Sunday, December 25, 2011
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
It’s a happy ending…to the very beginning
Thursday, November 3, 2011
So this is what I think…really. I think that everything we do leads to something else- something more definitive. I now believe that positivity breeds positivity and that flexibility is one of the keys to a successful and predominantly agony free life- I say predominantly because I am quite sure that a life without any agony isn’t really lived at all. I’ve learned that I am so far from perfect- and that I need to accept other people’s imperfections as well as mine. In the middle of what will probably prove to be one of the most significant turning points in my life, I am wrought with preoccupations yet intrigued by the fact that as time rolls quickly by- the lessons I am learning are growing exponentially. My fixations are being exposed and life’s big lessons, previously disguised as little bumps in the road, are revealing themselves to be the most captivating parts of this whole process. It’s all right out there, barenaked…for me and my little crew- those of us with our eyes wide open enough to notice- to unearth and examine.
Mirroring life in general, each experience, or chapter- has its ups and downs. Therefore, the two month filming schedule throughout the US will naturally have its own crests and falls. The middle, I have found, is the hardest part: the newness of the situation has dissipated- and the finish line seems so distant that it’s impractical to try to imagine. Then again, a rapid tour of North America is hardly monotonous.
It happens to be the expectations that forsake me in the middle. At this point, we know what we have gotten ourselves into, but we are too far away from the culmination to allow ourselves to reflect- or become excited about what the result may be. The middle is the part where I tend to feel trapped- counting the days, dragging my feet and struggling not to let fear or distrust gain entry.
I have done a good amount of contemplating and dissecting. I have made a large number of assumptions- most of which naïve and utterly futile. Yet I feel, on the other hand, that I may have happened upon a few truths- the kind of truths I am in constant search of- in order to assign some sense to the larger scheme of things.
I trust that everything we do, every step we take in whichever direction, leads- undoubtedly- to something else.
Those of us courageous enough not only to try something new, but to stand up and try again when we fail (which we all undoubtedly do)…may one day begin again and change course. Those of us lucky enough to abandon the wrong paths before our minds and our hearts become completely distorted- may have a chance at happiness after all.
I think I may have found my path- or a version close to it.
There is no doubt that I’ve attempted things I never should have tried in the first place, and I pushed myself- oftentimes to my limits, only to find out that I had gone completely wrong at the start. But somehow I made it HERE. And everyday, for me, is exhilarating.
I think I’ve stumbled upon something I am truly meant to do. And honestly? It’s so good that I’m afraid it’s going to slip away- or that it isn’t real at all- or that I am going to do something so utterly wrong that it will all be taken away. But I’m trying to stay positive because although this wild ride is filled with nothing I have ever known, it sure feels like a result of everything I have done up until now. And I sense and hope that I am able to do it- and do it well.
The other day, in between scenes- sitting on the steps of a random building in another prominent US city, amongst my new family, my companions - I took a long sip of my oh-so-American Starbucks, a long drag of my oh-so-Italian cigarette…and it all just clicked. A voice in my head, peculiarly close to my own, stated: this is where I should be, doing what I should be doing. Of course, I have a long way to go- many, MANY lessons to be learned and a bumpy road ahead. But a seed has been planted…and I'm trying to work out the precise elements in order to allow me to grow.
Maybe that which I have been told all along, about life being like a puzzle: pieces fitting, square pegs, round holes and so on and so forth…is right. And for so long- I was searching for not only the incorrect pieces of the puzzles- but maybe I was looking in the wrong stores, in the wrong states- and possibly in the wrong time zones on the incorrect continents. Who knows. What I do know is that I am here now. And it feels good- it feels right. Like a new love- with all the excitement of the unfamiliar- but a strong instinctive feeling that you believe in enough to allow yourself to follow it into the dark- hoping to find the light around the edges.
At the end of the day, the anticipation is half the fun…then comes the discovery, the excitement and the exhilarating fear. The risk of disappointment, like the end, is so far off that one mustn’t worry about it yet.
