Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Like Eating Clouds: Hummus Tehina

Hummus tahina recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

All I can think about is the next time I will be in Tel Aviv, how I will walk along the hot stone streets where discount boutiques spill hangers of fur vests and dresses and leather onto the cracked asphalt, and how I will walk until my feet are sore and I can smell the salt in the air, the crackled breath of exhaling fish and sea scum, almost hear the bustle of the Port of Jaffa just around an invisible bend, and I will wait at the little window of the hummuseria, hands palming the worn counter, until a short, bald man pauses in between tying up plastic bags of hummus tubs and shouting orders and talking to a regular leaning in the doorway. I will order musabaha and take it down to the sunny bench in the roundabout, and as cars whisk past, unpack my plastic bag and lay its contents out like offerings on an altar: musabaha, green chilies in lemon juice and water, two warm, plush pitas scarred with char, raw white onion quartered and beading in the sun, a film of paper-thin skin clinging to its curve. And then I will eat. I will streak tears of pita through the silky mass of tahini, lemon, garlic, and chickpea, catching drops of golden olive oil and spice, flecks of flat-leaf parsley and paprika, and whole chickpeas. And then I will chase it all with a crunch of raw onion I know I will regret a few hours later, when my tongue is swollen and my mouth tight and stale.

But it won’t be in a few hours, it will be now, and I won’t care about consequences, just the gentle swipe of pita, the feel of satin in my mouth. Like eating clouds, said the friend of a friend who said Abu Hassan was the place to go. » Continue reading this post…

On Home and Other Gifts – A Visit to the Mercouri Estate

Mercouri Estate, Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Mainland Greece is dusty, like a sucked out sponge bristled with underbrush and spindly trees. There’s the whirr of cicadas screeching a constant soundtrack and the hot sun that broils the land and people on it with impunity. Olive groves shudder up from their sun-soaked torpor with the shake of an invisible breeze. Their silvery leaves are thick and strong, like hammered metal sheened in blowsy earth. Grape vines slither up stalks, their leaves looking wilted in this heat – but the clusters of grapes are crowded and plump like overperfect plastic fruit.

We are boat people, spilling out the mouths of our luxury cruise liners and crowding the tiny port towns for mere hours. We breeze along the rows of shops, buying linens and gold jewelry to take home as proof of our having been away. When you’re a boat person, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like to be on the other side. All you know is the heat and press of people, the frantic crush to buy a few souvenirs and snap pictures of the shattered vases in the local archaeology museum. But I remember what it was like to be in Stavanger, Norway when the boat people came. All week, the town felt sleepy and small, lethargic with its slowly chugging ferries and stone-paved streets arbored with flowers. One morning, there they were, Germans mostly, flocked into the little shops and even smaller streets. It felt like another city, a many-headed hydra roused and ready to devour you in any of its maws.

Sneaking cat (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Grecian grapes (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Olive tree in Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mercouri family house, Greece (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Here in Greece, we don’t know any better, so we just do the best we can. We try not to shove and we wait our turn in line to photograph the shards of vases and buy our linens and shrink-wrapped bags of olives and souvlaki spice. » Continue reading this post…

One Night in Venice

Sunset in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Venice is a sinking city. Its buildings slowly groan into the ground some one to two millimeters per year, the dark water lapping up lower staircases and sidewalks, consuming the city from the bottom up. “How many basements have water in them?” we ask our gondolier. “All of them,” he replies.

But Venice is also a city which begs you to sink into imagination. It’s not hard to picture it the way it was hundreds of years ago, full of merchants and nobles, beggars and peasants, reeking of silky sewage and stink. You can imagine the jostling crowds rummaging for room on the narrow paths, ducking beneath an archway where a dreamy girl looks out for her Casanova – or, more likely, chucks dishwater onto the street below.

Blue doorway in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Venetian canal (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Doorbells in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Doorbells, detail (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The city was once a world power – a hub of commerce and conquerors. It was the birthplace of many great minds and, through the years, a rite of passage for many others: Goethe, Mozart, Vivaldi, Marco Polo, and Thomas Mann all lived and worked within whispering distance of the dark green waterways.

Today, it seems to be a rite of passage only for the tourists, brandishing selfie sticks and Bermuda shorts and shopping bags full of leather-bound journals, carnival masks, and everything made of Murano glass. There are 60,000 people living in the historic city of Venice, but some 50,000 tourists thronging there per day. Walking along the winding streets, there are so many glossy glass windows filled to the brim with Murano glass, it makes you start to feel that you should decorate your whole house with it.

Pizza shop in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
House in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
View from a gondola (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Gondola ride in Venice (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Even the famous gondolas are now reserved for strictly charged and strictly timed pleasure rides. And the gondoliers no longer sing, though they still wear striped shirts and pole those long, flat-bottomed boats through the shallow canals like slithering eels. » Continue reading this post…

In the Land of the Midnight Sun

Window to another world (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I spent the week reading Murakami. It was a little joke, to read Norwegian Wood in the Norwegian woods. But a fitting one – Murakami’s dreamlike writing, a story within a story within a story, was like a murky mirror to the feeling that I myself had been dropped into another world, off the grid and off the beaten path. Living another life in another story I could tell myself later on.

I woke in the mornings to the persistent, endless sun streaming through the cracked slat of the wooden tipi’s window. I’d nestle deeper into the stack of reindeer hides that was my bed, the gentle tickle of soft fur brushing my skin. Eyes open, I rested, feeling the cool breeze from outside across my face, breathing in the scent of ashes and wood smoke lingering from last night’s fire.

Grazing sheep (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Coffee and a homemade granola bar (Eat Me. Drink me.)
Farmhouse and sheep (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

90s album cover with sheep (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I took my time getting ready. Brushing my teeth with water from a bottle, scattering spit foam in the gravel stones outside my hut. I’d walk to the spigot down the road and bathe in the ice cold water, splashing it first on my face to shock the sleep out of it. I’d dry off briskly with a towel, the cool morning wind sweeping like silk over my clean-scrubbed arms. I’d dress in the hut, make up my bed, and tidy my things, then step out for a day in the bright and green Norwegian woods.

There were two paths up to the farmhouse café – one through the woods, up a dirt and stone trail lined with thick green undergrowth and shaded by tall trees, the other along the gravel road, where sheep grazed nimbly, bells clanging around their necks, baas distinct enough to recognize them all by sound by the time the week was through. There were sheep everywhere it seemed, the mothers newly slim with bleating babes still suckling fiercely at their teats. » Continue reading this post…

Dublin – City of Superlatives

The streets of Dublin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Everything in Dublin was simply the best, and I know this, because all the signs in Dublin told me so. There was the best Irish dancing at the best dinner show. The best deals on souvenirs, the best pub in which to drink Guinness, the best breakfast in all Ireland. There was the best walking tour and the best little shop for all your cake decorating needs. There was even the best poem about a cat in the best book written by monks in the early 9th century: “I and Pangur Bán my cat / ‘Tis a like task we are at…”

Though beset by a bad case of the bests, Dublin is a sweet little city – a street-smart ruffian with a heart of gold, all dressed up in a bright new suit. I imagine him as an impish fellow: a pint in one hand and a ready joke in the other. He reads poetry on the sly, but always has a dirty tale to tell his mates hanging around a table in the back corner of a smoky pub.

The Guinness bird (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A Dublin pub (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
A little building in Dublin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Just another pub in Dublin (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The city has a good energy, when you get away from the places where the tourists cluster like flocks of drunk ducks. (We paid Temple Bar homage, reluctantly, and briefly, and never again.) On Friday night, we joined an after work crowd at John Kehoe’s. Early in the evening, the pub was already packed with people sitting around tables and crowding into nooks to chat. The weather was holding steady, and the sidewalks were full of overflow from inside. As dusk dimmed into night, the conversations flowed, washed down with pints of dark and creamy Guinness and Smithwick’s Pale Ale. And the atmosphere stayed convivial.

Of course we made the round of pubs. We spent our last evening at The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub (another of those superlatives), built in 1198, but burned down and built up again who knows how many times. » Continue reading this post…

The Other Georgia, Part II – Stepantsminda

Stepantsminda, Georgia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

The morning dawned weakly and dull the day we embarked for Stepantsminda – a village lying at the base of Mount Kazbek, the seventh-highest peak in the Caucuses. The riders in the subway were half asleep, and we ourselves only jerked awake outside the Didube station to the shouts of vendors hawking small lemons and nuts, hot khachapuri and coffee. Marshrutka drivers were looking for passengers to fill their vans. They shouted out destinations – Kakheti, Gori, Mtskheta – places we had seen the day before and places we had not.

A driver hustled our direction and asked where we were going. “Stepantsminda,” we replied, and he gestured toward his weathered red van. That was just the route he was taking, he said. “Are the roads safe?” I asked. It had been unseasonably warm in Tbilisi, but this was February after all, and there was no telling what conditions were like at higher altitudes. “I am from there,” he said. And while I couldn’t have known it at the time, I later found out that what he meant by this was, “No, but I’m used to it.”

We bought a quick breakfast from a nearby stand – crescent-shaped khachapuri stuffed with hard-boiled egg – and ate it as the van hobbled along the highway out of Tbilisi. We were tired and fell asleep, but soon woke to the jolt of the road, littered with potholes and dirty slush.

The road up the mountain, Georgia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Monastery on the road to Stepantsminda (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

At a monastery, we scrambled out to take pictures. Snow patched the ground, and wet drizzle chilled my bare hands. Below us, the river sluggishly plowed along the banks, freezing in the shallows. The road continued to climb, and the next time we stopped, there were old women wrapped in headscarves and wool selling fruit leather and churchkhela hanging in long, burgundy rows. » Continue reading this post…

The Other Georgia, Part I – Tbilisi

Tbilisi, Georgia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Tbilisi is a city of crumble and construction. The gondola sways up over the river, over close, claustrophobic streets seeming to fold in on themselves. Here, dented tin and red-tiled roofs cover haphazard buildings slouching into gray courtyards. There, a stunning twist of ultramodern architecture sits wrapped in glass. Bruised and dented cars give guttural chugs around tight corners, slipping past pedestrians who hug the sides of buildings where there is no sidewalk.

Tbilisi, Georgia (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

From above, it seems convoluted, but calm. A sleepy city, settling with dust. On street level, there’s clamor, construction sites and bridge beggars, vendors hawking homemade sour plum sauce and dark purple churchkhela – walnuts strung together and dipped in thickened grape paste. There are wine shops on every corner and little grocery stores with bins of fresh herbs, potatoes, and fruit.

But David and I are hungry. We curl down the twisted streets from our Airbnb apartment to the river and find a restaurant with big glass windows overlooking the water. It’s simple inside – rows of wooden tables and big picture menus, a TV playing an advertising reel in the corner, a case displaying sweets. But all around us, people are tucking into big plates of food – dumplings and stews, warm bread and parsley-laden salads.

Narikala Fortress, Tbilisi (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Flame-grilled kebab (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Cold stew with eggplant and potato (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

We order khachapuri – hot, chewy bread baked with rich, slightly sour cheese. It’s still bubbling when it arrives. David orders fire-grilled pork kebabs covered in slivers of sweet raw onion, and for me there’s a cold stew of eggplant, potato, pepper, tomato, and herbs.

Reinvigorated, we explore the city from the top down. Narikala Fortress is a well-kept ruin stretching along a low-lying ridge. Weather-worn stone steps turn into scraggly gravel and rock, which we climb to get a better view. To our left, Mother Georgia – silent and strong. » Continue reading this post…

America and the Americans: Pineapple Mai Tai

Pineapple Mai Tais (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Everyone I’ve told about the cruise I went on in early January has asked me if I’ve read David Foster Wallace’s essay on cruising1. Yes, I have. And no, I don’t think there’s a cruise in the world that DFW would have enjoyed. It’s a tacky business, but in the best possible way. It’s like going to Oktoberfest in a dirndl and braids: You have to give yourself over to it. To the glitter and feathers at the evening show, the white pants and silk shirts, the poolside piña coladas, overpriced bingo games, the awkward audience involvement. You have to love it. And in return, it will love you back.

Meyer's Dark Rum and Añejo rum (Eat Me. Drink Me.)
Mai Tai with lime (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

One of my favorite games has always been to pretend I’m someone else, to slip into another voice, another life. In fact, I was a theater kid long before I hit the stage. My grandma used to tell me how I’d stand in front of the mirror and practice crying, just so I’d be ready when real waterworks came in handy.

On a cruise, I get to pretend my life is always cocktails in the evening sun, that I’m in the habit of wearing cute skirts and high heels and bright red lipstick to dinner, that I keep my nails manicured and enjoy small-talk with strangers. I go to the sauna and to the gym and carry around a sparkling gold clutch as if I had anything more to keep track of than my little blue sea pass. There’s no internet to remind me of my responsibilities – or of my real life. All I can do is immerse myself in this alternate world. Yes, DFW, it’s a show. But if I’m already in it, I may as well live it up.

The ocean at Cozumel (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

Pineapple Mai Tai Recipe (Eat Me. Drink Me.)

I spent a lot of time observing other people on the cruise, seeing small kindnesses in the buffet line and considerate gestures – and also moments of casual disregard for the crew’s constant service and hard work. » Continue reading this post…

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