• 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 […]

  • 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 […]

  • 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 […]

  • travel wars: us v. them

      To most, the sixties “generation gap” was a vague, pop-culture generality. To us—my parents on one side, my husband Michael and I on the other—it was my family’s defining motif. We were deeply, truly, madly split on every subject. Police brutality. Dean Martin. Grey Poupon versus French’s. It was all equally significant. Where you […]

  • travel fantasy meets “small-world”

      By the time I was a midlife wife and mother, I knew the Age of Exploration had long since passed, and yet I still craved a sense of discovery—and of self-discovery—when I traveled. The word “trip” continued to have a ‘60’s ring. Over the years, I’d come to realize that what I sought was […]

  • Reluctant Baccante

      “A few days sipping wine in he California sunshine—how bad could it be?” my husband coaxed. “The kids are in camp. It’s our chance to get away!” I let myself be persuaded. For years we’d heard glowing reports from friends who’d been enticed by Napa’s siren song. But I am here to report that […]

  • beauty: blaming our mothers

        I blame my mother. Or I have for the last 60-odd years. I blame her for what I didn’t like about my childhood, for what I don’t like about myself, and especially for how I feel about my looks. Name it—it’s always been her fault. After all, she did have a withering, critical eye […]

  • to look or not to look

    Hunting an illustration for an essay about my father’s late-life mutation into a skirt-chaser, I googled “lecherous old men painting,” and up popped Susanna and the Elders. There were dozens of versions. The paintings depict a biblical story of lechery, a popular subject in the Renaissance and beyond, and fit my subject only too well. […]

  • diagnosing the dirty old man

    This essay was previously published in a somewhat different form on Cognoscenti.wbur.org on April 22, 2015.   The stock character of the dirty old man dates at least from the Romans and is a comic staple today; but, when your own father becomes that character, it’s no joke. If it’s someone you’ve always loved and […]

  • Abracadabra for Writer’s Block

      In fairy tales, Abracadabra has the power to break spells. And what is writer’s block, if not a maniacal spell that roots you to the spot? Oddly, I was once stuck in such a spot until released—not by that eleven-letter charm, but by a sixteen-word one. It wasn’t magic, but it felt just like […]

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