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.

Strolling in Paris

Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless is one of my favorite French new wave films. It’s a bit of guerilla filmmaking at it’s finest. Mostly, I loved seeing Paris in all it’s glossy glory splashed across the screen.

Experiencing the French capital where painters, filmmakers, fashion designers, writers and musicians found inspiration lured me years ago for a visit. Like any great destination, I had to overcome a case of jet lag.

My father and I had a marvelous flight on Air France. It was my first time on the second floor of the 747. As the plane approached Charles De Gaulle, France appeared with it’s fields of green and subtle rolling hills.

It was amazing to think that one of the world’s most sophisticated cities was nestled in somewhere in these fields. We had a smooth landing. Then reality hit. Traffic, highways sprawling and cheesy eighties ballads overwhelmed our senses. Unlike most traffic-ridden cities, something beautiful appeared from the grey.

The Eiffel Tower like a glistening croissant at a café towered over the modern outdoor advertisements. We arrived in the city center and in no time were walking the legendary sidewalks. Being close to the Champs Elysees equated tourism and chains. Somehow, I ignored the corporate aspect and found beauty in the city’s architecture and pedestrian culture.

We couldn’t stop walking and ended up in the Place de La Concorde. Traffic horns complemented the austere square with its obelisk as a centerpiece. Sycamore trees, Le Arc de Triomphe and elegant architecture surrounded us.

At that very moment, I felt inspired and understood the allure of the city. There are great cities in the world that offer amazing stimulation by just stepping foot in it’s soil. Paris is one of those places.

Throughout the city, my father and I were impressed by everything. We loved the Jardin de Luxembourg, which was covered in fogs and Parisians enjoying a Sunday afternoon stroll. The cafes and shops of St. Germain Des Pres were bustling with fashion and coffee cups. Even the street musicians in front of the Opera de Garnier provided both wonderful memories and enjoyable moments.

In America, I can travel to Paris anytime I want. Through the writings of Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein, I can travel to cafe society. In many French films from the likes of Francoise Truffaut and Luis Bunuel, one can experience a stylized and sometimes surrealistic view on Parisian life.

Even observing the art of Pablo Picasso gives me a window into the city that inspired him and many of his artists. French accents, the smell of crepes and Edith Piaf’s voice reminding me of Paris past, I miss it all.

Fashion Week

In Tokyo, fashion isn’t about a simple storefront. Gucci, Prada and Chanel have lavish tall buildings, which scream expensive and opulent. Sometimes, the buildings even project images of very svelte tall models working the catwalk.

The neighborhoods of Tokyo are identified by their style sense. Ginza screams expensive. Omotesando is home of ultra chic shops, where fashion shoots are as common as Starbucks coffee cups on the Upper West Side.  In Shinjuku, the power suit is the norm. Harajuku is home to eccentric fashion, which can be dubbed as cartoonish or even avant-garde. While Shibuya is also home to teenage tribes of fashionistas.

Tokyo like most couture frenzy capitals has fashion week. However, on the sidewalks of the Japanese capital with its marriage of glitz, sophistication and urban street edge, fashion week is a daily occurrence. It happens in the metro, bars, and cafes.

The Japanese are obsessed with a beautiful presentation. Everything from fruit to sweaters is presented with an extreme sense of perfection. Tokyo is one of my favorite fashion cities. However, I don’t particularly love shopping when I travel. On a trip to Paris, I did splurge for once.

Like the Japanese ideal of a beautiful presentation, Galeries Lafayette takes the notion to a whole new level. The legendary Parisian department store is a staple in France. I dragged my dad a former marine there. He was a wonderful sport about it.

We started our trip in the men’s store, which is separated by a bridge from the ladies’ shop. I browsed through the shirts and was approached by a very handsome Frenchmen. “Hello Lover” I thought to myself. He was so charming. Although, the shirts I was buying had a lovely presentation, the handsome salesman helped inspire my monetary contribution to the French economy.

Besides, the handsome salesman, Galeries Lafayette had a more stunning side to it. Crossing the bridge overlooking the traffic of the Boulevard Haussmann, we arrived in the women’s department. It had huge golden dome with balconies overlooking the makeup department.

If I were a lady or drag queen, this would too inspire me to blow major Euros. It looked like one were shopping inside the world’s most fancy opera house. Even my dad was very impressed by the department store’s interior. When I came home to the States, the shirts didn’t look as nice. However, I did enjoy my pictures of the legendary Paris department store.

Visiting Tokyo and Paris gave me a view of what inspires the pages of Vogue and other fashion mags from around the world. Both are cities, where designers either keep their fashion formal or give their line a distinctive edge. However, fashion week can happen everyday in places where clothes and self-expression are monumental.

Men Folk

I came out at fifteen years old. My biggest supporter was my dad. Even as a Marine, he always accepted not only my gayness, but also all those personality quirks. As, I grew older; he wanted to understand me better.

Therefore, we went to a gay bar. When we would travel, my dad wouldn’t tag along to the bars. He always wanted me to go out and have fun on my own. Surprise, I had a blast. On a trip to Paris, I finally invited him to a gay bar. It was a chic haunt in uber gay Le Marais, the capital’s rainbow heart. It was male dominated. The guys had classic Gallic features and dressed impeccably.

They looked straight out of Paris Fashion Week. In fact, the bar would make a great after catwalk drink meet up. My dad felt very comfortable being the only straight guy there. He sipped a beer and I had the gayest of all beverages, a martini.

A few months after our big Paris trip, we traveled to Buenos Aires. I love men who look natural. In fact, I prefer a six-pack of beer to a six-pack on a man. However, there was this handsome guy who kept following us all over the city. From the world’s widest street, 9 de Julio Avenue to fashionable Recoleta to the coffee shops of Palermo Soho, he appeared. He was a classically handsome Argentinian, shirtless and armed with a beautiful smile.

This Latin lover was in an outdoor advertisement for men’s cologne. He was plastered all over the city. I told my dad, that I thought he was pretty hot, even though he wasn’t my type. My dad giggled. As we walked passed the billboard, the handsome Argentinian man kept smiling back at me. I told, my dad I want to take a picture, but felt like a nerd doing it.

My dad took the camera from my hand. He took a picture of Mr. Latin lover and handed me back the camera. Here you go, he said with a smile. The only loving I got from that trip was the mountains of dulce de leche I devoured.

After we came back home to the good ol’ U.S of A, I laughed at our Buenos Aires pictures. The outdoor ad guy looked hotter in person than photographed. Nonetheless, it’s great showing my dad a side of my life other sons would not dare talk about. Being upfront and accepting has kept are bond strong.

Playing Photographer

My father and I were driving through Palm Springs. Rather, than heading toward, the town’s main drag. We took an unexpected path. As we went up a side street, kitschy homes from the 50’s and 60’s welcomed us.

Heading to the foothill of the mountains was  glorious. The mountains of Palm Springs are a tall and magnificent sight. However, I’d never come that close. Stop, I exclaimed excitedly. The rocks were imposing hues of brown and black. I was inspired to take photos with my iphone.

As we continued our journey further up hill, the desert town was lush with green palm trees from the slight hill. I kept stopping the car to take photos. Capturing my life via the lens of a camera and mobile has been a significant part of my life’s story.

Abroad, I would walk the streets of Tokyo desperately wanting to have my picture taken in front of the many sights I dreamed of. The only two words, I know in Japanese are konishiwa and arrigato. At first, I was intimidated to walk up to perfect non-English speaking strangers to take my picture. Sometimes, I was shot down. However, most of the time they politely obliged.

I pointed to the camera and they took the photo. Arrigato, I proclaimed. Thanks to the kindness of Tokyoites, I have pictures in front of the Imperial Palace, the fashion frenzy of funky Harajuku and drinking coffee in Ginza.

Than there were the times, I didn’t want to stop people and just took the photos myself. In London, I photographed myself everywhere from Piccadilly Circus to Trafalgar Square. Therefore, I made an art form out of taking self-portraits.

My cameras have captured the grand avenues of Paris, the bohemian chic of Buenos Aires’ Palermo Soho neighborhood and even the austereness of Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid. However, there have been photographers who actually wanted to use me as a subject.

Now, I don’t have any male model like qualities, unless, I suck in my chubby cheeks and pucker up my lips. While walking around New York’s Washington Square Park, I was approached to pose for the New York Times style section. Wow, I was intrigued, although I didn’t love my outfit that day.  After taking the picture, I was told that if they were going to use my image, I would receive an email. Needless to say, I didn’t get an email, but I was very flattered nonetheless.

Photographers I admire include Mario Testino, Wegee and Annie Lebovitz. I especially love the desert photography of Ansell Adams. On my recent trip to Palm Springs, I didn’t plan on taking photos. However, the mountains, rock formations and white sands inspired me eyes. I didn’t want to leave without making a memory of my trip. Although, the desert is inspirational nothing tops grey skies and old buildings.

The Parisian Burrito

My weekends are a Mexican feast for the eyes and the senses. It’s my comfort food. I love it spicy and authentic. I even pour chilly powder into my salad for a little “ay corrumba.” On Saturdays, my dad and I usually head to the Mexican market and order the works, carnitas, chile rellenos and homemade style beans.

Mexican food is one of my favorites. I would step off the plane from New York and have my dad quickly drive me to the nearest taco stand. Literally, I was dreaming of the Mexican delights on the 6 1/2 hour flight to the West Coast. The urgency to quench my cravings took hold. Once, I bit into the carne asada burrito life was complete. My dad didn’t get it. New York is the best food city. However, burritos and tacos just taste better in California.

On a trip with my dad to Paris, we had a food escapade. France is renowned as one of the world’s culinary epicenters. The French eat well; butter and cheese are not frowned upon, but highly coveted for the taste buds. Our trip to Paris was a gastronomic delight. We ate lovely neighborhood brasseries around the Right Bank. We ventured into St. Germain De Pres’ fashionable, but tasty cafes. We even delighted in old-fashioned French cuisine on the Ile de St. Louis.

The taste of rosemary, fresh formage (cheese) and buttery garlic danced in our mouth like a well orchestrated can-can number. However, after nearly a week of garlic meets buttery, I craved some of the food, which makes my inner Californian do a little jig in delight, Mexican. Paris isn’t a town with taco trucks. Although, a taco truck scene in France would be a welcome change.

We found a Mexican restaurant in the Latin Quarter. It looked and smelled authentic. So, there I was in escargot meets crepe happy Paris ready to enjoy a burrito with a side of beans and rice. The food arrived; it looked different from the Mexican I am used to. One bite into my French burrito with Mexican indigents and blah, it was bland. My dad didn’t like his meal either. Nothing tasted authentic. After dinner, I had a huge crepe and returned to French delights.

Each city has the food, which attracts the masses. In Southern California, I miss my New York foods, pizza, bagels, Jewish deli, Chinese and Italian. However, my current location provides me with a wonderful taste of Mexico, which is difficult to find everywhere in the world.

The Tourist Trap

Times Square, half of my working life in New York took place here. I’ve jaywalked the crossroads of the world in the middle of a blizzard, maneuvered my way through the people traffic and avoided the urge to eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp. Sure, it’s the center of the city, but it’s a Disney-fied collection of chain restaurants one would find in Middle America.

That said, working in Times Square had its perks. Late at night, I’d turn off all the lights and watch the bright lights and extravagant outdoor ads smiling back at me. It was always a real treat.

Not so entertaining was catching the subway back to my apartment. Tourists tend to struggle with swiping their metro cards. At 42nd street-Times Square station, you could write a whole three act play, while these bewildered people attempted to enter the subway.

Times Square is classified as a tourist trap. This is any place prominent on a guidebook that is looked down upon by locals. Unlike a mousetrap, a savory slice of cheese is not needed to allure unsuspecting tourists. The only cheeses around are the souvenirs and overpriced caricatures, which are a mainstay of the tourist trap.

Even I have fallen prey to the tourist trap. Travel guides make some places completely alluring. Paris is a sophisticated town filled with high culture and an endless amount of tourist traps. Montmartre (the hill over looking the French capital) and the Eiffel Tower are more like a shrine to postcards and snow globes than anything the cool French bobos (French upwardly mobile bohemian crowd, somehow the French make hipster look chic) would ever frequent.

My favorite French tourist trap remains (drum roll) the Louvre. I’ve been there twice, I always took a picture in front of the pyramid entrance way. The art collection is overwhelming literally. The best art is skipping the Mona Lisa. It’s so small in real life. Paris will always be my pick for the world’s most beautiful city.

In Buenos Aires, the architecture screams Paris. There are cluster of buildings in Buenos Aires, which look as though they escaped chilly French winters for the humidity of Argentina. My most morbid tourist trap experience was the Recoleta Cemetery. It’s where high society is buried and Eva Peron, remains it’s most famous resident.

Not to culture shock anyone, but I was obsessed with the Evita soundtrack as a kid. I’m a huge Madonna fan and loved the film. I would hum and sing, ” Stand back Buenos Aires.” Some guys had loud hip-hop growing up, while I pumped up my Evita soundtrack. While in Buenos Aires, I wanted to see Eva Peron’s grave. Recoleta looks more like a small colonial town than a cemetery.

I kept asking people ” where is Eva Peron’s grave?” There was group of elderly American tourists. I followed them. There in a black marble grave was Evita’s grave. It wasn’t anything to really write home about.

Buenos Aires has this eclectic cosmopolitan population. Jewish, Italian, Spanish and Chinese make up a collage of cultures. However, one rarely sees the gaggle of American tourists (the stereotypical ones in tour groups, usually elderly and armed with fierce fanny pack) on the streets of Buenos Aires. They’re always too busy trying to find Eva Peron’s marble palace at the cemetery.

A hop, skip & jump over Brazil, the Equator and way up the Atlantic is London. It’s one of my favorite cities.  The red double decker buses, the novels of Charles Dickens, Brit pop from the 90’s, pubs (obviously), the edgy fashion and even the royal family’s history inspire my love of Cool Britannia. Like Paris, London makes tourist traps into very historical sites.

St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey are quintessential and important slices of British history. All are touristy, but incredibly interesting to visit.

I love the National Gallery and sometimes-even love hanging out on Trafalgar Square and staring at Big Ben from the distance. However, one touristy part of London, I can’t stand is noisy Leicester Square. Think Times Square meets Meatpacking District (douchey nightclub bottle service heart of trendy New York). The fast-food chains and huge discos don’t exactly inspire haikus.

Living in touristy New York, visitors were always identified by a fear of jay walking, a love of movies turned into Broadway musicals & stopping traffic to capture the city for their friends back home to enjoy. My current home in California is not a tourist trap. At times I do miss taking the subway at Times Square and the energy.

All cool places have their tourist traps. Regardless of how un-cool a typical tourist looks, I do give them props for exploring new and exotic worlds, even if they are armed with fanny packs.

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.

Dancing Cardigans

Cue the Brit pop. Back in the 90’s, Saturday morning revolved around going to fashion shows. Thanks to basic cable TV the collections from Jean Paul Gaultier to Gucci were brought to my living room.

These shows featured hosts with very sophisticated sounding transcontinental accents, models working the runway to hip rock tunes & of course, the most glamorous cities from London to Paris were featured.

It was a nice escape from my ordinary teenage existance. Even more alluring were fashion magazines. Glossy textured, filled to the brim with spectacular advertising & sumptuous photography from the likes of Herb Ritts to Mario Testino fascinated me. I typically cut out fashion advertising from magazines & used them as the covers for journals I used to write in.

Living in New York, I worked across the street from the former home of fashion week, Bryant Park. It was fun watching the fashionista crowd from my office window at 40th & Sixth Ave. However, it was more splendid seeing the people traffic(in & out of the fashion week tent) from a building rather then being in the mayhem below, which featured photographers, journalists, society types & celebrities.

The most thrilling part of living in & visiting a fashion capital is the window-shopping. I have wonderful memories of the djs spinning records in super trendy Tokyo shops. The music inspired me to hop from shop to shop, enjoying the best in street & high fashion. The music ranged from J-pop to David Bowie & even some old school hip-hop. I also love everything from observing fashion on the London underground to New York’s fashionable Nolita neighborhood.

Cabazon & Ontario, CA do not set off the fashion senses. After all, nobody ever puts Ontario in the same spotlight as Paris, London, New York & Milan. These two very suburban cities are known more for chains of burger palaces than a breeding ground for haute couture.

However, these two cites are home to the outlet malls. These malls advertise their shops from the freeway. Signs for Gucci, Lacoste & J-Crew appear like a mirage in a sea of cactuses. The names alone entice the shopper.

For me, I love ambiance. Therefore, I enjoyed shopping in scenic streets as opposed to an outlet. However, I wanted to build up my closet & took the plunge. I drove to Cabazon (in the middle of the desert close to Palm Springs). Walking into the Lacoste store was heavenly.

A row of cardigans caught my eye. They looked simply magical. I looked at the price tag & could afford a couple, since they were discounted dramatically. Visiting several shops & I walked into the desert sun, thinking “Wow, I’m actually buying sweaters & cardigans in a sweltering desert day.”

From that day on, I became addicted to outlet shopping. I found great pieces, buttoned up shirts, coats & fancy trousers for a very affordable price. Before, I couldn’t play with my wardrobe as often. With the affordability of outlets, I mixed & matched outfits with great enthusiasm.

The runways of New York, Tokyo, Milan, and Paris & London will remain eternally chic. Fashion TV shows on cable are a memory, but glossy magazines still capture my imagination.

I still love the photography & advertising. However, I can recreate the street chic look so prominent in Tokyo & London via the shopping outlets. Close your eyes, while at the outlet & imagine yourself on Paris’ Rue Montaigne. However, open them up & say hello to the food court.

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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