There's this shopping mall on the outskirts of a major city. It harbors stores from the most well-heeled of Italian designers. You can grab a slice of pizza or a cup of cappuccino while you consider the great bargains you just scored. The parking lot is filled with late model European cars. This location sports the fashionably minimalist name "The Mall." And why not? How many more of these Middle America-type retail palaces are you going to find adjacent to the capital of the Middle Ages: Florence, Italy?
It's not an easy thing to do these days. Shun the superhighway, along with the chain fast food restaurants, and corporate motels. But there's a whole other U.S.A. out there, especially on the nation's most historic and scenic byways. And the best place to start and seek out the best of Independent America is along the Pacific Coast Highway. Which is how I decided to take a recent road trip with my wife along the world-famous 101: we decided to only do business with Mom & Pop.
They invited me to eat with them while breakfast was still hot: a boiled egg, porridge, chopped salad and yogurt. Their families shared their water and biscuits with me, all wonderfully accommodating despite the linguistic divide. We conversed cheerfully and kept each othersí spirits buoyant. Was I in some remote Middle Eastern village renown for its charm despite the nasty conflict going on nearby? I was not ó I was a patient in Tel Avivís Ichilov Hospital.
For how I recovered from my health scare, read Mideast R&R
Two Turkish carpet salesmen bewitched me. These creatures make North American used car salesmen look like stuttering amateurs peddling their rust buckets. These agents of desire are wily, charming, and keen students of human nature. Their perseverance will make you pine away for the beauty of the fixed price back home but the adventure of hard bargaining will leave you wanting to do it more often.
Friday morning, it was a room full of computers and enthusiastic Palestinian children sending e-mail through their only lifeline to the outside world. By midnight, the Ibda Community Center's computer room was on fire. Someone had deliberately torched the place, stealing the computer server and reducing the rest to molten plastic and silicon.
At 6:50 p.m., a siren wailed throughout Jerusalem. Friday evening, the Jewish sabbath was about to fall on the city. Stores in West Jerusalem were closed and the streets had emptied out. But we had chosen
to pass the next twenty-four hours in Arab East Jerusalem. There, the Muslim day of rest was coming to a close. Hopefully, there would be more action here than in the Jewish neighborhoods...
Opening excerpt from Caffeine, Nicotine & the Persistence of Habit
I didn't smoke and still I yearned for a cigarette. It was a superfluous craving, something that would have permitted me more to posture with prop in mouth than to soothe my nerves. Would have.
A poor substitute, I lost myself in the murkiness of my coffee instead. Hypnotized, I swirled the grounds that floated near the mouth of the cup - near solids obscuring the liquid as steam from the hot drink continued to waft lazily away. Stirring only made things worse. This coffee was not about to settle down. Eventually, I would have to succumb, close my eyes and just sip...
I must not have been thinking clearly when I opted to take a short vacation in the Balkans. After having spent nearly five months of my life in southeastern Europe over the last three year as a journalist, to return to the former Yugoslavia could not have been a brilliant idea.
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