Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Before going to Turkey, I'd read about Orchid Ice Cream and was interested to try it.  They use salep, a  flour milled from the dried tubers of wild orchids as a thickening agent.  This makes for a different treat than we are accustomed to.  I was told that the "real Turkish ice cream" doesn't melt and must be eaten with a knife and fork.  I didn't try this, but the dondurma in Istanbul is interesting enough.
We stopped for a bite to eat in a restaurant in the Sultanamet section of Istanbul and were seated directly behind the ice cream stand out front.
Reaction to entertaining ice cream servers
We got to enjoy seeing the delight on the faces of kids as the servers stirred and stretched the ice cream in long ropes.  The thickening agents cause the ice cream to freeze hard if it is not mixed.  This makes for some pretty good street entertainment as they pull out the ice cream on the mixing paddle in a big glob and stretch it out to impossibly long strings.
After our snack, we went to the other side of the window to have a sample.  The servers are great showmen and getting an ice cream is as fun as eating it.  We pick our flavors and they are scooped into the cone in dainty scoops of chocolate, strawberry, pistachio and other flavors.  Then, the as the server hands you your cone and you reach out, it is suddenly up, down, closer or farther away than where you expect to reach for it.  This goes on for a bit until they finally take pity on the hungry customer and they let you snatch your cone.
Maybe this wasn't the "real dondurma"  but it was delicious and the show was definitely worth the price of admission.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Color Green

Spring is here and it is a lovely one, this year.  The days are getting longer and warmer and we are seeing the trees flowering in all their beauty and variety.  I don't know when, but green has become one of my dearest friends in the color palate.  I can't say when this happened, or why.  Maybe it's living in Wisconsin so long.  We seem to have six months of winter...

It's cold, you have to shovel, dig out your car, wear many layers of warm clothes that restrict your movement or risk frostbite and other unfortunate maladies.  And there's very little green to be seen anywhere.  Unless you go to the tropical paradise: Boltz conservatory at Olbrich Gardens...

A lovely spot to pretend it's not really winter for a while while you inhale the humid, fragrant aroma of the tropical blooms and listen to the birds as they call out and flit about, bright little jewels themselves.  I like to bring my camera along to remind myself that soon again, it will be green outdoors, with any luck...
The squills are out making a blue carpet in some places and just a small hello in others...
And soon the color green will be all over.  The trees, the shrubs, the flowers and the weeds!

Yay spring!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Just a weed!

Well, it's starting to feel like spring. The days are longer with the additional boost of Daylight savings making it light even later. Signs of spring are beginning to appear: tiny buds, puffy clouds, birdsong. And dandelions. Yes, the scourge of the tastefully manicured lawn is one of the first plants to show it's face in spring. Dandelions don't need any special place to grow.  In fact they are annoyingly hardy and will grow almost anywhere, defying belief with their rugged tenacity.
I spotted these bright smiling faces at the foundation of a house bursting forth from a crack in the cement.
So, is it a weed?   Webster defines a weed as "a plant that is not valued where it is growing and is ususally of vigorous growth, especially one that tends to overgrow or  choke our more desirable plants."  Weed!  Case closed!  Right?
Well... I can remember my grandmother talking about dandelion greens and how healthy they were.   Rebecca Wood notes: "Dandelion greens are one of season’s earliest foodstuffs and one of the finest of spring tonics. Indeed, they are the most nutritious leafy vegetable you can buy."  They are chic now!
They have been used since at least the tenth century Arabian doctors.  They are used for detox helping the gallbladder and the liver remove waste from the body.  Chinese herbalists use parts of the plant to treat ailments including tonsilitis, colds, ulcers and boils.
And Danedlion wine!  It's made from the petals of the flowers with sugar and some lemon juice or other acidic component.
So, nasty weed or useful, helpful plant with positive attributes?
Sounds like an issue of real estate.  Location, location, location!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Eternal Question...

Yesterday, I went to Milwaukee with my friend Dianne, who is a painter, to drop off some of her work at a gallery where she shows her work, and to gallery sit.  So, my mind was in art mode when I happened to look out the window from my third floor apartment.  From there I spotted Marilyn Monroe's dress swaying in the breeze.  Of course, that's not realy what it was.  It was just a large piece of plastic, probably a drop cloth wrapped around a fire escape and tied in place.  So, I had to wonder:  "Is it Art?"I was inclined to think, that yes, it was.  The ribbon at the "waist" and the flags calling attention to this impromptu assemblage all attested to the possibility an art student in the neighborhood with an active imagination.
On the other hand maybe it was just a "Todd's house" kind of marker.  "Go around the back and toss a pebble up to the window by the fire escape where there's a piece of plastic hanging on the fire escape.  I'll come around and let you in."
I mean, is it art when the person in the small South American town who makes chicha hangs out a little red plastic bag as a flag  so customers know where the find chicha?
Anyway, I got out my trusty camera and snapped a  couple of shots.

