Boy About the World

Ten years ago, in the blazing Riverside sun, I arrived for a photo shoot. In a matter of minutes, I struck a pose and proudly, “vogued.” Not quite, but I did shine my brightest smile.

On the faithful day, I took my passport photo. Upon receiving my new photo, an eyebrow was raised in terror. “Oy, I look like Butthead from Beavis and Butthead fame,” said I. Obtaining a new passport was one of the highlights of 2004: a suburban odyssey.

At the time, I was traveling to Spain for the Christmas holiday. When I touched down on Madrid, the excitement filled the drab customs hall. With one brave swoop, I had my first passport stamp (on the new passport).

My passport became my constant companion on visits to the Prado Museum and Barcelona’s lively Las Ramblas (Street). When I returned to the States, I wondered, “will I have other stamps gracing the pages of my beloved passport?”

Time would answer my question with great vigor. Soon, my feet touchdown on Australia. I marveled at the grandeur of the Sydney Opera house, sky blue seawater and marvelous cliffs, which epitomized Aussie living.

Then I ate plenty of pizza in Rome, with the backdrop of ancient history and vespas. It made me feel just a little closer to the artistic eye of Federico Fellini. Excitedly, I made the impossible happen.

“Ladies and gentleman, welcome to Tokyo Narita,” said the flight attendant upon arrival in Japan. It was a destination, I had always dreamed of visiting, but never thought I would actually make it to.

I fell madly love with Japanese quirk. Vending machines, Pachinko halls, Harajuku’s street fashion and neon lights, it delighted me. I longed for another trip to Tokyo and returned, two years later.

The Tokyo metro, a fashionable tweed coat, admiring kitschy art, it was a dream come true, x 2. However, my adoration for travel didn’t end in Japan. Paris eventually beckoned.

Coffee sipped from a porcelain cup, coupled with a dizzying array of experimental and enjoying live jazz at an underground bar, made Paris more inspirational than sitting through a Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard film marathon.

As my Air France flew out of Paris, I shed a tear. “Oh, I think I am sick,” said I. That’s right, I didn’t need WebMD to diagnose this condition. While sitting through the same Family Ties episode on the flight for hours, a diagnosis was reached. “Oy, I have the travel bug,” said I.

It’s that condition, which is medically untreatable. However, more stamps on the passport would help elevate any wanderlust symptoms. I trekked on. After listening to the Evita soundtrack, one too many times, I was inspired to head south of the equator.

Buenos Aires was elegant, even in the midst of deep humidity. I ate steak and more steak and even more (you guessed it) steak. I also found romance with a flan with dulce de leche, which melted from the afternoon sun. “Oy, I must eat vegetables, when I get home,” proclaimed I.

On my return to the States, I didn’t exactly become a vegetarian. I did marvel at my collection of stamps. One stamp was still elusive. On an icy, but sunny Tuesday in an island, which was also known as a kingdom. I ran around in a navy pea coat and proclaimed, “hello London.”

I had a most magnificent time in old London. It was a place, which dazzled me as a teenager. As an adult, it still captivated my imagination.

While wondering around one of the capital’s many spaces of green, I took a deep breath. “This has been amazing, all this travel. The ducks on the pond are charming. Look at those clouds above. Oh, that beer from the pub last night is my making my head chime like Big Ben. I am in London and feel like a real world traveler,” said I.

After a quick trip to Amsterdam from London, I plotted my next trip. However, as time went on, the only jet setting my passport saw was moving from one New York apartment to the next. The traveling stopped as adulthood responsibilities took over.

During the Thanksgiving holiday, the passport and I finally took a voyage together. Did you take that fabulous trip to Rio, you ask?” Why, no, the next exotic destination was better known, as “Casa de Daddy,” (dad’s house) in Riverside, CA. I didn’t receive a precious passport stamp for flying cross-country, but it was a treat to finally use it on plane travel.

After stuffing my face with my dad’s famous turkey and stuffing, I was heading back home to New York. Like most voyages to Riverside, I had a lay over. As I rushed through Phoenix airport, I felt like a jet setter again. The plane was boarding. I was given the news, which most airline travelers dread.

