Saturday, February 19, 2011

New blog - Tinfoil Yarmulke

My current blog is a set of travel essays and ephemera related to my recent propaganda-tour with Birthright Israel and the two months of Middle East travel that followed.

Tinfoil Yarmulke


Monday, July 5, 2010

Being Pretty

(from my Let's Go blog)

This is one of those delicate topics where I’ll have to tread the line between vanity and annoyingly overcompensating humility. But in Italy, I am really pretty.

Save your protestations, loyal friends who will insist that I am pretty at home too. Reserve your judgment, skeptical strangers eyeballing my mugshot. I know what league I’m in at home. And I’ve just been bumped up a notch.

It’s not simply run-of-the-mill flirting I’m talking about. That I could chalk up to Italian men being infinitely more forward than Harvard men. Hell, glaciers are more forward than Harvard men.

No, it’s the freebies that show I’m really punching above my weight. The old men at Trattoria Mario who flagged the waitress to have me seated at their table and were disappointed when I returned with my prettier-by-American-standards girlfriends. My inability to do efficient nightlife research because the free drinks offered at each establishment leave me stumbling door to door like the Prophet Elijah. The museum guard who asked me out minutes after the other guard in the gallery did likewise, sparking a minor controversy regarding docent decency.

I guess it comes from looking sorta Italian, but not quite. My European friends tell me that Jewish looks are “exotic” overseas. This girl from NY never counted her hook nose as an asset before and certainly wouldn’t have expected it to go over any different in a former Axis power, but shows what she knows. Get it, nose/knows? Okay, they still don’t love my Jewish father sense of humor, but I’m working on it.

Last week, I latched on to a couple American guys whose companionship I had to earn the old-fashioned way – jeez, peanut gallery, I mean through mutual interests and bad jokes – and their presence dried up the attention. Honestly, it was a relief to go back to being conspicuous only for the normal reason: talking too loudly.

So it was a shock all over again today when the attention resumed. I stepped under the awning of a restaurant to avoid a sudden downpour, and a man came out of the restaurant to hail a taxi.

“Come with me,” he said. We had not yet exchanged a word.


“I am going to my other restaurant by the Duomo. I own this one, and a couple others.”


“Come, we will have cappuccino at the other place, and then we’ll come back here and have lunch.”

See? This does not happen to me at home. And at home I don’t even consider getting in taxis with complete strangers. But I was hungry. And, well, it was raining.

So what the hell. Might as well enjoy it while it lasts. I got in the cab.

Read more:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The good parts

(from my Let's Go blog)

You really can't complain about this job. I don't mean that there's nothing to complain about. I'm working 14 hour days, my knees, hips, and back scream in protest every time I force them to walk up and down the city in search of yet another poorly-signposted hotel, and the Renaissance is getting really, really old. I got my complaints.

I mean I literally cannot complain about my job. Because I will get punched in the face.

Metaphorically, that is. No one has yet punched me. But mentioning any of the negatives—the hours, the stress, the loneliness, the physical test—generally results in the reaction you are probably having right now: "Oh, you poooor baby. Are they making you eat too many cannolis? Wah wah, your life is soooo hard."

And they have a point. Because the crappy parts are not nearly so crappy as the awesome parts are awesome. And when you're belting
"O Mio Bambino Caro" in unison in the basement of a tiny Florentine trattoria with a dozen opera students and a half dozen old Italian men, or standing on the balcony of a 12th century hilltop monastery at dawn to watch the sun rise on the city below, this job ain't half bad.

Read more:


(from my Let's Go blog)

I understand now why people are afraid of nuns.

When the lady at the San Gimignano tourist office told me about the convent's dorms, I got my fingers ready to give this find a coveted Let's Go thumbs-up. It took me three visits to actually find a nun at the desk, and a little while longer for her to understand my rote-memorized Italian for "may I have a look around?" Eventually, she waved me upstairs, and I got to see a bit of convent life.

