AdventureMan and I read a series of detective novels set in Venice by author Donna Leon, who lives there. Commissario Guido Brunetti is a patient, thoughtful and smart detective, working under a lazy, corrupt and greedy boss in a country rife with corruption. Each book has a social issue in Venice as its topic, and not lightweight topics – the arrogance of dumping trash, boatloads of trash, off the coast of Somalia (had you ever heard of that before? Neither had I. But it is true, and it has ruined traditional Somali fishing), big pharma and tainted drugs, sex tourism and human trafficking, governmental bribery – Donna Leon fearlessly tackles them all.
Guido Brunetti loves Venice, and he loves his family. His solace in life is his wife, a professor of literature at the university, and his two children. His wife cooks meals that make the reader’s mouth water as they read, or Guido and one of his lieutenants will stop at a restaurant for lunch.
In one of the books, “Blood From a Stone,” American tourists give evidence to a stabbing they witness on their way to dinner. To thank them for their help, he directs them to a GOOD Venetian restaurant, and tells them to say Guido Brunetti sent them.
We don’t say that. No matter how real Guido Brunetti has become to us, we know he is not real, and we don’t say he sent us. But we do take the tiny winding back lanes to find Rosa Rossa, and while we order familiar salads, we also order Venetian specialities for our main courses.
Rosa Rossa on a tiny but busy street:
AdventureMan’s favorite salad; he loves Caprese:
I had a garden salad:
I love black spaghetti, or Pasta Nero. It is made with squid, and squid ink, and I first had it at a lovely dinner a long time ago in Damascus, Syria, served by a beautiful Italian who swore t me that this dish is Southern Italian. If so, I ordered it anyway, in honor of Beatrice, and it was delicious.
AdventureMan ordered Pasta with Squid and pepperoncini, and he said it was very piquant, and that he has never eaten so much squid in his life at one time.
We passed on dessert, knowing we still had miles to walk, and possibly a gelato toward the end. We had such a short time to enjoy Venice, searching for and finding Rosa Rossa was a lot of fun, and a great adventure. They took good care of us, and the food was delicious.
Months in advance, my friend said “You’ll really want to see Shangri-La,” and I had never heard of it, but I looked online, and it looked beautiful. Doris Duke, one of the richest women ever to live, could buy anything she wanted. She had a good eye for art, good timing, and she bought much of what is in Shangri-La and her other residences at bargain prices after WWII. The value of her art holdings increased dramatically, and she ended up with an even bigger fortune than that with which she started.
How do I know? I am in the middle of my third book, reading about Doris Duke. The books are pretty bad. Each author seems to have an axe to grind, and one author took very little information and used it to speculate endlessly, full of gossip and mean-spirit. Altogether, Duke does not come off as a very kind person, but who can say which version of this very private person is the “real” Doris Duke?
To visit Shangri-La, you must go through the Honolulu Museum of Art. They have an online reservation system – the next two weeks are already fully booked. My friend booked months in advance so that we could attend. We got to the Museum, found a good parking place, entered the museum, receiving a lapel sticker and a wristband which later allowed us to visit the museum for as long as we liked.
We boarded a bus and watched a very romanticized movie about the life of Doris Duke, and then we were there! We were warned we could take no photos inside. What a pity! The interiors are magnificent, all marble, and tiles, gorgeous woodwork, and all kinds of Islamic Art that looks like it would go well in the Qatar Museum of Islamic Art. I couldn’t help but wonder if the newly rich aren’t trying to buy some of their cultural objects back?
Our guide ushered us into a beautiful entry, with meshribiyya and tiles and beautiful light fixtures inside. I wish I could show you.
About half way through the tour, we had a break on a terrace from which we had this spectacular view. I read in one of the books that Duke built this rock harbor without asking permission from the Hawaii government, just did it. It is lovely. The terrace also has gorgeous Persian tiles, the interior tiles are Persian and Iznik.
After visiting the Damascus Room and the Syrian Room and the Mogul Room, we visited Doris Duke’s bedroom, bare but for a couple couches. Then, out to the gardens.
We were allowed to take photos in the gardens 🙂
This is a tree at the entry to the house; the tree sends down those shoots that form new roots and new trees. It is magnificent!
After our visit to Shangri-La, we returned to the Honolulu Museum of Art, and had lunch. This is the market salad with salmon – Yumm.
As we lunched, a character went around taking selfies. I think this is a performance artist, and I think it may have been a guy.
Being three very independent kind of folk, we split up to see what we wanted to see at the museum. There was a special temporary exhibit on Japanese street fashion which I found fascinating. I loved some of these street fashions, which strike me as very imaginative. When I got to the Lolita section, however, little girl dresses for grown women, I found it too creepy and strange to photograph.
There is a section on Islamic Art with beautiful tiles and examples of several genres of art objects.
Out on one of the patios, I found this screen which reminded me of a very modern sort of tree-of-life.
Altogether, a grand day. My friend was right – we really enjoyed seeing this.
Free at last!
We are as giddy as children let out of school as the groups head left and we head right, going deeper into our favorite territory, the souks (small shops) in the great city of Marrakesh.
Before we ever went to Marrakesh, many years ago, we read a book by Elizabeth Warnock Fernea, author of Guests of the Sheikh, called A Street in Marrakesh, talking about how her family lived in the center of Marrakesh, among Moroccans, and the adjustments they made as they grew to learn more about their environment. You know how you can read a book and feel like you had lived it? We felt we had lived in Marrakesh.
When we visited with our son, we had a car and were driving all through Morocco. We had left Ouazazarte and driven over the Atlas Mountains, stopping here and there to buy fossils and “thunderballs” which are also called geodes. It was late, and dark when we got to Marrakesh, and we had to stop and ask directions at a gas station how to find our hotel. We knew we were near, and we didn’t know how to close the distance. This was before smart phones and Google Maps.
Our son and I watched AdventureMan from the car, and as we watched him ask the two men working there, one pointed left and one pointed right. We were dying laughing. And, actually, both were right, there was an obstacle between us and the hotel and you could go right – or you could go left. At that moment, a motorcycle drove up, listened to the question and offered to guide us to our hotel. This is the essence of Morocco to us; the kindness and the hospitality of the Moroccans.
I wish I could remember the name of the hotel, but our room was huge, and full of tile work. Our son had his own area, on a separate level in the same room, and his own TV. It was a far cry from a sterile, modern hotel; this was full of color and detail, tile and wood work.
The next day, we hired a private guide for a tour of Marrakesh, and had a wonderful time exploring all kinds of wonderful places.
So now, off we go, and the smells and the feel of the souks almost make us giddy; we are back in our element.
As we wander, we can hear roosters crowing, and, in the middle of the souks, we find a souk devoted to roosters. It is the middle of the afternoon, a quiet time of day, perfect for wandering.
Me and my attraction to light fixtures 🙂
A mural of the Koutoubia mosque; one of the reasons we felt so secure in this souk is that if you get lost, you just look for the highest tower around, and that is the Koutoubia mosque, which takes you to Jemaa el-Fna.
We walked to our content, and then settled in at late afternoon to a cafe with a terrace high over the Jemaa el-Fna, where we had our choice of tables and could watch the market come to life. As we sipped our mint tea, the other tables filled; Moroccan families, tourist couples, assorted characters. The day is gorgeous, we have a shaded location, life is sweet. We’ve soaked in the sights and the smells. We’ve done more than our 10,000 steps. We enjoyed this afternoon immensely.
On our way to the interstate from Tombstone, we see our first giant Saguaro, one of the reasons we wanted to stop in Tucson. It is awe-inspiring, just growing in someone’s front yard, about two stories high. Did you know that these giant cactus only grow in a very limited environment? Tomorrow, we are going to the Saguaro National Park; we can hardly wait.
Meanwhile, we check in to our very odd Residence Inn. It is near the Tucson airport, and it looks like a resort, but when we go to use the pool, it isn’t even filled, it is being repaired. Repaired? It looks brand new.
It is in an area with a lot of other new looking hotels, near the airport, but while in other places there are usually a lot of restaurants around the airport, in Tucson, there are few, and not ones we care about.
