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Magic and Passion in a Glass

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People are still asking me questions about my late March, early April Italy trip to Florence, Siena, and Arezzo. Prior to departure, I said I was going for the art. Turns out, I went for the wine! I believe that Tuscany conjures iconic images for most Americans: columnar cypress-lined lanes leading up to stone houses, rosemary growing like weeds, and rolling hills covered in vineyards.

 

Understandably, Chianti is one of the first wines that comes to mind,  but the Sangiovese  varietal has long been my favorite and before I stepped foot in Tuscany my research revealed Viator’s small-group Brunello di Montalcino Wine-Tasting trip from Siena (5493MONTALCINO). Our guide, Daniel, was well-informed and eager to talk about a subject close to his heart. He picked me up at Hotel Italia S.p.A., on Viale Cavour 67.  Hotel Italia is adorable and has the friendliest most helpful staff I have ever enjoyed anywhere. With one more stop to get the rest of our group, a lovely Ohio family, we were away into the hills.

While I knew to some degree what to expect in wine, I did not expect the astonishing array of  viticulture philosophies. As a country kid from Montana, I understand the business of operating a family agricultural estate: grow, market, and harvest a crop. Wine is, after all, an agriculture product, a branch of the science of horticulture to be exact, and as such, it is regulated meticulously. There are specific requirements to which a vintner must adhere throughout Tuscany and all of Italy, but even more for a wine to be called a Brunello. Daniel humorously shared with remarkable insight his extensive knowledge about the business as well as the three wineries we visited.

Like most agriculturists making a living from the soil, viticulturists are an independent lot and have strong opinions about their production practices. First, understand that planting a vine and seeing it to maturity takes a few years. There is no instant return on the investment. Every year conditions change, the vines adjust and adapt, and thus the wine is different. All factors are considered: altitudes, acidity in the soil, amount of precipitation, tillage, pests, timing, heat…. For example, the philosophy driving the crew at the Podere Le Ripi Vineyard is somewhat radical. Their vines are not planted in neat rows far enough apart so that a tractor may till the weeds in between. A grapevine’s natural practice, horticulturally speaking, is to spread the roots a few inches under the soil to access the available moisture. But the soil under the Podere Le Ripi Vineyard is a heavy clay which holds more moisture longer, so their vines are planted a few inches apart forcing the vines to push their roots deeper into the soil toward that heavy clay, and do it faster. The vines are so close together they provide shade for their roots and keep invasive weeds from taking over.

Our little group also visited the Molino Di Saint’Antimo winery where the wine was equally delicious and wonderful, but there I was more impressed by the women. Here in Montana, I would call them Ranch Divas. There, well, it still applies. One daughter, our host, is in charge of marketing. Her sister is in charge of the vines.  I was over-whelmed by the sheer beauty of their estate. Their father, an architect, renovated the  simple stone structure where the bottom level was traditionally used to house the livestock  with the living quarters upstairs into a wholly modern structure without losing the inherent beauty.

Their mother made the most delicious lunch with simple bruschetta, uovo pomodoro (eggs poached in tomato sauce), and a light spaghetti in a garlic sauce all served with wonderful white and red wine pairings from their estate . We sat in their dining room over-looking the wine cellar and talked of how an Italian farmer’s life is not much different from any other farmer’s life. I rather wished they would adopt me!

The more I spoke with these vineyard farmers, the more impressed I became by their modern manipulation of centuries old practices to coax the absolute best from the grapes in spite of all seasonal challenges. The Il Paradiso Di Frassina winery was considered down right crazy no doubt when Carlo Cignozzi first began using music in his vineyard in 1999. But then an interested sound guy from Boston, USA, got involved, and the Bose Corporation assisted in placing speakers directly in the vineyard where the grapes bask in the perfection that is Mozart. I know it sounds crazy at first, but think about it, music is nothing but the vibration of sound waves at specific intervals and for varying lengths of time. What the guess that turned into an experiment revealed is that not only do the vines sprout sooner and grow more consistently under constant musical accompaniment, but certain destructive insects are driven away by the same vibration.

 

 

Italy has much to offer a serious wino like myself. But there is more to it than just growing a productive vine. These people are serious about combining traditional practices with modern ideas. They talk about science, the pull of the moon, the resonation of matter on a molecular level, and even though they spend every year trying to work with Ma Nature to the best advantage of the grapes and thus a good product to sell, it is clear to me that we are not just drinking wine. That head-rush bouquet, garnet colour, and velvety mouth feel of a fine Brunello is truly passion and magic in a glass.

 

The Giant Naked Marble Dude

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Michelangelo’s David, a Carrara marble statue over 14 feet in height, is a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501 and 1504. It represents the Biblical hero David. You know, the guy who slew the giant with a slingshot. Is it the world’s greatest sculpture? Possibly. And possibly it was created by the world’s greatest sculptor. It glows, glistens as if from perspiration, but seems oddly pale. One might almost expect it to be warm to the touch. I viewed it with all proper awe and respect, but it might just be too perfect.

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Oh sure, the right hand is disproportionately large because in the middle ages David was considered strong of hand, and yes, David is holding the sling in his left hand because he was left-handed. Consider the etymology: from middle English sinistre, “unlucky”, from Old French sinistra, “left” from Latin sinestra, “left hand” and in present day English, sinister. But David displays Michelangelo’s perfect understanding of human anatomy — all from another sculptor’s cast-off: a flawed block of stone.

There are other notable facts about the David. He was originally planned to be placed on top of the Duomo,  but when interested parties (including Leonardo and Botticelli) saw the finished product they decided it would be a waste way up there.  They formed a commission and placed it in the Palazzo Vecchio and it became a political statement — sort of like, hey you enemies, you don’t scare us! Some clown threw a chair out a window and broke the left arm in three places, but he stayed there until 1872 when he was moved to the Galleria. With train tracks laid in the street, it took three days for David to trundle on a cart to his present location.

But hold up a minute. The Hall of Slaves or Prisoners leads up to the David in the Accademia Galleria. Huge blocks of marble seemingly unfinished with figures writhing and straining against the grip and weight of the stone. Why did he leave these unfinished? Maybe he’s chipping away with his hammer and chisel and decides he can’t get these pieces quite right so he just quits? This from the guy who whacked the knee of a statue with his hammer and yelled at it about speaking to him? Nah, not our guy Michelangelo who believed that it was the work of a sculptor to release the statue already in the stone. These pieces seem to represent the human struggle to be free of whatever holds us back from completion and thus perfection. Remember that M. did not work from plaster casts or mark the blocks of stone in any way. He just went to chipping on a piece of stone and let the work emerge from it. David was a commissioned piece. And it is perfect. The Prisoners or Slaves are masterpieces of a different sort and are a personal message, a philosophy, if you will, of an artist.

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Michelangelo was more than just possibly the finest sculptor ever. He painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling of course and drew and painted all his life. He was also a renown poet. From humble beginnings at his father’s quarry, Michelangelo learned to wield a hammer and chisel while working for a stone cutter, proving that humble tools in the right hands may render extraordinary truths across the centuries.

I Have Become a Biker Babe!

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The first time I saw A ROMAN HOLIDAY with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, I fell in love with the idea of riding a Vespa through the cobbled streets in Italy. Because my recent trip to Florence fell on my birthday, I decided it was an excellent time for such whimsy. Walkabout Florence Tours put the whole experience over the top.

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After determining our ability to ride the adorable bikes, Angle, our guide (on right, below), escorted us in a Vintage Fiat out of Florence and into the nearby hills where the views were postcard perfect. I enjoyed immensely sharing my birthday and the tour with three American sorority sisters. We thought we should have secret agent code names. Riding a scooter is a hoot! After multiple photo stops, we were ready for our included lunch at a beautiful facility set on the side of a hill. A little wine,  penne pasta in tomato sauce, and a desert of unparalleled perfection made me exclaim “This is my wish!” when they asked me to blow out my candle.

