rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 24th, 2006 11:56 am)
I am about to take off for the airport. The head of the writer's conference I teach at the day after I arrive in LA helpfully sent me about two hundred pages worth of manuscripts to read and critique on the plane. ...I am going to try not to be overwhelmed with annoyance and ennui as I read them, as it is not the author's fault that my main feeling about them is "God, they're heavy."

I had a lovely dinner at a Morroccan restaurant with [livejournal.com profile] m00nface, who I totally hit it off with and would love to hang out with again. That day and yesterday were dedicated to nonstop interviews, with interludes of being fed by my handler publicist, who kindly swooped in and took me first for tea, raspberry mousse cake, caramel/chocolate shortbread, and crumpets, and then (three hours later) for dinner with her, the editor, and two of the sales team at a gourmet Indian restuarant, where the following exchange occurred:

Waiter: Another gin and tonic, madam?

Me: Gee, I shouldn't, I'm appearing on the Late Show in an hour.

Lucy (sales director): She'll have another.

Me: Cheers!

Actually, I think the late show would probably have been more entertaining if I'd been drunk. As it was, I was just tired, the host hadn't read the book, and I think it all seemed a bit flat, especially as he seemed determined to emphasize how sad and miserable I was, and "You must have spent a lot of time alone..."

Me: "Yes."

Him: "Crying...

Me: "Well, I suppose I must have, but actually I don't think I spent that much time crying while I was alone, because when I was by myself I was mostly doing something I wanted to do, so..."

Five minutes later, him: "And we're back, speaking with a woman who spent her whole childhood alone... crying..."

Twenty minutes later, when I've left the show and am waiting for my cab but can still hear the rest of the show, him: "...as we heard from the story of Rachel Brown, who spent so much time miserable... wretched... and crying."

Me: "What time was my cab supposed to get here?"

The can proceeded to take me to the wrong hotel. "This is the wrong hotel," I said.

"No, it isn't," said the cabbie. "Langham hotel... this is the Langham hotel."

"No, it isn't," I said. "I've been staying here for several days. This is not my hotel."

"Yes, it is," insisted the cabbie. "Langham hotel, off Portland... see, there's the name on the door, there's the street."

He was right. I was confused. I had been reading Diana Wynne Jones' Conrad's Fate, in which sorcerers keep altering reality for profit, and began to wonder if that was going on.

"Perhaps this is a different entrance than the one you usually come in to," he suggested.

"Huh, maybe... Tell you what, I'll get out and see, but please wait here in case it's not my hotel."

I got out and checked. Not my hotel. Then I remembered that there's Portland Place as well as Portland Street, and also that the hotel is a chain. I gave him the exact address, and soon enough he found the hotel, but that was a heck of a surreal moment, especially after the long day, the late night, the weird interview, and two gin and tonics.

However, the earlier interviews went quite well, and dinner with the Hodder team was a blast. A great trip overall. I spent much of it lost, but none of it crying.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 24th, 2006 11:56 am)
I am about to take off for the airport. The head of the writer's conference I teach at the day after I arrive in LA helpfully sent me about two hundred pages worth of manuscripts to read and critique on the plane. ...I am going to try not to be overwhelmed with annoyance and ennui as I read them, as it is not the author's fault that my main feeling about them is "God, they're heavy."

I had a lovely dinner at a Morroccan restaurant with [livejournal.com profile] m00nface, who I totally hit it off with and would love to hang out with again. That day and yesterday were dedicated to nonstop interviews, with interludes of being fed by my handler publicist, who kindly swooped in and took me first for tea, raspberry mousse cake, caramel/chocolate shortbread, and crumpets, and then (three hours later) for dinner with her, the editor, and two of the sales team at a gourmet Indian restuarant, where the following exchange occurred:

Waiter: Another gin and tonic, madam?

Me: Gee, I shouldn't, I'm appearing on the Late Show in an hour.

Lucy (sales director): She'll have another.

Me: Cheers!

Actually, I think the late show would probably have been more entertaining if I'd been drunk. As it was, I was just tired, the host hadn't read the book, and I think it all seemed a bit flat, especially as he seemed determined to emphasize how sad and miserable I was, and "You must have spent a lot of time alone..."

Me: "Yes."

Him: "Crying...

Me: "Well, I suppose I must have, but actually I don't think I spent that much time crying while I was alone, because when I was by myself I was mostly doing something I wanted to do, so..."

Five minutes later, him: "And we're back, speaking with a woman who spent her whole childhood alone... crying..."

Twenty minutes later, when I've left the show and am waiting for my cab but can still hear the rest of the show, him: "...as we heard from the story of Rachel Brown, who spent so much time miserable... wretched... and crying."

Me: "What time was my cab supposed to get here?"

The can proceeded to take me to the wrong hotel. "This is the wrong hotel," I said.

"No, it isn't," said the cabbie. "Langham hotel... this is the Langham hotel."

"No, it isn't," I said. "I've been staying here for several days. This is not my hotel."

"Yes, it is," insisted the cabbie. "Langham hotel, off Portland... see, there's the name on the door, there's the street."

He was right. I was confused. I had been reading Diana Wynne Jones' Conrad's Fate, in which sorcerers keep altering reality for profit, and began to wonder if that was going on.

"Perhaps this is a different entrance than the one you usually come in to," he suggested.

"Huh, maybe... Tell you what, I'll get out and see, but please wait here in case it's not my hotel."

I got out and checked. Not my hotel. Then I remembered that there's Portland Place as well as Portland Street, and also that the hotel is a chain. I gave him the exact address, and soon enough he found the hotel, but that was a heck of a surreal moment, especially after the long day, the late night, the weird interview, and two gin and tonics.

However, the earlier interviews went quite well, and dinner with the Hodder team was a blast. A great trip overall. I spent much of it lost, but none of it crying.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 22nd, 2006 06:41 pm)
It is cold and rainy. I seem to be catching a cold. I am dismayed about this, as I have a full day of interviews tomorrow and am flying the day after, and the day after that, and the last time I flew with a cold I felt like I was being skewered through the ears every time the altitude changed.