I may be at the lull of the middle of the experience- the beginning is behind me and the end so far away that I haven’t yet begun to contemplate it- but I have this one major affirmation…that I have found something that fits, and I have embarked on a new path that seems to be like a round peg in a round hole- for once- and it’s something that will remain with me forever, something that can only get better from here.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Three weeks ago, nearly 1.5 years after the format was conceived and dutifully developed, after the hoping and toiling and wishing had all been hoped and toiled and wished- a group of eight individuals left Italy to embark on a journey- picking up friends and lessons along the way. Each day brings phenomenal amounts of novelty- and even now, at the very beginning- I can say that this will be one of those times of my life that leaves its mark on me, like a star shooting across a night sky…burning with the kind of flames that rarely fade.
And now here I am- in another somber hotel room, in another city- after three weeks of filming-physically exhausted, mentally satiated, with an alive spirit…and beyond any shadow of a doubt, steeped with excitement about what is to come.
Everyday I am fascinated- astonished by all I didn’t know and startled at myself- the good and the bad. Because in a situation like this one: living out of a suitcase, stuck in a 13 passenger van for hours on end with a group of people who were perfect strangers only a few weeks ago, working 16/17/18 hour days…and for me personally- doing something I have never done before- it’s easy to identify one’s flaws…and one’s strengths. But it’s the flaws that are more noticeable.
And I truly believe that, even in the early stages, before I have had a chance to live it all- and to look back and pick each fragment of each day apart, I am learning that fearlessness is no easy feat, but in this particular situation, it’s the only choice. Not only have I jumped in head first, but I have jumped from a higher altitude I have ever known, head first, in reverse, and done a few backflips on the way down. I am, no doubt, pushing my limits. Once again.
I am seeing America in a new light: through Italian eyes….which makes each moment sweeter and each breath fresher…but I should have expected that. I am falling in love with false eyelashes and beginning to hate hotel room service. I have learned to appreciate individuals I thought I couldn’t support and fallen out of love with aspects of myself I assumed were essential. Every day there are a million lessons to be learned, and I am lucky to seize 10 of them- because they are priceless…and awesome…and just simply beyond…
I genuinely sense that after all these years, and all of the messes I’ve made, tasks I’ve undertaken, and errors I’ve committed- that I have found something that truly works for me. I underestimated the power of being tall, blonde (in Italy) and animated to a point of exasperation. I overestimated the value of remaining within the corporate confines and boundaries that we are taught, at too young an age, exist within our futures.
I think I have finally taken most of what I know, a large portion of that which I have experienced, and all the tiny little aspects that make me, well, me- thrown them together, and come out with something that works- something that I can be proud of. And something that however exhausted I may be at the end of the day, I am thrilled to wake up the next morning and begin again.
Sleep deprivation is beginning to look OK on me, organic protein bars (and organic protein bars alone) are beginning to nourish me, and being a television host is starting to suit me. Let’s just hope the rest of Italy feels the same way.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Friday, April 22, 2011
There is a reason I haven’t written in a while. (A real reason this time.)
I have news.
News that changes everything….news that I am still digesting…news that until I say it out loud, change my facebook status, or write it down- doesn’t truly become official.
At this point, I’ve processed it as much as I can so I suppose I am going to go ahead and make it legit.
So here goes…deep breath…
Thursday, March 24, 2011
I sit down and I write about my life- my world. I ramble on and on about daily episodes, transient sentiments, long-ago memories and future uncertainties. Occasionally, I touch on something “valid” that strikes a chord with a reader here, or a reader there- and then realize, again, that it’s the small stuff that connects us- i.e. a new song, the photo of a foreign city or a clever quote. Hence, I continue to write about my woes, about the good times and about the stupid bits and pieces that really don't matter in the grand scheme of things.
But recently, more frequently than not, global catastrophes are taking place and I choose not to write about them. This doesn't mean I am not thinking about them- the honest answer (and excuse) is that I just feel so helpless, so powerless- and I suppose that even mentioning the current international misfortunes and tragedies would be a waste of everyone’s time. Nothing I could say would shed light on the situation- or create any comfort for those suffering. It’s all being covered…and will go down in history books- to be studied by future generations of scientists and sociologists, anthropologists and geographers. But what about us- here and now? How are we supposed to take this?
I seem to be overwhelmed by bad news, fears and sorrow. I sit down to write about my latest adventure and all I think about is how selfish I am. How can I be enjoying myself when the planet is falling apart? In the apt words of Stephen Tyler, “There’s something wrong with the world today, and I don't know what it is.”
