I’m Still Here! (Just Distracted by the Olympics!) Tuesday, Jul 31 2012 

So sorry for my absence this summer. I’ve been busy- in the midst of moving, still, if you can believe it. Apartment hunting soon, traveling with the kitties, and lots of back and forth from the Cape. Can’t complain. Lots of fun summer projects, not the least of which is absorbing every bit of Olympic wonder.

Whether it’s ferociously devouring every Kate sighting- how GORGEOUS did she look in this picture from the Royal Academy of Arts last night? And she just exudes all sorts of adorable during her Olympic sightings-or cheering on Missy Franklin, and my fellow Massachusetts (Falmouth!) resident Aly Raisman, I’m stocking up on lots of blog posts for when I can get back to posting.

 

I’m also slightly obsessed with the best “Call Me Maybe” cover yet. Check out “Call Me Lochte”– how yummy is Ryan, by the way?

 

And huge congrats to Michael Phelps, who now has the most Olympic medals of any Olympian ever. Very cool for a FAC swimmer:)

How is everyone enjoying the Olympics? What’s your favorite event? Besides Kate watching, of course…

 

 

Go Team USA!!!

first photo courtesy of tressugar.com

second photo courtesy of gossipcenter.com

third photo courtesy of bleacherreport.com

fourth photo courtesy of abcnews.go.com

Happy Valentine’s Day! Plus My Top 4 Hotel Experiences Wednesday, Feb 15 2012 

One of the most luxurious things in the world is being treated like royalty in a gorgeous hotel. Room service, turn-down service, fresh towels delivered every day- the entire time is a sort of magical whimsy of irresponsibility and being pampered. I’ve been lucky enough to indulge in some seriously wonderful hotel experiences around the world.

 

In honor of Valentine’s Day (a huge hotel holiday even for married and co-habiting couples) I’ll be counting down my four favorite Hotel Experiences from around the world. Even though Valentine’s Day is of course a romantic holiday for couples in love, these particular hotel experiences (with one exception) were enjoyed while on family vacations with my parents and sister when I was younger. As a long-distance couple all through our dating years, the hubby and I saw a few hotel bills, but let’s face it, the hotels we stayed at were nowhere near as nice as what my parents could afford! Still, it’s fun to remember.

 

 

 

 

4. Spring Creek Ranch, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

My dad went through a “Western” phase when I was about 12, and we traveled out to Sun Valley Idaho and Jackson Hole, Wyoming for several summers. The adventures are some of my favorite memories of my childhood, but the accommodations were what really made the trips memorable. Located on a beautiful butte with breathtaking views of the Grand Teton mountain range, this little spot of luxury in the Wyoming wilderness offers the nicest of “cabins”- we would call them suites or villas anywhere else. You walk up a flight of stairs to your private two-bedroom abode, complete with two bathrooms and a sitting room. The décor is adorably rustic- but the thread count of their sheets is pure elegance. Their restaurant, The Granary, is on dozens of fine dining lists around the world, and the views from the dining room’s balcony is paralleled only by the tenderness of the filet mignon. Also, I was too young to enjoy the spa, but my mom said the massages were the perfect thing to pamper the sadde-sore away.

3.  Loews Coronado Bay, Coronado, California

I was visiting my now-husband when he was out in San Diego for a week in the Spring of 2009. We used the wonderful website Hotwire.com to secure our stay at this top-shelf Loews hotel. The beach views were spectacular, and the March weather was perfect for driving with the rented convertible top down all the way up to Rodeo Drive for some lust-worthy window shopping. This little spot of sun-soaked sumptuousness made for one of our most memorable weekends all through our dating years- and not just because I stepped too close to put a toe in the freezing Pacific Ocean and was treated to a pair of salt-soaked jeans and fits of laughter. Everyone at the hotel was absolutely wonderful to two college students on a happy spree.

