Monika’s Musings

miscellaneous tidbits on marketing, advertising, and life in general

Just any number


You know, I am all about security measures, when they make sense. For example, yesterday I was ordering something on Amazon and it didn’t bother me (too much) to have to dig through my purse and then wallet to find my credit card, despite the fact that they have it, just because I was shipping my order to a new address. I get it that this protects me against possible credit card fraud and I happily comply.

Hell, for the sake of security, I am even OK to endure some ridiculousness, such as the liquid limitation of carry-on luggage.

However, often times these measures are either pointless in their nature, or made futile by the way they are exercised. Here’s a little story to illustrate this point.

While I was working in Budapest for 6 months in 2009, my friend Maria came to visit me for a couple of days. One day she had to have a brief business meeting, so she went to the office building where it was happening.

At reception, she was asked for her passport number.

I’m sorry, I don’t have it on me. I travelled with my ID card, she told the receptionist. Ah, alright, could she have that number, then?

Well … no. In the morning hurry, Maria had left her ID card at the hotel. But she really needed to get to this meeting.

Well, then, do you have an employee card?, the receptionist insisted. Rules are rules.

So … basically you just want ANY number?, my friend asked.

You would think this would expose the rule for being as dumb as it is, right? Oh, but no. The lady insisted. So Maria did a little experiment: she took out her employee card and read out the number – changing every third with an arbitrary number.

Thank you! I am happy you understand the importance of this safety measure, the receptionist said, while letting her in.

Indeed, my friend replied and went on to have her meeting.

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Day 2 – Good morning, Florida, a game of Quidditch and some love


You know in college you make friends and they are some of the most amazing people you’ve ever met? And then they move on with their lives, often in far-away lands and there they meet someone? And it is casual at first, then it becomes an I-think-this-may-be-getting-serious thing, and then one day you get a wedding invitation? And you’re happy, but you’re also a little nervous? Because your friend, the one getting married, is so awesome, but you don’t know the stranger they’re marrying… Does s/he deserve to baste in the awesomeness that is your bff? Could s/he possibly be remotely as cool as your gang? S/he couldn’t! Right?

And so you worry a little bit. And then the wedding day comes closer and you worry a lot. And then … Then you meet the person and they have you at “Hello”. And it’s like you’ve know each other forever. And they complete your friend’s awesomeness with their own. And they make your friend super happy. And even though you didn’t know them until like two minutes ago, you realize that they’re exactly what you have always wanted for your friend?

Yeah. That happened. A couple of times during the trip, actually, but twice on that glorious Thursday when we woke up in Florida for the first time.

After I got over the initial euphoria that I am waking up in Florida, still in bed, I messaged Tracy (the bride to be) and she said that her and Bobby had been driving all night and they had just arrived in St. Augustine. I thought they’d go have a rest and we’d meet later on, and she asked me if I were crazy. Of course they were coming to pick us up immediately and they were taking us for breakfast!

There’s something to be said about the emotions you feel when you see one of your closest people in the world for the first time in 10 years. That’s what made this already special trip even more so – it was a long overdue reunion with some of my dearest friends who ended up living thousands of miles away from me.

So there was a lot of hugging and kissing and squealing and holding hands and jumping up and down – and all that stuff that you do when you’re just plain happy. We went to breakfast to this place called Wildflower where I felt like I was in a scene from a movie.

First of all, we walked in, and I looked around and Oh my god. We were just about the only people under 75 there. But they were the coolest, most tan, happiest-looking octogenarians I’ve ever seen. Talk about a retirement heaven!

And then, just like in the movies, the waitress came over, holding a pitcher of coffee, she introduced herself and poured us some. To those of you based in the US this is just a regular morning, I guess, but this stuff I had only seen on Hollywood productions. In fact, I would often feel like I am in a movie over the next couple of weeks.

After breakfast we let Tracy and Bobby go take a nap and headed towards Orlando to visit the Universal Islands of Adventure. For my birthday, my super duper colleagues had given me a ticket to go visit the Harry Potter amusement park there. Now, laugh all you want, but this was a dream come true for me.

The Hogsmeade village is done so well, you feel like you’re on the actual set. IMG_0681

We did this amazing 4D immersion ride during which we flew on a broomstick throughout Hogwarts and even played Quidditch with Harry – unbelievable! While we were queuing for it, we saw the Sorting Hat looking more real than in the movies even, and also walking/talking portraits made out of LCD TV screens, but so well, you could not tell they weren’t really magical.



We spent a good part of the day at Universal and then met up with Mikey and his lovely wife Katie for dinner. They took us to the Red Lobster which I had wanted to visit for ages – ever since in my junior year of college Jen was telling me how few things in life were tastier than the Red Lobster biscuit (It’s true. I later had dreams about the damn biscuit and was left with no choice, but to find the best rip-off recipe on the net and still… not the real thing).

We had a wonderful dinner, catching up with old and new friends. I loved the fact that I was ID’d (not as much when the waitress told me she has to, if I look anywhere under 40… whatever…) when ordering a pint of local beer, and then the jetlag hit. So we called it a night.

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In the presence of a masterpiece


Last week I was in Malta, helping my sister settle down for her college studies. Kids these days – they choose smartly. I wouldn’t change my Paris years for the world, but spending 5 years on a Mediterranean island, home to the blue lagoon – that’s a wise move if I ever saw one. We spent the weekend exploring and on Monday she started her orientation activities. I had the mornings to myself and I used them to explore the island.

Malta is one of the world’s smallest and most densely populated countries in the world, but this tiny island packs a great deal of history on its territory of 316 square kilometers (122 sq miles). Everywhere you go, there are stories of knights and other bits of romantically sounding fairy-tale like history. The Maltese are also very religious; it is believed that St. Paul shipwrecked on the island, which was the beginning of a very pious group of Catholics. They certainly believe in show rather than tell – the tiny island is home to 365 churches – one for each day of the year.

Now, if you’ve travelled through Europe like I have, you have seen your fair share of churches. And perhaps, if you’re anything like me you might favor a mojito in the bar next-door, over spending precious time admiring murals and altars and stuff. However, I have learned a very important lesson – while people usually avoid the cathedrals which charge a fee (since – come on, you’ve seen thousands for free), if ever I find one, I always make it a point to pay and go in. To this day, I have never been disappointed.

Some of the best-spent money in Malta was the 6 EUR that St. John’s Co-Cathedral charges its visitors. They say the most remarkable thing about it is the huge contrast between its exterior and interior. In fact, when it was first built, it was your average bare-walled Catholic cathedral, however, at one point in time, the Knights really wanted to trump the guys over in Rome, so they started collecting donations and “refurbishing” their place of worship. See for yourself:

Outside St. John's Co-Cathedral

Outside St. John’s Co-Cathedral

Inside St. John's Co-Cathedral

Inside St. John’s Co-Cathedral

The lavish interior, however, was not what I found to be the most impressive part of the Co-Cathedral. There, I found a rare treasure, which was forbidden to photograph, and I was so smitten, that I didn’t even try (which for the record, is a first – I have plenty of forbidden pictures, including some from the Sistine Chapel. Yeah, yeah, who doesn’t … I know). In the Oratory,  I found myself facing The Beheading of St. John the Baptist - the only painting which Caravaggio ever signed.

My friend Vanessa did both her bachelor and master degrees in Art History and proceeded to work for Sotheby’s in NYC. Since I am not well versed in the arts, I remember asking her how they tell between originals and fakes. Her answer, I will never forget:

“When you are in the presence of a masterpiece, you just know it.”

Many years I have thought about these words, because, quite frankly I never felt the presence of a masterpiece. I have seen presumable originals of many a great artist … and yet – nothing.

I had always attributed this to the fact that I am no art connoisseur. Until a couple of days ago, when I stood humbled and quiet in front of that Caravaggio.

I still don’t have the words to explain how the painting made me feel, so I won’t even try. Instead, I will leave you with my two cents’ worth:

1) If a cathedral charges a fee; pay it and check it out. Always.

2) Don’t give up on the possibility that one day, when and where you least expect it, something will sweep you off your feet and leave you speechless. Savor that moment. Then tell me about it.

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