La Bella Italia

Crowds, traffic and summer heat notwithstanding, there is little not to love about this belle paseo (beautiful country), which together with Greece stands as the birthplace of Western culture.

Our destination was northwest Italy, the region of Linguria, also known as Riviera dei Fiori (Flower Riviera) which includes Imperia, Cinque Terre, San Remo, Genoa.

No art book, no film, can grasp the reality of literally walking among live history in a country with varied and scenic landscapes that make constant detours necessary: rugged countryside, delightful towns, stairs carved into hills, rock formations, tide pools, serene waters.

As for Italian cuisine, it more than withstands its reputation —  tutto è delizioso!

Italian pace of life is slower than most other countries. Everything is alive with emotion. With stories and music. People take time to enjoy life — somewhat of a strange concept when traveling from the U.S.

Yes, Italy has everything.

Words can’t describe it, so here are a few pictures.

Cinque Terre:

San Remo:

Imperia:

our rental ATOP SERPENTINE HILL:

Genoa:

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Bucharest

Home ~ is it a feeling or a place?

When we examine mental souvenirs of time and places, bonds formed and love shared, the definition of home becomes clear.  Or does it?

For me, Los Angeles has been home for the past 24 years. It’s where midsummer night moments led to love, to marriage. Where my house is my place of zen. Where work and family keep me happy and busy.

When I visit Romania, that’s also home. I belonged there for the first 22 years of my life. It’s human nature, I think, to continually belong to the place we grow from.

Bucharest, Old town

So, onward traveler

After we bid farewell to Berlin, our next stop was Bucharest (Bucuresti), Romania.  Like no place in Europe, Romania took no time to connect. I instantly felt at home. Every nuance of the language was clear, every subtle gesture hinting at or replacing dialogue. Perfectly clear. Here, I could recall childhood memories, reclaim old stomping grounds. Luxuriate in an endless supply of affection.

Strangely, perhaps, but customarily, one of our first stops was a cemetery. We made our way down endless pathways to graves shaded by willow trees. Paid our respects to departed loved ones. Lit candles. Cried. There’s something cathartic about standing in silence near a grave under a willow tree. Almost peaceful.

A terrace dinner with family and friends followed. We recalled old times over seafood and spirits. Told stories. Caught up on life events. Expressed surprise at time’s handy work on us all. It could’ve been called the terrace of joy and tears of laughter.

Next on the agenda were Old Town Bucharest, the city center, the People’s Palace (built by the former dictator as his quarters, and thankfully never becoming that). We drove through historic neighborhoods, through streets of long ago, past old schools and playgrounds once frequented with childhood friends.

So many memories, ever vivid and heartwarming.

Bucharest is a much improved city in my eyes, but local opinion differs. As an EU member, Romania is riding the wave of change, one I’d consider helpful for this once communist nation ruled by a dictator. But change is never easy.

Given Romania’s geographic and strategic location (E. Europe & Black Sea), limiting the influence of larger powers has always been a uniting fight. A conversation starter. Well, past and present are worlds apart. While arguing politics comes naturally to older Romanians, the post-Revolution, younger folks, are writing the story of a modern, technologically savvy generation, interested mostly in the future. Maybe better that way, although sometimes I wonder.

Through changes good and bad, the warm, fun and welcoming spirit endures in this land unrecognizable at times, yet wildly familiar.

The land of many castles. Of wooden churches and eastern orthodox tradition coexisting in harmony with western philosophies. Where contrary to rumor, Count Dracula is not a vampire but a national hero. A land once isolated, now open to innovation.

So many conversations in Bucharest begin with … remember when?

Yes, I remember …

… my grandmother’s stories that sort my ancestry going back several generations. I’ll never wonder about that all-important piece of information regarding my lineage: Where do I come from?

Yes, Bucharest feels like home. Yet when visiting, I often refer to Los Angels as home. And one aspect never changes: as happy as I am to visit Romania, I’m thrilled to return to L.A.

