Fluorescents reflecting on the inside of the train windows make it impossible to see out as we pull into the New Delhi station around 10 pm, back from a day-trip to the Taj Mahal. So we have no clue. We file slowly out of the air-conditioned first-class car into the sticky, 100-degree heat and onto a dusty concrete platform that is nothing less than carpeted in humanity: sleeping, sitting, eating, talking, standing, lounging, smoking, cradling, shuffling, cuddling, walking and, frequently, maneuvering a large bundle of belongings, in sandals and saris and ballooning shorts, open shirts and khakis, over every square centimeter. We edge, mostly sideways, through this density toward the pedestrian overpass that will deposit us on the opposite platform that leads outside the station. We hold hands, like we never do anymore, tightly, but functionally. We’ve read about stampedes in those undifferentiated foreign places that seem exotic to gringos. We don’t talk about it. But we’re all pretty sure that one spark and people would die. And maybe some of those people would be us.
The stairs are impassable. But somehow as you lift your foot to the first step you find a toehold that you didn’t see a moment before or that wasn’t there. Like some gelatin river, the crowd haltingly, imperceptibly flows around you, even when the crowd is not moving, and you flow around the crowd. You make it to the overpass and glance back down the stairs to see who you’ve lost, maybe forever. Where’s your friend from Australia? Where’s the Indian account executive who’s been assigned as your guide? No time to do anything about it. You have to hold that hand and keep flowing.
Smart money says go to Denmark in July. But when smart money zigs, we zag. So, in January, Andy, Anne and I pack our bags full of clothes only a Californian could possibly believe were suitable for a Scandinavian winter and board a Lufthansa red-eye for Copenhagen.
When we touch down at Roskilde Airport, it’s -8°C (which the driver assures me is balmy). But huddled outside our hotel, with a biting breeze blowing off the Baltic, it feels like -80°C. It’s a special brand of cold this reporter has never experienced. Bitter cold. Relentless cold. Penguin-killing cold. Cold that smacks you in the face with one hand, while snaking up your pants to flash-freeze your junk with the other. Why exactly are we here again?
Part I: Friday night, Grammys minus two: Return to forever.
Last time we went to Michael’s in Santa Monica they had a dress code. That’s how long ago it was. Back then, circa 1980, Roni Hofman (my missus) was having an art show at a gallery in Hollywood, and we were out from New York for the opening. Which was pretty glam, except we were also pretty broke. So our pal Sandy Pearlman — he of Blue Öyster Cult, “more cowbell” fame (hi, Sandy) — offered to take us out to the hottest new restaurant in town.
We arrive at Michael’s, and it turns out they have this dress code. Now Sandy, an uberhip music producer, has never been much for jackets, let alone ties — unless they’re Swedish paratrooper jackets. And we’ve made the trip all the way out to Santa Monica from the rockin’ Sunset Marquis, and the maitre d’ is saying to Pearlman: Sir, you’ll need a jacket and tie.
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One part of the sublime madness that was the royal wedding of D/C luminary Parker Channon and the luminous Rita Ribera in San Miguel was a day of amateur bullfighting.
Fifteen wedding-goers were scheduled to venture into the photogenically parched central Mexico countryside to learn how to take on a toro. Due to unfortunate circumstances involving the after-effects of nocturnal tequila, only four proto-toreadors actually showed: the groom himself, Juan Carlos “Mi Gemello” Jimenez, John “Not Jon” Stewart and this correspondent. In America, such perilous endeavors, if permitted at all (which they never would be), would be accompanied by a blizzard of insurance waivers and an irrevocable signing away of one’s life and rights. That did not turn out to be the case in San Miguel. So while we were to receive the most excellent and diligent instruction from Acacio Martinez, a retired toreador, and his toro-fighting son, within an hour we were facing the bull, gloriously free of coverage — legal or, frankly, testicular.
They did, however, encourage us to drink a margarita.
I recently had the opportunity to return to my hometown of Rochester, NY, and it was, without a doubt, the travel equivalent of comfort food. Most everything I remembered from my youth was still there, frozen in time. Sort of like Ted Williams. Except that he was a dude and this is a town. Pompeii, maybe? Yeah, that’ll work. Any-hoo, I invite you now on a journey to the land of Chuck Mangione, Susan B. Anthony and Foreigner’s Lou Gramm (he is, in fact, hot blooded – I checked it and saw).
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A couple of years ago, I wrote a list of things I wanted to do before I die — and just to be clear, this was way before that retarded Bucket List movie. Anyway, last week, my list got one entry shorter — I went to Egypt and, in an ironic twist, almost died doing it.
My friend Ashley and I were in the Valley of the Kings (previous resting place of Tutankhamun and a bunch of Ramses), checking out the tombs, marveling at hieroglyphs and generally sweating our asses off (turns out, early May is the meteorological equivalent of our mid-August — in Death Valley). From the Valley of the Kings, our plan was to hike over the mountain to Hatshepsut Temple, a mortuary dedicated to the sun god Amon-Ra and site of the infamous 1997 massacre of 60 tourists by an Islamic terrorist group. Though it was clearly delineated on our map, we could not find the trail that would lead us to the other side. Instead, there were various criss-crossing paths peopled with groups of Egyptian boys waiting for hapless tourists to try their luck at navigating them.
Depending how lucky you get with your layover in Frankfurt, it’s a 14–17-hour trip from SFO to LED (the airport code for St. Petersburg is still based on the city’s Soviet name, Leningrad). So if I go on a bit much about my mid-April trip, maybe I’ve earned it. Anyway, a few things about Petersburg (as the natives call it) that you may not know:
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Every year, my husband and I join friends on a trip to the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender. We go for the music. We go for the shopping. We go for the chance to not have passersby ask, “Hey, are they filming some kind of ’50’s movie around here?” when they see us gathered with our cuffed jeans and archaic hairdos. But one of our favorite reasons to go to Vegas are the strange museums.
This year, we made a stop at the Neon Boneyard, the field where old Las Vegas signs go to die. It was pretty amazing from a “I pretend I live in the past” perspective, but also from the perspective of a typography lover, because some of these signs are the very place where these typefaces were created (House Industries, I’m looking at you).