Thanks to a variety of factors, 2013 was an awesome, adventure-filled year full of numerous new experiences, destinations visited, foods eaten, drinks imbibed, books read, films watched and more. What follows is a list of 13 of my favorites of 2013:
Movie: 12 Years a Slave
Perhaps I’m biased because the screenplay I wrote last year, and the novelization I’m working on now, tackles the same subject: slavery and the quest for freedom, but 12 Years a Slave was far and away my favorite film of the year. Chiwetel Ejiofor brilliantly carries the movie as Solomon Northup, a free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery. Michael Fassbender’s turn as a manic, brutal slave owner is perfect. There are a number of great performances and the acting is solid all around. In addition, director Steve McQueen is extraordinary, having created a film that is at times excruciating to watch, yet so gripping and masterfully executed that the viewer cannot turn away. Based on a true story, the film is necessary and educational. Rightfully so, it will not be easily forgotten. If you haven’t seen the powerful, evocative film, I highly recommend it. Just bring tissues.
Accomplished Goal: Spending a night alone in the wilderness
It was one of the most daunting goals on my 30×30 list, but I successfully completed it a couple months ago and greatly enjoyed it. You can read about the experience here.
Meal: A meze plate in Katakolon, Greece
While visiting the Magna Grecia farm on the outskirts of Katakolon, Greece, I was treated to a plate of delectable nibbles such as Kalamata olives, sausage, and bread dipped in olive oil procured from olives from a 300-year-old olive tree. Paired with copious amounts of wine, shots of ouzo, and fun, friendly conversation with my generous Greek hosts, it was my favorite meal of the year.
I was introduced to the music of Ben Haggerty (stage name Macklemore) via his chart-topping hit “Thrift Shop.” Expressing his joy for shopping at thrift stores to save money–and because, according to him, it’s ridiculous to spend $50 for a shirt that six other people will have at the club–I found a kindred spirit and instantly took a liking to him. His songs are catchy, intelligent, fun and perfect for bike rides along the beach boardwalk, or cleaning the house, or dancing (well, trying to dance, in my case).
Experience: Hiking to 16,200 feet in the Andes in Colombia
After a crazy bus ride in the mountains, hiking into camp and spending a night in a frigid cabana where seven wool blankets was barely adequate for a decent night’s sleep, we were set for taking on El Pulpito del Diablo in Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy: the biggest hike of our lives. We started at around 13,000 feet and it wasn’t too hard going at first. Once we reached about 15,000 feet, however, having conquered a pretty steep section, we morphed into zombie-like creatures. With heads down we zigzagged the final pitch, half-dragged ourselves, panted and, when our bodies could afford the extra energy expenditure, let out grunts reminiscent of the possessed dog-creatures in The Thing. When we finally reached the top, all of the effort had paid off. We were treated to a (literally) breathtaking view of the northernmost part of the Andes Mountain Range, the snow-capped peaks and the moraine lakes below.
Blog Post: The Pixar Theory by Jon Negroni
Negroni’s article explaining the idea that all of Pixar’s fourteen movies are connected is fun, well-written and thought-provoking. I am not alone in the opinion, as the post has garnered 4.4 million views. If you’re a fan of the Animation Studio that has produced imaginative and creative films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, I’ve no doubt you’ll be interested in reading Negroni’s theory that ties them together.
Site: Colosseum in Rome, Italy
Constructed nearly two thousand years ago, the Roman Colosseum is the largest amphitheater in the world–and the coolest site I saw this year (though the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, was also magnificent). The second I caught my first glimpse of the enormous structure, I caught my breath. And then I smiled and said, “Wow.” Of course I had seen in photos and videos the former home of gladiatorial contests, executions and dramas, among other public spectacles, but seeing it in person was a real treat and brought my knowledge to life. It definitely shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Rome.
Night: Partaking in the fun in Istanbul, Turkey
The night started with Raki (an unsweetened, anise-flavored hard alcoholic drink), fresh fruit, and Turkish music from a lively band led by a female singer who was beautiful and wore fantastic red pants. Dancing quickly ensued, which was followed by more dancing at another joint. After a considerable amount of drinking, dancing and revelry, the night ended with smoking hookah for the first time, enjoying delicious tea, eating more fruit, nuts and other treats, and watching the sun come up over the grand city.
Song: “Lost but Won” by Hans Zimmer
If you missed my post espousing my love for film scores, to reiterate: I love film scores. For years one of my favorite composers has been Hans Zimmer. It’s of no surprise to me that one of his songs from this year made my list of favorites. Featured on the Rush soundtrack, “Lost but Won” is moving, beautiful and complements the film perfectly.
Learned Skill: Guitar
While my singing is best suited for the shower or alone time in the car–places where the ears of others cannot be assaulted–learning and playing instruments has come fairly easily to me. I started playing piano as a kid and I played the flute in middle school. I even dabbled with drums back in the day. The first time I picked up a guitar and tried to play a chord, I immediately became frustrated with stretching and holding my fingers just the right way to eke out something that sounded like a chord. Years later, I added playing a guitar song to my list of goals, determined to fight through the initial bloody and calloused fingers. Thanks to many a Youtube video, I can now strum six chords and even play a song. It has only four chords, and I play it slowly, but I’m getting better. And, best of all, I’m enjoying it.
View: Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
After running three miles to the top of the ancient castle walls that stretch above the city, I was treated to the stunning view of the Bay of Kotor, a highly indented part of the Adriatic Sea that is a ria, or a submerged river canyon. The towering limestone cliffs add to the impressive, picturesque view. One that is definitely worth the sweaty, calf-burning run.
Book: Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French
French reportedly spent six years researching for his book about the largely unknown and fascinating world of a zoo, its inhabitants and its keepers–and it shows. I learned so much from Zoo Story I started taking notes so I could tell my friends interesting facts and tidbits I had acquired (for example that male seahorses get pregnant rather than their female counterparts). The book largely focuses on captivity and the goings on at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, introducing such characters as Herman the beloved chimpanzee, Enshalla the Sumatran tiger with a dark and tragic past, and Lex the overzealous zoo keeper. Additionally, French discusses extinction and conservation issues, which are usually of interest to me. If you’re an animal lover like me, it’s a fascinating read.
Drink: Sangria in Spain
If I lived in Spain, I would most likely develop a drinking problem. From sip number one in Malaga, Spain, I fell even more in love with sangria. I had had the drink before, but never a glass as refreshing or delightful, or with such a perfect level of sweetness. I was fortunate to get to imbibe in the tasty drink in a few different cities (Malaga, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca), and attest that it never failed my expectations. If you get the chance to visit Spain, do not pass up the opportunity to imbibe in a little (or a lot of) sangria. Your taste buds will thank you.