Wednesday, January 29, 2014

OK, I'm abandoning my gifts posts for now because there are just too many other wonderful things to write about (but stay tuned for more of them this December!)

I feel incredibly grateful and happy that I was able to catch the exhibit 'Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Hals: Masterpieces of Dutch Painting from the Mauritshuis' at The Frick Collection the day before it closed two weekends ago. Grateful because the very next day I developed a vision problem in my right eye which would have prevented me from really seeing the exquisite paintings.  And happy because, well, I was truly so happy when I was there -- I love being at the Frick under any circumstances -- and I was reminded that I have not been doing a very good job of late at living my life, doing the things I really want to do.

When I had reached the final stage of the indoor line, which was on the right side of the entrance way to the exhibit, a man in front of me leaned all the way over and peered into the Oval Room.  He then turned to the woman who was with him and said, "There she is!"  I thought that was such a nice way to refer to 'Girl With a Pearl Earring' for of course "she" has become so personal to many of us since the publication of Tracy Chevalier's book in 1999.  The painting itself has been cleaned by art conservators since it was last in New York almost thirty years ago, and the girl depicted in the work has become "one of the most famous faces in Western art" according to Holland Cotter of The New York Times

But I loved all the other fifteen paintings on loan from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague as well, especially 'Still Life with Five Apricots' by Adriaen Coorte; 'View of Haarlem With Bleaching Grounds' by Jacob van Ruisdael; 'As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young' by Jan Steen; and 'Goldfinch' by Carel Fabritius (I haven't yet read Donna Tartt's novel of the same yet but I cannot wait to begin it).

The bookstore at the Frick naturally stocks some exceptional volumes on Dutch painting in general and on Vermeer in particular.  Books by noted author Arthur K. Wheelock (who is also Curator of Northern European Art at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.), including The Essential Johannes Vermeer (Abrams), are essential for those who want authoritative volumes.  But I am also very enthusiastic about a paperback series by Taschen, which includes an edition on Vermeer: The Complete Paintings by Norbert Schneider (pictured above).  In 91 pages Schneider reveals an awful lot about the town of Delft, Vermeer's life, and his painting career and features a plethora of color and black-and-white reproductions.  I am especially keen on the final chapter, 'The Rediscovery of Vermeer,' in which Schneider tells us that only since the middle of the 19th century has Vermeer's art enjoyed an enthusiastic reception.  The French socialist politician and journalist Théophile Burger-Thoré (1806-1869) is responsible for ushering in a new appreciation of Vermeer's art -- while he was traveling around England, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland, immersed in Dutch 17th century painting, he believed that these works corresponded with the art of the Barbizon school and Gustave Courbet.  "It is no coincidence that this dawning interest in Vermeer went hand in hand with the rise of Impressionism, whose agenda was the rejection of a dark-toned, academic style of painting in favour of brightly-lit plein-air painting using a full, unmixed palette."  Camille Pissarro, in a letter he wrote to his son Lucien in November of 1882, noted, "How shall I describe these portraits by Rembrandt and Hals, and this view of Delft by Vermeer, these masterpieces which come so close to Impressionism?"          

I stood outside on line for an hour and a half on an exceptionally cold day with snow flurries and rain before I got inside the museum, so I was committed to this show; but I admit I was unprepared for how much I loved this exhibit.  Happily for the Frick and for fans of Dutch painting, over 220,000 people saw the exhibition, and the Frick now has many new members. Though the show has closed, anyone who may have missed it (or just wants to connect with other fans) can easily do so by visiting the Essential Vermeer website. This truly fantastic and thorough site is maintained by just the kind of quirky, passionate person I love, Jonathan Janson, an American painter who lives in Rome.  There is so much here it's hard to believe: a complete Vermeer catalogue, prints and posters, a Dutch glossary, maps, museums, interviews, even free Vermeer and Delft wallpapers.  Janson launched the site in 2001 and he spends about five hours a day keeping it up.  It's truly a labor of love and one of the most outstanding websites I've ever seen, on any subject.  Makes me want to quit this blog.  But I won't: he has inspired me to make it better. 



 

Friday, January 3, 2014

OK, it's officially 2014 and I got way behind keeping up with these "gift" posts, but as someone said to me a few days ago, early January is still a time of year when people need gifts for all kinds of occasions, so I will continue with a few more ideas.  After all, a good gift idea is a good gift idea, no matter when the idea first comes up, so you can always save the idea for a later time.

One of the few museums in North America that transports visitors to another place is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston.  If you have been to the Gardner you already know this, but if you haven't, you are in for a wonderful surprise when you step into the courtyard of the museum as you will really feel, for a short while, like you are in the middle of Venice (Isabella's favorite foreign destination).  The Gardner's exquisite courtyard alone is reason enough for the museum to be a favorite of so many people, but happily Mrs. Gardner's entire collection is stellar (I love practically everything here, but three works in particular are stand-outs for me: 'The Seated Scribe' (Gentile Bellini), 'The Rape of Europa' (Titian), and 'El Jaleo' (John Singer Sargent).


