It had been too long since we visited Pete and Shelley. Way too long. We couldn’t even remember when the last time was. Somewhere after that first pandemic wave. Kerry and Claire bought a place in the Adirondacks a couple of years ago and they invited us for a ski so we had an agenda. We booked a place at the Mirror Lake Inn for two nights and stopped in Saranac to ski with Kerry and Claire before continuing on to Lake Placid. We took 104 through Mexico and then up 81 where we spotted a billboard that read “BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT (next line) JESUS IS ALIVE” followed by an 800 number.
We found Kerry and Claire’s place and skied on a nearby golf course. I packed two left-handed mittens for the trip but made it work. Kerry’s skis were too slick so he struggle to ski uphill while our skis were sticky. It was so beautiful it didn’t matter. Kerry and Claire have an active social life up here, open jams and the upcoming Winter Carnival that Garry Trudeau picked the theme for. This one being “Creepy Carnival.”
I made a note to send a new Refrigerator hat to Shelley. Her’s has lost its yellow. Shelley and Pete’s life style could not be more different that Kerry and Claire’s. Pete used to come out of the woods to join Margaret Explosion on piano but they are still in hunker down mode and loving it.
With temperatures in the forties there was zero traffic on the many snowmobile crossings. We saw Rustic Furniture signs in every small town. Some just advertising “Rustics” as if it was a noun. And I guess it was for Rochester’s The Rustics. We had dinner in Lake Placid at an Italian restaurant called “Café Rustica.”
We’ve been back almost three weeks now but we’re still wading through the notes, photos, books, gallery pamphlets and holy cards we brought back. This painting has stuck with me. It was in the collection of the Contemporary Art Museum in Sevilla. I immediately thought of the Richard Serra oil stick drawings/paintings and Malevech and Ellsworth Kelly but I didn’t recognize the name of the artist. I should have written it down so I could credit them but here it is.
The Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporaneo in Sevilla is a special place. After the conquest of Seville by Christians in the 13th century the Monasterio de Santa Maria de las Cuevas was built here. The chapel and crypts have been restored. Allegedly, Christopher Columbus spent some time in the monastery in preparation for his voyages. In the 15th century the archbishop of Seville, aided by the noble family of Medina, founded a Franciscan monastery at the site. In the early 19th century, the monastery was sacked and used as barracks during the Napoleonic invasion. In 1840 a Liverpool merchant bought the abandoned monastery and transformed it into a factory of ceramic tiles. Several towering ovens were built around the monastery and still stand. The factory closed in 1982. The site was restored for Seville Expo’92 and in 1997 it became the spectacular setting for a museum of contemporary art.
The building Rochester Contemporary (RoCo) is in used to be a women’s clothing store.
The woman behind the desk at our hotel, Alegría (“Happiness”), told us we would want to call a cab to get out to Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo. We had been there before several years ago and we just let that suggestion go. We knew it was a nice walk along the canal that comes off the Rio Guadalquivir, through the Triana neighborhood so we headed out there first thing this morning. We stopped for coffee three different times. The museum is located in the Cartuja de Santa María de las Cuevas Monastery, where Christopher Columbus’ remains were interred for thirty years. The monastery had middle life as a ceramics factory and it makes a stunning location for contemporary art.
The featured show was entitled “Estampa Popular Sur” Artists Against Franco 1958-1976. Franco had been in power for almost twenty years before the movement really gained steam and organized itself under the Estampa Popular banner. In the fifties and sixties it was mostly linoleum prints and by the early seventies silkscreen was the preferred medium. Some of the artists were in exile so they showed their work in their respective countries but the really brave dispersed their work under Franco’s nose.
It got me thinking again about why artists tend to align themselves with the left. We walked along the canal off the Rio Guadalquivir and stopped for something to eat in the Triana neighborhood. We walked in and the waiter told us “The restaurant is yours.” We had the house salad, ”Ensalada gascona,” hojas de temporada con queso de cabrales, manzana y nueces. We found raisins in there too.
Salamanca is still a university town. In the sixteen century the university was attracting so many people the city outgrew its cathedral, originally built in the 1100’s. In 1509 King Ferdinand ordered the architects who had designed the cathedrals in Toledo and Seville to go to Salamanca to draw up plans for a bigger cathedral. They kept the old one open for the faithful and spent two centuries constructing a new one, one of the largest in Spain, and then decided to keep the old one standing. The two share a wall.
