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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M.J.C.

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

M.J.C.

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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M.J.C.

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.”

M.J.C.

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
M.J.C.

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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M.J.C.

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

M.J.C.

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



M.J.C.

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