Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Welcome Babies

Boston, Mass - I am thrilled to announce the arrival of my baby boys.

As a result, this blog is on hiatus until we start traveling!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

May Day May Day

Jamaica Plain, Mass - Regular readers may recall that one of my Top Nine Things to Come Home To is the lilac trees blooming in May. 'Tis the season! Although I do enjoy the two lilacs abloom in my backyard, it's nothing compared to the blaze of 422 plants that are busting out in all shades of purple and white at the Arnold Arboretum.

Lilac Sunday at the arboretum is this Sunday, May 9, but the purple pretties are already in full bloom. If you want to see (and smell) the 200 different kinds of lilacs, go now - it's peak season!

Lilac Sunday will be filled with festivities, including living music and dance, crafts and activities for kids, and tours of the lilacs. Plus, it's the only time you can have a picnic in the park.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Patriot's Day

Lexington, Mass - The Patriots' Day celebration in Massachusetts starts early - really early. As dawn breaks, local history buffs are assembled on the Lexington village green, some decked out in `Redcoats' while others sport the scruffy attire of Minutemen, firearms in hand, ready to re-enact the fateful battle that kicked off the War for American Independence.

Massachusetts is one of only two states in the USA that recognizes Patriots' Day as a public holiday, but the Commonwealth takes it seriously. This is where the action went down on April 19, 1775. And this is where it continues to go down every year on the third Monday of April.

I was there before daybreak - along with hundreds of other eager spectators. (Note to self: next time bring a ladder.) The Minutemen hung around near Buckman Tavern and on the green, while the British Regulars assembled in a nearby parking lot. Apparently they don't make them re-enact the walk all the way from Boston.

As the sun rose, the bell rang out from the Old Belfry, and the colonial militia assembled on the green to await the arrival of the Regulars. Back in 1775, the militia men had been warned by Paul Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott, who set out from Boston the night before to spread the word. So when 700 British Regulars marched up to Lexington Green just after daybreak on April 19, they found Capt John Parker's company of 77 Minutemen lined up in formation to meet them. (Today, the Brits are represented in decidedly fewer numbers.)

The famous instructions from Capt Parker were the following: "Stand your ground; don't fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here."

But Capt Parker was a reasonable man. When he saw how badly outnumbered were his ranks, he ordered his men to disperse peaceably. Before they could do so, the Regulars were charging forward, shouting "Huzzah!" to confuse and disarm their opponents. It worked... some of the militia men dispersed, some stayed put, some laid down their arms, some did not. As a spectator, even I was confused - and I knew what was supposed to happen! (In all fairness to me, I couldn't really see.)

Here's where history is a mystery. In the midst of the confusion, a shot rang out - from which side nobody knows.  During the re-enactment, the shot was fired from a window of Buckman Tavern, but other accounts state it came from behind a wall or a hedge. That one shot triggered others, and bayonettes, and soon eight Minutemen lay dead on the green, with 10 others wounded.

Afterwards, the British soldiers continued to nearby Concord, where growing numbers of Minutemen were able to fight them back - and indeed chased them all the way back to Boston. (The Battle of Concord is also re-enacted every year on the Saturday before Patriot's Day.) But the skirmish on Lexington Green was the first organized, armed resistance to British rule in a colonial town.

Back in Lexington in 2010, as the British troops marched off down the road, the Minuteman re-enactors came out of character and the crowds began to filter across the green, heading to Starbucks to reload on caffeine. The battle was lost, but the war would be won. It was still not even 7am, and the rest of the day would filled with pancake breakfasts and parades.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mrs Jack

Boston, Mass - As I was researching the Boston City Guide last year, I did a series of posts on Cool Boston Ladies, which included Anne Hutchinson and Mary Baker Eddy. It was a good idea, but sorely incomplete. How in the Hub could I do a series entitled "Cool Boston Ladies" and leave out Isabella Stewart Gardner?

A prominent member of Victorian-era society, this lover of art, music, gardens, travel and baseball dedicated her life to pursuing her passions - and sharing them with others. She did so by building a Venetian-style palazzo right here in Boston, filling it with priceless artwork that she had acquired on her worldwide travels, decking the courtyard with seasonal blooms, and welcoming the public into her home for concerts, exhibits and other gala affairs.

(Okay, there was no baseball at Fenway Court - as her palazzo was called - but she often donned her Red Sox hat and made her way over to Fenway Park to support the Olde Towne Team.)

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is still an exquisite way to spend a day (or an evening). I was there a few days ago to admire the Hanging Nisturtiums. Mrs Gardner's favorite flower, these orange blooms drape the courtyard every April in honor of her birthday. (She was born 170 years ago today.) The four-storey garden courtyard is always an oasis, but it was absolutly stunning in its birthday suit.

This is the first time I have been to the museum since my stint in Venice, so I was thrilled to discover how the palazzo reflects Mrs Gardner's love for La Serenissima. From the outside, the building is rather plain, so you forget that the arcaded interior evokes the Doge's Palace on the Grand Canal.

Even her art collection hints at her affinity for the Italian Renaissance. Truthfully, the artwork spans the globe, especially sculpture from Ancient Rome and Greece (the ultimate in garden art), extensive paintings by Dutch and Italian masters, and a few prominent pieces by American artists (who were her acquaintances) Sargent and Whistler. But it's clear that the art of the Renaissance captured Mrs Gardner's heart and soul - as evidenced by pieces by Giotto, Botticelli, Titian and Raphael.

Aside from the art and architecture (and music and flowers, etc etc) the Gardner Museum is all the more enticing as it is surrounded by intrigue. Exactly 20 years ago, the museum was the setting for a legendary art heist. On March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as police officers tricked the security guards and left with nearly $200 million worth of artwork. The most famous painting stolen was Vermeer's The Concert, but the loot also included three works by Rembrandt, and others by Manet and Degas, not to mention French and Chinese artifacts. The crime was never solved.

Mrs Gardner's will stipulated that the collection remain exactly as it was at the time of her death. So the walls where these paintings hung remain barren, even today. Meanwhile, the Gardner Museum continues to offer a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the artwork. So if you have any leads, please let me know.

The palazzo at Fenway Court has remained almost exactly the same since its opening in 1903. Even after Mrs Gardner died in 1924, the museum continued to display her artwork and host concerts just as it had during her life, according to her will. Her living  quarters on the top floor were converted into administration, but little else changed.

Until now.

It's not evident from the inside, but the Gardner Museum has undertaken an enormous expansion project, knocking down the old carriage house to make way for a striking modern addition designed by Renzo Piano. It's obviously a controversial move, evoking protests from the Fenway neighborhood association and other traditionalists. But the museum administration feels the expansion is necessary to maintain the vibrancy of the institution.

Apparently the collection will remain intact, and the new space will be used for temporary exhibition space, concert hall, cafe and office space. The Massachusetts Supreme Court approved the deviation from the will, so the expansion is moving rapidly forward.

The rennovation is scheduled to be completed in 2012. So visit the palazzo now, so you can say you remember what it was like back in Mrs Gardner's day.

Photos courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bleacher Bar

Boston, Mass - As of Sunday, the action is underway at Fenway Park. Even if you can't get tickets to the big game, you can still get a peek inside America's oldest baseball park.

As of last year, Fenway opened a bar underneath the bleachers - the aptly named Bleacher Bar. It's accessible from Lansdowne Street, which means you don't need a ticket to get inside. And it has a big window looking out over centerfield (go Jacoby, baby!)

There are a few tables perched right in front of the window, so you could actually watch (part of) a game here. But the Bleacher Bar does not take reservations, so you have to get your name on a list, which starts forming around 5:00 or 5:30pm on game days. Even then, there is no guarantee you'll get the table of your choice (and seating is limited to 45 minutes anyway). The bar area is pretty big, with plenty of TVs so you won't miss any of the action.

If you dread the crowds, it's almost better to come by the Bleacher Bar when the Sox are away, when the window is open and a sweet breeze comes in straight off the field. Or, stop by in the late afternoon on game day, when you might catch some of the players warming up. When I came for lunch today, there was some stirring in the bullpen and Daisuke Matsuzaka came out to loosen up his arm.

