why do we travel?

I had an existential moment as I stood for 3 hours on the train from Naples to Rome.  Why do we travel?, I asked myself.  The train was packed, but for only 12 euros I could buy a ticket that allowed me to stand with others in the standing area.  The 3 hours passed a lot faster than I thought they would.  I chatted with a nice man from Atlanta and his wife.  I self-consciously ate two slices of pizza while eight pairs of eyes stared at me.  I witnessed an angry exchange between two Italian women and didn’t have a clue what it was about.  I stared out the window and watched the changing landscape. And I watched as two policemen boarded the train and accosted two black men.  It turned out they were African boat migrants who, no doubt, had paid a smuggler to break into Fortress Europe.  At the next station they were escorted off the train.  What awaited them?, I wondered.  A detention camp, no doubt, and probable deportation.  I felt sorry for them.

And I guess that’s one of the reasons why we travel – to see the world, in all its splendor and misery. To see how other people live. To step out of our lives – for some people, their ivory towers – and observe the diversity and destiny and danger of our fellow humans, even if that view is voyeuristic or from a privileged perch.

Other reasons to travel – to unstick oneself from routine (I hate routine).  It’s good to change our daily habits and shake things up.  Or, as the French say, “changer les idées”.

To step out of our comfort zone, to test and challenge ourselves, to not stand still, to feel inspired.  To connect with humanity.  To see great art and taste gorgeous foods that we wouldn’t see or eat at home.  To extend our boundaries and stretch our minds.  To unplug from our computers.  To feel the sea wind in our face and hear a foreign, lyrical language in our ears.

I like what Jonah Lehrer, a British journalist, wrote –

We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity.  When we get home, home is still the same.  But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.

Below is a favourite video of mine that says journey is a process of self-discovery.

see Naples and die….or leave

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Naples is a slap in the face.  A hard slap.  Within 5 minutes of my arrival I was accosted by a purse-snatcher – in plain daylight in the middle of a street – and found myself tussling with him over my handbag. I won and he lost, but more on that in a minute.

My arrival into Naples was as inauspicious as my (shortened) stay there.  As the Air France jet started its descent, we flew into thick black cloud that hovered menacingly over the city.  An omen?  I found the presence of the clouds odd because the two hour flight from Paris had been sunny and uneventful all the way down.  Suddenly a rainstorm of biblical proportions broke out. Turbulence ensued and then we landed, rather rockily.  The taxi ride to the hotel was even worse.  We descended a slippery narrow hill (in the pouring rain) with such velocity that I found myself sliding across the back seat from one side of the car to the other.  I groped for the seatbelt.  It was broken.  To make matters worse, every time we passed a roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary – of which there were many and had been erected for each fatal road accident that had occurred there – my pious taxi driver made the sign of the cross, not once or twice but three times.  He kissed the side of his index finger then touched his fingers to his forehead, chest and two shoulders.  Three times.  All without lifting his foot from the gas pedal.

Not knowing how to say “Slow down!” in Italian, all that came out of me was “Tranquillo!” which I screeched several times, now clutching a shred of leather strap that dangled from the ceiling .  My taxi driver laughed and said “Calmo! Calmo!” then slowed up a little bit. The phrase “See Naples and die” ran through my head.  Only I hadn’t even seen Naples yet…only the airport, black cloud, rain and a portion of shrine-studded road.

Then his cell phone rang and he launched into a lengthy and animated discussion with his mother.  I know this because every sentence was punctuated with “Mamma”.  With the phone clamped to his ear, he spoke and made gestures with his one free hand – all the while reaffirming the Holy Trinity every time a roadside shrine appeared.  We continued our descent into Dante’s inferno, or rather, the city.

We finally reached the hotel.  I staggered out of the car, checked in, dumped my bag in my room and went out again (it had just stopped raining).  And was immediately attacked by a purse snatcher.

And it’s funny because just as I entered the road marked Via Alessandro, a mere 4 minutes from the hotel, I received a flash, a premonition.  A voice in my head said “What if something should befall you in this street?  Like a car running you over or something landing on your head from an above balcony?”  And it was while I was looking upwards that a motorcycle drove by, driven by a male whose face was covered like a jihadist.  He slowed down as he passed and grabbed the strap of my handbag which was wrapped around my torso, causing me to spin around.  I remember standing there, visibly shaken, and staring at the back of this cowardly brute with disbelief and defiance as he drove away.  I couldn’t believe his audacity!   He’s a coward because he covers his face and his targets are single women.  The next day my torso would be black and blue.

