On my last trip home, I decided to bring my Leica M3 back with me to Afghanistan. There's nowhere to process film in Kabul, but I miss photography, especially the analogue process. I had a chance to practice on a recent trip to Italy, and I'm now waiting (with bated breath) for the 5+ rolls of film to be developed and sent to me. The photo above was taken in front of Castell dell'Ovo in Naples where I was trying to get some good shots of lovers meandering along the Lungomare.
I've been to some beautiful places in the past few months. I hope to be able to write about them soon.
As you may have gathered from my silence, the past couple months have been incredibly busy with travel and work and learning and running and socializing (on three different continents), and I've found it very difficult to find a block of time to sit down and do nothing but think and write. Quite honestly, that's all I've wanted to do, because in the midst of all the bustle, I've been reading and thinking about a number of issues, not least of which is the U.S. Presidential election, the "cosmopolitan elite," and the rise of Donald Trump. But I feel too overwhelmed to start on all of that right now. The writing will come back eventually as I organize my thoughts, and until then, this is just to say Hello, I'm still here, I hope you are well.
The UAE, particularly Dubai, gets a pretty bad rap from Kabul residents. It's a transit stop for many of us, the place we're often stranded at odd hours of the night on our way back west. There are nice (but expensive) hotels, champagne brunches, and well-stocked shopping malls, but most see it as a soulless and materialistic city they'd like to spend as little time in as possible. It's probably not a place I'd choose to live for an extended period of time, and neither Dubai nor Abu Dhabi compare to fascinating world cities like Istanbul or Tokyo, for example, but I quite enjoyed both emirates when I visited last fall. Perhaps it's because I hadn't had a proper hamburger in over two months and I was starved for normalcy at the time, but I really did like the mix of ultramodern and traditional, the sparkling clean streets, and the glamorous Emiratis. Call me soulless if you must. You can see some photos from the trip in the Emirates album found here.
Pamuk, Shafak, and Istanbul, city of dreams and nightmares -- excerpt below from the Guardian article. Developed by the Greeks, capital of the Holy Roman Empire, capital of the Byzantine Empire, conquered by the Ottomans, and now a metropolis extending from Europe to Asia, Istanbul is a fascinating place. If you're interested, this is also a lovely article on "a city that is constantly breaking and reinventing itself."
"Istanbul is the name of a city and the name of an illusion. In reality, there is no such thing as Istanbul. There are only Istanbuls – competing, clashing and somehow coexisting within the same congested space. That is one of the themes I want to talk about with Orhan Pamuk, the winner of the Nobel prize for literature. The loss of plurality and nuance. The increasing dominance of an ideology of sameness throughout our motherland."
From my recent trip to Dubai, this is one of my favorite pictures of all time. After I posted this on Facebook someone wrote, "What kind of work do you do again?! What a life." To which my sister promptly responded, "She is Jessica, Queen of the Camels!" I'll take that. Or maybe Camel Princess? Princess of Arabia? In any case, the UAE is a magical place.
I never skip the iconic in new places, but I try to stay in cities longer so I can experience the particularities of life there. Still, I agree that travel should be about "piercing indifference" rather than checking off to-do lists. Nice article from Shahnaz Habib at The Guardian:
A lot of travel can be about pretending. I should know – for years, I have been pretending to enjoy monuments in various countries. I have spent perfectly sunny mornings in museums that I did not care for and I have sat in cute trolley cars and I have thrown coins into wishing wells. I have tried hard to enjoy walking tours. There are good arguments for doing new things, but having made them all to myself, I am now beginning to see the case for doing only the things you are curious about. As I grow older, I hope to become more like my father, who caused much amusement by firmly declining a ride by the White House when we went to Washington DC to visit my in-laws. “It’s the White House,” my mother-in-law said to me. “Anyone would want to go.”
Anyone except my father. Over the years of saying no to other people’s adventures, he has retained his triangularity in a world of round pegs with well-rounded to-do lists. He loved what he loved – the bridges of New York, the Halal street food vendors, the ferry to Staten Island – not because they were iconic but because they pierced his indifference. One of his favourite New York days was spent at Zuccotti Park, visiting Occupy Wall Street.
Côte d'Azur, or the French Riviera, is one of my favorite places on earth, and having neglected it in recent years for closer locales, it was wonderful to be able to spend some time this past week in Monaco, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, and Villefranche-sur-Mer. With the exception of bustling Monaco - a place with its own particular charms - I still find the area remarkably unspoiled, calming, and exceptionally picturesque. Last winter I read Edmund de Waal's family memoir, The Hare with Amber Eyes, and was very keen on visiting the Ephrussi-Rothschild estate in Cap Ferrat. The beautiful seaside villa and gardens did not disappoint, and in fact, Baroness Béatrice's masterpiece may be my favorite grand house in the world (it's pink, neoclassical, and in the South of France).
