I’ve Been Everywhere, Man…

Okay, I haven’t really been everywhere. I haven’t even hit all the continents yet. But on quiet days like this, hunkered down in my little apartment, my mind can’t help but wander to the places I’ve been and the places I haven’t yet crossed off my very long list. Take a stroll down memory lane with me, won’t you?

P.S. – I’ve awoken from winter hibernation (hopefully) so please excuse my long absence…hoping to get back to more regular posts this spring!

Favorite places of all time: 

Iceland: (like you didn’t see that coming…see The Iceland Effect for more on where my fascination with the “land of fire and ice” began). The country with the northernmost capital city in the world is also home to more than its fair share of active and non-active volcanoes, glaciers, and frequent Northern Lights activity. Also, did I mention that instead of having one fat Santa at Christmas time, they have 13 mischievous Santa-like dudes called Yule Lads with cool names denoting their bad habits, like Hurðaskellir (door-slammer) and my personal favorite, Þvörusleikir (spoon-licker)? Many Icelanders also believe in elves and other folk tale creatures…and to be honest, given the long dark winters and other-worldly terrain, if I lived there I just might, too. It seems to me that the Icelanders march to the beat of their own drummer, and for that I think they are pretty awesome.

Need I say more?

Bermuda: So close to NYC and yet so drastically different, it feels much further away than the less- than-2 hour flight it takes to get there. In addition to absurdly beautiful pink sand beaches and musical tree frogs, this little island is home to some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I know people from islands are ubiquitously known for being friendly, but Bermudians are in a league of their own. They are so pleasant and classy, I want to bring them back to New York with me en masse and maybe boot out some of our more uncouth citizens (kidding, kidding…).

Gozo, Malta: Malta is a small country hanging out in the middle of the Mediterranean with a fascinating history and a rugged terrain. Like many countries in the Mediterranean, they’ve been invaded by virtually everyone, and as a result, they have some pretty good food and a unique language (derived mainly from Arabic and Italian). On clear days, I’m told you can see Africa from the coast, which is actually closer than mainland Italy. While there is a lot to be seen on the main island of Malta, I’m partial to Gozo, the next largest island…not only because that’s where I stayed and where my close friend and her family have a house, but also because it’s far less developed and to a total outsider, seems less touched by tourism and the usual hubbub that goes along with it.

Prague, Czech Republic: Do you like places that look like they jumped out of a fairy tale, if that fairy tale were read to you, say, in a Slavic language? Then Prague is the place for you! Seriously though, there are castles with real moats, Gothic architecture galore, canals, and for the more morbidly inclined, the infamous “bone church” in nearby Kutna Hora.

Creepy, eh?

Big Island, Hawai’i: I must have a fascination with volcanic islands…the newest island in the Hawaiian chain, the Big Island is the largest island (and still growing). You can experience all four seasons in one day on various parts of this island, and the lunar landscape (thanks to all the lava) can make you feel even further away than being in Hawaii already does.

Close contenders: Sydney, Australia; Sorrento, Italy; Bath, England; Montreal, Canada; San Francisco and Yosemite National Park, CA, USA.

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To Thyself be Kind

I have never been a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Truthfully, I probably haven’t made one that I actually planned on taking seriously in years. I never vested much in them mostly because they seem to always fail or gradually unwind in some way or another. Which is why, this year, I have made a sort of anti-resolution: to not be so hard on myself.

So, while many of my peers are out joining gyms and starting diets they’ll shortly abandon, vowing to be better people, or vegetarians, or to curb their addictions to Downton Abbey or The Walking Dead (good luck, my friends–you’ll be back), I’m, well…not. Not because I don’t think physical fitness, kindness or intellectual pursuits are important, but because I’ve come to realize that forcing yourself to do things, even things you really want to do, is just not the right way of going about anything.

She knows what I mean.

She knows what I mean.

Instead, I’ve decided to take a much needed step back, a breather that I probably should have taken many years ago as an overly-ambitious, sleep deprived, always-on the-honor-roll student. I’ve never been the competitive type, but in school I think I developed some negative habits that have stayed with me as an adult — namely, being in a state of perpetual competition — with myself.

