International travel benefits the brain

A recent article in The Atlantic quotes Mark Twain, who wrote in his travelogue The Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” The article goes on to talk about how travel may help us be more open-minded and increase our creativity…

Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, Spain

Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerous studies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.

Link to the full article…  For a More Creative Brain, Travel

Reading about The Innocents Abroad got me thinking about other classic travel books…

The Log from the Sea of Cortez by John Steinbeck – enjoyable read while traveling in Baja, Mexico.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – enchanting memoir of Paris in the 1920’s.

In Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin – in 1974 he quit the London Sunday Times Magazine via telegram (“Have gone to Patagonia”) and disappeared into the then little-known and remote tip of South America.

Thank you Nikki for sharing the article and inspiring this post!

Seville, Spain – The Royal Alcazar

Wooden cupola ceiling recreating a starry night sky.
Wooden cupola ceiling recreating a starry night sky.

Originally a 10th century palace built for the Muslim governor, The Royal Alcazar (Real Alcazar), is still used today as the Spanish royal family’s residence in Seville. Retaining the same purpose for which it was originally intended, as a residence of monarchs and heads of state, it is the oldest palace in Europe still in use.

Moorish architecture is a variation of Islamic architecture. There are many motifs, or repeated patterns, in Moorish architecture – different styles of arches, calligraphy, vegetative design, and decorative tiles.

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Glass ceiling illuminated by the sunlight.
Glass ceiling illuminated by the sunlight.

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Built and rebuilt from the early Middle Ages right up to our times, the Royal Alcazar consists of a group of palatial buildings and extensive gardens. Within the walls and gardens you can experience the historical evolution of Seville.

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Moorish architecture is named after the Moors, North African people who conquered the Iberian Peninsula and many islands in the Western Mediterranean beginning in the 700s. The Moors controlled what is now Spain, Portugal, and the Pyrenees region of France for hundreds of years. The Moors were Muslim and influenced by the Islamic architecture that developed in the Middle East.

In Rick Steves Spain, you’ll find an inviting mix of cities and towns, including the lively cities of Barcelona and Sevilla, and the Andalucían countryside. We appreciated the self-guided walks through the castles, cathedrals, and villages – very helpful, informative, and fun!

During our travels in Portugal and Spain, I wrote other blog posts, click on each title below to view photos and read about our adventures:

 Seville, Spain – historic bullring

Seville, Spain – Cathedral and Geralda Bell Tower

Lisbon, Portugal – Walkabout

Lisbon, Portugal – Mercado da Ribeira

The Longest Road – Florida to Alaska

The Longest Road by Philip CaputoFeeling nostalgic this morning as I read rave reviews about a new road book in the NY Times…

Two years ago we converted our Honda CRV into a camper van and drove round-trip from Washington State to Maryland. Taking a northern route out and southern path home. Read about our adventures here:  US Cross Country Road Trip.

Back to the new book:  “The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, From Key West to the Arctic Ocean” by Philip Caputo. Mr. Caputo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and his book chronicles his trip in an Airstream trailer from one corner of North America to the other, asking everyday Americans what unites and divides a country as endlessly diverse as it is large. From his publisher:

“Standing on a wind-scoured island off the Alaskan coast, Philip Caputo marveled that its Inupiat Eskimo schoolchildren pledge allegiance to the same flag as the children of Cuban immigrants in Key West, six thousand miles away. And a question began to take shape: How does the United States, peopled by every race on earth, remain united? Caputo resolved that one day he’d drive from the nation’s southernmost point to the northernmost point reachable by road, talking to everyday Americans about their lives and asking how they would answer his question.

So it was that in 2011, in an America more divided than in living memory, Caputo, his wife, and their two English setters made their way in a truck and classic trailer (hereafter known as “Fred” and “Ethel”) from Key West, Florida, to Deadhorse, Alaska, covering 16,000 miles. He spoke to everyone from a West Virginia couple saving souls to a Native American shaman and taco entrepreneur. What he found is a story that will entertain and inspire readers as much as it informs them about the state of today’s United States, the glue that holds us all together, and the conflicts that could cause us to pull apart.”

Recently, Mr. Caputo traveled to Missouri for a conversation with one of America’s most acclaimed travel writers, William Least Heat-Moon, the author of “Blue Highways” and “PrairyErth (A Deep Map).” Heat-Moon’s latest book is “Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories From the Road”, a collection of short essays taken from 30-plus years of travel. They had a wide-ranging conversation, covering their many years of travel. The New York Times published a condensed and edited version:  To See America, Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist.

Here is a taste of their conversation:

CAPUTO: One of the things that’s impressed me about traveling in this country — and I’ve done a lot of world traveling, as you have, too — is not only the size of the country but the variety of the landscape, which is like nothing I have ever seen anywhere else. I mean you can be in Arizona or New Mexico and think you’re in North Africa, and not terribly far away it might look like the Swiss Alps, and someplace else — say, the Dakotas — looks like Ukraine.

HEAT-MOON: American topography is so incredibly diverse. If you’re traveling by auto, the windshield becomes a kind of movie. And we’re going to go out on the road, and we’re going to meet people who don’t think the way we do. And listen to someone who doesn’t think the way we do, we may learn something that could be useful, as well as something downright interesting.

CAPUTO: Yeah, I think one of the things I got out of this particular journey was running into people who will change your perspective, who will change the way you looked at things. And sometimes I think not just for the moment either, but permanently. And I think you’re right, that the country is big enough and varied enough, not only in its geographical landscape but its social landscape, that if I do travel to northwest Washington from southeast Georgia, or vice versa, I’m not going to run into somebody who thinks exactly the way I do and sees the world the same as I do.

Time to hit the road… well, maybe not until the house renovation is a little further along…

The Quiet Traveler

The page of notes I created in my journal.

I am an introvert. Recently completing the Myers-Briggs personality test confirmed my thoughts, and reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking deepened my understanding.

The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” were first made popular by psychologist Carl Jung in the 1920s and then later by the Myers-Briggs personality test. Cain defines introverts as those who prefer less stimulating environments and tend to enjoy quiet concentration, listen more than they talk and think before they speak. At the other end of the spectrum, extroverts are energized by social situations and tend to be assertive multi-taskers who think out loud and on their feet.

Everyone spends some time extraverting and some time introverting. Don’t confuse Introversion with shyness or reclusiveness. They are not related (Myers & Briggs Foundation). Viewing these terms as opposite ends of the spectrum it makes sense that many of us spend time somewhere in between. I may spend more time on the introversion side but I can enjoy a good party and the overall high energy… I just do it my way, by spending more time with people having one-on-one conversations.

