Eden Robinson - Monkey Beach
For anyone travelling up the Northwest Coast – either on a fishing trip or an exploration of the Haida Gwaii, this book is for you. Robinson, a young Haisla/Heiltsuk writer from Kitimat, B.C., received several well-deserved accolades for this stunning novel, including a Giller nod. Set in Kitamaat Village, it’s an enthralling story of two youth growing up in this remote setting and all that comes with that – dealing with getting older, falling in love, grief and loss.
John Fowles - The Magus
The ultimate travelling book. Just maybe don’t take it with you on a trip to the Greek Islands. I am still grappling to understand the dreams that I had over a decade ago while reading this book while travelling through the Greek Islands where this it is set.
A young Englishman, Nicholas Urfe, takes a teaching position on a remote Greek island and gets entangled with a local millionaire in a rather bizarre, sordid and deadly game of sorts. It’s chilling, intensely introspective and, at times, fantastical, and, without a doubt, takes you somewhere. Fowles is a literary legend and this book stands on its own as a great novel of the 20th century that’s not easily forgotten.
Enjoy this week’s featured book on The Travel List series…
Junot Diaz - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Diaz’s chronicle of Oscar Wao, who is an overweight, geeky Dominican-American teen growing up in New Jersey with his old world mother and a rebellious older sister. Oscar’s a hopeless romantic and dreams of nothing more than to become the Dominican answer to J.R.R. Tolkien while finding his true love. From the first couple pages, Diaz grabs you with the Dominican culture, setting out the background for the fuku - or curse – that has haunted Oscar’s family from Santo Domingo, DR to the U.S., while also unabashedly leaving phrases untranslated, which just draws you further in. And pushes your Spanish studies.
The book takes you on a trip through Dominican-American history, into the contemporary experience of Dominican-Americans and back to the DR. If you manage to put this book down for more than a swim or a second margarita, it will be surprising.
This week’s featured book in The Travel List series is Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Adichie was hailed as one of the voices of young literary Africa after putting out this stunning first novel, which was only fitting for a girl who grew up in Chinua Achebe’s former house in Nigeria. This, in many ways, is a usual coming of age story of a young girl in all of her shy awkwardness. But, which happens to be set with a backdrop of political turmoil and oppression in Nigeria, which Adichie created in drawing from two different moments in recent Nigerian history, during the ’80s and ’90s. Adichie’s characters are each so well forged in your mind, with the personal struggle of the young teenager with her dominating father playing out against the tension of this political background.
Regardless of where you’re heading, whether it’s Africa, the nearest beach or your bathtub, this book is touching and insightful, and won’t easily leave you.
This week’s featured book in The Travel List series is Patti Smith’s – Just Kids.
Smith chronicles her artistic diaspora from the Midwest to NYC in the late ’60s to seek out her self-definition as an artist, where she almost immediately has a chance meeting with Robert Mapplethorpe. The two go on to have an intense relationship, with a bond that endures until his death, while each forges their respective identities as artists, finding their respective practices that launches the two of them into the avant-garde of music and photography. For a close, exquisite and raw glimpse into NYC during the late ’60s and into the ’70s, this book takes you there. The details Smith gives of their time living in the eponymous Chelsea Hotel make it almost tangible and give life again to several characters now long gone who spent time there – Janis, Jimi and others.
Considering the contributions that Smith and Mapplethorpe have each made, and in her case, continue to make, in the worlds of art and music, to have such an intimate view into where this started for the two of them and how it came to be took my breath away. It felt like walking alongside two friends as they found themselves as artists, each working so desperately to find the medium that allowed them out of themselves – and almost not finding that medium altogether. Smith’s candid account of how they came to be where they are truly gives you some insight into the near misses of many artists and musicians that we have come to know today – if all it took was someone putting a Polaroid in Mapplethorpe’s hands.
This book rendered me speechless at times – and almost as fast, ensured that I could not talk about anything else for at least a month, buying copies for friends to pass along. The accolades that she received for Just Kids - the National Book Award amongst countless other nods and great reviews – could not surprise anyone given the poignancy of this book and its amazing prose. There are lines within it that just stun, leading you to read them over and truly understand that you are reading the prose of a poet – and poets, like Rainer Maria Rilke and others have proven to make excellent novelists and prose writers time and time again. Given the door that Patti Smith opens onto her relationship with Robert, if you can read this on a plane or a beach without some tears, it will be far more than just surprising.
This will definitely be coming with me to NYC in May for the inaugural Frieze NY…an appropriate re-read given the context. I may just have to make a few Patti-inspired pilgrimages to Coney Island and the Chelsea…
Since it’s the time of year that people are generally grabbing a plane to find some real estate on a beach somewhere, a reading list seems like a good place to start before packing. It’s the least that we could do – to help marry up your wandering mind with what it will truly need while you’re laying on a beach or a boat somewhere. The key is to find the right one – that either piques your interest based on where you’re going or just grabs you on the right level, just where you need to be to get the most out of your trip.