I found a long hallway of empty, sparse dorm rooms adorned with surprisingly tasteful Virgins. Not bad, not bad. I took a different staircase down and emerged in another hall of dorms - these clearly inhabited by persons of the cloth. Outside was a gorgeous stone courtyard with a huge old well, still in operation. I suspected that I had ventured out of bounds, but the place was empty. So I had a poke around.

Now, I am a big fan of trespassing. Sure, sometimes you get yelled at. But sometimes you make a great find. This time, I'd found a fully operational 12th-century Italian convent.

There was a chapel, of course. I bumped my head on the ceiling going in - 12th-century nuns were short - and discovered the entrance to the cloister. The convent is on the edge of San Gimignano, a mountaintop city, and to my amazement, the cloister had a postcard-perfect view of the city center's towers.

Just then the sky rumbled. And before you could say "one Mississippi" a lightning bolt had brightened the dark sky. And as every grade schooler knows, that means the storm is here. I ducked back into the convent by another door, just as a burst of sharp rain came tumbling out of the sky. At this point, I had no idea where in the apparently immense convent I was, but that wasn't going to stop me from continuing my exploration. Thunder shook the walls. A line of elderly nuns passed by in habits, probably to go sing "My Favorite Things" with the Reverend Mother, but that wasn't going to stop me either. Then one of them noticed me.

So, turns out trespassing is less fun when you can't speak the language. Normally, when an enormous old nun asks me what I'm doing, I smile and make up some convincing story, probably flashing one of my several persuasive ID cards for good measure. It worked on the monk at Westminster Abbey who put me on the list for Darwin's birthday party last year. But this nun? This nun questioned me in Italian. And I could respond with nothing better than, "Huh?"

And then I am being dragged - literally dragged, by the arm - through the convent by a very large, very angry nun shouting at me in rapid Italian. I catch words like "privato" and "vietato" but am at a loss to respond, and it doesn't seem like a great time to pull out the press pass. She yanks me all the way to the front gate. With a good shove, I am thrown out of the convent and into the rain.

I meant no offense. Nun: taken.

Read more:

Monday, June 28, 2010

An open letter to Tuscany regarding the matter of cosplay

Dear Tuscany,

You have a very proud culture. Your personal identity is closely tied to your regional loyalties. I get it. I mean, I basically grew up in a suburban strip mall, so I don't get it get it. I do empathize. But dear, dear Tuscany, you've taken it too far. It's time for us to have The Talk. The Talk about cosplay.

Now, now. Don't start sputtering about heritage this, tradition that. I have seen far too many grown men in moth-eaten Ren Faire cast-offs this month to buy that line. Clearly, you just do this because you like it. And that's great! More power to you.

But there is a time and a place for every time and place. So here, my Tuscan friends, are some basic rules for anachronistic dress-up time.

Rule #1: You may only dress anachronistically in routine life if the style is from a decade in which Hitchcock made films. Fedoras are hot. Top hats are not.

Exception to Rule #1: Ironic mid-'90s garb.

Rule #2: Attire from decades and centuries not covered by Rule #1 are acceptable on the following occasions:
- Halloween, Carnivale, Purim, etc.
- Theme parties
- Before your 12th birthday

Rule #3: Not all styles work for all people. Perhaps everyone in 1590 wore tights. Well, maybe you should pretend you're in 1570 instead. There's a century for every body type, my Raphaelite friends.

Rule #4: Comic book conventions and Ren Faires. And, specially for you Tuscany, major festivals. I said MAJOR. That means once annually. Comic Con is once a year. The NY Ren Faire is once a year. You can restrain yourselves from parading down the street in pantaloons at least as well as the convention cosplayers, can't you?

Exception to all rules: Waistcoats. Waistcoats are always OK.

Second exception to all rules: Hot chicks. Hot chicks are also always OK.

