Monday, September 29, 2014
|My grandmother, Liberata Crugnale Berarducci|
“Travel changes you. As you move through this life
and this world you change things slightly, you leave
marks behind, however small. And in return, life—
and travel—leaves marks on you. Most of the time,
those marks—on your body or on your heart—are
beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”
~ Anthony Bourdain
All day long, I've been trying to decide what to write about today. There are so many things I want to cover, but I'm going to save them for when I get home. Tonight, I might just throw out some loose thoughts.
I saw that Anthony Bourdain quote recently, and it hit home with me. Travel of any kind can change you if you're willing to let it do so. I think it teaches us so much about each other and about ourselves. Five years ago, I wrote the first essay about my grandmother's journey from Italy to the USA, and since that time, learning more about what she experienced has been an obsession for me. That obsession led to the love affair I have with Italy. No matter our ethnicity, Americans know something about the culture of our ancestors, but we know a sanitized version of it, don't we?
i have wondered if I could survive what my grandmother survived. My little game of living in Italy for six weeks showed me that I could live there, but I had a lot of conveniences she didn't have. I also had a ticket home, and a loving husband who supported me.
|Due Torre in Bologna|
I have developed such a fondness for Bologna even though my history is in the Abruzzo region. I find the people in Bologna to be among the most genuine and kind that I've come across in any town in Italy. I miss Bologna a lot, but I know I'll be back soon, so that makes it easier.
|Down the street from my flat in Bologna|
My friend, Bob, asked me a few weeks ago if Italy had been as fruitful for writing as I had hoped. Yes, it has. I wrote some very difficult essays about my other grandparents and father that might never go anywhere, but I got them out. I also thought a lot about my book, and I decided was that the stories about those horrible times were not meant for the book. I found its focus on this trip, and the stories in it are the happy, funny stories that speak to what my grandmother taught me about life.
I hope some of you might want to read it when I finish it.
Finally, I want to thank those of you who have read this blog. I appreciate the comments and personal notes a lot of you have sent. I'm going to continue writing it when I get home because there is so much of life to share.
So, I'm leaving here with a heavy heart, but it's also a happy heart.
I'll see you on the other side of the world tomorrow.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
|Pierrot Playing the Guitar - Dali|
"Modern artists say their work is not meant to be beautiful.
Is there any doubt they have succeeded?"
~ Scott Burdick
(Please note: Before I get into this post, let's agree that we can disagree about what is art, okay? After our visit to the Pompidou in Paris last year, my post practically caused an international incident because some people didn't like my opinions. I'm talking art here, not kids or pets or anything really important. Thank you for your cooperation.)
|"If you turn your head sideways, maybe you can understand it."|
|Still Life - Dali|
"NO fotos, Señora," yelled a guard. "NO FOTOS." I jumped about five feet (luckily not falling down again).
"Ok, sorry. I didn't know," I replied as I put the phone away. The guard glared at me.
All the photos in this post, therefore, are from Reina Sofia which does allow photos except in the Guernica exhibit (of course).
|Trying to figure out a Dali|
All that said, I've never understood the fascination with Dali. To begin with, he was a creepy little man. Some of his work is okay, but some of it is downright bizarre. I like the painting—Pierrot Playing the Guitar—at the top of this post, but some of his other stuff gives me the creeps (in addition to nightmares). Melting clocks and guitars and such are plain weird, and I invite anyone who thinks otherwise to tell me why you think they are not. Please. Help me understand what you're seeing that I'm not seeing.
Moving on. Richard Hamilton, a multi-faceted artist if I've ever seen one. He's famous for his paintings, photography, collages, and more. His early work started with basic form drawings, but he evolved. Someone, ManRay if I remember correctly, gave Hamilton a polaroid camera, and he started letting people take photos of him with it. Then he started doing self-portraits that he embellished with paint and such (see photos below).
|Self-portrait - Richard Hamilton|
"What's the art in this?" Mike asked me.
"Beats me," I answered. Thank God we both agree.
|Self-portrait - Richard Hamilton|
"I've seen better graffiti than this in Genova," I told Mike. It's true, too. We saw graffiti on posters and signs all over the city, and the graffiti made more sense than this.
|Self-portrait - Richard Hamilton|
"You don't have paint," Mike informed me. I rolled my eyes.
"Duh," I said. "I'll use Photoshop. It's faster and cleaner, anyway."
"And what will you do with them after that?" Mike wanted to know.
"I'm going to put them on the blog and sell them as art," I told him.
He snorted at me.
|Self-portrait - Richard Hamilton|
|Self-portrait - Cutler|
Saturday, September 27, 2014
“...the habit of falling hardens the body, reaching
the ground, to in itself, is a relief.”
~ José Saramago
There is a moment just after you start to fall that you realize you have no control over what is going to happen next. At that point, all you can do is hope you land easily and don't break anything. If you're lucky, you end up with a few bruised body parts and, if anyone—especially a restaurant full of people— saw you, a bruised ego.
Let me start at the beginning.
"Maybe you can have the tartare," I told Mike. If you read the blog last year or if you are one of my friends that I have told 3000 times, you might remember that we went to a restaurant last year and Mike ordered "chianina cruda" without realizing it was steak tartare. He had to send it back.
"Actually, I was thinking of the pork," he said without acknowledging my joke about the steak. "What are you going to have?" I thought Mike might have the squid, but he's not into risotto, so he nixed that idea. Since he was going with the pork, I thought I might try the lamb or "lacquered" guinea hen.
"Not sure yet," i said as the waitress came by to give us a green beverage (top photo). Mike frowned. "It's a celery mojito," I told him. "Tripadvisor reviews give it high marks." I took a sip. "It's very good even though it's celery. Try it." Mike had a mojito once and hated it, and he was not too thrilled about a celery mojito. However, he was a good sport.
"It is good...tastes like celery," he commented. "I'm surprised you like it." I don't like celery, but the rum did something to it, so drink was good. "It could be the sugar on the rim," he added.
|Chocolate/rosemary, corn/chili, and white bread|
The waitress brought us a glass of cava (a sparkling Spanish wine) and three breads (above) that they make at the restaurant. They were a corn/chili, chocolate rosemary, and plain white breads. The chocolate was odd, but the other two were very good. She took our order for dinner. Mike ended up with the pork, and somehow I ended up ordering the bacon/veal hamburger without crispy onions or cheese.
"I thought you were going to have the lamb," Mike said after she left.
"I was, but she came over, and the next thing I knew, I ordered the burger." It couldn't have been the wine because I hadn't had any yet, so I have no idea why I ordered the burger. I guess I thought the combination of veal and pork would be good.
|Cheeses with hazelnut, almond cake, apricots and quince (not seen)|
When our food arrived, I thought mine (two photos down) looked great. Mike's (below) looked a little too purple for me, He stared at it a minute.
"Yours looks good," he said. He stuck his fork in the sauce of his. "This is almost like jelly." I didn't want to tell him, but it looked pretty disgusting to me. "I guess I'll see if I like this cabbage." He cut one of the cabbage rolls in half and ate it.
"Does it make you gag?" I asked. He doesn't like cabbage, or so he says. That country soup we had in Lucca was full of cabbage, and he loved it.
"Nah," he answered. "It's okay."
|Pork with cabbage rolls|
"They might have cooked it a bit more," I said. While I like most meats medium rare, this one was not enough medium for me.
|Veal/bacon burger with yucca|
Mike paid, and we talked to the owner for a few minutes. Mike stood up, and I started to slide out of the booth. In a split second, I realized that no part of me was touching the floor or the seat. Everything blurred, and I saw streaks of gold in front of my eyes. There was nothing I could do but gasp. I gasped.
|Amaretto and Passion fruit candies and Mike's finger|
"I'm okay. I'm okay," I assured them. I hurt like hell. "I'm fine." I was totally embarrassed.
"Do you want to sit down?" Mike asked me. Everyone was looking at me.
"No, I'm fine," I lied. The owner grabbed my elbow and offered me a seat. "No, really. I'm okay."
"Do you want a glass of wine?" he asked me. I shook my head. "Water?"
"No, thank you. Thank you. I'll be okay." I just wanted out of there.
|Moi in the booth just before the fall|
I'm still not quite sure what happened. I think when I went to get up, I didn't realize how close to the edge of the bankette my seat was. As I turned to slide out, I slid off of the leather seat and into thin air. Even though I didn't have far to go, it was a long fall down.
"Did you pick me up? Did the owner? Did I get up by myself?" I wanted to know as we headed home.
