Observations from the Road (Or The “I’ve Been Everywhere” Edition)

Rook Coffee

Dad Hat from Rook Coffee (photo credit: Rook Coffee)

Life on the road can become a blur.  I began writing this from the Molly Pitcher Inn’s dining room which overlooks the Navesink River in Red Bank, New Jersey. Candice and I have come here to celebrate the 40th wedding anniversary of her cousin Mary Beth and husband Greg.  It is the second time we find ourselves in Red Bank in three weeks, as we were here earlier in the month to celebrate with family and friends the life of Candice’s aunt and godmother, and Mary Beth’s mother, who passed away at age 90.

June is perhaps a bit more than typical in terms of travel (16 out of the first 24 days spent on the road), but only at the margins.  Good thing that I enjoy it.  In June alone I’ve not only visited Red Bank twice, but I’ve also been to Madison, Wisconsin (one of prettiest small college cities in America…in the summer); Athens and Atlanta, Georgia (my God, they never stop building highways); Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (a gem of a city with much to recommend it and work to be done); and Hampton, Virginia (home of Fort Monroe, Freedom’s Fortress). And there’s still a week to go before we hit the 4th of July weekend!

I’ve thought so many times of writing a blog post on this or that subject, only to drop the idea as I rush to a meeting or another airport.  So this “Observations from…” post will be very short (dare I say Twitter-like”) comments on several things swirling around my travel-addled mind.

Rook Rocks—The waitress at the Molly Pitcher on Friday morning commented on my big cup of Rook Coffee. I told her I just had to try any independent coffee shop with the guts to locate next to a Starbucks, as is the case with Rook in downtown Red Bank’s wonderful Main Street.  She replied, “Oh, you’re not from around here.  In these parts, Rook so out-performs Starbucks.  After a few sips, I knew why.

Independent Coffee Shops (and bookstores) are holding their own—I’ve come to seek out those independent coffee shops no matter where I go.  When in Madison, stop by Colectivo Coffee on the Square. Their baristas  rival Rook in their friendliness (and they have that Midwestern Nice vibe going for them).  Jittery Joe’s is a tasty find in Athens. And on that rare occasion when I’ve been in DC, I took the time to stop by my favorite bookstore, Politics and Prose, where Candice and I enjoyed a late-night coffee recently at The Den after stocking up at the store’s member sale.

Everyone (and every thing) needs refurbishing now and then—I have stayed in just about every type of hotel imaginable this month. Most have been great.  A couple have been a bit long in the tooth.  Just like people, hotels need the occasional refurbishment every now and again. Let’s begin with those electrical outlets. (I’m looking at you, Molly Pitcher Inn!)

If I keep up this level of travel, I’m going to have to break down and get the MLB network—In June I’ve been to the ballpark once (but have a second game next week to see the World Champion Cubs and our Nats) and have only caught about five games on television. While I have enjoyed catching up with some other teams, I miss seeing my Nats on a regular basis.  And I really like our announcers—Bob and F.P.—after sampling home team announcers in other cities.  Truth be told, however, I don’t miss the heartburn that goes with the all-too-frequent Nats bullpen meltdown.  Come on, Rizzo, please go find a closer.  Thank God for yesterday’s laugh-fest blowout against the Reds!  And I want to have a renaissance like Ryan Zimmerman!

I have to drive HOW FAR to go see the Braves—Even though I don’t need to visit the new Atlanta Braves stadium to add another one to my bucket list, I gave serious consideration to taking in a game one evening while I was in town.  Then I Googled the distance from my mid-town hotel.  Then I drove a bit in Atlanta.  Then I watched the game from the comfort of my hotel room.  What a dumb way to build a broad base of support for a sport that’s already seen as too old and white…build a new stadium way out in the northern suburbs to make sure that the city’s African-American fan base (real and potential) can’t get there.  Jeez.

If I bite my tongue any more, part of it will fall off—I try to keep politics out of my blog. For now.  But with so many things happening to endanger our American experiment in democracy, I may have to throw caution to the wind.  I’ve traveled in both red and blue states this month and I’ve spoken with people from across the political divide.  We need to face some hard facts as a nation.

Celebrate family and friends—Candice and I were talking today about all the interactions with family and friends we’ve experienced in recent months.  Funerals.  Weddings.  Wedding Anniversaries (our own and others). Birthdays.  Celebrations of Mothers and Fathers. Dinner parties. Picnics on our saint’s day at church.  We’ve traveled for as many of these as we’ve celebrated at home in Washington.  When family isn’t nearby, you lose something by not making the effort to see them on a regular basis.  And friends expand the family circle.  We are blessed on both counts.

