simple pleasures in the eternal city

 “Americans. You work too hard, you get burned out. You come home and spend the whole weekend in your pajamas in front of the T.V. But you don’t know pleasure. You have to be told you’ve earned it. You see a commercial that says: ‘It’s Miller Time!’ And you say, ‘That’s right, now I’m going to buy a six pack.’ And then drink the whole thing and wake up the next morning and you feel terrible. But an Italian doesn’t need to be told. He walks by a sign that says: ‘You deserve a break today.’ And he says, ‘Yes, I know. That’s why I’m planning on taking a break at noon to go over to your house and sleep…with your wife!'”

– Luca Spaghetti, Eat Pray Love

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This past Sunday I found myself sprawled out on my bed in oversized sweats, furiously trying to finish a press release for work, breaking only for bites of left over pad thai (for breakfast at 3 pm..) and sips of gatorade in an attempt to recover from a weekend of birthday celebrations. I submitted my work, took a deep breath and surveyed the state of my life in that moment. Luca Spaghetti had it right. We Americans sometimes forget that life is meant to be enjoyed. Our culture teaches us to work ourselves to the bone, to gorge ourselves on oversized portions and binge on television during our precious free time. There’s something wrong with this picture.  Sunday is a time for rest, but I was exhausted after a busy month at work and school, and sick from a weekend of overindulgence. My stomach sank as I thought:  last year I spent Palm Sunday wandering around Rome, eating, drinking and sighing my way through the eternal city. Look at what this American life has done to me.

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I was lucky enough to experience Rome for a week last spring when my mom came to visit me during my semester abroad. One of the best parts of living abroad is having visitors, especially a visitor that offers to foot the bill! I lived in the lap of luxury that week, and I want to share it with you in a little guide for the senses of la vita romana.

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Sound

Rome has its very own soundtrack. The pop of a cork as it is freed from an aged bottle of wine. The whirl of linguini being twirled around a hungry patron’s fork. The passionate undulation of a Roman conversation. The satisfied sigh after a first bite of gelato. This is a city where you not only indulge yourself, but also become party to the indulgence and pleasure of everyone around you. The best way to experience the eternal city is to vacate yourself for a moment or two and take stock of what’s going on around you, absorbing the passion, excitement and culture.

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Taste

Allow yourself to eat without abandon. Savor the fresh ingredients, the love and tradition poured into each dish. You have one life, you’ve got to eat pasta in Rome. Order cacio e pepe for lunch and linguini alle vongole for dinner, and wash down each meal with a glass (or three..) of wine. Indulge in a different flavor of gelato each afternoon (and evening … 😉 ). Sample brilliantly colored produce at the Campo di Fiori. Mop up olive oil with freshly baked focaccia. Order to share. Try everything. Eat slowly and savor.

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Make sure you find yourself a rooftop spot to enjoy a bellini and aperitivo with friends as you take in the glorious roman sunset. There are few sights as breathtaking as the orange cast on the tiled roofs and ancient ruins as the swollen sun falls over the city.

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view of the pantheon from the grand hotel della minerva rooftop bar

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Sight

During the hours between your fantastic meals, give your belly a break and feast your eyes on the wonders of Rome. All the carbs, wine and gelato will surely be burned off as you walk all over the city. From the Trevi Fountain to Vatican City to the Coliseum, there is no shortage of sights to take in. You should set aside at least five days to truly appreciate all of the incredible museums, churches and shopping Roma has to offer.

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Be sure to dress modestly at St. Peter’s, or they’ll make you cover up like a nun! I wasn’t prepared, and learned the hard way…

st. peter's wasn't ready for this jelly

st. peter’s wasn’t ready for this jelly

And, of course, you must afford some time to get lost on side streets and find hidden gems yourself.

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i found my namesake street!

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Smell

No matter where you find yourself in Rome, you will undoubtedly be overwhelmed by delicious scents. There are freshly cut flowers in all of the markets, peeking over window boxes, and lining each street. The strong scents of garlic and simmering sauces waft out of restaurant kitchens, causing your mouth to water and your full belly to start rumbling again. Take a few seconds to breath deeply and try to pin point the source of each scrumptious smell.

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Touch

Above all, Rome is a place to touch and be touched. A culture of strong family ties, Romans like to show their affection through contact.  Follow suit by offering kisses to greet and say goodbye, linking arms with a friend during a stroll, and allowing yourself to be led by the hand to a vendor’s stall as you shop for homemade pasta.

hugs at the trevi fountain

hugs at the trevi fountain

Although American cities may not offer nearly as many pleasures as Rome does, the Roman way of life teaches us to appreciate all that surrounds us in each moment. Find a beautiful spot or a fantastic book for your lunch break to vacate the monotony of everyday life and stimulate your mind. Don’t buy that Lean Cuisine!! Make food you love with fresh ingredients and savor each bite to nourish your body and excite your taste buds.  Splurge on a perfume you love or freshly cut flowers at your desk to make yourself feel special. Finally, make time for the people you love, no matter how tired you are. There’s nothing like an evening of laughter with your friends, affection with your lover, or conversation with your family to make you appreciate how lucky you are.