“Folks, you have to check in your carry on, we’re out of overhead space on this plane,” said the (not at all) merry flight attendant. “Oy, what’s the point of having a carry-on? Asked I.

The plane took off into the darkness of Arizona’s rustic desert. “With the all this modern technology, how does this plane not have television sets behind the seats?” asked I with a strategic eye roll.

I checked my pocket, “oh no, my passport,” said I. “ Oh that’s right, I stuffed it in my carry on luggage, I replied with ease. “Shit, I had to check it in. Dear travel Gods, please save my precious little passport. I promise to go to church. Actually, I promise not to say fuck so much on Sundays,” said I.

The flight commenced and we finally landed in Jersey. I rushed to baggage claim. I waited with a bit of anxiety kicking in. The colorful array of suitcases made their way through the conveyor belt.

Hello, hint of olive green, that’s my suitcase, I declared. I grabbed it and opened up the top zipper. Shining navy blue and bright was my passport. I skimmed through the pages. “Oh stamps, you are more colorful than any of those silly suitcases in the conveyor belt. With great relief, I made my way back to the city.

Whoever says New York doesn’t sleep, hasn’t stepped out of a train at a 6 AM on Sunday. Walking through a sleepy Manhattan to grab a coffee, my own backyard seemed more exotic, even after being away for only four days. “Hey I really like passport stamps and writing about my travels,” said I, while reminiscing on my good ol’ days of travel.

When I returned to my apartment. I put my passport away. Soon it will retire, since I have to renew my passport. I’ll miss our many journeys together. Optimistically, I head to McNally Jackson’s (bookstore) travel section.

It’s the closest I get to the international travel. As I opened up books on countries, which I aspire to walk in, I proclaim, “don’t worry new passport, you will be filled with precious and very colorful new stamps.” I just need to strike a pose and vogue, for the next passport photo. Excuse me, while I practice my best cheesy smile.

Calles De Madrid

For years, I dreamed of traveling to Spain. It interested me greatly. However, I couldn’t afford it. One day, my dad surprised me and said “let’s go to Madrid” for Christmas. I beamed in excitement from ear to ear.

After buying my tickets, I daydreamed of Spain. I would go to the library and read up on the land of Don Quixote, Pedro Almodovar, flamenco dancing, tapas and siestas (naps in the middle of the day).

When we finally arrived in Madrid, feeling jet lagged. We tried keeping the romance flame alive. “You’re room is not ready yet,” said the handsome man at the hotel’s front desk. “What? No nap,” then it dawned on me. I can nap in America. This is Madrid. My dad was equally exhausted. However, we marched out of the hotel and into the streets of the Spanish capital.

Madrid felt like a glamorous old city. The buildings were ornate and taller than I anticipated. A hazy sun played along the sidewalk. Even the walls lining El Parque del Retiro (Madrid’s Central Park) had an old cosmopolitan feel to them. I suggested we go to El Prado Museum. My dad thought it was too early, but I convinced him other wise. Walking from our hotel on Calle de Goya to the Prado was an experience.

The sidewalks were filled with women in lavish fur coats, men dressed in traditional suits and street-fashion clad young people. Hair salons were covered in blue lighting, which flashed brightly against the equally ocean hued covered skies. We reached the Prado.

As expected, it was a wonderland of Spanish art. After our visit, book- stands were set up. Volumes of books from Spanish, American and British authors lined the sidewalks like organized pigeons looking for breadcrumbs.

The roar of traffic progressed as the city was further awaken. While the car horns provided a soundtrack, people traffic increased. We forgot about our jet lag. Our hotel room was finally ready, but we wanted to explore more.

We took our first Madrid metro ride to Puerta del Sol, had a delicious Cuban dinner and then ended up in Madrid’s gay heart, Chueca. As we roamed the streets of Chueca, my dad looked at his watch. It was 3 am and we officially earned our title as night owls. It was a great bonding experience, not so lovely was trying to catch a cab at that hour.

After staying up nearly 24 hours, I had a difficult time getting used to the Spanish schedule. Being American everything is not so late night. However, in Spain, my inner insomniac wandered around and had a marvelous time, drinking sangria under the moonlight. I haven’t been back to Madrid in years, but have fond memories of our family journey.