A gift of a Gardner museum membership to someone who lives in the northeast is a great idea (or tickets for a single visit), and if you know someone who will be visiting the Boston area it's also a good idea.  You could pair the membership or visit gift with one or more of the books below as the Gardner is of national and international significance: in the early morning on March 18, 1990, two thieves dressed as police officers entered the museum and in eighty-one minutes made off with thirteen works of art, valued today at over $500 million.  According to Ulrich Boser, author of The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft (HarperCollins, 2009), the theft remains the largest property robbery in American history, and the Gardner staff continues to offer a $5 million reward for any information on the whereabouts of the missing masterpieces (the stolen works include paintings as well as a Chinese bronze beaker and a finial from a pole holding a Napoleonic silk flag).  Boser notes that this is believed to be the biggest bounty ever offered by a private institution -- by comparison, the reward the Lindbergh family offered for any information on the kidnapping of their child is believed to be the second largest reward. At the time Boser's book was published, the Gardner's reward was exceeded only by the federal government's $25 million for Osama bin Laden.

Boser's book reads like a true-crime tale because it is one.  This is no light story.  It involves art detectives, the FBI, the Boston police, con men, art experts, organized crime, international terrorism, and a number of unsavory characters.  Suspects have included the Irish Republican Army, the son of a police officer, Whitey Bulger, an antiques dealer, a Scotland Yard informant, and a New York City auction house employee.  People have been hurt, murdered, and thrown in jail as a result of this theft but no arrests have been made, and there are no reports of the artworks being sold.  An article in The New York Times that appeared on March 18, 2013 -- the twenty-third anniversary of the theft -- reported that federal authorities announced they knew the identities of the thieves and that they belonged to a criminal organization based in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.  For his book, Boser spoke to many people who reacted to the theft as if it was very personal, and years later they are still deeply affected by it.  He also asks, if a sculpture doesn't stand in a courtyard and a painting only appears as an image in an art history book, does it even matter?  "...to any serious art lover, the answer is no.  Every work of art is singular, unique, and when a creation goes missing, there is nothing left behind but inadequate facsimiles -- and fading memories.  If a painting is stolen, if it's gone missing, it cannot be replaced.  Lost art is lost forever."    


The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro (Algonquin, 2012) is a novel inspired by the theft.  It's a clever read that I very much enjoyed, with some good twists and moral questions to ponder.  It's a perfect companion read for anyone interested in the Gardner or about art, and art forgery, in general. 


Old Masters, New World: America's Raid on Europe's Great Pictures by Cynthia Saltzman (Penguin, 2008) traces the history of how a small handful of wealthy Americans created the first art museums in the United States, among them Isabella Stewart Gardner (the other collectors featured are J. P. Morgan, H. O. Havemeyer, Henry Clay Frick, and Henry Marquand).  Saltzman is also the author of The Portrait of Dr. Gachet (Penguin), a book I absolutely could not put down, and she has revealed a fascinating chapter in American history with Old Masters, New World.  She notes in the Introduction that though the United States in the late 19th century was a major world power, the country had meager collections of art.  Painter Mary Cassatt wrote in June 1871 from Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania that "I cannot tell you what I suffer for want of seeing a good picture."  Cassatt had spent five years painting in France  and was eager to return, and novelist Henry James told his mother in 1869 that Americans seem to have "the elements of the modern man with culture quite left out."  Even later, in 1906, when the British critic Roger Fry served as curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, he noted the museum had "no Byzantine paintings, no Giotto, no Giottoesque, no Mantegna, no Botticelli, no Leonardo, no Raphael, no Michelangelo."  In 1917, Gardner herself stated that "years ago I decided that the greatest need in our Country was Art...So I determined to make it my life work if I could."  Saltzman refers to the Old Master works that crossed the Atlantic between the 1880s through the First World War as "one of history's great migrations of art," and this migration has come to a near standstill today as "those Old Masters that remain in European private collections are unlikely to leave the countries where they now reside because of export restrictions."


On the occasion of the Gardner's 100th anniversary in 2003, the Beacon Press published The Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and this is a beautiful and substantive book that is alone a very nice gift (and that's the fabulous 'El Jaleo' on the cover below).         

Until the 20th of January, the Gardner is hosting a special exhibit entitled 'The Inscrutable Eye: Watercolors by John Singer Sargent' (the museum has a particularly large and fine collection of Sargent's works).   Music lovers may also be happy to know that the museum offers a full program, on Sundays, Monday afternoons, and third Thursdays (devoted to jazz).

Empty frames are in the places where the stolen paintings once hung at the Gardner.  At the time Ulrich Boser was working on his book, Gardner security director Anthony Amore told him that "it's those frames that get me.  Because with those frames just hanging up there, you can't say, 'I'm not coming into work today.'  Every time I come in here, I think I have to get back in my office and start chasing those paintings down.  Something clearly belongs in those rectangles."  When Boser asked museum director Anne Hawley if she thought the artworks would ever be returned, she replied that "I live in hope.  I dwell in possibility, as Emily Dickinson says.  I just have to believe that the stolen paintings are still out there."

