Thursday, December 27, 2007

Touch wood

I claim to be agnostic, religionless and skeptical. Which is why you could wonder why I'm concerned by superstitious beliefs (Exhibit A.)

It's not that I believe, but rather that I don't want to jinx it.

Pertinent to the impending 2008, I don't think it would hurt to:

- Make a New Year's resolution (a tradition that dates back to the early Babylonians. Who would want to mess with a thousand year habit?)
- Pay off all the bills
- Let the old year out by opening all the windows
- Make sure the house is in absolute, pristine order. (Not because I'm obsessive about it, of course, but because I'm preparing for the coming year.)
- Stock up, to guarantee prosperity
- Make loud noises to scare away evil spirits
- Light candles near windows
- Kiss at midnight
- Jump up and down
- Work a little on the first day of the year
- Wear something new
- Hold a piece of silver or gold
- Eat black-eyed peas or lentils
- Eat a grape for each month as the clock strikes twelve (which complicates the kissing. But, hey, I can multitask.)

Finally, my birthday is January 3. Being born so early in the year signifies rebirth and good luck. Tell me, why wouldn’t I choose to believe in that?

(Photo by Luca)

Friday, December 21, 2007

The perfect gift

Every Christmas, I search far and wide for the perfect gift for my husband. The criteria is threefold: it has to be something he will use often (if he’s going to think of me when he uses it, then ideally that would be frequently), something he would never get for himself, and (suspenseful music for emphasis, please) something he wouldn’t ever imagine receiving. As I’m sure you know by now, the surprise element is of the essence.

In the ten years that we’ve been together, I’m proud to say I’ve been a successful gift giver multiple times: a recliner he likes to read on every weekend, a suitcase he goes on business trips with, the watch he uses every day, the iPod where he stores all his music, and Tivo, without which he would miss out on critical soccer matches (misery would ensue.)

Yes, I’ve also missed the mark a number of times, presenting him with something I was sure he’d use only to find it in a drawer, forgotten and untouched. By way of example, Luca is a gifted chopper, so I got him a super sharp, amazing looking Japanese knife he liked in concept but then never wielded (which, now that I think of it, is probably a good thing.)

You’ll never guess, though, what is, in my opinion, the best gift I’ve ever given him.

A pillow.

A cylinder shaped, ultra plushy, irresistibly soft, trademarked nap pillow.

When he opened the box it came in he was somewhat dubious. He took it out and petted it. He hugged it to his chest. Then he set it aside. That marked the beginning of a lasting relationship. He not only sleeps with the pillow every night, he actually travels with it. Said pillow (deliriously romantic music, please) even has a name.

I am quite proud of what I put under our tree this year (which of course I can’t disclose here, at least not until after December 25), but I know deep down I risk never coming close to what I accomplished that fine Christmas day.

(Photo from Brookstone; actual image of pillow.)

Monday, December 17, 2007

The omen

I will begin 2008 by packing up my house and storing almost everything I own in boxes for about a month (long story).

A part of me wonders what will bode for me on a year that starts with this kind of uprooting.

Another part of me feels that the year will begin with renewal and the excitement of a worthwhile project.

This is good.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


I don’t like surprises. I would be disoriented and would probably feel trespassed if someone threw a surprise party for me (hint: don’t); and I’ll go as far as to say I’m not even that attracted to the idea of a wrapped gift.

In typical Grinch style, I’ve suggested to Luca that we just go shopping a few days after Christmas so I can pick what I want. This way, I’ll like it, I will use it, and most importantly, I’ll know what it is. (What would be the fun in that, he thinks.)

Luca, on the other hand, loves surprises. He loves the anticipation. He loves not knowing what he’s going to get – even if it means he might not like the gift once he opens it. (What a waste, I think, if he can just tell me what he wants.)

Every Christmas, loving him and wanting to do for him what I would like done for me, I go down a list of things I think he’d like, looking for an approving reaction. When my guess is correct, he looks at me in dismay. “That would have been so great” he’ll say longingly “but now it won’t be a surprise.”

Every Christmas, loving me and wanting to do for me what he’d like done for himself, he places a carefully, beautifully wrapped gift near our fireplace. “What is it?” I ask, looking at it suspiciously. “You know I can’t tell you” he’ll say. “You’ll have to wait until Christmas”. He beams. I groan.

If he ever does listen to me and determines not to go out and buy me a gift, I’ll feel I took Christmas from him. And we’ve briefly considered having him buy the gift I choose, and having me surprise him with something wrapped, but we agree that won’t do. The fun is in the sharing of the experience, we assure each other.

Luckily, we’re both good at choosing gifts for the other so at the end of the day, I’m pleasantly surprised, as oxymoronic as that sounds in my world. And he’s surprised, then pleased (which would be something like triple-pleased, in his world.)

So who can you relate to more? Would you rather know what you’re getting and receive exactly what you asked for, sacrificing the surprise element; or do you prefer the anticipation?

(Photo from Red Envelope catalogue.)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

More sunrises

For reasons I hope are obvious, I often (O.K. - almost always) deny myself the pleasure of getting up really, really early in the morning.

For the past ten days I’ve been waking a little before 5:00 a.m. Initially it was due to jet lag, but then I decided to ride it for as long as I could.

The world is dark and quiet and I get to witness it coming to life which lends a certain strange, unexpected, detached humor to the way my day unfolds. It feels like I’m watching a movie, maybe written by Fellini - which I’m not sure is a favorable portrayal of my life and the way I view it, but I must get back to the intended subject - ah, yes. Getting up early.

I see the sun rise (what a waste, to have missed so many) and my wish of needing more time is suddenly granted: at least two extra hours, which is nearly an extra day a week.

The potential is stupendous. Just think - what would you do if your week had an extra day?

I’ve got to do this more often.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

It's the little things

My new toothbrush has soft, tightly packed, tapered bristles, a tongue cleaner and polishing cups. It’s called “Colgate 360”. I’m really sorry that this sounds like an ad (and particularly sorry that if it is, I’m not getting paid for it.) But you’ll understand why it deserves a mention if you try it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

At the Foot of the Ngong Hills

One night, I walk into my mother’s room to let her know I’ve arrived safely. She’s lying in bed under the covers, with the cat on her chest. She’s picking on her cuticles and crying.

“Mom” I say “are you OK?”

“Ugh” she responds, trying to breathe. “I’m O.K. It’s just that this movie is so, so sad”.

I turn to look at the television screen, and see words and a movie title.

“Mom” I tell her, “it hasn’t even started”.

“I know” she says, sobbing now. “But I’ve already seen it”.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Ever so often, maybe once every two years since I turned seven, my mother would come down to my room, hand me a sealed, embossed envelope, and say - not without striking a brief note of casual drama - “please keep this in a safe place”.

Written across the envelope, usually typed, was something along the lines of “Instructions for the disposal of my body at the time of my death, delivered to my daughter Alexandra” and the date.

Inside, it would contain specific instructions on what to do with her remains.

Through the years, I got a total of ten or twelve envelopes. Each one had a different, brand new set of requests, which would, like a Will, effectively cancel out the previous one (throw the others out, was the dictum.)

Certain themes within were always the same. She wanted to be cremated. She wanted my brother and I to take her ashes and scatter them around the places that she loved. The only variation was the location.

The first envelope requested her ashes be scattered in Greece. She loved Mistra, but also Santorini, her favorite island. She fell in love with Turkey. Her favorite place was Konya, but also the archaeological sites, like Sagalassos and Aphrodesias. She fell in love with Petra in Jordan, with Angkor in Cambodia, with Luang Prabang in Laos. The deserted atolls in French Polynesia. East Africa. She fell in love with Syria. She loved Palmyra, Apamea, Aleppo and castles like Krak des Chevaliers. She loved the sites out on the Euphrates, like Mari and Doura Europos. She fell in love with Peru, especially the gigantic adobe temples on the North Coast and the ruins of Chan Chan near Trujillo.

She always sustained that her true intention all along was to make absolutely certain we traveled even after she died.

At one point, she realized that having us ramble across the Globe, going from, for example, Tibet to Persepolis to Samarkand with an urn full of ashes wasn’t very practical. She then switched to the Ajusco, a beautiful wooded area less than 30 minutes from our house.

If she gave us a letter requesting that her remains be sprinkled within the confines of the city we grew up in, then the letters had nothing to do with her making sure we continued to travel. So, why did she do it?

I always understood that this scattering of ashes business had nothing to do with death. It was her way of not leaving. Other people visit a place they love and think, “I have to come back”. Her feeling was “Coming back won’t be enough. I want this place to be mine, all mine, forever”. Scattering ashes was more associated with “This place belongs to me” than with “I think I’m going to die”.

It was only recently that I asked her if she even remembered these letters. She was mildly irritated. “Dushka” she sighs. “I told you to just throw those letters out”.

“So” I say “you do remember that there were letters?”

“Yes,” She concedes (which is good, since I still have them). “But I think we'll ignore the subject of my ashes until further notice.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Losing Joy

Joy was the dog of my life. She was a mutt, maybe part bull terrier; absolutely beautiful, lion colored, with a strong white chest and white snout. She used to sit at my feet while I wrote or did my homework, and would sneak her way into the bed - under the covers, with her head on the pillow - whenever I let her. When I didn't, she'd lie outside my window, with her face against mine on the opposite side of the glass pane.

My mom and I (and whoever wanted to join in) used to take Joy on walks to the Ajusco, a wooded area near where we lived in Mexico City. Seeing that dog run filled by heart. She'd get crazy with joy (hence the name), and was impossible to tire.

One day, as we were walking along our usual trail, Joy heard a cowbell in the distance and took off. She ran until we couldn't see her anymore. This despite the fact we called her, whistled at her, clapped our hands at her, screamed at her, and tried to run after her.

We lost her.

We looked for her for eight hours, calling her name until we were hoarse. We walked up and down every hill, every mountain, followed every path. At one point, my mom finally said out loud what I knew to be inevitable.

"We have to go."

She looked to see how I would react, and then added "It's getting dark, and we have no food, no water and no flashlights."

Then, to make me feel better "We'll come back tomorrow."

I turned around towards the parking lot and cried. I got in the car and cried. (I want to cry now, more than 10 years later.) I cried all the way home. I drank a tall glass of water, turned down dinner, and took a hot shower. My mom came down to my room. "We'll get up early,” she said "and we'll get back there and we'll find her".

"Mom" I said. "We'll never find her. We looked everywhere today. She's gone, mom."

I got no sleep that night. I tossed, and all night Joy's new friend Cool cried. Not the weak whimper of the restless puppy that he was, but desperate, heart wrenching howls of a grown wolf in agony. Long, drawn out "aoooooo, aooooo" pierced the night. You have never heard an animal so upset. We worried Joy’s disappearance would kill him. (I worried it would kill me.)

As soon as the sun came up, we met up in the garage. We got into the car without saying a word. I felt sick. I knew she'd starve, or that someone would hurt her. Even in the best of circumstances, she’d be so confused - who else would give her the kind of a life we gave her?

Meanwhile, my mom was really chatty. She had a plan. She had thought about it all night. I was only half listening.

"We have to think like a dog,” she was saying. "Think like a dog. Think. Like. A. Dog. If you were a dog, where would you go? I think we'll find her in our picnic place. It's a spot she associates with food, and she'll be hungry".

Gone, I was thinking. Gone, gone, gone.

We trudged up through the hills, hollering her name. I looked down ravines, imagining finding her body. How can a domesticated, good-natured, big-hearted honey eyed dog survive a whole night of freezing temperatures, lost in the wild? How can Joy, who likes to sleep with her head on a pillow, for goodness sakes -

That's when I heard the soft, rattling sound of her leash.

I looked ahead. And saw her. And screaming her name – startling her - ran towards her. She looked at me. Our eyes locked. Mine said "OH MY GOD ARE YOU ALRIGHT OH MY GOD OH MY GOD?" Hers said "Oh, wassup?"

She wasn't panting, or dirty, or matted, or skinnier, or bloody, or in any way showing she had just survived a terrifying night. She was like "Whatever. That was kind of fun. Anyone got anything to drink around here?"

I hugged her thick neck, and scratched her belly, and took in the woodsy smell of her paws. I ruffled her head, held back her ears, and kissed her cool, wet nose. Without turning, she rolled her eyes and turned them towards my mom with a look that said "Jeez. What's gotten into her?"

I could barely see through my tears. I dried my eyes and nose with my sleeves, and made an effort to compose myself. Hugged her again. Leashed her. Checked the collar to make sure she wouldn't get away again. Stood up and looked around, squinting at the light.

We were at our picnic place.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mists and mellow fruitfulness

I promised my mother that in observation of her birthday I’d post mom stories throughout November. However, I need to briefly interrupt this series to ask a question.

Let me back up.

Autumn is my favorite season of the year.

To be completely honest, I fall for the charms of all four seasons. Spring, with its flirtatious colors and the first hint of longer days. Summer, seductive with its broad display of produce and extra vacation time, and winter, with its cozy clothes and generous sprinkling of holiday cheer.

What I’m saying is it’s possible I’ve said in earlier blog entries that another season is my favorite. If so, chalk it up to my fickle nature and disregard it. It’s all about autumn.

To begin with, I love that autumn is earthy. I love fall foliage. I love that it starts to rain. It’s the perfect time to prepare a cup of tea, take a blanket into the living room and read stretched out on the sofa in front of the fireplace.

I love that instead of flowers I use pumpkins as decorations around the house. I love that this is the time of year where I buy a big wreath I use as centerpiece on my living room table.

This season, more than any other, reminds me that I’m a member of the animal kingdom. I get an irrepressible urge to gather and store food for the winter. This means I shop for vegetables, chop them and make industrial amounts of soup, which I then freeze and use in the months ahead.

Unfortunately, it also means this is the time I get the hungriest. There is so much food around, and my body seems to want to prepare itself for the brutal, harsh months ahead (forgetting that I’m in Northern California and that I spend most of the week indoors.)

So my question is, is it me, or does autumn make you eat more?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Strange kid

I've heard from child psychologists and experts that children assume every family is like their own, because it's the only thing they have ever known. I don’t know if that's true in general, but I do know it's not true for me.

Having grown up in Mexico in the 1970’s, I always knew that other people's parents were married to each other. That other people did not have brothers and sisters from different mothers or fathers. That other people went to mass on Sundays and I went to the movies. That while other people went to summer camp or Disney World I went to Egypt, China, Italy, Greece, France and Japan.

My mother hated Walt Disney. I didn't know who Snow White was, Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella. I never assumed people lived happily ever after. I was not once even offered a bite from the poisoned apple of fairy tales.

In the stories I was told, the only girls who wore fluffy white dresses and dainty shoes were the dancers of Degas. I did not believe I needed to be kissed to wake up and I did not believe waiting for anything would be conducive to my happiness. While I never believed in Prince Charming, I did believe the image of a pipe was not a pipe because it said so.

Distinguishing between a villain and a hero was never black and white. Attila the Hun promised his brother tribe, the Magyars in Hungary, that he would always be there for them. He said if they needed him they would hear the thunder of the hoof beats of his horses as his troops came to their rescue. “Alive I shall cross the Earth” he said “and dead I will descend from the heavens”. Ruthless, maybe, but Attila kept his word to the people that he loved.

I heard more about tropical islands than enchanted castles, and yet I never really warmed up to Gauguin, who left Van Gogh when he needed him the most.

I learned that if even the Gods living in Olympus had characteristics of mortals, then it was fair to make allowances for a mortal's limitations.

In our house, there was no honor in having ruby red lips and blue eyes with long lashes. Admiration was reserved for heroes, for the man in the arena, for people who achieved against all odds, for men whose reach exceeded their grasp.

