Saturday, June 27, 2009

Volume 25. Barcelona

Welcome back Dear Readers.

So nice to visit with you again.

Global Around Town

Senior Travel Correspondent

Doug Wingate

has recently returned from a number of interesting trips.

Here is his mouth watering report from...


I arrived in BCN on U.S. Memorial Day, Monday May 25, staying through Tues., June 2. Last year, I stayed at a fine 3 star hotel called SAGRADA FAMILIA (obviously named for the Gaudi masterpiece of BCN) which is steps away from the Cathedral and the metro stop of the same name.(By the way, for those on a budget -- and even for those "green" folk, and practical folk who just like public transport -- I highly recommend getting a Barcelona Card [available at the airport and at a few other tourist centers around town, including the Sagrada Familia metro stop!], which provides unlimited travel on ALL the city's various transport systems [metro, intra-city trains, buses, trams, and importantly, the express train to/fro the airport to downtown and the metro system. It's a great deal, plus it even provides some cool free stuff and discounts to stuff that one actually would like to do! The cards [used like any metro card] are available in various multiple-day amounts, such as 2, 3, 4 or a maximum of 5 days. As I was there for 9 days total, I bought both a 5 and 4 day pass.)Back to the SAGRADA FAMILIA hotel ( ), it's clean, modern (clear-glass-fronted mini-bars, flat screen TVs, complimentary wifi and even 2 individual guest computers in the lobby for those guests who came without a laptop!), insanely well-located, and even stylish in my opinion. Plus, a relative bargain -- even in well-priced BCN. My stay was under USD $1,000 for 8 nights! After staying there twice now, I can recommend it for all except those who demand "Deluxe" wherever they go. For those Deluxe-minded folk, try the historic MAJESTIC ( ) or the even more celebrated modern masterpiece HOTEL ARTS

( ) or maybe even the magnificent-looking new W BARCELONA HOTEL being completed in the Barceloneta part of town (opening Oct. '09) ( ), right on the Mediterranean, with a spectacular Dubai-style "windsail" design.On my nonstop JFK to BCN flight over on AA, I sat next to a Spanish UN representative, who had homes in Manhattan of course, as well as BCN and Madrid. Figuring he might know a few good spots to eat, I asked for his favorite places. He gave me two: EL LOBITO in the Barceloneta beach area, and LITTLE ITALY in the newly uber-hip BORN historic district (on the edge of the Barceloneta).

The day after my arrival, I wended my way down to the Bareloneta area (metro stop of the same name), to enjoy lunch at EL LOBITO see ), so named for its chef/owner (lobito means "little wolf" in Catalan), who was indeed on hand when I visited, making sure everything was ship shape at this prix fixe, set menu seafood spot. The meal was a progression of the finest the Mediterranean has to offer: beginning with a gorgeously colorful vegetable antipasto-type assortment dressed with olive oil and fine vinegar, through what seemed an endless supply of the freshest seafood courses, ranging from -- for example only -- delicate baby clams, langoustines, to an entire fish served whole, and finally finishing with a fresh fruit platter of impeccable ripeness. What really makes this place is the nonpareil freshness of every ingredient, which is simply prepared and served at the exact temperature and texture to enjoy it best. Go!As those of you who have been to BCN, know, NOBODY dines before 2 PM in the afternoon (except tourists at McDonald's and the like!), and 9 to 10 in the evening. I chose to make my main "fine dining" meal each day at lunch (which appropriately took a leisurely 2 hours or so), and then just tapas or other such tidbits in the late evening. A very good plan, especially in summer, when the sun doesn't set until nearly 9 PM anyway.On the next day, Wednesday, the city erupted in joy as their futbol team (U.S. baseball, football, and basketball combined -- in terms of public fascination) won the WORLD CUP, beating England's "NY Yankees-style" legendary Manchester team, in the final in Rome. Fireworks and major celebrations were nonstop!!!! The victorious world champion BCN team arrived home to a huge ticker tape parade through the center of town.

A day later, I dined at a Michelin one-starred spot called enticingly -- ALKIMIA (Alchemy, I assume!) (see ) -- and indeed, the chefs did indeed spin ordinary ingredients into culinary gold, like legendary alchemists of yore, often using modern molecular gastronomic techniques. As was the custom at most of the city's "restaurants de cuisine d'auteur" (as Catalan gourmet-aspiring chefs self-identify), the marvelous meal began with a few amuse-bouche gifts from the kitchen, including a marvelous "shot" of intense-tomato-infused water topped with a razor thin slice of dried tomato and the region's de rigeur celebrated iberico ham. I had put myself in the capable hands of the kitchen, and was rewarded with a wine and food pairing that included "el bonbon de huevo" -- a clever egg-like-looking (it only looked like an egg, thanks to molecular gastronomy wizardry) appetizer that was a savory inspiration. I followed that with a magnificant Amberjack fish course, and then a red mullet masterpiece, and finally a house dessert creation, that drew inspiration from a classic BCN folk dessert -- a "fried" croissant filled with cream -- sinfully delicious!