So, home, I ask: is it a feeling or a place?

My ties to both Romania and the US run deep. Maybe that makes me a globalized mutt with love for Mexican food and homemade plum brandy.

Speaking of which, here’s to life and travels and the sense of belonging. To home, wherever that may be.

Images: skyscraperpage; happytowonder; euandiromaniatopics

Depression is a bitch

Depression.  It comes and grabs you no matter who you are. Young, old, rich, poor, fat, thin, beautiful, ugly, popular, nerd, loved, lonely … the list goes on.

Chester Bennington . The Linkin Park singer/songwriter fought through years of depression, until  just being human, just trying to stay on an even keel proved to be too much. Yesterday was the end of the road for him.

Listening to a radio tribute for the musician, I was struck by the host’s words:  1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men suffer from major depression at some point in their life.

Those statistics mean we all know someone who has dealt or is dealing with depression. Who probably still quietly struggles with their demons.

The list of recommendations is long and easy to find. But I feel inclined to share the major points:

~ Remain nonjudgmental. Give the message that you care and are accessible.

~ Encourage them to seek professional help.

~ Help them get help.

~ And, the big one: Check in.

We all suffer periods of sadness in our lives, but clinical depression is an entirely different animal.

Just get over it, ‘ they say
I wish I could find a way
Living with it day by day
Memories won’t go away

_____

Image: bestclassicbands.com

Berlin

Berlin, the city of poets and dreams.  

  Our first stop in Europe was Berlin where friends guided us through the city with the ardor and knowledge only Berliners possess.

Oh, blessed be thy traveler welcomed to the city of dreams by friends.

  From the Mitte District with its famous Alexanderplaz — central starting point — and Nicolai Quarter — oldest part of the city,

to the Reichstag (victim of the 1933 arson blamed on communists and Jews), where today Dem deutschen Volke (the German people) can watch their elected representatives while in session through a glass structure,

to the Brandenburg Gate, location of John Kennedy’s 1963 Ich bin ein Berliner speech, were in 1987 Ronald Reagan said: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,

to what’s left of the wall on the East Side Gallery,

to a boat ride on the Spree River,

to magnificent views from the Television tower,

we made our way through cobblestone streets, past art nouveau and sky scrapers, in a city where tradition and modernity meet at every corner.

  I loved my time in Berlin — the historical feel, the sense of community as people are constantly out and about, the artsy vibe, famous squares.

  If one such square impressed upon me the most, Bebelplatz with its famous Humboldt University, striking architecture, and historical background sure left its mark.

 Here, in May of 1933, Nazi students burned the works of hundreds of authors, journalists, philosophers, and academics. A book-burning memorial marks the Night of Shame event, showing an empty, underground library.

With the words: Against decadence and moral decay, they committed to flames writings of Heinrich Mann, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, August Bebel, and many others.

  Today, a line from Heinrich Heine’s play, Almansor (1821), is engraved on a plaque in the square:

That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people. 

  Our last day in Berlin covered a tour of Olympiastadion, where in 1936 Adolf Hitler declared the Olympic games open from a balcony later demolished as to not become a neo-Nazi shrine.

  Looking to showcase the superiority of the Aryan race, Hitler was forced to watch African American athlete Jessie Owens, son of sharecroppers and grandson of slaves, win four gold medals.  

Yes, Berlin is here to remind us of the past. To expose it for what it was, a lunacy.  At the same time, Berlin is a proud city, breaming with life, focused on the future.

  A city of arts. Enlightened. Diverse. Welcoming: its outdoors filled with locals and tourists alike, joining in a togetherness of music, poetry, and the verve for life.

  Does Berlin fully represent Germany? I often hear this question.

  No major city represents a nation. Nor should it. Cities are hubs of culture and arts and finance and trade, operating at large cultural and financial distance.  Cities lead the way.Whether we like it or not, cities are the future.

  We owe much of our progress and prosperity to major international world centers such as Berlin.