I have had the great fortune in my life to be able to travel and observe the world around me essentially unencumbered by any limitations. I think it’s seminally important (not to mention super fun!) to see as much as the world as possible, and in doing so strengthening the ties between nations and more broadly humanity. Travel allows us to look through differing lenses and understand the value systems of different societies. Like many before me Herodotus, Ibn Battuta and Zheng He, etc., I have taken some notes. These are some excerpts from my Panama Folios, the 2’X 3’ leather journals that have been my most loyal companions during my travels. Their spider-web thin blue and gilt pages are the basis for my travelogue Innocents Abroad still in manuscript.
Our first night in Romania we went to Caru’ cu Bere located in Lipscani district. It is a small area encompassing what’s left of the Belle Epoque City. The building is a florid gothic revival with an even more florid art nouveau interior, and of course it was delightful. We took a table on the gallery overlooking the ballroom dancing and live music below us, and I of course was busily analyzing the stained glass skylights and wooden wainscotting. I had no culinary expectations of Romania, I knew from Miklós Bánffy Transylvania Trilogy and from a rather grim YouTube documentary on Ceaușescu I had watched prior to the trip that Romania was a breadbasket state (ie: a grain producing region). Prior experiences traveling within the ‘eastern block’ had steeled me for two weeks of barely palatable meals, so I was shocked and delighted that Romania, famous for famine and vampires, could scratch up such delicious food. We started with a 3 bean soup served in a hollowed out bread loaf, and skirt steak over polenta. Unlike everywhere else in Europe (except France) the steak was appropriately medium-rare and perfectly cooked, and the polenta was magnificent (not too runny, not too gritty) with melted cheese over it. The only word to describe the 3- bean soup was flawless. I would be a blimp, but I could eat that meal everyday.
As a child I was fascinated by rubbings (oh who am I kidding? I still am!). I made tons of them, of trees, of foreign coins that family friends would give me to entertain me, of anything that had an interesting raised pattern that I could transfer onto paper and hoard. I loved the process of watching the pattern emerge from layers of colours onto the paper by the simple act of running a crayon or coloured pencil over its surface. It was like magic. Oddly for the amount of these that I generated none of these rubbings survive from my childhood. The other thing that I found deeply fascinating as a child was coinage. It was mysterious. Money was green in my world but other nations used multiple colours and weird coins (the flower shaped Hong Kong 2 dollar was a favourite of mine). My question was why? And why did we only use green? Who decided it should be just green? Most of Europe now uses the Euro, and while each country imprints it’s own pattern it’s still a Euro with relatively low relief work chased onto its surface. Sadly for me, the lower the relief the more difficult it is to transfer via rubbing. There are a handful of countries in Europe, however; that still retain their own coinage like Czechoslovakia. I was taken by the irregular shape and the weight of these coins. I threw them on a table and where they fell is where I transferred them, with some success. The 1, 2 and 3 Korunas didn’t put up much of a fight, I love the crown on the 1 Koruna coin so dainty and medieval, but the 10 Koruna Lion was very stubborn its curvy edges reminded me of the wave of the HKD and so I was determined but it seems to have beat me out here.
Venice is my Grand Dame; she is sleepy, elegant and weathered perfectly, and every now and again she comes back to life and shows the world what a party should look like. Like Carnevale. One special year, I was able to meet my parents in Venice for Carnevale for 5 days of operas, balls and dances, and art exploration. We checked into the Centurion on the Grand Canal with full trousseaus of wigs, hoop skirts, ostrich feathers, fans, chemises, culottes, masks, capes, and stomachers. For one ball, I wore a white velvet gown with a green velvet stomacher chased in silver embroidery. It had slashed sleeves and a white velvet and dove-grey satin lined cloak. It was an absolute pain to put on and it was absolutely magnificent. I wouldn’t recommend walking around the labyrinth streets of Venice in period costume during the day, just don a cape and a mask and cruise around the alley ways for some of the best people watching you will ever see.
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