Father's Day at Jack Rose

Drinking whiskey at Jack Rose on Father’s Day with Andrew

Is anything better than bourbon and baseball for Father’s Day—That’s a trick question.  Nope.  Well, yes there is.  It would have been even better if Claire had been here in D.C. with us.  Andrew and Candice took me to Jack Rose Dining Saloon for a Father’s Day feast and some mighty fine bourbon last Sunday. (Largest bourbon selection in the Western Hemisphere!) Claire and Andrew are buying me a Nats jacket in anticipation of those October playoff games.  What could be finer?  (Another trick question.) Woo hoo!

Even in very busy and often challenging times, it is important to remember the wonder of travel, the joy of seeing new places, the lifetime pleasures of staying connected with family, the unexpected moments of delight that come from an expanded circle of friends, and the satisfaction of seeing (and being) people living their passion.

More to come…


Observations from the Road (Or the “Has It Been Six Weeks Since I Was in Milan?” Edition)

Villa del Balbianello view

Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como

In mid-September I published a post from Milan that promised “Lake Como and more still to come.” Next thing I know, we are pushing toward Halloween and the things I’ve wanted to post have been piling up in my brain.  So with the first open weekend in about six weeks, I’m going to catch up by using my trusty “Observations from…” catch-all post.

This edition will include photos from the second and third days of my quick trip to Milan in September for the Executive Committee meeting of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO).

Speaking of Lake Como: 

Lake Como is beautiful.

Lake Como panorama

Lake Como panorama

We were there to visit the Villa del Balbianello, a property of FAI, the Italian National Trust.  Commissioned in the 18th century by Cardinal Durini, the villa “has hosted literati and travellers up to the time of its final owner, the adventurous explorer Guido Monzino.”  Throughout the house are travel mementoes and art objects from his 20th century life.

Villa lakeside entrance

View of the Villa del Balbianello from the lakeside entrance


Villa del Balbianello writing room

Villa del Balbianello writing room


Travel momentoes

Travel mementoes and awards


Garden view from Villa del Balbianello

Garden view from Villa del Balbianello

This is a remarkable home in a stunning setting.  It is easy to see why this is FAI’s most popular property.

Villa e Collezione Panza – Contemporary art in a historic villa:  As the day turned from bright blue to rainy gray, we stopped at FAI’s historic Villa Panza to view the contemporary art collection of American artists that had been assembled by Giuseppe Pana di Buomo beginning in the 1950s.

Villa Panza courtyard

Courtyard of the Villa Panza

The villa’s windows open onto a wonderful Italian garden, making for a beautiful setting for more than 150 pieces of American contemporary art.  While our National Trust in the U.S. has several historic sites that serve as settings for contemporary art (e.g., The Glass House, Chesterwood, Kykuit), many of my colleagues on the INTO Executive Committee were surprised to see the juxtaposition of old and new.

Skyscape at Villa Panza

James Turrell’s Skyscape 1 at Villa Panza


Villa Panza artwork

Villa Panza artwork, historic and contemporary


Villa Panza parlor

Villa Panza

The Last Day (and Supper) in Milan: 

We spent the last day in Milan touring some of the city’s most famous buildings and sites.  The Duomo and square are wonders of Italian architecture.

Duomo towers

Duomo towers in Milan


Milan Duomo

Milan Duomo, looking across the great altar


Duomo details

Duomo details

The Galleria, also on the Duomo square, is a hub of commerce next to the spiritual center of the city.

Galleria hall

Galleria hall


Central skylight in the Galleria

Central skylight in the Galleria

And finally, thanks to the good folks at FAI, we were able to acquire much sought-after tickets to see the Last Supper.  The experience – with only 30 or so visitors allowed in the room for 15 minutes – is very moving and satisfying.  The stewards of this priceless treasure could teach the Vatican Museum – with the over-crowded and wholly unsatisfying Sistine Chapel experience – a thing or two.

The Last Supper

The Last Supper


This was a great bookend to our time in Rome in the spring, with many thanks to FAI and my colleagues at INTO.  Milan is yet another international treasure, and I’m delighted I had the opportunity to see the city through the eyes of our Italian preservation colleagues.

More to come…


Observations from the Road (Or “The Deer Isle’s Locally Sourced Food and Music” Edition)

Yellow Birch Farm Dinner

With our fellow diners at the Yellow Birch Farm dinner on Deer Isle

During our first week on Deer Isle in Maine, we have jumped enthusiastically into the local food and music scene.  Sometimes the outing was planned.  At other times the opportunities were serendipitous.  But isn’t that how we are to live?

This is one long “Observations from the road…” post, which could be titled “My, Maine has so much to offer in locally sourced food and music.”

Our first two encounters with food and live music were unplanned yet set the stage for our visit.  Upon our arrival at Pilgrim’s Inn last Sunday evening, we saw someone carrying a guitar into his cabin.  After meeting Richard Perlmutter and his wife Judy the next day and determining that he did – in fact – have a guitar with him, we agreed to meet up after dinner on Monday for an impromptu jam session.

