Wednesday, May 30, 2007

la vie en rose

I'm blogging to strains of Edith Piaf singing 'la vie en rose'. I've heard this song when I was a little girl. I shall go see the movie when it comes out.
What if I do get a chance to live in France for a year? What would I do? Where would I live? Would I stay there the whole time or would I move around? 'Everyone has two homelands, their own and La France' - Thomas Jefferson.
Maybe in Provence, around Apt or Roussillon, the haute Provence, or the Luberon, would be glorious places, to follow the rhythms of the land. To observe and to write on my own observations, to draw and paint every day, to eat bread, cheese, and fruits every meal and to drink wine. It will be a good year indeed. In between, I would do a little traveling to the other areas of France, to Ceres at the time of cherries, to see lavender fields in bloom, to Paris for breakfasts, to London to visit relatives, to Josselin to see cousin, Beci's French home. (my English cousin).
'I had a small room with a paper of rosebuds, an old bed like a rowing boat, an old walnut chest of drawers, a chair and a rickety table. The sheets smell of soap and French lavenders, the curtain wave looped back at the window', Bosco.
This is really nostalgic. I try to live like this at home. I don't have much furniture - a pine dining table from Pottery Barn with 6 mismatched chairs, a cheap made in China iron bed with a used mattress given to me by my brother, an old coffee table from the thrift store and a couch (circa 1960) from a garage sale. My office is a converted garage and all these are in a little cottage that I own. (approx worth $900,000) Well, I'm hardly schlepping it. I believe in real value like real estate, stocks and bank Cd's.
'Oh these farm gardens, with their lovely big red Provencal roses and the vines and fig trees'. It is all a poem and the eternal bright sunshine too. In spite of which the foliage remains green - no cows on these little farms'. - van gogh.
I don't blame myself for this nostalgic moments. Even van gogh fell in love with Provence. Picasso moved there from Spain.
'My house here is painted the yellow colour of fresh butter on the outside with glaringly green shutters; it stands in the full sunlight in a square which has a green garden with plane trees, oleanders and acacias. And it is completely whitewashed inside and the floor is made of red bricks. And over it there is the intensely blue sky. In this I can live and breathe, meditate and paint.' van gogh.
One can hardly see the sky in Los Angeles because of the smog. Some mornings when I walk to Venice beach, I see a slightly blue sky meeting the blue Pacific ocean with the grey sand in the foreground. It is so empty that there's a certain beauty about it. On clear days I can see Santa Monica and Pacific Palisades but on days that are foggy, there are only three elements visible - the sky, the sea and the sand. When the surf is up, there's a tinge of white as the waves crash violently on the sand making a brilliant spectacle.
Make no mistake, I love California. I love the opportunities of making money here. As Peggy Noonan said in her column in WSJ (5/26/07) 'where in the world would any immigrant working hard and before long own a car, a home, a business and investments?'

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial day

We had our BBQ last night. While there are 7 of us siblings, only 3 lives in Southern California. So it's me and my 2 brothers, 2 sisters in law and 2 teenage nieces. It was very pleasant and relaxing. We had ribs, a Martha Stewart recipe which was very good. The pictures show one of the deserts being made, summer pudding, an old family standby. I love to make it, it's so easy. This time I used only blueberries, but one can use a combination of berries- strawberries, raspberries, any berries. It's very English, they use mulberries, we can get mulberries but it's kind of rare and costs too much. Boil the berries with some sugar, I don't use too much. That's why the family loves it because it wasn't too sweet. Line a pudding bowl with plastic wrap, cut up enough white bread, crust cut out, no crust. Ladle the juice over the bread, try to coat the bread. It's kind of hard, I still have white bread peeking through, it's not suppose to. Ladle the rest of the berries, reserve some juice. Cover with more bread and pour more juice over it. Cover with plastic and a saucer with a can or heavy object over it and refrigerate. To serve, simply unmold and eat with pouring cream. The family loved it over the French macarons. I walked to the corner bakery, they bake French things, macaroons and canelles. I bought some French macarons but they didn't like it. They found them too sweet.
I have a small French community living in the neighborhood. On Sundays at the framers' market, I can eat French crepes or there's another family that makes French omelets. It's fun to live here. There are a few French bakeries, their repertoire is not very big but it's enough to satisfy the nostalgia for a little French food.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Favorite things