At school, after the teacher heard fourteen "How I spent my Summer vacation" recounts, I would talk about the 8,000 terracotta soldiers of Xian, how each of their hair styles and faces was different, how the site included terracotta camels and horses, and that I had seen them all.

By now you’ve probably gathered I was not the most popular kid. The funny thing is, contrary to everyone else, I did not ever feel that these differences made me strange. I assumed they made me special.

You can expect this from children, you know. Being made to feel special was the only thing I had ever known.

(Photo: my mom and me, circa 1969.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Like a horse

It's a recurring dream. Or rather, a recurring interruption of whatever it is I'm dreaming. A presence somewhere over my shoulder, a nuzzling on my neck. Like a horse, its hot, moist breath, the brush of its velvet lips. Except that the smell is not animal-like. It’s more like warm bread, nutmeg and bed linens. Then a stream of sound I can't make out – a radio frequency?

This happens almost every night for as long as I can remember. I've grown so used to it it doesn't occur to me to wonder what it means.

It takes me seventeen years to finally understand. It's a human voice, deep and lush, and it's saying something. It's words, and they are clear and eloquent, if somewhat redundant, like a mantra. And they are in English (I grew up in Mexico, so words in English can only mean one thing.)

You are the most precious, beautiful girl in the world, the voice is saying. There is nothing you can't do. You are a miracle. You are here against all odds. You are here for a reason. You are going to change the world.

The words begin to irritate me, because I'm so tired and they just keep coming. I feel exactly the way you do a few seconds before you gather the strength to finally reach out for the snooze button.

I tighten my eyes shut, crunch up my shoulder against my neck, hoping. It. Will. Go. Away.

It doesn't. The fourth "There is nothing - nothing - you can't do" finally does it. I'm now fully awake. I open my eyes and in the dark make out my mother's figure, kneeling on the floor in her nightgown, her elbows on the edge of my bed, her mouth grazing my ear. I roll back, alarmed.

"Mom!" I say, "What are you doing"?

"I didn't mean to wake you.” She says this kind of unapologetically. "I'm just whispering things in your ear."

Like this is perfectly logical.

"What kind of things? I mean, you woke me up! I was sleeping, mom!"

"I say things to you while you sleep so they will go directly into your subconscious." Her tone is clinical, like when a doctor says "I'm afraid this will require antibiotics." "I didn't mean to wake you. I guess I was talking a bit louder than I usually do".

"What do you mean 'usually'"?

"Go back to sleep, honey" she says and backs out of the room. "I'll see you tomorrow".

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My favorite cities in the world

I recently spent a week in Mexico City. I went there for work, so stayed at a hotel in a neighborhood I had never stayed in, rather than at my father's house. I really enjoyed seeing a whole new side of the enormous urban sprawl I lived in for most of my life.

From Mexico City, I flew directly to New York (again for work) and spent a week there. This unintended big city trend, coupled with my penchant for list making, sparked the impulse to share with you my favorite cities in the world:

1. Mexico City (it's insane, chaotic, overpopulated and polluted, but it's mine and I love it.)
2. Milan (construction of its Cathedral - The Duomo - began around 1380 and it's not finished yet. Need I say more?)
3. New York (it's electric.)
4. San Francisco (my city by the bay.)
5. Paris (no matter where you go, you have 360 degrees of pure aesthetic perfection.)

I suspect London would be on this list but I've never actually lived there. I need to live in a city for at least a month straight before feeling I have the right to consider it, which is why I'm leaving other cities out, such as Vancouver, which I also love.

Finally, to this I have to add I am not really a city person. I love living in Montara (population: 2,000). But any of these cities is a welcome break to my small town life and a proven cure to any few and far between little town blues that might afflict me.

What are your favorite cities in the world?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog action day and my red bucket

Every morning, I used to turn on the water in the shower and then wait a minute or two for it to get hot. Perfectly good, clean water right down the drain.

So a few months ago I got a small red bucket. Now I turn the water on and it falls into the bucket, which I later use around the house: most often to flush the toilet with it, or to water plants.

Is there anything you do that’s easy and obvious and that you think contributes to use less resources, particularly water?

In honor of blog action day, I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The matter of mattering

Yesterday, while waiting for the elevator, I looked out the window down onto the street below. I was up so high that people looked small, like toys, with their briefcases and sneakers and coats flapping in the autumn wind.

I wonder, how many times does someone see me from a distance?

I don't really mean watching me as an individual, as someone that has been attached to a specific identity. I don’t mean attraction or curiosity or being noticed, but rather the opposite of relevance.

How many times am I, say, on a Ferry on the San Francisco Bay while someone is looking at the boat from a car driving across the Golden Gate Bridge?

How many times does someone lying on the beach see the plane I'm in slowly move across the arch of blue sky in his span of vision?

How many times has someone taken a photograph and caught a fragment of me as I move across the frame? How many albums do I live in as even less than a stranger, the tip of my shoe intruding on a picture, a brown blur caused by a curly strand of my hair ruining an otherwise perfect family shot?

How many times does someone look down and notice people look like toys, with their briefcases and sneakers and coats flapping in the autumn wind; and realize they not only seem small, but trivial, deceived in their sweet sense of self importance, foolish, really, to be hurrying along as if their efforts really amounted to anything?

What I mean is, how many times is one of those minuscule, ant sized people way down below me?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

All that glitters

I recently found myself at a shoe store, staring at a pair of crinkled metallic gold shoes. I'm not the kind of person who owns crinkled metallic gold shoes, and my first thought was "Wow. Those are kind of ugly". My second thought was "I have to have them". I apparently have alter-personalities living inside me that I don't know very well.

I carried the metallic gold shoes around the store while I looked at other things. I am not an impulse shopper so the part of me that thought they were ugly did not really take the part of me that had to have them very seriously. Until I walked up to the cash register and paid for them.

Now my new metallic gold shoes sit in my closet, in a world of gray, brown and navy blue clothes. I can see them peeking out of their shoe compartment. They are completely out of place, devilish, defiant. I wink at them before reaching for my trusty brown boots.

I haven't worn my new metallic gold shoes yet, but one day I will. I can't wait to see where they take me.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


I love train stations. I know they are crowded and dirty but I love the movement and the people. I always harbor the secret sense that, like the song, I can walk up to the counter and order a ticket for the first train going anywhere.

I love traveling by train, too. I like the compartments, and looking at the scenery, the fields and trees and empty buildings and abandoned factories with broken windows.

I love looking at other passengers. The girl with the stripped stockings and huge black shoes reading a book in French. The man who brings his partner a drink that they ceremoniously prepare with soda water and lemon. Once it’s ready, they silently clap before the first sip. The family of four sitting next to us. I see the mother unpack enough food for an army: sliced apples with peanut butter, potato chips, sandwiches, drinks. The boy looks at the screen on his iPod, puts his feet up on the seat and moves to a beat I cannot hear.

When it gets dark, I look out and only see my reflection on the window – a ghost of my face, the orbs of my brown eyes looking back at me and a whooshing image of trees in the background as backdrop.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cinematic overload

I am watching a movie. Just when I’m gripped by the story, just when I can’t tear my eyes away from the screen, just when every little creak in the house makes me jump ten feet, it happens again.

I realize I’ve already seen it.

In the most fortunate cases, I remember the general theme in a vague sort of way and just can’t recall the details. But most often I have no clue at all that I’m watching it for the second time until…well, until I get a sense of too certain déjà vu. And then I remember certain scenes, but not critical things like how it ends (or even who the bad guy is.)

Should I be worried that this is the obvious consequence of watching too many movies? A critical case of cinematic overload?

Should I be concerned about my declining memory?

Or (my pick) should I make a list of my favorite movies ever and delight in watching them again, knowing for certain that I’m going to love them?

I mean, look at the bright side. Who better to suggest something good to me than someone who knows my taste as well as I do?

No need to send me movie recommendations. I seem to have it covered.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Brain lag

Last week, Luca and I almost had a car accident. It was about 7:00 a.m. and we were driving along Highway 1, with the Pacific Ocean on our left and the mountains on our right. It was slightly foggy and the road was deliciously silent. Suddenly, a deer leaped out in front of us. Even before Luca swerved, it was out of sight.

This week I’m in Mexico City. Forget all the words you just read above – from “driving along” to “Pacific Ocean” to “Mountains” to “calm” to “quiet”. I assure you there will be no deer interfering. This place is surreal, even to my Mexico City born eyes; a live wire of people and color and smog and cacophony and energy. A boy is juggling balls at the stoplight, then asking for money.

If our bodies need time to adjust to jet lag, what about brain lag? We weren’t meant to move so quickly from one location to another. What are the side effects of this sudden, dramatic change in surroundings?

Strange dreams, for sure. Waking up completely disoriented (a condition that in my case often lingers for the rest of the day). Being just a tiny bit out of touch with reality (another lingering condition). Feeling as alive as this place. Looking at the world with wonder.

"For my part” said Robert Louis Stevenson “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Good and bad

I think I am a good traveler because:
- I don't tire easily
- I am curious about new things to eat (as long as it’s not something soft and furry with big, beautiful eyes and long lashes such as rabbit or alpaca; and nobody's intimate parts such as tripe, testicles or brains.)
- Within reason, I have a bug resistant stomach
- I can function fairly well on little sleep
- I like to get up early
- When strangers try to guess where I'm from, they venture Italy, Greece, Romania, Argentina, Iran, Turkey, Spain, Ecuador, Israel - even India. In other words, I don't stick out unless I'm in an Asian or Nordic country
- I can make myself understood pretty much anywhere
- I'm a really good packer
- I travel light
- I rarely complain
- I'm fairly tolerant of heat and cold
- I can walk pretty much all day
- I'm punctual
- I handle changes and delays well
- I want to see everything
- Wanting to rest doesn't make me feel guilty, even if I might be missing something
- I keep myself entertained on flights or long drives
- I’m a good copilot
- I carry my own stuff
- I trust that I can figure it out
- I'm easily amused
- I see the glass half full

I think I could be a better traveler because:
- Someone needs to help me with actual travel arrangements, as I have zero tolerance for "if you'd like to make a reservation, please press one".
- As much as I love to go, I always find it hard to leave home
- Except for dinner, I don't do night life (although I was irresistibly charmed into going dancing in Peru)
- I don't like noise
- I don't like crowds
- Mosquitoes make me crazy
- I get hungry
- I get thirsty
- I always need a restroom
- I can't skip a meal
- I cannot lie in the beach all day
- I don't consider shopping a pastime
- My sense of direction is never where I think I left it

And you? How are you a good or bad traveler?

Friday, September 7, 2007

How dare we?

On the cover of the most recent Time Magazine is Mother Theresa. Mother Theresa, who founded the Missionaries of Charity. A Catholic nun who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her work caring for the poor, sick, orphaned and dying in India. A Nobel Peace Prize!

Ten years after her death, her biggest secret is revealed. Previously undisclosed letters show that she spent almost 50 years without sensing the presence of God. On the outside, she prayed. She dedicated her life to someone she could not find.

Her letters speak of torture and darkness, coldness, pain; emptiness so great that nothing touched her soul.

I guess every believer doubts at some point or another. (And every doubter believes at some point or another.) But this astonishing woman never stopped working in God’s name. In the middle of all that emptiness, she trusted him completely.

As stunning as I find this, the sentence that broke my heart was “Please destroy any letters or anything I have written”. After everything she did, didn’t she deserve that we at least honor that?

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Best Kept Secret

The news that I was going to Peru was met with perplexity, disbelief, excitement and (in one loving case) grave concern. It is for this reason that I feel the need to set the record straight about Peru.

To begin with, if I had to recommend to someone the best five trips to take, Peru would be one of them. It’s one of the best vacations spots in the world.

To proceed in some sort of chronological order, it would be fair to mention that Taca is an excellent airline, safe, punctual, courteous and organized. I only wish some of the US airlines could hold a candle to the way we were treated flying this one.

Lima - a city I was a number of times suggested to skip - is absolutely charming. It is a shopping Mecca for anyone interested in arts and crafts, textiles, antiques, clothes, jewelry or silver. I am a notorious non-shopper, and felt myself barely resisting the impulse to buy everything in sight. (I was only partially successful).

We visited Cusco, a destination that would hold your attention regardless of your travel preferences, with its hiking, history, shopping, museums, architecture, restaurants and nightlife.

Peru in general is a culinary paradise. I read in a recent article in the New York Times that Peruvian food ranks among the best on Earth, and yet was still surprised by its uniqueness, breadth and subtle flavors. Peru has a notable variety of potatoes which they typically dry in the sun before cooking; grains (among them choclo, giant corn, and the ultra delicious, ultra good for you super grain, quinoa), chili peppers such as aji which they de-vein and de-seed so dishes are flavorful but never hot, chupes (soups), chifa (a ubiquitous mix of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine), cebiche (which they spell with a "b"), tiraditos, fresh seafood, stews, meats, and the widest variety of fruits you could imagine. It's also where Pisco is from, which according to Rudyard Kipling "is compounded of cherub's wings, the glory of a tropical dawn, the red clouds of sunset and the fragments of lost epics by dead masters."

We visited multiple Inca ruins (Tambo Machay, Sacsayhuaman, Puca Pucara, Q’enko, and Pisac in the Sacred Valley, among many others), sites so impossible to conceive - even as you stare at them - that one understands why so many people, beginning with the Spaniards who colonized the region, believed that they were not built by man but by beings from outer space.

In the list of The Seven Wonders, Machu Picchu deserves to be number one. I could spend weeks among its stone walls, exploring the views from each terrace, rock, ledge and window. It is man made, but God had a heavy hand in it, because its breathtaking beauty lies half in its construction, half in its absolutely inspired, otherworldly setting. Like the moon, it defies description. You can't capture it in photographs. You have to be there in person, and you have to arrive from the Gate of the Sun to do the place justice.

We didn’t only see Machu Picchu from the Gate of the Sun but also from Huayna Picchu, the ragged mountain peak you usually see as backdrop in photographs. It’s a heart-thumping climb, after which we sprawled like lizards on huge rocks to see Machu Picchu through intermittent clearings from above the clouds.

We hiked across the Andes, visited a tiny, isolated, remote village way up in the mountains, went to a school where children walk for hours in the dark of pre-dawn for the privilege of attending a class. After all this I can tell you, Peru is safe. The people are beautiful, generous, shy and quick to smile. Tourism is in its infancy, as the country had been held hostage by an infamous terrorist group with a poetic, terrible name: El Sendero Luminoso (The Shining Path), and has only recently been a viable place for foreigners (for less than 15 years).

Peru is now ready for you. Ready to astound you with the remains of a civilization that is more than two thousand years old and yet is still alive today. Ready to surprise you with its improbable mix of Inca and European, with its colonial buildings set on stone foundations built one thousand years ago. It's ready to feed you new flavors, ready to clothe you with the softest Alpaca wool, ready to decorate you with the world's most beautiful jewelry.

You must visit Peru. It will be your favorite place on Earth, maybe only after wherever it is you call home.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Better than the alternative

Wait a minute. If time heals all wounds, how come my skin is less resilient – not more - and I tire sooner? How come doctors ask me during check-ups things that would be considered too much information to post?

And, if it’s a well-known fact that age spares no one, why do I always find the evidence completely unexpected? Who do I think I am, believing it will not happen to me?

Never mind me. Is nothing sacred anymore? Even my larger than life, superhero parents seem to show (minor, barely visible) symptoms of this disrespectful condition. (Which, of course, you’d only notice under extremely harsh, bright lighting.)

