Images from Haiti are heartbreaking. Such disasters, with their mind-boggling destruction — earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, wars — are difficult to witness, even on television. So much suffering from Mother Nature and the hand of man.
The day before the tragic earthquake in Haiti I was reading a heart warming story in The New York Times about another area of the world rising from the ashes. The Balkans, recovering from the unspeakable atrocities of the 1990s, had some good news to share. A train linking Sarajevo and Belgrade was now back on track after nearly 20 years.
The route, famous in the region, was once a literal link between Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims in this part of the world that was once known as Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia had been famously knit together by Communism and Tito, but the cohesion couldn’t hold and the region exploded into war and chaos following Tito’s death and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The bridges were targeted in the bombings and were a major challenge to rebuild. Continue reading »
“What’s up dude iguana,” my two-year-old cheekily said to one of the many iguanas roaming the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza on a visit to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula a few years ago. The archaeological site is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We were shocked at how few restrictions there were at the time, and I cringed when my toddler climbed all over the ancient structures. We welcomed the freedom, and yet it was disturbing to witness visitors literally loving the site to death.
Climbing to the top of the central pyramid with our son in a backpack was one of those peak travel moments, part Rocky, part Raiders of the Lost Ark. Negotiating the narrow steps, worn from centuries of foot traffic, exacerbated my festering fear of heights. Continue reading »
One night some years ago I arrived in Guanajuato, Mexico for the first time, knowing little about the place beyond its being yet another Spanish colonial city. When the bus couldn’t get anywhere near my hotel on Jardin de la Union because the streets were jammed with revelers, I got out, shouldered my bags, and plunged into the crowd.
Maybe it was the long bus ride that had warped my ability to make sense of my surroundings, or it could have been my diet of magic realism literature I was on at the time, but the scene I wound through that night presented the kind of phantasmagoria that can induce hallucinations. Was everyone in costume? Was it a warmup for Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead? Colors flashed by, shouts and laughter and the melodious rhythms of Spanish ricocheted off balconied buildings. Smoke from street stalls carried the scent of grilled meat. And I continued to push my way, gently because this was a happy throng, across the plaza to the hotel. Continue reading »
I am sort of an Olympics geek. I love the games, both the summer and the winter. My mom actually took my sister and me and two friends to the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games. We had tickets for the Women’s Downhill Skiing event, but if you remember, the Games were a bit of a mess and transportation to the venues was a fiasco. We never made it to the mountain and got Compulsory Ice Dancing tickets as compensation; still it was an amazing experience.
Tomorrow the host city of the 2016 Summer Games will be announced in Copenhagen, Denmark. The front-running candidates are Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Madrid. President and Michelle Obama will be there to forward the Chicago bid, which because of their star power is leading Rio as the top pick. Continue reading »
It’s almost sundown on the eve of the holiest day in the Jewish calendar; Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I was thinking about years past and how I’ve spent the day. In NYC, schools are often closed. Mine was never closed because it was an International school and if they took off one holiday they would have to take off everything: the Swedish King’s birthday, Diwali, Chinese New Year. I am not religious and my husband likes to say I am Jew–ISH, which suits me fine but I do feel connected to the heritage on my dad’s side.
I have never been to Israel, but would love to go some day. The Israeli city of Tel Aviv would be my first stop. Tel Aviv sounds like such a vibrant city and since, so often there is bad news coming out of the Middle East, I thought it was a good time to bring up the 100th birthday of this bustling metropolis. This pulsing city of more than 1.5 million is the most liberal in Israel, full of artists, gay bars, high-tech companies and Bauhaus architecture. Tel Aviv is called the Barcelona of the Middle East, a hip city, with trendy restaurants and night life which, despite the ongoing political conflict that is never far away, has a lot to offer visitors. Upcoming anniversary events include:
* International Art Biennale (ARTLV) (9 September – 9 October), showcasing contemporary works in dozens of exhibitions.
* The Green Festival (17 October), dedicating of the Green Route along the Yarkon River and a centennial bike ride.
* Fashion Week in Tel Aviv Port (19-22 October).
It was my son’s 10th birthday and we always try to celebrate with a super summery adventure. One year we went to Disneyland. Last year, The Police Reunion Concert (my choice) and this year I deftly averted a trip to Vacaville, CA and Scandia; a nightmarish Scandinavian themed, mini-golf/ arcade experience, in 100 plus degree heat (thanks to a colleague who did a weather check for me). We settled on Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, a West Coast Coney Island if you will, kinda lost in time; totally manageable. So off we went ready for rides, perhaps swimming, lots of sugary treats and maybe a skeeball game or two (my grandma Viola was the queen of skeeball in Hollywood, Florida and I have taken up the passion). We had a blast on the flume, roller coasters and my favorite, a hang gliding twirly thing; although the chin rest smelled super funky sweaty. I even did some body surfing and a sea lion joined me about 30 yards away. But the highlight o the day was the FREE circus performance on the beach. CIRQUE MAGNIFIQUE has performances July 12th- August 20th. There are two free shows daily; Monday –Thursday: noon & 3:00 and Sunday: noon & 6:00. It is no Cirque du Soleil, but we knew immediately the performers were Quebecois (what’s in the water there?). It was so adorable, I would venture… enchanting. It wasn’t jaw dropping feats but completely entertaining and so lovely to enjoy in the sun, rubbing your feet in the sand; don’t miss it!
