Tom Simard

Poetry, Music, and Prose

Archive for the category “Travel”

Sketch 3 (W&S): The Family Cow

Sometimes things take you by surprise. You might have been in a restaurant with a friend and gone to the salad bar only to return to find someone sitting in your spot and wearing your glasses. Or maybe you were traveling and had an unexpected encounter.

I think most people who have done any amount of hitchhiking will tell you that you’re about as unlikely to be picked up by someone who takes their holiday in Martha’s Vineyard as you are by those who spend their summers in the Hamptons. It’s safe to say your rides will come from either the middle or the working classes so it’s probably wise to hide that patrician accent of yours.

We had crossed our way into Wyoming and for the life of us weren’t able to get a ride. When hitchhiking, there are times of scarcity (eight hours and only eight-three miles) and then prosperity (the next ride, one thousand six hundred and sixty-six miles). We’d been on the side of the road for a spell and were just looking to get a little closer to our destination. That is not to say we didn’t periodically slip into the woods for a smoke before returning out again to brave the passing traffic.

When the old school bus pulled over, and the door opened, we were met with a decidedly unpleasant odor. I looked at my cousin with concern. He just said, “We can hardly be turning down rides.”

I took it in all very quickly and this from someone who nearly always take a very long time to register anything. The grinning driver with his Van Dyke. His pregnant wife. The young girl lying on a mattress in a feverish state. Two children playing with toy soldiers. The bus was packed with all of their earthly possessions.

All of us use our experiences to try and make sense of things. That’s why when we heard a sound we thought the kids had one of those toys where after you select the barnyard animal of your choice, you hear a cackle, grunt, or moo as the case may be. However, when we spotted something moving, we realized it was their cow.  To say we were startled would have been an understatement.

Your license, please.

For those who haven’t seen, worth a watch.  You can’t win for losing.

Sketch 1: Water and Silt

Today’s poem can be found in my new collection or in accompaniment with John Spiers’ wonderful sketch.

My dad was a dreamer, a word that some people (not anyone here I’m sure) use dismissively. I never have.

He had many dreams and while this was not by any means the most important, it was one that had a direct impact on the way I view life.

All dreams don’t come true, of course. The rain does fall on the just and on the unjust.

Although my dad mainly made map and roads, he did on occasion put up buildings.  The particular ones in question were townhouses, which were not then the ubiquitous phenomena they are now.  There was every reason to believe the development would  be a success. Its location would be just a short commute into the metro area once the proposed freeway was completed.

But then the 1974 US recession took place and the freeway was delayed.

The comfortable life I had led was no more.

No, it wasn’t the Appalachian poverty you read about in Winter’s Bone but our new home was very old and in very bad shape, and though I always had something to eat, we ate what we could afford, and during that four-month period we consumed more eggs than we probably should have mainly because they came free from the ornery hens in the chicken coop in back.

It was difficult being uprooted, and I absolutely hated my time spent there. However, now that I’m much older (in fact, the same age as my dad was then), I can appreciate that the experience gave me an understanding I might not have had otherwise. Empathy is important as is a willingness to lend a hand.  There but for the grace of God go I.

 

 

Ireland

“A hundred cares, a tithe of troubles and is there one who understands me? One in a thousand of years of the nights?”
(James Joyce -Finnegans Wake)

Ireland is a beautiful country. Its luscious green landscape can calm the troubled soul.

800px-Akes_lough_gur_clouds_trees_Ireland(Photographer: Jon Sullivan)

Uragh_Wood(Photographer: Espresso Addict)

As an English speaker, there’s the added advantage that you’ll never struggle to communicate or make yourself understood.  There’s also that lovely Irish lilt.  It’s been a favorite of mine since I can remember and one I heard my grandmother use growing up. I always try to include a shan’t here and there in honor of her.

My grandmother and her sisters had left the poverty in Ireland for a better life, and while before their marriages they worked as domestic help in the home of one of the U.S.’ greatest railroad barons, that was the closest they would ever come to wealth; their lives were a struggle to get by.

When their parents, who had not come with them, fell ill, Mary, the oldest sister, returned to Ireland.  In the meantime, WWI broke out, and she was unable to return to America.  It was her son and family I visited.

