Archive for November, 2011

Following a week in Italy and a week in London, I have been having a little bit of trouble getting back into the swing of things.  I arrived back in New Hampshire Monday evening to find things had changed quite a bit in the two weeks I was gone.

Any leaf that had been clinging to its tree before I left was long blown away and everything had the grey and brown hue of late fall.  Indeed, there was a rather large early snowstorm while I was away and although most of the snow had melted, it was evident more was to come.

Anyway, I got right to work cleaning things up and finishing up all the projects I wanted to complete before winter.  I also began preparation for Thanksgiving – it has been decided that I will host dinner here in the old family home.  It will be the first time my mother has been to the house since we moved my parents out two years ago.  It will be an interesting and emotional event I am sure.

However, I am very excited about it and I have put together a great menu.  In the coming days I will share some of the dishes I plan on making and other thoughts about preparing for Thanksgiving.

I will also be posting more of the things I “found” in Italy and London, but I will spread them out among my regular musings.  Last but not least, beginning on December 1, I will be begin my third annual Christmas postings, with holiday finds, gift ideas, and ways to give back.

In the meantime, here is a picture my sister sent me today.  I was traveling in Italy with my sister and her daughter (my niece) and we all took many photographs.  My sister is a great photographer and enjoys taking panoramas of various settings.  This is a panorama she did of St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City – a composite of about 10 separate pictures she took.  Very cool!

rome.pano

Guernsey-coverI am back from vacation and back to reading.  Many people go on vacation and end up reading a few books.  I have never been that type of vacationer, I tend to go on active vacations to cities as opposed to relaxing vacations on the beach.  That said, I do end up reading on planes and trains and always have something with me.  On my trip home from London the other day, I finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I have to say at the outset that I was thoroughly charmed by this book and it was fun finishing it on the way home from the city (London) where much of the  book is set.  I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this book originally, although it has been a popular success with much written about it.  In any case, despite what I thought was a potentially pretentious title, I am glad I picked it up.

About The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: “January 1946: writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.”

The book, a work of fiction, is a collection of notes, letter, telegrams, etc. sent between the various characters telling their stories.  The conceit of the narrative starts off a little challenging, but before long you are drawn into what seems like a purely organic conversation between the characters. Eventually you realize that every word in the book is attributed to a person, not a narrator or generic voice, which makes the stories of these people more powerful and human.

The backdrop to the book is the story of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II, a chapter in history not as exposed as others, especially for American readers.  The device of letters telling the story does get weighed down at times by the exposition surrounding the historical facts, but it is necessary and forgivable.

Again, I was charmed by the book, fell in love with many of the characters and even learned a little something about history – all the elements of perfect historical fiction.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is available from Amazon and other booksellers.

HOLFreshly recovered from the da Vinci exhibition at London’s National Gallery, I hit another of the great museums of the city, the glorious Victoria and Albert museum (The V&A to the cool kids).  The V&A is just great, a huge collection dedicated to art and design – all kinds of design from all eras.  It is a place where you can see tapestries from the days of Henry VIII and chairs from the swinging 1960’s.  Any lover of design (and an anglophile at that) like myself could spend days at the V&A and be in heaven.

I have been to the V&A on past trips to London, but wanted to visit again on this recent trip to see what was new and specifically check out a special exhibition curated by one of my all time favorite recording artists, Annie Lennox.  Ms. Lennox has curated The House of Annie Lennox for the V&A, a special exhibit highlighting her career and her approach to style and the creative process.

About the House of Annie Lennox: “This exciting one-room display explores the image and creative vision of Annie Lennox, whose music and personal style is internationally renowned. On display are costumes and accessories worn by Lennox, photographs, personal treasures and awards, ephemera from the political campaigns she has championed, recorded interviews, and music videos.”

The V&A has a wonderful permanent collection of works dedicated to the performing arts, and The House of Annie Lennox fits right in.  Included here are some great pieces from Ms. Lennox’s career, including some iconic costumes she has worn through the years, and the Oscar she won for writing a song from the Lord of the Rings films.  It is always a kick to see an Oscar in the flesh.

I left the House of Annie Lennox and the V&A with a renewed appreciation for the creative process and a strong desire to rededicate myself to my own art.

The House of Annie Lennox continues at London’s V&A museum through the end of February 2012.