Looking good, Dice-K, but there's no word when he'll be off the DL and back on the mound.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Fiery Pool

Salem, Mass - I have the distinct pleasure of writing about a wide variety of destinations. I started this gig as a Russophile, but I have since become the go-to girl for Boston and New England, and I'm doing my best to cultivate my expertise of more tropical destinations like Belize and Brazil.

It's not immediately clear what these places have in common, but I suppose that's part of the fun.

Every once in a while, my worlds collide. That's what happened today when I was in Salem, Massachusetts, researching the new edition of  LP's guide to New England. Salem has many highlights, one of which is the excellent Peabody Essex Museum. And right now, the PEM is hosting a pretty awesome exhibit on the "Maya and the Mythic Sea".

The ancient Maya thrived throughout Central America from about 2000BC to AD1500. Their realm extended across Mexico, Guatemala and - drum roll - Belize. One of the thrills of visiting Belize today is exploring the myriad mysterious ruins left behind by this great civilization. Click to read about my experiences at Tikal in Guatemala and various sites in Belize.

The PEM exhibit compiles artefacts from all across the region, the common theme being that they all offer insights on the Maya connection with water and the sea. So you've got the figurine of the Jaguar God of the Underworld riding a crocodile; a Maya deity peeking out from through the toothy grin of a spiny lobster; many depictions of the rain god Chaahk; and (my personal favorite) a 10-pound jade sculpture of the head of the Sun God, which was excavated at Altun Ha in Belize.

The exhibit includes a few stelae, or stone carvings, which are fiberglass reproductions of the carvings at temples and tombs in Belize and elsewhere. (Truthfully, the stelae on display on site in Belize are also fiberglass reproductions, since the original pieces have been removed to protect them from the elements.)

But most of these artefacts are not on display anywhere in Belize. Maybe there are museums in Mexico or Guatemala, but Belize has no facility to protect and present these ancient, intriguing pieces. So the PEM exhibit is a real treat.

So there you have it... a little piece of Belize in New England. (Since that's the closest I'm going to get to Belize this year, I'd best enjoy it!)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Mt Etna Man

Somerville, Mass - In case anybody is wondering about the new photo on my homepage, let me introduce you to Mt Etna Man.

This wizened face is carved from a giant piece of Etna lava - no joke. We bought it from the artist when we were in Sicily two years ago. He was working along the road, as we drove up to the base of the mountain.

It was a bit of a debacle to get him back to Venice. We tried to carry him on the airplane in a backpack, but security was very suspicious. Nonetheless, they couldn't really come up with any reason why he might be dangerous. Finally, they just said it was too heavy and he would have to be checked. And that was that.

I went running through the airport to have him wrapped up in bubble wrap and then abandoned him at the check-in counter (as per staff instructions), despite the fact that nobody was there to accept baggage.

Unfortunately, (of course) he did not make it onto our flight. Fortunately, he showed up in Venice a few days later. Unfortunately, he was in two pieces, which explains the unsightly scar across his cheek. But never mind, he still makes a delightful addition to the garden.

This is the first time in years that I am home in April, so I am really enjoying witnessing the garden come back to life. The forsythia is a little spotty, but the tulips and daffodils are marvelous. I didn't even know I had daffodils back there!

All the nice weather and spring blooms reminds me: it's just about spritz season!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New England Authors - 3rd in a series

New Bedford, Mass - New Bedford is trying really hard to establish itself as a tourist destination. Similar to Lowell, it has been declared a National Historic Park, as a former capital of the whaling industry. It does contain a wealth of extravagant neoclassical architecture from the early 19th century, as well as the cool Whaling Museum, featuring the massive skeleton of a blue whale. Now, there is a small Ocean Explorium with a few exhibits of living sea creatures too.

All this stuff is entertaining enough, but what really puts New Bedford on the map is its role in Moby-Dick. Herman Melville has been commended, not only for his literary genius but also for his indepth knowledge of the whaling industry. No big surprise - Melville knew so much about it because he spent 18 months on the whaling ship Acushnet, which set sail from this very port in 1841. "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard," he wrote years later.