Be it through hobbies, exercise, or work, I’m never usually trying to outdo anyone other than myself. I often laugh to myself when people say how nice I am, because while it’s true that I try to be considerate to others, it’s rare that I give thought to being kind to or easy on myself.

Perhaps it’s ironic that this is coming from someone who complains about people of her generation being entitled and self-centered…..drop the “self” from “self-centered” and that’s more along the lines of where I want to be. Centered. The older I get, the more I realize how beyond my control many things in life are, so I might as well make the best of it and be happy rather than stressing over things I can’t change. Do the things that you need to do and the things that make you happy, and drop the rest. Perhaps the doctor in Roman Holiday (my favorite movie of all time) had it right when he told the anxiety-ridden Princess Ann (played by Audrey Hepburn): “The best thing I know is to do exactly what you wish for a while.”

So, a belated Happy New Year to you all, and if you do nothing else this year, please take the time to do exactly what you wish, even if just for a little while.

Jolly Old Saint Niko…err, Nick

Impostor!

Impostor!

As a kid, I thought Santa was actually a thin Greek man. Mainly because in my house, he was (and still is) a thin Greek man.

“WHAAAT?!” says you, pointing to Santa’s more obvious, rosy-cheeked Germanic origins. See, in my house it is a Christmas tradition that my dad (shh!) dresses up as the jolly old fat fat man each December 24th and makes a rather dramatic entrance, sleigh bells and all, after supposedly landing on our roof with his reindeer. Yup. (“On Dancer, on Prancer…HO! HO! HO!”…you get the picture.)

It all started when a I was a wee toddler and has somehow persisted to this day — supposedly for the enjoyment of my younger brother, but I know that secretly, we all get a kick out of seeing my dad’s surprisingly good acting chops and increasingly dramatic flair each year. It is not to be missed, and probably my favorite of our holiday traditions (excluding my Italian grandmother’s Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve…yum).

Back in the day, I was unsuspecting. That is until around age six or so, when I started to notice some “coincidences.” “Why does Santa’s wedding ring look like Daddy’s?” “Why does Santa have Daddy’s nose?” “Why does Santa have a rectangular tummy?” (a bed pillow, of course), and with this last one, the jig was effectively up: “Why is Daddy ALWAYS out grocery shopping at Key Food when Santa comes??!”

My mom tried, bless her, with a better costume, gloves, glasses, even white costume eyebrows, but I was too smart for my own good, and from that point on struggled to suppress laughter each Christmas Eve when our visitor from the North arrived. One time, my uncle stepped in as Santa, and though he in theory might’ve looked more the part, it was just plain weird. Santa is, and will always be, a thin Mediterranean-looking dude with an unnaturally shaped mid-section (one of these days we’ll buy him a round pillow…).

So, from my crazy family to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and thank you so very much for reading.

The Iceland Effect

My fascination with Iceland began in 2006, while reading Cod, by Mark Kurlansky, for a journalism class in college. In the book, Kurlansky explains the significance of “the fish that changed the world” and its historical ties to the Icelandic economy and cuisine over the years. Along the way, he throws in some fascinating tidbits about the Icelanders, such as their unique naming traditions (nowadays, there are typically not many family names in Iceland, save for a few; instead, a man’s surname will often be his father (or mother’s) first name + “son,” and a woman’s will be one of her parents’ first names + “dóttir”). Needless to say, I was curious to know more. A couple of Facebook vacation photos and an Anthony Bourdain episode later, and I was obsessed with getting my butt over to the land of the Vikings and checking it out for myself.

Last week, I got my wish. Landing in Iceland early on a rainy December morning, the first thing you notice is the dark. There’s no way around it — with less than five hours of daylight this time of year, it can be startling at first. And I’m not talking twilight or general gloominess; I’m talking PITCH BLACK. For someone who grew up in New York City, a place that makes the Las Vegas strip look demure by comparison, it was especially striking. But you get used it. Sorta kinda.

