Food in Rome, Naples and Matera
In a frenzied week of food, history of art and architecture, and archaeological sites, it was easy to be overwhelmed by Italy’s riches. The time was afforded and determined by a rare winter hiatus at the restaurant where pastry chef/daughter Melissa works. Between two of us, we tag-teamed on where to go, how to get there, and making sure that we maximized resources.
Speed traveling in a slow country by two generations of sturdy travelers was achievable, satisfying, and forever memorable. With Rome as our base in Testaccio, we took a full day trip to Naples by train. An inexpensive flight to Bari at the heel of Italy enabled us to visit Matera in a second, dawn-to-dusk trip. A one-hour drive from Bari allowed us to reach Sassi, two ancient hill towns straddling a deep valley. This UNESCO area is designated to become a major destination in 2019, to showcase sustainable tourism and environmental protection of treasured and not-to-be forgotten settlements.
Matera Hill Town
Elena Ferrante in Napoli
Famous Pizza and the Opera House drove us to Naples, but we couldn’t help but think about the stories written by Elena Ferrante in her four book series about scrappy Neapolitan life. We stopped at the Archaeological Museum, one of the country’s top sites holding treasures from Ercolano and Pompeii. Porn was thriving in Pompeii, as witnessed in this museum, along with all the other artifacts that are no longer available at the sites. In between glutting out on pizza (shown above and in video on next post) and a lackluster Nutcracker at the historic Teatro di San Carlo, the food won hands down.
Reminder: Click on any area of the galleries above for a full-fledged slide show.
It’s too chilly in Rome for iced coffee but the antidote was a toasted pocket pizza with tantalizing and meaty fillers for a quickie dinner.
On arrival at the exquisitely appointed Air BNB in Testaccio, daughter and discoverer of discriminating accommodations took our host’s recommendation for dinner and led us to Trappizzino.
It’s a short, safe walk from the Marmorata Building and past numerous inviting cafes and restaurants still open to business after 9pm on a weeknight.
After entering the first door to Trappizino, we are told that we are in a wine bar. If we want food we should go next door. We follow instructions and U-turn. We go next door and order what appear to be pocket pizzas.
While that may not sound so appealing, we quickly realize that we are in a gourmet ghetto. Choices of octopus, tongue or a variety of other meats are delicately flavored with pesto or marinara sauce and inserted into lightly toasted focaccia envelopes.
As we wait for our orders to be processed, we peruse the joint and the scant table layout. Sides appear to be non-existent, so we focus on the drink case. Hmm, I thought. Was that price of 9.80€, written in scrolly cursive the way Europeans write, the price of a glass, or a bottle?
Couldn’t break my reticence to ask. It didn’t matter, the counter server advised, go next door for wine, where there are more tables and a better environment for dining. We pay a whopping price of 8€ for food and collect our prizes.
Clad with our pizzas fully exposed and mounted in a custom-designed wire toast holder, we traipse back over next door. Business looked like it had picked up, with a couple hovered at the prime window spot showcasing the presence of customers.
We settle on a hightop and pursue the wine mystery. This side of the establishment is serious about drinks. A number of specialty beers are displayed in the refrigerated cases and stare longingly at our religiously unfulfilled table. One beer displays printed labels for Trappizzino, with each of the letters T-R-A-P-P-I-Z-Z-I-N-O on 11 bottles in a row.
Further down the cases are bottles of local wine, in competition with the beers.
I quickly choose a bottle of Roman wine slightly above 9.80€ and pay for it. The hostess brings my selection over to our table and in Italian words, animated gestures, and truth-telling facial expressions communicate that she is unable to open the wine for us.
After some confusion about why she was unable to perform this task (out of plastic cups? was wine drinking prohibited in a wine bar on a Tuesday night after 9pm? Did we really look that young, just because we were Asian?!? Had we triggered some violation of Italian protocol by purchasing a bottle of weed-laced wine, that could not be served in a public establishment?!?)
We soon deduct that she is telling us that she must go next door to get someone to open the bottle for her.
Apparently she is afflicted with a wine shop worker-related injury. She has developed carpal tunnel wine bottle opener syndrome!
Melissa quickly steps up and offers to uncork the wine. The hostess smiles, gratefully relieved. Business is now standing room only, and it’s one less trip next door, into the 4 degrees of separation.
Before the year closes out, I wanted to combine a number of videos and photos that I collected during this year’s travels. The selection includes a life-changing trip to Iran, first-timers to Korea and Hungary, and regular mainstays in Germany, Austria and China.
