25 November 2011

The Lizard King

There's a photograph of Chris I wish I could share with you right now. It's the photo he sent to me after we met and had our summer fling back when dinosaurs walked the earth.  He left New York for Germany, we exchanged letters, and photos and eventually....well...you know what happens.  It was a good photo.

In the picture he has on a football jacket, you know the kind?  With wool center panels and white leather arms.  I think it was a Detroit Lions jacket, which makes no sense on a Long Island army boy living in Germany, but doesn't need to.  It screamed youth and virility.

He's wearing a baseball cap, brim curved as if he'd been carrying it around in his back pocket.  There's a lock of thick black hair escaping out the front.  His cheekbones are high and sharp enough to cut glass with. And those damned eyes.  Big, blue and sparkling; eyelashes so long and thick you'd swear he's wearing mascara. You can just tell those eyes are going to get you into trouble of the best kind.

On the back was written  me at Jim Morrison's grave / Paris

And that phrase carried more weight than all the sparkling eyes on earth.  Those words meant worlds to the young music-loving, pot-head, rocker-chick, hair-bag girl that I was.  Jim Morrison!  Grave!  Paris!

Months later, after the eyes had done all the hard work and we'd been dating for a while, I heard the story of Jim Morrison's grave. If you know my husband at all you won't be surprised when I say I've heard it many times since and each time it's a little different. But the essence remains the same, and it's a good story.  Not a narrative so much as a tableau.

Père Lachaise cemetery - historic and beautiful, filled with elegant mausoleums.  Paris's boldest and brightest have been buried here for centuries.  Artists, poets and composers lie in repose amid stone sculpture and statuary elegant enough to made you weep.

And 28 year old Jim Morrison rests among them, in a grave donated by an adoring fan after an overdose in the city of lights back in the year of my birth (about the time of the primordial sludge if you're building a time-line.) Visiting the cemetery as a young man, Chris found hippies, rockers, stoners and would-be poets treating it as a pilgrimage site.

Arrows and signs saying "this way to Jim" had been spray painted on paths, benches and even tombs.  The grave itself was a scene of such adoration and debauchery as to boggle the mind.  People were turning on, tuning in and dropping out.  Barefoot and dirty twenty-somethings strummed guitars. Dreadlocked sleepy-eyed youngsters making out amid sleeping bags, bongs and bongos. A grizzled hippie took swigs on a bottle of whiskey, then poured matching shots into the grave's soil. "One for me, and one for you, Jim."  Cigarettes and joints left lit and smoking as a token of love, and plenty more being toked among the living. Used needles and condoms.  In one version of the story a guy even dies of an overdose.  RIGHT THERE.

The misguided mourning of a dead-before-his-time artist turned into a 20th century bacchanalia. 
Needlessly destructive?  Yes.  Horrifyingly disrespectful of a Paris icon?  Yes.  
Screaming of sex, drugs & rock n roll?  Abso-friggin-lutely.  

I envied Chris the experience of witnessing bohemianism at its best and worst, in Paris.

According to Time-Out Paris, today Morrison's grave is the third most visited site in Paris, behind only the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.  I found this both intriguing and unbelievable.  Regardless, curiosity would have drawn me there sooner or later and on our most recent trip to Paris we decided to check it out.  And while I would never condone spray painting a headstone to give directions, I was kinda hoping to find at least a slice of the depraved flower child vibe Chris's stories evoked.

I did not.  It was all tour groups and barricades.  The grave itself feels like an afterthought squeezed onto a patch of ground at an awkward angle, draped in tawdry plastic flowers.

It had a decidedly UN rock n roll vibe.  There was one very somber beatnik-y girl looking deep and forlorn; I held out hope she'd have a breakdown, recite some poetry or at least light a joint.  But she just sat at the base of the graffitti'd tree and stared intensely at the grave for a long time, leaving only as the next noisy tour group arrived.

Still, I can't say I was disappointed. The tree provided plenty of entertaining reading, for one thing. The cemetery itself is breathtaking and it did kinda feel like hallowed ground. Yeah, Jim Morrison is buried there, but so are Chopin, Edith Piaf and Proust. The final resting place of Oscar Wilde and Marcel Marceau among countless others.  

Visiting Père Lachaise felt a bit like we were paying them all tribute.  

And now I'm going to pour myself a whiskey, maybe one for Jim as well, and then hunt around for that photo of Chris.  G'night.


17 November 2011

Europe's best kept secret.... Belgrade!

Београд - Beograd - Belgrade

Battled over in 115 wars and razed to the ground 44 times, it is one of the most battled over cities in the history of the world.

Now Belgrade is the capital of a Serbia that is at peace with its neighbors. Formerly part of Yugoslavia, Serbia gained independence in 2006 (via a long, sometimes violent, road from the Yugoslavian breakup in 1991)

Todays Belgrade is a surprisingly cosmopolitan and modern city reminiscent of larger Western cities.

...and now they have lacrosse!

I was in town on behalf of the European Lacrosse Federation to help run 3 days of lacrosse clinics and scrimmages. The local team, The Zombies, did a great job of organizing everything including social events and showing us around Belgrade.

Probably my favorite thing about doing these kind of trips is getting to hang out with local lacrosse guys and learn about their culture. Not in the academic sense, more in the sitting around drinking beer and getting to know them sense.

"Chris, we want to take you to a traditional Serbian tavern....they will have good Serbian folk music, Serbian beer and very strong rakia"...lead on new Serbian friends, lead on....

It was a great weekend. Belgrade is a wonderful city and I had a fantastic time. This is exactly why I travel.

The weather was beautiful. I got to experience Belgrade with new Serbian friends, eat Serbian food, sing Serbian songs (never really got that part down) and even got to teach some lacrosse.

The Zombies have the lacrosse bug and are a great addition to the lacrosse community. I hope to visit them all again someday.


03 November 2011

Food Glorious Food.

Possibly the best thing about traveling is the food. I try to take pictures of many meals when I travel to inspire cooking when I get back, but mainly just so I don't forget the great food experiences I have had. Here are a few from this past year.

Bratislava, Slovakia. Chicken stuffed with ham and half a peach! I think it was called Maiden in the Castle...or something....serve with cold Slovakian beer....delicious!

Bangkok, Thailand. Some sort of meat...possibly beef or pork...with sprouts and other green stuff in a spicy broth....cold Singha beer to cool burning mouth.

Cairo, Egypt. A tub of Koshari from a take out place. Pasta, rice, lentils, tomato, garlic, beans, chick peas. Hearty, cheap and delicious.

Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Clockwise from top) Spicy yellow stuff, Super spicy unidentified meat stuff, Ridiculously spicy poultry item, Dangerously spicy unidentified meat stuff #2. I am sweating just remembering this meal.

Houston, Texas USA. Open faced Roast Beef sandwich, Onion Rings, Pickle, Coleslaw....Guinness. (notice how Kelly has a healthier salad....good job Kelser)

Penang, Malaysia. My favorite lunch of the entire summer. I don't think the picture does it justice, but this roast pork, green stuff and rice was so simple, yet incredibly delicious. Fanfreakintastic.

St. Petersburg, Florida USA. American style breakfast:. Eggs, Bacon, loaded up hash brown potatoes and an English muffin....washed down with coffee.

Singapore. Fried Pork Dumplings. Beer. Enough said.

St Augustine, Florida USA. My mother's homemade tomato gravy over pasta. Possibly the best stuff on Planet Earth.

Sumter, South Carolina USA. Erin's homemade southern yum yum food. Pulled Pork, Collard greens, Coleslaw, Cheesey grits, and Cornbread. paired with sweet white wine....an amazing meal.

Vienna, Austria. Ok maybe this isn't the best picture of Goulash that I have ever taken, BUT Gary & Inge's Gulasch is amazing and wonderful...wunderbar! (Cold Kaiser beer to round out the meal...of course)

Zurich, Switzerland. Ahhh lunch how I love thee so. This was a great lunch with cousin Michael at a nice outdoor cafe. Some sort of Pork Chop with Red Cabbage, Spaetzle, and Brussel sprouts....very good.

Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Steak with onions and mushrooms, potatoes, fried oniony things, veggies...Liechtensteinian beer....This sauce was fantastic. Its nice when you order some food in a place you have never been and you get something delicious. Thanks Liechtenstein!

Belgrade, Serbia. Most of Europe has late night Doner Kebab stands...but Belgrade had the most ginormous sandwiches I had ever seen. This picture doesnt do it justice, but it weighed over a pound...possibly two. It was ridiculous...and tasty. I ate maybe a third...maybe.

St Petersburg, FL USA. Kirk Smith's Homemade Corned Beef, Cabbage, Beets, Potatoes and Horseradish sauce....wash down with beer....Happy St Patrick's Day indeed!

Paris, France. Steak and Frites. Possibly the best meal of the year.

The famous restaurant L'Entrecote - Porte Maillot only serves one dish....a mouth watering ribeye cut of meat, fries and a special secret sauce that is utterly scrumptious. Unbelievable. Add a bottle of red wine and this meal is hard to beat.

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. —-Virginia Woolf