Wait another minute. Isn’t old age supposed to be The Golden Years? The promising Future? Potential incarnate? Isn’t it the time when you don’t have to work anymore and can kick back and do whatever you want?

And what about the sense of peace that comes with it, the dignity of looking back at what you have sowed? Isn’t it all about the reaping?

And if I feel exactly like I did twenty years ago – until someone calls me ma’am – where the heck is my dose of wisdom, the one I’m entitled to after living to what people call (yuck) middle age?

Alas, Elizabeth, whatever happened to “Grow old with me, the best is yet to be”?

There is a massive public relations conspiracy about the joys of getting older. I don’t buy it. Getting old sucks.

My grandmother in law is 97. And, let me tell you, she’s had it. It’s not that she’s sad – it’s just that she’s done. The man she loved died almost twenty years ago and since that day she’s just waiting to join him. She is a strong, healthy, no-nonsense, super organized lady, lives alone, and hates it when anyone fusses over her. She saves everything – even wrappers, as she’s lived through two World Wars. She is a woman of few words and yet you always know where she stands on everything from water (never drinks it – just red wine) to her youngest grandson (worships the ground he walks on and is sure one day he will sprout wings.)

Luca (the aforementioned grandson) and I often talk about her fate. How when you get to that age you’ve lost everything. By way of example, everyone you know has died – your family, your friends, your friend’s children. It’s no way to live.

Yesterday, Luca and I were at the theater. During intermission, an elderly couple was slowly making their way up the stairs. They were leaning on each other, and she was wincing with every step. Luca got up and asked if he could help. The man turned to him and smiled. “No” he said. “But, do me a favor. Don’t ever get old”.

Living to a hundred is not all it’s cracked up to be. Oscar Wilde was right. The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

In my dreams

I’ve asked professionals why I have such vivid, recurring dreams. Some attribute it to generalized anxiety. Or diagnose a “sensitive psyche”. Or an overactive imagination. Even excessive movie watching. Others just shrug.

I dream that I’m alone on a long, narrow beach at twilight. It has massive, crashing waves on one side, and tall, dark cliffs on the other. I imagine, against geographic sense, that this might be similar to the beach Daedalus and Icarus were left on before that fatal flight.

I dream that I’m blind. I move through the scene in my dream unable to make anything out, except for faint outlines and shadows.

I dream that I am paralyzed. My brain is awake, but I can’t move. I know I will lose the ability to breathe. I try to wake my body up. After intense struggle, I do. Release.

I dream that I can fly, but I can’t control it so can never fly at will, or high enough. I dream I run as fast as I can, until my legs hurt, until my shoulders hurt, but I don’t move forward even an inch. I dream that I need to read an important document but I can’t make out the words. That I have a vital meeting that I can’t get to. That I need to go to the bathroom but cannot find one. I dream my teeth fall out.

I dream that Luca cheats on me. It’s not the cheating that causes the most anguish but the fact he doesn’t seem to feel there is anything wrong with it when I confront him. It’s the fact that I suddenly don’t know who he is. I wake up furious, refusing to talk to him until the dream wears off.

When I dream I’m in danger, I usually – gratefully - wake up before any real harm comes to me. Except for twice, where I’ve dreamt that I die. Once, in a car accident where I got hit by a bright yellow school bus. I remember seeing faces of children framed in the windows, their wispy hair and hooded jackets; feeling the heat of impact on my chest and neck, then total darkness.

The second time was a plane crash. My piece of the plane careened into the San Francisco Bay. I heard a splash surround me, felt the rush of freezing water, the arm of the seat digging against my hip, my lungs screaming for air, my clothes sticking to my skin, restricting my movement. I looked up and opened my eyes under water to see a circle of light, a blue image breaking through the surface, of Luca gesturing, pointing down. I could swim out if I managed to release the seat belt. But, I run out of time. I thought, with an involuntary, heartbreaking, total surrender, “This is it”. Everything went black. And then, to my disbelief, I woke up in my bed, warm and safe, cocooned in blankets; awash in such fear my hands and feet and toes were tingling painfully. I got up to give my legs a shake. Maybe this is the afterlife.

I dream that my current life that I love is all a dream. Not just something I could lose – but something that never was. I am back in Mexico City in my early twenties and all I feel is empty and disoriented.

I wake up. I look around. I realize I’m in my room, in my house. I turn to look at the person next to me. LUCA! I married Luca! And this life is mine! I made it all, from scratch! I got myself here! Sometimes I say all this out loud.

Needless to say, with all the panting, flailing, kicking, gasping, crying out in anguish or in joyous celebration, Luca’s nights are seldom uneventful. And to think all he ever dreams about is that he’s playing soccer. Either that, or he doesn't remember a thing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Powerful like a fire

Have you noticed how people don’t know how to take a compliment?

Go ahead. Pick a friend. Try saying "That is a beautiful sweater!" or "that presentation was really good!" or “you look gorgeous!” she won’t let it in. She’ll brush it off. "What, this old thing?" "Oh, nonsense. That was nothing". “Oh, shut up!”

In other words: in our daily tread through life, we tend to believe criticism, but then dismiss the good.

That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.

Why does this merit a blog entry?

Consider that words, thoughts, intentions are reality, and they add up. And what they add up to is our perception of who we are.

I propose that we all resolve to take compliments in. Don't shun them. Don't bat them back. Don't lessen them. Don't shake your head. Stand there and take it. And then, if you dare, share it.

What was the last fabulous, surprising, thoughtful or just plain nice thing someone said about you? Go on. Gloat.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Heaven, your way

I had long since given up on finding real, good Mexican food in the Bay Area. (Being Mexican gives me the right to be extra picky about it.) And yet here I am, humble, contrite, coming to you to announce I’ve found two places that have proved me wrong. They are both casual and un-pretentious and serve freshly made tortillas, still hot from the comal.

Mijita, inside the Ferry Building, is the first such place. My favorite thing to order there is an agua de jamaica, then ensalada de jicama y toronja with toasted pumpkin seeds sprinkled on top, and a vegetarian taco that consists of black beans, salsa, and the critical, aforementioned freshly made corn tortilla. I’ve mentioned this in a previous blog entry, but I’ll say it again: a freshly made tortilla with black beans and salsa is what I’d take on a desert island if I could only pick one thing.

The second Mexican restaurant to prove me wrong is Picante, in Berkeley. We discovered it in my Slow Food book and went there Saturday. We had sopa Azteca and tacos de rajas with just made tortillas and all I can say is I’d drive all the way to Berkeley any time.

Moving on from Mexican food, but sort of on the same subject, I also thought it would be fruitless to attempt to come close to Italian gelato. There is a place in Milan called Gelateria Marghera where they serve what I consider, after extensive field research, the best ice cream in the world. (In fact, I’m not sure if there is a heaven, but I’m sure that if there is, there is a Gelateria Marghera past the entrance on the right.)

But, what if you should find yourself close to heaven, but not quite there - say, in California - and must have really good ice cream? What do you do?

You go to Sketch, that’s what. In order to give my readers a well-rounded, thorough review, I tasted the sweet corn ice cream, the yogurt ice cream, the caramel ice cream and the chocolate ice cream (all swoon worthy) and finally settled on coffee granita. As soon as I finished it, I looked at Luca with what I hoped were soulful, irresistible eyes and we went back for another scoop: this time I picked Earl Grey ice cream. I think we might have to move to Berkeley – either that, or my friend Analisa will have to prepare the pull out bed.

Now, back to that desert island. If you could only pick one thing to eat, what would it be? Or, if you prefer, what do you think is served in heaven?

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

For the love of dog

This is my dog.

She’s not really my dog. She belongs to my neighbors. But they have two young children and a crazy schedule and don’t have time to take her outside.

I, on the other hand, occasionally want to jog before I go to work – or come home feeling cooped up so welcome the chance to take an eager four legged creature for a stroll.

She has a pretty good life. She’s almost never home alone, since she has four people of varying ages who love her, and on top of that two adoptive parents (us) who give her a colossal amount of treats and walk her at least four times a week.

When we pick her up, she’s so excited it’s almost impossible to leash her. She pulls with the force of a train and runs maniacally when we set her free in the field. If Luca walks up ahead of me she likes to dash from him to me and back.

It’s a fortunate arrangement: her rightful owners get to love a dog who has become a member of their family. We get to borrow a dog we only have to walk. The dog gets all of us.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The forks in my less traveled road

Brushing aside (with a dramatic sweeping motion) the dozens of ultimately unimportant mini daily battles I muddle through in a week, I present to you my overarching always-in-the-back-of-my-mind struggles:

Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?
I’m not sure if I’m doing what I was put on Earth to do. On good days I think I must be on the right track. On not so good days I wonder how I’m supposed to even recognize the right track if it comes over, introduces itself and vigorously shakes my hand.

Incidentally, this feeling of having a greater mission isn’t an ego thing. It comes from a fundamental sense of un-religious faith, and I think it applies to everyone.

What about my parents?
As an immigrant, a part of you always wonders if you’re going to go back home, even if when you do you know home is no longer there. And I know that my primal assignment was to make my own way. But I think a lot about the (barely imaginable, practically unbearable) day my parents will no longer be able to take care of themselves.

The fact that my husband thinks a lot about the very same thing and that his parents live 5,948 miles in the opposite direction compounds the complexity of the situation. (Early on, we wrote and signed an indelible, invisible, life-binding cosmic contract that we weren’t going anywhere without the other, ever. This unfortunately excludes short business trips. Apparently, I neglected to read the small print.)

Should I have kids?
Kids change everything, and I’m so, so happy with my life just the way it is. But, a childless life, stretching far into forever? Arg. I just don’t know. And of course, in this not knowing limbo, I am running out of time.

By the way, the fact that you think your own kids are the center of your universe and that you feel they make everything worth anything doesn’t help me at all. Struggles are deeply personal. Only I know what will work for me, and as I find what that is, I won’t impose it on you.

So, what next?

I've resolved to follow my mother's advice and take it all one day at a time. And, to follow Yogi Berra’s advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I'm not happy

I hate it when Luca goes away on a business trip. I also hate that I hate it. I hate it too when people say it’s good for us. How can being miserable be good for anyone?

It’s not just that Luca is my husband. It’s that he’s my companion. And, when he’s gone, I walk around unable to update him on things. Like how the hydrangea that he thought was dead is blooming. Or, how I used all the leftovers in the fridge and made a zucchini, tomato, feta cheese dish that is actually pretty delicious. I hate that I ate it alone.

I hate that in the mornings I stretch out my leg and my foot looks for his until it sticks out on the other side of the bed. I hate that I clean the house and fluff up the cushions and they stay that way, like a living room in a catalog, stiff, sterilized, because no one is here to mess things up. I hate that I get to the office an hour and a half earlier than I do when Luca is around because we don’t get delayed getting “just one more thing” done before walking out the door.

I like the way the world looks after he makes an observation. By way of example, I peek in the mirror and wonder how one night of not sleeping that well can make me look so disarrayed, and know full well that if he were here he’d say I look beautiful. How would not having someone stare at me with liquid eyes and tell me I’m beautiful be good for me? And it’s not about vanity. When we listen to a song, I only pay attention to the lyrics; he tells me what instrument I'm hearing. I hate that I don’t know if that was a bass.

I hate to say it, but this is going to be a long week.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Steal a word

I recently read an absolutely delicious book titled "The Meaning of Tingo" by Adam Jacot de Boinod. It's a collection of words from around the world. Here are some of my favorites - I just can’t believe I’ve survived so long without them.

Iktsuarpok - Inuit for "to go outside often to see if someone is coming".

Nglayap - Indonesian for "wander far from home with no particular purpose".

Mingmu - Chinese for "to die without regret".

Termangu-mangu - Indonesian for "sad and not sure what to do".

Nedovtipa - Czech for "one who finds it difficult to take a hint".

Narachastra prayoga - Sanskrit for "men who worship their own sexual organ".

Fissilig - German for "flustered to the point of incompetence."

Mukamuka - Japanese for "so angry one feels like throwing up."

Sekaseka - Zambian for "to laugh without reason".

Neko-neko - Indonesian for "one who has a creative idea which only makes things worse".

By the way, "Tingo" is Pascuense for "to take all the objects one desires from the house of a friend, one at a time, by borrowing them." I'm not sure if this would make me mukamuka; or if it would first induce a feeling of liberation, then invite me to sekaseka and finally set me free to nglayap.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Don't call it hopeless

I’m an optimist.

I mention in a recent blog entry that “I was convinced India was on the verge of a transformation of epic proportions”. After having visited, I can tell you this surpasses optimism. I was plain naïve.

The fact is, even if a few million people are getting rich, India has more than one billion inhabitants. I can’t blame anyone who calls the situation "beyond repair".

When we got back, Luca found a site that allows people on this side of the world to help.

Which is good, since all I could think as I traveled through India was, "How? How are we ever going to get out of this?" (And, "Why? Why do some people have so much while others have nothing?" but I don't expect to find an answer to the latter.)

Kiva uses the Internet to create interpersonal connections. It allows you to connect with – and loan money to – small businesses in the developing world, where 50 dollars (or less) can break the cycle and help lift someone out of poverty.

I’m hoping you can visit the site and loan money to someone whose life can change because of your intervention.

I’m also hoping that when you get paid back, you can loan it to someone else.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sugar and Spice

My very first taste of Indian food (in India) was sambar (a rich vegetable and lentil stew) and potatoes, which we had for breakfast over eggs and roti. This was the morning after our 30-hour trip. The dish was delicious, restoring in a way only thick, spicy food can be, with a flavor so complex I couldn't distinguish more than a few ingredients. So I called room service and asked what was in it. "Onions, ma'am".

Later, I looked up the most common used spices in Indian food. Amchur (mango powder), bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cumin, curry leaves, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, basil, kokum (this gives dishes a purple hue), lemongrass, mace (the red lacy membrane that grows around the nutmeg seed), mint, mustard, nutmeg, pomegranate, poppy seeds, pepper, sesame, tamarind, saffron, and turmeric.

In Hyderbad, our first stop, I tasted biryani - the typical Hyderbad one-dish-meal served with raita - and was so taken by its flavors I called the server over and asked how to go about preparing a dish like this. What do you put in it? He thought for a second. "Onions, ma'am". Further research revealed that some of the ingredients of Biryani are rice (although I also tried one with millet), saffron, milk, papaya paste, yogurt, chili powder, ginger, garlic, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, mint, green chili and lime. And, yes, onions.

Hyderabad offers a mix of Hindu and Muslim cuisines. And I can say I tried a good number of the dishes in that region. How? Well, we were invited to a wedding. Number of guests: 25,000. (twenty five thousand, so you don't think that’s a typo.) It resembled a colorful, exotic, particularly joyous trade show, with a whole pavilion dedicated to food. I went from stand to stand trying really small bites of everything (except the international booths - who needs to try Italian food in Hyderabad?)

My two favorites were a dish that someone said was made with "the hottest chili pepper known in India" which I ate with gobi (cauliflower) and was so tangy it made my mouth pucker; and a sweet pistachio based dessert covered in vark (edible silver foil.)

We spent the rest of our trip in the Tamil Nadu region, known for some of the world's most delicious vegetarian food. The term "curry", in fact, comes from the Tamil word "Kari", black pepper. It turns out that what I knew as Indian food - daal, tandoori, naan, aloo gobi, lassi, tikka - comes from Punjab, a state up North. Fortunately for me, there are an additional 29 states in India, each with its own distinctive cuisine.

Our two favorite dishes from the south were dosas, soft, thin crepes made with fermented rice flour that you then dip into chutneys and relishes; and idlis (steamed cakes of fermented rice flour and daal) - which you eat with sambar ladled on top. (Luca and I took to exclaiming "IDLI!" whenever we saw them on a menu.) We also loved palak paneer (fresh cheese and spinach curry) and pappadams (crispy, super thin daal wafers with buried cumin seeds in them.)

The fundamentals of food in India haven't changed for thousands of years. Ayurveda is an ancient science of diet and healing and is, to this day, the most widely practiced form of medicine in that country. Often, ingredients are added to a dish for their curative qualities, as much as for their flavors. (For example, turmeric is anti-inflammatory, and cardamom relieves heartburn.)

The basic principle is that you cannot sustain a healthy body with unsuitable food. One purpose of Ayurveda is to maintain balance – you must eat in accordance with your own individual needs. Put simply, you crave what you are missing in yourself.

As soon as the jet lag subsides, I'll try to figure out exactly what that says about me.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


If countries had a gender, India would be a woman. She is sensual, curvaceous, languid, the unattainable seducer. Fragrant and dark, with big, honey colored eyes, lips that taste of cardamom and a crimson dot in the middle of her forehead. She is luminous and terrible and hides awful secrets in the millenary, multicolored folds of her sari. She moves slowly, so slow you may think she's not moving at all. Don't tell her what to do. Don't think you can rescue her. She is her own person, immune to your ego, incomprehensible, exasperating. I, for one, do not understand her at all. But I can't help but stare. She doesn't seem to care you think she's broken beyond repair, because she is beautiful.

And this is why I have missed my "post at least once a week" blog goal - I've been traveling in India.

Working in the tech industry in Silicon Valley and having visited India almost 20 years ago, I was convinced I would find a country on the verge of a transformation of epic proportions. I was wrong. This country is every kind of poor. It's crushing, repellent. Just when it feels too much like you’re enduring your vacation, something impossible will trap you. India is also mesmerizing.

It's been an incredible trip: no flights delayed longer than 40 minutes, no rain at all despite knowingly having come here in the middle of monsoon season, no illness or digestive distress, no accidents – and seeing how people drive and the time we've spent on the road, this last point defies all odds.

We've eaten food so good Europeans navigated across oceans to find these spices. We've been blessed by elephants and seen all the Gods, their incarnations, their wives, their chariots and their temples. We took more than one thousand photographs. And we have learned from India what might be one of the most important lessons of all: divine gratitude of the deepest, purest kind. To know what I mean, you'll just have to come here to see for yourself.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

My regimen

Sometimes, I don't breathe. This is not necessarily related to stressful events or even being under a body of water. At any given time, I realize, to my surprise, that I'm holding my breath. Which can't be good for me.

Speaking of which, a good friend recently asked me what was my "regimen against anxiety". She sees anxiety as a perpetual presence that we have to work constantly to keep at bay. I see her point. If anxiety can be defined as "an expectation of a diffuse and uncertain danger" there really is no use pretending that's not my natural state.

Maybe if I breathed more, I'd feel better.

I wish I could tell you Yoga was a part of this regimen of mine. It sounds so coherent, spiritual and centered. The truth is, as much as I'd like to like practicing it, I don't. I feel the same way towards meditation. I'm sure it would be good for me, but every time I pretend to meditate I'm really just sitting cross-legged while running a mental inventory of the laundry I need to sort.

Besides making lists, straightening things, counting the number of items in my purse and other absolutely delicious, soothing kinds of admittedly repetitive behaviors, my regimen against anxiety (which sometimes works, and sometimes doesn't) is:

- I need time to hang out in my house, alone. If I schedule too many dinners out or work late too many days in a row, I become saturated, overwhelmed, resentful, and, needless to say, grouchy. I’ve decided that if I recognize that my cell phone needs daily recharging, I owe myself the same courtesy.

- Exercise. If I don't do it, after a few days I predictably find myself up at 3:00 a.m. wondering about the viability of building an armored panic room somewhere in my house.

- Talking myself out of the danger my body seems to think it's in. (Such as "it would not make sense for all the people you love to get hurt at the same time. The chances of that happening are not very high, statistically speaking." Or "worrying about something you can't do anything about is pointless". Even something resembling a chant "it's all going to be OK. It's all going to be OK.")

- To my initial point, I've recently added remembering I need to breathe. Not in an overly ambitious attempt to calm myself. Just so I don't pass out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tus ocho cosas

Mi amigo Miguel me invito a jugar un juego.

Las reglas: cada participante escribe una lista de ocho cosas que revelen algo de sí mismo y las publica en su blog, después de lo cual selecciona a ocho personas a las que invita a hacer lo mismo.

Ahí van mis ocho “cosas”:

El lunes 17 de Julio del 2006 escribí una lista de precisamente ocho cosas (!) que me irritan de mi. La ofrezco como primera cosa, pero sigo adelante con otras siete porque hay algo de ligeramente deshonesto en reciclar una lista, aunque sea propia.

Segunda cosa: soy agnóstica. Frente a cualquier fenómeno no explicado por la ciencia, mi respuesta es “no sé si creo”. Esto no quiere decir que no creo en nada, sino que creo que cualquier cosa es posible. No saber si creo no es una puerta cerrada – es una puerta abierta; abierta, pero cautelosa.

Tercera: creo que la vida es sencilla, y sus secretos están a simple vista.

Cuarta: No dejan de fascinarme los efectos del paso del tiempo.

Quinta: Creo que en la lucha del bien contra el mal, gana siempre el bien.

Sexta: Sé donde está el centro de la Tierra. No es un lugar fijo: se mueve, como el océano y platos teutónicos; y se encuentra debajo de las plantas de los pies de mi marido.

Séptima: Hace casi diez años que dejé México, y desde entonces no he podido encontrar nada que me quite el antojo cotidiano de una paleta helada de tamarindo con Miguelito.

Octava: Creo que Miguel y yo tenemos algo pendiente, que tal vez esté contenido en esta lista, o en una o varias de sus ocho personas.

Ya veremos.

Me dice Miguel que puedo invitar a este juego a las ocho personas que yo quiera.

Para honrar la naturaleza viral de este ejercicio, invito a dos personas nuevas: A Luca, quien hará una lista de ocho cosas en no menos de ocho semanas; y a Isabel, quien espero que escriba un poema de ocho estrofas, o que por lo menos, si se rehúsa al ejercicio, piense en mi ocho veces.

Para honrar a la bella geometría circular de la naturaleza, re-invito a las siguientes personas, aunque no las conozco.

Queridos Monsieur David, Viviana, Ben, Paxton y Tessitore Di Sogno: A partir de este momento las reglas del juego han cambiado ligeramente. Están ustedes por convertirse, gracias a estas ocho cosas, en íntimos extraños (les suena?). No les pido una lista adicional de ocho cosas – les pido algún comentario de por lo menos ocho palabras sobre esta página.

Miguel - la octava persona es cierto Alias Cane que nos debe otra lista de ocho cosas en su blog.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

I know what I'm doing this summer

All the shows I have admitted to watching on TV have long since reached their seasonal conclusion.

Alas, I am televisionless.

No matter. I have a lot to do (besides really miss Tim Sale’s incredible canvases and sketches seen when Isaac paints the future in the show Heroes):

- Take advantage of the fact that it gets dark late by going for a hike every evening after dinner.
- Read. I’m behind on my reading, and have a long list of books I want to get to, so I intend to catch up.
- Sometimes, I’ll grill dinner instead of cooking it inside. (Who am I kidding? I’ve never grilled.) Sometimes, I’ll persuade Luca to grill dinner. (That’s better.)
- I’ll stay on top of the magazines I still subscribe to.
- I’ll catch up on my sleep (which lately I seem to really need.)

I’ll report back on the success or failure of these activities and welcome any really good book, movie, grilling or napping suggestions. Just send them over before September.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Be specific

My in laws, whom I love, came to visit us from Italy and stayed at our house for a month. On the rushed, logistically complex, bittersweet morning of their departure, they piled their suitcases and their selves into the car and I walked out, closing the door behind me. In a sudden frantic flash, we realized that we did not have the keys, not to the car, not to the house. There we were, with barely enough time to get to the airport, and we were locked out.

If “locked out” doesn’t have a ring of finality to it, a ring of fatality to it, let me try again: Locked. Out.

After a minute of full-fledged panic we happened to find a spare car key and Luca dashed them to the airport while I remained behind trying to determine the best way to deal with the tragicomic (well, tragic now, comical some day far, far into the future) situation I found myself in (or rather, out.)

I won’t provide brain-numbing detail. I’ll just say that while I waited for a locksmith, I remained outside for almost four hours, with no means of transport, no cell phone or blackberry coverage, no food, no heat, no coat, no water and no bathroom.

In my frustrated desperation and fury I thought about the irony of feeling so trapped - trapped outdoors rather than within an enclosed space. I thought about how so very badly I had yearned to have the house back all to myself and now, in the first hours of having this privilege finally arrive, have it revoked so cruelly, mine, and yet remaining just beyond my grasp.

We should be very specific when we wish for something.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Don't listen to me

Whenever friends tell me they are getting married, the first word out of my mouth (sometimes after “congratulations”) is “elope!” I am of the belief that people spend too much money and emotional effort in weddings – when they should be putting all of it into anything that lasts longer than a day.

When Luca and I got married we had nine people present (including the two of us.) Even before then I begged him not to bother giving me a formal engagement ring. Our wedding day was simple: we tied the knot in our living room and then went to lunch at a lovely place with a wide ocean view. I needed nothing else.

Having said this, this Sunday I attended the wedding of my good friends David and Emma, and it was everything a wedding is supposed to be. They invited 70 of their closest family and friends and got married in what I’d describe as an outdoor museum in Sonoma called Cornerstone. It was a love filled, heartfelt, admirably organized (although never over-choreographed) affair.

The first part was the ceremony, held in a grassy garden with vineyards as backdrop. From where I was sitting I could see Emma’s hair and veil but not her face. I could see David’s though, and he was so joyful, earnest, and emotional I felt my heart fill. This was, in addition, the only ceremony I’ve attended that makes guests partially responsible for what they have accepted to be a part of. Call me thick, but maybe for the first time I understood the real reason behind inviting people. I carry this gift with me – this sense that, through the years, I have to do my part to make their marriage stronger, because I was there to witness their vows. (So, no winning at Scrabble, Emma!)

The second part was a brief cocktail with hors d’oeuvres and drinks. I admit I wasn’t too enthusiastic about Pimm’s (so sorry, Em), but did drink the fresh lemonade and absolutely loved the fava bean and English pea salad served on endives; the blue cheese set on green apple slices and the mini- bruschette.

Dinner was served under a large, circular tent in a garden lush with flowers (and lovely orange and green flower arrangements on each table.) If the tent-in-the-garden- surrounded-by-flowers description sounds corny to you, I can assure you it was not. It struck the right tone of celebration, romance, and joyful, festive family reunion.

As much as the food is usually the part I consider most notable (mixed green salad with grilled pears and goat cheese; wild mushroom stuffed chicken breast; olive oil poached halibut; chilled cous cous with vegetables and squash tossed in balsamic vinegar) the part I liked the most - besides the actual ceremony - was the Toasts. I saw a new side to my friends – the part that is attached to family, a history. The part that fills in the missing piece of where they came from.

Luca and I feel honored to have been part of this wedding. And, most of all, I am grateful to friends who decide to completely ignore my advice.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Do you have a secret?

I discovered this site through my sister Isabel.

They post new things all the time - I’ve been visiting for a few weeks now.

I’m so hooked.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Something Different

I don’t remember the first time I went to Puerto Vallarta. That’s how long I’ve been going there.

I used to walk barefoot on the cobblestone streets in my pajamas, swim in the open ocean, whine so I would be allowed to jump in the pool immediately after lunch (the answer was a consistent, steadfast no), listen to Guantanamera, take rides on a parachute pulled by a motorboat to see the world from a bird’s perspective, take long walks on the beach with my father or a brother or a sister or a stepmother or a friend, hold my breath under water from one end of the pool to the other, pretend to play chess, play backgammon, tan with coconut oil way before SPF, highlight my hair with beer, go dancing and eat tacos at the corner stand at 4:30 a.m. before heading back home under the light of the moon. I celebrated my birthday at the round dark wood table in that apartment at least 8 times before I turned 15. Puerto Vallarta was my default vacation spot all through high school and college.

It’s so different now. When I first started going, the Posada Vallarta was the only hotel in a long, pristine beach. Nuevo Vallarta didn’t even exist. Now there is traffic, shopping centers, a Starbucks, high-rise after high rise right on the sand and a real airport with an international wing with direct flights to Phoenix, Denver, San Francisco and who knows how many cities in Europe.

This weekend, lying on a cot under a Palapa, Salvador - the man who brought me a drink and whom I’ve known for at least 25 years - asked me what I thought of all the changes. I just looked at him and shrugged. He said sadly “I guess you can’t stop progress”.

I can’t talk about what Puerto Vallarta is like now because I have no perspective. I know it for what it used to be, and it’s definitely become something different. I guess that’s what happens to everything.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Some like it hot

The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco.
Mark Twain

It's so hot. We never get these temperatures around here - maybe just five or six days a year, if that.

San Francisco is such a different place when the temperature is in the 80's. There are so many more people outside. Everyone comes out to stroll, to garden, walk their dogs, grill their dinner. They dress in pink and blue and green and orange and show skin and wear bikini tops and short shorts and flowy, strapless dresses and sandals and open their doors and windows to let the warm, dry air in.

On the beach, where you usually see everyone in hooded sweatshirts and often bundled up in blankets, even in the summer, I now see teeny bathing suits and striped towels and flip flops, as if this were LA. The heat and sun alters people's mood, including my own. In an already cheerful, laid back city, everyone seems so expansive and joyful, like we're celebrating something. Like we're all in on it.

I personally prefer cooler weather. I like gray skies and tall clouds and walking on the beach when it's just a bit nippy. Still, I have to admit this is a really lovely change of scenery. If only Mark Twain could see us now.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Anything at all

If I could wish for anything at all, I’d take my entire family (including my family on my husband’s side) and move them closer to me. Not super close, like next door. Also, not super close to each other. But, comfortable driving distance – say, two hours away. We could visit often and sending them things wouldn’t be hard so I’d surprise them with packages in the mail. I would send my mom books we could discuss and I’d send my dad a big box full of glasses because it makes me crazy that his keep getting chipped. I’d throw in a bottle of the whisky he likes so he could put at least one of the glasses to good use right away.

I wish I could be tele-transported. I’m sick of going through customs at the airport. I mean, taking off my shoes? Ick. Plus, I often want to be somewhere else, usually to eat something I liked in a restaurant in, say, New York. But, I want to be in my own bed right after dinner.

If I could be granted any wish I would have one of those pieces of furniture the Chinese used for herbs or medicines – those that have rows and rows of small drawers. I’d keep good feelings in them, so I could take one out whenever I wanted to re-live what the good feeling felt like.

I would definitely want a superpower. Maybe several. I’d like to fly, because I love heights, but I don’t like speed, so I’d fly around slowly. I’d also stop time. Or make it go faster. You know how time flies when you’re having fun? It wouldn’t.

If I could wish for anything at all, Luca would get to play soccer with his favorite team (Inter Milan.) I would blindfold him and take him to the stadium and then uncover his eyes. Maybe I’d let slip a few hints beforehand to avoid any possibility of a medical emergency. Also, I’d get him a Toyota Prius, the car of his dreams.

I wonder if it would be greedy to wish for the ability to reverse Global Warming. I mean, how far can I take this wishing thing?

And, is it not sad that even when I’m playing with the thought of asking for whatever I want I’m afraid to wish too big?

I definitely need more practice.