I had not warned them I was coming, and when I arrived at the doorstep, he was not exactly sure who I was, but a little explaining convinced him, and I was welcomed into their home, where they fed me well.

One day we took a trip to see what remained of my grandmother’ s house:

picture 2 of family home in ireland

The view from it was absolutely gorgeous:

picture 1 of irish landscape

Their idea of America was greatly influenced by the movies they saw, and they just assumed everyone had a gun.  Now this was in 1984 when I’m sure everyone didn’t have a gun.  If they were to ask me now, what would I tell them? I know what the NRA would like me to tell them – no, but if they did, everyone would be a lot safer.

They believed in spirits – no, not the Holy Spirit, formerly known as the Holy Ghost, which they no doubt did believe in.  But other ones you  might have read about.  While on the side of the materialists without their rigid arrogance stance that everyone is in error and could see right if they’d just listen, I could understand as we drove through the mist like I understood on those windy roads in Germany’s deep forests how Grimms’  fairy tales had come to be.

They asked me what my parents’ reaction would be if I married a Protestant.  Their Catholicism obviously meant a lot to them in a way that it had never or would ever for me.  They took me to a place called Martyrs’ Rock where the Catholics had prayed when their religion had been forbidden under English rule.

After a few days, they drove me into the city of Sligo where I would take the train, but not before I thumbed a ride to Yeats’  grave.

 

Yeats_grave_tn

I also thought to drop in and see what The Yeats Society was up to.  I can only guess they didn’t know what to make of me.  Very unlike Copenhagen a few weeks later where at the tourist bureau they put me on the phone with a Danish professor whose expertise was Kierkegaard and who was willing to meet up for a drink to talk about the great Dane:

Soren_Kierkegaard(Photographer: Sperantarice)

All roads, and train tracks for that matter, lead to Dublin.

 800px-Grafton_St,_Dublin(Photographer: Donaldytong)

 “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay…”
(James Joyce – Finnegans Wake)

220px-Duclin_Liffey_Dark_2008(Photographer: Jerome)

By all means enjoy the pubs:

800px-Temple_Bar_Dublin_at_Night (Photographer Trevah)

 Whether or not Guinness is actually the emperor of malted liquors I can only say if you do drink it, you will not forget it.

If you find a place with live music, by all means indulge.  Irish music has a real soul to it.  In case you doubt me:

 Enjoy both the city and the country in this lovely enchanted isle.

 

Wednesday’s Choice

Granby Street

Granby Street

I walk down Granby Street
all these years later.

I was taken
to see a world
I’d never known
of rolling clouds
over mountain peaks,
of crashing waves and
insufferable heat.

I never knew
if I’d return
or be buried
at sea.

 

All along the
dock
we
victoriously
disembarked,
moving about
in riotous dance,
duffel bags
slung easily
over shoulders.

I bought the
best suit
I could afford
and a pair of shoes
to impress
a  lady.

Poem by Tom Simard
Sketches by John Spiers

To find out more about John’s other creative work, please visit 1 Graphic 50 Words.

July 4, 1976

July 4, 1976
You walked slowly through the crowds
as the Grand Marshal of the Parade
waved
and though he’d never been to war
was a hero to all
having played one
in countless roles.

At the edge of Cody
time stood still
as cars passed
by without consideration.

Although received wisdom
followed
more often than not
brings untoward results,
you decided to separate
and at a later point
reunite.

After crossing the street
you threw your backpack at your feet,
heading in the wrong direction.

You glanced to see
a pick-up pulling over
and your cousin
running towards it.

But it abruptly stopped
and a brawny man
jumped out
and began hollering
as if he were a drill sergeant
and his victim
a young recruit.

You quickly approached.

“What’s the hassle, man?”

Disbelief struck his face,
before he continued
his tirade.

“I fought in the war
and don’t like you all
comin’
in our part of the country
with your ideas.”

“My dad fought in the war!
Your country?
What in the hell
does that mean?”

“That’s it with you
and your kind.
You don’t have to tell me
what your ideas are…”

“We don’t believe in our country
is that what you think?”

Days earlier you had passed
the holy mountain
that manifest destiny defaced
in the state whose senator had won the flying cross
but was denounced as wanting
peace at any price.

“Don’t be smart asses with me.
You reds don’t know
the first thing
about country.”

“Reds? Where’d you get that idea?”

“Just you two get out of here
cause if you’re not,
I’ll be back later
with friends.”

In a huff he hopped back in
and sped away
clouds of dust
rising up.

Sketch 9: The Unbroken Circle (’76)

Our poem this month, The Unbroken Circle (’76), describes an experience I had during the Bicentennial year. It was late June, and we  were on our way to Yellowstone National Park and had arrived in the city of Cody in the state of Wyoming, a place not known so much for its progressive ideas as for its conservativeness. I mean the last time they voted for a Democrat for president was 1964.  I’m not a big fan of the Democrats or anything although they did have the only candidate in my lifetime on a major ticket I’d have unconditionally supported (George McGovern), who as fate would have it went down to unbelievable electoral defeat, and Tricky Dick was reelected:

Richard_Nixon_greeted_by_children_during_campaign_1972

It’s just the Republicans have gone so far right they’re well off the page and into the margins.

Anyway, we were picked up by a guy who I swear bore an uncanny resemblance to:

436px-John_Wilkes_Booth-portrait

He told us of a concert and invited us to a party in the middle of nowhere where we were surrounded by young people whose appearance cast serious doubt on the notion they had campaigned four year earlier for Dick Nixon.  My problem at first was simple: how to open up a can of Coors.  Before you’re too hard on me, consider Wikipedia’s entry on the contraption:

“In the 1970s, Coors invented the pollution-free push tab can. However, consumers disliked the top and it was discontinued soon afterward.”

It sounds to me like a noble but doomed experiment – a little like introducing the metric system in the U.S.

For a few hours we soaked in the sun and the wide expanse of space. Then we went to see The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

We had a great time. The music was inspiring, and their encore was a stirring rendition of this song:

A Place I Never Reached

“Can Any Good Thing Come out of Nazareth?”

Such a ridiculous sentiment. On the surface it suggests there are places of which we should expect nothing. There are those who genuinely seem to believe that to be considered worthy you must come from such and such place.  Or have gone to such and such a college. If your blood is merely red…

No, I’m not talking about the city in Israel:

764px-The_virgins_fountain_Nazareth_Holy_Land_(i.e._Israel)

Nor for that matter am I talking about the place in Pennsylvania The Band sang about:

My train pass not being valid I had to hitchhike, and rides were unfortunately hard to come by. At least part of the problem was the difficulty of anyone who actually wanted to give me a ride actually being able to do so without putting themselves at considerable risk. To give you an idea of the distance I covered after 8 hours or so, imagine taking the journey with a donkey.

252px-Donkey_a(Photographer: Watta)

To be honest, I should have probably noticed I wasn’t in an area particularly renowned for the leisurely strolls of the bourgeoisie. When two men jumped out of a van and approached, I knew at least I wasn’t going to be kidnapped, my net worth being considerably lower than Patty Hearst or the poor guy whose ear was cut off.

Actually it was the police who after showing me their IDs, asked,  “Do you want to be in a line up? We’ll pay you.” Although I could have used a little hard cash, just the tiniest possibility of being picked as the guilty party by an eyewitness (and we know how very unreliable they are) put me off the idea. They were fine with that and just told me to be careful as I was in a dangerous neighborhood.  It was getting dark, and their warning prompted me to get a bus ticket and head back into the center of the great big metropolis, never having reached my destination.

Sketch 8: Descent

This particular poem deals with an image from my grandmother’s funeral. I’ve always thought smell to be my most acute sense so it’s not surprising that incense should be an important part of my memory. A single smell can easily transport me back in time.

My grandmother was Catholic, and Catholicism was very important to her generation, defining them in a way it never did me. But then again, I lived in different times – a Catholic would soon become president of the United States, and it had been a long time since No Irish Need Apply signs were seen. When I visited relatives in Ireland, and they took me to the rubble that remained of my grandmother’s house, they also brought me to a landmark where Catholics used to secretly meet to worship when the religion had been outlawed. I was asked, “How would your parents feel if you married a Protestant?”

Although titles for me are more often than not a necessary evil, I do like this one and the double meaning of descent.

Istanbul

While I’ve traveled widely in the United States, Canada, and Europe, I’ve only just stepped into Asia:

775px-OldBosphorus_colorized

Istanbul is a city with a mood:

The Blue Mosque

Agia-sofia

Cistern(Photographer: Moise Nicun)

The decorative tiles are stunning:

Topkapi_Palace_(6526101629) by David Stanley

G.dallorto2(Photographer: G.dallorto)

Georges Jansoone(Photographer: Georges Jansoone)

Salep is something to savor.

And if you’re like me and have got a sweet tooth, you’ll not be disappointed:

Yasinuslu34(Photographer Yasiunuslu34)

elif ayse

(Photographer: elif ayse)

Loukoumades

Visit the Grand Bazaar:

grandbazaar Dmgulteken(Photographer: Dmgulteken)

And the Spice Bazaar:

800px-Istanbul_spice_bazaar_02(Photographer: Takeaway)

And by all means haggle.  I’m not particularly comfortable doing so, but it is expected and somewhat of a game. Any misgivings you have should disappear if you realize not doing so will mean paying considerably more than what’s expected.

Turkish hospitality if not famous should be.

Visiting the city made me want to explore other parts of the country as well. Top on the list would be CappadociaSmyrna, and Ephesus.

Since our visit I’ve read two books by Orhan Pamuk, both of which I liked, but Snow especially.  I found Mango’s book on Ataturk to be a great read.  Clot’s book on Suleiman the Magnificent and Crowley’s Constantinople: The Last Great Siege  are both excellent.

The Bridge

The Bridge
She walked across
the bridge

beneath which
the cargo trains passed
like the movement of trees
in summer storms

above the river
that stretched
eternally
for miles.

City of New Orleans

Truckin’

Willin’

Ramblin’ Man

Take It Easy

Another classic:

Up Around the Bend

The ultimate hitchhiking song:

Discomforts

You will likely wait for long periods of time.

The weather will not always be agreeable.

You may have unpleasant encounters with people who although they have never met you believe they understand your complete philosophical and political belief system even if you’re absolutely sure you’re not in possession of either.

Point A to Point B

Hitchhiking is ideal for those who are not interested in getting from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible and believe the journey itself is what matters most.

Is Hitchhiking for You?

Hitchhiking is not for everyone.

If you can afford it, flying is more comfortable. Taking your own car or renting one is another option.

If money is an issue, consider going by bus. I am aware they have such a notoriously bad reputation that Harry Chapin once chimed they were “a dog of a way to get around.” But I imagine they’ve greatly improved, and you will almost most certainly arrive at your destination quicker than you would if you went by thumb.

Perceived risk is another consideration. Although for obvious reasons hitchhiking is not conducive to statistics,  we have all heard stories.

Come Along with Me

This is going to be an experiment of sorts.

I’m going to begin writing about my experiences hitchhiking, and hopefully eventually compile all I’ve written into a coherent whole that I’ll feel happy publishing.

Come along with me.

A Plane to Catch

When I began my journey I wasn’t in possession of a boarding pass for the second leg of my journey. The airline staff had either been unwilling or unable to explain why I couldn’t be given one.

Having dashed through a lengthy maze of corridors I found myself in front of a huge departure board. To my left was a Customer Service counter. I quickly joined the line with hordes of other passengers who were waiting impatiently. The lack of personnel did not facilitate anything being done terribly quickly.

It took longer than you can imagine.  I was seen to and handed something. I saw printed in unmistakable capital letters, STANDBY. I would be given a boarding pass at my gate at the other terminal.

After an escalator or two, I found myself skirted off by train. I wanted to believe things might possibly be reaching their climax. But then I saw I’d have to go through security again And passport control.

As I rushed off, half-dead from not having slept the previous night, my left calf was so tight I was expecting a cramp that would send me writhing on the floor. In earlier times this might have elicited sympathy but in our days it would have probably only meant being surrounded by automatic weapons and being told to step down.

Arriving, I asked for a seat and was told to go to 25A. Nobody was there. Are you sure? I nodded speechless. Then go to 25.

Thankfully, someone was there. Ahead of me were four people holding US Passports. It was obvious from their names they were Arab Americans. Outraged they would have to go through security, they demanded to see the manager. I’m not sure if they ever got the chance since the woman instead was given my passport and in no time at all I had a seat for a flight I ran off to catch.

Sketch 2: Some Wide Pastoral Spread

I love trains. There is nothing quite like sitting leisurely admiring the landscape rolling out before one’s eyes, talking with fellow passengers, or just being engrossed in a book. I’ve had some good reads over the years including The Glass Bead Game and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I once had a timetable of train routes throughout the world. I’d lie in bed and calculate my journeys, the longest being the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok.

While I never did make it to Russia, after finishing my B.A. I did get a three-month Eurail pass and spent the summer of 1984 travelling across Europe. It was and will probably remain the longest trip of my life.

Not having much in the way of money, I stayed in cheap hotels or hostels or slept on the train. For food, I usually got bread from a baker’s (is there any better than a French baguette?) and some cheese and lunch meat, and voilà! I found wine in shops incredibly affordable.

Although it was the day before MP3 players, I did have a mini-recorder with songs. Here is one of the ones I brought along:

I got as far west as Sligo where I visited relatives, and as far east as Vienna, which did not, I should say, exactly greet me with open arms. I got as far north as Bergen, and would love to have spent more time in Scandinavia, but the prices drove me southward to Rome.

I fell in love with Italy. I remember the sun, which has always seemed to me the most logical heavenly body to worship, the wonderful gelato, and the noise of Rome.

The poem describes the Italian landscape I saw.  One can read here about the pastoral. Speaking of which, why not listen to Beethoven’s symphony:

William Carlos Williams was the first American poet to really speak to me.  It was likely through him that I became aware of Ezra Pound, who was a friend of his for more than half a century. Pound’s poetry never did much for me. To some, he is known as a champion of Modernism.  Others, myself included, remember him as a raving anti-Semite/fascist, who after spending WWII in Italy broadcasting propaganda over the airways was arrested for treason:

Ezra_Pound_1945_May_26_mug_shot

Security_cages_where_Ezra_Pound_was_held,_Pisa,_Italy,_1945

Montreal

Canada is such a beautiful country, and throughout the years I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel through many of its provinces and territories. I’ve been as far west as British Columbia, as far north as well, the Northern Territories, and as far east as Nova Scotia. However, my first trip as a young boy would be by car to Quebec.

My maternal grandfather was born in Montreal but left for the US in his twenties. His brother sometimes came to see him, and as a young child my mom recalls seeing the two of them sitting drinking beer and conversing in French.  It was to his family that we visited that very hot summer.

It was 1968, and although we had missed  Expo 67, Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic dome remained and impressed me greatly.

Pano_Biosphere_Montreal(Photographer: Rene Ehrhardt)

Very little else has remained. There was the vinegar on the table to be used with French fries. The ice cream sundae gotten for free because a chunk of glass was found in the first one I’d been served, and my brother and I riding the hotel elevator in order to test the quality of the ice cubes on each respective floor, are not I suppose exactly selling points.

Here are some of the places I would visit (or revisit).

Notre-Dame Basilica:

220px-Montreal_NDame1_tango7174(Photographer: Tango 7174):

800px-Montreal_NDRosaire5_tango7174(Photographer: Tango7174)

The Old Port of Montreal:

Montréal_et_ses_reflets_-_Montreal_and_its_reflections(Photographer: French Picman)

The Old City:

Place_Jacques-Cartier,_Montreal_2005-10-21(Photographer: gene.arboit)

177_7738ret(Photographer: GK tramrunner229)

The Montreal Botanical Gardens:

800px-Jardin_alpin_1_JB(Photographer: Cephas)

The Montreal Musem of Fine Arts:

468px-El_Greco_-_Portrait_of_a_Gentleman_from_the_Casa_de_Leiva_-_WGA10455El Greco – Portrait of a Gentleman from the Casa de Leiva

336px-CrownWilliam-Adolphe Bouguereau – Crown of Flowers

I would think a summer visit coinciding with the Montreal International Jazz Festival would be just about perfect.

Canaletto

I do love Canaletto.

800px-Canaletto_Return_of_the_Bucentoro_to_the_Molo_on_Ascension_Day,_1732._Royal_Collection._Windsor.

Here are 585 of his works.

Tracy Cooper (in this article) says of him, “Of all the Venetian view painters, Canaletto took the most trouble to give every single one of the figures its own character and individuality. This is even truer of the dogs which clearly held a special place in his affections – each one is portrayed with movement and vibrancy.”

I’ve not counted, but there are an awfully lot of dogs!

A Street Musician

A Street Musician
Emotion rages
amplified
with every pounding
finger crash
of a street musician
who plays
as the sun sets
and the courtyards meet
at Saint Hubert.

Vienna

We flew into Vienna a few days before Christmas, and through a complete fluke found ourselves in the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at.

images

It was about a minute or two on foot from Belvedere and about a mile and a half from the center. Nearby was a rink where we skated:

sk

Vienna has plazas and stately buildings.

800px-Statue_of_Archduke_Charles_of_Austria_on_the_Heldenplatz_(Heroes'_Square)

(Photographer: Jorge Lascar)

The Kunsthistorisches is one of the best art museums I have ever been to:

Brueghel Tower of BablePieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Tower of Babel

466px-Raffael_030Raphael’s Madonna of the Meadow

Arcimboldo,_Giuseppe_SummerGiuseppe Arcimboldo’s Summer

The Albertina is impressive:

Durer_Young_HareDürer’s The Young Hare

510px-Maler_und_KäuferPieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Painter and The Buyer

If you visit Prater, you will no doubt ride the Ferris Wheel made famous in The Third Man. We went on a gloomy day, and our cabin was decidedly rundown, but we still got a good view of the city. No zither music was heard.

In the Sala Terrena we heard a string quartet perform pieces by Mozart, Bach, and Haydn. The latter being a favorite, we made a pilgrimage on 3 separate occasions to his home but each time found it closed. Don’t let anyone tell you there aren’t disadvantages of traveling during the holidays.

800px-Haydn-Haus

A visit to Vienna would not be complete without seeing the Schönbrunn Palace. As palaces go, I invariably find the exterior more appealing than the interior. Enjoy the Christmas markets with their ornaments and knicknacks. Try the hot spiced wine.  While not to our liking, others seemed genuinely enamored by it.

800px-Schloss_Schönbrunn_Wintermarkt

(Photographer: David M. Cerna)

The food we had throughout our stay was good – schnitzel and sausages the basic fare. However, on New Year’s Eve we treated ourselves to a four-course dinner atop the Danube Tower, which while quite a walk from the underground stop did take us through a park with lamp posts that brought to mind Lucy’s first trip to Narnia.

Vienna is well known for its pastry shops. Although Café Sacher is probably the most famous, I would avoid it at all costs. It wasn’t that there was anything terribly wrong with what we had, but neither was it worth waiting in line for an hour only to be served by an overly stuffy waiter and afterwards be given a bill so inflated one could not help but wonder whether the hyperinflation of the 1920s had returned. My willingness to occasionally be drawn into tourist traps no doubt has its origin in the family vacations of my youth.

Please do visit others though as your sweet tooth will be thoroughly satisfied. On our last day, we stumbled upon one whose display window itself was a work of art.  We struggled to make ourselves understood (I’ve forgotten what little German I had.), and then sat in the company of two old women in furs and a man slowly sipping his coffee as he paged through his newspaper.

Vienna is a beautiful city, and is well-worth visiting, but it does have a darker side.  Scroll up to the third photo. It is Heidenplatz where the Anschluss took place. It is also the name of a play by Thomas Bernhard whose Wittengstein’s Nephew should be on everyone’s shelf.

Should you find yourself in Judenplatz, you will come across this:

Rachel_whitereadwien_holocaust_mahnmal_wien_judenplatz

(Photographer: Hans Peter Schaefer)

The inscriptions below the door reads:

Zum Gedenken an die mehr als 65 000 österreichischen Juden,
die in der Zeit von 1938 bis 1945 von den
Nationalsozialisten ermordet wurden.

זכר למעלה מ-65.000 יהודים אוסטריים
שנרצחו בשנים 1945-1938
.ע”י הפושעים הנציונלסוציאליסטיים ימ”ש

In commemoration of more than 65,000 Austrian Jews
who were killed by the Nazis between
1938 and 1945.

Milan

When people think of Rome, this is what might come to mind:

800px-Colosseum_in_Rome-April_2007-1-_copie_2B

Florence:

David_von_Michelangelo

I’d be the last person to say Milan is Florence or Rome, but that is not to say it doesn’t have its own charm.

Milan_Cathedral_from_Piazza_del_Duomo

The Duomo di Milano is impressive. But perhaps you’re a little like me and wonder whether what Dylan Thomas said of death also holds true of cathedrals.  If so, one can still climb the many steps (think of it as that exercise you’ve been putting off), and you’ll be afforded a wonderful view of the city and the Italian Alps in the distance.  Within the church, I found myself enthralled by the stainglass windows.

Here’s one by Paolo Uccello:

631px-Paolo_uccello,_vetrata_della_resurrezione

I had little expectations for The Last Supper, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. After passing through one hermetically sealed room after another, we arrived in the chapel:

Última_Cena_-_Da_Vinci_5

We had 15 minutes. I could have spent hours.

If you like Italian opera as much as me, a visit to the very inconspicous (from the outside at least) Teatro alla Scala is a must. The likes of Maria Callas sang there.

Part of the enjoyment I find in travel is the unexpected.

Did you know they have a canal in Milan? And did you know it was designed by Leonardo da Vinci?

800px-4024_-_Milano_-_Chiuse_del_Naviglio_pavese_-_Foto_Giovanni_Dall'Orto,_7-July-2007

It is a wonderful spot, and there are places to eat and drink.  We were lost (also a favorite activity of mine) and happened to stumble upon a restaurant where we had a wonderful meal with an excellent Gavi wine.

Gelato has a well-deserved reputation, and when I first tried it in Rome nearly thirty years back it was a revelation worthy of St. John the Divine. You will want to taste the ice-cream here as well.

On the subject of food, risotto is a must. But, of course, some risotto is more equal than others. As always the safest rule for eating while travelling is to avoid the restaurants tourists frequent and try to find a place locals visit.  In Milan you will hear beautiful Italian cadences to which your taste buds will be eternally grateful.

Finally, I would be amiss not to mention that Milan is also the perfect spot to use as a base to travel to other locations nearby.  Our excursions brought us to Lake Como, Lugano, and Verona.

Jean Desjardins is Available

For those of you who are interested, Jean Desjardins, is now available for purchase at $.99. With the great profits I plan to reap a whirlwind of hard cash that will allow me to quit my day job and live out the rest of my years in Lugano with a Bentley.

Barcelona

Metros are not famous for their civility. Eyes rarely meet. The only unifying factor seems to be distance. While above ground one might be charmed by a flowing Renoir dress or enraptured by a Viennese delicacy, underground things are rather pedestrian. Not so in Barcelona. During our week there I have never been offered more seats by complete strangers, smiled at by workers coming home from a long shift at work or just felt perfectly at home with a people whose tongue I did not share but whose spirit I admired.

Street musicians play superbly, but then again considering that those licensed to do so have to pass exams, it probably makes sense. The mimes on Las Ramblas are delightful. Park Güell and Casa Batlló are enchanting. The interior of Sagrada Familia is breathtaking.

As you pass from one room to another of the Picasso Museum, each dedicated to particular years of the artist’s life, his experimentation and mastery of different styles will be evident. Clearly he was looking for his own unique style.

I’ve never eaten better food than the tapas in the Santa Caterina Market: grilled/breaded calamari, asparagus tempura with Romesco sauce, marinated/salted anchovies, cod canape topped with Samfaina, crusty bread topped with La Pena sardines.

One late evening, on our way back from tapas, we looked up at the sky above the Barcelona Cathedral, and I swear it was something out of El Greco.

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