Picture Perfect Petra

There is something about Petra that seems simultaneously both ancient and more advanced than today.  This Nabataean settlement’s stunning rock-cut architecture is unimaginable and would be hard to create with today’s technology let alone over two thousand years ago.  As we pass through the narrow Siq, we eventually arrive at the famous Treasury façade leading to soaring temples and elaborate royal tombs, a theater, and more burial chambers.  After a quick lunch, we go to the Monastery, which is located atop 850 steps built into the sandstone.

Although the tourist economy has turned Petra into something more Disneyland-like with its camel and horseback rides, carriage trips, souvenir stands, and snack shops, the magic of this historic place remains untouched.  This day is full of highlights, and these pictures only begin to tell the story.

Father-Son Trip

Just finished my last first semester of grad school, and I’m off to make the most of winter break.  The break begins on a trip with my dad in Israel and Jordan.  After a long flight over the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean, I arrive at Tel Aviv International Airport at sunrise, figure out which train I am supposed to take and eventually wind myself through Tel Aviv before arriving at the David Intercontinental hotel at 8am.  I shower, my dad and I breakfast, and then it’s off to Jerusalem.

At the moment, my jetlag hasn’t caught up to me, but something of this whole situation reminds me (or at least reminds of the often told story) of when the five Steins were traveling in France and were not even allowed a cooling sip of water because that might delay the schedule.  I am not afraid of dehydration, but I am concerned that I might be pushing myself to still be placing one foot ahead of the other by mid-afternoon depending on where this day takes us.

Alas, I am excited to be in Israel, not worried about the overcast, slightly drizzly day, and am prepared for day one of my adventure with dad.

The New Modern Italian Style of Cooking

Filangee of Carrots in white balsamic vinegar with black sesame seeds
Pancetta stuffed with prunes in Negroamaro wine sauce

First course:
Tagliolini with Guanciale and filangee of Roman zucchini on yellow pumpkin sauce

Second course:
Veal and pork “Straccetti” in the Pizzaiola style
Eggplant a la “Parmigiana”

Ricotta cheese mousse with Amaretta in “Nectarina” Peach sauce

Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOCG (Veneto)
Primitivo del Salento, Manduria IGT (Puglia)
Muscat de Samos AOC (Greece)

Working the prunes

After a relaxing first day in Rome allowing us all to adjust to the time difference and catch up on sleep where our main activities are eating and visiting the Trevi Fountain not far from the apartment, we were ready for a little more adventure on day two.

Eggplant a la Parmigiana

The most repeated phrase of the day is that we are practicing “the new modern Italian style of cooking.” The theme of this style is to make a healthier version of traditional Italian dishes without sacrificing taste. My brother-in-law, George is most skeptical that such a feat is possible. He cringes as he watches our teacher, Chef Stefano, pour the extra grease from the guanciale down the drain.

Dad chopping away

Although we only sign up for a half day of cooking, our lesson lasts until after 3:00pm. We alternate all day between cooking, eating, cooking, and eating. And when we eat, each course is substantial enough to be its own meal. The filangee of carrots (a.k.a. bed of carrots) in the appetizer would be enough to fill anyone of us up. But this does not stop Shana’s sweet tooth from downing three portions of dessert. The combination of eating and jet lag make some of us quite tired. We all start off really strong as active participants and asking a lot of questions, but by the end, all we can do is eat and laugh. I feel the more tired we got, the more we laughed. The meal was delicious and as a family activity, cooking was a great choice.

Taking good notes

Traveling with Parents

There were a couple changes, in no particular order, that I experienced when traveling with my parents:

  • Bedtime moves to 10:30pm
  • Nicer meals
  • More map folding
  • Automatic shifting rental car
  • More talk about grandchildren
  • Nicer accommodations
  • Greater patience needed
  • Increased planning
  • Good meal conversation
  • Never missing breakfast

Onwards to Lucca

Our last morning in Oriveto is spent underground. Orvieto hides caves and tunnels in the volcanic rock on which the city is build. In these underground passages that were originally mainly accessible by private homes above, we find wells, stairs, quarries, cellars, pigeon farms, and more. After a tour of the underground and a quick haircut, we are ready to make the drive north to Lucca.