 

2. George V, Paris, France

For two miraculous nights in the Spring of 2001, my family and I enjoyed nothing but bliss along the beautiful streets of Paris. One of my most lasting memories is from a wonderful dinner of prawns in the hotel’s restaurant (during which we witnessed an actual flaming Bananas Flambe being delivered to a neighboring diner) and my 8-year old sister accidentally bit into a delicate crystal water glass. The George V staff had an internationally renowned doctor at our table within 8 seconds, and the kindly piano player played American Disney songs all night long for us, including “The Pink Panther Theme”- what more could a 12-year old American in Paris ask for?

 

 

 

1. San Clemente Palace, Venice, Italy

One day I will treat you all to an account of my horrifying cruise ship experience in the summer of 2007- nothing compared to recent tragic news, but still quite traumatizing. Eventually, though, we arrived in Venice, the last port of call on our Mediterranean nightmare. We stepped out of the train station into the bustling city of Venice around 8pm, and were greeted by a gorgeously lit up city full of gondolas. It was straight out of a movie- music was playing, lights were twinkling on the water, and we were soon whisked away on a private boat “taxi” to bring us and our luggage safely to a breathtakingly beautiful island. An island? I was shocked- compared to our cramped cruise quarters, we suddenly saw horizon and fresh air everywhere. We were greeted by the cutest of Italian bellhops to carry our bags into the stunning hotel (yes, the name really was Palace- and it did not disappoint!) while we enjoyed some much-needed White Russians on their beautiful patio at midnight.

This was my favorite hotel experience, not just because of the magnificent mahogany doors leading into each sprawling suite, or the granite and marble bathrooms that I now want to model my entire house after, or the fabulous walk-in closet, or the five-star service. My entire family had a wonderful, relaxing, delicious time at the San Clemente Palace. This place was just what we needed after our Millenium cruise ship ran aground on the first day of our cruise and we were stuck in the fishy-smelling port of Civitavacchia, Italy for the remainder of our ten day excursion. The San Clemente Palace brings a new meaning to “breath of fresh air”, providing water taxis to San Marco Square whenever we desired, and even bringing us little water bottles for the trip back to the island after a long day of touring. Perfect, perfect, perfect time all around!

 

Well, there you have my most luxurious, delicious hotel experiences! What about you? What has been your favorite hotel? Where will you be spending Valentine’s Day?

 

Media Credits:
first photo courtesy of townandcountrytravelresort.com

second photo courtesy of nydailynews.org

third photo courtesy of sandiego.org

fourth photo courtesy of theopensite.com

fifth photo courtesy of brownsbest.com

sixth photo courtesy of sanclementepalacevenice.com

“Dressing Up” Tuesday, Aug 30 2011 

Originally posted March 22, 2010 on http://www.loyolalooks.wordpress.com

No one dresses up to travel anymore. In a world where self-proclaimed “fashion icons” along the lines of Kim Kardashian and Lindsay Lohan roll out bed and board their international, first-class flights in ragged sweatpants tucked into monstrous UGGs, sporting greasy mops of hair piled carelessly atop their heads, it is nearly impossible to even remember a time of “dressing up” to travel.

 

It is interesting to ponder what life must have been like when people actually cared about how they looked when they traveled. The era of heels, stockings, ties, scarves and designer pantsuits for jetsetters certainly feels long gone by now, but even as recent as the 1960s, travel was a luxury that not everyone could afford.  The acquisition of a plane ticket spoke to status, and travelers would certainly want to live up to their sartorial expectations and don their very best “travel” attire. Those who had the opportunity to travel via air were certainly up to the task of putting forward a stylish traveling outfit.

 

 

 

 

 

In shows like Mad Men, we can see the distinguished look of suits that men chose to wear aboard aircrafts in the glamorous 1960’s. In the classic film The Sound of Music, set in the 1930’s, the escaping von Trapps are almost given away by their “traveling clothes” when stopped by Nazi patrolmen. The fact that their attire was more altered than expected for a prominent family with the noble title of “von” to attend a musical performance speaks to the distinction between clothes meant for traveling and clothes worn for any other occasion.

Those traveling wanted all their aristocratic, sophisticated, stylish, well-to-do comrades to see them in their best clothes, and it became a bit of a fashion show to see who could “one-up” the other when it came to stylish traveling attire. Yes, there was a time when people saved special clothes for special occasions. And traveling was, until recently, considered a special occasion.

