Mother, Daughter, Pasta, Wine – Our Italian Getaway (Pre-Trip Interview)

mommy

My mother and I leave for Italy in 3 days! While I am a seasoned traveler this will be my mom’s very first visit to another country. I can’t wait for her to see the Colosseum and drink Italian coffee.

I think that my mom will learn so much about me on this trip. She’s going to see me in a way she never has, communicating and maneuvering in a faraway land. If she hasn’t yet understood my desire to explore, I’m sure she soon will.

I decided to interview her before we leave to see how she’s feeling about her upcoming Birthday Trip. Here’s what she had to say:

Me: Why did you pick Italy?
Mom: Because you wouldn’t go to Israel with me. Just joking : ) I have always wanted to go to Tuscany, to take some cooking lessons. I used to love to cook (I still do just don’t have any time for it). When you kids were young I used to make you watch me cook and I would pretend I was on the Food Network. The only one really interested was your brother, Ronald.
Me: What are you most excited about?
Mom: On my birthday. November 2nd, we will be at a Farmhouse taking a cooking lesson in Tuscany, just like I’ve always wanted. I cannot wait for that. Also, I am a prayer. I love my time with God. I plan to bring my journal with me so that while I am there I can just sit somewhere, peaceful and beautiful and spend time with God and journal (probably early in the mornings while you are still asleep).
Me: Are you nervous about anything?
Mom: The only thing I am a little bit nervous about is flying over the Atlantic, but I have given my fears to God so I will be okay!
Me:This trip is going to expose you to a whole new culture. What are you hoping to learn?
Mom: I love people, no matter their sex, race or creed so I am looking forward to meeting new people and learning how they live, work and play. I want to see how different things are from what we are used to here in the states like the toilets, food and the different products that they use. I will be interesting to see how shopping, transportation and entertainment is different because I think we tend to have the mindset  that  everything is done exactly the we do things here at home.
There you have it, folks. She’s ready to go!
It’s not too late to donate to her Birthday Page before we’re off.
Ciao!

Parisian Christmas Markets – A Photo Gallery

Paris during Christmas is a whimsical place. Holiday markets dot the streets peddling sweets, mulled wine and pretty much any other food you can imagine. At night, the city twinkles with millions of lights. Top it off with ferris wheels, carousals and, of course, the Eiffel Tower and it’s quite clear why Paris the perfect city to explore during the holidays.

Where’s Waldo?

KEEP

I was sitting in Starbucks one day talking to a lady that I had just met sitting next to me, as I often do. When I told her I was originally from New Orleans, LA she said, “My husband’s dad was from a town in Louisiana called Waldo. We tried to visit once but couldn’t find it.” This made me curious enough to start my own search for Waldo, LA. Unfortunately, I also had no luck.

It got me thinking, however, of all the towns in the U.S. that are named Waldo. This led me on a completely different search. So I present to you the Waldo’s on our great country.

Waldo, Florida

This city is located in Alachua County and boasted a population of about 1,015 in the last census. Perhaps its biggest claim to fame would be ranking third in a National Motorists Assocation listing of its “Worst Speed Trap Cities” in North America in 2012. Yikes!

Waldo, Arkansas

A part of Columbia County, this is also a small town. This Waldo’s claim to fame would be it’s period as a booming rail town. There is even a rail museum boasting its history.

Waldo, Maine

A part of Waldo County, this town was founded by farmers and later became known for its prize-winning cattle. It grew steadily and by 1859, Waldo was home to seven sawmills and a gristmill. Today, it’s just a sleepy town with humble beginnings.

Waldo, Alabama

To call this town tiny would be an understatement. According to the last census taken Waldo, AL had a total area of 2.9 square miles. As of 2000, there were 281 people and 102 households residing here.

Waldo, Ohio

What sets this small town apart from the other Waldo’s would be the famous G&R Tavern which has garnered national attention for its fried bologna sandwiches. So if you ever visit be sure to go on an empty stomach as a visit to G&R is about the only thing to do here.

 

A Walk Down Paris’ Famous Ru Cler

Ru Cler is a small pedestrian street in Paris that boasts a variety of specialty shops. The beauty of Ru Cler is that it’s a one-stop-shop for preparing the perfect meal. Everything you need can be found on this small street; wine, cheese, meats, fruits, even flowers for the table.

If shopping proves to be an exhausting task simply grab a seat at a cafe or restaurant for a snack or pop into a gelato or chocolate shop. You won’t go hungry strolling Ru Cler. It’s a food lovers paradise.

Here are some pictures that I took during my visit to this Parisian street.

Taking A Trip In Amsterdam – My First Experience Smoking Pot

People asked why I was going to Amsterdam, and I’d jokingly tell them that it was for the hookers and weed. But the real reason? Art. At age 30 I was a well-seasoned world traveler, and Amsterdam had been on my bucket list for long enough. It was time to pay a visit to the city that held the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world.

