Eating all over the World!

I have spent the last year traveling and eating in rapid succession. My hips aren’t lying about how much I’ve been enjoying this year’s culinary experience, so I figured it was worth sharing this with you all. Here are just a few snaps from recent trips that have been particularly enjoyable, so be prepared to drool…

Epicurean Experiences in Swaziland at the restaurant at Mantenga Lodge.

Italian Eateries are particularly decadent:

German delicacies were diverse and delicious:

Traditional Ethiopian food and Italian food in Ethiopia were unforgettable:

And the icing on the cake is a melange of flavors in Mozambique:

Eat your heart out!

Cult Movie Classics

I am not what you might call a “movie person.” The thought of a theatre experience reminds me of paying goo gobs of cash to sit in a cushy seat probably infested with bodily fluids from strangers. Needless to say, I’m not often moved by the images on the big screen, unless there are a lot of things blowing up. Yet Netflix has been my homeboy for some years now, shipping cult classics and obscure foreign titles to wherever in the world I may be. In honor of the 28 year anniversary of one of my absolute faves, “She’s Gotta Have It,” here’s my top ten list of must-see movies that you probably haven’t seen (or at least not in a long time):

1.

Gomorrah is a 2008 film from Italy, based on a Robert Saviano book. This is not your typical mafia movie. In every form and fashion, it’s better.  It weaves five individual stories of people trying to make their own connections with the Casalesi clan, a crime syndicate within the Camorra.

2.  Borders Frontieres is a 2002 film from France/ Algeria that focuses on African clandestine immigration to southern Europe. Comedic and tragic, the film charts the journey of seven people traveling from Senegal through Algeria and onward to Spain.

3. Woody Allen’s 1977 classic Annie Hall is the pre and post-mortem tale of a relationship between two seemingly incompatible people, who once fell in love. It’s romantic and whimsical, and also shows scenes of back when NYC was gritty.

images-44. First of all, “Dilwale Dulhania le Jeyenge” stars my absolute fave Bollywood actress, Kajol and, second, it involves a young woman traveling on her own. What’s not to love (maybe SRK’s hair cut)?

This is the story of two kids who, against their own wishes, fall in love while taking the Eurorail. Both are non-resident Indians, raised in Britain, and both are struggling to meet their parents’ expectations for adulthood. But, when they first meet, neither knows this about the other… and hence, the comedic elements of this 1995 romantic comedy.

5.

In the 2003 drama, 21 Grams, an accident brings together three people who couldn’t be more unrelated or disconnected. The words love, faith, guilt and revenge all crop up, a lot. The movie stars Benicio del Torro, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and is directed by the Mexico City native Alejandro González Iñárritu.

6. Mexico’s 2008 Sleep Dealer has to be one of the most engaging sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen. (Sci-fi is not my genre of choice.) The plot is not as blatantly transparent in its allusion to specific political events as South Africa’s District 9, but it definitely made me think – how far away are we from this being a reality? The long and short of it is that technology has developed such that people’s bodies can be in one place and through the use of a physical attachment, they can use robotics to operate machinery and perform tasks that are actually located in another place. The dynamics of immigration being the same, this dynamic interestingly means that there is migrant work with no workers, but at what cost?

7.

Leon is probably one of the most gangster movies I’ve ever watched and enjoyed. A hitman teams up with a little girl, and they start whooping ass! Natalie Portman + Jean Reno / circa 1994 = You’ll have to just watch it.

8. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, made me appreciate that Hitchcock isn’t only about scare and gore. In this mid-century tale, an American family travel to Morocco, only to get caught up in a murder mystery, an assassination attempt, and a kidnapping. There’s drama and travel, mixed in with politics and music. Apparently there are two versions of the film, from 1934 and 1956, and I don’t remember which version I saw.  So, have your pick!

9. Dirty Pretty Things is based in modern-day UK, and tells the story of a clandestine African immigrant who is a trained doctor by profession and a Turkish woman whose visa to the UK allows her to stay, but not work. Both are tied by mutual interest and genuine affection, and they are only brought closer together when Senay considers harvesting an organ on the black market in order to get a fake passport to travel to the U.S.A.

10.

The Gods Must be Crazy is to South Africa what Coming to America is to the United States. Released in 1980, it is said to be the most commercially successful film from South Africa (but maybe that’s changed since the release of District 9). The movie is set in the desert of Botswana, where Xi, a Sho of the Kalahari Desert (played by Namibian San farmer Nǃxau) lives with his tribesmen. None of them are conscious of the world outside of or different from the desert they know, until Xi stumbles upon a Coca Cola bottle.

Out of curiosity, how many of you have actually seen any of these?

