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Sunday, March 29, 2015

NOVA SCOTIA AND NEW BRUNSWICK - Lobsters and Lighthouses





I’ve wanted to return to Nova Scotia for years. The last time was so long ago about all I remembered of Halifax was the sign on the wrought iron gate at the entrance to the public park: “Beware the Cross Swan,” and marvelous lobster meals. After touring the city we had ventured down the rocky coast to Peggy’s Cove, the tiny town whose beauty was captured by the misty watercolors done by W. E. deGarthe. The lobster boats and traps and the lighthouse marking the entrance to the narrow harbor are a painters’ and photographers’ dream and a place I wanted to visit again.

This time around my husband had the time to tour the north island and the Bras d’Or Lake which takes up much of the interior. The lake, ideal for sailing in summer, was dull as the last of the fall leaves were falling and clouds were heavy. Fortunately, hospitality was still available in the form of restaurants offering the seafood bounty of the area.






We stopped at the small town of Baddeck to visit the Alexander Graham Bell museum. What a surprise! I didn’t know he and his wife, who was profoundly deaf,  had summer home nearby, or that the man who brought us the telephone was a prolific inventor of countless other devices: the respirator, audiometer, electric heaters, and the flat record. He was a pioneer in aviation, inventing ailerons and the three-wheeled undercarriage. He was also co-founder of the National Geographic Society with his son-in-law. Along with all his other activities he befriended Helen Keller. The museum is little known but worthy of a journey. His home and burial site are nearby but not open to the public unfortunately.



The lower part of the province provided more delights: a return to visit Peggy’s Cove.










and then continued on to the UNESCO World Heritage site, Luneburg, the home of the replica Bluenose II racing yacht and colorful buildings. And a lobster lunch!





The biggest attraction in New Brunswick is the tides in the Bay of Fundy, where the tide changes an astounding 50 feet between high and low water twice every day. We watched the outflow, amazed at the power and speed of the water. Seeking something more to human scale after, we idled in the Victorian-era market in the center of St. John. The fall produce was tempting, everything fresh and inexpensive. We tasted dulse, a dried seaweed snack and dietary supplement, interesting but an acquired taste, and bought jars of wild blueberry jam instead.






A cup of rich lobster chowder in a seaside restaurant in the tiny coastal settlement of St. Martin was our lunch. We walked off the meal on the beach, a benign scene in contrast to rushing tide earlier in the morning. The inter-tidal zone was littered with smooth rocks, many in a heart shape, whether from the action of wind and wave or from Cupid I don't know. But my husband picked one up for me as a small token of love. Now a sweet souvenir by my bedside.



Later, we returned to the city to watch the reverse surge of water filling the St. John River – the power of the water a reminder of how Nature rules our lives whether with heart shapes, fresh fall bounty or from the uncontrollable power of water.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

DOING THE CHARLESTON



Charleston, South Carolina is a delight. And Southern hospitality is everywhere.



We recently spent two days there – not nearly enough to sample all the offerings but enough to know we would like to return. Foodies, gardeners, history buffs, architecture vultures and culture mavens can all find plenty of attractions in lovely old city under the southern sun.



The food was a new experience – in the Pacific Northwest we don’t see a menu with gumbo, she-crab soup and red rice and deviled crab cakes, and we enjoyed every mouthful.




The city was founded in 1670 by English settlers but by 1708, the majority of the population were slaves. Their culture, often called Gullah, can be felt in the food with its emphasis on rice, and the music that was originated by dockworkers – and yes, it was called the Charleston. The Gershwins set Porgy and Bess in the city, and the beautiful sweet grass baskets are widely for sale. We paused to look at some of the intricate work outside the 1841 Market Hall filled with food and trinkets to tempt tourists.








The harbor is guarded by Fort Sumter set on an island. Now a historic site the memories of the Civil War loom large over parts of the town like the battery where the cannons that fired the first shot on April 12, 1861 remain. Signposts throughout the city remind strollers about the dramatic events that took place in the city. And the military is still a prominent influence with shaven-headed Citadel students marching on the school’s grounds and several military bases on the outskirts of the city.




But the city isn’t all about war. The old part of the city is filled with historic homes, gardens, pastel homes and wrought iron that have survived the Revolutionary War, earthquakes and hurricanes.



The sound of horses hooves clomping through the otherwise quiet streets make it easy to believe you have been transported back to ante-bellum times even though the carriages are hauling tourists.



Several of the historic homes are open for tours. We especially enjoyed the Nathaniel Russell House, a Federal style townhouse built in 1808.



