Thursday, December 13, 2018

A WINTER WEEKEND GETAWAY



What to do when you’re in the mood for a change of scene but don’t want to fly or spend hours in the car? We decided a ferry ride and 40-mile drive north up the Kitsap Peninsula was far enough. Our first stop was the tiny company town of Port Gamble located on the very tip of the peninsula. The town was founded in 1853 by Pope and Talbot, the lumber company that owned vast swaths of timber in the area. The mill has long since closed but they still own the town of 900 residents. If you’re looking for life in the slow-lane you can lease one of the Victorian-style houses. It’s always fun to spend some time strolling on the main street, each home and business with a historical marker.




My favorite stop in the “shopping district” is a gorgeous yarn shop called The Artful Ewe (www.TheArtfulEwe.com) run by Heidi Dasher.



Fortified with coffee and hot chocolate after our strenuous 20-mile trip, we headed to our destination: Port Townsend. Now a quiet town filled with Victorian mansions, art galleries, and wooden boats, and retirees, it has a wild history. Home to several native American tribes, it was “discovered” in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver and founded as a city in 1851. By the 1880s it was the second-busiest seaport on the American West Coast and famed for corruption where custom’s officials were bribed to allow the import of untaxed opium. The main street was lined with hotels that were frequently brothels, men were shanghaied, bars were booming. Those that profited lived in grand houses on the bluff overlooking Sodom and Gomorrah below. Everyone was sure that the town would become the terminus for the trans-continental railroad. (It didn’t). In 1898 a large fort was built at the entrance to Puget Sound. The guns were removed in WWI and shipped to Europe although the fort was used for military training until 1953. The complex has been turned into a year-round location for meetings and festivals, walks on the beach, and opportunities to stay in the old officers’ quarters.



After the War, the town fell into irrelevance only to be revived by hippies arriving from California in the 1970s. Now it’s one of Northwesterners’ favorite weekend locations with the old “hotels” converted to real hotels, and many of the Victorian gingerbread mansions on the bluff revitalized as B&Bs.



The brooding city hall:


And numerous churches:



After checking in to our favorite hostelry, The Ravenscroft Inn (www.ravenscroftinn.com) and admiring the deer in their garden, we headed out for serious shopping and eating.








The first stop, as always, were the bookstores. Our two “can’t misses” are Insatiables, old-fashioned with crammed shelves,


and the larger and airy, William James. Both are filled with bargains and treasures. The main streets are lined with other shops filled with non-literary temptations: wine, cooking, clothing, art and craft galleries, restaurants, cafes, and an Art Deco movie theatre.

A shop called Bubble N Squeak (after the British dessert) lured me to browse antiques from the UK personally selected by the proprietor, Dawn Mohrbacher. Since it was early December, there were boxes of Scottish shortbread, plum puddings, and other traditional fare. (A hangover from Downton Abby someone said.) I didn’t resist the pudding and of course Christmas crackers with their prizes and silly hats. One table was loaded with green-glazed salad/dessert plates dated from about 1870 that were just the thing to highlight the pudding. Another shopping bag filled.



We enjoyed lunch at Taps where patrons are served in the old Fort Worden guard house. Fortunately, a fireplace and fully-stocked bar are part of the restaurant – amenities probably not available for earlier occupants.  The razor clam and andouille chowder and Dungeness crab cakes were worth a stay in jail. We returned to the fort area for dinner at Reveille (is where breakfast is served to groups). Sorry to say it was lacking in ambience and very expensive.





The next day began with a short walk to the local farmer’s market. It was still going strong in December with a large selection of locally-grown vegetables and all the other items usually associated with a market; in this case, including the proverbial aging hippies, one of whom was trying to (unsuccessfully) to jump rope in her rubber boots. Nearby is the marvelous Pane d’Amore bakery where we succumbed to brownies and other treats. 





We parked our vegetables (carrots, beets, and rucola) in the car trunk and headed back to town to browse galleries and antique shops (some more formal than others).



 Later, we bought a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and headed to our room to prop up our tired feet in front of the fireplace with a glass and a book – a perfect afternoon.



Dinner was at the always excellent Fountain Café. Fortunately, they had paella on the menu.




My idea of food for the gods.



We woke to a glorious sunrise. It was time to head home with our vegetables, shopping bags, and relaxed attitudes. The ferry soon arrived and we slid past lazy cormorants resting on the Kingston dock pilings, no doubt waiting for a meal to swim by as we tried to decide how soon we’d return to Port Townsend.
  

 
All photos copyright Judith Works

Monday, November 5, 2018

THE ROAD TO DENALI







About the only activity in the port of Seward beside off-loading luggage was that of a nearby whale disporting in the quiet sun-lit waters of Resurrection Bay. The little town, first settled in 1793 by Russian fur traders, is named for Lincoln’s Secretary of the Interior who bought Alaska from the cash-starved Russians in 1867. The port was linked to the interior by the Alaska railroad in 1903. A few years later, news of a gold strike in the interior spread to the lower 48. In 1908, surveyors rushed to map out a trail called the Seward to Nome Trail, or more familiarly The Iditarod, based on a network of existing native trails and ten thousand dreamers rushed to Seward to begin their arduous trek to the far north by dogsled. Other planned settlers never arrived after some government official came up with the idea that the town should be the site of a Jewish settlement in 1939. The plan was never implemented. World War II brought activity, and now the town is an important terminus for the cruise ships that dock there May through September. We were one of those many passengers taking a family vacation and wanting to see more of the state.



We piled on a tour bus with others from the cruise and drove along Turnagain Arm, named by the infamous Captain Bligh during Cook’s last voyage. The Arm, which goes nowhere – hence the name – has the second highest tidal movement in North America, a plus for surfers although the 1964 tsunami rushed up the Arm destroying Seward and other towns including quirky Girdwood. That town was rebuilt in a different location and looked to me like it should be the setting of a TV show like Twin Peaks. Just above the town is the Alyeska Resort, home of great skiing in winter and many summer activities, where we were to spend the afternoon and night. With twenty hours of daylight I reveled in the hotel gardens. I was leery of  hiking on the many trails because it was early June, the season when bears are emerging after their long winter doze. Signs were everywhere warning visitors to be careful. We stuck together along a trail, trying to make enough noise including shaking the silly jingle bells we were given to warn the hungry animals off.











Off again in the morning we began a long day with a brief stop in Anchorage. Someone remarked that it hadn’t changed in the 30 years since she’d last been there. Indeed, it didn’t look any different than when we were there ten years ago. It was remarkable that there appeared to be no construction cranes in comparison to Seattle. Declining oil revenues have apparently brought development to a halt.

One location has changed however: the international airport has become a major hub for cargo from/to Asia. Rows of UPS, FedEx, and other cargo carriers were lined up on the tarmac or waiting to take off. Nearby, we stopped to watch the float planes, Alaska’s preferred method to reach the outback, take off and splash down from the busiest such airport in the world.



We turned north up Highway 3, the route to Fairbanks and eventually the Prudhoe Bay oil field passing Wasilla (where you cannot see Russia despite a certain politician’s claim) and Willow which hosts the official start of the Iditarod race the first Sunday in March after festivities in Anchorage.
A complicated arrangement of fencing lined both sides of the double-lane highway. The objective was to keep moose off the road but it had limited success since over 300 had been killed in collisions with cars and trucks in six months. We didn’t see any alive or dead and began to think our land-based wildlife adventure might be a bust after the wonders of the maritime part of the journey.
However, the next stop was a wildlife center centering around a tourist shop. Nothing much was in view except a couple of musk ox in a small enclosure. These curious creatures, natives of the far north, are famous for standing in a circle, young protected inside as the adults face outward with horned heads lowered against predators. We watched one trying to rub off the long winter fur against a car-wash brush; not exactly nature in the raw. The downy inner coat, called qiviut, is knitted by native women into extremely expensive beautiful hats and scarves.





We eventually turned off the main road into the wilderness to visit a sled dog kennel for a demonstration and box lunch. The dogs surprised me because they were of no particular breed in contrast to the ones we saw in Siberia who looked exactly like the UW mascot. (The puppy was adorable though). The dogs' appearance made no difference to their desires. Like those we’d seen in Russia, they were crazy to run when the owner came out with harnesses in this case to be hitched to an ATV since there was no snow. The dogs, each chained to a dog house jumped straight up, barking furiously as if to say, “take me, me, me!” We watched them go off at a run for a few turns around a dirt track trying to envision the annual race, an 1,150-mile mid-winter race through ice-covered and snow-bound tundra and spruce forests. The Iditarod commemorates the desperate rush to bring diphtheria serum to Nome to combat an outbreak in 1925, and is now a highly competitive test for musher and dogs and a great tourist attraction. We watched a film, the theme being the great bonding of man and dog working together but oddly to me, it seemed rather defensive given challenges from animal rights activists. And I can’t help wondering what will happen as the snow diminishes because of climate change.








The next stop was the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial with a sculpture at the entrance honoring the 6000 Alaska Territorial Guards made up of native tribes, who were active during World War II. They served as lookouts for further Japanese incursions and otherwise aided the war effort after the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands, thousands of miles northwest of the monument. The statue is set in front of a series of tall slabs, one for each branch of the military. The invasion is a little-known aspect of World War II where 1,000 US troops lost their lives along with all of the 2,000 Japanese invaders (the last by suicide). A dreadful byproduct of the invasion was the evacuation of Native Aleuts from the dry and treeless islands to the rain forest on an island near Sitka, resulting in tuberculosis and deaths. This stop was a somber way to embark on the last leg of the long bus ride.







We arrived at our hotel desperate to rest our weary bottoms which had been planted in the bus for eleven hours. The accommodations at The Grand Denali weren’t especially grand but the scenery was. The food was excellent as was the interior décor in the main lodge where enigmatic Yupik masks were displayed.






The following day was filled with sightings of grizzly bears, Dall sheep, caribou, and golden eagles. Exactly what we had hoped for except no moose even though a worried-looking park ranger warned walkers to look out for an aggressive female seen in the area. Where were they?  Denali wasn’t in sight either.



All ended well as travel should when we returned to Anchorage on the Alaska Railroad. Moose in abundance and the enormous cloud-wreathed mountain shining in the sun after all.


 
All photos except first and last (Resurrection Bay and Mt. Denali) copyright Judith Works
Resurrection Bay and Mt. Denali photos copyright Kathryn Schipper

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A TUSCAN HILL TOWN – CORTONA



My husband and I piled into our friend’s snappy red Alfa-Romeo for the short drive to Cortona. The town is at the top of my list of places in Italy to spend a day, a weekend, or forever. No matter how many times I visit I always want to return to enjoy the lovely ambience. This time it was a sunny late October day. It was early when we left, wispy bits of ground fog hung on low-lying fields and the distant hills were blue-gray. We wound through silvery-leaved olive groves interspersed with cypress trees and an occasional church as we ascended the steep hill leading to the town center.



Harvesters were spreading nets to capture the fruit knocked from the trees by a device on a long pole that shakes the branches. A tractor with a trailer was parked nearby to move the bounty to the frantoio and begin the pressing process where the olives become green-gold liquid.



When we passed an old monastery on a side road I thought back to the time we stayed there long ago: Spartan rooms, two tortoises fighting in the garden (we turned the loser right side up), fabulous view of the countryside and fireflies winking in the soft darkness below our room window. Unfortunately, there was also an air force of vampire mosquitoes feasting on our blood that night courtesy of the unscreened windows. That first weekend in Cortona was memorable for another reason: fungi porcini. Friends each ordered a single mushroom for dinner. I thought they were fasting until the meal was served: the porcini, redolent of the forest, nearly covered the dinner plate. I tried a taste. It was as rich as a steak from the prized Valdichiana cattle that grazed on the plain below the town. Forever more I’ll associate Cortona with those mushrooms.

By the time we reached the main parking lot near the city gardens on the recent one-day visit, the sun was brilliant and the park was full of grannies and children and the inevitable clusters of old men chatting amiably, no doubt about the latest cycle race or soccer game. In the winter the men reminded me of cats moving with the sun; but this was a warm day and the shade of the lime trees was already welcome.

After an espresso and flaky cream-filled cornetto we began to stroll along the main street, Via Nazionale – the only level street in the town.



The street is lined with medieval palazzi, narrow and steep lanes leading both up and down the hill, stylish craft shops, art galleries, bars, and a startling shoe store. We paused, gaping at the men’s selection. I asked my husband if he wanted a pair. When he shuddered at the thought of such a daring fashion move, we walked on to the two main piazzas, linked by a narrow walkway.



The first, Piazza della Repubblica, is the site of the town hall, built before 1240. It is a massive stone palazzo with a wide staircase, old clock, and a bell tower, all emphasizing the importance of the town as an agricultural center in the Middle Ages. On the opposite side of the piazza where tourists sipped a morning cappuccino and rested their feet while locals with shopping bags over their arms chatted with friends, is another medieval palazzo graced by a loggia where a favorite restaurant, La Loggetta, is located. But lunch would have to wait.

Piazza Luca Signorelli, named for the Renaissance painter and native son, is the larger of the two piazzas. And, happily, it was market day.



It didn’t take a moment to dive in to enjoy the experience: glistening fresh fruit and vegetables, shoes, aprons and household goods, salamis and other cured meats. After picking out some of the sweet green grapes that ripen late fall we stopped at the cheese truck. The aroma made my mouth water for a taste of pecorino di Pienza, semi-stagionato. The cheese made from sheep’s milk is aged about 3 months and goes nicely with a glass of Chianti. The Roman army dined on it and it’s never lost popularity, especially with me. We bought a half of a round for snacks when we returned to our friend’s home.






It was time for culture: There are endless temptations but we confined ourselves to our two favorites: the Etruscan Museum, and the Church of the Jesu.

The Etruscans were actually late-comers to the area, the first known inhabitants were likely Umbrians. They were replaced by the Etruscans in around the Eighth Century BC, only to be vanquished themselves by Romans in 90 BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire the town seems to have vanished from history until the Middle Ages, when it began to rise again as a trading center. St. Francis had a convent built in nearby hills in the 1200’s adding to the town’s importance. Intellectuals of the 19th Century established the Etruscan Museum that contains a large collection of objects including bronzes. The most famous is a large hanging lamp, that on close inspection would definitely receive a X-rating in today’s world.



Church of the Jesu, now a museum, holds a lovely collection of Renaissance paintings including the sumptuous Annunciation by Fra Angelico as well as several by Signorelli. The Annunciation is a study in pink and gold with the Archangel Gabriele dominating nearly two-thirds of the picture. Golden-haired Mary wears a dark blue robe over a red dress and recedes into the background as the angel with his huge red and gold wings raised as if on the verge of returning to Heaven, points to her with his right hand and with the left issues the tidings. Mary’s response is also in gold letters.

Wikipedia has an interesting commentary on the golden words: “The words of the angel are written on two lines, reading from left to right. [Mary's words] are between those two lines. If we look attentively we see that her words are written upside-down. But that is not all. Mary's reply is also written backwards. As a consequence, [an earthly viewer has to stand upside-down,] reading from right to left, to discover what she is saying. This indicates to the viewer that the words are addressed to God, who would be in the proper position to read them.”



My attention always focuses on the angel’s flamboyant appearance. (They always seem so fashionable in paintings of this period.) His hairdo is stylish with a smooth crown supporting a red flame of holiness and tight gold curls around his face and neck. The hair is fascinating but even more beautiful is his gorgeous dress: pink with gold embroidery looking for all the world like the fabric for saris worn by wealthy Indian women. Altogether, a feast for the eyes making me wonder if the painter had access to such fabric and who could have modeled for the picture.

Our eyes filled and time passing, we were ready for another type of feast – a late lunch at La Loggetta. The menu wasn’t extensive but everything was so tempting it was difficult to make a choice. I finally settled on country-style prosciutto with melon followed by gnocchetti with shaved white truffles. Hubby went for fettuccine with fungi porcini and our friend enjoyed pappardelle with hare. Our wine was a Morellino di Scansano, a favorite red with its hint of ripe blackberries.
We were reluctant to leave but none of us could eat a main course.


It was time to return to our friend’s home, itself in a fascinating and ancient Etruscan hill town where she lives in a 600-year old row house on a tiny street called Via Etrusca, the perfect name in this part of the world. That evening we sat by a fire with the grapes, cheese, and a glass of wine to talk travel – past adventures and those we hoped would come.

all photos copyright Judith Works


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

SATURDAY IN ROME



When I lived in Rome, my husband and I did much of our weekly shopping on Saturdays. During the week Glenn bought our vegetables at a stand set up on the sidewalk near our apartment where an old woman sat on a stool trimming artichokes while her husband helped shoppers select the freshest tomatoes. Our usual weekly shopping was done at a local supermarket where the eggs and milk were un-refrigerated, and there were dozens of kinds of pasta lined up on the shelves.



Once a month we trekked to the covered market in Testaccio, a working-class area full of traditional Roman restaurants because it was located near the slaughterhouse where organ meats (the quinto quarto or 5th quarter) had been inexpensive in the past. The abbatoir is now an arts center but still maintains the disconcerting statue of a bull meeting his end looming over the main gate. The surrounding neighborhood is named for Monte Testaccio, a 100 foot-high terraced hill made of broken amphorae that originally contained oil, wheat and other commodities imported to ancient Rome. The newest additions to the pile are dated to AD 140.



Wandering past merchants calling me to look, taste or smell their seasonal fruit and vegetables was a welcome part of the Testaccio experience. The open-sided market covering an entire city block was much more appealing than looking at food neatly arranged in the cavernous and deoderized supermarket with deadening fluorescent lights and dearth of human interaction. In summer the market aroma of mixed seafood announced its availablity a block away, but the sweetness of ripe grapes and figs compelled a much closer sniff. In winter, both merchants and shoppers were bundled up but the noise level remained as intense discussions about quality and price  for seasonal treats went on unabated.



I tried to stick to my shopping list but frequently bought more than we needed, unable to resist the seasonal giant green grapes, figs bursting with flavor, fresh porcini mushrooms, artichokes, or agretti 



Then there was the cheese: fresh mozzarella was swimming in milky liquid ready for a Caprese salad for lunch, or small rounds of semi-staginato pecorino, caciocavallo and giant wheels of parmigiano.



Next came meat or fish. Our shopping bags were soon stuffed.



The bustling atmosphere took my mind back into history, to visualize an ancient Roman housewife being harangued by vendors as she tasted a grape, tested a melon for ripeness, and bargained for bread and rough red wine. Or maybe a house slave belonging to a rich matron was looking for stinky fermented fish sauce called garum, roasted parrot, salted jellyfish, oysters, ostrich, or tiny songbirds to be eaten in one crunchy bite. Perhaps dormice served with honey was on the menu for the banquet that ancient Saturday evening. Maybe some shopkeepers shouted out Emperor So-and-So always served his mice with the vendor’s acacia honey. (Today’s shoppers often see stalls with a picture of Padre Pio, a favorite Roman saint, as a recommendation.)



But whoever the shoppers were in ancient times, they didn’t come home with chocolate, squash, tomatoes, or coffee. Can you imagine Italian food without these delights? The consummation of the marriage of Pasta and Tomatoes was surely the most inspired culinary hookup ever.

After my own food shopping (minus garum and songbirds) was finished, I couldn’t resist heading to the shoe stalls along one side of the market. The stalls were a goldmine because they sold the previous year’s shoe styles for bargain prices. I thought that shoes were a peculiar inclusion in a food market until I recognized that they were a staple as important as pasta and vegetables since the dawn of Italian history. One memorable fresco in a museum in southern Italy depicts Venus wearing a pearl necklace, red shoes and nothing else. It was probably painted around the fifth century BC but it was easy to visualize a more modern Roman mistress in the same attire. Studying the variety of sandals on Roman statues could take a lifetime. Romans could buy shoes during the Second World War when Italian troops were fighting in snow without boots. Even a recent pope was concerned with shoe styles, favoring red ones like ancient emperors.

 Following long-standing tradition of being shoe-proud, I often left the market with a pair or two.   But like looking over the vegetables before buying, I learned that it is best to curb my enthusiasm. I found a splendid pair of bright blue leather and black patent high heels and snapped them up after trying on the right one. I paid while the vendor placed the mate in the box and handed it over. When we returned home I tried them on only to find that one had a black sole and square toe and the other a light-colored sole and round toe. Maybe someone scrounged them from the garbage can after they landed there that afternoon. Caveat Emptor, “Buyer beware” as the ancient Romans said.
Alas, we no longer live in Rome but never miss the markets when we return on holiday. And, the old fragrant market has been replaced by a sanitary enclosed version. But it still has shoes.

All photos except Monte Testaccio by the author
Photo of Monte Testaccio is from Wikipedia Commons