball toward one another over the spring green grass. At some point, I kicked the ball too hard and it rolled past him, stopping at the foot of the park’s war memorial. With his two-year-old trot, Evio chased the ball and, just before retrieving it, glanced up at the monument. High on a granite pedestal stood the bronze soldier, holding a rifle low across his hips. On our previous visits to this park, I had invited Evio to view, not this one, but the grounds’ other statue: a woman sitting in an armchair and holding a book. As I approached Evio, who was now staring at the statue, I regretted my careless kick.

When he noticed me behind him, Evio pointed up and asked exactly what I feared he might. He wanted to know what it was the man held. Real guns had remained invisible to Evio, made easy by living in an environment mostly free of unconcealed guns, war, and gang rivalry. We’d be exposed to a pistol only occasionally, holstered against the hip of a police officer. And in these instances, Evio would express interest in the officers’ hats or vehicles. He never seemed to notice the gun. Even though the statue’s rifle wasn’t real, I didn’t want to talk about guns with my child, not when he was so young, and not when I knew more than I would wish to share.

For eight years I had studied armed conflicts, gunrunning, and the prevalence of firearms after war. Even before starting this research, I felt outraged by armed violence as it obstructed peace and security for so many people across the world. As I gathered data over time, outrage settled into despondency. And then I became pregnant. When almost nine months into expecting Evio, my body could no longer carry the weight of both a growing baby and firearms research. As my attention shifted to mothering, I wished I could erase the many images that my research had imprinted on my mind, images that represented the opposite of love and nurture. Famished child soldiers in Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. Mayan children coerced by army soldiers to watch the execution of their parents. And closer to home, numerous children caught in the cross fire of gang violence. I wanted to keep those images far away from the experiences of my child. Before giving birth, I boxed my books and data, and I said goodbye forever to the topic of guns.

Or so I thought. More… “I Would be Scared, Too”

“My soul is full of longing for the secret of the sea and the heart of the great ocean sends a thrilling pulse through me.” – Henry Longfellow

I too was mesmerized by the rhythmic natural symphony of the sea, the moon, and the clouds as I arrived late at night at my first place to stay at Arenas Del Mar. In a sentence, the resort has delectable cuisine, exceptional levels of service and exemplary eco credentials. It’s where buggies go up and down the steep slopes and one took me to my tropical fruit breakfast on a table on the sand of Playitas Beach in toe-touching reach of the ocean.

I found an elemental joy in picking up an almond nut from its tree and, as if from heaven, a leaf descends dancing, entertaining and poetically falling while pelicans swooped alongside into the water as all my senses were engaged demonstrating the beauty that nature can provide. Iguanas hang out by the pool, Halloween crabs scuttle through the gardens, sloths slumber in the treetops.

Very close by, down a discreet gravel lane, is a one-of-a-kind Villa Punto de Vista where I was next to stay. This astonishing six-story construction is the courageous and ambitious creation of David Konwiser, one of the family owners and the architect who was born in Costa Rican and educated in America.

The design makes optimum use of the dream views with angular windows jutting out like ships’ prows over the ocean beyond. I looked out over the rocks and islands that speckled the sea like the scales on an iguana’s back, adding perfectly to this ultimate jigsaw picture of a setting. The villa likes to quote “Costa Rica. Lots of Monkeys. No Hurricanes” and it’s fun to get one’s own back on the monkeys by teasing, but not feeding, them with bananas as they approach on their rope through the jungle canopy put up like a zip line in the very country where the sport was invented.

Beside these fast monkeys are slow-moving sloths who feed on ‘cecropia’, liking the alkaline in the high leaves of this hollow tree. They only come down once a week to do their business which they bury to stop predators and to fertilize the tree. They sleep for 18 hours a day and live for 30 to 50 years. And they’re even excellent swimmers I was to learn.

I took a boat with Tres Ninas Tours. It was a full day trip as I got to look up at the houses in the hills and the varieties of the green landscape beyond the beach all competing for light. As the day went on so the light changed affording different hues in the color of the sea from teal to lime green from aquamarine to emerald green. Though Uvita was at high tide when I got there I was intrigued to learn that right above the whale-shaped beach was the favored spot for whales to come and mate.

As for her human inhabitants, Costa Rica is one of the longest-running democracies in Latin America and is safe and peaceful. It’s had no wars for over a hundred years, and there is no standing army. And possessed with this openhearted spirit, some locals are amazed to see guns when they go abroad.

“Pura Vida” is the local expression of their life force. Several countries have an all-purpose word to cover our basic daily forms of interaction. In Hawaii there’s “aloha,” in Fiji there’s “bula’ and in Costa Rica there’s “pura vida.&rsdquo; Literally translating as “pure life” it spans the entire spectrum of greeting and parting incorporating: “no worries,” “enjoy life,” “take it easy” “good luck” and “have a good day.”

