Monday, April 25, 2011

Paris in 1998 - our first time

Like our trip to Italy in June of 1994, this whirlwind trip to Paris in late April of 1998 set the stage and the tone for what was to come nearly a decade later. Although we only had time to walk from Notre Dame to the Arc de Triomphe, in a matter of hours the two of us we were literally swept away by the very feel of this place. Beyond any sense of explanation,  we felt connected, comfortable and, in the years to come a pressing need to return.

But that's another story; for the moment, here's the tourist view from that whirlwind trip:



Notre Dame

From the "Eiffler"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Update shmupdate

Providence in April -- chilly mornings, lots of sunshine and plenty of grit in the air from the destruction of part of I-195 that once ran through downtown:

But the full moon has passed and spring is definitely on the wing here:

Abandoned museum/hotel project on the left and Davol Square, where I work on the right
A week ago this past Monday evening I drove Susie up to Holy Cross College in Worcester, MA, where she spoke to a gathering of about 40 French students and faculty. The idea was for her to talk about her rather dramatic career change and, most particularly, about our move to Italy and ultimately France where she studied pastry. That part always amazes people -- and when we stop and think about it, it was pretty amazing indeed and frankly I'm surprised we did it.

Anyway, much of the presentation was in French and to cap it all off she also brought along five of her classic tarts including my personal favorite, caramel nut.

On Saturday Susie held another Petit Chefs class at Alliance Francaise and once again it was a packed house.

While she held forth teaching the fine art of pastry to the kids, I headed out to the East Bay Bike path to break in my new folding bike. It's a Dahon D7 and unfolds and folds up in about 15 seconds each way.

The ride is smooth although the 20-inch tires are a bit restrictive -- still it was enjoyable to cruise along the bike path even though the air was quite chilly and the wind blustery. On Sunday I really put the bike through its paces, heading into previously unknown territory along the bike path. Susie and I even swapped on and off (she mostly walked though). It was a grand way to end/start the week that's for sure.

More good news: Susie has been looking at two places now for commercial kitchen space. One is in an old mill building located about a mile and a half from downtown and presently undergoing a serious makeover; she would be responsible for the buildout in addition to equipment etc. The other one, in downtown Providence, is already to go, of course she would still be responsible for the equipment but it has the potential of developing into retail space as well. Both places are quite inexpensive and offer short term leases. Cool!

I had hoped to get to NYC this week to moderate a panel on digital art within the western tradition but work holds me fast to Providence. But if you're interested, here's the finale to my short opening presentation (sound up):

Life is full of tradeoffs, eh?

No major trips are planned any time soon -- but we continue to scheme about 2012 and hiking in the French alpes maritimes. You can find out more about our projected "walk" right here or cut and paste:

We'll keep you posted!

Ciao for now,


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Back to Cook and Brown, Apricot spirals

This post is a bit behind schedule: the dinner was a couple of weeks back and the spirals were, of course, not part of that event but a special test treat at home. We joined Matt, Susan, Andrea and Barbara for an early jump on spring dining in Providence at one our favorite haunts. Needless to say both food experiences were outstanding -- although the drink menu had a couple of gaps and my burger could have used a more substantive bun, everybody enjoyed their meal at Cook and Brown that evening.
l-r: Andrea, Susie Matt, Susan and Barbara
My burger with paper thin chips

Andrea's steak and cauliflower gratin

Susie's apricot spirals

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A return to Concord and early American History

Many people who stop in Concord, MA come to savor the quaint New England town that grew out of that one single, earth-shattering incident when a few men said they had had enough and stood their ground to be pushed no more by what they saw as a tyranny over their spirit. One April 19, 1775 , near the tiny village of Concord, farmers and tradesmen stood firm against British soldiers, and knowingly or not forever renounced their name colonist.

Browsing the artisan shops, sipping coffee in any one of several little cafes, the reason they are there now, sitting, browsing, sipping, lies buried around them. The three cemeteries of Concord describe and define not just the village or a peculiar and particular way of life, but much more: they define us as a nation, what we stood for, struggled for and continually hope for.

Old Hill Burying Ground 
On the hillside overlooking Concord’s Monument Square is the oldest of the three cemeteries, the Old Hill Burying Ground. Comprised of nearly 500 graves Old Hill was the original burying ground for Concord residents after securing their settlement in 1635 (although the earliest existing stone is dated 1677).

"On this hill
the Settlers of Concord
built their Meeting House
near which they were buried
on the southern slope of the ridge
were their Dwellings during
the first winter
below it they laid out
their first Road and
on the summit stood the
Liberty Pole of the Revolution"

The entrance is from Monument Square through the gate between St. Bernard’s Church and the "brick-end" house. According to local history, the burying ground was located was on land that could not be farmed, and because of its height, it was the first area to thaw in the spring. This thawing allowed for early burial of those who died during the winter and waited silently for a place in the warm earth.

Of the nearly 500 burial markers in Old Hill, the oldest belongs to Joseph Merriam who died April 20, 1677.

Of interest, is the grave of Major John Buttrick who led the fight at the North Bridge and died 16 years later, on May 16, 1791. His son, buried in the same family plot, was at the bridge as a fifer. Old Hill also contains the graves of 40 other veterans of the Revolution.

For more information visit the Old Hill Burying Ground page on the Concord City website.

Sleepy Hollow
Concord's largest cemetery with some 10,000 gravesites, is located one block east of Monument Square, on Bedford Street. One of the first "pastoral" cemeteries in the United States, Sleepy Hollow is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Two of the most visited areas are "Authors Ridge"  and the Melvin Memorial.

"Mourning Victory," commonly known as the Melvin Memorial was and commissioned by James Melvin in memory of his three brothers who died during the Civil War, was created by his boyhood friend, Daniel Chester French. Mr. French who also designed the Minuteman Statue at Concord's North Bridge and the Lincoln Statue in Washington's D.C.'s Lincoln Memorial. French is himself buried nearby, on the ridge directly behind the monument.

To the right of the Melvin Memorial, up a short stretch of road lies a hollow, on the far side of which is "Authors Ridge." Here you will find the graves of Henry Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott and her father, Bronson Alcott. Each is buried in a family plot and marked with modest stones. Hawthorne's marker, in keeping with his personal reserve, bears only his last name, while Emerson created his own epitaph: "The passive master lent his hand to the vast soul which o'er him planned." (from his poem, The Problem).

Emerson's stone faces a large boulder at the base of the hill, which covers the resting place of Ephraim Wales Bull, the originator of the celebrated Concord Grape. At the Alcott plot, Ms. Alcott is surrounded by her father, mother and sisters, whom she made famous in Little Women. Except for Louisa May, the Alcott stones bear only the occupants’ initials. Tragedy hovers here. Bronson Alcott died on March 4, 1888, and Louisa May, gravely ill with pneumonia and shaken by his passage, died two days later. Both were buried on the same day later in the spring when the ground had thawed sufficiently.

Visit the cemetery website:

South Burying Place
A block and a half down Main Street from Old Hill Burying Ground, at the intersection of Keyes Road, is the South Burying Place, also known as the "Main Street Burying Ground." Comprised of some 300 graves, this small burial site dates back to the late 17th century. According to local history, this site was opened "to accommodate people living on the south side of a mill pond dam where Main Street is now." Most of the headstones are replacements following the destruction of the originals during the 1938 hurricane.

Main street to the right

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The French Tart, opening moves

On Friday, April 8, Susie, aka "The French Tart," joined a number of other like-minded folks trying to start a small business in the decidedly unfriendly state of Rhode Island. The occasion was Urban Ventures' Economic Development Forum, located in the massive Indian Council Algonquin Building on Broad Street. The forum, which ran from 10-11:30am, provided each entrepreneur an opportunity to present their product or service to local politicians and potential venture capitalists.

Unfortunately, I couldn't attend but Susie did take some photos of her spread -- and what struck me the most when I saw her photos was how very far she has come. Looking at her layout it was now obvious, to me at any rate, that she was not only a professional pastry chef but had developed a keen eye for preparing an attractive table for showcasing her products.

But you can judge for yourself:

Prepping the table

Green tea black sesame financier

Caramel nut tart

Apple puffs, duh

mini Pain au chocolat
Strawberry kiwi profiterole

Lemon berry tart

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Visiting the Megaliths in Southern Brittany

Brittany is known for many things: incredible desserts (and I'm thinking of Paris-Brest here), wonderful food (crepes and galette come to mind), and some of the world's most extensive megalith formations. Thousands of stones arranged in passage graves, tumulus mounds and the incredible alignments found in Carnac, where we stayed in early January of 2011.

So, if you've decided on a megalith tour of the Morbihan (or anywhere else in Brittany for that matter), here are a few general things to consider:
  • Before visiting read up on the history, layout etc., of the various major megalithic sites. (Most good guidebooks have handy little historical sections for just that purpose.)
  • If at all possible, visit the archeological museum in Vannes before visiting any of the sites.
  • At the very least stop in at the Maison des Megalithes visitor center across from the Menec alignments.
  • Use a good detailed map, especially if you're going to be walking any distance. Signage is generally good at many of the megalith locations but getting from one place to another can be a bit of a challenge. Do not expect to get any detailed maps at the visitor center, although you can find a good general guide map at the Maison des Megalithes in Carnac.
  • Because there are so many sites, and they do vary in size, scope, location and importance, plan your itinerary carefully before heading off, and stick to it. I would also recommend you include your lunch stop as well.
  • Remember you're often crossing and crisscrossing private property so always be on the lookout for propriété privée signs or anything that says interdit (prohibited).
  • Many sites are located next to or along roads so do be aware of traffic.
  • Always park your vehicle in designated parking or areas or any pull-off that is clearly intended for parking. Do not park in the road and certainly not in someone's driveway.
And a few specific items you might want to have along:
  • Comfortable and heavy duty walking shoes or boots.
  • Flashlight/torch.
  • If your camera allows it, bring an external flash for inside the passage graves and tumulus mounds.
  • Bottled water.
  • Remember you're in rural Brittany and facilities and conveniences are scarce.
Bon voyage!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Lovecraft and the Sprague Children at Swan Point

Normally, I make my cemetery postings on my cemetery blog, but recently Susie and I went out to Swan Point in Providence to take in the sunshine and blue sky and center our karmas. While Susie took off on her power stroll, I drifted aimlessly, following no particular agenda.

Sited on the west bank of the Seekonk River Swan Point is the final home to numerous notable new Englanders (odd alliteration here I know), including Union General Ambrose Burnside, a controversial military figure during the American Civil War, and H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), whose epitaph reads: "I am Providence." According to the cemetery guide, he wrote these words to a friend in 1927 upon a return from an unpleasant journey to New York City. (Lovecraft was a lifelong resident of Providence.) There was a phase in my life when I consumed Lovecraft's works with the same obsessive compulsion that also drove me to Leon Uris, Harold Robbins, Arthur Koestler and Joseph Conrad.

I also found my way over to the poignant figures of Sprague children, Mary (1850-1860) and William (1857-1860), brother and sister, resting together for eternity:

Farewell darlings we have laid you
Side by side beneath this sod,
Buds of earth all fadeless blooming
In the garden of our God.

When you go to the cemetery be sure and stop in at the office, located to the left as you pass through the impressive rock entrance. Even if the office is closed, a handy map and historical walking tour guide are always available and free.