So how does being an introvert relate to my love of travel…

Flying solo for me is all about solitary time. I like to sit on the aisle where I feel there is some breathing space, and where I can get up without bothering anyone. Reading material, journal, things to do are always in my carry-on bag.

Road trips are a favorite of mine. Jay and I love having the time together without distractions. Often I drive and he reads to me, or we listen to a book on tape together. We talk, take turns napping, listen to music, research where we will stay and eat as we approach our destination.

Lately, we find ourselves choosing to spend more time in one place. Last January we spent a month in San Miguel de Allende. Experiencing the breadth of the city and all the various activities that go on there.

Slow travel, like slow food, gives us time to savor and process at a comfortable pace.

Another favorite book of mine is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s bestseller FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. His comment on the book Quiet ~ Finally someone has exposed the feet of clay of the extraversion industry. It is a wonder it took so long. Those who value a quiet, reflective life will feel a burden lifting from their shoulders as they read Susan Cain’s eloquent and well documented paean to introversion — and will no longer feel guilty or inferior for having made the better choice!

As Mahatma Ghandi said,  In a gentle way, you can shake the world.

Travel Journaling ~ Commiting

Try a cartoon or quilt like approach to remembering each day.

On a recent trip to VA, DC and MD I decided to do a quilt or comic strip like approach to recording our journey. A shorter, busier trip, this was my way of capturing the memories.

In Writing Away: A Creative Guide to Awakening the Journal-Writing Traveler by Lavinia Spaulding she writes, “Everyone is capable of great discipline; most of us simply don’t realize it because we’re far more capable of great procrastination”. If you want a rewarding journal experience, you must commit to a schedule.

Getting behind in a travel journal is deadly. We have all been there. The benefit of writing about an experience soon after it occurs is that you maintain the immediacy of your emotions, your senses (the smells, colors, textures, sounds, etc.) in essence – the details. Waiting to write about something can lead to writing that is more general in its description, an overview, or worse, not writing at all. We become overwhelmed, and as Lavinia says, “Soon you’ve passed through too many magical places and befriended too many kindred wanderers to imagine sitting down to record every detail. Where would you even begin?”.

Travel offers a great chance for change. Routines, habits, schedules, responsibilities are left behind. We can be and do whatever we want. And often time is there for the taking – waiting for a plane to load, relaxing on a town square bench, sitting on a train… luxurious moments of solitude, there for us to savor and delight in.

You might start small with comfortable blocks of time. In cultivating the muscle of writing and/or sketching in your journal the important thing is to do it regularly. Daily is best. Maybe 5 minutes a day. Whatever. But open your journal and make a mark. Lavinia suggests opening our journal a few times a day – to jot down an email address, a quote. Her idea is the more we open our journals, the less intimidating and heavy is our association with writing or sketching.

Capturing the highlights of each day kept me connected to my journal.

On our trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico I began by making a note of the day’s highlights each night before bed or first thing in the morning. This kept me connected to my journal and I did it in a spiral to add to the creative element and make it fun. With this simple exercise I opened the door to more involved writing and drawing. Many afternoons found me sitting cross-legged on the bed in our sunny bedroom, relaxing and writing or drawing in my book.

My journal/sketchbook is a little over half full. As corny as this sounds I feel a real sense of pride when I say that. This could be the first book I fill. That is my intent!

For more thoughts from me and Lavinia read my post on Travel Journaling ~ the best journal.

India, on my mind…

Photographs of tea plantations, net fishing, and parades during my visit to Kerala in 1997.

Different articles and books concerning India are crossing my path recently and bringing back many memories. January of 1997 I visited India with a group of 12 women. Our host was one of my social work professors – he taught us “group therapy” at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, but confessed to being terrified of the idea of leading 12 American women around his homeland of Southern India. For three weeks we traveled together from Chennai (then known as Madras), the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, to the state of Kerala on the south-west coast. Sadly, I did not keep a written journal, fortunately my photos bring back many memories.

My professor generously planned several visits to his family’s homes. I remember at one uncle’s home during our first few days in Madras, there was a computer and we took turns writing one email each – to our husband, parents, whomever. In mine I distinctly recall telling Jay that the sights, sounds, and smells of India were all new. Comparable to no other place I had visited. An orgy for the senses!

Some other writer’s travel articles that I have enjoyed reading lately…

In recent years, coffee planters in southwestern India have added lodging to their estates to earn income as the price of their commodity has fluctuated… Coffee Plantations in India Blend History and Hospitality.

Three insider itineraries for visiting one of the world’s most compelling and confounding countries… India in One, Two or Three Weeks.

Traveling in Kerala is as easy and rewarding as a glide through its backwaters. In this excerpt from an article first published in Lonely Planet Magazine, are the highlights, from coconut palm-lined coasts to elephant and tiger reserves… A Perfect Trip to Kerala.

Traveling on an Indian train is a reason to travel all by itself. India’s rail network is one of the world’s most extensive and the prices are very reasonable… How to Book Trains in India.

And some books to read on your plane, train, or sofa…

In India Calling, author Anand Giridharadas brings to life the people and the dilemmas of India today, through the prism of his émigré family history and his childhood memories of India. He introduces us to entrepreneurs, radicals, industrialists, and religious seekers, but, most of all, to Indian families. Through their stories, and his own, he paints an intimate portrait of a country becoming modern while striving to remain itself.

From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities. Boo spent three years among the residents of the Annawadi slum, a sprawling settlement of more than 300 tin-roof huts and shacks in the shadow of Mumbai’s International Airport.

Let’s end with a quote from Will Durant (American philosopher, 1885 to 1981) ~

India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all.

Safe travels.

San Miguel de Allende: Restaurants, bakeries, groceries

Whether you are eating at home or dining out at a local restaurant, San Miguel de Allende food is tasty and affordable…

Restaurants

The Fat Mermaid in San Miguel de Allende
La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid)

La Sirena Gorda (The Fat Mermaid) ~ Calle Bar­ranca at the cor­ner with Calle Huer­tas. Happening little neighborhood cantina, dating back to the 1920s. Nothing pretentious. No white tablecloths. Just good, fast service and delicious fresh seafood and ginger margaritas. On several visits we enjoyed the tacos, tostados and ceviche – good fresh seafood. Another night we devoured the BBQ ribs and the melt in your mouth ham hock as carry out. Oh yes, the artichoke appetizer is yummy too. Cool place to have just up the street from our rental.

Hecho en Mexico ~ Ancho de San Antonio #8. A recommendation for great jazz was our introduction to this restaurant and we were not disappointed. The “house” quartet is outstanding. Some of the musicians played with Doc Severinsen. There is no extra charge for the music if you have dinner. Ten of us sat around a big table and received great service. We started with homemade guacamole & chips, and as a group enjoyed the Spinach & Beet salad, Cheeseburgers, Fish Tacos, Shrimp Broquettes on rosemary stalks and Arranchera (traditional marinated Mexican flank steak). One of the side dishes, jicama salad, is like a slaw and fantastic. They have a nice choice of tequilla and good margaritas. Dinner and a drink cost about $12 USD. Wonderful historic setting with an interior cactus garden.

