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Vegas on Fire

Las Vegas is an unrepentant city–unpretentious, unashamed. It is a city of bad choices in all directions: environmental, city planning, economic, personal. Vegas is pure plastic. Think of plastic as a verb, malleable, capable of taking any shape, any form to fit the volume or fill the need. This is Las Vegas, fulfilling the need of the American public for fantasy and entertainment, perhaps courting with self-immolation.City Center, half-way through construction with an 11+ billion dollar budget, is poised to open luxury condos at a time when the market is looking like a four week old tangerine at the bottom of the fruit-bowl. Walk the strip and observe the 20-year-old woman, belted by too many hurricanes,glass in hand. In her five-inch heels and band-aid dress, she is draped over a short, shaved-head, heavily tattooed date. As she flops over his arms, neck and shoulder I can’t help but think that the very best thing that can come of the evening is her waking up the next morning with the worst hang-over of her life. This is Vegas. Look in the mirror. This is your city. You are the architect, the planner and the entertainment director._MG_3568

The streets are littered and plastered with ample ads hoping to lure you to the newest casino, the latest in total entertainment. But something among the mega watts of signs is amiss. Siegfried and Roy are gone and the Folies Bergere are history. The big shows with big budgets replaced by a slew of magicians and comedians with smaller payrolls which can be easily converted to an early family show.

After fifty years, acres of bare breasts, miles of legs, rivers of boas and forests of feathers (forgive me, but this is Vegas and one can afford to be over the top), The Folies are closed.Yet there are other ways to see Las Vegas. It might entail going a bit off the beaten path, the path I love._MG_3590

Begin on the strip, Las Vegas Boulevard. Start at O’Sheas Casino, next to the Flamingo. Head upstairs, 2nd floor, to the “Museum of Movie Magic,“ the polar opposite of all things upscale and slick. Here you can find one of the largest collections of ventriloquists’ dummies in the world. They sit mute, no magic hands behind them to articulate their still mouths. Hundreds of them sit, now shelved, consoled by their numbers and memories. Edgar Bergen’s puppet Mortimer Snerd sits beside a classroom of a dozen wide-eyed pupils, the original blockheads. A minstrel in black-face waits for his musical cue. All that’s missing is a lock turning in a door, a bolt being thrown shut, and a Rod Serling’s voice-over, “You are about to enter another dimension…”

Farther up the strip is Johnny Tocco’s Ringside Gym. The Ringside Gym is a three room gym built in the 50’s consisting of three heavy bags bandaged with silver duct tape and more ancient speed bags hanging in the corners. A three rope ring is compressed between a dropped acoustic ceiling and a stained red shag carpet. This is definitely not Gold’s. No contenders here, just marginal guys who remember the ring from the 50’s and 60s. Theirs was a different Vegas. The glitter of the heavyweight championships is testified to in the original cardboard posters and flyers tacked to the wall–Marciano, Benny “Kid” Peret, LaMotta. There are no Stairmasters here, only weights and bags. This is a gym from a black and white film, populated with boxers from a very distant past. Here, Marlon could be in the parking lot saying he could have been a contender to Lee J Cobb. It’s worth a visit. But remember, although there is no entry fee this is not an “attraction” so it could take some effort to gain access.

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum shares a home with the Guggenheim Museum’s annex in the Venetian Hotel. This might be the most polar marriage between a high and low brow institution on the planet under one roof. At Tussauds you are greeted by Little Richard and his larger-than-life heart. Wander the halls and bump into Harrison Ford–“Whoops, sorry Harry” and Don King–“Nice hair”, Marilyn, Arnold and even Wolfgang. The hands have to be repaired regularly as tourists can’t help but stop and shake hands with their wax heroes and heroines. The unwitting mannequins have their images captured in tourist cameras and are taken back to Texas, Illinois, New York and California. A testament to the celebrity encounter. The wax celebrities eternally gracious about having their photograph taken with a grinning spouse, girlfriend, brother.In the Lobby of the Tropicana Hotel, evening of the closing show. Pictured Front center (red hair) Vicki Pettersson, ex-showgirl for the Folies Bergere. To her right in gold sequins is Sacha Phillips, another Folies showgirl alumni.

Save the best for last. In a small corner mall, in a cinder-block building, is the museum of an endless parade ofcostumes, adorned with fields of sequins and feathers. What could sum up a Vegas trip better than a visit to the Liberace Museum. Where else can you see the world’s largest rhinestone, the largest imitation of a diamond on the planet? It’s not fake anything—it’s real rhinestone. The costumes are surrounded by pianos plated in mirrors and glass. The potential of these objects would make Busby Berkeley weep. Opposite the costumes are the cars–Bentleys, Rolls and Cadillacs. Here a lifetime of ostentation is packaged and presented as the ultimate in world showmanship, accompanied by ubiquitous baroque piano music. It’s not fake anything. It’s real Las Vegas._MG_3575

If you are finally exhausted by this tour, and you will be, make your last stop the Peppermill Inn. Here the seats and tables, reds and blues competing, collide with the flames spurting from the pool of water that serves as the base of the fireplace–all while you nurse a drink and dine on a meal. If your senses were not numbed already, there are television sets suspended from the ceiling to barrage you with the latest in basketball, football or racing. The food isn’t bad. The atmosphere is Madonna Inn East- just a hair beyond kitsch.

You can head to the Venetian or the Bellagio and never leave. These are self-contained, adult theme parks holding a multitude of experiences and flavors within their immense walls. But push Vegas a bit and see what you find. There is a purer Las Vegas, where colors explode, the casinos fade away, and the Vegas underbelly wafts up with all the subtlety of a scratch and sniff strip. It is 340 miles, but it might as well be another country, another planet. Las Vegas, “It’s so plastic.”Look again into that mirror. No one could have invented this city but you._MG_3575

Liberace Museum, 1775 East Tropicana Ave

Museum of Movie Magic, O’Sheas Casino, 2nd floor

3555 Las Vegas Boulevard

Peppermill Inn 2985 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Johnny Tocco’s Ringside Gym, 9 West Charleston Blvd.

Madame Tussauds, Venetian Hotel

Las Vegas Boulevard

America West (Mesa Airlines) 800-235-9292 www.americawest.com America West has an occasional non-stop but it might be easier to fly out of Burbank and go SouthWest Airlines, who service LV on a more frequent non stop schedule.

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Paradise for a Price

PARADISE FOR A PRICE The brilliant cyan Hawaiian sky is punctuated by a white puff of cloud. Floating by two angels, look down, fantasizing. One turns to the other and says, “I dreamt I died and went to Lana’i.” But I exaggerate. Clouds aren’t allowed over Lana’i. With eyes shut against the strong Hawaiian sun, all your senses come alive. Feel heat warming your skin, almost sizzling to the point of discomfort, but liberally applied sunscreen assuages your fear and opens you to the primal life forces of the sun. You are having a complete phototropic reaction. Pores open, tensions melt, muscles relax utterly and completely. You pick up the distant ambient sounds of children in pools, ocean waves, discussions of paperback bestsellers and East Coast weather–nothing of consequence to disturb the calm. In this moment of semiconscious serenity, you hear a whisper. “Chilled face cloth sir?” These are words that will resonate in the coming months. When was the last time your teen-agers were so considerate, your wife so altruistic? Yet here was a total stranger offering you his tightly rolled package of iced refreshment, followed by a fruit smoothie or an alcoholic “umbrella drink” to slate your thirst. Does life get better than this? Not likely. There are some high-end resorts in Hawaii, but few offer a higher level of creature comfort than Lana’i. This is the third smallest island of the Hawaiian chain. Formerly known as the “Pineapple Island,” a massive Dole plantation has been transformed– Cinderella to Princess. This is the company town that was converted in 1991 to service two world-class resorts – beachfront Manele Bay and The Lodge at Koele. These two hotels, comprising 352 rooms, were built for a reputed $500 million. Yes, that’s half a billion dollars, or the gross national product of several Third World countries. There is at least one direct staff (not administrative) member for each room. Imagine the level of pampering and service these numbers can provide. You are a millionaire for a day, or you better be when the VISA bill arrives. Spend a few days at Manele Bay. Breakfast begins with a photocopied NYTimes Fax, mango jellies, white tablecloths amid a small army of white-jacketed, gold epauletted wait staff. The Kona coffee comes from silver carafes, hot fragrant, competing with the surrounding orchids for your attention. The beans have walked down the hillside of the neighboring island simply to caress your lips this morning. A bagel appears in a sea of cream cheese, which is applied to the plate with a pastry bag, a palette of waves, punctuated by rosettes. Surrounding this is imported smoked salmon, or more realistically phrased, enough lox to feed my family for generations. Here sunscreen is dispensed in industrial-sized pumps around the pool. Stroll to adjacent Hulopote Beach, a beautiful stretch of unblemished white sand. It is yours alone, virtually unpopulated. Snorkel on the Trilogy catamaran or scuba dive after a“resort course” in the pool.WPN118_copy Swim among dolphins and green turtles. Have lunch on the boat or dine at one of the resorts, on plates of fresh oni, ahi, mahi-mahi nestled on beds of fresh greens and noodles, garnished of course, with pineapple. Pastries, tarts and sorbets make you weep with the knowledge that all good things must come to an end. In the midst of your day, while you were involved in any number of diversions, your bags can be transferred from one resort to another. The island is seamless in its accounting. Virtually everything on the island can go on your room bill. This is a company town, but what a company. The Lodge at Koele is a rare pine forest resort, isolated, elegant and unique in the islands. Its 102 rooms are encircled by an endless arcade of rattan chaises on colonnaded porches, surrounded by acres of perfectly manicured formal gardens ornamented by a white Victorian orchid arboretum. Here you wake up with nothing to do and by noon you’re not even half way through your day. Depending on your energy/rest ratio you may choose from mountain biking, horseback riding, a formal putting course or 18 holes of golf. Take your pick of the lush and scenic course adjacent to the Lodge or take a hotel van (20 minutes) to the breathtaking, Jack Nicklaus-designed ocean-view course at Manele. You can rent a four-wheel-drive jeep (“bikini top” fold-down model) and drive across the Monro trail for a view of all the islands and a conversation with the gods of Hawaii, or drive westward to see the Garden of the Gods. This is a strange barren, red-clay environment where residents have erected stone cairns and totems that form lonely silhouettes against the sky. If you are covered with red dust from your expedition, hit 
the spa and cap the day with a massage or a facial. If you prefer the equestrian rather than vehicular mode, try a horseback ride through the morning fog on a mountain-top with a view of Molokai, the Big Island, Maui and Oahu. Try blasting away at the 14-station “sporting clay” course, where you go via golf cart to shoot shotgun rounds at clay targets imitating every bird and small game possible. A shootist pro will drive you around and show you how to maximize your score on a 100-clay target range as your shoulder aches with each attempt. Whatever events you choose, there is a picnic lunch and wet towels to go along. If you are exhausted from your activities take tea at 4 o’clock. WPN119_copyThe Sumatra blend and perfect teacakes transport you to an era of refined colonialist elegance as you have a brief respite on the verandah. Have a quiet walk to town. Dine at the refurbished old Lana’i hotel downtown n Lana’i City. Dinners at any of the restaurants are not simply meals, they are presentations, culinary plays in several acts in a setting worthy of any Noel Coward performance. This is not the nightlife of Waikiki. There are billiards, backgammon and walk-in fireplaces with overstuffed chairs to help you digest dinner and savor the day in the evening sunset. Rather than the barrage of neon and disco, you are surrounded by fragrances of orchids and colors of the twilight. This is elegance, not fashion–style, not fad. Top suites go for $2,000 a night (butler included) down to a “modest” $250, but the adage applies that “If you have ask the price, don’t bother.” This is not the land of “we’ll leave the light on for you.” What you can expect is a bed turned out with linens meeting the most exacted Martha Stewart standards and several of the world’s best chocolates laid out among tastefully arranged orchids. This is rare luxury and the price is commensurate with the experience. Hawaii is usually a pricey vacation but heaven rarely comes cheap. Lana’i is the best of the best. Bill Gates, software god, was married on the 12th tee of the ocean-side golf course, giving testimony that this is where God would go if he had money. Lana’i is paradise on Earth. This is not the vacation for the feint of wallet. But, if price is no object, there is no other place. It will change the way you dream. Pass the chilled facecloth.WPN121