I did a phone interview with a big paper in Scotland today, and had to restrain myself from saying, "You have such an adorable accent! I am in love with your voice!" Then I had photos taken for the same article. The photographer, Dale Cherry (great name) quickly figured out that I felt more comfortable doing anything but sitting upright in a chair, and photographed me on top of a table and in various scrunched-in-a-chair positions, including one when he was packing his equipment and I absently grabbed hold of my knees and started rocking on my butt, and he immediately unpacked everything and took some shots of that.

Also I did a radio interview with some guy who hadn't read my book. It was OK-- I'd rather they confess that than not confess and try to fake it.

Before that I poked through some bookshops on Charing Cross Road and bought the last two of a trilogy by Annie Dalton (better that than the first two), The Goshawk by T. H. White, Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O'Hara, Urn Burial by Rober Westall, and The Stone Quartet by Alan Garner.

Tomorrow is all day at the BBC. I have bought cold medicine and two rolls of lozenges.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 22nd, 2006 06:41 pm)
It is cold and rainy. I seem to be catching a cold. I am dismayed about this, as I have a full day of interviews tomorrow and am flying the day after, and the day after that, and the last time I flew with a cold I felt like I was being skewered through the ears every time the altitude changed.

I did a phone interview with a big paper in Scotland today, and had to restrain myself from saying, "You have such an adorable accent! I am in love with your voice!" Then I had photos taken for the same article. The photographer, Dale Cherry (great name) quickly figured out that I felt more comfortable doing anything but sitting upright in a chair, and photographed me on top of a table and in various scrunched-in-a-chair positions, including one when he was packing his equipment and I absently grabbed hold of my knees and started rocking on my butt, and he immediately unpacked everything and took some shots of that.

Also I did a radio interview with some guy who hadn't read my book. It was OK-- I'd rather they confess that than not confess and try to fake it.

Before that I poked through some bookshops on Charing Cross Road and bought the last two of a trilogy by Annie Dalton (better that than the first two), The Goshawk by T. H. White, Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O'Hara, Urn Burial by Rober Westall, and The Stone Quartet by Alan Garner.

Tomorrow is all day at the BBC. I have bought cold medicine and two rolls of lozenges.
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
( May. 21st, 2006 05:21 pm)
I fled to a Borders with an attached Starbucks, and decided to browse and read manga until the weather got less cold and wet, as all my other plans involved a great deal of outdoorsiness.

I just spent the entire day in Borders. I have now read through volume 6 of Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura.Bautiful smudgy-pencil art, somewhat in the tradition of Lone Wolf and Cub (so is the story, come to think of it) but even better, or at least even more to my taste.

Last night I had some lovely flaky fried fish and soggy chips. The waitress asked me if I wanted "mushy peas" to go with it. My God! I thought, they do that on purpose! How horrible!

"Don't like the mushy peas," said the waitress wisely, before I could respond verbally.

I have been watching some of the Naruto anime that [livejournal.com profile] telophase was kind enough to send me before I left, and have some non-spoilery thoughts regarding language.

1. Apparently "Kakashi" is the best name ever to say in slow and gloating tones. It sounds really great when spoken that way, which is why all the villains who confront him tend to have dialogue like this: "So, Kakashi... I have found you at last... Kakashi... Heh heh heh."

2. Does "dattebayo" or "-te bayo," which Naruto uses so much, literally mean anything? Does anyone ever use it in real life, or is it purely a made-up character thing? It reminds me of Chichiri's "no da," which I think does have some sort of meaning but is basically just a speech tic. (Last night while at ish and chips the young Japanese woman at the next table, who was talking on her cell phone, ended half her sentences with "da yo!" It sounded similar enough (and her voice was pitched a bit similarly to Naruto's) that it really startled me for a moment.)

3. I had a 3, but I seem to have forgotten it. Hmm. Perhaps that Orochimaru sounds even creepier and more pedophilic when he has an audible voice than he did in the manga.

4. I think my all-time favorite of Kakasshi's lateness excusesis, "I got lost while walking the road of life."

ETA 5. I remembered 3! That thing Shikamaru says, "mendokusei," that gets variously translated as "how bothersome," "what a pain," etc. Is there a literal meaning?
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
( May. 21st, 2006 05:21 pm)
I fled to a Borders with an attached Starbucks, and decided to browse and read manga until the weather got less cold and wet, as all my other plans involved a great deal of outdoorsiness.

I just spent the entire day in Borders. I have now read through volume 6 of Blade of the Immortal by Hiroaki Samura.Bautiful smudgy-pencil art, somewhat in the tradition of Lone Wolf and Cub (so is the story, come to think of it) but even better, or at least even more to my taste.

Last night I had some lovely flaky fried fish and soggy chips. The waitress asked me if I wanted "mushy peas" to go with it. My God! I thought, they do that on purpose! How horrible!

"Don't like the mushy peas," said the waitress wisely, before I could respond verbally.

I have been watching some of the Naruto anime that [livejournal.com profile] telophase was kind enough to send me before I left, and have some non-spoilery thoughts regarding language.

1. Apparently "Kakashi" is the best name ever to say in slow and gloating tones. It sounds really great when spoken that way, which is why all the villains who confront him tend to have dialogue like this: "So, Kakashi... I have found you at last... Kakashi... Heh heh heh."

2. Does "dattebayo" or "-te bayo," which Naruto uses so much, literally mean anything? Does anyone ever use it in real life, or is it purely a made-up character thing? It reminds me of Chichiri's "no da," which I think does have some sort of meaning but is basically just a speech tic. (Last night while at ish and chips the young Japanese woman at the next table, who was talking on her cell phone, ended half her sentences with "da yo!" It sounded similar enough (and her voice was pitched a bit similarly to Naruto's) that it really startled me for a moment.)

3. I had a 3, but I seem to have forgotten it. Hmm. Perhaps that Orochimaru sounds even creepier and more pedophilic when he has an audible voice than he did in the manga.

4. I think my all-time favorite of Kakasshi's lateness excusesis, "I got lost while walking the road of life."

ETA 5. I remembered 3! That thing Shikamaru says, "mendokusei," that gets variously translated as "how bothersome," "what a pain," etc. Is there a literal meaning?
rachelmanija: (Naked and dripping wet)
( May. 21st, 2006 10:41 am)
I am lurking in a London internet cafe because it's raining and nothing else will open till noon, apparently, not even Starbucks (and I have not yet had my morning caffeine fix.) When I left the hotel this morning the sky was so forbiddingly gray that I asked at the front desk if they knew the weather forecast, and they laughed at me. There is no telling with London, they said. (This computer won't do double quotes.) Could be rain, could be shine, could be both twelve times in half an hour. There is no way to know.

I set off,and it immediately began to rain. It looks like I will be having a nice relaxing day today before the big madness of the next week (two days of interviews, one day in the air, three days teaching at a workshop in Arizona-- Will and Emma, e-mail me so we can get together!) whether I planned one or not.

I forgot to mention that in Venice, at the frog fish tale restaurant, I accidentally set off the fire alarm while attempting to flush the toilet. Like keyboards, toilets do not appear to have standardized flushes. Some are motion activated, some are pull-handles, some are pull-chains, some are white push-things on the wall cunningly painted to blend in with the wall, some are tiny white buttons on the toilet likewise cunningly painted, etc. So when I looked around for the button and didn't see one, I noticed a chain hanging from the water tank, with a paper tag attached with an inscription faded into illegibility, but which I assumed meant, "pull to flush" in Italian. (Just figured out that you can do quotes if you hit the key reading @, and vice versa.)

I pulled the chain.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

A great commotion began outside as well as inside. I had barely begun to search for the alarm turn-off when someone began pounding on the door. Clutching my pants to myself (there were no laundry facilities in Venice, so I was wearing the drawstring gi-pants I'd brought in case I got a chance to train as a gladiator, and a wild print shirt I bought at the Rome flea market, and looked like a clown), I opened the door, figuring that whoever was there would be more likely than me to be able to turn it off.

The waitress hit some invisible button, and the alarm shut off. She pointed to the tag. Peering closely, i saw that it actually said, "Alarm."

"Er... perdone," I said, wondering if that was even a word.

The waitress kindly shut the door on me and my pants. The flush button proved to be a very small and cleverly camouflaged one on the back of the toilet.

Incidentally, that same day I twice failed to successfully lock the toilet door, and had people open it when I was inside. As I said to Oyce, trying to manage plumbing in Europe makes me feel like a lab rat.
rachelmanija: (Naked and dripping wet)
( May. 21st, 2006 10:41 am)
I am lurking in a London internet cafe because it's raining and nothing else will open till noon, apparently, not even Starbucks (and I have not yet had my morning caffeine fix.) When I left the hotel this morning the sky was so forbiddingly gray that I asked at the front desk if they knew the weather forecast, and they laughed at me. There is no telling with London, they said. (This computer won't do double quotes.) Could be rain, could be shine, could be both twelve times in half an hour. There is no way to know.

I set off,and it immediately began to rain. It looks like I will be having a nice relaxing day today before the big madness of the next week (two days of interviews, one day in the air, three days teaching at a workshop in Arizona-- Will and Emma, e-mail me so we can get together!) whether I planned one or not.

I forgot to mention that in Venice, at the frog fish tale restaurant, I accidentally set off the fire alarm while attempting to flush the toilet. Like keyboards, toilets do not appear to have standardized flushes. Some are motion activated, some are pull-handles, some are pull-chains, some are white push-things on the wall cunningly painted to blend in with the wall, some are tiny white buttons on the toilet likewise cunningly painted, etc. So when I looked around for the button and didn't see one, I noticed a chain hanging from the water tank, with a paper tag attached with an inscription faded into illegibility, but which I assumed meant, "pull to flush" in Italian. (Just figured out that you can do quotes if you hit the key reading @, and vice versa.)

I pulled the chain.

EEEEEEEEEEEEEE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

A great commotion began outside as well as inside. I had barely begun to search for the alarm turn-off when someone began pounding on the door. Clutching my pants to myself (there were no laundry facilities in Venice, so I was wearing the drawstring gi-pants I'd brought in case I got a chance to train as a gladiator, and a wild print shirt I bought at the Rome flea market, and looked like a clown), I opened the door, figuring that whoever was there would be more likely than me to be able to turn it off.

The waitress hit some invisible button, and the alarm shut off. She pointed to the tag. Peering closely, i saw that it actually said, "Alarm."

"Er... perdone," I said, wondering if that was even a word.

The waitress kindly shut the door on me and my pants. The flush button proved to be a very small and cleverly camouflaged one on the back of the toilet.

Incidentally, that same day I twice failed to successfully lock the toilet door, and had people open it when I was inside. As I said to Oyce, trying to manage plumbing in Europe makes me feel like a lab rat.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 19th, 2006 12:55 pm)
I can't write too long tonight as I have to pack, then go to bed early to catch an early ferry to the airport in the morning, but there were a few things I wanted to note before I forgot them.

While I was buying postcards from an old man with a little stall, I was charmed by the sparrow that hopped up on to the magazines, coming quite close to the man behind the counter. Seeing my interest, the man winked at me, then reached under the counter and pulled out a peanut or a crouton or something like that. The sparrow hopped closer and took it from his fingers. The man explained, mostly in sign language, that he had been feeding the sparrow since it was a baby (imitation of young gape-mouthed bird.)

Later I ran into a farmer's market next to a canal, under a stone pavilion with pillars and arches like the Doge's Palace. The fish-sellers (who also had buckets of land snails in water) would toss the guts and scraps and shells over to the edge of the pier, and seagulls descended to devour them and get into loud squabbles over who owned the pier.

