We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Monday, June 16. 2014
Pic above is Eaton's Ranch in Wyoming, a place my Mom loved.
Lots of places to explore on this planet, but we do love dude ranches. What is a dude? - How the strange history of the ‘dude’ helps throw a light on why the West still feels like the real America
Dude ranches might be a bit phony compared to real ones, but if you don't have a friend with a real ranch in Wyoming or somewhere, they are great fun. We recommend dude ranch holidays in the American West. It sure beats DisneyWorld.
Yes, at least one wrangler always has a rifle. Horrors!
Saturday, June 14. 2014
Thursday, June 12. 2014
Wednesday, May 28. 2014
Sicily photo travelogue #5 of 5, with summary links plus Syracusa and Ortigia, plus lots of food and the most interesting duomo
The final stop on our 2-week driving travels was Syracuse. I neglected a lot of Sicilian food in my previous Sicily posts, but I will catch up with that below the fold along with other interesting stuff.
The links to my previous Sicily posts in the recent weeks:
This final post is Siracusa/Ortigia.
Now that's Italian! There's one of our delicious, succulent Sicilian secondis (details and lotsa pics below the fold):
Continue reading "Sicily photo travelogue #5 of 5, with summary links plus Syracusa and Ortigia, plus lots of food and the most interesting duomo"
Friday, May 23. 2014
But first - don't forget the "cannolis" (connolo is singular, cannoli plural, naturally). I confused a waitress by asking for un cannoli.) I got the same stern "Are you retarded?" look I'd get when we didn't want vino with meals. Even tho Italian food doesn't taste too great without a glass or two of wine (as I have said, Italian food is designed for wine on the side), I really do not want to feel sleepy at 2 pm in a special place.
A sign in Petralia Soprana:
The cannolo di ricotta is a Sicilian-origin afternoon pick-me-up treat, same as gelato is. After school, kids pack the gelato and cannoli "bars" on their way home. In Sicily, the shells are thick, very hard and crunchy, deep-fried hard. They do not fill them from a pastry bag until you order one, like an ice cream cone. The filling is thick and only slightly sweetened. At your request, they will dip the ends into chopped chocolate or chopped pistachios. Mrs. BD and I would share one, but I have no pics because we consumed them too fast.
Speaking of pistachio, a great thing on an antipasto plate: Slice of fresh ricotta sprinkled with chopped pistachio and then a drizzle of honey. Simple country food.
More good fun travel adventures and info below the fold -
Continue reading "Sicily Photo Travelogue, #4 of 5: Now rambling around eastern Sicily"
Thursday, May 22. 2014
Pic is my caffe gelato and my caffe, and her nocello gelato just off the large piazza (to annoy Mrs. BD, just ask which way to the Pizza del Domo) in Ortygia during the passaggiata. Prego.
Do you have to be raised Italian to know what the word "prego" really means? Probably. I've tried and I don't get it. It's used for answering the phone, and it's used when they deliver a gelato to you. Literally, I believe it is translated as "I pray" or something like that, so I think the connotation is something polite like "at your service" mixed with "you're welcome," "thank-you", "hello," and other things.
Help me out if you can.
Most important Italian term to know: "Dove il gabinetto."
Seemingly the most common name of towns in Italy when driving: Uscita. A mystery town to which the arrows disappear.
Basic Italian Words Travelers Should Know - Italy Travel Glossary
Monday, May 19. 2014
That's a menu for tourists. Note that their prix fixe menu includes a primi, a secondi, and a side of something. Only tourists eat dessert. Tourist menus are generally in Italian and English, but not because of Americans. It's to keep it simple: European travelers read and speak English better than many Americans, especially the Dutch, Czechs, the Germans, the Swiss, and the Scandinavians. Aussies always the most fun to meet - warm, open, exuberant, and they will try anything. Brits stand-offish and chilly which is annoying when you are of Brit extraction yourself and want to see them as your paysans. I liked the Czechs we encountered best: adventurous, curious, friendly, energetic, with joie de vivre and happy to travel on the cheap. Wood-grilled meat is the typical Sicilian secondi, but they love their seafood too - and their eggplant (melanzine). Pretty much all kitchens have wood-fired grills. Wish I had an old stone-lined one indoors, but my iron grill is outdoors. I too prefer wood to charcoal.
Before we left western Sicily to head to the Madonie Mountains in central Sicily, we took a side trip to take this tiny ferry see Motya. Phoenicians founded this walled island colony in 800 BC (along with many other cities in Sicily). The Greeks drove them out, but they came back again and were finally eliminated by the Romans when they just got fed up with them.
Lots more fun stuff below the fold. Have you planned your trip yet? Or have we saved you the trouble?
Friends consider us to be adventurous travelers because we plan our trips ourselves, drive ourselves, study the books ourselves, educate and guide ourselves, visit places where few people go, etc. Happily, our kids now can do the same. Mrs. BD is a great travel-planner, relatively fearless with a great sense of adventure and economy and she doesn't mind mountain driving which sometimes gives me the creeps (and she doesn't really mind getting lost - figures she's still somewhere safely on planet earth). But come on, people - how about some guardrails for the narrow cliff-edge roads? Sheesh. Some of us have a touch of acrophobia.
Continue reading "Sicily Travelogue #3, with Sicilian food!"
Is there any difference, other than the surroundings in which you eat it - and the flavors?
Not as sweet as American ice cream. Mrs. BD likes Pistachio best, I prefer Hazelnut (Nocello - and you'd better say Nocello or they won't know what the heck you are talking about) - but I'll try anything to try to keep my weight up.
Saturday, May 17. 2014
Eggplant is such a ubiquitous food in Sicily that you would not expect that the name, in Sicilian dialect "moolinyan", would also be a disparaging word for those with dark skin.
We had eggplant in Sicily at least three ways:
- We were served it as part of antipasto plates at least twice, sliced fairly thin with skin on and wood grilled and blackened a bit the way I like grilled vegetables.
- We were served it in the form of caponata as a bruschetta, again as part of an antipasto plate. It was served on wood-toasted bread. Fire-toasted bread is the best.
- We were served it at least three times as a pasta sauce. It's a peasant staple. Annoying that they sometimes do it with skin on, but they do. Sometimes they add chopped olives to that, or spicy pork sausage meat or zucchini. Pignoli or raisins, too. It's pretty good but not great. The only great southern Italian and Sicilian foods are their fish. Just my opinion, of course, and I do eat all of this stuff sometimes even though I am not a big fan of pasta courses.
Here's an all-purpose eggplant caponata.
As in the different parts of Italy, in Sicily they use whatever sizes or shapes their local sub-regional version of (non-egg, in S. Italy and Sicily) pasta happen to be, which is made fresh daily at the corner market. It's generally sold out before it's fully-dried. In northern Sicily, a preferred pasta is Busiata. It's a thick, curly, hand-made and hand-curled pasta. There's a career: Busiata-curler.
True story: I broke a front tooth on a hard piece of busiata and spent the rest of the trip with a missing front tooth. I told Mrs. BD that I was imitating a Brit, but also threatened to superglue a pebble in there. "Al dente" indeed. In Italy, they do serve pasta quite hard, pretty chewy with some hard and dry parts. I've broken a few front teeth, the first one playing hockey.
(A reminder about pasta: the authentic Italian way is not to put sauce on top, but to throw the pasta into the saucepan and to just lightly coat the pasta with the sauce. There is never very much sauce, just the flavoring really. After all, it's just a primi, pasta is a flavor-delivery system, but if you are a farmer you need those carbs.) I'll post on some very unusual Sicilian pasta dishes that we had, in the future. Some were more like soups.
Thursday, May 15. 2014
We flew into Palermo via Rome, and picked up our nice rental Peugeot there (at the end of our trip, we flew out of Catania in eastern Sicily. Is Alitalia a stupid airline? Yes. Just assume they will screw up something, and put up with it). Then we headed out of town to our first countryside tenuta, but detoured to stop at Segesta to check out the Greek temple (built 100 years before the Parthenon) and the Greek theater there. There is no mountaintop town there anymore. There is a crazy history of that ex-town.
That tall flower is wild celery - fennel - finocchio. It's in bloom everywhere in early May. Used a lot in Sicilian cooking.
One heck of a view from the mountaintop theater. Greeks knew how to position their theaters. It was important - theaters were their movies and TV, with some religion, music, etc. mixed in.
Tons more cool photo travelogue below the fold.
Continue reading "Sicily Travelogue, #2"
Tuesday, May 13. 2014
Sunset from the long curvy drive down from the mountaintop town of Erice on the west coast. Tons of history in that little town. We could not find the cable car, so we just drove up.
