Thursday, August 17, 2017


It seems serendipitous to me now that I began reading this new book, edited by Ohio Poet Laureate Amit Majmudar and published by Alfred A. Knopf, late last week, before the horrific happened in Charlottesville, where I lived for a few years after graduating from college.  Reading it has actually helped calm me down (as has listening to various opera scores) and the diverse poems, some short and others a little longer (almost all of them are one or two pages long) are written by an equally diverse group of poets including Alex Dimitrov, Juan Felipe Herrera, Richie Hofmann, Sharon Olds, Robert Pinsky, Solmaz Sharif, and Cody Walker.  The paperback is small (approximately 5" x  6"), slender, and $12.95 and I highly recommend it...as well as another book that took a long while to reach in the towering pile in my bedroom:


I read it only a month ago and it, too, seems to be extremely relevant though as you can see from the cover it refers to the terrorist attacks in Paris in November of 2015 (the book was published by Penguin in the fall of 2016).  Antoine Leriris's wife, Hélène, also mother of their seventeen-month-old son, was killed at the Bataclan Theater and three days later he posted an open letter on Facebook addressed to the killers.  The letter found a wide audience and helped many people who were desperate for a way to process what happened.  The book details Leiris's life as it unfolded over the days and weeks after the attacks, and is heartbreaking but ultimately wonderful and empowering, and worth quoting from here:

I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you.  That is what you want,
but to respond to your hate with anger would be to yield to the same
ignorance that made you what you are.  You want me to be scared, to see my 
fellow citizens through suspicious eyes, to sacrifice my freedom for security.  
You have failed.  I will not change...There are only two of us -- my son and
myself -- but we are stronger than all the armies of the world.     



Calvin Trillin has long been among my most favorite writers, and Jackson, 1964 (Random House, 2016) is eerily a contemporary read.  As a reviewer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune observed, the book is "modern and urgent...Essay after essay reminds us that the history of this struggle consists of events that easily could happen today."  Trillin's pieces, which originally appeared in The New Yorker, cover events not only in Jackson, Mississippi but Delaware, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, Utah, Alabama, Texas, South Carolina, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, and New York.  Every single one is eye-opening.

Lastly, it seems apropos to read again, for the second time or the fiftieth time, the remarks of New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu in May of this year.

Travel can be another way to bear witness, so perhaps a visit to Charlottesville should be in your future?  As Heather Heyer posted on Facebook, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."  
  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017







Parador de Cardona, about 55 miles from Barcelona 
[all photos kindly provided by Paradores de Turismo de España]









My Barcelona ebook, a VintageShort, has been published!   It's officially entitled 'Barcelona From A to Z' but there are some letters of the alphabet included that are devoted to Catalunya.  It's only 99 cents so take the plunge and buy it if you're thinking of going (or even if you just want to read about it).

I like to remind people visiting Barcelona how easy it is to make day trips (and overnight jaunts) from the city, even without a car, and in only a short distance away you can really feel like you're far from the city and you can see a fair amount of the region, which is quite diverse.  One really nice place in the foothills of the Pyrenees is Cardona -- the photos in this post are all of the Castell de Cardona, which is today one of the lodgings in Spain's paradores chain.  I'm a big fan of the paradores, and the Cardona castle is one of the best.  You can reach Cardona by bus but it's better to have a car if only so you can stop along the way -- the drive is pretty and there are some good opportunities for taking photos.  As the road climbs in elevation, the site of the 9th century castle perched high on a hill is magnificent.  Catalunya has a string of fortifications and monasteries within the region (the most popular one is Montserrat, which is even closer to Barcelona), but the castle in Cardona is a Spanish national monument and represents several eras of Catalan heritage.  Cardona’s name derives from quer, rock or steep mountain, and the town became wealthy from its Roman-era salt mines, the Montaña de Sal Gema (Rock Salt Mountain; parador guests receive a 10% discount off the admission price).  The town of Cardona is very pleasant, with some good restaurants and shops catering to locals, but the parador is really the highlight.  The castle was built to secure territory that was reconquered from the Moors (and it also protected the salt mines) and the town charter of around 986 dictated that the men of Cardona had to devote one day a week on the construction of the castle, and all law-abiding citizens were granted personal use of the salt every Thursday.  After making it through the War of the Spanish Succession and the Peninsular War, the castle was damaged during the Spanish Civil War, but was repaired and opened as a parador in 1976. 

Exploring the exterior of the castle buildings (which are Romanesque and Gothic) is fun as there are wooden walkways all around it, with great views of the town, the salt mine, and the forests along the Cardoner River.  The interior public rooms feature lots of stone walls (some painted a pretty shade of red), arches, tapestries, wrought iron torch holders, and dark wooden beams.  Guestrooms are quite nice, most larger than standard European rooms, and are filled with Catalan antiques; many have four-poster beds.  The main dining room (which serves Catalan dishes) is beautiful with stone arches running the length of the entire room and walls painted a great shade of yellow.  It’s a grand room in which to eat anything, and happily the food is equal to the setting.  Also within the castle is the second century Torre de la Minyona (where Adalés, daughter of Viscount and Viscountess Ramón Folch and Enguncia, was imprisoned by her brothers for falling in love with a Moorish jailer); the San Vicente Collegiate Church (whose crypt once held relics of Saints Sebastian, Ursula, and Inés); and the Chapel of San Ramón Nonato, a monk related to the Cardona family (the Cardonas were of the Catalan and Aragonese nobility and the prestigious name was second only to that of the royal family).  