Check out the V&A’s website here.

See the site dedicated to The House of Annie Lennox at the V&A here.

aaa.napA wise person once said to me: “never fall in love with something that can’t love you back.”  This is good advice which I have tried to follow my whole life.  The advice is meant to address things like falling in love with a fancy car or something out of your reach, but I have found it also means people, but that is for another time.

On my trip to Italy I fell in love with a couple of objects that I wish I never saw.  The two things were articles of clothing, a sweater in Perugia and a scarf in Florence.  The latter was a scarf I saw in the window of a shop after telling my niece that I was always in the market for a good scarf.  We went into the store to find that the scarf in question was a one-of-a-kind and cost more than 400 Euro.  I did not love it that much and settled for a 10 Euro scarf bought from a street vendor.

But it is the sweater seen in Perugia that I can’t get out of my mind.  The sweater, by the Italian clothier Napapijri caught my eye in a window display of a store we happened to walk by a few times.  We went in to check it out, but I just was not in a buying mood – I didn‘t want to carry it around and it was not exactly inexpensive.

I made a note to check out the brand, which I had never seen before, and when I saw their online catalog, I fell in love (against the sage advice) with just about everything Napapijri offers.

The sad thing is the sweater seen in the shop window in Perugia does not appear in Napapijri’s online store.  Alas, the definition of unrequited love.

See all the great fashions of Napapijri here.

The sweater in the window, lost forever:

aaa.nap

if1I hit Italy with one gastronomic goal: to eat all the cured meats – prosciutto, mortadella, salami, etc  – as possible.  I did eat a great deal of great cured meats, but I was surprised at how many truly vegetarian meals I ate.

In general, we found the food was fresh and well prepared, especially in Umbria, where we were based most of the week.  Here are a few dining highlights I made note of and would recommend for anyone who may be visiting Italy soon.

Lunch in Florence

One of the best meals I had was a lunch at Il Sedano Allegro in Florence.  I had a lovely tortellini dish and it was one of the best meals I have had in a long time.  My dining companion had different dishes and reported them to be great as well.  After eating there and making a note to return should I every come back to Florence, I found out that Il Sedano Allegro is an exclusively vegetarian restaurant.  Who knew?

Dinners in Assisi

if3Meanwhile, dining in Assisi was the great delight of the trip.  Rome and Florence may boast bigger, better and more restaurants, but they are also very expensive.  On our first night in Assisi we happened upon Ristorante Moro di Ronca, outside of the walls of the town and away from where the vast majority of pilgrims ever make it.  Ristorante Moro di Ronca is truly a gem, and definitely a place where the locals eat.  Family-run, the food here was amazing – we dined there three evenings over the week.  Each time I had pasta with meat sauce – it is so basic – but I have to tell you it was also so good, almost as if I had been trying it for the first time.  The bread was also great as were the salads and just everything. 

We dined in a comfortable dinging room warmed by an open wood burning fireplace.  It was the perfect find for our week in Umbria.  By the way, Ristorante Moro di Ronca is also a great bargain in the best way: great food at great prices.

Directly across the street from Ristorante Moro di Ronca is Ristorante Da Giovannino, where we also dined and found it to be almost as good.  Here I had the most amazing boneless chicken thigh. It was so well-prepared and totally devoid of the usual fatty bits.

I recommend both of these local restaurants to anyone planning a trip to Assisi.  Both establishments have been around for years and will likely be there when you get there.  Although a little off the beaten path, you will be happy you left the walls of Assisi to navigate the winding mountain roads with a great meal as your destination.

The Best Fast Food Ever

if2On our visit to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, we came across Piadina, a place that makes fresh panini/calzone types of things.  Hard to describe, but they make the bread fresh on a griddle, like a big pancake, then put on your choice of fillings, flop it over and serve you the best lunch ever.  So good!  While we waited, they served a complimentary glass of sparkling wine and as a treat they included a grape dipped in chocolate for each of as dessert. Very classy for a no frills storefront eatery.

This is just a small fast food place and it was one of best meals we had on the trip.  Additional research has uncovered what we suspected, Piadina is a franchised chain across Italy.  My sister wants to open one in the US.  This not likely to happen, but I will have to say that should someone ever do it – they will have a goldmine on their hands.  Piadina is on my watch list for a return visit to Italy – with locations across the country, it is likely our paths will cross again.

