|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
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Wednesday, July 27, 2011
A Word From the Weiss
Contrary to the old movie, some don’t like it caldo. It’s
so ironic, not to mention outright misleading, that the Italian word for “hot” sounds like its exact opposite
in English. But trust me, not one measly degree of heat or humidity is lost in translation. Southern Italy is an oven in summer.
How hot is it? When you’re there, it feels almost as painful to compute Celsius into Fahrenheit as it is to contemplate
the exchange rate while you’re paying for that new leather jacket. Let’s just say it feels toasty enough on most
days to bake a pizza right on the sidewalk. You step outside of your hotel and wilt like a week-old begonia before you can
even bid “Buongiorno!” to the bellman.
So if you’re thinking of
Italy as one of the most romantic places on the planet, then think again. There’s only one thing less appealing than
touching the drenched back of someone who’s shvitzing bullets in the midday sun, and that’s having someone
So it was no big loss that on our recent family vacation to the incomparably scenic Amalfi Coast, the four
of us somehow ended up spending more than half the nights sleeping in one room. After all, when you go away with your children,
even grown kids, romance is pretty much the last thing on your mind. You’re just hoping that you can all tolerate one
another’s sleeping habits, bad moods, bitchiness and bodily noises long enough to enjoy a rare taste of family time
Anyway, when we last left our heroine (OK, it was only me), she had just disembarked in front of our lovely accommodations
on the mesmerizingly gorgeous Isle of Capri only to discover that one of her two suitcases was missing. Evidently, when loading
all the luggage into his van, the owner of the secluded bed & breakfast where we were staying had overlooked my carry-on
and left it sitting at the bus stop. This was the large black patent leather satchel in which I’d been transporting
all of my valuables – not just my toiletries, cosmetics and carefully printed-out travel plans, but my camera, medications
and an abundance of jewelry, of which I’d inadvertently packed too much.
Worst of all to consider losing
was the exquisite multicolored mezuzah that my daughter had just brought us two nights earlier as a special gift from her
trip to Israel. How would I tell her that it was gone, along with the pretty earrings she’d bought me in Istanbul? Our
first full-family vacation in eons had just begun. Was the fun already over?
Assuring me that Capri was crime-free
and I had nothing to fear, the innkeeper, Costanzo, drove me back to town at breakneck speed while my family remained behind.
As we retraced our circuitous route along the perilous perimeter of the Capri coast, the queasiness mounting
in my gut was less about motion sickness than despair. I like to view myself as a non-materialistic person – someone
to whom relationships, integrity and other intangibles are paramount, and far more precious than anything you could ever load
into a suitcase. Yet let’s face it. We all have nice stuff we treasure and would loathe to part with. Not to mention
how inconvenient the rest of the trip would be without deodorant, my pills, my battery-operated toothbrush and directions
to our other hotels.
My hopes sank further into the churning pit that was my stomach as we rounded the final hairpin turn, and
I saw a huge glut of tourists milling about at the bus stop. Abandoning the bag here was about as close as you could have
come on the Isle of Capri to leaving your most prized possessions in the middle of Grand Central Station.
Had I been kidding myself to even
hope against hope? Of course it wasn’t there.
Then two women who’d been hugging goodbye parted, and I took
a second look. Wait. What was that thing with the sunlight glinting off it behind the crowd? It was black. It was beautiful.
It was bulging. It was… it! And clearly it had not escaped public notice. Did my nice bag look remotely like anything
planted by a terrorist? All I know is that when I bounded over, seized it and clutched it to my chest, half the crowd broke
As we braved the meandering island roadways once again in reverse, Costanzo reiterated his assurances that
any twinge of alarm I’d felt had been unwarranted. “It is a good life here,” he said.
“On this island, there is no crime. Everyone knows everyone. We are like one family.” Indeed, he had 500 cousins
living on Capri, the result of a great uncle having sired 25 sons – by two different wives, of course. Later, I would
laugh when relating the last of these facts to my family. But over the next two days, we’d learn that what he had said
was true. I can’t vouch for his assertion that there was no crime. But this was certainly a very good life.
I’d selected his B &
B in sedate Anacapri, named Le Ginestre after the flowers that proliferate there, mostly as a matter of default. Having started
making reservations little more than a week before we’d left, I’d discovered that, on this relatively small island,
few vacancies were to be found. We’d really hoped to stay at Da Gelsomina, a wonderful inn that close friends had raved
about, but it was all booked up for a wedding there that weekend. Then Costanzo had listed a vacancy, and his place happened
to be just a short walk away. So I’d booked it, then made reservations for dinner at Da Gelsomina’s well-reviewed
restaurant. We also hoped to use the inn’s swimming pool, which I’d read was open to the public for a fee.
By the time we’d changed into swimsuits and strode down the road, it was nearly 4 p.m. So I felt a little dismayed to
learn that it would run the four of us about 60 bucks to take a quick swim. But to our delight, the inn said that since their
pool was closing a bit early for the wedding, they were not going to charge us anything. (It didn’t hurt, we assume,
that the owner, Gelsomina, was one of Costanzo’s cousins. Then again, who on Capri wasn’t?)
The kids were famished, so we sat
down at one of their poolside café tables first. What would you possibly eat on the Isle of Capri other than the famed
salad born there? How about scrumptious Caprese salad sandwiches – crusty Italian baguettes loaded with thick-cut slices
of snow white, fresh mozzarella and ruby beefsteak tomatoes, accented with emerald basil leaves and a golden drizzle of olive
oil? We washed these down with what may be the most sensational thing I’ve ever slurped – cappuccino
semifreddos, which were essentially slightly melted coffee ice cream in small glass coffee cups, crowned with a tuft
of whipped cream and gently dusted with cinnamon.
But if you really want to talk about delicious and refreshing, imagine plunging moments later into the sparkling
turquoise waters of that pool, which overlooked a breathtaking stretch of sea and was curtained by panels of white cloth swaying
in a gentle breeze. We swam until our fingertips were as crinkled as albino figs, then strolled calmly back to our room to
shower and dress before returning to ogle the sunset.
And yes, eat yet again.
