Hither and Yon

Where to go and where to get off

During my years of concert touring—sometimes alone, sometimes with agreeable companions—I discovered early that one of life’s greatest joys is travelling at another’s expense. In my journeys around Europe and the US I sometimes kept notes from which I could later extrapolate adventures even more remarkable and meals even more delectable than those I had actually experienced. Here’s a selection, plus some later travels, near and far:

A Praguematic Holiday  In early November in Prague, the plague of tourists is less oppressive. You do not have to crane your neck to see the world’s best preserved display of historical European architecture; in the best pub restaurants (the ones the locals can afford to go to) English is not being shouted at the tables; and in the Old Town Square you can get close enough to the astronomical clock to read the time, providing you’re a mathematician. Of course the several fine art museums are never full—they are splendid but they contain no Mona Lisas or Venus de Lilos. And there’s the extraordinary Franz Kafka Museum, after which the world outside seems less real than the one you’ve just left.

Venice Preserved  Francesco da Mosta,  the scion of an ancient family, has not wasted his inheritance at the bars and the gaming tables, but has made himself a learned host who shows us around his beloved city, letting us experience it through his sharpened senses. Francesco’s Venice inspired Mary and me to renew our acquaintance with this seminal scattering of islands that has given birth to so much of what we call culture.

The Topsham Food Festival was a trip down memory lane. As usual, there’s a story behind it.

Blown by the winds to Siena Sometimes an exhibition of art from a particular time and place reaches out, grabs you by the scruff of the neck and hauls you away to its city of origin. Nine pages of great architecture and satisfying meals.

Auberge La Grange du Cros is a rural bistro near Saillac in the Lot. The menu cards on the table offered four courses and wine for a modest fifteen euros. Had we perhaps entered a soup kitchen in Plato’s heaven?

Consuming Carinthia  Ten days in southern Austria reminded us of what life in Europe used to be like and suggested why it isn’t any more.

Eating Up Sicily, in a dozen mouthfuls  Mary and I are just back from ten days spent haunting the fishpots of Palermo. In this magical mystery tour, we take you from Shanghai to Paradise, with stops along the way at The Leopard and Robin’s Grotto

Hôtel Jules César, Restaurant Lou Marquès, Arles  Dressed like a pauper, I was treated like a prince.

Cassoulet Déjà vu: living low off the hog in Najac Two cassoulets within two months—this could become a habit!

Dordogne hotel restaurants Some gems, large and small, from our 2002 tour, plus a couple of worthless baubles.

The fishermen of Graisana—another endangered species. The descendent of generations of fishermen could become the curator of a museum

If the Loire’s too crowded, come south to Bergerac France has so many areas of beauty and fascination that there just aren’t enough tourists to go around.

A Twice-Told Tale I set out in search of the legendary food of France and found the Holy Grail.

A Hotel in Heaven When you’re driving alone on a mountain road after dark on a winter’s night, with no hotels in prospect, there’s nothing like the sight of . . .

Cassoulet Country For a cassoulet fanatic to drive through southern France without visiting the shrine of the God of Occitan would be like a Catholic passing through Rome and skipping the Vatican.

On the Road with the Gastrogypsies Touring France in a VW Westfalia—meandering about the empty D-roads, seeking out the vestigial remnants of honest unpretentious rural cuisine

It's déjà vu all over again. . .

Berlin Revisited 1998 The wall was down, the skyscrapers were going up.

Merlangius mersans, or Whiting Immersed Midwinter 1996 in Harstad, the year's first sun performed its magic.

Two francs for the milk or Through Switzerland with open wallet This being Switzerland, money was not only the medium of exchange but also the means of communication.

Wild in Middle America 1996 Culture comes to Cleveland.

I Love Rain or Soddenly last summer For us, the Île de Ré was indeed the Isle of Rain—its virtues were largely negative.

Paris sans football 1998 James Wood lets the alphorn speak its Mountain Language in IRCAM, the subterranean stronghold of electroacoustic music.

Romania, Paranoia 1980 Romania was the only Warsaw Pact country in which I felt everywhere an ominous presence.

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