Beach culture is as foreign to me as Antarctica’s penguin population. Even in California, I opt to stay inland and love my road trips to gay-tastic Palm Springs. However, there is one part of the world where the city meshes with the ocean beautifully. Sydney has the beach, but it has a splash of Midtown Manhattan for the urbanite’s soul.

As a proper visitor, I gave the turquoise waters and white sands of Sydney a try. The largest Australian city has a spectacular public transportation that revolves around ferryboats. They take both visitors and Sydneysiders to the beach, work and home. It’s almost like taking a train, but on the water. Unlike the subway, the ferryboat is like an affordable cruise. The Sydney skyline on one side, on the other is a cliff complimenting the immensely blue waters.

Unlike most urban shorefronts, Sydney has desolate beach towns. Manly Beach is my favorite. The actual town retains a California in the 50’s vibe. It’s doesn’t feel corporate with it’s small restaurants and independent shops. Since, I went in winter, I could wear my black hoodies and feel euphoric.

As a non-beach enthusiast, I started to fall in love with Sydney. Soon, I took the ferryboats everywhere. I traveled to the zoo and saw real kangaroos. In Bondi, there are many men who shouldn’t be wearing speedos sunbathing. However, I do give them kudos for strutting their stuff.

My favorite memory revolves around Doyle’s. It’s on a sea cliff overlooking the ocean. I took my dad there and we ate fish n’ chips. They have a monopoly in that slice of the city. Never mind being hungry for Japanese, Thai or Indian, it’s always fish n’ chips madness there.

I miss Sydney’s idea of public transportation, the ferryboat. The panoramic views will always remain riveting in my memory book. I took it from the city’s world famous beaches to the zoo. While I’ll always prefer New York to Southern California, Sydney made me appreciate the quiet and hustle.

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.

Wallflower On The Dance Floor

As a young lad nothing gave me the freights more than a conga line. My eyes grew wide at the flowery dresses and men in suits who were shaking their conga to Gloria Estefan. Literally, as the procession grew, more unsuspecting victims were picked up along the way. I looked like Edvard Munch’s “Scream” painting as I pulled a Californian, ducking under the table at whatever event I was at.

The thumping of feet had passed me. I peeked my head to survey the damage & smiled, no conga line for me. However, I did feel a certain amount of sympathy for the conga line victims. I blossomed into the most highly regarded of flowers, the wallflower.

Us, wallflowers decorate nightclubs, bridal parties & family reunions from New York to Timbuktu. I have danced a couple times in my lifetime. I shook two hips in Sydney with the Aussie boys. At various graduation, office & birthday parties, I’ve bopped my head back n’ forth. However, the ultimate in cool was line dancing at the Catholic Church’s old people’s party. I must’ve been a cowboy in another life, since I had a swell two step.

These days, I’d rather just hang out with a glass of wine/my signature Jameson on the rocks and watch people. I don’t wanna go on the dance floor. A few weeks ago, something earth shattering came over me.

I love music, and have it blasting while I write & walk. It’s always a must. Walking & listening to groovy tunes always clears up my head & makes me walk faster. However, when I came home from one of my many walks, it happened. This really fun Squeeze song came on “another nail in my heart.” It has this fun uber 80’s beat to it, which makes it quite danceable.

Surprise, I came out of the wallflower closet. Soon, my arms were in full swing and hips were moving. Oh no, I am dancing. There goes my wallflower card, oh well.

Certainly, I won’t be mastering the art of flamenco or the tango. I do allow myself a good dance. Dancing is about letting loose. Even if one is not Fred Astaire of Ginger Rogers, it’s still an art form. The conga line, that’s not an art form. However, to someone out there, the conga line is what tickles the fancy & that’s okay.