Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category


From our first blog: Sunday, August 21, 2005
  Forget the rest of the trip–our time in Italy was defined by the past three hours.

It began on top of the Palatine Hill, overlooking the ruins of the center of the world: the Roman forum. We descended into a copse of ancient pines, and climbed an alcove that had been created several thousand years ago and renovated at least 200 years ago under Napoleon. We stood atop a Corinthian pillar and called up the powers of Rome through the soles of our feet. In that moment, we experienced the mystical pax romana, in a way they never could have imagined.

Ashley decided to take a tour of the Catacombs while we set out to find a scooter rental shop. Scooters, for those of you who have not visited Europe, sound like an invasion of wasps, that buzz throughout the city. So we took a 1.5 mile walking detour instead of the .25 mile road that led us to what ended up being the same shop we had looked at yesterday a block from our hotel. We rented a double-seater with a broken speedometer and began our Roman holiday. Our list of sights to see included the Circo Massimo, the Bocca Della Veritas, the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, and the Tiber river. What did we see?

The Tiber.

In fact, we crossed it. Twice. Oh yeah. It’s green.

Oh! And we also saw the gargantuan monument to some guy named Victor Emmanuel II at least seven times.

In the course of two hours, we almost did not make two left turns, successfully made a U-turn, got honked at twice–once because we were going 5 mph in a 35 zone (don’t worry… we got faster as the time wore on) and once because we were so damn hott on that scooter–and saw everything that you never see in Rome. For instance, a cat sanctuary we thought was the Pantheon. A rotunda that we desperately hoped was the Pantheon. And a piazza that had four statues and an obelisk, but was not in fact, the Piazza Navona.

Overall, it was enjoyable. The way a rollercoaster without seatbelts or trained staff is enjoyable… FOR TWO HOURS! At the end, we skidded into our parking spot and we could not open the seat to get our camera until the very nice (and cute) Italian dude opened it with a simple click of the key. Then we got a picture which we will post as soon as we reach Oxford.

We love Rome.

“Which of the cities visited did Your Highness enjoy the most?”

“Each, in its own way, was unforgettable. It would be difficult to…. Rome! By all means, Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.”

The Dynamic Duo



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London is touted as one of the “financial centers of the world” –right up there with New York and Hong Kong. It is also reputed to be a great place for enjoying the best of world cuisine. However, if you would like to cook your own food, rather than paying someone to do it for you, the process is complicated by rather stubborn local customs.

First, all measurements are in either grams or the imperial system (oz, lbs, etc.), including those in recipes. Converting the pre-marked butter portions from grams to ounces is more challenging than you think. Waiting until it is soft and spooning into a measuring cup is worse.

Second, some ingredients that are easily procured in Los Angeles, are difficult, if not impossible, to find here. For example:

  • Serrano chilies are extremely rare, if they exist. We have yet to locate any fresh and the only canned options are also pickled, and only available at Whole Foods in the ritziest part of town. Birds Eye chilies look similar, but do not be deceived, they are an asian chili, and will make your salsa have a weird bite at the end and be dull and lifeless in front. Canned Jalapenos can be procured, if you look carefully and are willing to pay a premium.
  • Cornmeal is an unknown substance. Cornflour can be had in abundance, but it is what we call cornstarch, and hence cannot be made into an acceptable bread substance. The ground corn sold here is called polenta, normally used for making an italian corn pudding like side dish.
  • If you ask someone for graham crackers, they will give you a funny look, and either point you towards the cracker isle, or walk you to the area where gram flour is sold. Hence our cheesecake crusts are now made out of crumbled digestives.
  • The only frozen waffles are made from potato flour. The distinct lack of anything resembling an eggo waffle was one of the more difficult things about moving to a foreign country when six months pregnant. My husband is a hero and found something they call “American style Belgian waffles” in the bread section that were an acceptable substitute.

Third, some items that go by one name in the states, go by a pseudonym on this island.

  • Applesauce is not applesauce. If you ask for applesauce in England, you will be pointed to something slightly stiffer than canned cranberry sauce, with an astronomical sugar content and relatively few apple bits. It is rather like apple jam, and altogether unsuitable as an egg substitute for cookie making. To find what we call applesauce, you must request apple puree, which most stores do not carry.
  • Cilantro, the green leafy thing that looks a lot like parsley but is not, is called coriander.
  • Zucchini are called courgettes. Chalk it up to another language disagreement between the French and the Italians, and note the rare alliance between England and France on this one.
  • Parmesan cheese designates any cheese produced in Parma, Italy, not just the hard cheese we normally use to top spaghetti marinara. This is because the UK has entered some, though not all, of the treaties that make the EU the EU.
  • If you use white flour to make bread, you will get a squishy gooey mess. White flour here is pastry flour. To make palatable baked goods, strong or extra strong white flour must be procured.

But to maintain the balance in life, the British do have some items that I wish were easier to find in the states:

  • Colman’s mustard. Albertsons used to carry this very strong yellow condiment, but the last time I tried to track it down, the only place who knew what I wanted was a very eclectic ethnic market, and they wanted $5 for a tiny jar. Almost every store has it here, and a large container can be obtained for one pound. It is most excellent inside grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato and basil.
  • Nutella in glass jars. Said jars make perfect juice glasses. If you have never tried this hazelnut chocolate spread, you really ought to put some on your strawberries sometime, delicious!
  • Real muesli. Rolled oats, dried fruit, nuts, and other pieces of goodness. When you can find it at home, it’s normally horridly overpriced. The grocery store here has a good half isle devoted to its many varieties.


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“Though the setting of this novel appears to be New Orleans and the River Road, this city and this famous road are used here as place names of an imaginary terrain. The River Road does not really run into ‘Feliciana Parish.’ In fact there is no Feliciana Parish now. There is no ‘English Coast’ that I know of. There is an English Turn, but it is downriver not upriver from New Orleans. Felicity Street does cross Annunciation Street in New Orleans, but not near Lafayette Cemetery. Lafayette Cemetery does exist, but there is no jail or hospital or levee next to it. Murders and house burnings have occurred on River Road, but none, as far as I know, like those herein depicted. There never was a house named Belle Isle. There was a house named Northumberland in Spanish West Florida but it now longer stands. Nor do the characters bear any intentional relation to real persons living or dead.”

(Lancelot, 1977)

Walker Percy’s extended version of any other author’s “Dude, these characters aren’t supposed to be based on real people–Sorry if the really annoying one reminds you of your brother” asks for a second glance. The habit is repeated in several of his other novels. The Moviegoer earnestly notes, “As for ‘Feliciana Parish,’ there are parishes named East Feliciana and West Feliciana, but I know not a soul in either place.” The Last Gentleman apologetically informs, “The places do not necessarily correspond to geography.”

One effect of these geographical notes is the elevation of the influence of place in the reader’s mind. The words let him or her know that Percy did set the novel in New Orleans. The city itself is unmistakable. And further, it is important to the story that it is set particularly in New Orleans (or Birmingham, as the case might be). Percy needs to make sure the reader was sure of the locality.

But then, for the purposes of his particular story, that road must be over here, and this building must be over there. And this too, must be understood. But, why? I know that I don’t consider space and geography to be that important. Why does it matter that I pass a grocery store in my walk to the metro and not a bank? For Percy, whose men are at least formed and often controlled by the cities in which they live (or don’t live, in the case of the moviegoer), place is a matter of life, virtue and legacy. The streets a man walks on take him to the place he is going. The street cannot alter course without the man changing as well.

In the apocalyptic Love in the Ruins, the streets, ditches, and buildings of the crumbling city both save and damn Dr. (Thomas) More. He, unlike his colleagues, takes seriously the dangers of the air, the swamps, and the hospitals. He does not ignore the groaning of the city, but allows himself to be altered by the place in which he lives, and thus, is not destroyed.

We are formed by place. We cannot pretend to live where we do not. We cannot undue the place of our birth. This, the reader hears strongly in Percy’s work. But I still wonder why is there the need to set his novels in a South-that-is-not-the-South. Why the double-speak of specific, yet fictional, geographical notes?