Serendipitously, we found that the Whale’s Rib Tavern was open for dinner at the Inn on Monday (we had mistakenly thought it was closed both Sunday and Monday evenings), so we quickly booked a reservation and had the first of what has become a string of terrific offerings over this past week.  I had the halibut, which was so wonderfully tasty, before we joined Richard and Judy in one of the cozy gathering places at the inn.

Fish from Whale's Rib

Fresh local seafood from the Whale’s Rib Tavern (photo credit: Pilgrim’s Inn)

Now, had I known that Richard has won multiple Grammy and national music awards, was the founder of the remarkably successful Beethoven’s Wig choral group, and has played professionally his entire career, I might have been less inclined to offer to sit down and play a few folk and popular tunes.  But as far as I knew when we started, Richard was this very easygoing and friendly person who had a nice little parlor guitar and a Martin mandolin that he was carrying with him on a “tour that’s more vacation than tour.”  To bring you up-to-date, here’s how Richard’s website describes his work:

Beethoven once said, “If my music had words it’d be a lot more popular.” His wish has come true!  Modern day “co-writer” Richard Perlmutter has added lyrics to Beethoven (and Bach, Mozart, et. al) that have propelled the works of the old longhairs to the tops of the charts, and introduced them to new audiences everywhere.

Despite the fact that he’s forgotten more music than I’ve ever known, the four of us – joined about halfway through by a family visiting from Ireland – had a delightful time playing tunes and trying to remember lyrics.  (Lesson #1:  Always bring a fake book.)  Over the course of our first 36 hours on the island, we had met the man who produced the first Nickel Creek album (when they were ten years old), played Irish tunes on the mandolin for a gentleman who loves to attend sessions back in Dublin, and had the first of several wonderful meals.  What could be better?!

Deer Isle has limited restaurant offerings, but there are several that are very, very good.  Whale’s Rib Tavern has never disappointed – for either breakfast or dinner – and we heartily recommend it for those visiting the Downeast section of Maine.  Everything is locally sourced, and the menu offers just enough for everyone to find something appealing.  We have discovered a number of favorites, but the Blue Hill rope raised mussels, roasted garlic cream, and fried leeks (especially those friend leeks) are extra tasty.


Mussels with fried leaks at the Whale’s Rib Tavern (photo credit: Pilgrim’s Inn)

Our second evening of combining exceptional food and music came about because Candice had spent time online to scope out things to do around the island.  Stonington has both an excellent farm-to-table restaurant that overlooks the working waterfront and an active music venue across the street in the historic Opera House.  But before we made it to either one on Friday – when we had reservations – we discovered a wine tasting at Water’s Edge Wines that helped jump-start the evening.

Living in the moment, we took the time to chat with the owners – Ken and Bette Kral – while sampling some excellent wines and cheeses.  Along the way two ladies joined us at the shop and in the course of our conversation we found they – like us – were heading to Aragosta for an early dinner.  Hillary and Yvonne had been classmates in a New England boarding school some 25-30 years earlier and were spending the weekend together to catch up and enjoy Deer Isle.  Over the course of the next 24 hours we ran into them three times (it is a small island) and by the time they left to head home on Sunday we were sharing life stories and hugs in the parlor of the Pilgrim’s Inn.

Lobster ravioli

Lobster ravioli, a signature dish at Aragosta, after I’ve taken a bite or two!

The daughter of a gardener and a chef, Aragosta’s Chef Devin Finigan grew up in the kitchen and the garden in nearby Vermont.  The offerings at Aragosta are wonderful.  Candice and I split a serving of Blue Hill Bay oysters, the signature lobster ravioli and the Old Ackley Farm duck (with house gnocchi, confit, blueberries, Morgan Bay Farm bok choy and green coriander).  What a terrific meal, made all the more remarkable by the view out our window.

Stonington Harbor

View of the Stonington harbot from Aragosta

But our Friday was not yet complete, as we had tickets to the Deer Isle Jazz Festival at the Stonington Opera House.  The opening act was a terrific group of high school musicians from the George Stevens Academy.  Then they were followed by Dafnis Prieto’s Si o Si Quartet.  Oh. My. God.  What a talented musician.  What an incredible group.

Dafnis Prieto

Dafnis Prieto Si o Si Quartet (photo credit: Stonington Opera House)

Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto has received a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship and numerous prestigious commissions and awards, all honoring the originality and craft of his work as a composer, bandleader, drummer and educator. Prieto has entered the top echelon of a new generation of artists blending Cuban and American traditions to achieve fresh aesthetic goals.

