Archive for the 'Travel' Category


what I did while I wasn’t here

Apparently, this is one of the most popular blog headlines.

Alas, I’m a cliché, and probably in more ways than this.

But I was in New York City for four fabulous days, at a conference, well, at least some of the time, and having lots of fun with lots of very good friends.

Some highlights of the trip.

What I ate:

The Best Gyro. Ever. (Greek Kitchen)

Miso Menchanko. (54th St. I think, in the block west of 6th St.)

Pad Prik Khang, with shrimp; and a sake-sojo martini that gave me such a headache I thought I might be having a stroke. (Boyd Thai, Greenwich Village)

Spicy tuna sushi, washed down with an ice-cold Sapporo. (Sushi Damo, 58th & 9th)

Savory crepe with chicken, mushroom and asparagus, topped with a tomato-olive tapenade. (Europa Café, 57th St.)

And, believe it or not, at the LaGuardia airport:

Sun-dried tomato and goat cheese panini with a Pilsner Urquell ($8, but never mind.)

I only have pictures of all of my meals because Husband was at home, and I thought he might look at this as a way of our sharing the trip. You’d have to ask him if he agrees, or if he thought I was just being really annoying.

Some other interesting sites:

Rockefeller Center

This looks so much bigger on TV.

St. Mark’s (?) Cathedral

I really should keep track of the identities of these things. Stunning, though, isn't it?

Columbus Circle

Does this coat make my butt look big?

Times Square

I would have taken pictures on our pedicab tour of Central Park but I was too busy hanging on for dear life. This is also why you don’t get a picture of the chocolate almond croissant I got from the Bouchon Bakery. It was, for lack of a better word, amazing. Probably a thousand calories. But worth every single one of them.

I also don’t have pictures of Murray Perahia in concert. They kind of frown on that, although it didn’t seem to be stopping someone on the other side of the hall. I’m sitting in the back of Avery Fisher Hall, with ~ 2,500 people between him and me, and he plays Bach with such a beautiful, delicate, intimate yet singing tone it’s like he’s sitting right next to me. And then oh, how the Chopin roared! I was there with at least a dozen of my music-camp-faculty colleagues, and we were joking that we were going to have T-shirts made to wear at camp this summer that say “Just play it like Murray plays it.” As if.

It was also nice to see a full house, and again the next night for the Interlochen Academy’s anniversary celebration concert. Maybe it’s NOT the end of Classical music after all.

I loved the city. Anything you want to eat, do, see, buy, they have, and probably in the same block on which you find yourself. It was cleaner and safer than I imagined, although there was one poor soul on the subway that I can’t stop thinking about. As my friend Liza, who lives on the upper tip of Manhattan, says, you can’t help everyone. But I do think maybe we should try harder to help more.

And I don’t think I would be very happy about having to drive there, although I might be able to convince myself that I could find that perfect balance between assertive and defensive driving. I certainly wouldn’t bother with wanting a nice car; maybe something pre-dented.

I wrote the poem in the previous post on the plane on the way back after almost a two hour delay while we waited for the mechanics to make repairs. I’m always happy to have people fix things wrong with the plane that I’m supposed to be flying in; not like the pilot can hear a funny noise and decide to pull over onto the shoulder and call AAA. I would however always, selfishly, rather it was someone else’s plane that needed repair. I didn’t really understand the surly young man behind me — would he have rather they had flown without rear pitch control (whateverthatmeans)? And it did make my night’s sleep rather short by the time I got home. I was extremely grateful not to be seated next to the girl who had plopped herself down next to me in the terminal (despite the other 85 empty seats at the gate) and then regaled her father via cellphone with her tales of woe, including an apology for being so drunk last time she called him — apparently her brother had carried her out of the bar after she passed out and she didn’t even realize she had made any phone calls until the next morning. Charming. On so many levels. Not helped by the fact that some other people seemed to think she was with me. Apparently my sympathy only extends so far.