The beauty of the violet and indigo sky at dusk, admired from our dinner
table with its panoramic view of the Gulf of Naples, was eclipsed only by that of the bride, who swept through the dining
room, making a cameo appearance before the ceremony.
It was daunting to choose between the wide variety of house-made
fresh pastas with embellishments culled largely from the inn’s own garden. But we unanimously concurred that my husband’s
humble choice, spaghetti prepared to the height of al dente and garnished with chunks of fresh tomato and shredded
basil, although the simplest, was the best.
Having first sampled the house assortment of hot appetizers, including zucchini blossoms fried so delicately
that they melted on the tongue, we hesitated to follow our entrees up with more than a single order of cloud-light tiramisu
and four forks. But no one seemed to object when another guest traversed the dining room and asked if we would mind helping
finish off the remains of her own dessert. As this lovely woman from outside Philadelphia explained, she was there to celebrate
her tenth anniversary, having been married on the island a decade earlier, and her husband had surprised her by having ordered
an entire chocolate and walnut torte, a popular local confection.
“Mazel tov!” I said in congratulations as the rest of my family thanked her profusely. She smiled
broadly, without even a hint of bewilderment.
“How did you know she was Jewish?” my daughter whispered
after our beneficent benefactor had rushed off to fetch her tempting offering.
I shrugged. “I say 'Mazel
tov' to everyone. The question is, how, in this entire room full of diners, did she happen to choose us?”
Encountering owner Gelsomina’s husband Pasquale on our way out, we didn’t hesitate to express
our admiration for the premises, whereupon he volunteered the inn’s shuttle service to take us into town, a perk complimentary
only to guests staying there. So once again I found myself clutching my seat as a van whipped around blind turns through two-way
thoroughfares barely wide enough to accommodate a single vehicle.
After touring tropical downtown Anacapri -- the more unpretentious of this exclusive island’s two main
cities, but still replete with stylish boutiques -- we realized that our only way back was to take a taxi. We were reluctant
to shell out the 20 euros (about $30) demanded by all of the waiting cabdrivers, which struck us as exorbitant for a relatively
short hike. Yet I blanched at the prospect of walking back in the dark, navigating narrow, winding streets filled with racing
vehicles. I’m as frugal as the next nice Jewish mom, but not when it comes to my children’s safety. (Only later
would we learn that there was a separate, well-lit walking path a mere 20-minute stroll from town.)
So we bit the bullet, assuming that our free
rides were clearly over. Or were they?
The next day, doubtful that we’d be allowed to swim in that pool gratis again, we chose to venture
to a public beach instead. The island, by definition, may be surrounded by water, but don’t expect the sandy beaches
to which we Americans are accustomed. Most of Capri meets the sea via towering, rocky cliffs, so there are few venues to swim.
We’d already seen that the public beach at Marina Grande, where the ferries arrive, was pebbly and mobbed. Instead we
opted for Faro Beach, named for the lighthouse nearby. This turned out to be equally crowded. And instead of pebbles, hordes
of local bathers spread their towels chock-a-block atop boulders or hard cement slabs before jumping into the bay.
We followed suit and dove in. Refreshing?
Yes. Relaxing to lie there afterwards? Not so much. So we consoled ourselves with more Caprese sandwiches at a nearby café.
Afterwards, we decided to forego the most widely touted local attraction, the famed Grotto Azura (“blue
grotto”), which Costanzo had warned us was just a lame tourist trap. Instead, we took the bus to the main town of Capri,
which was inundated with tourists and designer boutiques, but offered sea views so stunning as to be well worth the trip.
Getting a gander at the high-end life on this tony isle only accentuated the modesty of the accommodations
that we’d chosen. I’d booked Le Ginestre having been told that it had only one room left, outfitted with a queen-sized
bed and two singles. Yet the so-called “queen” turned out to be so narrow that I’d opted to share it with
my daughter, and my husband and son had been relegated to the pair of twin beds across the room. That room, despite its pretty,
colorfully patterned tile floor, also was far from as spacious as I might have hoped, and the four of us were limited to sharing
a single compact bathroom.
Yet there was something that made the place memorable and delightfully pleasant: Costanzo himself. He possessed
every fine quality and skill you might desire in a host. (“My hands, they do not just make this cake,” he declared
one morning, indicating the lemony bundt he had baked for our breakfast. “This whole house, I build myself.” He
was so talkative and affable, and his English was so polished compared to almost everyone else we met, that we lingered at
breakfast each morning, forming the closest bond we would forge with any Italian on our entire trip. Most of all, the joy
of life that he exuded was contagious. Beyond his bevy of cousins, at 45 he had a pretty, 29-year-old wife and adorable toddler
son. Plus, owning the B&B allowed him to work in this paradise only six months each year and take the other half off.
Yes, it was a pretty good life.
Apparently, the connection we felt was mutual. When it came time for us to leave, he
drove us not just back to the bus stop, but all the way to the marina on the opposite side of the island, refusing to accept
anything in return beyond a big, heartfelt hug.
The next night brought us yet another complimentary ride. Unlike Le Ginestre, our hotel in Sorrento, the
biggest splurge of our trip, was situated right in the center of town. (In addition to cake – 22 varieties of pastry
daily, to be exact – the lavish “American breakfast” at this four-star haven also featured eggs in three
styles, bacon, assorted cheeses, yogurt, sliced meats, fresh fruits, and endless cappuccinos made to order.) Also, unlike
rough-and-tumble Naples, Sorrento is oriented toward catering to visitors; around 60 percent of the locals work in the tourism
industry, we were told. So nearly everyone speaks some English, and many of the restaurants on the outskirts of town offer
transportation to and from their establishments in order to attract more customers. The first night that we arrived, we were
fetched by one of these, La Kambusa.