Rates are moderately expensive and there are a number of special offers throughout the year.   In addition to Cardona, there are 7 other paradores in the region: Lleida, Vic-Sau, Aiguablava, La Seu d'Urgell, Arties, Tortosa, and Vielha, each representative of a particular corner of Catalunya.



Wednesday, April 26, 2017









Mendocino Coast, August 2016







Some friends have asked me why it's taking so long for my post on Marseille, which was to follow on the heels of piece on Aix-en-Provence, and all I can say is that life gets in the way.  Also, I am not a post-every-day kind of person nor did I aim to be when my blog was created; I would rather write useful or interesting posts even if they take me a very long time to complete than short snippets that don't have much substance.  Still other friends have asked me about my trip to northern California in August, which I wasn't going to write about at all since the visit was primarily to see my sister, Jenniffer, who lives in Eureka; but here is a brief recap and some recommendations (and stay tuned for the Marseille post!): 

My husband and I lived in the Bay Area in the mid-to-late 1980s and a few years in the early 1990s, and this was our first time back to California in 23 years.  We didn't choose to visit in August, a time of year when San Francisco and the entire coastline can be enveloped in fog, but circumstances were such that it was the only time we could go.  The day we arrived it was sunny and warm, but our friends who live on Potrero Hill said it had been so cold the days prior that they had to turn the heat on.  For the next few days it was sunny and warm where we were staying in Castro Valley (typical) and intermittently sunny and foggy in San Francisco (also typical).  Layers are key in a San Francisco wardrobe at any time of year but in the summer you actually need a fleece jacket and possibly a hat and gloves.  With our friends Heather and Pat we enjoyed a terrific hike to the Rotary Peace Grove Lookout in Tilden Regional Park; walked around the UC Berkeley campus; visited our old neighborhood in North Berkeley a block from the outstanding Monterey Market; ate really great dinners at Comal on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley and at Bocanova on Jack London Square in Oakland; and caught a San Francisco Giants game at the (new to us) AT&T ballpark.  With our friend Barbara we had a really good lunch at The Italian Homemade Company at 1919 Union Street (very near a store at 1840 Union called Topdrawer: Tools for Nomads, a Japanese shop offering lots of useful and stylish items for travelers and 'modern life on the go'; the only other U.S. shop is in Boston); with our friend Jesse we sampled several specialties from the stalls at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market; and with Carolyn, Michael, Mitch, and SoYoung we had a lively dinner at the supper club Bix.


Our friend Paula also mapped out a walking route on Valencia Street (mostly) in the Mission district for us, and it included stops at a number of places that were new to us, including Dandelion Small Batch Chocolate (excellent) Bi-Rite Creamery (absolutely delicious and the basil flavor was an eye-opener; no shipping but you can buy the cookbook, Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones published by 10 Speed Press); Tartine Bakery and Cafe (18th and Guerrero; three great cookbooks all published by Chronicle: Tartine, Tartine Bread, and Tartine Book No. 3) and you can't miss it because there is always a line; Mission Cheese; Craftsman and Wolves (a "crazy good bakery" as Paula says and she's right); Paxton Gate (an odd but interesting taxidermy store); Farina for good pizza (just across the street from the hipster barbershop); and the Pirate Supply Store, which is really a front for the 826 Valencia Writing Project, a non-profit dedicated to supporting under-resourced students aged 6 to 18 co-founded by author Dave Eggers.  Not new was Dolores Park, of course, though we did not see the guy who Paula says wanders in with a machete, coconuts, and a bottle of rum selling drinks...darn!  Also not new was La Taqueria ("The Best Tacos & Burritos in the Whole World") at 2889 Mission.  My friend Pat recently let me know that after 30 years in business, and its popularity at an all-time high, La Taqueria is now closed on Mondays to give its hard working crew a break.  It is most definitely vaut le détour to plan your visit accordingly!

We also paid homage to the Grateful Dead's former home, at 710 Ashbury, which is looking quite spiffy these days:
Our friends Jayne and Mitchell met us at Terrapin Crossroads, Phil Lesh's 'homegrown food and music' bar/restaurant in San Rafael, and we loved it. 

But the highlight of San Francisco was Smuggler's Cove, a tiki bar at 650 Gough in Hayes Valley.  I'd recently read the book, Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum and the Cult of Tiki (Martin Cate and Rebecca Cate, 10 Speed Press), so I was really looking forward to going and it did not disappoint (a few of the drinks we ordered are pictured below; the photo I took of the flaming volcano was blurry, but the drink itself is exciting and fun and highly recommended!).  The book, too, is highly recommended.  How can you not love a book that is "dedicated to those merry souls who keep the spirit of Polynesian Pop alive in their hearts and homes, in their bars and basements, and in their cocktails and character?"  It's a fascinating read, and the recipes are anything but run-of-the-mill.  I am particularly fond of Three Dots and a Dash (Morse code for 'Victory'), which includes two ingredients I'd never heard of before: John D. Taylor's Velvet Falernum and St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram.  Neither is available at every liquor store, but with a little perseverance you can find them, and you'll discover that they last a long time because you don't need very much in each recipe.    The book was honored with a 2017 James Beard Award in the Beverage category.    



