Peaceful Parma

Giuseppe Garibaldi, farmer turned soldier, surveying the central piazza named for him.

Parma is a champion of sustainable development. With a vibrant pedestrian center, the city is alive with chatty students, swanning hipsters, buskers and a billion bikes. Cars keep their distance and compete for parking outside the centro — life the way it should be. What took us so long to get here?

Art & Soul

Rafaelo Sauzio’s portrait of Cardinal Alessandro, future Pope Paul III, 1509.

We roam the16th century Palazzo Pilotta. Wander its light-filled spaces and savor the collection in its national gallery and works by local painterly legends like Correggio and Parmegianino.

Gorgeous! Head of a Young African in marble and volcanic basalt. Stunning.

Don’t miss the pompous, portly busts of Ranuccio II Farnese by Bernini. Glory in his royal puffiness! Rejoice in his royal paunch!

Leggendo

Palazzo Pilotta includes a magnificent library. The Driver is impressed. “These book are real,” he says. And they are, hundreds and hundreds. Religious paintings and Farnese family portraits glow and dazzle.

CLOSE-UP: The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine
by Parma’s own Anniibale Carracci, c. 1585

On The Boards

Spectacular golden light — we’re wowed by the palazzo’s soaring Teatro Farnese. Yes, the theater is all wood, built in the 17th century. The space is magical.

Swoon at the sight of this elegant, exquisite DaVinci.

Fashion Forecast

In an attempt to remember why we’re here, we cruise the fashionable Borgo Tomassini, an eclectic alley with Parisian mojo. An installation of dozens of mirrors reflects the euros changing hands below.

“Babol” pink is everywhere, along with several shades of smeraldo green; tangerine, periwinkle and poppy.

Looks like 50 Shades of Happy for 2022 / 23. Can’t hurt.

Sustenance

Window shopping makes us hungry. We spot Cardinal Bar, lively and full of locals. The Tortelli Parmigiana is rich and unctuous, under a rough handful of famous formaggio. A loaded salumi plate is a savory knockout. With a lightly sparkling local red, life is delizioso here in Parma.

Hotel Villa Ducale, just outside the centro, is a great place to refresh, stock up on shampoo, and enjoy a dynamite breakfast. Bonus: Villa Ducale is surrounded by athletic fields. The Driver is ecstatic. He catches a spectacular roughneck rout — Italy vs. British women’s rugby. He is still glowing.

Sleep

We rest, recharge and hone our carpe diem skills in this lovely spot before heading to Como, the last stop on our 50-day odyssey.

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Post-Script: Love in Bloom

One of Parma’s most famous residents is composer Giuseppe Verdi. There are Verdi festivals, Verdi roads and bridges, and dozens of grand sculptures. In Parma, I chat with the old boy daily via magic telephone. We canoodle in secluded piazzas. We tell each other everything. Love is definitely in the air.

Giuseppe is dashing, devilishly handsome and technologically savvy. Scan the code and listen to his beautiful, sonorous voice.

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Life In The Clouds: Montecatini Alto

Beautiful Bird’s-Eye View

Montecatini Alto is a rewarding and vertiginous drive. It is petite and easy to explore. Our apartment is just a few steps from the main piazza. Landmarks include Torre dell’Orologio, Church of Carmine and Theatro di Risorti, now in delicate repair/reconstruction.

Relax in the centro. Explore the Torre, La Rocca, a cathedral or two. Wander narrow streets and rustic paths within the city walls, and, if you dare, on the steep hillsides that define Montecatini Alto.

The Driver loves exploring this tiny Tuscan treasure.

We experience full sun, a day of rain, and a small snow squall. Seriously. Just watching the weather is a total gas.

Sleep & Sustenance

Our apartment has great views and quirky fuses. You’d think I’d have learned by now not to run two “big” appliances at once. When the whole place goes dark, smiling neighbors finish cooking my chicken. Soon the system sorts itself, and so do we. We LOVE this place — truly madly deeply!

In a nearby café, surprise! A trio of bruschetta: white bean, velvety liver paté, and traditional fresh tomato. Followed by deeply earthly porcini pasta with wide yellow peppardelle — rustic and sexy. Then there is chinghiale, wild boar, ultimate Tuscan fare. Bitter green salads cleanse our ecstatic palates.

Art & Soul

Mimmo Rotella’s décollages at MoCA.

If you need a break from the altitude, descend the hill to charming MoCA Contemporary in Montecatini Terme. This first civic art gallery has works by distinguished Italian artists and many more, including a crazy-wonderful “Woman Entangled in a Flight of Birds” by Joan Mirò.

Art. Slow food. Walks. Views! Montecatini Alto has it all.

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Ah, Assisi

We are in Assisi, a lovely town. Saints, sun and solitude. Life is smooth.

I lock us out of our little apartment with the keys inside. So what. The landlord pops us back in with a credit card, that old trick. Unfussy and safe, Assisi is bathed in a golden glow.

“PACE” peace flags hang from town hall. Around every corner is a sign or symbol of support for Ukraine. An ancient drainpipe has been painted with small but vivid yellow and blue stripes.

Flowers bloom and babies howl. Life continues around us, incongruously beautiful.

Far Niente

Honing our far niente skills, as always, in Assisi’s central piazza. The Driver nurses his daily cappuccino. I have a Campari Spritz. The orange is the healthiest part of this Breakfast of Champions.

Art & Soul

Galleria d’Arte Perna, run by Alessandro Grimaldi, showcases the work of his brother, Paolo. His portraits of saints Francisco and Chiara radiate peace and simplicity — and are coming home with me.

From this spiritual high we head for Montecatini Alto, and an apartment that is literally in the clouds. •

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Abruzzo to Perugia

Pescara

With miles of beaches, Pescara has it all — fish, more fish, art and culture, and a lively coffee and bar scene. We know it is time to get back to work. We meet with a colleague who confirms this.

We find a favorite fish restaurant, Nausicaa, where we share a whole roasted orata with potatoes, and a decadent mound of linguine with clams. We trade plates back and forth as if we are invisible.

Art and Soul

IMAGO Museo is a must for contemporary art fans. The Art, Image And Truth exhibition features 73 artists whose most interesting works (to me) are images of women. An unforgettable Hall of Women II.

We’re fascinated by the painters of the Spanish Realidad, Hernandez, Mensa, Maya, Quetglas, and especially the work of José Ortega, to whom an entire hall of the exhibition is dedicated.

“Let’s Hurry Up!”

Joseph Bueys’ centenary is celebrated in the exhibition, “Defense of Nature. Let’s Hurry Up!” The photographs feel as contemporary as the environmental warnings he issued in the late 20th century.

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Farsighted and prescient, this is time travel of the finest kind. Greta Thunberg would love this exhibition.

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To liberate people is the goal of art, therefore,
for me art represents the Science of Freedom.”
Joseph Beuys

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Ciao Pescara, next up: Perugia!

Sunny rooftops of Pescara!

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Campagnia to Apulia

The Driver

Every important journey requires a few essentials. Simple wardrobe. Carefully chosen accessories. And a good driver. My driver is both skilled and reliable. He stops occasionally to smell the roses. And best of all, he is not too chatty. 

The second part of our journey is to the southeast coast of this beloved country. We say goodbye to Naples, and all things Diego Maradona (Campione del mondo!), and head to sunny Bari.

We pop into Avellino en route for a birthday toast to our Neapolitan son-in-law. The friarielli salsicce pizza is earthy, bitter, and worthy of him. With a glass or two of Nero di Troia, it is an ancestral treat.

Check the little creatures — somebody had a sense of humor.

Troia is a hybrid where ancient cathedrals sit alongside solar-paneled benches with public USB ports. Hundreds of windmills twirl lazily in the distance beneath stunning blue sky and snow-capped peaks.

Casa Lilliput is aptly named and highly recommended. Our apartment has views, decks, great bedding, well-equipped kitchen, and a tiny but molto efficient washing machine. Bravo!

We sip and savor Pugliese wines while watching the new Ben Affleck thriller — in Italian. For us, it doesn’t get much better.

We spend a lazy Sunday in nearby Foggia, enjoying full-on spring, with families strolling quiet streets, heading for Nonna’s Sunday pranzo under glorious cherry blossoms.

Bari

On Bari’s working waterfront we find notorious El Chiringuito, where we hang with fishermen and sketchy dudes on the docks, drinking €1 Peroni each morning. The Driver is in ne’er do well heaven.  

Bari’s working waterfront

We treat ourselves to Luxury Penthouse Seaview and its spectacular vistas. But we miss our bed in Troia and host, Tiziano. Lesson: Read the reviews. Do not be seduced by words like ‘luxury’ and ‘penthouse.’

Art & Soul

We daytrip to the National Gallery of Puglia in Bitonto, where I’m deeply moved by a painting of Mary Magdalene attributed to Artemisia Gentileschi. So moved, in fact, that I do not photograph her, preferring to keep this Mary for my mind’s eye alone.

The “Hall of Women,” seems to be a recurring theme in my travels, here. Stay tuned.

I pause at the sight of the “young cleric,” who bears an astonishing resemblance to The Driver, ages ago.

Grand Teatro Margherita presents a mind-blowing exhibition on plastics in the world’s oceans, amazing illustrations and graphics. Every citizen of the planet should see this exhibition — schoolkids first.

Oh my, I would love to hear Puccini at the grand Petruzzelli. Next time!

As always, all this art and soul makes us hungry. We binge on seafood through the alleys of Bari’s Murata district, and waterfront cafes. We continue our pesce marathon through Pescara, our last stop along the dazzling Adriatic.

Next up: Abruzzo to Umbria

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Travel in Troubled Times – Part One

Ah, Naples. A great place to get your bearings while watching your six. Semi-deserted, weather a bit cool. Dig the Neapolitan ghost town mojo. First things first: pizza.

Surprise — star pizza with delizioso treasure in each point.

We were here when we were barely 30, two somewhat charming but foolish kids with grandissimo ideas. We rode in on wild horses, or maybe a Vespa. The 1970s version of “going rogue.”

Delighted to revisit Napoli’s enormous and distinguished archaeological museum, within walking distance of our jolly digs at Art Street Hotel. We visit the treasures of Pompeii, and spend more than our allotted 10 minutes in the erotica room.

The lovely island of Ischia is our second destination. We take the massive ferry, like old times, and the Mediterranean views are stunning.

We check into B&B San Pietro as a cluster of senior citizens emerges from the Hotel Fernando across the street. I think, oh wow, grannies, how cute. Then I remember that I am one. Sobering. Not enough Falanghina in the world to turn back time.

Small bouquets of dried yellow flowers are free to all women today, in celebration of International Women’s Day. This year, they are wrapped in yellow-and-blue ribbons in solidarity with Ukraine. They adorn the bar as I look up from these pages. 

Sturdy iris and one brave daffodil bloom in the courtyard. La primavera buoys our spirits. We are extra-grateful to be here, feeling the warmth in our bones. Palm trees wave in the surly ocean wind, but stand strong. I note the aspirational resistance carefully.  

We are all Ukrainian this week. •

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Sunday, Sunday

I fly from Vermont to New York City in sleepy, pre-dawn country fog. Moo. Upon landing, I am wide-awake, delighted and ravenous.

We start the day at Zucker’s with bagels and smoked fish. A few capers. We see an impromptu comedy performance in the subway, but of course — I am with Theater Boy.

As is our habit, we head for the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMA) to binge on Calder and Matisse.

We drink in classic city views from side windows to cleanse the palate. Ah.

Rest and Recharge

Whoa. Times Square is still a wild and woolly place. I check into Hotel Edison, in the heart of it.

I’m charmed by hotel murals like Troupe du Jour, an homage to Broadway and vaudeville. I am also charmed by Edison’s cute bellman, woo-woo.

Sleep and Sustenance

Theater Boy and I share an evening meal at Morandi on Waverly Place, where we succumb to a succulent if incongruous trifecta of Carciofi alla Giudea, Pasta Cacio Pepe, and several Negroni.

Delizioso, tutti.

Monday at the Met

Ta-da! It’s opening night at the Metropolitan Opera — electric and historic.

Imagine! I’m here for Fire Shut Up In My Bones, the groundbreaking new opera by composer/jazz musician, Terence Blanchard, the company’s first work by a Black composer. Based on Charles Blow’s poignant memoir, Fire tells the story of a young man’s triumph over a difficult and disturbing past. Baritone Will Liverman is passionate, absolutely wonderful, as Charles.

Soaring duets, solos and ensembles blend jazz, blues, and operatic tradition. Soprano Latonia Moore as Charles’ mother, Billie, often steals the show. Angel Blue sings three characters —Destiny, Loneliness and Greta, and young Walter Russell III is Charles’ seven-year-old self, Char’es-Baby.

Here, step-dancing meets ballet and tragedy meets humor. Charles’ decision whether to exact revenge on his abuser or “leave it in the road” remains profoundly moving throughout.

Lincoln Center herself is a stunner, and it’s an honor to be among this dazzling and diverse crowd. I experience a glowing moment of surprise! sincere patriotism as we stand and sing the national anthem — all 3,000 of us — beneath the golden ceiling.

Final Curtain

I am sure the thunderous ovation could be felt all the way to Memphis.

Stunned, we head wa-a-ay up to the Empire Hotel lounge to digest what we have seen, with a grand bird’s eye view of the city at our feet. A gorgeous and deeply moving evening, beginning to end.

Thanks as always to Theater Boy — precious friend, traveling companion and lighting genius.

Not Quite Done

Good morning, Tuesday. I haul myself to the Upper West Side to visit lifelong friend, Stephen. We stroll historic Riverside Park for a few warm and drizzly hours. Only reconnect!

After our uplifting and soggy recharge, I head back to MoMA — because I am never quite finished.

Adam Pendleton’s Who Is Queen? blends stark graphic images, sound, music, text, photography and film — a dynamic floor-to-ceiling exploration of Blackness; a monumental collage in stark B&W.

With readings by poet Amiri Baraka, recordings by composer Hahn Rowe, a recording of a Black Lives Matter demonstration, plus fragments of music, this exhibition excites all the senses. Brilliant.

Pop of Color

My sister-friend Seeky and I close the afternoon with a bit of arty shopping. We buy a nifty fruit bowl for our sister Abby, and discuss grabbing matching bowls for ourselves. Red or blue? Ah, next time!

Gertrude says, “Go!”

I take a last, lingering look at my serious friend, Gertrude Stein. I hear her say, wisely, “Time to think about heading home.” Sadly, she is right. 

Clamiversary!

We say our messy goodbyes and celebrate Seeky’s anniversary at The Clam, a jolly West Village bistro celebrating seasonal fare — and of course the briny bivalve — in jazzy style.

We love the Clam’s warm rolls, famous clam dip, and grilled Branzino with golden raisins — a sensational Sicilian taste-memory. Their wine list is outstanding, and they make a mean martini.

I’ll be back to sip, savor and explore in time for next year’s Clamiversary. Count on it.

Cheers!

For Stevie my treasured friend
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Fifty Shades of Green

Ah, Vermont. Green hills, massive overhanging trees, and misty farms. Fields of pumpkins and solar panels. Winding roads — so many named Hollow! And perhaps more cows than people.

Foliage hasn’t quite peaked but there are pops of red among the endless green. Driving the heavily wooded Route 100 is a spooky maze of leafy limbs and branches that reach for the car as we pass.

David, class of ’72, enters the Norwich University Athletic Hall of Fame. Students in baseball caps, “Old Guard” in tidy golf shirts and khakis, and a billion fleece vests — it’s a dreamy retro-wonderland.

We stay in a former 1950s roadside motel, one of the hip ones, rescued from destruction by an enterprising family with groovy green ideas and farm flourishes. Pleasant and friendly, we enjoy it.

Sitting by the Mad River, warming our feet on an outdoor fire pit. A few logs smolder, a happy reminder of revels at the original Flatbread Pizza, nestled (of course) on a farm a couple of green hills away.

Fresh Farm Fare

We order the Punctuated Equilibrium, a family favorite, and it’s better than we remember. I guess farm and fire pit rival picnic table by the bay. Flatbread’s creative fare is as fresh, delicious and colorful as Vermont herself.

Small children dance in the firelight as adults watch, amused and protective, over glasses of wine. We meet a couple from Maine and their three tiny fairies. One visitor relaxes by the fire in sheepskin slippers. This is Vermont conviviality — gentle humor by firelight.

Original Flatbread Pizza at Lareau Farm on the Mad River in Waitsfield — don’t miss it!

Buxom and Brick

We visit a beautiful Round Barn in Waitsfield, and cruise the former Vt. State Hospital, a sprawling brick complex on lovely green space. Curvaceous, buxom buildings with Rubens’ contours seem to be a voluptuous Vermont fetish.

This peaceful scene (rhymes with green) is a bucolic prequel to my upcoming getaway to New York City. I fly from sleepy Burlington over trees and endless green hills. We’ll be back. •

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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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