"Reader, it is time for your tempest-tossed vessel to come to port.  What harbor can receive you more securely than a great library? Certainly there is one in the city from which you set out and to which you have returned after circling the world from book to book..."
Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler

Don't you just love those moments when the book you hold in your hands is speaking directly to you? This tempest-tossed Julia has come to port in none other than New York, New York.  I was born here, and, after 9 months of traveling, it feels as if I've had somewhat of a rebirth of self...a self that is, in the end, a New Yorker.  So here I am.

But not before a fabulous final few weeks in Buenos Aires, where it's getting warmer (that's the thing about the southern hemisphere...) and living in the moment sometimes means jumping in the pool:

Then a twelve-hour farewell party which included everything I love most about Argentina: empanadas, Quilmes/Brahma, bolicheando, mate, boludeando, Fernet, dulce de leche, Drexler, picada, salsa golf (gracias, Nachitoo!), 3 a.m. truco, and most of all the incredible (really, super impresionante) friends that I made:


  Next off to Las Vegas for Maddy's 21st birthday!

Then to the nearby Hoover Dam to check out some vacuums...just kidding...actually, it's a remarkable architehtural and engineering feat.  To commemorate my visit, I (what else?) jumped:

And then off to Washington, D.C. with Erica for a surprise visit to Ms. Theo!  We had a wonderful reunion, and Erica and Cam churned out latkes like pros.  And I must say, there was something special to returning to the U.S. of A. and seeing those emblems special to our nation's capital:

Can't figure out how to rotate the Washington Monument
But there's the Capitol Building, correctly oriented

And while, as the song says, America is the "land that I love," seeing the people I love has brought me the most joy.  So that is what I'll be up to in the coming weeks.  Do drop a line and say hello!

And hey, one more thing.  Thanks for reading.  All of your comments and support have made me feel connected in a way I don't know how to describe.  In my journey around the world, I took comfort in knowing that my dear ones (and the occasional casual reader) were just a "Free WiFi!" sign away.  

The trip is over.  The adventure continues.

The good old days

Waves of talk from which surface the vocabularies of the most specialized and most exclusive diciplines and schools are poured over this eldery editor, whom at first glance you defined as ''a little man, shrunken and bent,'' not because he is more of a little man, more shrunken, more bent than so many others, or because the words ''little man, shrunken and bent'' are part of his way of expressing himself, but because he seems to have come from a world where they still - no: he seems to have emerged from a book where you still encounter - you've got it: he seems to have come from a world in which they still read books where you encounter ''little men, shrunken and bent.''

From Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler

A new blog!

You've probably heard me proclaim more than once, ¨I'm really good at the internet.¨  And if you've known me long enough, I've probably proven it.  I subscribe to Blake's philosophy that if you can imagine something, it already exists on Google, and I believe that the global worldwide interwebs, with all its/their woes, also has a lot to offer us.  So last week I started a new blog:

Follow if you like...more relevant, my latest post there is also a post that belongs here.  Enjoy!

Stuff Worth Sharing. Or Not.: Lunfardo:

"The translation of lunfardo is slang, but it is so, so much more. It's part of what makes Argentine spanish so appealing, and so confusing..." [read more here]

Sheep hugger

Amid the whirlwind of goings on, I found a moment of peace last weekend.  Romi, a friend who radiates all kinds of beauty, decided to celebrate her birthday in Baradero.  Why Baradero, you ask?  And what is Baradero, anyway?  Well, it's a city where you'll find Comunidad German Frers, a center for at-risk and impoverished children situated on a piece of land that is farmed sustainably to help support the kids and their families.  Truly an amazing undertaking...and one in dire need of volunteers.  Entonces.  Romi invited one and all to volunteer there.  Read more about CGF on their facebook page (website in progress)...and by all means go and volunteer there!

How very satisfying to start the weekend looking at a piece of untilled earth covered in grass and weeds, and to finish it looking at neat rows of tomillo (thyme) and habichuela (kidney beans, I think?).

In progress


One huertita down...

After breaking for lunch, I went to visit the animals. And that's when I sat on the grass and hugged a sheep.  And that's when I exhaled.

The Blogger's Dilemma + Two Blochs to Buenos Aires

I have been thinking about this post since I popped an Ambien on my flight from DC to Buenos Aires last Tuesday.  I started writing this post on Friday.  I intended to post on Saturday.  On Sunday I realized the blogger’s dilemma.  And now, a week has past and FINALLY I am ready.

I like blogging.  However, since I started Blocho’s Tacos almost 13 months ago I have realized that “to blog” is very different from “blogging”.  For me, it is a hobby.  Something I do on occasion and by no means regularly.  And there are times when I just don’t want to blog.  For example, the night before I left for Buenos Aires I had a delicious lobster taco at Toloache in NYC.  It was an appetizer to my meal and although I took a picture and noted the layering of flavors, I didn’t blog about it.  Sometimes to blog takes away from the pure enjoyment.

So here I am, in Argentina, enjoying life.  Although I want to share the experience (and I know that many followers want to know more about what we’re doing and why Argentina is so awesome), part of me wants to just enjoy and not think about how to put it into words.  Hence the blogger’s dilemma.  Maybe I’m not cut out for blogging because I’d rather spend the time living than recalling what I have lived.   Yet there comes a point when we all need to share.  So here it is.

I’ll start with what I wrote on Friday and continue from there.  Enjoy!

Two Blochs to Buenos Aires

It has yet to be 72 hours and I have already been in New York, Washington D.C., Buenos Aires, and San Martin de los Andes.  With a combined travel time of approximately 36 hours.  Wow!  It’s hard to believe that so much has already happened in this short amount of time.  After a warm welcome at EZE (the Buenos Aires airport) by Julia and Nati, we jumped right into the porteno lifestyle.   I was introduced to and quickly became fond of the 3 cats – Ralphy, La Negrita, and Ralphy’s lookalike; got a warm and hardy welcome from the dog, Arturo; tasted real Dulce de Leche; drank real mate, had an all-you-can-eat experience at a Parilla, visited Jumbo, the Argentinian version of Marshall’s or Costco, but better, and slept at a 180 degree angle on a bus.

We have just arrived at our CouchSurfing house in San Martin de los Andes where Manchi, the adorable terrier that lives here, reminds us a lot of Lucky and how much love a little animal can give. 

It’s raining, which is not good news for the ski slopes, but we’ll make do. 

Now it is Tuesday and we have put in 3 full days of skiing, one relaxing day in the city of San Martin de los Andes and tomorrow we will tour 5 of the 7 “Siete Lagos” before heading back to Buenos Aires.

Patagonian skiing is different than my experiences in Vermont, Colorado, and Utah.  The day begins with a 40 minute bus ride to the mountain and a look at the trail map.  The mountain has 21 trails more or less.  Muy chiquitito.  After one day we’ve been all over, but still find each run fun and completely satisfying.  Patagonian skiing is relaxed.  We stop mid-morning for a cup of coffee and enjoy the gorgeous views.  Lunch lasts 1 hour, minimum, and if we want to stop for a hot chocolate after lunch it’s totally acceptable.  Sometimes it seems like there are more people hanging out in the lodges than on the slopes.  Perhaps that’s the Argentinian ski philosophy or perhaps it’s because the snow has been good, not great – a little icy in the morning and by the time we finish at 4:30 the bottom of the mountain has turned to slush.  Whatever it is, it’s a nice change.

Our CouchSurfing family has been a pleasure!  We cooked dinner for 10 on Saturday and have enjoyed their regional dishes – pastel de papas y guillon.  The food is truly amazing and I am far from hungry.

When Julia left for her trip I told her to take lots of pictures, more pictures than she thought she would ever want to have.  There is always so much a person can say but as we all know “a picture is worth 1,000 words”.  So for now I’ll blog the way I can blog best….through pictures.

 Minutes after my arrival

Arturo! (Nati's Dog)
Upon arriving home from skiing we found that Arturo had opened a drawer of food, consumed two chocolate alfajores, and ate most of a packet of powdered mash potatoes.  Bad Arturo.

 Yum!  My experience at a traditional parilla

 Our first dinner in SMA -- provoleta de ciervo

 And our first dessert!
Lago Lacar next to San Martin de los Andes

One of the many spectacular views atop Chapelco

Alamos trees. Can you find Julia in this picture?


Manchi!  My new best friend.

Dinner in SMA with our CouchSurfing family.  Joaquin, the adorable 5-year old, is in the corner.

Back in Buenos Aires and looking forward to exploring the city more!