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I loved this tour so much, I considered doing it again the next day. I was off to Siena, however, and still had to navigate the Italian bus system. Most people believe that travelling by train is best. However, the train station is at the bottom of a hill, stops along the way, may include changing trains, and takes longer. The bus trip from Florence to Siena is about 50 minutes and the station is centrally located.

I stayed in Siena at Hotel Italia on Viale Cavour, which is a short walk to the historic center. After getting my bearings and finding my spot, Al Peccatore on Via Camollia, where I enjoyed both fresh and aged pecorino cheese served with honey for drizzling, as it should be, rustic bread and a glass of red, I prepared to enjoy my five days in Siena. I was still thrilled by my Vespa tour in Florence so enlisted the aid of the exceptionally friendly and accommodating staff at Hotel Italia to book another Vespa tour.

Though not vintage, this Vespa was bright red. I joined a group of folks from Ohio, and one couple from Mexico, who all drove Fiats. In spite of a good drenching and fog, the ride was thrilling. For the first few miles, I needed wind shield wipers on my glasses. After we stopped in an ancient village and then enjoyed lunch and a little wine at Poggio Amorelli, a small winery, the rain gave way to sunshine and puffy clouds. We toured the Monteriggioni castle and thus ended my second Vespa tour.

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The Great Shoe Caper

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Travel challenges can be daunting, especially when flying overseas. If you have been keeping up with my Crazy Aunt Tracy Facebook page, you are no doubt aware that this post originates from my Corkscrew Adventure of the Italian kind.  It has been five years since I visited Europe. I enjoy a good challenge, but I forgot a few things.

 

Thee single most important rule of travelling: wear comfortable shoes! Come on! I know those brown Clark’s are the ugliest thing since original sin, but they can be worn for days without ill effect. I thought about wearing them, but vanity got the better of me. However, I did wear what I thought were perfectly comfortable shoes, low heel, slip on, shiny red! They are my ruby slippers but this ain’t THE WIZARD OF OZ, baby. They look good with trousers or jeans and I have been successful wearing them travelling in the past. Of course, I only flew across the country for about six hours, so ….  I did great until the Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. I should have gone to the first toilet — or changed on the plane — and put on a pair of pants that would look good with the perfectly comfortable and stylish flats I had in my carry-on!  I marched my way along what seemed like two miles of airport concourse until I arrived at the gate for my final leg to Firenze (Florence), Italy. I looked good, but my toe hurt. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon. I put on my Italian made boots purchased five years ago in Napels and went looking for a place to eat. I had not worn those boots for months, but I had them in my suitcase. I admit I also had included a pair of heels I had been breaking in for weeks by wearing them vacuuming and another soft pair of flats. So, if you’re keeping track, the shoe count is as follows: the ones I had on, two pair of flats, the boots, and the heels.

There were two places open in which I could find sustenance: a small grocery store where I bought a bottle of wine for 8 euros, and an amazing restaurant, pizzeria actually, wherein I ate too much, and drank more wine. The next day, having discovered that Hotel La Fortezza was not centrally located I ventured forth a foot, nevertheless. Florence is not huge, by city standards, but it is confusing especially if as a country girl like me you pay more attention to directions like east and west. The map of Florence in my opinion is upside down. Even though I had on comfortable shoes, I was completely turned around in the narrow streets overshadowed with tall buildings. I finally found the river and realized which direction was my hotel but by the time I made it there, my little toe on my left foot was a bloody pulp. Knowing I could not walk a step further in any of MY shoes, I hobbled to the nearest shoe store and bought some roomy and sparkly loafers. Add that to the shoe tally.

