Montreal: Off the Beaten Track

How do you write about travel when you’re not traveling? We’re sequestered. Our wings are clipped. It’s a fallow period. But here are memories of some favorite places while we wait to continue our travels (we hope) later in 2021. Let’s go!

Oh Canada

It is July 1, Canada Day, and we’re basking in the grace and civility of this world-class city despite the surprising heatwave — it’s 95 degrees and climbing.

We walk the riverbank in Montreal’s Old Port stalking a cool river breeze and a whiff of the multifarious food trucks just getting started in the shimmering heat. Way too hot for poutine, we amble to patisserie Christian Faure for his legendary, mind-blowing croissants. Hubby wants to enroll in Faure’s pastry school. He is is quite serious.

As he earnestly contemplates becoming a baker, I fantasize about relocating. I look at Montreal the way a roosting bird eyes a vacant nest. This city had me at bonjour.

Biggest and Best

We’re here for five blissed-out days and nights of the the 11-day Montreal Jazz Festival whose all-star lineup includes Ry Cooder, Ani DiFranco, George Thorogood, Jethro Tull, and hundreds more, with 500 concerts at 13 venues and seven outdoor stages.

Soaring and Swinging

We join the sell-out crowd for jazz trumpeter Chris Botti whose take on When I Fall In Love is all heartache and longing. With a sound is as big as British Columbia and as luminous as the northern lights, he is flawless. The ovation soars three balconies. Have a listen to his version of Hallelujah, honoring Montreal’s own Leonard Cohen – exquisite.

We’re lucky enough to score tickets for world-class Montreal pianist Francois Bourassa and his amazing quartet – André Leroux, Guy Boisvert and Greg Ritchie. They energize old favorites and perform pieces from Bourassa’s current album, “Number 9.” Word on the street: c’est magnifique!

Boz Scaggs returns to the festival with his legendary hits. Smooth and soulful he croons “Lowdown” precisely as it was recorded in 1976, not a note out of place. He then delivers a clone of “Jojo.”  Hey, wait a minute — I love you, Boz, but this feels like karaoke.

Outdoors and Free

Multiple outdoor venues feature concerts all afternoon and evening, and morning music for kids.  We shimmy to the Royale Pickles klezmer-funk at Le Casino. We groove to Justin Saladino‘s deep blues at Scene Hyundai. We stroll to Scene TD for Elise LeGrow‘s sexy, soulful version of “Rescue Me” – she just gets better and better.

After Dark

Standouts include Scene TD and Spanish Harlem Orchestra‘s Nuyorican salsa. At Place Heineken we groove to folk-bluegrass of the Wood Shredders. Dwane Dixon rocks Scene Hyundai with an impassioned homage to Gregg Allman with Whipping Post. Check out his trademark drumwork with the neck of his guitar and left foot – intrepid.

Late Night

Take advantage of the late-night scene along Rue St. Catherine where bars and bistros are packed with fashion-forward hipsters. If this is your demographic and you drink like a pirate, the gritty St. Catherine scene is a must.

Sleep

Dormez bien at the Hotel Faubourg, a comfortable, centrally located hotel just steps from the Place des Arts and minutes from Old Montreal. Faubourg features family-friendly suites with minimally equipped kitchens. The generous free breakfast makes up for it. Arrive early unless you relish family-friendly chaos with your toast and maple butter.

La Chaleur

As temperatures soar, festival-goers of all ages chill in fountains, flooded pedestrian areas, and surprisingly effective mist machines. La chaleur wins a battle or two, but it does not win the war.

Gin Is In

We’re delighted to discover Hendrik’s Gin is a festival sponsor. Reveling in the herbaceous, restorative qualities of an outstanding botanical spirit helps us power through the heat. With thinly sliced English cucumber, the festival gin and tonic is truly a rescue remedy.

We elevate our gin preoccupation to a formal tasting. Cirka and Bishop & Bagg gins are herbaceous and clean. Local St-Laurent, crafted with seaweed from the St. Lawrence, is distilled in small batches. Le Midway introduces us to a game-changer from the Gaspé: Radoune, crafted with wild mushrooms and local juniper dried in sea salt. Mad-earthy.My advice: If you want to taste the juniper, go native, with just a hint of tonic. Watering possibilities include yummy Fentimans crafted with lemongrass and quinine bark.

Sip, Savor and Explore: Onsite

Bars and bistros provide respite from heat and blistering sun. Between musical magic, we sip, savor and explore Montreal’s world-class gustatory offerings, onsite and off, while enjoying a restorative hit of AC.

Onsite stalwart Cafe Nouveau Monde creates pizza with crème fraîche, caramelized onions, bacon and arugula. Beef carpaccio with mayonnaise (beware the Montreal obsession with mayo) and parmesan is cool and wonderful, as is Québecois mozzarella, heirloom tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic – savory, simple late-night fare.We meet friends at Blumenthal, a classic brasserie at the high end of onsite dining. Yummy kale César avec lardons et crevettes Nordiques sounds ooh-la-la in French, but hey, kale salad with bacon and fried shrimp is damn good in any language. Say “Oui!” to marinated olives and spiced nuts, admire the wine list, and never skip dessert.

Brasserie T!’s wall of windows is an excellent vantage point for people-and-festival watching. Sea snails are delicious under a generous cap of melted cheese. Chef Sterling’s duck rillette is fresh, delicious, locally sourced. His liver paté is earthy and rich. Montreal bistros still serve a little pot of butter with sliced baguette. I hope they never stop.

Sip, Savor and Explore: Street Fare

Even if you never leave the Place des Arts, you will not go hungry – there are plenty of informal onsite options for the discriminating omnivore. Here we meet fellow Mainers at Charlie’s Shack selling divine fried fish baskets and lobster rolls.

Bienvenue et merci to Charlie for bringing the lobster-love to Montreal!

Don’t miss the spectacularly messy and delicious tacos at Maria Bonita. Keep your onsite food-truck options open with Porc du Québec; Neos Souvlakeri; Smoking BBQ; Mikado; Mandy’s Salads; Queues de Castor; Jura Espace Café; Terrasse Fromage; and Da Lillo. Plus lovely mango flowers on a stick, ice cream, and hotdogs for kids of all ages.

Onsite Bar Scene

Montrealers are enthusiastic and unapologetic drinkers. You will quickly find yourself in the groove. Don’t miss the “cinq à sept” happy hour tradition.

Sip and savor the distinguished wine selection from Bar Univins. At Porto Cabral, discover a range of ports, summer cocktails with port, and a surprising port sangria.

Club Jazz Casino de Montreal is a relaxed venue with endless music and sipping options. Catch a cool breeze at Belon Oyster and savor a few chilled, briny bivalves. Bonne bouffe et bonne ambiance!

Or relax at informal, late-afternoon concerts at Place Heineken. Enjoy a cold beer and snack from an adjacent bistro or food truck. We spend a lot of time in this convivial spot.

Offsite: La Nouvelle

This year’s offsite dining revelation is FoodLab Culinaire, Montreal’s creative newcomer on Rue St. Laurent. Look for its tall, glass facade with pulsing multi-color LED lights.We join locals and students on the breezy roof deck. Foodlab’s menu is creative and accessible. This is no laboratory – it’s simple farm-to-table food, beautifully prepared.

Foodlab’s signature Elder [gin] Fizz is our favorite. Artfully composed of local St-Laurent gin, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon and rosemary, it’s a fizzy, aromatic masterpiece.

Offsite: Trendy Food Tourism

This year we indulge in Spade & Palacio‘s Beyond the Market tour, starting at Los Planes Salvadoran restaurant in the Plateau. We dive into chef Gladys’ famous papusas topped with cortido, fermented cabbage slaw. The dish is beautiful, savory and unexpected.An excursion to the nearby bounty of Jean Talon Market is a must. Seasonal berries, delicious gelato, and a green market stroll. One can’t do Montreal without Jean Talon. It’s worth playing hooky from the festival for all of this gorgeous, dewy bounty.

Spade & Palacio guide, Tom, conducts an ash-coated cheese tasting at Tomme du Maréchal, passes a a charcuterie tray in a back alley, conducts a gelato licking and spice-sniffing challenge. His OTBT market tour is gritty and fun, spontaneous and delicious.

Porchetta

We end our the tour with a beer at Harricana; iced coffee at Dispatch on Rue Zotique; and picnic in Parc Little Italie from newcomer Dinette Triple Crown – a trendy and tasty end to a sunny summer afternoon – a great, offbeat tour – highly recommended.

Essayé et Vrai

Every trip to Montreal includes a last stop at venerable Schwartz’s for a meat-centric Bacchanal of smoked meat, mustard Hebraique, rye bread and a pickles: The Ultimate.

In closing…

Stroll the up-and-coming Mile Ex neighborhood to uncover Montreal’s hidden gardens and alleyways. Here, residents create lovely green spaces, financed by the City of Montreal. The remarkable results are a verdant surprise — inspired and inspiring.

Montreal is urbanism at its thoughtful and creative best.

Check out the public pianos throughout the city.  At Place Heineken, a hipster in a flowered shirt rocks John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy,” with a spontaneous and passionate performance. He receives an equally spontaneous ovation. The venez jouer pianos underscore the city’s public commitment to musical expression.  It is somebody’s actual job to cover the pianos at night. Cool.