 Ethereal Plastic Gown

When we arrived, we pulled out our electronic gear, Dianne to share vacation photos off her phone and me to show the gallery artists the hunk of plastic/Ethereal Plastic Gown.  They agreed that this was art if there was intent behind the installation, leaving it open to intrepretation.  The eternal queston. Just how wide do we throw the net?   I'd like to think it's art.  It spoke to me.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

El Sorroche

View of the Plaza Mayor of Lima

For my 50th birthday I went to South America for five weeks. It was an amazing trip. Three countries, lots of cities and a lot of altitude. My plan was to slowly ascend, starting at Lima and gradually going to cities of higher altitude. Lima was a bustling cosmopolitan city and Miraflores was a nice neighborhood to live in.

Paracas Mantle

Next stop Piste with side trips to the Ballestas islands and Paracas park, where the indigenous people created a culture in the driest climate on earth. On to Nasca where the lines in the desert are amazing but the plane trip is more like a carnival ride and not really in a good way. The next stop was Arequipa, a proud, beautiful city built of white volcanic rock with an altitude of 7800 feet. The Santa Catalina Monastery was a wonderful peaceful interlude in the city and it is kept in wonderful photogenic condition.

Santa Catalina Monastery

From there, a side trip to the Colca Canyon took us to new heights. The overnight was in Chivay at 12,000 feet. La Calera natural hot springs outdoors were fantastic. We arrived at twilight and sat in the steaming water chatting and watching the moon rise. The next morning, it was up early to go to watch the condors ride the thermals rising from the Colca Canyon. These giant birds were worth the wait. They are the largest flying land bird with a wingspan of 9.2 to 10.5 ft. It's not really surprising the Inca people believed this bird to be was associated with the sun deity, and was believed to be the ruler of the upper world.
Leaving Arequipa had to be postponed one day, because, although I didn't know it, I was getting altitude sickness. The Sorroche as they call it, has vague symptoms. You can have a bad headache or just feel cruddy. I slept a day and felt better, so it was on to Puno on Lake Titicaca which sits at 12,500 ft.

Puno Cathedral (My hotel was right behind this church.)

Lake Titicaca is so large it can be seen from space. I visited the Uros islands, built entirely of reeds, rode in a boat made of the reeds and tasted the reeds. (Kind of a cross between celery and Styrofoam.) We also went to Taquille where our guide announced that he hoped we were acclimated to the altitude because we had to climb up to the village for lunch. One other traveler and I had a very slow trip with children stopping us and encouraging us to try a small herb, muña, to crush and inhale. It did seem to help but not enough to make the climb anything but exhausting.

The fabulous Lake Titicaca

Following my days in Puno came a spectacular bus ride to La Paz, Bolivia. The scenery was simply gorgeous, the mountains, the sunshine, the blue, blue lake. We stopped in Copacabana for lunch and I found it charming and wished I'd planned to stay there for a night or two. Bolivia is a land locked country since the War of the Pacific in 1879 but it still has a navy they took us and our bus across the lake at a narrow spot. May was a lovely time to be traveling in South America. It was harvest time and huge piles of freshly harvested potatoes sat in the fields. The quinoa was ripe and beautiful. And the sun shined almost every single day.

La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz is situated in a bowl surrounded by mountains with an altitude of 9,840 ft to 13,450 ft. I lived on Sarganaga Street near San Francisco Church and the Mercado de Brujas (Witches' Market.) And lots of shopping. Day one, a trip to Tiwanaku with a bus ride so beautiful we almost forgot about our destination. The mountains are beautiful and the landscape is singular. That evening our hotel had Andean music and the folks I met on the tour and I agree to visit the San Pedro Prison in La Paz the next morning.
San Pedro Prison is quite unique. Our guide was a Canadian in prison for drug infractions. We go first to his tiny cell where he offers us cocaine. He then shows us the various sections of the compound. It was once a series of convents and it was quite rickety in some spots varying all the way to quite nice where the richer criminals were able to secure housing. The prisoners buy their cells and have to sleep out in the courtyard until they have one. There are businesses inside and even kids live there and go to school each day from the prison. Our guide encouraged us to visit his wife's restaurant, on the outside, as we left.
The next day I completely hit the wall. I am feeling very bad and call a doctor in my guide book. I take the taxi down, down, down into the bowl of La Paz to Hospital Methodista where I will end up staying two nights with oxygen shooting up my nose at an alarming rate. In fact, half my bill is for oxygen. The nurses are kind and pleasant and once I'm hooked up to oxygen I start to feel better right away. Sweet relief. There is even a TV in my room and I watch Bolivian music videos between naps.

Upon release from the hospital, I whip out my MasterCard on Calle Sagarnaga and do some power shopping. The baby alpaca shawl is mine as well as the beautiful heavy sweater.
From La Paz to Cuzco by plane from El Alto airport and if you've never taken off at 13,325 feet it's a little scary. It just doesn't feel like the plane will get off the ground in the rarefied atmosphere, but it does. At last.


Cuzco, to the Incas, was the navel of the universe and now exists as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Historical Capital of Peru. I stayed right on the main square and met my travel agent who would arrange my travel from there immediately.

Sacred Valley

A day trip to the Sacred Vally of the Urabamba river took us to Pisac for the market. It was large and easy to get lost in. Some of the prices were shockingly low. The site of Ollyantatambo was fascinating as the city still used some of the water routing features from Inca times.

"The bath of the princess", a fountain at the base of the ruins.

Finally, the train to Machu Picchu! I plan to stay there for three days in Aguas Calientes and visit the site every day. I want to really soak this place in. We are taken directly to the site and dump our luggage for a tour of the site. It really is amazing. They have a garden with the flowers and vegetables used at the time the site was inhabited. Again there are water features. There is a series of baths were the water still trickles through. The springs have been diverted for the hotel near the site but this miracle of engineering is still evident.
Many here climb Huyana Picchu the taller peak for a panoramic view. It is a tough climb and I forgo the pleasure.

View of Machu Picchu from Huyana Picchu

I try to arrive early for the sunrise on day two but just get there early instead. The clouds are still hanging low over the peaks so there was really no sunrise to miss this day. A few of us climb to the caretakers hut for the money shot.

The money shot

I run into someone I'd met earlier who told me that the Trek on the Inca trail was "too hard". This was a very fit Scandinavian so I'm sure I would have been left for condor bait. The clouds lift...

Machu Picchu wreathed in clouds

I spot a Treker taking a well deserved nap after three days of hard work...

Panama hat man

My third day I decide to try hiking up to the sun gate where the trekkers enter the site at sunrise on their last day. After about 45 minutes of uphill climbing and getting about half way there, I decide I'm satisfied with the view and turn back to commune with the llamas who are here for the tourists.

Local llamas view Machu Picchu

The stone work is one of the Inca's trademarks. They were master stone carvers and masons. Many of the boulders at the site are carved in place into monuments or features of buildings. Stones are set so well that they have survived nature and geology and are still standing and in use in cities today.

Typical beautiful Inca stone work

My travel agent has helped me to find the studio of the famous Peruvian photographer, Martin Chambi I had discovered before my trip. I met his daughter, also a photographer, and was able to see some of his photos in person. They were out of my price range so I loaded up on post cards.

Jugando al sapo en la chichería. Cuzco, 1931 ~Martin Chambi

Next, it's back to Lima for some sea level and museums. I see the National Museum, where I am treated to an earthquake drill and an orchestra rehearsing. As well as national treasures. Also, I go to the Gold Museum. This is privately owned and massive quantities of gold on display in the basement of a building. Fascinating in a creepy way.
Next stop Quito the home of eternal spring to the Incas. I change my money and the exchange rate renders me a millionaire! I have a stack of Sucres that makes me feel rich!

5000 Sucres

I drop my luggage and take a small travel bag to Otavalo, home of a Saturday market in the mountains. I've been waiting to splash out at the Hotel Ali Shungu. All the travel books rave about it and it is lovely. Wonderful food in the restaurant and Andes music in the evening on Friday. Ecuador is very green after Peru and Bolivia. It is a big player in the world floral market and you can see green houses everywhere.
First thing Saturday morning is the animal market in Otavalo. It's pretty chaotic and when the big hogs get cranky, everyone gives them a wide berth.
Later, the market in the town square offers up handicrafts galore. Lots of shopping going on and my wallet deflates rapidly with my purchases.

Selling crafts at the market

We took a rickety van around to several small villages near Otavalo to see the craft people at work. We saw knitters, weavers, hat makers, doll makers and basket makers.
The countryside was beautiful and most of them took pride in their work and were happy to share some time with us. The conditions were rustic and some had sad stories. One mother has lost her husband since the last time our guide had seen her. It was heart wrenching to see her sitting knitting with her children all huddled around her.

Demonstrating spinning sisal

After a lovely weekend in Otavalo, I return to my hotel in Quito and sign up for a city tour. The old part of the city was one of the first Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978.

Quito Av Venezuela

We also go to a high peak and see the winged statue of the Virgen Mary. The city is ringed with green mountains. Later, we go to the Mitad del Mundo, the site of the equator. The clerk from my hotel is driving and we chat about her son living in Chicago. She snaps my photo with one foot in each hemisphere!

My flight departs at 11:00 p.m. and the next day I'm back home with Andean music playing in my head.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

New Bracelet

From time to time, I accompany my friend to Chicago on shopping trips for her store. We go to shows at the Merchandise Mart, and snoop around other shops for bargains and interesting stuff. It's a wonderful getaway. About a year ago, we were there between stores in Lincoln Park and passed a bead store. (I should have a bumper sticker: "I stop for bead shops") We went in for a look. enBedia is a rather pricey shop with wonderful stuff. I dropped about $20 and came away with this little bag of goodies. That's the way it is. Every bead shop has something to offer and no one has it all. I guess that's why I, only very rarely, am able to cash in a frequent user card.
So, over the past year, I've been accumulating the rest of beads for the bracelet featuring the beads I bought in Chicago. Some of my stores have closed since I've purchased stuff in my treasure chest. Some have moved. Some have opened with the spoils of stores that have closed. I'll pretty much shop anywhere.
So, from time to time, I looked at my collection of beads but just didn't seem to have the beads necessary to put together the bracelet I wanted.
Finally, after a trip to Hobby Lobby, I had everything I needed to make the bracelet.