The last couple of years must have been rough for Tyler Hicks. The Pulitzer prize-winning photographer, who has covered wars from Kosovo to Afghanistan, and has done extensive photo reporting all over Africa, was abducted for four days in March 2011, in Libya, with three other colleagues. And, while crossing the border from Turkey to Syria, his friend and uber-talented correspondent Anthony Shadid died in his arms.
Trying to make sense of the world and life through food and words.
This post first appeared on the Huffington Post Blog on March 19
I stepped off the plane, late in the evening, exhausted but in a chatty mood, energizer- bunny style. I still felt energized on the following days too, rushing about, brimming with writing ideas and even eager to tackle projects typically left untouched for years, like cleaning the window screens and the silver. I attributed this new-found vigor, that replaced the sluggishness and apathy that had enveloped me of recent, to the change of scenery, to flying across country to spend a few days of R&R in Miami, visiting an Italian childhood friend I hadn’t seen in three decades. We had found each other again just a short few weeks before – I am the lazy Facebook user with nothing of interest on my page nor do I bother to look up old acquaintances – and, after a few e-mail exchanges, I impulsively suggested I visit her in Miami where she would be vacationing with some friends. A bit of a gamble as, not only was I going to meet up with a woman I last saw when we were in our teens and who could turn out to be a complete stranger, but I would also be staying in a condo, without the privacy of a hotel room if things took a turn for the awkward or the unpredictable.
When it comes to doing my hair, my routine hasn’t changed in 50 years: a wash in the shower every other day and three minutes under the hairdryer. I couldn’t style my hair even with a gun to my head. Nor am I not very good at articulating what I want done with it – my ever patient hairdresser, Maxime, who has known me for 15 years, has learnt to interpret my “do whatever you want as long as I can pull it in some sort of ponytail”. I don’t even bother to bring pictures from magazines because my frame of reference on what looks good on Jennifer Aniston doesn’t allow me to imagine if it would look on me.
Tonight, on my dinner table, there will be an Indian Passover chicken dish, the way the Jews in Cochin have been making for generations. A Chinese shrimp stir-fry is planned for Sunday. I grew up snooping around my mother’s very Italian kitchen – with duck a l’orange being one of the very few exceptions – and I didn’t really discover other cuisines until I started travelling. My first forays into the food from Austria, Germany and the Netherlands as a child didn’t me impress me much and even my first French lobster, at age 13, left me baffled. It took a while to train my palate but once different tastes, flavors and combinations were discovered, I was up running. Now, I love researching recipes, from all kinds of sources: vintage cookbooks, magazines, friends and other bloggers.
When I drew my first (and miserly) paycheck, I made the promise that, once I earned enough, I would treat myself to a real Chanel two piece suit. Even when I could have conceivable given up a vacation and shelled out on a couture Chanel suit, I never did. Chances are, I never will. Sofagirl and I fantasize and exchange e-mails filled with haute couture collection pictures that we know are doomed to remain just that, fantasies. I really do believe that a $5,000 Valentino cocktail dress would make me feel like a million bucks – and spare me the cheap psychology of self-esteem and feeling good about our bodies being what makes us feel on top of the world. A perfectly cut and sewed prime piece of fabric can work magic.
More than a city, to the visitor’s naked eye, Miami is a state of mind: balmy weather, endless beaches, cheerful pastel colours and all night partying. Two Miami-bred friends, who headed west and ended up settling in LA, both said the same thing when I mentioned I would be visiting: there is nothing to see. True – Miami is not a cultural center, Art Basel notwithstanding. And for a tourist looking for the conventional cultural landmarks, the pickings are slim: no world-class museums, interesting architecture limited to the Deco district and disjointed neighbourhoods that do require a car rental for exploring.
But the beaches are indeed glorious, the water warm and inviting, the dining options plentiful and sophisticated and, if it’s nightlife and shopping one has in mind, Miami is your destination. And the one of very many Italians and assorted Europeans who are either relocating or buying second homes – the city, right now, feels like a giant construction site.
“I don’t give a crap about the Pope, it’s the government I am worried about”.
This recent telephone exchange with my ailing father sums up the household I grew up in.
My mother, when my sister was 6 and came home in tears from Sunday school, after having learned about the devil, went to bat with the priest, screaming that if he was intent on scaring her daughter, she would withdraw her.
When sofagirl suggested we compile our own lists of truths we have learnt over the years, I was a bit stumped. Of course I knew I had learnt many lessons, mostly the hard way, but I found I had a difficult time distilling what I thought was of essence.
In the end, the list was longer than just ten items and I realized that some of them were closely linked to my character and to difficulties, big and small, I had to overcome – in short, what I know is true is also the core of who I have become. It’s been an interesting journey, full of peaks and valleys, and I am hoping for a lot more peaks to come.
The game was called “the astronauts”. We would pull all the encyclopedias in my study down to the floor and build a spaceship, in which we would then sit, pushing make-believe buttons until we would finally emerge for a walk on the moon, followed by a jaunt to the kitchen for a snack. At 8, proud children of the sixties and of the first moon landing, we wanted to become astronauts. Neither of us did but, today, it makes us feel good to have aimed that high.
When I heard her voice, after a 30 year hiatus, it was deeper than I remembered. She smokes, I thought. The navigator was telling me I was approaching my destination and Paola said she would be right down. I turned into a short street on North Miami Beach, the house white and shaded by palm trees just the way it looked on Google Earth – the shrills of children playing in the schoolyard next door. Miami uncharacteristically chilly and windswept on this March afternoon. The moment will probably stay frozen in my memory banks forever: the chill in the air, the children at play and my friend’s slim frame and dark blonde hair appearing from behind the gate – suddenly I abandon the car haphazardly on a curve and we embrace tightly. “I can’t believe it” she murmurs “Would you have recognized me if I passed you by in the street?”