And despite popular opinion, most of the New Yorkers were exceedingly friendly, except for the waitstaff at the Pazza Notte on 6th. We weren’t getting dinner, just drinks and an appetizer, so, despite the fact that it was 10:30 p.m.and there were at least ten empty tables in the restaurant, we were escorted to two uncomfortable chairs and a barrel (I’mnotmakingthisup) in a stinky corner by the kitchen to drink our watered-down cosmopolitans and eat our not-really-all-the-convincing bruschetta. Quite a contrast to the ramen place, where every. single. employee.  thanked us as we left.

Not bad, all things considered.


they need our help!

I just found out late last night that my absolutely most-favorite place in Italy, Vernazza, was devastated by mudslides after 20″ of rain fell in one day on October 25.

I don’t know how I missed this, except it seems to have been completely overlooked by national media.

Vernazza is, well, it was, an absolutely beautiful little town perched at the base of a V of cliffs on the Ligurian Sea. Here are some pictures from our visit, and walk, there last May.

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Here is a link to what has happened to the town as a result of the mudslides.

One of the pictures shows the awning of the Blue Marlin Bar, the establishment owned by our good friend Massimo (from the pictures — he’s a budding pianist — I played Granados for him and he roared around the restaurant “Shussh”ing everyone and then wouldn’t let us pay for our dinner; I coached him on the Mozart D Minor Fantasy and then he mimed hari-kari to my husband; he was one of the sweetest, most genuine, most “people-person” people I’ve ever met), at the level with the mud.

I can’t stop thinking about this. I’ve looked at pictures and video clips all day (in between my seven hours of teaching, anyway). I can’t get the images out of my mind. The streets my husband and I strolled through, the gelato stands and tabbachi we shopped in, the breakwater where we perched and dangled our legs in the salt water to soothe our aching muscles after our 14-kilometer hike (for which we “blame” Massimo), the chair with the bowl of lemons on it (in a crush with a bicycle and a tree trunk and twisted pieces of pipe), the grocery (Salame and something) where we bought salame and olives and sourdough rolls and cherries to take on our hike, and the dinghies parked along the piazza, and the chiming clock. I fell in love with Italy there — well, I fell in love with Italy in Perugia and Florence, too, but this was by far my favorite place — all buried in or surrounded by mud and rocks. Second floor balconies are at street level. The train tunnels were filled with mud.

I’ve also observed something interesting. In my research, I run across pictures of similar devastation in Monterosso, and I say, “Pah,” and look for more information about Vernazza. I feel such a personal connection there. So much for benevolence and a sense of universality.

Meanwhile, they’re trying to dig themselves out; they are not being given any insurance money (“Act of God”), the Italian economy is in a shambles, I can’t imagine how these people are going to dig themselves out economically, even if they manage to extricate themselves from the mud.

I think the most difficult thing is I could completely see myself living there. When we got home I shopped real estate and priced inns and cafes and tried to figure out how many piano students I would have to take to supplement our cafe and croissant sales. I’m. Not. Kidding. I feel, very much, like this could have been me. And the stories of people rushing to stairs or cutting through air conditioning vents to crawl through to second stories to escape the encroaching water and mud make my heart race as if it were me.

Anyway, you can donate money through the link above, or to the Italian Red Cross.

Click here. Donations can be made to help the Ligurian towns and people of Vernazza and Monterosso through the Italian Red Cross. Make sure to list these 2 towns in the ‘notes’ field to guarantee your donation will go directly to these two places, rather than help fund other issues throughout Italy.

We can’t let this town become a ghost town. It’s not only one of the most beautiful places in Italy, it’s home to some of the kindest, friendliest, most open people I’ve ever met. Let’s help keep their town alive.