Back in the day, there were even regulations on airline stewardess height and weight, which the industry claimed was to promote easy movement throughout the tiny aisles, but let’s face it: they wanted the employees to look good in the tight skirts and low-cut uniform blouses. Call this sexism or snobbism or objectification or whatever, but there is no doubt that this element of “status” and “sophistication” associated with traveling—thanks in large part to the image put forth by the very first stewardesses—was a huge contribution to the boom in commercial aviation. People always want to show off and move up in society, and flying offered wealthy people of the 1960’s a chic avenue to display their impeccable style.

 

Even the word posh derives its roots from the act of traveling in style. During the advent of cruise ships, (think the Titanic, Queen Elizabeth II and liners that Grace Kelly would have taken to Monaco in the 1950’s) only the wealthiest of people could afford steam rail. These “first class” passengers desired to be seen as the most sophisticated and elegant travelers aboard, so they would request a port room for the journey abroad, and then a suite on the starboard side of the ship for their return journey. This practice led to the easy to remember phrase “Port Out Starboard Home= POSH”. Now, to be “posh” means to exude elegance, class, taste and sophisticated style once associated with the luxurious act of sea travel.  And, of course, this is why Victoria Beckham acquired her Spice Girl moniker.

Today, though, when one looks around an airport, it becomes clear the days of posh travel attire are a distant memory. I find it positively depressing and disheartening to look around a boarding gate in the States and see very attractive, obviously well-off people looking completely disheveled and chaotic as they board the plane.

 

With oversize sweatshirts falling off them, or hanging around their waists, while struggling beneath the weight of several overstuffed bags hanging from their shoulders and rolling along behind them, most American travelers are not only unkempt and untidy looking, but they also appear disorganized, which becomes an issue of safety and security, especially when traveling internationally. Not to say that comfort is not important. No one wants to sit in a tiny airplane seat for several hours wearing a binding mini-dress or a restricting necktie.

 

The fashion show days are sadly long gone, and you don’t have to dress to the nines to travel in style, but that is certainly no excuse to look like you literally rolled out of bed to arrive at the airport and in the process dragged half your bedding with you. A pair of well-fitted black knit pants are just as comfortable as a pair of old Juicy sweatpants, yet you look ever so much more refined. Men can easily remove their formal overcoats or blazers once seated on the plane, enjoy the flight in the comfort of a crewneck sweater and feel just as cozy as when covered in a Red Sox sweatshirt. One does not have to sacrifice elegance and sophistication to enjoy a comfortable, relaxing journey.

 

 

Another important element of traveling in elegant comfort is knowing what to bring with you. You just do not need to bring your entire bed with you. If you don’t want to be troubled with a pillow at all but still desire rest during the flight, I find that a soft pashmina or scarf propped up against the window works perfectly well. Another option that I often utilize on flights to tropical weather when leaving Boston snow is traveling in shoes and socks but including flip flops in my carry-on to change into upon landing, as well as throwing a yummy pair of socks in my bag to keep my feet warm for the flight home to a colder climate. There are so many easy, chic alternatives to schlepping unnecessary belongings that there is simply no excuse in this day and age. Victoria Beckham has even admitted that she changes into pajamas (Burberry silk pajama pants, of course) for her long flights between Los Angeles and the UK. However, she always changes from her comfort attire into an undeniably chic dress or pant style for de-boarding and strutting throughout the airport.  This concept of constantly stylish comfort and never looking slovenly is what makes her style so easy and attainable, at whatever budget.

You don’t have to be rich anymore to travel or to look stylish while doing so. Nearly every department, outlet, discount and thrift shop will offer a more tailored, silhouetted option to whatever beat-up sweatshirt you are traveling in. It is certainly worth the money to invest in a purchase that will offer you countless hours of comfort aboard long flights without weighing you down with dowdiness in the process. Luggage is very reasonably priced, and there are dozens of varieties in sizes and colors and styles that will lend themselves nicely to carry-on pieces, ready and waiting to hold your most precious items and on-board comfort items.

