In the bread district

Bob's Red Mill is a real Milwaukie institution these days. Although the flagship "whole grain store" opened in 2008, I had yet to visit; we stopped by this morning, and -- my oh my! -- it was a real treat. Lots of alternative grains, "wonder cocoa," great little kitchen implements, and a nice cafe on site. Ginger kombucha and a vegan lemon poppyseed muffin? Yes, please.

To complete your tour of the town's Bread District, you can stop by the "world breadquarters" of Dave's Killer Bread across the way; the Sin Dawg seeded cinnamon rolls are gooey, dense, delicious.


Back in NYC

Back, and a bit woozy from the jet lag, but otherwise none the worse for the wear. Still thinking about all the cool stuff we saw, and wishing we could have seen more. At left, a photo of one of the malls on Orchard Road with a little fisheye lens I affixed to my phone's camera; they're a bit hard to make out, but yes, those plastic bubbles you see are lifesize snow globes featuring Frosty and a reindeer.

School of fish

This fishy fellow at the Singapore Botanic Gardens was looking for a little nibble, but I disappointed him. The gardens also had delightful schools of fish in relief on a number of low walls (below, left); of course, if you'd rather eat the fish than look at them, you can try these fried peanuts with sardines (below, right) at Punggol Nasi Padang on Scotts Road.

Zigging and zagging

The botanical gardens here are truly phenomenal; I walked there yesterday, following the yellow zigs and zags on the roadside. Disarming how close the greenery is to the hustle and bustle of Orchard Road, but I suppose the same can be said of Central Park in New York. 

Fearless Freya

Although I quite love to travel, I've never made a habit of reading travelogues. But, given Sumeet's affection for Patrick Leigh Fermor, Eric Newby, and the like, we don't suffer from a lack of tales of interesting people going interesting places.

One of my grouses has long been the preponderance of male writers in the genre; nothing wrong with men writing about their meanderings, but I like to hear a different perspective from time to time. "Freya Stark?" he suggested, years ago, and I kept her name in the back of my mind but didn't get around to reading anything of hers until today, when I devoured The Journey's Echo: Selected Travel Writings in one sitting.

Stark, born in 1893, became fascinated with One Thousand and One Nights at a young age and learned Arabic and Persian. In World War I, she worked as a nurse in Italy, and then, in the late 1920s, she began the journeys about which she wrote around two dozen books: she ventured to Beirut, Lebanon, western Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond. 

The Journey's Echo is her last book, and it's something of a mish-mash that pulls together all her earlier writing. It's disjointed, its vignettes akin almost to a highlight reel, and thus perhaps the book is not the best representative of her true talent. But much of it is quietly astonishing; her imagery is breathtaking, and I ended up dog-earing a good third of the pages, so that I can page back, reread, rejoice. She writes about travel, of course, but also about the value of solitude, and the fundamental similarities of people across cultures, and about language (and its uses and abuses).

From my little Queens flat, an extract that reminded me there is much more to be seen (or to marvel over not seeing):

It is lucky to live in a city on a hill and to be saved by the view at one's window from thinking of the world as flat, so that one may see at a glance how all we have in sight slips over some edge into the veils of space.

The BBC has a 30-minute piece on Stark's life, or Jane Fletcher Geniesse's Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark is said to be good.

The adventures of Tintin as art object



The old ball and chain was off doing some work in France, and on one of his days off, he made a jaunt to Belgium. Although I never read Tintin as a kid, Sumeet devoured the stories, and whenever we see a little street-art paean to the plucky young Belgian reporter, we are sure to whip out our cameras like the schlocky tourists we are. I suppose the Tintin love written across Brussels is a consequence of the fictional reporter being a native of Belgium?

Of course, not everyone is apparently a fan:

Femmes au Jardin

Our plane got in to Paris at 6 a.m., and after we dropped our bags at the hotel in the Latin Quarter, we did quite a bit of wandering, ultimately ending up at Musee d'Orsay. The space is amazing -- it was once a railway station -- and its collection consists of a good deal of Impressionist and post-Impressionst works, including those by artists such as Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Van Gogh, and Cézanne. (One note on Cézanne: comparing Apples and oranges as reproduced in books and as it is rendered in its full glory on canvas is like, well, comparing apples and oranges. It is spectacular up close.)

I'm familiar with a lot of these fellows, but my art history is otherwise a little weak. So I was delighted to discover a room devoted to Les Nabis, a collective of artists in France in the late 19th century; the four paintings above make up Femmes au jardin, 1891, by Pierre Bonnard, a co-founder of the group. I'll have to do more research when I the closest reference is not Wikipedia (and when I've had more than two hours of sleep on an airplane to fuel me), but generally, Les Nabis was "considered to be on the cutting edge of modern art during their early period; their subject matter was representational (though often symbolist in inspiration), but was design oriented along the lines of the Japanese prints they so admired, and art nouveau."

Bonnard's Le chat blanc (1894), Paul Ranson's Lustral (1891), Edouard Vuillard's Portrait de K-X Roussel dit le liseur (1890), and Paul Sérusier's Le talisman (1888) also stood out.

Travel tips from TWA

You just never know what you're going to find in a thrift store. Today, Sumeet unearthed this gem, a guide to traveling in France, printed in 1956. February, the guide notes, is a good time to travel, as Paris then hosts the "Salon of Housekeeping Arts." Alas, we'll be going half a century too late.

On with the show. First things first: you're going to have to orient yourself. Perhaps this will help?

And I suppose you'll be hungry. "There are reputed to be about 8,000 restaurants in Paris. You can get a good meal in at least half of them," according to TWA. The guide lists dozens of cuisines, including "Cheese" -- my kind of people. I, for one, would also like to visit Hostellerie du Coq Hardy: "Sam, the self-styled 'cuisinier troubadour,' not only serves delicious meals but entertains with an extraordinary act of trained chickens." In case the French doesn't trip off your tongue while at the table:

Once you're sated, you might consider a bit of theatre. The Folies Bergère offers "Nudes and spectacular stage settings."  

Or you could try a little retail therapy: Hermes and Lanvin are highly recommended. Or you could go to E. Goyard Aine, a "specialty shop for pampered dogs ... Rubber bones give cracking sounds, are perfumed with chocolate. For insomniac dogs, felt-covered music boxes."

If that's not enough for you, fussbudget, you might be pleased to know that there are sights to be seen. What, the Eiffel Tower's in Paris?

Oh, who am I kidding; let's just unwind with a nice glass of red. Nothing says class like grumpy stemware.

And ladies, lest all this talk of exchange rates, etc., confuse you, Mary Gordon of TWA to the rescue! She has many tips, most of which relate to shopping. And, oh yes, "Take it easy ... don't sightsee all day. Do whatever local people do for amusement and relaxation." (I think that means more wine!)

Safe travels!