I have to admit that I have not read Moby-Dick (not yet, anyway), but the first part of the novel vividly describes the New Bedford that we can still see today - the working waterfront, the Customs House, the boarding houses. The fancy homes that are set back from the waterfront were built by prosperous whaling merchants. "Yes," Melville wrote, "all these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. One and all, they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea."

The most evocative building in downtown New Bedford is the Seamen's Bethel, a small chapel that was built in 1832 by the Society for the Moral Improvement of Seamen. The idea was that this chapel would provide a respite "free from the demoralizing influences to which sailors are too often exposed."

In Moby-Dick, Melville wrote "[Few] are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot." With its pulpit shaped like the bow of a ship, the church is still open for services and special occasions.

This is also where Melville fans congregate for the Moby Dick Marathon, a non-stop reading of the hefty tome. The annual January-3rd event comemmorates the departure of the Acushnet from New Bedford and it takes about 25 hours. Just in case you don't get around to reading the novel yourself... here's another option.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fall River

Fall River, Mass - Fall River may seem an unlikely destination, but it does have two things: Battleship Cove and Lizzie Borden.

A collection of war ships and the house of a murderess. Not exactly your typical tourist attractions.

Battleship Cove. I enjoyed this place way more than I expected to. The namesake battleship is the mighty USS Massachusetts and she is humongous. This hulk of a craft survived 35 battles in WWII and gunned down almost 40 aircraft, never losing a man in combat. Needless to say, nobody on board this beaut ever whined "You sank my battleship!"

While the USS Massachusetts is indeed impressive, it was not my favorite part of Battleship Cove. That would be the submarine Lionfish. Talk about claustrophobia!

These are only two of the eight historic ships at Battleship Cove. The USS Joseph P Kennedy Jr, named for President John F Kennedy's older brother, did battle in the Korean and Vietnam Wars and is now a museum. There are also two Patrol Torpedo (PT) boats, a landing craft, a Japanese attack boat and other craft. The ships are wide open for exploration, making this a great destination for kids.

Lizzie Borden. Fall River's favourite son (or daughter, rather) is indeed an assumed murderess. She is so well known thanks in part to the popular children's rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
And when she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

The rhyme is just one of many inconsistencies in the account of what happened on that fateful night in 1892. Actually, Abby Borden was assaulted with 18 blows to the head with a hatchet, while Andrew Borden received 11. Ouch.

Although Lizzie Borden was acquitted of this heinous crime, her story was rife with contradictions. That nobody else was ever accused was enough indication for Lizzie Borden to go down in popular history as America's most famous murderess.

Today, the Greek Revival Borden House in Fall River is - you guessed it - a Bed & Breakfast. Decked out with period furnishings and decor, the eight rooms are named for the family members that actually stayed there. It's artfully and accurately remodeled, which makes it all the creepier. If you don't care to spend the night in the room where Abby Borden was found murdered, you can just come for a tour.

Friday, March 12, 2010

New England Authors - 2nd in a series

Lowell, Mass - Enough about Emerson and Thoreau and Alcott and all those 19th-century idealists out in Concord.

New England is also the birthplace of Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac, and today is his birthday. I know this because a few days ago I was in Lowell, Mass, where Kerouac was born in 1922.

Nobody would put Kerouac in the same category as those other New England writers, yet he credits them (specifically Whitman and Thoreau, among others) with influencing his philosophy and writing. According to the Lowell Historic Society, "he and his contemporaries were restless seekers after the meaning of life," as were his predecessors. Like the Transcendentalists, he hung onto his religious roots (Roman Catholic in Kerouac's case), but he also explored other belief systems (specifically Buddhism, which he incorporated into his life).

This spiritual theme is reflected by the Kerouac Commemorative, a sort of monument in a small park in the center of Lowell. The granite columns are inscribed with excerpts from Kerouac's writings, while their arrangement draws on Catholic and Buddhist symbols.

Kerouac is most famous for his free-spirited novel On the Road, but many of his earlier novels are set in Lowell and based on his experiences growing up here. The Town & the City depicts the tension caused by "the universal human need for both roots and wings." The Town refers to Kerouac's hometown, Lowell (called Galloway in the book), while the City refers to New York City, the ultimate symbol of adventure and exploration.