You never know whom you might meet on a flight. On a flight to Zurich then en route to Paris, my mother and I encountered the former governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis and his wife. They obviously could not have cared less about my outfit, but I still felt better walking by them not dressed like I was ready to attend a slumber party. It’s also important to dress up if you ever dream of the opportunity of getting bumped up to first class. For long flights, my motto is “Why not ask?” and if you ask the ticket agent at the gate for a first class upgrade while clad in tattered sweatpants and a worn-out dumpy sweatshirt, chances are they will decline even if there is ample space available. But if you dress like you belong (not being too obvious, or uncomfortable, but just sophisticated and put together nicely), you greatly increase your chances of a first class upgrade. This is one of those situations in which if you look like you belong and act like you belong, no one will question you. The worst-case scenario? There’s no room in first class. But at least you tried and gave yourself a fighting chance of experiencing the magic beyond the other side of the drawn curtain.

 

I openly long for the days when style and fashion were important at all—especially to those who decided to put their image on display when traveling internationally to some of the most sophisticated places in the world. So please excuse my snobbish attitude if I scoff a bit when I see tabloid pictures of Lo Bosworth, Mischa Barton or some other faux celebrities who claim to be “so into fashion” or even some (gasp!) who make a side-living as a figurehead fashion “designer,” shuffling through LAX, JFK, CDG and Heathrow looking like nothing more than a homeless vagabond wearing designer sunglasses.

 

Please, bring back the sophisticate travel attire! What are some of your comfortable, stylish travel tips?

 

 

 

Media Credits:

first photo courtesy of ligress.com

second photo courtesy of www.x17online.com

third photo courtesy of rolemommy.com

fourth photo courtesy of coutureinthecity.com

fifth photo courtesy of socialmoms.net

sixth photo courtesy of peoplestylewatch.com

seventh photo courtesy of drfunkenberry.com

eighth photo courtesy of main.stylist.com

ninth photo courtesy of zimbio.com

 

Bright Lights, Bitchy City Thursday, Dec 10 2009 

Is it living in Paris that has made me bitchier or just living in a city in general? Whatever the reason, I have learned that you have to look out for yourself and that the “sweet, naïve American” act only gets you so far before you are forced to adopt a much more cutthroat survival technique here in Paris.

When I arrived in August, trying desperately to use my limited French in the most endearing of ways to achieve my goals- be it opening a French bank account or buying Metro tickets- I more often than not got what I wanted. But soon, I realized that by presenting myself as a sweet little American girl who knew very little about the big bad city, along with accepting help from kindly French waiters, I was opening myself up to the dangers of French people in a position to help me but that chose to exploit my language disadvantage. I learned very quickly that there will always be cab driers who will drive in circles along one-way streets to give themselves a larger fare because they know I had no idea where I was going, and there will always be street vendors who will gauge their prices at the slightest hint of an American accent.

Throughout my time in Paris, I have learned there are times and places to play the “sweet, innocent, lost American” card, and there are occasions when the bitch must step up.

The French post office? Bitchy. I tried being nice back in September trying to get my long-overdue birthday packages and nicely explaining my plight in the best French I could muster. But after that one encounter, I learned: bring my own envelope and stamps, because they charge 11 euros just for the privilege of using a post-office bough envelope.

Restaurants? Sweet. By trying to order in French, no matter how daunting the task, you greatly improve the chances of the waiter earning his built-in 12% tip. My go-to phrases include “Une carafe de l’eau, sil vous plait” to ask for water, and “L’addition, sil vous plait” to ask for the bill. All said with a smile, of course.

French taxis? Play it by ear. Tell them in French where you’re going, and be as specific as possible. I have learned to specify: “Vingt-et-un rue de l’Exposition. Le septieme arrondissement” as opposed to “Rue de l’exposition. Near the Eiffel Tower.” I have also learned that I live between two one-way streets, and that I can walk very easily from the intersections of each, as opposed to paying 4 euros for the driver to circle around to drive me to my door. This is one of those instances when the best French you can conjur up will be you friend, and maybe even save you a few Euros. They most certainly know I am American, but if I put my most confident, city-wise “Don’t mess with me” attitude forward, generally, I won’t be ripped off royally.

