plenty new for europhiles

With thanks to Jenna and her blog this is my happiness, I learned that Rick Steves has just published his highlights on ‘what’s new’ in Europe.

I have a real fondness for Rick. I don’t know him, but I feel like I do. “He” was with me when I traveled solo backpacking in my early 20s in Italy. His guidebook clutched in my hand, I marked phone numbers that led me to the perfect top floor apartment, little-known beach  or gelateria (I needed first to find a pay phone -yes, a pay phone). Directions were always easy to follow – even before online mapping tools – and restaurants both authentic and inexpensive. Pictures of him would be framed in the hostels I stayed in, demonstrating the close relationships he fostered with the locals he featured in his books.

I’ve grown up, as it so happens to all travelers, and have traded my backpack in for luggage, roughing it for a bit more comfort, and solo travels for family travel.  His latest article on what’s new in Europe reminds me again why he still is a wealth of good, practical information for those who want to experience real Europe and travel slowly - in whatever format you prefer using, hardback or app.

Paris' Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

Paris’ Picasso Museum renovation will be completed this June

 

Highlights for me include the re-opening of one my favorite museums in Europe – the Picasso Museum, Paris; Marseille’s facelift; a new gallery devoted to Michelangelo at the Uffizi in Florence; a new museum dedicated to Dante Alighieri in Ravenna; and Milan preparing to host the 2015 World Fair.

Read it, soak it in - Rick Steves: What’s new in Europe article here via sfgate. Europe still awaits even the most seasoned Europhile.

counting caribbean blues in vieques

Vieques, Puerto Rico – a small island in the northeastern Caribbean an hour by government-run ferry from the main island – is known for its pristine beaches, bioluminescent bays, and lack of commercial development. Strongly influenced by 400 years of Spanish ownership but part of the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico, it  has a colorful past with its own version of a David vs. Goliath story starring its fishermen and the US Navy that led to the Navy withdrawing from Vieques in 2003 (more on this in a following post). But for sixty years the majority of Vieques was closed off by the US Navy, and for this reason the island remained  undeveloped for tourism. The quality of its beaches and the island’s lack of development were key reasons we wanted to spend some time there.

In late January we took the ferry from the main island town of Fajardo to Vieques for a three-day stay.  We visited the pristine, deserted beaches – free of adjacent commercial development – on the Southern Caribbean side of the island, featuring turquoise blue seas and white sands surrounded by green vegetation. The beaches – once the Navy’s former land – are now part of a wildlife refuge, and many retain the names the Navy gave them. We made it to four beaches, one more beautiful than the next.

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Playa Caracas (Red Beach)

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Media Luna’s ‘bathtub’

Media Luna

surfs up at navio

surfs up at navio

Playa Navio

miles of sand

miles of white sand

Bahia de la Chiva (Blue Beach)

For me, spending time on Vieques is summarized well in a piece written by James Lasdum for Conde Nast Traveler (April 2010):

“…the days of finding myself puzzlingly incapable of organizing a visit to the old fort or whaling museum, and wanting instead to lie on those pointless stretches of sand, counting the different blues of the Caribbean… It dawned on me that travel didn’t always have to be like college; that this drifting sweetness of life being enjoyed purely for its own sake was worth any number of dusty madonnas or worm- riddled wooden saints… But for now this is all I want of culture, and all I need of enlightenment. “

doorways of old san juan

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Just back from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico and it’s all about the doors in Old San Juan.

My upcoming post will explore the spectacular beaches and unique history of Vieques Island, but for now, I’ll share a sample of the many shapes and bright colors of las puertas hermosas I found walking the streets and alley ways in Old San Juan.

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Often behind the doors are gorgeous courtyards.

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The colors of the houses are candy for the eyes.

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travel moments captured

I look forward each Sunday to the The New York Times “Why We Travel”  feature that shares reader photos both online and in its print edition. This week’s offerings include colorful Porto, Portugal as the clouds break after three days of rain; rainbow peeks in Mongolia; and a boat resting on Vernazza, Italy’s harbor.

The photos, shot by average readers while traveling, capture the feeling of experiencing a certain moment in a certain place – my readers know this, no doubt – when words just won’t do. (“The miracle of the actual” writes Colum McCann in his latest book “Transatlantic”)

Like many of you, I have saved photos of travels past that have left their imprint on me long after the experience.

sharm

I took this photo on the Red Sea beach of Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt’s  Ras Mohammed National Park in 2001. On this day we joined an Italian day group excursion to visit the park located on the southern extreme of the Sinai peninsula (the only way to go there, at least then). Unplanned, an idea to run into the fluorescent water developed quickly among members of the group - most who did not know each other before the trip. They joined hands.  I grabbed my camera. And got this shot.

What memorable images have you captured from your travels?

the great beauty

The SF Chronicle’s  picky movie reviewers are notorious for being tough as nails when awarding their highest rating –  the image of the little man jumping out of his chair and clapping. But today’s review of just-released Italian film, “La Grande Bellezza” – or “The Great Beauty” for the American market –  did just that. The little man is smiling, he’s clapping, he’s jumping and ecstatic. His hat even falls to the floor. I’m ecstatic too and I haven’t even seen the movie yet.

beauty

Toni Servillo stars as Jep Gambardelle, turning 65, jaded from early success as a writer and experiencing an “awakening.”

“The Great Beauty” is directed by Paolo Sorrentino and was a big favorite when first previewed at the 2013 Festival de Cannes.

Lovers of Italy can spend more than two hours falling in love (again) with Rome (with all its decadence, beautiful and ugly) while immersing in the language since the movie is in Italian with English subtitles. The reviewer notes that you can’t watch “The Great Beauty” without thinking of Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita” with Rome as the movie’s focus.

Like “La Dolce Vita”, this movie is going to throw more at you than just a tour of the city’s sights and high society. An excerpt from the SF Chronicle review reads (you can read the review in its entirety here):

“Toni Servillo plays Jep Gambardelle who wrote a masterpiece of a novel in his youth but has been unable to repeat the success. He’s become a journalist and bon vivant, living in an incredible apartment overlooking the Colosseum. He’s popular in his circle but jaded, and, having just turned 65, is starting to look at the big picture. When news arrives of an old girlfriend’s death, he continues to make the rounds of high-end gatherings and nightspots in the Eternal City, but in a “what’s it all mean” frame of mind. He informs us that once he wanted to be the king of Rome’s extravagant night world. But he no longer wholly buys into his cynicism, if he ever did. Delivering acerbic witticisms at over-the-top parties isn’t much of a purpose in life. The plot is…. a running account of what Jep sees and says during his often surreal urban wanderings. “

Something to put on the holiday movie list? You got me at Fellini.

grazie dal cuore, marcella hazan

Marcella Hazan, food writer and considered one of the foremost authorities of Italian cuisine, died September 29 at the age of 89.

essentials

Ms. Hazan married and moved from Italy to New York with her American husband in 1955. Ironically, she never cooked before she got married. But later, after beginning a cooking school and giving cooking lessons from her home, her husband encouraged her to publish her first cookbook, “The Classic Italian Cookbook”,  in  1973. She believed simple, good ingredients lead to delicious dishes and is credited with bringing traditional Italian cuisine to the American public.

Thanks to Ms. Hazan’s wisdom and detailed, quite simple and beautiful recipes, I often fry with butter and vegetable oil  (a must when you make her Asparagus Risotto) instead of extra virgin olive oil when required for better, richer and milder taste.  Her “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” (published 1992) cookbook sits on my counter and is the source of my favorite dishes including braised pork chops (Modena style) and risotto, my guide to using herbs, and provides extra meaning after the news of her death.

This NY Times article, “Remembering Marcella”, provides more information on Ms. Hazan’s life and cooking.

In honor of Ms. Hazan, below is a reprint of her simple and delicious tomato recipe.

Ingredients

 2 cups tomatoes, with their juices (for example, a 28-ounce can of San Marzano or Italian imported whole peeled tomatoes)                   

5 tablespoons butter               

 1 onion, peeled and cut in half                   

salt   

Preparation

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter and the onion halves in a saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt.
 
Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with a spoon. Add salt as needed.
 
Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta. This recipe makes enough sauce for a pound of pasta.
 

el dia de los muertos

El dia de los muertos, or day of the dead, is approaching on November 1st and 2nd. This is one of my favorite photos that I included with an earlier post about the celebration of my daughter in front of a beautiful altar at a local art gallery. I love this mostly Mexican celebration that celebrates life and the spirits of those who have gone before us.

Scholars trace the origins of this modern-day Mexican holiday to indigenous observances dating back hundreds of years and to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl.   You can read more about dia de los muertos  here.

This coming week, there will be el dia de los muertos celebrations, art exhibits and other educational events taking place throughout cities across the world open for anyone to take part as an observer or a participant.

Click here to link to a celebration I wrote about in our local community.

I plan to bring photos of loved ones to add to our community’s altar set up in a plaza downtown and enjoy the refreshments (pan de muertos and hot chocolate!), watch a Columbian dance troupe and participate in a procession. If you plan to celebrate, or if you prepare a family altar, I’d love to hear about or see it!