Monday, September 30, 2013

Fountainheads: This One’s For You

Before I headed to the charismatic city of Florence (I still can’t believe Jersey Shore filmed there) for a few days last week, someone advised me not to feel bad if I ended up not seeing everything. 

I don’t.

I found a way to deeply experience the city, its residents, and the local culture, which I couldn’t have done if I speed-walked through the streets in a blistered-feet frenzy, to line up for yet another Renaissance art–packed chamber. I guess reading the Florence pages of an Italy guidebook was less stressful than cramming for a Series 7 exam. But keeping track of which museums are and aren’t open on Mondays, which ones are closed every second or fourth Monday of the month, noting the three different locations of Michelangelo’s David (with the warning that only one of the three happens to be legit) - who deserves this? An alternative strategy is to wander aimlessly until you stumble into someplace that looks more compelling than not. If it’s closed, forget about it and keep moving, directly into the nearest gelato emporium.

Florence is another Italian metropolis that features a special fountain, with the idea that if you surrender a coin, you’re guaranteed a return trip to the city one day (that’s what the guidebook says; according to Wikipedia, you need to rub the snout of the fountain’s wild boar sculpture to ensure a comeback – again, all too complicated). Instead of sitting at the bottom of fountains, my spare coins went into the palms and paper cups of elderly panhandlers in kerchiefs, who made beelines for me. My late grandmother occasionally wore a kerchief, and turning my back on these ladies would have carried the whiff of alienating her.

Italy is currently like me six or seven years ago – not on its best financial footing. Yet the word “deficit” could vanish from the budget coordinators’ heads and tongues if they’d start spreading the word that throwing a one-euro coin into a certain fountain will get the thrower the job of her dreams, or keep away the parking tickets, or reduce the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses that knock on her door, or make her spill red wine on her light-colored clothing less frequently. And that a two-euro coin toss will stave off the computer viruses, criminal convictions, and STDs, and may ultimately contribute to bringing down the price of a quart of milk. Although I’m slightly swamped these days, I wouldn’t decline an invitation to serve on any fountain-related steering committees, especially those holding their sessions within Florence city limits because I didn’t get a chance to climb to the top of the Duomo during my first visit there. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Some of How I Spent the Day Before I Fled the Country for Half a Month

*Slept In.

*Had coffee and a breakfast fit for a lumberjack.

*Lay around listening to Pandora; Worst-case-scenario speculated about my rowmates on the planes; Remembered that I never did go down to the Village to look for a marked-down, used-copy Italy travel guide.

*More coffee.

*Went to the hardware store for a voltage adapter.

*Swung around the block to the grocery store, to get refunded for a single roll of toilet paper I’d been charged $10.99 for the other night. (Always review your receipts. And minimize any chattering you do with your cashier, your bagger, the bagger over in the next aisle, and the floor manager while the cashier rings up your purchases, so you can pay closer in-real-time attention - or any attention at all - to the numbers popping up on the register’s screen.)

*Fell head over heels for a $20 shirt at Marshalls that has gamechanging potential; Feel similarly about a bottle of “Brilliant Blush” nail polish I found 10 minutes later.

*Checked my work email and was instantly disgusted by a message from the douchiest bureaucrat I’m forced to liaise with; Started drafting a response, but soon deleted it - he’s too emotionally frail; Logged out and vowed not to log back in until September 30th.

*Fixed myself dinner and a Skinnygirl Margarita.

*Ogled the Marshalls shirt.

*Stage 1 of the packing process; Unearthed a dressy scarf someone once brought me back from Italy that I never wear. Wondered what it would do to my karma if I handed it to someone else upon my own return, with a, “Surprise! This is for you, it’s from Italy.”

*Began a load of laundry, while the couple intellectualizing in the back corner got drunker by the minute.

*Bought a Fodor’s guidebook at a bookstore in my neighborhood, full price.

*Trip #2 to the hardware store to return the voltage adapter that turned out not to be compatible with my phone charger’s prongs. The store was closed.

As much as I love my country, I’ve earned another break from it. Ciao!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Dear Time-Travel Machine(s): Don’t Even Think About Sending Me Back to the ‘80s

In the late 2000s, an older native Manhattanite told me I would have loved living in the New York of the ‘70s. Whatever. She has also maintained that any native New Yorker who bumps into me would be able to tell I’m not from here, which was a far greater compliment than the ’70s pitch.

I doubt I would have done many cartwheels around this town in the ‘80s, what with the menaces including but not limited to: broad-daylight armed muggings; burglarized apartments; a much less visitor- and commuter-friendly Times Square; and Daddy Reagan lurking fewer than 250 miles to the south. There was also quite an AIDS outbreak, as the historical society’s “AIDS in New York” exhibit drives home. The New York Historical Society is my fourth-favorite local museum. Its exhibits are wonderfully curated and it’s on my route home from work. I’m waiting for someone to take me on a dinner date in the fine-looking ground-floor restaurant that sits across from the gift store, where elegant scarves and jewelry are sold near the quill pens I always almost buy. I still sulk about having missed the Society’s 2010 Grateful Dead show, but that upset was all the motivation I needed to start investigating and memorizing the opening and closing dates of all exhibits that seem up my ‘70s-tinted alley.

I’m not minding the New York of the 2010s. I can haunt Manhattan’s streets by myself at any hour of the night without feeling unsafe. It’s now possible to get a Shake Shack cheeseburger two avenues from my office or around the corner from the Society, instead of having to traipse downtown. And Studio 54 lives on. I’ve seen a marvelous production of Waiting for Godot in there with the elder stateswoman from paragraph one, who evidently haunted Studio 54 back when it was really the setting for some of the city’s most gripping theatrical performances.    

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Offspring of the Hyper-Well-Informed Shall (One Day) Inherit the Trait?

I was raised by a couple of news addicts. Print journalism and broadcast journalism were the ninth and tenth members of my household, and I sometimes resented the latter. To this day, I know not to call my dad between 6:30 and 7 p.m., as he cannot bear the idea of missing a moment of the ABC evening news, which is often followed up with more news on the TV and/or the Internet.

On the average day, my detailed knowledge of what’s going on in this world is spotty. I cover-to-cover read every issue of Newsweek magazine from my mid-twenties until that was no longer an option. I follow the New York Times on Twitter and semi-regularly set aside time to read beyond its headlines, particularly the articles pertaining to lifestyle and the arts. When someone referenced Bernie Madoff, several days after the world had been told his story, my “Who’s he?” was not courteously received. On September 11, 2001, I wasn’t aware we were in the early stages of a national tragedy until the early afternoon, thanks to a phone call from my aunt.

So I haven’t exactly been a wealth of information on what’s happening in Syria. As I walked uptown more than a week ago, an older lady walked toward me, beaming. When I stopped and pulled out my earbuds to hear what I was getting accosted about, she was midway through congratulating me on my “victory in Syria.” I thanked her. “But who is Syria?” she asked, before moseying off, in a daze. I should also thank her for being the one who most recently prompted me into reading and listening to more in-depth coverage about what’s new in lands far, far away from my personal and professional bubbles.