It’s something every city girl should know, and I must admit I learned a lot from watching Carrie Bradshaw strut through Manhattan in Sex and the City, but living in a city for the first time really taught me the benefit of looking out for yourself and the importance of presenting a confident, independent, capable appearance. Even if it means being bitchy sometimes.

Laissez-Faire Thursday, Dec 3 2009 

A French term, which I vaguely remember from high school as having something to do with John Lock’s theories and “the Invisible Hand”. The direct translation into English means “leave to do”, or “let it be”.

I have finally seen this theory in full swing here in my classes at the American University of Paris. Today, for my 300 level Art History course, I had a 15-page paper due. An intense research paper for which ten sources needed to be consulted, and which was assigned over a month ago. I of course agonized over it and started almost right away, and had the paper 85% completed by Thanksgiving (so I could take a break and play with my US visitors!) I emailed a rough draft to my professor, spent hours in the library consulting sources, and went through approximately four drafts before being satisfied enough to turn my paper in. I was the only one. Another girl I was sitting next to simply told my professor “I didn’t finish it”. I prepared for the meltdown that would have any of my high school teachers or the disappointed sigh any Loyola professor would have exhibited at this “so be it” attitude. She didn’t even care. She wasn’t apologizing or begging for an extension with the story of a dying grandparent or car trouble- she was simply being honest about the fact that she didn’t care enough about the assignment to make time. But the professor simply shrugged and said, “Fine, email to me it tomorrow.” Ummm, hello, not fair!

It happened again in another Art History course- with an extremely tough and intimidating professor. I slaved weeks in advance to have my paper ready by its 9am Monday morning deadline. I knew I would be in Vienna over the weekend, so I had my paper finished and printed out by Thursday night to avoid computer and printer mishaps. This professor had been extremely clear and foreboding about this paper being due at 9 am sharp. However, when I arrived at class, proudly clutching my work in my hand, several others students shuffled in late, sans research papers. “Oh, my printer spazzed.” “My computer deleted my file.” OH MY GOD THAT”S A LIE!!! Yes, computer problems do happen, and usually at very inopportune moments, but the chances of three students having the exact same computer crisis on the same day, which happened to be the day this paper was due, escaped me. This teacher was surprisingly okay with this as well, and told each student that as long as she had the paper by 3pm that day, no points would be deducted. That’s a lifetime when it comes to editing and polishing an art history paper. Another girl and I had the same paper topic- I worked extremely diligently to have mine on time, and really could have used additional time to research and proofread before turning it in. I was extremely disappointed in the level of follow-through and  respect that these students had, when it was extremely clear that they just didn’t take the assignment seriously. I was even more outraged at the “laissez-faire” professors that barked ferociously but had zero bite when it came to tardy work. It was more of an insult to me, who had worked very hard and dedicated time to having this paper ready to turn in on time, and who will be held to the exact same standard as a student who had much more time to perfect or perhaps, ahem begin, their assignment.

I don’t understand how students over here just don’t show up on the day of a midterm presentation worth 25% of their final grade, or show up without the proper drive for a slideshow and then just “push back” their presentation to the following class meeting. Maybe it’s just my private Catholic high school upbringing where excelling at academics and doing your best in school is championed, and Loyola has reinforced that in me. All I know is that this would never be tolerated in the States to the extent it is here at AUP. It’s extremely true that Europeans are much more laid back and less stressed (and driven) when it comes to work, but sometimes I wonder if it really is the best path.

Attainable Tuesday, Dec 1 2009 

My last month in Paris has begun. As I begin to ponder my departure from the fashion capital of the world, I have been thinking in terms of shopping and Christmas gifts and purchases and souvenirs. Wherever I go in Paris- the Champs Elysees, Galeries Lafayette, le Bon Marche- everywhere has some fabulous designer creation to offer. The abundance of couture fashion here is overwhelming, even after four months of soaking it all in every chance I get. The Avenue George V and the rue Faubourg St. Honore are always bustling with well-dressed shoppers toting numerous large bags full of thousands of EUORS worth of purchases out to a waiting car.

What recession?