We don’t leave the Plateau without paying our respects to our two favorite murals – heroes Jackie Robinson and Leonard Cohen. These are among hundreds of murals commissioned throughout the city. The impressive, publicly funded Mural Project demonstrates Montreal’s deep and passionate commitment to the arts – indigenous, local, national and international.

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Top: Jackie Robinson behind Schwartz’s; and Leonard Cohen behind Moishe’s

A bit of Cansplaining

I applaud our Canadian neighbors for their multiculturalism and dedication to social justice. I respect them for their attention to climate change, and revere their abiding commitment to the arts. I admire their gift for festivals and celebration. Kudos to the esteemed guardian of Canada’s progressive destiny, Justin Trudeau, who personifies the triumph of integrity over cynicism in these challenging times.

trudeaucur

Au revoir to my favorite North American city.  Thank you for another wondrous adventure. Civility is not dead – it is alive and well in Canada. •

Posted in Art and Culture, East Coast Travel, Farm-to-Table, Festivals, Food and Wine, International, Jazz Festival, Montreal, Music, Off-the-beaten-track, Travel | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Vieques: Bohos in Paradise II

How do you write about travel when you’re not traveling? We’re sequestered. Our wings are clipped. Definitely a fallow period. Here are a few memories of our favorite places while we wait to continue our travels (we hope) later in 2021. Let’s go!

No wonder Hunter S. Thompson adored this place – this is gonzo living. Wild horses, dogs and roosters rule. Pelicans circle overhead. Fragrant street food is sold at rickety roadside stands. Hibiscus flowers grow to the size of dinner plates. A few lazy sea turtles paddle past as we arrive, which we consider a sure sign of welcome and good fortune.

Our first glimpse of the Caribbean is profound. The sea goes from greeny blue to bluey green with a solid line of deep turquoise at the horizon. The shallow tide laps gently at the shore leaving the beach soft and clean. Tiny sand-colored crabs wear their eyes on top of their heads like Ricky Martin wears his sunglasses.

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast, Vieques-style, starts in the airport parking lot with papaya-rum punch and a shot of chicau (pronounced chee-chow) whose anise flavor riffs on Sambuca with hints of bathtub gin. 

Our potent morning cocktails are as friendly and uncensored as Ricki, our server. Her partner, Lyman, stands behind the bar grinning like a fox. Ricki says Lyman honed his technique in St. Thomas or was it Paris or maybe San Francisco which we discuss in great depth with a lot of early morning vigor.

When we pile back into Bill’s white beater with cups of rum punch we’re ready to begin a fine day of sightseeing and tales of love, honor and tragedy from before any of us were married or even house-trained.

We keep the magic going at the farmer’s market where we sip, savor and explore. We grab colorful tropical blooms from Lali, the flower queen of Vieques, which brighten the boot of Bill’s island beater. She gives us prickly island soursop fruits for a special gonzo blender drink. The fruit is ugly – really kind of forbidding – but we’re already thinking about the rum.

Eat, drink, nap, repeat.

Today’s conch fritters are deep fried balls of chewy sea heaven with garlic aoli. “Lechon,” the island’s legendary slow-roasted pork, is tender and falling-off-the-bone. Succulent. We pick up our pre-ordered pork at 7:00 a.m. — a warm, weighty, foil-wrapped packet. It lives up to the pre-dawn hype, wow.

Salads here are sort of a bore, okay, but island fruit is wildly sweet and almost extraterrestrial-looking.We enjoy legendary rice and beans from Shaunaa’s, and avoid Puerto Rico’s ubiquitous “mofongo,” deep-fried yucca mash. We stalk delicious roadside ceviche, muy bien! and wash it all down with plenty of Medallo beer.

Art For Art’s Sake

Don’t miss Siddhia Hutchinson’s gallery — those are her roosters at the top. At Gallery Galleon, Pablo Neruda’s poems are reimagined by artist Richard Giglio in stunning poem-paintings. “May whatever breaks be reconstructed by the sea with the long labor of its tides.” The work is huge, unforgettable, glorious.

The Way Life Should Be

We visit Becki’s friend Min at her beautiful island home, and it starts to dawn on me that a person can have a pretty refined life in this eclectic tropical paradise.

We especially love Min’s pool with ironwork ceiling open like a basket to the sky. Her bed, painted with calla lilies and draped in mosquito netting, isn’t bad, either. If I ever decide to grow up, I vow to capture Min’s relaxed Boho vibe.

The Wild Isle

Bill’s natural curiosity and joie de vivre make him an outstanding tour guide. Our rambles include a crumbling sugar plantation with rusty cauldrons, antique brick and stonework, a jungle hike through lush trees with giant termite’s nests the size of Volkswagons, and best of all, a tangled woodland trek where we see a sensitive wild fern that curls like a ticklish child at the touch of a finger.

