Easter and Passover Different

by Judith Fein

I live in Santa Fe, the City Different.  It’s a town with a tap dancing rabbi, a stock broker who runs the community theatre, a real estate broker who moonlights by teaching cooking classes, legions of natives who protect the prairie dogs with their lives, a car that drives around with a suitcase on the roof to remind people that they have emotional baggage, tricked out lowriders, a Jewish mariachi, dead trees turned into sculptures of archangels, a judge who banged down his gavel and sentenced wrong-doers to bring a holiday turkey to court.

It should come as no surprise that this holiday season is replete with soul, spirit and a lot of quirk.

A few days ago, the Chabad rabbi, who is never seen in public without his black suit, black hat and pronounced beard, performed a little birthday party for the sun on the central Plaza.

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'Within the Walls' of Elegance and Hospitality

by Melissa Josue

When I think of Filipino restaurants, I think of Sunday brunch after mass, the drive to the other side of Union City after what felt like a long hour on a church pew, and the joy I felt when my parents let my sister and I choose our favorite dishes from the steam table at our neighborhood Filipino restaurant.

I remember the fluorescent lights and tacky mirrored walls, the one-room family restaurant next to a liquor store and a crowded Asian supermarket with the special of the day hand-written on a piece of paper and taped to the wall. Behind the counter there was usually a woman speaking Tagalog who asked what I'd like to order. She got wide-eyed and incredulous after I explained to her in English that my parents spoke English at home and I only heard Tagalog when they fought. I felt a fleeting sense of shame before she handed me my turon (fried banana roll) wrapped in tin foil or kutsinta (brown rice cake) with a little tub of shredded coconut before I sat down on a vinyl covered chair and white veneer or Formica table.

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Vegas On The Cheap

by Jules Older

With the possible exception of myself, I don’t know a cheaper sonofagun than Charlie Leocha. It’s no coincidence that we’re both writers — a notoriously underpaid gang of rogues who survive on free lunches. Wanna meet a writer? Wait by the food table at any press conference. The first ones there – plates in hand, pockets bulging — that’s us.

Charlie lives in East Boston — East Boston because it’s about a tenth the price of Boston, itself. Until I moved to San Francisco (that’s another story), I lived in the smallest, poorest, snowiest village in Vermont, about half an hour and half a million bucks north of the resort town of Stowe. Charlie and I meet when we travel — almost always, free travel — and this time we find ourselves meeting at what’s probably the most expensive city in the USofA.

OK, writer-cheapskates — welcome to Las Vegas! Let’s see you cheap-out here!

Hey. We’re writers. We can, to adapt the New Hampshire license plate to the writer’s creed, Live Cheap or Die anywhere. Even Vegas. Bring it on!

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Stalking Karl Rove

by Rachel Dickinson

Last October I found myself in Rosemary Beach, Florida, and while I was there heard that this was Karl Rove's new hometown. Forget Texas and DC - one of the most influential political operatives of the last decade lived in a million dollar home in this upscale New Urbanist community on Florida's Emerald Coast.

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A Year On The Ground: Riding the Rails

by Sallie Bingham

Train travel is becoming, rapidly, as comfortable as an old shoe, and it takes the elegance of Union Station in Washington to remind me of the miracle of this way of moving along the ground.

But first, we stand for a long time in freezing drizzle in the Amtrak station in Richmond, modernized to dreariness, although the old photographs on the walls of the waiting room attest to the day when this was a major terminus. In those decades, eighty or more years ago, three train tracks crossed here, bearing engines and their massive loads, human and material, north, south and west. During the War, as my a historical Richmond grandmother called it, a major Union objective was to choke off these rail lines that were carrying supplies to the beleaguered Confederacy. All that is reduced to a shadow, now; only a few travelers wait to board when the train crawls in from Newport News.

The roommate and I are growing particular. The bedroom I reserved, which seemed so well appointed on the leg from Florida to Richmond, now promises to be horribly cramped. We try, at the ticket window in Union Station, to upgrade—in airline lingo—to a bedroom, which has actual beds and a bathroom, but the additional cost would be almost a thousand dollars, out of reach for nearly everyone traveling by rail. These bedrooms remain mostly empty, and it seems to me that Amtrak might reconsider what they are charging.

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Skiing and Me

by Jules Older

Growing up in 1950’s Baltimore, outside of movies, I’d never seen a ski.

When I left for college, in cold and mysterious Vermont, my mother’s friend gave me a pair from her college days. They were ancient even by 1958 standards: taller than an NBA center, primitive beartrap bindings and lacking that newfangled invention, steel edges.

But they were mine. And I was heading for the snow.

I had no idea what to do with my new/old skis. So my freshman roommate trudged with me to the top of Hospital Hill, a steep slope ending at the curb of a busy Burlington street. He helped me strap into those outmoded bindings, held my arm as I steadied myself at the top of the hill, and pushed.

Fearing a fall onto the icy snow, I skied.

Been doing it ever since. Sliding on snow has been not only a major theme of my life but the way I've earned much of my income. More than that, snow-covered mountains have given me enormous pleasure, satisfaction and spiritual uplift. Skiing has been a huge and hugely wonderful part of my adult life. Hello, mountains. Farewell, Baltimore.

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The Theory of Flight

by Susan McKee

One advantage of travel writing is the opportunity to travel. Of course, that's one of the disadvantages as well. When you're traveling, you're not where you're going, and you've left where you've been. Transit time is a state of suspended animation.

Take getting to Malaysia, for example. It's on the other side of the earth from the American heartland. No matter whether you go east or west, it's still 23 hours of time in the air. I flew from Newark to Kuala Lumpur, so the plane stopped for refueling in Dubai.

An hour or so in that international airport terminal is just about enough time to ogle the jewelry and designer clothes for sale and send off a postcard. Then it's back on board, trying to endure the tedium – dropping off to sleep, waking and reading for a bit, then dozing off again.

Stuck in steerage, there's not much to do. Most long distance overseas flights these days have individual television screens – even in coach. But, the movie choices are inane, and how many times can you watch the same episodes of popular TV sitcoms? I find myself tuning into the map charting the plane's progress.

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A Year On The Ground: Rail Riders

by Sallie Bingham

In the diner car somewhere in Georgia, Keith, the kindly, amused and amusing steward, explains the exigencies of Amtrak, under funded, according to Jimmie, the sleeping car porter, since its inception.

“Did they get rid of your chefs?” I ask Keith, having heard on an earlier east-west trip that chef losing had been one of Amtrak’s attempts at economy.

“Not our chefs but our chef’s helpers, the ones who used to make salads, things like that, and wash dishes, the same time they got rid of china and glasses and linen table clothes. Now we just wash the wine glasses and the knives and forks and throw everything else away—a big waste,” he adds, before I can comment on the vast bags of non-recycled trash the new system must produce.

I commiserate before going back to the dinner menu.

“I recommend the steak,” the big, brightly colored and adorned woman next to me says with authority. The steak is amply promoted on the menu, its description outclassing the chicken, pasta and seafood, so I order it and it is delicious, as well as free. Our first class tickets entitle us to three meals a day.

My seatmate is traveling from Miami to her home in New Jersey. She speaks with a familiar accent. When the roommate who refuses to bow to political correctness asks her if she’s from Mexico, she replies with a flash of pride, “Cuba”.

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A Room with a Tub

by Susan Davidson

I still like to go back to England where I spent the first fifteen years of my life. Every visit reminds me of where I am from. London is not where I was born - Wolverhampton is - but I think of it as my home town and I think of myself not as an ex-pat but as a native who happens to live somewhere else. I love the city's vibe. There is always something new, creative and hip that co-exists with the historic and anachronistic. It's a great mix. There are, however, times -- such as the night I spent at Claridge's, the grande dame of posh hotels in London - when I can't decide whether life is better for a contemporary American or a Brit from another century.

While London certainly has its share of five-star hotels, few can claim as much old world charm as Claridge's, built in 1898. From the doorman's tip of a hat for the ladies to the Art Nouveau and Art Deco décor, the hotel is redolent of good manners and a gentler age. Concessions to the 21st century include permitting cell phones and cigars in the lobby where the walls are lined with black and white photographs of British royalty and ours -- Jackie Kennedy in evening gown and tiara. What caught my eye though was an elevator called the Ladies Lift located near a discreet, side entrance to the hotel.

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Nothing Says Love Like Bacon Grease

by Melissa Josue

Water droplets beat against the bedroom window, which framed a gray sky that poured all day into the evening. But the smell of hot butter browning in a skillet and the buoyant sound of trumpets and keyboard from the radio lifted my mood. I’ve only experienced Mardi Gras through weekend parades leading up to Fat Tuesday. But not the evening often touted on the news as an occasion of unabashed revelry and regrettable drunkenness.

“This must be a nostalgic time for you, isn’t it?” I asked my boyfriend Charles while he browned the French toast in a melted layer of what he calls “fake butter,” a cholesterol-free alternative to butter that I try to keep in his fridge should we decide to treat ourselves to a heavier brunch. I thought he was going to reminisce about stumbling out of the Napoleon House after having had too many beers or talk about the things he and his high school buddies did to get girls to catch their beads.

But instead, he prepared for Fat Tuesday as though it were Christmas. Reminding me weeks in advance to keep the evening free. Pulling out plastic beads to wear to work or offer his daughters. Interspersing the weekends before Mardi Gras with meals containing some variation of grits and cheese, a heavy cream sauce, and way too much butter for the sensibilities of a girl who practiced portion control with a kitchen scale. His shameless use of animal fat was both horrifying and endearing. If a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, he reciprocated by spending equal time over the stove to cook his way to mine.

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Cuban Journey to Israel

by Melanie Fidler

The first time I heard about Jews living in Cuba was when my parent’s friends said they were accepted/allowed to go on a mission trip to Cuba. Because they were Jewish, they could apply through a synagogue to go with a small group of Jewish Americans bearing medical supplies to travel to Cuba for a 10 day trip exploring Cuba’s Jewish culture. The idea fascinated me. I quickly did my research and decided this was going to be my next personal story to work on.

Ever since I sailed on Semester at Sea (SAS) in fall ’04, I wanted to go to Cuba. SAS is a unique study abroad trip that takes a cruise ship and transforms it into a floating university with up to 600 students from around the nation to learn and travel together for 100 days. Quite literally, a semester at sea. Cuba was scheduled as our last port until Bush nipped that in the butt. Venezuela was the replacement, a much more dangerous country than Cuba, if you ask me.

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Who Are We Keeping Out?

A Drive along the Arizona/New Mexico Border

 by Sallie Bingham

The best thing about taking to the roads is that we see things we are not supposed to see; this happened to me driving through southern Arizona, a few miles from the Mexico border.

Right away I began to notice white border patrol cars lumbering along the dirt roads that parallel the highway. A low-flying plane droned overhead. In the distance, a strange black smudge snaked across the desert; it’s the fence the Federal Government is building, about half of which is, or will be, in Arizona. Under Bush, 601 miles of the fence were built; 69 miles remain to be completed, and President Obama has yet to rescind the order.

Driving east, we were stopped at four checkpoints and pursued once for “evading our checkpoint”—we were looking at a map. All five times, the border patrol officers took one look at us and passed us through. After all, we are white.

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How I Spent my Winter Vacation

by Rachel Dickinson

Recently I found myself at the world’s largest ice-fishing tournament on Hole in the Day Bay of Gull Lake near Brainerd, Minnesota. There are probably two words I never wanted to use in the same sentence – ice and fishing – so it was with some reluctance that I found myself there in the first place. But being nothing if not a good sport, I packed all the cold weather clothing I could muster.