The Si o Si Quartet features longtime Prieto collaborators Manuel Valera on piano, keyboards, and melodica; Johannes Weidenmueller on Bass, and Peter Apfelbaum on tenor and soprano saxophones, bass melodica, and percussion. Si o Si is a thrillingly multifaceted ensemble, with an orchestral richness to match its rhythmic complexity and breathtaking energy.

I am not generally a “drum solo” fan…but I could have listened to and watched Prieto all night long.  He was so musical, so full of energy, and yet so seemingly effortless in his playing.  Valera stayed with him on the piano and filled out the quartet sound along with Weidenmuller.  Apfelbaum’s sax work was terrific.  I was – to put it simply – blown away to be hearing this level of music in a town of a few hundred people at best.  We met a couple at the Pilgrim’s Inn the next morning – easily identified as a jazz fan by his Downbeat t-shirt – and it turns out they have been coming to the jazz festival for years.  I just love these small summer festivals that draw such incredible musicians to such beautiful – and inspiring – places.

So Saturday rolls around and once again the serendipitous meets up with the planned.  As we were pulling into the inn after lunch, I noticed a couple of guys under a tent with guitars in hand, and remembered that the community bulletin board had a notice about “bring your instrument and play” time on Saturday afternoon next to the post office.  I joined Jim, Mike, and a third player who came later, and we worked through bluegrass and country music standards for about an hour.  Jim was “practicing” for his regular gig at 7 a.m. in Stonington at the “Church of the Morning After” – a jam session with fishermen along the waterfront.  He encouraged me to join them, but I noted that 7 a.m. services were for folks who didn’t really have a “Night Before” – and we had plans.

At virtually every restaurant on Deer Isle, we’ve seen local providers, such as 44 North Coffee (a wonderful coffee roaster right around the corner from the inn), and Yellow Birch Farm.  These local providers are keeping the best chefs supplied with locally sourced food.  And Saturday night we had plans to see those two things joined at a farm dinner at the Yellow Birch Farm.

We joined 13 other new friends (an amazing seven of us from the Washington area – including three who live in the Watergate, where my offices are located, a long-time National Trust supporter, and a couple who found rooms in local houses for the Si o Si Quartet and all the other performers at the Opera House).  We began with cocktails, followed by a farm tour and a wonderful two hours of food and conversation.  Held in the 19th-century barn that is the Greene Ziner Gallery, we were surrounded by beautiful artwork by farm owners and artists Missy Green and Eric Ziner and fortified with a fresh and well-prepared dinner.  Halibut was the main course, but I was especially taken with the tomato tart and the blueberry (of course) dessert.

Dessert at Farm Dinner

Dessert at the Yellow Birch Farm dinner

As we rolled out a bed this morning to attend church at St. Brendan the Navigator Episcopal Church (what a great choice of a saint for the Deer Isle community), we wondered what this week will bring.  But we’ve already made new friends, heard new music, and tasted some of the best of the bounty of Maine.

More to come…


Observations from the Road (The Celebrity Sighting – Obscure Music – Edition)

Aoife O'Donovan at Red Wing

Aoife O’Donovan

I have been on the road forever it seems.  So here are a few “Observations from the road…” posts which are – as always advertised – quirky and perhaps not ready for prime time.  You’ve been warned.

Celebrity Stalking:  True story.  As I was walking through National Airport earlier this afternoon following a flight back from Chicago, I noticed two young ladies carrying cases for a guitar and mandolin.  I had been focused on getting something for a late lunch before rushing to the office, but my brain did engage to the point where I said to myself, “That sure looked like Aoife O’Donovan – and I bet that was Sarah Jarosz with her.”

At this point you may be asking yourself, just who are Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz?

Well, for music lovers who veer away from the Taylor Swift variety of music, they are two-thirds of one of the most terrific – yet widely unheralded – music groups today:  I’m With Her. (And no, they are not connected to the Hillary Clinton campaign.  They’ve had the name for a couple of years.)  Sara Watkins – known to most as the female fiddle player and singer in Nickel Creek – is the third member of the group, and they gave a terrific performance last year at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival.

I quickly turned into the celebrity stalker, following them down the escalator towards ground transportation.  As they were headed into the women’s restroom (I’m not making this up), I called out “Ladies!”  Aoife, who was trailing, turned back, and I caught up and said, “I’m so looking forward to your Kennedy Center concert tomorrow night.”

Jarosz and O'Donovan

Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan at Red Wing 2015

She smiled and asked if I was on her flight.  I told her no, that I had just seen the two of them walking through the airport and wanted to let her know how much I enjoyed her music.  We exchanged pleasantries for 30 seconds or so, then I turned to catch my cab.  I refrained from saying that her “Oh Mama!” is the first song on my playlist about half the mornings when I listen to music while walking or exercising.