Un Besito Enorme,
Maddy (and Julia) 

Yo no se manana

but TODAY, we skied the beautiful slopes of Chapelco here in San Martin de los Andes, Argentina.

Photos for now.

More to come later.  That we promise.

And by WE I mean MADDY and Nati and I, MADDY in all caps because HELLO, MADDY IS HERE!!!

B es para...

La Boca...
El boxeo...
El baile...

Jules left yesterday after a 6-day Buenos Aires intensive which included (in no particular order): a tango lesson; a "cantina klezmer" show (check out La Gypsy); lying in the grass near the river on a perfect near-spring day after a lunch of fried calamari and cold beer; dancing, dancing, dancing in "the bolich" (English for boliche...); devouring with Jake (prounounced "shake") and Nati what can only be described as a meat pile in the historic center of La Boca barrio; sampling the various and sundry alfajores on offer at Havanna; watching a puppet show, 6 years in the making, entirely in Spanish; and Jules' moment of Argentine fame, when a closeup of her face appeared on live television as she watched, from the first row, Diego "La Joya" Chaves defend his Latin American boxing title.

The Summoned Self

Ali shared a link to this article today. It came at the perfect moment.

Op-Ed Columnist - The Summoned Self -

I especially like this part:

The person leading the Summoned Life starts with a very concrete situation: I’m living in a specific year in a specific place facing specific problems and needs. At this moment in my life, I am confronted with specific job opportunities and specific options. The important questions are: What are these circumstances summoning me to do? What is needed in this place? What is the most useful social role before me?

Thanks for sharing, Ali!

Another Theo inspired post

Those of you who have been diligently following this blog from the beginning (and, thank you!) may remember a poem sent to me by my dear friend Theo that I posted way back in March.  Once again, Theo has inspired me to post, with the following words from a wonderful email I received from her just this morning:

i need more - i want to know about food and your friends and what you're reading and seeing.  are you going through south america?  are you drinking mate?  what what what... basically i just want more nuggets from your life.  not big huge this is how it's going statements - just little bits.
So here's a little bit.

I'm sitting in Nati's house, listening to Jorge Drexler, whom I newly love.  Nati has 3 cats and 1 dog, plus 3 more cats and 7 (yes, 7) more dogs who live downstairs and frequently come to visit.  They're here, they say what's up.

That's Arturo

Yes, I bonded with a cat. This is Ralphie. She's a girl.

Last week I was adopted by a group of Nati's friends for Dia del Amigo.  That's right, a special holiday for friends.  How lovely and wonderful!  As per time-tested Argentine tradition, we went to a boliche and danced for 5 hours straight.

Really cool photog of me and Nati jumping around. Credit: Jess!

Today I spent a solid couple hours in the Centro Postal Internacional visiting various windows and waiting for various numbers to be called so that I could pick up a package of ropa abrigada (warm clothes!) sent to me by mom.  THANK YOU MOM!

I went to class and wrestled with the subjunctive some more.

Argentine movies I can recommend:
- El Secreto de Sus Ojos
- Valentin
- Plan B

Today is the anniversary of the death of Eva Peron.  RIP.

That's my nugget for today.

With love and mate.


Last night I played one of my favorite games ever: Taboo.  The rules are simple. Get your team to guess a "secret word" that's written on the game's deck of cards, without using any of the other five "taboo" words that are printed on the card. I'm a bit of a Taboo fanatic, and have played (and...ahem...won) many a game, including the epic game of Jews vs. Gentiles cerca January 1, 2010.

But this time, I played Taboo in Spanish.  At a Buenos Aires bar that serves up juegos de mesa - board games - alongside the Buenos Aires standard, liters of cold beer to share with friends.  I'm proud, and somewhat amazed, to say that I was able to play and actually score some points for my team!  And to top it all off, they spell it Tabú here, which just makes me smile.

Today I had my first Spanish class.  Three hours a day, Monday through Friday, for one month, at La Universidad de Buenos Aires.  Sounds official, no? I'm looking forward to being able to communicate more fluidly, and to curing my severe case of subjunctivitis, along with my related grammatical ailments.

Since I've been here, I have: witnessed a devastating loss the morning after having a devastatingly delicious asado at Nati's sister's place in Pilar; danced, as one does in Buenos Aires, until dawn; and I am ongoingly drinking mate, eating empanadas, and hoarding the much-coveted monedas needed to take local buses.  Yes, I'm back in Buenos Aires.

Ragazzi Report: a guest post from Mom

Beyond the impossible and astonishing beauty of the places Julia and I visited, what made our trip all and more than I had hoped for was the people, or as Julia and I came to call them, “the ragazzi”.  

In Rome we sat among the hoards of Italians who, shaking two open hands at the giant screen in the Borghese Gardens (set up by the FIFA Fan Fest for viewing the World Cup) lamented a missed shot on goal. 

Or the two-dozen tango dancers we happened upon late at night - seamlessly changing partners and performing the intricate and exquisite choreography of tango - in a breezeway on a quiet street.

Entering a tailor‘s shop in Naples to look at the beautiful bolts of wool suiting, Julia tried to explain that I too was a “tailor” from NY and could we take a picture?  Nodding, the gentleman asked me to write down my phone number, which seemed weird, but assuming the odds of him calling were pretty slim, I complied thinking it must be his way of assuring that our intentions were honorable.  After further attempts at communication, we realized why he wanted my number.  He thought I was looking for a job!

Oh so many people in Amalfi: our Australian fellow travelers who invited us for a drink on their palatial terrace cantilevered over the Mediterranean, and whose 10 year old daughter Maisie was enchanted by Julia (but who isn’t?); Marco, the host/waiter/owner/ of our favorite Amalfi café.  He’s a phys-ed teacher who owns the adjacent bed and breakfast (rated the number 1 B&B by Trip Advisor!) He explained to us that he is “the mind” and his wife is “the muscle” in their business- this as she was in perpetual motion, serving, clearing, cleaning while he sat with us, watching the American soccer team (in less than top form that day), endlessly ribbing us with the comment “they play well,  these Americans, eh?”;  and, our guide to historical Amalfi, Michelangelo.  A hydrant of a man who explained that what we commonly identify as a Maltese cross originated in Amalfi and beseeched us to henceforth use it’s correct name, the Amalfi cross. Oh, and did you know that the medical school in ancient Amalfi was the first place to accept women? And not just as students, but also as professors!  And that Flavio Gioja, a man from Amalfi, is the real inventor of the  compass, because only after he made a sea compass in the 14th century was the 2nd century Chinese invention of the regular-old compass made useful.  He also told us the pier in the pivotal ancient port of Amalfi was 12 km wide and extended 3 km into the sea… Here we invoke Gertrude Stein’s famous comment… “Interesting if true”.

Maisie shared her favorite kind of candy with Julia


And then there was Rina of Villa Rina Country House – she’s an adorable, compact bundle of energy, enthusiasm and culinary wizardry.  She welcomed us like family and treated us to the tastes of the sea, her garden and… her freezer where she kept her stash of homemade limoncello and blackberry liqueurs.  And I must mention Macho, her cautious cat, and Bonney, her German shepherd whose major pastimes are terrorizing Macho and playing with one of the huge lemons from Rina’s grove of lemon trees.  All of this, hundreds, yes, hundreds of steps above the Mediterranean Sea (where Rina swims daily).  For us it was simply the stairway to heaven.  The view was breathtaking - houses, gardens and hotels defying gravity in their perches on the cliffs, the shocking pink of lush bougainvillea spilling over walls and rocks, and the blue, blue sea. 

The view from Rina's terrace

On to the town of Lecce, in the Puglia region.  By day, Lecce is a sleepy ancient town filled with magnificently carved marble buildings and churches.  By night it turns into Times Square on New Years Eve!  Masses of people, crowding every piazza, street and alley, every restaurant and café.

Lecce ragazzi

A short drive outside of Lecce is Squinzano where we had the unique good fortune to take a cooking class with sisters Cinzia and Marika at their culinary school Stile Mediterraneo.  Cinzia a Harvard MBA who lived in New York and worked at Goldman Sachs! She now runs the the cooking school and is a professional olive oil taster (She taught us how to do it!). Marika is an MD, and when she is not working at the hospital, she assists Cinzia.  Beautiful, eloquent, cultured and sooo smart, these remarkably warm and hospitable women shared their passion for local foods and slow cooking, as well as their time honored family recipes.  We were also treated to lemon granita made from the fruit of their grandmother’s lemon trees and pear jam made from yup, grandma’s pears.

Cinzia and Marika, our fearless leaders!
more photos from the cooking class here

Arriving in Greece we received a five minute language tutorial from the man in the tourism office, getting the basics of “good morning” (kalimera) “thank you”  (efkharisto) and a swear word we had to promise we’d never utter.   Then, we met our bored (?) tired (?) receptionist in Athens. When I called from the room to ask him for the Wi-Fi password, told me to come down and get it.  And our Athenian fave, Stella. She works in her sister Ionna’s shop selling fabulously versatile clothing designed by Ioanna.  She took us under her wing and spent a long while showing us how each garment can be worn in a variety of ways (so one garment serves many purposes) and shared her “I only tell friends about this place” favorite Athens restaurant.  

In Santorini we were greeted by Vassily, the crazy Bulgarian who roots for the Argentina soccer team and whose wife cleans rooms while he lunches with a strikingly beautiful young woman.  But the star of Santorini was Dmitri, the manager of Alta Mare.  First because he rescued us from having to stay in a hellhole, but mostly because his love for and knowledge of the island were exceeded only by his charming demeanor and personalized advice on where to go and what to do.

It was difficult to leave these enchanted places and I hope I can make good on my vow to return to each of our destinations (except Naples - ugh).  But hardest of all to leave…  was Julia.  A wise and intrepid traveler, a superb photographer, a hilarious, supportive and agreeable companion, we journeyed together seamlessly.  I love her beyond the ends of the earth and my fondest wish is to return, with both Maddy and Julia to all of these places, and all of these people, and to love it all over again. 

Last night in Santorini

Mom and I spent the better part of the day on the black sand beach of Perivolos.  Now back to Oia, a place from which, once again, the very stereotype of the Greek Islands may have been derived.  It looks like this:

That's a photo I took, not one from the global worldwide interwebs.  Mom and I spent a long time marveling over the fact that these places actually exist, in reality, not just in postcards.  I have not altered that photo AT ALL.  I mean, seriously!!!

We arrived here via Athens, where we had a lovely 24-hour stopover made all the sweeter by Argentina and team U.S.A. World Cup wins!  Slightly awkward: loudly cheering in a taverna as Argentina scores against the helpless Greek goalkeeper.

Visited in Athens the incredibly well designed new Acropolis Museum  before heading to the Acropolis itself.  I have a hard time capturing in words what it's like to stand in a place that you've read about in history books, and that you know represents the beginning of so much of Western culture.  Understandably, they are incredibly strict about acropolis-related activity, so, sadly, I have no jumping picture there.  But I did fall in love with the caryatids, both in and outside the museum.  They're the ladies, that are columns, that are ladies.  You know, these gals! :

After doing the historical stuff we did some shopping stuff, happening upon Kourbela Ioanna, the shop of the eponymous designer whose clothes-who-do-tricks are exactly my favorite kind of thing.  Also bought myself some komboloi beads to swing around and make noise with.  At lunch, the table next to ours, occupied by 6 men drinking ouzo or raki or something (very obviously) alcoholic, was clickety-clacking with the sound of komboloi beads.  So I got a tutorial from Alexander (he doesn't have email, so I promised I'd mail him the following photo) and went on my merry way swinging my komboli beads and feeling quite the local.

Had an excellent dinner at Psaras Taverna in Plakas, upon the recommendation of Stella (sister of designer Ioanna) and made our way to the port for our ferry to Santorini.

Well.  Our taxi driver, Jorogos, have an entirely different komboli strategy!  So I've been practicing both ways and will be developing my own method soon.  Got to the port, only to find out our ferry was "at least" 2 hours delayed.  The whole ferry experience was an unbelievable adventure, worthy of its own blog post.  Met a lovely couple from Canada to pass the time with as we waited...and waited...and waited...finally boarding the ship well after 2am and making our way to our adorable/terrifying little berth.  Anyway, we awoke in Santorini and that's a good thing.  Car rental.  Finding hotel.  Hating hotel.  Switching hotel.  Loving new hotel.  Loving new hotel manager, who suggested some great activities including a walk down to the port at Ammoudi to watch the sunset and enjoy delicious fresh fish.

Whew!  That's a lot of blogging.  Gotta save some for later.

I've been regaling mom with stories of my travels and realizing how few of them I've shared here on the blog (tsk, tsk)...I think because I'm reluctant to post about things that happened weeks and weeks ago.  Hey, all you commenters our there: still interested in events from the (not terribly) distant past?

Until soon then.

