Saveur et Savoir: Montreal Jazz 2018

Our stylish neighbors to the north give a spectacular party every year, and we are all invited. The last weekend in June and first week of July always brings us to the Montreal Jazz Festival. We love skipping the promiscuous display of red, white and blue at home and are ecstatic to be going rogue.

Queen's best friend

Get Festive

In the upscale province of Justin Trudeau, musical surprises abound. With over 500 concerts over 10 days, the festival is a world of jazz, blues, rock, reggae, world music, and electronica. On June 28, Seal, the man with the velvet voice, will start the festival on a soulful note. And yes, that’s George Thorogood and the Destroyers headlining July 1 with a roaring Rock Party that promises to be a festive smash.

Peace and Love

Imagine thousands of peaceful music fans in the heart of downtown Montreal on the Place des Festivals, closed to traffic. From intimate venues to enormous open-air events, the festival brings an unforgettable array of musical joie de vivre!

Along with finally learning the words to O Canada, I look forward to the following artists among the astonishing performers for 2018:

Banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck and the Flecktones; Betty Bonifassi with Ex Machina in a theatrical odyssey inspired by African-American slave songs from the ’30s; trumpet virtuoso Chris Botti; Dee Dee Bridgewater, Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and Tony-winning actress; François Bourassa, amazing jazz pianist from Quebec; Geoffroy, compelling new Montreal talent; straight-up jazz from the UK’s GoGo Penguin trio; Herbie Hancock, pianist, bandleader and composer who played with the Miles Davis Quintet—jazz royalty; the versatile Holly Cole whose repertoire includes jazz, show tunes, rock, and country; the amazing Leslie Odom Jr., fresh from his Tony Award winning performance in Hamilton, who will likely bring the house down. Have you heard his take on Autumn Leaves? Germany’s Max Richter whose haunting minimalist jazz compositions keep me awake at night; one of music’s premier talents, Ry Cooder, who began in the blues and just keeps moving forward; and Snarky Puppy, a Brooklyn-based fusion jam band combining jazz, rock and funk. And this just in: Ani Di Franco on July 4th!

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Free For All

There are also hundreds of free concerts. In 2017, personal highlights included Montreal’s own Betty Bonifassi singing the blues with guts and grace. Pokey LaFarge, riled up and better than ever, with Riot In The Streets and Something In The Water. And around midnight, Guy Belanger’s harmonica wails across the Place des Festivals, drawing me through the sea of people like a magnet — so accessible, and so free.

Sleep 

We dormez bien in the heart of Montreal at the Trylon Apartments on Rue Sainte-Famille. Our studio apartment on the 22nd floor has sweeping views of the city, and is a cozy place to call home after a day of world-class music and bright sun. We sit on the deck and count the stars. If it’s a particularly late night, we watch the sun come up over North America’s most stylish and convivial city.

Sustenance

Townie breakfast favorites include quirky La Crepe 2 Go on rue Bleury, a small space with big flavors. Our nearby boulangerie on Sherbrooke has beautiful breads, bagels, and croissants. Try a baguette, sliced — a Montreal courtesy.

Festival Fare

If you don’t want to stray from the Place des Festivals, there are a range of epicurean choices, high and low. We always enjoy Nyk’s, a charming and informal city classic with garage-style windows open to the street. We share a few messy skewers à la crevette with local brews — small or large, red or blonde. No serious decisions, here.

An upscale new addition to the Place des Festivals is city stalwart, Blumenthal. With plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, confident and creative cooking, plus crazy-good poutine and tartare de saumon, we do not have to be coaxed.

Lac Brome duck salad with fresh farm egg is locally sourced, unctuous and beautiful. We continue with pieuvre grillée, grilled octopus, with lentils and curry butter. Gorgeous! Each dish, down to the smallest garden pea, knocks our socks off.

We prolong the magic with a bright passion-fruit tart — two forks, please. The Lady Liberty torch of browned meringue adds irresistible 4th of July irony. The brasserie menu is French, accessible and delicieux — highly recommended. Reserve a table at Blumenthal and arrive hungry.

Art for Art’s Sake

We always amble down Sherbrooke to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The sprawling space, designed by Montreal’s own Moshe Safdie, is expansive and filled with light. This is Safdie at his most suave — another soaring space designed by one of the world’s most inspired and inspiring architects.

At this summer’s compelling exhibition, Mnemosyne, the present meets the past through art — old and new — a smart choice for our seemingly rudderless era.  Put on your free headset and go with the flow as Mnemosyne creates a dialogue between the antique and the avant garde through diverse artists, like …

Pieter Brueghel the Younger (above); Salvador Dalí; Sigmund Holbein; Claude Monet; Pieter van Roestraten; Jacques Sablet the Younger; Jean-Joseph Taillasson … and more.

The exhibition extends a colorful invitation to build bridges between contemporary art and art of the past. Curator Geneviève Goyer-Ouimette says, “It provides viewers of all ages a place of gathering, discussion, reflection and bursts of laughter!” Don’t miss it.

Street Food

As always, art makes us hungry. We cruise rue Crescent, one of Montreal’s great dining districts, for a meal at L’Academie which we remember from its early heyday as an informal BYO culinary school. We share a plate of moules frites in creamy leek and wine sauce. Yummy. Best of all, it’s still BYO. Bring your Musée de Beaux Arts ticket for 15% off!

Griffintown

Don’t miss our favorite Montreal neighborhood, Griffintown. Historically a working-class stronghold, this rapidly gentrifying hunk of Montreal still feels accessible, within reach.

We sun ourselves in sling chairs along the Lachine Canal as local families chatter in French. We doze, dreaming of Canadian citizenship. Look out, Justin Trudeau.

We visit Atwater Market for fresh veggies, local duck terrine, smoked meat, stinky cheese, ice wine, and local flowers. Atwater is bright, convivial and fresh as morning.

The convivial Burgundy Lion Pub has cold Sarah Cole cider and Burgundy Lion ale. Try the signature cod cakes with lemon aoli. Sit outside or in — the Lion rocks a pub lunch.

Finding Leonard

Last but not least, we pay our respects to Montreal’s favorite son, Leonard Cohen — beloved songwriter, world-weary poet and reluctant performer. We have our city map and Cohen’s biography to help us find the ultimate tribute to the late great one. We ask around. Locals insist that we look behind Moishes in the Plateau, Cohen’s old hangout.

Voila! This craggy and moving portrait towers over the grubby parking lot. There are dumpsters and graffiti, too, but I don’t think Leonard would mind.

Like a bird on the wire,
like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free.

Don’t miss the 39th edition of the Festival International de Jazz Montreal. Pay your respects to Leonard while enjoying a world-class array of magical jazz in all its forms. You will find the hospitality of our partying neighbors to the north unparalleled.

A bientot!

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Como Cool

We’re in the heart of downtown Como on via Dante, across from the imposing peaks that characterize the lake. We watch the changing light from our expansive, columned deck.Our apartment is a comfy version of Italian modern — upscale, sleek and bright. This is good in case we’re stuck inside for a couple of rainy weeks. Like right now.

Villa Dante is part of an ancient urban cluster of buildings in hues of salmon, apricot and saffron. The colors are warm but evening damp drapes the hills in a foggy stole of clouds.

We make sprawling, messy dinners followed by grappa, oranges and TV. I adore chef Alessandro Borghese, insouciant host of Cuochi d’Italia and 4 Ristoranti. Yum.We’re a block or two from the Duomo and close to the indoor public market, a bustling 1930s masterpiece of stucco and glass brick. I like the brutalist lettering, MERCATO.It is early spring, la primavera. Hopeful pansies and primrose bloom in the market, but it isn’t very warm despite their colorful efforts.I sit across from the Metropole Suisse in Piazza Cavour while hubby gets his yayas out striding around the lake. It is finally sunny, and we are almost done ruining our health with big meals, too much coffee, animal fat in all its forms and Vogue vacation smokes.

I write this hunched over a coffee next to an outdoor heater in full-on sun, an artificial arrangement that imitates the brilliance of summer — almost.

The Duomo is of course the major attraction — all roads lead to the cathedral. Since we’re here for several weeks, we admire her gorgeous proportions from several vantage points.

Look up: The Duomo is as imposing as ever.

From the side: Her curves are robust and massive as Anna Magnani.

Straight on: Lovely Mary is flanked by Como’s patron saints. I don’t see my favorites, Saint Liberata or Saint Faustina, but I know they’re here somewhere.

Best of all: The view from Loft Bar on the top floor of Coin department store. Sip champagne, admire the towers and terra cotta rooftops, and enjoy a bird’s eye view.

Como’s most famous citizen besides George Clooney was Alessandro Volta, electricity pioneer, whose Tempio museum and Scientia statues are ancient breaths of fresh air.

Modern pioneers work here, too. We admire the art of Fabrizio Musa and stalk him a little. His black & white “Novocomum,” above, is a striking graphic illusion.

Sightseeing makes me hungry. Two thumbs up for the Siciliano pizza from Locanda Barbarossa. Try the Diavolo with salad on top — red, white and green as the Italian flag!

And always save room for dessert — it’s not too sweet and it’s never too much.

For a last look, we drive the stunning 30 minutes to our customary retreat in Argegno. We bask in blue lakeside beauty until the weary sun slinks behind the hills.  It’s over.

Arrivederci, ciao, a presto!

 

 

 

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Election Day

Interesting to be here during a national election, as Italian populists and far-right reveal their mutual discontent with taxes, unemployment and immigration. David has been wearing his “Bernie” shirt which yesterday inspired a €3 discount on a liter of Artumes.

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Mediterranean Mother Lode

In Sicily I often wonder, “Where are the women?” Sometimes it seems they’re behind closed doors, as men stroll the streets in affectionate pairs and groups. At last, we find the mother lode of Sicilian women in Catania at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

There are women sitting.

Women standing.

Women floating.And women using cellphones.Women with big warm color and big eyes.

Chilling portraits of women without eyes.

There are allegorical women, blindfolded.

And relaxing images that are smooth and serene.This woman’s eyes are closed in rapture.And this poor woman’s eyes are closed in pain.My favorite is this painting of St. Agatha, the beautiful Patron Saint of Catania. This haunting image of Agatha with bleeding breasts explains a lot about Sicilian pastry.In Catania and throughout Sicily, delicious “cassatina” are made in the shape of a woman’s breast to honor Saint Agatha. They are not subtle but they are delicious.“Offend not the country of Agatha, for she is the avenger of any injustice.”Spectacular women!

When you are in Catania, do not miss the MuseoArteContemporaneaSicilia!

 

 

 

 

 

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Sicilian Chocolate: Savory and Supreme

Chocolate is a sublime experience. My brother-in-law Stevie has eaten chocolate all over the globe, and he will tell you, there is nothing like a superb piece of chocolate.

Here in Sicily, morning cappuccino is always served with little bite of chocolate nearby. In Avola, we are served these lovely valentines of chocolate with our caffé — ooh.

As an epicurious traveler, I’ve been drawn to Sicily for its romantic history, rumbly volcano, flinty wines and robust cuisine. Yet somehow, the wild isle’s chocolate has remained one of its best-kept secrets for me. Intrigued, I embark on my own chocolate tour — one deep, dark taste at a time.

I begin close to home here in Noto at Caffé Costanzo, a popular spot for coffee, cookies, pastry, or gelato, the best in town. My favorite Costanzo pairing is cioccolata and nocciolo or hazelnut. The flavors are soulmates and perfect for sharing — or not.

Don’t miss the powerful taste of Costanzo’s dark-chocolate arancia, dense and robust chocolate with bittersweet orange — wow!

A Bit of History

In the 1500s, Spanish rule introduced Sicilians to cacao and clever methods for rolling it smooth. The resulting xocoàtl paste was used to accent meats, grated over vegetables, or nibbled on its own as an aphrodisiac. Now, that I can understand.

Follow Your Nose

We follow the fragrance of chocolate to Modica, an hour’s drive through the Sicilian countryside. Here, generations still use rolling pins of lava stone — from Mt. Etna, of course — to refine and smooth the chocolate. The mix is chilled before adding sugar to keep the crystals from melting, producing chocolate with a signature crunch.

City of Chocolate

In Modica we find the Museum of Chocolate plus several charming chocolate cafés and boutiques. And as one of eight Sicilian Baroque towns in the beautiful Val di Noto, Modica has enough cathedrals, piazzas and cobblestone streets for non-chocoholics.

Baroque Cathedral of St. Peter in Modica with 12 apostles

Upon admission, the Museo offers each visitor a whole cocoa bean, dusty with cacao and maybe a little grubby. But surprise! the dry, deep proto-chocolate flavor is delicious.

While chewing your introductory bean, there are several sculptures in chocolate to see. Some are impressive; some are deconstructing — a risk with organics. There is a billboard-sized Marilyn Monroe, and a room-size chocolate relief map of Italy with helpful landmarks like the Coliseum and Leaning Tower of Pisa. Yes, much of it is pretty silly. But it’s fun and takes a mere 30 minutes for a reasonable fee of about €2.

Shop Chocolate

The first shop we visit is the Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, Modica’s earliest chocolatier. When Europe began to favor milk chocolate in the 1800s, the Bonajuto family continued making its signature dark chocolate, and are still going strong.We amble down Corso Umberto to Antica Dolceria Rizza, open since in 1930s. Their chocolates are flavored with exotic essences like fiery peperoncino, below, or citrus. We buy some for friends at home. Me, I doubt they’ll last that long.The venerable Caffe del’ Arte is famous for hot chocolate and classic Sicilian pastries like our favorite the venerable cannolo — with local pistachios, of course.Modica is as serious as Uncle Stevie about its beloved chocolate. Heck, when this part of Sicily was destroyed by the earthquake of 1693, the chocolate industry survived — a genuine chocolate miracle.

Celebrate Chocolate!

An annual festival called ChocoModica celebrates my two Sicilian loves: chocolate and Baroque architecture. Both are entirely yummy.

Old Family Recipe

And hey, if you can’t make it all the way to Sicily to sample the chocolate, here is a special Sicilian Chocolate Cake recipe from my friend, Daniela. It is delizioso, generous and feeds a lot of people — just like Daniela herself!

Sicilian Chocolate Cake

Ingredienti:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups flour
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 8 oz. yogurt plain or coconut
  • 6 T canola oil
  • 3 T cocoa powder
  • 1 t baking powder
  • pinch of salt

Mix sugar and eggs, then add all the other ingredients.  Put in 24 cm baking pan (Daniela uses a round fluted pan) for 45 minutes. Cool and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Like so many Sicilian desserts, it is not too sweet — it is just perfect!

Sei generoso, sei gentile e le tue torte sono superbe!

Grazie, Daniela! xo

 

Posted in Chocolate, Food and Wine, International, Italian Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Festa!

Here in Sicily, whatever the season and no matter where you are, there is a festival gearing up somewhere. Lucky for us, our little city of Noto is no exception.

Every town has a patron saint — Palermo has Santa Rosalia, Catania has Sant’Agata, and Noto has San Corrado. Each saint is celebrated with processions through the streets, special goodies and treats, and a day off.

Noto’s San Corrado renounced his worldly possessions to become a Franciscan monk. After a lengthy pilgrimage and performing many miracles, he retreated to a rustic grotto. On his death in 1351, Noto’s church bells began to chime and peal … on their own.

A silver urn with Corrado’s holy remains is carried through the city on the shoulders of bearers dressed in white. Four silver griffins, half eagle and half lion, support the urn. A band plays and the procession begins. We walk behind the carriers of the Cilii, tall candles topped with colorful tin shades painted with scenes of Corrado’s life.Everyone, young and old, marches in the parade. Some follow the procession barefoot. The celebration is moving, quite poignant. The level of devotion can be a little confusing — so many Corrados and Corradas. Here comes one now — Mayor Corrado Bonfanti, below, marching in the parade.Noto’s very fine marching band leads the procession. Noto’s gigantissimo fireworks display can be seen for miles — spectacularly noisy!  This festa is a magical day with enough grandeur and gravitas for anyone. We are honored to be here. •

Posted in Art and Culture, Festivals, Holiday Travel, International, Italian Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Magnifici Mosaici

In case you think all we do here is eat and drink, you are only half right. Here are images from a day among the astonishing mosaics in the Villa Romana del Casale, in the very small town of Piazza Armerina. My favorite is the Palestrite Room’s “Bikini Girls” who add uncanny perspective to our ongoing international infatuation with sport.

(Top: 4th century AD weight training; discus throwing; running. Bottom: Ceremony w/gold cloak handing crown and palm to girl with radial wheel; girl with victory palm and crown; and game of handball. The “double floor” reveals original mosaic, top-left.)Close-up of the lovely lady holding the wheel in “Bikini Girls.” See the tiny shapes and gradations of color that create the room-sized scenes — much artistic talent required.

Detail from one of the massive living rooms, a sprawling mural depicting gods and goddesses surrounded by birds, sea creatures and oddly amphibious animals.

In the Cubicle of Child Hunters, the panel depicts the animals chasing the boys!
The Grand Hall of the Great Hunt — 180 feet long — depicts all phases of hunting.

In the Hall of the Four Seasons you will meet these two sweet, swimmy fish.

The walkable columned portico has depictions of 162 animal heads, wild and domestic, surrounded by laurel crowns. I love this creature’s sassy, knowing expression.

And amore, of course, is everywhere!

Villa Romana del Casale is an elaborate palatial villa where extensive excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world. The site is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The villa and artwork date from the early 4th century AD. The mosaics are unique in their excellent state of preservation due to a landslide and floods that covered them for centuries.

 

Posted in Art and Culture, International, Italian Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, Sicily | Tagged | 2 Comments