15 May 2017

Trattoria Napoleone

Opening the pistachio-green doors of Trattoria Napoleone, we enter the warmly-lit foyer. Our waiter, an old friend, leads us to the dining room at the back of the restaurant. My husband and I take our seats, wooden and upholstered in mink-colored velvet, at the Blackwood table. The most enchanting setting for two boarders an enclosed space with glass doors and windows. The vines inside the quaint greenhouse climb a white trellis bearing strings of white lights. We are the first of Napoleone's guests to arrive for the final meal of the day. As we consult the large-format menus, opulent gifts of Italian bread and wine are bestowed upon us. We are not in any hurry and have plenty of time to decide what new dishes to savor.

Trattoria Napoleone

12 May 2017

Il Duomo di Firenze

I raise my camera to my right eye and press gingerly on the shutter release. Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore must be the most photographed building in Firenze. Filippo Brunelleschi's dome, which took sixteen years to complete, has dominated the Florentine sky since 1436. I crane my neck upward and wonder how many people since the fifteen century have basked in the glory of the Duomo.
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08 May 2017

Il Cimitero delle Porte Sante

We walk up the steps of la Basilica di San Miniato al Monte. The adjacent Cimitero delle Porte Sante is the final resting place of Carlo Lorenzini, the author of Pinocchio and the reason for our visit. A.C. and I wind through the grave-covered paths in the direction of the Lorenzini mausoleum. Sensing that we may have deviated from course, my husband turns back to take a second look at the map near the entrance. Before he disappears, he tells me to wait for him in my current position. I verbally agree but decide to soldier on alone in his absence. Surely Carlo will lead me. 

The surrounding silence and the beats of my heart intensify with each stride. I advance toward the Lorenzini tomb locating the steel double doors and pointed pediment of Carlo's house. Standing at the threshold, I wonder if my guide will reveal himself. I do not speak Italian, but maybe he will understand a bit of Spanish. I listen for movement behind the doors' white curtains but instead hear a familiar voice in the distance. A.C. calls my name in a stern, American-accented tone. Making my new location known, I assure him that I have not wandered off with a revered historical figure - at least not today.
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Firenze with il Cimitero delle Porte Sante in the foreground

04 May 2017

Sitting in Santa Croce

I am contented occupying a wooden pew inside the Basilica di Santa Croce. Elements of stained glass, marble, and stone spin around me as I gaze from the cenotaph and tomb-covered walls to the timber roof above. Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli are my companions for the duration of my stay, and we engage in the art of debate for hours while resting our bones.
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The Façade of Santa Croce

30 April 2017

Passeggita Ponte Vecchio

My husband and I linger on the Ponte Vecchio at dusk. The tourists who dominated the medieval structure during the day have moved on to taking selfies elsewhere. We are free to gaze westward in the direction of the sun-lit Ponte alle Grazie. The bridge on which we embrace is the oldest in Firenze and the only one spared from the destruction of the Germans during World War II. Although a series of several bridges existed previously on this site, the current design dates back to 1345. On our evening passeggita, we tread on stone that has borne witness to centuries of Florentine mysteries.

The secret passageway above our heads forms part of the Vasari Corridor which also runs through the nearby Uffizi. I imagine Duke Cosimo I de' Medici, who commissioned the route's installation, admired the Arno through the passage's east-facing windows. Did he reflect on the memories he shared with his first wife as he traveled between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Palazzo Pitti? Although Eleonora di Toledo was born in Spain, she embraced Firenze and her active role as consort. As the first lady of Firenze, she supported many causes including the arts and the establishment of churches. She also took an interest in increasing the profits of the Medici estates. Cosimo left the woman that bore him eleven children in charge as regent during his absences. Eleonora died before the corridor came into existence, but I wonder if Cosimo was reminded of her most while standing at the center of their city.  
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The view westward from the Ponte Vecchio


29 April 2017

Firenze in the Morning

I open my eyes and ears to the hum of the Italian conversations taking place in the nearby piazza. The shutters in the bedroom block the outside light, but I sense it is late morning. I hasten down the hallway to the panoramic window in the living room and open the shutters. My Florentine spirit awakens under the Tuscan sun.
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25 April 2017

Evenings at Taverna San Trovaso

The ground floor of Taverna San Trovaso (Calle Contarini Corfù, 1016) had a ceiling that looked as if it had once served as an underground tunnel connected to the adjacent waterway. The tables and chairs were wooden, aged by the hands of the diners that brought the atmosphere to life every night. A.C. and I requested a table for two, and we were seated just before sunset on the ground floor of the pink-tinted building with green shutters. The proximity of our location to the warm kitchen made it ideal. I imagined wine and Margherita pizza would magically appear before me minutes after the waiter relayed my order to the chef. 

 A.C. stepped away from the table momentarily, and I admired the rustic walls with their glowing lamps and framed photographs of Venetian scenes. A blissful smile spread over my face, and the American couple at the neighboring table took my expression as a sign that I was open for conversation with people I did not know. They admitted they were Southern, and the blonde-haired woman asked me if my husband was Southern too. As a proud Northerner, I was perplexed by the question and provided her with "no, he's not" as an answer. My best friend returned, and the pizza arrived after a few meaningless minutes of chatter with the nearby strangers. The dark-haired man and his wife allowed us to enjoy our dinner undisturbed, and we focused our private conversation on the pleasantries of our current city. 
The following night, A.C. and I were led up to the second floor of the establishment. The ceiling was modernly flat, and the interior was painted contemporary shades of white, tan, and purple. Small chandeliers hung from above, and beige, silk shades decorated the tops of the open windows. Framed, Venetian-themed photographs were suspended by strips of satin mounted to fixtures at the tops of the walls.

I missed the warm wooden and brick surroundings of the level below, but the superior food, delicious wine, and humorous waiter made up for the new setting. I spotted Zac Efron - light brown hair and blue eyes - serving food across the room. A.C. assured me that Zac Efron did not moonlight as a waiter. And besides, if he did work here, maybe he was trying to escape the paparazzi and did not want anyone to know. 

At the conclusion of our second night at Taverna, we headed toward the steps that descended to the exit on the ground floor. The painting at the top of the steps tilted in my direction as I drew near. My eyes widened, and laughter from the joyous wait staff erupted. The falling frame was the signature trick of the restaurant and was played on dinners who ordered too much wine and thought Zac Efron was hiding in Venezia.   

Evenings at Taverna San Trovaso


24 April 2017

Gondolier Stripes

If I ever get to know a gondolier on a personal level, I hope he/she will let me admire the multitude of stripes in his/her wardrobe. I come to Venezia to see the fashion show of blues and reds that travel through the waterways. I see styles that would be suitable additions to my collection worn on the rowers that pass. A top with lines is an element of my everyday uniform, and there is no such thing as owning too many.
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23 April 2017

An Afternoon on the Grand Canal

Towering lines of row houses border the narrow streets. Sensing the way to the Grand Canal, we wind our way through the passages. When I see the teal water ahead, I quicken my steps in the direction of the wooden dock. I wear a striped tee shirt over a black A-line dress, the blue lines echoing the aesthetic of a gondolier’s uniform. I sit at the end of the dock, my navy canvas shoes skimming the water. A.C. catches up and replicates my sitting position. The boats on the canal rumble south toward the open lagoon. A driver docks his red vehicle at our feet. We offer to watch his prized possession until his return. He agrees with a laugh and a wide smile leaving the keys in the ignition. The Venetian dashes off in his sunglasses. When he returns ten minutes later, he hops into his sleek boat with the agility of a runner leaping over hurdles. We watch him merge into the line of traffic on the clear water and wonder if an American drivers license is sufficient to rent a boat in Venezia.
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13 April 2017

Penn in April

The warmest weather of the year arrived on Penn’s campus this week. Many young women misinterpreted this occurrence as a sign to materialize their distastefully-short, summer shorts from the depths of their wardrobes. Benjamin Franklin did not bless the University with sand and a large body of water. Therefore, beach-related attire, including flip-flops, should not be worn on Locust Walk. May I suggest dresses of reasonable lengths as a far superior option? They are effortless and especially minimal when worn in the sun without a jacket or cardigan. 