All this local color is followed by a posh lunch at the W Resort (Bill loves contrast), where I enjoy an outstanding octopus salad. The outdoor dining room is posh and breezy. Nice. It’s Dave’s birthday and our celebration includes many more Medallo and a game of beach bocce. Bill lets Dave win – it’s his birthday. The word “bromance” leaps to mind as I watch the two of them bobbing amiably in the turquoise surf.

A hairy coconut sits next to me and bit of teal fishnet sways, occasionally obscuring the view from my little “bohio” beach shack. I’m too lazy to push it out of the way.

Becki finds a spiky little sea urchin, and we feel like the 21st century chick version of Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday.

A Touch of Spice

The mysterious blender drink from Lali’s prickly soursop fruit is cool, milky and eponymously sour. Bill adds vanilla, cinnamon and of course, rum, which makes it vastly more interesting.

We sip and admire the graveyard across the street with its jumble of white monuments like sugar crosses in the sun. Beyond, it’s sparkling Caribbean blue all the way to San Juan. Ah.

With its vibrant views and a relaxed, hipster vibe, the wild-isle of Vieques is perhaps one of the best kept gonzo secrets of the Caribbean — a boho paradise.  •

Originally published in the Portland Daily Sun.

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Nevis: Bohos in the Wild Blue

How do you write about travel when you’re not traveling? We’re sequestered. Our wings are clipped — it’s a fallow period. Here is a warm memory of a favorite destination while we wait to resume our travels (we hope) later in 2021.  Let’s go!

Doorway Golden RockNew England is an endless white-out blizzard. My spectacularly aquatic friend, The Swimmer, calls and begs me to accompany her to the Island of Nevis in the West Indies. I look outside at the swirling drifts of Maine snow and do not hesitate. YES, I say, YES.

The Swimmer says GoodbyeWe land in the brilliant sun of St. Kitts and head for the water-taxi to Nevis. At Reggae Beach a sign reads, “Live de life, man.” We vow to try. A brave little boat ferries us across The Narrows in six wild minutes of whitecaps and spray. We anchor on Oalie Beach, pronounced “Wally” in Caribbean patois, and it’s utterly glorious.

CaribbeanThe sky changes from gray to blue to turquoise and back every few minutes — tropical special effects. On the occasionally hair-raising drive to our hotel we see sheep, goats and grayish brown monkeys with adorable black faces. Our driver says you can cuddle the little ones. Right.

Caribbean Mojo

Tower on MontpelierWay off the beaten track, Montpelier Plantation & Beach sits in a verdant tangle of  lush greenery. Contemporary furnishings lend a relaxed, boho-chic ambiance. An imposing round windmill in ancient speckled stone is a remnant Montpelier’s sugar-plantation history. The blades are long gone, but the tower remains, now used for romantic candlelit suppers. Nice.

Montpelier barI open the door to my secluded balcony, wonderfully private and shrouded in palm trees. The rustling green fronds make a lovely, papery sound in the steady warm wind. My first day in paradise.

My mind uncurls like a New England fern.  A rooster heralds my transformation.  The morning heat is still soft and moist, like baby’s breath. In an hour it will be intolerable.

There goes a tiny brown lizard, up the steps.

Houseplants gone wildRum Punch

Swimmer in rum punchI sip a welcome rum punch and get a hint of nutmeg. The Swimmer takes a sip or two and heads for the pool. She splashes like a Boston cod, breaking the glassy turquoise surface with long pale arms. I lounge in a chaise, poolside, and order a second rum punch. Everybody’s happy.

Ziggy the dog regards The Swimmer from a shady spot under a large leaf shaped like an elephant’s ear. Ziggy is part surfer and part golden retriever, an excellent combination. I enjoy his floppy blond company.

Under The Volcano

Secluded, dreamy beaches are dotted with pink-lined conch shells and stretches of soft sand. “From Montpelier beach,” says The Swimmer, “the view of St. Kitts is so perfect it looks like a painting.” She’s right, as always.

the-beach

Amid all this lush teal and turquoise, it’s easy to forget that at the center of the island lies a sleeping volcano, Nevis Peak. Variously described as a sombrero, a hat and a hill, I know a volcano when I see one. Especially when it cradles a thermal spring at its base. The “Bath” is enjoyed by natives and visitors alike.

Island Contrast

Contrast NevisHere in Nevis, travelers can get anywhere they need to go on foot, by car or island taxi. Check the price before getting in — island prices are fluid and can be confusing. We indulge in a three-hour tour with “Champ,” unofficial mayor, a.k.a. Alston Smithen. Champ knows everyone from Rastafarian farmers to fancy restaurateurs. His lilting West Indian accent almost takes our minds off the vertiginous sensation of “driving on the wrong side of the road,” which always takes a bit of getting used to. We hang on, in true gonzo style, and try to get our bearings.