The next day, I dined at a favorite of mine from last year, SPEAKEASY (see ), a wonderfully sumptuous spot, whimsically hidden within the celebrated 21 CLUB-inspired cocktail bar, DRY MARTINI ( ), reached by passing THROUGH the kitchen! The bar is a fun way to while away some hours, but the restaurant SPEAKEASY is divine. It actually is located in the bar's liquor storeroom, which has been enchantingly transformed with sophisticated lighting into a glamorously sexy spot. One side of the room is occupied by a giant glass-fronted wine cellar, while the other walls are decorated with the places stock of all kinds of bottles of fancy boozes, expertly lit to look like objets d'art. The food here is just downright delicious. A favorite peasant dish in BCN is fried eggs on a fired potatoes. At SPEAKEASY, this peasant dish is transformed to food for kings, by its expert cooking and the addition of foie gras and asparagus! I followed that with a successfully creative Tuna Tempura roll with wasabi cream, finally finishing the meal with an amazing green apple "soup" with creme fraiche ice cream and accented with sliced grape tomatoes too. Sounds peculiar perhaps, but it was perfection to eat. (By the way, the "Barcelona Card" amazingly offered a 20% discount at this haute cuisine d'auteur bastion. Why? Who cares!)

On Saturday, I dined in the whimsically-named cuisine d'auteur restaurant MOO (see ) inside the 5 star HOTEL OMM (another excellent choice actually for luxury lovers, who like their luxury Zen-like, [only a few blocks from the traditional Hotel Majestic]; ). Again, I put myself in the kitchen's auteur hands and their expert waitstaff. The menu offered some a la carte option, I believe, but also had an elaborate chef's tasting menu, plus a vegetarian tasting menu, and finally a seasonal tasting menu -- all in descending order of numbers of courses and price. When I inquired whether to try the veggie menu or the less expensive seasonal menu (that seasonal menu was only offered on the Catalan-written menu, by the way!!! If using the English menu, that option was mysteriously missing!), my female headwaitperson advised "I always go for the 'seasonal' option." I took her advice of course, and was delighted I did. She also chose wines for each of my 4 courses, which expertly matched my food. After several marvelous amuse bouches (e.g., a razor clam with emerald snow peas), I finally began with a "chocolate" and foie gras creation. That was followed by a cold strawberry/tomato/oyster soup poured tableside into a bowl fashioned out of a solid block of ice. I wish I remember what I had next, but my notes are illegible. Suffice it to say it was creative AND delicious!

That same Saturday evening, I attended a performance of Flamenco dance and music at the spectacular PALAU DE LA MUSICA CATALANA (see ), in the Ramblas/Born area. The building alone is worth the price of admission, being a beaux arts glass and tile masterpiece, but happily, the show was also top notch.

Sunday, I attended the opera at BCN's magnificently restored grand opera house, TEATRO LICEU (see ), where I enjoyed an expert performance of Beethoven's only opera, FIDELIO.Apres opera, I finally tried LITTLE ITALY, the other spot recommended by my airplane seatmate (see ), in the uber-trendy BORN historic area. Sadly, I found it very good, but NOT of the caliber of EL LOBITO, or the other d'auteur restaurants I enjoyed on this trip. It's famous for its nightly (EXCEPT SUNDAY!) live jazz, so maybe that was part of my problem, since I was there on a Sunday!

Anyway, after a fine, but not inspirational, meal at Little Italy, I went "strolling" (one of the most fun things to do in BCN!) and stumbled upon a nearby Indian restaurant/night club called KAMA (as in Kama Sutra, I presume)(see ). This was a lively place indeed, filled with folks far younger than I, all having a fun-filled time drinking exotic, Indian spice-inspired cocktails while entertained by house music and a giant screen featuring the hippest of current Bollywood dance numbers! By all means, stop in here for an out-of-the-ordinary meal, cocktail, or a late-night party!

Many thanks to Mr. Wingate for a wonderful report!
I can't believe I posted this on an empty stomach.
I'm racing to my kitchen immediately.
And Barcelona, with visions of it like Doug's,
is always towards the top of my list of
desirable destinations.