These travels entailed detailed planning and visits to friends and family. While most of the visits were with those who follow or are aware of my intrepid travels, fresh new friends taught me bout the hardships and endurance needed to survive the complicated political and economic world we live in. Shared laughter helped to offset an arduous year and to renew hope for the future.
I hope you will enjoy this quirky video. I’ve culled material from travels this past year, based on Barbara Streisand’s moving song, “Imagine/What a Wonderful World”, from her album “Walls”. Let’s hope that we can resist building walls and find ways to build trust and friendship instead.
Here’s the video:
The video includes clips from Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Yasd, and Tehran in Iran, as well as a few from Seoul, Korea. There are clips from my month-long sojourn at the Goethe Institute in Munich, Germany. Featured friends include Lisa from New York City, Alberto and Miki from Crema/Elba/San Diego (our fellow travelers to Hungary and Austria), Helena from Lucerne/Wallins in Switzerland, and former student Xiao Lin and his wife Susan, who live in Guangzhou.
If you are interested in reading more about Iran, you can find the blog posts from April 2018.
I’m still debating about whether I will extend the blog into 2019. Traveling to Italy with daughter Melissa starting on New Year’s Day may help to inspire me to continue, so stay tuned if you are interested. We are also planning to go to the Caucasus in April (can you guess which three countries?)
Have an overwhelmingly, delightfully unexpected, fruitful, and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
A delightful concert with the San Francisco Symphony playing Beethoven’s Ninth was a moving and timely experience. The full chorus sang the final Fourth Movement blasting the message from Schiller’s Ode to Joy in English: “Give a Kiss to the Whole World!” It was a much needed reminder of our dependency on each other.
During Intermission, the highlighted dome of the City Hall was gracefully poised behind and traffic crawling outside the Symphony Hall. Symphony goers were reflected in the windows as the two scenes melded into one.
KCET, a broadcast television station from Los Angeles, featured Mr. Jiu’s Restaurant on the Migrant Kitchen. Daughter Melissa works there as pastry chef in San Francisco’s Chinatown and was featured in it along with Brandon Jiu, the owner of the restaurant. This was a pretty decent coverage explaining what drives young chefs into what they do, why they do it, where they go, and where they come from. I hope you will have time to watch the entire show posted here:
You can also watch it on KCET at the following times this weekend and after:
SundayDec2 9:00 AM PT
SundayDec2 4:00 PM PT
TuesdayDec4 10:00 PM PT
I have been sketching and drawing around the city, at various cafes and venues. Sometimes I join SF Sketchers, other times alone, wherever I happen to be catching some java. It’s great art therapy and a way to engage with humanity.
Although I was considering throwing in the towel at the end of this year, I may continue for a bit into 2019. I am planning a trip to Rome for a quickie in early January, so look for a post coming from there soon!
This month’s Fall colors on the North Side of Page Street in San Francisco are not the usual East Coast array of autumn leaves, but of late blooming vine flowers. You can still detect a floral scent as you meander down the street. I was traversing the city during my usual 5-mile jaunt from home to the CBD (central business district), but was surprised by the concentration of flowering vines framing beautiful Victorians along the way. They were lovingly nurtured by early morning light.
I also caught the aftermath of Halloween decorations that were clever and irresistible. How does anyone have the time and ingenuity to devote to such eccentricity? They were definitely enjoyable from an audience perspective.
These settings seemed to carry over to the Dia de las Meurtes, or Day of the Dead celebrated in the Latin-X World. It reminded me of the animated movie, “Coco” that introduced the positive significance of this holiday. The San Francisco symphony paid tribute to its members with puppet-sized effigies above the staircase (see featured photo above), when we heard Ray Chen, the violinist, perform “Lalo” in a tribute to Hispanic culture.
The Crissy Field area on the north shore of San Francisco provides leisurely strolls along the Marina. It has been upgraded to include better landscaping, defined paths and killer views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline. This walk easily gives the Hi-line in New York City a run for its money!
A few student sketches from my figure-drawing class show examples of foreshortening, gestures, and use of pencil, ink and charcoal:
If you are stressed about recent events or the upcoming election, here’s a great inspirational song from Barbara Streisand:
Apologies for my month-long absence. While due in part to technical difficulties (upgrading software, offloading movie files, and conversions for posting photos), I am debating about terminating my blog at the end of this year.
