DSCN4258
During short winter days, when the sun shines weakly, Paris is all soft grays and pastels.

DSCN4274There’s a haze and hush in the air, and a chill…

DSCN4289…but that doesn’t deter a game of boules in Montmartre.

DSCN4446There’s a particular beauty to Paris when it shivers.

Identity Crisis

January 21, 2013

One of the supposed cultural differences between French and Americans is the manner in which strangers make small talk. I’m generalizing here, but apparently an American will end any and every introduction with “And what do you do?” while a French person wants to know who you are. The implication is that the French understand a person’s identity is more than what they do to make a living.

It’s ironic, then, that a recent French film should so effectively and movingly demonstrate the risks of allowing what you do to become who you are. What are you left with, after all, if what you do becomes impossible? Read the rest of this entry »

In the 1996 film ‘Traveling Companion’ (Compagna di viaggio), a young woman named Cora is hired to follow an elderly man, Cosimo, suspected of having dementia. Cosimo’s daughter is worried about him and wants to make sure he doesn’t get lost on one of his seemingly pointless trips around Rome, but since he’d balk at having someone accompany him, Cora must follow him undetected.

He doesn’t visit the Colosseum or the Spanish Steps or Campo dei Fiori, he doesn’t stroll up the Aventine Hill; there’s nary a picturesque piazza in sight in the course of his wanderings. Cora grows irritated as they move from one random outpost to another, but behind her impatience there is growing curiosity. One day she follows him to Termini station and watches, panicked, as he boards a train out of town. Where is he going? Must she follow? Read the rest of this entry »

Never assume

January 12, 2013

Puppy in Kathmandu, Nepal

Matt and I perused shops in Thamel, the tourist haven of Kathmandu, looking for jewelry, scarves, and other items easily transported home as souvenirs for family and friends. We popped into a shop loaded with soft, cashmere wraps and scarves, looking for something suitable for Matt’s mom. The Nepalese teenager running the store eyed us curiously. His style could have competed with the hippest European or North American kid, but he had none of the attitude. Instead, he struck up a conversation, asking us about ourselves: where were we from? Were we married?

His attention shifted to Matt.

“Why did you get married?” he asked with a small, curious smile.

Bemused, Matt replied that he’d been in love. The boy, seeming satisfied to have received the answer he’d anticipated, confessed that he, too, was in love. His parents wouldn’t approve, because he was young (15), but it was true love. She, after all, loved him back.

The whole time we were in Asia I couldn’t help but compare and contrast and wonder and marvel and assume. Americans and Indians and Nepalese lived such different lives, I’d decided. After all, how many of the people we met got to indulge in a passion as costly as traveling, for leisure, across oceans and continents? Very few. Most Nepalese people we’d met had not traveled further than India. And yet you saw the stamp of the West on the clothes they wore, the advertisements they saw, and the television they watched. Bollywood films set in Switzerland played constantly on tv, Coke ads popped up in the tiniest towns on the road between Kathmandu and Pokhara, Nepalese kids and young adults wore polo shirts and jeans and cool sneakers. In an odd reversal, Western tourists mimicked what they assumed would be the Eastern style: linen shirts and wide, baggy genie pants, scarves, nose-rings and bindis.

And yet in the end, there we were, talking to some teenage kid about the most important thing on his mind: his love life. I can’t say that no matter what our background or nationality or race or religion we’re really all the same, because we aren’t. People are shaped by their environment, their religious beliefs, their opportunities or lack of opportunities. But the same things often do occupy the same space in our thoughts. We share the same needs, perhaps to differing degrees.

The one thing I did learn, and continue to learn, is not to assume anything. Not even about teenagers.

Briciola

January 10, 2013

On our last night in Florence, Matt and I had dinner at a small, family run restaurant in the Oltrarno called Trattoria Da Ginone. I ordered bucatini tossed with peperoncini flakes, parsley, and breadcrumbs fried in olive oil. Olive oil soaked breadcrumbs add nice, crispy bite and texture to any the pasta, anywhere, but there’s obviously something special about eating it in Italy. I’m always tempted to roll my eyes, then, when someone promises that this or that Italian restaurant in New York or San Francisco or wherever is “just like being in Italy”.

Really? And are there two thousand year old ruins around the corner from this quaint little trattoria? How about a Michelangelo sculpture within spitting distance? Then again, being in Italy doesn’t guarantee a phenomenal meal. It helps, of course, but in truth I was surprised to find that unlike in Paris, where you can get a fresh pressed jambon-beurre for mere euros at any old hole in the wall, in Rome it was all too easy to stumble upon lousy panini. Read the rest of this entry »

fabrique en chine

January 3, 2013

When I was in high school and college I scoured my local thrift stores for fantastic vintage finds, picking up knee length wool skirts, tailored wool blazers and sweaters, pin-striped trousers and wide-legged, polyester pants that mimicked the rebellious androgyny of the 1930’s. I once scored a beat-up, rust-colored leather jacket for $5. Judging by the style, it was likely made in the 1970’s or early 1980’s and except for a (recently) broken zipper, is still holding strong.

When we were first married, I took my husband to my favorite thrift store, the one from which I’d hauled treasure troves of clothes stuffed into plastic bags, their modest, stapled-on price tags demanding $1.00, $3.00, maybe even $5.00.

I was in for a surprise. Read the rest of this entry »

the only joy

January 3, 2013

“The only joy in the world is to begin.” – Cesare Pavese