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“LOCAL COLOR”

Although I love to travel and to enjoy gorgeous cities around the world, it is certain that I need not go far to have some of the world’s most beautiful and interesting buildings and neighborhoods.

This is what I see when I step out of my apartment building~ The Ritz-Carlton, a stunning hotel on Nob Hill. I think it is the most beautiful building in San Francisco, and I am thrilled every time I open the door and step out.

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Today I needed to shop in Chinatown for fruit and vegetables and decided to take advantage of the gorgeous sunshine to snap  some photos of the sights along the way.

I loved the beautiful pattern of sunlight and shadow as I looked behind me at the intersection to cross California Street.

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Looking down California Street~ The Bay Bridge and Grant Avenue, at the beginning of Chinatown that is the more familiar entry for tourists.

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Walking down Stockton, my usual path to shopping.

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Looking to the right at an intersection again~

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Amidst the chaos of signs the spire of The Trans America Building towers over the city.

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And so, now to serious shopping~

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On offer in the fortune cookie shop window~

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Shop titles are often an interesting cultural mix~I wonder exactly what “The Loving Hut” evolved from~

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This  Grandma was kind enough to permit photos~

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A bit further down Stockton brings me to the edge of North Beach, our still-surviving Italian neighborhood~

Til next time.

ROMAN REPASTS

One of my favorite Italian dishes is risotto. I first enjoyed it in Italy years ago I visited Italian friends in Parma (in the Po River valley, home of risotto’s ingredients, rice and Parmesan cheese). I enjoyed this specialty of Parma at a small country restaurant some distance from town. It was classic, with fresh spring peas. The congenial chef came to the table to greet us and renew his friendship with my wonderful hosts. (I think perhaps I could still find the menu he dedicated to me somewhere in my memorabilia.)

Since then, if I may say so, I’ve learned to make several decent versions of this creamy dish myself. And in a town like San Francisco it is difficult to get a bad meal. The competition in restaurants is fierce indeed and we still do have the remants of an Italian neighborhood in North Beach where Italian food can often still be found that is not too distantly removed from Italian roots.

So imagine my utter shock to find that food in Rome is now a very chancy proposition. Those throngs mentioned earlier have clearly affected the quality and opportunity for the food people come to Italy to enjoy. Those generations-old family restaurants may indeed no longer have Italians in the kitchen, I suspect. Imagine my shock again when upon ordering that most Italian of dishes, risotto, I was served a dish that perhaps bore a closer resemblance to instant rice with prepared pesto sauce. Hunger ruled however; it was late and necessity prevailed. I didn’t have the heart to complain to our charming young hosts. They had done their best to entice us into the around-the-corner restaurant where they attentively looked after us. In my heart I felt they had only a passing familiarity with risotto of any kind and would not realize how far from Italy their dish had departed.

The exigencies of serving thousands in a day perhaps-especially if the restaurant is located near some major sight, street, or plaza-has clearly been a challenge. I would never have believed that I would encounter canned peas in any dish to be found in Rome. Alas, it was so, but softened by the charm of our host who suggested we assist in his child’s college fund when taking care of the bill. (Nevertheless, we returned once more. Better the known….)

We gave up on having a gelato. The interminable lines were trumped by the unbelievable prices. Did I mention that the cost of two cups of coffee after visiting The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel was eleven euros? Not that we were counting every euro by any means, but being a tourist in Europe isn’t what it used to be so it’s a matter of perceived as well as actual value.

All was not gloom and canned peas however. Very near our wonderful hotel, Albergo Santa Chiara, minutes in fact, we found a fabulous restaurant that I since have discovered has deservedly received rave reviews, the Santa Lucia. Charming, with an outdoor garden that made us wish it was summer. We were shown to cozy indoor seating where we were very lucky to get a table without a reservation. The restaurant was serving couples and single diners. Beautiful decor and service. A memorable meal with excellent wine. Remembering that meal almost makes me think I might go back to Rome in spite of my recent statement that I’ve seen Italy for the last time.

I didn’t have a camera along that evening so cannot share that charming place, but there are other visual delights to remind the visitor that food is still a Roman passion. ~ Buon appetito~

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A quick update~ Who knew that Santa Lucia restaurant has had such illustrious diners! A peek inside can be found at this link.

THE THRONGS OF ROME

During the recent television broadcasts covering the new Pope’s greeting to his flock from St. Peter’s I was amazed at the huge volume of humanity crowed into the square.  The occasion certainly would inspire such numbers, I thought, but reminded me of the post I had intended to write shortly after our return from Rome.

Having had the opportunity to visit Rome more than once gave me the chance to compare the changes wrought over a few decades. One undeniable change is that there are throngs and throngs of people, not only gathering for a new Pope but to be found at every known monument, church, museum, or resting place in Rome.

Mid-October in Italy. Could rain or not. (Eventually it did-as we by-passed the endless queue waiting to get into the Vatican Museum.) But sunny or not, one thing we could count on were people. By the dozens, tens of dozens. At the Coloseum, Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, every gelato place, every square, every fountain.

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Walking in with other tourists to see the Sistine Chapel was an orderly crush. Many cameras were raised above heads to snap the best random photos. I was to see the Chapel for the first time after restoration. Sadly no photos allowed~

The masses of humanity crowding into this beautiful old city brought other changes. Next post, then~

 

INVOKING A SIMPLER TIME

It seems that the new Pope, Pope Francis, is breaking from tradition in more ways than one. Another of the photos taken near our hotel in Rome features still another window with clerical garments used by priests, Cardinals, and perhaps the Pope himself. But we now are being shown a Pope who has chosen to be a leader that emphasizes simplicity. When given the opportunity for the ancient traditions of glorious adornment or the modest garb of the saint whose name he has chosen, clearly we are seeing a remarkable change at the Vatican.

I wondered, as I looked up St. Francis of Assisi, whether those visions and mystical events of the early Church would have any pertinence to the global behemoth of the Catholic Church of the Twenty-First Century. When I read this decription of a vision had by the young Francis and the voice that spoke, “Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”( from Wikipedia), it suddenly seemed to me that perhaps this new Francis has decided to do just that as well.

While the magnificent finery, the art, architecture, and ritual have inspired awe for centuries of faithful (and unfaithful!), perhaps the simple devoutness of St. Francis will inspire a new global renewal.

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TAILOR TO THE POPE

It is amazing to think that just a few months ago we were in Rome. I reminisced about earlier visits, including the time years ago when I passed up the opportunity to have an audience with the Pope.

Now that Pope Benedict has left his role of head of the Catholic Church and retired to the quiet life of contemplation at Castel Gandolpho I remembered that we stayed in an area of Rome that has shops catering to the clergy.

This is the area of The Pantheon. Here are found not only the magnificent and ancient Pantheon but the hotel where I first stayed in Rome decades ago. Albergo del Senato is now a much more upscale hotel than it was when I stayed there in the early Eighties.

I had always admired another hotel just a short walk away from the Senato, Hotel Santa Chiara.  Scott very generously accomodated my long-standing wish to stay there. It is centrally-located in the very heart of historic old Rome, just a short walk from my earlier hotel, and near to all the sites of the Centro Historico including the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona.

And very near, steps away, are the shops catering to the clergy that I mentioned.

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This is a family business that will have the clothing prepared for the next Pope. When he steps onto the balcony to greet his new flock he will be dressed head-t0-foot in garments, including appropriately-colored socks and shoes from Gammarelli.

The New York Times, among most large news sources, printed a wonderful article on the historic shop that has been providing clerical garments since the 18th Century.

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Other shops are clustered in this area as well. The New York Times article pointed out the the cardinals assembled for the conclave to elect the new Pope will no doubt visit these shops to stock up on essentials for their wardrobes.

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How amazing to think that there is a living Pope who will be able to follow the electoral process of his succesor!

VENICE~BEAUTIFUL SHOPPING

One of the things that I most cherish in travelling is finding the things that make a city or destination unlike any other, for things that cannot be found anywhere else, be it the amazing cuisine, the art, or in the case of Venice, wonderful glass.

Venice’s shops carry beautiful hand-blown beads as well as art pieces and vases. While some things are available world-wide due to the internet, some of the most unique works are only found in the shops of Venice.

This beautiful necklace was my favorite in all that I saw in Venice. The tiny shop, at the foot of Moises Bridge near our hotel, was so small that it held only a small white cabinet with drawers for jewelry and room enough for the shop proprietor and perhaps one or two customers. I thought of this place later, when the aqua alta flooded the shops, and hoped they survived.

VENICE~VIEW FROM THE CAMPANILE

The ancient tower in St. Mark’s Square has survived floods, fire, and earthquakes. But it still stands in the landmark square of Venice, the hub and destination of not only tourists from every country but as the center of this old city. From the top of the tower or Campanile can be seen a sweeping view of Venice, the old and the new. It is amazing that we visited just a short time before the great inundations, the historic “Aqua Alta” that made St. Mark’s Square more of a great pool than a pedestrian square.

The Campanile has stood guard over centuries of history. I can imagine the pageant of Venice before it became overrun with camera-toting tourists. Before monster cruise ships filled the horizon, dwarfing even the huge palazzos and churches. Before the gondolas and gondoliers took up the role of performers in what must be one of the world’s most charming amusement parks.

In spite of the hordes of people, the disappointing and horrendously expensive meals, this time, my third time in Venice, there was a bit of magic. And the “gods of weather” were very much smiling during this stay.

This view out onto the City shows that work is ongoing to maintain, repair, and alter the buildings. All equipment, all supplies, large and small, must be brought by water. I am humbled to think what skill and knowledge is required to keep an ancient city built on wood pilings not only upright but in good condition. Venice is surely a work in progress even now, one that seems an organic one tied to Nature in spite of Man’s efforts to tame it.

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