Big In Tokyo

A group of old men playing chess while the quintessential folky earth mama sings about same sex attraction. The sweet scent of espresso is brewing filling the house with delight. This is the nostalgic coffee shop experience.

It’s a refuge from the workday without the hangover of a glass of wine. The coffee shop is also known the pub alternative where blueberry muffins, kitschy novels and cappuccinos populate the nerve of intellectual and social activity.

My twenties were spent hanging out in coffee shops. I love the coziness and the high level of creative activity. I’ve spent time in virtually every coffee house in Downtown Manhattan. My favorites are the Cake Shop (in the Lower East Side), the Bean (East Village) and Jack’s (West Village).

When I travel internationally, I typically have my coffee at 4 pm. My fondest memories are enjoying a coffee with my dad in Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires while being immersed in the bohemian environment. While in Madrid, we drank cafe con leche (a latte) with little pastries. However, the most grand coffee shop experience is in Tokyo.

The three things, I love the most are looking at city views, people watching and (here’s a shocker) drinking abnormally large quantities of coffee. The Tokyo coffee house experience offers all three. My favorite places to grab a cup of Joe vary. Le Cafe Doutor in the Ginza district is fancy schmancy.

It’s located in the heart of the most moneyed high fashion slice of Tokyo. It overlooks the main crossing, which is surrounded by opulence. It’s designer shops, grand department stores and chichi cafes. The white chocolate latte is my vice there. I felt quite fancy sipping coffee there. That same day, I visited another coffee shop with a view, Starbucks in Shibuya Crossing.

Shibuya Crossing is the busiest place one could ever visit. It’s Times Square x 100. I’ve walked Shibuya Crossing many times. However, I never bumped into anybody. It’s amazing. I wish more cities would adopt diagonal crossing. The Starbucks there overlooks that very busy crossing.

I know I could get Starbucks here, but none have the view of the Shibuya Starbucks. It’s a similar experience to Le Cafe Doutor only the crowds are funky. It’s more street fashion as opposed to haute couture.  I felt like a bird perched on a tree watching the millions of people watching below. It was simply amazing and my excuse for having Starbucks in Japan.

Unlike most cities in the world, Tokyo can offer the best coffee house experience anywhere you go. In Japan, the vending machine is big. New York wired me to have no patience. Therefore, standing in line can be a rather frustrating experience.

In Tokyo, I never had to worry about waiting in line. I could purchase a hot coffee from the vending machine, pick up a pack of cigarettes (back when I was a smoker and also from the vending machine) and have a quintessentially stress free experience. Afterwards, I would wonder around the city, put on some folky tunes and indulge in my own private coffee shop anywhere from a park to frenetically paced Shinjuku.

I love the quintessential coffee shop experience. It’s the pub alternative, where I’ve done everything from written huge thesis papers to job-hunt online. In Tokyo, the vending machine is queen and is my to go form of coffee on the run. Nothing beats the Tokyo coffee shops with grand views will always be my favorite places in the city.

Fresh Frozen Food

I avoid frozen food like the plague. As a major foodie, I have a hard time seeing my chicken fried steak dinner covered in ice and thawed with the microwave. However, thanks to not being a chef, I’ve had to enjoy the frozen dinner. I do have a couple favorite microwavable foods.

Mama Celeste pizzas are divine. I know that they’re not the healthiest, but the pizzas have a nostalgic after school taste to them. This derives from my mom not wanting to cook dinner and feeding me what was convenient, Mama Celeste pizza.

In restaurants, one would never expect to see a microwave, especially not in Madrid, Spain. The capital is revered for its food scene. Although, tapas son el rey (tapas are king), there are small hidden restaurants, which use innovative techniques to broaden Spanish staples. One restaurant served venison cooked with traditional Spanish ingredients. Eating Bambi wasn’t much of a guilt trip and the dessert was especially unique. It was a clear colored gelatin with cinnamon powdered on top.

After a night of innovative, I longed for a night of old school Spanish flavors. Puerta del Sol is the Piccadilly Circus of Madrid. In fact, seeing the neon outdoor ad for Tio Pepe (prominently situated), a brand of cherry, officially announces, “you have arrived in Madrid.” There weren’t a ton of tourists in Puerta del Sol when I was there

I walked into a two-story restaurant. The waiter handed me a menu and the Paella caught my eye (saffron rice with various seafood and meats). I ordered it.

In the corner of my eye, I could see the waiter putting the paella plate in the microwave. I was astonished and nearly fell out of my chair. They delivered the dish and I was not pleased. It tasted ok. However, I was traumatized by the thought of my dish ever seeing the artificial lights of a microwave. I didn’t eat paella for a while.

It’s one of those dishes that taste delicious, but not everyone knows how to make it. The best I had was at a tapas bar in London. Madrid gave me memorable tastes and made me keenly aware of the microwave. However, I still fondly remember all the croquets and Jamon Iberico, while dismissing my paella encounter.

Artists

When I was a kid, my mother took a trip to Mexico City. She told me about how amazing it was to visit Frida Kahlo’s house. During the visit, she brought back Frida’s biography. The book was filled with pictures of Kahlo’s most intense paintings.

As an impressionable child, the images shocked and frightened me. It actually gave me nightmares for a while. I didn’t tell my parents this. However, many nightmares the paintings gave me, curiosity took over. I still looked at the book and developed a great degree of fascination with her art.

As an adult, I grew to admire and understand Frida Kahlo’s art more. In Buenos Aires, I went for a trip to the Museum of Latin American Art. They had a Kahlo painting on display. I was beyond excited to see one of her paintings in person.

Also at the museum was a Diego Rivera painting, Frida Kahlo’s husband. My mom loved his art too. She actually bought a bevy of posters to decorate our house with. Till this day my family home looks like a Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately, we don’t always have chips and salsa.

Seeing a favorite artist’s painting in person is one of the true joys of life. I remember seeing my first Andy Warhol painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Claude Monet at London’s National Gallery. It’s the equivalent of seeing a piece of history only read about it in books.

My most memorable art experience happened in Madrid. Spain’s capital is the nation’s high culture hub. The Prado is a shrine to the Spanish creative senses. I learned about everyone from Goya to El Greco in those proper walls of art. Nothing could prepare me for seeing Pablo Picasso’s Guernica at El Centro De Arte Reina Sofia.

That day, I entered the museum and scrambled to see the painting. In a dark room shining brightly from a distance with grey, black and white hues was the Guernica. It was grander than I anticipated.

Staring at the painting is an emotional experience. The significance and history behind it make it a historic piece. I analyzed the painting carefully. Standing up close to it then taking a seat to see it from afar. The cows and men all perished during the Guernica bombing were there with Picasso’s Cubism style of art.  It left me glued; the hues depicted were bleak and perfectly captured the misery of that dreadful day. The Guernica was one of those pieces, which was hard to leave.

I roamed around El Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. It was very accomplishing to see the vast art collection. However, I’ll never forget the Guernica. It’s been years, since I last met eyes with Picasso’s masterpiece. I am truly eager to see and analyze it again one day. I’ve been lucky enough to experience Mexican, Impressionist, Pop, Renaissance and even Avant-garde art in my lifetime. Going to museums will always be one of my favorite pastimes.

The Great Train Ride

In Spain, I convinced my dad to take a trip to Barcelona. He argued it would be too expensive. However, I was desperate to see the world’s largest concentration of Gothic architecture (aka funky cool building), eat more tapas and touch the Mediterranean Sea. With great persuasion, we bought train tickets to Barcelona. The night of our departure, a snowstorm hit Madrid. Also, I grew ill and lost my voice.

No matter, what mama nature gave us, Barcelona was our destination. Of course, I spent the 8-hour train journey hacking up a storm. The thought of seeing hills and the sea kept me smiling. Spain’s countryside was hidden by snow and dark skies. Our train arrived in Barcelona in the early morning. I touched the Mediterranean Sea, climbed Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia and enjoyed street performers on Las Ramblas. However, we took another train back to Madrid at night. From then on, I decided not to take another nighttime train.

These trains are convenient like red eye flights. However, I’d rather see the endless spans of Spanish countryside as opposed to feeling oblivious.

Although, I spent plenty of time basking in the joys of cosmopolitan Spain, I took a less touristy path in Japan. Tokyo makes me feel like a kid in the world’s coolest record store. There’s so many cool sounds, interesting buildings, funky neon lights and the fashion is the best in the world. I took a detour from the glossy catwalks of fashion forward Ginza and Shibuya.

My buddies Bryan and Yuki lived in a small town two hours from Tokyo. I took the bullet train for the first time. No train trip could be complete without Japanese goodies.

Kit Kat bars are quite popular. They come in a variety of flavors from exotic green tea to tantalizing grape. I stocked up and paired the chocolaty delights with a bag of pizza-flavored potato chips. These curious potato chips have always been hard to find outside Japan, but (surprise) actually tasted like pepperoni pizza. With goodies all in place, I was ready for more laid back surroundings.

As the train left Tokyo station, the Japanese capital looked like it just jumped out of an anime cartoon. The train progressed; Tokyo’s steel and glass wonderland remained in place.

Half way through the trip noisy Tokyo turned into snow-covered lands. Classic Japan emerged; the houses were all traditionally (you guessed it) Japanese.  They were like miniature Imperial Palaces. As the train came into the station, even the culture changed. Fashion forward Tokyo turned into a more down to earth, homey environment. It was the equivalent of going from New York’s Grand Central Station to a far out suburb.

It was lovely to see my friends and visit a side of Japan not splashed in neon and loud rock n’ roll. We celebrated my arrival by going to a traditional style diner. Curry was the cheeseburger deluxe of the menu. Bryan and I always enjoyed it with cheese (which is added into the curry) dripping from our chopsticks

Seeing Japan during the light and its many facets remains a favorite travel memory. My first long distance train trip was to Barcelona. I’ve ridden trains in two continents (not including depending on the subway every day). However, nothing beats looking out the window at a nation’s splendor. Not matter how boring grass and hills become, it’s always inspiring.

An Afternoon In The Park

The great outdoors is Central Park. I’ve never taken a hike, only thrown a ball at P.E. class & can’t swim for the life of me. My dad got the hint when I was five. They placed me in little league. Surprisingly, I ran all the wrong bases. Soon, little league was a thing of the past.

My dad was more of the liberal & open-minded parent. Mom was very conservative & found culture shock in my interests. I remember writing a story about a traveling drag queen, which puzzled her. However, I had an interest in the world & didn’t want to conform to the stringent standards put out by mainstream society. Being a boy was more multi-faceted for me than the classic images of John Wayne.

When my mom passed, we took more trips. Although, we always had a close relationship, it grew stronger through the years. After my mom died, we took a trip to Spain. Of course, we did everything you should do on a trip to Madrid & Barcelona, plenty of tapas, museums & walking around lavish squares.

However, one activity caught my attention, canoeing. Madrid has the most beautiful park, “El Parque del Retrio.” It has manicured gardens, beautiful tree lined walking paths & the centerpiece is a lovely pond. I saw how classy the Madridlenos (people of Madrid) looked rowing their boat. So, I suggested we give canoeing a try.

My father laughed. However, he caught the reality check when I stepped on the boat. I don’t like deep water & never rowed a boat. There was no safety vest in sight. Regardless, I didn’t have any fear as I rowed the boat. There was this tranquil classic feeling to rowing. At first my dad did all the work. I sat there looking like a proper gentleman.

Soon, I took charge & rowed the boat. The boat kept going backwards. My dad showed me how to row it, but our little vessel kept going the opposite way. My dad just took pictures of me happily rowing the boat, doing a terrible job, but loving every minute.

In life, I went opposite of what my parents expected me to be. However, my dad always laughed & accepted my personality quirks. Even while we lived in opposite coasts are bond stayed strong. He was a phone call away, but it always seemed closer. These days, we don’t sit in boats. We do spend lots of quality time together & laugh about my rowing skills.

The Suitcase Diaries

Waking up in Tokyo, the spectacular Shinjuku skyline told me ” konishiwa” every morning. On my first trip to Tokyo, the Hotel New Otani was my temporary home. It even came equipped with the world famous Japanese toilets. They are the haute couture of toilet seats. It comes with every kind of function to make the bathroom experience, one you’d wanna write a postcard about.