Sadly, this was not my first shoe caper. Once in New York City I hobbled myself with new sandals and had to buy ugly shower shoes in a local pharmacy. I loved them. This time, it wasn’t until I got to Siena where I found my new favorite pair: Birkenstock water sandals! And, I admit, I found two pair of lovely Italian-made shoes on sale. The shoe tally was up to nine pair. I was not about to haul around all those shoes though. I mailed myself several pair before embarking further. So perhaps a good rule of travel is to remember that pride will cost you, and give you blisters.

 

My Cincinnati Fix

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For the last three years, celebrating Thanksgiving for me has meant flying to Cincinnati, Ohio, to visit my niece, a textile conservator at the Cincinnati Museum. Cincy, as the locals affectionately call her, reclines casually out from the Ohio River across history toward America’s Rhineland. Cincinnati may appear elegant and sophisticated but she is not without a little edgy drama. Interested people are taking back Cincy’s sketchy parts, one neighborhood at a time.

One such neighborhood referred to as “Over-the-Rhine” (OTR) due to the extensive German immigrant population is a damned cool place to enjoy some food and wine. Begin with a simple address: 1215 Vine Street. 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab tucked into a deep narrow chunk of Cincinnati’s historical downtown, sports a back bar of abundant wine soaring to the mysterious depths of the ceiling. A casual, trendy, romantic, full bar offering the usual fair is perfect for after work cocktails or before dinner wine. Our restaurant texted us just as we finished our cheese plate.

Directly across the street at A Tavola (at table), 1220 Vine Street, the casual atmosphere perfectly complements the handmade, wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, wines, craft beers and cocktails. Carnivores will appreciate the wild boar or Cinghiale meatballs in the house red sauce over rice with artichoke and greens salad with one of the best house balsamic vinaigrettes anywhere. The meatballs were savory, juicy delicousness the size of a pool cue.

A Tavola's Cinghiale meatballs and salad.

A Tavola’s Cinghiale meatballs and salad.

Vegetarians will love the asparagus and mushroom pizza with piles of cheese. Our meal was not super expensive either. Three of us enjoyed wine and dinner for less than seventy bucks before tip.

Also in the OTR near Cincinnati’s impressive collection of breweries, Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market provides a bright, festive display and year round gastronomical choices from the humble potato to the sweetest honey. Located at 1801 Race St., Findlay Market hosts farmers’ markets and other outdoor vendors, street performers, and special events from March to December. We indulged our sweet teeth with sumptuous pumpkin spice fudge that alone would make me go back!

With Cincinnati’s abundant and varied dinning and drinking experiences, we upped our interest a notch by throwing art into the mix. The 21c Museum Hotel on Walnut is a combination contemporary art museum and boutique hotel, at once intimate and universal. With a glass of wine from the ever-rotating selection of world wines in the bar, we wandered through the exhibits throughout the first two floors. The Metropole restaurant inside the hotel fulfils elegant expectations by retaining the historical mosaic tile floors and arched windows, but adds a layer of casual comfort and warmth in a sublime balance. The Metropole features an “old world fireplace” on which the region’s sustainable farm products are prepared. Our starters – three for $16 – were the seven-hour egg, hot olives, and the Hudson flower, a sheep cheese. While my palette failed to discern the difference between the seven-hour egg and one boiled in the usual fashion, I will never eat a cold olive again! Every variety of olive ever grown seemed to be on display: an amazing array of sizes and colors from deepest purple to pale chartreuse. Chef Michael Paley’s menu at the time included burnt carrot salad featuring watercress, feta, red onions, and grilled shallots all topped with flavorful vinaigrette, for $9, and yellow fin tuna with quinoa fritters, and yellow beets. A savory and rich entrée of smoked woodland farm pork with Kentucky grits, roasted autumn crisp grapes and Brussels sprouts paired well with a side of charred sweet potatoes with pistachios and pomegranate. We also enjoyed a lemon tart created by Pastry Chef Suzanne Church.

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It had just the right touch of cardamom and lemon in a buttery delicious shell with nuts. The presentation was so superior we hesitated before mauling it with our forks. We also enjoyed a moderately priced 2009 Serra Barbaresco from Italy. Their current Executive Chef is Jared Bennett. Check out their site at www.21cmuseumhotels.com for a full menu, or better yet, think of an excuse to go experience it yourself. If you are into art and urban awesomeness, Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel is the place.