When I was a barmaid you were my mead
When I was a brave knight you were my steed
When I was so lonesome I wanted to cry
you came to me in the night…
You cried oh mama sing me a love song
pour me some bourbon and lay me down low
and ooh baby my poor heart is breaking
I feel the ground shaking right under my feet just put me to sleep

I’m With Her is playing with Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers, plus Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer on Friday evening at the Kennedy Center.  I’ve had my tickets for weeks.  Should be a terrific show.

The Humidity Tour (or perhaps The Whiskey Tour):  In the past two weeks I’ve traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia, Houston, Texas, and Chicago, Illinois – with a couple of brief stints in Washington thrown in the middle. Just about every one of those cities experienced major thunderstorms or otherwise violent weather while I was there. One of my colleagues quipped that I was on “The Humidity Tour!”  After about 145% humidity in Houston on Tuesday (only a slight exaggeration), I agree.  Perhaps some band would like to take up that for the name of their next jaunt around the South.

I’ve also been fortunate to find a few good bourbon bars while on this tour.  The best was probably Husk in Charleston (thanks to colleague Greg Kidwell for the recommendation).  Edgar’s Proof and Provision at the Georgian Terrace Hotel (across from the Fox Theatre) in Atlanta wasn’t bad. And while Andrew and Candice made plans to take me to Jack Rose here in DC for Father’s Day, a freak power outage changed those plans.  We’re scheduled to return on this coming Sunday, and with 2,687 bottles of whiskey on the wall, I can’t wait!

A Walk-Off for #20:  While in Houston, I took advantage of an Astros home stand to visit number 20 of the 30 Major League Baseball ballparks in my quest to see them all.  Minute Maid Park is a relatively new park in downtown Houston (and surprisingly urban in feel) with a retractable roof and excellent sightlines for baseball.  (That roof was needed on Tuesday evening.  Did I mention the humidity?)

Minute Maid Park

Minute Maid Park – Now two-thirds of the way through my MLB ballparks quest!

The Astros were playing the LA Angels – the second time I’ve seen these two teams in the last three weeks.  But where all the fireworks happened in the first inning in Anaheim (with back-to-back jacks by Trout and Pujols), this time the Astros waited until the bottom of the ninth to load the bases and then get a walk-off, two-run single.  It was a great night of baseball, and now I’m two-thirds of the way through my bucket list of MLB ballparks.

To celebrate, let’s pour a bourbon and wrap this up with Aoife’s acoustic version of “Oh Mama!”

More to come…


Observations from the Road (Or the “While I Was Out of the Country” Edition)

Dolci Cafe

Dolci Cafe – a taste of Italy in Takoma Park

It turns out that the world continued while I was on sabbatical for six weeks.  We returned on Monday afternoon and caught up with chores on Tuesday, while simultaneously trying to keep our Italian buzz alive.  Pacci’s Pizzeria here in Silver Spring and Takoma Park’s Dolci Gelati Cafe certainly helped in that regard!

In checking the news here in the states, I also discovered a few things that caught my eye.

Baseball season has begun – When I left the country, spring training was underway.  As we returned, our Washington Nationals were jumping off to a 12-4 start and are currently in first place in the National League East.  I know, I know:  it is early.  I also know they have feasted on the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.  But a win in April is as good as a win in September, and if they expect to do anything this year, the Nats will need to feast on the teams in their division who aren’t very good.  I have tickets for Sunday afternoon’s game, and can’t wait.

On the plane ride home from Rome, I was also able to catch my own personal spring training viewing of the movie Bull DurhamBest Baseball Movie. Ever.  I’ve watched it dozens of times, and the story of Crash, Nuke, and Annie never gets old.  Yes, I did laugh out loud at the quotes, including one of my favorite lines that Annie uses in describing the talented but clueless Nuke (which has the added advantage of being true):  “The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self awareness.”

And this little piece is among my favorite scenes:

[Larry – the coach – jogs out to the mound to break up a players’ conference] Excuse me, but what the hell’s going on out here?

Crash Davis:  Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live… is it a live rooster?  [Jose nods]

Crash:  We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose’s glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.  [to the players]

Crash: Is that about right?  [the players nod]

Crash:  We’re dealing with a lot of shit.

Larry:  Okay, well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let’s get two! Go get ’em.

Priceless!  Play ball!

My home state is in the running for the “What are These Guys Thinking?” award – Tennessee, which has NINE state songs, had a group of legislators pushing to name the Bible as the State book.  Jeez.  What, were they worried that Mississippi was going to run away with this year’s award?  Before the Governor vetoed this bill, Gail Collins wrote a classic column:

Amid all the truly awful things state legislatures do, one of the rare bright spots has been the naming of official symbols. Who was ever made unhappy by the designation of a state rock?