In 2019, I will continue traveling and plan to return to Germany to study German. We may visit Armenia, Azerbaijian, and Georgia, in the same style as our travel to Iran earlier this year (See April 2018), and I may do another week of sketching in Portugal with Diane Olivier in June. Stay tuned, and as always, let me know your thoughts!
The Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) 2018 was launched this weekend in San Francisco. The urban sketching group I belong to, San Francisco Urban Sketchers, is actively participating by sketching attendees and interviewing them for personal statements about their thoughts on climate change.
As co-chair of the GCAS, Governor Jerry Brown helped to launch California’s commitment and up to 90 cities throughout the world are joining hands to bring greater awareness to global climate change. Michael Bloomberg from New York City is also bringing attention to the cause and John Kerry has been invited to speak this week. Numerous events are planned throughout the week in San Francisco and other cities throughout the world.
For those interested in reading about this further, here’s the link to GSAC: https://globalclimateactionsummit.org
I had not realized the intensity of the effort by organizers and participants. First it started with a march from the Ferry Building to Civic Center. The afternoon was filled with information booths, spontaneous conversations, and networking. I saw Sierra Club, Grandmothers for Future Generations, and Native American groups joining in a peaceful demonstration. The day was friendly, inspiring, and perfect for getting out and getting active.
Fellow sketcher Karen made an eye-catching sign about the Emperor’s New Clothes, while other marchers dressed up and dressed down. Thanks to my figure drawing class, nothing was startling to me.
Our job as sketchers was to tell each individual’s story. We asked them why they came, what types of global warming they experienced, and what they were doing personally to help reduce global warming. We worked in pairs, taking turns interviewing and sketching. Our preparations and training the week before paid off, thanks to SF Sketchers organizer Laurie Wigham.
It was especially nerve-wracking for me as a new sketcher to sketch and color quickly (5-10 minutes all-in), nail the contours and features of the individual accurately, and stay calm while friends of the model watched intently! It was not unlike being a portrait artist in a tourist area. If you ever wondered what it was like, try it some time. I now know how difficult it is, but it was still fun pretending to be a professional for an afternoon!
Opera in the Park, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Our Sunday was graced with the San Francisco’s Opera In the Park. It is a free annual event to kick off the new opera season. Sketch buddy Karen was already staking out a couple of picnic blankets early in the day for the free event, so I was lucky enough to join her and company for the afternoon.
It was an unusually windless, warm but not hot, rare perfect day in San Francisco. We lolled to my favorite music from Cavallera Rusticana, the Drinking Song from La Traviata, and O Sole Mio by three soon-to-be famous operatic tenors. I even managed to sketch in between (See header above).
If you’ve been following me during my sojourn in Munich this summer, do you detect any difference in style and culture between the SF Opera audience and the one in Munich?!?
After introducing ourselves to what is “Gangnam style”, we celebrated our last evening in the hot spot of Seoul. As Korea’s answer to New York’s Times Square or Ginza in Tokyo, Gangnam literally stands for a mundane name: South of the River. It wasn’t surprising as Koreans follow the Chinese directional terms faithfully. More stylishly, I suppose you could call it South City, as in Chicago, or the counterpart to the “East Bay” in SF Bay Area’s Oakland.
The restaurants and dining options are endless. The bright neon lights mesmerize one’s ability to think and make decisions clearly. We ended up at, of all places, in 98 degree weather in a Korean barbecue. The vents worked great and the food was memorable, but we couldn’t keep the sweat from dripping down our backs in an air-conditioned environment. The coals from the grill at the tables were efficiently removed by an assistant and quickly delivered back to the ambient temperature outdoors.
We felt like were were cooking ourselves. That is, not making food, but cooking our bodies. Eating and drenching is not exactly a compatible nor relaxing experience. Most of the food service personnel around Seoul are from Dongbei or Northern China. They come as itinerant workers or have been long time residents of Korea. We could communicate with them and surprisingly, use more Chinese on this trip than we expected.
Earlier, our daytime expedition outside the city and into Jeonju Hanok Village and into the countryside required a 2.5 hour bus ride south. The hilly landscape, absent of animals that we could see, is highly utilized with rice paddies or laden with ramshackle structures. Korea is not a beautiful country, but it is practical and efficient. Aesthetics are extraneous and overhead lines and blight come from necessity.
As part of the UNESCO Creative World Cities Network, the ancient town is also designated as an international “slow city”. The town contained a cluster of historic residences, a royal portrait gallery, and an odd church that is a mixture of Byzantine and Catholic religions.
