Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Walking the jetty

Spiral jetty 2

Salt Lake landscape

Spiral jetty

Robert Smithson created this monumental earthwork in 1970 and it spent decades underwater. For the last ten years it has been visible and I've been itching to see it. Thankfully my museum conference offered a tour that shuttled us out to the vast expanse of nowhere two hours outside of Salt Lake City where you can find it. Crazy and creepy and magical.

Wild horses

Walking on the moon

The great salt lake is vast and otherworldly. Definitely moon-like territory.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Oriente Station

Back in Lisbon, at Calatrava's stunning rail station.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

On Things Seemingly Designed for My Personal Euphoria

Karen mentioned the drive out to the Duoro Valley in passing. Truth is, I'd much rather drive in Europe than the States. Drivers are opportunistic--as they should be--but considerate. They also know what lanes are for and how to use them on the autopista. On rural roads, a spirit of cooperation prevails. And there's a distinct lack of assholes attempting to compensate for their salary and/or penis size by driving unnecessary vehicles at unnecessary speeds toward unnecessary destinations. 

Then there's dinner. If you make reservations before nine they look at you funny. So don't do that. But do eat the roasted carcass of a small farm animal like I described in the other post. Then move on. 

The traditional but elevated O Paparico--you have to knock on the door to be admitted--will start you off with the best G&T you've ever had, then seat you at an already dressed table. Now, I don't know about you, but if I arrive at a table, G&T in hand, and there's food waiting, I might prefer some bread and butter. If the butter happens to be house-churned goat butter, even better. If it comes on a salt palette that seasons it, awesome. But that's just one option. They might also present a room-temperature-melting sheep's cheese. Or an octopus salad. Or the plate that won Portugal's best dish in 2011: veal liver mousseline in port reduction and toasted fennel seed. 

These are just here on the table, starting you out. The bacalhau and black-eyed pea salad come next. And then there's the octopus. Dear lord, the charred octopus. Served with a port reduction, cherry tomatoes and baby onions, it's the best I've ever had. There was more after that, but I had already lost consciousness. 

Shall I stop? Shall I not discuss how this country, which occupies the same westward-facing latitude as California, has ideal weather and ideal, well, everything? 

Okay. One more. Karen's birthday. DOP is a fine restaurant in the modern tradition. That's the foie you're looking at. There's also the duck, the cheese course, the cod tagliatelle, the crab ravioli, the surprise courses and the amazing service. It sounds like it would cost a limb or two, but the truth is that here in Portugal, this kind of craft is de riguer; people take pride in their work, as if dinner can make the world a better place. And indeed, it can. 

Church of San Francisco

It was amazing, dripping in Gothic ornament. Gold everywhere. No photos allowed, though. Enjoy instead the photo of the dark and creepy catacombs.

Street views from Porto

I like my public art with farm animals

They do have a functional farm at Serralves, complete with farm animals.

And more

Oldenburg in Serralves

Serralves park views

Serralves Foundation

An amazing contemporary art museum, situated in a lovely park, with public art throughout.

The anti-mall

It's super cute, filled with shops from local designers, crafts, art, and fashion.

Porto views

Happy birthday to me!

I told you they were serious about their pastries

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fast Food

This Portuguese version of a hot dog, the cucharro simples, is neither fast nor simple. Yes, there is a dog and there is a bun. There is also ham, cheese, lettuce, carrot, mushroom, potato chips, mustard and mayo (I asked they hold the ketchup 'cuz that's just gross). I know it was fresh because it took 25 minutes to prepare, which means they stuffed the dog themselves while cultivating the mushrooms.

More Duoro

Duoro River Valley

Getting out here was ridiculous (Michael will undoubtedly fill this part in later), but the Duoro Valley rewarded us with the most dramatically beautiful landscape. And lots of port (they grow all the grapes on the steep inclines). Enjoy the pretty pictures for now.

Breakfast of champions

I love traveling to places with a strong coffee culture--and Portugal has a great one. Cafe/snack bars with espresso machines are on every corner and coffee is consumed at all hours. Plus, the pastries are lovely. Every day I eat at least two of the traditional pastel de nata--delightful flake pastry shells filled with rich custard. Yum.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

About that Fortified Wine... a minute. I just finished tasting a 60-year-old (the port, not Lorenço, who's lovely).


Shit. Lorenço just poured a single vintage '68 called a Colheita. I've had old US ports--the difference here is this didn't come out of the barrel until last year. Unreal.

Where was I? Don't know...Porto, former capital of the country named after something sensible like a dessert wine. Or an aperitif--there's dry, white port, too. We had that before dinner. Then I ate half a roasted lamb and some amazing potatoes. And saltcod and potato fritters. I think carrots and collards were involved. I vaguely recall Karen eating some cheese and maybe a fish while VH1 played videos from the '80s and the...oh, it doesn't matter.

Where is Lorenço?

Porto at night

So What's Your Country Named For?

"Uh, a federated amalgam of semi-sovereign states united by a single constitution on the continent of America, which was named for an Italian who never came here. Yours?"

"Fortified wine."


So we decided to take a side trip east from the freeway to experience some nature. Thankfully, the national Buçaco forest comes with a four star hotel. But don't even think about it, because if you aren't staying here, you can't even think about doing anything here--even contemplating an overpriced lunch. But it is a lovely building when appreciated from the outside. And there were lots of Carmelites here, so there is plenty of spiritual stuff (like a convent) if you are into that kind of thing.

Find the Minotaur


Okay, it is the largest Roman site in Portugal, but it is not all that, especially after visiting southern Italy. But it does feature some pretty bad-ass floor mosaics.

Taxi Ride or Laxative?

Both, actually, which totally justifies the fare. Either way I was walking like this afterward.

Truth is, though, Portugal is friendly, beautiful, helpful, clean, traditional, hip and delicious. One of those countries that got the Boy Scout oath really right.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

And Then After That

We followed the sound to the John Lewis rockabilly explosion which, predictably, rocked. All the Coimbra hipsters wore their finest soda fountain dresses and gas station uniforms. I lost my wedding ring I clapped so hard after the Hank Williams cover that I had to interrupt the band to petition the audience to look for it. They did. I found it ten minutes later in Karen's bag and did a little guitar solo dance, just so the audience knew everything was okay.

John Lewis, btw, is Irish, and after two decades of playing I finally understand why it's not the blues and why it's not country, yet I know every chord.

Oh That Sacramental Wine

In a cafe abutting a church is the most delightful little bar, now occupying no doubt what once housed the preserved remains of some saint or another. Good port. Great crowd. We wandered in after dinner, and never wandered out. The lights dimmed, groups of locals started gathering at the marble-topped tables, more port arrived, and a troupe of Fado players rallied the crowd in a scene that brought together summer camp and a wake.

Oh, the women's restroom is located in the former confessional. Karen wanted me to snap the picture. Personally, I've always had more use for the former than the latter, but at the end of the day they are philosophically identical.

Portugal's port and wine

We'll talk about this more soon, but for now, let us inform you that we are very impressed.

Pensive in Coimbra

Your baby

Your baby may be a pimp.

They have yarn bombing here

They just all it "social crochet."

Academic prison

Try not to end up there.

A real university library

Mine, unfortunately, can't compare with this one.

This school is old

Founded in 1290, the University here is both old and impressive.


It's Portugal's Oxford, and offers a delightful mix of narrow, cobblestone streets, plentiful outdoor cafes and a historic university.

Friday, June 28, 2013

An oven for oxen

The kitchen at the Alcobaca is a tour de force of tile! This is the massive oven, which they needed to cook ox for the 900 hungry monks. They even diverted a spring into the kitchen to provide an ongoing source of fresh water.

Old school graffiti


It's the largest church in all of Portugal, a world heritage site, and it once housed more than 900 monks.

We are not beach people

In fact, some people have told us that we are the whitest people they know. One if our Lisbon cab drivers encouraged us to visit the beach, following that recommendation immediately with a warning, "you should be careful, you are very pale." But en route to Coimbra, we did stop off at the beach town Nazare for some seafood and people watching (mostly British tourists wearing inappropriate beach and loungewear). I had the sardines...

More Sintra

Put some animal heads on it


Just 30 minutes outside of Lisbon, Sintra awaits! One of our Lisbon cab drivers instructed Michael that, "you must take your wife to Sintra--it is very romantic." Indeed, the Pena Palace is a fantastical Disneyland-style residence, with turrets galore painted in sorbet-like colors. Perched on a steep hill, it also offers extraordinary views.

It's always a party in the Alto Barrio

Every night until the wee hours of the morning..

No, We Won't be Out Late

We'll just have a nice dinner near the plaza and go to the port institute.

Dinner was excellent. Our first choice was booked, so we ended up at a restaurant recommended by the hotel. We had it to ourselves because Thursday was strike day and everyone stayed home. Octopus salad arrived first, and the marinaded peppers and herbs and the buttery cephalopod were sublime. A tomato and eggplant gratin and a spinach crepe gave us something to write home about. But it was the bacalhau-stuffed peppers that made us weep: so simple, so rich--perfectly perfect.

Then they hooked Karen on the white port.

So we headed for the Palacio des Port, and though they were closed (on strike), the back alleys were bustling. It didn't take long to find a wine bar and start sampling. I'm partial to the '76. Meanwhile, the Canadian-Portugese post-production duo struck up a conversation and several drinks later we were making Senegalese spiritual advisor friends over caipirinhas, at which point we realized it was two in the morning and we were the only people going to bed. Fun town.