Beach shacks NevisWe drive through tiny seaside towns past uniformed schoolchildren and a bright pink primary school under red trumpet vines. We begin to relax as we pass several closely shaved sheep supervised by a snowy egret. The graceful white birds love the company of donkeys, goats or sheep — nature’s sweetest odd couple.

a082dc08-a0a6-11e1-851f-00144feabdc0Champ takes us up the steep rise to Golden Rock, an exquisite 100-acre estate and inn. The Swimmer knows all about the owner, minimalist painter Brice Marden. The Swimmer points out the unfussy and glorious landscaping which took years and cost a fortune. Champ is impressed, “You know dem good, man,” he says, nodding at The Swimmer.

Golden Rock IIWe visit New River Plantation, a sugar operation closed in 1956. Part mausoleum and part sculpture garden, New River still harvests a little something now and then.

Gears at NesbitWe continue to Nisbet Plantation, a wildly beachy expanse that, like so much of the island, is freighted with history. Knowing how many people worked and died here teases my imagination to dark places. Visitors can help themselves to Nisbet’s sparkling expanse of sand and try to lose the remorse. Note: All beaches in Nevis are public.

Church wallOur tour continues to St. Thomas’s Anglican church, the oldest in the region, dating back to 1643.  Non-stop island contrast continues with a stop at the Four Seasons, the posh, safe and generic resort with 18 holes of golf and 196 rooms. The Swimmer says, “Four Seasons is on the beaten track.” Champ smiles.

Cucumber and Ginger Juices at ManzaConch and Cucumber

In the wilting midday heat we make our way to Manza’s organic farm for a taste of the extraordinary: cucumber juice, subtly sweet and astonishingly refreshing. Manza tends his vegetables and fruits by hand with simple old-fashioned nurturing — it’s a beautiful ‘ting.

Conch Fritters II

Surprise

Sunshine

Saving the tastiest treat for last, we stop at Sunshine’s Bar and Grill for the legendary Killer Bee Rum Punch and conch fritters, with Sunshine’s own hot sauce — “a dream lunch on the beach,” says The Swimmer.

A fierce, beer-drinking monkey sits under a sign saying, “Pet the monkey, $5.” The monkey is clearly depressed. We joke with the guys cleaning fresh conch out back, and try to forget the miserable little monkey.

Another day in paradise.

Cleaning the conchCelebrate the Senses

Breakfast is my favorite meal, and Montpelier does not disappoint. Coconut breakfast bread is dense, sweet and almond-flavored, and resort regulars go straight for it. We are served cappuccino con mosca, “with flies,” a few whole coffee beans on the foamed milk.

The morning landscape is lush and green, with stone arches framing a turquoise sky.  I think maybe I am dreaming but see a frog, which reminds me that I am not. I would not include a frog in a dream of paradise. But I would definitely include cappucino con mosca.

OrchidsWe indulge in a cooking class with French chef Ben Voisin and create a meal of green cucumber gazpacho, island-style seared red snapper, lemony jasmine rice and fruit salsa. Chef Ben is generous with his time and talent. Our lesson is followed by an exquisite poolside lunch. Hail to the chef!

Gazpacho poolside II

Coco Passion

Afternoon tea, gin-heavy bar menu, tennis and other fine English traditions are part of the upscale West Indies vibe. While Ziggy and I keep an eye on The Swimmer, I indulge in sweet-potato and plantain chips with guacamole, my kind of savory afternoon tea.

Afternoon Tea

Rum Punch IIIntrigued by the island’s ubiquitous Rum Punch, we study with Montpelier’s award-winning mixologists. We whack away at a fresh coconut and taste the warm juice. We make Javier’s “Under The Sea” with bright blue curacao and dark rum, delicious. Nik’s “Coco Passion” has Coco Lopez, fresh passion fruit juice with seeds, two kinds of rum, and lots of creativity. The Pina Colada with fresh pineapple and fragrant nutmeg is heaven. We never quite get to the Rum Punch recipe, but we no longer care.

Nikolas Mantas

Nikolas Mantas

Far Removed and Far Out

Botanical IIThe stiff tropical breeze is up and clouds rush past Nevis Peak as if scrubbing it. We wander down the road to Nevis Gardens, where orchids, vines, bromeliads, fragrant jasmine and gardenia flourish in formal restraint and informal chaos. Asian statues and fountains, a steamy greenhouse with bossy parrots, towering palms and cobalt sea views add to the heady green serenity.

Botanical 1

OvergrownReggae music, coconut groves and dreadlocks rule this wild blue Eden that lives on Island Time — there’s no rush in paradise. Nevis may be laid back, but it’s smart. The six-square-mile isle boasts a literacy rate of 98%, one of the highest in this hemisphere.

Nevis is far removed and far out, an unspoiled Boho paradise. Get there. •

Painting friend of Helen's

Posted in Caribbean travel, Food and Wine, International, Nevis, Off-the-beaten-track, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sicilian Valentine

How do you write about travel when you’re not traveling? We’re sequestered. Our wings are clipped. Definitely a fallow period. Here are a few memories of our favorite places until we continue our travels (we hope) later in 2021. Let’s go!

Tomatoes so sweet…

Luminous Ladies

Silky Chocolate

Gorgeous Grime

Soaring Spaces

Blooming Always

Slow Food

Jumbo Arancino
Psychedelic Sea Urchins

Amazing Artichokes

Pizza in Paradise

Elvis Love

Graffito Love

Mother Love

Morning Light

Cathedral

Evening BellsTorneremo Presto!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Posted in Art and Culture, Chocolate, Food and Wine, International, Italian Travel, Sicily, Travel | Tagged , | 3 Comments

“P” is for Paris

In this unsettled Time of Covid, I re-post this love letter to La Ville des Lumieres — the City of Light, Love and Art.

Peonies

Peonies ParisPompidou 

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Pâtisserie

Framboise pastry RêvePetits Bibelots

DSCN4703Piquenique

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Pouting a la moue

DSCN4518Ponctualité

Clock d'Orsay brightened MOREProtest!

Jossot poster

Pont des Arts @$#%&

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Prix Fixe

Prixe Fixe

Pernod

pernod

Picasso

dora maar y picasso

Petite Jolie

Ma Petite Jolie

Paul: Shake it Up Baby!

PAUL wine

MACCA ticket cropped III

Peace & love to the city of my dreams.

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Posted in Art and Culture, Food and Wine, French Travel, International, Paris, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Caccia di Blu!

Caccia di Blu!

How do you write about travel when you’re not traveling? We’re sequestered, our wings are clipped and we’re in “a fallow period.” Here are some of our favorite pieces while we wait to continue our travels (we hope) in 2021.  Let’s go!

terracotta rooftops

Italy’s terra-cotta landscape is rustic, golden, timeless. But tell me, do you sometimes miss the color blue?  Let’s go “caccia di blu!”

Blue espresso cups

We serve our espresso in blue, with a splash of modern stripes.

Pietro in blue close-up

Our alpaca-blend “Maggie” shawl warms WWII hero Vassano Pietro of Argegno.

Blue water pipes

New blue water pipes are ready for service and make a striking waterfront graphic, too.

This two-hue-blue scarf is courtesy of our friend Signore Franco – grazie Franco!

In Italy, blue tells you what to do, where you are, and which way to go.

Blue is serious, it is the color of INFORMAZIONE. Pay attention!

Blue leading nowhere

Sometimes the instructional blue gets lost and leads nowhere.

Blue parking signBut mostly it is telling you something you need to know.

Blue Halo ANNA

Blue is the color of St. Anna’s robe, and sometimes her eyes.

Blue halo Luke

Another lovely blue halo! Note the turquoise flourish on his wrist.

Lavazza II

Taste Lavazza Blue, one of Italy’s finest coffees. If you’re bored, count the spoons.

PANDA

A sturdy Fiat Panda comes in 50 shades of blue – we have rented them all.

Spot of blue

Sometimes an unexpected patch of blue just sneaks up on you.

Blue sky over lake

And if you’re lucky, blue is the color of the endless Italian sky each day. Ciao!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Originally posted on April 28, 2016 by Epicurious Travelers

Posted in Italian Travel | 3 Comments

Montreal Jazz 2020: Special Edition!

I’m delighted to announce that the 2020 Festival International de Jazz de Montréal is mounting a special digital edition — sorry for the short notice!

This special virtual edition kicks off at 6 p.m. ET this Saturday, June 27th, Canadian Multiculturalism Day, and runs through Tuesday, June 30, 2020.

In addition to livestream concerts by extraordinary Canadian artists there will be streaming archival concerts, including:
  • Montreal treasure Oscar Peterson with Oliver Jones, 2004
  • Jaco Pastorius concert, 1982
  • Sarah Vaughan, 1982
  • And the incomparable Miles Davis, 1985
Best of all, all concerts are free and can be viewed on the Festival’s Facebook Page. All will be available to watch again via the Festival’s social media platforms on Facebook, IGTV and YouTube.