Tennessee, alas, is screwing up the record. The governor is currently trying to decide whether to sign a piece of legislation that would put the Bible on the list of State Things, alongside the salamander (amphibian), milk (beverage), honeybee (agricultural insect), raccoon (wild animal), several variations on the theme of state tree and flower, and nine — nine! — official state songs. The last of which, adopted in 2011, was “Tennessee.”

The next question you’re probably asking is why it took nine tries for Tennessee to get a song named “Tennessee,” and the answer is that it actually has two. You have to admit that’s pretty inclusive. On the other hand, picking the Christian holy book as a state symbol seems simultaneously divisive and unnecessary. Not to mention sort of disrespectful to the Bible, which doesn’t usually get included on the same list as the salamander and the smallmouth bass.

My father’s work on earth is not yet done.  He needs to fire off another of his classic letters to the editor to the local newspaper reminding his fellow citizens that Baptists (and they are all some type of Baptist in Tennessee) practically invented the separation of church and state (before they decided in the 1980s that they kind of liked bossing around other people who perhaps had different religious beliefs from them).

The endless Presidential campaign continues – No, the election didn’t magically end while we were gone.  They are talking about the same things they were when we left.  I could write a lot about the campaign, but I’ll just quote from one of my favorite websites:  Margaret and Helen – Best Friends for 60 years and counting.

I saw an interview with a gay, black Republican congressman from Georgia who is supporting Rubio. I think that makes him a unicorn.  But anyway…  The reporter pointed out that Rubio doesn’t recognize the congressman’s relationship with his same-sex partner. The congressman responded by saying that was ok because neither did his mother.  Now if that ain’t the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.  Well it was, at least until I watched that debate.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Roots music is alive and well, if a bit quirky – I really missed playing guitar when I was in Rome, but I was glad to at least see a couple of articles about roots music while I was there.  Upon my return, the New York Times had a nice appreciation for singer/songrwriter John Prine that I recommend.  Prine – who turns 70 this year – has an amazing facility for finding just the right words, on topics serious and not-so-serious.  Such as “Jesus:  The Missing Years.”

It was raining, it was cold, West Bethlehem was no place for a 12-year-old…”

The world is a strange place, and we depend on writers like Prine to help us through.

More to come…


Observations from the Road: The “Final Rome Edition”…For This Visit

Keats Grave

Grave of Poet John Keats in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome

As we prepare to leave Rome and head home, I have pulled together a few final observations about things we have seen while in this most fascinating of countries.  I’ll begin with the serious, and then move on to – shall we say – less serious thoughts that have popped into my head before returning to a final note of thanksgiving.  As always, these Observations From… posts are quick and quirky.  You’ve been warned!

The Non-Catholic Cemetery is a treasure – Several people told us to make sure we visited the “Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome” (also known as the Protestant Cemetery), and we are so glad we did.  On the day we visited Ostia Antica, we walked across the street from the train station upon our return and spent a good hour roaming through this beautiful space.

Here is a bit of the background, from the cemetery’s website:

The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, Rome (to give it its full name) is also widely known as the Protestant Cemetery although it contains the graves of many Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians. It is one of the oldest burial grounds in continuous use in Europe, having started to be used around 1716 (and thus celebrating its 300th anniversary in 2016)….

The Cemetery population is both exceptionally diverse and exceptionally rich in writers, painters, sculptors, historians, archaeologists, diplomats, scientists, architects and poets, many of international eminence….

A view of the Non-Catholic Cemetery

A view of the Non-Catholic Cemetery


Pyramid and City Wall as seen from the Non-Catholic Cemetery

Pyramid and Aurelian Wall as seen from the Non-Catholic Cemetery

This is a beautiful urban space, located next to the Pyramid of Cestius (dated between 18 and 12 B.C.) and adjacent to a section of Rome’s ancient Aurelian wall.  Cypress trees hover over the site, while the graves themselves are often small garden spaces.  The famous are buried here – John Keats and Percy Shelley, most notably – and it is something of a pilgrimage site for artists and writers.

The entire cemetery was lovely, but Candice and I were both mesmerized by the arrestingly beautiful Angel of Grief sculpture by W. W. Story for the tomb of his wife.

Angel of Grief

Angel of Grief by W.W. Story


Side view of W.W. Story's Angel of Grief

Side view of W.W. Story’s Angel of Grief

Story was the best-known American sculptor in Rome for a 40-year period, and this evocative piece was his last.  He designed it for the tomb of his wife, who died early in 1895, and he followed her in death later that year.  The lightness of this work, the unspeakable grief that is evident on every part of the angel’s body, and the sadness found in features such as the flowers which have dropped from her hand make this an incredible personal statement as well as a moving work of art.

This is a treasure not to be missed in a city full of treasures.

Beauty – When my colleague Tom Mayes was at the American Academy in Rome last year, he worked on a series of essays about why old places matter.  They are all worth a read, but I’ve been struck by one in particular while on my sabbatical – Tom’s essay on beauty.  He begins with a simple declarative statement.

“Old places are beautiful.”

But as Tom quickly notes, beauty is not a simple topic. Read the entire essay for his thoughtful take on the subject, but this one sentence captures key elements for me:

As I read and talk to people about beauty, a few words and phrases capture the experiences I’ve had—and that I believe other people also have—at beautiful old places: delight, exhilarating surprise, speechlessness, the language of timeless reality, echo of an ideal, sudden unexpected harmony of the body, mind and world.

Throughout our six weeks, I experienced many of these same feelings and emotions and was reminded again and again of the beauty of this old and historic city.

Bernini in San Francesco

Blessed Ludovia Albertoni by Bernini at San Francesco a Ripa

We have eaten well in Rome – Very well.  Perhaps too well.  (I’ll know about that last point when I step on the scale at home.)


Spaghetti Verrigni with carbonara sauce and black truffle from Antico Arco

In a city full of good restaurants, we found a few, which I’ll pass along to you in case you are coming to the city.

We found the best pizza at Antico Forno Roscioli, “one of Rome’s best bakeries and among the city’s most historic institutions” according to food blogger Katie Parla.  Candice got the recommendation to eat pizza there from Chris, the chef at the American Academy, and we weren’t disappointed.

I wrote earlier about our Easter Day feast at Antico Arco.  What I haven’t mentioned is that we’ve returned four times since then, and each meal has been wonderful. They also have a wonderful wine list.  Highly recommended.

Candice and I celebrated our 34th wedding anniversary at Dittirambo, and it was a great place to experience Rome’s passion for food.  We also recommend Al Moro, if you want the old-style traditional Italian cooking complete with the atmosphere and waiters to make the experience complete!

We went out in style our last weekend here, taking two more of Katie Parla’s recommendations (get her app “Katie Parla’s Rome” and put it on your iPhone if you are coming to the city).  Saturday night we went to Roscioli and we recommend the fried anchovies, among other items on the menu.  Then our last dinner (for this trip) will be tonight at Cesare al Casaletto, described as the “best trattoria in Rome!”

Bonus recommendation:  If you are in Murano and find yourself hungry, go to Trattoria Busa alla Torre.  Outstanding!

Sant' Estachio

A busy data at Sant’ Estachio il Caffe in Rome

And finally, if it isn’t the best caffè shop in Rome, Sant’ Eustacio il Caffè is certainly the most historic and best known.  All four of us made it there, at different times, to sample this Rome tradition.

The greatest American import – Every time I walk past a McDonalds or Burger King in Rome, I cringe, and I’ve just heard that Italy now has its first Starbucks – which is really like bringing coals to New Castle.  These folks invented all the stuff Starbucks tries to pass off as coffee.

However, there is one American import that surprised me – and it wasn’t always an embarrassment.  There is American music everywhere in ItalyThe Italian guy playing electric guitar on the bridge over the Tiber is as likely to be playing Chuck Berry riffs as anything else.  We were eating in a small neighborhood restaurant in Venice to the sounds of Ray Charles and obscure Motown artists.  95% of the cab drivers listened to American rock and roll.  One told us it was how he learned to speak English!

I would have liked to have heard more local music, but “‘C’est la vie’, say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.”

Rome Overview

Rome Overview


Chiaraviglio Apts

My home away from home – the Chiaraviglio Apartments at the American Academy in Rome

Grazie – The wonderfulness of this portion of my sabbatical would not have been possible without the help and support of some very nice people.  First and foremost, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (which has a sabbatical policy) and my boss, Stephanie Meeks.  Stephanie came to me about a year ago and suggested I think about taking a sabbatical. That set the wheels moving toward an Affiliated Fellowship at The American Academy in Rome.  The academy’s wonderful staff could not have been more welcoming and helpful. In addition, this time off would not have been possible without the support of my team at the National Trust.  They all said, “We’ll take care of things and will ask WWDJBD? if anything actually comes up.” I have had the freedom to focus on other things away from the day-to-day of work thanks to Barb, Tom, Susan, Katherine, Jim, Tricia and Kelly.  Several friends and colleagues who have been to the academy in the past – especially Tom, Rod, Eduardo, and Tabitha – gave invaluable advice for getting around the city and country.  Others who we know also came through with great suggestions, and we did as many as we could in six short weeks.  Finally, Candice and I so appreciate Andrew’s willingness to hold down the fort at home while we were away. It was very comforting knowing that he was taking care of all the mundane chores.

We’ve had a wonderful six weeks.  Thanks for reading.  Ciao!

More to come…


Observations From the Road (The “Quick” Edition)

With CCB in Burano

With Candice in Burano

About three weeks ago I realized I was going to have too much material to post from Rome and too little time in my six-week schedule to do it justice. Right now I have one draft written that needs some editing, (fully understanding that many regular readers don’t believe I actually edit this stuff), an entire weekend in Venice that is calling for my attention, visits to amazing historic sites that I want to capture, and so much more that I can barely keep it in my head.  Oh, and I’m trying to meet as many people as I can at the academy, attend lectures and tours, visit places throughout the country, and do some work on my project.

But at least I’m not stressed!  That would be very un-sabbatical-like.

To help out, I’ll rely on my trusty “Observations From the Road…” formula and will throw out some very quick and unrelated posts to ensure that I don’t lose these thoughts.  As always, these may not be worth seeing the light of day, so feel free to skip them (individually or all together).

Bridge of Sighs

Bridge of Sighs in Venice


San Clemente

San Clemente and the marble “schola cantorum” originally in the 4th-century church and then moved to the present basilica in the 12th century

Invite your kids to travel with you and you’ll see the bucket list items (Part 2) – As I wrote during Claire’s visit to Rome, having your children visit is a great way to make sure you see places that “everyone” wants to visit.  While Andrew was in the country for only four full days before heading off this morning, we still checked off an amazing number of “must see” places, including Venice (Bridge of Sighs), the many layered history of the Basilica of San Clemente al Laterano (with hopefully more to come on both in a later post), Castel Sant’ Antelo, and much more.  Of course, this is my urban studies son, so he and I also had a “let’s get lost” tour of the central city on Monday afternoon and found all types of very interesting places off the beaten track.


Man and Children Part 1

Older Italian Man Blowing Kisses to Babies (Part 1)


Part 2 - the tickle

Part 2 – And now for the tickle

Reminding Us of Pop – Candice and I were sitting on a bench in a piazza in Venice when we looked up to see an older man blowing kisses to several children in strollers.  The moms were talking and didn’t seem to mind the attention he was giving to their kids, so we watch for a few minutes as this continued. When he noticed that no one seemed to be bothered, he moved in for the tickle.  It was such a sweet thing to watch, and Candice – of the Italian-American father – said, “Pop would act like that around babies.”  I remember his playing that way with Andrew and Claire when they were little.  I’ve come to understand my late father-in-law more from this first visit to Italy.

ABB at Sant Eustachio

Andrew at Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffe

I have not missed American coffee – Some friends said that when they came to Italy they ended up craving a big cup of American coffee.  I am not among them.  Every day – two or three times a day – I’m bellying up to the bar to have a coffee and just relish the experience.  When Andrew was in town I took him by the Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffe for the experience (since his sister had enjoyed it last month on her visit), but mainly I did it so that I had another excuse to try one of their wonderful coffees.  The fact that the caffè has a history is a bonus!

Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè is an ancient Coffee Shop and Roaster that was born in the thirties. Located in the heart of Rome, in front of the Senato della Repubblica palace, it is just a few steps away from Piazza Navona and the Pantheon.

It was founded in 1938. The mosaic paving and the furnishings are still the original ones. The symbol of Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè is a stag which recalls the apparition and conversion to Christianity of the previously pagan Eustace. In the piazza of the same name stands the Sant’Eustachio Basilica, a church more than one thousand years old. On the top of the basilica, instead of the traditional cross, there is a white stag with a cross between its horns.

In 1999 the brothers Raimondo and Roberto Ricci began to run Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè. They decided to carry on the tradition, selecting the best coffee varieties and offering a range of products prepared with a legendary secret blend.

The Coffee Shop has 6 tables outdoors and inside the premises is still functioning a device to roast coffee over wood that goes back to 1948.

I expect that when we return home, I am going to miss the coffee (not to mention the wine!).

Stairs in Rome

Stairs in Rome

Embracing the Stairs – In an earlier post, I mentioned the number of stairs in Rome.  But as I’ve walked all around the city (over 27,000 steps on Monday), I’ve come to embrace the stairs (or at least the idea of climbing all those stairs).  They pop up unexpectedly and – thanks to Andrew and his internal urban map – we found new steps to get from Trastevere to the Academy on Monday.  I have noticed that the only overweight people I’ve encountered are from outside of Italy.  Walking really is an act of citizenship, and I’ll end with that great quote from the wonderful book by Rebecca Solnit entitled Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

Walking is only the beginning of citizenship, but through it the citizen knows his or her city and fellow citizens and truly inhabits the city rather than a small privatized part thereof. Walking the streets is what links up reading the map with living one’s life, the personal microcosm with the public macrocosm; it makes sense of the maze all around….Walking maintains the publicness and viability of public space.

More to come…