Penn Summer

10 April 2017

Excursions to Brooks Brothers

The Brooks Brothers Philadelphia store was the site of my most efficient shopping experience. I had written to our contact T.J. requesting that a few items be placed on hold. A week later, my husband A.C. and I pulled on the dense, silver, Walnut Street door in hopes that my letter had been received. 

On this Sunday afternoon, L.S., who wore a knee-length, tunic dress and riding boots, retrieved our clothes from the hold closet. She led us to the fitting room foyer that was carpeted in blue and green plaid. Majestic, navy walls bearing the repeating icon of a golden sheep suspended by a ribbon encased us. The framed, vintage American flag with thirteen red and white stripes and thirteen white stars dominated the wall to the right. A.C. and I took up neighboring fitting rooms. 

We spoke through the slits in our wooden doors. I asked to see the gray polo I had picked out on the person it was intended for, and A.C. obliged. The charcoal of the shirt complimented his dark eyes and sleek, brown hair. The blue, gingham, A-line skirt I had first seen online and which I now wore complimented my hourglass shape. It would be the most-utilized skirt of the summer. 

We changed back into the clothes in which we had arrived and assisted again by the dark-haired L.S., conducted our transaction at the bar that was the checkout counter. T.J., who had recently entered the scene wearing a blazer, sweater, and round glasses, was wrapping purchases for another customer. As we said our goodbyes, I vowed to request items in advance by writing ahead of future visits. 
My most complicated shopping experience occurred three and a half years earlier at the London Brooks Brothers shop. It was 8 November 2013, the day J.Crew opened on winding Regent Street. I arrived at number 165 shortly before hundreds of celebratory balloons were released from the new store's doors. I wore a few of my favorite J.Crew elements: a navy Schoolboy blazer, a Vintage cotton T-shirt, and a pink, pleated skirt. My chunky, cap toe, Etta heels clicked on the checked pavement as I crossed to the west side of the street. I felt American in the glow of the store’s overhead lighting and in the midst of the music that reverberated between the two levels. Golden balloons, each resembling a single letter of the alphabet, read "Hello London" and bobbed against a black background in a wide window. 

As the spirit of my home country possessed me, I was led in the direction of Brooks Brothers, one of America’s oldest clothiers, at number 150. I crossed back to the east side of the street and entered the open foyer of the shop. I felt myself falling to the floor in slow motion, landing on my hands and knees, my bottom facing the door. Why am I down here when I am supposed to be up there? Why am I staring at this doormat, and when was the last time it was cleaned? A single step that blended into the color of the street was the culprit. I was rendered immobile for what seemed like ten minutes but may have actually been only one. 

Two employees assisted me in seating myself in a chair from which I had a pristine view of the morning traffic on the shopping district’s main street. A man in a navy blazer with gold buttons that matched mine reunited me with my heel that had detached from my foot during the fall. There would be no shopping today. After a fifteen minute rest, I was able to embark on the journey home via the red, number 94 bus. It was Friday, but I did not feel the presence of the weekend as I climbed into my down-filled quilt. My right ankle swelled to the size of a medium melon, and I was confined to my apartment for three days.


31 March 2017

The Tactful Queen

In the words of Winston Churchill: “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip." The woman who emanates this quality cuts her opponents with a sharp tongue. The graceful delivery of her retort is unexpected and understated. She disarms her opponent of his pride and makes him grovel for forgiveness at her feet.  

I recall the scene between a tactful queen and her subject at the New York AFINGO conference in 2011. The rain fell unrelenting upon the concrete of Manhattan that April day. The seating in the Fashion Institute of Technology amphitheater filled as the stylish attendees claimed their seats. The center of the first row was prime territory, the royal box, and I stationed myself there.

The sixty-year-old woman, who wore sneakers and ill-fitting jeans, to my right had built a mountain of rain-related items in the chair between us. The queen of tact, dressed in powerful black, made her entrance from the staircase on the left.  The trench-clad woman in her twenties arrived at the foot of her throne to find it occupied by clutter. The royal wore her hair pulled up into a slick ponytail, and she approached her unruly subject with perfect posture and poise, requesting the items' removal from the blood-red upholstery. The bitter, old woman sighed and moaned incessantly at the decree's delivery. The young queen exuded maturity, attempting to rectify the situation by offering her hand in assistance. The witch's scowl lines deepened with dissatisfaction. "I don't like anybody touching my things," she hissed. 