Lowell is packed with Kerouac's formative places, from the house in Centralville, where he was born; to Lowell High School, where he began to write (and setting for his novel Maggie Cassidy); to the offices of the Lowell Sun, where he was a sports reporter; etc etc.

After living in New York, Kerouac returned to Lowell with his wife Stella Sampas. He is buried in the Sampas family plot at Edson Cemetery, just south of Lowell center.

The Lowell Historical Society publishes an excellent "Map & Guide to Kerouac's Hometown", which features all of these sites. It's called Lowell: Where the Road Begins, and it's available at the NPS office.

If you're really into Kerouac, head to Lowell one year from today to celebrate Jack's 89th birthday. Or, even better, show up for Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, a literary festival held the first weekend in October.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New England Authors - 1st in a series

Concord, Mass - Appropriately enough, the selection of my book club this month was Geraldine Brooks' Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, March. It is a Civil War story, but flashbacks and other parts of the novel take place in Concord, Mass.

Perfect timing, as I am about to start my research on the update of Lonely Planet's guide to New England.

March is so called because it revolves around the character of Mr March, the absentee father in Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women. Brooks incorporates characters and plot elements from Alcott's book, as well as historical events from the life of Amos Bronson Alcott (Louisa May's real-life father, who was a philosopher, writer and historic figure in his own right).

Amos Bronson Alcott raised his family in Concord, and Little Women is set here. In fact, you can visit the Alcott family homestead, also known as Orchard House, which is where Louisa May wrote her masterpiece. Up the road in Harvard, Mass, you can also visit Fruitlands, the idyllic spot where the young Bronson attempted to establish a self-sufficient utopian community.

Bronson ran in the literary circle that included Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, both of whom lived in Concord, and both of whom are characters in Brooks' book. All of these individuals live large in New England lore (not to mention Unitarian-Universalist theology, which was profoundly influenced by their Transcendentalist teachings).

Of course I have read Little Women, as well as visiting Alcott's house and Emerson's house and Walden Pond. So it was a real treat to read Brooks' clever and creative attempt to weave all of these elements together. The end result is a cohesive and compelling story for the one character who would otherwise remain a mystery.

Don't get me wrong - March is a work of fiction, and it's not 100% historically accurate. But Brooks' made-up story is all the more intriguing because it incorporates places and characters and historical events that are so familiar to us. 

Mr March is missing from Little Women because he is off fighting in the Civil War. As readers, we don't know much more than that. In March, he is a middle-aged minister who is committed to the cause of abolitionism, so he joins the Union army - first as a chaplain for the soldiers, and later as a teacher for freed slaves.

Aside from the New England connection, March is a compelling read for its portrayal of a fervent idealist who is nonetheless deeply flawed. Mr March always seems to have the best of intentions - to do the right thing, the moral thing - yet time and time again he comes up short, as a result of his lack of understanding or his lack of courage. This is true of his dealings with the soldiers, with his students and - most dramatically - with his family. In this way, his character is strikingly, disturbingly real.

Nor does Brooks spare us the gory details of the Civil War. March is a first-hand witness to the brutality of slavery, combat, torture, treason and guerilla warfare... and so are we the readers. March had set out as a true-believer, certain that he is on the right side of history, supporting a moral cause. But as events unfold, he must grapple with the realization that he can do very little to promote it. And we are left to wonder if the concept of "just war" is anything more than an oxymoron.

March asks tough questions: what is the point of doing "the right thing" if it doesn't actually do any good? Is it in fact the right thing? And how can one persevere when doing the right thing does not achieve the intended result?

Brooks never answers these questions, but leaves us to mull them over. "You go on," March laments. "You set one foot in front of the other, and if a thin voice cries out, somewhere behind you, you pretend not to hear, and keep going." It's a pang we all have felt at one time or another.

Upon completion of March, I was doing a little research, and I came across this quote from Louisa May Alcott. It expresses the same frustration, but with a tinge more optimism (making it a nice note to end on):

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Cycling the Elephant Highway

Somerville, Mass - It's hard to believe that only one year ago, I was counting down to my departure to Southern Africa, where I would cycle almost 1000 miles from Victoria Falls to Windhoek, Namibia.