"I grabbed you, and you stood on your own," Mike said. "I tried to make sure you didn't fall again."
He can't take me anywhere, I tell you.
Friday, September 26, 2014
|Battló House (with the spire)|
” Allow me to state here how much I
love Barcelona , an admirable city, a
city full of life, intense, a port open
to the past and future ”
~ Le Corbusier
Mike's wanted to go back to Barcelona since we went there seven years ago. For our 30th anniversary, we took on a cruise that ended in Barcelona, and we just happened to be there for Feste de la Mercé. I had chosen that particular cruise because I'd majored in Spanish and, while I lived in Mexico for a summer semester, I had never gone to Spain. Mike really enjoyed Barcelona and the Mercé, and he wanted to experience it again.
When I was planning my summer in Bologna, Mike suggested that instead of coming to Italy, we go to Barcelona.
"You want to see Spain," he said to me.
"I *wanted* to see Spain," I replied. Long story short, we compromised. I went to Bologna, and then we went to Spain. It turned out to be less expensive for him to fly to Bologna first, so that's why he joined me in Italy before we went to Barcelona.
I thought I'd pass along five facts you might not know about Barcelona.
Gaudi, who also designed the renovation of the Batlló house (top photo), died after being hit by a street car.
2. After Spain colonized the Americas in the 17th century, they brought cocoa to Europe. Chocolate as a beverage was so important in most of Spain that Spaniards drank more of it than coffee. One popular breakfast item in Barcelona is churros with chocolate. While churros are not necessarily Spanish (Think 'Mexico.'), dipping them in molten chocolate is popular. Also popular is hot drinking chocolate which is nothing like hot chocolate in the states. Instead of milk flavored with chocolate powder, think of how a melted, dark chocolate bar would be.
"I don't get why people like foam," Mike says way too many times. "It doesn't taste like anything." I always roll my eyes because I'm a cappuccinolier (a sommelier of cappuccino).
"Actually," I always reply, "a good foam is flavorful."
"What does it taste like?" he finally asked me the other day.
"Warm whipped cream," I answered.
"I think they put something extra in your cappuccino," he replied.
|Sign in Catalan|
Three days before we arrived, people held a huge demonstration in Barcelona requesting a referendum on independence from Spain. It was so large that the US State Department sent us a notice that the demonstration was going to happen and that we should stay away if we were in town at that time. (Side note; I always register with the State Department when we go out of the country so that, in a crisis or emergency, they know we are somewhere.)
|Sardana, Catalan folk dance|
"How are you doing with the Spanish and Italian?" Mike asked me last week.
"How do I know?" I snipped. "With the Catalan thrown in, my head is constantly whirling."
If you're interested in seeing a Catalan folk dance, click here and here. The first is the Sardana (photo above). The second is the Bastoner, a dance done with sticks.
"Does this taste right to you?" Mike wanted to know.
"It tastes like brown water." I was glad it was hot, though since that morning was pretty cool. "I might be too used to Italian coffee now, though."
"In a way, maybe," he said, "but I don't think it tastes right."
|Just like home|
Imagine my surprise when I saw that Starbucks was serving AMERICAN pancakes (above). I walked over to the counter to see what they looked like (below).
"Their pancakes are probably worse than their coffee," I told Mike. "They look like toaster pancakes."
One Starbucks is located in a historic building in the Barri Gotic, the old Gothic district of the city. We went to that one two or three times, and Mike waved to passers-by. He finally got a few people to wave back.
"I think they were so annoyed they decided they had to wave back just to get me to stop," he said.
|That guy from Las Vegas is a friendly fellow.|
He is something else, I tell you. People are probably still talking.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
|Close-up of paella mixta|
" If I'm in Rome for only 48 hours,
I would consider it a sin against God
not to eat caccio e pepe, the most
uniquely Roman of pastas . . ."
~ Anthony Bourdain
"Where was that place I had paella when we were here before?" Mike asked me when we arrived in Barcelona last week.
"I have no idea," I replied. "I remember it was along Las Ramblas, and we sat on the second floor. Other than that, I don't know."
"Didn't you write it in your journal?" he wanted to know. It was eye roll time because I had written it in the journal seven years ago, but I didn't take it out and read it.
"Yes, and I don't remember."