The tactful ruler responded: "I don't appreciate being spoken to that way. I'm sorry I was only trying to help." The witch immediately hung her head, ashamed of her dreadful behavior, which seemed exponentially ridiculous when contrasted to the queen's regal manners. The royal took her rightful place in the auditorium, the diamonds in her invisible crown glittering as the immature woman pelted her with pleas for forgiveness.

The Rainy Day


27 March 2017

Particular Pen, Part II

When the production of the Triumph 537R Roller Ball (.5mm) pen was halted, I was unamused. 
Dear BIC, 
I refuse to accept the new and "improved" retractable version of my favorite writing instrument. The ink refills you so kindly provided do not appease me. The barrel of the Triumph model cracks with wear rendering the replacement cartridges useless. 
I began my search again for the perfect pen at JetPens.com deciding on the uni-ball Vision Elite in .5mm and .8mm tips. The pen with the finer point skipped while in motion proving itself incapable of fulfilling its prime purpose. The pen with the bolder point conducted itself beautifully, and I highly recommend it in a blue-black shade of ink. I have declared it the pen of the moment.
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24 March 2017

Poppy-Colored Polish

As the pharmacy fills with families gathering weekend essentials, I seek solace in the midst of the nail polish displays. I evaluate my current mood and select a shade to match. The busy work-week seemed especially long, and today, Friday, is an opportunity to celebrate my survival. The snow is melting on account of the recently-reinstated sunshine. All of my responsibilities for the week were fulfilled. I briefly entertain the idea of skipping home. The red-orange shade of poppies personifies my intense excitement for the onset of the weekend, and that is the color I choose. My husband says that I should not feel pressured to paint my nails since our calendar does not contain any impending social obligations; no one will see them. I tell him that a woman who makes time for her nails makes time for herself; the color is for my own enjoyment, solely for me.
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22 March 2017

Lettering with Lettermate

Every letter I write by hand receives a handwritten envelope to match. Employing the Lettermate, I pen the recipient’s name and address in straight lines. I imagine my contact will be semi-impressed with the precise alignment of the text. Charmed by the guide's sensibleness, I refuse to prepare outgoing mail without it. Before depositing the stamped envelope into the post box, I admire its uniform lettering. In this moment, I part with something beautiful that I have made for someone else. This is the essence of giving, and I vow to do more of it.  
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15 March 2017

Lighting the Sage-Scented Candle

After a day of dealing with the unpleasantries of the world, I retreat home, lighting my sage-scented candle shortly after my arrival. The deep, sweet, herbal smell takes on a body of its own and circulates throughout the rooms. Leaving hints of wood and vanilla in its wake, the aroma demands the burden of my anxieties. I gladly turn them over. In exchange, I receive clarity. My muscles relax, my soul becomes centered, and I remember who I am.
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11 March 2017

Capitalizing on Personal Time

I accomplish my personal goals by establishing what they are and fitting them into the time that I have. My free hours are extremely valuable. When I am not engaged in tasks related to my primary job, I dictate my own schedule. All of the items on my to-do list of endeavors cannot be undertaken at once. Thus, I prioritize and reprioritize my activities on a daily basis. One day my primary goal could be finishing the assigned reading for English class. The next day my focus could be walking around Penn's campus in the unseasonably warm weather. The following day could be devoted to taking photographs for this blog. By rotating my pursuits, I allow for the many things I deem important. 

"If you are working a full-time job, so 40 hours a week, sleeping eight hours a night, so 56 hours a week — that leaves 72 hours for other things," time management expert Laura Vanderkam concludes of our 168 hour week. "You say you're working 50 hours a week, maybe a main job and a side hustle. Well, that leaves 62 hours for other things. You say you're working 60 hours. Well, that leaves 52 hours for other things...We don't even need that much time to do amazing things."

Instead of squandering my time, I seek to maximize it. I view technological inventions such as the internet, television, and smartphone as black holes into which lifetimes disappear. I limit my interactions with these devices, alternatively connecting to the delights of real life. As long as I make myself a priority, I have time to live. 