I was a little disappointed initially to be deposited in front of the harbor at a rather ordinary-looking
outdoor café and pizzeria. (As we would soon begin to realize, every restaurant in this part of Italy, no matter how
elegant, labels itself a pizzeria, because they all serve pizza, and this presumably helps attract foreigners.) But everything
that we ordered there, from my daughter’s pennezetti with gorgonzola cheese and fresh pear to my son’s
juicy mixed grill, could not have been more delicious. A sizable pitcher of the house white wine brimming with fresh, sliced
peaches, a refreshing variation on sangria, set us back only 8 euros ($11.50). And our waiter, who turned out to be the owner,
treated us afterwards to a round of limoncello, the lemon-scented liqueur for which the Amalfi Coast is famous. Then,
when my daughter noticed a small bottle of this elixir on the shelf and inquired how much it cost, he readily handed it over,
exclaiming, “It’s a gift!”
Welcome to Sorrento! Yes, we felt welcome indeed.
Searching out some gelato after being escorted safely back, we discovered that this city was
not quite the serene, picturesque refuge I had envisioned. If the Italian economy is floundering, you wouldn’t know
it from coming here. The downtown area was more like Disney World, lit up like (pardon the expression) Christmas in July,
with tourists of every age and nationality overflowing the outdoor cafés and swarming the streets like locusts -- locusts carrying
credit cards, that is.
Fortunately, our hotel, the Antiche Mura, although centrally located, boasted a quiet,
very private swimming pool out back nestled in a tranquil lemon grove. It was here that we eagerly repaired late each afternoon
after our day’s activities – a shopping excursion with my daughter one day, then an excursion to the fascinating
yet steamy ancient ruins of Pompeii, which were a short train ride away. And although its shimmering waters were
a perfect place to seek solitude, as well as relief from the scorching heat, we spent most of our time here gabbing and splashing
around with a pair of fellow guests, a fun-loving mother-daughter duo from Dallas.
We’d encountered them in the lobby our first night and become friends at first sight. Amy Loughridge, a dynamic divorcee,
and her high-spirited daughter Samantha were among the few other Americans staying there. (All the rest, mysteriously,
were Brits.) Samantha, a senior at the University of Texas, was just my daughter Allegra’s age, and the two of them
bonded almost on contact. I remained convinced, however, that their keen interest in us stemmed, at least in part, from Samantha’s
possible interest in my 24-year-old son, Aidan. Or perhaps her mother's interest in him for her.
Despite Aidan’s customary
reticence and natural reserve, I remained mystified and even a bit frustrated that he proceeded to keep to himself and behave
almost as though she were invisible. Finally, one day, I dared to ask him why. He admitted that she was attractive. Very,
in fact. The problem was that our whole family was there, and these people had become what he considered to be family
friends. Besides, she lived in Texas. He’s a New Yorker. Beyond Sorrento, this twain was never gonna meet again.
He pronounced me delusional to imagine that she was remotely interested in him, anyway. But I persisted that I knew otherwise.
I knew because one afternoon, apropos of almost nothing, Amy had asked me out of the blue if Aidan had a girlfriend.
As a mother myself, I knew that she wasn’t asking out of idle curiosity. She wanted to know for a reason, and that reason
This added some element of heightened drama when we began contemplating taking a day trip as a group. We
were eager to visit the neighboring town of Positano. They wanted to go there, too. Why not make a party of it and venture
there all together?
As I noted last week, I was absolutely terrified of the driving along the Amalfi Coast, having heard that
the roads were perilously winding and impossibly steep, without the benefit of railings to keep cars from catapulting over
high cliffs into the sea. I had embarked on this vacation only on the condition that we travel strictly by water after flying
overseas. Fortunately, I’d been assured, Positano was an easy boat ride away.
The day that we wanted to go, however,
our last before leaving Sorrento, I learned that there were only two boats a day. We’d already missed the first, and
the other was that evening. Should we scrap our plans and settle for more shopping and swimming? The fellow at the
front desk suggested visiting a mozzarella factory instead. But my family isn’t keen on tourist attractions, and this
one sounded especially cheesy.
Besides, how pathetic to spend a week on the exquisite Amalfi Coast and see so little
of it. So we hit upon a plan. I suggested that we hire a driver to take us all to Positano, then hop a boat back. The hotel
offered to call a car service for 90 euros. But my husband hondeled with a cabbie outside instead, who settled
for 75 euros ($108, or $18 per person).
Amy and Samantha met us in the lobby a little past noon, as planned. Anticipating
overwhelming heat, Allegra and I had opted for casual clothes and gone to little effort with our grooming. Samantha, on the
contrary, was dressed in an elegant skirt, her face made up to perfection. Maybe young women in Texas just make it a rule
to always look impeccable.
Or maybe my nice Jewish mom’s intuition was right.
Although I had helped orchestrate this excursion, I was secretly filled with dread. Compounding my anxiety
about the roads was that motion sickness runs in my family. To combat queasiness, I’d taken the precaution of putting
on my Sea Bands, gray elastic wristbands equipped with small plastic buttons that compress a pressure point just below the
wrist. Normally, I reserve these for airplane travel, for which they help ward off nausea. But I was anticipating the worst
and wasn’t taking any chances.
Samantha, admitting a susceptibility to car sickness herself, opted for
the van’s front seat. Allegra, dismissing my jitteriness, joined Aidan and me in the middle row. Expressing hearty bravado,
Amy valiantly clambered in beside my husband in the back.
To my enormous relief, all the roads turned out to have barriers
along their outside perimeters after all, and none zigzagged notably more than the coastal routes we'd endured on
Capri. Also, my trusty travel aids easily did the trick, and I was feeling perfectly fine. So I was a little surprised when
Allegra soon started to complain about an unsettled stomach, and Amy began begging the driver to make a quick stop along the
road. Granted, the seaside views were spectacular, and we were all eager to take pictures. But from the urgency in Amy’s
voice, I could tell that this tough-talking Texan was rapidly turning green.
Finally, the driver paused around a convenient bend, and we all bounded out and took turns posing beside
the sea. Amy snapped us. We snapped them. Then the driver captured us all, arms around each other’s waists, not just
fellow travelers but true friends.
Emboldened by my sense of equilibrium, I proposed changing seats with
Amy, but she insisted on persevering. And after only 10 more minutes of swerving and swaying, we reached our destination at
The pretty town of Positano is perched on a series of narrow, boutique-lined roads snaking up from the
sea. My husband soon wandered off and promptly vanished for nearly two hours. The four women in our group, with poor Aidan
in patient pursuit, spent the duration of that time parading from door to door in search of the perfect white cotton dress,
an item so ubiquitous on the Amalfi Coast that it’s practically the local uniform.