Using our Trip Advisor research, and our Google Maps App, we find Zeman’s. Zeman’s is Ethiopian, and gets great reviews. We love Ethiopian food, and because most of what we order is vegetarian, we also know it is really good for us.
It is an easy drive into the big city, and we find Zeman’s right where it is supposed to be. We are warmly welcomed when we go in, and take a look at the menu.
They do something we really like; they have a combination where you can order one meat and two vegetables. We ordered two combinations, as did most of the other customers, and it was delicious!
We really loved the ground beef, which was exotic and spicy, and the collard greens, also exotic and spicy, but with different spices. I always think of Vargese’s Cutting for Stone when I eat Ethiopian food. When I read it, I felt like I had grown up in Ethiopia.
It’s in the university part of town, and most of the customers appeared to be students and faculties who enjoy good eats at reasonable prices. Zeman’s is exactly that. Tucson is blessed to have such a delightful restaurant. I understand there is another Zeman’s and even a third one in the planning. 🙂
“How about lunch?” our friend asked as we left the book club meeting at the library. This was not a meeting we usually attend, but they were discussion Donna Tartt’s book, The Goldfinch, which our group had also recently read and discussed, and we were eager to continue the discussion. She suggested the Cottage Cafe, just across the street, and it looked really cute.
We weren’t the first customers, although we were the only customers in the small dining room. A steady stream of phone calls were coming in, and a steady stream of orders were going out. When I ordered the Oriental Chicken Salad, they were already out of it! I sadly watched an order of about ten boxes leave on a bicycle delivery vehicle, knowing “my” salad was in that delivery.
Ah well. There were plenty of other selections on the menu. AdventureMan started with chili and cornbread, and raved about how good it was.
Our friend ordered the Cottage Cafe Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato, and it looked scrumptious:
I ordered the BLAST, which was bacon, lettuce, avocado, sprouts and tomato, and it was tasty, and I could kid myself it was all veggy and healthy fats, etc, so good for me, right?
AdventureMan’s main meal was barbecued pork. He groaned as he finished it, telling us not to let him order a chili starter AND a BBQ Pork, but as he groaned, he was eating every bite and licking his fingers.
The downside was that it was all so delicious, we really did eat up our meals and did not have space for dessert, and their dessert options sounded fabulous. We’ll have to go back soon and start with dessert 🙂 They are only open until 3, as they also run the Pensacola Victorian Bed and Breakfast next door, the huge Victorian:
“What are manners?”
“What is ‘nice’, what does it mean?”
“What is ‘kind’?” the most adorable little boy in Pensacola asked me. It was bath time, a time when we have some of our best conversations, and you never know where the conversation will go.
I love these conversations because I have to think, too, but most of all, because I love to watch this little boy’s mind grow in grasping concepts and perceptions. He is four; his class in school is on the letter “U” this coming week, and already he can sound out words in the books we read together. He knows what a globe is, and how it differs from a map. He knows his address, and he can point to Pensacola on the globe.
He knows things because we talk to him, and because he goes to school and his teachers talk to him. His mind is wide open and he is eager to learn, and he asks the most wonderful questions.
Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti has a new case that troubles him. He knows the dead man, not well, but he would see him in his quarter, and he often saw him helping out at the local laundry. He assumed the man was deaf and retarded, everyone knew that. When the dead man has no papers, in bureaucratic Italy, no birth certificate, no medical records, no finance records, no record of social aid (he is poor as well as disabled) Brunetti is troubled. How could such a familiar figure be so undocumented?
His mother is no help; her stories are transparent lies about travel to France and her son having grown up in the country with people whose name she cannot remember.
It is a troubling book. If you read Donna Leon, you will understand how close and wonderful and articulate Brunetti’s family is, how loved and cherished their children. We eat meals with them, we understand how the Venetian vernacular distinguishes those to whom one speaks more frankly and those to whom one lies. Brunetti’s a detective; the things he sees often trouble him, but this case troubles him more than most.
I can’t tell you more without spoiling the ending. All I can tell you is that it will encourage you to love your children, hold them closely, and give them all the benefits in their life-toolbox of attention, instruction and loving discipline that a parent (and grandparent!) can give.