My first adventure abroad was a summer in the lovely medieval town of Siena, Italy. I was 17 and had never left the East Coast of the U.S., but I made the transition quite easily: Italian food and culture are hardly unknown to New Yorkers, and a background in French and Spanish made the language barrier a non-issue.
When Linda Russ and her husband, Len, decided to move out of Manhattan, they were looking for a backyard, more space and — above all — freedom from hefty private-school tuition bills.
“We had no intention of moving to Connecticut and sending our children to private school,” recalls Linda with a laugh. But just to pacify her father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor, the couple visited Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford, a 53-year-old institution that caters to Jews of all backgrounds.
Tucked into the shadow of the Pyrenees in the Languedoc-Rousillon region, Toulouse is one of France’s best-kept secrets.
Actually, it’s not such a secret: more than 100,000 students flock annually to the city’s august universities, bringing a vibrant cosmopolitanism to these medieval squares and cobblestone alleys. But while it seems every globetrotting American has been to Paris, very few have set foot in France’s fourth-largest city.
My mother wasn’t a fan of fairy tales. Her idea of a bedtime story was an anecdote about her travels through central Italy, circa 1960. I drifted to sleep with images of an American ingenué discovering the Piazza San Marco and the sleepy hilltop idyll of Perugia.
President Obama reportedly spent just 26 hours in Oslo last month, where he collected his Nobel Peace Prize, delivered a speech and then skedaddled back to Washington to deal with health care and Afghanistan.
When Barbara Aiello made her first visit to her parents’ home regions of southern Italy, she was amazed to discover that her Sicilian relatives customarily avoided eating dairy and meat together, and discarded any eggs with a hint of blood. “Things I considered family tradition or superstition were actually Jewish traditions,” she said.
But in an overwhelmingly Catholic region where Jewish families had undergone forced conversions during inquisitions, Jewish practices had become assimilated into Italian habit.
A land of sprawling green valleys, craggy mountains and haunted gray castles, Romania is still virtually unknown to American Jews, despite a complex and ancient Jewish heritage in this far eastern corner of Europe.
Straddling the Balkans and Central Europe, worshipping in the Orthodox Church and speaking a Romance tongue, Romanians have a unique and potent culture. The country itself is only in its second century; the area within its borders has at various times been under the rule of the Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Bulgarian and Austro-Hungarian empires.