Category Archives: food! fun! money! more!

Stockholm shopping at the scene of the crime

– For Patty Hearst

A happy trashcan in Stockholm
A happy trashcan in Stockholm

It was September and lovely, the windows still open in the café where I shook off my jetlag over lunch. As I paid $18 for a simple ham sandwich and small bottle of water, a woman’s cell phone rang out in ABBA (Take a Chance on Me).

Beautifully understated, incredibly expensive, and just a little bit nutty—this was my welcome to Stockholm. I loved it.

All of my past business trips weren’t to nondescript suburbs. When I heard I was headed to Stockholm for a work trip, I instantly added time to my stay so I’d have three days for work, and the weekend for me.

Stockholm street art
Man about town in Stockholm

I was dying to see what the city was like. My mother’s family is Norwegian, and my hometown of Worcester, MA has a healthy Swedish population. Goodies from the Crown Bakery were a staple growing up, and a detour to the Gift Chalet during Saturday errands made the day extra special. We had those tinkly, candle-powered Swedish angel chimes that blew my mind each Christmas, especially the year my mom placed them on a snowy field of cotton—the holiday’s decorative focal point—lit the candles, and screamed as her masterpiece turned into a tiny, Yuletide inferno.

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The Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Mermaid mid-twirl
Letting it all hang out at the Coney Island Mermaid Parade

Grab your pasties, slap on some glitter, and don’t worry if your bathing suit and skirt don’t match or fit. You know what? It’s better if they don’t. Your only requirement at the Coney Island Mermaid parade is to have some fun and let it all hang out.

I love parades, especially ones with character. The best parades are rooted in some deep tradition no one can really remember, but morph each year as new twists are added to keep the crowds coming back. Two parades had a big impression on me.

Mummer mid-strut
Mummer mid-strut

I was hypnotized the first time I saw Hare Krishnas march down a Boston street, and I was a regular at the Mummers Parade when I lived in Philadelphia. The parades may seem very different: one celebrates religion, the other blue-collar union pride; but the differences end there. Participants of both have far-out clothes (drapey robes, feathers and parasols), play indigenous, folksy music (gongs and hand cymbals, string-band renditions of “Golden Slippers), toss things at crowds (marigolds, beaded necklaces) and can be seen as gateway events to other cults.

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Night of a Thousand Stevies

Night of a Thousand Stevies
Night of a Thousand Stevies 26

My friend and I have been talking about going for years. But like a lot of things, we kept putting it off. She got married and had kids, I moved and stayed restless, other stuff happened. Time flew.

Now her kids are finally older, and I’m more or less settled. At her birthday party last year we talked about going again, and about two months ago I thought about maybe getting tickets for this year. As the thought played around my head, iTunes served up “Gypsy” at random.

NOTS 26 fans
My friends and I finally made it to NOTS

Talk about a sign. A few mouse clicks and $70 later, I had two tickets to Night of a Thousand Stevies.

I love Stevie Nicks. For me she’s right up there with Cher, Debbie Harry, and Patti Smith: smart, strong, gorgeous women who do their own thing, and damn the men who can’t keep up. Some find Stevie too flaky and out there but I disagree. Her music skews to the pop side of rock for sure, but I don’t understand how people miss the darkness and melancholy under all that pop sheen.

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For Lady

Come on in!
Come on in!

One of my favorite things about travel is seeing how other cultures try on random English words to use them to their advantage. My favorite? Lady.

Growing up I remember my mom telling me, her tomboy little girl, to “Act like a lady” on more than one occasion, and I’m glad she did. The true meaning behind that sentence was, “You better behave, or I am going to kill you when we get home,” so adopting ladylike behavior when needed was a good life skill to pick up. (A side note, she also told my brother to act like a gentleman—all was fair in the Roche household.)

But I think somewhere along the feminist line, Lady got a bad rap. As feminism progressed we had to all be Women, and Lady took on a lesser status. That’s too bad, because Lady is a great word. For me it telegraphs femininity and empowerment with a dash of savior faire sprinkled on top. Who doesn’t want to be a Lady, at least for a day?

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Siena: I’m Waiting for the Crema

Siena’s where I spent a semester abroad in college, and it’s always going to be a really special place to me. It’s where I made some of my best friends, fell in real love for the first time, and learned more about myself than I ever could have had I spent the semester stateside.

It’s also where I got totally addicted to coffee.

And gelato.

Il mitico Nannini, my home away from home
Il mitico Nannini, my home away from home

And breakfast pastries we just don’t have in the States. Specifically: bombolone, or as my friend and I used to call them, cremas. From Nannini.

Food was the glue that brought a lot of us together in the early days of that semester abroad. The first few days were kind of a blur as we all stumbled around the city, trying to figure out the every day stuff of life. I remember having my first real cappuccino at a jazz bar and loving it, and I also remember just pointing to food in cases and asking for it in remedial Italian, hoping like hell to be understood.

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