Yet most styles we saw were so overloaded with ruffles, lace and other frills as to be ongepotchket (that’s
Yiddish speak for excessively embellished and way too busy). Others were too short or small, or featured spaghetti straps
(an automatic deal-breaker, since all four of us were too well-endowed to consider going without a bra). But, despite the
provincial look of this village, all of them were much too pricey.
Finally, I came across a long, tasteful, understated
version in just my size that was only 20 euros (about $29). “Why is this dress so inexpensive?” I asked the shopkeeper.
She studied this garment, which was in pristine condition, and shrugged. “That dress? It is last year’s
model,” she replied. As far as I could see, there were countless models, and no distinctive difference between this
one and any of the others. I slipped it on to everyone’s approval and (despite some guilt toward my companions, who
remained empty-handed) bought it.
Finally, we found my missing husband, who’d apparently been shopping (not
drinking birra), and we sat down by the shore for a quick lunch, after which Amy insisted on our all tasting a local
pastry she’d heard about, delizia al limone (“lemon delight”). This circular confection, consisting
of a half ball of airy sponge cake soaked in lemon syrup and coated with a pale, citrus frosting, was so ethereally light,
and so subtle yet mouth-watering, that I may never forget my single bite.
I also noticed, as Wikipedia confirms, something provocative about its appearance. Being hemispherical in
shape, much like Hostess Sno Balls, and customarily decorated with a single pointy wild strawberry protruding dead center
on top, these delicacies, seen in pairs, resemble a woman’s cleavage. I often joke that gazing at pastries in a bakery
is like looking at pornography for me. So I can only speculate that for a man who loves sweets, these are truly a way of killing
two birds with one stone… or, as you might say, yeast meets breast.
After changing into the swimsuits
we’d all brought along, we bounded out to the beach. This one was neither pebbly nor lined with concrete. It was strewn
with flat, dark stones so hot from the sun that we had to wear our shoes right to the edge of the shore. Then we padded out
and immersed ourselves in the gently lapping waters of the bay. After floating out a short distance, I looked back toward
shore and caught my breath.
Rising on the hills behind me was the most dazzling vision I had ever seen. The town, although touristy up
close, was unimaginably quaint and charming when viewed in the distance, filled with tier after tier of pastel-hued homes
and buildings, many of them fully encrusted in rosy bougainvillea, rising up to the azure sky from the glistening sea.
This was what I had dreamed of. This is what I’d traveled all the way to Italy to see. Floating in the temperate
waves, we all gazed up in awe, jokingly claiming ownership to various houses and visually trying to commit this postcard-perfect
scene to memory, knowing that even the finest panoramic photograph could not begin to do it justice.
What if I had let a little anxiety about windy roads and aggressive Italian drivers make me miss the view
of a lifetime? What if I’d come all the way to Sorrento, yet sacrificed the chance to see this? What if I hadn’t
had the nerve to take this entire trip and had settled for weekend visits to our swim club and the safety of my own back yard?
All that seems unimaginable now. I can only continue to envision myself still drifting in that bay, gaping upwards toward
those cliffs. And any time I ever feel stress, or doubt the purpose of life, I will close my eyes and try to conjure up that
magnificent sight once again.
Amy, Aidan, and Samantha lingered so long on the beach afterwards that they nearly missed the boat back.
(I’d like to imagine that the latter two were making some sort of secret pact, or at least finally engaging in some
actual conversation, although my better judgment suspects otherwise.) Yet everyone made the ferry in the nick of time, and
we all sat comfortably up on deck, letting the wind whip through our still-wet hair as we continued to relish glorious coastal
views, not a twinge of sea sickness among us.
Then we reconvened at the hotel pool in the lemon grove and swam a little more.
We chatted briefly with our traveling
companions at breakfast the next morning, and planned to bid them goodbye before checking out. But it took us so long to pack
that when were ready, they’d already departed for a day in Pompeii. I left them a note at the front desk inviting
them to come East. And now that we’re back home, I see that Samantha and Allegra have become friends on Facebook. But
who knows if we’ll ever see them again?
It seems funny to me that we have so many close friends at home
whom we love but would hesitate to travel with, yet we meshed so well with these complete strangers.
It also seems funny in retrospect
that we went away seeking some much-needed family time and ended up diluting our limited days alone by incorporating other
people. Then again, it’s always nice to make new friends and expand your social circle together. And testy family
members tend to be on their best behavior when outsiders are around.
In the end, I’d say we had an incredible
trip, and (other than learning to mind my own business about my son’s love life) there’s only one thing about
it I would change.
Although we didn’t go to Italy to save money – rather, most of what we did there involved spending
too much of it -- in the interests of slight economy, we ended up also sharing a single room in Sorrento. The so-called suite
I’d viewed online had looked like multiple rooms, and what they gave us instead turned out to be so large and elegant,
with floor-to-ceiling windows lining two of its four walls, that I decided not to make a fuss.
Also, there was something strangely
comforting about this arrangement at this juncture in our lives, when our youngest child had just graduated from college and
was about to go off and live the rest of her life completely independently. Still, we were once again obliged to sleep cozily
almost side by side and to share a single bathroom. This provided a bit too much togetherness for a family of four, even one
as close as ours.
So I returned home painfully conscious of the fact that half the things I do or say seem to instantly get
on my children’s nerves. (Everything I do or say gets on my husband’s nerves, as well as vice versa, but
after 27 years of marriage, who really cares?)
So, was this the tail end of our taking family vacations, as we
have known it? Subsequent to Sorrento, will our twain ever meet? Or must the kids and we codgers part ways?
from the way they described the earlier segment of their trip, my offspring had much more fun when they were traveling without
us, even if we stayed and ate in much pricier places. And I don’t blame them.
I also must admit that there was
less bickering when my husband and I went to Italy alone for our 25th anniversary, if only because there were half
as many people to butt heads.
Allegra chalks up the problem to the fact that by the time she’d
met us in Italy, she’d been to Israel on Birthright for 10 days and spent another week in Istanbul. “Maybe I was
just tired already, and I was sick of being pushed around by other people,” she says. “So sick of it that I didn’t
want to compromise anymore, even with my family.”
Sensing this, we tried to give her as wide a berth as possible within
the confines of a single room. But it wasn’t always easy. “I just think we could have been more tolerant of each
other and a little less combative,” she says. “I also think that Aidan and I travel at a similar pace, and you
and Dad travel at a similar pace, and they’re just different paces.”
Maybe realizing that will make
it a little easier to let her go off into the world now, knowing that, at least for the moment, she’s had her fill of
us. Maybe it will also help me to miss her just a little less, knowing that she needs her space, and I may even need mine.
“But in the end, I think it was a good family experience,” she says, “and I’m really
glad we did it.”
Me too. Shared experiences, even combative ones along rocky coastlines, can help
bring people closer together. And wherever we go, or wherever she may be, I still adore her beyond words. Aidan too, of course.
I’m their (nice Jewish) mom, so I always will.
I also count my blessings that I have two grownup kids who’d
even want to go away with us. And not just go away with us, but actually be with us. The one night that I urged them
to go out for a night on their own, Aidan staunchly declined. "Why would we want to do that?" he asked. "That's
like every night of the rest of our lives."
And so I realize that, whether
we’re traveling in magical places or just wasting time at home, ours is a pretty good life, too. Knowing that is the
most precious thing I can imagine, and also something that I hope I never lose. Fortunately, it’s nothing you could
ever put inside a suitcase.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
A Word From the Weiss
The family vacation – it’s the subject of sitcoms, back-to-school essays, and at least half a dozen National
Lampoon cinematic send-ups, at last count. After all, what more fertile ground could there be for broad comedy or brutal
conflict than throwing a diverse group of close relatives together in a picturesque yet unfamiliar setting where they are
constantly lost, can’t speak the language, and relentlessly push each other's buttons while bonding, bickering and otherwise
bumbling their way through old-fashioned family fun?
For parents of grown children,
like me, the family “vacay” (as the kids now say) tends to become an endangered species, if not altogether extinct.
Young adults have their own busy lives, and how many of them want to go back to their roots ’round the clock for more
than the annual Passover seder or occasional weekend back home?
Then again, who can possibly resist the offer
of a trip to some exciting locale, followed by hearing their parents utter those three little eternally heart-warming words:
“It’s on us”?
This is not to suggest that my
own kids have a single mercenary or materialistic bone in their bodies. They agreed to travel with us earlier this month due
only to the unusual closeness we continue to feel as a family, coupled with a wonderful confluence of circumstances and events.
Our daughter had graduated from college in May and was already scheduled to be abroad, traveling to Israel on Birthright,
followed by a week in Istanbul. The TV show at which our son served as a production assistant was going off the air, and his
last day of work fell just days before our trip was to begin.
My husband had had the foresight to schedule
those exact two weeks off from the newspaper at which he works. And being the eponymous narrator of NiceJewishMom.com, I had
little trouble securing a respite from my own demanding yet sympathetic bosses (me, myself and I). So for the first time in
six years, we were able to synchronize our watches and escape, all at once.
The question was, where to go?
Finding a destination likely to please multiple generations can be challenging. But for me, the choice was a snap. Two
summers ago, on the last vacation my husband and I had dared to take (thanks to the current economy and eight consecutive
years of college tuition bills), we’d gone to Italy for our 25th anniversary. Our plan had been to visit Rome, Florence,
and bucolic Tuscany, then venture south to the exquisite Amalfi Coast and Isle of Capri, which we’d heard were “magical.”
Then close friends who are savvy travel writers had cautioned us that our itinerary was not merely too ambitious
for our two allotted weeks, but downright delusional. They’d persuaded us to scale back somewhat, foregoing the “magical”
leg of our tour.
Ever since then, I must admit -- at the risk of sounding grossly insensitive in the current economic climate
– that I’d felt like I’d been gypped. I’d hankered for a glimpse of the magnificent Amalfi Coast as
desperately as Peter Pan pined for Neverland or Audrey Hepburn longed to see Rome in Roman Holiday and Paris in Sabrina.
But like many a lofty goal, this one carried inherent risks. In my mind, there remained one major roadblock, and that
was the roads themselves. Driving in these seaside settings was reputed to be truly treacherous, with countless hairpin turns
and narrow, winding lanes alongside steep cliffs. People told me it was similar to California’s coastal
highway Big Sur, plus aggressive Italian drivers and minus any physical barriers to prevent you from plunging hundreds
of feet into the sea.
Coupling these hazards with the threat of severe motion sickness, to which I’m genetically inclined,
was enough to make me shy away from my personal Shangri-la. Then our trusty travel writer friends, Paul and Kathy Wade, divulged
that every one of these destinations was easily accessible by ferry or rail, and we could avoid road travel altogether. That
was all I needed to hear before booking flights and bidding arriverderci to real life. We were Italy bound!
Our son chose to rendezvous with
our daughter in Istanbul before joining us. We flew to Naples, which was a short ferry ride away from everywhere else we wanted
to go. So it didn’t exactly enhance my sense of breathless anticipation to read a story in The New York Times
the week before we left reminding me that Napoli is best known for its legions of pickpockets and uncollected trash.
(Couldn’t we just save the exorbitant airfare and get mugged and grossed out somewhere closer to home?)
After a seven-hour-plus flight,
a bus from the airport deposited us beside an ancient-looking castle in a busy central square known as Piazza Municipale.
Almost instantly, we were lost. Never mind that we’d been assured our hotel was just 200 yards away from this juncture.
We lugged our baggage endlessly up and down steep streets swarming with pedestrians, already bathed in sweat. The address
we sought was nowhere in sight, and no one, it seemed, had ever heard of it. Then, to our surprise, a local man who’d
overheard my husband asking for directions began trailing us to aid in our search. After we’d wandered around fruitlessly
for a good half hour, this Neapolitan good Samaritan, whose name was Francesco, finally found our destination, which we discovered
was, in fact, only a stone’s throw from where we’d started. We’d just been tracing a giant circle.