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an insider’s guide to getting lost in granada {el albaicín}

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What better way to see everything than to let yourself get lost in a new city? By ditching the guidebook, you’ll find tons of hidden gems that you might have missed had your nose been stuck in a map all day! Plus, it’s a great way to meet locals. In a place like Granada, where the Andaluz people are so warm and welcoming, you’re likely to make a new friend by stopping to ask for directions. Hey, they may even invite you de marcha along with them!

I’ve put together a little guide of my favorite neighborhoods to get lost in my querida Granada. This will be the start of a new series where I’ll post my guide to a new area once every few weeks.  Each of these places offers unique activities, art, restaurants and watering holes; you really can’t go wrong.

 El Albaicín

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One of the most enchanting things about Granada is that it synthesizes so many seemingly conflicting elements. It’s an hour from the bright Mediterranean waters to the south, and the snow-capped Sierra Nevada to the east. It is a representation of Catholic Spain, dedicating endless landmarks to the kings that expelled both Moors and Jews, but it also represents a revival of the Granada of the past; where many religions and peoples lived in harmony. A stone’s throw from the very cathedral where the Reyes Católicos are buried, you’ll find a hub for the colorful culture they thought they drove out of this city in 1492.

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Start at the base of the hill off of Calle Elvira, where you’ll smell the mint tea and incense wafting out of the many cafés, and know you’re in the right place. The streets are lined with colorful fabrics and tapestries, glittering lanterns, handmade stained-glass tea cups and endless treasures. Be sure to pop in for a te marroquí and traditional Moroccan tapas at my great friend’s tetería, Dar Ziryab on Calle Calderería Nueva. You’ll be treated like family, and feel like you’ve been transported to Morocco. Your senses will be overwhelmed with the pleasures that surround you.

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On your way to the top, follow your curiosity. Wander down the tiny side streets that smell of wisteria, and keep an eye out for the small wonders that are hidden all around you. El Albaicín is filled with love notes and poetry scribbled on the cracked white walls. For an artist, writer or photographer, it promises endless inspiration.

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There’s beauty around every corner, be it a pop of bright flowers hanging over a white wall, or an open patio offering a rare glimpse into the private lives of the Andaluz. No matter what you see, you’ll feel like you’re in a different world. The enchanting sights, and the sound of spanish guitar that is always echoing down the cobblestone paths, will make you stop and pinch yourself.

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If the base of the Albaicín represents the Moors of Al-Andalus past, the top is all about the fabled gitano, romanticized by Cervantes, Mérimée and my beloved Lorca. The gypsy culture is still alive in Granada, though nowhere near as visible as the days when these men haunted Andalucía. If you’re lucky, you may find a small band of gypsy men de toque y palma under the late afternoon sun.

 The real jewel here is, of course, the Mirador San Nicolás. The plaza offers the perfect ending to a long day of wandering and sensory overload. Pick up a bottle of Rioja, find a seat on the stone ledge, and enjoy enjoy the sounds of the city while you watch the sun fall over Granada and her Alhambra. Reflect on the art, the mix of cultures, the love letters, the colors and the history that you’ve seen in this little barrio and let the wonder wash over you.

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my love affair with a man named lorca: why i chose to study in granada

Verde que te quiero verde…

One line and I was hooked.

I first read Romancero Gitano in high school, falling madly in love with Federico García Lorca at age 17.

So in love that I spent a semester researching the symbolism of nature in his poetry, exhaustively scouring the library for works that could help me expose the metaphor of Lorca’s moon, wind, and the color green. The granaíno took the nature that surrounded him in southern Spain and made it speak.

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You could say I came to Granada chasing Lorca’s luna. I romanticized the city; loving the the olive groves, the mountain winds and the gypsies from afar.

I wasn’t disappointed. There was not an evening in Granada that I didn’t find myself in a dream-like state. It is at night when the city grabs your heart. From dusk til dawn, the city is alive.

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On a 6 am bus ride from Granada to Sevilla, surrounded by sleeping friends,I found my nose pressed to the glass window. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the full moon hanging low over the rolling olive groves.  The fog rose to meet the hovering ball of light. The luna granaína spoke to me, just as she speaks in Lorca’s Romance de la luna, luna. There was something magical about it, something that can’t be put into words. Something that simply washes over you.

source: thecareyadventures

source: thecareyadventures

After that morning, I found myself constantly staring at the night sky. Upon leaving one of our favorite discos in the caves of Sacromonte shortly before dawn most weekends, I’d sit on the city walls and just watch the moon lower itself over the Alhambra, slowly disappearing behind the breathtaking fortress. I couldn’t tear my gaze away.

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Then, there were the gypsies. Hearing the toque gitano, the soft olé‘s that seemed to rise up from the soul, and observing the strong presence of tradition in barrio Sacromonte at sunset gave me chills.

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I came chasing Lorca’s inspiration, and Granada guided me to it without me having to look. It’s a magical city. A sensual one that makes you feel deeply. A city that speaks to the heart in both culture and nature, and promises to enchant you each and every day.