I'd still like to write a review of The Hare, but for now, I've included an excerpt from the memoir below, and there are photographs here from my trip through the Alpes-Maritimes down to the sea:
The Ephrussis were a grand banking family, as rich and respected as the Rothschilds, who “burned like a comet” in nineteenth-century Paris and Vienna society. Yet by the end of World War II, almost the only thing remaining of their vast empire was a collection of 264 wood and ivory carvings, none of them larger than a matchbox.
The renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal became the fifth generation to inherit this small and exquisite collection of netsuke. Entranced by their beauty and mystery, he determined to trace the story of his family through the story of the collection.
Whenever I'm in-between things and on the road as I am now, I find myself thinking of and listening to this beautiful Radiohead song. From the first verse: Transport, motorways and tramlines/Starting and then stopping/Taking off and landing/The emptiest of feelings. Give it a listen (it's not as sad as it sounds). And here are some interesting things from around the web that I've been reading this week:
- A three-question quiz to test your rationality -- let me know how you do
- Mothers of ISIS, a compelling article by Julia Ioffe
- The proper way to do email introductions (apparently I've been doing it wrong)
- My friend Dalibor on the immigrant crisis in Europe and the reaction of EU member states
- "The Hamptons and Nantucket, and a little bit of Miami" -- #roséallday
- John Rhys-Davies, Lord of the Rings actor, blasts western politicians for failing to acknowledge that Christianity is being wiped out in the Middle East
- Ladies, the Serena & Lily fall collection is lovely
- I'm calling this company my J.Crew of the east. Preppy with an eastern twist?
- Angelina Jolie has signed on to an animated film about a girl living under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan -- looking forward to it
I spent last week in beautiful Lombardy on Lago Maggiore and Lago di Como. Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy and the largest in Southern Switzerland, and is surrounded by the Pennine, Lepontine, and Lugano Alps. Friends of mine have a lovely villa along the shore, and we spend our time there swimming, sailing, and hiking in nearby villages. Lake Como is a bit less rustic with its many grand lakeside villas and palaces, and with a sophisticated ferry service that links many of the small villages surrounding the lake. While Como feels slightly overrun with tourists during the summer months, it retains the charm and beauty that poets and writers have long praised. Virgil, said to be a native of the lake region, referred to Lago di Como as "Our greatest lake." Shelley, too, considered it to "exceed anything I ever beheld in beauty." D.H. Lawrence called Lake Garda "A lake as beautiful as the beginning of creation," and Henry James declared, "One can't describe the beauty of the lakes, nor would one try if he could."
I was in Como this time for the wedding of two friends from grad school. The wedding mass took place at the charming Sant'Antonio Abate chapel in the bride's hometown of Casnate just outside the city of Como. We spent the evening along the shores of the lake at the neoclassical Villa Parravicini. The day after the wedding we took a long boat tour of the lake from Como to Bellagio. Taking a cue from Henry James, I tried to capture some of the beautiful scenery - including the impressive villas and hotels along the way - in pictures instead of words. You may recognize Villa del Balbianello, Villa Carlotta, and Villa d'Este in the album here.
I spent some time at the Royal Courts of Justice this past week with my barrister friend. She calls the RCJ a "temple to the law," and during hearings or arguments, refers to co-counsel as "my learned friend." I quite like the wigs and robes and British formalities.
The day before the Normandy landings, General Eisenhower made the following announcement: "Soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the allied expeditionary force: you are about to embark upon a great crusade toward which we have spent these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you." Twenty years later he stated, "These people gave us a chance to do better. Every time I come back here to these beaches and any day I think about that day, I say once more: we must find some way to gain an eternal peace for this world" (listen to Walter Cronkite's interview with Eisenhower here).
My time at the Allied military headquarters in Mons hasn't exactly helped me avoid my preoccupation with war. Last weekend, I spent a day on the northern shores of France, walking the beaches of Normandy and remembering the 160,000 soldiers who were part of the largest amphibious invasion in world history on June 6, 1944. It was an overwhelming experience. "If you think the world is rotten go to the cemetery of St. Laurent on the hill overlooking the beach. See what one group of men did for another on DDay June 6, 1944" (Andy Rooney).
More photos from Normandy here.
Spent the weekend in Paris.
It's the feast of the Assumption today, and thankfully, Europe still makes Catholic holidays public holidays. The past couple weeks have been great, but also challenging and utterly exhausting, so I'm happy to be getting away to the Italian Riviera and to Paris this weekend for some rest and relaxation. Hope you all have a great weekend! More from Mons next week.
Whenever I get on a plane this small I feel like it should be private.
Fine food and phonetic spelling at the Delta Terminal.
We skied at the top of this mountain yesterday. The cable car took us to the top where we had a breathtaking view of Southern Germany and Austria. This is what it looks like above the tree line:
The island is officially divided into two parts: St. Maarten and St. Martin, that is, the Dutch side and the French side. Along with the language on the street signs and the currency switch from dollars to euros, one can feel the change in lifestyle and attitude when traveling from one side to the other. And there are other stark contrasts: the white sand and perfectly clear water juxtaposed with the slummy inland side streets, the color of the barely browned tourists next to the natives they buy beach chairs from, the jumbo jets flying in and out of SXM just above the tiny heads of the people below. . .