Friday, March 30, 2012

"corned beef and cabbage, please."

There are two reasons to go on vacation: photography and food...  not necessarily in that order. At least, that's how I see it.

For this, surprisingly, I have my mother to thank. She is the antithesis of a foodie, yet still ingrained within me the importance of eating food like a local. The location was Acapulco, Mexico. The date, 28th of December, 2000. It was night, the skies were already dark. We had spent a day on the pebbly beach and were feeling ravenous.  We walked down a main road and there it was, off in the distance: the Hard Rock Cafe. Its large building and bright lights dominated the street. It was like manna to my eyes. My mouth was salivating,... and to think I had never eaten there before. I begged, I pleaded, I nearly groveled in order for us to dine there. But my mom's eyes zeroed-in on another restaurant, an unobtrusive little place a few feet closer to us than the Hard Rock Cafe. It might have been the cost of the meals that persuaded her decision in where we would eat.  Actually, I'm sure it was the cost of the meals. But no matter. That choice led us to enjoy some of the greatest Mexican food we have ever tasted. It was so good, in fact, that we chose to eat there the very next day as well.  That single, solitary decision on my mother's part changed my perspective forever.

Since then, before the start of every destination get-away, I always do research. Food research. What better way is there (in such a short period of time) to understand a culture than by eating their culinary fare? Sadly, like me in the days of my youth, not everyone shares in my (now) superior reasoning - namely those of my same nationality.  (No judgment to those who do choose the Hard Rock Cafe over authentic Mexican food. No. For those, there is only pity for what they're missing out on).

Two weeks, and that is no exaggeration, before I left on my little Irish getaway I started researching restaurants. Ireland was never on my top 5 list of gastronomic hot spots, but I was sure to make it work. And boy, did I! With foods as wonderful as corned beef and cabbage (two plates full, mind you), full Irish breakfasts, stuffed pork loin on a bed of mashed potatoes, fried brie salad garnished with a berry compote, sticky toffee pudding and banoffee pie, I was in glutton heaven. So you can imagine my dismay upon overhearing the following conversation while climbing the circular stairs up the Blarney castle.

Girl #1: "Oh man, I'm still stuffed with all the food we ate yesterday!"
Girl #2: "I don't know what you're talking about." She says in a mocking tone. "I mean, we only had Mc Donald's for lunch and dinner - and pizza for a late night snack."

My eyes widened. I wanted to smack them upside their heads.  But as a mature woman in her young 30's, I showed restraint.  Actually, that's a lie. The only reason I didn't reach right over is because I was behind them and single shove on their part, in return, would have caused me to tumble down the 157 steps I had just climbed.  Otherwise, I would have highly considered it. 

So, have Mc Donalds on vacation if you must. But just don't ever tell me about it. Never. Ever.

Monday, March 26, 2012

seeing green

Saint Patrick wasn't Irish. Actually, the first time he set foot on the island was as a slave. He stayed in the country for six years before making his escape back home to Great Britain. His second visit, though, was of his own accord as a bishop. It is said that he brought Christianity to the Irish before he died on March 17, in the year 461 AD.

Half a millennia later people started celebrating his life on the day of his death. As a religious holiday, the day is traditionally observed by attending church services in the morning and celebrating in the afternoon.  Since the holiday falls in the middle of Lent, restrictions against eating meat and drinking alcohol are lifted for those 24 hours.   On March 17, 1762 the first St. Patrick's Day parade was held... in New York City, by Irish soldiers serving in the English army trying to reconnect to their roots.  In 1903 the day became an official public holiday in Ireland.  Soon after, due to the day-long break from Lent, drinking got out of hand and a law was passed mandating all pubs to be closed on March 17th... which lasted until the 1970's.