On top of the list- Hilltowns and walled cities of Europe. It reminds me of childhood stories of knights in shining armor and beautiful damsels in distress. I, especially love the walled city of Carcassonne in France but there's nothing romantic about it's history. It was customary to build walled cities and towns on hills to ward off the enemy. In Carcassonne, a group of Cathars were holed up there when a siege by the forces loyal to the Roman Catholic church was laid against them. The Cathars had a belief that were at odds with the church and they were all killed. Today Carcassonne is fully restored and memories of that siege has faded.
These days the Sassi of Matera is beautiful and most of them restored and has become prime real estate. It wasn't always so, they were at one time recently condemned as unhygienic. It wasn't after it received Unescco World Heritage site designation that things turned around. Today it brings more delight to tourists all over the world including the Japanese. More and more the Japanese are visiting Southern Italy. They don't only form long lines outside the Louis Vuitton store in Paris.
I love Souleiado fabrics. I've had this scarf for almost 20 years and still use it very often. I love French perfumes and have used this brand for almost 30 years.
Recently I discovered L'occitane. I've always used their shea butter hand cream. I tried a sample of their foot cream. It is even better, better than the myriad of creams out there. I use it for the body, it stays on and really moisturizes. I've started using their skin care and I must say I love the Almond-Apple face cream. My skin has never been so soft, the apple acts as an astringent while the almond moisturises. It is not greasy and is good for all skin types.
I love sea urchins. I had sea urchin sushi at a Zagat rated sushi restaurant in Westwood. It was great. In Sicily I had spaghetti with sea urchin. I can't wait to go back to Sicily to eat fresh sea urchins, you're supposed to scoop out the 'eggs' from the hairy shell.
I love Peonies and English roses. While I can't grow Peonies, I have a few English roses in my front yard. Come into my garden, I want my roses to see you.
I love all things Baroque, exterior and interior, I can't get enough of it. I thought Leece in Southern Italy was the ultimate Baroque city till I went to Sicily. You ain't see nothing yet. Sicillian Baroque out-baroque all baroque. After 2 weeks in Sicily I was baroque-out, well,not quite. I'm going back in October. I would like to go back to Leece and Southern Italy one day. I don't know when.
These are just a few of my favorite things.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The joy of home and hearth

I walked in the house and the smell of baking hits me and I sighed, I'm home. I woke up early this morning and baked a coffee cake with fresh apricots. I bought so many that I had trouble consuming all of them. The season for fresh apricots, like cherries is so short. I ate them fresh and I put them into the coffee cake that I made. The smell was so good. The smell of home is like none other- whether it be the smell of cooking, fresh laundry or a scented candle. It is so reassuring.
While I love to travel, I love being home just as much. Some one once said about the 2 good feelings, one is when we're leaving on a trip, the other is when we come home from one. I love both.
I left the coffee cake to cool on the kitchen table and went to the farmers' market. This is a small Sunday market in Mar Vista where I live. Today was the Springfest; they expanded the market to include crafts and there was an exhibition of ethnic dances. Seeing the kids in their native costumes and dancing brought tears to my eyes. The day brought out a lot of young families with young children. It was a very heartening sight. This area has become a very favorable neighborhood. While the housing market has dampened; it hasn't really affected this neighborhood. Prices has held rather than declined. It is a very small neighborhood and one can only find so much space so close to the ocean. They don't make anymore land like this.
Yesterday I transplanted my tomato seedlings into bigger pots and I stuck a tomato wire into each pot. These are the tomato seeds I brought back from Sicily. I went early in the morning to Home Depot to buy the clay pots and tomato wires. We have a Home Depot that is opened 24 hours. I came back and noticed and noticed that the clay pots were made in Italy. How apt, Italian tomatoes growing in Italian clay pots.
I noticed some wood rot (or is it termites) affecting a section of the kitchen deck. I need to call Joe, my contractor, to see how much he wants to charge to replace that section. My contractor lives in this huge mansion 2 blocks from me.
Ah, the joys of home and home ownership!
My office is a converted garage and that is where I write this blog.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