Yesterday I had assorted fried sea creatures, very nice, and today I had pasta to the veracious clams and an appetizer of delicious steamed artichoke bottoms with a sprinkling of salt and strong thick olive oil. That was not actually at the veracious clams place-- I found it by stopping at the restaurant that was emanating the tastiest smells-- but the menu contained these choice examples of Venetian translation: "coda di rospo" as "frog fish tale," "bacala vicentina" as "code stewed in milk," and "vongole" as "claims."

I did have the fried sea creatures at the veracious clams place. Closer inspection of the menu disclosed "canoce" as "crickets of the sea," and "rombo al forno con patate" as "rhombus to the oven with potatoes." Mmmm, rhombus!
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 19th, 2006 12:55 pm)
I can't write too long tonight as I have to pack, then go to bed early to catch an early ferry to the airport in the morning, but there were a few things I wanted to note before I forgot them.

While I was buying postcards from an old man with a little stall, I was charmed by the sparrow that hopped up on to the magazines, coming quite close to the man behind the counter. Seeing my interest, the man winked at me, then reached under the counter and pulled out a peanut or a crouton or something like that. The sparrow hopped closer and took it from his fingers. The man explained, mostly in sign language, that he had been feeding the sparrow since it was a baby (imitation of young gape-mouthed bird.)

Later I ran into a farmer's market next to a canal, under a stone pavilion with pillars and arches like the Doge's Palace. The fish-sellers (who also had buckets of land snails in water) would toss the guts and scraps and shells over to the edge of the pier, and seagulls descended to devour them and get into loud squabbles over who owned the pier.

Yesterday I had assorted fried sea creatures, very nice, and today I had pasta to the veracious clams and an appetizer of delicious steamed artichoke bottoms with a sprinkling of salt and strong thick olive oil. That was not actually at the veracious clams place-- I found it by stopping at the restaurant that was emanating the tastiest smells-- but the menu contained these choice examples of Venetian translation: "coda di rospo" as "frog fish tale," "bacala vicentina" as "code stewed in milk," and "vongole" as "claims."

I did have the fried sea creatures at the veracious clams place. Closer inspection of the menu disclosed "canoce" as "crickets of the sea," and "rombo al forno con patate" as "rhombus to the oven with potatoes." Mmmm, rhombus!
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 18th, 2006 09:16 am)
I am used to having to search out the picturesque parts of even the prettiest cities; Kyoto, Jaipur, and San Francisco all have their share of concrete-block monstrosities.

I stepped off the train in Venice right on to the walkway along the Grand Canal. Green water lapped at the edges of beautiful buildings, and boats were chugging along, and a trio of theoretically Native American buskers were performing a tribal dance in full headdresses... OK, so the last part was a little weird. But Venice is extraordinarily beautiful, and every twist of its maze-like streets turns up some lovely view.

Also, the gelato is excellent. Today's gelato: one cup of half fior di latte and half pear (gritty and subtle), and one cone of half fresh peaches in brandy (flecked with peach flesh, and the flavors of fruit and alcohol balanced and vivid) and half fior di latte. The latter is milk ice cream, no vanilla, and it is wonderful. In the US I hear you can very occasionally get it under the name of "sweet cream."

I booked late for high season, and could only find a room for three nights. It's a big hassle to switch hotels, and I figured Venice would be swarming with tourists, and I wasn't sure how much I would like it anyway, since I do not always like cities that are big tourist attractions. I now really regret not booking a longer stay. Switching hotels would have been worth it. I will have to come back some day and stay longer.

I got completely lost trying to find my bed-and-breakfast (without breakfast-- it's a room in a family's house.) There were a number of factors involved in this, to wit, 1) I always get lost trying to find my hotel, 2) when I printed the directions the right edge got cut off, and I didn't notice till I unfolded it when I stepped off the vaporetto, but the post-vaporetto instructions began, "Turn [blank] at the canal," 3) it is notoriously difficult to avoid getting lost in Venice, 4) another direction was "go down the street with the trees--" this was not as bad as it sounds, though, because although there were three streets with trees, only one was a gorgeous path lined with elegant matching trees on both sides forming a canopy overhead, 5) there was no name on the door to the B&B, 6) (this was the killer) it said, "We are next to the fish shop." It is next to a fish shop. However, the fish shop was closed and shuttered, and had no helpful sign reading "fish shop." If it wasn't for a party of Good Venetians, I would never have found the place.

This was all made up for when I did find it, and the proprietor, Maria, escorted me upstairs. It is a small room overlooking a lovely canal, and every inch of the wall that doesn't have a window is covered in floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Naturally, most of the books are in Italian, but some are in English. But still! I tried to tell Maria that this was so wonderful because I was a writer, but I think I actually said, "I have a lady author as my mistress."

I arrived in the afternoon, and I asked her for a recommendation for a good restaurant that local people went to. This was a little hard to communicate. Finally, vaguely recalling one word from a phrase I had failed to remember that meant, "Please give me a plate of assorted traditional appetizers that costs ten euros," I said, "Classico?"

"Ah, classico!" said Maria. "Yes, here's where you should go."

She gave me a list of three restaurants, and I, wondering if I had actually said, "Appetizer," or "assorted," rather than "traditional" as I had intended, set off. I ran into Maria walking her two friendly little dogs while I was hunting for one of them. She pointed it out to me. It was traditional all right: a seafood place with all the seafood in Italian. One of the few words I recognized was "seppei," or "cuttlefish." With polenta. I knew that was a traditional Venetian dish, so I ordered it. It came, strange tentacled lumps swimming in a black ink sauce smelling of tidepool, bordered by slabs of firm polenta.

I do not think that I like cuttlefish.

However, this was my fault for ordering it, and I will try one of her other restaurants tonight. I am avoiding all places that have bilingual menus, as the guidebooks all warn against dreadful tourist traps. My favorite Venglish menu translates "pasta al pomodoro" as "pasta to the tomato sauce," "spaghetti alle vongole e veri" as "spaghetti to the veracious clams," and "tartufo bianco" as "hipocrate to the vanilla." I can kind of see how they got the first two, but the hipocrate baffles me.