If I was being honest with myself, though, that wasn’t the only thing that lured me to Amsterdam. I knew I’d finally get to try marijuana while I was there, but was also aware that Americans have a bad reputation for overindulging in the cannabis capital. I didn’t want to be a poor example of my country, so I began preparing myself. I googled “smoking pot for beginners” and asked all of my friends for their advice. (It was official, I had turned smoking weed into the lamest thing ever.)

Why a liberal-minded writer would still be a pot neophyte at the age of 30? History.

Most stories of pot begin behind a high school football stadium, or in the basement of a friend’s house that smells of mildew and soft drinks. This story begins when my mother, a 16-year-old whose wardrobe consisted of cut-off shorts, bandanas and Led Zeppelin concert tees, went into labor with me in New Orleans, La. on Oct. 28, 1983. Once admitted to a birthing room at Charity Hospital she promptly went into the bathroom shower and smoked a joint. She knew it’d be her last one for a few days so she took her time, slowly enjoying each puff. The first time I heard this story I turned to her with wide, accusing eyes. “What?” she rebuffed, “I was stressed.”

I have memories of sitting on my dad’s lap as a young girl while he passed the communal bud on to the next person, Fleetwood Mac playing in the background. Roach clips — metal, scissor-like instruments used to hold joints so they don’t burn your lips and fingers once the papers singe down — were a common sight in our home. I thought they were beautiful accessories with their attached feathers and beads. I’d clip them in my hair and traipse around our tiny house.

My childhood nickname, partially in response, was “Ashley Roachclip.” It was bestowed upon me by my Uncle Billy, whom everyone lovingly called “One-Legged-Billy” because, well, he only had one leg. The name stuck because when my mom would hang up the telephone and say, “Shit, your maw-maws coming over,” I’d promptly jump up and collect all the marijuana buds from the ashtrays to hide. The grown-ups were amused; I was their little human roach clip.

Weed wasn’t the only recreational drug I saw growing up. I’d watch my parents do cocaine and slip into a senseless state for long periods of time. As my siblings and I grew up, my parents became more aware of our presence and would try to hide their drug use, but we knew what was going on and the effects it had on the adults in our life. My mom eventually realized that it was impossible to be both a good parent and a drug addict. She kicked the habit over 20 years ago as testament to the desire to watch her kids grow up.

While that decision changed the course of our lives, it didn’t exorcise all drugs from it. My dad became sneakier about his use with drug-induced, lackluster hiding places. I’d find pain pills hidden in his nightstand, a baggie in his jean pockets while doing laundry or drug-related paraphernalia in his truck’s glove compartment. Of course, we could also tell by his moods. I’d have to remind myself this was the same man who cried watching me sing my first church solo.

To my point — drugs were drugs were drugs to me. Painkillers, cocaine, methadone, marijuana; I lumped it all together. They were all used in such abundance that, in my mind, they were equally terrible and were the reason that the people I loved couldn’t hold down jobs and were in and out of jail.

I was an observant and responsible child. I credit much of this to being the oldest of four, subbing in as a parent when need be. Thus, as I entered teenagehood, I hung back as my peers smoked and drank. I was certain that addiction was in my blood, and I didn’t want to unleash it (I was that girl who read the Tylenol label three times to make sure that it was indeed two pills I should take and not one.).

By college, I had moved away from home, but had also rediscovered the hemp leaf in a new way. For the first time in my life, I witnessed educated and successful adults who smoked weed without it consuming their lives — and without mixing it with other drugs. This was a completely new concept to me. I’d find myself not walking out of a room when someone lit up a joint. Instead, I would hang out and enjoy the company. But still, if I was offered, I declined.

Friends would ask me why I never smoked, and for awhile I’d ask myself the same question. It had become obvious that marijuana wasn’t what I perceived it to be growing up. Certainly I could enjoy it as socially as I did alcohol. I had no problem indulging in the occasional cocktail, so why was a couple of puffs on a joint any different? But my answer always hinged on one undeniable fact: it’s illegal.

It’s no secret that the United States locks up millions of its citizens for non-violent crimes each year. A 2010 study released by the Center for Economic and Policy Research revealed that nonviolent offenders make up over 60 percent of the prison and jail population. Many of these incarcerations are marijuana-related. Once you’ve been in the prison system, it follows you for the rest of your life. I’ve seen it happen. So my answer changed from, “I’ll never smoke marijuana because it’s bad,” to “I’ll try it if it ever becomes legal, or if I’m in a place where it is legal.”

And in Amsterdam, it’s legal.

