Browse Tag


Language lessons

[giraffe tongue]We “brave” the evening’s newest and most aggressive downpour by taking a door-to-door taxi, joining the growing mini-throng in Pazzo’s back room.

Did I say “room?” No, not quite right. Shed? Tent? Lean-to? Look, I’m aware that wine folk can occasionally be rowdy, table-hogging miscreants, and on more than one occasion I’ve been in a restaurant that’s banished us to the hinterlands (I remember one, somewhere north of Boston, that set up our table in the storage room), but I’m not even sure that the area in which we’re dining counts as a structure. One thing’s for sure: it’s deafening, thanks to the rain that pounds on the corrugated metal roof (yes, really)…and later, a few soaked-through bags, boxes, and jackets indicate the formation of a brackish pond beneath our feet.

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Slo food

[ljubljana sculpture]Where are we? Judging by the featureless beige on our GPS’ screen, the answer is “nowhere.” The road we’re on doesn’t exist. Yet it quite obviously does, and we’re on it, and it doesn’t look so new that our allegedly Europe-covering maps wouldn’t include it. This wouldn’t be so bad, except that we now have no idea if we’re headed to Ljubljana or…oh, I dunno, Salzburg. The tension in the car rises a bit.

So much for Italians and their “shortcuts.”

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Meat castles

[tombstones]Set in an otherwise quiet residential area of town, Le Tournedos et H. Le Tassigny isn’t the easiest restaurant to find. Not that I think it’s particularly big with the tourists in any case; everyone stares when we walk in, there’s certainly no English being spoken at any other tables, and the English we speak to each other draws a surprised glance from every waitperson that approaches our table.

The name of the game here is meat, and a lot of it. In fact, I can’t imagine wanting to eat here except if in search of the namesake tournedos, which feature on the menu in many, many incarnations. I start with a salade de gésièrs, itself a massive and extremely filling (but excellent) undertaking, and while waiting for my next course I realize I’m really not all that hungry. Oops.

So, when presented with a slab of beef about the size of my head…

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The rites of springbok

[table mountain obscured]The truck shows no signs of stopping. In fact, it might be speeding up. A horn blares. The right wheel is aimed directly at me, the left at Theresa’s glasses, which are still skipping and swirling over the pavement, buffeted by the howling gales that cyclone around us. There’s nothing to be done except save myself, and I leap back onto the sidewalk…just as the glasses are given their most violent wind-whipping yet. They sail skyward, hurdling the truck and crashing to the ground right at my feet. I reach out to grasp them…

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Funky, cold, & Medina

[qantas]It has actually come to this? So many great experiences, so many wonderful people (except for that one), so many unforgettable memories. And yet, New Zealand’s final farewell for us is this: for the second time in three opportunities, Air New Zealand has failed to put our bags on the same plane as us. Even with a three-hour layover in Auckland. How does that happen? Have they employed tuatara to handle luggage and cargo? Three hours is usually enough even for Heathrow, for heaven’s sake, and Auckland’s not exactly the world’s biggest airport.

“They’ll be on the next flight,” assures the man clicking away at a computer with the sleek lines and processing power of the eighties. The early eighties. It’s got a green screen, it’s slower than Air NZ baggage handling, and the printer issuing my lost luggage report is a noisy old dot matrix model. Dot matrix. And yes, the paper is the appropriate relic, which I wasn’t even aware was still produced: alternating green and white stripes with perforated holes down the sides. What sort of bizarre time warp have we entered? Have all the country’s IT consultants gone walkabout?

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The singing ship, sanguine

[reflection]For a chain hotel not exactly known for its luxury, [this] is more than serviceable, though it’s crawling with businesspeople and has to turn several desperate latecomers away at the front desk. There’s a bar in the lobby, and a really impressive breakfast buffet in the restaurant across the hall. I mean really impressive: six kinds of charcuterie, five kinds of cheese (including the ubiquitous gjetost), various herrings, anchovies, caviar (though only the squeeze-tube kind) pickled vegetables and salad greens, creamy “salads” that only a Scandinavian or Minnesotan could love, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, cut fruit, yogurt, cereals and muesli, fair coffee, fine tea, juices, several kinds of milk, three preparations of (real) eggs, terrific bacon, sausages, meatballs, mini-waffles, jams and spreads, a huge block of excellent salted butter, and an assortment of five or six fresh-that-morning breads (most some variation on whole grain, and many with seeds) that is rather breathtaking in its quality. As a result of this early-morning bounty, at hotel after hotel, I’m able to avoid eating lunch anywhere in Norway…which, given that in some places a bowl of fish soup and a beer can cost nearly $100, is a very, very good thing.

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Flowers in the Adriatic

[piazza dell’unita]It’s a gloomy, rainy morning. And I’ve discovered yet another problem with our hotel: the pillows are rock-hard, and my right ear feels flattened and numb. I look around our cobweb-filled room lit by the dismal grey gloom, decide that dismay is no way to start the day, trudge to the bathroom wrapped in a blanket to keep out the penetrating chill, and turn on the hot water.

It takes about ten minutes to arrive, though when it does, it’s blessedly beyond tepid; at least there’s a heat source somewhere in this hotel. Breakfast is no less dismal; despite a few house-made jams, the selection consists of crusty but flavorless bread, American cereals, bland bolognas (calling them salume would be more than they deserve) and cheeses, and canned fruit. Even the coffee isn’t good. In Italy. We leave the hotel discouraged, our mood as grey and soggy as the weather.

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Olive me

[mapua bay sunset]The Nelson area has a lot of eateries, including one frequently-lauded establishment a few steps from our front door. But the locals I’d consulted had arrived at near-universal agreement: Flax (Mapua Wharf, Mapua) is the best of the bunch. And so, we choose it for our final restaurant meal in New Zealand.

Some choices one might like back.

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Fanfare for the Cormòns man

[prosecco vines]There’s a woman at the front desk. She looks surprised to see me. Very surprised. She doesn’t speak any English, so I proceed in my halting Italian. It turns out that my reservation is complete mystery to her. I produce a confirmation email. She stares at it, no doubt convinced it must be fake, or that some detail must be wrong. Except that her name is at the bottom of the email, which makes denying its existence or accuracy somewhat difficult. As the silence lengthens, I begin to have one of those classic traveler stress experiences, in which the possibility of being without lodging starts to sink in. Given the complete lack of other apparent guests, I wouldn’t normally worry…except that strewn across the counter are pamphlets for what appears to be a very major jazz festival. Said festival is this week, and the hotel appears to be the place where all the bands are staying.

The woman disappears into a back office, apparently checking her computer for electronic evidence that I haven’t faked this email, perhaps in concert with Slovenian border guards or something. Then she returns for what must be her tenth fruitless scan of the reservation book. Finally, I can’t take the silence anymore. In Italian: “do you have a room for me or not?”

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A cute angle

[ste-chapelle window]With a heavenly slab of foie gras poached in Banyuls (thankfully free of any suspiciously white sauces), I ask our somewhat munchable sommelière if there’s a glass of Banyuls that might go better with it than our Condrieu. I don’t get one. Instead, she launches into a mini-soliloquy, explaining that what I really want is a dry red wine. Well, no I don’t…but she does seem convinced. I finally consent. It’s just as well she doesn’t return to inquire after the pairing, because it’s awful. We appear to have lost the love, the hottie sommelière and I.

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