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!

autumn plate

It feels like fall outside. It’s feels like fall online too, inside the community of travel, culture, literature, home and garden bloggers. So I bought a new cashmere sweater today in pale pink, thanks to these tips for fall travel style from This is my Happiness.  And trusty Ciao Domenica has offered this inspiration for delicious recipes including a pumpkin-spice cake with pumpkin cream-cheese frosting.

The start of a season presents an empty plate, ready to be filled with fall’s favorite things, like slipping on a new warm sweater, brewing up tea, settling down to a new book or catching a movie.

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For me, that means reading Caleb Crain’s debut novel  “Necessary Errors.” Set in post- Iron Curtain Prague in the early 1990s, after the ’89 Velvet Revolution, the book is described as coming of age for idealistic young expat Americans abroad (for longtime BTH readers, no surprise this book is top of my list!).  I’m looking forward to learning more about Eastern European history and Czech culture. The Slate review writes “it recalls the dreamy pacing of Henry James or Elizabeth Bowan.”

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I’m also looking forward to returning to our wonderful local art deco theater this season. I’m still recovering from Woody Allen’s tragic Blue Jasmine and am ready to enjoy a lighter comedy this fall. Enough Said  stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Eva) and James Gandolfini  (Albert) who meet and a romance quickly blossoms, but Eva befriends – and gets an earful from – a woman about her ex. The twist is that she finds out that “the ex “is Albert.

What’s on your autumn plate?

 

 

 

landscape-inspired design at canadian museum of civilization tells a story

Just across the river from Ottawa, Ontario, a visit to the Canadian Museum of  Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec – if only to experience its exterior and Grand Hall architecture and design – is well worth it.

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The museum’s limestone exterior curving forms represent the outcropping bedrock of the Canadian Shield.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization, opened in 1989 and overlooking the Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings, was designed by landscape-inspired architect Douglas Cardinal. Without a single word, it tells, or rather shows, visitors stories of Canada’s history, its native people and culture.

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

The Ottawa River and Parliament Buildings of Ontario in the background

In his Design Statement, Cardinal wrote that the building would “speak of the emergence of this continent, its forms sculptured by the winds, the rivers, the  glaciers.” Four natural features are  abstractly represented in the Museum’s form: the Canadian  Shield, the Glaciers, the streams formed by the melting  glaciers, and the Great Plains that stretched before the  receding glaciers.

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The outdoor water pools represent receding and melting glaciers

Inside the Grand Hall with views of the outside water elements, look up at the ceiling and you find yourself at the bottom of an enormous canoe. The oars become part of the walls (It took me to two visits to distinguish this).

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A dozen towering totem poles are placed around the perimeter of the room. It is said to be the largest indoor display of totem poles in the world.

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Looking up finds you at the bottom of an enormous canoe

A wonderful sculpture located in the Grand Hall , the Spirit of Haida Gwaii by British Columbia artist Bill Reid, represents the Aboriginal heritage of the Haida Gwaii regions in Canada.

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Per wikipedia, it features Haida mythological figures in the canoe that represent the natural environment on which the ancient Haida relied for their very survival – the passengers are diverse, and not always in harmony, but depend on one another to live.

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While the museum’s main collections – particularly the First Peoples Hall – are vast and satisfying and revealing of Canada’s history , an interesting hands-on Children’s Museum is also housed here where young ones can receive a “passport” and experience different world cultures (a ride on the Pakistani Bus was a favorite). To learn more, you can visit an architectural tour slideshow  featured here on the museum’s web site.

best bagels

My favorite bagels in the world, Montreal-style bagels, were on my priority “to-do”  – or rather, “to-eat” –  list during our recent trip to Ontario and Quebec, Canada.

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Ottawa’s original Montreal-style bagels

According to Wikipedia, Montreal bagels, like the New York bagel, were brought to North America by Jewish immigrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries. Differences in texture and taste reflect the style of the particular area in Poland in which the immigrant bakers learned their trade.

When my mother-in-law visits us in California from Eastern Canada, she never fails to bring a large quantity of these bagels with her, since we only find the more common, New York-style here. We have a tradition of slicing, bagging and freezing them together upon her arrival, so we are ensured months of bagel heaven. This time we were on her turf, and my plan was to bring home as many as I could stuff in our carry-on luggage, including a dozen requested by our friends. (For those interested, I managed five dozen –  ten bags of half-dozen bagels – squeezed between socks and toothpaste.)

Busy workers fulfilling orders at the popular Ottawa Bagel Shop

What makes Montreal-style bagels so delicious? In contrast to larger, doughy New York-style bagels, Montreal-style bagels are denser, slightly sweet, and have a crunchy crust. They look a little different, with a darker or uneven color from the wood-burning stove and a larger hole.  Montreal-style bagels are boiled in honey-sweetened water and they are hand-made, while many New-York styled bagels are machine-made.

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Thanks to my mother-in-law, my kids were treated to an up-close tour at the Ottawa Bagel Shop, where they were able to experience the shop’s famous baker cut and roll the egg and honey filled dough, and then boil and bake the bagels. Next the seeds and other toppings are placed on the bagels, before they cool and are packaged. The bagels are made fresh every day.

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The baker cutting and hand rolling Montreal-style bagels at the Ottawa Bagel Shop

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Boiling the bagels

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Next the bagels are baked in a wood-burning oven

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A complimentary bagel is a tasty way to end of the tour!

A complimentary bagel is a tasty way to end the tour! Sesame of course.

48 hours in montreal

The only place I know offering francophone culture so strongly this side of the Atlantic is in Montreal, Quebec – an island city in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Montreal is a lively, international destination which offers much in history and architecture, arts and culture, festivals and dining.  We recently visited the city for a few days and found enough time to explore some of its best spots.

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Old Montreal

old Montreal

City Hall

 

Horse-drawn carriage in old Montreal

Horse-drawn carriage in old Montreal

A Great Night Sleep

Positive reviews from the NY Times Travel section prompted me to book a medium room at the hip and classy, no-snob boutique hotel, Le Petit Hotel,  in Old Montreal.

Room with a view.

Room with a view.

Comprised of only 24 rooms and a lobby café, the hotel is housed in a beautiful 19th Century building on the quieter, more residential side of Rue Saint-Paul Ouest. Its helpful staff provide you with excellent services, and gave us good suggestions during our stay. Tips: Request the well laid-out top floor/street view room and indulge in the (included) delicious breakfast offerings, especially the pain au chocolat and perfectly-brewed cappuccino. Online promotions are available and business travelers can receive room discounts.

Eats and Drinks

Hands down, our favorite dinner experienced in Montreal was at the fashionable Restaurant Holder on Rue McGill (order the veal or salmon), thanks to a tip by our hotel staff.  I’m told you also can’t go wrong with lunch at the busy but delicious Olive and Gourmando if you can handle the crowds (we couldn’t wait). You can’t leave Old Montreal without experiencing an evening drink on a rooftop terrace.

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The rooftop terrace at Hotel Nelligan on Rue St Paul is a perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset with views of Notre Dame. Get there by 9 pm if you want to snag a table. Just look out for the characteristic Eastern Canadian summer thunderstorms, as we experienced a downpour minutes after this picture was taken.

Getting Around by Foot, Bike and Metro

If you stay in Old Montreal, there is no better place to walk the streets – or get lost –  and soak in its history and architecture. Make sure you look up. Like in Europe, some of the best architectural details of a building are found in the direction of the sky.

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One of my favorite buildings is the Royal Bank of Canada building, where my mother worked in the early 1960s. In fact, I can proudly thank the influence of Montreal on my mother – and her bank teller friend – for my French name. Banking ceased only about a year ago. The inside of the building and the ceilings are breathtaking.

Inside the Royal Bank of Canada building.

Inside the Royal Bank of Canada building.

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Notre Dame is a centerpiece of the old city.

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Notre Dame

Notre Dame

To get further out to fashionable neighborhoods like the Plateau, grab a metro map and a day pass (9 Canadian dollars).

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Or you can rent a Bixi Bike – the public bike share system – to ride  along the old Port and a grab a view of architectural landmark Habitat 67, a model community and housing complex  designed by Israeli–Canadian architect Moshe Safdie for the World Fair in 1967.

Habitat 67

Habitat 67

If you are ambitious, you can get a closer look at Habitat 67 and other architectural icons like Biosphere by riding your bikes from Old Port to Parc Jean-Drapeau. Don’t repeat our mistake by aborting an attempt to reach the island via the Jacques Cartier Bridge, which looked shorter in distance from Old Port than it was.  Instead ride the opposite direction on the bicycle parkway.  This would be done best with a day bike rental, as opposed to a Bixi Bike, which charges you if you exceed a 30-minute time usage period.

Hike up Mont Royal

A hike up Mont Royal is lovely and a good way to walk off those morning pain au chocolats and rooftop terrace drinks,  and the view at the top is a nice reward. You can grab the #11 city bus back down to deliver you to Avenue Mont Royal, where you can find a metro station back to Old Montreal or wherever else you’d like to go.

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View from Mont Royal

View from the top of Mont Royal.

View from Mont Royal.

The Arts for Free (imagine!)

The permanent collection at Montreal’s Musee des Beaux Arts is always free. Please note special exhibitions are not, but on Wednesday nights tickets are half off. We visited the Museum’s current exhibit, “Utterly Breathtaking”  featuring Dale Chihuly’s large-scale, nature-inspired blown glass.

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While below the city surface, Francophone/Anglophone tensions are nothing to laugh at (unless you are Sugar Sammy, see my past post here), visiting Montreal offers travelers a uniquely bilingual, culture-rich experience in a place well-deserving of its lively reputation. Its residents seem to have a less- North American, more-European sense of enjoyment of life and leisure and we’re glad  we caught some of it there too.

(Please note Bringing Travel Home is not sponsored by any person or organization.  Both my travel and writing are independent.)

Chihuly at the Musee des Beaux-Arts Montreal

Blown glass fan or not, visiting American glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s large-scale nature-inspired installation at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts – or Musee des Beaux-Arts – is a visual sensory experience.

Turquoise Reeds

Turquoise Reeds spring from trunks of old growth western cedar.

71 years old, blinded in one eye from a head-on car accident and having suffered a shoulder injury, Chihuly now serves as what he calls choreographer and visionary of his art, and employs others to do the actual muscle work of making his glass creations. Other than the color and beauty, I was struck by the size of the glass pieces. They are really big. To transport, it must take a lot of packing (miles of bubble wrap?) to keep his art safe from breaking.

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Persian Ceiling

The extent of my experience with blown glass is collecting the small figurines in Venice, and I was blown – pardon the play on words – away by the effect this exhibit, called “Utterly Breathtaking”, had on all those present, this writer included. Visitors can sit leisurely on cushions placed on the floors in the corners of the Chandelier room and take it in.

Chandeliers and Towers.

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Gardens – Mille Fiori.

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Glass Neon Forest.

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Boats. (I read he purposely dumped pieces of his glass art in the water to be retrieved onto a boat and liked the effect).

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Macchia Forest. (Macchia means “marks or spots” in Italian and he worked with spots of color in these pieces illuminated by light shining down into the bowls).

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If you are in Montreal, take advantage of the half-off tickets ($10 Canadian) on Wednesdays from 5 – 9 pm. “Utterly Breathtaking” runs until 20 October, 2013.

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Video

lavazza love

Watching Wimbledon gets better with this playful Lavazza commercial (“Enjoy the real Italian espresso experience at Wimbledon” reads the tagline). Take a look, it’s very clever.

If you are up at 4 am to catch the finals this week, Lavazza- a big Italian coffee brand in Italy found in many parts of the world – makes its case to be your espresso of choice to cozy up to. (North Americans can take note of the cup and portion size.) When I can’t find Lavazza stateside, Illy and Peet’s Espresso Forte stand in quite nice. What’s your favorite coffee brand and style?

( While I’d sure like to be, I’m not a Lavazza brand ambassador, just a fan of good Italian coffee, Wimbledon tennis and clever marketing.)

Video credits: Lavazza