off to Italy, and why do we travel?

I’m off to Italy tomorrow for 11 days, travelling by train to different regions after 3 days in Rome. I’ll post a travel report when I return. Here’s a text I wrote a few years ago, entitled ‘Why Do We Travel?’

I had an existential moment as I stood for three hours on the train from Naples to Rome. Why do we travel?, I asked myself. The train was packed solid, but for 12 euros I could buy a ticket that allowed me to stand with others in the standing-only area. The three hours passed faster than I thought they would. I chatted with a nice man from Atlanta. I self-consciously ate a slice of pizza while eight pairs of eyes watched hungrily. I witnessed an angry exchange between two Italian women and didn’t have a clue what it was about (and didn’t want to know.) I looked out the window at the passing 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, maybe, and 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 converse with complete strangers, until they’re no longer strangers but new friends with whom you’ve exchanged email addresses. To see great art and taste gorgeous foods that we normally wouldn’t see or eat at home. To extend our boundaries and stretch our minds. To feel the sea wind in our face and hear a foreign, lyrical language in our ears. To unplug from our computers and our hard drives and see things from another perspective because there are, in this world, differing points of view.

Jonah Lehrer, a British journalist, wrote this –

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.

 

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Zeppole, custard-filled deep-fried balls of dough; photo by Antonio Gravante

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Eleonora Grasso photo

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Paris street shots and birthday dinner at 404 Moroccan restaurant

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So I went over to Monique’s apartment last evening for a celebratory glass of sparkling wine before heading out to the well-loved 404 located in the Marais district. It was her birthday. You definitely need to book ahead to get into this restaurant. I snapped some street shots along the way.

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Bonjour! Can I join you for a drink?

There’s a lot of tasty-looking men in this district, many are gay. Here’s the restaurant below. We got there early and the doors hadn’t opened yet. There’s a story behind the name, 404. I’ll tell you at the end of this post.

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Monique and me.

I had the lamb and artichoke heart tagine. Monique had the vegetarian couscous. A tagine is an earthenware pot with a flat base and conical lid, used in North African cooking – most famously in Morocco. In French, it’s spelled tajine.

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For dessert, M had a plate of sliced orange drizzled with orange flower water and cinnamon. I had a warm date pastilla topped with cream and something crunchy, slivered almonds probably.

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OK, now for the story of the restaurant’s name. Owner and restaurateur, Mourad Mazouz, otherwise known as Momo, called it 404 as a tribute to the model of the old Peugeot cars that North African families drove during their summer returns to the home country. Mazouz also owns the insanely trendy and expensive restaurant in London’s Mayfair district, Sketch, as well as the Mayfair Moroccan restaurant, Momo.

Back in Paris, here are two other well-known couscous restaurants. Moroccan and Tunisian cuisine is big in France:

Chez Omar, 47 Rue de Bretagne, 75003 Paris (fun and popular in the Marais district)

Le Sirocco, 8 Bis Rue des Gobelins, 75013 Paris (more staid and serious and kinda out of the way)

Photo of London’s Sketch restaurant:

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the USA frightens me

Right now, I have no desire to travel to the States. And it’s not like I know no one there, I have friends and relatives in NYC and California. But as long as that sociopathic fraudster is in the White House, and the gun violence, racism, homelessness, school shootings, police brutality and other stuff persists, I just don’t want to go. It disturbs me deeply. No, it scares me. Your country scares me.

I just read the article below and was horrified … horrified! What was that poor woman’s crime (other than being black)? Was that her crime? Black-skinned Sandra Bland, on her way to start a new job at a Texan university ended up in jail and now she’s dead. She was 28 years old. Why isn’t the demented racist cop in jail??? (Sandra Bland’s story occurs frequently in the States: racist berserk cops harassing and even gunning down guiltless unarmed citizens. The victims are too numerous to mention.)

