Tag Archives: Spain

It’s time for a tune up

SHA Wellness Clinic

Me on a morning hike in El Albir, Spain while at SHA Wellness Clinic

Now that I’m several months shy of a milestone birthday, it’s time for me to get my butt in gear. I expect to look a certain way when that big day comes in November and I won’t accept anything less. We all have our standards and mine are high. I thought I was my worst critic until I saw the experts at SHA Wellness Clinic on Spain’s Mediterranean coast.

After hearing from Dr. Ken Prange that my nerves were frayed and that the excess of refined sugar I consume is apparent in my fingernails and tongue, I figured I would stop ordering “a muffin for my muffin top” during my occasional visits to Peet’s and Coffee Bean in the States And I really would make a concerted effort to cut down on my red wine. Although wine is available at SHA, I’m not ordering any. It’s not like I can’t go a few days without it.

Dr. Prange was just one of the doctors I saw during my stay at SHA, one of the spas I’ll feature in my story on the top spas in the world’s in the September/October issue of Elite Traveler. People don’t come to SHA because they’re perfect. They come in search of perfection. Therefore, there is no coddling by the experts, who specialize in a variety of areas.  Dr. Dolores Antón Rico, who specializes in advanced anti aging skin techniques, was generally pleased with the elasticity in my skin but nonetheless showed me a video on Thermage. Intrigued by it, I asked her if it could help my thighs, which had started to sag several years ago.

“Let me see,” she said.

I was still wearing the running tights from my morning walk and warned her that I wore no panties.

“I’m a doctor,” she said with authority.

As I peeled my Brooks running tights away from my skin, she nearly gasped when she saw my bulging belly. I can’t remember if she asked if I was pregnant or had had children because her reaction to my muffin top caused my brain to stumble. Whatever she asked, it didn’t matter. The answer was NO! She examined my thighs, lifted my tush and told me Thermage could help both. But, she added, not the belly. As if I didn’t know. But thanks anyway doc.

My next stop was with the doctor who heads up aesthetics medicine at SHA Wellness Clinic. I pointed out the ever-so-slight lines that appeared in the creases when I smiled, asked if a little filler in my cheeks would help. She took it a step further and rattled off some other things I may want to consider as well.

I was feeling pretty good about myself when I came to SHA. Now I think I need to stay for about two months and rob a bank to pay for all of the work I need done that I didn’t know I needed done until I arrived. We tune up cars. We change timing belts around 100,000 miles. Our bodies are machines and need work too. Some more than others.

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Filed under Aging, Beauty, Spa, Travel, Wine

Is it me or Spain?

Kelly E. Carter Lucy Carter Madrid

Kelly E. Carter and Lucy Carter in Madrid

Spain is one of those places that I can’t quite figure out. Most people love the country but I don’t. Someone tell me what I am for I know it is something.

My first trip to Spain was in 2004 when I was dispatched to Madrid by US Weekly magazine. Ben Affleck was in Madrid and happened to be in the midst of ending his inexplicable relationship with Jennifer Lopez. I was asked to get a comment from him and gladly obliged since it meant going to Spain, a country that everyone just seems to love.

I packed a change of clothes and off Lucy and I went in search of Ben. The assignment was only for one day and after I finished I decided, since it was a Friday, to go to Barcelona for the weekend. I had heard so much about Barna, as the locals call it, that I just had to experience it for myself. Although I enjoyed the tour around the city from atop a double decker bus and the popular tapas joint Cal Pep and drinking Claras, I wasn’t impressed.

Hoping for a different experience this time, I arranged for a three-day stay in Madrid before heading south for my spa assignment on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. My mission: to fall in love with Madrid. I was blown away by the elegance of the Hotel Villa Magna, where Lucy and I stayed in a luxurious Villa Magna Suite suite that I could live in forever. And the neighborhood had every designer store imaginable. A shopper’s dream! A visit to the Prado museum with a friend and her beau, who coincidentally were visiting from Germany, was educational and enjoyable. And I thoroughly enjoyed the Mandarin restaurant Tse Tang in the courtyard of Hotel Villa Magna so much that I ate there twice.