I read somewhere that only a thousand women in the world can afford to buy more than one couture gown in their lifetime. When I was at Harrods in London, the designer level was certainly full of women trying on Valentino, Chanel and Marchesa garments, and here in Paris, Louis Vuitton and Hermes always seem to have customers coming out with full shopping bags.  In a time when no one can really afford to buy anything anymore, I have to wonder: what kind of person lives like this? Are all of these one thousand women- Saudi princesses, oil heiresses, Madonna- all in Paris right now?

This lifestyle is not attainable- yet every fashion magazine I read and every style page I log on to tells me to “invest” in timeless pieces- Burberry trenches, Chanel suits, Yves Saint Laurent handbags, Louis Vuitton luggage, Dior shoes. Je ne pense pas. Life in Paris has certainly been an eye opening experience into the luxury that many crave but few can afford. Especially young college women today- we’re told to work really hard so we can buy ourselves whatever designer purses we want, and Infiniti pools and Range Rovers and yachts. To exaggerate obviously, but shopping and blogsites like Bluefly, Netaporter, Outnet.com, stlye.com, Gilt Groupe and the Zoe Report and millions other like them tell us what’s important is investing in ourselves- buy yourself Gucci sunglasses and Yves Saint Laurent coats and Fendi briefcases and Dior heels and you’ll be successful in the workplace. Is that really attainable for anyone graduating from college without several trust funds at their disposal? Will that really make me more successful at my first job?

In a world where everything is so fleeting, and where time passes so fast, why would you waste time and spend your whole life working to spend your whole paycheck on one designer item? Why is everything about status and what you own? Paris is beautiful and lovely and gorgeous and every shopping trip is exhilarating and fantastic; but there are so many people who live such an insanely different lifestyle than anything I’ve been exposed to before, that I wonder if those women who use their black American Express card at Hermes to buy three Birkin bags for themselves are really as happy as I am to be sitting in my house in Norfolk, Massachusetts with my boyfriend, my family and all my pets.

Not to say that money isn’t great and wealth isn’t great and fabulous designer bags aren’t great- that’s imply not true. But being over here, away from everyone I love and everything I know, I have learned that not only does money not buy happiness, but that there are so few real things in life that are actually attainable- and none of them can be charged to an American Express card.

Pourquoi Pas? Sunday, Nov 29 2009 

My countdown to departure from Paris has begun. It’s mind-boggling to think that almost four months have passed since I stepped off the plane and began my little journey to conquer Paris on my own. When I realized how rapidly my time left here in this remarkable city had dwindled, I began to reflect on what I had hoped to accomplish by this time, when I originally set out so many months ago.

Go to the top of the twinkling Eiffel Tower? Check.

Carry a fresh baguette around all day? Check.

Portrait at Montemartre? Check. Check. Check.

Force myself to eat “foie gras”? Half check.

Stay out until 5 am and come home to watching the sun rise on rue Rivoli by the Louvre? Check.

Acquire a pair of Christian Louboutin pumps from the Paris store? Check.

It’s hard to remember all the vast and tiny goals I had set up for myself when I first came to Paris and got a taste of life here. No, I never rode on the back of a Vespa, but I have been almost run over by them nearly a hundred times. The past few months are full of memories of the challenges of arriving at each monument by Metro, or weaving my way through side streets in the pouring rain, or trying to speak French to my French bank.

But now that I’m in the final stretch of this crazy ride, I try to force myself to take advantage of every little delight this city has to offer. Instead of opting for my usual pain au chocolat, I tried a new creation made of sugar and strawberries in the morning. When Paris decided to set up a seasonal ferris wheel at the end of the Champs Elysees, at first I balked and told myself I would be too nervous to be up that high on a rickety, collapsible, part-time ferris wheel set up hastily by Europeans. But during my boyfriend’s recent visit, I forced myself (or was forced) to give it a shot and just go for it. The view at the top, overlooking all of Paris, from every spot from Notre Dame to the Louvre to the Champs Elysses to the Invalides to the Eiffel Tower to Trocadero was well worth the fear of getting stuck at the top of a French contraption.