Sadly, my world trip for 2018 has reached its final destination and conclusion. I hope you have enjoyed my travels as much as I have enjoyed sharing them with you. They included two new desinations, Hungary and Korea. Both countries are similar in some ways. They are less traveled but worth seeing and learning about. Their people have endured many hardships and misunderstandings, both in perception and reality. I hope you will be inspired to seek beyond your comfort levels and allow your curiosity to direct your next travels.
Korean Cooking School
Our cooking class surpassed all other activities in Seoul. I heartily recommend the experience of learning how to cook Seoul food. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. We met our guides at the metro station, then headed to the local market. It was a lively, tidy, well-managed environment, with plenty of new discoveries.
The abundance of root vegetables told us that Koreans were kept alive in a harsh, cold environment by these necessities. The chile for spice, garlic for health, freshly made 100% sesame oil for lubrication, and full sides of pork for protein were readily available. And of course, fish from the sea, a few dried lizards, and agave were among the specialties for variety and comic relief.
Our cooking class, taught by a capable local Korean chefin (as they would say in Germany), introduced glass noodles, bulgogi meat, Korean pancake, kimchee vegetable soup, and stir fried vegetable flavored with kimchee to our Asian group hailing from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Hawaii, San Jose, and San Francisco. We bonded by working in two teams to dice, slice, and prepare the food per our capable guide’s instructions.
And the final result:
The Royal Shrine, National Museum and Bukchon Hanok Ancient Village
In the blazing saddles heat the day before, we visited the Royal Shrine and the National Museum in the historic center of Seoul. The crowds were decked out in their rented Korean costumes, to take selfies of themselves and each other. I tried my best to avoid the indulgent ones, so here are a few that were caught off-guard before taking photos of themselves or causing selfie-blight.
The UNESCO world sites surprised us, as many of the Chinese characters were recognizable. Korean culture borrowed from the Chinese language, Confucian education and ancient Chinese customs, like Buddhist rites and feng shui.
Many of the cultural elements of combining nature, architecture, and design are similar to those in Chinese culture. Calligraphy, scroll painting, and ancestral worship are also borrowed from the Chinese.
The ancient Bukchon Hanok village reflected the Japanese hill towns, with well-made wood frame gentry housing, wood details, heavy ceramic tile roofs, and integrated landscaping.
Our highlight was the Korean version of the Changing of the Guard. The bottom line of the spirit of Seoul: borrowing from ancient Chinese culture wasn’t such a bad idea, blaring horns included. Koreans added alot of color and style that the Chinese missed.
The first idea we had after checking into the hotel in Seoul, Korea, was to look for Gangnam style entertainment or Kpop. I’m not a true fan, so I wouldn’t know the difference between the two. Other than flicking back and forth between Kpop stations and PBS every now and then, I don’t really follow Korean trends. Upon realizing that we were headed to an unfamiliar territory for the first time, we discussed what we could do in Korea for five days that would be different from other parts of the world.
We brainstormed over what is quintessentially Korean. We decided to dispense with the usual museums, historic sites, and cultural events for the time being. We concurred that Korean entertainment should be our primary endeavor, especially since today was our only Saturday night in Seoul. So KPOP here we come!!
Under advice from the hotel manager, we headed over to Hongik University. It’s the hub of the twenty-something crowd. Streets were strewn with throngs of kids intently watching lip syncing street dancers. It was a very orderly and satisfied crowd.
Here’s a pretty good real-time clip of some KPop performers:
And a future Kpop performer:
Since this is our first exposure to Korea and Koreans, we are looking for the differences between the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cultures. So far we are very impressed by the civility, safety, and straightforwardness of the Korean people. There were no electric bikes or scooters along the pathways to stress your pedestrian skills, so it was calmer. We were able to get around by subway to most of our destinations, far and wide.
In the morning we headed to the fish market. We indulged in picking our own fresh, live crab, clams, abalone, and scallops for lunch. The market is extensive, with several floors for wholesale and retail sales as well as a line of independent restaurants that cook the food you choose. I couldn’t help but think about Anthony Bourdain’s love of fish markets and street food from places like this all over the world, and how he made them respectable.
A few specialties shown above included stingrays and sea urchins.
At the end of the day we headed over to the Dongdaemon area for dinner. I’m not sure just yet what is the soul of Seoul, but a soothing cafe with live music is everywhere and definitely part of the soul of Seoul that doesn’t exist in San Francisco.