glacierThe other thing you notice on arriving in Iceland is the vast, gorgeous stretches of wilderness that make you feel hundreds of miles from civilization, rather than a 30 minute drive from the capital city. Going from New York to Iceland can only be likened to when Dorothy goes from Kansas to Oz and steps from black and white into vibrant technicolor. It’s more stunning than words can adequately convey. Such expansive and varied terrain of course provides the opportunity for adventurous pursuits, so what did my good friend and travel companion and I do on our second day? Strap on some crampons and hike a glacier, of course! Well, if we’re going to get technical, we followed an absurdly good looking glacier guide as part of a group…it wasn’t exactly “Man vs. Wild,” if that’s what you’re thinking. Anywhoo…it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. If you’re not convinced, check out the photo above of a happy (and surprisingly vertical!) me on the Sólheimajökull Glacier! *insert “Rocky” music here*

Sadly, I did not get to see the elusive Northern Lights on my trip, though I did see Jupiter and the entire Milky Way crystal clearly. (The night sky in NYC is just depressing by comparison. Really.) By the end of my short trip, I’d become so attached to this remote island nation that I actually cried on my last night over dinner, thinking about the prospect of going home. With mascara trickling down my cheeks, the cold air from the restaurant window hitting my face, I silently made a pact with myself that I’d be back in Iceland soon, and hopefully for a bit (or much) longer. Travel is a passion of mine, but thus far no place I’ve been to has left the impact that Iceland has. Perhaps because it’s so drastically different from New York, a place that’s been gradually going sour for me the older I get and the more yupsters that move into my neighborhood. The vast, open spaces and dramatic landscape were exactly what I needed, and what drew me there in the first place.

Remarkably, “The Iceland Effect,” as my fellow traveler coined it, still has a hold over me. I refuse to let the things that normally bother me about my home city get to me. “Þetta reddast,” as the Icelanders say, which roughly translates to “things will work out one way or another.” So, takk fyrir for now, Iceland, and see you again very soon. 😉

Recommended reads:

The Sagas of Icelanders (because the Greeks are not the only ones with a cool and epic literary history!)

The Little Book of the Icelanders, by Alda Sigmundsdóttir. I laughed, I cried. Okay, I didn’t cry, but I had many a good chuckle over the quirks, foibles, and general insight into what makes the Icelanders tick. I couldn’t put this book down, it was so enjoyable.

Cod, by Mark Kurlanksy. Not really a book on Iceland, but it’s the kind of book that made me want to study journalism and become a writer in the first place.

Ugly Girls Make Me Sad

I know, I know. Probably the worst title ever, right? But before you start throwing stones or sending me hate mail, let me clarify: the “ugly” I’m referring to is not the physical kind, but the kind that actually matters. (You should probably also know that the alternate title I had in mind for this post was “B**ches Be Shoppin’!” if that makes this any more palatable by comparison.)

I normally don’t let petty things bother me, but several instances over the past two days have reminded me just how just how awful girls can be. Take, for instance, the fabulous Miss Thang on the train earlier today, who refused to move her Louis Vuitton shopping bag off the seat for anyone to sit next to her on an already packed train, and audibly “huff”ed as I sat down next to said bag, sardine-like. This encounter was only to be trumped during my visit to an overly crowded department store, where a woman in spiky boots appeared peeved at me after SHE stepped on MY foot. Um…right.

Nope!

Nope!

I’m not saying all women are awful; in fact, I think most aren’t. And many of the things I’m saying here often apply just as easily to men, who can also be pretty awful. Maybe it’s because I went to an all-girls high school, or experienced some things even before that straight out of the movie “Mean Girls,” but sometimes I just have to ask: can’t we just be happy for one another? There’s something wonderful about having a friend who is genuinely pleased for you when good things happen, and not secretly resenting you or trying to compete with you. Friends like that are few and far between. There’s nothing more irksome to me than, when having an otherwise pleasant conversation with someone, they have to find some seemingly inadvertent way of insulting you. What the frak? Let’s not be that person. Let’s be better than that.

I’ll acknowledge, it’s entirely possible that, while I’m calling people out for not being very self-aware, I’m Liz Lemoning and being a mean girl myself, but I hope this post has induced more nods than head shakes. Lemon out!

Delusions of Blondeur

Growing up, I thought I was blonde. Okay, maaaybe not literally blonde, just not any different from the blonde, all-American girl types who dominated most of the 90s television shows I grew up watching. Perhaps it all started as a preschooler, when I used to reenact the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan, always casting myself as Tiger Lily,who was played by the very noticeably blonde actress Sondra Lee (mind you, this production was from 1960). “Ugga wugga wig wam!” I’d sing, dancing around the living room in my white Stride Rite moccasins covered in rhinestones and using my pop-up Fischer Price house as a teepee-turned-Lost Boys’ house.