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Dem Big Cats

by Judith Fein

Achoo. Scratch scratch. That is my response to dogs, cats and anything that has more than two feet and is covered with hair. My eyes blow up. I wheeze. I get a je-ne-sais-quoi hairball thing in my throat. And how can I help offending friends who are in love with their Poopsies and KitKats? All I can think about is: get me home so I can throw my clothes and myself in a washing machine.

© Paul Ross.But it’s different when the hirsute ones are out of doors. I went on a safari in South Africa and got so close to the lions, zebra, tigers, elephants and giraffes that I could see the whites of their eyes. No wheezing, no sneezing. I actually bid on a baby camel at a livestock auction in Tunisia, but I couldn’t figure out how to build a camel pen in my bedroom that would filter out airborne (hair) allergens.

After a long hiatus from the animal kingdom, which corresponded to my running out of Benadryl, I happened to be in Northwest Arkansas, and heard there was the largest big cat reserve in the country at Turpentine Creek in Eureka Springs. Beloved by the NW Arkansas citizens, it inspired local giants Walmart and Tyson to donate about 300,000 pounds of chicken, turkey, beef, fish and pork every year to feed the beasts. And visitors can sponsor an animal and even choose its name. Hey, I’m a sucker for feel good things, so off I went.
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A Cautionary Tale

by Shirley B. Moskow

In Madrid, thieves work in pairs. One tells you that a bird has soiled your jacket and offers to clean it. The other slips it off and rubs a spot. When they helps you on with your jacket, your wallet is gone and so are the scam artists. In the Caribbean, some street moneychangers deftly fold paper money so that unsuspecting travelers can’t see that they’re counting the same bills twice. The skills of pickpockets on Rome’s trolleys are legendary.

I’ve listened to many travelers recount such tales of their mishaps. Of course, I sympathized, positive that no similar fate would befall me. I prided myself on taking precautions and always being aware of my surroundings.

At the National Museum of Prague, as I was paying for a book in the gift shop, the lights suddenly went out. The old castle was all confusion as people milled about in the dark. Several minutes later, when the electricity came on, I discovered that my wallet had disappeared.

My husband and I reported the theft to the police. They seemed uninterested. We returned to our hotel and the manager helped us to notify our credit card companies. That’s when I realized that my husband and I shouldn’t have been carrying the same bank and credit cards. We had to put a hold on all of them. Now neither of us had access to credit, and between us we had little more than two hundred dollars in cash. I wondered how long it would take for relatives to wire funds. The answer was never. We were traveling through three countries, staying at a different hotel almost every night. Under the circumstances, no hotel would accept a wire.

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A Year on the Ground: And Now a Blast from the Past

by Sallie Bingham

“Please don’t use the towels to clean luggage, shoes or cars,” the sign on the medicine cabinet in the Gadsden Hotel bathroom reads. This ancient grand dame of a place reminds me of the hotel in Pittsburg where we stayed on long car trips when I was a child; “fire trap,” my mother would mutter, hardly deigning to place herself on the cretonne-covered bed, her feet in high-heeled shoes never coming in contact with the scrofulous rug.

© Francis Donald.Now that motels rule the interstate with their room rates from $29 dollars a night to $58; the Gadsden hardly stands a chance. In its ornate lobby, marble  pillars support a ceiling of stained glass; a few undaunted individuals are cleaning up the decorations—fake ivy and silver garlands—left after a presentation for a supplement called something like Xanadu. From the number of chairs set out, they expected a crowd, but the elevator operator ( the old Otis elevator has no door and so must be operated by a employee) says no one came. Loud music blared when we dragged ourselves in but has now been put out, and the remnant of presenters is scurrying to the parking lot (security from 10 pm till 4 am, the hotel clerk assures us), clicking open locks.

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A Year on the Ground: Abandoning air travel? Sticking to the ground? Am I crazy?

by Sallie Bingham

Racing by the turnoff to the Albuquerque airport, I jeer (in my head, sparing the Roommate reluctantly riding shotgun with Jack the puppy) at the ducks-in-a-line cars turning off, each one sporting a single head as in a two year old’s toy car, heading toward the mile of glinting metal and glass, the far-out parking lot, where I used to leave my car to avoid paying literally hundreds of dollars at the packed airport garage.


Beyond the garage, the familiar litany of irritations waits: the kiosks that have largely replaced desk personnel, and which routinely refuse my credit card or ask for airport acronyms only a terminal supervisor would know, the ridiculous security parade, where I numbly shed articles of clothing that have nothing to do with any imaginable threat (how long ago was the tennis shoe bomber caught?), the unexplained delays and cancellations, the miserably cramped seats, the disappearance of blankets and pillows, the outrageous sums charged for horrible snacks, and now even for luggage.


This time, I’m driving—1150 miles from my home in Santa Fe to my son’s in Los Angeles.

 

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Ditching Stress — An experiment

by Andrea Gross

This is the year I diet. Not by going low-cal: been there, done that. This year I'm going low stress. I'm cutting down on stress as surely as last year I cut down on carbs.


It won't be easy. Stress gives me the same high as chocolate and, try as I might, I can't see the glory in taking a vacation in order to relax. But magazines say it's healthy to turn off your mind and revel in doing nothing. I spent 10 years writing for these magazines, so I have a hard time believing them, but what the heck....If Obama can spend an hour a day playing basketball, I can spend a week a year de-stressing. (This works out to Obama being approximately 168 times more important than I am, which seems to me, if anything, an understatement.)


But it's a concept that comforts me during my first hour on the beach. I'd prepared well — brought along a beach chair, towel, sunscreen, hat, snacks, and Wally Lamb's 752-page book, The Hour I First Believed, which proves to be too heavy to hold without straining my wrists. I put down the book and wish I had my computer, the nifty laptop that miraculously connects to the web even in the middle of nowhere. But I left it home, in deference to a hubby who said that after forty years of marriage he deserved four days of Nothing to Do.


I even left my cell phone home. Well, I'd cheated a little on this point. I traded mine, which rings or vibrates with comforting regularity — see, I am important — for my dad's. His never rings because he won't turn it on. "It's only for 911," he says. So I brought along his phone and gave the number to my four kids, so I could maintain the fiction that, in case of real emergency, one of my nearly-forty year old kids call for Mommy. Everyone else, I figured, could wait. I'm not that important, after all. I can check out for a week, and the world will still turn.

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TRAVEL TO TUNISIA

by Judith Fein

BE A TRAVELER AND NOT A TOURIST; IF YOU TRAVEL BETTER, YOU WILL WRITE BETTER.

Join award-winning travel journalists/photographers Judith Fein and Paul Ross on a CULTURAL IMMERSION TRIP TO TUNISIA, MAY 8-22, 2009.

 

The goal of the trip is to teach participants how to travel deeply in a safe, exciting, exotic, accessible country and to write about their experiences.  The pieces will be read aloud to the group every day, and hands-on instruction will be offered in travel photography, no matter what your level of proficiency.

 

The 14-night, l5 day trip will include all the highlights of Tunisia-- from the ruins of Carthage to the island of Djerba during a festival dedicated to a woman; from cave dwellers to souk shopping; from Berber villages to Bedouin markets to the stillness of the Sahara desert at night. In addition to visiting the sites, participants will have contact with Tunisians from all walks of life--AND THIS IS THE HEART OF THE TRIP. You will go into homes, music studios, caves, kitchens, mosques and spend time with open-hearted, friendly locals while learning about their culture--how they think, eat, work, live, create art, worship and feel about the world. 

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