Archive | Travel

In the suburbs no one can hear you scream

I live in the suburbs now.  From the maelstrom of Union Square in Manhattan to the slightly more sedate “urban” experience of highrise in downtown Abu Dhabi was one shift. But in a weird way the shift from one cityscape to another wasn’t as big a shift as the move from city to the ‘burbs.  It’s so quiet here . . . and when I walk around at night I’m always slightly on edge because my footsteps echo in the emptiness.  But the thing I miss most, weirdly, is hearing the call to prayer, which had become the regular punctuation for my day, when I lived “in town,” as we say now.

In The National today, I wrote about my sense of suburban displacement. You can read the article here and don’t be afraid to share it around: show The National a little social media love (and me, too, while you’re at it).  Thanks.  Would love to hear your thoughts in comments.

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I took this photo of the Grand Mosque last winter during an unusual rainy day

Continue Reading · on November 22, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, environment, expat, NaBloPoMo, NYC, religion, The National, Travel, UAE

Everyone Goes to Vesuvius

Did you know that Vesuvius is still considered an active volcano, and a dangerous one? It could blow at any moment, theoretically.

That thought gave Caleb the added impetus he needed for the hike to the top of the caldera, a task that sounds more impressive than it was: you drive (or are driven)  to the base of the trail and then walk the 800 or so meters to the top.  Caleb expected to look inside the volcano and see molten lava, maybe a few boiling gas bubbles, but alas, no. Inside the bowl of the mountain were just innocuous trees and bushes–the only hint that we were seeing something other than a standard mountain were the wisps of steam wafting up through a crack in the rocks.

A few intrepid souls biked up the twisty mountain road to the base of the trail, but most of the rest of us tourists took small mini-vans or big huge motor coaches. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a ginormous bus coming down a tiny switchback road, bicycles weaving alongside, and your little minivan chugging up the switchback in the opposite direction–and all the drivers in question are Italian. TONS of fun, many Italian words that were probably not suitable for children, plus traffic jams.  Here’s hoping all the seismic monitors along the edge of the mountain work in tip-top condition, or one day…kaboom…and all the motor coaches will be suddenly airborne. Or carbonized.

Anyway. The whole world, it seems, comes to Vesuvius, including monks from other countries, like this fellow, snapping a picture of another religion’s shrine.

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It’s November 1 today and you know what that means: NaBloPoMo! That translates to: National Blog Posting Month, in which those of  crazy enough with nothing better to do serious about writing write a post a day for November.  I’m taking the NaBlo challenge along with all the other writers at yeahwrite, and at Blogher, too.  If you’re a writer, join in –and if you’re not a writer, then do us all a favor and read these posts so that we know someone besides our mothers is paying attention.

 

Continue Reading · on November 1, 2013 in NaBloPoMo, religion, Travel

Italian Ladies in the Rain

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These ladies had just left Saturday morning mass, in Naples.  The church where they worship, Pio Monte della Misericordia, dates to about 1678. We were asked to leave the church while Mass was said–for about ten people.

Why were we in this little church on a rainy Saturday morning?  Because it houses this painting:

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Seven Works of Mercy, Caravaggio

Yep. Just saying prayers in front of a masterpiece and then going on with their day, these ladies in their sensible shoes and their cardigans. I loved them and wanted to follow them home.

Continue Reading · on October 30, 2013 in religion, Travel

in which I try to avoid cliches about Italy

Memory works in peculiar ways, doesn’t it? I mean, I know that when we were traveling in Italy a few weeks ago, I was tempted to leave my bickering children at the top of Vesuvius as an offering for the gods but now, weeks later, what remains in my mind is a blur of ancient beauty, tiny streets, motor scooters, and meals comprised exclusively of variations on cheese, tomatoes, and bread (which is, I think, what gets eaten in heaven, if there is such a place).

But in trying to write about this trip, as was the case when we went to India, I find myself frustrated.  If I talk about laundry hanging off balconies, sheets flapping against the bricks, it’s as if I’m describing the opening shot of an old Sophia Loren movie.

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If I tell you about the Mediterranean light splashing across peeling pastel buildings, I’m channeling every bad romance-in-Italy movie ever made.

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Should I tell you instead about walking out of our lovely little hotel in the Piazza Decumani in Naples, on a Sunday morning with bells ringing across the city to call the faithful to Mass?  And that further down the narrow cobblestone street (awash in garbage, it being Naples), we heard glorious opera pouring from an open window, a secular celebration of the morning? By the late afternoon, however, the morning music had been replaced with the scents of cooking garlic and onions, so fragrant that we were stumbling with hunger.

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Maybe instead I should describe a narrow street in Rome, where cars bump alongside pedestrians shopping for vegetables and people sit at cafe tables sipping wine, a barely functional chaos?

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See what I mean? Italy has been a subject for millenia, long enough to make me glad I’m not Italian: I’d be paralyzed by all that history, all that beauty, all that language.  (Frank Bruni offers a somewhat bleaker view of history’s weight in a recent op-ed piece, here).

Instead I’ll go with these pictures taken inside a church, San Giovanni Decollato, in Rome. It’s a private church and gaining access can be complicated, unless you know someone with a key, and keys are only given to those in the brotherhood or descendants of those who were in the brotherhood of the church. It’s straight out of Dan Brown, isn’t it? And unbelievably, our friend G., whose family belonged to the order, and his wonderful wife, unlocked the church with a satisfyingly big key, and let us walk around inside.  There was a lot of decollato; I couldn’t decide if going to a church with decorations like these would hold my interest during dull sermons or terrify me into leaving the church completely.  Probably the latter, given my heathenish proclivities.

IMG_1059above the altar (Caleb was very fond of the bleeding neck detail)

IMG_1062head on a plate (detail from ceiling fresco)

IMG_1058skulls were everywhere in the church: memento mori

The church was beautiful, a tiny gem tucked into a corner of Rome we never would have found on our own.

I don’t know. I’m beginning to think that Rick and Ilsa may have had it wrong: maybe everything would’ve been different for them if instead of having Paris, they’d had Rome.

 

 

Continue Reading · on October 29, 2013 in expat, family, Kids, Travel, writing

Pompeii

 

I wrote about our trip to Pompeii in The National the other day. Wandering those ancient sites makes a gal wonder about what will be left behind when our civilization disappears–and I have to say, the answers that come to mind aren’t exactly awe-inspiring.  Click here for the piece … and here is some visual accompaniment. (Because really, what’s the point of having a blog if you can’t bore people you can’t see with your family travel photos?)

IMG_6833the entrance to Pompeii

IMG_6807mosaic floor from the public baths in Herculaneum

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fresco and mosaic on the interior wall of a building in Herculaneum

IMG_0921pillars in the marketplace, Pompeii

IMG_6835plaster cast of a body found in Pompeii

IMG_0900the site of Herculaneum with the current town of Erculano behind it, and behind that, The Volcano

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Continue Reading · on October 28, 2013 in Abu Dhabi, expat, Kids, The National, Travel

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