Getting high in Nice

As the huffing and puffing visitors got to the very top of Parc de Colline du Chateau — Castle Hill — in Nice, their sounds of astonishment at what they saw were so predictable and repetitive that they became comical.

Even the view itself was funny, in a way  — so perfect, so unreal, so ready-made for photographing and distribution that all you could do was let out a spasm of stunned laughter at how ridiculous the beauty was, and how ridiculous your good fortune to be able to see it. 

To the left, the Mediterranean a radiating blue that seemed manufactured by the imagination, a thin band of tan beach that curved off into the distance, the peach and terra cotta buildings of Old Nice huddling up against the sea as if trying to get a view of it themselves, and past that, the dusky beginnings of the Maritime Alps.

I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Baltimore — and our family was one of the least well-off even among our working-class friends. And although I’m only here for a job writing about research in Parkinson’s disease, as I sit here listening to the street sounds drifting up to my third-floor apartment in the oldest part of the city — friendly French chatter, yapping dogs, a flutist, motor scooters, the European hee-haw of emergency trucks —  it’s hard to believe I’m in the French Riviera, inside a postcard.

As I made my way back down to the shadowy, narrow corridors of the old city with its endless creperies, patisseries, butcher shops, cigarette-smokers, and pigeons, I saw a woman who looked confused. I assumed she was a tourist who didn’t know which staircase to use to get to the top of the hill. I pointed and said, “Castle Hill.”

She said, “Yes, Castle Hill.” It turned out she was a local artist, and she was trying to figure out where to sit and sketch, but was frustrated because she couldn’t decide. There was mystery and beauty in every direction. 

Don’t be so blue, Dems!

Imagine it’s the wee hours of Nov. 9, 2016. And you just found out that Donald J. Trump has been elected president. You are weighing the quickness of a bullet to the brain against the tranquility of a plummet off a seaside cliff.

Then your phone pings with a series of news alerts. Continue reading “Don’t be so blue, Dems!”

The man who sliced me open and made me smile

I just found out about the recent death of the guy who sliced open my gut to save my life when I was a kid: Alex Haller, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins.

Considering the stakes of the occasion when we met, I thought a brief look back would be appropriate.

When I was 4, I started getting terrible stomach aches. Every day, they hurt worse.

Then my stomach started ballooning, until I was like a male pre-schooler who was 9 months pregnant. Continue reading “The man who sliced me open and made me smile”

Van Gogh, Bourdain and unknowable urges

In town to cover a conference on rheumatology, I ended up in the most appropriate of Amsterdam’s museums a few hours after my plane landed: the Van Gogh museum.

With the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade still haunting our consciousness, there I was at ground zero of one of the most famous suicidal artists in history.  Continue reading “Van Gogh, Bourdain and unknowable urges”

The unmatched gloom of the dying mall

There is hardly a place more depressing than a dying mall. The vastness of the decay. The long-ago cheer. A space requiring fullness, vacuumed out.

Only in an emergency would I end up in one. But when I landed in Atlanta earlier today, I found that a packing error had rendered me sports jacket-less. Continue reading “The unmatched gloom of the dying mall”

A good way to spend a minute

I first read ‘Your Blinded Hand’ by Tennessee Williams in The New Yorker six years ago. It’s proven to be unforgettable. It was published 18 days after the arrival of my first-born son, and I read it while still floating, amazed by my joy, which is partly why it has left such an impression, I guess. But regardless, it’s a powerful depiction of our desperate belief that, in the face of disaster and despair, we will not be alone. It both warms and haunts. I thought it should have a place on this blog. Continue reading “A good way to spend a minute”

Riding bulls and inhaling bugs: 10 Lessons from Cub Scout ranch-camping

We hit the road for our first Cub Scout camping trip, to Westgate River Ranch, an outdoor oasis in the middle of anonymous, sprawling scrubland — a wonderland of vast fields, bulls standing sternly at fences daring you to come just a little closer, a rodeo arena with its dazzling orange dirt, a saloon, all on the wide and wild Kissimmee River. Other than a lesson on the joys of being immersed in the outdoors while with a couple hundred outstanding people, here’s what we learned: Continue reading “Riding bulls and inhaling bugs: 10 Lessons from Cub Scout ranch-camping”