Needless to say, my life has changed a lot in the past year. I haven't been on my bike since August, due to my pregnant state. Instead of watching lions and leopards prowling about the Okavango Delta, I am entertained by the antics of my own wild cats, Ozzie and Lynx.

And although I am about to start research on the updated guide to New England, there are no plans for travel to more exotic destinations in my foreseeable future.

Nevermind, other adventures await. In the meantime, my reminiscence is aided by two exciting developments:

  • The new guide to Botswana & Namibia is out, and it features my blurb about cycling the Elephant Highway. Read it here.

  • Lonely Planet TV has released a series of videos - one for each leg of the Tour d'Afrique. Follow my team member Tom Hall and me, as we pedal across Botswana & Namibia (below), or click here to see the other videos.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


Somerville, Mass - I couldn't go to Venice to celebrate Carnevale this year, so I decided to bring Venice to Somerville. In honor of Shrove Tuesday (better known as "Fat Tuesday", or Mardi Gras), we hosted a Venetian Carnival dinner party, complete with music, masks and plenty of food and wine.

To start, I offered a smattering of cicchetti, which is basically the Italian version of tapas, served with two quintessential Venetian cocktails: the Spritz and the Bellini. My guests seemed to prefer the Bellini, which is a sweet fruity cocktail, made with three parts Prosecco and one part peach puree. This popular drink was invented at Venice's most famous watering hole, Harry's Bar, and named after the 15th-century Venetian painter.

The Bellini - like the bar - is preferred by Americans in Venice, but the Italians' drink of choice is the Spritz. This is not the first time I have written about this delightfully bitter aperetif: indeed it was included on the list of Top Ten Things to Miss about Life in Venice. In case you forgot, it is one part Prosecco and one part fizzy water, with a shot of bitters (eg, Campari), topped with a lemon and an olive or two. We spent many a fine spring evening sitting in a cafe overlooking the Grand Canal, sipping this fizzy orange drink. Come to think of it, we have spent many of fine summer evening sitting in the backyard of the pink house sipping this fizzy orange drink.

The first of my cichetti was a close replica of sarde in saor, or marinated sardines, a very traditional Venetian dish. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to find fresh sardines around here. The recipe I used suggested substituting sole filets, which were also not available at my local fish market. The guy behind the counter said the next best thing would be flounder, which is nothing like sardines, but nevermind... they held up very well to the onions and white wine marinade.

Next came Venetian shrimp and scallops in a saffron tomato sauce. I have to admit that this recipe came from Rachel Ray, and I'm not sure how authentically Venetian is really is. But it sure was good.

After cocktail hour, I invited the guests to the table for the first course, which is another decadence that was allegedly created by the inventive folks at Harry's Bar (and named after another Venetian painter). This is basically raw meat. If you appreciate a nice rare steak, you'll love carpaccio, which is seared only slightly and sliced super thin. We ate this often in Venice - normally served atop fresh arugula and topped with olive oil and parmesan. I found a recipe that fancied it up a bit, topping it with a salsa of navel oranges and kalamata olives. It was a show-stopper. Really, my guests devoured it, and so did I (despite the prohibition on rare meat in my pregnant state).

Finally, my main course was roasted sea bass with potatoes and olives (as per this recipe), served with a side of risi e bisi, or risotto and peas (as per this recipe). The wine was a pinot grigio from the region of Friuli, just northeast of Venice.

Of course, I am petrified to filet my own fish, so I bought the sea bass filet and altered the recipe accordingly. It's simple to prepare, but sea bass is invariably buttery and succulent. The tomatoes and olives effectively cut this richness a bit - it was divine.

The risi e bisi was practically the only dish that I was able to prepare in advance. As such, in the flurry of cooking and serving this multi-course feast, I completely forgot about it until after everyone was done with their fish! But my guests still wanted to try this traditional Veneto stew, so I served it afterwards, inadvertently adding a fifth course. Woops.