I’d chosen La Ciliengina Lifestyle Hotel after viewing countless options on my favorite travel Web
site, Trip Advisor, which offers candid reviews by actual patrons rather than promotional propaganda penned by PR agencies
or the hotel themselves. Photos depicting a spare, modern interior had hooked me on sight, despite warnings of an exterior
so lackluster that the place was difficult to locate. In fact, to reach the lobby we had to step through a nondescript wooden
door into a rather dank alley, then ride a cramped elevator up three flights. From there, though, we stepped into a bright,
airy, pristinely white oasis. Our room was incredibly spacious – twice the size of anything we’d ever booked in
Manhattan -- with a high vaulted ceiling, plush, king-sized bed, and crisp white furnishings with novel red accents and navy
bedding in a pretty coral pattern.
My husband was so delighted that he demanded we set out instantly to see
the hotel he’d insisted on booking for our final night, when we would return to Naples to fly home. If it wasn’t
equally accommodating, he wanted to cancel it and return here. Personally, all I wanted to do was take a much-needed nap,
but it was nice that he admired my taste.
On our way out, I asked Alessandro, the model-handsome young clerk at the front desk, to suggest a good restaurant
for our first Italian dinner out. He heartily recommended Di Matteo, indicating its location on a map. Knowing that we might
not return before eating, I asked if my husband was dressed appropriately to dine at this wonderful place. Alessandro surveyed
the blue athletic shorts, already-sweaty polo shirt and sneakers into which he’d just changed to brave the afternoon
heat. “Si,” he assured me. He was.
Envisioning elegant plates of fresh pasta and goblets of fine wine,
I remained skeptical about this as we traipsed across the city, choosing to cancel that second hotel, which, alas, had seen
better days, then proceeded to dodge mounds of uncollected garbage (alas, they were not just ugly rumors), hordes of motor-scooters
swarming the streets like crazed bees (they’re the transportation mode of choice there, given the astronomical price
of gasoline), and myriad dog droppings (Naples natives are fond of their pets, but as loose about picking up after them as
they are about traffic signals.)
Then, as dusk descended, we began meandering down Via Tribunali, a quaint yet touristy
thoroughfare lined with cobblestone streets and colorful shops selling multi-hued dried pasta in every conceivable shape,
cheap clothing and kitschy souvenirs.
And there, at No. 94, we found it. Di Matteo. A famed yet diminutive pizza place, and extremely informal
one at that, with five small tables covered with paper cloths (although a dumbwaiter they kept loading with trays suggested
possible upper levels). So much for my vision of fine dining on our first and only night out alone. But who could complain?
The prices were eminently affordable (only 3 euros, or about $4.35, for a massive margherita loaded with scrumptious
tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil), the service was quick, and this was arguably the best pizza we’d ever tasted
However infamous this city may be for its civic failings, it more than makes up for as the birthplace of
the world’s favorite pie. No wonder pizza here is not something people slice up and share. The crust is so thin and
toppings so luscious that everyone eats a whole one themselves. Neither is it finger food -- don’t even think about
picking it up, mister! They bake their pies for such a short burst of time – our order popped out within five minutes
-- that the crust remains soft and gooey at the center, and toppings drip off with abandon. So natives save their clothes
from potential stains and resort to knife and fork.
After downing one whole pie apiece, followed by glistening gelato
at Casa Infante, one of the many gelateria offering dozens of fanciful flavors -- from zuppa inglese and tiramisu
to my eternal favorite, nocciola (hazelnut) -- you’d think we’d have eaten our fill. But the next afternoon,
en route to the city’s vaunted national archeological museum, my husband noticed a sign pointing the way to Starita,
another popular pizzeria, and persuaded me to take a quick detour. We’d read in that Times article that this
was an exceptional eatery frequented strictly by locals, who were known to queue up outside it for up to two hours. We figured
that we’d take a gander and locate it quickly for future reference, intending to bring our kids there the next night.
No such luck.
We proceeded to trek up steep hills and down winding alleyways hung with wet laundry
for nearly two hours, sweltering in the afternoon heat. At one point I dragged my husband into a small shop selling local
wine from large wooden casks equipped with spigots. The crusty proprietor of Vineria L’Oro Di Napoli spoke almost
no English, but still managed to converse with us at length, offering free tastes of all his many wares. Each, to my palate,
was more acrid than the last. But he was so enthusiastic, regaling us with stories about Sophia Loren -- a Naples native whose first film in 1954, L’Oro di Napoli (“The Gold of Naples”), had included a scene shot inside
the shop – that we agreed to buy a bottle of his most expensive vintage. This was some sort of white wine (vino
bianco) and set us back only 2 euros (about $2.85), less than half of what we'd pay for a single glassful back home.
Soon after exiting, my husband asked a man in a white apron for directions to the pizzeria and was told that he worked
there and it was only a few doors down. Eureka! I mean bueno (or whatever the Italians say). He ushered us in to
meet the owner, Antonio Starita, whose grandfather (or perhaps his grandfather), had founded the place in 1901. He
warmly shook my husband’s hand, then bowed his head to kiss mine.
“The best pizza in Napoli!” declared a passing local denizen of the place and unequivocal
devotee, kissing his own fingers for emphasis. “No, in all the world!”
By now, we’d worked up enough
of an appetite to share a pie for lunch, choosing an 8-euro white version smothered in mozzarella and nori et fiorelli
(chestnuts and zucchini blossoms, a broccoli rabe-like local delicacy), as mystifying as our solo order proved to the staff.
While washing this down with acqua con gas (seltzer, that is), we learned that Francesco, the fellow in the apron,
was opening up their first American branch in Manhattan, to be called Don Antonio by Starita, along with one of Antonio’s
sons. Due to debut in October, this will be located in the Theater District, at 309 West 50th St. (between 8th and 9th
Avenues), and, judging from what we sampled, is destined to earn as many a rave as any Broadway show.
Upon leaving, we realized, once again, that the pizzeria had been a short walk off Via Toledo, the main drag,
and we’d been wandering around unnecessarily for hours. By the time we reached the museum, it was late afternoon and
I was ready to collapse. No, let’s be honest. I did collapse, falling asleep upright while resting briefly on a bench.