But he had failed to snatch my bag, so he turned around and came back.  By this time I was walking quickly back to the hotel.  He reached out and grabbed again the strap of my bag which broke.  I was now holding the bag with all my might while he was pulling on the strap which broke again.  He was babbling unintelligible words to me in Italian; I was shrieking intelligible words to him in English.

There was no way he was going to get his hands on that bag.  Everything essential was in it – my passport, my bank cards, my phone, my brand new YSL fuschia lipstick…..My determination was greater than his and in the end he drove off, bagless.  Vigliacco!  That’s “coward” in Italian (I looked it up).  And it’s too bad that I didn’t know this word at the time because when you say it with force and accompanied with a flamboyant hand gesture, it comes out as a guttural rasping utterance which is quite satisfying.

VI-LIA-KKO!

I noticed that there were people in the street who appeared to be oblivious to what had just occurred.  I marched into the hotel and told the two men at reception of my street scuffle.  They looked embarrassed and apologized profusely.  “We are very sorry, Signora,” they said, “but this is Naples.”  Somehow I didn’t feel reassured.  They then instructed me to leave everything in the safe in my room and to go out with nothing.  “Nothing?” I protested.  “But I need to take some cash, at least. And a map.”  They told me to put a few things in zippered pockets or in a secure money belt hidden under my coat.

For someone who lives and breathes freedom, I found this restriction on my personal liberté very depressing.

Photos taken from my hotel balcony.IMG_4393

Easter in Italy

Easter’s here and I’m off to Naples and Capri, two destinations I’ve never visited before.  Stay tuned for reports (and photos) when I get back.

Easter’s big in Italy, in some ways bigger than Christmas.  Festivals and religious processions abound, as do sumptuously-wrapped chocolate eggs and special foods. I’m going to be hitting the pastry shops, that’s for sure; not to mention pizzerias for which Naples is famous.  Oh, here’s a diet rule to abide by – when on vacation, ditch the diet!

Look at this marvel called Sfogliatelle; it’s a work of art! – “To thoroughly appreciate this pastry, you need to eat it right out of the oven while it’s still warm.  The crust is crunchy and flaky and the filling creamy and not overly sweet.  A sort of puff pastry, it’s formed into its famous clam-like shell and filled with a custard-like mixture of semolina, ricotta, eggs, sugar, candied citrus and a pinch of cinnamon.”

I’m imagining it right now with an espresso doppio (double espresso).

Oh, mio Dio. Italia, sto arrivando !  (Oh, my God.  Italy, I’m coming!)

photo acknowledgement Food Lover's Odyssey

photo acknowledgement Food Lover’s Odyssey

I love Italy.  Last June I spent 10 magnificent days in Puglia, the region in the heel of Italy.  If you click on Destinations up top, you’ll see travel posts I wrote during that trip.

Happy Easter!

Joyeuses Pâques!

Buona Pasqua!

dinner at the Bon Coin bistro

So last night I asked friend and fellow-blogger, Beth from Toronto, what it is exactly that she loves about Paris.  We were tucking into our meals at the Bon Coin bistro in the 5th arrondissement.  She had ordered the pork, I started off with seared foie gras and artichoke followed by a generous portion of chicken served atop a mound of mashed potato.  The wine, a Bergerec for Beth and a Brouilly for me, flowed copiously.  As did the conversation, not only between ourselves but with the two ladies sitting at the table next to us.  Two Bostonian ladies, as it turned out – one who has written a book on lobsters and the other who, like me, has a blog on Paris and who, unlike me, divides her time between here and the USA.  We all exchanged our respective blog URL’s.  Which reminds me that I must get some calling cards made up because I’m tired of scribbling my URL onto a ripped-off corner of paper tablecloth (usually wine-stained) and handing it to nice people I come across.

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Anyway, back to Beth.  Every year at the same time she comes to Paris (from Toronto) and rents an apartment so that she can live like a Parisian.  She speaks fluent French, so that helps.  Then she takes the Eurostar to London and then she meets up with a friend (from Vancouver) in Italy.  Every year they explore a different region.  This year they will be exploring the region of Cinque Terre which is a rugged portion of coast on the Ligurian Italian Rivieria.

