A New Year’s Eve

I went to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. My curriculum involved a grueling schedule of “studio” classes, eight hours a day, three days a week, on Manhattan’s Theater Row. In between classes the various studio groups would gather in a kind of green room to eat or rehearse or whatever people did in the late ’80s before everyone started looking at their phones. My sophomore year I noticed there was one particular guy whom people would gather around in that moldy carpeted room. He wasn’t loud or attention seeking, like so many of my classmates; he simply sat on the floor and received guests in a kind of regal way. One day I went over to him and said, “Hello. I’m Christine. I’d like for us to be friends.” He said, “Well then, I guess we’ll be friends” and from that moment on, we were. Continue reading

What It Feels Like To Explore A New Place: Favignana, Sicily

Ed. Note: Hi! I’m reposting this while I’m getting ready for a massive post. Enjoy!

Favignana

I just realized that in my heated fervor surrounding an epic day trip to Levanzo last year, I forgot all about poor Favignana. It’s one of the three Egadi Islands accessible by boat from Trapani, Sicily (the third being Marettimo). If you’ll recall, last year during a visit by my friend Mr. Pants, we got a 10-euro round-trip flight to Trapani from Rome and then randomly hopped on boats to venture farther out into the Mediterranean.

This is the story of our trip to Favignana.

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On Meaningful Road Trips

Me & Louis

In January 2004, Fabulous Cousin and I rented a car in Rome and drove to the east coast through the Apennines. They were breathtaking, with snowy caps and tiny mountainside villages and long tunnels and vertigo cliffs. We arrived in Pescara and drove north along the coast for a while. At one point we got out of the car and walked across the beach to the edge of an angry, stormy Adriatic. I love winter beaches.

We ambled our way blindly up to Città S. Angelo, where our great-grandfather was born. Two dogs followed us through the city walls to a town sitting precariously on the top of a hill. Down every side street there are sweeping views of the Adriatic on one side and mountains on the other. Continue reading

Celebrating Father’s Day From Far Away

Cork

My father is the original foodie. He’s not the most verbose man on the planet – I’ve always maintained that he says five things a day, and they’re all hilarious – but he lives to eat, and doesn’t mind telling you all about it. Whether it’s the crappy excuse for a hoagie he had in New Mexico in 1981, his much-adored pescatore recipe or the latest “chow-down” with my parents’ friends, he can recall almost every meal he’s ever had with an impressive clarity and describes them with sometimes overwhelming passion.

In fact, sometimes he’ll call me simply to talk about food. I’ll know food is going to be the topic, because he starts with my name instead of “Principessa,” which is how he starts when he’s just calling to chat.

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Being Driven Around The French Riviera For A Day Is Pretty Awesome

between Tourette and...

Kensington Tours generously arranged this daylong tour, but all opinions are my own.

As anyone who’s asked me for travel advice knows, I’m not a big fan of tours. Large group tours are useless; it’s hard to pay attention, usually you don’t get to see the thing the tour guide is talking about until after they’re done talking about it, and also it’s mortifying to be herded around like sheep. And although none of these things were an issue on a very small tour I took of the Vatican a few years ago, for example, we were required to practically jog the entire museum complex – twice – in order to get through everything before the REALLY big crowds showed up. I was exhausted. And when I’ve spoken to other people who’ve done small tours, the majority unfortunately have had the same experience.

But seeing as how three of the four of us had never been to the French Riviera before, and that Kensington’s proposed itinerary featured places I’d never been to either, I decided that this would be a good way to get as much in as possible – for work and for pleasure. And so it was that on a warm and sunny morning in Nice, we found ourselves walking with Pierre, our driver and guide for the day, to our comfortable, roomy, air-conditioned minivan for an adventure.

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In Which Two Chefs, An Insane Frenchman, And The Gay Mafia Arrive

sycamores (afternoon)

After Carolyn gave us our tour of Demeure’s exquisite Le Petit Hôpital, we met the two chefs who would be cooking our dinner that night. (!) They were young, adorable, very cool, had great taste in music (which was playing softly in the living room), and we knew immediately that we would be in capable culinary hands.

Even better, before heading into town for supplies they introduced us to their own personal stash of top-shelf liquors. Continue reading

Showing Off Local Life In France

Usclas-du-Bosc

We could have easily stayed on Domi and Gwennie’s Peniche Oz for a month, but it was time to move on – Melanie and some members of the Montpellier Coven were about to meet, and these things cannot be stopped.

First, we popped over for a quick stroll around Lac Salagou. It should be noted that I always have to think twice before saying this name, as I often get it confused with Sagaloo, the guru employed by Eddie in AbFab. Anyway, the lake is surrounded by otherworldly red earth, and young lovers have taken to collecting the bleached-white rocks that are scattered around the area – where they come from in this Martian landscape, heaven only knows – and forming words of undying love as well as other interesting shapes.

La spirale du 24 Août au Salagou 11

But the real magic started just around the time that we both had to pee. We hustled back into the car, drove about 10 minutes and pulled into a supermarket complex. We found restrooms immediately, which was more thrilling than it should have been. And as I stood at the entrance to the store waiting for Mel to come out, I heard my name being called – there was Vic and her little peach of a daughter, Mia! I guess we were closer to our destination than we thought.

And so it was that we had a delightful lunch in St-Privat with Vic and Great Scot Sheila on Vic’s mother-in-law’s terrace, which is next door to Vic’s and offers a view of the surrounding mountains. (Yes, I was back in the mountains. We’re not talking about it.)

St. Privat

We then proceeded to our accommodations for the next two nights – the Salamander Gite in Usclas-du-Bosc, located on another mountain. Like St-Privat, Usclas-du-Bosc is one of those places in the Languedoc region that barely warrants a dot on the map, but is kind of near everything. I think I’m going to write about this area in another post, because we saw so much and I really want to tell you about it.

But for now, Vic gave us a tour of the funky, comfortable gite and we got our first look at the view from the terrace, which was breathtaking.

Usclas-du-Bosc

Then, like a superhero and/or whirling dervish, Vic actually stayed and prepared a dinner for us to eat later! (Baked ham and endive in a bechamel sauce, OMG.) And then boom, she was off again, with Mia in tow, after we agreed to meet up in Lodève the next day.

Why Lodève? The weekly market, naturally. And, naturally, superhero and/or whirling dervish Vic was there with her stall all set up. You see, in addition to raising three kids, helping her husband with his business, singing in the local choir and managing four gites, she has started a business of her own.

It’s called Fou d’Anglais, which is a play on words – it means crazy about English, but it sounds like “Food Anglais” – English food. And that’s exactly what it is! Vic sells old-home favorites to English expats, wayward American freelance writers (ahem), and an increasingly large number of curious French people. Within about a month she’s going to have her own store and cafe, but for now she’s getting the word out at the local markets around the region.

Mel and I wandered around the Lodève market for a while, tasting, well, everything, and then set up at a cafe near Vic’s stall that had Internet and worked a bit. After the market was over, we joined Vic at the Bar des Halles for a glass of rosé, and Mel marveled at the teensy street cleaning machines that made the town look as good as new.

We then all met back at the Salamander, and Vic’s husband joined us, and we had a feast of breads, cheeses, meats and of course, more rosé. Then it was time to crawl into my way-too comfortable bed, because we were about to have even more fun somewhere new!

How Not To Drive From Paris To Avignon

Gourdon

I actually don’t have any photos of the trip. This was taken on another harrowing mountainside two weeks later.

On the last day of April in the Year of Our Lord 2012, fellow travel writer Melanie Waldman and I decided to rent a car in Paris and drive down to Avignon for our stay at the Hotel d’Europe. This is our story.

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On Anniversaries

Zest Bar

Recently I entertained the parents of a childhood friend who had just come off a 15-day tour of Italy and were spending a couple extra days in Rome. After finding out that one of my favorite restaurants had closed its doors forever and successfully schlepping them from San Lorenzo to Campo di Fiori, which by the way is always such a bust and please avoid it, we toasted the sunset at my favorite bar, atop the Radisson Blu near Termini. Coming from the chaos of Rome’s historic center the silence up there is deafening, there’s always an in-season berry at the bottom of your Prosecco glass, and the previous day’s rain brought the most spectacularly clear view of Rome’s surrounding hills and mountains I’ve seen in all of my nine years of living/being in Rome. Which happened to be nine years precisely on that day.
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I’m Eeeeeeating, On a Jet Plane…

NCE-FCO

I first flew to Paris on TWA flight 800, which some of you will remember had been thoughtfully renumbered sometime after it went into the sea off Long Island. I was traveling on Famous Designer‘s dime to Semaine du Cuir – the leather and suede exhibition where I was to meet vendors I’d known only via phone and fax (hi, I’m old), and hopefully pick up some new sources.

Before I left, I asked the designers for direction in choosing samples to bring back from the show. I will never forget their responses:

  • “I’m thinking…sherbet.”
  • “Bring me back beautiful things.”
  • “I love horsey leathers.”
  • “I want the Marc Jacobs jacket that’s at Barney’s.”

Fashion people aren’t like you and me.

But I digress. Continue reading

What A Day It Was, Part Two

Villefranche-sur-Mer

When I was making plans for the MK & Bern Weekend, I knew I wanted to go to another town along the French Riviera. And since everything is so close, I figured it would be fun to hop on and off the train from Ventimiglia after our fantastic lunch to hang out at one of these places. Eventually, I narrowed it down to Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Villefranche-sur-Mer, and left it up to the guy at the hotel to decide. He couldn’t say “Villefranche-sur-Mer” fast enough, so that’s where we went.

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What a Day It Was, Part One

Travel addict MK and her sister Bern came to Nice for the first of (MANY) 40th birthday celebrations this year. We had an amazing time, pretty much doing nothing but lounging and chatting and letting the sun hit our faces and tasting delicious things. It was absolutely divine, and much needed on all sides – for me coming off a six-month job that hijacked my life, and for MK and Bern who’d been digging themselves out of the constant East Coast snow this past winter.

I’m going to be saving the logistical stuff for the BootsnAll France Travel Guide, so go there now and sign up in the orange box on the right-hand side to receive those pithy missives in your inbox – but I can tell you here about our lunch in Ventimiglia, Italy.
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Morning Light

So a few weeks ago I was in one of my rearranging moods, and decided to see what our bookshelf would look like on its side, perhaps creating a long shelf for our ever-growing collection of electrical boxes and consoles. This idea led to a chain of events involving humiliation, a mad Belgian and morning light in the South of France. Don’t worry, it all will become apparent after the jump.
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