La Bamba Makes Me Cry: Fall Inspirations.

For the first time since high school, I have cable TV. This is great news for my current insomnia, induced by the too quiet streets and the possibility of lurking bugs and silent killers. Plus we have a lot of catching up to do since we only saw TWO movies all summer. Oh man, were we craving movies in Europe. We did see To Rome With Love, in Florence and The Dictator in Athens. That one, silly, but satisfying, was outside with a view of the Acropolis! It was hard to stay indoors though and we only did so when absolutely forced, by the unrelenting heat, to take a siesta.

La Bamba, (1987) based on the true story of Ritchie Valens, was on last night and so we said yes, let's watch it. Both Alex and I remember watching this (and Overboard) repeatedly when we were 10 or so.

What a tearjerker! There are so many emotional threads especially dealing with family strife; tenuous sibling relationships, Cain and Abel tinged disappointment and competition. Fears, disabled apotropaic devices, and deadly wintery weather eventually mix together in tragedy. That last phone call Ritchie makes to his brother is heartbreaking! Wow. I never realized how much I love family movies.

I also noticed the costumes this time. The 50's style is marvelous! I love those vintage outfits, from the shirt dresses with feminine sweaters to the dark blue jeans rolled up with T-shirts and old man cardigans. Oh and I really want a leather jacket. My dad has a great one, but he said I'll have to wait awhile longer til it's mine. Well, it's still 90 outside, so maybe a leather vest to put over my white T? These, with a little Mexican twist, are the looks inspiring my "fall" wardrobe. Ok. I'm off to mine the thrift stores.

One part Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday...
With cat eyes!
one part Japanese version of American rock n' roll in Mystery Train...

Add a little bit of print and color (Dolce and Gabbana).
AND one part rebel biker style. Yes, I want to dress like Marlon Brando. So?

Around the same time as I was watching this movie in the 80's, my grandfather introduced me to classic country western music which I loved. My absolute favorite was Marty Robbins, especially El Paso. This will be the soundtrack to my southern fall.

Marty Robbins, El Paso, 1964

Travel Tips From My Summer Adventures.

Before I get into the art stuff, I want to mention a few of the indispensable items that kept us happy for our two month trip.

1. Maps and Travel Books.

I don't like to bring those very thorough, yet totally unwieldy 500 page travel books. I have in the past, but this time we were packing light. Carry-on luggage only! The best solution for a slim site seeing book with great shopping and eating picks PLUS manageably sized maps is the Knopf MapGuide.

The genius behind these books are the fold-out maps. Here we have an example of useful origami! The image above shows, on the left, a description of the neighborhood and a small map to mark its relation to the rest of the city. On the right you find restaurants, cafes, bars, and shopping. Once you flip the page from the bottom up you will find a larger detailed map and cultural destinations listed along the bottom.

Snacks in Rome. 
Looking for a pizza rec in Flo.

A long leisurely dinner at La Beppa near St. Miniato in Florence. 
On this night we had the best pizza of our entire trip.
Thank you guidebook! GO THERE.
Planning tomorrow's Florentine adventure.
With this classy design you actually want to display your travel guide.
On the train from Padua, heading toward Venice.

From Venice to Athens!
Passports in hand! Next destination in the bag.
En route to Istanbul via the seaside airport in Iraklion, Crete.

Surprise upgrade to FIRST CLASS. Thanks to Turkish Airlines we flew to Stockholm (with our MapGuide in place), surrounded by complete luxury and lots of space. What a lovely experience.
Now you can see some of the major cities that we traveled to: Rome, Florence, Venice, Athens, Istanbul, and Stockholm. Lucky for us there was a book for each one on our itinerary. Knopf MapGuides are not published for every destination under the sun. I kind of like that they are selective. Our future trips will have to be based on which cities they offer.

Take note:

Make sure that you always get the most up to date edition. For some reason I ordered an older copy of Athens and it turned out that many of the recommended places had closed. This was especially devastating when we went looking for Greek bakeries. Not getting those lovingly described pastries at the end of a long, sweaty trek is the worst. 

Although the recommendations for food, shopping, and top ten neighborhood sites were always fantastic, these guides do NOT offer extensive information on works of art or architecture. You will need supplemental books if you want to learn about these things while you are looking at them. We saw a lot of people reading from their books in churches and museums. We didn't really need them in this case, since I am an art historian after all. However, we did get some small art books here and there along the way just to be sure we didn't miss anything. Even though we filled every single day with a dozen stops, barely remembering meals, seeing way more than I thought was possible, we still managed to miss a few very important things...

Like Bernini's 17th century St. Theresa in Ecstasy in the Cornaro Chapel at Santa Maria della Vittoria and Bramante's Tempietto. I am utterly devastated that these were in reach and went unnoticed. More trips to Rome!

Tempietto, Rome

Completed in 1508, Bramante's Tempietto was modeled after the early Christian Roman martyria. It was thought that this spot, where the "little temple" stands, is the site of St. Peter's crucifixion. Bramante was one of the architects involved with St. Peter's basilica in the Vatican City. Even though the basilica did not follow the central planning that Bramante wanted, his plans for the dome, finally designed and built by Michelangelo later in the 16th century, were partially included in the final product.

St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

2. Camera case. 

This was such a good investment for us. Twenty bucks probably saved us another 700 and possibly invaluable documentation. I have a history of bad luck with digital cameras. I usually break them while on important adventures. This has happened three times already! First in Berlin, a separate trip in Stockholm, and finally last year in Barcelona. That was the most painful occasion since I had traveled far to see the church I had written about during my graduate program. Luckily we had a film camera so I was able to take a few pictures for my archives. I also invested ninety euros in a very thorough book I found in the makeshift souvenir shop. It is massive and filled with hundreds of images that were taken with a crane. So this story turned out okay, but we were determined not to be foiled again.

Part of the problem here is the lens. If the lens is mechanical, the camera is more susceptible to malfunctioning. If the lens can't open, then the entire camera is unusable. This time we got a Nikon1 which has a manual lens and a nice leather case for complete protection in case it gets dropped. You can wear the camera on the strap instead of fishing it out of your bag and then throwing it back in. This setup made taking 7000 photos easy, exciting, and somehow a little bit classier. Of course I still took lots of pictures with my phone like everyone else.

A Pentax photo on real film! 
But notice my Nikon digital camera all safe and cozy, Roman Forum.

3. Avene Products. Especially SUNBLOCK.

You really need good sunblock (and a hat) to brave these cities in the summer, especially if you've ever had the lucky chance to have some mysterious mole carved out of your leg and are now terrified of skin cancer. On our first day in Rome we went to the apothecary and consulted with the saleswoman. She took one look at our pasty white skin (summer hadn't reached New England yet) and recommended a French brand, Avene, which uses thermal spring water as its base for every product. The best option for us: very high protection, very water resistant 50 SPF.

This is the good stuff. We never once got a sunburn, which is saying a lot considering how much time we spent outside in the sun. We barely ever saw any clouds at least for the first month, only a lot of sunburned tourists. It's so water resistant that sometimes we didn't have to reapply every day even after sweating, swimming and/or showering. I also discovered some of the other marvelous Avene products such as thermal spring water in a can. These spray cans became indispensable for refreshing cool downs and energizing sweat cleansers. 

Now that we live closer to the equator, I'm using Avene now everyday, all year, forever. 

In conclusion: I highly recommend these travel products for a safe and happy adventure of any kind! 


Nobody Can Stop Me While I'm High On Chai, and Ben-Hur.

My TO DO list is long these days. It's always that way when you relocate to a new state. I should know. I'm on my fifth! I started this morning by brewing a strong batch of chai for making iced lattes in the afternoon. I'm on the hunt for an exceptional iced chai latte in my new city, but so far have been quite disappointed in that department. I'm trying to be patient! I did find some good loose leaf Masala Chai at The Path of Tea to which I added black pepper, slices of fresh ginger, cinnamon, and honey for my own brew. Check out this tea blog from Samovar in San Francisco. I was totally lucky to eat there a few years ago. They pair tea with food and it is such a delightful place. Amazing chai by the way. I love that tea gets its rightful place of importance just as coffee, beer, and wine do.

I really wanted to enjoy my best homemade chai with the homemade blondies that we made last night. This combination has, in the past, led to great advancements.

It's a dark, humid, and stormy day here in Texas. I like these kinds of moody days. Especially when I'm productive-happy with my caffeine companions.

My battle cry for today is "Ramming Speed" from William Wyler's 1959 epic Ben-Hur.

I think Judah had my iced chai and blondies beforehand.

I saw this for the first time recently and I absolutely loved it. Especially the scene above. I said if I ever formed a rock band, this guy would be my top pick for drummer. His range may be limited, but he's pretty awesome especially in that leather tunic.

I need to watch more classic epics. Any recommendations? We picked Ben-Hur because it reminded us of our recent trip to Rome. Also because the closest library had it.

The film is set in Ancient Rome and features a chariot race in what is supposed to be Rome's Circus Maximus. We were just there! There's nothing left at all, no ruins, just a huge open space.

Hello from Circus Maximus and the bewitching Palatine Hill, Rome.

Judah Ben-Hur and Messala: rivalry between former best friends.

Ben-Hur (1959) Chariot Race by mariusangol

Circus Maximus track with Palatine Hill in the background. 
Judah and Messala trade out their chariots for a Vespa and make amends.


Excited About Contemporary/Collage Art.

Thinking back to a work of art that I was so very lucky to see in Boston last year. The artist is Christian Marclay and the work is The Clock. I've written about it here and Alex walks you through our memorable experience seeing Marclay's 24 hour film at the Boston MFA.

This clip features a bit from Picnic at Hanging Rock.  

Seeing The Clock (several times) was one of my top art experiences. It's unlikely that I will ever forget it. I recently came across this fantastic article from the New Yorker which I think is well worth reading, even if it is twelve pages. You get a real sense of Marclay's personality, his history, his work ethic, and if you ever wondered how exactly he edited together, visually and sonically, thousands of film clips to make one continuous 24 hour film that tracks each minute of the day, this is your chance. It's an inspiring read for those of us that are interested in how things are made, from concept through problem solving during the process. I dream of seeing this again, but for now I will happily settle for the piece currently on display at the Menil, as part of the Silence exhibition, and of course I look forward to seeing those Japanese scrolls, and whatever else Marclay is working on.


Our Italian Adventure In 5 Cinematic Minutes.

After days of driving south from Cambridge, MA, we dropped our cat and our car, with loving caretakers, and took two carry-on suitcases to the airport. Our adventure abroad would take us through the entire summer and four countries. What a strange experience to spend a a full season away from home. Even the home changed: from comfortable Cambridge to unfamiliar, to me, Texas. More to come on that.

Over the summer we managed to take more than 8000 pictures: a combination of digital, film, and cellphone. With our Nikon 1,  I discovered a setting that takes a series of photos at one click, creating a natural cinematic effect as you look back at them. This feature led to the creation of the video below, which Alex quickly put together during the first jet lagged days of our return. 

Through this edited, animated clip you can watch as we explore Rome, Florence, Ravenna, and Venice. How many masterpieces can you spot?!


El Bueno, El Mal, y El Feo.

Welcome to my new, very different landscape. Part of my ongoing acclimation process includes heavy doses of:

My dreamboat: the well dressed, dusty mercenary, in the "Dollars Trilogy." In fact almost everyone is these films is well dressed. I can't wait to get my sewing machine here so I can begin my new Western inspired wardrobe.
 Shopping sprees at this celebratory amazingly multi-cultural market (sorry, but this place beats out Market Basket). Fireworks are legal here, they have churros in the bakery section, and a kick-ass chile section.

 This was the first book I read that got me excited about the Southwest, Texas, Mexico. The descriptions of food, clothing, and culture kept me daydreaming for the last seven or eight years. I totally bought this book based on its cover. Isn't it beautiful? I'm a sucker for black and white photos a la Lola Alvarez Bravo or Tina Modotti and the juxtaposition of red and blue.

Frida and the Mirror, Lola Alvarez Bravo, 1942.
Woman of Tehuantepec, Tina Modotti, 1929.

Ever since I read Caramelo I've been wanting a rebozo to wrap around me and save as an heirloom for my children. Reading more from Cisneros thanks to our new library membership.

She's got her teal rebozo on today.

Leaving the drab colors of the north for the vibrant fecundity of perpetual warmth. Here's a room from my future home. There will be palm trees and friendly green lizards outside my window!!

Spending lots of time at the The Menil Collection, one of my very favorite museums. They have an especially exciting schedule this fall coinciding with their current exhibition Silence. There will even be a performance of John Cage's 4'33" later this month. There are nineteen museums within a two mile radius, the latest one is Asia Society. No shortage of great art around here!

As for el mal y el feo. Well, those categories are mostly filled by the large number of tropical insects that lurk around and the hellacious traffic patterns preferred by local residents. Oh and the confusion my body goes through as I move between the sultry, unrelenting heat to the deep freeze air conditioning that is used by every building. I suspect that I will adapt quickly to this in the next few weeks as we transition into "fall," better bicycling and eating weather. I have plans to try every taqueria and cajeta offering in this city. This recipe for San Antonio chocolate cajeta flan cake has been a staple in my recipe box ever since I copied it from a bookstore in that city nearly a decade ago. I swear I was meant to live here even if it is a tough lifestyle change.

Lots to look forward to as long as that earwig keeps his forceps pincers away from me.