Saturday, December 08, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
So we sat at the bar and listened to Philippe. His last job was working at a former speakeasy in Paris. It was down a side street from the Lourve. ‘Had we been to Paris? I’ll give you the address. You’d like it.’ And so the conversation went.
The bar glistened and a bottle of Talisker single malt caught the light from the muted wall lighting. The bar had the feeling of a film noir set, of anticipation and suspense. Smoke clung to every surface, yellowed the light before unwillingly disappearing outside through the vents in the tortoiseshell windows.
More people joined us at the bar and the conversation was as generous as the drinks. Phillippe turned his attention from us, two travellers, to a group of business men. They had replaced one of the couples and were sitting intently, huddled as if to protect a shared secret.
As for Phillipe, he was talking to a couple at the bar. ‘Have you been to Paris? I know a great little bar. I’ll give you the address. You’d like it.’
So dark was the inside that it took several seconds for the shadows to become people. It was late in the day and most of the light now came from the inside lighting. Every surface was stained a muted yellow, as heavy as the smoke that saturated the air. Like its legendary owners, the café had the appearance of timelessness. It has survived two world wars and a mission to the Russian front. This was one of the great kaffeehauses of Vienna, Café Hawelka.
It was busy. The sound of dishes could be heard from the back of the café. Waiters dressed in the traditional tuxedo moved between the tables, taking orders. More people arrived and were seated wherever there was room. She was one of them and she would have easily blended into the busy Sunday afternoon crowd except for her tangible anxiousness.
She had the look of an Egon Schiele painting. In her appearance, she was haunted and drained like the parched wood of the café, her face as yellowed as the cigarette stains and smoke. She was a fugitive from herself. Her eyes darted nervously around the room. Her restlessness was unforgiving, as she looked from table to table, from one person to the next, and then to the door. She was on a table with two other women, who chatted to one another. To them, she was invisible. To me, she was all movement. Sometimes she listened to their conversation as if she knew them but her eyes never stopped moving.
I was seated with an American couple, expats. She was a musician and worked at the university. She had been coming to Hawelka for the last thirty years. ‘I used to write my assignments here. It used to be full of artists; now it’s mainly tourists’, she told me. ‘I still come here – maybe it’s nostalgia or something else. Make sure you order the cake’. She looked at her partner. His profession, unlike hers, went unstated. They were there with an architect and his Italian girlfriend. The conversation shifted from English to Italian and then to German. ‘He is talking tomorrow, if you want to come’, he said nodding towards the architect and handing me a pamphlet.
I sat and drifted in and out of their conversation, sometimes joining in. I knew that kaffeehauses were the great meeting places of Wien, where classes would mix outside normal strictures, but I was unsure of the etiquette.
From time to time, I looked at the woman.
Her kaffee had arrived. Like everyone else’s, it was served on the traditional silver tray with a glass of water and sugar cubes. She stared at the teaspoon, took one sugar cube placed it on her spoon and watched it dissolve into her coffee. The other one quickly followed. She sat stirring it and this was the only time that she stopped looking and appeared at rest.
Bored with the Italian, the American asked me about Australian authors and told me about a book he had been reading about existential angst in the wilderness.
WIEN QUICK GUIDE
The Loos Bar, Kärntner Durchgang 10
WHERE TO EAT
A must-do for any foodie. Wander through the market and sample breads, oils and imported goods from Turkey. While you are there, check out the fabulous Wagner apartments.
Tuesday, October 02, 2007
Even on entering, there was no suggestion of what would greet us beyond the entrance. A male odalisque reclined fully clothed in his opulent splendour and watched Saudi music clips on a wide plasma screen, while we made our enquires. There were five of us, would this be ok? What treatments were available? Should we have booked?
For a Sunday in Düsseldorf, we opted for the royal treatment. This was to be an indulgence that will take over five hours.
On arrival, we are given robes and a silver tas (bowl) containing liquid soap of mud and olive oil and a kese, scrubbing mitt before being lead into the inner sanctuary of the hamam. Inside, it is a labyrinthine of titled rooms. As we pass through each room, the perfumes of rose, lavender and rosemary evoke the pleasures of a perfumed garden. Each room is a quiet sanctuary of mosaic titles, of brilliant blues and yellows that dance in the familiar arabesques of Arabic art.
The ritual of washing begins with a sauna. Wrapped in a pestamal, a traditional checked cloth worn at the haman, any feeling of tenseness dissolves. The steam is gentle and warming and after twenty minutes, we emerge relaxed. We then wash, before being lead to another treatment room where our treatment begins.
First we are scrubbed. Lying flat on a titled bed, any dead skin is removed by the rigorous of rubbing of skin beginning with the face and then the arms. The experience is strangely lulling given the coarseness of the mitt. My limbs become heavy and seep into the titles beneath me. No English is spoken; I only know when to turn when I am gently repositioned. Clean again, I am rinsed before being soaped.
Bags of fine bubbles are opened and spread over the body in layers. This is not a fine film of bubbles but more like a bubble bath without water. My skin enlivened by the scrubbing is alive to every sensation as the bubbles dissolve as I am massaged. A nagging shoulder and neck pain immediately feel better and the almond scent of the soap reminds me of childhood baths. All I can hear are faint sounds in the distance and the sound of running water.
Between treatments, we retire to the relaxation room to drink sweet Moroccan tea. Hamans were traditionally places to fulfil the Islamic practice of cleanliness as well as to mingle, socialise and gossip. The idea is just to sit quietly, despite the German magazine scattered on small wooden tables. We recline. I sit in silence, while the others talk lazily and drink tea. We are told to rest for twenty minutes before our next treatment.
We are taken to another wash room, modelled on the wash areas outside Mosques and lead to a cold foot bath. The water is icy cold but slowly warms to body temperature. The stone bed in the next room calls and so we lie beneath man-made stars on a bed-like temple. The heat from the stone emanates through the titles and again my body is lulled to sleep only to be awakened for a massage. I am lead downstairs past the reclining male odalisque to a small treatment room.
For the next forty minutes, I am massaged from foot to head. Time ceases to exist and I am lost in my own body. My limbs are weightless and I am docile in my movements. I am simply turned but my body folds into the pressure of the massage. I am all surface, a receptacle of touch. It makes me several minutes to regain consciousness and I am unsteady on my feet. I meander back to the stone bed to allow the heat to return to my body.
On the way out, the male odalisque offers us fragrant perfume of rose and sandalwood. ‘It’s to relax you'. Personally, I don't feel that I could be any more relaxed. I am also offered a brochure on Islam. I confess that I don't speak German but that I'll come back. He agrees.
T: +49 2 11 271 3321
A special thanks to the beautiful Inga, Mish, Maya and Jane for being such lovely bathing companions.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Mine started in Paris and ended with an unexpected connection with a stranger. It is a romantic end to a story about Paris – a place where I left my heart, only to rediscover it on the Eurostar.
To fall in love with Paris is to fall in love with the look of Paris. At some point in her history, did she decide that she would not be anything less than dazzling beautiful?
The only competitor for her attention is that spectacle of all spectacles, the Mona Lisa.
It is a relatively unadorned dish that speaks for itself. It is followed by salmon with dill and concludes with apricot tart with goat’s cheese sorbet and a meringue of green tea.
For me, it was a conversation where everything came together; for him, 'I so loved the way we connected, and I would definitely love to see you again somewhere soon'.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
In Naples, I learnt to speak beginners italian through my stomach. Each day is a lesson about food - what to eat, when to eat and how to eat. The flavours of the food are like the local dialect. Distinctive and unique. In Naples, the endings of words disappear, the letter e becomes ie in pronunciation, v turns into b and d into r.
This is my la lezione italiana from a week in southern Italy.
The sun raises and the haze falls away to a morning that begins with a walk and the sound of church bells in the distance.
Lezione due: Si prega di non toccare
It is impossible to travel to the south of Italy and not discover limoncello.
Lezione tre: C’e un carciofo?
The word for artichoke in Italian is il carciofo. We eat it as an antipasto and with spaghetti. As an antipasto, it is grilled on open flames and served with a light drizzling of oil. It is from the garden and has been cooked on the bbq earlier in the afternoon. Its flesh is succulent and chewy. You tear off each petal and grip the flesh with your teeth enjoying the smokeness of the taste. Its heart is filled with a dressing of oil from the agristourismo and fresh parsley.
Lezione quatro: The art of filleting a fish
There is something about a flirty waiter and I find myself in the company of a professional at Ristorante 'o Parrucchiano la Favorita, Corso Italia, Sorrento.