Yet there was still something missing. What could it be? Warmth, perhaps? Spaniards are wonderful people once you get to know them but as strangers I find that they keep their distance, don’t make eye contact and certainly don’t say “Buenos dias,” in the way that Italians greet people they don’t know with “buon giorno” when you pass them on the street. Catch a Parisian on a good day and even those snooty, chic folks will even say “Bon jour,” to a stranger.

But not the Spaniards. I discussed this topic with an American family that I met my final night in Madrid. I struck up a conversation first with the husband as we all hung out in the hotel bar watching a soccer game none of us cared about. While the patrons in the jam-packed bar rooted for Real Madrid to beat Barcelona and sang after their team won, I couldn’t help but note how the Spanish expressed tremendous passion when it came to futbol. Then why can’t they treat strangers the same way?

Or maybe it’s just me they don’t. I’m not going to give up on you Spain. I know there’s a chance for us to have a relationship at some point. When you’re ready, let me know and I’ll be back.

Hotel Villa Magna Madrid

Villa Magna Suite at the Hotel Villa Magna Suite in Madrid.

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Filed under Italy, Travel

The trip that almost wasn’t

It’s a miracle that my 21-day European adventure began on time considering I couldn’t find my passport when I went to check in for my Iberia flight at LAX. I knew I had put it in the front pocket in my massive BET tote bag, where I could retrieve it easily. Yet it wasn’t there.

I took everything out of the tote bag (laptop, iPad, still camera, Flip video camera, BlackBerry, electrical cords, datebook, folders and more) couldn’t find it! Then I took everything out of a raggedy BCBG tote I am so attached to and still, it wasn’t there.

“Can I check in without my passport,” I sheepishly asked the lady at the counter.

“No,” she said sweetly.

She let me know that the flight was delayed about 30 minutes and for once I was grateful for a delay. I hadn’t arrived the recommended two hours early for international flights because it never takes long to check in.

My beau Bill suggested I go through my luggage. To appease him, I opened my humongous suitcase and pretended to look. He asked if there was any chance I put it in my dog Lucy’s carrier. No, I said.

I knew exactly where the passport was — in the taxi we had taken to LAX.

“Try to reach the taxi driver,” I said to Bill, as if the cabbie was a neighbor whose number he had.

I’ve left a lot of things in taxis. Sometimes I’ve managed to get them back, such as my favorite jacket in Athens and a tote bag in New York, and some I haven’t, such as a darling mink scarf in New York and on another occasion, a winter hat in New York.

But a passport? I flashed back to 30 minutes earlier when the cabbie opened the trunk at LAX. My BET tote bag was upside down. As my luggage was unloaded, I saw that the front flap of the pocket wasn’t shut and made a mental note to make sure all pockets were always closed in the future. I thought I quickly glanced around the trunk to make sure nothing had fallen out. Obviously I was wrong.

As Bill talked to the taxi company on his cell phone, I replayed the day in my head. I had packed my belongings and moved them into storage. Had I mistakenly put my passport in my computer bag that was now in storage? Was there time to jump in a cab, rush to the storage unit and find out? Or worse yet, maybe I had put my passport, which I keep in a holder, with things for the movers to pack. It could be in any of a number of boxes that were stacked so perfectly in the storage unit. Yikes!

I thought about my options. How long would it take the U.S. government to issue me another passport? A day? Two days? A week? I had flexibility so if I had to push the trip back then I could but everything had been so neatly arrange.

“Come to San Francisco,” Bill said when I told him I didn’t really have to go to Madrid. It was just a stop en route to my final destination.

That wasn’t an option. I knew in my heart that the passport was in the taxi. It was just a matter of finding that damn taxi! Bill called back and explained the urgency in the situation. He had his own flight to catch and had sweetly accompanied me to the international terminal after checking his luggage.

Finally, the cab driver was located and he confirmed to dispatch that he had my passport. I passed along my mobile number to the dispatcher for the cab driver to call me and waited patiently. Bill marveled at his accomplishment.

The man never keeps receipts and I’ve been on him to do so for months. Despite all of the advancements in technology, errors still occur on credit card bills. I save every receipt (yes, I’m a hoarder) until my statement arrives and then shred them, or keep them even longer. It amazed me that Bill never, ever, ever bothered to take his receipts. Until this day.

I literally thanked God that Bill, for the first time in his life, saved a receipt. Without it, we never would have tracked down the cab.

With the assurance that the cab driver would call me, Bill gave me $40 to give to the cabbie and scurried to make his flight. He now realizes the importance of saving receipt the same as I realize the importance of making sure every zipper is zipped and every fastener is fastened on my tote.

Eventually the cab driver called me. “Hey Clipper fan,” I said when I answered the phone after seeing an unrecognizable number on Caller ID. Bill had the cab first from his hotel and they had talked sports before they picked me up. The three of us continued talking sports to the airport and while Bill waited in line to check his luggage, the cabbie and I chatted about life in New York, where he is from and where I spent four years. By now, he was like an old friend.

The cabbie let me know he was in Culver City and it would take him about 15 minutes to return to LAX. “Hurry please!” I said. When he arrived, he handed me my powder blue passport holder and I gave him the $40. I’ll never forget the appreciative look on his face. It truly made his day.

I know I should have told him the $40 was from Bill but since black women have a reputation for under tipping (it’s why Oprah over tips but she can afford to do so) I decided not to divulge that information. Sidebar: Wasn’t there a Seinfeld episode about someone always taking credit for something someone else did?

When we spoke after I landed in Madrid, Bill and I applauded ourselves at how well both of us handled our first minor crisis. Neither of us panicked, freaked out or shouted.

“I still can’t believe we pulled it off,” he said, as if it was a heist.

And in a way, I guess it was.

Kelly E. Carter Lucy Carter Iberia

Kelly E. Carter holds Lucy Carter on their Iberia flight from LAX to Madrid

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Filed under Lucy, Travel

Now that The Jet Set Pets has launched

I can’t believe that it’s been five months since I’ve updated this Eat, Drink and Pray for Love blog! Well, I have a good reason for neglecting my personal ramblings: my pet project, literally, The Jet Set Pets.

Finally, after 13 hard months, The Jet Set Pets finally launched in March. I don’t know which was more challenging: delivering the manuscript for Come to Win or building a website. Just like the hard work Venus Williams, the publisher Amistad (an imprint of Harper  Collins) and I put into Come to Win helped the book become a New York Times bestseller, I’m convinced that I have an award-winning site that wouldn’t have been possible without my biz partner/marketing guru Regina DiMartino and the rest of the terrific team.

If you haven’t checked out The Jet Set Pets yet, please do. And if you have visited, please return for the latest information for pampered pets on the go and share the link with others. The site is not only beautiful thanks to a clever icon from talented graphic artist Kimb Manson and dazzling illustration from the fabulous Marina Rankovic but functional and informative due to the brilliance of web developer Clint Crisher, who is as creative (it was his idea to perch me on the wing of the plane in the illustration) as he is on top of the latest in web design.

I know this reads like I’m delivering an acceptance speech — and I haven’t won anything. But I am super proud of the site, which has something for every pet lover whether your furry friend travels first class or economy, by Ferrari or bus or to St. Tropez or the local dog park. An abundance of pet-friendly travel information awaits but there’s also a Community section so pets can have virtual play dates in the Chat Room, a Forum for pet lovers to share their thoughts and a Directory that allows businesses to reach consumers and which gives back by donating part of its revenue to charities.

In time, I would like to start The Jet Set Pets Foundation to provide free and reduced-rate veterinarian services to the financially challenged.

But first, I have to continue delivering content essential to pet lovers and presented in a user-friendly way. Feel free to send comments and make suggestions on the site.

Now that The Jet Set Pets is off the ground, I hope to find time to update this blog on a regular basis once again. I love writing in the first person as much as I take delight in reading how much you enjoy my ramblings. Few editors allow me to write in the first person, my favorite style.

My pooch Lucy and I jet off to Spain on Wednesday then we’re on to France, followed by Italy, our adopted country and former residence. (I can taste the Bellinis now.) I’m sure we’ll have our usual exciting adventures, which I’ll write about in my (hopefully) usual witty fashion on this blog beginning later this week.

Check back for frequent posts, or better yet, subscribe so the posts are delivered right to your Inbox.

Hasta luego!

À tout à l’heure!

A presto!

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Filed under Books, Italy, Travel

How I (Never) Met Your Mother

I know some of you envy me for being able to enjoy a six-week holiday in Europe but at times it was torture. It’s like finding the ideal mate and knowing you only have a limited amount of time together. When I told friends I was going to Italy for a month, they wondered if I’d return. Well, sadly I did. I’m back in L.A., though more determined than ever to find a way to become an ex-pat once again.

Walking down cobblestone streets in Rome’s Trastevere section or through Tropea’s narrow streets and gazing at the bluish/green sea while lounging on the beach in Tropea stirred my desire to once again become a resident of the boot-shaped country. Not that the yearning ever left me after returning in 2005. I’m so fond of Italy’s small towns that I envision myself teaching English in a medieval village while continuing to write. I even brought up the topic with a couple of residents of Tropea, where I was welcomed like a local but don’t think is the place for me, and was encouraged by their responses. I realize money is tight in small southern towns like Tropea so while parents may wish for their children speak English, being able to hire someone to teach them is another matter.

Spending my last night in Italy with five ex-pats and one hopeful at a charming enoteca near the Colosseo, or Colosseum, was the ideal way to end my sojourn. Perhaps through osmosis, the will, courage and spirit of these fantastic women (as well as my other ex-pats friends like Layne and Elizabeth, who couldn’t make the girls’ night out, ex-pat gathering) will inspire me to get my butt in gear. The euro is a bit kinder to the dollar than in 2005 when I was forced to pack my bags after 26 months in Italy. However, one still takes quite a beating earning in U.S. dollars and spending in euro, which is why I need to focus on making euros. A report released by Manpower Inc. the other day listed Italy among four countries with a negative employment outlook. (Greece, Ireland and Spain are the others.) But I can’t let depressing statistics, or reality, deter me. Layne, whom I met when we both lived in Florence in 2003, recently landed a job as an international attorney at Fendi. So there!

Plus, the women I hung out with Tuesday night, some new acquaintances and others old friends, are positive examples of how ex-pats can make it work even if they don’t have a major fashion house signing their paycheck. I had invited the other ex-pat hopeful Lynne, whom I had met the previous night through Layne. Over bottles of Nero d’Avola, the ex-pats told me they would help me in any way they could should I decide to return. As the group dispersed (not me because I was staying for more vino and a real meal since I hadn’t eaten yet), we met a woman from Chicago and her Italian husband. This couple was a hoot and what fun I had chatting with the two of them. But it wasn’t just the laughs we shared but the seriousness of our conversation as well.

The husband told me and Lynne, who had stayed on to keep me company, how he encouraged his Caucasian wife to introduce herself to us when he saw our group, which consisted of six women of color and one Caucasian, because he had never laid eyes on a collection of beautiful, sophisticated black women in Italy.

Sadly, too often the image of women of color in Italy is of us as a puntana, or prostitute, in Naples. We offer nothing except sex. And it’s constantly reinforced. On Layne’s seven-hour bus ride from Tropea to Rome, she was appalled by a movie about a Senegalese family that moves to Italy. The African wife/mother begins an affair with a married Italian man. She’s shown nude, moaning and screaming during their multiple sexcapades. And this was shown on an early morning bus ride with about 15 senior citizens, who were riveted. When the Italian wife learns of the affair, her family tells that for African women, “sex is like water. They need it to live.”

It’s these kinds of stereotypes that the women I hung with last night are able to break down. And it’s not just in Italy. Four years ago I traveled solo through Croatia and met a local on the island of Hvar who told me how much my presence in his country was doing to educate Croatians about Black people for I showed that we can be intelligent, classy and professional. That country has such a bad reputation when it comes to racism that an editor of a black travel magazine wouldn’t give me an assignment about Croatia because he was reluctant to promote such a place. It turned out to be one of my best vacations.

But back to Italy and my oh-so-fab group of ex-pats that I want to join. There’s Bunmi, who is from the UK, married to a New Zealander and is the mother of two. Courtney, who is married to an Italian and approaching her second anniversary. Charmaine was divorced from an Italian when I met her several years ago but she wed another Italian about a year ago. I didn’t have a chance to ask Arlene, who moved to Italy in 2008, about her relationship status. Nancy, the lone Caucasian, dates John, an American sportswriter in Denver whom I have known since my days covering sports. Nancy and John had moved to Italy together and left due to finances shortly before I arrived in April 2003. Now she’s back and hoping John returns as planned. When living abroad is in your blood, it doesn’t leave. And there’s Lynne, who like me would like to live in Italy and is traveling solo on holiday. I wanted her to meet these women so invited her. Lynne, also like me, never can get a date and can’t figure out why.

That brings me to Paolo. Some of you have wondered what became of the Italian who fell madly in love with me on first sight and on our first date invited me to his house to meet his mother and called her on the mobile so I could speak to her. No, I didn’t meet mama but she did call me on my final night in Tropea to tell me what a pity it was that we didn’t get together and that she hopes that the next time I come to Italy that we meet. I told her that I was sorry that it didn’t happen either, even though I wanted very much to meet her.

Layne and I scream with laughter trying to figure out what happened with what looked like a promising start to something, although I wasn’t quite sure what. But something more than what I ever have going on in the States. Maybe it was my lead pencils, my vacation hair, my strong deodorant or writing “ciao amore” that put the brakes on Paolo’s fast-moving train.

Let me explain in detail:

CIAO AMORE
As you may recall Paolo, a single attorney with no kids and who I found out is 46, lives 120 kilometers from Tropea and came for a weekend to hang out with his brother and another friend, both of whom live in Rome. That’s when we met. Thanks to a mid-week holiday in Italy, Paolo returned to visit me a couple of days later.

Before he left his city he asked if he could stay overnight with me since it was a long drive back. I told him of course, but he had to sleep in the extra bedroom. He scoffed at this so I relented and told him he can sleep with me in my room but we are NOT having sex.  Once he arrived, my self-control didn’t stop me from wearing a revealing baby-doll nightie with a thong to bed because hey, a girl’s gotta feel sexy even if she has no plans to give it up on the second date. Being that he’s a man, and Italian at that, of course he brought up sex when we were in bed. (We always spoke in Italian but I’ll write in English.)

“I don’t know you well enough,” I said as to my reason why he wasn’t getting any.

“How long do I have to wait?” he replied.

“How long do you usually wait?” I asked, knowing that he had dumped his girlfriend of 10 years just three weeks prior.

No answer.

Anyway, the sex, or lack thereof, didn’t turn into an issue during his two-night stay. At least not then. Interestingly enough he brought it up after returning to his city. At his request, I emailed him photos of us and began the email “Ciao amore,” or “hello love.” He wrote me back and asked “how could I write ciao amore when nothing happened.”  For Christ’s sake! I say “ciao amore” to cute Italian babies on the street who I don’t know. Was it really that big of a deal?

And we had gotten along swimmingly during the two days together. I was thrilled to discover how health conscious he is: he works out at a gym three times a week and jogs — and I’ve taken up running because of him; we both drink soy milk and abhor cigarettes. And he’s clean. When he returned from our morning run, he washed his workout clothes in the sink and hung them out to dry. This was huge because I consider him a mammone, an Italian mama’s boy who lives at home and relies on his mother to do everything for him. He does live at home but he explained that it’s in a palazzo with five apartments on the bottom.  I can overlook this as it is not completely atypical in Italy. Plus he’s affectionate and thoughtful. We cuddled on the beach and when my iPod froze, he offered me half of his earphones so we could listen to his music while soaking up the rays.

We took in sunset from my terrace while drinking Martini Bianco, my favorite apertivo, he cooked dinner for me both nights, and when we walked Lucia at night we stopped for after dinner drinks.

In just two days my Italian improved exponentially because I took my dictionary and notepad everywhere, looked up words he used and jotted them down so I could remember them. I also looked up the word “rebound” and showed it to him as I figured he was on the rebound, which he denied since he was the one who called off the 10-year romance. During his visit, he called home to check in with his family and tell them how he cooked dinner for me. They were shocked because he NEVER cooks.

I talked to Paolo’s brother Dino (for the second time) as well as Dino’s girlfriend Gabriella. Everyone had seen my photos on my website and agreed that I was bella. Lucia was a little cautious of Paolo at first but she became his little buddy, curling up at his feet when he watched TV and staring at him as he shaved. We don’t get many men spending the night so this was an unusual activity for her.

LEAD PENCILS
When Paolo returned home, he told me his mother continued to ask when to expect me for dinner. I never received a formal invite and couldn’t take the train three hours and show up on my own. After he returned home, Paolo also repeatedly complained about the stress he was under at work and home but provided no details. While Skyping one day, he asked if I noticed how he didn’t sleep during his two-night stay with me. Sure I had, but I figured it was because of me.

My bed, which I had slept like a baby in until his arrival, squeaked with him in it. Every time he moved, it creaked. And he moved constantly because he hasn’t slept in a while. He periodically dozed off and when he did, he snored something fierce, which awakened me and pissed me off. So for two days I barely slept at night. (Earplugs don’t stay in my ears so are not an option.) Thankfully I slept fine on the beach and my ability to fall asleep anywhere on a moment’s notice became a running joke between us.

Because my bed, like most in Italy, was only a double, we slept VERY close. Okay, he wrapped his arms around me and our legs intertwined, if you need details. By the second night, he told me my legs were heavy. I pulled them away but stayed in his arms because when I rolled out of his grasp before, he asked if it was uncomfortable being in his arms. No, I like being in a headlock. No problem. Deal with my legs. Heavy, I thought to myself. My tooth pick legs? How can they be heavy? Now Layne and I jokingly call my legs the lead pencils.

STRONG DEODORANT
During another point in the middle of the night Paolo told me my perfume was strong. I was 99% asleep and therefore very proud of myself when, without thinking I need to speak in Italian, I replied, “Non ho usato perfuma.” (I didn’t use perfume.) He then made a comment about my deodorant being strong. Yeah, I wear Secret, which is strong enough for a man but made for a woman. But it’s powder-fresh scented. Strong as it may be, my underarms still smell fresh. Dude, be glad I don’t come to bed smelling like a goat.

VACATION HAIR
When Paolo initially called his mother to tell her about me, he told her that I am as tall as him and have curly hair. When he later checked out my website, he saw photos of me with longer, straight hair. He commented about the different hairstyle and said “piu bella,” telling me that I am more beautiful with long, straight hair. I replied that I agree but it’s shorter and curly now because this is my “vacation hair.” And I left it at that. I didn’t feel like explaining/couldn’t explain in Italian that I’m wearing a weave during this trip because I can’t deal with my natural hair while traveling for six weeks. I’d have to explain what happens to my natural hair when it gets wet, how I didn’t want to wear it in its natural state for six weeks because maintaining the spiral curls requires lugging around a lot of products,  define a hot comb and pressing, tell him about my aversion to creamy crack relaxers, convince him that I really do have thick, shoulder-length hair like my website shows but it is braided for now and I have some Indian chick’s hair attached to the braids. This is complicated enough to explain to a non-Black person in English, let alone an Italian in Italian.

Paolo sometimes caressed my hair and I’m sure he had to feel the tracks. But he never said anything so I adhered to the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Most black women who wear weaves impersonate a boxer by ducking and dodging when a man reaches for their hair. But not me. Go ahead, cowboy. Touch my weave. It’s not coming out and your hands aren’t going to get caught in the tracks. I am most positive Paolo never felt tracks before so he had no idea what he was feeling. Maybe he thought I had growths on my scalp and couldn’t bear to fall deeper in love with me and then lose me to some outlandish skin condition.

So it could have been the vacation hair, strong deodorant, lead pencils or “ciao amore” that kept me from meeting mama and prevented him from returning to visit me on the weekends, when I know he was free because we talked all the time. Maybe Paolo, whose is not without faults but is workable as no one is perfect, didn’t see the point of getting wrapped up in somebody who would soon depart (especially after breaking up with someone after 10 years) and doesn’t live in the moment enough like me to enjoy hanging out only for a few weeks. Although we stayed in contact daily through Skype and SMS while I was in Tropea, I was thrown for a loop when his mother got on Skype my final day.

So although I didn’t meet the mama, I return with fantastic memories of new experiences and having fallen in love – all over again with Italy. Baci!


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Filed under Beauty, Dating, economy, Italy, Los Angeles, Lucy, race, Travel, Wine