280 The Fenway / (617) 566.1401  
Open Wednesday to Monday 11:00 - 5:00, Thursday to 9:00, closed Tuesday

  

Monday, December 23, 2013






Anyone who is as big a fan of Spain as I am will love writer/photographer/cook/traveler Jeff Koehler's new book, Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalucia (Chronicle Books). But even for someone who may not (yet) be a fan of Spanish cuisine, this book is terrific.  As Koehler notes in his Introduction, "Spanish cooking has never been more in fashion, nor has it ever elicited such interest as it does now." 

I'm as big a fan of Koehler as I am of Spain and Spanish food, and you may have read some of his writing in Saveur and Food & Wine, among a number of other periodicals.  Also, his book Morocco: A Culinary Journey with Recipes, is a favorite of mine, as are Rice Pasta Couscous: the Heart of the Mediterranean Kitchen (2009) and La Paella (2006), also published by Chronicle.

He has lived in Barcelona since 1996, and this newest book is not meant to be an authoritative tome like Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain but rather it focuses on the country kitchen, which Koehler notes is the traditional kitchen in Spain.  The tastes of rural landscapes "are not easily lost," Koelher writes, "making sure that the countryside is never far from any table in Spain, even in the cities."

Cooks and travelers alike will enjoy this book, in the kitchen as well as in the proverbial armchair.
www.jeff-koehler.com 


Wednesday, December 18, 2013



A few friends asked me recently for some travel-related gift suggestions, and I thought it would be a good idea to share these -- and many more -- here on my blog (and it is also a motivation for me to move more quickly through the enormous piles of books and materials I have set aside for the blog -- note photo below of towering books in my bedroom!).  So this month will be devoted to posts about gifts that I believe travelers like you will find of interest.



I often buy honey when I'm traveling to places where it's a specialty, which as it turns out is a great number of places in the world (honey bees live on every continent except the Arctic and Antarctic).  My favorite honey memory took place in the Peloponnese region of Greece, with my good friend Sarah.  We were driving on a very rural road, in a hilly but not quite mountainous area, when we saw an elderly man seated in front of a small table on the side of the road.  It really seemed he was in the middle of nowhere, so we felt we had to stop and see what he was selling.  What he had were glass jars of honey, of several varieties.  He offered us a few tastings, and after we'd purchased a few jars, he asked us where we were from -- not that he spoke English, but we got the gist of the question.  When we told him, he eagerly clasped our hands and said, "America!" as if it was a mythical, magical place.  And of course for him America really was a place he'd likely only heard about, and he clearly stood in awe of our country.  He was so sweet and so proud of his honey, which was deep and rich and delicious.

I not only buy honey for myself but also for gifts, and I no longer have to travel far to find it (but I'm not referring to the kinds of honey sold in most supermarkets).  Honey is no different from wine, cheese, coffee, and chocolate in that it's an artisanal product, and giving a quality honey with a copy of The Honey Connoisseur: Selecting, Tasting, and Pairing Honey, With a Guide to More than 30 Varietals (by C. Marina Marchese and Kim Flottum, Black Dog & Leventhal) is a wonderful present that just about anyone would be happy to receive. 


In case you hadn't noticed, honey is hot: it's found at practically every farmer's market anywhere and specialty retailers sell dozens and dozens of varieties, making it hard to choose what to buy, which is why The Honey Connoisseur is so useful (and it's a very handsome, beautifully illustrated book besides).  Williams-Sonoma offers its own artisanal honey collections that also include beekeeping kits, and as authors Marchese and Flottum note, the growing interest in beekeeping "reflects people's desire to have a say in where their food comes from" and "keeping a hive of honey bees is more than a hobby.  It changes one's entire outlook on nature and connects us to food."

Making the leap to beekeeping may be too large for many of us, myself included, but I am kind-of pondering it.  Marchese noted in an interview that "keeping honey bees is the best-kept secret...Beekeepers are the gentlest and wisest people I've ever met...once you join, you will never leave."  !  But for the moment I'm just enjoying several honeys in my house right now: honey produced from hives on the roof of the Palais Garnier Opera house in Paris (sold in the Opera's gift shop and at Fauchon; also, guests at Le Meurice receive small jars); Let it Bee; and honey from Littlefield Farm on Block Island.  All of these share the qualifications that authors Marchese and Flottum note, which is that honey should always be purchased closest to the source and if the label isn't clear about this try a different one.  Many varietal honeys (such as apple blossom, linden, and thyme) may not be local but they should be produced in areas where the best terroir is for that variety.

The Honey Connoisseur is the kind of book that you can get lost in for hours -- I had no idea there were so many varieties of honey...Saw Palmetto? Sourwood? Catclaw?...clearly there is a whole honey world out there to explore.  And of course the authors would not leave out recommendations for tasting flights of honey and five recipes (right now I have my eye on Honey Struck Chocolate Truffles). 

