Travel

1024 769 MAHA KIMBERLY AKHTAR

The Quality of Life

Of late, I’ve been quite preoccupied with the idea of quality of life and what it really means to me.

I’ve always been a hard worker, whether it was in school or later when I started working…somehow, I was happy to put in long hours, trying to go the extra mile, keeping ahead of the 8 ball.

All through my 20s, 30s and 40s, I was convinced that if I could do better, my quality of life would improve, and so I worked feverishly, constantly striving, achieving, getting ahead, climbing the ladder, call what you will, but I felt that I needed to be the best I could be at whatever I turned my mind to.

For example, I took up flamenco dancing, first as a hobby and became so obsessed with it that I decided to move to Sevilla, the mecca of the artform. And not just that, I took it all the way to the top, dancing professionally, touring Europe and the like.

I turned my hand to cooking and would run home every evening to cook a rather grand meal for my then hubby, who affectionately told me that I probably wouldn’t stop until I ended up on Iron Chef facing off with Alain Ducasse.

I came up with an idea as to how to make the most of a small closet in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City and turned it into a business known as Garde Robe.

I love wine and drink it, copiously…but I turned that into a sommelier certificate.

Over achiever? Yes, probably.

But that was then.

Today, I am more concerned about happiness and being content and I realize that the smallest things bring one the greatest pleasure, if one slows down and stops for just moment to notice them.

I was at a friend’s house in Sag Harbour recently and she had the most beautiful, vibrant watermelon pink peonies on her front table. Something about the flowers got to me and later that evening as I walked on the beach enjoying the sunset, I realized how little it takes to make me happy: the sight of a flower, the feel of sand between my toes, a kind word, a stranger’s smile, a melody of a song that reminds me someone I once loved…

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not about to pack up and go off and live La Dolce Vita in a villa in Tuscany…as much as I would love to, I can’t afford it!

I still work hard and I love being busy. But my most precious moments are when I am deep into a manuscript and the words are flowing off my fingers appearing magically on the computer screen, or a walk in Central Park with the dog when the cherry blossoms are in bloom or when I have friends over for dinner and the food and wine and laughter make for indelible memories, or even something as simple as a walk along the River Seine in Paris on a bright, sunny Spring day.

What all this means is that balance is key to a harmonious life.

Work…of course, we all have to. But time for oneself and time for those in our lives will only enrich us even more. And time is honestly the greatest gift one can offer.

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A Writer’s Mecca

On a recent visit to Paris, I went on a pilgrimage to what I think is the mecca for writers…: the Bar Hemingway in the Ritz Hotel on the Place Vendome.

It’s a small bar all the way in the back of the hotel, a bit of a walk through the long, luxurious corridors lined with vitrines filled with the wares of luxury brands catering to the wallets of the rich and famous.

The dark and manly bar, all wood and leather, is small, cozy and filled with Hemingway paraphernalia that includes an old typewriter, which I believe may have been a Royal, but I’m not entirely sure…and a large bottle of Tabasco sauce next to it.

I smiled as I looked at it, running my fingers over the keys. I love typewriters (I had one in college). This one was very similar to the Royal, my old boss, Dan Rather, had in his office and just as in the bar, alongside it, a bottle of Tabasco. Indeed, Rather always traveled with a bottle of Tabasco, telling me that it killed every germ imaginable, and now I wonder if Ernest Hemingway did too?

I sat next to the typewriter and ordered a glass of champagne. I thought about ordering a sidecar or a martini, which I believe was Hemingway’s drink of choice, or certainly the drink he ordered when on August 26th, 1945, the day Paris was liberated, he stormed the bar with a group of fighters from the French Resistance, picking up a tab for 51 martinis…but champagne is more my thing.

As I sat, sipping my bubbles and munching on olives and cashews, I somehow felt transported in time. One glass turned into two or perhaps more and on my umpteenth drink, I strangely felt as though I was part of that very elite crowd that frequented the bar…Marcel Proust, Coco Chanel, F. Scott Fitzgerald…at a time when they were not part of history, when they were, like me, literary or creative figures trying to make ends meet…and the Bar Hemingway was their local.

As I sat looking around at the letters, photographs, animal skull, boxing gloves…oh and the shotgun above the bar, I was so reminded that Hemingway was first a tough, unapologetic son of a bitch, a hardened journalist and a man who broke the mold. I was reminded then just how much he had in common with Dan Rather.

I remembered the four words Rather told me the day I started working for him: “Tell Me A Story.”

And I never forgot.