"We'll have to ask for another good place to have paella," he said.
"We'll have to ask for another good place for *you* to have paella," I added. Paella, if you don't know, originated in Valencia, Spain, and is a rice dish that combines several types of seafoods and meats. Most people consider it the national dish of Spain, although most Spaniards consider it a regional dish. That doesn't stop restaurants in tourist areas from pushing it, and a lot of tourists have to try it since paella is a uniquely Spanish dish.
The owner greeted us and seated us in the window. I opened the menu.
Paella mixta. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . €12,95
(Mínimo 2 personas)
Paella mariscos . . . . . . . . . . . .€14,95
(Mínimo 2 personas)
I tried not to get sick immediately.
"What are you going to have?" Mike, who somehow always fails to notice the fine print, inquired. I let the question hang in the air a few seconds. He put his menu down and waited.
"I guess I'm having whatever you're having."
"Why?" he wanted to know. Since he was staring at me, I didn't roll my eyes, but I wanted to.
"The paella has a two-person minimum."
When the waiter came over, I asked if they could please put the meat on one side of the dish and the seafood on the other.
"No, it's all mixed together. No." I knew that, but I tried.
"We'll have the mixed paella, caprese salad (photo above), and sangría," I told him. The salad was very nice, although I did find that the tomatoes in Spain are not anywhere near as good as the tomatoes in Italy or the US. For some reason, they tend to be pinker and tougher. I could see that the owner made the sangría, mixing wine, juice, fruit, and brandy.
"This is a lot stronger than the sangría you make," Mike commented.
"That's because this is authentic," I said as I drained glass number one. "I make the wussy American version with wine, juice and no brandy."
"I like yours better," he said.
"Yeh, it's strong," I added. "I'm already seeing three of you." I was joking a little, but my eyesight was starting to get a little fuzzy.
It takes a good 30 minutes to make good paella, and about 40 minutes after we ordered, the owner proudly delivered the pan of paella (photos above).
"Don't touch the handles," he warned us. "They're very hot." I took another swig of sangría.
"Your sangría is very good," I told him as he walked away.
I have to be honest. I wasn't sure that there was meat in it. There were shrimp, clams, and mussels on top, and mixed in with the rice was something that maybe looked like chicken (which I might eat), or rabbit (which I would not eat), or some other type of fish (another no-can-do). I spooned out a little rice, one of the clams, and a piece of chicken-rabbit-fish-whatever-the-heck it was.
"You know how much I love you," I said to Mike. "I would not do this for just anyone." I took a small bite of the rice and tried not to gag. Rice absorbs flavor, and when there's so much seafood, it's going to overpower everything else.
|I have no idea what this was....don't *want* to know.|
I chewed the piece of the chicken-rabbit-fish-whatever-the-heck it was. The texture was not anything like chicken. "I don't think this is chicken. It might be rabbit or fish," I told Mike, drained the second glass of sangría, and refilled my glass.
"Are you sure they didn't give us seafood paella?" he wanted to know.
"I have no idea," I replied while swallowing more sangría. I picked all of the chicken-rabbit-fish-whatever-the-heck it was out of the rice and nibbled on the rice while drinking more sangría with each bite. "I'm trying."
"Do you want a shrimp?" Mike asked me. I shook my head. I do eat shrimp, but not when it still has its legs and whiskers. "Or, how about a mussel?"
I drained the glass. "God, no." I picked up the lemon quarter and squeezed it on the rice on my plate. "Well, that helps a bit," I said. By that time, I had no idea whether it was the lemon, the wine, or both, but I was able to finish the rice on my plate. "I'm sorry," I repeated. "I just cannot eat anymore of that."
|The empty seafood shells (Mike's)|
"I'm sorry you didn't like it," Mike apologized. "I thought maybe the rice would be okay."
"It's okay," I said. "I'm sorry I couldn't eat more of it." I finished another glass of wine, and put the empty pitcher on the table. I have no idea how many glasses of wine I had, but by the time the pitcher was empty, my head was spinning.
I picked fruit out of the pitcher and ate it.
"Trying to get rid of the taste?" Mike asked me.