Great book, great gift.  And I can't resist noting one of my all-time favorite episodes of 'I Love Lucy,' where Lucy gets a loving cup trophy stuck on her head upside down.  She has to get down to the club so that Ricky can try and help figure out a way to get the cup off her head, so Ethel ties a scarf around the cup and under her chin.  They're on the subway, and Lucy notices that a man is staring at her.  She turns to him and says, "What's the matter, haven't you ever seen a beekeeper on the subway before?"  I have a whole new appreciation for beekeeping, as well as for the honey I drizzle on my yogurt in the morning.
    

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The authors of these three books pictured here may appear to have nothing in common, but in fact they do: all three of them -- Katie Workman, R. J. Palacio, and Luke Barr -- will be guest authors at the Goddard Riverside Community Center's 27th Annual Book Bash this Friday night the 22nd!

Goddard Riverside's headquarters are on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, on Columbus Avenue at 88th Street, though its 27 programs change the lives of children, adults, and the elderly at 21 sites throughout Manhattan, from Wall Street to 140th Street. 

The Book Bash cocktail party kicks off the weekend-long Book Fair, where brand new, current releases are for sale at 50% off the cover price (there are no musty paperback novels or out-of-date road atlases that have been stored in someone's attic for twenty years).  The Book Fair opens to the public on Saturday morning whereas the Book Bash requires a ticket ($125 in advance, $150 at the door) -- go to goddard.org for full details. 

I've been volunteering for Goddard for 20 years, and I would never have continued my involvement were it not for the wonderful staff there as well as for all the wonderful people who passionately support Goddard.

I have fond memories of every Book Bash, but wow, these three authors coming this year is amazing!  The Mom 100 (Workman Publishing) is truly the book I wish I'd had when my daughter was younger.  Full disclosure: Katie is a friend, so you might expect me to endorse her book; but in all honesty, even though my copy isn't exactly dog-eared, I have still found a number of recipes and tips in the book that have proven popular with my 15-year-old.  Wonder (Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers) is just simply one of my absolute most favorite books and one that I think every single human being should read.  (And I was fortunate to meet R. J. Palacio once and she exudes such warmth you just want to hug her and not let go.)

Provence, 1970: M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste (Clarkson Potter) may be of most interest to readers of this blog as it is at least partially a travelogue.  Sans doute, some  readers will recognize Barr's name -- he is news director at Travel + Leisure (read his piece entitled 'A Kitchen in Provence' in the November issue of T+L) and he is a grandnephew of M. F. K. Fisher.  I was utterly engrossed in this account of a particular time in a particular place, among these now legendary culinary icons, and I think the book may surprise some readers; it is an eye-opener in some regards.

December of 1970 found M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, Simone Beck, James Beard, Judith Jones, and Richard Olney all in the south of France, and they could not only feel their world was changing but they had in fact set many of the changes in motion.   Barr notes in the Prologue that his book is a narrow slice of history that is also a personal story.  "It is the story of my great-aunt, trying to decide at age sixty-two what to make of her life thus far, and what to do with the rest of it.  And that had everything to do with the events in Provence that winter, and with the future of American cooking, its debt to France, and M. F.'s role in that trajectory.  France had been her ideal for decades, and that was changing.  She was changing.  I know this because I found her diary."

And on that key note I will not spoil the rest of this revealing and unique historical moment.

If you live in the New York area come to the Book Bash or the Book Fair!  I'll see you there.

November 23-24, 2013
Always the weekend before Thanksgiving 
Children's book authors on Saturday & Sunday! 


Meet these great children's book authors:
Roxie Munro (1:00pm Saturday)
Jessie Hartland (2:30pm Saturday)
Fiona Robinson (12:30 Sunday)
Daniel Kirk (2:00pm Sunday)

Don't miss out on great book discounts!
Goddard Riverside Community Center
593 Columbus Avenue | New York, New York 10024
www.goddard.org/bookfair | 212.873.4448


Friday, October 18, 2013












A number of memorials to Marcella Hazan have appeared since the announcement of her passing recently, and while this is yet one more, I want to also acknowledge the passing of another culinary icon, Penelope Casas, who passed away on the 11th of August.  For those of you who cook, you know what I mean when I say that you feel you know the author of a cookbook you use a lot even if you've never met that person -- in my house, my husband and I refer to these authors on a first name basis, as if we really do know them.  The names Marcella and Penelope are among these because we have made so very many of their recipes.  We knew Marcella first, and our paperback edition of her first book, The Classic Italian Cookbook (1973, Ballantine), is so tattered and the pages are so brittle that it is barely holding together.  We only have one other Marcella cookbook, The Essentials of Italian Cooking (Knopf, 1994), even though she has a number of others.  I like to note, as I did in my book on Venice, the Veneto, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia, that there is a recipe in Essentials for a risotto with celery that may sound dull but is absolutely delicious and full of flavor.  Less known perhaps is her husband Victor's book on Italian Wine (pictured above; Knopf, 1982), which I think is still an excellent book even if some of the information is outdated.  I love that he dedicated the book to Marcella, "insostituibile e carissima compagna"(irreplacable and dear companion).

Everything I've read over the last few weeks about Marcella has focused on her career as a cookbook author and cooking instructor.  I admire her for both of these talents, but the singular point I am making here about her is that she was also a culinary authority for travelers: I learned so much from her books about what to expect at restaurants and trattorie in Italy, about the courses served, about ingredients, and most importantly about the differences in the cuisines in each region in Italy.  As she noted, "Italian cooking" is an expression that is rarely used by Italians. "The cooking of Venice, for example, is so distant from that of Naples, although they are both Italian cities specializing in seafood, that not a single authentic dish from the one is to be found on the other's table.  There are unbridgeable differences between Bologna and Florence, each the capital of its own region, yet only sixty miles apart."  She also observed that  "The unique features of each region and of the individual towns and cites within it can still be easily observed when one travels through Italy today.  These are living differences that appear in the physical cast of the people, in their temperament, in their spoken language, and, most clearly, in their cooking."   

I have long recommended to travelers that they include cookbooks in their trip planning reading, even if they are not cooks and have no intention of making a single recipe (though this would, I think, be a shame because cooking some of the dishes unique to the place you're going is a great way to  immerse yourself in the destination).  I feel you cannot separate the history of food from the history of a city or country, and really great cookbooks -- the kind with both authentic, tried-and-true recipes and detailed commentary on food traditions and unique ingredients -- are just as essential to travel as guidebooks.  I read them like novels, and often the authors share the names of their favorite markets, shops, and restaurants.
Though I have made a great number of Marcella's recipes, I have made even more of Penelope's.  The Foods & Wines of Spain (Knopf, 1982) remains an essential book, and Craig Claiborne referred to it as "the definitive book on Spanish cooking" at the time of its publication.  I refer travelers to Spain to this book's Preface, which includes entries on 'What is Spanish cuisine?,' 'Spanish Life-Style,' and 'Regional Cooking.' 

I also cook from Delicioso! and Tapas, and have put together some great feasts for friends with recipes from these books (also published by Knopf).  I was pleased to feature three articles by Penelope in my book on Northern Spain, and I received a very nice note from her when it was published in 2003.  But best for travelers is her book Discovering Spain: An Uncommon Guide, pictured to the right (also published by Knopf), which is out of print but I recommend it if you can find a copy as a great many of her recommendations are still accurate and worthwhile. 

Farewell to Marcella and Penelope, who will live on in their many excellent books.








Tuesday, September 17, 2013

If you've followed The Collected Traveler, either my books or this blog, you know (because I've often said it) that some of the best moments for me are when I have the opportunity to meet the writers whose work I champion.  I feel really fortunate when this happens, and recently I was able to meet a really warm and wonderful writer who is also the co-author of a book I recommend with much enthusiasm, Anatolian Days & Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey (Wild River Books).

Most of the time, it's me who tries to meet the writers I work with, but in this case it was Joy Stocke (her co-author, Angie Brenner, lives in California and I haven't met her -- yet) who reached out to me.  The book was published last year and Joy and Angie kindly sent me a copy.  I was, at the time, bogged down with other books, and didn't get to it until a few months ago, though I admit I was anxious to start it as it seemed to have my name all over it, so to speak.  (As an aside, this seems like an appropriate place to mention an online piece I read at the nifty Web site The Second Pass called "Tales of the Unread," which makes the observation that “publishers naturally want to tell you about what’s new or what’s evergreen.  But most readers know the pleasure of somehow discovering and falling in love with a book that has fallen from view.”  Great books are great books, whenever they were published, and what’s “old” to one reader is “new” to another.  Just because Anatolian Days & Nights is not brand new doesn't mean it isn't fresh, relevant, and worthwhile; it's all of these, and it deserves a wide audience.)  Antaolian Days & Nights is unique for several reasons, the most important one being that there aren't a great number of contemporary books about personal stories of traveling in Turkey.  I love that each chapter opens with a relevant quotation, my favorite being "By the time the wise woman has found a bridge, the crazy woman has crossed the water" (a Turkish proverb), and don't be mislead by the sub-subtitle -- 'Land of Dervishes, Goddesses, and Saints': this book is not just for women.   

Joy and I met for dinner at one of my favorite Turkish restaurants in New York, Hanci (854 10th Avenue, 56th/57th, (212) 707.8144) and in a short while I felt like I had known her for half my life (always a good sign, I think).  Over our very good meal we spoke about the cookbook that Joy and Angie are currently working on,
Anatolian Kitchen: A Celebration of Friendship, Travel, and Food.  This will not be a Turkish cookbook per se, but rather something much more interesting: in addition to stories about their travels and treasured recipes from friends, families and chefs (including some of the most celebrated kitchens in Turkey) there will be Turkish-inspired recipes and those that have crossed borders, such as Spicy Empanadas with Turkish Red Pepper (there would be no Turkish pepper without trade routes to Mexico) and some from Joy's German grandmother, like Kale in Creamy, Nutmeg-Dusted Bechamel Sauce (it has been said that Bechamel sauce was perfected in the Byzantine kitchens of Constantinople).  They have spent a lot of time asking themselves, what is Turkish Food? What is American food?  And how might they be connected?  Here's a link to a chapter about beets: 


http://www.wildriverreview.com/WILD-TABLE/Essay/A-Legacy-of-Beets/Anatolian-Days-and-Nights/Joy-E-Stocke.  Look for more about this book in a future post! 


Since Angie couldn't join us, I had previously interviewed Joy and Angie via e-mail.  I was curious to know how they might answer some questions I was receiving about the protests in Istanbul as they were in the city at the time (in the meantime, I told everyone confidently that while it might not be the best idea to stay at a hotel near Taksim Square, there was no reason to cancel a trip or not plan one, and I stand by that recommendation).  As I type this Angie is in Istanbul again with her nephew, and she writes that "street protests and talk of war with Syria have not deterred many travelers from flocking to Istanbul's abundant sights. We may be part of the noticeably fewer Americans in the city, but there are plenty of European as well as Turkish tourists...Hotels are full and the sidewalks are often four to five people abreast.  If you don't arrive at one of the main attractions like Aya Sofya when it opens, plan to stand in line. I think Istanbul must have always felt overwhelming and chaotic, however, its modernity makes it no less exotic.  New construction remains in force giving old Sultanahmet the feeling of an Ottoman Disneyland, sans the rides."   What follows below are Angie's and Joy's thoughts and recommendations: 
 

*You’re just back from Istanbul – what was it like, and what advice would you give to travelers planning on going there this year? 

Angie and Joy:
Since the events in Taksim Square, we've had friends ask if it's safe to go to Istanbul. Absolutely. The city is ancient and one can explore it for weeks without ever going to Taksim Square. Still, if people are staying in Sultanhamet, we encourage them to cross the Galata Bridge, perhaps take the world's shortest tram, and wander below the Galata Tower. If they are staying Çihanğir, they could walk through Cukurcuma to enroute to Beyoğlu to visit the antique shops or stop at Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence. Perhaps, they'll choose to have a drink at the newly renovated Pera Palace Hotel bar.

Truth is, every time we're in Istanbul there is something new to discover. Last year we explored exciting new restaurants. Many are recreating beautiful Ottoman dishes once prepared in the palace kitchens of the Sultan, as well as regional Turkish cuisine.

For first time travelers seeking to visit popular sights like Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Blue and Süleymaniye Mosques, we recommend hiring a private guide. The history and symbolism that goes with much of the religious imagery is so immense, a guide will help you sift through it. And let's not forget the archeology museum. Istanbul, an east-west crossroad, is as fascinating today as it must have been during the reign of the Emperor Constantine.

Angie: We never get tired of spending an afternoon on one of the Princes’ Islands or taking a local ferry to one of the towns up the Bosporus for lunch or dinner. Most of all, we love to walk and get lost in the neighborhoods. We can always find a taxi to bring us back.

Joy: Istanbul is a romantic city in all seasons. One winter afternoon, we visited the charming Pierre Loti Cafe overlooking the Golden Horn and had many Turkish coffees while we watched thick flakes of snow fall in dreamlike swaths. The cafe was named for the French writer, Pierre Loti, who had his own interesting love affair with Turkey.

Angie: We still find the delights that early travelers like the sixteenth century Lady Mary Wortley Montague, wife of a British ambassador to Turkey, found and wrote about after visiting a Turkish bath and dining at Topkapi. Which brings to mind the restaurant Karakol, just behind Topkapi palace. During warm weather, you can sit outside, watch the passing parade, and enjoy wonderful food.
 


*Where are some places you particularly like to stay when you visit Istanbul?  

Joy and Angie
For several years, we stayed at the Mavi Ev, the Blue House, located in old Sultanahmet near the Four Seasons Hotel. From the rooftop restaurant, you can see both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The owners also own the famous Lale Pudding Shop nearby. On our last night in Istanbul, we have a tradition where we buy cups of pudding as a treat before reluctantly packing our bags. 

There are several small hotels in Sultanahmet that also have great views. Lately, we’ve stayed in Cihangir, as that is where we have several friends, but staying in Sultanahmet puts you in the center of easy sightseeing. We’ve stayed in luxury at both the Ritz Carlton and Çırağan Palace Hotels , which were wonderful, but their locations require taking taxis and we like to walk out the door in be in the heart of the city or neighborhood.


On our last trip, we stayed at the Ottoman Park in the area near the Küçük Agia Sophia, which still has the funky flavor of old Istanbul. From there you, can walk anywhere including the Street of Fish Restaurants, Kumkapi, which is always fun. Pick a restaurant and order a whole fish backed in salt.


Joy: My husband, who has never been to Istanbul, won a gift certificate to stay at the Four Seasons anywhere in the world. We batted back and forth a few cities, and finally he said, “Let’s go to Istanbul.” So, in November, we will be stay at the Four Seasons in Sultanahmet, a former Ottoman prison, which Angie and I watched being restored years ago when we were staying at the Mavi Ev, the Blue House.


*Can you share some of your other Istanbul favorites?