The furniture is original . The music room with its many windows,  peach walls, lyre-backed chairs, harp, and blue couch is a place to dream of a past now long gone. But of course that past had another side, slavery kept the household running. Lest we all forget, there is a marvelous photo near the foot of the free-flying elliptical staircase. A household slave complete with white headscarf sits solemnly on a chair facing the camera. On her lap is a young white child dressed in lacy finery. I could no help thinking about their lives – what became of them and others who lived in the lovely old homes during and after the Civil War?



Could they have dreamed that the city would survive and thrive into the cultural mecca it is today? And could they have pictured jazz-age flappers dancing the Charleston in smoky speakeasys or jet planes being manufactured on a gigantic Boeing assembly line?



Photo of Josephine Baker courtesy of Wikipedia Commons. All other photos copyright Judith Works

Sunday, January 25, 2015

IN THE HEART OF ETRUSCAN COUNTRY






One of my favorite day trips from Rome is heading north into the dreamy scenery of Etruscan country, that area of northern Lazio and bits of Tuscany and Umbria where the Etruscans once roamed.



Our first stop one summer day was Vitorchiano a tiny town, set on a cliff between two ravines. It was originally a Roman fort and the inhabitants haven’t forgotten their history – they still regard themselves as Roman. We paused at a local market set up near a fountain to browse the irresistible selection of fruit. 



But our pleasure was tempered by an angel casting its shadow on the names of the dead from World War I, a typical melancholy reminder of Italy’s troubled past found in every town.



After passing through the ancient city walls we poked around in churches and shops, enjoying a gelato before heading down the steep and winding road toward Vetralla, our destination.




An odd sight confronted us by the side of the road as we zipped by: a statue in the style of those from Easter Island. If anyone can explain this mystery please let me know.

My friend in Vetralla, Mary Jane Cryan, is a long-time resident of the small city, and writer of the popular blog, Fifty Years in Italy (50yearsinitaly.blogspot.com). Vetralla has a curious history. Part of the Etruscan triangle of Tarquinia and Tuscania, some inhabitants still have Etruscan DNA, but it is also the only place in the world outside the UK that was under the “protection” of the English crown as proclaimed by Henry VIII in 1512, followed by a long association with the exiled Stuart monarchy in the 1770s. It is interesting to contemplate what would happen if Italy and the UK went to war. Would Margaret Thatcher have sent in the troops?



Ms. Cryan lives in an enormous apartment in one of the Renaissance palazzi fronting the ancient Roman road, the Via Cassia that runs down the middle of town. Vetralla is also set high on a cliff like Vitorchiano and most other towns in the area, and as typical, the back sides of most of the buildings loom over the rich farmland below. Her splendid apartment is filled with books and memorabilia, but it is the terrace, with its sweeping views, that makes the home a place of enchantment. 










While we sat in the sun the talk naturally turned to food. (Is there any conversation in Italy that doesn’t include food?) Mary Jane mentioned that a friend, Fulvio Ferri, had recently published a cookbook filled with family recipes. Unable to resist an addition to my Italian collection we came home with Olio e Ricordi in Cucina – loosely translated as Grandmother’s Recipes, along with a copy of Mary Jane’s latest book, Etruria, Travel, History and Itineraries in Central Italy. If you are interested in either book you can go to www.elegantetruria.com.

Although we don’t have olive oil from Vetralla in Seattle we tried out some of the recipes. We particularly liked the one for roast potatoes, Patate al Forno con Rosmarino o Finocchio, often found on Italian menus but not so often in cookbooks:

Here’s our take on the recipe which serves 4 - 6:

10 medium-size thin-skinned boiling potatoes
Sprigs of fresh rosemary (we didn't use fennel)
2-3 cloves of garlic
Salt & pepper to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 360 F or 180 C.
Peel potatoes and put in cold water so they don’t darken.
Place the mixture of oil, salt, pepper, finely-chopped rosemary and garlic in a bowl large enough to toss the potatoes.
Dry potatoes, cut into wedges one inch thick, coat with the mixture, and arrange in a single layer on non-stick baking pan.
Bake until just tender (varies from 30 minutes to an hour).
Crisp the potatoes for a few minutes by turning on the oven fan.

Serve hot. And plan another trip to Italy!

Copyrite Judith Works. All photos by author except for view of Vetralla by Mary Jane Cryan
  


Sunday, December 28, 2014

MILAN - CAPITAL OF STYLE



I’m one of those people who love Milan. It doesn’t have ancient ruins or hordes of tourists but it is the Italian capital of design, especially fashion. The last time we arrived at the central train station evidence of the creative zest was everywhere from the 1930-era mosaics near the tracks to the fashion stores filling the main concourse and upper levels.





A few subway stops away is the historic center dominated by the Gothic spires of the Duomo, or main cathedral. Begun in 1386, it was finally finished in 1809 on orders of Napoleon. 



We climbed up to the roof to take in the view of the distant Alps and marvel at the intricacies of design and construction of the building.




But when lunch time arrived our eyes moved from the statues topping the spires (and the sight of a woman helplessly watching her cell phone slide off the steep roof into the abyss) to what the people on the seventh-floor terrace of La Rinascente department store opposite were eating. Sacrificing ancient stones in favor of a caprese under a sun umbrella, we joined the other diners after passing by the chocolate shoes crafted in honor of upcoming Fashion Week. 




All the women looked like models or buyers for boutiques and all the men looked like stylists. Their talk was as animated as the swirls of smoke from elegantly held cigarettes wafting in the breeze.

We walked off lunch by strolling in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, a monument to the Milanese lifestyle built in 1877, They were filled with tempting fall outfits to wear when strolling along avenues lined with chestnut trees whose leaves were beginning to flaunt their own fall colors. The glass-domed mall with its intricate inlaid floors serves as Milan’s living room where sipping an espresso or Prosecco and watching the fashionistas gazing at the shop windows isn’t a bad way to while away an afternoon. 





But we wanted our afternoon coffee in the sun.We ventured onward to La Scala,the premier opera house in the world. The season would not begin until late fall but we enjoyed a coffee at the bar outside the entrance to the museum which celebrates the great Italian composers Verdi and Puccini and some of the divas (one from the 1800s with the delightful name of Giuditta Pasta even though Milan’s favorite starch is risotto). Actually, I love the name as it is Italian for Judith and what could be better than paired with my favorite food.

Next to us was a trio of well-tailored Milanese businessmen who seemed to have all the time in the world to drink their afternoon cappuccinos (normally considered a no-no in Italy) and gesture expressively in animated talk. While we watched them out of the corner of our eyes we reminisced about our night at the opera several years ago. The production of Rigoletto was superb – equal to the amount of the bribe we paid to get the tickets.

This time around we skipped the faded da Vinci fresco, The Last Supper, in favor of a tour of the The Museum of 1900s (Museo Del Novecento), and the Villa Necchi-Campiglio. Both buildings are in the Italian Modernist style of the 1930s - my favorite architectural style. 

The museum, a few steps from the Duomo, leads the visitor on a survey of Italian art from 1900 to the 1970s. The top floor contains a neon installation by Lucio Fontana that sets off a view to the Gothic Duomo, neatly putting a parenthesis around much of Milan’s history.








The Villa is set in the fashion district, a short distance away.



Built, built between 1932 and 1935, with its gardens, tennis court and swimming pool gives a taste of the rich life of a prominent industrialist. My favorite room is the Veranda with huge windows that slide open in the summer, inlaid marble floor, pale green S-shaped sofa, and a lapis-lazuli table set with blue Chinese vases. It was easy to visualize the former occupants reading or chatting with friends like the Kings of Italy and Spain who dropped by to visit.




  
But did I mention shopping? Did I mention shoes, chocolate or otherwise? Lest there be any doubt about Milan’s focus, our hotel room had maps and booklets stuffed with information about the hundreds of designers whose boutiques and showrooms line the area around Via Spiga and Via Montenapoleone, along with many other shopping districts. 





The section on expenses in my 1904 Baedeker’s Guide to Italy advises, “When ladies are of the party the expenses are generally greater.” One hundred ten years later nothing has changed.

All photos copyright Judith Works

Saturday, November 29, 2014

THE COLORS OF ROME



Rome is a city of pastel colors, mellowed by the ages.




The original brilliant white marble of the ancient Roman ruins is mostly weathered now.





Except for the monument to Vittorio Emmanuele II that shocks the eye with its dead white mass. So out of character with the rest of the city. It's often know as the wedding cake or typewriter.



Ancient wood has weathered to gray and the original brick is exposed.



The bronze doors of the Roman Curia (Senate) in the Forum have turned to verdigris green as have statues and the original doors now at the Basilica San Giovanni.



The old Roman brick retains warmth from millennia of sun.



The stucco facades of burnt sienna and terra rossa radiate warmth.





My favorite color is red. The Roman designer, Valentino, has his own flaming red signature color. The luscious color signifies the allure of fashion and temptation. And of course, we can't forget Ferrari Red. Pompeiian Red – that rich color so beloved by the ancient Romans to express the richness of life. It was made of cinnabar which contained mercury; now it is made from iron oxide. Infrequently seen on buildings, the ancient Romans loved it on frescoes.



The sky is a brilliant blue and the umbrella pines are a deep and dark green.



Vegetables are always bright and tasty.



Some of the small colors flaunt their colors too.



Medieval floors of marble and glass glitter in the shifting light.



And above all, the vivid Italian flag of red, white and green flutters.


All photos by the author except for the fresco painting which is from the website Ancient Rome and the photo of the sidewalk cafe, courtesy Krista Bjorn.