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Manarola.

I slept through most of our relatively short train ride to the Cinque Terre, missing what my husband later reported was a great, if fleeting, view of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. With his seat facing backwards, his view was of what the train had already passed, and he couldn’t wake me in time to see it so he decided not to. I was excessively disappointed, and I asked all about it and why not wake me, but I could tell he felt bad about it and I was just making it worse. It was a good moment early in our marriage — he repeatedly said he was sorry, but in the end, I realized I was the one who needed to apologize.

The five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso comprise the Cinque Terre, from south to north. Each is impossibly built into the craggy coastline where the top of the boot curves west toward the south of France. The region is both a national park and a Unesco World Heritage site, and because vehicle access is either limited or nonexistent, most visitors access the area and move between villages by train, ferry, or walking trail. Read the rest of this entry »

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The tunnel from the Uffizi to the Medici family’s palace over the Ponte Vecchio.

Florence

My husband said he went for the upgrade to first class on our high speed train from Rome to Florence because it seemed like a good idea at the time. That time was around midnight the night after our wedding and hours before we’d fly to Italy. He had to book four separate trips from more than one rail company, and the user interfaces, not designed for Kentucky hotel wifi users (or, potentially, anyone else), caused the whole process to take more than two hours. We had complimentary wine from our hotel to help pass the time that night, and we had it again on our high speed train with almost the entire car to ourselves. First class seemed like a good idea all of the time, and when done right, it can pay for itself.

We stepped out of the train station and into Florence around midday with the rose-colored lenses that complimentary morning Prosecco so perfectly produces, until my husband realized he’d left his camera bag containing a top-of-the-line Canon 5D Mark III with professional lenses under his train seat. He dropped everything on the curb at the taxi stand and, without saying a word, took off at full speed toward our train, which the conductor told him was set to depart in exactly one minute whether he was on it or not. I didn’t even know what my husband had gone back for, so I just prayed hard enough for smoke to come out of my ears until I finally saw him emerge from the station with the camera bag strapped over his chest. The rose-colored lenses resumed.

Our cab driver had to give us a scenic route around the famous Duomo and Giotto’s Campanile of the Florence Cathedral, or Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, to get around labor strikes, and I was in total awe. I loved the tiny cobblestone streets and seemingly ancient homes. I felt like there was a castle on every block. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Forum.

My husband and I got married on October 18 in Louisville, Kentucky at St. Boniface Catholic Church, followed by dinner and dancing at 21C Museum Hotel. It was everything I could have hoped for. I just wanted to carry my gorgeous Technicolor autumn bouquet and eat endless canapes with bison tartare, quail eggs, and truffle oil, surrounded by art, with my husband, forever and ever.

But this series of posts is about my honeymoon in Italy, which turned out to be a natural extension of what we loved about our wedding. We enjoyed fall foliage in Piemonte and unfamiliar flowers and trees in Rome. At wine bars in Florence and Venice, we helped ourselves to aperitivi and cicchetti, buffets of complimentary appetizers. We ate steak tartare and eggy pastas all over Northern Italy. We visited Alba at the height of its short white truffle season. We saw so much art. And we took part in the Catholic ceremony of all Catholic ceremonies.

Almost a year has passed since the trip, but all of the details I abbreviated to a word or a couple of words in my daily log of the trip — written around 6:00 in the morning each day because I was sick for the duration and never recovered from jet lag — I still remember in full. So without further ado, the story of how I fell in love with Italy.

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My favorite New Yorker cartoon, by Charles Barsotti.

The New Yorker recently made the full length versions of many of its articles available to all on newyorker.com before introducing a paywall this fall, which is at once magnanimous, historic, and TOTALLY OVERWHELMING. I’d like to offer 13 of my favorite New Yorker articles of the last ten years, for your reading or printing-and-saving enjoyment. Consider it a little birthday present (today’s my birthday) from my inner geek to yours. Read the rest of this entry »

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New Orleans has a spring in its step.

I was happy to find, over Memorial Day weekend in New Orleans for a friend’s wedding, that the city appears to be doing better. Much better.

As much was conveyed to me by our taxi driver, a sweet older woman in a brightly colored muumuu who hummed to the jazz music on the radio between our exchanges. I told her I had first traveled there for business in spring, 2008 and returned later that summer. Almost three years had passed since Hurricane Katrina, but the city felt like something terrible had just happened.

No one was walking around in the Business District or Garden District, and what few drunken convention attendees and bachelor parties there were to be found in the French Quarter made the place feel all the more depressing. I stayed at a boutique hotel, a huge studio loft, and a W, all for around $100 a night, which was indicative of a weak local economy. A work contact drove me around what had once been the Ninth Ward but was then mostly cracked cement stairs leading to rotting houses or nothing at all. She showed me Habitat For Humanity’s first completed housing area, dubbed Musicians’ Village, and it was small. Philanthropic attention had long since moved elsewhere.

I started to tear up as we passed the convention center in the taxi cab, and the driver and I had a moment. But as we pulled further into the city, I noticed something was different. There were people everywhere.

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21C.

I’ve often thought it would be nice to get married in Louisville, Kentucky. My dream guy and I would say “I do” in a small chapel in the blue hills in front of our families and closest friends, then we’d all go back downtown to the 21C Museum Hotel and party the night away in the company of red penguins and modern art. I discovered the hotel as a business traveler in early 2007, soon after it opened, and I eagerly returned several times to continue to enjoy its rotating art exhibits, menus, and acrylic red penguins with their enviable posture in the guest room hallways. (When you return to your room in the evening, they’re rarely standing where they were when you left in the morning.)

Last fall, as my then-boyfriend and I started to talk about a future wedding, he admitted he had reservations about marrying in Louisville. It had meaning mostly to me, really, and neither of us were from there. But we did have a good memory of it, together. When I moved to Los Angeles in 2010 to close the gap on our long-distance relationship, my guy joined me for the drive, and I requested that Louisville be our first overnight stop (and he requested that Las Vegas be our last).

We arrived in time for the end of the dinner hour and had a wonderful meal at Proof on Main, but by the time we were finished the galleries were either dark or locked. We went to the concierge and asked if there was any way to see them, since we had to leave early to get on the road, and a docent was summoned to come out. She turned on the lights and unlocked the doors to the galleries for us. And then she left us. We absorbed the art, kissed once or twice since no one was looking (except for security cameras), and went to bed.

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Waipi’o Valley overlook.

Today, we are taking a day trip to the Waipi’o Valley. I spent some time researching the hike before coming to Hawaii and read several blog posts saying it’s beautiful and interesting and strenuous, and there’s a great restaurant nearby in Honokaa. I’m sufficiently convinced to go–but no one actually says how to get there, how you’ll know when you’re there, or how to find the trail. I make a mental note to blog about the Waipi’o Valley day trip later and actually include directions–assuming we ever find it today.

I’m not the only one who’s frustrated. My parents return from a sales pitch for condo ownership looking like they could use a vacation.

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I recently dreamt of ThaiNY’s vegetarian duck. It was not the first time.

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The wine that made me fall in love with wine was Ridge’s 2002 Lytton Springs. I was eating at an Italian restaurant in San Francisco with new friends, visiting from Austin, and a couple brought a magnum to have with our meal.

Seven years later, and seven and a half hours after leaving West Hollywood, I finally found myself pulling into a gravel parking space across the street from Ridge’s Lytton Springs tasting room in northern Sonoma County. Like a great Zinfandel, my interest in wine had only grown deeper and more intense in time.

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A string trio in Central Park.

Almost a year to the day after my last carload of belongings disappeared into the Lincoln Tunnel and left Manhattan forever, I found myself approaching the island on the Z train from Jamaica with just a small suitcase at my feet, gazing out the window at the Empire State Building as I had on so many arrivals before. I’d always thought the best ways to experience the Empire State Building were from the observation deck on the 86th floor and from a great distance. Even from my apartment building’s rooftop on 29th and Lexington, just a few blocks away, it never seemed as tall and majestic as it did from Queens.

I needed to see New York again. Living there was never going to be permanent — I had eyes for California — but my fifteen months there inevitably felt like a negligible scratch compared to the deep etchings so many others leave on New York’s weathered surface.

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