When various birds and fish started suddenly dying- and multiple countries began publishing puzzling statistics- the nihilists were arriving in droves with Armageddon premonitions, and I continued to write about cooking pumpkins. When an earthquake hit China last April, I made a reading list. When the volcano erupted in Iceland I wrote about socks. And when the capital city of Haiti was struck by a 7.0 earthquake, I droned on and on about falafel, cheese and in-flight magazines. Maybe I was doing the right thing, maybe not. One certainty is that the world will go on, it always goes on- humanity always recovers.
At night, I lay awake in bed, with images of that day’s newscasts scrolling through my mind- wondering about Japan- the death tolls, the devastation, the nuclear reactors and associated risks. And yes, Japan will recover too. But what about the unborn babies who will come into world from the bellies mothers exposed to the radiation? And the children who waited, in vain, for their parents to pick them up from school, not knowing whether they will ever see them again? What about the innumerable families whose homes were swallowed by the waves of the tsunami?
Then, of course, there’s the lingering question: what’s next? Because it will happen again- and we don't know when, and we don't know where- whether it will be right here, or next door, or so far away that it seems like a nightmare that we will wake up from.
On the other hand, and on the other side of the world (although only a few short kilometers from Italy)- there is a war. Operation Odyssey Dawn. Civilians have perished at the hands of their own leader, casualties are rising, and the words “installations, bombings, forces, targets, sieges and so on” are making more appearances in the news than they have since Iraq eight years ago. Gheddafi is promising “a long, drawn-out war with no limits” and I’m writing articles about marketing and researching natural dog biscuit manufacturers.
I don't know if the world is a scarier place than it was 100,200,1000 years ago- or if the information age merely gives us what it has promised to- information. And here I am, trying to figure out what to do with this influx of data and knowledge. How am I supposed to react? And more importantly, should I be doing more? I wish there existed a handbook to tell me the appropriate reaction to diverse situations. But alas, there is no instruction manual, and there is no guidebook on how to save a world that seems to be imploding on itself.
So I guess I must answer with what I find most suitable in this situation. I watch the news, I write, I contact my friends in Northern Africa and Japan to make sure they are OK, and I promise myself that This Too Shall Pass just as all the other wars have passed and cities have been rebuilt. And I hope that the scars- mental and physical- will one day heal. I hope that future generations we will be better prepared to deal with environmental disasters. And I keep thinking to myself that all those insipid beauty queens had a point as they stood on stage, lights glaring in their faces, spreading their phony dreams of “world peace” as the rest of the world lauged. But the world isn’t laughing now. No one is laughing now. There’s something wrong with the world today…
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Naples’ reputation precedes it. When most foreigners hear it’s name uttered, the images that come to mind can only be interpreted as negative: heaping piles of trash, organized crime and devastating volcanic eruptions. At least, that’s what I thought about the misunderstood city until I began dating a Napolitano.
Granted, the dialect is a sloppy, loud and a patience-trying bastardized variety of classic Italian, the streets are congested and raucous and around every corner there is a gypsy eyeing your wallet or a local thief eyeing your watch. However, beyond the grit and chaos- Napoli is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating and beautiful cities of Italy.
Earlier this month- my aunt decided to bring my uncle to Italy (and to me) for his 74th birthday celebration. I thought and thought about where to take them- being that we had already spent abundant amounts of time together in Rome. Then, it came to me…Bella Napoli! What better than to show them around one of the oldest, most romantic and startlingly beautiful cities in Italy. (Not forgetting to mention that the food is so good that my poor uncle actually got sick from over-eating.) Sorry Pookie, I wont go into the details!
Anyway- when I first told la zia about my excursion idea- I could hear her cringe on the other end of the phone. But I actually believe that the low expectations led to an even better all-around experience. I can’t speak for anyone else but what I do know is that I had an incredible time- from standing on our sea-view balconies gazing out towards Mt. Vesuvius on our left and Capri to our rights, to singing an unofficial Napolitano anthem, Malafemmina, along with the guitar-clad “cantante” while dining at “Dora” down a hidden alley in the center of the city. What I do know is that I have managed to convert two more Midwesterners into Naples aficionados.