We love going to the Grand Bazaar. One of our best friends, Hasan Semerci, owns a carpet shop there called Adnan & Hasan. While we’ve purchased many carpets from him over the years (actually we will purchase carpets anywhere anytime!), Hasan is a gracious host to our friends traveling to Istanbul.  We also make our way through the Antique Bazaar to find treasures. We have a friend, Fuat Öztürk, who owns Sultan Jewelry & Art Gallery, an antique store specializing in rare pieces like hamam bowls and one of a kind pieces of jewelry.  On our last trip, we stopped into his shop and bought exquisitely crafted gold and pearl Hands of Fatima, which protect against the evil eye. Later we stopped in at a silk scarf shop near our friend Hasan's carpet shop, and purchased beautiful scarves.  We also buy spices – red Antep pepper, mint, cumin, to name a few - in the Spice Bazaar.



A favorite lokanta is the Sultanahmet Köftecisi located midway between the Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace. They serve simple lunches of lentil soup, white bean salad, and grilled lamb köfte which we wash down with the yogurt drink called ayran. It’s just as popular with locals as with tourists. 

The restaurant scene today in Istanbul is a culinary paradise and several restaurants are recreating traditional Ottoman dishes. Two that we really like are both pricey but we think worth the splurge: The Tugra restaurant inside the Çırağan Palace Hotel has patio seating along the Bosphorus (plan a visit during the full moon!). In Sultanahmet, we enjoyed the Matbah restaurant in the Ottoman Imperial Hotel. Of course, whenever possible, we like to shop at the markets with Turkish friends and dine in their homes.

There are two locations that we love to frequent for fish dinners in Istanbul: The flower passage in Beyoğlu, and the street of fish restaurants in an old Armenian neighborhood called Kumkapi (meaning sand gate) located downhill from Sultanahmet near the Sea of Marmara.

The owner of the popular Hamdi restaurant that overlooks the Galata Bridge serves  spicy, sumptuous cuisine of southeastern Turkey. We could eat there every day. Hamdi is always humming with families and friends.

Although we’ve visited several Turkish baths in the city, from elegant hotels to rustic neighborhood hamams, a favorite bath remains the Çemberlitaş Hamam, which we write about in our book. Architect Mimar Sinan, a contemporary of Michelangelo, designed this bath.  We haven’t yet visited another hamam built by Sinan, the restored Baths of Roxelana that caters to high-end clients, so are looking forward to this down the road.

And speaking of high-end clients, we had the opportunity to explore both locations of the Istanbul department store, Armaggan. The merchandise, more like art objects, harkens back to the crafts guilds during the Seljuk and Ottoman Empires. Armaggan owns gold, silver, leather, and textile studios. Their artisans research natural dying techniques and materials to create exquisite, museum quality designs.


*Describe each of your very first visits to Turkey – where did you go, and what inspired you to go?

Angie:  Our mutual friend, Wendy, was the catalyst for Joy and me. At the time, I owned a travel bookstore and additionally designed personalized trips for clients. I met Wendy through her company when she booked Aegean and Mediterranean boat tours. She had this dream of hiring at Turkish gulet – a wooden sailing yacht – for herself and her friends to cruise the Turkish coast for a week. When she invited me, no arm-twisting was required.  Few of my customers were then traveling to Turkey and most Americans still  thought of the country in terms of Oliver Stone’s movie, Midnight Express. Turkey was considered dangerous. To me that was like a red flag to a bull; I don't trust negative opinions by people who have never been to the place they're afraid of.  I immediately planned to spend several weeks after the boat trip traveling solo by bus,across the country. I had only one agenda, and that was to go to Konya to see the whirling dervishes.

The boat trip was fabulous, however Wendy never showed up. While I learned that the dervishes only whirl during a December performance, I met a carpet seller who was studying to be a dervish and played the ney - a reed wind instrument used during the ceremony - for me. I also went to the mosque where Rumi is entombed, and was there during the festival of troubadours, where young men would stand in courtyards reciting poetry and singing ballads.  I also met a man with whom I had a three-year relationship (Sami in our memoir) and who has remained a friend. So, all in all, I’d say that this was a life-changing trip. In Turkey, anything is possible.

Joy: Wendy and I took our first trip abroad together in 1982 landing on the Greek Island of Kos, which is a short ferry ride across the Aegean Sea from the Turkish Coast.  So, of course, we were curious about a place that looked so beautiful and which was still a source of heartbreak for many of our Greek friends whose families had been uprooted during the Great Exchange of 1923.  We took a ferry from Kos Town to Bodrum, which was a sleepy place back then and felt that we had not only crossed a physical border but a psychic one a well. We knew so little about Turkey.  I had spent years researching the roots of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions and much of the history lay within Turkey’s borders, so I was eager to travel through Turkey and see the sights such as the first Christian Church in Antakya and the Caves of the moon god Sin Sanliurfa.