Portions of a Roman bridge still stand over the river and the old city sits like a sandstone fortress on a hill. We spent the day walking into the Plaza Mayor and out a different exit each time only to wander on the ancient streets and return to the Plaza. If I was going back to school I would do a year abroad here.
We are already missing the Basque region where we spent the last two weeks. San Sebastián, Pasaia, Hondarribia and Bilbao were all so comfortable. We walked back into the old section of Bilbao this morning and had breakfast in the Plaza Nueva. I wanted to stick around til lunch but we had train tickets for Salamanca.
They are so proud of their futbol team up here. The red and white stripes are everywhere. (Atletico Madrid copied their colors.) AthleticClub de Bilbao are known as Los Leones because their stadium was built near a church which was named after an early Christian thrown to the lions by the Romans. The Christian, Mammes, pacified the lions and was later made a saint. Back home we love it when one of our favorite La Liga teams play in Bilbao. They turn down the lights in the stadium and the band plays traditional wooden instruments (xalaparta) before the match. The Bilbao team is community owned and they only allow players born in the Basque region to play for the team.
We arrived in Salamanca in the evening and our preview of this ancient city was spectacular. Two cathedrals a stones throw from our hotel.
Peggi led a mini yoga class in the room this morning and we walked a couple of blocks down the street to the Bar Restaurant we had walked past a few times. It looked like a comfortable old fashioned place and it turned out to be exactly that. We had cortados and tortilla Espanola. The tortilla had caramelized onions on top and it was delicious.
The plan for today was to visit Peines de Viento, the Chillida sculpture installation at the eastern edge of San Sebastián, where the city meets the sea. It was raining, we had our raincoats on, and when we got to the spot at the end of the La Concha we found that the site where the sculptures are was closed because it was too windy. This Chillida quote at the entrance stuck with me. “The Peine del Viento (Wind Comb) is a query about the future; a tribute to the wind, which I admire a lot, and to my home San Sebastián.” The wind that prevented us from seeing it!
Tomorrow’s plan was to walk to San Pedro, a fishing village about ten miles to the east, but Chillida comes first so we turned around and walked to San Pedro today in order to see the Chillida installation tomorrow. It rained pretty much the whole time and the route was rather dismal but we made the best of it. We stopped at an Aldi’s to go to the bathroom and then found a restaurant in San Pedro that served us the best pulpo we’ve ever had. We shared a Bonito with smoked peppers salad and a beer. We put our soggy raincoats back on and walked further along the same side of the inlet out to a great view of the open sea (above). We took a bus back to San Sebastián and stopped at a natural food store where we bought prunes, Ramon Bilbao Organic Rioja and some yogurt.
Tomorrow’s forecast is full sun so we’ll see Chillida and then get to a bar by 2PM to watch The San Sebastián La Liga team play Mallorca.
A plane flew low over our place in Madrid this morning. It was so loud my instinct was to hide rather than check it out. That should have been the first clue. While we were having coffee a fleet of planes flew over in formation. And then a string of clunky helicopters. We remembered that tomorrow was Día de la Hispanidad, we had it marked on our calendar, and we assumed they were warming up.
We planned to just wander today and thought we’d pop in and out of the galleries in the Doctor Fourquet area so we headed down through La Latina and stopped for another café con leche. The streets were packed with people. The first gallery and then the second were closed and only then did we put it together. Today is Día de la Hispanidad and the feast day of the Virgen del Pilar!
The parade along Paseo del Prada had finished and families with children carrying Spanish flags were settling in the restaurants. The Royal family was presiding over an official event in Palacio Royal, just a few blocks from our AirBnB so we walked back over there, stopping for tapas along the way. Crowds were gathered out front to catch a glimpse.
In the US we have mostly stripped Columbus of his renown. Spain celebrates much more on the 12th. The Spanish Empire was the first global power in world history and what is now the US was just a small part. They say the holiday is a celebration of Hispanic heritage but it comes off like a patriotic show of military might.
The Holy Day though is something else. This is the anniversary of the day the Virgin Mary’s apparition “in flesh and blood” in Zaragoza to Santiago, the apostle Saint James in AD 40.
To say that we’ve made plans for a month in Spain is not entirely accurate. We will be in Spain for a month but have only the first week planned out. That and a La Liga match with Atletico at the end of the month. We bought tickets to that last night. We’ve been reviewing notes from our past trips to Spain and, of course, looking at old pictures. This hotel in Comillas up on the Bay of Biscayne was nice. And then again we have not been down to the southern coast since since the middle 80s.
We came across an entry from our first trip that described how we caught someone trying to break into our rental car while it was parked in front of an historic church. It was one of first stops and they damaged the locks on both doors so we were unable to open them. Rather than return to the rental company I climbed in through the trunk for the rest of the trip. We don’t rent cars anymore. We take public transportation, look out the windows and dream.
Merida is an architectural details freak’s paradise. Buildings from a few different centuries, the really old, the contemporary and the long neglected, sit side by side sporting fanciful wrought iron, eye popping tile patterns and ornate woodwork. Old stonework and masonry anchors the structures and looks as attractive today as it did a few centuries ago. The surfaces are layered in tropical colors and adorned with signage and typography that is distinctly Mexican, a combination of Aztec, Mayan and Spanish influences.
Our hotel is named after a saint and the rooms all have Mayan names. Our room is “Kabah,” named after the Mayan city that sat where Merida is today.. Our hotel took its name from the old church next door. And just a few blocks from it sits the oldest cathedral in the Americas, from the 1500s. As if that’s a big deal. The Mayans had an advanced civilization here well before the Spanish arrived.
I’ve added to my holy card collection since we arrived and we’ve been in and out of the old churches but we’ve also been to the Museo de Antropología e Historia and the Palacio del Gobierno del Estado de Yucatán with its magnificent but gruesome murals depicting the conquest with firearms, horses and the cross. The beautiful old stone “false idols” are destroyed and with their auto-da-fé’ the conquerors forced the Mayans to worship Christ. Even the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Ateneo de Yucatán threw these ugly truths in your face. Merida today is a wildly friendly and safe place but we carry a load of guilt around with us.
Catrin is a lively spot. There was a dj playing songs from a laptop in the front of the restaurant and the tables in the open air courtyard were all taken or reserved. We sat in the front room under a silent tv with the PSG vs Brestois game on. We had not seen a match since we left Rochester so we were thrilled.
We are in the habit of of making a meal out of sharing one appetizer and one entree and skip dessert. In Merida even that is too much. The tortilla chips were on the house and they were served with four distinctly different dips, all manner of hot sauce. The shrimp tacos were sensational and the catch of the day came with a fresh salad and a pile of cilantro. We tried anther local IPA, this one called “Mastache,” and we were very happy with it. The score was 1-1 in the sixty fifth minute when someone at the controls, switched the channel to Los Tigres, a Mexican team.
On the way back to our place we came across a guy singing traditional Mexican music in the park. Peggi had our swimming ear plugs in her pocket so we put those on for a few songs, not for the music but for the volume. We walked by a vegan restaurant with a Cumbia band playing. We could see and hear the band from the sidewalk so we stood there for a while. A four piece, the bass player sang and played in a dub style. Someone was playing congas and another guy a cowbell. A trombone player carried the melody.
I.M. Pei’s Johnson Museum, at the top of a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake on Cornell’s campus is real treasure. We make a point of visiting Ithaca every winter, usually in conjunction with a cross country ski but not this year. We park in the public lot behind the library and walk through the Commons and then uphill to the Johnson, the citadel. Ithaca is not only gorges it has some serious hills, like San Francisco. The alumni have contributed mightily to the collection and they have some real gems from Giacometti, Arthur Dove, Otto Dix and Philip Guston.
I’ve been reading James Joyce’s short story collection, “The Dubliners,” and am struck by how his vivid depictions of that era feel so contemporary. James Joyce’s “Ulysses” was inspired by the ancient Greek epic the Odyssey and Henri Matisse was hired in 1935 to illustrate an edition. The Johnson Museum has some of the original, soft-ground etchings on display. I love Matisse and found these to be especially beautiful. And then I read the nearby wall tag.