Drove to a wedding over the weekend — 452 miles there on Saturday, 452 miles back on Sunday. The wedding was lovely, the food was delicious (the filet was like buddah), the bride and groom radiant, and not just because the wedding was outside, in 78˚ sunshine. Unlike our miraculous border experiences on the way there (driving from Michigan to upstate New York through Ontario is the most direct route), the border crossing on the return, at 8:00 p.m. Sunday, was tedious — apparently the 50-minute backup was caused by Ontarionian Buffalo Bills fans returning home. We think this kind of thing shouldn’t be allowed. When you cross into either country you are asked the reason for your visit. If you are going to a Buffalo Bills game you should have to drive around. Or swim. Who knew there  were so many football fans in Canada anyway?

Anyway, here is a log of some of my observations from/during the trip:

I trust no other driver — to stay in their lane, to use their turn signal, not to cut me off. Is this good defensive driving, or paranoia?

I wanted to pull the guy over in the Hummer, with the “Proud of my Son Who’s a Soldier in Iraq” rear-window sticker, and ask if he was being ironic. (Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but gratitude and respect for everyone fighting in support of our country; I don’t necessarily have that same respect for the people who sent them there to protect our access to Iraqi oil under false pretenses.)

Husband refuses to eat a single peanut M&M. He can’t get past the iridescence of the shell-coating (“that color does not exist in nature”) to the chocolate/peanutty goodness inside. There might be something wrong with him.

Some bloggers will state that they aren’t really writing a blog to “get readers.” If that were the case, wouldn’t you just be writing in your diary?

Flint is just sad. It was sad in the 80s, and it’s sad now. I had a roommate in college from Flint with a Flint-sized chip on her shoulder. Wonder how she’s doing now.

I comment on how much I enjoy the little “ping” of the pin on the GPS which shows us where we are. Husband asks: If you move the pin with your finger do we get there faster?

Who thought of knitting?

Me, observing highway signs: “Does every highway in Canada actually lead to Toronto?” Husband: “Torontonians think so.”

How strong are the rails on the bridges that lead to and from Grand Island? They look like they were made from reclaimed barn wood. Would they actually stop the car if you hit them, or just slow you down enough so as to more enjoy the fall?

And who named “Grand Island?” A misnomer if there ever was one.

There can also be few “sucks to be you” moments to equal the poor schmuck whose car broke down in the right-lane of the bridge to said Island. 2-lanes of road + 5,000 Buffalo Bills fans is not equal to “smooth sailing.”

We stopped at a rest area just past Buffalo (there is, as far as I can tell, one rest area in Ontario. Apparently Canadians don’t have to pee when taking road trips.) There was a fruit stand with locally grown peaches, plums, and apples. I thought this was a really good idea, and could enjoy my plums even more because I felt so self-righteous for eating them rather than french fries or Tim Horton’s fat globules muffins.

Tim Horton's Banana Nut muffin nutrition information

We saw a lot of these signs:

with different distance designations. I don’t suppose they discuss this with the deer? “So, how far do you think you’ll be wandering this fall?” I especially like this one:

Can you just picture them standing there, waiting for the light to blink?

Driving 900 miles in 39 hours is not fun. That tic in your left eye is probably just fatigue, and not a sign of some looming neurological disaster. My husband drove all of it, and gave me equal billing for navigating. He’s my hero.

Lovely wedding, saw some good friends, and it’s very good to be home.


Notes from Sunday

My good friends and colleagues are off for a month-long trip to and from Alaska, with gigs scheduled hither and yon. They are taking his father with them as their “groupie.” This is an act of either great patience or of extreme foolhardiness.  We shall see. I’m curious as to whether asking “Are we there, yet?” is or is not allowed.

There can’t be a job worse than cleaning out the refrigerator to make room for the haul from the grocery store. I’ve decided that from now on that there will be something urgent that must be attended to for at least the first fifteen minutes after the groceries come home. Husband claims that my needing to be in the bathroom for that long might be suspicious. Other suggestions will be accepted.

Oh, and food should not look like this. It’s too funny. It’s also funny that Husband had to come find me in the grocery store to show me, as if he were still twelve years old. Or maybe it’s not.