I came next further up the Pacific coast to Guanacaste and to the Papagayo peninsula. It’s all beautifully landscaped as a semicircle of large palm trees welcomed me along with a sculpture by Jorge Jiménez Deredia who uses organic shapes that reflect the country’s pre-Columbian heritage. These Diquis stone spheres in particular act as a timeless metaphor of Costa Rica’s deep-rooted egalitarianism: seamless and edgeless and possessing a notion of wholeness.

Papagayo has a number of exquisite beaches. Playa Nacascolo, which was once an area of commerce in pre-Colombian times, is the longest while Playa Jicaro is the most remote on the southern side. In the north, there’s Prieta Beach Club, a perfect day out with its Olas Lounge an ideal spot for lunch in front of waves strong enough for me to body surf.

It is very much an American conceit with its buggies the most common form of transport for visitors. The 18 hole golf course, designed by Arnold Palmer and with Ernie Els as its ambassador, has games played out on ‘paspalum’ the sumptuous carpet-like grass. Near the main entrance, there’s a marina to dock 355 slips where boats for cruising, yachting and sport fishing, particularly for both the black and blue marlin.

I stayed next at Vista Hermosa, Papagayo Luxury. Bang in the middle of the peninsula, this ten-year-old condo is part of the Las Terrazas complex of 16 homes whose owners leave their properties wild around them to grant the animals free movement and whose architect uses terracotta walls both inside and outside to blend in with the natural surroundings and display a contemporary clean aesthetic.

I enjoyed a wonderfully calm boat trip across the bay with Elvision Adventure Tours. My charming and uninvasive skipper guided me with great serenity across the flat water towards the magical beaches of Playa Panama, Playa Hermosa, and the renowned Playa del Coco.

The landscape of Costa Rica and her biodiversity is simply magical: thick lush rainforests, with their dense foliage, uncrowded pristine beaches, steep mountains and majestic volcanoes and waterfalls, the perfect backdrop for the sheer wonder of the colorful birds and animals.

I even looked through the index of the definitive book on Costa Rican birds to find exquisite and exotic names like the chestnut-mandibled toucan, buffy tuftedcheek, long-tailed tyrant, bare-necked umbrellabird, whip-poor-will, double-striped thick-knee, the oilbird, ovenbird and white-fronted nunbird. As for animals, I saw in another book the misfit leaf frog, the bullet ant, the trumpetfish, the beaubrummel (a fish) and the Jesus Christ lizard, so-called as it walks on water.

My final place to stay Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica. The bay side (Playa Blanca) and ocean side (Playa Virador) have a different feel and, I allowed myself to believe, almost a different climate. Eco-friendly electric buggies went at a relaxing speed and it was such an important first scene as the rounded shape of the foyer was truly receptive and embraced me with its open arms, luring me into its golden mosaic fold.

The colors are consistent throughout and blend organically with their natural surroundings. The earth-toned stucco exteriors were computer-generated from actual dirt samples to replicate the deep browns, oranges and reds of the soil and the roots of the land.

How resourceful, cunning and wondrous are the forces of nature: the annona fruit changes from green to a darkish reddish-brown as it ripens, the Indian tree sheds its bark every three days while one local species of grass contracts with human touch. Whales mate above a beach shaped like a whale’s tail. Not to mention all the tricks of camouflage. I have finally learned that sloths are very good swimmers, how hummingbirds manage to stay in mid-air by flapping their wings at a rate of 50 to 80 beats per second and how howler monkeys make so much noise by releasing their voluminous, plangent magic using the wind.

I couldn’t get enough of this delightful country. I have to go back. Whenever but soon.

Adam had further support from www.gatwickexpress.com and www.holidayextras.co.uk (who offer airport lounges at all major UK airports and many international destinations).

All images provided by the author and edited by Barbara Chernyavsky.

Awaking aboard the International Space Station, astronauts must dress for a long day of research, maintenance, exercise, and other tasks. They don their “icon shirts,” custom-tailored garments with interchangeable “swatches.” Some swatches allow them to map their positions within the ISS, allow them to communicate with ground control, and others record and transmit their vital signs. After fixing the swatches appropriate for the day’s agenda to their icon shirts, the astronauts are prepared for work onboard the space station. Of course, when they venture outside of the ISS for experiments or repairs, they must also wear special equipment, like a spacesuit and a “personal warning harness,” which alerts them to any danger of being struck by stray debris.

As innovative as that wardrobe sounds, it’s far from the current reality. Aboard the ISS, crew members typically wear polos and cargo pants. In space, they wear suits similar to the ones worn by their predecessors in the 1960s.

But NASA has been trying to upgrade its astronauts’ wardrobes — particularly through collaboration with designers and researchers. Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, one such collaborator, is a professor of industrial and fashion design at the Pratt Institute, where her students worked on prototypes for NASA, sewing and soldering their ideas for what astronauts’ clothes should be. We spoke about the challenges they faced, as well as their proposed solutions. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. More… “Dressing for Success . . . in Space”