“Matisse seems not to have read Joyce’s novel, instead taking inspiration directly from the Odyssey. In the Circe and Calypso Matisse outlines an entanglement of limbs, representing Odysseus’s amorous encounters with both women. In each case, it is the female figure who seduces Odysseus, while his wife at home remains faithful. In the Odyssey, Nausicaä is self-conscious of being seen with the naked Odysseus, yet Matisse chooses to render the female characters nude. In fact, Matisse seems to suggest it is the women who are actually in the position of power, towering over Odysseus. While Calypso and Circe instigate their encounter with Odysseus, the relationship between Nausicaä and Odysseus is platonic in the original text. However, Matisse still chooses to illustrate Nausicaà as a sexual aggressor.”
Today is the feast day of Santiago, also known as Saint James (the Greater), Sante Jacob in Italy and Sao Tiago in Portugal. He is the patron saint of Galicia, Spain and Portugal. I got my box of holy cards out last night in preparation and found the I have ten of Santiago. My favorites are shown above. My favorite image of Saint James is this one by Guido Reni.
There were two apostles named James. The Greater is said to have brought the gospel to the Iberian peninsula. He returned to Israel and Herod the king had him beheaded, the first of the apostles to be martyred. His remains miraculously found their way back Spain and they are said to be kept in the cathedral of Santiago. During the reconquest, Saint James is said to have helped the Spaniards repel the Moors. In this grizzly role he is known as “Santiago Matamoros.”
We took a photo of the cards and sent it to my cousin, Maureen. She is, by far, the best Catholic in the family and I have two cousins who are or were nuns. We walked the Camino de Santiago with Maureen a few years back and have talked of doing it again.
I fired up a slideshow of our Spain photos (almost 4000 of them) on our tv this morning and it is still shuffling along. I set our LED kitchen lights to deep red. We had Spanish hors d’oeuvres, Quince paste on Manchego cheese, and roasted Marcona almonds with a bottle of Lan Reserva. Peggi made Gambas al Ajillo for dinner and Tarta de Santiago for dessert.
We were having dinner with Jeff and Mary Kaye last night while some of our photos from Spain played on the tv. We have an album from each trip and then one called “España” that has all of our Spain photos in one album. I was shuffling that one while we ate. Twenty seconds before a dissolve seems to work and the order was set to random.
One of these long shots came up, it wasn’t this one but similar, and I was struck with longing. The sensation of coming up over a hill and finding the path stretched out in front of you, a path that you have never taken before, leading to a town you have never been to before, with all of your belongings ( the things that really matter like a change of clothes, rain gear and a mobile device) on your back – you can’t beat that sensation.
Clifton Springs is one of those towns that time forgot. Except this one is well preserved, suspiciously so. Where does the money come from? Main Street has a covered sidewalk and a hardware store, a book store, restaurants and a pastry shop. We came out here to see a show entitled “Tangible Objects” at Main Street Arts, the sweetest little gallery in upstate New York.
About halfway between here and Syracuse, Clifton Springs made its mark a century and half ago with the sulphur springs sanitarium. We drove out here with our morning cup of coffee and took long walk around town and right out to its limits. The big homes are well kept and the streets are quiet and dreamy. There’s sidewalks and hitching posts with big concrete steps for dismounting your horse.
Seven artists are featured in the current show. I particularly like Becca Barolli’s wire pieces and Christina Brinkman’s silver utensils but my favorite piece was the concrete title type, The letters T A N G I B L E O B J E C T S, all cast in subtle shades of concrete by John Dodd and Lorrie Freer. We couldn’t resist handling them when the staff wasn’t looking.
The Jetty at the top of Skaneateles Lake in the town of Skaneateles had a low slung chain hanging across the entryway. It was apparently closed for the season. We stepped over it and walked to the end where a fisherman was happily casting about.
The Clintons had a summer place here. Listings in the window of a Real Estate office showed restored mansions, lake front properties and empty lots in the millions. There is a Talbots on Main Street and at least a dozen gift shops. The stuff they chose to put in their windows scared us so we walked north down the side streets where the townspeople live. We were trying to understand why people live here. The blocks of idyilic homes felt dreamy but unreal.
We usually come through here on our way down to NYC. We stop at the small bakery for coffee and then drive down the east side of the lake to Binghamton. This time we walked down the west side where we are guessing the Clintons stayed. We walked through a cemetery with a huge monument to the town’s Civil War dead. That felt real. I am sure the town was vital then. Today it is a resort town and that is why we were here.
