Helen Keller once wrote, “I seldom think about my limitations, and they never make me sad.” In the spring of 2000, as I was being treated at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital in New York City for a recurrence of stage 4 Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the body’s lymph system, I was faced with my own set of limitations. Besides the feeling that my time on Earth might be limited, I was physically restricted by extreme lethargy, a by-product of my chemotherapy regimen. I was also emotionally burdened by the effect the illness had on my employment, relationships, self-esteem, and future goals. Perseverance was not enough at that time; I needed a hobby.
Any hobby I chose would have to be high interest and low impact, subdued enough to allow for my lack of stamina, yet engaging enough to matter to me at a time when other issues loomed larger. My mother-in-law, the quintessential problem-solver, presented me with a pair of binoculars and a birdwatcher’s guidebook. Here was a hobby I could do as I walked at my maximum speed of sluggish through the parks of Queens.
I began with the convalescent limitations of my bedroom window. From there, I was able to check off positive identifications of sparrows, cardinals, robins, mockingbirds, and starlings. The occasional chickadee or titmouse might pass my gaze as well, bringing the total number of species to seven, a lucky number. Once my stamina improved, I found Kissena Park an impressive locale for birdwatching. I added coot, ruddy duck, cormorant, brown creeper, and pheasant to my list. As my resilience grew and as I completed my chemo treatments, I found I was able to walk the two-mile circumference of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, one of the crown jewels of birding. After multiple trips, my identification checklist skyrocketed well beyond fifty species. From there, my health and fitness took me to Upstate New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and, by 2005, to being labeled “cured.”
In 2007, I was among a select few writers accepted into the new MFA in Creative Writing Program at Queens College. My thesis was a poetry collection called “Flying on the Edge,” which combined poems about my successful battle against Hodgkin’s disease with poems that embodied the spirituality of birds and how they followed me through the process of recovery, stripping away my limitations as my health took flight.
-- Michael Alpiner
The Luxury of Game of Thrones: A Trip Around the Westeros World and an Island Waiting for HBO to Discover
My journeys to the worlds of Westeros have included Iceland (The Wall), Northern Ireland (Winterfell), and Croatia (King's Landing).
In each world that stood in for the imaginary kingdoms of George R. R. Martin, I found a unique history and art and culture that sometimes mirrored and sometimes was in distinct contrast to the worlds that you see on film.
Take the famous "Shadow Baby" caves (their real name is Cushendun) just outside of Belfast. In GOT, they are the site of a horrific and visceral "birth" of the shadow child of Melisandre. In reality, the caves are a place of peace and lapping ocean water, near small towns, friendly pubs and the legendary green fields of the Northern Irish countryside.
In Iceland, pristine glaciers and ice flows are CG'd into the foreboding "Wall" where Jon Snow and crew have their watch. In reality, the air is bracing and pure and friendly locals have nary a white walker among them (although the Icelanders on the whole believe in an elder race of "unseen" folk).
Perhaps one of the most surprising destinations I visited on my Westeros tours was Croatia. I've been to Dubrovnik (site of Cersei's "walk of shame") and to Split (where the palace of Diocletian doubles as Denarys' throne room). On my last trip to this country of a myriad islands I visited Losinj--which has not yet made it onto the screen as Dorne or Kings' Landing but in my opinion it's just a matter of time. In the days of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, the island was the Emperor's getaway for chilling with his mistress far from the prying eyes of the Viennese. It was also considered a health resort where people could get the soot from the urban sprawll out of their lungs.
The island is full of pines and rare flowers and herbs that release their scent into the remarkably clean air. The water is so crystalline, you can see sea life and your own feet at the bottom.
History lovers will find the tracks of ancient roman wheels, and there's a booty of of a found masterpiece from ancient Greece in a local museum--Apoxymenos--an athlete whose beauty of form would rival any of the young studs of GOT.
It's only a matter of time before the location managers of HBO find Losinj and turn it into some new conquered city-state or one of the contested lands in the battle between Jon Snow, Arya, Denarys, Cersei, et al.
GOT fans--go now!
Isabella Rossellini, style icon and onetime companion of Twin Peaks director David Lynch taught me everything I need to know about packing for a luxury trip.
I was interviewing Rossellini as she lauched her role as brand ambassador of Silversea Cruises. Her staterooms contained her suitcases for the two week cruise to Vietnam--actually one small carry-on bag.
"Less is more," she told me. "I take a few elegant pieces that can go from day to night and then for makeup, I bring two lipsticks: a nude for day and a crimson for night."
Personally, I'd prefer to travel like a turn-of-the-century diva, with steamer cases and a greyhound on a diamond leash--but since I have yet to prove a familial connection with one of the crowned heads of Europe, I try to go with Isabella's advice.
If you're thinking, how can I choose two lipsticks for everything, think Tom Ford, king of elegant understatement. I love his Spanish Pink lipstick and a crimson pout of Wild Ginger is calling my name this summer.