And then there was that other horrific story about this woman shot dead in Minneapolis by a trigger-happy cop called Mohamed Noor. 40 years old she was, and about to marry the man she loved. The irony is that she was a spiritual healer and meditation coach. Is this a cruel joke?

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Justine Damond shot in the stomach

The whole world watches American events in disbelief, and I’m sorry to say that the USA has lost its glitter. We used to love the place.

There’s so much anger all over the world and I know why. Injustice, lies, the violation of our constitutional rights, loss of dignity. Evil, morally-bankrupt people enriching themselves, committing crimes and getting off scot free, while good people suffer, die or pay the price of the evil ones. There’s too much injustice, and we’re mad as hell.

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Sandra Bland, pulled over and terrorized by a deranged racist cop for failure to signal a lane change. Dead at 28 in a prison cell.

Imagine being confronted by this lunatic (see link below). I’d be terrified. “I will light you up!” he hollers, stun gun in hand. Why would a woman, alone in her car, be a threat to an armed cop?

And if that’s not enough, check out the video even further below and watch cops in the state of Georgia brutalize a 65-year old grandmother, curse at her, and drag her out of her vehicle. I watched, my mouth open with horror.

A friend of mine, whose skin color happens to be black, asked my advice recently on where to go in the States for a first-time visit. “I wouldn’t go at all,” I told him. “You could actually be endangering your life.”

Treated like a criminal. Shocking beyond words –

my local Sunday morning market and the opening of the new EATALY market in the Marais

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Markets are the soul and substance of France. All over the country, usually on a Sunday morning, French citizens flock to their local markets to barter, socialize, stroll and stock up on weekly provisions. My market is a 20-minute walk from my apartment and takes place on Sunday and Wednesday mornings. Here are some scenes.

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Plump scallops on the half shell, glistening sea bass, and scampi:

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This scene below cracked me up. The customers, engaged in animated conversation with the vendor, are seemingly unaware or unperturbed by the fact that a dead piglet is hanging ignominiously from a hook in front of them (This little piggy went to market…)  It’s called a cochon de lait which means suckling pig, so we can correctly assume that it was snatched from its mother’s teat then slaughtered. Also below are skinned rabbits.

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Goose eggs, fresh oysters from the Atlantic Coast, sausage and sauerkraut, mangos from Africa, tulips and hyacinths from Holland. An embarrassment of riches, and sometimes it feels embarrassing when you think of all that we have, and others who do not.

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Some friendly gazes and some not so friendly.  

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Yikes, look at those glacial stares. This market is in a fairly well-heeled district as you can probably tell by the fur coats and supercilious air of some of the denizens.

Laden with produce, I repaired to the nearest café for a tartine and espresso. A tartine is half a baguette spread with butter. I wouldn’t have minded a dollop of raspberry jam, but they were all out.

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Speaking of markets, EATALY has just opened in the Marais district. All Italian, I can’t wait to go. Here are some beautiful photos in the link below:

https://www.azzed.net/2019/04/eataly-paris-ouverture/

paid public holidays and book readings at Shakespeare and Co. bookstore

Wednesday’s a paid statutory holiday (youpi !!) and so is the following Wednesday May 8th, the 30th of May, and the 10th of June.

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Yes, here in France, the country that ardently defends secularism (separation of the church and state) still observes Catholic holidays: May 30th is Ascension of the Lord, June 10th is Pentecost, and August 15th is Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But who’s complaining? Nobody. You don’t see gilets jaunes storming the Champs-Elysées and clamouring the end of religious vacation days.

As for me, I’ve opened a bottle of Saumur-Champigny and plan to stay up late watching a Swedish thriller on Netflix, knowing I can sleep in tomorrow morning.

There are book readings at Shakespeare and Co. bookstore in the Latin Quarter: Tommy Orange will be reading from his best-selling book, There There, on May 29th. This ‘stunning debut novel’ was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize 2019. The place will be packed solid.

An intriguing new novel called Walking on the Ceiling is out. The author, Ayşegül Savaş, will be reading and speaking on May 28th. “A mesmerizing novel set in Paris and a changing Istanbul, about a young Turkish woman grappling with her past – her country’s and her own.”

And many more events. See the links below.

https://shakespeareandcompany.com/event/962/aysegul-savas-on-walking-on-the-ceiling

https://shakespeareandcompany.com/

Art as an antidote to crass

I don’t know about you, but I need (and sometimes crave) Art. I see it as an antidote to all that is coarse and vulgar in this world. I mean, imagine a world without art. It might resemble the inside of Donald Trump’s head: hollow, amoral, meaningless. And how fitting to compare an Art-less world to Trump’s cerebrum, because since 2017 he’s been threatening to cut funding to the National Endowment of the Arts, Humanities and a half dozen other beloved institutions relating to music, literature, theater, dance, public radio, and the like.

But getting back to Art, a far more illuminating subject than the inside of DT’s head. As I sat at my desk yesterday reading my favorite on-line newspaper, The Guardian, I saw this image and it took my breath away. It’s the most beautiful Ophelia I’ve ever seen … and it’s a photograph! (Julia Fullerton Batten)

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The original is in London’s Tate Gallery, of course, which reminds me that the next time I visit that fine city, I must pop in and revisit her. I remember seeing her for the first time when I was a teenager. In front of the large painting I stood enchanted, gazing at it for a long time.

Ophelia 1851-2 by Sir John Everett Millais, Bt 1829-1896

Here’s the original above, painted by John Everett Millais (1829 – 1896). The depicted scene is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act IV, Scene vii, in which Ophelia, driven out of her mind when her father is murdered by her lover Hamlet, falls into a stream and drowns. The flowers she holds are symbolic: the poppy signifies death, daisies innocence, and pansies thoughts.

Millais’s model was a young woman aged nineteen called Elizabeth Siddall. She was discovered by his friend, Walter Deverell, working in a hat shop. She later married one of Millais’s friends, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, in 1860. To get the full story on Ophelia and to see these images in a larger format, click on the links below –

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/millais-ophelia-n01506/story-Ophelia

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2019/apr/24/the-art-of-visual-storytelling-in-pictures

fuck Facebook

I’ve never had a Facebook account, and I wonder how people who haven’t yet cancelled theirs can still affiliate themselves with such a loathsome and immoral organization. Because it’s just been one scandal after the next. The video below went viral last week when award-winning British investigative journalist, Carole Cadwalladr, gave a 15-minute TED Talk just a few weeks ago. Carole Cadwalladr rose to international prominence in 2018 when she exposed the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

She delivered the talk directly to the people she described as “the Gods of Silicon Valley”: Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Jack Dorsey as well as the founders of Facebook and Google – who were sponsoring the conference – and the co-founder of Twitter – who was speaking at it. The speech was applauded. Some of the “tech giants” complained about “factual inaccuracies”, but when invited to specify they did not respond.

In her TED Talk, Cadwalladr explains the direct link between Brexit and the nomination of Trump. Same people, same slimy tactics. On a personal note, I am directly affected by the outcome of Brexit (along with a million other people.) The idea that it was manipulated by corrupt, self-serving, millionaire gangsters and paid for with dark and dirty money makes me see RED.

Watch the video because the subject matter is not just about Brexit, but about disinformation and the dishonest practices of the Facebook people. You know, Facebook isn’t a faceless corporate behemoth, it’s a bunch of people, up until now not held accountable for their actions.

I don’t use Google anymore, I use Qwant, a European rival search engine that allegedly respects your data and doesn’t use cookies crap to profit from you (like parasites) with advertising.

Update, April 24: Facebook is expected to be fined up to $5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations. The penalty would be a record by the agency against a technology company and a sign that the United States was willing to punish big tech companies.

Facebook’s role in Brexit — and the threat to democracy