Visiting Cincinnati is like getting a big old American hug from your favorite Aunt, the cool and hip Aunt. It is a lovely town, a beautiful city, in picturesque and historical surroundings. So I will return because Cincinnati is a city to soothe the rough edges of any rural existence or brighten an everyday routine with some big city glam.

How to Hold Illusions in the Wind

Does the term “classical guitar” conjure visions of dust motes dancing over half-lit stages awash in cigarette smoke or does it seem more likely such would occur in full concert halls festooned in red velvet and crystal chandeliers? Imagining some lengthy Bach piece in an obscure minor key?  Would you expect to hear an award-winning classical guitar virtuoso in a school lunchroom in Hobson, Montana? What? Wait … Hobson, Montana?

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Andy Hackbarth, a Colorado native, and handsome personable young man holding a Bachelor of Music in classical guitar, appeared in Hobson with his tribute to “the Father of the Classical Guitar” on Sunday, November 18. Aside from the uncomfortable metal folding chairs, the stage, lighting, and sound system were surprisingly adequate. Thanks to the Judith Arts society, PO Box 254, Hobson, MT  59452, Andy’s tribute to Andres Segovia was both entertaining and educational.

We all assume that “classical guitar” is a method but it is also an entirely different kind of guitar. The neck is wider allowing for the fingering method specific to classical guitar — strumming and picking the strings on the face and fingering much like picking a lead on the neck. The guitar itself is shaped differently allowing for greater manipulation of the strings which were traditionally catgut but for longevity are now made of nylon. The base strings or larger gauge strings are now nylon wrapped in steel. The tuning pins extend toward the back instead of the side. Andy created an extraordinary sound and has performed in bars and concert halls alike. As a self-proclaimed extreme sports junkie, he enjoys a good adventure and travel. Add cruise ships and now Hobson, MT, to his list of touring sites.

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Andy’s style of  sitting is similar to a traditional “Flamenco” player. (The socks were seasonal fun.)

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Andy’s performance includes musical education.

 

“Nah,” you may say to yourself, “I like country music.” Well, Andy Hackbarth also plays a mean rendition of most country tunes you can name (and invites you to sing along), writes his own, has country and classical CDs, points out that Chet Atkins was a classical guitarist, and will generally debunk any objections imaginable. When not touring, he is based out of Nashville and Colorado.

Classical guitar is mesmerizing and soothing and at one point the feral wind moaning through the window panes of the lunchroom seemed to add a certain spiritual quality.  Maintaining any sense of joy or tranquility (let alone hairstyles) when buffeted by our central Montana weather is challenging. Sometimes it beats about our ears with a vengeance whether we are participating in sports or just throwing hay to bovine. Andy Hackbarth’s concert banished all day-to-day concerns. Feeling cultured, avoiding the distraction of speaking to anyone, clutching my signed CDs, I hurried down to Tallboys Tavern for a glass of wine with Curried Walley, and allowed the experience to linger.

I recommend going online at http://www.AndyHackbarth.com and checking out his free 5-song sampler.  Or ask your favorite music source to play some. He is on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Quality entertainment … in a school lunchroom … in a tiny town in the middle of Montana.  Go figure!

 

 

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Chickens Steal the Show

Tall Boys Tavern & Catering in Hobson, MT,  hosted a Farm to Fab Unveiling Tuesday, September 19th, highlighting Loni Carr’s unique photography. Cheese, wine and micro brews complimented the vibrant display of art adorning the walls of the bar and dining room.

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Loni Carr in front of a few photographs.

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Hostesses, and models for some of the artwork.