Cafe Rama in San Miguel de Allende
We end the evening at Cafe Rama.

Cafe Rama ~ Calle Nueva 7. Vogue magazine describes it well – “a funky outdoor establishment that has a 1970s Berkeley vibe with Pop Art decor.” Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relaxed with a bottle of wine as we receive a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of Spanish Serrano ham, goat cheese, pickled watermelon, olives and salty/sweet almonds, we go on to enjoy a savory polenta with a tasty tomato topping, a crispy risotto pancake topped with a shrimp, mussels with garlic & ginger, and several others. Ending with a sensuous dessert finale of cappuccino crème brûlée and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. A delightful experience for me, as the chef easily and creatively accommodated my gluten-free diet needs.

Mandinga ~ Correa #24. We meet a vegetarian friend at this pizza and empanadas restaurant housed in another very cool old building with an inviting outdoor courtyard set up like a dining room. They also have an indoor café/bar with a fireplace but it was a beautiful evening and we chose the outside dining by candlelight. We arrive during Happy Hour when they offer two cocktails or glasses of wine for the price of one… our waiter suggested a very nice red wine to go with our empanadas, pizza and salads. Jay declares these the best empanadas he has ever had and our friend devours his entire pizza with gusto. Big bowls of fresh spinach, cheese, olives made up our delicious salads. One note – as a gluten-free eater this may not be the best choice if you are hungry for more than a salad.

Cafe La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Breakfast at Cafe La Parroquia.

Cafe de la Parroquia / La Brasserie ~ Jesus 11, Centro Historico.

Cafe de la Parroquia is a great spot for breakfast. They have a lovely patio with a central fountain artfully decorated with yellow roses the morning we were here. Delicious fresh mini baguette come with a wonderful avocado salsa, butter and  jam. Good Americana coffee, normal & decaf, and many varieties of egg dishes are served. We love our scrambled eggs with ham, onion & Serrano pepper; a omellette with potato, ham, onion, parsley & zucchini, and scrambled eggs with chorizo. Green drinks and fresh carrot juice are another healthy option. The service is very good, with the owner often in attendance.

La Brasserie restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
Live music at La Brasserie.

Once the wrought-iron gates of La Parroquia close on the late lunch crowd, La Brasserie starts gearing up to delight diners in the same space. It becomes a French bistro with a Mexican accent—one of the most pleasant restaurants San Miguel style. La Brasserie’s owner/chef, Valeria, is the daughter of Francoise, the French-born owner of La Parroquia. She grew up waiting tables there and helping out in the kitchen, so she knows the business top to bottom. Steak, frites and salad are excellent, as is the Chicken Enchilada Mole. This mole sauce is the real thing with 50+ spices and peppers in it. Reasonably priced in a pleasant setting.

The Restaurant ~ Sollano #16. Six of us totally enjoy the Mo’ Better Burger Thursday Night Special at The Restaurant and I have total confidence that any night would be terrific. This is an upscale restaurant with a casually elegant setting in a beautiful old stone building. Service is impeccable and friendly. As a starter we try the Caesar salad and Spinach salad – both are first-rate with very fresh greens. Four of us have variations of 1/2 lb. beef burgers (ground in-house). – all come medium as ordered, deliciously juicy and pink inside and served with house cured pickles, and crispy potatoes with garlic, rosemary and parsley. I have the Mafiosa burger with balsamic roasted onions, oven dried tomatoes, parmesan crisp & arugula. Outrageous! Jay has La Griega – a ground lamb burger with roasted tomatoes, feta cheese, pickled onions and spinach on an onion bun. Delish. A great wine list – we enjoy two bottles of red wine from the Baja region of Mexico.

Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar & 1826 Bar ~ Rosewood Hotel, Nemesio Diez 11. Luna Rooftop Tapas Bar serves up savory Mexican and Spanish tapas in a casual atmosphere which we enjoyed on a 2 for 1 special night. It is a tempting place to linger after a day of sightseeing in the city to take in the breathtaking views of La Parroquia, the city and magnificent sunsets. Situated across from the main restaurant, the 1826 Bar offers delicious snacks and a full bar with a full range of tequila (tastings on Wednesdays) to enjoy in a quiet, and elegant setting. Highly recommend the rooftop bar even if it’s just for one drink to enjoy the views of San Miguel.

Ole Ole Restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Ole Ole Restaurant

Ole Ole Restaurant ~ Loreto #66. Bullfighting posters and memorabilia fill the walls and the tasty fajitas are very reasonably priced. Our group started with one order of the sautéed mushrooms with onions and peppers which came with warm tortillas and served four. We dined on the chicken, beef and aranchera fajitas – all the meats were tasty – although I would recommend the aranchera if you like beef, it is especially moist and tender. Portions are large and prices are very reasonable. You can easily eat a full meal for under ten dollars. Negro Modelo beer was the drink of choice.

Carcassonne ~ Correo 34. Carcasssonne Restaurante & Bar is in a beautiful historic stone building with elegant curved arch doorways and a glass enclosed wine cellar. Elegant is the word. We enjoy the delicious lamb ribs and our friends enjoy their steaks. All cooked medium as we ordered. Service is professional and deliberate; we inform our waiter that we have a movie to go to and he makes sure we are finished on time.

Posadita Restaurant entrance in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita Restaurant

La Posadita – Cuna de Allende #13. As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margaritas. They are wonderful and intense, not like anything we’ve ever tasted. In the evening  sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. The following week we return for dinner with our friends and enjoy the asparagus wrapped in bacon served on grilled onions & tomatoes, but find the ribeye and arranchera dinners average. My suggestion – go for the view and have a drink.

Outdoor bar at Tacos don Felix in San Miguel de Allende
Outdoor bar of Tacos don Felix.

Tacos Don Felix “En La Casa” ~ 15TH Fray Juan de San Miguel St. Take a cab out of the historic district into this Mexican neighborhood to find a true Mexican family restaurant. As the evening passes the tables fill up with Mexican families and ex-pats. We start with a salad for four – greens, jicama, tomatoes, onions, carrots come piled on the platter… then a taco sampler for each of us. Seven tacos – beef, pork, huitlacoche, spanish style sausage, shrimp, chicken, beef rib with onions. Delicious. A neighboring table has steaks which look and smell tempting. The service is gracious and after dinner they are happy to call a cab for you.