Percy, writing from the South and for the South, makes the Self the Other. Perhaps he knows that we no longer see the cemetery of our fore-fathers because we pass it everyday. But, if he moves it across the street and down the river, we might have a chance to notice it. And in noticing it, save ourselves the destruction of alienation and exile. Or, maybe he’s doing something much more interesting and I should sit and think awhile longer. Or at least consider how I am changed because of the [direction] of my street.

R. Card Hyatt

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All right, so here’s a confession. Anytime I use three or more freeways to get to a destination, I get a little high. I love the southern California freeway system (and not just because my dad is a traffic engineer and I grew up taking scenic Sunday drives to see new carpool to carpool connectors). I love its efficiency (most of the time, anyways), the wide sweeping lines of the freeway connections, and the relative ease of navigation.

I also love this intersection. I think it is one of the more beautiful man made structures in Orange County (this picture doesn’t do it any justice). Its curves are well-shaped, its proportions are perfect, and it is lit at night with such care that I have actually gotten off the freeway turned around and gone through the intersection again … just to admire it a second time.

New Picture (6)

I-5 / 91 Interchange (North Orange County)

I write this all, first because it’s true, and second, to balance my previous thoughts on distance and commuting, etc. Part of living an examined and thoughtful life means not pretending that I live in a time or place other than I do. I was born and raised in the glories of suburban Southern California … and it is 2009. This means that freeways, cars, and traveling the 25 miles home in 35 minutes are going to be apart of my life, for the near future anyways. These things are not inherently bad, anymore than a bike is inherently good.

I love the oddities of surburia. I also love the challenge to live moderately, carefully, and conscientiously within a landscape not particularly well-suited to this endeavor.


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Several years ago, the day after returning from a semester studying abroad in Oxford, I found myself driving across Orange County to drop my younger sister off at a party. I say, ‘found myself,’ because it was a surreal experience. I drove through at least five cities on two major freeways and a half dozen major streets to arrive at our destination. The journey, not a long one by any means, took us around thirty minutes. I remember sitting in the car after my sister had walked in the house, dizzily considering the fact that I’d just traveled several times the distance that I had been used to traveling in a whole week in Oxford. This was, I think, the first time it occurred to me that suburbs, and their means of transportation, are scary.

Driving a car through one city smashed up next to another city, one after another after another, on freeways that either lift me above the streets, shops, and pedestrians or sink me below them, preventing me from comprehending the distance that I am traveling. I cruise past hundreds, thousands of people while never seeing their faces. I rarely think about the terrain that I am covering, but only about how quickly I can reach my destination, or, how much I can distract myself from the terrain with music , poetry, and books on tape. The all-consuming concerns of my thirty-five mile (La Mirada to Laguna Hills) daily commute have been ease, speed, and safety. Avoid traffic, avoid tickets, sliver away the average forty-five minute drive. My desire is to make the thirty-five miles as easy as possible.

But herein, my dear readers, lies the problem. It is not easy to move a body thirty-five miles. Because I am far-removed from the physical work of getting my 5’4″ body from La Mirada to Laguna Hills, I forget that movement requires effort and that there are 5280 feet in each of those thirty-five miles. It is a mark of this age that I am so comfortable relying on the ‘effort’ of a machine to replace my own physical labor. I take this machine, this car, this robot, for granted (which, if I am learning anything from my science fiction reading this summer, is a Very Bad Thing).

In Dead Man’s Cell Phone, a play I saw in Ashland recently, a man remarks that the subways cause our bodies to move faster than our souls are able, leaving subways full of soulless men (I apologize for the poor paraphrase, I’m looking for the direct quotation), which is often an accurate description for the commuter’s expression . This may be one problem with my rushed miles down the freeway, but I suspect that there are others. Let me try some on for size.

First, it [my rushed miles down the freeway] encourages a lack of concern for conserving energy and resources. It is so easy to “run” down to the store that I won’t wait until my weekly grocery shopping tomorrow to pick up more coffee. I am used to having what I want quickly, with little effort.  Second, it accustoms me to being disconnected from people. Unless I stop on the way, I do not have to talk to any other human, or even look them in the eye. Third, it develops a false sense of closeness. I don’t think that Caitlin is far away because I can drive to her home in an hour. But actually, she is very far away; there is an actual mountain range between her and me. In summary, I don’t understand the ground that I cross everyday and I am both crowded and alone on the freeway.