Thanks to Tablet for shooting out its list, “Book It: Winter Reads”, of what to read where. Any list that includes Alain de Botton deserves instant credibility and caught my attention right away. The trip envy that that list engendered in me fueled this list. So, over the course of the next several weeks, this list will grow to include books that have been with me on great trips, many of which I would take again for a re-read without hesitation. Enjoy and hope that at least one of these gets you where you need to be on your vacation.
Keith Richards – Life
Because this book is a trip in itself. Need I say more?
Having not been able to put this down myself on my last vacation, I can’t begin this list without it. I was reticent about reading it given Keith’s notorious slagging of Mick in it – with Marianne Faithfull coming to his defence – but then, wouldn’t we all have a little to say about our brothers after a five decades of hard living while running a business together?
Keith takes you from the South in the ’60s back to growing up in postwar Britain and then right along for the ride chronicling how the Stones got to where they are today – and through all the dirt along the way. For the Stones lover, he’s got you. For the guitarist, there’s so much material there. For the music historian, a glimpse at 20th c. blues and rock & roll doesn’t get much better than this. For the pure celebrity of it, well, Perez Hilton has nothing on Keith with the walk-ons of so many interesting characters over the years that he sets out for you. His perspective of these years and how it all fit together for him was what struck me the most about the book – and has stayed with me since returning home and pouring through some of their older albums.
Authentic is a commonly used word to describe the ideal travelling experience. As anyone who has been to Prague, Piccadilly Circus or Patpong Road can tell you, you can find a little slice of (North) Americana anywhere you go, which makes avoiding tourist traps difficult even for a seasoned Hobbyist. Reviews of good restaurants always comment on the authenticity of the dishes or, even better, if the place is “frequented by locals”. Hotels, streets, parks and watering holes are all judged on how untouched they have been by globalization. Is this somewhere you can truly experience something authentic to the area and thus new to you?
Our search for authenticity has brought us to Logrono, the sleepy capital of Rioja, one of Spain’s resurgent wine regions. The city pulls you in immediately. The streets in the centre of the town are all pedestrian not to make them more charming for tourists, but because the 18th century buildings lining the streets are not far enough apart for cars to pass between them. We arrive in the early afternoon and find the Spaniards in siesta: everything is closed and the city is asleep. In order to manage the 36 degree early summer heat, we too partake in siesta. The search for authenticity is tiring and it has been a long drive escaping Barcelona and leaving our fellow travelers behind.
We reemerge in the early evening and order a bottle of crisp local rosé in the setting sun. Those who tell you the Spanish only make red wine are incorrect, whites and rosés aplenty are offered up as a relief from the heat. These lighter wines are wonderful, cool and refreshing, and serve as simple pairings to the Spanish food they were made to match. Rosé complete and the sun now set we head off to our destination for the evening – Logrono’s only very slightly famous Calle Laurel.
Calle Laurel was one of the birthplaces of pinxos, a form of Spanish cuisine very similar to tapas but smaller and most commonly served on a toothpick. While they were (most likely) born here, pinxos have probably been perfected in San Sebastian where world-class chefs use innovative techniques and ingredients to create a gourmet experience. In Logrono, pinxos remain true to their roots; a simple bite served with wine for usually 2 euro and Calle Laurel is where you go to find the best of them.
We walk onto the street and each restaurant has a window opening directly from the kitchen, you simply walk up and order a pinxo and a glass of wine and in second you are handed a wonderful Riojan white, rosé or red and a small bit of something truly special: fresh squid, lightly grilled with a subtle garlic sauce; spicy pork grilled to perfection over an open flame; Spanish tortilla (essentially an egg and potato omelet) on a piece of fresh bread; grilled pimentos with large chunks of sea salt; or the best patatas bravas you have ever had.
As we wander up and down the street in food and wine heaven, not everything is easy. The search for authenticity has taken us out of places where you can make do in English, so pinxos are generally obtained via broken Spanish complimented with hand signals … but there are lots of smiles on both sides of each transaction. A three-piece ensemble plays simple music in the main square; we drop a few euro coins into their hat. We get the impression that the band is not here to make money tonight, that this is just what they do on Tuesdays. Our Euros seem like a small bonus that will no doubt be converted into pinxos during their next break.
After a few hours and many small glasses of wine our final stop finds us at Bar Soriano. The sign above notes it has been there, serving the same thing, since 1954. Soriano is run by three gentlemen in their mid sixties: one of whom handles wine and money, one with a large knife doing prep and one standing over a small, steamy and very crowded grill. The grill has only one thing on it, the one thing Soriano sells and has ever sold: mushrooms. We order four pinxos and exchange our six Euros for four glasses of white wine and four toothpicks. Each toothpick has three perfectly grilled white mushrooms topped with a small shrimp and drizzled with garlic oil and each bite is just what we wanted: simple, authentic and delicious. We finish, crumple our napkins and drop them on the floor (as local custom demands) and look at each other; without speaking we turn back and ask for four more. We have come a long way to find this and now that we have we want to soak it all up – the thrill of a new experience.
