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Explore America: Magic Moments And Places A La 'Before Sunrise'

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I don't know where I've been, but I only just recently watched 1995's "Before Sunrise" and thanks to Netflix's speedy delivery, eagerly saw the 2004 sequel "Before Sunset" for the first time. My mind has been in a reverie ever since. There are so few nice surprises in life, that it's thrilling to discover a new movie or song, even if it's old to others and these movies delivered on both.

I didn't want the movies to end, and hoped it would be like Michael Apted's "Up" series (which is every seven years), or Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn in "Same Time Next Year" (wished they made a sequel), that follow people and relationships over a span of time. News broke this month that director Richard Linklater confirmed they wrapped shooting a third movie in Greece "Before Midnight" (expected to be out 2013) and released a photo from that shoot. While nine years between these "Before" movies is a long time, I'm sure many of us are happy just to see more of these characters.

I'd seen "Before Sunrise" once in the '90s, and could only remember the premise. Two characters, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, meeting and spending the day in Vienna. You feel like you're on the journey with them, a journey you don't want to end.

"Before Sunrise" was a magical surprise this time around, yet it felt realistic and in "Before Sunset," I just wanted Hawke's character Jesse to go to her apartment and make dinner together and hang out. All of us can relate to these rare magical moments, where you don't want the conversation, or the night, to end. We can also relate to being in our optimistic 20s when you feel there's a whole world and life ahead to explore, when chances and opportunities seem abundant.

I got bummed thinking "Before Sunrise" might not work now because the characters would Skype, iChat, text and instead of taking a mental picture of each other, they'd snap cell phone photos. But the heart of it is really the profound connection between two people that seems to happen so randomly, that it's destiny. No photo or video could ever capture the feeling and presence of that moment of two intersecting souls, a moment witnessed only by those two.

That intense, inexplicable connection is so absorbing, you feel like the only two people in the world and your time together, sometimes in a different place like these characters were, feels like you're in a dream you don't want to wake up from. It feels "other worldly," as referenced in the movie before Delpy's character Celine says, "But then morning comes and we turn into pumpkins, right?"

In "Before Sunrise" Jesse says, "Everything is so finite. But don't you think that's what makes our time at specific moments so important?" Nine years later in "Before Sunset" he says, "I remember that night better than I do entire years." When he asked her why didn't they exchange phone numbers nine years earlier, Celine replies with a truism, "When you're young, you just believe there'll be many people with whom you'll connect with. Later in life you realize it only happens a few times."

These movies make the viewer reflect on their own magical, soulful encounters with a special someone. What immediately came to mind was a night exploring Milan on motorcycle with a new friend who lived there, both in our 20s, with this seemingly empty city at that time of night, like our own movie set. Unlike "Before Sunrise" it wasn't romantic, but a nice memorable night of openly sharing thoughts about life, problems and issues we faced in our countries, and realizing we all shared similar hopes and dreams.

But the memories that are the truly blissful, intense connections are rare and etched into memory. And the magical places where those few times occurred a la "Before Sunrise," all happened for me right here in our own beautiful country, proving it didn't need an exotic locale for it to happen. While it wasn't the place that made our souls connect so profoundly, they were vivid backdrops where the magic happened.

While two of these occurred in my 20s, two other indelible moments happened later, affirming that inexplicable magic with another soul can occur at any moment in life.

There was the day exploring San Francisco on cable cars, sharing a sundae at Ghirardelli's by Fisherman's Wharf, laughing about how unbelievably sweet it was, a visit to Japantown to pick up supplies to make homemade mackerel sushi and green tea and eating dinner on the floor picnic-style in an old Berkeley apartment.

There was the time hanging out on a bench along the Charles River right outside MIT taking in the breathtaking Boston skyline at night, having ice cream at an old-fashioned New England ice creamery and then lingering at a nearby pond. The night ended on a blanket on the grass, talking about lyrics from one of the sexiest songs ever written -- Dire Straits' "Romeo and Juliet," both thinking Mark Knopfler sang the word "Orion" as we ourselves gazed up at the constellations and asked one another if we believed in soul mates.

One night was supposed to be a simple dinner, meeting for the first time after speaking on the phone, at the old El Cholo restaurant in Los Angeles. But it didn't matter where we were, and despite the crowd, it felt like we were the only people there, sitting in front of the fireplace, absorbed in the banter. The conversation flowed, we put out every flaw, insecurity and thought on that table, there was never pause. We closed the place down. We were in such a daze by this unexpected discovery of the other person, one of us forgot to take the leftovers and the other forgot to tip the valet. I didn't want that conversation to end and as Jesse in the movie says, I've compared whole years to that night. We had our own sequel -- another too short night, but life took separate paths and I'm left with the cherished memory of a great connection of two minds.

"Before Sunrise" also made me contemplate another unexpected connection, a spiritual experience, at the Franciscan Renewal Center at the base of Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Arizona. Also called The Casa, this serene piece of heaven welcomes all and it'll always hold a sacred place for me because of that memory. We explored the grounds despite the 100-plus degree heat, taking simple pleasure in seeing an empty bird's nest, the beautiful mountain views beyond and a family of quail. We enjoyed the Healing Garden with its many fruit trees, an oasis in the desert, made a donation, lit a candle and prayerfully walked the labyrinth.

The labyrinth was a first for me, and it was the centerpiece of that cherished memory, slowly walking around the labyrinth. Anyone who visiting who is looking for an inner spiritual experience, must not miss the simple stone labyrinth, a sacred ancient meditational tool for reflection. Not wanting the magical time in this place to end, the goodbye hug ranked one of the best in memory, just before turning into pumpkins. Perhaps it was because this beautiful spiritual desert backdrop enhanced the connection between us, but the magic was unexpected and otherworldly and it was hard to sleep, back in "in real time" (as Jesse says in "Before Sunrise," before they parted) still one foot in the dream world.

"Before Sunrise" had the most touching scene in a movie where not a word was spoken. It made me at once get verklempt as well as laugh, as the two stood in an old school record store listening booth, listening to New England singer-songwriter Kath Bloom's "Come Here." The two stole furtive glances and at times locked eyes as they shyly looked away, emoting so much without uttering a word.

Kath is our Celebrity Travel Spotlight and she calls "Come Here" travel song, referring to the title. She shares a little bit about her own journey and this song featured in "Before Sunrise," which was recorded in a studio in Woodstock, New York. You can hear it on her website and purchase it on iTunes.

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