Today I walked all over the San Marco-adjacent parts of Venice. The sky was a blue-gray verging on white, without visible clouds; the entire sky was clouded. The sun kept emerging and vanishing, and the air was perfectly temperate. The light was delicate and misty, like you sometimes see in San Francisco. The streets are sometimes broad, sometimes dark and narrow tunnels, where I can stretch out my hands and touch both walls and the ceiling. Some roads become arched bridges, and others dead-end in canals. Once you get off the main tourist roads, the smaller ones can be empty. Since you can't see where you're going and there's always something worth noting ahead-- a window full of blazing scarlet geraniums, a gelateria selling homemade gelato of peaches in brandy, a stone Madonna silhouetted against black shutters, two men who've pulled up chairs to play speed-chess, or a floating farmer's market-- it seems a place full of secrets and discoveries.

I have to come back.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 18th, 2006 09:16 am)
I am used to having to search out the picturesque parts of even the prettiest cities; Kyoto, Jaipur, and San Francisco all have their share of concrete-block monstrosities.

I stepped off the train in Venice right on to the walkway along the Grand Canal. Green water lapped at the edges of beautiful buildings, and boats were chugging along, and a trio of theoretically Native American buskers were performing a tribal dance in full headdresses... OK, so the last part was a little weird. But Venice is extraordinarily beautiful, and every twist of its maze-like streets turns up some lovely view.

Also, the gelato is excellent. Today's gelato: one cup of half fior di latte and half pear (gritty and subtle), and one cone of half fresh peaches in brandy (flecked with peach flesh, and the flavors of fruit and alcohol balanced and vivid) and half fior di latte. The latter is milk ice cream, no vanilla, and it is wonderful. In the US I hear you can very occasionally get it under the name of "sweet cream."

I booked late for high season, and could only find a room for three nights. It's a big hassle to switch hotels, and I figured Venice would be swarming with tourists, and I wasn't sure how much I would like it anyway, since I do not always like cities that are big tourist attractions. I now really regret not booking a longer stay. Switching hotels would have been worth it. I will have to come back some day and stay longer.

I got completely lost trying to find my bed-and-breakfast (without breakfast-- it's a room in a family's house.) There were a number of factors involved in this, to wit, 1) I always get lost trying to find my hotel, 2) when I printed the directions the right edge got cut off, and I didn't notice till I unfolded it when I stepped off the vaporetto, but the post-vaporetto instructions began, "Turn [blank] at the canal," 3) it is notoriously difficult to avoid getting lost in Venice, 4) another direction was "go down the street with the trees--" this was not as bad as it sounds, though, because although there were three streets with trees, only one was a gorgeous path lined with elegant matching trees on both sides forming a canopy overhead, 5) there was no name on the door to the B&B, 6) (this was the killer) it said, "We are next to the fish shop." It is next to a fish shop. However, the fish shop was closed and shuttered, and had no helpful sign reading "fish shop." If it wasn't for a party of Good Venetians, I would never have found the place.

This was all made up for when I did find it, and the proprietor, Maria, escorted me upstairs. It is a small room overlooking a lovely canal, and every inch of the wall that doesn't have a window is covered in floor-to-ceiling bookcases. Naturally, most of the books are in Italian, but some are in English. But still! I tried to tell Maria that this was so wonderful because I was a writer, but I think I actually said, "I have a lady author as my mistress."

I arrived in the afternoon, and I asked her for a recommendation for a good restaurant that local people went to. This was a little hard to communicate. Finally, vaguely recalling one word from a phrase I had failed to remember that meant, "Please give me a plate of assorted traditional appetizers that costs ten euros," I said, "Classico?"

"Ah, classico!" said Maria. "Yes, here's where you should go."

She gave me a list of three restaurants, and I, wondering if I had actually said, "Appetizer," or "assorted," rather than "traditional" as I had intended, set off. I ran into Maria walking her two friendly little dogs while I was hunting for one of them. She pointed it out to me. It was traditional all right: a seafood place with all the seafood in Italian. One of the few words I recognized was "seppei," or "cuttlefish." With polenta. I knew that was a traditional Venetian dish, so I ordered it. It came, strange tentacled lumps swimming in a black ink sauce smelling of tidepool, bordered by slabs of firm polenta.

I do not think that I like cuttlefish.

However, this was my fault for ordering it, and I will try one of her other restaurants tonight. I am avoiding all places that have bilingual menus, as the guidebooks all warn against dreadful tourist traps. My favorite Venglish menu translates "pasta al pomodoro" as "pasta to the tomato sauce," "spaghetti alle vongole e veri" as "spaghetti to the veracious clams," and "tartufo bianco" as "hipocrate to the vanilla." I can kind of see how they got the first two, but the hipocrate baffles me.

Today I walked all over the San Marco-adjacent parts of Venice. The sky was a blue-gray verging on white, without visible clouds; the entire sky was clouded. The sun kept emerging and vanishing, and the air was perfectly temperate. The light was delicate and misty, like you sometimes see in San Francisco. The streets are sometimes broad, sometimes dark and narrow tunnels, where I can stretch out my hands and touch both walls and the ceiling. Some roads become arched bridges, and others dead-end in canals. Once you get off the main tourist roads, the smaller ones can be empty. Since you can't see where you're going and there's always something worth noting ahead-- a window full of blazing scarlet geraniums, a gelateria selling homemade gelato of peaches in brandy, a stone Madonna silhouetted against black shutters, two men who've pulled up chairs to play speed-chess, or a floating farmer's market-- it seems a place full of secrets and discoveries.

I have to come back.
I am feeling lazy today, and the cobblestones of Rome have not been kind to my feet. I have blisters atop blisters atop raw spots on my right foot, even though I've been applying band-aids, and so slept late, lounged about drinking cappucino and eating a brioche filled with lemony custard, and then wandered to an internet cafe with a better keyboard and keys whose letters have not been worn away from the touch of many fingers belonging to many people from many lands, and am posting what I meant to post yesterday before my time ran out.