Malika Tirolien

Saturday, June 27 starting at 6 p.m. EDT – Live from L’Astral!
  • Live performances from Malika Tirolien who recently picked up a Grammy for her collaboration with one of my favorite bands, Snarky Puppy (here is a fantastic funky PREVIEW — I love this jam!)
  • Followed by performances from Afro-Cuban pianist Rafael Zaldivar
  • Mali-born Juno nominee Djely Tapa
  • Soulful singer-songwriter Clerel
  • And Brazilian-born songbird Bïa
  • The iconic, legendary 2004 performance featuring Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones from the Festival archive
  • Wrapping up the first night is a virtual soirée with Pierre Kwenders for an after-party broadcast live from L’Astral.   

The great Oscar Peterson photographed by D.C. Langford 1944

Sunday, June 28 at starting 6 p.m. EDT – Live from L’Astral 
  • Live performances from guitarist Jordan Officer 
  • Followed by performances from Radio-Canada’s 2020-2021 winner of the Artiste Révélation prize, Mateo
  • Marianne Trudel Trio featuring Juno winner Morgan Moore and former Patrick Watson drummer Robbie Kuster
  • Indigenous performer and musicologist Jeremy Dutcher
  • And Charlotte Cardin, one of Quebec’s most celebrated musical forces

Jaco Pastorius © Ed Perlstein

  • To end the evening, groove to an electrifying 1982 performance by inimitable bass virtuoso Jaco Pastorius from the Festival archive. His signature style combined complex harmonies, funky grooves, plus lyrical and innovative harmonics. This iconic performer died tragically, much too young.
Monday, June 29 starting at 6 p.m. EDT – Live from L’Astral 
  • Live performances from funk and soul saviors Fredy V. & The Foundation
  • A set by Carl Mayotte (recently named Révélation Radio-Canada in jazz for 2020-2021)
  • Followed by performances from slide guitar master Jack Broadbent
  • And the pure fire of Inuk singer and Felix Award winner Elisapie
  • Plus a set from instrumental piano wiz Jean-Michel Blais
  • AND WOW! — An archival 1985 Festival performance by the one and only Miles Davis to end the evening on a very cool note.
Tuesday, June 30 starting at 6 p.m. EDT – Live from L’Astral 
  • Juno-nominated jazz trumpeter Jacques Kuba Séguin 
  • Ethiopian-born, Montreal-raised hip-hop artist Naya Ali
  • Former Uzeb bassman Alain Caron with his trio, featuring Uzeb stickman Paul Brochu and jazz pianist John Roney (I love these guys!)
  • Polaris Music prize-nominated singer-songwriter  Dominique  Fils-Aimé
  • Blues rock band The Barr Brothers 

The great Sarah Vaughan

  • And a special 1983 performance by the incredible Sarah Vaughan from the Festival archive wraps up this special digital edition of the Festival.

Check out the entire program at the link, above, and the event schedule, below.  I hope you’ll join me in enjoying this very special online edition of my all-time favorite music festival, Montreal Jazz. A bientot!

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My Montecatini

Montecatini Terme is a happy Tuscan mix of art, culture, and legendary spa scene.

Belle Époque is the graceful era between 1890 and 1914 when Montecatini developed its elegant spa-style. Art Nouveau bathhouses set in a verdant, landscaped parks offered thermal baths, massage and full-body mud treatments — fangotherapy.

Montecatini Terme 2

The Hall Of Water Springs

Celebrities like Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini flocked to Montecatini’s healthful waters, and like me, were soon captivated by the natural charms of this Tuscan treasure.

Giuseppe Verdi, portrait by Giuseppe Bordini

Giuseppe Verdi by Giuseppe Bordini

Theater Boy and I practice our far niente skills over lunch in high style at the grand Hotel Tettuccio whose old-fashioned, courtly service transports us back to a graceful era.

Silky gnocchi, crisp greens, a glass or two of wine and crusty bread — we do not rush our old-world experience. We savor our slow food at a stately and dignified pace.

Being something of an Italian chocolate scholar, I head to nearby Cioccolato e Company. I begin my research with an immodest trifecta of nut bark in three shades of delicious.

Followed by Mojito and Puccini bonbons, and a few swoon-worthy silky truffles.

Cucchiaini chocolateMontecatini

Twirling a dark chocolate spoon through hot cappuccino is a sweet recharge. I assemble a scholarly selection for David. I doubt they will survive until he arrives. Peccato!

Valeria approves the initial selection

Such a sweet way to fill an hour (or two) — highly recommended!

MoCA

I walk off my chocolate buzz at Montecatini Contemporary Art (MoCA), which occupies two floors of the historic town hall and houses an impressive collection. Best of all, it is free and open to the public.

Joan Mirò’s Woman Entangled in a Flight of Birds is one of MoCA’s best-known and most striking works. Locals say it expresses Miro’s frustration with the confinement of illness. I say it also expresses the joy of making a beautiful mess — note the freeform coffee stains.

