Thursday, June 24, 2010

World Cup versus Old World

Here is another view of two cultures crossing in Rome airport. This one is a little blury. I was nervous about taking it and had to shoot very fast and pretend to be looking elsewhere. Anyway I love the way these guys are standing up against this giant illuminated ad for a whole other world.

I can't say that I am specifically following all the World Cup goings on. But I did see America's amazing goal yesterday. I followed the French protest and was rooting with the guy at my gym for Mexico (he's Mexican). Other than that for me it is mostly background noise. The sound of whistles, crowds, announcers. Still I like it. I like it mainly because I see how much other people like it - how excited they get. And that is exciting to me.

I wish I was a linear person, but I'm not. I seem to do things in circles. This is actually from the end of my trip, but, given that it's World Cup time, I thought it was relevant. I will post other pictures from the trip itself. The wild flowers, the food. But for now I'm putting these up because the World Cup is on everywhere. In every New York bar, in the store where I buy my wine, in the gym (duh), but really everywhere. This image reflects for me how there are other realities than soccer and Samsung. I am glad we have both in this world and hope that continues for a very long time.

For the next several weeks I will continue to post more images. I'd love it if you'd share some of yours. You can do it on my Facebook page. Just "friend" me.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rome airport - a crossing of cultures

Two weeks ago in Rome airport I was sitting by this giant Samsung ad for the World Cup when I noticed several Orthodox Jews praying. I took several shots, all from the hip as I didn't want them to see me. I will post a few here.

On the plane I overheard two people behind me, talking about these Jews. "What are they?" a woman asked the person sitting next to her who seemed to be a stranger to her. "I think they're some kind of sect. Don't get near them. Don't touch them." "Why?" the other woman asked. "I heard they don't like that." All of which is true, but it was interesting to hear what people who didn't know anything about this group had to say. I was just struck by the contrasts. I will post a few pics of them over the next few days.

I have a lot to say about my time in Rome. I went there for the first time with my mother in the mid-60s and I've found some old pictures from that time. It was my mother who first brought me to Europe. My mother who made me throw my coin in Trevi Fountain. I called her just after I got home and she didn't remember much of our journey together. Not the Baths of Caracalla where we saw Aida, not the Hotel Flora where we stayed. But then I reminded me that, having lunch in LaSpezia over the bay of Genoa, she threw her old cultured pearls into the sea. She laughed, remembering that. "Yes, I did," she said. "I threw my pearls away."

Anyway sitting in Rome airport with time in my hands. Thinking about all of this. And taking this picture.

Meanwhile a word to my readers. I've gone deep into writing mode. A new book that I am quite excited about. So this blog for the summer will be more a visual than a writing experience. I hope to resume the narratives in the fall. But don't go away...And let me know your thoughts about this and anything else.

And on another note I am heading to Morocco in the fall and then India in the winter. I would love tips from any and all!

Happy Trails wherever you go.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Clowning Around in Trastevere

I spent a lovely afternoon in Trastevere. It was hot so I took a front row street at a cafe where over the course of three hours I ordered a large bottle of mineral water, followed by a single shot of espresso, followed by a nice cold glass of white wine.

It is one of those things I love about Italy and Europe in general. You can sit in one spot all day long and nobody bothers you. No one asks you to leave. I've done this everywhere (though I must admit I found Paris the last time I was there less friendly in this regard).

Anyway in the course of the afternoon a very small man painted all in silver, posed with children, as a gunslinger. This clown came my way. In the evening I went into the church where a gypsy woman begged outside. I was carrying the lunch I hadn't eaten that day and gave it to her along with some change. She said she was hungry and thanked me. It gave me pleasure to see her eat.

Half an hour later as I was leaving the church I saw her on her cell phone, a leather bag slung over her shoulder, as she and another well-dressed woman headed off. Ah, I thought, I fell for that one. I chucked to myself.

Still...I loved this clown.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

When in Rome...

I am having some trouble crossing the streets in Rome. As I watch Romans, I assume that some sort of combination of art and instinct are involved. As vespas and motorcycles and cars and buses hurtle towards me, I try to put my foot into the crosswalk. No one seems to notice or care. Cars either dodge by or slow at the last minute. I began following Romans to see how they did it. I stuck close behind, but they didn't seem much better at it than I. And I am scared to death. Vehicles charge from all angles. Sidewalks suddenly end and form narrow streets where an endless stream of taxis barrels along. It is a bit of a game of chicken. How far can I get? Will they really stop? The number of crushed pigeons in the crosswalks does not bode well. The other day, walking through a particularly narrow and complicated part of Rome with one of my hosts, I told him that I was afraid to cross the street. "So are we," he replied. It seems that last year alone 66 pedestrians were killed as they walked across the street in the crosswalk with hundreds more injured. The wife of the President of the Republic of Italy was herself run down in front of the Presidential mansion. Clearly you are taking your life in your hands. And I have watched confused tourists crossing major intersections in the crosswalk when they don't have the light. I'll admit that there is a certain charm to all of this. The man on his bicycle, no helmet, who glides among traffic through Piazza Venezia. The girl on her vespa, chatting away on her cell phone. To all of them it is just another day in Rome. Meanwhile tonight is my last night. I'm laying low. I'm staying home.

A Look at Moses

Today I was on my way to the church of St. Peter in Chains (where the chains are in fact on display), when I paused to look at a stand of used books. I had run out of things I wanted to read so thought perhaps I could find something here. As I was browsing, I noticed that the owner of the stand seemed to be humming to himself, a sad song, I thought.

When I looked up, I saw that he was perhaps a once handsome middleaged man with his arm in a big cast. We began to talk and he told me he'd broken his arm in a fall in the bath, but it wasn't his broken arm that was hurting him, though it was, but his heart. In a long, rambling monologue he explained that the woman he loved, the love of his life, had left him on Saturday. She said she was going to the country with a friend for a couple days. Then she stopped answering her phone and, at last, she did and told him that she had moved to Paris.

His arm was hurting, but his heart, he told me, was killing him. He was going to go to Paris. He was going to find her. I didn't know what to say. I told him I'd broken my leg and it had healed. Things get better, I said. I couldn't seem to get around the platitudes, but my own heart was aching for him. After a while I said I had to go. I lied and said friends were waiting for me.

I walked towards the church and up the stairs with a heavy heart of my own. An accordianist under an arm was playing Arrivaderchi, Roma. I dropped some coins into his hat. But as I walked, I missed those I loved. I wanted to go home and hug them close. Instead I went into the church. I had come here specifically to see the Moses which I had seen since I was young and standing in this church with my mother. Now once again I gazed at Moses. His body erect, his gaze turned away, his long white fingers, wrapped around what we have come to know as the Ten Commandments.

The tablets rest under his arm, but it is his face I recall. The face of a man who has spent forty years in the desert, has seen a lot, and now has returned with ten sentences to show for his time away. It came to me as I looked at Moses. I understood what Michaelangelo also must have known. Moses was a writer too. He carried his writing in his enormous, white hands. He too had been burdened by the sadness of others. He was an old man now. He had his own sufferings. I saw it in his eyes even as he clutched his life's work under his arm.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A New Perspective: Reflections on Proust

I am in Rome now, a city I lived in thirty years ago. As a cab driver said, trying to flatter me, yesterday, I must have been a bambina. Well, that aside, I spent a lot of time tht year with architects and art historians and I learned a few things about this city. Mainly that Rome is all about perspective. Sight lines.

It was as important how you viewed a church from down a hill or a side street as when you were right up in front of it in the piazza. I recall a moment in Florence when an architect stopped and said, as he pointed to a building in the distance, that this was the exact place the architect wanted his creation viewed.

Last week Larry, and I were in Spain and we went out to lunch in a little Basque village called San Juan. Last year for a couple weeks we lived in the village called San Pedro which is just across the narrow channel. For sixty cents a tiny ferry carries you back and forth.

