• misguided


      Once it was Baedeker or nothing. Now a slew of guidebooks compete for the privilege of answering the traveler’s every question. Usually I take along only one book, but on one trip to Northern Italy many years ago, I packed four: Fodor’s for the basics, Michelin for authoritative facts and maps, and, just in […]

  • the origin of Romeo and Juliet?


      When I wrote the essay, Misguided, I assumed the Romeo and Juliet story was fictional. But when I looked into the matter, I found a lot of confusion. Wikipedia doesn’t answer the question but its information does help explain why the guide books were confused. Of the several plays that predate Shakespeare’s (which was written […]

  • how basic knowledge gets lost


      Since the Trump election, we have woken up to the prevalence and danger of  fake news in America. Carefully designed to warp public opinion and spread by social media using high tech analytics, it has become a major threat to our democracy. Huge segments of the population no longer trust in expert opinion, even in logic. But this […]

  • why the Pisa tower leans?


      As for the Tower of Pisa’s tilt, Wikipedia is explicit on the cause: an inadequate foundation on ground too soft on one side to properly support the structure’s weight. The theory of the intentional tilt seems to be as crazy as you might think. Some of the guidebooks’ confusion, however, might be attributed to […]

  • you’re not like your parents? really?


      Psychologists would say that we naturally identify with our parents, either modeling ourselves on them or establishing independent identities by choosing the opposite path. The perfect example of conscious rejection is the 1980’s TV series, Family Ties, starring Michael J. Fox as the hyper-conservative son who mocks the liberal values of his baby boomer […]

  • whither the “generation gap”?


      Hippie gurus and tie-dyed bell-bottoms are history. The police are no longer pigs. Crunchy granola has lost its claim on virtue. Has the generation gap also gone the way of all things sixties? Having lived through the era, I assumed that every generation was doomed to be cut off from the next by dint […]

  • bellicose bambini


      The history of Italy is a gory tale of non-stop internecine fighting. If Disney had animated it, the tongue would be trying to devour the toe, the grommet to strangle the lace. To walk the otherwise charming old streets is to tread on centuries of dried blood, fratricidal blood. Other travelers may focus on […]

  • Why are smells so hard to recall?


      The sense of smell has a conflicting relationship to memory: the memories it evokes are the most intense and emotional, while scent itself is so elusive as to seem beyond memory. Proust may have been the first person to describe the phenomenon of scent/taste-induced memory, a memory so complete that it feels like the […]

  • wine cellars and mortality


      One of the essential appeals of “laying down” wine is that you can buy it when it is young and relatively inexpensive, after which it can sit in your cellar aging and taking on value. Over the years, you can chortle at the high price a wine is fetching— in a wine store or […]

  • the bugs and us


      My parents, like the Monarch butterflies, wintered in Central Mexico. Fleeing icy Manhattan to join their friends in Palm Beach or Palm Springs would have been too easy. Instead, after my father retired from dentistry at 80, they set up house in Ajijic, a small lake-side village outside Guadalajara with a big ex-pat community […]


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