So my thinking is, if I actually make it to 74 in the incredible shape that my uncle is in- I plan on spending it in Napoli as well. Photos and accompanying music below.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Here’s the truth: I was in Miami on my actual birthday. I woke up at the crack of dawn, glanced at my watch and read 6:10 a.m.- precisely a half hour to the exact minute I was born thirty short years ago. So what did I do? I cried. I let a few idle tears slide off the sides of my face and onto the pillow- I silently whimpered a final goodbye to my 20’s, telling myself that yes, we had a good run.
When I was done with my gratuitous blubbering, I got out of bed, tiptoed downstairs, opened my mom’s sub-zero fridge in order to eat what was left of my Publix birthday cake- every last hot-pink butter cream rose. Although I felt sick for the rest of the day- it was well worth it. I had told myself that in my 30’s- I would be more health-conscious, I would be happier and not wallow in unnecessary self-pity, and that I would (continue to) live my life to the fullest. Well, at least I got the last one right.
In my teens- I wanted to be older. I longed to be able to drink (without the use of my fake ID), to vote, to drive, to get a tattoo…I wanted freedom: no curfews, unlimited television time and financial independency. In my 20s I wanted love. Now, I’m in my 30’s and I don't have a curfew, I can watch as much TV as I want (albeit in Italian), I have a tattoo that I totally regret and I am (pretty much) financially independent. I have found and lost and found love again…many times over.
30 is an age that has been creeping closer for a few years now. When I turned 28, I vowed to make the final two years count. When I turned 29, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, reminded me that it was my last shot at my 20’s. Then, as the final few weeks flew by and my birthday skidded closers and closer, I tried coming to terms with the fact that the mathematics don't lie: 29+1=30.
I have to say, now that I have finally hit the big 3.0.- I don't feel any different. I am not wiser than I was yesterday. And although I don't feel older, I did look in the mirror and happen to notice a few more wrinkles…but when I asked if this were a good age to start considering Botox, I was told I was nuts- so that contemplation was put to rest.
Somewhere amongst my journals, hidden away, I have a list that I made regarding what I planned to have accomplished by the time I was 30. It’s probably a good thing I can’t find it. Although, as best as I can remember, my goals were not unreasonable. I think, more than anything, I wanted to be a published author- a novelist, by the time I was 30. That didn't happen. I hoped to live abroad. That did happen. I wanted a master’s in business. Got that done. My own puppy. Yep. And I sought happiness. Check.
Now is the time, I suppose, to reassess my goals- and possibly put a few to rest- push harder for some- and bury others, pretending that they never even existed at all. I have to admit, it's a bit confusing when I consider what it is I want to accomplish in my 30s. Part of me says that if I haven’t done “it” yet, “it” will never happen. The other part says, go for it- this is really the last chance. I look around and in truth, it’s hard to judge, based on experience and influences, what I should or should not be doing. At 30, a great number of my friends are married- many with kids. Other groups are starting new careers or embarking on solo-ventures. Some have already made their millions, others are just beginning. I suppose, as opposed to the 20’s filled with education and career decisions- what we do with our 30’s is more of an individual choice.
