Outside Berlin, our family walks through Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp in operation from 1936-1945, and our heads fill with thoughts.
Follow the blacktop from Munich to Berlin at a top speed of 220 kilometers per hour (roughly 137 mph).
We’d heard stories about Venice in the rain — especially in the winter — when the entire city would be submerged in knee high water and you’d have to wear waders to get around. But this was the late Spring when we were there and we didn’t expect a relatively light rain to create water flooding into the ground floor of our rented apartment making escape all but impossible. But that’s exactly what happened.It turns out that the rising waters of Venice do not have to do with the rain, nor does it have to do with the fact that the city is sinking (a few millimeters each decade, nothing to lose sleep over). It’s entirely caused by the cycle of tides and the moon. When these forces align, situations like the one we had to confront unexpectedly occur. True Venetians have knee high waders at the ready and an app on their phone that shows the height of the water levels at every point in the city. But visitors like us just have to improvise.
In 2009, shortly after the death of Mark’s father, our family took a trip to Europe for six weeks. Before this, we had never spent more than three weeks on holiday — and Mark worried that he might not be able to stand such a long time with idle hands. So, as a lark, together we decided to make a short film as we went that told the story of a sister and a brother who had lost their parents and were traveling on their own through Europe. This little labor of love was called “Ezzy and Cleveland.”
As we wandered from London to Paris to Venice and Madrid, we somehow got the kids to call each other by different names and enact a largely improvised story about the bond between a then nine year-old sister and her six year-old brother. We shot way too much without editing a thing and the footage sat on hard drives in our office for the better part of two years. Only when our talented collaborator (and cousin) Abe Forman-Greenwald started sifting through the footage did the little movie come to life. Abe served as editor, producer and all-around facilitator to turn our family project into something comprehensible. Since completion, the 30-minute film has played in a handful of family film festivals around the world, in places as far away as Kenya and Australia.
Below is a six-minute clip of the section in Venice starring pint-sized Franny and Finn as Ezzy and Cleveland — on their adventure to discover the world. There is no question that our time spent alone together as a family during these six weeks was a great and important inspiration for what would eventually become our incredible Year To Think. Returning to Venice and living in an apartment for a week as Venetians with the same kids (now a few years older and many inches taller) brought back indelible memories of our first time here together.
In Italy, in Spain, in Portugal and throughout much of the world, people are talking about the recent economic crisis and how it’s changed their lives. The Crisis has been a constant topic of conversation around dinner tables, in the homes of new friends, and a living study in real world economics for the kids. So when we arrived in Athens, where so many headlines about The Crisis have been centered, it didn’t take long before the subject arose again and our education continued. Ride along in a taxi with us through the streets of Athens and hear firsthand about the situation there.
Our friend Lance in Los Angeles basically knows more about pizza than anybody we’ve ever met. As a matter of fact, he is a respected writer for the seminal pizza blog Slice — the first and last word in pizza on the net — where they do things like fly Lance to New York and have him sample fifteen different pizzas in two days and he gets paid for this. So as we landed in Italy, we shot Lance an email and asked simply “Where should we go to find the best pizza?” The answer came back within seconds: “Da Michele in Naples.” As he tapped the words into his smartphone, his mouth watered with envy because he in fact has not yet made the pilgrimage to Da Michele. So we went as his advance team to check out what makes this simple, saucy, purists’ pizza so legendary around the world. Lance, this one’s for you.It’s worth mentioning: The pizza is ridiculously delicious. Thin crispy crust, flavorful generous marinara, the perfect amount of mozzarella in bubbling white dollops, and fresh sprigs of basil. They make it seem so simple — but if was really all that easy, people wouldn’t be traveling across the planet just to eat here.
Exactly. And therein lies the power of the orange hat. In addition to being a bold fashion statement, a small homage to the spirited Detroit Tigers (Mark’s hometown team), and a salute to our family’s favorite color, the orange hat is an essential tool for keeping track of each other across the world. Mark and Finn wear their hats all the time — making them easy to spot in a crowded train station, easy to follow through a congested street, and always visible 100 yards away in any direction. Jen too sports a more stylish orange sun hat, further testament to the family’s collective devotion to the color. (Only Franny, in a fully-justifiable act of teenage rebellion, refuses to wear anything orange. God bless her.)
When we get home, we’re not sure what do with the orange hats. Retire them to a hook by the front door? Bronze them? Finally get the damn things washed? Get new ones that are exactly the same? If you’re looking for us after the trip, it’ll still be a pretty fair bet to keep your eyes open for the family with the orange hats — and the cool-looking girl with the guitar standing next to them.
We’ve lived high, we’ve lived low. We’ve slept in castles, on wooden floors, in guest rooms, on trains, in tents, and on houseboats. But this was the first dorm room we ever slept in. And because we happened to show up between terms, we had the entire four building complex all to ourselves. The place could have made a great setting for a Shining-esque horror movie. Instead, it turned out to be the ideal location for our four day family adventure in Rome.How did we find this place you ask? Two years ago, our good friend Victor married our good friend Anna and we attended the most fabulous wedding we’ve ever experienced in the garden of this architecture school in the heart of the Trastavere neighborhood of Rome (and, of course, we made a short film about it). Anna’s parents Romolo and Helena run an architecture program here for American students abroad. For the weekend of Victor and Anna’s wedding, the place was dubbed Rome Camp and many guests of the wedding stayed in the dorms, but we had a nearby apartment. This time, we bunked right here and lived happily like a family of college students.
While we were in Paris, we did a lot of long term planning (i.e. “Let’s go to Kenya in June”), but we neglected to figure out where we were going in the short term — as in immediately. So we drove out of Paris in a rented car, heading south, knowing nothing more than we would hunker down at our friends’ house in Lyon for a night and figure things out. We knew that we wanted to see the South of France, then make our way down to Italy but that was about it. What we ended up with was an incredible week vagabonding from one set of friends’ parents to another. We were like college kids on a Eurorail Pass again, except this time we were going around in a rented Peugot along with a ten year-old and a thirteen year-old.
Back in Paris, our friend Pierre told us we should go to Moustiers-St. Marie, nestled in the foothills where the Alps become Provence and loaded with members of his family. His parents Claude and Tonia greeted us as if we were their own children, taking us to the best restaurant in the village, and even allowing Franny to use their internet the next day for her Skype French lesson. They seemed genuinely thrilled to have us — just because their son shot them an email and said these American nomads are going to be rolling through. It was like having our own French parents, but without all the baggage that comes with ones’ actual parents.
Wait, it gets even better. So we’re rolling out of Moustiers still without a plan and we suddenly get an email from our friend Juliette’s mother Lesley who says we should come and stay with her in her village called Seillans. We checked our Google maps and saw Seillans was just an hour and a half away and wrote Lesley back saying we’d see her at lunch. She quickly wrote us back and said “No! Too soon! I’m out on a hike!”
After a side-trip to Cannes, we rolled into Seillans, one of earth’s charming treasures, and more-or-less took over Lesley’s house for a few days. And she loved it! Our kids became like her grandkids. She brought us croissants every morning, Franny and Finn kicked the soccer ball around her backyard, and we all spent a gorgeous afternoon in St. Tropez together, where we all rested on the beach. She even whipped up an unforgettable dinner party where her boyfriend Jay, an ex-pat Madison Avenue ad man, wrote an original song about our journey (see video below).Camped out in Lesley’s guest room, we finally figured out where we were going to travel next — Rome! Because our friend Anna’s parents wrote us on Facebook and said we could stay at the dormitory in their amazing 800 year old architecture school in the best neighborhood in the city. “We’ll see you tomorrow!” we replied. Hey, Paris is fine, but Parents of Friends are fantastic! After nine and a half month of full-time parenting, there was something very nice about feeling like the kids again.
Seven subways. Seven cities around the world. Submit your guesses below. The clock’s ticking. First one who gets them all right wins. Guess as many times as you like. Even wild stabs are appreciated. Whoever is closest by midnight on May 27th (Pacific Standard Time) takes the crown. Helpful hints: Listen carefully to the loudspeaker for clues — and you might want to cross-reference our itinerary (all these cities appear on that list somewhere).UPDATE: Put down your pencils, stop replaying the video over and over again, we have a winner — or in this case, two winners: Erin and Carol from Berlin have nailed ALL SEVEN SUBWAYS, seemingly without breaking a sweat. Congratulations! It should be noted that these two are longtime State Department employees who have lived all over the world and speak many languages. They are tough competition. Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, a special shout-out should be given to Maria, who is an entertainment executive and to our knowledge has not lived all over the world. Maria had an impressive five out of seven on what we thought was an extraordinarily difficult challenge. Thanks for playing, one and all. Click below to see the answers: