I don’t speak french, but I know all about joie de vivre. We found it in Paris last summer, in the midst of a general strike, only hours after historic flooding, and just months after a devastating terrorist attack. We heard it in the animated chatter of proud Parisians, smelled it wafting from their sweet […]
Category Archives: Travel
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all […]
Evidence of Ernest Hemingway’s demons remains scratched into his bathroom walls and, for a moment, I had to look away.
A journalist, then novelist, whose honest exploration of the human psyche (most often his own) earned him both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize, Hemingway courted specific details for his characters.
I like details too, so I turned back and observed.
Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s Cuban home, still looks as though its celebrated resident might lumber through its perfectly preserved rooms. His typewriter rests, waist high on a book shelf, with easy access to a pacing author.
Trophies from his big game hunts decorate the living room walls. American magazines from 1959 still fill the rack. Though empty now, his swimming pool looks as inviting as it did back in 1957 when Ava Gardner reportedly swam naked in it. Up and down the walls on either side of his bathroom scale, Hemingway’s meticulously recorded weight, scribbled there with various pens, still hints at a troubled mind.
Hemingway wrote both For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea while living at the house, before a crippling bout of writer’s block stole his words.
“Can you imagine a writer with his talent unable to write a single word?” asked the docent who gave us a tour.
Back-to-back plane crashes left both Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary Walsh Hemingway seriously injured though not, as had been widely reported in 1954, deceased. He spent some time at Finca Vigia locked in his bedroom, recovering from injuries, drinking Mojitos and reading his own obituaries.
Reconstructed with care, Finca Vigia offers a telling look into one of America’s most talented and troubled authors.
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A good Cuban cigar (is that redundant?) takes time. It begins in an oxen-plowed field, grows carefully in the Caribbean sun, and reaches harvest stage nine months after careful soil preparation. A good Cuban cigar requires curing, sorting, stripping, and fermentation. Hand-rolled, hand-cut and hand-packaged, a good Cuban cigar waits, fat and sassy, for a […]
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The first time Major League Baseball came calling, Rolando Macias said no. Then 17-years old, illiterate, and devoted to the mother and grandma who raised him, the gifted Cuban pitcher declined a contract with the Cincinnati Reds in 1958. The next year, Fidel Castro orchestrated the Revolution that would keep him in power for the […]
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Like its famous cigars, Cuba remains elusive, richly layered and tightly rolled. Its economic, social and political dichotomies fascinated us on our recent trip. Against a lush, green backdrop, yoked oxen plow fertile fields of tobacco, sugar cane and corn, but, according to our local guide, the country imports an astounding 80% of its food. […]
An old Polish expression says, Nie chwal dnia przed zachodem slonca (Don’t praise the day before sunset.)
We’re a pessimistic lot, we Poles.
But, we knew as soon as we set our chairs under a green and gold tent in Hofa Park, that Sunday would be sublime.
A fresh breeze rustled the tarp, the new dance floor smelled of sawdust, the polka band sounded like a party and the cool priest never broke a sweat (which is more than I can say for myself after a turn or two around the floor.)
The father among our little party, Vince, who’d been talking about the St. Stanislaus Parish Festival for months, had a great time.
He kicked up his heels with a polka band, wandered through rows and rows of vintage tractors, cheered on an old school baseball game, and enjoyed a giant piece of caramel apple pie.
We saw another father, the holy kind, preside over a Polka Mass, then offer a blessing to the farmers, then bless each tractor with a spray of holy water, then make his way to the dance floor to socialize with parishioners and guests, all while layered in robes and vestments.
“How do you stay cool under all of that?” someone asked Fr. Patrick Gawrylewski, OFM.
“I just don’t think about it,” he said.
In short, our second trip to the tiny but fascinating town of Hofa Park turned out to be just as enjoyable as our first. We can’t wait to go back.
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Katherine’s magic spreadsheet took us all over Paris, through parks bustling with happy children and uninhibited lovers, into cool bookstores and sweet patisseries, across flooded rivers and ancient cobblestone, to five-star restaurants and delicious street vendors. But, the best gift her research brought us, unwrapped itself in Le Baiser Salé, a Parisian jazz club. Cynthia […]
I picked up some excellent tips on cooking and the fine art of French flirting during our recent trip to Paris.
The tres beaux Chef Erich taught me the former; my own two daughters taught me the latter.
It happened like this:
Katherine, who can whip up a perfect triple chocolate marshmallow cookie faster than you can say “oui!” took one look at our handsome instructor and forgot how to crack an egg.
“Kat-reen,” Chef Eric said. “You must hit the egg firmly on the table.”
“Like this?” Katherine, who had been successfully cracking eggs since the Bush administration (the George H.W. Bush administration), giggled a little.
I rolled my eyes and turned to Molly, my partner in sarcasm.
But, she was otherwise engaged.
“I’m trying to think of a whisking pun right now,” said Louie, a tall, precocious California teen-ager.
“Well, I’ve been whisking you had one,” a laughing Molly responded.
Mon Dieu! We’d only been in Paris a few short hours and already I hardly recognized my own kin.
I busied myself taking pictures while the two girls, the sweet teen, a mother/daughter duo from Pittsburgh and a Parisian couple helped Chef Erich whip up a cheese soufflé, a très délicieuse vinaigrette salad, and, best of all, a chocolate soufflé.
“Kat-reen will you help me serve dessert?”
“I’d be delighted, Chef Erich.”
I did pick up a few excellent soufflé cooking tips I’m happy to share.
1) Steam makes soufflés rise and crust traps the steam. That’s why you may want to add a layer of grated cheese to the top.
2) To avoid lumps, start whisking in the center of your bowl and work your way out.
3) Butter the ramekin in the direction you want your soufflé to rise.
4) Determine your whisk size based on the amount of air you want to add to your dish. Big speed equals big bubbles. Small speed equals little bubbles.
We all had a great time, ate some delicious food and shared a few laughs. We highly recommend La Cuisine, a cooking school located right on the banks of the Seine in Paris. And tell Chef Erich Kat-reen sent you.
I had no idea, as we wandered through Giverny and Claude Monet’s famous gardens last week, how apropos my favorite Monet quote would become.
“Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love,” he said.
With their gorgeous riot of color maintained for more than 225 years, both the flower and the water gardens stand as universal symbols of empathy and joy. Monet, who painted his famous water lilies series as “a monument to peace”, was right.
It is not necessary to understand a devout woman’s desire to cover up, or a conservative parent’s honest fears, or a young man’s same sex attraction, or a transgender person’s surgical choices. It is simply necessary to love.
In their drive to celebrate the extraordinary beauty in ordinary life, Monet and his fellow Impressionists spawned a whole movement. But you don’t have to be a painter or even an art aficionado to belong to their club.
You can see the kind of beauty they championed every day in the immigrant’s bright, flowered dress, the graduate’s happy gold tassel, the infant’s sleepy smile, the couple’s sweet hand clasp.
You only have to look.
Our time in this big, beautiful world is finite. We all only have the few precious days we get to spend here, and the legacy we leave behind.
I choose to spend my days seeking color, light and love. I choose Monet.