Read more:

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


After procrastinating on it for all of undergrad, I am finally traveling for Let's Go this summer. I will be writing the Tuscany section of Let's Go: Italy 2011. Exciting!

Although the travel guide won't be on shelves til the winter, I'll be officially blogging on the Let's Go website as well - you can find my Italy stories here.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

LOST in Translation

(from my Let's Go blog)

I had a brief moment of panic yesterday. Harvard is forcing me to graduate, again, and I haven't the foggiest idea what I'm doing with my life after Let's Go. But this is not why I panicked.

I panicked because I realized I would be in Italy for the finale of LOST.

This is actually a big deal. What would I do? Where would I watch? With whom would I cheer the improbable success or inevitable disappointment of the finale? I'm not even that big of a LOSTie - I just caught up this fall, marathoning the first five seasons so I could watch the last season with the rest of the world. It’s, like, a cultural moment and stuff, right?

That marathon would be all for naught if I missed the finale, so I began to brainstorm. Maybe there's a LOST fan club in Florence! Maybe I could advertise on Craigslist to find somewhere to watch! Maybe I could hang signs in every hostel to rally the other misplaced LOSTies to storm an internet café!

And then I actually got a little excited. What better excuse to round up random strangers and make them hang out with me? Adventure! I began to tell my housemate – a far more serious LOSTie than myself – about my plan to mobilize the lost LOSTies of Florence via social media and Dharma Initiative graffiti. I was just getting to the part where I would unearth secret fans with each handshake by writing NOT PENNY’S BOAT on my palm, when he stopped me.

“You’re leaving May 29, right?”
“The finale is on the 25th.”

Bummer. It’s okay though. The Doctor Who finale isn’t until mid-June.

Read more:

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Silent Mob at HMNH

Running an event at the Harvard Museum of Natural History next Sunday, check it out!


Facebook event (join to receive updates)

Monday, April 12, 2010

I have now gotten lost en route to Brookline via every conceivable form of transportation. Bus, different bus, T, bus + foot, car, and now finally bicycle. The options have been exhausted! Come back, Sleep No More! I know how to find you now!

I'm pretty sure I circumnavigated the entirety of Allston and Brookline. On the plus side, my T9 now knows how to recognize the word "circumnavigated."

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Today, I am in the letters section of the NY Times. Glad to know my useless superpower is still in fine operating condition.

My letter

Amusingly, you can follow my entire academic/career trajectory to date through my Times letters. Standardized testing, college apps, freshman-style social awareness, Sesame Street, PBS Kids, and now internships. Also throw in there the one about the X-Files, and my mother's about paying for college tuition, and you have a pretty good record of my life in the Grey Lady. You're welcome, Future Biographers!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

So hey. For the next week, I'm apparently called Anna and have Elle Woods as my blogger image. Sorry about that. I'm designing a pervasive game for a course, and for the next week I am running a demo version. And stupidly I didn't think to create a new google account before starting a Blogger account for the main character. Whoops.

If you're curious, the demo is based at HarvardiAnna. Feel free to check it out* and let me know your thoughts, though remember that this is a very very early beta that is more a proof-of-concept than anything else. It is an Alternate Reality Game designed to complement Harvard's freshman orientation.

*previously this post said Harvard affiliates could feel free to participate, but I am amending that. If you are or were an undergrad at Harvard, please do give me your thoughts but don't post answers - the puzzles are designed for Harvard neophytes. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Today I learned that my dear friend Gracie's wedding got written up in Offbeat Brides. This is cooler than getting in the Times! My bar for wedding awesomeness is officially set.

Offbeat Bride | Grace & Mike's hat-tastic church wedding, with a pirate cruise reception

(I am the creator of the mentioned sign-in book)

In similar news of awesomeness, my sister is in a show that just got panned by the New Yorker. Panned by the New Yorker! That's some high-profile panning right there. I couldn't be more impressed if they'd actually liked the show.
Caligula Maximus at La Mama