1. Sicily is safe. No Mafiosi are going to bother you (and there are very few creepy Somalis the way there are in mainland Italy and nowadays in Europe generally - Sicilians do not welcome black-skinned people very much). Very few Muslims either. Anyway, Mafiosi don't do low-life things like break-ins or street theft: they just run the place as a shadow government. They don't know much but they love brutal politics and unions. On several occasions, we left our rental car in parking lots for hours at a time, loaded with all of our stuff. It's not recommended, though - even in many parts of the USA.
2. Almost nobody there speaks English. Example: Mrs. BD orders a Pistachio gelato at a cafe. I say I'll have the chocolate, and a caffee. Guy brings her what she wanted, brings me an espresso (ok, fine) - and a cup of hot chocolate. Sheesh.
Lots more below the fold -
Continue reading "Sicily #1: Some fun general observations, with a few photos"
Sunday, May 11. 2014
Mrs. BD and I were tasked with spending the past 12 days inspecting the domain of Roger de Hauteville and his Norman descendents across the land known to the ancient Greeks as "the land of the sun," Sicily.
From the furthest western end of the isle to the furthest east, we covered all we could in the allotted time with a nice diesel Peugeot and a Garmin, touring from remote agriturismo to remote tenuta to agriturismo with many fun adventures, mishaps, annoyances, etc, along the way and mostly avoiding the tourist traps and tour buses. Still married, however, at present. Possibly the most lovely and dramatic land we have explored thus far.
I will of course assemble, in time, a photo travelogue with all sorts of travel tips and deep insights because that is my way of processing an adventure, but for tonight, just two comments.
First, I had two bottles of Marsala Dolce from Marsala itself to send to Roger to try. Sad to say, they tipped the luggage scale at Alitalia - and that would have made for some very expensive wine, so we abandoned them at the Catania Airport. I did manage to bring him a bag of Busiata Trapanese though, which I doubt can be found in America. I will tell him how to make it, country-syle.
Second, we quickly realized why the Greeks of Attica - and the Phoenicians of Palestine - were so eager to get out of their crappy places and to vie to live in Sicily. (Also why the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, the Spanish, and recently the Italians) all wanted it. For all of them, especially the Corinthians, it was like going to America. During the prime of Hellenistic civilization, Siracusa was the largest and wealthiest city in the Western world. It was NYC. Greeks moved there around 700 BC.
This rock pile in Segesta in western Sicily was built 250 years before the Parthenon. They had a large theater, too, up the hill.
A farm road outside Ragusa. We took a long morning walk down the road, saying hi to the cattle and the wheat fields and the hay fields.
There is nothing below the fold. I am tired and I messed up.
Continue reading "Home again, home again, jiggity jog"
Saturday, May 10. 2014
They call themselves The World's #1 Active Travel Company.
They probably are. We have friends who use them, and think they are great. If you like traveling with groups and hate to gain weight, give them a look.
Thursday, April 24. 2014
My initial thinking was that air flight is still safe, so if the issue is safety, that's odd. My wife replied, "It's perfectly rational. They think the Malaysian government has mishandled this and they're punishing the government by not traveling."
At first, I thought this was a good reply, but then I thought again. It's still irrational. For two reasons.
The first is a soft reason. 'Punishing' a government is something we all need to do. Governments very rarely do anything right or useful. One could argue the corruption and mismanagement in China is so pervasive, it would do the Chinese tourists well to fix their own government first. I don't know what they are doing, but given the state of affairs there, one could reasonably argue 'not much'. The same is true here, in the U.S., for us. It's a reasonable point, but it doesn't fully make a strong case for how irrational the Malaysian tourism behavior is.
The second reason is that the tourism isn't really hurting the government. Boycotts real people and businesses and rarely send a message to governments. People and businesses who had nothing to do with the missing plane or the mismanagement of the search are impacted. These people rely on tourists, particularly wealthy Chinese, to maintain themselves and their businesses. While it's true this impacts the Malaysian government in terms of taxes, and it could lead to a reversal for the ruling party in the next election. This may impact the current politicians, but is unlikely to yield any meaningful reform. Most importantly, along these lines, it's not expected to be long-lasting. For any meaningful impact, behavior like this would have to be consistent over time.
In the past, I've been guilty of thinking along similar lines when a foreign government didn't do something I thought was right. Over time, I've learned, assuming the government is the people is the wrong attitude. The two are frequently very different things. Chinese tourists may feel better about themselves by not traveling to Malaysia, but it's odd to think they are having any kind of impact, except on the business owners who rely on the stream of visitors they usually get.