Los Milagro in San Miguel de Allende
Los Milagros on Calle Relox #17

Los Milagros ~ Relox 17. A very friendly young waiter drew us into this centuries-old colonial house vibrant with Mexican decor and featuring the “miracle-making” figurines called Milagros, as we look over the menu in the entryway. He recommends the “Volcano Bowls”, so we ordered two of the arranchera beef bowls. The beef is cooked in green sauce and served with grilled cactus, green onions, chiles & white cheese. On the side comes guacamole, refried beans and corn tortillas. They are very tasty and the “bowl” retains it heat well, so the food stays nicely warm. Servings are very generous – next time we may share one volcano bowl.

El Pegaso ~ Corregidora &, México. The prices are moderate, the service is friendly and efficient and the place is spotless. The decor is Mexican funky—with lots of color and good examples of folk art on the walls (all of it for sale). Check out the cheerful little painted tin nichos made by the well-known Cielito Lindo workshop in Colonia Guadalupe. Colorful and funny, they feature Day of the Dead calaca figures in common, silly and occasionally risqué tableaux. Known for breakfast and lunch, we enjoyed a fantastic spinach salad garnished with fresh papaya slices, tamales, enchiladas and homemade soup. It is conveniently located one block east of the Jardin.

El Ten Ten Pie ~ Cuna de Allende 21, corner of Cuadrante. The name “El Ten Ten Pie” is a play on words. It comes from the Spanish slang term tentempie, which translates loosely as “a little something to keep you on your feet.” This is a favorite San Miguel hangout with a popular outdoor café. Have that “little something”— a taco, a quesadilla or the best flan in town—or you can fill up on the comida corrida, for about eight bucks. It includes soup or salad, a main dish with rice and beans, and dessert. Good for lunch and people watching – we had a good salad and tacos.

Cafe Buen Dia – on Callejon Pueblito. Several Sundays we relaxed in the sun on the rooftop for a nice brunch with friends. Known for their espresso coffees – cappuccino, café au lait, americana – we sipped coffees and a yummy hot cocoa while waiting for our Special breakfasts to come. Starting with a bowl of fresh fruit or juice, then your choice of eggs, toast, coffee, potatoes or beans. We especially like Brad’s scramble with mushrooms, spinach, cheese and nice crispy bacon… our friend recommends the Huevos Rancheros.

Cafe Santa Ana in La Biblioteca – Insurgentes 25. To keep up with the numerous cultural events (often in English) taking place in this city, La Biblioteca is a good resource. Here you can find information and tickets to lectures, house tours, concerts, and theatrical productions, many of which are held within the historic library building itself. The library’s jungly outdoor Café Santa Ana, with tables clustered around a central fountain, is a pleasant place for a cappuccino, banana bread or other snack or light meal.

Bakeries

Cumpanio in San Miguel de Allende
Cumpanio bakery & restaurant

Cumpanio ~ Correo 29. High quality bakery & restaurant known for their homemade breads, pastries, and contemporary dining space serving elegant meals. Just a couple blocks from our rental house this was our closest bakery and what a treat. Great pastries, breads and homemade truffles in the bakery. Four of us had a delicious lunch one day in the contemporary restaurant – a perfectly seared tuna sandwich and fantastic burgers with french fries. Our friends returned for breakfast and raved about it.

El Petit Four ~ Mesones 99. Delicious French-style cakes and pastries;  wonderful espresso (they use Lavazza coffee) and sandwiches made with house-baked baguettes. Highly recommended like Cumpanio.

Bakery at the San Miguel de Allende farmers market
Buen Vida Bakery at Saturday Organic Farmers Market

La Buena Vida ~ Hernandez Macias 72. This little place is situated in the back of Plaza Golondrinas, across from Bellas Artes. They offer whole grain and sourdough breads, as well as, an assortment of pastries, brownie and doughnuts. Open 8 AM – 4 PM. Closed Sunday. Their booth at the Saturday Organic Farmers Market always has a line.

Pura Vida Juice Bar/Cafè – Pila Seca #9. Finally some gluten-free baked goods! Alicia Wilson Rivero is the owner of both the Pura Vida Store and the Cooking School at the LifePath Center.  She shares in a global mission to create and offer healthy, delicious food using locally harvested, fresh and organic products.  She develops menus and provides meals for LifePath retreat guests interested in following a special menu plan. Raw food, vegans, wheat-free diets are among the diets she can cater to.

Pura Vida Cafe in San Miguel de Allende
Alicia at the Pura Vida Juice Bar/Cafe

The day we stopped by she had gluten-free banana muffins, gluten-free carrot muffins, raw date snacks, and a decadent flourless chocolate cake. She also offers freshly made drinks, nourishing self-care products, and a wifi-ready rooftop terrace where patrons can relax and enjoy a healthful meal.

Grocery stores

Via Organica ~ Margarito Ledesma 2. Café, bakery, vegetable shop, grocery store. We visit Via Organica weekly for organic fresh vegetables (grown by local farmers), freshly made almond or peanut butter, gluten-free crackers & cereal and baked goods (gluten-free and regular). Their café serves delicious Mexican and international dishes which you can also get as take away. One visit we picked up some cilantro pesto which we have enjoyed on everything from veggies to pork. Via Organica is one part of Organic Way AC – a Mexican non-profit organization whose mission is to promote good nutrition through organic farming, fair trade, a healthy lifestyle and protecting the planet. They also have a booth at the Saturday Organic Farmers Market.

Via Organica in San Miguel de Allende
Via Organica is a favorite.
Bonanza grocery store in San Miguel de Allende
Bonanza grocery store on Mesones 43-A

Bonanza ~ Mesones #43-A. This terrific little grocery store in Centro San Miguel has a deli section, imported foods, all kinds of nuts, an impressive gluten-free section, local breads, fresh tortillas, cheeses, fresh yoghurt, Chinese noodles, balsamic vinegar, liquor, shampoos and more. Large bins of rice, grains, beans, flower and spices sold by the gram. Between Bonanza and Via Organica we find all we need.

¡Buen provecho! (Bon Appetit!)
While in San Miguel, I wrote a blog post each week, click on each week below to view photos and read about our adventures:

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

Indian parade in San Miguel de Allende
Indian dancers and drummers parade in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The day is just dawning this Sunday morning when we hear the sound of drummers very close by… Jay quickly dresses, grabs his camera and heads out the door. Men and boys dressed as Indian dancers and drummers are parading down a nearby street, creating a rich drum beat in rolling 4/4 time, as they dance and chant together. A ragtag procession of campesinas follow, carrying an altar on their shoulders. At the head of the parade an old man carries a wire contraption, from which he launches fireworks, signaling the imminent arrival of the parade to neighbors down the road.