Bastille Day is next week. This is a special day for me, not because I passionately studied French History or married a Frog, in a previous life, or even because I count being at the Bi-Centennial Celebration in Paris in 1989 as a peak life moment, but because my eldest son was ironically born on July 14th, 1999. I have so much baggage and history with France and French Culture. The love/ hate relationship still teeters more towards love but I can’t deny I get a bit gleeful when there is bad press, the French are exposed as hypocritical or in some way there is de-mythologization of some aspect of the coveted culture. I get a lot of mileage out of my stories of living in France; much like the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnick, I always found humor in the little things. The hilarious scene at Disneyland Paris buffet where diners swarmed a waiter delivering a bowl of bread to the buffet before he could even reach it. The fact that my friend was served mussels and spicy merguez sausage as the first post-operative meal in the hospital or the fact that before my marriage I had to get a ‘Carte de Concubinage’; a card stating that I was his concubine… I could go on. So today I open up to the Yahoo Page with the lead story: “French Tourists Seen as World’s Worst: Survey”. So apparently, according to this survey, done by Expedia, the French, despite their rumored savoir faire, were declared the most arrogant, cheap and worst at foreign languages of all global travelers. Continue reading »
I was driving to work yesterday and heard a compelling report on NPR about the R2I phenomenon. R2I is short for “Return to India,” the story of so many who have perhaps studied and lived in the U.S. for many years and have now decided to return home. For many, it is the pull of the aging parents or maybe the desire to bring their knowledge and expertise to their homeland. There is no better time as the U.S. economy declines and the Indian economy continues to be robust.
With recent elections and the distractions arch-enemy Pakistan is facing, many Indian ex-pats are packing up their Silicon Valley, New Jersey or Dallas digs and heading home. According to Sandip Roy’s NPR report, web sites offer advice on everything from who’s hiring in Bangalore to how much gold you can bring home. Dubbed “a brain drain in reverse,” many of these folks jumping on the R2I train are in their mid–thirties, with families and higher degrees. When they return, despite their heritage, many experience a culture shock. Continue reading »
Triporati Producer Gwynn Gacosta just returned from a remarkable trip to the Philippines to fulfill her mother’s final wishes. She wanted to scatter her mom’s ashes in the river where she used to swim as a child. The funny, challenging and poignant journey is captured in her own words—a blog post we wanted to share with you:
Final Resting Place
I planned my funeral, once, when I was ten years old. I decided that I would be cremated, and my ashes sprinkled in all five oceans. (Not only was I morbid, but I was also grandiose.) My future husband would travel around the world, leaving bits of me wherever he went.
My mother died 5 years ago of heart failure, and she told me that she, too, wished to be cremated. She also wanted her ashes taken to her hometown in Bulusan, Philippines, then scattered in the river where she used to swim as a child. Immediately after she died, I started the process of making that wish a reality. The funeral home placed her remains in a plastic box wrapped in a silk sheath so that it would go through airport security without hassle. I wrote to my relatives in Bulusan and told them the plan. To my surprise I was met with protests from my family, led by the parish priest, who insisted that she would never be at rest unless she was buried somewhere where people could actually visit and reflect. Since no one in the family had the money to go anyway, we put her final wish on hold and her urn on the mantle. But I always knew that one day I would take her. She had counted on me. Continue reading »
Have you ever had Mandarin Islamic Chinese food? Did you know there are an estimated 20 million Muslims who live in China? These questions percolated as my taste buds marveled at the unusual combinations of lamb, cumin and other spice mixtures that seemed so new to me. I was first taken to Old Mandarin Islamic by a mom on my son’s soccer team. It was a rainy fall day and the boys and spectators were soaked and chilled. The hot pot beckoned, and I was up for an adventure. Way out in the Sunset district in San Francisco near the beach, this small hole in the wall offers not only a unique culinary experience but a geography and culture lesson in Chinese history. I returned this Sunday to pick up takeout and once again I was blown away. Signs in Arabic welcome the diners as well as the Chinese Sabado Gigante-esque/ quasi American idol show playing in the corner on the big screen TV. Familiar was the standard Chinese restaurant decorations, but unusual were the plaques with sayings from the Koran (I assume). Of course there is no pork on the menu and the lamb is Halal. It seems like the whole family is cooking in the back kitchen and you can see them in action as you traipse through to go to the restroom. The hot pot is a fun diner participation dish, much like fondue or Korean BBQ. Continue reading »