In a city that has so many unique treasures to offer, and since my time here is ticking away as fast as I can write my final term papers, I have to get in the mindset of pourquoi pas? When am I going to get the chance to see New Moon with French subtitles on the Champs Elysees ever again?

La Lange de L’Amour Wednesday, Nov 25 2009 

La Langue de L’Amour

Riding the Metro throughout Paris is great for observing the fascinating acts of people. What people do when they think no one is looking at them; what people do when they know no one knows them; what people do when they are completely alone, except for the group of strangers sharing a car for a few minutes.

One of my favorite observations during a recent Metro ride to Charles de Gaulle airport led me a conclusion I had never considered before, due to my lack of language barriers in my life. I realized that, as corny and predictable and Hallmark card as it sounds, love truly knows no language.

Early on a Saturday morning, the RER B, the direct line from Paris to Charles de Gaulle airport, the cars were filled with people headed to exciting destinations for getaways. Of course there was the obligatory recorder player who plays classic French songs with his recording device and then goes around asking for loose change, and there were other lone travelers accompanied by heavy duffels and suitcases, but what caught my eye was the first inter-national couple I have actually taken the time to look at for a few minutes.

They were sitting diagonally opposite my seat, barricaded in by a large silver wheeling suitcase. Clearly they were going somewhere for an extended time. The woman’s eye makeup looked smudged, so it was clear that she hadn’t been awake for very long. As her husband gently stroked her knee with his hand to keep her eyes from closing, I hear him speak to her in French. I can recognize the French language much better than I can understand, so all I could make out of his murmur was something about the morning, le matin. She rested her head on his shoulder and much to my surprise, answered him in German. A recent trip to Austria, via the airport in Dusseldorff, Germany, taught me that German is a very distinctive and, excuse me, but an incredibly ugly language. She was not speaking French with a German accent, she was speaking distinctly German. The nasality and harsh throaty accent with which she spoke immediately recalled Heidi Klum’s “Auf Wiedersein”s  on Project Runway, and of course the flight attendants’ harsh Germanic accents on my Austrian Airlines experiences.

The vast difference in the cultures of these two people, in addition to the fact that they each spoke in their own native language in the midst of one conversation, started me thinking about how they could have met and what language they communicate in most often. Do they say “Bon Jour” or “Guten Morgen” to each other in the morning when they wake up? Is it “Je t’aime” or “Ich liebe sie” to communicate love? Were they both fluent in both languages?

I was reminded of the adorable storyline in one of my favorite movies to watch at this time of year, Love Actually. The love affair between Colin Firth’s character and his maid blossoms despite a severe English-Portugese language barrier. When he finally travels to Brazil and proposes in her language, she answers him in English. The commitment to learn a new language and attempt to woo the one you love in their native tongue is a testament to the great gestures that people are capable of. The couple on the Metro made me happy- with so many depressing and tumultuous events taking place all over the world, it was nice to have a little visual reminder for a few moments that sometimes love conquers all, even if “all” in this case was just a Romance language versus a Slavic Germanic language. Their obvious comfort with and devotion to each other despite the language barrier was a quietly beautiful example to remind me that, in this international world, the language of love is truly universal and knows no boundaries.

Separation Anxiety Monday, Nov 16 2009 

On my recent airline excursions, I have made a very important observation. People all over the world, no matter what country they’re flying into or what language they speak, are attached to their cell phones. Addicted. People can’t survive any longer than they absolutely have to without being in constant contact with the world.

When the flight attendant instructs passengers on airplanes to disable their mobile devices, a collective groan and overall displeasure can be felt throughout the cabin. No one likes being disconnected from loved ones, friends and colleagues. I understand this phenomenon- does one cell phone really disrupt the enormous Boeing 747 engine? Will I really interfere with inter-space satellites by texting? The answer is no, one cell phone will not make a difference, as I have witnessed when my mom completely forgot to turn her phone off on a long flight to St. Thomas and didn’t realize until we landed, or another time, when I was mid-complaint, a kind engineer and former Southwest Airlines employee next to me informed me that it’s more for noise disruption and passenger volume control than for safety and aviation matters.