Looking back, the 20s were amazing. But then again, everything is amazing “looking back.” However, I still think I had a good time. I managed to get a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree from two great universities, I moved from Miami to DC, to Italy, to NY, to England, to Russia to Mexico to Dubai, back to England, to Barcelona and wound up in Rome. Beyond that- I traveled throughout the world. I met so many incredible individuals that they are hard to count. I’ve had experiences I never even dreamed of having. I’ve learned a million and one things- from making pasta from scratch, to the basics of many world religions, a number of languages and how to change a tire. I gained “non-transferable and thus highly valued business skills” (thank you Steph) and I now know how to care for a bonsai. I’ve climbed glaciers, jumped out of planes and seen my byline in global publications. I have slept under the stars in the Sahara, cruised the Mediterranean and saved endangered sea turtles in Central America. I’ve been chased by a zebra on Safari in Kenya, been skinny dipping in the Redwood Forest, seen the Taj Majal at sunrise and gone on a camel ride around Pyramids of Giza. I’ve taken a boat trip down the Mekong Delta and planted a tree in Israel. I’ve walked through the ruins of Pompeii, Ancient Rome and Greece and spent three days ambling through the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. I’ve bathed in the oldest Hammam in Istanbul and drank too much tequila looking over the Zócalo in Mexico City. I tuk-tuked through the colorful markets of Jaipur and witnessed to a ping-pong show in the Patpong district of Bangkok. I am a godmother, a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend, a best friend, and I hope- a good mother to my puppy. I sang Karaoke in Beijing and visited the clay warriors in Xian. I sailed a felucca down the Nile and drank far too many pints at Oktoberfest in Munich. I’ve gambled in the casinos of Macau and Monte Carlo, and seen Mt. Kilamanjaro from the sky. I’ve been scuba diving in the Red Sea and later, off the isolated islands of Malaysia. I learned to wakeboard in Sardegna, to surf in Costa Rica and to play pétanque on a small island in France. I’ve crawled through the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam and sailed along the Norweigen Fjords at springtime. I hope I’ve been a good friend to some- and maybe even made a difference in the lives of others. I’ve laughed till I peed and cried myself to sleep and now, I feel like I'm singing the final lines of Sinatra’s My Way...I did all this- and not in a shy way. And I’m only 30.
Part of me is scared. I can confidently note that I happen to be happy where I am now and I can see myself here for a while- but then sometimes, I wake up and think “is this it?” Is this where the journey ends? I could say that it’s been a good ride and leave it at that. But I know- in my heart of hearts- that I’m not ready to put away the compass and maps yet- that I can’t say that I’m done- I’m not even close to being done. So I guess this is my personal message to my 30’s: Get ready. Here I am!
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Thursday, January 13, 2011
After a trip to Kenya about three years ago, I realized that my greatest regret was not having a camera worthy of the shots I was snapping; lions on the hunt, water buffalo migrating and elephants enjoying communal baths. Therefore, I did my research and learned all I could about pixels, ISO capabilities and image processors for color reproduction. Then, the ideal moment arrived and, at long last, I got myself a monster of a camera. With my acquisition, I was entirely certain that I would never again have another missed photo-op plaguing me throughout the duration of my photoshopping, printing and framing life.
Well, guess what I forgot to take to India? My f*cking camera.
I DID, however, remember to bring enough medicine to restock a pharmacy, enough clean underwear to cover the bottoms of a small nation and enough hand sanitizer to wipe out an entire colony of flesh eating bacteria. Yet, I forgot my camera. And now back home- I still have a full suitcase of unused pills, serums and sprays- but what I don't have are the photographs on the camera that I had painstakingly spent months and months learning how to use. Not one. And why? Cause I forgot my camera.
Luckily, my sister had her point-and-shoot with her. And even though she left it on the plane as soon as we landed (I guess absentmindedness is genetic, after all)- a man from the flight crew was compassionate enough to look through our snapshots, identify the two tall blondes in the photos, wait for us outside baggage claim and relinquish the object to its rightful owners- simply out of the goodness of his heart. (told you…I love Indians!)
Point is- we still managed to get a number of great photos- so here they are…
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I went to India and did everything I could in the short time I was there. Then, I came back from India…and now I am sitting here wishing to g-d that I had stayed longer.
Nothing I had read- and nothing I was told- could have prepared me for that country. My expectations- although not completely off base, were misguided. I expected to feel suffocated and uneasy- to be agitated. Instead, I felt tranquil. Everything around me was sheer pandemonium, yet inside- complete stillness. I was happy in India- it agreed with me.
The major cities are crowded and dirty- but the crowds are swathed in dazzling colors that dot the streets like little bits of sunshine. I didn't see the litter and pollution- I saw the silk shawls and satin saris waving in the wind, brushing the feet of the women walking in their hand-woven leather sandals. India smells- but it smells alive- a powerful mixture of spice and stink in the air- so potent that its hard to discern what it is coming from or where it is going – and you never know whether the next waft will make your stomach moan with hunger, or completely rob you of your appetite.