I'm all for Amalfi

If it feels like I've had a stream of nonstop visitors...I have.  And it's wonderful! Mom arrived this week and we've made it from Rome to Amalfi in the course of a 2-week trip together.  A bit longer in Rome and then off to Greece where, rumor has it, we can ride donkeys. 

I don't want to forget my incredible-beyond-words several days in Tuscany...watching Italy play Paraguay at Fifa Fan Village in Villa Borghese...Naples (well, maybe I could forget Naples)...and our firecracker of a hostess Rina at Villa Rina here in Amalfi.  I will write more about them later.  

Meanwhile, I must say that Amalfi itself strikes me as highly improbable.  It is a place out of a zany storybook - pebble beaches, near-misses on drives along perilous cliffs, and buildings that stack up like staircases glued onto the cliffside.    

Today we spent the morning in Ravello, looking at beautiful (albeit a bit British) gardens...and the afternoon in Amalfi, watching "Mundial" (the World Cup!).

Tomorrow, off to Lecce!


Dogs of the world

Happy International CouchSurfing Day!

June 12, 2010 is the second annual International CouchSurfing Day...and while I am not officially CouchSurfing right now, I am thankful today and every day for the incredible people who I've met and the incredible people I haven't met who make CS such a warm and vibrant community.

To you skeptics out there, I was one of you...and then I had one really really positive experience...then another...and then far, so GREAT.  I could go on for hours.  If you want to know more, ask me!

Off to finish weeding the garden...then to learn a secret family recipe for insalata ai frutti di mare...
Con amore e pagine del passaporto extra,

Tutto bene

I’ve been promising a newsy blog post for a while now, and what better time to write one than in the breezy pre-breakfast hours of a Tuscan morning. I sit on the steps of the home of Diane, a childhood friend of my dad's; she lives and farms here with her partner Dieter and their adorable Gordon Setter, Gordon (!), who lies patiently at my feet waiting, just waiting for me to throw a stick.

A few days ago I posted about my departure from Rome for this place with some ambivalence; now I’m sure it was exactly the right thing to do.

“How,” one Miss Ali Schechter beseeches, Facebookishly, “did you get to Italy already?” My response: “Very easy. One 11 hour Aeroflot flight to Moscow, seated next to a Vietnamese septuagenarian who's never been on an airplane before and needs help with his seatbelt (I helped him!), with cranky flight attendants wearing orange lipstick. Then a 2 hour layover in Moscow airport where the only restaurant open is a TGIFridays. Then a delightfully short 4-hour flight from Moscow to Rome! Easy peasey.” After spending just under a month in Southeast Asia, I found myself longing for many things: not being stared at as I walked down the street (gasp) alone…paying the same price as the locals, and not a “special” astronomically higher tourist price, for anything and everything…weather that allowed me to walk at a normal pace without literally dripping sweat unto the sidewalk below…pasta…

All attempts at clever writing aside, I am learning as I go what this trip is about, and that means learning the difference between challenging myself to be in/stay in/seek out uncomfortable situations and challenging myself to change: “Self, you are gong to do something different now.” (To any PACIE reading this, I can’t help but imagine Martie, calling upon Monty Python, saying, “and now for something completely different!”)
So without much fanfare my plane landed in Rome, and I boarded the train for Ostiense Station (Termini is sooooo for tourists), and I met my fantastic CS host and his friends and we – yep, you guessed it, stayed out til 4am local time, dancing. That’s 10am Vietnam time, which would mean that I should’ve been exhausted, except I don’t believe in jet lag.

The next few days I spent wandering the streets and laughing, out loud, at the sheer Italian-ness of Italy. In front of thousand-years-old buildings, the buildings’ architects’' great-great-great-great-etc. grandchildren, gesticulate wildly, their towering mound of gelato in one hand coming perilously close to toppling from its dubious perch atop a tiny cone. A Vespa roars down an alley, slows, and stops next to a Franciscan friar who gives the driver directions. The Coliseum…is.

I had time to spare while waiting for mom who is meeting me in Rome on the 14th, so when Diane wrote that I could hop on the train to her Tuscan villa/working farm…I did! Correction: I know I said the train cost 10.55 Euros, but actually…it was 9.40! (Thank you again, Ostiense Station.)

So I show up Diane and Dieter and Gordon the dog greet me, welcome me to their should-be-in-a-magazine-perfect home, give me a towel and a bicycle and point me in the direction of the beach. I meditate under the slanting rays of Italian sunshine that are unlike any rays of sunshine anywhere. We have dinner and drive into Marina di Grosseto for the best gelato I’ve ever tasted. I sleep like a baby.

Day 2 in paradise: “Do you want to go to Siena or Florence?” Well! I’d never been to Siena. The Duomo there is huge and gorgeous, and I was literally moved to tears by the beauty of the Biblioteca di Piccolomini. Wandering out the back door of the Cathedral Museum, a display of tiny, 2-inch-square watercolors caught my eye. The little, brightly-lit cave of a shop was filled with the original artwork of, according to the business card, Silvia Tanganelli. “Are you the artist?” I asked the woman sitting behind the desk. She was. I told her how much I loved the little paintings. And the big ones. And asked her to translate a few of the ellipses-enclosed one-liners that she’d scribed in pencil below the images. “Perhaps you can help me translate? I want to do also in English some paintings.” So we sat, for hours, discussing the most appropriate poetic version of things that sound much better in Italian than they would translated literally into English. “Anche noi” – literally, “also us” – became, after much debate, “We are with you.” Silvia bought me lunch and wrapped up a few of her paintings and we said our farewells.

Then I went and lay under an olive tree and watched the clouds pass for an hour.

And now I will go and find Ticciano (sp?), the manager of this magical place, and, if I understood correctly, learn to make mozzarella. If this is a dream, let me sleep just a little longer…

With love and cheese.

Saying yes

Or perhaps I am saying si...

Today I will board a train for Grosseto, to work at a villa where no one speaks English (I bought an 'I Speak Italian' phrasebook yesterday).  The ticket is 10.55 Euros, so why not.

I will try to collect and organize my thoughts on the train and post them later.  This blog has been great, because it kickstarts the motivation to process and share, and that in turn helps me understand what the heck I'm doing!

All in due time.

YMCA in the EU

Late last night I arrived in Rome...met my CouchSurfing host...dropped my bags...and accompanied him and a group of friends to a decidedly non-tourist disco in Transancho.  Good music, good people.  The evening turned into early morning, ending with everyone singing and dancing the YMCA.  I laughed a lot.

A longer post is brewing in me, telling you all about leaving Asia...why Rome...etc. etc.  For now, a Roman barbeque calls.

With love and my first stamp on this trip from a country I've already been to,

Guest blogger: Dad

Thanks, Julia, for giving me the chance to 'guest blog' on  I write (although the posting will occur later) aboard the Halong Jasmine, a luxury junk boat now setting sail again after an overnight mooring in Halong Bay, Vietnam.  The setting is peaceful and beautiful.

I write with a mixture of emotion--tremendous happiness and gratitude for having spent a wonderful nine days in Vietnam with Julia and sadness that tonight I'm back on a NY-bound flight to return to the 'real world.'

Vietnam itself, as Julia has already written, is a fascinating place.  I joked before my departure that 40 years ago I did all I could to avoid coming here.  Who would have though that now it's one of the "in" destinations of choice.  Needless to say, my visit was informed by my vivid memories (albeit from afar) of what they call here "The American War."  Julia enjoyed observing the way I reacted to the country, the people and its history in this context.  Similarly, watching Julia take it all in without preconceived notions of the history was fascinating for me.

As much as the visit to this country has been a memorable experience, more lasting will be the time Jules and I were able to spend together.  For you followers, let me report first-hand that the protagonist is in top form and is experiencing this around-the-world odyssey in full measure.  By the time I arrived, she was already a bit of a connoisseur of Vietnam street food and she was an adventurous eater (although we both, wisely, avoided partaking of dog).

Julia, with her excellent ear for languages, is picking up on a small bit of Vietnamese and the two of us regularly enjoy Hanoi-brewed 333 beer with the Vietnamese toast:  "Mot, Hai, Ba, Yo!"  And, of course, she is the consummate jumper, her latest feat of some 8 meters or so from the prow of the Jasmine.

What's most meaningful for me is how, in the nine days we had together, Julia made me a better, more patient, more open-minded traveler.  She is awesome travel companion and I will miss her more now that I have had the full flavor of her company for this extended time.

Thanks, Jules, for this incredible gift and an toan hanh trinh, Vietnamese for safe journeys!!

Lots of love from Dad