Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It's a small world after all

In the wake of the 6.1 aftershock in Haiti today following so closely on the original 7.0 magnitude quake - I thought I should take some time out from my usual frivolous little travel musings. I often tout the benefits of travel. In my heart the only one that matters is global citizenship.

I don't know when it became clear to me that in addtion to being a US citizen I was a member of this planet as well. I remember: wiping happy tears away as the Berlin Wall came down in 1989,in 2000 praying for the Russian sub sailors trapped under the North Sea (and later their families) as the agonizing hours passed and in late 2005 patting the shoulder of a Irish footballer fan as he sobbed over the loss of George Best, their' Belfast Boy' in the most awkward elevator ride I have ever had. Regardless, I realized so the world goes, go I.

As you go about your busy lives today, do what you can for the Haitian people. Domate your time or blood. Open your wallets and give a little cash. Or just pray, they need that, too. I can assure you, the world does the same thing for us.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Magic Carpet Ride

Travel with its innumerable benefits(history, wine, food, culture, etc. etc. etc.) is not without its challenges. The weak US dollar, long lines at the airport, mounting security concerns and just finding the time to go, all are headaches of the modern day traveler. There is another way dear readers. You can live in a Tuscan villa, imbibe French cuisine and wine and traverse ancient Vatican catacombs, all from the comfort of your own home with a book. (Of course the argument could also be made for movies, that is another posting for another time).

I am sure most if not all of the mentioned books would make any must read list. But, like when Sarah Jessica Parker said NYC was the fifth 'lady' in Sex and the City,what, I am suggesting when reading (or re-reading) these books imagine the location as another character.

During my first read, Rome took a back seat to action in Dan Brown's Angel's and Demons. I recently re-read A&D and was delighted to realize, Brown allowed me to literally 'follow' the action. The author gives readers a bird’s eye view of many top Rome attractions. While inside Vatican City Brown’s Robert Langdon visits the famed Vatican archives, the Vatican grotto (burial place of over 100 popes) as well as the tomb of St. Peter himself. During his mad dash through the city Langdon visits Piazza del Poppolo, the fountains of Piazza Navonna, and the Pantheon. The novel’s dramatic climax is set at Castel San Angelo and St. Peter’s Basilica, providing a round trip tour of the Eternal City.

Located on the Tuscany / Umbria border, Cortona was best known for its fine Etruscan museum, prior to Frances Mayes' real estate purchase in the late '80s. By now, most people have heard of Frances Mayes' little Tuscan home renovation project in Under the Tuscan Sun(Mayes has written two more books based in Cortona Bella Tuscany and Everday in Tuscany). In Under, Mayes embraces Tuscan life through its design, culture and cuisine. As I entered Cortona through the Santa Maria Porta gate, I realized Saturday is market day in Cortona. House hold goods, linens, and the most beautiful produce, the Cortonese were laden down with their weekly purchases. As I wandered from stall to stall, Mayes' inspiration was apparent in every lush tomato, grape and olive.

Just before I left on vacation, I purchased Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France. With trains to catch, blogs to write and pasta to eat, I never even cracked the book's spine. One night as the water was running for my evening bath, I realized I didn't have anything to read ( A lifetime ritual for me,I am an indiscrimate bathtub reader. Gone With the Wind, Little Women, Dilbert and The National Enquirer, I have dropped all of them at one time or another in the tub). I dug through my carry - on and found My Life In France. It is a good thing I didn't start this wonderful story while I was in Italy or I would have had to change my travel plans to include la belle France. Julia and Paul Child met while serving with the OSS during World War II and married shortly thereafter. Paul continued government work after the war and was stationed in Paris. In her book Child recounts the early days of the couple's married life in France. Julia studied the French language at Berlitz and more importantly for the world, at le Cordon Bleu. In addition to classroom work, weekly visits to local farmers markets, butchers and cookware stores were part of Julia's education. It was through these visits she met the real Paris, its people and culture. The four years that followed went by in a happy blur full of entertaining, local travel and cuisine. In 1954 Paul was transferred to the USIS French Riviera office in Marseille. It was there, Julia learned to prepare many of her trademark fish dishes. The local fishwives hawking their wares always had time to talk wth the tall American lady. I think David and I would have been great friends with the Childs. David and Julia in the kitchen, while Paul and I reviewed his impressive photographs.

If you like your tastes run more to Mint Juleps than Pouilly Fuise, I highly recommend Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, John Berendt's love letter to the city of Savannah, GA disguised as a true crime drama.

Mexico? Like Water for Chocolate. The Canadian maritime provinces? Anne of Green Gables. The Alps? Heidi. The list can go on and on.

And, I'll let you in on a little secret, unlike the rest of us in coach - book travelers always fly first class.