Girl Trippin

sisterhood-1

“Get outta town” was a household expression that I’ve grown to know and love.  It was my mother’s child friendly way of saying “Get the [insert four letter expletive] out of here with that [insert eight letter expletive].” That expression that expressed so much in disbelief, in torment of reality, in sheer shock, has been one I have heard myself say so many times here in India – not just in the way that my mother once used it, but also in its literal meaning.  Ditching Delhi and seeking new sights has become as powerful in my adult life as any expletive ever was in my childhood.

My childhood was encased in a YaYa Sisterhood-like circle of my mother’s friends.  My aunts by blood and/or by bond were everywhere, all the time.  They were at awards ceremonies.  They were at my house.  They were at my grandmother’s house.  They were at their houses with my brother and me (their kids, nieces and nephews too).  They were at the supermarket.  They were at birthdays and holidays and funerals and hospital rooms.  And while it never seemed that these 40-something mothers and sisters and businesswomen, my aunts, actually ever got outta town (literally), I remember them saying it quite a bit to each other.

“Ohhh girl, get outta town” was usually followed by throat gurgling laughter.  There was always a kitchen or dining room table that they were gathered around like the Knights of King Arthur’s court.  There was always food on the table and, more recently as my cousins and I have grown older, there has been more and more liquor on it too.

Just last week I went to a performance of a Durga Puja.  In this dance rendition, Durga, the goddess of destruction, grows her 10 hands by combining the bodies of five women in to one.  I’m not so much into the fiction of her having slain evil Mahishasura with her combined woman powers.  The story doesn’t make much logical sense in my cursory understanding.  But, I was fascinated by the idea of female partnership, by our power to be stronger together than apart.  It’s the fraternity of females that shows in the pantheon, but not in the reality.

What I noticed most when I arrived in Delhi was the lack of female-to-female relationships.  There’s never just a bunch of young women hanging out at a restaurant or bar or a coffee shop or a bookstore together, just them, no male escort in tow.  It has remained difficult for me to understand the need for women to be surrounded by men and to call that protection.  I missed the lack of girl talk, the silliness and the goofiness that gals are permitted when not around men they hope to impress or have to appear proper in front of.  I recognized that the circle of women that I had known and loved as a child was an anomaly in this space, and it pushed me more than ever to “get outta town.”

Beneath this layer of mythological female power, there is a very real Sita complex.  The tortured wife whose identity is based on her long suffering with her [insert seven letter expletive] husband who treats her like [insert four letter expletive] and really doesn’t much give a [four letter expletive] about her as person, so much as her as reproductive capabilities.  I digress.

There are huge absences of women in Delhi places where they could be, should be – on the streets, in the nightclubs, in the art galleries, in the professional work places.  It seems as if the women of Delhi have learned to simply get out of these places, minimize themselves in these spaces, be un-present as much as possible, so as not to threaten (what? I’m not sure) or be threatened.

As time has passed, my mother and my aunts have seen their children grow older, their parents pass on, relationships resolve themselves and now more than ever they are taking their girl gang on the road.  They’ve been to Spain, Italy, Saint Lucia and Germany, and while I’m sure I could beg, borrow, and steal their sympathies to bring them to Delhi I just can’t bring myself to do it.  How can it be that being a woman, enjoying a woman’s friendship is more foreign than being a foreigner?  These women who have had men in their lives, not as handlers, but as partners, wouldn’t understand how what has come so natural to them would appear so strange to these people of Delhi.

So while I long to hear their laughter and banter around my dining room table, to host them here and hear their stories washed down with high-end liquers, I can’t help but encourage them to go to a different destination from their next girls’ trip out of town.  What they see here might shock them.  They might be tormented by the realities of this place, and I am sure they won’t believe some of the ways that women are treated and some of the ways that women behave.  I’ve spent so much time trying to ‘get outta town’ myself, I’m not sure I’d have the capacity to make believable some of the absurdities and to make bearable some of the oddities.

How would my mom and aunts get along here? We may never know.

The (Seaside) Road Less Traveled

A few weeks ago, I had the awesome honor of creating a document that would guide a Q&A for former Secretary Madeleine K. Albright.  I mean, what kind of task was that, really? …Considering my feeble little mind couldn’t possibly throw her off with some new trick question she hadn’t already been asked in her… uhh… oh, I don’t know… three decades of being awesomely famous, clearly I was writing more for my own satisfaction rather than for her preparation. But, one question struck me as particularly simple and brilliant, if I may say so myself. And, I do. (I do. I doo oohhh.)

In some sick twist of fate, I ended up traveling when she actually spoke, so I didn’t get the satisfaction of hearing her answer my really good question.  So, I was left with a mean question hangover that kept me up at night.  I think this kind of persistent pondering, my friends, can only be soothed by answering my favorite question myself.  Here goes.