I am Very Busy
Essentials for Being Essentially Busy

07 March 2017

The Flower Fund

I am entitled to flowers year-round but especially at the onset of spring. The decline of winter, evident in the rising temperature and lengthened hours of sunlight, is a time of renewal. I celebrate my survival of the year’s coldest months by replenishing the household flower fund. The budget sustains my weekly expeditions to tulip distributors, from which I acquire a sufficient quantity of my favorite flower to brighten the property's most-utilized spaces. My efforts ensure the presence of color and scent wherever I am present. Spring will not officially begin for another two weeks, but I pretend the new season is already upon us. I overlook threats of snow and focus on horticultural endeavors throughout the house.
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04 March 2017

The Traveling Library

I am always in the company of something to read. My ever-expanding home library is the nucleus from which my satellite collections spring. I keep a small selection of books piled on my desk and nestled in drawers at work to consult during lunch hours. If a colleague forgets his book at home, he is welcome to borrow one from my store. When I go abroad, my collection travels too. The number of books I bring depends on the duration of my trip. If I am going away for less than a month, two is the maximum quantity of books (not including notebooks) that I will allow myself to pack. My rationale: the book I am currently reading and one to follow is plenty of material to devour on a short excursion. If I plan to be away for more than one month, my book allowance increases by two. I bring one of my favorite books to christen the new residence and a book related to my destination city. I acquaint myself with my new location by surveying the local bookshops. Naturally, I acquire souvenirs from each.
The Traveling Library


28 February 2017

The First Draft

Writing is a way of life, a process that consumes waking and sleeping hours, from which an author cannot be separated. John McPhee shares an excerpt from his letter to his daughter in DRAFT NO. 4, which appeared in the April 29, 2013 issue of The New Yorker:

“Dear Jenny: The way to do a piece of writing is three or four times over, never once. For me, the hardest part comes first, getting something—anything—out in front of me. Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall. Blurt out, heave out, babble out something—anything—as a first draft. With that, you have achieved a sort of nucleus. Then, as you work it over and alter it, you begin to shape sentences that score higher with the ear and eye. Edit it again—top to bottom. The chances are that about now you’ll be seeing something that you are sort of eager for others to see. And all that takes time. What I have left out is the interstitial time. You finish that first awful blurting, and then you put the thing aside. You get in your car and drive home. On the way, your mind is still knitting at the words. You think of a better way to say something, a good phrase to correct a certain problem. Without the drafted version—if it did not exist—you obviously would not be thinking of things that would improve it. In short, you may be actually writing only two or three hours a day, but your mind, in one way or another, is working on it twenty-four hours a day—yes, while you sleep—but only if some sort of draft or earlier version already exists. Until it exists, writing has not really begun.”

The accomplished author McPhee encourages his daughter in her own work. The letter serves as a reminder that a written piece of quality passes through several stages on the road to completion. The initial draft is the first of many steps and can prove the most treacherous. Beginning anew requires initiative on the part of the writer who is bound to experience uncertainty in the trenches of a new literary undertaking.

In following through with a first draft, I string my words together like a continuous row of chairs on a ship's deck. The arrangement is dull, void of character. But the enormous efforts I expend materializing it on paper earn me a break. I feel like a passenger on a departing boat. My cabin awaits, but I linger on deck with a glass of sparkling water. I have a sense of what to expect at the journey's end, but the details are not entirely clear. I wonder if there is there still time to turn back. Although I have physically distanced myself from my desk, I question my thesis and mentally reconstruct my argument.

Upon my return to the page, I pick up my pen with a clearer perspective. I know what I want to say, how I want to say it, and why my message is worth saying. The sentences become eloquent. The continuous line of text is organized into paragraphs. Editing is comparable to opening my cabin door for the first time. I descended from the outside elements to my suite. The key turns the lock, the door opens, and the sunlight from the window engulfs me. I survey the surroundings, nod in agreement, and unpack my luggage, preparing for an extended stay.