50.51Laos

A Christmas To Remember- GP Check

A Christmas To Remember

Xmas Luang Phabang

Dear Journal:

Woke up early around 6:30 – It’s finally Xmas Yeah! We gather all of our presents together then head off to eat breakfast. Open gifts – I get a Mark & Brian tape, a little wooden elephant from Bagan, boxes, earrings, purses and a necklace Yeah! I love everything that I got. Then we walk around town till about lunch time. Stop for lunch at Luang Phabang restaurant – it is very good. After we have achieved food in our stomachs we get a tut-tut to the textile village – a rip off tourist shop, but we buy a tablecloth that Mom will like.

Go to speed boat pier and hover our way over to the sacred caves 25 minutes up to the Mekong. Get there, it’s absolutely amazing! An army of Buddhas! There are so many and they are so old and beautiful. I have never seen anything so breathtaking.Silhouette of tree at dawn

Come back to the hotel after caves and get ready for dinner. On our way to a restaurant, we stop by the oldest pagoda in Luang Phabang. There are 6 monks sitting on the floor chanting. I watch and listen to the monks relentless booming, beauteous noise and think this: Hear the sound of “Jingle Bells” and hear the monks chanting. Both songs have to do with god. Who do you think gets in touch with the “All Mighty One?!”Statues of Buddha under tree by river

Go to dinner and come back to the hotel weary little bunnies…

All anyone has said to me on this trip is. “You are so beautiful.” And I’m not anything spectacular in the looks department. So it’s the fact that I’m a Westerner, and American girl who has braces; that is what makes me so special. I didn’t want to put this part of our trip in my journal because if someone else reads it they might get the idea that I have an ego problem. Which I don’t.

I have learned what I was meant to learn on this trip:

We are all, somehow, deeply connected by one big web, joined in our hearts. It is an important lesson that now I know the meaning of it.

I like Laos more than Myanmar. Burma is very difficult; there is a certain desperation/tension/uncertainty about it that makes it hard. There are children that play on the streets here and they have smiles on their faces. In Myanmar there are fewer happy children playing in the streets – sad.Monks praying in temple, rear view

I had a most memorable Xmas. I miss home though!

Signing out-

LeelaCyd

Leelacyd.gmail.com


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Going Home

“When am I going to see your ugly face?” She is 83 and lives in Brooklyn, my ancestral home. 

“One of these days, Mom.  Soon.”  I was just there last week, visiting, having dinner, playing gin, eating a bagel, taking walks with her.

Mom is an involuntary time traveler, I wouldn’t think of jarring her space or time continuum by pointing out my recent visit.FuzzyMom

“I’ll check the calendar and see when I can get there.  Maybe for Louis’ son’s bar mitzvah next month.”  I should just be flattered she looks forward to my future visit as the past hangs on tattered threads. She sleeps with my father’s bathrobe covering her feet. The last time he wore it was many years past, yet he is still comforting her.

Imagine, if you will, as Rod Serling fades into a black-and-white world.  Go back.  Go all the way back.  Go home.  You can go home again.  Time traveling is possible.  But, you need to reconfigure your thinking.  The world you are familiar with, through the fragile veil of memory is left best undisturbed with modern tools.  It doesn’t exist, searching is an exercise in futility.  Leave your video cam home.  Take the junkiest, ugliest, can’t-get-film for this anymore camera you can find and start at the beginning.  Look for a camera with a name like Lubitel, Banner, Holga or Diana-bad quality, but forgiving.  I will offer my odyssey as a road map for yours.  Use what you like; take what you want. “Imagine, if you will…”

Brooklyn in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s was the hub of the universe.  The Dodgers were where they belonged, at Ebbets Field and Los Angeles as a world away.  Sometimes in visiting the pas and feeling a need to document, there is simply nothing or no one left.  Duke Snider moved to Fallbrook, big Number 14, Carl Furillo, hands as big as a shovel, is buried and Ebbets Field, home of legendary battles for the pennant with the Giants, series battles with the Yankees are gone.  Ebbets Field is a housing project.  They paved paradise and put in a parking lot.  Pavko at third, Reese at Short, Junior Gilliam at second, Furillo at first, Snider, Robinson, Gomez in the outfield and a battery of Newcombe and Campanella are gone.fovea12

Dad was the N.Y.C. cop whose beat frequently included the field.  When I was between the ages of 5 and 11, I was his frequent undercover companion.  My first stop is not as much as marked by a bronze plaque.  The weekends of my childhood are replaced by the brick and uniformity of a housing project.  L.A. got the team and Brooklyn got the shaft.

Down the street a bit is the Brooklyn is the Brooklyn Museum, one of the best museums in the city, far from mainstream Manhattan, with more security guards than visitors.  Its semicircular driveway opening onto Empire Boulevard.  It’s the cultural queen of the borough of kings.  Gratefully, the main display areas are being remodeled to re-create the design of elegance 100-years old.

        I take a walk up Flatbush Avenue, past Winthrop where Bruce Bobiner lived, past Maple where Greenberg was, up to Hawthorne where I stand in a courtyard and look up at a window where my mother would wrap 15 cents in a tissue when I shouted up to the second floor “Maaa, Good Humor is here….throw down some money.” Where California looks across a landscape, New York is always looking up at windows or down to a street.

         A large man approaches me and asks “Whaddyadoinghere?” I explain, “I used to live there……in 2D.”

         “That must have been a long, long time ago.” With subtly and grace, he describes the changing demographics of city neighborhoods. The doorway entrance is now protected by heavy metal signaling both security and danger. The courtyard where boxball was king is circumnavigated by concertina wire.NYsubway

         Father down Flatbush is Erasmus Hall High School. Home of over 8,000 adolescents. The school now boasts a security system to keep “dangerous elements” out. An earlier generation was more casual. The major danger was spring fever, senior-itis, and the vitriolic nature of the clique.

         The “D” train stops at Avenue P. Home to the most eclectic handball (blackball) games ever invented. This is the land that spawned Bobby Riggs. On any given day, you can see teen-age Puerto Rican boys and 60-year-old Jewish men playing on the same courts. Handicaps are established with a player carrying a beach chair or a bucket of water. Onlookers are major participants in the verbal supports and attacks. These games have changed the least, the tournaments seem continuous, fluid competitions from the 50s.

         From here the journey continues on the subway. A misnomer as it rises above ground and forms the “El” or elevated to Brighton Beach. The former green Dutch-door lockers that were shared by my father and his six brothers, is closed and beyond normal winter disrepair. They await demolition and rebirth as “luxury beachfront apartments.” The influx of Russians has led to the renaming of Brighton as “Odessa by the Sea.” Mrs. Stahl’s knishes are still the culinary highlight of the day.

         Walking to the end of the street, to the Boardwalk, turn east toward Coney Island. Only three subway stops (Elevated) or a 45-minute walk through crowds of strollers, wheelchairs, domino, chess and card players. I walk toward the inert parachute jump that defines the skyline—The iron edifice that acts as the Eiffel Tower of Brooklyn. It stands silent, overlooking the ghosts of Steeplechase Park. Long since gone, the amusement park that replaced it, and the ones that replace that are long since past. Nathan’s still dominates its shrinking amusement world. “From a Hot Dog to a National Habit…..since 1914.” The hot dog teeters on shaky financial ground. The world is more fat conscious and Nathan’s had its quintessential American experience of going public with its stock, rising, franchising and falling into the wreckage of its own dreams and frankfurters. This is where I took my wife on our first date 38 years past. “Chez Nathaniels”…where an adjacent diner, standing near us asked if my date was going to finish her bun.tuba

         Turning back toward Mom’s apartment, I wait for an F train to Caton Avenue, a subway stop where I would walk down and wait for my Dad coming home from work. He hasn’t been here for 25 years, but I still smell the Old Spice aftershave as I photograph at the turnstile….a block and a half and I am looking up to the sixth floor (6H) where my Mother would rest her elbows on the sill and quietly watch traffic flowing by, waiting patiently for me to come home. Early dates, the Dick Clark Show with Rosalind, bowling with Phyllis dinner with Cissy. Mom would watch from vigilantly from the shadows to avoid appearing overprotective, anxious. I would wave to the darkness, showing I knew I was worried over and loved.

         When going on a journey like this, I  love my farsightedness, my astigmatism. It helps me see things the way they were, rater than the way they are. I celebrate my hearing loss; I don’t have to listen to the resounding rap that creates sound corridors through the streets that embraced the days of my childhood.

         Finally, I look down and I am at the manhole cover, home plate for stickball. I pace out the distance where I once hit two sewer lengths. I run the patterns of football where plays would be constructed to “go out to the blue Chevy and cut in front”….A fender here, a bumper here becomes your blockers. The play always good for ten yards.

         When you travel back to your old neighborhood, take a cheap camera. Taste and smell your youth. To search too deeply for physicals landmarks is to invite futility. It is a form of traveling that is mostly internal. To know who you were helps you appreciate the person that makes the journey now. Trying to “capture” images the way they existed on film or digitally, with crisp equipment is senseless. The more detail you capture, the father you are from the truths that exist only in your mind, in your memory. These truths are real, tangible, physical and all yours.foveab

         You CAN go home again. It is a journey you have to make alone. And after 50+ years may I simply say, “Thank you Brooklyn, the heart of the Universe and….I love you Mom and Dad.”

                  IF YOU GO

                 

Staying

Marriott in Brooklyn is too New and too discordant but—

Marriott.com/Brooklyn 

Manhattan—

Park South Hotel www.parksouthhotel.com

Chelsea Hotel www.hotelchelsea.com

Trump Hotel www.trumpintl.com

Broadway Bed and Breakfast www.broadway-bed-breakfast.com

Roosevelt Hotel www.theroosevelthotel.com 

Hotel Larchmont www.larchmonthotel.com

Eating:        

Vincent’s http://02de1be.netsolhost.com/  (Italian Seafood)

Katz’s www.katzdeli.com

Nathan’s Coney Island www.nathansfamous.com

 

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Go Sox!!!!

When you visit Boston, it is required you have on a cap, shirt or jacket celebrating your loyalty to the Sox, Patriots, Bruins or Celtics. This is a sports town.  The Hotel Commonwealth is the same metro stop as Fenway Park. On my last visit the lobby of this lovely little palace was filled with dads and boys, decked out with foam fingers, popcorn, gloves and a shared love of the game. Walking outside under the green canvas canopy as a game breaks and you can be stampeded by a heard of boisterous fans.  The sox had just taken the 4th of four from the Indians and were preparing for a post-season appearance with the dreaded Yankees. Boys and dads, sons and fathers. Baseball and Boston. These are perfect encapsulated moments and the economy, environment, world tensions and swine flu were noticeably absent in the euphoria of the baseball heaven. I grew up in the shadow of Ebbett’s field and the Brooklyn Dodgers with a Dad that took me to all the Brooklyn Dodger games (he was a NY City Cop at Ebbets) so I know about these moments.

These are personal histories. If you want a broader view….try the colonial walking tour. Meet at Feneuil Hall and wander from the one revolutionary site to another with a bonnet-clad tour guide relating some fact, some fiction and some speculations. The site of the Boston Massacre (six men died) is approached by dodging traffic in all directions rather than musket bullets. Over to the Anglican church, minus a steeple, to the graveyard of these same massacre victims.         15

History is always an edit, but I thought it a shame that our guide never mentioned that Crispus Attucks was a former slave. A dozen + people share the tour, most from Germany, a couple from Manchester, interested in this view of the young republic and sharing thoughts from other perspectives, including the face of the nation today. This dialogue is more compelling that the ritual of the bedecked tour guide.

The Boston Common is the terminus of the tour and we take a more direct route to Quincy market where there are 80 stalls and a culinary dining common to consume. The food ranges from chowder and lobster to curry and sushi. Samples and shouts entreat the crowd to purchase a lunch. With so many local specialties is it hard to image a couple walking with two slices of pepperoni pizza and a coke…but this is America.  Lunch is boisterous and noisy and fun here, but for a better sit down drink and dinner, The Eastern Standard, part of the Hotel Commonwealth is hard to beat. Their Glouster scallops four perfect discs of flavor-resting on a bed of corn cannoli succotash filled my thoughts at night. I wrote to the restaurant with my compliments and they sent me the recipe. I tried to recreate it at home. Not bad, but far from the perfection of the creators. I ended up the next night grilling the balance of the scallops on the barbque in Wasabi oil. (Maybe I have been in California too long.)  A second night dining was well served at the Fireside. This cozy restaurant, has their premium tables at the advertised—fireside. I was alone and treated myself to a dinner at the bar. Nothing like being in a distant city, with a TV and the of course hometown Sox winning.  The ne owner hasn’t quite figure out the pricing of the scotches….so all the premium single malts are the same price. I am in a moral quandary reporting this. Do I owe the reader the inside story at the expense of a nice restaurant? I err on the side of candor and truth. Dinner was Boston baked beans, and obligatory offering to the gods of Boston and a Talisker scotch. Both were enjoyable and stretched out over the course of nine-inning and a chatty bartender.1

At the more modest end of the accommodations spectrum is Anthony Guest House. A very quirky townhouse on Beacon Street. Shared bathrooms on each floor, furniture covered in clear plastic, a house manager that takes you down the street two blocks to park your car? Sound a little strange. It sure is, but affordable, clean and like spending the night is you slightly batty aunts house in Maine. Across the street is the Beacon Street Café. Reasonable, decent, convenient and somewhat unremarkable. Breakfast and lunch is the Busy Bee Café. It is right out of the set of Alice with antiquated waitresses that are downright hostile. Food is mediocre eggs and sandwiches…..but again, it’s the experience of an urban  dinner environment that makes it worth the walk across the street and more.

Culture abounds with the Museum of Fine Arts impressive in its collection, breadth as well as depth with the Gardner Museum a heart beat away. The Gardner is a floor to ceiling collection of  work from a period that holds little interest. The building itself is remarkable as an example of the finest quasi Seville/Arabic inner courtyard this side of the ocean.  It is the splendid home of an uneventful collection.  It should be noted that in the current economic world, many institutions have chosen to raise prices for admission to cover costs. The MFA and the Garder among them. Between entry fees and parking, you better come prepared with more than colonial currency to pay for the day’s excursions. Boston is a manageable city in size, opportunity and attraction. Think of Portland or Seattle rather than Los Angeles on the West Coast. It is not NY–and that is the blessing of Boston–and those dreaded Yankees? Fugetaboutit!17

Hotel Commonwealth

www.hotelcommonwealth.com

Anthionys Town House

www.anthonystownhouse.com

Eastern Standard Restaurant

www.easternstandardboston.com

Fireplace Restaurant

www.fireplacerest.com/

Museum of Fine Arts

www.mfa.org/

Elizabeth Stanley Gardner Museum

www.gardnermuseum.org/

Walking tour Colonial History

www.freedomtrail.org/

Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market

www.faneuilhallmarketplace.com

 

dh

Goa-ing Goa-ing Gone

Panjim, capital of Goa and Unfolding Beauty

Leela Cyd

www.LeelaCyd.com

Ross.leela@gmail.com

Panaji, Goa, locally called by its old name “Panjim,” is a city of pastels, picturesque decaying mansions, delicious Indian sweets, old men speaking Portuguese, and whizzing “scooties” (mopeds and scooters).  The last vestiges of Iberian colonialism can be felt strongly here – as the city’s customs, daily schedule, infrastructure and food reflect the 500 years or so of Portuguese occupation (1961 is the year Goa was annexed by India).  With that said, Panjim is still India – with loud streets, betel-nut chewing, bustling markets, wild Hindu Festivals such as Divali, extravagant colors, intense smells (burning trash and fish galore) and that sustained kinetic chaos that seems to be under-current of anywhere India.  

While the beaches of Goa are bumping 90s American rock and crowded shoulder to shoulder with tourists from Russia, Israel, UK and the US, Panjim is inland, located on the Mandovi River and is most often skipped by the charter groups and beach-bums.  This is a good thing!  The romance of the city is very much in the fact that it’s not oversaturated with tourists and is a working city with folks just doing their thing.  I recommend it over the beach shack, “visit my shop, promise!?” aggressive vendors in a heartbeat.panjim-girls-school

While living in Panjim, we’ve adjusted to the heat, rhythm of the day – everything closes here from 1 or 2 until about 4—and found simple activities to be the most fun.  Taking the bus into town, for example, one can pay 5 rupees (10 cents US) and hear every sound possible made by a human being.  The bus driver and conductor work in tandem.  They whistle, tss tss (sounds like shooing away a dirty stray dog), hoot, clicking noise, yelp, giggle and whisper in a cacophony of sounds to direct the flow of traffic and payment within the bus – these are sounds I did not know existed outside of a tropical rainforest and would be taken as pretty offensive if aimed at a passenger in the US, let alone be used in an everyday vocabulary of transport.  It doesn’t matter where the bus is going, just get on and take note at the miracles of human behavior! 

Another Panjim experience that cannot be missed is a trip to the local produce/flower market.  In a covered building in the center of town, beautiful tropical fruits and vegetables await you, with many other delights for all of your senses.  A few scenes to be had here on any given day: teenage village girls selling sweet potatoes on their cell phones, various squatting/seated positions that would break my back in a matter of minutes, flowers adorning buns, perfuming air that already has a million and one smells, Santosh, the sweetest spice vendor on earth, explaining each item in his stand with the reverie and enthusiasm of someone selling rare paintings or antique diamonds, floors with bananas and papayas spilled out in one even layer – forcing the buyer to wade through the high tide of fruits to pick her prize—a gloriously orange papaya. . . the list goes on and on.  It’s the best market ever; I’m just flat out saying it.Panjim_market_4

After shopping, and strolling, you’ll be doing yourself a favor to pop into Kamat Hotel (they use ‘restaurant’ and ‘hotel’ interchangeably in India), catty-corner to the central Panjim Church, and dig into a masala dosa and mango lassi.  For about 1.50 US, I can sit down to one of the simplest and tastiest meals of my life.  Picture a thin, savory, fermented semolina pancake (crispier and larger than a crepe, but in the same family) stuffed with turmeric-laced mild potato filling.  Rip off a piece of the dosa, stack a little potato on top and dunk in the traditional coconut chutney (milky and mellow), dry coconut chutney (ask for this, they never just bring it to you) and tomoatoey sambar (a thin and spicy soup)….  Washed down with the luxurious mango drink, the meal makes perfect flavor profile: sweet, salty, simple, soulful and satisfying – I never tire of it.

Eating, shopping and no-doubt a hard-earned siesta will bring us right to around 4 pm, the perfect time for a swim.  Steer clear of the fancy hotels and their $10.00 pool use fee and head to the Panjim Gymkhana.  You’ll need to come prepared for this dip with the following: a swim cap (if you have hair longer than an inch), Speedo-style trunks for men, a conservative one piece for the ladies, copies of photo ids, passport photos, towels, 30 rupees per person and, if you get a strict ticket man, a doctor’s note stating you’re healthy enough for the pool.  It’s a lesson in Indian beaurocracy but believe me, it’s WORTH IT!  The Panjim Gymkhana Pool is Olympic in size, has several smaller pools for splashing and 5 diving boards.  At sunset, as we plunge through the humidity into the depths from the high-dive, we catch the view of the pink Mondovi river.  It’s a surreal and downright divine experience.  My American identity transforms into a mermaid every time we go to swim– that is, until a teenage boy asks me about my favorite action films.  Undoubtedly, my husband and I converse the most with this population (the teenage boys love us and are unabashed and delightful).  One cute guy with a nose plug told us he enjoyed science as his favorite subject, stating, “the universe is beautifully unfolding.”  Between the conversation, views, turquoise dives, transcendent nature of water, triumph of getting in (having all our forms, finally!) and refreshing coolness – it’s an afternoon hard to top.panjim-treat-shop

The swaying coconut trees, tropical breezes, Unesco Heritage Site preserved neighborhoods, temples, markets, tailors, surrounding villages and towns, churches and restaurants – there’s much more to savor about Panjim – I’ve given a few ideas, but perhaps it’s best to just come here, enjoy a cashew feni (local STRONG liquor) and lime soda cocktail and do as the young man in the pool mused – let Panjim and its universe beautifully unfold.

If you go:

October- January are coolest, mildest times of year (still 80-85 degrees with 85% humidity everyday though!  Remember, this is a tropical place.)

Stay: Hotel Fontainhas, heart of Fontianhas heritage district, affordable rooms and lovely owners

(across from Panjim Inn, Panaji)

Eat: Hotel Kamat, near Panaji Church and Municipal Gardens, 0832-2426116 open everyday 9am-10pm

Swim: Panjim Gymkhana Pool, Campal Panaji, open 6:30 am – 10:30 am and 3 pm – 7pm, everyday except Mondays – and closed several local holidays, call or ask about holidays before going 0832 – 2225818

Shop: Municipal Market, Althino, Panaji – open everyday, 8 am- 9pm

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Crossing Streets in Saigon

Asian Fear Factor—Saigon, Vietnam

I am a photographer. My experience is through the viewfinder, a world mediated by a glass rectangle. The images that result close out the honking noises, the smell of charcoal brassieres, diesel fumes, rotting vegetations. The lens wanders and selects what should be discussed; it eliminates distractions. Optics eliminate, enhance, direct and edit, all at once. Without false modesty, I can make the ordinary into something extra-ordinary. This is my vocation, craft and gift. I have good eyes. Given these facts, I now close my eyes, my window to the world. My optic safety net is withdrawn.

I make my partner escort me across the street with my eyes closed. She directs me off the curb. With my first step I am awash in sounds and smells. My radar engages. The first crossing is tense. My third more relaxed. I judge the density of traffic by the sweat and grip of my guide. Nothing hits me. The fragile whisper of fabric breezes my cheek punctuated by abrupt engine sputter, amplified by the choking exhaust. I begin to judge distances by every non- visual sense. I can feel the traffic through the soles of my feet. I am in the river of Vietnam traffic. I crosscut the grain. If my eyes were open, I would see a family of four on a bike, two saffron clad monks, a man driving while a woman sits behind him holding three sheets of plate glass 3 feet wide; 4 feet tall. A man sits with a refrigerator tied on across the rear seat. The motos are the workhorses of Vietnam.

By the seventh crossing my guide is tired of my antics. She has been visually locked into this game I have foisted upon her. Spending the day crossing herds of motorbikes and cyclos is not what she signed up for. Her tastes run more to culture and exotic dinners—go figure. I make another crossing, solo this time.

Eyes closed I step off the curb as my partner shouts at me 100 feet away on the shore of the distant curb. Nothing drastic happens, an uneventful passage, but my wheel of fortune is running down. I am trying the patience of Buddha. He is pleased I am exploring his realm but he is also saying “enough is enough.” Vietnam is the land of the “Future,” Honda’s 100cc motorbike, also the “Jupiter, Dream, Dream2, SuperDream, Angel, Sirrus, and Spacey.” Everything that can allude to an ethereal, above the planet experience, drives through the mortal streets brought to earth with two-wheeled reality. The motorbikes have a regular sputter; the boats have a constant but irregular pulse; cyclos, bicycle driven rickshaws have a wheezy hamster wheel squeak as they ride in twos and threes through the charcoal smoke filled evenings. The future of this part of the world is not bright. Traffic does not snake toward you, rather it braids, from right and left forward and back, it is the “surround-sound” of transportation. Bikes are now replaced by “motos” but they still retain the same sense of exposed social responsibility and harmony. They flow, moving objects in a stream working together. Development brings cars, diesel cars. The encapsulation and isolation of automobiles will destroy the social necessities of the road and disharmony will follow, pollution will be ten-fold and more.

Buddha coughs.

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Traveling the River

Lying on the deck of the 16-passenger multicolored 30-foot boat where the anchor and rope chain are stored I find a small clear spot on the wooden deck one-meter square. I put my sweatshirt under my head and close my eyes searing red from the mid day Vietnamese sun. I listen to the rhythmic slapping of the Perfume River on the hull mingling with the tin loudspeaker of distant temple and honk of horns on the shore. I drift off into what I think is light sleep, closer to a narcoleptic comma. This is the romance of traveling in Asia on a mid winter day. The reality is a different story. VietnamTemple2Boat trips and train trips share the same charm of looking forward to and back on them. In truth it is chilly but the diesel fumes in the enclosed cabin is overwhelming and driven me to the deck. It is cold and the deck hard, but I am so exhausted from travel and sleeping on unfamiliar hard beds with nonexistent pillows I fall quickly into a deep sleep. I awake stiffly an hour later. Memories of six temples and tombs roll through my head topsy-turvy like a continuous Marx Brothers movie. Half my body is asleep, the portion that isn’t is sore, stiff and cold. This is the reality of a river trip. This is the lesson of the Buddha.VietnamTemple_copy

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The Buddha Sleeps

 

Buddha arises from his Rotund Chinese incarnation. Speed bumps of fat disappear as he heads west into Laos. Here he becomes lithe and feminine, raises his hand from a perpendicular forearm and salutes the worshipper with a jeweled palm and a knobbed watch cap. She travels farther south into Chang Ri Chang Mi and finally the pollution of the 21st century and Bangkok. She takes a tuk tuk and finds a space to rest her weary lungs, quietly she fades into sleep and reclines while her minions drape her in gossamer leaf of gold. She sleeps and the traffic honks and circles her. Does ever Buddha go on vacation? And if so does she have to visit her sister? Buddha’s minions are everywhere, clad in saffron, oranges, reds, light browns, complimenting the beedi-nut colored boys who wear them. Acne, spare facial hairs, stubby crowns. They walk the dirt roads of the islands, climb steps of the emerald temple, and stand around me chatty in their tentative English, amused at my query into modern religious practice. They are sandaled, barefoot, silent and laughing. They are the youth of Buddha, the boys he hangs with, Buddha’s posse. Buddha4We fight the traffic all day in Bangkok, flow freely on the ferry crossing the Mekong, walk at leisure through the paths in rural Cambodia. We sit on sit on slotted bamboo platforms under trees, hiding from the heat of the white sun, baking the color of the robes. Back in the Thai cities the sun remains hidden by the smoke, saffron cloth is obscured by traffic. Two monks encircle me at the cyber café and search for enlightenment, Buddha on line. The connection is painfully slow, infinite lifetimes in fact. Monks Google Buddha’s website and images of wonderment and eternity appear. Nicely designed the absalas dance across the screen. They step from the 2-dimensional and whisper secrets in the ears of the searchers. Where is Buddha among all this magic? He is driving a tuk-tuk, stuck in traffic, using his cell phone to say he will be late to his 10 o’clock—apologies. buddha&BoaTree

 

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Stair Story

There is a lesson getting from one floor to another here, I am just not sure what that lesson is.The treads are more or less equal in dimension but the risers are not variable, they are random. On the same run of twenty, they can vary from 12 to 2 inches. When going up, the changes in altitude are visible and can be anticipated. On the way down, the disparity is hidden from view, unexpected and lead to vertebrate fusing hits. Landings are complex. Buddha takes wing on flight of stairs.