I rented a houseboat docked along a canal in the city center. My host was a Dutchman who had been living in Amsterdam for 25 years. As he was showing me around he said, “If you have a question, just ask. Don’t be embarassed. If you’d like to know the proper etiquette for obtaining a prostitute or the best places to purchase marijuana I can tell you. There are no wrong questions.“I definitely plan on smoking weed while I’m here. Any suggestions?” My host nonchalantly gave me directions to some of his favorite coffeeshops before offering a stern warning, “Do not buy anything from strangers. It’s illegal and dangerous. Only buy in the shops.” Oh, if only this man knew me. I’d just as soon run naked through the Anne Frank house before buying drugs from a stranger.

Not wanting to seem overeager, my first night in Amsterdam was smoke-free. I likened it to deciding to have sex: you don’t want to jump on the first thing that moves. You want to wait for the right moment, maybe enjoy some foreplay. That’s exactly what I thought I was doing by visiting the Hash, Marijuana & Hemp Museum. I hoped that a visit would be like taking an informational class on marijuana usage. Instead, it was just a collection of bongs and pro-weed posters. It should have been called the “Marijuana is the Best Thing Ever Musuem.”

I actually learned more by simply walking around the city and seeing the drug culture firsthand. As you stroll, it’s obvious that pot is just not a big deal here. Coffeeshops are plentiful and dotted throughout the city, not annexed to a specific part of town as one might think. Many even feature sidewalk patios where customers can enjoy the fresh air while they smoke. Parents walk by, children in tow, without a second glance. This is Amsterdam’s dirty little secret … there’s no secret.

The next night was the night. I would no longer be a marijuana virgin.  I had dinner with a friend where we enjoyed an intelligent and probably popular conversation about the benefits of regulating prostitution. Afterwards, we set out to find the perfect coffeeshop. The first place we entered was very crowded and blaring “Big Poppa” by Biggie Smalls. The whole scene was too intense for me, so we decided to keep looking.

The second coffeeshop was a little more relaxed, playing Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray.” In my head I conjured up an image of a vintage poster with a 1950s housewife smoking a joint and words reading, “Gangster Rap: The Official Music of Getting High.” This made me smile to myself, perhaps making me look as if I were already high. “I should fit in just fine,” I thought.

I sent my friend to buy the goods knowing that I would have made the moment much more awkward than it needed to be with a smartass line like, “Hello, good sir. I would like to purchase one of your finest marijuana cigarettes,” in a British accent, all before tipping my imaginary top hat.

My first few drags were very calculated; I took small puffs and waited long periods between each one just as my friends had instructed. As we sat there splitting our joint, I peered through the haze of smoke and took in my surroundings. What surprised me most was how normal everyone looked. The older couple whose backpacks certainly held gifts for their grandkids back in Ohio sat comfortably next to the group of young people with dreadlocks and skirts presumably made of hemp. The people seemed to vary as much as the menu options, each one in their own little world.

We headed back to our houseboat for the night, and it was safe to say that I was high. Not why-are-there-three-of-you high, but high nonetheless. It felt like being a little bit drunk and a lot stupid all at the same time. We spent the rest of the night laughing at things that weren’t funny and flipping between porn and music videos on the television, staring intently at the screen as if it were a puzzle to be solved.

When I called my dad the next day to tell him that I had tried marijuana he was weirdly proud. “How’d it feel? Nice, right?” he asked. I don’t think he believed that I would actually do it.

During the remainder of my stay, I smoked several more times. One day, my friend and I were eating lunch after having just visited a coffeeshop, and I was so in awe of my french fries, shoving several in my friends face: “Why is it so long? Look at it. It’s crazy!” The fact that our dining conversation had lowered drastically in quality from just a few days earlier was not lost on me, but this seemed to be how my mind worked when it was high. The effort it took to comprehend the simplest things seemed so great. It was fun, like my brain was on vacation.

Contrary to popular belief, I didn’t spend the majority of my time in Amsterdam high. I did smoke enough to get a feel for the drug and its effects, but this city is too beautiful to not enjoy with all of your senses intact, and it was quite clear that I couldn’t do both.

When people ask me how my trip to Europe was and I explain that Amsterdam was my favorite city, I get the same “I bet it was” response accompanied by a wink and a nudge. But marijuana really played a very small part in my opinion of this place.

There is so much that makes Amsterdam a great city. Sure there are the super-touristy areas boasting one souvenir shop after another, but if you quickly walk past reminding yourself that no one really needs a beanie cap with a glow-in-the-dark marijuana leaf on it you get to the true beauty of this Dutch capital.

With over 60 miles of canals that wind through the city, world-renowned museums and an eclectic mix of cultures, Amsterdam is worth visiting even without the lure of the forbidden. This is a place where bikes far outnumber cars, and french fry stands can be found on every corner (I mean, seriously, can you think of anything better for when you have the munchies?).

Note: This story appears in the Spring 2014 issue of Eidé Magazine.