So, how do you get to know a mile? Do you take it out to coffee?

When I run, my body has to touch the ground that I am traveling and I move slowly enough to take note of my surroundings. I count the turns, the hills; I wave good morning to the old man with his scotty dog. I compare those thirty-five freeway miles with a marathon (my longest run to date) and begin to wrap my mind around distance. It takes me just over four hours to run those 26 miles, my body will be exhausted for at least a week. Movement requires time, energy.

My bicycle is a machine of sorts, but solely powered by my legs.  Over the fifteen mile ride to the beach, the San Gabriel River ebbs and grows as smaller tributaries join it. The river banks alter from grime and concrete to rocks and trees and back again. Riding to the beach and back (30 miles, round trip) took a little over two hours, although I stopped in the middle for a cup of coffee and then to change a flat. I am very hungry when I get home. Movement requires sustenance; movement wears objects thin.

Knowing a mile is strenuous. I am limited in the distance I can travel without the assistance of car, train, or bus. I am tired when I get home. I think twice before heading to the store.

And, none of this seems bad.


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Egy autóval kevesebb!

As those in my daily life already know, my ‘little’ white car (that I’ve driven since high school) finally died during the last couple weeks of the school year. I’ve been unbelievably blessed to have it last through my two year long 350 mile weekly commute. But, I will admit that I was not that sad to see it go.

Among other things (i.e. lack of CAR STRESS), this has given me an opportunity I’d been seeking for sometime … to see if I can navigate suburban OC life without a car.

Enter Orlando.


Orlando is a Fuji Women’s Finest 1.0. He is fast, smooth, and extremely hot… and he’s in the process of changing my life. I have yet to take him on a long ride, but the commuting we’ve done around town (errands, church, friends’ houses) has been quite successful.

More on this later.


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Ashland, OR

Yesterday I returned from a week or so in Ashland, a small town in southern Oregon.  I had the opportunity to go with a Biola summer class to the Ashland Shakespeare Festival, seeing half the plays and spending the rest of the time with the two K—— children while their mom and dad were with students.

We stayed several miles (a 30 minute drive) outside Ashland, down a winding country road, down a longer county gravel road, and then down a single lane private “gravel” road.  Our house bordered Emigrant Creek, where C——, R—–, and I spent several long afternoons.  Spending over a week with little cell phone reception and little or no internet access reminded me how unimportant these aspects of my life are.  It is much easier to be where I am when I don’t have the distraction of The Wide World seemingly at my fingertips.

“‘Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,’ said the Rat. ‘And that’s something that doesn’t matter, either to you or me. I’ve never been there, and I’m never going, nor you either, if you’ve got any sense at all.'”

I began reading The Wind and the Willows aloud to the children (although it quickly became the three year old’s cue to roll over and go to sleep, the six year old gave the chapters her riveted attention).  Days on the river, nights curled in blankets with books.

When I wasn’t with little people, I was in the city wandering about and seeing plays.

Ashland holds a strange conglomeration of people.  It is home to Southern Oregon University, a strong neo-pagan center; Emigrant Lake, a beer ‘n boats recreation hot-spot; and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a rotating repertory theatre that has been producing Shakespeare for almost 75 years.  Needless to say, it is a not-car friendly, touristy town, home to many actors and families, college students, ex-hippies, with a soul-care shop right across the street from the mock-British pub.  The streets are populated with long, flowing skirts, awkwardly dressed sixty-year old retired couples, sophisticated twenty-somethings, junior-highers on field trips, and unkempt pilgrim-types with their lives packed on their shoulders.

Paradise for a people-watcher like myself.

I saw a solid production of  Much Ado About Nothing as well as several more contemporary plays, all showcasing strong direction and excellent acting (one of them, Equivocation, will get its own post).

So, that’s where I’ve been.  More thoughts to come.  Caitlin, now that I’m home I’d love to come visit.  I miss you and the family.

Happy summer to all.


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