Do keep your eyes peeled for more of Doug's travels
in the weeks to come.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

One of the Finest Films of the Year

Today was Father's Day, and after a lovely brunch with friends, and later a plate full of sliders and sweet potato fries, I settled in for a film. I'd stopped by the video store earlier in the hopes of finding something interesting and new to watch.
Little did I know that the film I picked would be one of the finest of the year.
I loved Doris Dorrie' s Cherry Blossoms.
It is a fine portrait of a loving older couple and a picture of what happens when one of them suddenly dies.

Here's Amazon's Product Description:

CHERRY BLOSSOMS is a tender, emotionally intense and profoundly moving story of marital love. Only Trudi knows that her husband Rudi is suffering from a terminal illness. She decides not to tell him and convinces him to visit their family in Berlin. Then, suddenly, Trudi dies. Rudi is devastated but vows to make up for her lost life. And so he embarks on his last journey - to Tokyo - in the midst of the cherry blossom festival, a celebration of beauty, impermanence and new beginnings.

Don't miss it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Passing of Two Greats


Bengali Musician Was 'An Absolute Genius'

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ali Akbar Khan, 87, a Bengali musician who was regarded as one of the finest artists of Indian classical music who helped popularize the genre in the West through appearances on television, record and stage, died June 18 at his home in San Anselmo, Calif., of a kidney ailment.

The son of a revered musician and teacher, Mr. Khan began intensive training as a child and partnered with sitar player Ravi Shankar -- his future brother-in-law -- performing duets throughout India.

Mr. Khan was a virtuoso of the sarod, a 25-string instrument in the lute family. His chosen musical genre is based in part on the concept of the raga, which consists of improvised music based on a variety of scales. From these scales, or permutations of them, Indian musicians follow traditional forms but add their own inflections and feeling.

The late American violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who became one of his earliest champions in the West, said he considered Mr. Khan "an absolute genius, the greatest musician in the world."

Mr. Khan was appointed court musician to the maharaja of Jodhpur in 1943, and his international career launched under Menuhin, who organized a showcase of Indian music at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1955 and featured the sarodist.

About that time, Angel Records released Mr. Khan's first Western recordings of Indian music. His appearance on broadcaster Alistair Cooke's network television program "Omnibus" marked one of the first times Indian classical music was performed live on Western television.

"When I came in '55, because I was in Indian dress, people on the street in New York came out of the bars and shops and followed us," Mr. Khan told the publication Asian Week. "They asked me, 'Who are you? Where are you from?' When I said, 'India,' some of them didn't even know where it was. Or others who knew I was a musician asked funny questions like, 'How can you play music in India with all the tigers and snakes and monkeys you have to fight off?' "

As Indian culture and music began to infuse Western pop culture in the 1960s, widespread interest in musicians such as Mr. Khan grew. In 1967, he established the Ali Akbar College of Music in Berkeley, Calif., which he later moved to Marin County, north of San Francisco. He taught there while maintaining a schedule of performances and recordings such as "Shree Rag" and "Misra Piloo," both of which brought him critical acclaim.

In 1971, a civil war transformed Mr. Khan's homeland, called East Pakistan at the time, into the independent country of Bangladesh. The war created an immense humanitarian crisis among the already poor population. Former Beatles guitarist George Harrison, a student and performer of Indian music, assembled a number of musicians for a relief benefit concert held at New York's Madison Square Garden.

Mr. Khan and Shankar, whose divorce from Mr. Khan's sister strained their relationship, performed at the Concert for Bangladesh with musicians including Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr. An album and film of the concert were later released.

In an interview many years later, Mr. Khan said he had bad memories of the Madison Square Garden event. "That was not music but I'd say a war of music," he told Reuters in 2007, adding at one point he stuffed toilet paper in his ears to block out the noise.

Mr. Khan was born April 14, 1922, in British-controlled East Bengal, now Bangladesh. His family claimed a musical lineage that stretched back to a 16th-century court musician of the Mogul Emperor Akbar.

His father, Allauddin Khan, was regarded as one of the foremost Indian musicians of his time and had reportedly mastered more than 200 instruments. He said his father, who lived to be more than 100 and also taught Shankar, was "very strict. He never played with me, he never laughed, never smiled. He was a tiger. I wanted love from him. . . . The motive was that if you show that, too much love, then I was spoiled. At that time I was very angry, but now I am grateful."

The younger Khan debuted publicly at 13 and as a young man earned the designation "ustad," or master musician. He went on to compose his own ragas, a striking accomplishment because ragas are typically handed down by tradition. Over the years, Mr. Khan also composed scores for Indian films such as Satyajit Ray's "Devi" (1960) and the early Merchant-Ivory collaboration "The Householder" (1963).