Next is Sogliola del Tirreno al Forno (or simply the catch of the day baked in olive oil). Again, it is extraordinary in taste – the olive oil is fruity and surprisingly doesn’t overwhelm the dish.
Lezione cinque: Fare tiramisu : a lezione per Marco nella cucina.
There is only one way to eat tiramisu – on the evening that you make it and then in the morning for breakfast.
Lezione sei: La dolce vita
The agristourismo where we stay is one of the many farmhouse stays, so popular in Italy. Four generations live here in this working farm that produces olive oil, wine and legumes. Each meal is another lesson in Italian cuisine as we literally eat the harvest of the garden.
This is the life. The days are long and warm. There is no rush and I enjoy just sitting looking out to the Bay of Naples after lunch, half dozing and half revising the lesson. There is a job going or so Marco tells me. It is domestic work but I’m tempted. Perhaps I could manage to work in the kitchen, if I’m lucky.
Lezione sette: Che ora e? Siesta. Tutto chiude.
A day in Naples begins in the University sector, we wind our way through the streets discovering churches and local delicates like Naples famous baba. It's a sweet pastry, almost cake, soaked in rum and filled with chocolate cream or custard. We walk pass street stalls, piazzas and cafes, following our local guides - Marco e Marcello.
From a distance, Naples is surprising large. A sprawling and dirty city that has almost cast off its seedier reputation in a renaissance that started in the 1980s. Despite its nod to tourism, it stubbornly refuses to become another Roma or Venezia.
Fashionably attired Italians coo over their expressos and groups of business men talk. It proves to be the perfect place to try sfogliatella, another pastry filled with ricotta and dusted with icing sugar.
Lezione otto: Molto grazie ma non mangio la cena stasera.
I arrive in Capri welcomed by rugged vistas, swags of bougainvillea and tourist buses. I quickly walk pass the men with placards advertising hotels to the bus station. Another opportunity to practice my Italian: a che ora e il prossimo l’autobus a Anacapri? In ten minutes or so is the answer.
I go to Anacapri because it is away from the main tourist spots and it’s considerably cheaper than Capri, made famous by Jackie O and Ms Bardot. After a boat ride and two bus trips, all I want is a expresso decaffeinatto. There is a café directly opposite the bus stop and this where I meet Enzo. He buys me a café, no doubt charmed by my ‘perfect’ Italian! Why not I tell myself, I can practice.
He was born in Anacapri and has lived here all his life. He is charmed that I think it is a bella isola e mi preferisco Capri a Napoli. He even corrects me when I confuse newspaper (il giornale) with day (il giorno).
He asks me what am I going this evening and would I like to go out to dinner. I gratitiously decline for two reasons. One, I have eaten so much over the last five days in Naples that I literally cannot eat – sono molto piena and two, he is my father’s age. I am flattered and thank him. He tells me that I am beautiful.
I wave goodbye from the bus as I head to Capri and amaze at Italian men. I am at least twenty years younger than him – but that’s the fun of being in Italy.
Lezione nove: Always arrive early
It is my last day in Capri and I decide that I can’t leave without seeing the Blue Grotto. I catch the local bus and find myself at the top of the hill with no idea where I am going. I walk down the stairs, pass the obligatory tourist shop, to find myself at the water’s edge wondering where the grotto is. Then suddenly it become clear, I need to get into a boat. Five euro is the going rate. I step in to cheers of the surrounding boatmen.
The entrance to the Blue Grotto is small. I have to lie down to avoid decapitation and once through this small entrance, I open my eyes to see a most lustrous blue. The word for blue in Italian is azzurro and the sound of this word somehow embodies what I see. The light simmers, like an aura, luminating the grotto and the water beneath.
Do I want to go for a swim, he asks me. No, not today.
Instead, he sings. It is just him and me. I bathe in the light to the sounds of his voice. This is tranquility, only interrupted by the arrival of some Japanese tourists. In quick succession, five boats come through the opening and the stillness is interrupted by camera flashes and laughter.
Time to go. Will I come back again, he asks.
Lezione dieci: Quando tornare a Italia?
I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the food or just the slowness of living, but Italy gets into your skin. I arrive back in London and it's gray and somber. I hit the underground and people push and shove as they squeeze onto the 8.20 District line train.
Naples seems such a long way away – a lifetime away. I grab a coffee and walk to work from the tube. Holding onto my holiday experience before I hit the hayhem of the office.
So what’s a girl to do? Well, she books a flight to Milan in June. Why? To practice her Italian.
Saturday, March 24, 2007
I am heading off to Naples in three weeks times to study Italian for a week. For the last 10 weeks, I have been going to the Italian Cultural Institute to study Italian. It has been a fabulous experience and I have loved every minute of it. Why Italian? Well after my slow food experience in Turin, it seems the most appropriate start to the pursuit of a slow(er) life. Big aim – to live in Italy and work for the Slow Food Movement! One can only dream.
Saturday, January 27, 2007
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Proust wrote of Venice that ‘my dream became my address’. It's true. Venice is a subterranean city where dreams are born in the waterways only to dissolve in the city’s mists that roll in from the sea and cover its islands. It is a city that harbours lovers and is haunted by death.
The way to discover Venice is to abandon yourself to the city. The Piazza San Marco is spectacular but it is in the neighbourhoods beyond this famous landmark that you'll discover all that is unique about this city on water. Explore the labyrinthine of bridges and connected streets and get lost. Maps will prove useless as streets that seem straight on paper turn out to be sinuous lines that resist navigation. Perhaps it’s the endless tides that result in these shifts of the cityscape. How else can you find a piazza one day but not the next?
The only people who know the city are the boatmen, who travel its waters and the inhabitants of San Michele, the centuries old resting place of Venetians. Their ghosts are the spectres of light that you see dance across the water at night.
From the Basilica di San Marco. you can look out to the piazza, take in the soaring heights of the Campanile and the grandeur of the Palazzo Ducale. Such a spectacle is only rivalled by the inside view of the basilica. This is a church made of gold. Saintly figures stare out, so poignantly human in their expressions and gestures.
Board a gondola and see Venice as the boatmen do. Travel the canals to the recorded sounds of O Mia Caro (or if you are lucky a tenor accompanied by a guitarist) and discover the hidden waterways of the city and abandoned palazzos.
At dusk, stand on the bridge opposite the Galleria dell' Academia and watch the sun set over Venice. This view of the Canal Grande takes in the Basicilica di Santa Maria della Salute and the Dogana di Mare. Truly magically.
You’ll need several hours to visit the Gallerie dell’Academia. This gallery houses some of the best examples of Renaissance art. Be sure to find Bellini’s La Tempesta and attempt to solve its puzzling symbolism (room 13). Veronese’s Feast in the House of Levi represents the mastery of this period; a controversial work in its day (room 10). The artist was brought before the Sant’ Uffizio and accused of heresy because of his unconventional approach to his subject of this painting.
No trip to Venice would be complete without a trip to the Museo de Peggy Guggenheim. This Dogess of modern art stated that she wanted to collect a piece of art a day. Her former residence houses a formidable collection of surrealist art. Most striking is the collection of Murano glassware. Intrigued by the qualities of glass, she organised a number of collaborations between Venetian artisans and artists like Chagall, Picasso among others.
In many of the shops throughout Venetian, you’ll find reproduction Fortuny lampshades and fabrics. At the Museo de Fortuny, you can visit the palazzo of this 20th Century designer, photographer and artist. On display are examples of his fabrics as well as lampshades made for the Hotel Excelsior on the Lido in the 1920s but the real highlight is the photographic collection. Look for the 1902 photograph of Piazza San Marco without the Campanile, which famously collapsed the same year.
Hidden in the neighbourhood of Dorodorso is Do Farai, an osteria that specialises in seafood carpaccio. Order the carpaccio di brancino all’hg and Stefano will create fine shaving of fish dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and wine from a whole fish in less than five minutes. Move onto the spaghetti con nero di seppia and as Stefano tells it ‘you’ll eat like the Venetians do’.
San Marco may be only five minutes way away, but Corte Sconta is a true Venetian secret. You will need to book regardless of the time of year so popular is this restaurant with locals. Follow the tradition of this restaurant and order the selection of seafood appertizers. The scallops are particularly memorable as are the Venetian style Scampi buzara served with fresh tomatoes and apples.
Across the lagoon on the island of Giudecca is Mistra, a shipmakers’ canteen that does a brisk business for only a few euros. At Ai Gatto Nero on the island of Burano, the antipasto degustazione is a three course symphony that begins with sardines and baked scallops and concludes with muscles and pipis. For a more upmarket affair, try Da Fiore, Venice’s only Michelin star restaurant.
I’m just wild about Harry and he’s just wild about me; so the song goes. It’s a little clichéd and admittedly overpriced but there’s no better way to celebrate being in Venice that drinking a Bellini at Harry’s Bar. This mid-afternoon drink is the perfect way to people-watch and enjoy the atmosphere of this famous institution.
Cantina do Mori is not easy to find but once found it’s the perfect place to sample ciceti (Venetian term for small bites). Enjoy the dark cavernous feel of this bar with its overhanging pots and large vats of wine and the seafood ciceti inspired by produce from the nearby Percaria market. The Osteria ae Cravate in San Croce is another local bar offering excellent food and service.
The best seats in town are at Café Florian overlooking the Piazza San Marco. Your view will be expensive but regardless of whether it is day or night, you’ll describe the experience and the cost for years to come. If the Florian is full, then the Gran Caffe Ristorante Quadri is just as good.
Venice is famous for its Carnivale. Even if you don’t get to this most extravagant of festivals, you can purchase one of its famed masks. Ca’Macana is one of the best known having made masks for Kubrick’s Eyes Mind Shut. For marionettes, try Il Gatto Matto. This store also sells masks richly decorated in Venetian moretti glass; others are inspired by the richly ornate work of Gustav Klimt.
You’ll find the famed marbled paper at one of the outlets of Il Papiro and La Ricerca, but at Legatoria Piazzesi you find something unique. This store first opened in 1828 and paper is still made using the original wooden blocks. For the literary at heart, there are books, diaries and journals, and desk accessories.
Giacomo Rizzo is the place for specialist pasta. Some are simply for decoration (surely) but the more traditional funghi, seppia and pomodoro are excellent buys to take home. Another stop on your food trait is Antica Drogheria Mascari for porcini mushrooms, lemoncello, chocolates, teas and sweets.
Formerly the residence of the Doge of Venice, Andrea Gritti, the Palazzo Gritti is the most luxurious hotels in Venice. Its rich furnishings are what you would expect of such an elite residence that has attracted guests such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and Princess Grace of Monaco. Recognised as a world-class hotel for its elegance and discreet service, this hotel with its view onto the Canal Grande is the hotel to be pampered.
Situated close to the Museo de Peggy Guggenheim, the Ca’ Pisano was the first design hotel in Venice and has a reputation for outstanding service. Its modern design in a sixteenth century palazzo will appeal to those with a modern sensibility.
Hotel Al Sole is one of the many converted palazzos that you will find throughout Venice. It’s location across a canal in San Croce and its picturesque courtyard makes it an ideal place to stay.
ISLAND HOPPING Venice is famous for its glassware and lace, so a day trip to the island of Murano and Burano to see these centuries old craftsmanship is a must.
The reputation of Murano glassware is well deserved. You’ll find the normal array of tourist items, moretti jewellery and reproduction goblets, but also some spectacular modern pieces. The best showrooms are Venini and Barovier and Tasso. Most showrooms will ship anywhere in the world.
Burano is a quiet and picturesque island celebrated for its brightly coloured houses and lace-makers. Each woman specialises in a stitch and it’s possible to watch this intricate and painstaking work in many of the local shops. Try La Perla and Martina for specialised homeware.
Away from the tourist hordes, the neighbourhoods of Venice offer the perfect opportunity to sit at a café Venetian style.
Grab a mid-morning coffee at one of the city’s many pasticceri. The Café Toletta is typical of these small shops. With no seats or tables, this is the closest that Italy gets to fast food. Do as the locals do and order a café and perhaps a pantoza from the dolci and pastries on display.The Campo San Margherita offers a lively spectacle of a fresh vegetable, fruit and fish market and by 12 noon, the outside tables are full. It is easy to understand why Italy is the home of slow food. Linger over your café for an hour; grab a midday ciceti at one of the many cafes or a gelati from Gelateria Igloo. Stop at look at Vinaria de Oro, where local residents buy their bulk wine. While you are there, visit the Scuola dei Carmini to see the ceiling paintings by Tiepolo.
Beyond the Rialto bridge and tourist shops, you’ll find the Pescatoria and fruit and vegetable market. Here is the place to buy dried porcini mushroom and dried tomatoes to take home. For a lesson in how to prepare artichokes, the local vendors trim, cut and slice these extraordinary vegetables ready to take home.