Romeo Marchetti’s delizioso caricature illustrates the popularity of both Giuseppe Verdi and thermal baths in the early 1900s. Look closely and you will glimpse the reflected parade of celebrities visiting Montecatini throughout the last century.

MoCA’s current exhibition, Montecatini: Garden Spa of Europe, tells the story in painting, photography and graphic design (through April 2020).

Art. Design. History. Slow food. Silky chocolate. Montecatini Terme has it all. •

Next up … Montecatini Alto, Ferrara, Vicenza, a week in Padova and sunny seafood lunch in Venice.

 

Posted in Art and Culture, Food and Wine, International, Italian Travel, Off-the-beaten-track, Opera, Theater, Travel, Tuscany | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Three Boroughs, Three Olives, 33 Hours

These are perilous times, and my democracy grief is overpowering. No one is selling tickets for civility and truth, so I grab tickets to Medea at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

BAM’s contemporary production is harrowing and utterly relatable. Based on the bloody, catastrophic tale written 431 BC, modern Medea is brutal and raw — at times, difficult to watch. Set in a seamless white rectangle, the production has stunning visual impact.

We digest the muscular drama with a late-night meal at nearby Caffe e Vino, a classic bistro serving northern Italian fare. Standouts include savory polenta with veal, buttery sage pasta, and lemony Torta della Nonna — best I have had on either side of the Atlantic.

Time Travel

My rescue-remedy includes a space-age trip down memory lane at JFK’s TWA Hotel, a shrine to brilliant Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen.

Adding to the sensation of mid-century zoom is a vintage Lockheed Constellation plane just outside the lipstick-red “Connie” cocktail lounge. We enjoy a few Royal Ambassador Martinis, served with three olives and shiny TWA flight wings.

The soaring lobby of the former Terminal 5 has identical Saarinen and Hughes wings (for TWA founder Howard Hughes). Guest rooms have floor-to-ceiling views of working runways, astonishingly soundproof. Get a good night’s sleep and dream of the 1960s.

The inspired Saarinen drawing above confirms my deeply held belief that some of the world’s greatest design work can be found on cocktail napkins.

Art & Soul

No trip to New York is complete without a day at the Museum of Modern Art. Racketing back and forth from midtown to Queens is admittedly a schlep, but MoMA is an essential part of my self-designed therapeutic breakaway, and cheaper than a psychiatrist.

Basquiat’s tortured portrait, Glenn, reflects my dark mood on arrival.Van Gogh’s sweet postman, Joseph Roulin, begins to raise my spirits. “A good soul, so wise and so full of feeling and so trustful,” Vincent said.

Klimt’s circles calm my apocalyptic political dread, and his palette warms my heart.

Oh my! Beloved Matisse Dancers restore a bit of lightness, joy and whimsy.

Uh-oh. Madelon Vriesendorp’s Flagrant Délit reminds me why am am here in New York in the first place: Democracy is in peril — Lady Liberty is pissed.

It’s time to get back to work.

Tipping Point

My time-out has been both restorative and inspirational. I recommend a 36-Hour Art & Soul Getaway for anyone depressed, overwhelmed or defeated by the vertiginous, hope-or-hate tipping point at which we find ourselves. •

Coraggio! Next we return to Italy: Montecatini, Ferrara, Padova, Vicenza and a sunny Venetian afternoon.

 

Posted in Bobby Cannavalle, New York City, Off-the-beaten-track, Politics and Other Mistakes, Portland Maine, Retro-Travel, Theater | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Montecarlo

This jolly uphill street is in Montecarlo, a charming town nestled in the Tuscan Hills.

The quaint historical center is surrounded by small shops and maze of city walls. Once called “Vivinaia,” Montecarlo has nearly 20 wineries — an astonishing number for a small town of 4,500. This serene stop on the Via del Vino is a must for oenophiles.

Racimo de uvaMontecarlo’s vineyards are open for tastings by appointment. If you’re visiting in May, do not miss ViaVinaria, when lush vineyard cantinas open their doors for the weekend and welcome visitors to sip, savor and explore. Ci vediamo — we’ll see you there!

Butterfly and Boheme

Montecarlo is home to Teatro dei Rassicurati, a favorite haunt of Giacomo Puccini, composer of Madam Butterfly, La Boheme and Tosca. Theater Boy is drawn like a magnet to an afternoon of informal reverie and tour of the lovely historic space.

Dreamy

I bask in a golden corner of Tuscan sun sipping a glass of local vino rosso. When Theater Boy returns, we eat several bowls of savory chips and decide: This is the life.  •

Next: Montecatini, Ferrara, Padova, Venice…

 

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