Sunday, August 31, 2014

Paris: Returning to La France

So it’s Sunday afternoon and we’ve just finished an equisite guided tour of London, and we know in the back of our minds that our glorious trip is coming to its end. I say to my dad, “wouldn’t it be great to finish our trip in Paris?” And of course I know this isn’t going to happen–that we’ll be eating airplane food and flying home this Tuesday from Londonz–so I say this with a wishful, but conscious of reality spirit.
And my dad says to text my mom and ask her. I’m confused, because it was just a fantasy, but I realize he means it, so I do. And 15 minutes later, my dad’s phone buzzes: “You’re flight leaves from Charles du Gaul airport, Paris, Saturday August 30th.” Holy quacamole! That mother of mine is amazing!
So on Tuesday morning, we took a nine hour bus to the most romantic city in the world–of course, not taking the £500 Eurostar speed train, and going for the cheap-ass bus with all the citizens of the ghetto (sorry–not to be rude #respectyozz) to balance the expenses of our Parisian excursion.
To so many, Paris is a dream city–no, the dream city. So I had in my mind gorgeous buildings, vibrant spirits, walks by the water, delicious French food, interesting culture, jubilant atmosphere. And while this is not intirely false, the whole city felt so, so grey and depressed! Riding the old, squeaky metro to our rental apartment at 10 at night, the dark, solemn feeling of the city was very present.
However, as the days went by and I saw the active nightlife of Paris in action, I understood the city’s reputation a little better. We spent our days trying on expensive clothes in all the best fashion districts, exploring the quaint neighborhood of the Marais, taking tours around the Latin Quarters and Bastille, walking at night on the Siene, inhaling the smokey aroma of probably over a million cigarettes in action every minute, eating nonstop–filet mignon, crusty baguettes, hot crêpes, delicious ice cream; we even had a day where we ate solely Asian food, a fantastic break of vegetables on seafood, as oppose to the endless meat and potatoes of the French cuisine. We saw exquisite architecture at the Louvre, fabulous design and art at the Pompidu, the rustiness but strange beauty of the Eiffel Tour. We admired the beauty of the Luxemburg gardens, and I embraced the innocence and playfulness of youth as I played in playgrounds with my brother, who is still so beautifully present and young. We hade a lucky single-ride metro ticket that worked for us five times; we watched the desperate food peddlers that roam the streets of Paris grill their corn each morning preparing for the day ahead, right outside our window. Summer gave its warmth and sun to us (for a few minutes) for the first time in a few weeks. And I got to finish my summer–a summer during which I learned so much about the world, its history, its people, its many cultures; during which I learned so much about my family, myself, my passions, my goals–I got to finish my summer in Paris–which although does not meet the abundance of marvelous review it has, is still pretty fantastic.

It’s been an amazing summer: I’ve been to so many different places (stayed in 10 different homes), met so many people, enjoyed my amazing family, enjoyed nature, relaxed, and simply, have had a brilliant beyond brilliant vacation! I am ready to enter high school–now the beginning of a new chapter of my life–with open eyes, and an eagerness to expand my knowledge, talents, and confidence in myself.

London at Last!

Well, first and foremost: let me state the obvious.
I. Am. In. London. Londond The city I’ve wanted to visit my entire life–home of the accent that makes me so unexplainably happy! I lived as a Brit for 6 nights and 7 days in a tiny but quaint flat in Wapping, right by the River Thems.
The British are quite an intelligent, remarkable, brilliant, strategic group of humans. Although there food isn’t as luxurious in flavor as, say, the Italians, and their skies are quite gray and rainy compared to the sun and heat of the, say, the Italians, and some of their people are so utterly proper and not as expressive as, say, the Italians, the British are pretty genius.
Lets just get the accent category covered–you stick a British accent on anyone and it makes them instantly attractive and smart-sounding.
The greed, power-hunger, and strength of the British empire has rewarded itself so much in its history. They were definitely bloody and savage and often careless and greedy, but they conquered a lot. The city of London is clean, modern, efficient–at least, it seemed like this to me in the brief time I was there. There subways, for one, are superb and very intelligently designed, and there’s always a worker inside the station to help you. The public service is not only very helpful, but it’s always there–there’s always someone to help you. There museums and art galleries are all free and open to the public. One thing I did notice, though, was that many of them are not so well educated–there poor grammar infers that, and I later learned that there public education system is supposedly not very strong. And it’s also an insanely expensive city. I’ve always been very price conscious, and the prices for basic daily neccesities were insane! Plus, the exchange rate between the pound and the dollar is very high; about $1.70 for every £1.00; so not only were the prices higher numerically, they were in pounds, so everything is much much more expensive. So those days when my mom and I would only by a hotdog from a stret vendor in NYC for $1.50, not $2, because saving that fifty cents was oh so important, are gone–after I saw that a £6.00 hotdog in London was cheap. Damn, dahling.
We stayed in a neighborhood that most tourists will never ever step foot in, and our numerous walks around really gave us a good sense of how real British people live. We had our breakfasts at a local grocer, where we would have delicious smoothies and the workers would cut up fruit just for us, and we would never forget our daily bread pudding and bacon roll at PJ & Bakers, a very British, old-fashioned bakery that only opens when it wants too.
My dad has been to London a few times before, and he downed so much on all the typical tourist attractions, but my long obsession with London made me desperately have to see everything, so we decided to take a three hour tour of all the major sights to cram it all in. And we got lucky, because the tour guide was insanely fabulous! He took us all around central London; to Westminster Abby, the Big Ben, Buckingham Palace. And he told stories about each place that so vividly made each one come alive. It made me really happy to learn a little bit about the British history and see all these place, because come on- I couldn’t go to London and not see the Big Ben (which is really just a clock tower basically identical to one we have in Brooklyn, but still).
In addition to all the walking and sightseeing and exploring we did, I also had a very unique experience in London because I got to see my dad doing a photoshot: I saw him in action! He is simply a genius with his camera. He captures moments and scenes and slices of this world that not another soul on this Earth can. His photographs are so original and so gorgeous! (to my many, many readers, -_____- go see his fashion photography at
I met the designer who’s clothes he’d been photographing for a little over a year now– Elsa. She is a generous, brave, crazy, creative Korean woman that was a banker but realized in her 30s that her dream job was to be a fashion designer, and after getting accepted to the Royal College in London, she said bye bye to those ugly grey suits of the economical world and pursued her dream! I got to hang out with young designers, models, and explore the hidden streets and graffitied walls of London with an artistic endeavor. We spent a few nights doing a street art campaign, where we glued and hung up my dad’s photographs everywhere- we nearly got arrested, but I was underage so I was okay! It was scary but it felt awesome; it was so much fun to be around such creative, smart, innovative people, and who cared what the police said because we were making art.
Sidenote: Elsa married a banker, so she is living in luxuryyyyy. She took us out for dinner four times, and we didn’t hestitate to order every single thing we wanted! Our dinners included massive spreads of food–from some of the most expensive and high quality restaurants in London– and drinks; wine, beer, espresso-martinis, pina colados, jugs of mango lassi, bottled water (as oppose to the money saving tap water we drink); desserts every night; one night, Roman and I’s meal alone costed nearly 90 POUNDS! It was AWESOME!
In addition to all the plusses and luxuries we got for a few days from Elsa, it was really great to learn about design and art and fashion, and to hang out with real Londoners doing photoshoots, street art, and more–an experience most kids my age–even most people–don’t get.
I really loved London, and think it would be a great place to live someday. And when I do, I’m going to be able to buy drinks every time I go out to dinner too!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Edinburgh, Scotland

After coming from the glorious heat and warmth of the sun-kissed Mediterranean, Scotland was a radical change.
We got scared as the blustering wind and gray skies seemed to snicker at us as
we walked to our apartment. It seemed we had just entered a fully deserted land, and the few specimens left walked quickly and hunched over through the streets. The visage of these Scottish people were right out of Harry Potter; wrinkly, scrunched up, plain looking faces compared to the flamboyance and expressiveness of the Italians. And this is not at all to be rude or judgemental–it’s just when you come from a place where topless women and men in speedos line the streets, and you see plaid coats and winter boots on everyone, it’s a little depressing as the idea of summer slowly fades away...
With a glum feeling inside all of us, we put our best faces on the next morning and set out to Jenners, the Edinburgh department store, to have a classic Scottish breakfast. We had beans, toast, haggis, blood sausage, tattie scones, bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, and toast. We were slightly shocked at how delicious it all tasted! Deciding that we’d embrace and explore this culture as best we could, we headed out to our first show of the Fringe Festival–the biggest performance festival in the world–which was the whole reason we’d come to Edinburgh in the first place.

We saw four shows that day: first an improv performance that structured itself by “forgetting” the title and characters of the story and using the audiences input to create it. Then a drama about greedy King Ubu, and how his pursuit for all riches turned around and smacked him in the face; a brilliantly orchestrated piece full of synchronized movement all performed by high school students. Then the most original, beautiful, elegant magic show I’ve ever seen. Ben Hart, the rather cute magician, told his story about “the Vanishing Boy,” in which he describes his encounter with an alien-like looking boy late one evening. The boy disappears from his home while Ben steps out for a moment, but he leaves a box, which has the instructions for a grand magic trick only done by one man in the history of the world. With this build up, Ben incorporates small magic tricks along the way, and finishes with the trick from the box: taking five empty tin cups, magically making them fill with water, and then turning that water into snow. It’s impossible to describe the sophistication and elan of this man’s performance: it was just fantastic.
We ended the evening with another one man show that brilliantly explored what it means to be an outsider, and what it means to die. The man comes on stage dressed in a big green sack and begins singing and making sounds into a microphone, which are then recorded and start to replay. Throughout the show, he dances, sings, acts, talks to the audience, and finishes with everyone coming on stage, forming a circle, and holding hands. Everyone begins to chime in with his song, singing, “I’ll live forever, I’ll live every single day, in you, in you, in you.” And then we all slowly fall down, slowly dying and singing, and it’s just so incredibly beautiful.