Notes from the bike ride:

Just because it says in The Gender Stereotypes Handbook that a) he should be waxing the Camaro and b) she should be tanning in the driveway, it doesn’t mean you have to.

If you’re going to make your kid wear a bike helmet, you should wear one too. The layers of hypocrisy are not lost on him, and are going to cause problems for you later.

Down is way more fun than Up.

If you’re biking around town on a Sunday, and you’re dressed like this:

you look ridiculous. You’re not in the Tour de France, you’re in a little town in the midwest, biking on a bike path, trying not to ride through dog poop and checking for cars coming out of side streets.

Just because you can’t haul your ass up that hill doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your bike.

Notes from the return:

Flatbread and hummus and an ice-cold Rolling Rock tastes really good after a bike ride.

Hard to think of something more entertaining than watching two teenagers try to figure out a) how to, and b) who is going to, clean up the dog puke.

Happy Sunday!


Eating Italian: Coffee Gelato

Heat 1 1/2 c. almond milk to a boil.

Meanwhile, whisk together 5 egg yolks and 1/2 c. sugar. Add boiling milk to the egg and sugar mixture, then add 1/2 c. strong brewed coffee or espresso. Return to a lower heat, and cook ~ 8 minutes, until custard has thickened (will coat the spoon you’re using to stir it).

Chill at least 3 hours, then process in an ice-cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. If there’s any left, freeze it in an air-tight container.


eating Italian

Last night’s Florence/Cinque Terre – inspired pasta dish:

Slice and sauté mushrooms of the button, portabella, and shittake varieties, enough to fill a 10-11″ sauté pan. Sauté in olive oil until they’ve released their juices, set aside.

In a separate sauté pan, infuse olive oil with 4-5 large, minced cloves of garlic over low heat. When garlic is soft, throw in a pint of cherry tomatoes that have been halved. Turn off the heat and let sit for the tomatoes to soften.

Slice a can of black, or kalamata olives, set aside.

Chop the hard rinds of the Parmesan cheese in your refrigerator into slivered-almond sized chunks.

Chop a medium-sized handful of Italian parsley.

Meanwhile, bring a LARGE pot of salted water to a boil, and listen to your son complain about how many dishes you’ve gotten dirty; deflect accusations that this was done on purpose in the manner of your choice.

Cook a pound of twisted pasta — rotini, or, if you can get it, trofie, until just al dente. Drain, rinse briefly, and immediately drizzle with olive oil.

Assemble the pasta in this order: cheese, mushrooms, parsley, garlic/tomatoes, olives.

Serve with a Tuscan red wine. Follow with limoncino and a good movie. Feel free to drool.



Eating in Italy

I’m sure this is pretty much common knowledge, but the food in Italy was amazing. It was very interesting, too, to see how good things could be without a lot of fuss or numerous ingredients. Even the food on the European-run airlines was fantastic. Why can’t American-run airlines serve delicious chicken, garlic-rich mashed potatoes, and dense chewy bread?

Some of our favorite meals in Italy:

Pasta with several kinds of mushrooms, a smattering of diced tomato and black olives, parsley, and olive oil.

Trofie with mussels. Trofie is a type of pasta that’s about three times as thick as a spaghetti noodle, but only a couple inches long, and twisted. The result is a noodle that’s extremely chewy, almost like gnocchi. Of course we had to run across the street and buy 2 bags to bring home.

A serving of chicken, merely a thigh and a leg, that apparently had been cooked in lemon juice for a day and a half until the meat was saturated with flavor and falling off the bone and the lemon had been reduced into a thick, rich, sauce.

Pizza on a cracker-thin crust (does anybody know how to do that? it’s one of my life goals) with a smear of reduced tomato, a few bits of basil and buffalo mozzarella.

For our hiking day in the Cinque Terre we bought salame, provolone, mixed olives, two bread rolls and a quart of locally-grown cherries, all for under 10 Euros, and ate a fantastic picnic under a tree a thousand feet above the Ligurian Sea.

