Marseille

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When I arrived in Marseille I headed straight to the Old Port, where my friend Gilles met back up with me and offered to take me on a moto tour of the city. The mistral winds were blowing something fierce, and I had never been on a scooter before. This did not seem like a winning combination, but I said “pourquoi pas” anyway and off we went.  Continue reading

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Montpellier

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My original France plan was to 1. arrive in Paris, 2. spend a month doing informational meetings with the heads of communications for agencies and organizations that could give me work making videos about the European refugee crisis and other humanitarian issues, and 3. then head to the South of France to wander town to town until I found a sustainable place to base myself.

For various reasons, that never happened, and for better or worse, Paris seems to be becoming my home in France. But I did finally take a whirlwind tour of the South to at least see what I was missing. I spent five nights visiting five cities in Provence and Languedoc that I suspected I would love. And love them I did, though want to live in them, I did not – until my last stop.

But to begin at the beginning: Montpellier. I had seen such beautiful images of this place, I was convinced it would be heaven on earth. Here are some pictures: Continue reading

12 months, 12 countries

I came to Senegal hoping I’d be lucky enough to see a bit of this country and a few others nearby. Things worked out beyond my wildest dreams, and I ended up visiting 12 new countries in 12 months, a personal record. Half the trips were for work, half for vacation, but all of them were a pleasure to see. (Though they were definitely not pleasurable at every moment, to say the least.)

I’ll share my favorite pictures from Dakar later, but first, here in one place are my travelogues from all the countries I visited from last February to this January.

Senegal: the western and northern parts, and a central / southern part

Portugal

Morocco: Marrakech and Casablanca

Liberia

Ethiopia

Tanzania: safari on the mainland and Zanzibar

South Africa: Cape Town and Johannesburg

Benin

Mauritania

Burkina Faso

The Gambia

Cape Verde: Cidade Velho, Praia, and Mindelo, and the island of Santo Antão

And with that, I’m off to the airport, America-bound…

The Gambia

The last destination on my 4-country shoot in December was The Gambia. After some discussion about whether to postpone due to the political situation, we decided that it should be safe to go during the (albeit tense) lull between the time when outgoing President Jammeh reneged on his promise to accept the election results and the time when West African nations launched hard-core diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. Continue reading

Travel as ecstasy

In college I heard an urban legend that has stayed with me for almost two decades:

Supposedly there was a guy who had sex while high on Ecstasy, and it was so mind-blowing that it ruined regular sex for him. After just one time, his mind and body flipped a switch, and sober sex became so lackluster in comparison that he could no longer get it up without taking E.

That story, and its perhaps unintended warning about being too greedy with pleasure, popped back into my head recently when I thought about the prospect of moving back to the States. After a year of heightened experience while abroad, living in the land of my upbringing now seems so much… not like living.

Hyperbolic, yes, but also true to form. When I was four and a half, my dad’s job got transferred and my parents moved our family from the New Jersey suburbs to central London (and, to be fair, to the London suburbs soon after). It was the mid-80’s, there were punks and new wave rockers everywhere, and the sights and sounds of England were wondrous to a little kid.

A year and a half later, we returned to the States, and we eventually settled right back in to the same house we had lived in before the move. Eight years after that, teen angst hit me hard, America no longer cut it for me, and I became obsessed with my time in England. I hated my bland suburban existence and fantasized about moving back to London where everyone was more interesting, witty, good-looking and stylish. Granted, my anglophilia coincided with the dawn of Britpop, which made everyone want to be British. But it also had to do with my burgeoning sense that life was best lived outside of one’s home country.

We used to go to Israel every couple of years to visit my dad’s family. Since he had been in the Israeli army before moving to the United States, and since soldiers are considered re-call-up-able until a certain age, my father had to get written permission to leave the country each time our vacations ended. Before heading to the airport, we’d go to the army base, and while sitting in the car waiting for my dad to come back from whatever office he was in, my mother would wistfully say, “I hope they make us stay.” Then the kids would threaten to go back home alone. But secretly I always wished that we’d get stuck in this land of my cousins and grandparents, of very few seat belts or rules, of an exotic language and biblical-looking scenery, of complete foreignness mixed with assurances of belonging. Instead of going back to my boring school I’d get to continue being on vacation, indefinitely, in a strange and wonderful place.

I suppose I still have the naiveté of a child, because being abroad this year – even on days when it has sucked and been nothing but a hustle – has still felt like vacation. Everything is new and different and exciting, even when it’s sort of not. I suppose if I stayed away another year or two, it might lose its luster and go back to being just like regular life. But at this point in time, it feels like being on (really amazing) drugs, and I fear that it has ruined me for America.

[The photo is from the Mauritanian desert.]

Have a good weekend!

Here are some interesting reads from this week:

The French are fighting back against 24/7 on-call work culture.

Reducing your language learning baggage, or: “All you need is to keep going.”

An interesting article about the E.U.’s swelling language roster.

The most misused words in English (I am forever getting bemused and nonplussed wrong).

And finally, the New York Times has just released its annual “52 places to go” list, and it has me feeling slightly possessive and territorial because Botswana is on there. Stay away, please; it’s all mine in 2017!

Have a great weekend!

P.S. The photo is apropos of nothing, really. I saw the can in the supermarket and thought it looked like gorgeous art. Also, this week I did roast chestnuts for the first time ever. They were delightful even though half the joy of eating them is the wintry feeling and it is in no way, shape or form winter here. (Thank you, Mark Slomiany, for that one time you made them and I saw how easy it looked!)

Ová it

When I used to do silly things as a child, my mother would tsk tsk me, “Rootie Schtootie,” because schtoot in Hebrew means nonsense. Today I am Rootie Schtootie-ing myself on her behalf, because my idiocy / vanity has cost me my best West African adventure yet. (Though my mother – who is, to put it mildly, not a fan of my travels – will be thrilled.) Continue reading

Havana mi amor

This day last year was a very, very good day.

It started with me getting high as a kite on my first espresso in maybe ten years, at a paladar in a nondescript apartment building overlooking the city and the sea…

I then proceeded to the Callejón de Hamel to hear a Sunday rumba session that got me higher than the espresso did. The woman above was one of the dancers, and she floored me. Too bad my internet connection stinks or I would upload one of the videos from that day, which I keep on my phone for emergency pick-me-ups.

Then I ran into the guys above, just up the block…

…followed by this man, who called me over to ask me in very broken English where I was from. When I answered, “The United States,” he exclaimed, “Elvis Presley! Whitney Houston!” before starting to strum “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” on his guitar. I sang the words and danced along in the middle of the street, feeling like I was in my own private movie. He gave me his address and mimed a request to send him the pictures I took. Since the resumption of mail service between Cuba and the US had been announced that very week, I promised him I would. And I did, though I will never know if they reached him, and what he thought when he saw his face smiling back at him.

Then I took a walk to visit these guys…

…and I quite literally pinched myself because it felt like a dream. The same feeling I had in Burkina Faso, where I was shooting this week. When you finally get somewhere you’ve wanted to go for years and years, it’s almost unbelievable to actually be there.

And the dreamlike feeling was also because it was as much time travel as geographic travel. Scenes like the one above needed absolutely no airbrushing to look like the golden age of Hollywood. Midcentury is such an emotional punch in the gut for me. I don’t know why. Maybe I grew up in the 50s in my past life.

And thus concludes the epic romanticization of one of the best days of my life, one year ago today.

[P.S. I “stole” this post from my Instagram account, where I also posted photos from the shoots I just finished in Mauritania and Burkina Faso.]