Next to every five star hotel, is a slum- a makeshift community of littered paths and huts formed of materials found in the streets and strewn among construction sights. The abundant poverty is a glaring reminder of the fact that India, alone, is home to 1/3 of the world’s poor. But even though nearly 50% of the population falls below the international poverty line- they all smile. I swear, I rarely saw anyone without a beaming grin across their faces and friendly open arms. And regardless of income bracket or mode of transportation- Mercedes, rickshaw or donkey…everyone welcomed us- wanted to share something- whether it was a cup of tea or a simple word. The people of India received us- and took as in as if we had always belonged.
Of course, one must be careful not to drink the water- and I, for one, had a suitcase filled with antibiotics to cure any stomach ailment that has ever plagued humankind- but India was a feast of gastronomic delights. It was a banquet of tastes and flavors and smells. And as a lifelong vegetarian- I had found my culinary paradise. It was the first time in 26 years that there were so many options on a menu, I had trouble deciding. India may be loud- horns honking, donkeys baying, people haggling and animated friends eagerly signaling and saluting one another. But I don't know if anyone can tell me that they don't hear the same amount of noise in Manhattan. I quickly became accustomed to the racket- and within a few hours- I loved it. It was different from the chiming bells of Italian churches- but it was a constant reminder that “yes, I had finally made it to India.” And what a good reminder it was…
Amidst the chaos and the inescapable shifting of people and objects and animals- I felt at peace. And I felt safe- I had a sincere sensation that no one there could hurt me- or would hurt me. Of course, there is always the threat of being run over by a tuk tuk- but that would be sheer carelessness. And unfortunately, our trip coincided with the onset of some major terrorist threats- but that could happen in any nation- to anybody- foreigner or national. So I can’t blame India for being targeted.
What I felt in India was like an alarm clock- but one that wakes you from a dream where you slowly realize that the reality is so much better. Not the other way around.
I know that I have become complacent over the past year. My life is incredibly easy- and good. But I don't take risks…I don't venture out of my comfort zone. In fact, it’s hard to- when an entire country seems to have been created simply to satisfy every human desire on a daily basis.
The India trip, in contrast, was not meant to be comfortable. I wouldn't have wanted it to be. It was fast-paced, stressful and dirty. It was incredible.
India is wild and chaotic and so noisy that it is almost deafening. Traveling in India is a bumpy ride- anyway you look at it.
The vast subcontinent, with its outstanding diversity of cultures religions cuisines and languages would take a lifetime just to get to know. But in that lifetime- one would realize that there is a unity between geographical locations, castes and religions- and it's a harmony I had never felt before in any part of the world. There is an incredible sense of pride in it’s people- a dignity synonymous with honor and delight about its history and heritage- and although I am the first to admit that I have only just touched the tip of the great wealth of wisdom India and its people have to offer, what I do know is that I am hooked. And I can’t wait to return.
I wish I could report some big change in myself but unfortunately, I wasn't there long enough to undergo any transformation. Instead, it was a reminder of why I have always wanted to see India- why I travel, and why I plan to always travel. There is a lot to be said for having a home- someplace to come back to and be enveloped in- and Italy isn’t a bad place to call that “home.” But in this life of comfort and ease, challenging oneself to embark on a few adventures is a priority. I think a lot of lessons can be taken from the people of India. They are kind and welcoming. They enjoy as much as they can and they smile continuously. In India- family is important, self-respect is abundant and beauty is boundless.
I used to travel and hope to change myself in some way. I traveled for inspiration and I traveled to broaden my knowledge and understanding. Even though I still do that- I still hope to learn more about myself and the world- I’m beginning to think that I’m done changing. At the same time, I’m not focusing anymore on becoming a different person. But maybe I’m making a mistake. Because after just a few short days in India- I realized that I could live my life in a better way.
While traveling, a quote by Gandhi kept coming to mind: “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possibly. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” Listening to what Gandhi said, and applying it to my own life, I think there is a great lesson to be learned. That no matter where our homes are- or what they are made of- it would be a sin to close ourselves in, under our roofs with our locks and keys- pretending to protect ourselves from whatever is out there in the great wide world- ugly or beautiful, dangerous or safe. It’s all there to discover, absorb and ultimately understand. We should accept whatever may cross our paths and learn from it- but to remain true to who we are.
And when I return to India, it is with these thoughts in mind that I will confront, yet again, one of the most magnificent places I have ever been.