Fantastic coffee — black and thick and strong without being bitter, and pretty reasonably priced. I had one of the best cups of coffee of my life in the car-rental building at the Pisa airport.

And of course, gelato. It seems to be a universal recipe, as all of the gelato stands claim their gelato is “fatto in casa,” but it’s all rich and flavorful without being too sweet. My favorite: frutti di bosco (berries); but the strawberry, coffee, and chocolate flavors were close seconds.

We also enjoyed many “local” wines — Tuscan red in Florence, Chianti in Pisa, a fruity aromatic white in Cinque Terre. If you ask for water you can have either “naturale,” or “frizzante,” which is lightly bubbly, and served chilled but without ice. We just hope they’re recycling all of those water bottles, because they’re everywhere.

What was most interesting to us is that no one will rush you out of a restaurant. They take really good care of you until you’re done eating; after they’ve brought your limoncino or coffee or dessert they leave you alone – you invariably have to get your server’s attention to ask for the bill. We enjoyed the opportunity to linger, a relaxed mind-set which seems to permeate the country.

Next: public transportation.


mysteries of the 21st century

Just back from 9 days in Italy. Well, really only 7 days in Italy, since the first day and the last day were spent traveling, but you get the idea.

Just a few questions that have come to mind over the past few days.

1. How does an airplane actually fly?

2. How does the luggage get from one airplane to the other? And why is it that, if the luggage is not going to get from one airplane to the other, it’s going to gt lost while traveling between the smallest airports with the longest time lag?

3. How can every single caffé in Italy sell better coffee for less than every single Starbucks in America? And don’t the people at Starbucks realize that $2.15 for a double espresso may be perfectly reasonable, while $3.80 for a double cappuccino is not? $1.70 for 1/4 cup of milk foam? What am I, stupid?

Coming attractions:


Public transportation

Never ask for hiking suggestions from a man who thinks everyone should take an 8-day walk every year as a spiritual journey

Jet Lag from Two Directions


truth in advertising

Looking for a hotel to book in Pisa, and ran across one of the shortest and most descriptive explanations of a hotel I’ve ever read, from Rick Steves’ Italy book: “Hotel Villa Kinzica, with 30 tired but decent rooms and indifferent management is just steps away from the Field of Miracles.”

Almost makes me want to stay there just to see what “tired but decent” means exactly. The pictures look nice.


Chicago “Tour,” Part I

I’m riding today on a chartered bus with 35 members of a youth chorus (grades 4-9) and chaperones, on the way to Chicago for the choir to perform at a choral conference. I had been reading, (and, I admit it, napping a little), and looked up just as we passed through Gary, Indiana.

Everybody knows what a desolate place Gary, Indiana is, the city almost the euphemism for the word, but it never ceases to surprise me. There are clusters of abandoned houses, some just burned-out shells, others with siding in bent folds on the ground around the house and black tar paper hanging in strips. Piles of scrap lumber sit at the ends of muddy “roads.” Grain elevators seem abandoned, islands surrounded by marshes of dead grass and puddles of snowmelt.  At one point there is a roadside park, sandwiched between a muddy dirt road and the highway, which consists merely of a roofed concrete slab sans picnic tables, and a home-plate fence at a corner of a narrow, narrow baseball field. There are no houses, no people, anywhere. Maybe it’s not fair of me to judge a city by what I see from the highway. But how does the impact of one’s approach to a city affect your perception  of the city itself?

Strangely, I wasn’t aware of our approach to Gary as I usually am. You know, as you’re driving along and suddenly ask whoever is in your car with you “What’s that smell?”  I always wondered who could live there — do they have a sense of smell? Do they die more frequently of cancers? Does anyone even live there any more? Is it naive to ask, What do they DO? Is it a ghost town, as it seems to be?

Since First Son is a college student in Cleveland, Ohio, we get our share of visits to the decaying rust belt of the midwest. The drive into Cleveland is also quite bleak — abandoned rail yards, decrepit factory buildings with broken and boarded-up windows and parking lots choked with weeds, rows of newly-built, fashionable, red-brick townhouses bumping up against what look like crack houses as you near the world-class chain of hospitals and medical centers.

How does one rebuild a city? is it the idea of the city which needs to be rehabilitated first? What was Detroit at its heydey? Cleveland? Is the fact that these declining cities were originally built on one particular industry the reason for their thriving and the cause of their doom?

The choir performed tonight in a “chapel,” (seating at least 3000 people), in Hyde Park, Illinois. The streets are lined with hundred-year-old genteel brownstones, a Frank Lloyd Wright house stands on the corner. The streets are clean, seem relatively safe (a perception not adversely affected by the Starbucks on the corner.)

What memories do these cities hold? What hopes? Is it a mistake when “we” abandon them? Isn’t the society created by man living as neighbor to man more likely to be one governed by peace and cooperation?

In one of the meditations read during the choral service tonight, we were asked to remember that the world and all men in it cry out for peace, that the earth requires our stewardship as much as, if not more than, it meets our needs. John F Kennedy says, ”We will neglect our cities to our peril, for in neglecting them we neglect the nation.” I think this is right, and meaningful, on many levels, in many ways.

But a long day, and tomorrow, another:  Shedd Aquarium, and the pool at the hotel.

And $10 every 24-hours for internet service. Whatever happened to free internet in the room being part of the selling point of the hotel?


lost opportunities

In the October 25 issue of the New Yorker, Lauren Collins writes about David Cameron’s goals for a “Big Society” in England. She begins the article by writing about a picturesque hamlet in central Dorset, which is, ironically, “bisected by a brook that was once used as a latrine.”  The residents of this town recently each voluntarily contributed to the purchase of a replacement marker after all (3) of their town markers had been stolen over a 5 month period in 2008. Understandably, the residents were determined that the replacement sign would not be subject to the same fate, and have used a one-and-a-half ton hunk of limestone as the new marker.

This is all well and good, but I think they should have taken advantage of this now lost opportunity and, since all physical evidence had been removed, changed the name of their town. Instead, they are, and will remain to be, Shitterton, Dorset.


Airline Scam

They’ve clearly worked this out, and don’t think it hasn’t been deliberate.

1. You are only allowed to travel with a quart-size bag worth of toiletries, and nothing in a container bigger than 3.4 oz. (Which begs the question, if 3.4 oz. of toothpaste isn’t hazardous, is 4.3? Really?)

No woman I know can travel for more than a day without more toiletries than this. (Clearly, pictured above is a man’s bag.) Even if we’ve cut back to the smallest size containers we can find, there’s: shampoo, conditioner, face soap, body lotion, face lotion (because we ALL know you can’t use body lotion on your face, and you can’t afford to use face lotion on your body), toothpaste, eye cream, and, if we’re lucky enough to go somewhere warm, sunscreen. If we actually want to look halfway decent there are probably at least 2 (two) hairstyling products, and if we want to smell nice, shower gel and/or perfume.

It just isn’t possible.

SO: somebody has to check a bag.

2. Checked luggage is $25 each way. And that’s only if it weighs less than my first child did on his first birthday. (Don’t ask.) The airlines saw an opportunity for profit that was even simpler than the decision to stop feeding passengers. Soon they’re going to ask us to help with routine maintenance and to take turns demonstrating to all of those who have spent the last 30 years living at the bottom of a mineshaft how to put on their safety belts.  No one really expected them to take the surcharge off when gas went back to it’s lowest-price-when-adjusted-for-inflation-since-the-70s, did they?


This, of course, doesn’t even begin to address how angry it makes me that people have decided it’s a good way to communicate their disagreement with society by blowing up airplanes. I’ll have to save that topic for another day. Right now I need to go try to fit in that tube of toothpaste. . .

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