We ate meals at many other places, but these are the highlights for me.  I was shocked at how expensive the restaurants were in central Rome and Florence – with all sorts of fees and charges added on.  It was fun to dine with a view of St. Peter’s or on the great piazzas of Florence, but not truly worth the expense.  Give me the small town, family-run places any day of the week.

See more about Il Sedano Allegro in Florence here.

Find Ristorante Moro di Ronca in Assisi here.

Find Ristorante Da Giovannino in Assisi here.

See more about Piadina here.

leoOne of the great pleasures of traveling to London at any time is visiting some of the most amazing public museums of the world.  From the British Museum to the Victoria and Albert museum, and many others, there is always something new – and plenty old – to see.

On this trip I was thrilled to have the once in a lifetime opportunity to see the most surviving da Vinci paintings all in one place as part of the Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition currently at London’s National Gallery.

 
About the exhibition: “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan is the most complete display of Leonardo’s rare surviving paintings ever held. This unprecedented exhibition – the first of its kind anywhere in the world – brings together sensational international loans never before seen in the UK. While numerous exhibitions have looked at Leonardo da Vinci as an inventor, scientist or draughtsman, this is the first to be dedicated to his aims and techniques as a painter. Inspired by the recently restored National Gallery painting, The Virgin of the Rocks, this exhibition focuses on Leonardo as an artist. In particular it concentrates on the work he produced as court painter to Duke Lodovico Sforza in Milan in the late 1480s and 1490s.”

This is indeed a rare treat, as one can see from the long queues that have been forming daily across Trafalgar Square.  Any line is worth waiting in to see this amazing exhibition.  After seeing so many great works of art on my trip to Florence and Rome, I still got a thrill to see such amazing works by one of the greatest artists ever together in the extremely well-curated exhibition.

If you can’t see the exhibition in London, you can read all about it on the National Gallery’s website.  Like all good exhibitions these days, there is also a large collection of merchandise on sale: “inspired by Leonardo: Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition, The National Gallery shop has an exquisite and awe-inspiring new range of gifts. We’ve got original ideas with something for everyone.”

The Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition will be on display at London’s National Gallery through February 5, 2012.

Visit the National Gallery’s Leonardo da Vinci Painter at the Court of Milan exhibition website here.

Visit the Leonardo da Vinci shop here.

 leo2

aaa.11.11

 

Today, November 11 is Veterans’ Day in the United States and Remembrance Day here in the United Kingdom.

It is a day we pay respect to those who have served in our nations’ armed services.

Remembrance Day is marked in the UK by the symbol of the poppy, a flower that covered the battlefields of World War I in France and Belgium where so many lost their lives. The presence of the poppy is ubiquitous around London every November and it is reaffirming to see so much support for veterans and the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

In honor of the day, above is a picture of one of the many memorials in London that have been draped in wreaths of poppies. However, I like the simplicity of one poppy pin stuck in this bronze Royal Naval memorial on the Thames Embankment.

41v3ioTDjlL__SS500_Well, your intrepid Lost Cowboy may have seemed truly lost for the past several days.  Indeed, there have been a few moments where I have had no idea where I was and was truly “lost” but loved every minute of it.

I have been on my long-planned vacation to Italy and the UK and sadly have not had a chance to keep my posts timely.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  First, I have been so busy touring around and have not had any time to write. Second, for most of my trip in the heart of the Umbria region of central Italy, I have had no internet connection.  The horror!

As I write now from my hotel in London’s Notting Hill section (as Hugh Grant says in the film “my favorite little bit of London”) I am trying making sense of my notes and experiences of the trip so far.  What I can promise is a bunch of new “finds” from my travels in Italy from the tiny hilltop towns and sprawling vineyards and olive groves of Umbria to the treasures of Florence and the sprawling mosaic that is Rome.

As always, London is also providing much fodder for posts as well.  The city is alive with all the cultural and civic excitement of the season and there is something new around every corner.

Thanks for your patience as I enjoy my trip and collect great new things to share with you.

One of my favorite places in London – looking across Trafalgar Square towards the towers of Westminster:

aaa.11.8

I flew from Rome to London this afternoon – this was the view from my window seat as the sun set while we were about the clouds somewhere over France:

aaa.11.7