The cobblestones are small and black, the size of my hand if I curl my fingers inward at the second joint and make a bear paw or whatever that rather impractical striking surface is called, though often they are too hot to touch. If it's this hot in May, I hate to think what it must be like in July.

The air is full of drifting bits of cotton fluff. They must come from some tree or bush, but so far I haven't figured out which.

When the fountain by the Pantheon got too hot, I sat on a stone cylinder, no doubt of great antiquity, but which attracted me because it was in the shade. Unfortunately, I was not the only one drawn to the are, because I soon found myself behind three peddlers of fake Prada handbags, one peddler of sunglasses, and one incompetent busker playing the first big aria from Carmen, the cigarette-selling one about being free like a bird, on a violin at half-speed. Rome is filled with buskers, and they are mostly quite awful. I particularly hate the guys with accordions who lurk about the touristy restaurants. If I was them, I'd show up with my accordion and offer to not play for pay.

Other gelato flavors not seen in Baskin-Robins: creme caramel, nougat, eggnog, cassata (a scattering of candied fruit on top, yecch), licorice (a scattering of chopped black licorice squres), and cantaloupe.

While walking back from the Pantheon, I came across a very haute restaurant and paused to read its menu. It seemed to have quite the specialty in cheeses. One, which I didn't write down because the description was so long, had a historical note explaining the great antiquity of the cheese, which was buried in tufa pits in ancient times and is now dug up by peasants on St. Catherine's Day; grammatically, it seemed to say that the same cheese buried at the time of the Caesars was ceremoniously uncovered every St. Catherine's Day in modern times, but I think-- well, I hope-- they were referring to the method of preparation.

They also offered Castelmagno, "Cheese speckled with a gren-colored mold of the penicillum type." You know you are in Europe rather than Asia when such a description is not followed by a list of diseases and conditions the cheese might help to cure.

And Toma dla Paja, "A cheese aged in hay by the farmers of Langa (Piemonte Region) at the end of harvest time. After two weeks a delicious crust of delicate mold is formed."
I am feeling lazy today, and the cobblestones of Rome have not been kind to my feet. I have blisters atop blisters atop raw spots on my right foot, even though I've been applying band-aids, and so slept late, lounged about drinking cappucino and eating a brioche filled with lemony custard, and then wandered to an internet cafe with a better keyboard and keys whose letters have not been worn away from the touch of many fingers belonging to many people from many lands, and am posting what I meant to post yesterday before my time ran out.

The cobblestones are small and black, the size of my hand if I curl my fingers inward at the second joint and make a bear paw or whatever that rather impractical striking surface is called, though often they are too hot to touch. If it's this hot in May, I hate to think what it must be like in July.

The air is full of drifting bits of cotton fluff. They must come from some tree or bush, but so far I haven't figured out which.

When the fountain by the Pantheon got too hot, I sat on a stone cylinder, no doubt of great antiquity, but which attracted me because it was in the shade. Unfortunately, I was not the only one drawn to the are, because I soon found myself behind three peddlers of fake Prada handbags, one peddler of sunglasses, and one incompetent busker playing the first big aria from Carmen, the cigarette-selling one about being free like a bird, on a violin at half-speed. Rome is filled with buskers, and they are mostly quite awful. I particularly hate the guys with accordions who lurk about the touristy restaurants. If I was them, I'd show up with my accordion and offer to not play for pay.

Other gelato flavors not seen in Baskin-Robins: creme caramel, nougat, eggnog, cassata (a scattering of candied fruit on top, yecch), licorice (a scattering of chopped black licorice squres), and cantaloupe.

While walking back from the Pantheon, I came across a very haute restaurant and paused to read its menu. It seemed to have quite the specialty in cheeses. One, which I didn't write down because the description was so long, had a historical note explaining the great antiquity of the cheese, which was buried in tufa pits in ancient times and is now dug up by peasants on St. Catherine's Day; grammatically, it seemed to say that the same cheese buried at the time of the Caesars was ceremoniously uncovered every St. Catherine's Day in modern times, but I think-- well, I hope-- they were referring to the method of preparation.

They also offered Castelmagno, "Cheese speckled with a gren-colored mold of the penicillum type." You know you are in Europe rather than Asia when such a description is not followed by a list of diseases and conditions the cheese might help to cure.

And Toma dla Paja, "A cheese aged in hay by the farmers of Langa (Piemonte Region) at the end of harvest time. After two weeks a delicious crust of delicate mold is formed."
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 15th, 2006 08:17 pm)
Today I ate about half my body weight in gelato and fresh mozzarella. And I would do it again tomorrow!

I am so pleased that gelato can be served in very small cups, and even those can be split between two flavors. Today I had a large cup of half milk/cream, and half hazelnut. And acup of half marron glacee, which was a bit too sweet, and half pine nut, which was delicious. In between I saw a restaurant serving burrata di buffalo, which the LA Times had an article extolling several days before I left as the greatest thing ever, an artisanal variety of mozzarella rare even in Italy. So when I saw it on a menu, I leaped for a chair. Well... it was not bad, but maybe it is better in Los Angeles. The punctuation is not working, by the way, so I cannot use dashes, parentheses, or apostrophes on this computer. Just so you know. Anyway, it has the taste and texture of the worlds best... cottage cheese. Hmm. I think I will try it in Los Angeles, perhaps it is more thrilling there. Meanwhile, I will keep ordering regular mozzarella di bufalo.

I forget if I mentioned this, but a lot of shops display the gelato with halves of the fruit or whatever it-s made of on top of the gelato, like a half pear atop the pear, a sprinkling of pistachios atop that and so forth. Other flavors I have seen are kiwi, amaretto, nutella, green apple, walnut, wild berry, and tiramisu.

Oh, and I also went to the Pantheon. That was what I stared at while sitting on the very hot steps below an obelisk fountain and ate gelato. I feel very shallow as I write these reports, as the Pantheon was incredible but I have spent so much more writing time on gelato.