The Writing Life


27 February 2017

Advice for Acquiring New Recipes

1. Designate a notebook for your recipe research. I recommend a composition book, the kind that has appeared on the school supply lists of American children since the dawn of the nation. Traditionally the covers of the books include a bold, black and white marble pattern, a black strip on the spine, and a white, central block in which to record the student's name and the subject of study. The rounded corners, probably incorporated as a safety measure, are conducive to turning the pages with ease. I favor Decomposition Books designed by Michael Roger, a family run company founded in 1949 and based in Brooklyn. The cover of my recipe book is cappuccino colored and printed with images of coffee cups. I copy new recipes onto its pages like a diligent grade-school student. This exercise builds my familiarity with the ingredients of new dishes, advancing my confidence to make them.

2. Gather recipes from a variety of sources. Family members and friends will divulge their favorite foods as well as accompanying memories. Pinterest is an incredible resource for locating recipes on the internet. By browsing cookbooks in bookstores and libraries, you are bound to discover a few items of interest. I occasionally find recipes sprinkled throughout memoirs. In my current read, Pamela Druckerman's Bringing Up Bébé, I came across instructions for le gâteau au yaourt. I baked the cake and shared it with my colleagues who paired it with their morning cups of café. A recipe often appears on the packaging for an ingredient of that recipe. Following the directions on a pack of granulated sugar, I made a batch of brownies. My husband's coworkers approved.

3. Permit yourself to prepare foods you are not in the habit of eating. Knowing my office associates will enjoy the product of my labor, I bake as a calming exercise. I am at liberty to dabble in the lab that is my kitchen without being tempted to eat too many sweets.

4. Acquire culinary tools as needed. If you require a particular utensil or cookware, buy or borrow it. I found a recipe requiring the zest of a lemon. I now own a zester and have discovered many other uses for it beyond its initial purpose. 

5. Be empowered to adapt recipes to your own specifications. You can always try again if the experiment goes awry. 

6. Focus on one new recipe at a time. I was overwhelmed at the beginning of my search for new foods. But my anxiety subsided after resolving to shop for the ingredients of one recipe at a time. My colleague K. says cooking is a continuous battle, but I plan to win it with patience and a plan.
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23 February 2017

Triumphant at the Arc de Triomphe

Our two-hour journey on the Eurostar  from London St. Pancras to Paris brought us to Gare du Nord in the tenth arrondissement. A.C. and I walked through litter-strewn streets and past graffiti-covered storefronts to the elevated platform of Barbès - Rochechouart station. We were two of many travelers anticipating the trip west on the metro line 2. I wanted to escape the less than satisfactory picture of Paris that had initially been presented and meld into a scene of grand boulevards. I felt fortunate, like a survivor of the Titanic on the last lifeboat, to board the train. The stops climbed in number, and we exited at the tenth, emerging from the underground Étoile metro station in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. My arms stretched to the sky, and my legs propelled my body upward. The arch stands at the center of a roundabout, the Place de l'Étoile. Twelve streets branch from the stone structure like cosmic rays of light. The traffic swirls rapidly in a continuous orbit. The symbol of French patriotism is inscribed with the names of generals from the Napoleonic Wars. While I did not see my name up there, I claimed it as a token of our successful journey to the 8th arrondissement, the neighborhood we would call home.  
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L’arc de triomphe de l’Étoile

17 February 2017

Paris from the top Floor

I thought I was dreaming the first time I woke up in Paris. The simplicity of the rustic, untreated wooden floors and the white walls of our apartment inspired my artistic nature. Paris and our studio appeared as a blank canvas in need of painting. The city called for our presence, and the walls begged for photographs of our adventures. I dressed in slim trousers many shades deeper than the gray of the sky. My purple cashmere sweater brightened up the studio in the absence of the sun's rays. I opened the double doors to the balcony and stepped outside. Many of the shutters on the windows within view were still closed. I felt accomplished in my triumph of rising at a decent hour. We had visited the Eiffel Tower, now faintly visible beyond the rooftops, the night before. It had glowed and so had we. A glimpse of the still tower in the daylight confirmed that Paris was not a dream, but rather real life. photo da5c0e28-9bc1-4bd5-b38c-3886e16cbb48_zpsceeqqqmf.jpg

11 February 2017

The Case for the Macaron in Three Points

1. I think of Paris when I hold a macaron in my hand. Shopping at Ladurée is a Parisian pastime for my husband and me. Thus, I have come to associate the delicacy with this French city. Although I buy macarons from purveyors in other cities, I envision the shop on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées with every bite. 
2. Preparing macarons is an artform. The time-consuming process reminds me that the best things in life require an investment of time. Like art, my life should not be rushed. 
3. The brilliant colors of macarons lift my spirits under an overcast sky. Salted caramel is my favorite flavor.
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Ladurée on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées

07 February 2017

Paris in February

I fly to La Ville Lumière in winter. Give me the rain and the slate sky, but keep the tourists away. A tourist takes selfies with the most popular works in museums for bragging rights. My taste are not popular, and I do not boast. Thus, I do not have anything in common with the masses that flood the Musée du Louvre in search of the Mona Lisa. Give me the crisp air. I will bring my tights and a trench coat. Let me go into the most secluded galleries of the museum.

Paris in February


04 February 2017

Trainer Days with New Balance 696

The comfort of the New Balance 696 encourages me to follow through with my walking resolution. The sleek but casual style adds an element of surprise to my A-line skirts. Although too relaxed for the unsparing domain of the gym, I wear them while climbing stairs when everyone else is utilizing the elevator. They are for the brisk walk to the library, the dash back to the office after lunch, and the run to class. The reliable 696 is appropriate for travel on foot to all destinations in the distance. 
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30 January 2017

The Gift of Wine

The joy of receiving wine begins with the giver's endearing presentation. I, the honored recipient, display the deep-green bottle of La Marca Prosecco on the hardwood floor next to the towering bookcase. The base of the bottle is ringed like the lower torus of an architectural column. The vibrant, coastal-blue label reminds me of unclouded skies over Italy. I carefully choose the moment, a night void of plans, in which to pour the wine. I pop the cork, and the trip begins.

My husband accompanies me to the years 1953, and we relive the champagne scene from Roman Holiday. We take our places in wooden, low-back Windsor chairs at G. Rocca Café in the Piazza della Rotonda. The coolness of the awning’s shade is juxtaposed with the warm spring air. The square is bustling with pedestrians, bicycles, and horse-drawn carriages.  The gift of prosecco materializes again, this time in the hands of a waiter. A. and I raise a toast to his favorite country and the giver who has generously funded this trip. 
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29 January 2017

Chef Beginnings

"You look like a chef," Mamá exclaims when she sees me in my new apron. She leads me in the making of my first meatloaf. "I don't measure," she says as she sprinkles unspecified amounts of adobo and sazón into the stainless steel mixing bowl. Somehow she knows the correct amount of every ingredient to incorporate into every dish from years of trial and error. "You'll make a great cook," she assures. I take the meatloaf out of the oven. She inspects it and cuts a small piece to taste. "It's good," she proclaims. I prepare four dinner plates and the three nods of approval fill me with hope.

Chef Game


26 January 2017

The Writing Workshop

We choose our seats at the table on the first day of class, and our introductions begin at the official time.  As the spotlight moves clockwise, our common purpose for enrollment becomes evident. We want to write, and we recognize the value in having the support system that is this class. “The more personal the writing, the more universal,” our fearless leader coaxes us out of our shells. Her words resonate with me. Our judgement-free zone allows us to get to know one another. We support each other’s literary endeavors via praise and constructive criticism. Writing from memory is at the class’ center. Our work reflects our inner beings. We divulge our anxieties about the writing process. Words of encouragement and advice curb our fears. 

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes: "People tend to look at successful writers who are getting their books published and maybe even doing well financially and think that they sit down at their desks every morning feeling like a million dollars, feeling great about who they are and how much talent they have and what a great story they have to tell; that they take in a few deep breaths, push back their sleeves, roll their necks a few times to get all the cricks out, and dive in, typing fully formed passages as fast as a court reporter. But this is just the fantasy of the uninitiated.” 

