Pulling Back from the Brink
Just like you, I’m itching with anxiety, heartbroken over loss, and facing precarious times. Honestly, my optimism is being defied by disorder. Fine, I tell myself, time to say “adios”, except, with pandemic related travel concerns, where can I go? Inwardly, I’m soothed by contemplating my favorite poem, Hey, Let’s Get Away, by Pedro Salinas: “Hey, let’s get away from being so much of you and so much of me. Leave your body; leave your body asleep… Leave your name…Leave what pains us and let’s take a break from ourselves…” If I can do it, so can you. The ability to transport the mind and spirit can help pull us back- back from the brink of despair.
Uh-huh, let’s rebound from survival mode. Yes, I know, it’s a tug of war in our current climate. Dismiss it for now. Let go. Imagine a time without a global pandemic and so much foolery. Escape with me while I revisit and re-envision some previous travel experiences in three vignettes:
Olé, Olé, Olé!
Let’s be passionate! Get rid of our wounds, heartbreaks and indifference. We are headed back to Spain to embark upon a journey that inspires positive emotion, energy and sparks of electricity- we’re hunting for Flamenco. Starting in Seville, as I did before, the elegant tablao, El Palacio Anduluz, near historic Isla de la Cartuja, entices. Its array of Andalusian tapas, sangria and traditional Flamenco show is praised for classic representation and being the best in town. What a great place to “raise hell!” Magnificently costumed, the dancers are spectacular, expressive and seductive- the music full of emotion. This show expertly encompasses the four elements of Flamenco: Cante- voice; baile-dance; toque-guitar; and “jaleo”-stomping, clapping and shouting. Before we leave, let’s take the cultural tour of La Bodega Museo (Museo del Flamenco y Arte Andaluz) that unveils more of the mystique of flamenco, right there on the premises.
Still eagerly searching for brio through Andalusian Flamenco, a side trip to Córdoba, into the historical Jewish Quarter is in order. I’ve been coveting for years this first-time visit to the home of Mezquita, the ancient mosque and temple, for Córdoban flamenco. Here, we can find the Arab Baths of Santa María, where we will be able to take in even more authentic Flamenco dance, Cante Anduluz and Cante Gitano (gypsy) at the Arte y Sabores in old Córdoba. Comprised of six native artists (dancers, guitarists and singers), the show is described as intimate and stimulating. What’s more, we are arriving in July, the time of The Córboba Guitar Festival, and can take in world renowned artists of flamenco music, song and dance. How about a couple of flamenco dance or guitar lessons? Olé!
As we explore, the rest of the activities planned will be just as thrilling: There’s a seaside tapas restaurant in coastal Marbella that I can find, but can’t name; we’ll still go for the delight. The flamenco there was so enjoyable, yielding an easy and pleasant afternoon over tapas. In Granada, after a visit to the UNESCO lauded Alhambra, the Albaycin District is the place to see a breathtaking show of talented flamenco artists. Venta el Gallo, in the renowned Sacromonte Caves, gets raved reviews from me for technique and authenticity. Of course, Madrid offers incredible Flamenco. So much so that at the Flamenco Essential Show, I became so engrossed in the impassioned performances that I forgot that I was taking it in all alone. We’ll be sure to head there.
“Así se canta! Así se baila!” Barcelona is where I’ve experienced the most intense exposure to Flamenco. At Santa Anna Cathedral and Basilica Santa Maria Del Pi, I communicated sensitivity to “flamenca guitarra” through the rhythmic movement of my arms from my seat, while gently closing my eyes. From Teatro Poliorama’s “Opera y Flamenco: A Love Story,” performed by an impressive soprano and tenor through flamenco dance and arias from Bizet, Verdi and Puccini; to Palau de Musica’s Grand Gala Flamenco (“Tota la Tradicio del Flamenco en Espectacle Unic”); toTablo Flamenco on Las Ramblas, my hair kept coming undone from emotional expression. At Tablo Flamenco the show boasts; “Feeling race, passion and technique come together in the elegant movements of Bartolo, one of the great figures of Barcelona’s active flamenco scene.” This was true. We’ve gotta go back to Barcelona for these. Take a look.
La Dulzura: Colonia, Casapueblo, La Chascona
Let’s be free-spirited! I’m still electrified by last night’s visit to El Veigo Almacén Tango Cena Show in Buenos Aires! But, never mind, let’s go ahead and get on the bus for Puerto Madero, then grab a ferry across the world’s widest river, Rio de la Plata, to the shores of Colonia, Uruguay. So many times, I’ve been reminded of this ancient riverfront city, characterized by cobblestone streets leading through the Barrio Histórico and by faces of remarkably gentle and easy-going people. It’s steeped in remnants of Portuguese and Spanish culture, the result of numerous conquests and treaties before its independence. Surely, you will share my unbridled excitement. Departing from the ferry, our first mission is to find the nearby café that, in a simple way, left me with a tremendous impression. “La Dulzura Puede Cambiar el Mundo” it said, stamped on the back of the sugar packets filling the small bowls on each table. “Sweetness can change the world.” Imagine our universe, if this philosophy was contagious! I’m a dreamer, too.
Now, let’s get settled. Family-owned Hotel Leoncia was my choice before. It’s got a 3-4 star rating, but was perfect for authenticity- by that, I mean, local cuisine, cleanliness and genuine hospitality. Let’s do it again! Oh, how I wish my Romanian friends were traveling with us. For, tales of their escapes from Communist Romania, under Stalinist President Nicolae Ceaușescu, created a captivating atmosphere of intrigue, as we huddled in the lower level bar of the nearby Radisson Hotel during our previous visit. This time, I’d love it if you shared your own unique and candid stories while we gather together in the evenings over glasses of wine!
Bypassing the capitol, Montevideo, on this trip, shall we continue on to Casapueblo in Punta Ballena? This museum/art gallery/hotel was developed by Uruguayan Artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. Constructed with 13 floors in which to live, conceive, and exhibit his works, the artist took 36 years to finish Casapueblo, which also yields picturesque views of the Atlantic Ocean. You may know that Vilaró’s son is Carlos Miquel Vilaró, one of sixteen Uruguayans who, through sear ingenuity and cannibalism, survived the crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight #571, which went down in the Argentinian Andes in 1972. Casapueblo includes a tribute to Carlos Miguel, in addition to its fabulous collections. If you haven’t seen the movie of his nightmare, “Alive”, you must! Now, let’s make it to coastal Punta del Este, embark upon a voyage that introduces us to Cape Horn, Antarctica and Patagonia, and ends in Santiago, where we can visit again the ship-like, eclectic home, La Chascona (tangled-haired woman), of Chilean Poet Pablo Neruda and his nearby Casa de Isla Negra. Mermaids, sirens, sails, seashells, butterflies…!
Oh, Mon Dieu!!!
Let’s be adventuresome! Good morning, Paris. I’m back again and I’ve returned with friends for food! But, we’ll forgo fancy and ultra-expensive restaurants, in exchange for excellent variety and atmosphere. Liberated, we are going to crisscross the city, by whatever means possible, to experience bona fide everyday French cuisine options. Starting early in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, we can people watch from the renowned literary spot, Les Deux Magots, while savoring café and croissants. Meanwhile, the route has been mapped out to select some favorites to enjoy over the course of the next three days. Time to get going.
Backpack clad and in comfortable shoes, we’re gonna briskly hike along Boulevard Saint-Germain, which spans the 5th 6th, and 7th arrondisements. Église Saint-Sulpice, Église Saint Germain des Prés, and Palais du Luxembourg will be convenient diversions from our path to the Marché Saxe-Breteuil on Avenue de Saxe in the 7th. The market, itself, is something to appreciate. Here, we can choose delightful snacks from the plentiful assortment of fresh fruits, vegetables, exquisite cheeses, crusty breads, unimaginable pastries, roasted free-range chicken and potatoes, paella, couscous, sausages, and more. The inviting backdrop for the market is the superbly landscaped street at Place de Breteuil, leading to the Tour Eiffel. Toiletries for our rooms and inexpensive souvenirs, like postcards, tablecloths, napkins, and handmade candles will not be too heavy to carry along our way.