In Mendocino we stayed two nights at the wonderful Jade's Tower, a truly unique lodging perfect for three or four people (one bedroom up the spiral staircase and a queen sized pull-out sofa in the living room).  The building is a wood and glass former water tower and it's set in the middle of a beautiful, peaceful garden.  We didn't see the sun the entire time we were in Mendocino but the views from the Tower's windows were still lovely.  I found it on the HomeAway site, but it's also a VRBO property, #414268.  We could walk everywhere we wanted to from the Tower, and enjoyed breakfasts at the Good Life Café & Bakery and a look around Honey & Ro, a nicely appointed (and expensive) shop for home goods and clothing.  We had dinner one night at Ravens Restaurant, the vegan restaurant at The Stanford Inn by the Sea eco-resort.  We are not vegan but a meal there seemed like the thing to do.  We liked it fine but a vegan might like it even better.  We also loved walking through Hendy Woods State Park in Philo which protects two magnificent ancient redwood forests: 80-acre Big Hendy and 20-acre Little Hendy.  One of the visitors' signs in the Park displays a John Steinbeck quote about redwood trees:  "From them comes silence and awe."  This is from a passage from Travels With Charley: In Search of America and is worth repeating in full:


"The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always. No one has ever successfully painted or photographed a redwood tree. The feeling they produce is not transferable. From them comes silence and awe. It's not only their unbelievable stature, nor the color which seems to shift and vary under your eyes, no, they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.”


To the right: The pretty garden outside of Jade's Tower.  Below: the Tower, which is the bedroom, reachable by a spiral staircase.  There is a pull-out sofa downstairs in the living room, which also has a round dining table and four chairs. 


In all the years we lived in California and all the traveling we did around the state, we never went as far north as Eureka.  The route there takes drivers by Confusion Hill, a fantastically kitschy roadside attraction on Redwood Highway 101 that is impossible to pass without stopping (well, my husband might not have stopped, but then he didn't really get South of the Border so what does he know?).  The main thing to do at Confusion Hill is walk through the maze that has you feeling like you're always on an angle and will fall over.  It's crazy hilarious, and then you can buy stickers with a big question mark that say 'Seeing is Believing' and Big Foot tokens, for some reason I can't fathom.  There are all kinds of wild carvings and oddities to ponder, as you can see from the photos below.   























Eureka is in a great location for seeing coastal redwood trees, and it is in a nice geographic setting, and the downtown area is historic with old buildings from the 1800s, many of which are being restored.  But it is also odd in that there is a considerable homeless population, and the town's most famous and beautiful architectural gem, the Carson Mansion (photo below), is a private men's club and closed to the general public.  A missed opportunity, I say. 


The Eureka Inn, on the National Register of Historic Places, was fully booked for a wedding, so we rented the nice Uptown Flat from Redwood Coast Vacation Rentals and it was within walking distance to everything in the historic downtown.  (Redwood Coast also rents a pretty house directly across the street from the Carson Mansion, which would be nice to have as your view during a stay here.)  We had a lunch at Ramone's Cafe on E Street, a breakfast at Los Bagels, a dinner at Brick & Fire Bistro, and we bought several bottles at The Wine Spot (234 F Street).  As it was foggy most of the time we were there, we drove inland to sunny Ferndale, a cute village founded in 1852 by dairymen and ranchers from a number of different countries.  For a small place, it has a lively center with restaurants, antique shops, galleries, a playhouse, a museum, and colorful and well maintained Victorian buildings.  Most of another day was spent in Fern Canyon at Prairie Creek State Park - really nice!























We also went to Arcata for the Saturday farmer's market, where my sister knows several of the vendors.  Cafe Brio, on G Street just off the Arcata Plaza where the market is held, turns out quite delicious baked goods and good coffees.  It's open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and if I lived in Arcata I would come here every day.


It was our good fortune that our visit coincided with the annual Lantern Floating Ceremony, held at Klopp Lake in the Arcata Marsh.  The ceremony was founded 35 years ago by Arcata's Nuclear Free Zone Committee to commemorate the loss of life after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.  In Japan, the ceremony is many centuries old (though there has been a specific commemoration in Hiroshima since the war) and it honors friends and family members who have passed away.  Arcata's ceremony embraces this general meaning and it's also an occasion for the community to rededicate itself to the cause of peace.

Arts and crafts materials are provided at the farmer's market for anyone who wants to decorate a lantern, and the lanterns are brought to the lake for the ceremony that evening.  A battery operated candle is placed inside each paper lantern, and the lanterns are gently placed in the water all at once
at dusk.  It is a magical, wonderful, and moving spectacle.