During the next few days we saw an Adams Family musical, a show where a man tells stories from his African village, Monsieur Butterfly (where a man puts together a Rube Goldberg machine using objects representing different parts of his life), the James Trilogy–divided into three different shows, we saw 7 ½ hours about King James I, II, and III of Scotland, which were incredible, and we learned a lot about Scotland’s history. We spent a day in North Berwick, a beach town, and although it was freezing it was really nice to be by the water.

We saw more shows; more comedy, more improv, more theater. A show called “Stuck,” where an audience gives a location and an inspirational word with which they use as a basis to improvise the show. An interactive show called Eden Gate, where you pretend you’re a survivor of this rapidly spreading disease, and you have to collectively make a decision to loose your memory but then go to this underground world called “Eden Gate,” or to keep it and take this culture for an antibiotic and go back to a lab in London. It was really quite terrible, at least for me, and that’s when I realized that I actually have a lot of training as an actor. During the past three years, in my drama intensive at school, I’ve done so much improv, and process drama (like the “Eden Gate”) that to me, some of the performances that other people raved about didn’t seem at all special, because I’ve done so much of it already.

Another show was called “The American’s Guide to Being, Like, Totally British,” where a 30-year-old comedian talks and makes jokes about how she moved to London, and what people think of being British compared to what it’s actually like. It was really funny...

So I'd say we got used the cold, made amends with the gray skies, had some yummy food, saw some great shows, and made the best of our visit in Edinburgh! I'd even even say we had a lot–a lot a lot– of fun. *smiley_face* 

Italy: Carrara and Florence

We were welcomed into Carrara by our friends, Chiara, Benoit, Leo, and Alyssa. We entered Italy after four weeks in France, and it was a whole different scene!

The Italians are much more expressive with their feelings and opinions, and it's kind of super admirable and fantastic! Many nights at dinner we'd have intellectual conversations and heated debates where everyone would get so animated and opinionated and start raising there voice and stand up and get so, so into the conversation. They could have such intense debates and still hug and be content at the end; it was really fantastic to watch. And the Italian language itself is so much more curvy and wave-like and expressive, as oppose to French or even English.

 The week was spent going to beaches–Punta Corvo, Punta Bianca– having delicious, real Italian home cooked meals made by our friends' grandparents, an average of two or three ice creams a day from the delicious gelato place, Paradiso, hiking around Cinque Terre (five earths; there were five little towns along the coast that you could hike all the way through), playing guitar on the gorgeous terrace of our rental studio, meeting new people, powering through the autobiography of Malcom X for school, walks and talks with my dad, laughs with my brother, observing people, culture, new ways of life. Although I would have to say Carrara did not astound me with any of the lush beauty and nature of some of the other places we've visited so far this summer, it was an enjoyable week.

We left our friends and visited Florence for three days, exploring the massive, beautiful, numerous statues that line every square, every street, every museum. We had delicious food and scrumptious desserts, and explored the Italian culture and history through gardens, tours, walks, museums, churches, basilicas, shops, talking with locals. It was a great learning-experience and a fun short stop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Villefranche Sur Mer

Villefranche: the next chapter of our summer, and beginning a four week journey without my mom! ooo la la. With a bit of fright and not knowing what to expect, my dad, brother, and I arrived last Sunday in Villefranche, a quiet, quaint town on the French Riviera.

The week was filled with a variety of activities, delicious home cooked meals, hikes, swims, games, ice-creams, and more. Our rental apartment was attached to the family that owned it–a French wife and Hungarian husband with two boys; Cosimo, 5, and Noa, 8, who had lived-in Brooklyn a few years back–and the amount of giggles I heard throughout the week were quite a lot! The elder boy spoke a little English, so he and Roman had a great time together. But his giggle was simply adorable. Imagine a sea, but instead of water, giggles; the laughs moving up and down like waves and never, ever stopping. The younger boy, who spoke absolutely no English, would come in his underwear to our apartment early in the morning to see if we were awake, and as soon as we began to converse with him he would run away and make a face that looked like Pinnochio, as my dad and I said: he would purse his lips together and stick them out as if he was about to whistle and just walk around like that! Beautiful innocence.

Throughout the week, we did a lot of walking around Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, a really wealthy, beautiful peninsula pretty close to Villefranche. One day we hiked the whole way around, which took nearly the whole day, and we swam in absolutely stunning waters: the Mediterranean at it's best.

Every morning, we would have a sandwich making factory as we prepared lunch to take with us for the day. By the end of the week, we all swore we couldn't eat another bite of salami and cheese ever again! But the meals in our little villa were pretty outstanding, all cooked by the one and only Marc Lafia! From blood sausage to ravioli to grilled vegetables to pizzas, we had so many great meals in that tiny kitchen.

We also went on various train trips a couple of days; exploring the people, homes, culture, and history of the French Riviera. And most days would include a quick swim; either in the rocky beach by our house, jumping off the cliffs by the port, or undiscovered waters near the Cap.

I really had a fantastic time with my brother and my dad: we had so many laughs great moments together. We all began to really feel comfortable wight the French language, and it just felt like a week of true vacation.