Whether portrait or pin-up, Loni’s pastoral photographs feature horses, dogs, chickens, cows, and the occasional goat. Sometimes black and white, but often vividly colored, old barns or pickups often embellish the setting. During a quiet moment’s reflection, Loni’s subjects seem bathed in shades of light or cigarette haze. One could label the artwork but it is simply honest. Loni captures light and reality in her cheeky compositions and will bring a smile.  Check out her images at http://www.whiskeyginger.com.

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Even when Tall Boys is not hosting a bit of culture and art, it will meet your steakhouse, fine dining, or original lunch option expectations. This “Fancy, but not fancy!” establishment’s atmosphere is modern but rustic. Their appetizers range from Curry Fries ($9) to Rocky Mountain Oysters ($18).  Experience a finely crafted soup or perhaps the spicy crispy fried buffalo chicken salad with buttermilk bleu cheese, bacon, and green onions ($12.95 ). The sandwiches will not disappoint either. Try a Tavern Beef  with shaved prime rib, Swiss, sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions on ciabatta ($12.95), or the Carolina with house smoked pulled pork, creamy coleslaw, their famous Carolina sauce, on a brioche bun ($10.95), or just get to the meat of the matter with Oven Roasted Prime Rib after 5 on Fridays and Saturdays, and all day Sunday.  Using Certified Black Angus Beef,  the ribs and flat-iron steaks are also cooked to specification and artfully paired with favorite sides. I recommend the Shannon Ridge Cab. Remember the fish and poultry options as well. Perhaps a Curried Walleye served with cilantro lime cream ($25) or the grilled Spinach Artichoke Chicken ($18.95) excites the palate. There is also a kids’ menu and a separate catering menu. All options can be found at http://www.TALLBOYSTAVERN.com

 

 

An Open Letter to Dementia

Notice: This post contains foul language.

 

DEMENTIA, YOU BASTARD, LET MY MOTHER GO!

Ravaged like a swarm of locusts through grain, there is but an empty rattling husk remaining. The brilliant vibrant woman is mauled, diminished. I would crush your center, eradicate you if I could, but you lurk there in her brain sneering evilly at me through her dead shot eyes, smiling through the stupid lopsided grin, saliva, a shiny smear on stained teeth.

I still hear her there behind the embarrassed giggle when she wonders about springtime calving and I remind her it is August. Her stories now wild fabrications, she yammers on in an endless loop as she snaps green beans with weak, blue-veined chicken skin hands.

Linear time disappears behind a repeated question and I am schooled on living in the moment with humor, as she does. I join her in as many moments as I can and must be content that she still recognizes me and where she is even if she does not know the day or the week or sometimes the hour.

I know you are probably waiting for me, Dementia, and my sisters, but it is not in my nature to allow such encroachment without battle. I will fight you with everything I am because that is all that I have. I will learn as many languages as I can, play and write music, paint with harsh glaring obnoxious colors on eight foot high canvases if that will keep you at bay. Dementia, I hate you, but not with impotent rage. I am coming for you, you fucker, I will fight you!

 

 

 

Vorrei Andare L’Italia … Take Two!

A year ago, I pulled the biggest bonehead travel stunt of all time. I did not have enough time on my passport. Not everybody knows that it is a good idea to have six months. Italy requires three months from the arrival date. I only had two. The lovely and helpful Sherri Thomas at Delta waived the three hundred dollar flight change penalty and gave me credit for that trip. So, I learned some things and blogged about those things and became loyal – loyal – loyal to Delta, so much so that it would take a free flight to get me on any other airline.

So now I’m back in planning mode because on the 19th of March, three days before my 55th birthday, I am trying again. This is not my first trip to Italy, nor, I am confident in saying, will it be my last. My first trip to Italy was five years ago. A friend and I flew into the Naples airport and drove the short distance to Sorrento, a magical little sea side village. This time, I am off to Florence, the home of Michelangelo’s David. Sculpting the big giant naked dude in marble was kind of a career maker for Michelangelo. After it was unveiled, the Pope, Giulio II, called him back to Rome where he would paint the famous Sistine Chapel. I kind of want to see the big naked marble dude.