Fast forward a few years, and it was Clarissa Darling (Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All), Full House‘s D.J. Tanner (no, not Michelle…even then I think I sensed the impending weirdness of the Olsen twins) and Saved By the Bell‘s Zack Morris (*sigh*) whom I idolized. Sure, I enjoyed Blossom and the sisters Mowry as much as the next kid; I just didn’t see myself in them. When Clueless came along, it only reinforced my belief that I was destined to be a cool, California-dude lady chick.

The elusive 80s/90s cartoon spy Carmen Sandiego, from “Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego.”

Strangely, it wasn’t until the end of the 8th grade that I realized just how un-blonde I actually was. You see, our 8th grade yearbook contained a section called “Look-a-Likes,” which was meant to compare us to famous people we supposedly resembled. Only, perhaps to keep things PG or PC (to this day I’m still not really sure what the reasoning behind this was), instead of real celebrities, our look-a-likes were all cartoon characters. I remember anxiously reading down the list, jealously noting who had been selected as Cinderella and all the fairer Disney princesses. And then I saw it. Nope, I wasn’t raven-haired Snow White or that brainy brunette, Belle. I was Princess Jasmine! Mind you, in hindsight I realize how ridiculous my disappointed reaction was…Jasmine is probably one of the few legitimately cool Disney heroines, and that if I were to be jealous, it should have been of my friend whose alleged cartoon doppelganger was Carmen Sandiego, but as a disillusioned 13-year-old, I was stunned. “I wouldn’t have been a part of either the Clueless or Saved By the Bell crowds,” I remember thinking to myself. “I would have been Ralph Macchio in the original Karate Kid, who just didn’t fit it in when he moved out west from New Jersey.” Years later as a junior in college, a study abroad experience in a very non-diverse suburb of Australia only heightened my self-awareness and sense of otherness.

Eventually, as time went by and I began to put the pieces of the puzzle together, I became more okay with who I was. Perhaps some of the things that I thought were weird about myself actually made me cool. Being half-Italian, half-Greek, I celebrated two Easters as a kid and got twice the amount of candy as my friends. In elementary school, when other kids ate their boring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I brought in meatball sandwiches that were bigger than my head. I’d continue, but it’s becoming clear to me that most of the things that made me okay with who I am are food-related. (Perugina chocolate, anyone?) Sure, I maybe wouldn’t have picked my flamboyantly Mediterranean nose, but hey, Sofia Coppola and Penelope Cruz did okay, so maybe I could, too.

While I’ve experienced many comical moments due to my apparent ethnic ambiguity, and some hurtful ones (shall I just say that I completely agree with Tina Fey’s post-adolescent assessment about not being popular with boys in college, as told in her book, Bossypants: “I wasn’t ethnic enough to be an exciting departure. I wasn’t Korean or African American or actually Mexican. I was just not all-the-way-white”), I think I turned out okay. Because in addition to the yellow-haired role models I looked up to as a child, I had some pretty awesome role models in my own family (Mom, are you reading this?).

Truthfully, today most of the women in popular culture (and beyond) that I respect happen to not be blonde, but it has less to do with me and more to do with the fact that the whole “all-American girl” image that persisted in my youth and way before is slowly expanding and becoming less black and white (pardon the pun). For every Amy Poehler (who is awesome, by the way, not that it needed saying), there is an equally talented Mindy Kaling. Would the flip side of this blonde/brunette thing be Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin? Perhaps I should stop while I’m ahead…until next time:

Hello!

Hello reader(s) — I’ve added the “s” optimistically — you’ll soon know why I’ve selected “Delusions of Blondeur” as the title of my blog, but for now I’d just like to say, welcome!

In the past I’ve been a bit reluctant to start a blog (for the same reason I’m somewhat averse to Twitter and the thousands of other sites one can join to tell their friends what they’ve eaten for breakfast/tell burglars when to stop by their house), but alas, here I am. I recently tried my hand at sketch comedy, and while I enjoyed it immensely, I’ve come to the conclusion that longer form, memoir-style humor writing might be more my thing. I guess we’ll find out!