The hotel was huge; it had all these fancy shops, restaurants & Tully’s coffee, where I enjoyed my honey lattes twice a day. There are those who say hotels aren’t important. For me, I don’t mind just a simple room with cable TV in a nice a part of town. It doesn’t have to be the lap of luxury. I’ve stayed at very simple affordable hotels around the world.

My Buenos Aires hotel, the Wilton was modest, but had a rooftop. I would climb to the top of the roof & sit on the ledge on grey days where the air was like steam from pea soup. I loved watching the traffic go by & the Baroque buildings in the distance, while the horns were the equivalent Mozart for my ears.

Then there were the less memorable hotels, in London I stayed at a budget hotel. The rooms made my old New York bedroom seem like a football stadium. I couldn’t move around without the entire hotel hearing every bit of noise symphony. The benefit was staying walking distance from Hyde Park & Kensington Gardens, where every London morning commenced.

Being abroad & living out of suitcase, means making my hotel room into a home is important. This is a concept I learned from my trip to Madrid. While I had a great time eating tapas, going to the Prado, seeing the Guernica (for the first time) & late nights in Chueca. I soon caught a terrible cold & stayed in bed for two days. It felt awful; luckily my dad was with me. He brought me sandwiches; plenty of (surprisingly tasty) cough medications & books from VIPS (Barnes & Nobles meets a cozy bistro).

However, I didn’t feel at home. I familiarized myself with Spanish TV, which remains a hoot. Be aware of it late night, the cheeky talk shows feature plenty of body parts, which scare gay boys. It was boring being at hotel in the middle of an exciting capital city.

Now when I travel, there’s always an iPod (for musical enjoyment at all hours), laptop, good books, magazines & snacks from Pringles to peanut M n’ M’s. This gives my hotel room a cozy feeling rather than feeling thousands of miles away from home.

I don’t really get homesick. Nothing beats walking out of my hotel in Paris & knowing that the art of the Mussee Orsay, macaroons, the metro, fresh espresso & grand cathedrals are at my very fingertips. In a perfect world, I would wiggle my nose and go anywhere from a Brazilian chrurrascaria to an experimental art show in Berlin (in a split second, of course).

Hotels are what you make of them. I’ve stayed at nice hotels in the middle of boredom, but have stayed at grease spoon hotels, which generated fun, since they were in vibrant cities. No matter where I go, living off a suitcase is something I want to do more of. I’m ready for the next life adventure.

The Frugal Jet Setter

Old travel films from the 50’s reminds us of a time when life was in Technicolor. Beautifully dressed men and women, board Pan Am flights. On board they drink magnificent cocktails & eat gourmet prime rib & desserts. With the magic of film, this is the quintessential fantasy, which airlines wanted to portray.

Air travel is really a lack of legroom, long lines & germs flowing freely in a capsule. However, I love every minute. Airport & airplanes are some of the most exciting places for me. I love getting all dolled up like in the 50’s reels & checking in. The feeling that new adventures await never gets old.

Throughout my air travel, I’ve flirted with Mt. Fuji while landing in Tokyo. I’ve seen dazzling villages & the green rolling hills of Ireland en route to London & Paris. While on a flight home to New York, I met eyes with the Grand Canyon, which looked like nature’s interpretation of the Manhattan skyline. All of these sights were seen from my luxurious window seat.

I’ve never actually flown first or business class. Therefore, the densely populated economy class has always been home. Champagne, caviar & seats, which morph into beds, is a highly novel idea for me. I compensate by sitting at the window.

Taking off is the exciting part. Then comes the middle part of the flight. I usually combat boredom by watching long films on the airplane. I’ve seen Gandhi, Gone with the Wind & The Godfather on one of my many flights. Turbulence is something I rather enjoy. This is a mainstay of flights, which hover over Alaska. Often times, there is so much turbulence, it’s becomes a commercial break from the three & a half hours of Gandhi magic.