There are many other things I wish to enjoy while in Florence, reportedly the most beautiful of all Italian cities. I wonder what the other cities think of that. I’m searching the websites I tried last time for things like culinary tours, museum passes … putting the Uffizi on my list, and the “old bridge”, the Ponte Vecchio. Now if you think about this bridge, you have to admire the name in general. Nobody gave it a fancy name because it really is the old bridge. It dates back before the 1300’s  — was reconstructed twice after some flooding — and was sort of revolutionary in design because it had the segmental arches that give it strength. So, I’d like to see that. Also, there are a lot of vendors on it offering good touristy stuff.

Some folks do not care for the planning stage of a trip, but it delights the hell out of me. I learn some history, I see some beautiful pictures, and I can let my inner control freak out to play. I will keep you posted in the days ahead. Maybe you will enjoy the trip with me … without the annoying jet lag or wallop to your bank account. Ciao for now.

 

Once Upon a Weekend Merry!

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Thirty years ago, I went to university at Missoula, Montana: home of the Grizzlies. As a fresh-from-the-country twenty something, Missoula proved educational in many ways. Downtown bars and restaurants in Missoula are just plain cool. Missoula Club, or locally, The Mo Club, provides THEE best pre-game/post party burger I’ve had anywhere. But there are lots of equally cool spots to consider.

Now there are new notable names downtown. For an authentic bowl of Jambalaya or Gumbo or anything Cajun, definitely try the Dinosaur Café inside Charlie B’s. There’s the Old Post for colossal, tasty, and nutritious lunches or The Iron Horse for a bushel of nachos. One can always find a good gluten-free kale, quinoa all-natural-with-sticks-and-berries kind of meal in Missoula, but I enjoyed a cooked-to-perfection bison burger at James Bar.

Plonk, a wine bar, was superb, but missed the Missoula vibe. They need some bead curtains and a fern or two to soften that slick west coast feel. There’s no need to mention the numerous breweries available to any beer officiannado, but a new kind of drink experience can be found at the Montgomery Distillery where they like to spank their rosemary in a Honeybee Highball including vodka, Wustner brothers honey shrub, lemon soda, and that naughty rosemary. An intriguing menu of unique ingredients provides such delicately flavored drinks as a Rosy Finch comprised of vodka, lime, kaffir lime-vanilla syrup, watermelon puree, and house aromatic bitters served over ice (below right). The other drink pictured is a Rocky Mountain Flip with gin, fir-tip/juniper syrup, egg white, cardamom bitters, lemon and nutmeg, shaken of course.

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Montgomery Distillery, Missoula, MT

When I attended the U of M, naïve young farm girls did not go into Reds unattended. I don’t know what it is like now. Conversely, the university bar used to be Stockman’s. Presently I’m told, not so much. Then, as now, if you desire live music The Top Hat is the place to go. With its recent complete renovation it feels current, hip, exhibits logical use of the space to accommodate a long bar, band stand and dance floor, as well as more intimate seating sections.

The Brothers Gow at The Top Hat

The Brothers Gow at The Top Hat

The Brothers Gow, based in San Diego, jazzed their rock with hints of reggae into a high energy blend. With no cover charge and exhilarating light show, they made The Top Hat my new favorite place in Missoula. They’ll be in Flagstaff, AZ next. Read more about them at http://www.brothersgow.com/the-band.html.

Yes, Missoula still has that wonderful hippy feel and it is still at its heart a college town where you’ll find countless twenty something males with their ball caps on backwards and their female counterparts with wide lace headbands pulled down to just above their eyebrows. People may come to Missoula for all manner of reasons. Perhaps they come to enjoy the numerous recreational opportunities, to enjoy the culture, the art, the scenery, the food and drink and music, or like me, they may just revisit a comfortable familiar mind set. The Garden City, snuggled in its picturesque valley, is still all about acceptance and open-mindedness, so they don’t look askance at an old weirdo like me when I join their ranks for a weekend.