The morning progresses with our walk down and around the Jardin Botanica, then breakfast at Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito. During breakfast, a new acquaintance, Ruth, recommends the tamarind margarita’s on the rooftop terrace of La Posadita. We make a mental note. Ruth is a realtor in San Miguel and has a lovely property in the historic center of the town with two rentals. Comfortably elegant and private, you can view them on VRBO: Villa and Casita.

La Posadita restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita restaurant has amazing views, good food and tamarind margaritas.

As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margarita. It’s wonderful and intense, not like anything I’ve ever tasted. Neither of us knows what a tamarind is. (I research later and learn it is the sweet & sour fruit of a tropical tree. It looks a bit like a carob pod and is an underlying flavor in Worcestershire sauce.) In the evening sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. Next week when our friends arrive we will definitely return for dinner… and another margarita.

San Miguel de Allende at night.
View of San Miguel de Allende at sunset.

Walking home through the Jardin we once again step into La Parroquia to absorb its quiet magnificence.

Interior of La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Evening view of La Parroquia interior
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in San Miguel de Allende
We arrive early for a piano concert at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church.
Donkey carrying potting soil in San Miguel de Allende
Donkey carrying potting soil for sale in our neighborhood.

Peñon de los Banos, is a women-owned sustainable organic farm cooperative, a short ride from San Miguel de Allende. Jay and I are part of a field trip, organized by The Center for Global Justice, visiting the Campo (farm), to learn more about their work.

Residents of this small dairy farm have been part of a traditional ejido system for generations. Ejidos are communal lands, for growing food, shared and co-managed by the people of the community. The system was developed during ancient Aztec rule of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced the Mexican government to do away with the ejido system, and open the land up to foreign agri-business. To read the full story, see: Peñon de los Banos, a women-owned farm cooperative.

Greenhouse at Penon del Los Banos
One of 8 greenhouses at the Penon del Los Banos Cooperative.
Comida at Penon de Los Banos
Sharing a midday meal, "comida", prepared by the women of the cooperative farm.

Cafe Teatro Athanor, just around the corner from where we live (this month) is a gem of a theater that holds about 20 people or so. Most nights they show a thoughtful foreign film and this week we saw El Mural – a UK film about the renowned Mexican artist, David Siqueiros, and his time spent in Argentina painting a mural. A political, historical and romantic drama that we recommend. But on Friday nights they have a musical event – The Magic Mystery of Flamenco – featuring two female dancers/singers, a male dancer and a wonderful classical guitarist.

Flameno in San Miguel de Allende
Flamenco performance at Cafe Teatro Athanor.

Sunday morning ritual is a walk, and the Saturday morning ritual is the outdoor Organic Market. Entering the market one of the first things you see are tables of fresh organic vegetables – lettuces, spinach, kale, tomatoes, avocados, herbs… then you notice the tables and chairs under the shade trees and the smell of tortillas grilling and coffee brewing. Pottery pots filled with chicken in green mole, lamb stew, guacamole, chorizo and egg… next week we will skip breakfast at home and eat here. And that’s not all – there are homemade breads, cheeses, baked goods, natural skin care products, fresh eggs and a small selection of hand crafted items.

Cover of San Miguel de Allende bookMany ex-pats frequent the market and today we meet John Scherber, an American ex-pat and author of San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. His book explores the possibilities of starting an exciting new life in Mexico by sharing the experiences of 32 people who confess why they left the United States and show how their new life is more fulfilling than they ever dreamed. Imagine sitting down for a heart-to-heart conversation with people who made it happen.

Organic Farmers Market, San Miguel de Allende
Saturday Organic Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende

Ever since American Stirling Dickinson arrived here in San Miguel de Allende in 1937, the Mexican town has been a magnet for artists and U.S. expatriates:

Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende
Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende

“In 1937, after several months spent traveling through Mexico, a gangly, 27-year-old Chicago native named Stirling Dickinson, who had been somewhat at loose ends since graduating from Princeton, got off a train in San Miguel de Allende, an arid, down-on-its-luck mountain town 166 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Taken from the ramshackle train station by a horse-drawn cart, he was dropped off at the town’s leafy main square, El Jardín. It was dawn, and the trees were erupting with the songs of a thousand birds. At the eastern side of the square stood the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, an outsize, pink-sandstone church with neo-Gothic spires, quite unlike Mexico’s traditional domed ecclesiastical buildings. The first rays of the sun glowed over mountain ridges to the east. “There was just enough light for me to see the parish church sticking out of the mist,” Dickinson would later recall. “I thought, My God, what a sight! What a place! I said to myself at that moment, I’m going to stay here.”

Click on the title to read the entire Smithsonian article by Jonathan Kandell : Under the Spell of San Miguel de Allende.

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

Art Exhibits 2012

Manet in Black, Fine Arts Museum

This print, Les Courses (‘The Races’), shows Manet’s drawing at its most vigorous. The viewpoint is dramatic. We find ourselves in the middle of the racetrack with the horses galloping straight towards us. The railing slopes away at an unnerving angle as the lower right-hand corner dissolves into furious scribbling.

“Manet in Black” is on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston beginning in February 2012. Edouard Manet’s friend, the poet Charles Baudelaire, described black as the color of the nineteenth century. Manet was a master in the use of black, asserting his bold and subtle imprint on a range of subjects. This exhibition celebrates Manet’s brilliant achievements as a graphic artist. Known as the painter of modern life and the father of Impressionism, Manet was also an exceptionally gifted printmaker and draftsman, among the most daring and innovative of the nineteenth century.

Drawn primarily from the MFA’s collection and featuring a selection of some 50 prints and drawings by Manet and related artists—including Rembrandt and Degas—the exhibition spans a variety of subjects, techniques, and styles from throughout Manet’s career.

Bringing forth fresh perspectives on Manet’s art by established scholars, Therese Dolan’s new book – Perspectives on Manet – places this compelling and elusive artist’s painted oeuvre within a broader cultural context, and links his artistic preoccupations with literary and musical currents. Dolan’s collection investigates the range of Manet’s art in the context of his time and considers how his vision has shaped later interpretations. Specific essays explore the relationship between Manet and Whistler; Emile Zola’s attitude toward the artist; Manet’s engagement with moral and ethical questions in his paintings; and the heritage of Charles Baudelaire and Clement Greenberg in critical responses to Manet. Therese Dolan is Professor of Art History and Women’s Studies at Tyler School of Art, Temple University, USA.

Inspired by last years list of promising exhibits, here are some suggestions for 2012:

Support the arts! Visit a museum in your area or in a city you will visit this year… it is enriching, educational and inspiring. As Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to B.  Imagination will take you everywhere.”

