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Barcelona: Travel with Music & Movies

August 24, 2011

Getting ready for a trip, watching movies set in the place where I’m headed gets me even more excited about the journey. I like this quick video that whizzes by some of the most famous sights in Barcelona. This song by the band Giulia y Los Tellarini may sound familiar: it was featured in the  Woody Allen movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).

The film visited locations near the Barceloneta neighborhood, the Picasso Museum in El Born, Pla de Palau, the Sagrada Familia, Montcada Street, Santa Maria del Mar Church, Las Ramblas which runs through El Barri Gotìc and the old city.


Some other excellent movies starring Barcelona include the quirky thriller Perfume: The Story of a Murder (2006); Salvador (2006), the bio of Spanish painter Salvador Puig Antich and Todo Sobre mi Madre (1999), famed Spanish director Pedro Almódovar’s tribute to women.

Sparkling Wine, Travel

Eating Like a Native in Barcelona

August 24, 2011

The scene at Tapaç 24, a popular late night restaurant by a chef who worked for Spanish culinary god Ferran Adriá.

As slender and stylish as most of the people in Barcelona are, it might come as a surprise that they spend most of their leisure time eating and drinking.

During a whirlwind trip through Barcelona and the environs around St. Sadurni d’Anoia where the sparkling wine cava is made, I was felt I was in danger of being fed to within an inch of my life.

Breakfasts here are simple, perhaps because they all know lunch will be a multi-course affair with fried seafood, cheese, cured pork and wine. But dinner – which often doesn’t begin until 10 p.m. –  is the main meal here. This is when they unwind with a glass of cava – always cava – before moving into martinis and a parade of dishes that capture the flavor of the region.

Pan tomaquet is the obligatory starter at El Quim and nearly every restaurant in Barcelona.

Pan tomaquet is the Catalan dish that’s on the table at every meal. Crusty bread is lightly toasted, rubbed with ripe tomato and finished with olive oil and a pinch of salt. It’s a meal in itself if you’re starving.

Eating pimientos de padron is like playing a game of culinary Russian Roulette.

Pimientos de padron are these savory and tender green peppers that are served blistered with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and a splash of vinegar. Eating them is  like playing a game of culinary Russian roulette. Some are mild with a pleasantly bittersweet green flavor and some are quite spicy. You won’t know which you’ve gotten until you take a bite.

Spain’s jamon iberico is some of the tastiest cured ham in the world.

The ultimate ham experience in the world is jamon iberico de bellota, a cured ham that comes from black pigs that were raised on hazelnuts and herbs. The nutty flavor comes through in the satiny slices of rosy red ham, making it irresistible for a pork lover.

Cava is the sparkling wine of Catalonia that’s made the same way as champagne using local grapes.

The wine to drink with all of these foods is cava, a sparkling wine that’s made in the same method as champagne using native grapes xarello, maçabeo and parellada. Cava comes in a range of styles from crisp and young with green apple flavors to richer rosés with pinot noir in the mix to long-aged sparkling wines with the depth and intensity of any famous champagne.

Cool Bars

Cocktails & Mystery: A Visit to Wilson and Wilson Detective Agency

April 1, 2011
The website for the new bar Wilson and Wilson Detective Agency draws visitors in with a mystery of Lorraine Adeline Wilson, a redhead who went missing back in 1932.

The website for the new bar Wilson and Wilson Detective Agency draws visitors in with a mystery of Lorraine Adeline Wilson, a redhead who went missing back in 1932.

Cocktails and mystery just seem to go together. Or at least they do in detective stories of the 1930s and 40s, my favorite era for mystery books and classic movies. Whether it’s the fabulous Nick & Nora Charles and their love of martinis, rye and champagne; a hard-boiled private dick out of Raymond Chandler; or a curious tale of a Notorious villain under Suspicion, spirits and suspense go together.

Last night I visited the new Wilson and Wilson Detective Agency, the bar-within-a-bar at San Francisco institution Bourbon & Branch in the Tenderloin. The new bar’s theme was inspired by a true mystery that can be summed up as The Lady Vanishes.

During renovations for the new space, owners discovered a handbag with a 1932 driver’s license, lipstick, a nail file, and a torn up pair of stockings hidden between two walls. The license belonged to Lorraine Adeline Wilson, a slender redhead with blue eyes who had lived in the Mission. She was 29 at the time.

With this curious set of facts in mind, I rang the buzzer near the slightly seedy corner of Jones and O’Farrell streets. It was just after 6 p.m. A brunette opened the door, filling the entrance with her body. I gave her the password and she moved aside, allowing me into the dark room. Waiting for my eyes to adjust, I carefully walked about 39 Steps. We paused as she stopped to unlatch another door.

I stepped into a small, dim room with a long bar full of bottles, flocked velvet wallpaper and a pressed tin ceiling. The room was back-lit by a frosted window at one end; a mirror image of the words Wilson and Wilson Detective Agency filled the center of the pane. It was quiet except for a grainy voice warbling a song from another era. A Platinum Blonde showed me to a metal tractor seat at the bar. Before she left, she handed me a small manila envelope.

I was just about to look inside, when I noticed the bartender peering at me expectantly. He was a Thin Man.

Tune in this weekend for the thrilling conclusion…


April in Paris: A Vacation of the Mind

March 1, 2011
Scallops in Paris

Coquilles St Jacques in the shell were one of the memorable culinary delights at the Bastille farmer’s market.

I’m not sure if it’s the recent rains or the need for a real vacation adventure, but I’ve been longing for Paris. The last time I visited the city of Light was in April 2009 and it was perfect. Rainy and sunny at turns, full of surprises and new discoveries.

Since I don’t have a plane ticket, I thought I’d take a little vacation of the mind by reliving some of my favorite images from the trip. I was groggy from a night spent dozing in coach as a new friend helped me navigate the Metro and dump my overpacked suitcase at the hotel.

Then we went in search of breakfast and spotted the peaks of white canopies off in the distance. We walked towards them and this is what we discovered at the Sunday morning Bastille Farmer’s Market.

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Pretty Pictures of Autumn Leaves

December 7, 2010

Autumn Leaves
(French lyrics by Jacques Prévert,
English lyrics by Johnny Mercer,
Music by Joseph Kosma)

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I’ll hear old winter’s song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

C’est une chanson, qui nous ressemble
Toi tu m’aimais et je t’aimais
Nous vivions tous, les deux ensemble
Toi que m’aimais moi qui t’aimais
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable les pas des amants désunis

More lyrics: