Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aftermath - Octber 31, 2012

Now that the winds have died down, we have had a chance to survey the damage.  And it is horrific.  Hard to even begin to describe what it looks like around here.  And we did not get hit with any surge.  The images of the shores, of downtown Manhattan are shocking.  Taxis underwater, subway tunnels flooded and filled with sludge.  Streetlights not working.  And death, tragic deaths. 

I realize this isn't a journey, per se, but it is what has happened in the world beyond the four walls in which I'd spent much of the past three days - cozy and warm, watching the news, annoyed by the storm, and not really understanding all that was happening.  I was lucky.  We were lucky.  I don't know what else to say.  We walked outside the morning to see much of the landscape around us altered, forever changed.

These images show what has happened to the trees near our house and in Prospect Park where we were this morning, despite police patrolling, telling us to leave.

The image above is the street next to ours, Garfield.  Below this huge tree was one of our favorite as we entered Prospect Park.  Others are in the park and one on the street - an enormous tree that fell between two cars, crushing them.
Two years ago we lost a thousand trees (I believe that's the number) to a tornado.  And now this.  We have more light, less shade, and less beauty around us than we did four days ago.

The Writer and the Wanderer - in Italia!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Thought for Today - After the Storm

"I don't understand anything.  Life is so strange.  I feel like someone who's lived all his life by a duck-pond and suddenly is shown the sea.  It makes me a little breathless, yet it fills me with elation.  I don't want to die.  I want to live.  I'm beginning to feel a new courage.  I feel like one of those old sailors who set sail for undiscovered seas and I think my soul hankers for the unknown."  - from The Painted Veil, Somerset Maugham.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Donkey's Mouth

 At the end of the perfect day Anna, Paola, Nicola and I, plus dog whose name I can't spell, went to Boccadasse - a former fishing village which is now a part of Genova.  The name means the donkey's mouth, and a local told us that's because the beach is shaped like a donkey's mouth, though I didn't see it.  Paola had her own theory that dated back to the 14th century and involved beasts of burden but we couldn't quite follow it and anyway she was making it up - brilliantly I might add.  Anyway Boccadasse.  Very gentrified, very beautiful.  This little haven right in the middle of the city.  This was after our pesto lunch.  And finished with the best gelato I've ever had.  Perfection doesn't happen that often.  So glad I got to enjoy it, however briefly, with such wonderful new friends.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tangled Up in Blue

Pestle, Presto, Pesto

Today I'm hunkered down at home, waiting for Hurricane Sandy to hit, but a week ago I was with friends in Genova, eating the best pesto I've ever eaten in my life.  I'd gone to Genova for the Travel Blogger Elevator 2012 conference where I spoke on my blog.  I'd saved a few days for myself.  I'd planned to go around the area, travel perhaps to Portofino or La Spezia.

 Instead I liked Genova so I decided to stick around.  And my friends, Anna, Nicola, and Paola, along with Paola's dog whose name I can't spell, met me at the Piazza de Ferrari.  I thought we were going to be heading right to Boccadasse - a nearby fishing village.  But they had other ideas. 

They wanted to have lunch at il Genovesse where chef and ower Roberto Panizza, founder and judge of the International Pesto Association, was said to make some of the best pesto in the world.   In fact I was told that if we were lucky he might make it right at our table.

When we got there, Roberto greeted us.  And, alas, we weren't so lucky because he didn't have time to demonstrate the making of pesto.  He apologized profusely.  He was very busy and he had just done a demonstration.  He wished he'd known we were coming.  But there is something I've learned about Italians - something that endears them to me even more.  They often say that they can't do something.  It's impossible.  They wish they could.  They hold their fingers to their chests, lamenting their inability to please us.   And then they do it anyway.

Thus it was with Roberto.  He was very busy.  He didn't have time, but he did the pesto demonstration anyway.

First he brought out the mortar and pestle and an assortment of ingredients that he'd put in his pesto.  This included pine nuts and garlic from a particular region in Italy.  Vessilicca.  It had to be garlic from Vessilicca.  He ground these, removed them.   

Next he smashed basil (a lot of basil) with extra virgin olive oil, blended it with parmesan cheese and a special smoked Sardinian peccorino (had to be from Sardinia). 

And then voila.  The pesto.  Tasted it.  Couldn't quite believe how good it was.  Roberto suggested we ate it with gnocchi which we did.  The rest is history, including the fried milk desert, and various wines, and a chestnut soup that I thought I would die over. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Shadow Travel

Yesterday at an airport in Paris I heard an employee inform a traveler that she needed to take the next shadow.  "To get to Terminal 1, you must take the shadow."  It took me a moment to grasp what she was saying.  Clearly you must take a shuttle, but I prefer the idea of taking a shadow.

After all in New York we have Shadow Traffic.  A lovely expression if you think about it, really.  Given that to shadow someone means to follow in a surreptious way.  There is also a delight in shadows.  One can't help but remember Peter Pan's problems with his shadow and his need to have Wendy help him by sewing it on.  Or one of my favorite childhood poems that I can still recite from memory.  Robert Lewis Stevenson's, "My Shadow," from a Child's Garden of Verses.  "I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me and what can be the use of him is more than I can see." 

The notion of a shadow as a form of transport appeals to the child within me.  When we think our shadows are real or that they are following us.  When we try to hide from them.  This leads me to the idea of Shadow Travel - journeys to the dark side. Why should we only see the spectacular and the beautiful?  Why not the ruble, the dirty, the underside?  I like to think of the shadow world as the one where the wild things are. 

So, after having spent almost twenty-four hours in airports, in taxis, and airplanes, the idea of taking the next shadow appeals to me.  Perhaps we could even hail one as we do a cab.  Perhaps it is a flicker of memory, a way to travel back to the past, or a hint of things to come.  If we take the next shadow, where do we end up?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Journal: taken in cafe in Tangier

This journal was a gift from my class of writers and wanderers.  They designed it and each wrote something as a rembrance.  I filled this journal in Morocco.  I think out of all the journals I've ever had this is probably my favorite because so much went into the making of it.

As I set out to travel, I'm thinking about the women I've met along the way.

 These are all images of women in Morocco, taken in 2010.

from Italo Calvino

Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places."

--Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Monday, October 8, 2012


We were going to Paris to get away.  Or at least I was.  I'd been working on a book that was vaguely about tigers for the past eight months and I wanted, for a couple weeks anyway, to forget about those solitary beasts.  I want to be footloose, to roam.  To just take in Paris as I saw fit. 

I lived in Paris many years ago with a mother and her son, Jean-Michele.  Jean-Michele and I lost track of one another over many years.  Then about a decade ago Larry and I were going to Paris, a place where he'd never been, and I decided on a whim to see if I could find Jean-Michele's number and give him a call.  To my surprise his number was in the phone book so I picked up the phone and called.  It had been perhaps thirty years since we'd last spoken, but I just said his name, "Jean-Michele?"  And, without hesitating, he said, "Marie?"

We saw him and his Algerian wife, Karima, twice on that trip and have seen them many times since.  In fact part of the reason we go to Paris as much as we do is to see Jean-Michele and Karima.  This June was no exception.  We'd done a house swap for two weeks and we had only just arrived.  There was a book I was looking for and we saw Jean-Michele for a drink and he said that there was a very good bookstore at the Place de San Suplice.  "And while you are there, you should look in the church.  There are two very good Delacroix frescoes."

In all honesty I can't say that I'd ever given Delacroix much thought.  But on a cold and rainy afternoon we stopped in the church and there on the wall were two amazing frescoes, including one with an incredible angel and another with a terrified horse.  We saw for a long time, gazing at them, before moving on.  We bought the book I wanted and went home.

The next day was Sunday, another rainy day, and a friend had recommended the Jewish museum.  He said that they had a very good exhibit on Moroccan Jews there.  I wasn't sure what I expected and, while I didn't want to be thinking about my tiger book, a portion of it was set in North Africa (that part has nothing to do with tigers).  So we set off early in the morning and went to the museum.  It was a little like getting into a fortress with all the security but once inside we saw that the exhibit of Moroccan Jews began with some paintings and sketchbook entries of Delacroix.  He had gone to North Africa in search of the exotic and found it in these Moroccan Jews.

I found myself spending a great deal of time with the Delacroix.  Here is a page from my journal in which I incorporate a postcard of an image from his sketchbook with my own painting beyond the borders of the card in my journal.  I call this entry:  Delacroix et Moi.

The next day Larry and I got up early and went to a cafe and after an hour or two I wanted to go to a store I knew for some art supplies so we headed out.  Except we went the wrong way.  We were walking and walking and after a while I realized we were heading away from the store, but then I saw the sign.  To the Delacroix house.  It was beginning to dawn on me that Delacroix was somehow becoming important to me and I felt almost as if I was following some invisible map - nothing I could see or perhaps even of my own making, but it was a map none the less and it was my job to follow it wherever it might lead me.
We found the house and went to pay admission.  The ticket salesperson asked if we would also like to purchase a pass to the Louvre because most of the larger and more important Delacroix would be seen there.  I thankfully declined the offer.  I am actually not a fan of the Louvre.  In fact I'd go so far as to say that I don't like the museum.  Or rather I don't like what they've done to it (but see my entry on Louvre tips.  There is a way to avoid all the tourists).  At any rate I didn't take the package deal. 
We walked into the house that also included his atletier.  We learned that he'd moved to this house late in life and the studio where he'd painted his most important works was demolished and he'd had to move.  This was apparently heartbreaking for him, but he built this new studio though he did not live that long after moving into the house. 
I wandered through two rooms and then came to a third, the one that led to the studio and there I stopped dead in my tracks.  For not only did Delacroix paint Moroccan Jews in his search for the exotic, but he also draw and painted tigers.  A lot of tigers.  The little room that I came to was full of them with a note informing the viewer that that actual painting of the tigers was, of course, in the Louvre.
I returned to the ticket person and asked if it was too late to add the Louvre to our ticket.  An hour later we were fighting the hordes, pushing our way through the busloads of tourists until at last I came to stand in front of this beautiful Delacroix painting of two tigers - that creature that I was trying to avoid had hunted me down even in Paris and as I stood before it I must say that it felt as if I was led here by design.  As if despite whatever I told myself before I headed out on this journey, this is where I'd been going all along.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

If you're wondering where to go in June...Writer's Retreat in Sicily June 13-18

This is where the "Write by the Water" writers' retreat will be taking place and I'll be the writer in residence.  It would be wonderful if some of you would consider joining me in Sicily in June.  Check out the link below.  I've been to this part of the world and it is extraordinary!