Best Travel Book Gifts 2011

It’s that time of year again…

Do you have a dedicated traveler on your gift list? Or someone who stays close to home, but enjoys reading about faraway places and other cultures? Many of us enjoy spending a cold, winter’s day inside, cuddled up and cozy, gazing at pictures of places we love or hope to see someday. Books with a travel theme make a great holiday gift. Here are some books that caught my eye and have received good reviews:

How to Read ChurchesHow to Read Churches: A Crash Course in Ecclesiastical Architecture by Denis R. McNamara. The perfect companion, small enough to fit in a pocket yet serious enough to give real answers. A must-have for architecture and history buffs, tourists, and churchgoers interested in decoding the styles and symbols of religious structures. According to the book, every building has clues embedded in its design that show not only its architectural style but also who designed it, what kind of congregation it was built for, and why. Organized according to architectural element (windows, domes, arches, etc.), each element is presented in chronological order.

Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz, Introduction by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Pilgrimage charts a new course for one of America’s best-known living photographers. Different from her staged and carefully lit portraits made on assignment for magazines like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, Pilgrimage took Leibovitz to places that she could explore without an agenda. She wasn’t on assignment this time and she chose the subjects simply because she was moved by them. To read more and see some photographs, go to my post: Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage

The Travel BookLonely Planet The Travel Book by Lonely Planet. Even the most avid readers of travel guides and travel literature will enjoy this one. It is a coffee table book size with gorgeous photographs, reasonably priced, and it is very informative. All the writers who contribute to the Lonely Planet travel guide series have put heads, knowledge, and experience together and come up with an A-Z series of capsule profiles of every country in the world, 230 in number.

Andes by Michael Jacobs. The New York Times Book Review says, “Andes is a travelogue that’s scholarly and sociable in equal measure, by an author who’s as interested in ferreting out letters from 16th-century emigrants lured by the legend El Dorado as he is in visiting a museum dedicated to Bolívar’s mistress or checking out the transvestite bars of Ayacucho.” In this remarkable book, travel writer Michael Jacobs journeys across seven different countries, Andes by Michael Jacobsfrom the balmy Caribbean to the inhospitable islands of the Tierra del Fuego, through the relics of ancient civilizations and the remnants of colonial rule, retracing the footsteps of earlier travelers. His route begins in Venezuela, following the path of the great nineteenth-century revolutionary Simón Bolívar, but soon diverges to include accounts from sources as varied as Humboldt, the young Charles Darwin, and Bolívar’s extraordinary and courageous mistress, Manuela Saenz.

The Tao of Travel: Enlightenments from Lives on the Road by Paul Theroux. Theroux writes in the preface of his early yearnings to travel…. “I wanted to find a new self in a distant place, and new things to care about. The importance of elsewhere was something I took on faith. The Tao of Travel by Paul TherouxElsewhere was the place I wanted to be. Too young to go, I read about elsewheres, fantasizing about my freedom. Books were my road. And then, when I was old enough to go, the roads I traveled became the obsessive subject in my own books. Eventually I saw that the most passionate travelers have always been passionate readers and writers. And that is how this book came about.” Paul Theroux celebrates fifty years of wandering the globe by collecting the best writing on travel from the books that shaped him, as a reader and a traveler.

Best Women's Travel Writing 2011The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011: True Stories from Around the World edited by Lavinia Spalding. This best-selling, award-winning series presents the finest accounts of women who have traveled to the ends of the earth to discover new places, peoples—and themselves. The common threads connecting the stories are a woman’s perspective and lively storytelling to make the reader laugh, cry, wish she were there, or be glad she wasn’t. Great book club read – fun, inspiring and thought-provoking.

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography WonksMaphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings. Readers go on a world tour of geogeeks from the London Map Fair to the bowels of the Library of Congress, from the prepubescent geniuses at the National Geographic Bee to the computer programmers at Google Earth. Each chapter delves into a different aspect of map culture: highpointing, geocaching, road atlas rallying, even the “unreal estate” charted on the maps of fiction and fantasy. He also considers the ways in which cartography has shaped our history, suggesting that the impulse to make and read maps is as relevant today as it has ever been. Great gift for map enthusiasts.

1000 Places to See Before You Die1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz. A #1 New York Times bestseller, 1,000 Places reinvented the idea of a travel book as both wish list and practical guide. This new edition is the ultimate bucket-list, and has 200 new entries, like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Nicaragua, Qatar and Mozambique, plus budget-conscious suggestions for lodging and food. There are 600 full-color photographs, and the emphasis is on experiences: an entry covers not just Positano or Ravello, but the full 30-mile stretch along the Amalfi Coast.

The World's Must See PlacesThe World’s Must-See Places: A Look Inside More Than 100 Magnificent Buildings and Monuments by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. Another beautiful coffee-table book with photos and 3-D cutaways and diagrams of places like Beijing’s Forbidden City, Mexico’s Chichen Itza and Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock. Ancient, classical, and modern sites from every continent are included. Each featured site is selected for its uniqueness, or its historical or architectural importance, and many are  on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. This book inspires readers to visit featured sights, and will dazzle armchair travelers.

Why not give the gift of travel to a child? Read my post: Best Travel Books for Kids

Happy Holidays to you all!

 

Best Travel Books for Kids

Giving a book as a gift can educate and inspire kids. Giving a travel book can broaden their awareness about the world and other cultures, nurture their imagination, and inspire a sense of wonder.

Lonely Planet has a new book out that may do all this: Not-for-Parents Travel Book: Cool Stuff to Know About Every Country in the World. “In this book are the epic events, amazing animals, hideous histories, funky foods, and crazy facts…”. I just ordered a copy for our 3 year old friend, Max, for Christmas. What a terrific book. Each page is a colorful collage of photos, a map, and curious details about the country. Max and his parents love books and as children’s author, Emilie Buchwald says, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents”… and perhaps travelers as well.

Lonely Planet has also published its first series for children, Not For Parents books on Paris, New York, London, and Rome. The $15 paperbacks offer curious kids cartoons, photos and drawings packed with tidbits on local history, geography, the arts and pop culture. “Not For Parents: Paris, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know,” for example, mentions everything from crepes and the origins of plaster of Paris to a look at Deyrolle, a bizarre showcase for taxidermied animals.

You Can’t Take a Balloon Into… are wordless stories that takes readers on a great balloon chase. You Can’t Take a Balloon into the Metropolitan Museum tells the tale of a little girl who leaves her prized yellow balloon tied to a railing outside the Metropolitan Museum. Its string becomes untied, and the balloon embarks on an uproarious journey through New York City. With a cast of wacky urban characters in tow, the balloon soars past a host of landmarks and 18 famous paintings and sculptures. This escapade is repeated in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Delightful, wordless books that explore the magical relationship between art and life. Suggested ages: 5 and up. (My 3 year old friend, Max, enjoys this book with his mom. Just depends how much adult involvement there is.)

Adele & Simon by Barbara McClintock takes us back a full century to Paris in its glory, when the Impressionists were still alive and the streets teemed with activity and fun-loving kids could meander for hours. Adèle meets her younger brother after school, and cautions him not to lose anything on the way home. The children take a leisurely route, visiting friends, a street market, a park, and two museums. Predictably, Simon leaves an item (his drawing, hat, knapsack, glove) behind at each location. How they’re returned to Simon will delight young readers as will McClintock’s detailed and intricate pen-and-ink with watercolor illustrations.

Books open up the world to children and encourage them to experience life. At Seattle’s TEDxRainier 2011 Conference, Rick Steves said “Fear is for people who don’t get out very much.” Let’s make sure the next generation is out and about, learning how much in common we all have, and what an amazing place this planet is.

Seattle’s TEDxRainier 2011 Conference

Sue's TEDx Rainier notes, page 2
One page of my sketchbook notes from the TEDx Rainier Conference

Heading off the island Friday evening we are full of anticipation about tomorrow’s TEDx Rainier event. This year’s theme is Gained in Translation: Ideas Crossing Frontiers, featuring over twenty five speakers whose ideas and extraordinary work span across domains and fuel innovations and insights. Followers of TED for years online, this is our first live experience.

Earlier on Friday I received a book I had ordered from Amazon – An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers by Danny Gregory. I couldn’t wait to get on the ferry with no distractions and go through the book slowly, page by page.

An Illustrated Life, cover
click on book for more info

As Gregory says in the introduction, “a book full of sketchbooks and illustrated journals from all sorts of people who love nothing better than to hunch over a little book and fill its pages with lines and colors”. This treasure of a book has 78 five star reviews out of 84… it is stupendous with creativity overflowing tremendously inspiring.

This was just the creative jumpstart I needed and somewhere along the way from home to Seattle the idea was born to capture the essence of each talk creatively in my sketchbook on two facing pages. So I arrived with Jay at the Conference Saturday morning with sketchbook and pen in hand. The first few moments I had some self-consciousness as the first speaker began… where and how to begin, is anyone watching me??? All the usual fears. Fortunately, I was able to move through the fear, pick a starting spot, realize everyone is mesmerized by the speakers (not me) and plunge into it. By the third speaker there was no looking back, I was totally hooked on my project.

Sue's TEDx Rainier notes, page 1
My second page of sketchbook notes from the TEDx Rainier Conference

Jay & I enjoyed many of the speakers, some of the highlights included:

  • Rick Steves‘ frank talk about how global travel brings us together, saying “Fear is for people that don’t get out much.” Rick is a world traveler and author of over 80 very readable helpful books on travel.
  • Amory Lovins on Reinventing Fire – how to transition to zero carbon clean renewable energy by 2050… I liked his quote – “Not all the fossils are in the fuel.”
  • Peter Blomquist on being humbled in his encounters with the kindness of simple traditional cultures. Peter is principal of Blomquist International, focused on organizational development, philanthropy, and global engagement. His words of wisdom – enter humbly, stay for tea, listen and learn.
  • ITGirl librarian Chrystie Hill on how libraries are transforming and evolving in the new world. When kids were asked what they would like in a library where everything is allowed, one replied – to hear the sounds of the forest as I approach the books about trees.
  • Leroy Hood on how insights from the human Genome project are bringing fundamental advances in early diagnosis and treatment of disease. P4 Medicine is his belief – predictive, preventative, personal and participatory.
  • Pediatrician Dimitri Christakis on how focusing on the first year of a child’s development can have stunning effects on the potential of the child, for the rest of life. Dr. Christakis is author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Children.
  • Jenn Lim on happiness. Jenn Lim is the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness, a company that she and Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) co-created in 2010 to inspire happiness in work, community and everyday life.
  • Adnan Mahmud on “Climbing the ladder that matters.” Adnan tells his story about how he came to create Jolkona, a nonprofit that helps people raise large amounts of money through small donation, and receive proof of how the donations helped make a difference for those in need.
  • The three  Interfaith Amigos, Pastor Don McKenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Imam Jamal Rahman on religious discord, and how to get along. Their presentation received a standing ovation. It was at once funny, touching and brimming with promise and hope. Their new book is Religion Gone Astray: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith.

For both of us, the most powerful talk was given by photographic artist Chris Jordan. Jordan, a former corporate lawyer, explores the detritus of mass culture, using photographs and images to, at a gut level, convey the impact we are having on the earth. Earlier this year we saw his exhibit – Running the Numbers – at the University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in  Eugene, OR.

Let’s see I’ve covered the Travel, Sketch, Write areas… now we get to the part about doing all this while eating gluten-free. This trip to Seattle we experienced two new restaurants. Both casual, affordable, gluten-free friendly and yummy.

Friday night we had a late dinner at Uneeda Burger. Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Uneeda Burger is a casual, roadside-style burger shack with seriously delicious burgers. I had the lamb burger special on a gluten-free bun with a side of spicy sweet potato fries while Jay splurged and went with the Whidbey Island Crescent Harbor 100% Wagyu (Kobe) grass-fed beef (additional $3) with caramelized onions, watercress and blue cheese. Both were deliciously juicy and messy and enjoyed with one of their craft-brewed beers. Not a beef eater, not to worry, they have chicken and veggie options.

Saturday at our lunch break two of the student volunteers at TEDx Rainier suggested we try Shultzys. Nothing better than to walk into a busy restaurant and find a quiet seat near the fireplace on a rainy fall day. Jay tried the “Schultzy”, a char-grilled sausage burger made with mild Italian pork, served on a toasted, garlic-buttered roll with grilled onions & peppers – very good subtle flavors. I had the Bratwurst, a mild but nicely spiced pork and beef sausage, served with grilled onions & sauerkraut. Easily gluten-free by eliminating the bun. Very tasty. The service was prompt and our food came quickly which we appreciated given our limited time.  Seattle’s Wurst Restaurant is located at 4114 University Way NE.

I end with a tip from my sweet husband… Looking for an idea for taking your sweetie out on a date? Go to a TED conference. Ideas are hot! Follow up the conference with a nice dinner, in a quiet romantic place, and prepare to have some great conversation. TED talks will inspire, enlighten, and fill you with hope.

Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage

Photo of Sigmund Freud's couch by Annie Leibovitz
Sigmund Freud's couch in his study at 20 Maresfield Gardens in London (source: NY Times)

Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage charts a new course for one of America’s best-known living photographers. Different from her staged and carefully lit portraits made on assignment for magazines like Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair, Pilgrimage took Leibovitz to places that she could explore without an agenda. She wasn’t on assignment this time and she chose the subjects simply because she was moved by them.

The photography exhibition is presented in conjunction with a new book – Pilgrimage by Annie Leibovitz, with an introduction by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Here are some notes from the book:

She chose the subjects simply because they meant something to her. The first place was Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst, Massachusetts, which Leibovitz visited with a small digital camera. A few months later, she went with her three young children to Niagara Falls. “That’s when I started making lists,” she says. She added the houses of Virginia Woolf and Charles Darwin in the English countryside and Sigmund Freud’s final home, in London, but most of the places on the lists were American. The work became more ambitious as Leibovitz discovered that she wanted to photograph objects as well as rooms and landscapes. She began to use more sophisticated cameras and a tripod and to travel with an assistant, but the project remained personal.


Leibovitz went to Concord to photograph the site of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. Once she got there, she was drawn into the wider world of the Concord writers. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s home and Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott and her family lived and worked, became subjects. The Massachusetts studio of the Beaux Arts sculptor Daniel Chester French, who made the seated statue in the Lincoln Memorial, became the touchstone for trips to Gettysburg and to the archives where the glass negatives of Lincoln’s portraits have been saved. Lincoln’s portraitists—principally Alexander Gardner and the photographers in Mathew Brady’s studio—were also the men whose work at the Gettysburg battlefield established the foundation for war photography. At almost exactly the same time, in a remote, primitive studio on the Isle of Wight, Julia Margaret Cameron was developing her own ultimately influential style of portraiture. Leibovitz made two trips to the Isle of Wight and, in an homage to the other photographer on her list, Ansel Adams, she explored the trails above the Yosemite Valley, where Adams worked for fifty years.

“From the beginning, when I was watching my children stand mesmerized over Niagara Falls, it was an exercise in renewal,” she says. “It taught me to see again.”

Virginia Wolf's Bedroom, Annie Leibovitz
Virginia Woolf’s bedroom in her country home, which is a few miles from Charleston, England (source: NY Times)

Dominique Browning interviewed Annie Leibovitz, here is an exerpt from A Pilgrim’s Progress in the New York Times:

Gazing at the traces left behind by her favorite artists, traces of their lives, their creature habits, Ms. Leibovitz finds something to nurture all of us — something about integrity, staying true to a vision. She forges a connection to the past that informs the way she is moving forward. “I would encourage everyone to make their own list,” she says. “My book is a meditation on how to live. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but you should always try to do what you love to do.”

Photographs from Pilgrimage will be exhibited at New York’s Pace Gallery, 545 West 22nd Street, from December 1 to 3, and will then be at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, from January 20 to May 20, 2012. Following its presentation in Washington, D.C., Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage will tour nationally.

Wheat Belly

Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis, MD

Two friends brought this book to my attention this week and I think it is worth checking out… so good to have doctors getting on board with nutrition and how we can effect our health by our diet. In Wheat Belly, a renowned cardiologist explains how eliminating wheat from our diets can prevent fat storage, shrink unsightly bulges, and reverse myriad health problems. From Dr. Davis:

Who had the audacity to write such an against-the-grain book exposing “healthy whole grains” for the incredibly destructive genetic monsters they’ve become?

That’s me, Dr. William Davis, cardiologist and seeker-of-truth in health. Over 80% of the people I meet today are pre-diabetic or diabetic. In an effort to reduce blood sugar, I asked patients to remove all wheat products from their diet based on the simple fact that, with few exceptions, foods made of wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods. Yes, that’s true for even whole grains. More than table sugar, more than a Snickers bar. Organic, multigrain, sprouted–it makes no difference.

People returned several months later and did indeed show lower blood sugar, often sufficient for pre-diabetics to be non-prediabetics. But it was the other results they described that took me by surprise: weight loss of 25 to 30 lbs over several months, marked improvement or total relief from arthritis, improvement in asthma sufficient to chuck 2 or 3 inhalers, complete relief from acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, disappearance of leg swelling and numbness. Most reported increased mental clarity, deeper sleep, and more stable moods and emotions. I witnessed even more incredible experiences like the 26-year old man incapacitated by full-body joint pains who started to jog again, pain-free. And the 38-year old schoolteacher who, just weeks before her surgeon scheduled colon removal and ileostomy bag, experienced cure–cure–from ulcerative colitis and intestinal hemorrhage–and stopped all medications. That’s when I knew that I had to broadcast this message. Wheat Belly was the result.

I’m not promoting drugs, fancy medical procedures, or costly equipment. I’m not promoting a process that makes a pharmaceutical company rich or helps a hospital gain more revenue-producing procedures. I’m talking about a simple change in diet that yields incredible and unexpected health benefits in so many more ways than you’d think. And it’s not just about celiac disease, the destructive intestinal disease from wheat gluten that affects 1% of the population. It’s about all the other destructive health effects of wheat consumption, from arthritis to acid reflux to schizophrenia, caused or made worse by this food we are advised to eat more of. It’s about being set free from the peculiar appetite-stimulating effects of the opiate-like compounds unique to wheat. It’s also about losing weight–10, 20, or 30 pounds is often just the start–all from this thing I call wheat belly. The key to understanding wheat’s undesirable effects is to recognize that the total effect on human health is greater than the sum of its parts.

William Davis, MD, is a preventive cardiologist whose unique approach to diet allows him to advocate reversal, not just prevention, of heart disease. Here is a recipe from his website:

Mocha Cupcakes

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups ground almonds
3 tablespoons instant coffee powder or crystals
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened; preferably undutched)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Sweetener equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar (e.g., 3 1/2 tablespoons Truvia)
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, melted (can be replaced with coconut oil, melted)
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons coconut milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream or (unsweetened; no high-fructose corn syrup) ready-made whipped cream
Cocoa powder or dark chocolate shavings for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place 8 cupcake paper liners into muffin pan.

Mix ground almonds, instant coffee powder, cocoa, baking soda, and sweetener in bowl. Stir in melted butter or coconut oil, eggs, and coconut milk. Add more coconut milk, if necessary, one tablespoon at a time to obtain a thick but stir-able consistency.

Pour mix into cupcake liners about 2/3 full. Bake for 25-30 minutes until toothpick withdraws dry. Allow to cool at least 30 minutes.

Whip cream or use ready-made whip cream and spread on top of each cupcake. Sprinkle cocoa powder or dark chocolate shavings on top.

For more thoughts on the book visit Melissa’s blog post Gluten free for good, she is a nutritionist who interviewed the good doctor after reading his book.

And click on travelsketchwrite recipes for links to other wheat-free recipes in my blog.