For our lunch stop on the road, we pause our drive in Montevarchi, a very quiet town where everyone has seemed to disappear during lunch hours. Although the options are limited, with the help of TripAdvisor’s seven reviewed restaurants, we find Daniele e Riccardo, a hidden restaurant near the center of town. We grab a table and the waitress’ first question is if we speak English. Initially, I only realize that she has a strong accent, which I reasonably assume to be Italian. We answer yes, we do speak English, and that is when I realize her accent is not Italian, but instead Northern European. Our waitress, who is from Denmark, speaks much better English than Italian, and has found her way to this small town for two weeks because she won a contest back home. We enjoy several great appetizers along with a lot of bread, olive oil and vinegar before continuing on our way.

mom, dad, and me in lucca

It is at this juncture that the primary driving responsibilities shift from my Dad to me. He is still a bit jet-lagged and the aggressive Italian driving style isn’t ideal in his tired state of mind. The first time I have driven since driving down to Southern California from the Bay Area before leaving the States was last night when we drove back from Perugia. The car is an automatic and easy to drive, and I enjoy getting back behind the wheel. We get to Lucca in the mid-afternoon, find our apartment, and before doing anything else, we go to the tourist office to start planning our week. We come up with many activities, especially evening activities, we grab a couple maps so that Dad can maintain his map folding prowess, and we set off to bravely explore the town of Lucca. We grab some gelato followed by dinner followed by a formal ballroom dancing display in a public piazza before heading back to the apartment to crash.

Known for its well-maintained city walls, Lucca started as an Etruscan city then a Roman colony in the second century BC. Beginning in the 12th century, the city was an independent republic for about five hundred years. A couple fun facts are that the famous Italian poet Dante spent some of his exile within the wall of this city, and composer Giacomo Puccini was born here.

Puccini statue

Mia Mamma e Mio Papà

Almost five months after being dropped off at Los Angeles International Airport, I see my parents again. We try to time it so that we both arrive into Rome’s FCO airport at the same time, and if I hadn’t been flying on the generally delayed EasyJet, our timing would have been very close. After collecting my backpack from baggage claim, I meet my parents in front of the rental car counters. With their family’s worth of luggage and their Italy maps already unfolded, my parents and I embrace and simply enjoy the reunion.

Our first stop in Italy is Orvieto, so we immediately bypass Rome as we will be returning in about a week, and head north to Orvieto. Located in Italy’s Umbria region, Orvieto’s history dates back to the Etruscan era from when there is proof of an ancient city. Later, the city was annexed by Rome and eventually held under Papal rule until the unification of Italy in 1860. Today, this walled city has much to offer to tourists such as me and my parents. Between the walls surrounding Orvieto the striped Duomo (or Main Cathedral), and the underground city, Orvieto is full of sites to see and history to learn.

The three of us enjoy a fun and delicious first meal in Orvieto celebrating all being together, and we begin to develop a plan of what the next week will look like before meeting up with the rest of the family.

Mom and Dad

My Worn Identity

Several times throughout my academic career, my class was asked to write words that we identified with, whether it was adult, tall, American, blue-eyed, Muslim, etc.  Unfortunately, it is these “identities” that could get me in trouble as I meet new people from other cultures.  And to complicate matters further, these identities are far from self-imposed.  Instead, I have no choice but to wear them in plain site as I travel.  I can’t hide speaking english with an american accent and having curly hair with a jewish nose.  I also have little doubt that Americans and more specifically Jewish Americans might not be loved everywhere they travel.  People may disagree with our politics, philosophies, and general cultural norms.  It is for this reason, that if given the chance, I want extend that identity.

I am a brother.  I am a son.  I am a new uncle.  I am a grandson.  I am a friend.  This is easy to say and hard to prove.  I can foresee a situation where I am sitting next to someone on a train or bus and they look at me and immediately fill with preconceptions of who I am.  This scenario soon devolves into a lecture about why Americans are failing in some aspect or another, and there is little pause to see if I agree with the philosophies and politics of my American people, but that doesn’t matter.  I am not an individual here.  I am an American.  I might as well be riding a Harley Davidson wearing an American flag bandana blasting Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA through the heartland of Vietnam.  I might have to wait for this anti-American lecture to start to fizzle, and then I will reach into my backpack and grab a couple photos that I’ve been traveling with.  These photos start to show that I am not just an American.

Family in San Francisco

I hope these photos will show that my identity starts with family.  Whatever happens, I know my family will be there.  Whatever I do, I know my family will support me.  And whatever I blunder, I know my family will forgive me.  These values I feel transcend any one culture and will hopefully allow me to connect with that lecturer sitting next to me on a much more personal and individual level.  I will introduce him to my 5 month old niece.  I will tell him what my sisters do and who my parents are.  The stories we then begin to swap are more about who we are as individuals and less about what our politics are.

My niece

These two photos I will carry with me as I begin to travel.