“So Beth, what is it exactly that you love about Paris?” I said through a mouthful of artichoke.  I reminded her that I’ve been living in Paris for two decades and, unsurprisingly, view the city through an entirely different prism.

First and foremost, she replied, Paris is an architecturally beautiful city full of ancient, old and modern buildings of different architectural styles that are truly interesting to look at.  In that respect, Toronto is quite an ugly city in comparison.  I love just strolling and admiring the window boxes and the bridges over the Seine and just gazing in general.  There’s so much to look at.

Secondly, it’s a stylish city filled with people who dress stylishly but simply, not overdone; many Parisians (not all, of course) seem to have an innate sense of how to dress and put things together, and it’s a pleasure to look at them.

The quality and variety of shops is a delight and the smells that waft from the bakeries on every corner is divine.

“Would you say that Paris is a multi-sensory experience?” I suggested.

“Yes, I would,” said Beth, “One is overwhelmed here by all of the five physical senses.”

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The meal we had at the Bon Coin most definitely appealed to our senses.  The portions were generous without being overly copious (however Beth’s pork chop was massive); everything was extremely tasty and gave one the sense of “home cooking”.  What I particularly liked was the unpretentious air of the place.  Down to earth, homestyle cooking is how I would characterize this bistro…. with simple wooden furniture.  Friendly service, reasonably priced and nice neighbourhood vibe.  What more could one ask for?

To accompany my double espresso at meal’s end, I ordered a Paris Brest for dessert because, well…just because.

http://www.auboncoin-bistrot.com/fr

Femen….the Sunday elections….the return of Sarkozy

Never a dull moment in France.  There are many strident voices in this country (including my own, I guess) which is why I needed to take a break yesterday and put up the Rita Hayworth post.

AP Photo/Michel Spingler

AP Photo/Michel Spingler

Today, however, is a new day and as I write this post at 8 pm on Sunday evening, the first results of the second round of local elections are coming in. They are the departmental elections to elect the membership of the councils of France’s 101 departments   The centre-right political party UMP, headed by Nicolas Sarkozy, has won the majority vote.  French voters – those who showed up, as there was a 49.8% abstention – have rejected the current Socialist party representatives.

Earlier today in the north of France, Femen activists were holding up posters that didn’t say “I am Charlie”, but rather “I am Fascist”.  They were protesting the presence of Marine Le Pen and her far-right party, the National Front.

What exactly is this radical feminist protest group that calls itself FEMEN?  Exactly two years ago, in March 2013, I wrote a blog post on these courageous, tough women.  The link is below.

Inna Shevchenko, the 24-year-old leader of Femen in France

Inna Shevchenko, the 24-year-old leader of Femen in France

Ukrainian activist Inna Shevchenko, from the topless women's rights group Femen, poses in Paris

http://julietinparis.net/2013/03/07/femen/

lovely Rita, silverscreen goddess

Let’s take a weekend break from this coarse, brutish world and travel back to the mid-1940s of Hollywood.

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Since watching the 1946 film, Gilda, for the very first time in January of this year, I have become subjugated by the beauty (inside and out) of Rita Hayworth.  Why it took me so long to see Gilda is beyond me, but everything about the movie blew me away, including the controlled, gritty performance of Glenn Ford.  Gilda is the role that defined Rita Hayworth.

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But what a sad personal life she had.  Rita’s real name was Margarita Carmen Cansino and she started dancing at the age of 6 to support her family.  Throughout her teen years she was subjected to sexual and physical abuse by her father who was also her dancing partner.  She would be exploited by men for most of her life – in her personal life, her professional life and even in the onscreen characters she played.  Her five failed marriages included Orson Welles and playboy Prince Aly Khan.  She would maintain a lifelong friendship with Glenn Ford.  Her later years were marked with struggles with alcoholism and then the disease that ultimately took her from us in 1987 at the age of 68 – Alzheimer’s.

I wonder how Rita’s life would have been had she been born 20, 30 or even 40 years later.

Such was her talent, she could dance with the best of them (Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly) as you’ll see in this uplifting video set to the music of “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees.  Below that is the link to the classic, now-cult film, Gilda.

Très bon week-end.