Out of time, must post! Imagine I wrote something profound on art, culture, history, and architecture, but it got erased.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 15th, 2006 08:17 pm)
Today I ate about half my body weight in gelato and fresh mozzarella. And I would do it again tomorrow!

I am so pleased that gelato can be served in very small cups, and even those can be split between two flavors. Today I had a large cup of half milk/cream, and half hazelnut. And acup of half marron glacee, which was a bit too sweet, and half pine nut, which was delicious. In between I saw a restaurant serving burrata di buffalo, which the LA Times had an article extolling several days before I left as the greatest thing ever, an artisanal variety of mozzarella rare even in Italy. So when I saw it on a menu, I leaped for a chair. Well... it was not bad, but maybe it is better in Los Angeles. The punctuation is not working, by the way, so I cannot use dashes, parentheses, or apostrophes on this computer. Just so you know. Anyway, it has the taste and texture of the worlds best... cottage cheese. Hmm. I think I will try it in Los Angeles, perhaps it is more thrilling there. Meanwhile, I will keep ordering regular mozzarella di bufalo.

I forget if I mentioned this, but a lot of shops display the gelato with halves of the fruit or whatever it-s made of on top of the gelato, like a half pear atop the pear, a sprinkling of pistachios atop that and so forth. Other flavors I have seen are kiwi, amaretto, nutella, green apple, walnut, wild berry, and tiramisu.

Oh, and I also went to the Pantheon. That was what I stared at while sitting on the very hot steps below an obelisk fountain and ate gelato. I feel very shallow as I write these reports, as the Pantheon was incredible but I have spent so much more writing time on gelato.

Out of time, must post! Imagine I wrote something profound on art, culture, history, and architecture, but it got erased.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 14th, 2006 08:13 pm)
Rome is strangely reminding me of the old section of New Delhi, though it's a much prettier city overall-- the incredible and fascinating ruins and cool little shops around every corner, the horrible traffic congestion, the annoying difficulty of doing seemingly simple things like get a load of laundry done or ride a bus or book a train ticket, the heat which led me to dump a handful of water over my head before venturing back hatless into the sun, and the wonderful markets.

Today I took the bus to the Sunday flea market at Porta Portese, which required buying a ticket in advance at the tobacco shop across the street. I have been feeling the stirrings of strange desires since I came to Rome, and today I was able to satisfy them with the purchase of a pair of bronze sandals with two broad straps and platform heels (very uncomfortable if I walk farther than around the seller's table, I discovered, but they'll be fine for parties), two floral print dresses (one very pale lavender with delicate green traceries of buds and bamboo-like leaves, one red roses on black), two abstract-print tops (one brown batik stretch, one button-down abstract pattern vaguely resembling pens and birds and lyres, in about six different colors), and two fake Prada handbags. Are these sold on street corners in New York and I just didn't notice, or is this an Italian thing? Anyway, if anyone wants a fake Prada or Gucci handbag, I can get you one. Please do not guilt-trip me about buying counterfeit merchandise-- well, you can try, but I have heard the arguments, and some I don't believe and some I don't care about.

Returning to character, I also bought an old and silken Echtes Leder black leather jacket with lots of pockets and ornamental zippers and an attached belt with a buckle. I know that one woman does not really need to own four black leather jackets (one short and one long are sufficient) but it cost five euros, and the only thing wrong with it is a missing zipper-tag on the left cuff.

The market was huge-- about ten blocks, I estimate, and with two lanes each lined on both sides with stalls and customers maniacally sorting through piles of cheap used clothing, sellers bellowing out how cheap and good their stuff was, and the sellers of fake handbags adopting a more stealthy approach, in which they waited in silence till they spotted someone giving their handbags a lustful stare, and then buttonholed them and would not let them leave until they bought one or ran away.

Clutching my loot, I went to the only restaurant that was open and nearby, which scared me by being a Chinese pizzeria, but it served pretty good pizza-- hard-boiled egg, while probably not traditional, is delicious, while topping a pizza with whole green olives with the stones in them is probably missing the point-- but the highlight was the appetizer of buffalo mozzarella on some green leafy vegetable. It is served in lumps a bit larger than golf balls, with a resilient exterior and a meltingly soft interior alternating with more springy bits. If you press it with a fork, milk wells up. It's slightly tangy and very creamy and delicate in flavor, and ever so much better than any I've had in the US. I think I will have some every day until I leave.

Then I went to take the bus back, and discovered that you need a ticket before you can board, but there were no ticket machines and the tobacco shops had closed for Sunday afternoon. A "helpful" stranger offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle, but come on. So I began walking back in the general direction from whence I came, figuring eventually I'd find an open shop. Twelve blocks later and so glad I had not bought any books to lug around since they were all in Italian, I did. However, I had walked back by the most direct route on the map, not the route my bus had taken getting there (which I couldn't remember) and could not find a bus stop for a bus going where I was headed. Twelve blocks later, I saw a subway stop and decided to just take the subway... and then a bus pulled up. Saved!
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 14th, 2006 08:13 pm)
Rome is strangely reminding me of the old section of New Delhi, though it's a much prettier city overall-- the incredible and fascinating ruins and cool little shops around every corner, the horrible traffic congestion, the annoying difficulty of doing seemingly simple things like get a load of laundry done or ride a bus or book a train ticket, the heat which led me to dump a handful of water over my head before venturing back hatless into the sun, and the wonderful markets.

Today I took the bus to the Sunday flea market at Porta Portese, which required buying a ticket in advance at the tobacco shop across the street. I have been feeling the stirrings of strange desires since I came to Rome, and today I was able to satisfy them with the purchase of a pair of bronze sandals with two broad straps and platform heels (very uncomfortable if I walk farther than around the seller's table, I discovered, but they'll be fine for parties), two floral print dresses (one very pale lavender with delicate green traceries of buds and bamboo-like leaves, one red roses on black), two abstract-print tops (one brown batik stretch, one button-down abstract pattern vaguely resembling pens and birds and lyres, in about six different colors), and two fake Prada handbags. Are these sold on street corners in New York and I just didn't notice, or is this an Italian thing? Anyway, if anyone wants a fake Prada or Gucci handbag, I can get you one. Please do not guilt-trip me about buying counterfeit merchandise-- well, you can try, but I have heard the arguments, and some I don't believe and some I don't care about.