“Is there a place in the world that you have not yet visited that you would like to?  If so, where and why?” (Yes, I know I ended that question with a preposition – don’t judge me.)

Since, I’m not famous and I haven’t been traveling that long – comparatively speaking – I have a laundry list:

  1. Where: Milan, Italy Why:  Because I have expensive taste. As I am on the curvier side of shapely, I’ve always admired the Italian taste for accentuating the positive.  For reasons related to a $4,000 Dolce & Gabbana dress I once tried on at the Mall at Short Hills, I am convinced that I am meant to wear Italian crafted mid calf dresses.  Paid for by?  Some unnamed, as yet unknown, poor sucker.  The curves? Well, those are all (African) American.  Call me global #shouldershrug.
  2. Where:  Curaçao Why:  Why not?  A beautiful blue drink has been named after this place, which means the country must share some of this alcoholic beverage’s positive attributes.  The only other country I’ve been to of Dutch patronage is Suriname and I absolutely loved that place.  So, Curaçao can’t fail.  Unless, of course, I have to speak Dutch.
  3. Where: Durban, South Africa Why: I like to read near the beach.  I’ve always been fascinated by Africa, but the longer I studied race and national identity the more interested I became in southern Africa, as a whole, and South Africa, in particular.  Since, I’m demanding enough to want to study culture beachside, Durban just feels right.
  4. Where: São Tomé and Príncipe Why:  Because I would tell the best stories at cocktail parties.  “Hellooooww dahleeng, where ever did you go during your summer holiday?” “Oh just boring ole’ Paris. You know that’s where Frank and I PACSed.” “And you, Sugar Plum, where ever did you go?” “ I went to São Tomé and Príncipe and had a jolly ole time out there frolicking with our dear friends on the beach.  One year, we will have to take you and Frank with us, dahleeng.” Yup, that’s pretty much how I expect the banter at every work cocktail party to go after I come back from one of the most isolated and obscure island nations of the world.  Beat that Pitcairn Islands!
  5. Where: Andaman Islands, India Why? Because I stole this from someone.  This one is a bit of a cheat, but hear me out.  So, a woman arrived here just a few months back and told me about the Jarawa people of the Andaman islands.  I definitely know of the Siddi or Siddhi populations throughout India, but I have only recently learned about the endangered people that are the Jarawa.  Now, I do understand that my visiting them on their native islands (that and in-breeding) may in fact lead to their extinction.  So, we’ll see how long it takes me to get a permit to visit.  Perhaps, by then I may change my mind and go to the Maldives before they sink into the sea.
  6. Where: Swains Island, U.S. Why? I’m convinced this place doesn’t actually exist.  I won’t go into great detail about the lengthy exchange that led to my discovery of this island. “Is a green card holder a U.S. national? What about some one from Guam? Northern Mariana Islands, no? Oh, shizznit! That’s right, Gilligan’s Island was based on Swains Island. Troo dat! Thanks for schooling me, son son. DYNOMIIITTE!” It didn’t quite go like that, but I’ll leave it to you to determine which parts are fiction, including whether or not Swains actually exists.
  7. Where: Monaco Why?  I’m bourgie.  I didn’t realize how stoosh Europe could be until I went to the Arab funded south of Spain and got a whiff of the perfumed exhaust fumes of Mazaratis in Puerto Banus.  I’m expecting Monaco to top that, and that’s a whole lotta toppa topping.
  8. Where: Panama Why?  Honestly? Because I heard reggaeton started there and the country looks really beautiful in pictures.  That is all. (Drop the mic and walk offstage)
  9. Where: Oaxaca, Mexico Why?  I’ve been to the annexed territory of Oaxaca that is Brooklyn, and I’m dying to get to the mother ship!  I’ve never been to Mexico – partially because I’m pretty picky about the Iberian descendant countries I frequent.  I’m not sure of my internal criteria, but I do know I have some kind of criteria floating around in there.  Needless to say, once I realized that Cali Mexicans were not actually from the same part of Mexico (a DUH!) as my hometown NYC/NJ Mexicans, I grew a curiosity to get to the root of what I know to be Mexican culture.  And I’d also like to cook better tacos in the future.
  10. Where: Laos  Why? A friend of a friend in college was a hot Laotian guy who apparently could cook very well.  And one thing I like about as much as clothing I don’t pay for is food!  I’m told Laos is less a planned zen tourist attraction than Cambodia, less developed than Vietnam, and so – overall – more “me” than other South East Asian countries.  Did I mention that I heard that their hot guys cook great food?

Now that I’ve spilled my guts, I’m wondering…what about you?