Wendy and I had once talked about opening a guesthouse somewhere in Greece, but during the nineties Greece was booming and real estate prices and rentals had risen.  Wendy was now traveling regularly to Turkey and had met a Turkish man in the village of Kalkan.  Together they leased a pension while she closed her business in the States with the goal of living in Turkey, she asked Angie and me, whom I had yet to meet, to run it.  The rest is chronicled in Anatolian Days & Nights.


*You are very familiar with the poetry of Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic.  When did you become interested in Rumi, and what are some of your favorite sources you would recommend to readers who want to delve into his work?  

Angie:  I remember waiting at the train station in San Juan Capistrano (yes, where the swallows return each year) to pick up my then boyfriend, Norm. The Los Angeles train was late, so I used the time to read my Lonely Planet guide about Turkey in advance of my upcoming trip.  “There are whirling dervishes in Turkey,” I had said to Norm when he got off the train. “Don’t you want to meet me there?”  He was not impressed or enthused. It was pretty much the end of our relationship and the  beginning of  my love for Rumi's poetry. My favorite book is still Coleman Barks’s Essential Rumi.


Joy:  I am founder of an online magazine whose tagline is: 'Connecting People, Places and Ideas, Story by Story.Rumi, in the great tradition of mystics tells beautiful parables and stories, which is why, I believe, he is so beloved. We are blessed to have the niece (Catherine Schimmel) of one of the world’s greatest Islamic scholars, Annemarie Schimmel, on our staff.  Annemarie Schimmel was an expert on Islam and the poetry of Cellaludin Rumi (or Mevlana, the Master, as the Turks call him); and in fact her translations were source materials for Coleman Barks’s translations.  So, I would recommend her book, Look This is Love: Poems of Rumi (Shambala, 1996).



*What’s not in your book? 

Joy and Angie: Looking back, it's surprising how many stories we were able to weave into the book. But, we left out quite a few. For instance, when we were in the east, we found the history of the Urartians of interest and tried to write about it.  But each draft seemed heavy-handed.

Joy:  Angie also wrote a beautiful passage for our Cappadocia chapter from the vantage point of a Cappadocian father.  What he would have been thinking about at the time Emperor Constantine and various bishops who were trying to create the Nicene Creed.  The challenge was that it belonged in a different book. 

Angie and Joy: We have an interesting story of  our meeting with an organization of Turkish women fighting for the right to wear the headscarf at university and in public office. We were staying at the Ritz Carlton not far from Taksim Square. Our secular friends warned us that the women would create a scene in the hotel lobby to get attention. About seven women arrived at the front desk with a single male companion, all dressed in long dark coats and headscarves. Heads turned, of course. And it seemed to us that indeed, these women were eager to make a political point.

We decided it was best to invite them to our room, and so we ordered tea and cakes through room service. It was an enlightening, intense meeting. We enjoyed talking to all of the women who ranged in age from about 20-50, and they were open with us. “If Turkey is a democracy, why shouldn’t we be able to wear what we want?” asked one of the young women.

We couldn’t disagree and still wonder how the conversation might have gone if their chaperone hadn’t been present.

But, in Turkey, nothing is simple or black and white.


*On page 6, you write, “…one moment leaving us delighted and the next leaving us ready to pack our bags and take the first flight home?”  Explain more about what you mean when you say there were moments when you wanted to pack your bags and leave.

Angie and Joy: We love the spontaneity and surprises that come from travel and meeting people, but it can also be frustrating. We developed a case of amebic dysentery when we were in the southeast and suspect it might have been caused by a watermelon we ate on a dusty back road near the Syrian border. The following day, we were heading to the Aegean town of Seljuk near Ephesus. To get there we had to take two buses, a flight to Istanbul, a flight to Izmir, and a taxi to our hotel. On the second flight, we were more than ready to pack it in and head home. But once we settled in and had started a course of Flagil, sold over the counter and something that would have required a prescription in the States, we breathed in the moist sea air and balmy breezes, and everything became light and easy again.

*Where’s your next trip in Anatolia?  Is there a part of Turkey you haven’t yet visited?

Joy and Angie: We never made it to the Armenian town of Ani. In the introduction of Anatolian Days & Nights, we share the story of the breakdown of our rental car and the farmer who helped us get it towed back to Erzurum from where we had set out.

Angie:  I’m looking forward to visiting Göbekli Tepe, a Neolithic site northeast of Sanliurfa. Imposing monoliths were carved 11,000 years ago by people who had not yet developed metal tools or pottery.

Joy:  I’ve wanted to fly to Salonika and take a train over the Greek border into Turkey and on to Istanbul.

The more places we visit, the longer the list gets.  Plus, each time we go to Istanbul we find something new to see.

Joy is founder and editor-in-chief and Angie is West Coast Editor of Wild River Review.  They'll be among the guest speakers at the upcoming Women's Wellness Conference in Torrance, California on Friday, 11 October.  The conference is organized by Providence Little Company of Mary Foundation and will be held at the Torrance Marriott South Bay, 3636 Fashion Way. Personally, if I were anywhere in the remote vicinity of the West Coast I'd be attending this Conference.  Meeting Joy all by herself was a treat, but I think the opportunity to meet these two accomplished women together would be a banquet.