petit dejeuner

I googled 'petit dejeuner' and came up with a bunch of pretty sites. This morning I had my little breakfast, my petit dejeuner in my backyard. Sorry it wasn't in Paris but the ambiance was just as delightful. Usually when I'm at work I eat breakfast and lunch standing up at the pharmacy counter. I'm not supposed to do that but there's no time to sit and eat. I can only take bites every now and then. I've done this for over 20 years. It is nice to sit in the backyard and eat breakfast or lunch. I went to the Italian deli for a fresh loaf of bread, it was still warm. Then to the Santa Monica's farmer's market for some fresh produce. I came home, had some of the bread slathered with butter and cassis confiture, wash it down with some strong and milky Yuban coffee. Oh yes, I bought some big and juicy fresh blackberries. mmmmmm good! I love Southern California. I live near the Ocean and it is the most pleasant neighborhood. It has become a very desirable neighborhood. On my days off, I spend all my waking moments outside, so typical of Southern Californians; it's only May and I'm already as brown as a berry. I've eaten petit dejeuner in a lot of places in the world. I've eaten hostel breakfast and I can tell you they're not half as bad. The breakfast at Papa Germano, a hostel in Rome, was good. The thing with hostels is you meet a lot of other travelers, mostly young but there are middle aged people like myself. The one at the hostel in Brussels wasn't bad. I love the breakfast at the London School of Economics- in the summer the dorms are rented out to travelers and breakfast is included. The one next to the Tate Modern served a full English breakfast- mmmmm good. Eggs, sausages, bacon, toast, cereal, juice, coffee tea- such extravagance. I loved that one. Breakfast in Italy means standing at the bar for a cappuccino and a cornetto. The worst breakfast was at a pension in Santiago de Compostela. It was coffee and toast. The toast was so dry and tasteless. The hotel owner was the nicest lady I've ever met. I forgive her for the bad breakfast. Breakfast in Asia takes on a new meaning. I'm planning to go next Fall so I can come back with breakfast stories.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

investing in stocks

This is not expert advice on investing. Over the last 12 years I have dabbled in stocks. Before the dot com debacle I have done extremely well. I liquidated my portfolio before the crash. Over the years after that I've continued to stay in the market albeit in a tepid way, watching and waiting. I'm back in in a bigger way lately with the continued rally of the market. It's getting hot and exciting again. The stocks I currently own,
Johnson Control
Exxon Mobil
Wells Fargo
Force Protection Industries
This is the broadest of holdings that I've ever held. I bought Microsoft when it was $22; that was cheap; it's now at $30.80. I love Johnson Controls; I've sold it before, took some profits and repurchased it again. I bought 13 shares of Google at $286.00. That was an expensive stock. I questioned my judgment at that time but it was doing such exciting things that I had to own it. It's at $470.00. Exxon Mobil was my hedge against high gas prices. My reasoning was since I have to pay such high gas prices, I might own some oil and gas stocks. I wanted to include a financial institution in my portfolio, therefore the Wells Fargo stock. They're the holders of my mortgage. There's a little excitement in the defence area currently so I bought some Force Protection Industries- they make armored vehicles. I wanted to own more defence stocks but that was all the money I had currently. It was a toss up between Force Protection and Alliant which makes bullets and Ceradyne which makes body armor. I went with Force Protection. I have my eye on other defence contractors. I have to save some more money, so I can buy some more stocks. I love the stock market. Apple is not just a computer and software company anymore. It has become a luxury brand. It is doing exciting things too. Have you been in an Apple store? It is so gorgeous. My first computer was an Mac but I've had PCs since then. Celgene and Repligen are both bio tech companies having treatments for various cancers. It is big money; cancer treatment is very expensive and bio tech companies can make a lot of money.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


I read about blogging in the February 2006 issue of Businessweek. I went to and before I knew it, I started this blog. I have been dedicated to it since then. It really makes me happy to be able to express myself in such a public forum. I don't know if I have any readership. I have tried to get friends and family to visit it. I don't think any of them has done that. What nice friends and family I've got. No matter, I am still happy and find a lot of joy doing it. I have gone to other blogs and have found inspiration. Favorite blogs are Danny Gregory, Parisbreakfasts, and Chocolate and zucchini. I don't have that much time between a full time job, writing this blog (2-3 times a week), home ownership and checking on my stocks. To write for this blog, I have to read a lot so that I can more inspired. Someone once said, to write a book, one has to read half the library. We are a community of ordinary people doing what we love- whether it be cooking, painting or traveling. Blogging helps us live a more conscious life. We hone our observation skills so that even when we cook an ordinary meal, we can bring out our best china or the accoutrement we have purchased while traveling abroad and stage the meal, take a picture and post it on our blog. This way we are paying homage to an ordinary day. Eventually there are no ordinary days because we honor everyday and everything. Eventually it is not an ordinary life, it is a beautiful life. Collette said, 'Regardez.' Observe, look! That is what I do these days; slow down to observe; to capture the feeling of the moment; write it down; draw a picture or take a photograph. The Internet has brought into our ordinary lives a lot of opportunities to live an extraordinary life. Now I don't travel just so I can add notches to the totem pole of places visited. I chose places that are quaint and out of the ordinary. I go to record the delight of the senses- sound, smell and sight. There are lots of people doing their own thing and therefore making it a more interesting world. What if we didn't have Jeff Bezos, we would not have It's my most favorite store in the world. Some women comes to mind, Mary Quant who invented the mini skirt, Rachel Ashwell, Cath Kidston and Martha Stewart and a host of others. It was not a Madame Curie kind of discovery but made important contributions to make the lives of women better and less tedious. If our lives could be less tedious and humdrum, to me, you are as important as Madame Curie! To me, the many artists out there like Danny Gregory are important. Their art, while not in the league of Picasso does in no way diminish their impact on my life. In fact, Danny Gregory in his book 'Creative Licence' has made more impact on my life. He started me on art- drawing and watercolors. The last time I did art was when I was 13. I had a teacher who never stopped belittling my work. That was over 40 years ago, since then, I never touched a sketch pad.......until a year ago. Now I can't stop. It's been a great joy. I'm still no good but it is not about good. It is about self-expression. I think lots of people out there have never allowed themselves the self-expression that they need, either friends and family have not been encouraging or they have been belittling themselves. I am in mental health and I've made an incredible living off of mental health. It is huge business,more than most people are aware of. If we were to be a little kinder to ourselves and others, we would not have this mental health crisis. I am very timid about exhibiting my work to family and friends. They only care to remember my mess up past and not recognise the fact that I've moved beyond my past. Be careful to protect your 'young crops'- your new self. A douse of criticism or nonchalance could kill the whole venture. I am very aware of it and have prospered because friends and family have no clue in the start of any venture. They only find out when the venture is well on its way and by then it can stand up to any criticism. My blog, in a way, is therapy. This is my 'Prozac!'

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


I went to the art store the other day and bought some tubes of water colors. I have been using this kid's tray of water colors and thought I should upgrade. I've been learning on my own on how to do water colors, working through some of the exercises in my collection of art books. It's been really fun. I went to the garden and brought in a rose and started drawing and painting. I decided I do better drawing and painting from seeing the real thing rather than from pictures or photographs. This means an added challenge; I need to continue traveling and bringing along my sketchbook and maybe my paints.
I recently acquired a book on travel by John Julian Norwich. It is actually an anthology of travel writing from the very earliest to more recent. It had some of the most amusing travel writing and the style, mostly of British travelers is so fun. Back in the days before the advent of cameras, they travel with sketchbooks and a whole lot of other things. There was no such thing as travel lightly. Some even bring along their own illustrators. I have a whole series of travel books by Amy Oakley written around the 1920's. Her husband was her illustrator and they traveled to the Pyrenees, Provence, Brittany and the French Alps. Her travel writing is so descriptive and delightful that each time I read them, I want to pack up my bag and go to the airport. His black and white renditions of the places they visited is so incredible that you don't need mega pixels digital camera photos. It sure beats the colorful photographic books that we have today. These are really old books that I acquired from I love her writing and his drawings. I've read them many times. They have been wonderful companions; friendly, non-judgmental and entertaining. I aspire to be like Amy Oakley. Here's a sample of a foreword written by her husband, 'Reader, thou who longest to escape the routine of a humdrum life, thou who yearnest for a realm of fancy, a domain where thou mayst wander unconstrained, amidst a pageantry of light and color, - crags bearing on their brows glistening diadems of ice; vales o'erflowing with romance; towns of medieval lure and folks arrayed as though of some long-vanished century- reader, come and forth together we shall fare into such a land that waits us. For in the Alpine region of fair France.......'

Sunday, May 13, 2007


My Paris. I love European supermarkets; it doesn't matter if it is grand or just adequate. They sell things that we don't get here. Even when I shop at home, I love looking at the ethnic section or at foreign made food stuff whether they be cookies, cheese or just mineral water. I found some mix for making churros from Spain in my local supermarket last year. It brought a huge smile on my face; I remember eating chocolate con churros in Spain the year before. In Italy I shop at a Salumeria for bread, crackers, cheese, Mortadella, Calamari salad or roasted peppers. In France, especially in Paris, I love going in the supermarket part of Monoprix. It is better stocked than the Salumeria of Italy. It is fun to go into a Tesco in London. A lot of Monoprix's has a fresh bakery attached and they have great pastries. I usually buy my brioche from these bakeries. They sell clothes and sundries too. Once we saw a pretty dress in the window of the Monoprix in Avignon. My niece wanted it but the store was closed. I consoled her by telling her we'll get it at another Monoprix in Paris. We did. That was 4 years ago, she still have the dress even though she outgrew it.
I love the Marias district of Paris; it is so lively and bustling and has a wonderful mix of ethnic food. I've had oriental food there and spoken Chinese with some of the waiters. I've been in a Jewish restaurant here too and been warmed by the homey feeling of this restaurant; it was so down home. It was like one big family dining together.
I love Berthillon glaces; their intense flavors is mmmm good. I love window licking in Paris; the incredible display of pastries especially in the windows of Laduree. These days, that's all I can afford to do- window shopping or as the French call it 'window licking'.
I love the used book sellers along the Seine. To me it is so quintessentially Paris. Even though I don't buy anything, I still love to wander along the Seine and poke my nose into these stalls. I remember doing it on my first visit and on a wintry day. I remember scurrying real fast on my way to the Musee D'orsay to catch it before it closed for the day. I was leaving to go back to London the next day.
I love the boutique hotels, so pretty and so French. It is like being in an aristocratic French home. Some are not that expensive; some are more expensive. I have stayed in the very lovely Hotel du Louvre, as the name implies, it is round the corner from the Louvre. Another is Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais; as the name imply it was the home of Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Who was he? He was a French diplomat and the author of the French opera,'the marriage of Figaro'. It is a really pretty place with very pretty rooms, almost exquisite.
When one remembers Paris, one is more likely to remember the nuances of whatever French life we were privy to experience rather than the monuments. Of course, we've been to the Louvre, we remember the glass pyramid and the Mono Lisa. We remember vaguely all the impressionist paintings at the Musee D'orsay. In the end what really impresses on our minds are the memories of the piece of Quiche, so fragrant and delicious or that breakfast of nothing but a croissant and an espresso. It is not like Rome; we definitely remember in great detail the Sistine chapel, St Peter Basilica or the other great monuments. We go to Paris for a different reason; it is a different state of mind. It is a city we would live in it we weren't living in the USA. It is a city we want to be very familiar with, have for a second home if we can't have it as first.
I am a sucker for stories of Americans living in Paris. This world would be a boring place it we didn't have Paris.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


the colors of Provence- Sometimes I go through old photographs to look for inspiration. I found these taken in March 2002 in Arles. I remember that trip very well. They had just introduced the euro and the US dollar was strong against the euro. European travel was cheap. $650 got me a return ticket between Los Angel es and Nice. I remember staying in this quintessential provencal hotel in Avignon for 100 euro a night ($80). I couldn't afford this hotel today. I remember how delightful old Nice was, of being enthralled by old yellow buildings and narrow and crooked alley ways. I've been back to Nice two more times after that first trip and still love old Nice. It has become an old friend. I remember running out of cash in Monte Carlo and couldn't find an outside ATM machine. I was buzzed into some of the fanciest banks but there weren't any ATM inside. Finally I found one operated by Banco Popular of Cote d'zur.
Some friends and I had arranged to go on that trip together. They cancelled one by one and I ended up going by myself. That was the best part, I enjoyed it so much even though I was scared and unsure of myself; I've been traveling to Europe twice a year ever since.
In March, the land was bare but the almond blossoms were in full swing. Each time I looked at Van Gogh;s painting of Provence and Almond blossoms, I understood what he saw. I learned to love Calixsons, a confection from Aix en Provence. I remember the espresso at the bar/cafe of the train station in Avignon. I spent many mornings there because I was always catching the train in the morning to go somewhere for the day.
Arles was one of those day trips. These pictures were taken in Arles.
I look forward to being in Provence later this year.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

day off again

I have just finished writing an article on Palermo. I am going to submit it for publication, where, I don't know yet. Every free time I have is spent writing and doing research for the book I'm writing. I am writing a book on Sicily. I have been busy researching on how to set up a website. On top of this I have a full time job. My head is bursting. Right now I'm writing in the Toyota service shop waiting lounge. My car is being serviced. I write in airports, in trains, in waiting rooms, in the car, at work, in the kitchen while cooking; I never stop. Sigh...... Where this will lead to, I don't know, if no where I am still happy. I am planning to return to Sicily in October to see the rest of the island and to finish my manuscript on Sicily. I was going to make France a separate trip but since I'm flying Air France again and going through Paris, I have decided to take a third week off and to head down to Roussillon, a little village in Provence. This is exciting. I work so hard and again my traveling is part work also, to supply material for this blog and the website I'm going to set up, for the articles and books I'm going to write. I really have to work hard at saving for the trip. What, Ramen noodles every day for the next 5 months? Almost but not really. It doesn't have to be that drastic. My sister and I used to have a competition to see who is the most frugal. She wins at that all the time but I learnt a lot from her. My other sister said she'll bring her family over from New Jersey for Christmas. So I have to start preparing for Christmas now. I have lots of money but I still like to prepared for whatever financial outlay that comes along.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Italian cooking