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I leave you with some words I wrote for the magazine Por Granada at the end of my time living there:

Quien pasea por las calles del Albaicín o las cuevas del Sacromonte puede imaginar la historia de los árabes y gitanos que una vez poblaron estos barrios granadinos.  Esta imagen necesita como complemento indispensable una banda sonora de guitarras y quejíos flamencos.  La música de la historia de Granada parece sonar a través de sus calles.

Los últimos meses han sido unos de los mejores de mi vida, llenos de diversión, risa y aventura. La historia, la poesía y la música del pasado aún viven en las calles de Granada. Cada vez que salgo de tapas o a las discotecas, la vista de la luna de que habló Lorca y la belleza de la Alhambra me deja sin palabras. Para mi, Granada es un sueño.”

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street artists capturing the essence of Granada

“Whoever walks the streets of the Albaicín or explores the caves of Sacromonte can feel the presence of the Arabs and gypsies that once populated these neighborhoods. This image is complemented by a soundtrack of guitars and the sounds of flamenco. The music of Granada’s past seems to play throughout its streets. The past months here have been some of the best of my life, full of fun, laughter and adventure. The history, poetry and music of the Granada of the past still live in its streets. Each time I go out for tapas or to a club, the view of the moon that Lorca spoke of combined with the beauty of the Alhambra leaves me without words. For me, Granada is a dream.”

source: flickr

source: flickr

life lessons from morocco

This time last year I was traveling around northern Morocco, hopping from Tangier to Rabat to a tiny village in the Rif Mountains and finally up to Chefchaouen.

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photo credit: {my talented travel companion} Ashley Portal

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My days in Morocco included some of the most uncomfortable and alienating moments I’ve ever experienced. The social norms I’d accepted for years were deeply challenged, my beliefs were shaken, and my eyes were opened. By interacting closely and observing a people whose culture is like oil to the water of a New Yorker, I learned powerful lessons in a very short time. I can truly say I am a different person for having experienced what I did there.

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by Ashley Portal

I learned that my problems are trivial.

In Rabat and Tangier the children played with sticks in the streets, if they were able to play at all. In nearly all the markets little children were working to help their parents make a living.

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In the mountains we were invited to dine with a family in their home, where the man in the picture below recounted the story of his life to us. He explained that the woman at his side was his second wife.

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by Ashley Portal


His first wife had been pregnant with their second child together and went into early labor. There was no road connecting their hilltop home to the highway 5 km away, so he and his wife had to hike the distance as she was contracting. By the time they got to the highway, they had to try  hitch-hike to the hospital 20 km away. She died of complications before they made it there.

Their house high up in the mountains

 Anytime I start to get overwhelmed by something, I reflect on the things I saw and the stories I heard in northern Africa. I’ve found that me and my problems are so small in the grand scheme of things. It’s reminds me to be thankful for all I have and all of the opportunities available to me, instead of getting wrapped up in trivial frustrations and worries.

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I learned to let go of my need to control everything.

Or at least to try.

If you spend any time with a Moroccan, or anyone of the Muslim faith, you will hear them say “inshallah” throughout conversation. This roughly translates to “God willing.” The people I met in northern Africa taught me to do what I can with my own hands and understand  and accept that there are outside factors in which I have no say. We are only human, we don’t have the ability to change the things we do not control. By accepting this, I found myself at peace after years of trying to micromanage every aspect of my life and those around me in order to get what I want.
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I learned that beauty has nothing to do with looks.
I was the kind of girl that wore make up every day; I even wore mascara to the gym. If I wasn’t looking my best when I went out, I didn’t feel confident. In Morocco, I wore no make up and bathing was a luxury every few days. I wore dirty, loose-fitting clothes that hid my body. The first day or two, I was horrified. I refused to be in pictures. A vain city girl at her worst.
Our second afternoon in Rabat though, I found myself in a rousing discussion with a couple of university students about dating, sex, politics and religion. For the first time in maybe my whole life, I was completely unaware of what I looked like. I was unable to control my appearance with make up and fashion, so I just kind of let it go. I was letting my soul show, sharing my beliefs and opening myself up to others’ without insecurity. I wasn’t dolled up, wasn’t trying to impress anyone; I was letting my true self show. I realized I’d never felt more confident than I did in that moment.
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In a culture where women cover themselves from head to toe in loose clothing, their value is placed on who they are inside as opposed to how perfect their figure and features are. I realized that I had spent years being hard on myself for not being thin enough, not having perfect skin, and ignoring everyone who told me “beauty is only skin deep.” It wasn’t until I was immersed in a culture that truly embraces that idea that I finally got it: there are few things more beautiful than cultivating your soul, being confident in who you are and what you believe in, and being open and kind to others.
Friends reflecting at sunrise.Chefchaouen.

Friends reflecting at sunrise.
Chefchaouen.

I went to Morocco a 20 year old girl, full of insecurities and largely shaped by the materialism and vanity that surrounded me at home. There is no better education than seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, and that’s what I did during my time there. I came out a more confident, humble, and empowered woman.
I left with a new outlook on life.