We loved this place so much that we returned again this year. From the village of San Juan there is a walk that goes almost out to sea. We'd been to San Juan many times, but had never taken this walk before. However the previous year we had tried to walk from San Pedro to San Sebastian along the route that pilgrims use to go to Santiago de Compostela. It seemed to be an endless climb up a rocky terrain. In fact at one point we seemed to be walking among the sea gulls.

Now as we walked from the village of San Juan out towards the sea I could see the route we had taken. If I had seen it before, I never would have bothered trying to walk it. But now from a different perspective I saw how far we had gone and what we had tried to do. I am always interested when we see a person, a thing, a place from a different perspective.

A few weeks ago a friend and I were walking through Prospect Park in Brooklyn where I live. She took me on a trail I'd never taken and, though we came out in a place I knew quite well, I was lost and had no idea where I was because we'd come upon it from a different perspective. Another time recently at a street fair I had the same sensation. And once when neighbors had us over I could see our backyard tree in a way I never had. I saw how it loomed, how beautiful itàs branches were.

It made me think of this favorite quote of mine which I will paraphrase here because I am in Rome and donàt have it with me. But Proust said that travel isn't about seeing new places, but about seeing with new eyes. And I love those moments when it becomes clear to us that this is true. It is what Einstein discovered afterall. That it is all in the eye of the beholder.

But I also couldn't help but feel how this is true about our life in general. At times we think we are lost, but in fact we are just seeing things from a different angle. A book isn't working out, a friendship is faltering, something you were counting on doesn't come through. But there are other ways of looking at these things. Maybe your heart wasn't really in that book. Maybe it was time for that friendship to go. Or maybe you could do something to bring it back. And perhaps what you thought you wanted wasn't the right thing at all.

We have all had these moments and think we are lost inside of them. But if we realize that we are coming upon something that we think we know very well from another point of view, then, as Proust suggests, we can see it with fresh eyes.

And now I am going to go out and roam around Rome! Baci a tutti.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Have assignment - Will travel...

When I was a girl, I used to watch Palladin every Sunday night before the Ed Sullivan show. And now you know how old I am...Anyway his theme was Have gun - Will travel. Richard Boone starred in it. He was a tough gunslinger who went all over the West, righting wrongs, etc. I always found the have gun/will travel kind of weird. And funny at the same time. Not that Palladin was particularly funny. I can still however hear his theme song, running through my brain. "Palladin, Palladin, riding through the West..." I am at the moment a different kind of gun for hire. I am writing about Cadiz. Sometimes after the fact by writing about it after I'm home. Somestimes before. It's been a number of years since I figured out that I can be paid to go to places I want to see. Sicily, Russia, the Galapagos, to name a few. Once I was paid to sip wine in Napa Valley. Give me an assignment and I will go anywhere. Endlessly restless, we gunslingers need to keep moving. Can't let any grass grow under our feet. The past couple weeks I've been slugging through Spain. My daughter doesn't feel sorry for me. She actually has this way of playing the smallest violin in the world. I mean somebody had to participate in the Way of the Tuna competition in Zahara de les Atunes. Someone had to have a massage in a 14th century Moorish well. Walk through fields of wild flowers, bow to bulls on the beach, glimpse the lights of North Africa. I recall once when I was on assignment for Spa Finder Magazine (I don't mind admitting this) and I had just had a mud bath and an herbal scrub and some other kind of massage and as I was leaving the girl of the desk said, "I hate you. I really do...You have the best job in the world." Tough work yes, but somebody has to do it. I am somewhat addicted to my itinerant life. It feeds a part of me I cannot even explain to anyone, let alone myself. Not a gunslinger, but a pen slinger, I will go wherever the job takes me...And so even now I picture Richard Boone, hands on his holsters, that smirk on his face because who is he kidding. He knows what it's like to get to do what you want to do in this world. And even be paid to do it.