"Trying to get more alcohol in my system." I started laughing and couldn't stop. We kept cracking jokes, and I kept thinking, "I have to remember that. I have to remember that." Alas, I didn't remember them. I had hard time walking to a gelateria, but I deserved a good amarena gelato after that dinner. I went to bed immediately when we got home, and my stomach protested all night while my head pounded and continued to run in circles.
|The empty sangría pitcher (Mine)|
I do not drink much, and I was worried about how all that wine would affect me. I didn't sleep much, but when I got up, I didn't have too much of a headache. Luckily, I was able to sleep a bit on the train ride from Barcelona to Madrid this morning. When we got to the flat, the owner was telling us about places to go and restaurants that have good food and wine.
"If you're interested in good paella," she started to say, and I stopped her.
"Nope. We're paella'd out," I said.
"Ok," she continued. "El Boqueron has good tapas. You can get them shrimp, clams, oysters, mussels, cod croquettes at a reasonable price."
Yeh, thanks for that info, but I think we'll be looking for something a little more turf-themed.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
“It seemed that I performed better
sober than drunk. Who knew?”
~ Craig Ferguson
It seems I write better sober than when drunk.
Of course, if you know me, you know that I have been drunk maybe....MAYBE.... three times in my life.
Tonight is one of them.
See that pitcher of sangria (above)?
See that almost-empty pitcher of sangria (below)?
There's a reason I drank most of it and a reason why this is about all I'll be writing in the blog tonight since I can barely see the keyboard.
Story at 11. No, wait. That was the news.
Story tomorrow when I can think, type, and see straight.
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
|Produce vendor at edge of Boqueria|
“I've long believed that good food, good eating,
is all about risk. . .food, for me, has always
been an adventure”
~ Anthony Bourdain
I like to say I'm a foodie, but I have to admit that I definitely am not a foodie. I am not willing to take a risk when it comes to food. I know what I like, what I don't like, and what makes me sick—literally and figuratively—if I eat it. For example, foods I iike include steak (medium rare), salad with oil and vinegar, asparagus, cherry pie, and pasta. I do not like well-done steak, salad with Thousand Island dressing, brussel sprouts, mince meat pie, and bulgur. Among the foods that make me sick are fish, onions, liver, garlic, bleu cheese, and anything else I deem gross (squid, octopus, mussels, tongue). Sorry. I just can't do it.
|Produce inside Boqueria|
|Mushrooms are not cheap|
|Catalan candy (nougat)|
|Fruit drinks are all the rage.|
"Oh my goodness," I exclaimed. "GAG."
"Oh, stop," Mike said. "It's fish." (below)
"It's disgusting," I insisted, "both to smell and to look at. I'm going over there." I pointed to an area where there were no fish. The smell was better, but I ended up in front of a meat case that had a cow tongue in it "Oh, dear God," I said.
|Fish of some sort screaming at me|
We walked down that aisle, and soon Mike was complaining about the smell.
"There must be olives near here," he said. Olives are one of the foods Mr. Adventure won't try.
"Right behind you." I pointed at them and went over to look (below). I love olives and would have bought some if they had been packaged. I wasn't wild about seeing little gnats hovering above them.
We walked down a couple of more aisles and found ourselves near hams and sausages (below). I love sausage and prosciutto, but I have to admit that I will be happy not to have a cured meat for some time after I get home. I've developed some sort of aversion to them because no matter where we go, we see ham. Barcelona even has a HAM MUSEUM. Close to the Boqueria, the Jamon Experience (Click that for more info.)costs 19 euros per adult. I'm not sure if you get to taste ham, but I'm not going to find out anytime soon.
Most of the ham vendors have, in addition to the honking big hams with hoofs still attached, sausages hanging in their booths.
"I'm glad I'm boycotting sausage right now," I told Mike, "although ever if I weren't we wouldn't be trying any of these things." (below). While I've seen black sausage before (I think it was blood sausage), I've never seen green or beige. Mike said nothing because he was turning green just looking at them.
"I wonder who buys all this stuff," I said as I snapped a photo of marzipan shaped like hamburgers, hot dogs, eggs, cheese, and more. Marzipan is one of those things I don't like.
"I have no idea," Mike answered, "but that lady is filling the empty spots, so someone must buy them. Do you want some chocolate?"
"No, thanks." I didn't want to hurt his feelings, but I wasn't about to deprive the little gnats of their dessert, either.
If you are interested in seeing a few videos of the Boqueria, here are links to a few I shot: