The Playboy

Most babies seem to go through stages in how they interact with other humans: early on, they cling to parents and other familiar people, but are interested in strangers and don’t seem to imagine that anything in the world wants to hurt them. Then they become more cautious and reserved for a while.

Then there’s the flirty stage. Our daughter at age 15 months was out to charm the world, and she was very, very good at it. She knew full well how to deploy her big, brown eyes and rich, deep laugh. She could get adults who usually showed no interest in children to play with her for hours.

One such occasion was our going-away party when we were leaving New Haven (where Enrico had completed his PhD in mathematics at Yale) to move to Milan. Friends and colleagues came by for drinks, food, and talk.

One guest was a man who, while being a post-doctoral student in mathematics, also embodied the cliché Greek playboy – right down to wearing turtlenecks with jackets. He was (probably still is) smooth and handsome, and had boasted about his amorous conquests worldwide.

Ross, smiling and burbling, had him wrapped around her little finger. He sat on the floor and played with her, utterly entranced. At some point he seemed to realize that we were all watching him with deep amusement. He looked up from the floor.

“You’re going to have real trouble with this one someday,” he prophesied. Then, after a second: “Oh, not with me!”

Karma has had its revenge for his womanizing ways: he later became the father of three daughters.

sunset over a plane wing

Conversation on a Plane

Once, about 20 years ago, I was on a long-haul British Airways flight, probably from London to San Francisco, or vice-versa. I don’t sleep much on planes, so during a quiet night I ended up in the galley, chatting with one of the flight attendants. We exchanged the usual origin stories. He was half Indian, half Pakistani, a situation whose complexities I could intuit, given my own history in India and Bangladesh.

Continue reading

The Makeup Problem

A couple of years ago, I took part in an all-woman training session at my company on “how to present to executives.” A small part of the session consisted of the trainer giving us advice on “dressing for success,” including: “You should wear makeup – otherwise it looks as if you don’t care [about how you look].” I pointed out that wearing makeup is not an option for everyone. For me, it mostly isn’t. Continue reading

Living with Terrorism


The possibility of violent death – my own or that of a loved one – has been a part of my consciousness for as long as I can remember. My dad was in Vietnam during the war. He was there as a civilian, but was nonetheless a target. I was young and understood next to nothing about any of it, except that my daddy could be killed.

Continue reading

Woodstock School class of '81, November 2016

Scholarships for Peace

I have long said that, if more people could attend Woodstock School, there would be fewer wars in the world. (The photo above, of some of my graduating class at a reunion in 2016, may give you a clue why.)

The school is now offering Scholarships for Peace. “So far recipients of the Scholarships for Peace programme have come from countries including Syria and Afghanistan, but Woodstock welcomes applications from students from any regions which are affected by war, violence and oppressive or fragile regimes.”

If you can help us find students who qualify and would be likely to thrive in an English-language learning environment, please get in touch with the school, details here.