Returning to character, I also bought an old and silken Echtes Leder black leather jacket with lots of pockets and ornamental zippers and an attached belt with a buckle. I know that one woman does not really need to own four black leather jackets (one short and one long are sufficient) but it cost five euros, and the only thing wrong with it is a missing zipper-tag on the left cuff.

The market was huge-- about ten blocks, I estimate, and with two lanes each lined on both sides with stalls and customers maniacally sorting through piles of cheap used clothing, sellers bellowing out how cheap and good their stuff was, and the sellers of fake handbags adopting a more stealthy approach, in which they waited in silence till they spotted someone giving their handbags a lustful stare, and then buttonholed them and would not let them leave until they bought one or ran away.

Clutching my loot, I went to the only restaurant that was open and nearby, which scared me by being a Chinese pizzeria, but it served pretty good pizza-- hard-boiled egg, while probably not traditional, is delicious, while topping a pizza with whole green olives with the stones in them is probably missing the point-- but the highlight was the appetizer of buffalo mozzarella on some green leafy vegetable. It is served in lumps a bit larger than golf balls, with a resilient exterior and a meltingly soft interior alternating with more springy bits. If you press it with a fork, milk wells up. It's slightly tangy and very creamy and delicate in flavor, and ever so much better than any I've had in the US. I think I will have some every day until I leave.

Then I went to take the bus back, and discovered that you need a ticket before you can board, but there were no ticket machines and the tobacco shops had closed for Sunday afternoon. A "helpful" stranger offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle, but come on. So I began walking back in the general direction from whence I came, figuring eventually I'd find an open shop. Twelve blocks later and so glad I had not bought any books to lug around since they were all in Italian, I did. However, I had walked back by the most direct route on the map, not the route my bus had taken getting there (which I couldn't remember) and could not find a bus stop for a bus going where I was headed. Twelve blocks later, I saw a subway stop and decided to just take the subway... and then a bus pulled up. Saved!
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 13th, 2006 09:58 pm)
I wandered about the Coliseum and the Forums today, and they are amazing-- and amazingly huge. It's an enormous complex of ruins and perfect pillars with no buildings attached, entire buildings, monuments, and all in the middle of the city. You can see billboards advertising new cars from the windows of the Coliseum. If I hadn't traveled in India I would say it was all the most amazing thing I'd ever seen, but this was not my first exposure to ancient buildings from the cradle of civilization, so it was all merely one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen. (The ones in India are mostly better-preserved.)

There were indeed roaming gladiators, who could be seen bumming smokes in between getting their pictures taken with tourists. I didn't want to approach a gladiator lest he make me be photographed with him at gladiolus-point, but I accosted a tour guide to ask her about the gladiator school. "I have heard of it," she said. "But I cannot tell you anything about it. I have no interest in such things."

On the way to the Coliseum, I fell in behind a man with such a nice African accent that I began listening to him, and became so fascinated by what he was saying that I followed him and his companion for several blocks. "Jello fries is a traditional Nigerian dish," he seemed to say. "I am very sorry about last night, but I hold to my feelings about the Jello fries." Eventually he revealed that it is chicken with potatoes. I am sure it was actually something like "Gelofrise," but I will probably never find out.

Speaking of eavesdropping, this is the first time I've heard Italian spoken outside of a movie, and it's a very mellifluous language. I like listening to it. People speak quite loudly, so I have many opportunities to listen.

Tonight I had excellent fresh mozzarella Caprese (with olive oil and basil), and decent veal Saltimbocca. I seem to have a hard time avoiding the touristy joints-- every restaurant I look into is packed with them, and so far I liked the food better in Madrid. (Rome is swarming with tourists, and the streets sound like the translator's booth at the UN.) The best things I had today were the Caprese and two blood oranges I bought at a farmer's market.
rachelmanija: (Default)
( May. 13th, 2006 09:58 pm)
I wandered about the Coliseum and the Forums today, and they are amazing-- and amazingly huge. It's an enormous complex of ruins and perfect pillars with no buildings attached, entire buildings, monuments, and all in the middle of the city. You can see billboards advertising new cars from the windows of the Coliseum. If I hadn't traveled in India I would say it was all the most amazing thing I'd ever seen, but this was not my first exposure to ancient buildings from the cradle of civilization, so it was all merely one of the most amazing things I'd ever seen. (The ones in India are mostly better-preserved.)

There were indeed roaming gladiators, who could be seen bumming smokes in between getting their pictures taken with tourists. I didn't want to approach a gladiator lest he make me be photographed with him at gladiolus-point, but I accosted a tour guide to ask her about the gladiator school. "I have heard of it," she said. "But I cannot tell you anything about it. I have no interest in such things."

On the way to the Coliseum, I fell in behind a man with such a nice African accent that I began listening to him, and became so fascinated by what he was saying that I followed him and his companion for several blocks. "Jello fries is a traditional Nigerian dish," he seemed to say. "I am very sorry about last night, but I hold to my feelings about the Jello fries." Eventually he revealed that it is chicken with potatoes. I am sure it was actually something like "Gelofrise," but I will probably never find out.

Speaking of eavesdropping, this is the first time I've heard Italian spoken outside of a movie, and it's a very mellifluous language. I like listening to it. People speak quite loudly, so I have many opportunities to listen.

Tonight I had excellent fresh mozzarella Caprese (with olive oil and basil), and decent veal Saltimbocca. I seem to have a hard time avoiding the touristy joints-- every restaurant I look into is packed with them, and so far I liked the food better in Madrid. (Rome is swarming with tourists, and the streets sound like the translator's booth at the UN.) The best things I had today were the Caprese and two blood oranges I bought at a farmer's market.
.

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags