What those who fantasize about my line of work fail to realize that my actual job is to write as intelligently and insightfully as I can about every place I go. Think of writing a five-page term paper, rigorously researched, twice a week, sometimes more. Still want the job?
So, even when I am on a personal vacation with my wife Galina, I am on a busman’s holiday, taking notes, snapping photos, stuffing brochures and receipts into my carry-on. And enduring the ever increasing agonies of plane travel.
But I do enjoy those vacations with my wife, and when we go on them, my own choice is to go to a foreign port of call, most often Europe. Quite frankly, I have been to so many U.S. cities that there isn’t much left for me to see or do between meals. I don’t really relish going to Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Denver, or many other cities yet again because I’ve worn out the possibilities for cultural enlightenment. How many times can you visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland or Harry Truman’s Library in Independence, Missouri?
This is not the case in NYC, Boston or Washington, which are almost inexhaustible in their cultural offerings, and there are so many places abroad I simply haven’t been or can’t wait to see again after a long absence, like Buenos Aires, San Miguel Allende, Berlin, Lisbon, Prague, Sydney, and Stockholm.
Still, after being on the road for successive trips, my idea of a vacation is to stay home, maybe venturing into NYC for dinner a couple of nights a week. To me it’s bliss not to have to go somewhere.
I live in a suburb of NYC, a village six-tenths of a square mile in size, 30 minutes from Grand Central Terminal. To the west is the majestic Hudson River, to the north the beautiful lake country of Westchester, to the east the Long Island Sound, all with their own pleasures.
I live in a good-sized 1920s house, which no longer requires capital to keep it up and running, so I can devote my idle hours to going to the gym, reading, doing the Times crossword puzzle, watching Turner Classic Movies, and to a hobby I’ve pursued since I was seven years old (with an interruption for young adulthood)—building model airplanes, of which I have over 300, proudly displayed in my man cave converted from the boiler room. There I lose myself for hours, never giving a moment’s thought to anything—and I mean anything—except fitting the wings to a fighter jet’s fuselage, painting parts inside the plane no one will ever see, and applying the tiniest of decals with the exactitude of a watchmaker.
In summer my wife Galina eat in the backyard every night, its perimeter ringed with Edison lights and its tree branches lighted from below. From the garage I play music plugged into Pandora—Diana Krall, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Portuguese fado, Brazilian bossa nova.
I make myself a daiquiri while my wife cooks from ingredients I might well have bought that morning at the Belmont “Little Italy” section in the Bronx (where Dion and the Belmonts began on the corner of 187th Street; not too far away hip hop music was created in the rec room of an apartment building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue.)
My wife is an extraordinary cook—she did all 270 recipes for our co-authored Italian-American Cookbook—and we always have three courses and a bottle of wine, maybe some Port with cheese or a nightcap as the moon rises over our little piece of God’s green acreage.
We linger, we talk, we argue, I clear and wash the dishes, by which time it’s 9 PM, and depending on my wine intake, I either settle down with an old movie or a great book. More often than not I drift off to sleep, my wife brings in the cat and turns off the lights and comes to bed.
And then it all repeats itself the next day and the next until such time as another trip to LaGuardia or JFK is in the offing and my vacation comes to an end, just like everyone else’s. But whenever I’m away I dream of getting home, for it’s true that’s where the heart is, especially, when we’re lucky, our grown sons are over for the weekend. It’s what I look forward to a whole lot more that another trip to Atlanta.