This actually makes perfect sense. Yes, I want to have my phone on to receive tests and calls and emails, but think about it: if everyone on board was able to access their emails and make endless calls, a plane would become nothing more than a noise tunnel for cell conversations and the constant beeping of BBMs. Everyone wants to continue their voyeurism and visual poaching of each other. Everyone wants to Twitter and BBM and email and Facebook and Ping and text and chat with their iPhones and Blackberries.

I have noticed that the second the plane touches down, people reach for their phone like a life preserver. Frought with separation anxiety or fear that they may have missed the greatest event on earth, everyone scrambles to turn their phone on as soon as they physically can without being detected by the nosy stewardesses. Yes, obviously I’m guilty of this also, and admit to suffering separation anxiety when I feel cut off from my world when I’m not instantly accessible and I can’t immediately reach everyone I want to talk to. But I would much rather sacrifice a few hours of “incommunicado” than endure a flight full of everyone talking to everyone else they know, and be subjected to my fellow traveller’s addiction to instant gratification and instant knowledge of every detail of everyone’s lives.

Consider an airplane flight a small break from the constant barrage of media images and instant communication with every acquaintance. Everyone will still want to talk when you land, and when you don’t respond instantly to every request and email and chat, it adds an air of mystery and prevents you from being too available to everyone who needs to reach you. I secretly enjoy the rush of turning on my phone after a few hours, to see how many texts and emails I have, and to see them all flood in at once, reassuring me that I didn’t miss anything major: my world is right there waiting for me.

Seulement Friday, Nov 13 2009 

Something I have discovered in Paris that has become one of my new favorite activities is strolling around the city alone. Not just walking to and from boulangeries, metro stations and classroom buildings, but actually slowing down and leisurely strolling along the bustling streets.

When you’re not in a hurry to get somewhere, you appreciate everything so much more. You’re much more aware of your surroundings and of the people and noise around you. You notice fiercely loyal little Parisian chiens ignoring the tempting smell of each other and obediently trotting along behind their masters. You notice interactions between other people: older couples that slow down to wait for each other to cross the street, young children on scooters that try to escape their mother’s watchful eye, and even little things like a teenage girl walk more rhythmically when her favorite song plays into her headphones as she walks. You don’t even have to move your head or your eyes to look around and notice the smallest beauties and pleasures of the city- you’re walking right into them and interacting with everything. You notice which shops are open when not by looking at the sign displaying their hours, but by walking by and seeing if their lights are on, and what time the freshly made croissants are put in the display counter not by watching the baker but by smelling the delicious ingredients.

Alone, you’re not worried about making conversation with whoever you’re walking with- this promenade is all about you and your relationship with the city. Your only thought is on your steady footsteps and watching the world go by around you. I’ve found that when I don’t open my mouth to speak to another person for a while, I almost forget what I should say. My little reflex words like “Oui”, “merci”, “pardon”, and “d’accord” still hop off my tongue when I need to engage in conversation, but I almost get lost inside my own head and forget what I should be talking about to another human being.

When you walk alone, you think about what is truly important. Your priorities make a mental list and arrange themselves at the forefront of your cerebral cortex. When you walk aimlessly, free from the pleasures of little routine distractions, you are forced to confront what you are truly anxious or stressed about. Whether or not you reach helpful conclusions is not guaranteed, but you definitely have to deal with whatever you’ve been pushing to the back burner while you deal with more imminent, immediate issues.

I find myself noticing more details about other people when I walk alone, but I also notice little quirks about myself. I notice that I don’t like to cross the street when the person is lit up red, that I like walking on the busier side of the street even if it’s the shady side (unless there are small children overtaking it, in which case I avoid them at all costs!) and that it takes me several minutes to get my bearings when I emerge from a metro stop in a new area. The time I spend orienting myself is usually bristled over when I’m following a fellow traveler, since I usually just head in the direction they head and assume that their sense of direction is better than mine. If you walk enough, eventually you will get so lost in a new city but the experience will have been a positive one if you have used this time to escape to your most private and pressing of thoughts, and even if you don’t conquer them, at least you’ve encountered them.

Next Page »