After dinner, we brought out the vin santo, a delicious dessert wine that we brought back from Tuscany. Okay, it's not really Venetian, but we used to drink it when we were in Venice. Plus, it goes great with fritole, the traditional Carnival dessert. These miniature pastries are basically fried dough, sprinkled with powdered sugar, so you can't really go wrong. But the addition of raisins, pine nuts and grappa (or rum, in this case) enrichen the flavor. My guests were swooning (and stuffed).

Over dessert, we watched Mask Maker, Mask Maker, the audition video that I made in Venice, and looked at our photos from Carnival in Venice. The evening brought back some wonderful memories of La Serenissima!

Click here to re-read my travel blog from Venice.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wildlife Kingdom

Somerville, Mass - Look who came to visit us in the backyard of the pink house. Coopy the cooper's hawk.

My cat was glued to the window, clearly aching to get outside and stalk this beautiful creature. I'm sure she would have made a delicious lunch (the cat, that is).

Monday, February 1, 2010

Props to Union Square

Somerville, Mass - How long have we been saying that our neighborhood - Union Square - is "up-and-coming"? Approximately nine years, since we moved in.

Yes, that does raise a question about how long a place has to "come up" before it actually arrives somewhere. But never mind, roday The Metro Boston featured Union Square on the front page, calling it "a welcoming place for young, creative entrepreneurs."

The article features some of our coolest local places... The Sherman Cafe & Market started as a cozy cafe with free wifi and great egg salad sandwiches, but recently expanded to include a little store selling local produce, Vermont cheeses and other locally-produced delicacies. OPEN Bicycle is a crazy-concept - a bike shop and an art gallery all in one. OPEN Bicycle was also featured in the Boston Globe Magazine as one of the best new businesses in metro Boston. Go biker-artists!

Read more about up-and-coming Union Square...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Come Sail Away

Somerville, Mass - I'm not normally one to let the weather get me down. But when the snow and sleet are accompanied by a Republican upset in the special US Senate election, that's downright depressing.

Fortunately, I've got something to lift everybody's spirits - and whisk us away to warmer climes, at least for a minute or two.

I had to temporarily remove my video of the ICA Boston (from my last post): apparently we don't have all the legal issues sorted yet. In the meantime, I have this clip from Down Under, featuring your favorite travel writer sailing the Whitsunday Islands. Come sail away with me!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Contemplating the contemporary, the controversial and the downright confusing

Boston, Mass - Lonely Planet TV has a new video, this one featuring yours truly at the ICA Boston!

It is rather short. I actually provided loads of footage, much of it shot at the Shepard Fairey exhibit that got so much attention last year. Unfortunately, most of it could not be included, due to copywright issues. (Ironic, since we all know how Shepard Fairey feels about taking artistic license in using other peoples' images.) If you are interested, you can click here to read more about that exhibit.

In the meantime, I have used this opportunity to revamp my page about Boston and New England, which will show off the new video and the new Boston City Guide and Boston Encounter. Check it out!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Grand Union in Union Square

Somerville, Mass - Everybody knows about the Boston Tea Party and the Battle of Bunker Hill, but what about the little piece of Revolutionary history that played out on New Years Day, right here in Somerville?

On January 1, 1776, George Washington ordered the Grand Union flag be flown from a 76ft mast atop Prospect Hill. Bearing 13 stripes representing the united colonies with the crosses of St Andrew in the corner, it is considered the first American flag and this is the first time it was so proudly waved.

The flag flew over Prospect Hill until British troops were driven out of the city; and it served as the national flag until the new nation officially adoped the Stars and Stripes the following year.

Nowadays, the city of Somerville hosts a re-enactment every year on New Years Day. George Washington prances in on his horse and orders the flag to be raised, after which the Charlestown Militia fires their muskets. Somerville was part of Charlestown in the early years, so it's all historically accurate, except maybe George Washington's Boston accent.

This year, the ceremony was accompanied by plenty of speeches, a little Woodie Guthrie and coffee and donuts for everyone. (That part might not be historically accurate either.)

Afterwards, the granite tower (built in 1903 to commemorate the site's hitorical significance) is open for anyone who wants to climb to the top. You can see why the patriots chose this spot to wave their flag, as the tall tower gives a spectacular panorama across Cambridge, Charlestown and Boston.