Today they combine it all: the church-going, parade-watching, pub-crawling all.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

In search of a diagnoses - because I already know the cure

I'm not sure what you'd call it. A disease? A virus? Stress? Whatever it is, I catch it every few months... generally every three. I feel it coming on like a cold, slowly but persistent until all at once: BAM!, I'm struck down with it like a ton of bricks. The symptoms are also a bit similar to that of a cold: stuffy head, irritability, pressure, occasional headaches, and overall discomfort - whether I'm feeling it myself or dishing it out. But it's the treatment that is different. Instead of over-the-counter medications to cure my ailments, I have to reach for the over-the-border type. Even the four day weekend varieties work wonders. 

As early as February I could feel myself coming down with this (disorder? plague?) and knew I had to do something about it before things got out of hand.  I checked my calendar and started making my plans which continued to hold the malady (maybe?) at bay.

And now, upon my return, I am here to testify of the magic of the cure... as I am a changed person (for the time being). Friday I left the office pale faced, gloomy and downtrodden. Yesterday I found myself skipping down the office stairs with a smile on my face. A smile I say!

Yes, that four day weekend over-the-border medicine works wonders.  Plus it didn't hurt that the one weekend in my calendar that was available for me to go to Ireland happened to coincide with their national holiday.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The best of: Year Four

Nostalgia.  That's what I get while looking through a years worth of travel photos.  Profound nostalgia.  My goal in looking at the photos wasn't really to will myself back to that place and time... although I can't say I didn't have those moments, but it was to find one photo per country to sum up my experience. Let me just state now, it was an impossible feat. Even choosing one photo per location (city, countryside, experience, etc) proved difficult. Very difficult. But I did it.  (Despite my deep seeded desire to sneak in a few extra photos).


Jordan River
Dead Sea
Tel Aviv

OK, so I added another Petra photo.  I couldn't help myself.
hiking Wadi Rum

La Maddalena


Lake Bled
Slovenian countryside

Bang Bao
meditation monastery
Koh Chang

 United States
San Francisco 
New York City

Monday, March 5, 2012

March 5, 2008

Embarrassment:  I walk out of baggage claim with five large, overweight, suitcases piled on top of a push cart.  All eyes in the arrivals hall are on me.  My cheeks take on a deep crimson hue.

Awe: Driving alongside the canals of Amsterdam, I look out the raindrop studded windows of my new manager's car to view the centuries old brick buildings. It takes my breath away.

Shock: Rain lightly falls on us as we stand outside a building which I should be calling home, only to discover I was scammed out of three months rent.  I can not find my voice, which is fine since my mind blanks and I don't have the words to to express how I feel. How I don't feel. I am emotionless. Is it due to the beauty around me?  Is it jet-lag?

Amazement:  I step into one of the elevators of my new office building with my manager and a colleague. I crane my neck to speak to them.  I can't get over how tall they are. We walk onto the floor and I meet the rest of my colleagues. One tells me I can stay with him until I find somewhere else to live.  They are all so nice. Tall. And nice.

Exhaustion:  I sit at a desk, dazed.  I stare at a computer screen, lost. I want to curl up in my bed, but I don't have one. I email my dad.  I am no longer emotionless.  I want to cry.  I don't.

Relief:  My colleague's Alfa Romeo is small.  Small like all sports cars were intended to be. I have five oversize suitcases.  Five oversize suitcases that were not intended to be stuffed into an Alfa Romeo.  But they fit.  Miraculously.

Elation: We step inside ALDI to buy groceries.  I spot a large wedge of Brie for only 79 Euro cents. "Is this correct?," I ask my colleague, pointing to the price. "Yes," comes his response.  His look is one of shock. No... confusion? Or maybe it's a look that expresses a lack of understanding as to why I would be so surprised about something as normal as the cost of Brie?  "No," I say, "you don't understand.  This.  Here," I hold up the cheese, "This is only 79 cents?!?"  He laughs. "Yes, Claire, that," he states, pointing to the Brie in my hand, "is 79 cents."   "Really? Wait.... Really? Wow. 79 cents? Man! I love this country!"
He laughs again.

Gratitude: I lie in the bed my colleague prepared for me while I made dinner. I reflect back on my day.  How it could have gone wrong.  How everything worked out. How everything would continue to work out. Because it always works out.  Always.  And I fall asleep.

The next day I wake up... four years later.