But we wanted to take this in before the kids arrived, knowing that my daughter had been dragged to every historical site
in Israel and would be burnt out on antiquities. Never mind that, along with its trove of artifacts, this massive place boasts
a lively Secret Room (Gabinetto Segreto), filled with amusingly erotic frescoes and figurines unearthed at Pompeii.
But far more exciting than any ancient porn was the realization that our children were about to arrive by
train, after flying from Istanbul to Rome. Although we’d seen them both less than three weeks earlier, they’d
ventured so far away from home that it felt like an eternity had passed. We raced back to our hotel to shower and change,
then asked Alessandro to recommend a dinner spot near the train station. He suggested Trianon, another popular pizzeria, and
once again whipped out the map. I shook my head and told him we’d had pizza for both dinner and lunch, and didn’t
want any more.
“No pizza?” he asked, totally perplexed. Then he suggested Ciro... another pizzeria.
Mercilessly, this place also offered pasta, veal, and the one thing I craved most, a passably healthy green
insalata (salad). Best of all, though, was that the waiter took one look at my daughter and melted faster than a
scoop of gelato left out in the Tuscan sun. He kept coming over to refill glasses that remained full, then finally rested
both elbows at the end of the table, nestled his chin in his palms, and gazed adoringly into her eyes.
– molto bella!” he told me. Then he turned back to face her. “When do you leave Naples?”
he asked. “I wish to cook for you.” Then he introduced himself. “I am Chris-ti-an,” he said.
Oh, well. Gifted with lasagna and scungilli or not, this was not my future son-in-law.
The impression we made at our next stop was not nearly as warm or approving. This was our first full-blown
family trip since the year after Aidan, who will turn 25 next month, had graduated from high school in 2004. And although
our offspring are no longer teenagers, they remain mortified by almost everything we do or say in public. This was nowhere
more evident than when we returned to Casa Infante for gelato and my husband, unable to choose between too many options,
took an excessive amount of time to order, demanding multiple tastes and egregiously mispronouncing them all.
he ventured, requesting a sample of bright pink strawberry.
“Fra-GO-la!” bluntly corrected the impatient
blonde salesgirl, obviously incensed.
“Si, FRA-go-la,” he agreed. Then he turned his attention
to something that looked like frozen cantaloupe puree. “Oh, and could I try the melone, too?”
“Meh LO nay!” she seethed, proffering another miniature plastic spoon.
Finally, she could tolerate
his tourista talk no longer. “Signore, you are not Ee-talian!” she exploded.
“I am Ee-talian!”
This would become a running joke, a catch phrase between us through
the rest of the trip. But for now our daughter was clearly embarrassed and insisted that we order and leave pronto.
So we repaired to our hotel, where the kids, who were sharing a spacious room of their own, regaled us with
gifts and more tales of their travels. Our daughter proudly displayed her many Turkish purchases -- a small rug, a sort of
Turkish guitar called a saz, and several pairs of Alladin pants. I admired them all, even the absurdly voluminous
legwear, thrilled to have us all reunited, in my favorite foreign country, no less. Best of all was seeing my two children
chattering together animatedly about music, mutual friends, and people they’d met along the way. It reminded me of the
years long ago when they’d often attended the same summer camp and would return speaking what seemed like a private
language, gossiping about the counselors and friends and singing camp songs.
Then again, the more family members that there are on any trip, the higher the probability that one will
be out of sorts at any given moment, or at least two will be butting heads. You might think that being on vacation in one
of the most exquisite and pleasurable places on earth might forestall irritability, but think again. We Jews, much like the
Italians, are a passionate, outspoken and self-expressive lot. We know what we want (hence multiple flavors of Manischewitz,
from Medium Dry Concord to Extra Heavy Malaga) and we know exactly how we want it (hence myriad manners in which to follow
the Five Books of Moses, from Reform Judaism to Orthodox and extra heavy Hasidism).
And like most people, we especially want what we want exactly how we want it when we are on vacation. Yet
when you travel as a family, there’s always someone present to tell you some reason why you cannot have what you want.
It exasperated my husband no end that every time he felt dehydrated in the relentless heat -- meaning multiple times a day
-- his remedy of choice was a bottle or can of ice cold birra (no translation necessary, I assume), yet I kept arguing
that he was going to get a headache and should settle for some nice, cold acqua instead.
Similarly, how infuriating it was to hear him tell me repeatedly that I didn’t need a new pocketbook, as though lusting
after something lovely, luxurious, and genuine leather is ever a matter of need.
It also didn’t help that my daughter’s digestion had been on the blink since she’d landed
in Israel, and a week of kebabs and other Turkish cuisine had done little to help. Poor Allegra would spend the duration of
our trip (with its plethora of pizzas and other greasy foods) in relentless gastric distress, not much of an elevator for
Also, the more generations you incorporate on a trip, the higher the likelihood that someone will always
be rolling their eyes and making fun of someone else. Soon after discovering that, in our high-tech hotel, the TV easily converted
into a computer screen, our son began consulting a nifty program, Google Translate, which not only converts any words you
type in into the language of your choice, but also pronounces them for you. Aidan began entering phrases my husband is highly
prone to say in Italian restaurants, intoning each repeatedly after the program’s robotic voice until he had mastered
“Leave the parmesan on the table, please,” he entered. Lasciare il parmigiano sul tavolo,
per favore. “Don’t you have any ice?” Non hai ghiaccio.
Then, “This water is not fizzy enough!” Questa acqua non e abbastanza frizzante!
Although he’d arrived
barely knowing one word of Italian, his accent was already quite authentic – enough so to impress many an Italian
we’d meet along the way. As well as to make fun of my husband’s eating habits at every possible opportunity.
As useful as his facility with languages might prove, I prepared myself to be mocked.
Face it: Parents, to their children,
beyond the earliest years, are by definition fools. And bankrolling an extravagant trip doesn’t absolve you from being
the butt of ridicule.
After a lovely breakfast served on our hotel’s scenic rooftop (a meal Allegra pronounced “a million times worse”
than the one at their much cheaper Turkish hotel), and dinner back at Starita (to which we now swiftly led the way), our Neapolitan
sojourn came to an end. The next morning, we rolled our bags to the nearby harbor, bound by hydrofoil for the Isle of Capri.
In trying to design a vacation that would appeal
to everyone involved, I’d taken my children’s preferences into consideration as much as my own. Capri (for which
the proper pronunciation is actually KA-pree, with the accent on the first syllable) may be one of the most mesmerizingly
beautiful places on earth, but it’s also among the most pretentious. Knowing that my constitutionally frugal
son would be appalled by conspicuous consumption, I was determined to stay in the island’s more sedate and secluded
city of Anacapri, rather than the tourist-inundated and luxury-boutique-saturated main city (also called Capri). Yet to my
disappointment, we’d been unable to reserve rooms at the charming inn touted by our writer friends, Da Gelsomina, which
boasted a popular restaurant and outdoor pool; it was all booked up for a wedding that weekend. In fact, having begun booking
hotels little more than a week before our departure, I found that the only places available were either the most expensive
or those that had received scathing reviews.
Finally, I hit upon a perfect compromise.
A Web site called Capri.net listed a bed & breakfast in Anacapri just down the road from the inn. I also read there that
the inn’s pool was open to the public for a small daily fee. We would stay at the modest and eminently affordable place,
then swim and dine at the inn. Never mind that the B & B, Le Ginestre, had only one room left, equipped with a double
bed and two singles… and only one bathroom, of course. We could survive some true family togetherness for a night or
two, couldn’t we? What are family vacations for, after all, if not to be together?
The proprietor, an affable 45-year-old fellow named Costanzo, picked us up from the bus stop in Anacapri,
as promised, and transported us through impossibly narrow, steep and winding roadways to his small complex of cottages a few
kilometers out of town. I was heartened to discover that the premises were much more charming than they’d appeared online,
with a panoramic seaside vista and a sundrenched terrace abundant with ginestres, the delicate yellow flowers from
which he’d derived the name.
Then I reached for my luggage and my face
fell. One of my suitcases was missing – my carry-on. This was the bag in which I’d transported everything that
was too precious or indispensable to risk losing. I’d had it at the bus stop. Now it was nowhere to be found.
Clearly, when Costanzo had loaded our luggage, he’d left it sitting in front of the souvenir shop where
I’d popped in to purchase some pretty lemon-scented soaps as gifts for friends back home. Frantic, I jumped back into
the van with him while my family went inside to change. Retracing the treacherous route we’d just traveled, all I could
do aside from clutching my seat was to review the vast inventory of items I’d no doubt lost for good: not just all my
toiletries, cosmetics and printed-out travel plans, but my camera, books and an abundance of jewelry, of which I’d foolishly
packed too much.
Worst of all to consider was the exquisite multicolored mezuzah that my daughter had just carried back for
us as a special gift from her Israeli trip. How thrilled I’d been when she’d presented it her first night. How
would I tell her I’d lost it within two days?
It’s all just stuff, I kept telling myself. Everyone’s healthy. Nobody died. Still,
for the first time in my life, I fully understood that old expression about having one’s heart in one’s mouth.
Mine tasted of loss and fear, not love. Costanzo kept assuring me that there was nowhere safer on earth than Anacapri, where
everyone knew everyone else and there was no crime. But what about the countless tourists pouring in and out? Wouldn’t
some passerby or other help himself to a clearly abandoned bag bulging with booty?
Finally, we rounded the last corner
and re-entered town. Would my suitcase still be there? Or was all the fun definitively over just as we arrived in Paradise
on our avidly anticipated family trip?
Sorry to leave you hanging! But I’m still a bit jetlagged, and that’s
more than enough for now. You’ll have to tune in next week, when the Italian adventures of Nice Jewish Mom and company
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
A Word From the Weiss
Lucy in the skies with diamonds? No. My kids in disguise with their good friend Michelle in Istanbul. I found these photos
from Turkey on Facebook this morning and couldn't resist sharing them with the world (as if the whole world isn't on Facebook
and has probably already seen them before their own mother did).
I also realized looking at them that Nice Jewish Mom needs a nice Jewish vacation too.
Good thing that for the past week I've been online trying to book hotels. Here's how you do it, for those who haven't taken
a trip lately or who tend to take vacations the old-fashioned way and rely on tour companies or travel agents:
You log onto a site called Trip Advisor and type in the name of the place you want to go and the dates that you
plan to be there. Then you peruse photos and descriptions of the top-rated hotels in this area according to
other travelers -- people like you and me, and also people who may be nothing like you and me because they come from
Moscow or Japan, or they're young, hip and happy to save a few bucks by sharing shower facilities with
total strangers, or they would like to spend as much of their precious free time as possible touring churches and
Of course, no matter how posh or pricey a hotel
may be, it's bound to have gathered some mixed reviews over the years. And so, like wise King Solomon, or a juror on the
Casey Anthony trial, you take all the evidence into account and try to figure out whom to believe.
Someone says, "This place is awful, the rooms smell and the breakfast lacks variety. Only home-baked croissants. Couldn't
they serve some cheese?" Another says, "What a fabulous hotel, with the most amazing breakfast. Delicious
home-baked croissants every morning... and so many varieties of cheese!"
So you find yourself trying to decide which of these people sounds most like you. And whether it's in your best interests
to be eating a whole lot of croissants and cheese anyway.
made my choices, as well as actual reservations. We're on our way. And like it or not, I plan to eat a whole lot of croissants.
And, yes, cheese! I might even wash it down with some wine... although certainly not at breakfast.
So sorry to leave you hanging. But not that sorry. Tune back in the week after next (July 20th), when I promise to
report back and tell all. And I do mean ALL!
|That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.
No, sir, that's not
my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring
ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible
need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime
delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the
dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in
their 20s, both are currently living on their
own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a
day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to
the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally
wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials
for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh
mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah
balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions,
from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I
can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can
barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active
mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging
times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!
|LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
In coming weeks, I will continue
posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often,
and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together):
That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New