Plane food is usually terrible. It always comes with thick gravy, hard roll & an exotic pudding. After a bevy of gastronomic plane creations, bathrooms, which shake in madness & plenty of people coughing, comes the landing. Suddenly hours in the sardine can has produced beauty.

Landing is my favorite part of the trip. I adore landing in heavy fog & the sensation of flying through the cotton balls. Rome, Buenos Aires, Sydney, Madrid & Tokyo look like a toy display at F.A.O. Schwartz from up above. As the plane descends, the rush of excitement builds. I love hearing the flight attendant announce “ladies & gentleman welcome to London, where the current local time is etc, etc.” Even the airline music in the background is romanticized. Various 747 planes from the U.S., France, Japan & Israel pass by.

Life is no longer in technicolor. However, airline travel is still a most euphoric experience. Although economy isn’t the lap of luxury, seeing the world from the window seat is worth every penny. Traveling is like brain candy & will always provide a lifetime of stimulation.

Life In Subtitles

My mom’s alternative to taking big international trips was exposing me to foreign language cinema. Thursday nights were always a window to the world. We were living in Riverside, CA at the time & the legendary Fox theatre always showcased a foreign film series every Thursday.

Gone with the wind first premiered at the Fox in the late 30’s. It has history & looked utterly majestic. However, in the dead of summer, it was quite warm. The amazing films from France, Mexico & Italy made one forget about the heat, which felt just like the devil’s oven.

Going to the Fox wet my appetite for more foreign language cinema. Till this day, I’m huge fan of Pedro Almodovar’s quirky films. Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films are worth the lengthy period it takes to watch them. The French new wave movement with Paris showered in black & white cinematography also captures my fancy.

At fourteen, I kept a list of films I wanted to see. However, I just didn’t want to watch these films, but travel to the countries they were filmed in. Throughout my teenage & adult life, I traveled all over. I speak a bit of Spanish, which helped me greatly in Buenos Aires & Madrid.

Although, I read Spanish, better than I speak it (have a heavy American accent), I still managed to smile afterwards & pull it off. Here are some of my favorite phrases from my trips to Spain & Argentina.

“yo quiero una empanada, por favor” I want an empanada, please

“adonde esta la farmacia?” where is the pharmacy? (I caught an awful cold in Spain)

Here’s the most important phrase “adonde esta la cafeteria?” where is the coffee house?

I survived the obvious languages in both nations. In Buenos Aires, I even had a full conversation with the cab driver in Espanol regarding Argentinian cinema. Yes, it was more like Spanglish, but it worked.

However, there are those places in the world, where the language is completely foreign to me. Tokyo & Paris were two such places. I’ve watched many Japanese & French films. The subtitles were always there like a life vest in a sea of foreign languages.

My index finger helped especially while using the metro. Although Tokyo has signs in English & Japanese, there was the rare occasion where a station would have the entire map in Japanese. I felt lost in translation (just like the movie). I would ask someone next to me “Ginza station?” use my index finger to point to the map & they showed me exactly where to go.

In Paris, I did the same routine. Only, I learned a few key French terms (the very basic) before my trip to France. When I went anywhere from museums to shops, I simply smiled & said bonjour/bonsoir. Parisians were very respective to this. Good manners go a long way in Paris, like anywhere else in the world.

In Sydney & London, I heard all these phrases & words that weren’t very common in American English. On the streets of Sydney, “no worries” is still a very common phrase. I thought it sounded adorable. Of course, I had export it stateside. While British euphemisms like the loo, bloke, knickers & cutlery, I use on a rare occasion.

I haven’t lost my curiosity of the world. In fact, I’m not that different from the kid at the Fox theatre mesmerized by the subtitles on the screen. I still love travel & foreign films. Before, I started traveling, foreign films were my window to the world. It was a wonderful way to learn about culture.

So, I say watch “La Dolce Vita” & learn about the Italian glitterati in the 60s. Watch a Pedro Almodovar film & have an understanding of La Movida (Post Franco Spain where music, film, art & sex were all very liberated after being under a dictatorship). Luis Bunuel’s films are surrealist/artistic gems. He directed cinema in Spain, Mexico & France.

Jet setting the world commences at your couch or the movie house. No English to French/Japanese/Spanish dictionary required.

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