While an author's work may read effortlessly, a great deal of effort was expended to make it appear so. Those who partake in the writing process embark on a tumultuous journey of self-discovery. Art cannot be rushed. 
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20 January 2017

The Meaning of Home

What do people mean when they ask where I am from? “It's such a simple question, but these days, of course, simple questions bring ever more complicated answers,” says Pico Iyer. “When my grandparents were born, they pretty much had their sense of home, their sense of community... And nowadays, at least some of us can choose our sense of home, create our sense of community, fashion our sense of self, and in so doing maybe step a little beyond some of the black and white divisions of our grandparents' age.” 

When people ask me to define my home, I find it annoying that they expect a one-word answer. I say that I have lived in a number of places but favor London and New York. My London coworkers say that I am “one of those people without a home,” meaning that my home is not limited to one city. Although my grandparents had a sense of community in their neighborhoods in the United States, mobility was at the heart of their worlds. 

Grandmommy, who traveled often, was born in Georgia but moved to Pennsylvania when she was four years old. She spent a great deal of time in the Pocono Mountains, Florida, and Mexico, and she never forgot to sent me postcards and photographs while she was away. Although her parents were Southern, she moved at a Northern pace. My grandfather, who died before I was born, learned to speak Italian fluently. He had many Italian friends, and I imagine that Italy played a dominant role in his definition of home. Grandma H. was born in England and came to the U.S. as a war bride during WW II. She was resilient in overcoming obstacles and bold in her decisions. Grandpapá was born in Puerto Rico, which is the source of Mamá's stellar cooking and consequently the inspiration for the lessons in cuisine she passes to me. 

I am a blend of cities, and my sense of community is not based on my residing in a specific neighborhood. Home may or may not be the physical ground on which I stand, but it is definitely a feeling that moves and moves with my soul. “It's the place where [I] become [my]self.”


17 January 2017

Penn Winter Walks

It is easy to make excuses to stay at my desk. There is always another email to send, another phone call to make, and another piece of writing to revise. But in the spirit of the new year, I have been making an honest effort to leave the confines of the office for at least an hour a day. Man was not designed to lead a sedentary life. I find a brisk walk around Penn's campus refreshing in winter. The combination of the cool air and my rising body heat strike up the ideal temperate inside my navy coat. I approach College Hall, and the mesmerizing blanket of snow freezes me in that moment. The pedestrian traffic moves along the paths, but I do not take much notice. The rush to classes has ended, and the atmosphere is tranquil. The Gothic building looks even more forbidden. 
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College Hall

13 January 2017

Sunrise in PHL

I think fondly of Philadelphia when I see it in the distance, or from the sky, or on the screen. I would not go so far as to say that I admire the city as a whole. For most of my life, I considered it an unsavory place in which to live. In the past year, my barometer may have moved slightly away from this extreme mark of disapproval. University City has distracted me from my standard set of complaints about the former capital of the United States. I am a New Yorker and a Londoner at heart. Thus, Philadelphia, despite being the City of Brotherly Love, does not stand a chance in competing for my affection. I am not interested in knowing my neighbor unless we have been introduced, and I only have one brother (a brother is a sibling, not a random person you see in passing). But at every sunrise, I forget the city's unpleasant characteristics, like its violence and lack of diversity. The view is hypnotic, and I see PHL in a positive light as if I were in a dream.
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10 January 2017

Salsa is a Verb

Mamá is a social butterfly and lover of laughter and good times. She, like any carefree puertorriqueño salsas her way through the obstacles and open doors of life. In the heyday of the new Latin sound, she spent her weekends twirling on the dance floor with her friends and a rum and coke. She is a woman after my own heart. It is a party whenever we are together. She plays my favorite songs by Héctor Lavoe como "Mi Gente" y "Que o." She reminisces about the 70s and brings me along.
Salsa is a verb


05 January 2017

Beginning the Semester

I am brimming with excitement at the start of the semester. Selecting courses based on preference and not to fulfill a general requirement is the leading benefit of graduate-level study. While I am grateful for my undergraduate foundation, I do not miss pursuing a bachelor's degree. By revisiting papers pertaining to the courses I completed for my master's, my next thesis begins to appear on the horizon. Simultaneously, embarking on fresh areas of interest is an opportunity for professional expansion. Endless scholarly opportunities present themselves for the taking. There are books to acquire, professors to meet, and peers with whom to debate. Let us begin. 

Beginning the Semester



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