Didn’t get enough to eat or find the desired mementoes at Marché Saxe-Breteuil? The Métro is the perfect mode to get us close to Marché des Enfants Rouge (Market of the Red Children), from the Left Bank to the Right Bank, in the 3rd. Surveying the offerings, there’s Moroccan, Japanese, Lebanese, Italian specialties, and naturally French options. There is so much to choose from- soups, salads, cooked or raw seafood and meats, fruits, vegetables breads, cheeses, gifts…Oh, mon, Dieu! This famous market is named for the Hospice of the Red Children which operated from 1524 to 1777 in which the orphans, notably, were attired in red uniforms. We’ll probably come back here during the Secret Food Tour: Taste of Morais one afternoon or evening before leaving but, for now, the Louvre, in the 1st, is just a short walk. Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, a Rembrandt self-portrait, anyone?
Belle-époque designed tea house, Angelina’s, is the perfect place to recharge after exploring a small part of the Louvre. Famous for L’Africain hot chocolate and pastries like, Montblanc, I say, “Let’s go for it –we’ve plenty of time to walk it off before dinner!” We’ll be on Rue de Rivoli so; take your time shopping in the luxury stores and souvenir shops. Let’s meet at 8:00PM by the Arc de Triomphe du Carrosel which sits between the Louvre and the Jardin de Tuileries. We’re going to my favorite, nearby Willi’s Wine Bar, for dinner! (The name is in English but the cuisine is definitely French.)
Day two will be a little more leisurely. We’re trying Picasso’s Café de Flore for our early fuel. Then, I want to take you into the 18th, to Montmarte, the area where Parisian artists (i.e. Pissaro, Renoir, Monet, Degas, and van Gogh) once lived. There is much to see on this hill, which yields the highest and most spectacular view of Paris: Place du Tertre, an outside promenade for artists of varying skill levels to exhibit work; Sacré Coeur Basilica, containing the most extraordinary grand pipe organ in Europe; museums; and, souvenir shops. However, the visit would not be perfect without hovering below in LeTire-Bouchon Crêperie, where the crepes, savory and dessert, are incredible. The cavern-like atmosphere electrifies with the music of a quite eccentric piano player. For this day to end idyllically, why not finish with a late night dinner at the traditional Parisian brasserie, Montparnasse’s La Coupole, which opened during the Roaring Twenties in the 14th? Try its steak tartare or seafood.
Starting our third day together, some of you enthusiastically inquired as to what the day’s outings would be before we return to ourselves the next day. I’m suggesting museums based upon preferences in the morning, a quick lunch at the Mariage Frère tea house (where I still buy all my teas) on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in the 1st, and the Secret Food Tour: Taste of Morais, which we’d schedule in advance to accommodate the size of the group at an appropriate time. (The tour is several hours, with stops at numerous restaurants in the center of Le Morais for morsels of local fare.) Or, alternatively, for an upscale Parisian dining experience with plenty of atmosphere- a garden terrace, a lake, an observatory and plenty of bird species, head back to the 14th to Pavillion Montsouris for dinner, located right there in Parc Montsouris. It’s divine in every way.
Me, I’m breaking from the group in the early evening and making my way to Café Marly, next to the Pyramide du Louvre. There, I’ll catch the seductive glow of the sunset’s reflection within the panes of the pyramid. It’s fascinating. And, it’s inspiring. Instead of a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc, this time, I’ll enjoy a Marquax while drifting further into a dreamy existence, imagining possibilities for the future.
Now, you know, we can’t linger on the brink of despair. Though it’s been gratifying to get away, this pause has given us the space we need to realize that all is not lost. You and I must get back to our existence (masks and all)- hopefully, a little more resilient, uplifted and changed for the better. Ready? Let’s get back!