I have just acquired an old Italian cookbook by Elizabeth David. The description of the food and the history is so compelling that I want to read it more than I want to cook from it. I found out about it in Peter Robb's book, 'Midnight in Sicily'. I am into all things Sicilian. There isn't much in it about Sicilian cooking; it did give a recipe for 'Caponata'. It also mentioned 'Spaghetti con le sarde', a Sicilian dish of spaghetti with sardines and raisins. She has never eaten it and does not give a recipe for it. I have eaten it and I love it. I have the recipe for it and intend to make it at home one day. The reason I bought this old and used book (it's out of print) was for the pictures. As Elizabeth David said in this same book; she didn't put any pictures of vine covered terraces as most Italian cookbooks so often do. Instead she has Renato Guttuso's paintings- on the cover and throughout the book. She spent a year researching for this book and was depressed after it. She depression lifted when the pictures of Renato Guttuso's paintings started arriving from Rome. As I said before, I'm into all things Sicilian. Renato Guttuso was born in the Bagheria, a town just outside Palermo. In fact, my next trip to Palermo will include a trip to Bagheria to see the crazy sculptures in the garden at Palazzo Palagonia. I am into the odd and unusual.. Renato Guttuso painted the market scenes in Palermo. His pictures evoked memories of the Vucciria market; it is a covered market, with red plastic covers over all the stalls- they sell produce, meat, fish, odds and ends. It is always dark because it is between buildings that block out the sun. Light comes from the bare electrical light bulbs that hang from the ceiling. When I visited it was pretty sedate, probably because of the rain. It is supposed to be a very lively scene with each vendor singing and chanting about how great their stuff is in order to entice the customers to buy from them. I bought some tomato seeds and they are now growing in pots in my backyard. I also bought some alpine strawberries- I ate those. Renato Guttuso later moved to Rome. He started an anti-fascist organization in Rome. Brave man. He saw first hand what fascism did to Sicily.
While writing the book, Elizabeth David, had lots of detractors. When friends heard that she was writing a book on Italian cooking, their reaction was, 'all that pasta, don't we have enough stodge already'. People thought that Italian food is only pasta. What I found useful in her book were the Italian names of the dishes. In Catania, we asked the waiter what 'cavallo' was. He didn't speak English, he waved both arms like a bird and we thought it was a chicken dish. He, then, went to the kitchen and came back with some one who told us it was horse meat. They use both calamari and seppie on the menu. In some dishes they call it calamari, in others, seppie- to us they are both squid.
I researched about Sicily before I went there. Since coming back I'm still learning about Sicily.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Paris breakfasts

It is us Americans that are so crazy, we even take photos of our breakfasts in Paris. I remember my first trip to Paris, 7 years ago. I went to a bar and ordered a croissant and a cappuccino and when they came, I took a photo of it. I found the picture in my archives, scanned it into the computer and 'viola' here it is. Looking through those old photos sure brought back happy memories. I've become a more savvy traveler since then. The other picture was taken 4 years ago in Carcassonne. We stayed in some one's loft inside the walled city of Carcassonne. My first trip to Carcassonne was a happy one, my second 2 years ago, not so. I fought with the restaurant owner, I was alone and he was rude. I wasn't going to take any crap from this French brute. I've become a more savvy traveler, I've grown up.


Paris, Ah, Paris! What is this world or this life without Paris? I don't want to answer that. It is unthinkable and unbearable. In March, on my trip to Sicily, I had 2 stopovers in Paris. I was at Charles de Gaulle airport for a few hours on my way to and from Sicily. I'm going back to Sicily in October this year. I have decided to spend a day in Paris.
Just as I'm putting together an itinerary for Sicily, I am also researching what to do in Paris for a day. I've been to Paris 4 times before but there's always something left to do or I could just hang out. I've decide to stay in a different arrondissement, the 6 eme on the left bank. I've always stayed in the 1eme or the 4eme on the right bank. I'll hang out around St Germain de pres and see if I can get more inspired to write. I'll hunt for the ghosts of Voltaire or Janet Flanner. Planning for this day in Paris is taking up as much attention as the trip to Sicily. This is a trip to Sicily and Paris is just a side trip. Oh well, there are no rules. I knowwhat I am going to do in Sicily, see the places I didn't get to and revisit the places that I have been to before. I have 10 days to do all that but to squeeze Paris into one day takes more planning.
I read in a guidebook of the Odeon area in the 6eme, an old neighborhood-cobblestone streets, old shops and cafes. There is the very exclusive department store, 'au bon marche'. The hotel I picked is near Pont Neuf, the very ornate bridge over the Seine, one of the many bridges that link the right and left bank. I want to eat French yogurt again. I love French yogurt. Can you imagine someone is actually excited about French yoghurt? I am not a yogurt fan, not in the US anyway but I love French yogurt.
It was last year, in Nice, that I fell in love with French yoghurt. I wanted muesli for breakfast and was asked by the waitress if I wanted it with milk or yogurt. I said, yogurt, I've never eaten my cereal with yoghurt before. Live dangerously, right? It tasted so wonderful. I tried to replicate it at home, it tasted horrid. Heck, the yogurt tastes bad here. Imagine being excited about eating yogurt in France. The French and European experience is just not reproducible in the USA. A vacation in Hawaii or Mexico is not the same a vacation in Europe. Of course, in Europe, there's no one to pamper us, in fact, they can't tolerate ignorant Americans; but I still love it and will continue to return to Europe. It'll be my fifth visit to Paris.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sicily, again

I have 2 more weeks of vacation in October and I intend to return to Sicily to finish seeing the rest of the island. I found a great flight (not fare) on Air France and Alitalia that will take me in and out of Catania, Sicily from Los Angeles. There is no time to take the train between Catania and Rome though I would have loved it. At the water's edge, the train breaks apart (with passengers inside) and gets loaded onto ferries and taken over to the other side where it gets reassembled on the tracks. This time I will head west to see Segeste, Erice, Trapani and Piazza Amerina and will also return to some cities I saw on my last trip.
Palermo- I intend to see more of the works of the Sicilian scupltor, Giacomo Serpotta. His 'putti' works at the Oratory of Santa Cita is so delightful. He is able to make plaster shine like marble and he decorated the whole room with plaster figures' they were placed haphazardly but into scenes depicting the rosary. The rosary are a series of prayers; when one prays the rosary, one prays a whole series of prayers to Mary. It is a very catholic thing to do. I am not a catholic. The rosary has special significance to Sicily. There was this famous battle of Lepanto. Sicily, being in such a strategic position was always the target of foreign invasions. In the battle of Lepanto, the Sicilian fleet helped in defeating the Ottomans. It was a fierce battle and the pope at that time asked the people to pray the rosary everyday. They credited the victory to Mary's divine intervention. There were a whole series of cults dedicated to the rosary springing up in Palermo, each having their own oratories decorated to honor the rosary. An oratory is just a small chapel. Giacomo Serpotta was commissioned to decorated a few of them. In fact, in Palermo, his work is found in a lot of oratories and churches. There is a special tour called the Serpotta itinerary where one can see all his works. His work at the oratory of Santa Cita is the most memorable. At the end of the room, he made a depiction of the battle of Lepanto. The little plaster figures look almost alive on the walls of the oratory. They are playful and yet meaningful. I have just acqquired an out of print book by Donald Garstang called, 'Giacomo Serpotta and the stuccatori of Palermo 1560-1790' that shows and explain all the works of Giacomo Serpotta. While he is the most famous, he didn't work in a vacuum. He had 'mentors', Gagnini, who preceded him, for one. Gagnini's work can be seen all over Palermo also. Giacomo's father, Gaspare did plasterwork in the cathedral of Palermo. So did Giacomo's brother, Guiseppe, in fact, both brothers have collaborated in a few commissions. Giacomo's own son, Procopio has numerable commissions all over Palermo. There were a lot of others but Giacomo's work stood out.
In fact, during this period in Palermo's history, the plasterwork of all these artists is what makes the churches and chapels of Sicily so unique. This, together with the colorful marble inlay work and the mosaics and the baroque style architecture makes Sicily an amazing destination. The island, while small, has everything to enthrall everyone.
If one is into the baroque, there are whole cities rebuilt in the baroque style notably Noto, Ragusa and Modica. If one is into food, Sicilian food, while not having too many dishes is delicious, substantial and unique. It is rustic at its very best. Beaches, anyone? The whole island is surrounded by water. Baroque interiors- one needs only see Casa Professa, a Jesuit church where every inch is richly decorated with colorful marble inlay and plaster figurines.
If one is into something older, there are ruins of ancient Greek temples and amphitheatres all over the island- Taormina, Siracusa, Agrigento, Selinunte and Segeste.
The food, I've said before is memorable. In fact, since I came back, I have made 'Caponata' twice. I love it.