Get here: For a true Spanish experience, Logrono should be a stop on a drive from Barcelona to San Sebastian (closest airports are Bilbao and Barcelona, no train access).
Stay here: Hotel Marques de Vallejo
Eat here: Bar Soriano (Travesia de Laurel – of course there is no website)
Drink here: La Taberna del Laurel (Calle Laurel – also try the patatas bravas)
When we head to the cabin or camping, we have been known to pack up everything in the kitchen we can. We like to head out with our Bodum, mortar and pestal, zester, etc. You never know when you might need a little lemon zest while camping. One of the things we always miss having on weekend getaways is good wine glasses – which is why we were so excited to discover these go anywhere glasses by govino. These shatterproof glasses allow hobbyists to enjoy wine on the go (at the beach, pool, campsite, cabin) without worrying about broken glass. Even better yet this glassware does what any good stemware will – reflects colour and aromas. Having given ours their first summer test we were also pleasantly surprised that they gave off no taste or smell of plastic. In addition to the wine glass, they released a go anywhere champagne flute because any long weekend or weekend away should start with a glass of celebratory bubbly! Cheers to the labour day weekend!
One of our favorite pastimes at the hobbyists is traveling. While we are in the process of developing the hobbyist travel guides for some of our favorite places – one of the things we rely on when planning a trip is the wallpaper guides. For art and design lovers they are a Cole’s Notes to a city’s must sees. They are particularly great for last minute trips or for hobbyists whose work/hobby balance doesn’t leave time for intensive trip planning. While they won’t cover everything, they give you the low-down on a city in a format you can quickly digest on the plane. They recently introduced apps for some of their most popular guides which are a great way to travel around the city with guide book in hand. If you get lost they have the added feature of a GPS system to map where you are and where you are trying to go. The apps also allow you to add the places you want to visit to your contacts so you have quick access to addresses and phone numbers. The guides provide overviews of neighbourhoods to help you plan your days of hobbying away from home and a 24 hour guide if your time is limited.
In addition to major arts, architecture and culture references they are a great place to start your search for hotels. We like that they provide a range of hotels from high-end, break the bank to low cost – all the while focusing their radar on unique, high design spaces. It turned us on to the great value Mama Shelter in Paris before it was named the 2nd best hotel in the world . We will be staying there next month so stay tuned for a more detailed review. If you are planning a summer vacation be sure to check out the wallpaper guides to see if they have your destination covered. You are sure to find a few tips for your favorite hobby that you didn’t know about!
A cross-country gift from a friend who knows what a hobbyist likes: to eat.
What else do you get a hobbyist who you know to famously love to…well, eat? Recently a friend of the hobbyists found the ticket…a beautifully packaged of still-frozen Soupe aux champignons sauvages avec huile de truffle - or Wild Mushroom Soup with Truffle Oil – flown (almost) directly from Les Fougères near Gatineau, Québec.
Les Fougères is a restaurant not 14 miles from Ottawa / Gatineau that has deservedly been winning accolades for several years for its delicious cuisine and commitment to showcasing local ingredients. It had been on our hit list of restaurants to enjoy back east for some time – and when this hobbyist started finishing an Ottawa-based friend’s sentence about this amazing restaurant that he had recently tried, he knew exactly what to bring out on his next trip west.
This frozen gift sure didn’t last long – a couple quick tears and the package was opened faster than a five year old at Christmas. A few flashes in the pan later and two gorgeous bowls of fragrant wild mushroom soup took us far from Gastown and into the wilds of the Gatineau Hills as if we had been on a foraging trip ourselves that very afternoon. The soup was textured with lovely pieces of wild mushrooms and certainly not overshadowed with cream, but rendered fairly velvety in between these mushrooms through a healthy amount of cream and crème fraîche. While a lover of truffle oil, it can too often be overpowering when used with too heavy a hand – but this soup, it gave a whole new credit to truffle oil.
And the big reveal was over too quickly – and we were on the intertron as fast, to grovel to our friend to take another drive out to Les Fougères for some more take-out soup. We will definitely be taking a drive on our next trip to Toronto through Prince Edward County and on to the Gatineau Hills to experience this local gem ourselves. An admittedly long drive, yes, but well worth it. Until then, while scoping out their website, we learned that they are generous with sharing their recipes both on their website and in a cookbook, A Year at Les Fougères, that has been released to rave reviews. Check it out and let us know what you think – and don’t be surprised if you see us lauding some of their great recipes on our site soon!
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