We were meeting our friends, Matthew and Louise, for lunch and celebrating her birthday. Peggi and I came a whole day early and stayed at Mirbeau, a French style inn and spa. We had dinner in the dining and were expecting a health centered menu but it was meat laden. The room had a gas fireplace, a bath tub and a shower with enough water pressure for both Peggi and me to bath at once. But before that we put the white Mirbeau robes and slippers on and walked across the bridge in the courtyard to the sauna and steam room. We read by the fireplace and slept soundly in the king-sized bed.
Matthew bought us a loaf of French bread from the Patisserie, the best bread we’ve had in ages. I would go back just for another of those loaves.
It wasn’t a fast but but we slimmed down our news consumption when we left for NYC on Tuesday. Even posting here, the news-to-self was curtailed. Other than our overnight in the Adirondacks the trip to NYC was our first since the outbreak. We’re timid and it was reassuring to see most people in the big city taking more precautions than we do in Rochester.
I came back with a disc full of images that I will slowly work my way through. I know this one will be my favorite. Eyeballs fine tuned by three days of gallery hopping and these reclaimed boards, bound with rope, laying on the ground in front of a building in Tribeca looked sensational.
Pete and Shelley’s home in the Adirondacks is five hours and a world away. When the pavement ends their road continues with stone. It is just about at that point where the cell phone reception ends. And by the time we reach their property the electric and water lines have stopped. This is is off-the-grid and therapeutic.
Our first trip since the pandemic began took us out 104 and then northeast toward the mountains. In Speculator we fell in line behind a large RV that was towing a a brand new Jeep. The car immediately in front of us had plates from the Sunshine state. We stopped only to pee near the side of the road.
Shelley had given us a short list of items that had become hard to come by up there. Arm & Hammer unscented laundry detergent, a loaf of good bread and beeswax candles. We threw in some tomatoes and peppers from the garden, they are growing both but their season is behind ours, and a small bag of weed that our neighbor gave us to give to them.
We stayed up late talking and it seems all conversations lead to politics. One of the property owners on their road is flying a giant, “Fuck Biden, Trump Won” banner and that sort of sets the table. For discussion. We saw variations of the Fuck Biden flag on the way up, ones that spelled out the f-word in long gun silhouettes, and of course the tired Confederate flags. Everyone has a congressman or woman and we were in Elis Stefanik’s district where the Covid restrictions are scarce. Even in the woods it impossible to put politics aside.
Since we spent the last two Octobers in Spain and are especially missing it now I’ve been posting a photo from Spain to my Instagram page each day this month.
And we ordered our first take out meal since the pandemic started, the “Spanish Favorites” menu from Atlas Eats. It included a Tapas Sampler of tortilla española, blue crab pincho and olives & crumbs. Shrimp a la Plancha with romesco sauce, poor man’s paella and broccolini. Dessert was Bay Laurel Flan with dark caramel, toasted pine nuts and cinnamon cocoa nibs. We opened a Rioja for the occasion, Coto De Imaz and we cued up the Real Madrid vs. Levante, a La Liga match that we recorded during the week.
Real won 2-0 but it was sort of a struggle. The food was fantastic. I wish I could thank Gerry in person. We still marvel at how his recipe for tortilla, Spain’s national dish, a combination of the simplest of ingredients (potatoes, onions, eggs, olive oil, salt and pepper), is so close to the best we have had in Spain. It was always a hit for us back when we we would have parties.
We met our friends, Matthew and Louise, in middle ground, neutral territory, somewhere between their home and ours. B. Forman Park sits right on the lake on property that was owned by Samuel Cuyler, property that was used as a terminus on the Underground Railroad. From here, escaped slaves would board a ship bound for Canada.
We had never been here before but the name was familiar to us. B. Formans was one step from McCurdy’s. Both department stores were downtown along with Sibley’s, Edward’s and The National. Before the malls ruined everything and Amazon ruined them. The park was named after Benjamin Forman, a Rochester merchant and civic leader, who operated the B. Formans’ department store.
We drove out on Lake Road, easily one of the most picturesque rides in our area. The farms were all gearing up for apple harvest and crates were stacked everywhere. We wondered aloud whether the farms would have enough labor and whether they could be kept safe.
There has been so much going on in Rochester that we spent most of our time together batting around the local news, the mass shooting, the Danial Prude homicide, how much longer before the mayor resigns and what about the interim police chief and the cover-up. We stopped at a farm stand on the way back and bought blueberries, pears, plums and Honey-crisp apples.