Survivors include his wife, Mary, and 11 children from several previous wives. He said that in writing his family history, he surprised Mary when he admitted to a marriage that lasted a day. He called it "an accident. I didn't like the lady at all."

In 1991, Mr. Khan received a MacArthur Fellowship, widely known as the "genius" grant. He later received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

He once wrote of the sarod, "If you practice for ten years, you may begin to please yourself, after 20 years you may become a performer and please the audience, after 30 years you may please even your guru, but you must practice for many more years before you finally become a true artist -- then you may please even God.

CHARLIE MARIANOCharlie Mariano, saxophonist, musical sojourner

Charlie Mariano, the Boston-born saxophonist who gained world renown as a performer with his former wife, Toshiko Akiyoshi; Stan Kenton; and Charles Mingus, among many others, died yesterday at Mildred Scheel Hospiz in Cologne, Germany, his longtime home. Mr. Mariano, who had battled cancer for years, was 85.

“He was the dean of Boston jazz musicians,’’ says jazz impresario George Wein, a Boston native who resides in New York and was a colleague and friend of Mr. Mariano’s since the 1940s. “Charlie was a wanderer, and he left his mark wherever he went.’’

Born Carmine Ugo Mariano in 1923, he was weaned on his father’s beloved Italian operas and the big bands he heard on the radio: Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie, whose saxophonist Lester Young became Mr. Mariano’s first musical hero. He would not get his own saxophone until his 18th birthday, but in short order, the ambitious young musician was playing nightly at Izzy Ort’s bar and dance hall in what was then known as Boston’s combat zone, for $19 a week.

Mr. Mariano was drafted in 1943, but never saw combat. He was tapped to play in one of the several small music ensembles that entertained at officers’ clubs. Near the end of the war, Mr. Mariano, who was stationed on an air base north of Los Angeles, heard Charlie Parker play live for the first time, during Parker’s first West Coast gig, at Billy Berg’s jazz club in Hollywood.

“He completely turned my head,’’ Mr. Mariano said of Parker in “Tears of Sound,’’ a 1993 biography of Mr. Mariano published in Germany. Taken with the sax great’s inventive harmonics, newfangled rhythmic figures, and breakneck tempos, “I chased Bird’s sound, his way of phrasing. I listened to his solos on recordings for hours, wrote them down, and played it.’’

As it was for many alto saxophonists, Mr. Mariano found his muse and musical foundation in Parker’s ground-breaking sound. After leaving the Army in 1945, he drifted to Chicago, then Albuquerque, picking up work where he could, and finally wound up back in Boston. When the big-band era began winding down and many local clubs were closed, the largely self-taught Mr. Mariano enrolled in music school for the first time, at the Schillinger House of Music, which would later be renamed Berklee College of Music.

Mr. Mariano started to develop his own sound under the tutelage of Joe Viola, and he became a fixture on Boston’s vibrant jazz scene, collaborating with Nat Pierce, Jaki Byard, and fellow students Herb Pomeroy and Quincy Jones. In 1950, Mr. Mariano released his first recording as a bandleader, and several years later founded the Jazz Workshop, a hands-on school that emphasized experience over instruction and later evolved into a popular nightclub.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Best Performances of the Beethoven Sonatas?

Hello again Dear Readers.
In recent weeks there has been a fair amount of discussion about the Beethoven Sonatas and which performances of them are the best. With so many brilliant pianists out there over the years, this can be a very difficult question to answer. Everyone will have a different opinion on this BUT I'd like to suggest that you take a look at this video (make a point of continuing on to the magical 2nd part as well) and marvel in Claudio Arrau and his interpretation of the
Arietta from the Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor op.111.
Claudio gets my vote.
Let me know what you think.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

My Works

This shot from Copenhagen

Late Day Train

has always reminded me of Hopper.

Friday, June 12, 2009

My Works

Another shot from Tallinn.

This is

In the Manner of George Braques.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Works

This is a

Yellow Land.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Works

This is

The Way of the World.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

My Works

From Paris

this is

Le Ville de Saumon

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Works

This is a

Wall of Wood and Brick.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Works

This is

La Fille de Paris

Friday, June 5, 2009

My Works

I met these groovy chaps

at a Fair

in Helsinki.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

My Works

A simple shot

from Tallinn.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My Works

This is

Helsinki Girl

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Works

This shot taken in Paris

is simply titled


Monday, June 1, 2009

My Works

"And I love her..."

This is Copenhagen Girl