Health

My 5 happiest moments of 2010

And I've decided to narrow them down to my travel highlights of the year: Paris, Huizhou, London, Mexico City, Turks & Caicos.

1. Paris. My entire trip to Paris in October was predictably magical but one moment stands out: On an unseasonably warm day, I took my jambon beurre to Jardin des Tuileries, peeled off my jacket, sat on a low wall, and sank my teeth into fresh bread as I took in the scene of sculpted gardens, wandering groups of schoolchildren (unmistakably local in their advanced sartorial sense) and the surrounding, unmatchable beauty of Parisian architecture. The moment reinforced why I love Paris so much: Even if you strip away the fancy restaurants and unbeatable shopping – the places where budgets are blown – it’s a place that reminds me how little it takes to make me happy. Warmed by the sun, while eating a good sandwich, in a beautiful place. C’est tout.

2. Huizhou. Earlier this year, I spent a few nights in this rural Chinese community, and one afternoon visited the local Buddhist shrine. It was presided over by four generations of a single family, and the diminutive, chain-smoking matriarch talk us how to pray with incense. I felt a lump form in my throat as we stood in a small shed filled with ceramic Buddhas in varying shapes and sizes, aromatic sticks alight. I started off with some generic wishes for health and happiness for everyone I love, and then got more focused – on both the good and the worrisome – as tears formed in the corners of my eyes. I grew up in an agnostic household and I’ve always been wary of religion. But moments like this remind me that there’s plenty of room for faith and wishes, for sending a message of hope out to the universe, even if you’re still trying to work out just what you believe in.

3. London. I’ve loved London since I was a kid, but now I go mostly to visit friends. One friend in particular I met years ago while traveling in Asia. On my trip this past fall, we met at a gastropub for dinner in the city’s east end and then bounced from bar to bar, trying to stay ahead of London’s archaic liqueur laws. I love that we can periodically come together for one night and fall right back into place, spending hours catching each other up on broken hearts and lightly scandalous affairs, on work anxieties and hopeful prospects, on travels past and future plans, and then, satisfied and usually more than a little tipsy, we kiss cheeks, hug tightly and go our separate ways in the world – at least until the next time we’re lucky enough to cross paths.

4. Mexico City. I love finding a previously undiscovered place that feels like home – which is how I felt about Mexico City when I arrived in May. In spite of the city’s reputation for smog, traffic and crime, starting on the cab ride from the airport, face pressed against the window, I fell for the other side of the city: the low-rise, ornate apartment buildings with their huge balconies overflowing with flora, the well manicured and ubiquitous public parks, the wide boulevards lined with cafes and tall trees, taco trucks selling lunch off a flatbed, the historical district’s abundant art scene (both contemporary and classic), the electric nightlife (both straight and gay) and some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. It was love at first sight and just kept getting better and better.

5. Turks & Caicos. I spent three nights at Amanyara resort in November, and I loved the remoteness of the dramatic, hardscrabble terrain, perched on the edge of a rocky shoreline. An overgrowth of indigenous plants and trees created a very private, maze-like environment, and at times I felt like a very fancy castaway. One night stands out: After a late dinner, everyone tired from a day in the sun, I couldn’t pull myself away from the sound and smell and taste of the ocean and so I stayed for another vodka soda I didn’t really need, occasionally dropping my head back to take in the galaxy above. One of the things I love most is warm, clear nights were you stall and make excuses, delaying sleep over and over, because you wish the evening could go on forever. It always gives me the wonderful sense that, at that particular moment, there’s nowhere in the world I would rather be.