When my friend Nick invited me to a dinner party in NYC that summer, I didn’t have to think twice about accepting. Bolt Bus cheapo ticket. And the chance to meet up again with this lovely duo -- Lisa and Pam (aka LouLou and Coco.) Saving graces on our group tour to Cuba the previous February. We met them in JFK airport before heading south and knew right away that they would be our best amigas on the trip. And they were. Their apartments (down the hall from one another) in the West Village are beautiful, spare, filled with just the right art. (I mean look at that pristine kitchen, those delicately arranged refreshment plates.) It’s so nice when you meet someone, click immediately and know that you will be friends always. Even nicer when it happens twice. ¡Hola, chicas!
September 17, 2018
Cativi. Naughty boys. We were strolling by this school on what must have been a break in classes, and one of these little devils started to make dirty hand signs to us and the other pedestrians. Horns. Sort of a milder Italian version of the finger. All of this kid’s friends were giggling and highly amused...until a neighborly grandmother type stopped and yelled at them. Appropriately chastised, they withdrew from the window. And the old woman broke her seriousness, smiled a “That’s that” face at us and moved on with her groceries.
September 16, 2018
Meet my friend Marjori, seen here with her friend Marge at our Boat Parade Party six years ago. The big pink smile is no accident. “She radiates kindness,” said my pal Patti when she met her. I agree. And wisdom. A dedicated yoga enthusiast, Marjori has an amazing way of putting even the most troubling thoughts into perspective with suggestions like, “If you don’t know how to respond in a situation, why not try kindness?” This was Marjori’s first time at our annual party, and when I asked Jay afterwards if he'd liked meeting her, he said, “I love her! She’s a real take-charge type.” High praise from our resident physicist.
September 15, 2018
A recently spotted bumper sticker on a neighbor’s truck momentarily irked some of the East Coast staff here at SLS. It showed the current papal coat of arms and the words: “TRUTH. Don’t mess with it!” Some of the items that quickly crossed our minds: humility, arrogance, who’s claiming to know the truth, who’s zoomin’ who? (The sticker has since been peeled off the truck, leading us to believe that the vehicle had been purchased used and came with said unwanted embellishment.) Meanwhile, this locally spotted van is much more in keeping with how we like to mix religion and daily life. (We knew he was a carpenter but didn’t know he’d branched out.) Don’t mess with it!
September 14, 2018
Even back in my drinking days, the thing that most impressed me about the champagne caves in the Taittinger winery, was the beautiful geometry of the quietly fermenting wine within these bottles’ alternating bottoms and corks. Robert and I had taken a train from Paris to this capital of the champagne region and joined a free tour that ended with sips and, bien sûr, sales. (This was way before the fabled wine-house was purchased by congolmerates Starwood Hotels in 2005 and Crédit Agricole in 2006, way before it had a website.) I remember we bought a bottle and brought it back to our ultra-cheap Paris hotel. No refrigerator? No problem. We just put it into a sink of cold water. Besides, we emptied the bottle pretty quickly if memory serves.
September 13, 2018
Money. It’s so interesting to me what happens to my thoughts about money when it’s no longer American money I’m dealing with. Changing to Turkish lira (YTL), as I did here at Istanbul's oldest book market, it’s almost as if I have play money, Monopoly money. When I crossed the Iron Curtain to visit Czechoslovakia in 1972, I encountered hard currency’s double standard for the first time. I was required to change so many US dollars for each day of my visit at government rates; but once inside the country, people were often asking me to change my dollars at a much more lucrative black-market standard. I’ve been in Italy when the lira-dollar exchange rate was great. But now with the euro, it’s not so great. In Cuba, there are two currencies, both called pesos and both indicated with the $ sign -- one for residents, one for tourists. Alas, no American bank-based business is available in Cuba. Or at least this was the case when I visited in 2012. No using USA credit cards. And no relying on the current saving grace of tourists seeking good and easy exchanges elsewhere in the world -- the ATM.
September 12, 2018
Whenever I mention to someone that I’ve recently been to Cuba, most times their eyes light up and they say, “Oh, I really want to go.” Well...go. Granted it’s not easy. Or cheap. At the moment, even with the slight loosening of US travel restrictions to the Pearl of the Antilles, the State Department still only allows Americans to travel if they meet very strict requirements (cultural groups, doctors, religious leaders, etc.) Of course, not everyone goes there legally. In fact, hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans travel to Cuba each year through Canada, Mexico and other stopovers. Cuban officials don’t stamp your passport, I’m told, only the visa, which they then keep as you leave the country. (I travelled legally with the Center for Cuban Studies in NYC.) Meanwhile, for those yanquis still jonesing for a Cuban sojourn, let me recommend Tom Miller’s excellent Trading with the Enemy. It’s the closest account I’ve found to match my own experiences there.