Sunday, March 30. 2014
Reposted from 2012 -
I am studying up as I gradually learn about the places I am scheduled (by my tour planner, Mrs. BD) to visit over the next couple of weeks. I regret that our contributor, Roger de Hauteville, King of Sicily, cannot accompany us because I am sure he would have some good historical reminiscences from the time of his reign.
The Mediterranean world went through some or most of these cultural phases (or empires) which you can mix and match according to location:
Sicily experienced pretty much every bit of that sequence, which is how the Norman Roger de Hauteville became King of Sicily.
Best as I can tell thus far (I have a pile of books I am getting through), Sicily's high point was around 200 BC when it was still a Greek culture (Syracuse was considered the finest city in Magna Graecia), when the Syracusan Archimedes was busy discovering and inventing things in the old Greek way.
It's been downhill for Sicily since the kingdoms were abolished in the 1860s during the unification of Italy as a nation. But never unified, really. The "maffia" filled the power vacuum, and today they basically run the island. (Most people in Sicily speak Sicilian, if not Italian also. "Maffioso" is Sicilian for an entrepreneurial braggart or bully. It has been estimated that 80% of Sicily's businesses pay protection money to the Mafia, and Sicily's main exports are oranges, lemons, population (impossible to build a new biz there due to the mob "tax", so energetic people leave for the US and northern Italy and Europe) - and organized crime.
Despite their Greek history (genetically, Sicilians are a mix of European, Greek, and African), most Europeans to the north (which is all of them) look down on them just as the Romans look down on the Neapolitans, and the Italian Swiss look down on Romans - and even the Tuscans.
It's a lovely island, with around a 5 million population. The rural areas, the active volcanoes, and the well-preserved Greek ruins are the main attractions, and I plan to explore them.
Photo: Mount Etna -
Wednesday, March 5. 2014
While the Holland-America Line is the official Maggie's Farm line, we'll go out on a limb to recommend Seabourn - "the best small-ship cruise line." They are, with no more than 200 suites/ship. They have some special deals right now.
Seabourn is more for grown-ups, while Holland-America can accommodate well-behaved kids who do not mind dressing for dinner.
Every couple of years, we'll do a Med cruise or a Euroland river cruise for a change of pace instead of grabbing a rental car and driving all over. Good fun, never have to move your stuff, 24 hr/day service, and enjoy being at sea between cool destinations. I love being at sea.
Saturday, February 15. 2014
The weather is here. Wish you were nice.
More pics, etc, below the fold - including a pic our our suite's cool bathroom!
Continue reading "My St. Lucia photo dump, #2"
Thursday, February 13. 2014
Photo: This German lass was with us on a hike to the hot springs waterfall. She's a zoo manager from outside Hamburg, was visiting with her grandparents.
Many of our readers travel far more than we do, for business, recreation, adventure, or relaxation.
The BD family tries to strike a good balance of around 3 weeks of vacation per year plus some number of long weekends and as much work time at the Farm as we can do. Brit acquaintances think that is insane workaholism, but I just laugh. Work is good for the soul, I tell them. Man's Fall, and all that. We Maggie's Farmers tend to be self-employed, so there is no such thing as "paid vacation time." (No "sick days" either, which remarkably means that one is never too sick to work.)
Mrs. BD and I will admit that we are a sort of travel snobs. We like boutique places, tenudos, etc., with local flavor and no commercial feeling - eg no Sandals or chain hotels like Four Seasons - and have only stayed in a high-rise hotel once (the Southampton Princess, on our honeymoon).
Here's today's travel tip: Always pack a few plastic trash bags. They're good for stashing dirty clothes and wet clothes, and I always stick one in my pocket when hiking to protect the camera if it rains.
St. Lucia gets direct flights - not necessarily daily - from NYC, Miami, Atlanta, Toronto, London, Manchester, and Hamburg. Our little resort, (Anse Chastenet), far from the mass market area around Castries is in southern St. Lucia, has only 35 suites/cabins, and there were Americans, Canucks, Germans, and lots of Brits. One Swedish family. There were a few obvious honeymooners (Anse Chastenet is on many lists of most romantic destinations), and a few families with kids.
Continue reading "St. Lucia Travelogue, Part 1, with a small photo dump "
A photo for a snowy day. Daytime temps 79-82 F all year, nighttimes cooler, a gentle trade wind most of the time. Water temp last week was a pleasant but not bathtub-hot 79 degrees F: comfortable but refreshing, and perfect for swimming laps of the beach which is what I tend to do. If you plan to snorkel or dive for a few hours, a shortie wetsuit is not a bad idea but I do not like wetsuits.
You can leave your stuff on this beach for hours all day while swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, etc - camera, watch, wallet, pocketbook. Nobody will touch your stuff. We left our stuff there every day.
Quite pleasant, but I do love our snowy winters. Today's snow is a beaut. Wish I were at a ski place instead of letting this good powder go to waste. If I find time, will take the pup on a snowstorm walk. Few cars out today in the blizzardy conditions - just Mexicans with their plow trucks.
Wednesday, February 12. 2014
Morning fishermen on our beach in St. Lucia. The locals speak Creole at home and with each other, but good English otherwise. On St. Lucia, the educational, legal, and governmental systems are on the British model.
These guys visually search for a school of small fish, then throw the net in, and then dive into the water and splash to drive the fish into the net.
Monday, February 10. 2014
We barely made it out of Yankeeland in a blizzard last week (thanks to our fine drive service with 4 WD Lexi limos), and barely made it home last night in another snowstorm (thanks, fine driver).
I will post some of my travelogue pics and fun info from the only Caribbean island and the only elite boutique hotel (35 rooms) there that Mrs. BD likes (no computers, no WiFi, no TV, no cell service, no pool, no lifeguards, no clocks, no A/C, no windows - all open to the tropical breeze - no phones, no salespeople, no elevators because all the totally-private and jungle-surrounded little villas are one-floor, the best diving and snorkeling in the New World - and you can leave all of your valuables on the beach - wallet, watch, cameras, etc all day without any concern, for hours) when I get organized.
In fact, this pic is a mid-1700s French sugar cane plantation manager's house, now embedded in jungle a 45-minute jungle hike from one of the resort's two little private beaches. Thanks to the mountainous volcanic terrain (unlike most of the flat coral-based Lesser Antilles), St. Lucia has a rain forest habitat but it happily has mostly sunny days with occasional spitting light showers which you ignore.
Sunday, February 2. 2014
It's the time of year when people fuss over nailing down their schedule for the year. Choosing and planning takes a lot of time and thought.
We have a few good ones lined up this year - one a lazy grand luxe, one an exploration of Sicily (pick up Costco rental auto at the Palermo airport, and head on out, meander all around, hike up Mount Etna, take a ferry to Malta, probably get lost a few times despite the GPS, then eventually fly out from Catania), and the annual family reunion in Cape Cod with all the sibs, kids etc. Plus I hope the list will include a hunt trip for me and pals in the fall. Maine or Manitoba. Carpe Diem.
Here's one of the tenutas we chose - Tenuta Cammarana - (near Ragusa and Lampedusa, and not far from the ferry to Malta). In Italy, we always stay in tenutas (agriturismos) and I highly recommend doing that. Usually you'll be the only Americans there, which is not a bad thing when traveling. Karen Brown has researched them all for you.
I will take pics of Roger de Hauteville's ancestral Norman castles. Those crazy Vikings went everywhere, didn't they? Adventurers and warriors by nature, those Danskers.
I am already ahead of myself, because for 2015 (the good Lord willing) it will be a multi-bedroom villa in Tuscany, or maybe the Midi, with pool, cook, rental vehicles, etc., for ten days with room for friends and all the Bird Dog crew and any significant others. Not expensive, but something I want to do for all before I reach deep middle age.
What adventures and trips have y'all planned for 2014?
Wednesday, December 18. 2013
Long ago, Paul Shaffer and The World's Most Dangerous Band performed a brief songlet which caught my ear.I was just out of college, and my sense of humor, as well as the tune, was off-kilter enough to generate a chuckle, as well as stick in my head for...oh, about 23 years.
Yes, that's about it. So when I was trying to think of places to take a four-day respite with the (much) better half, I thought why not someplace nutty? Bermuda was booked, my parents agreed to watch the dog and the house-bound son, and we went winging our way southeasterly. It's only a 2 hour flight from NYC, and just like that the cold weather was a temporary memory.
Continue reading "Bermuda, It's a Nutty Place"
Monday, October 28. 2013
I've always felt it was a place I needed to see. I was correct. It lived up to every expectation. Pictures don't do it justice(but I'll share some anyway). The story enhances the visuals to a degree I had not prepared myself. You could visit this several times a year and get a substantially different feel each time.
Wright had something very particular in mind when he built this, and he clearly achieved what he set out to accomplish. It wasn't easy. He exceeded budget, there were disputes, and Wright was not easy to work with all the time. But the owners of the home, the Kaufmans, had bought into his vision, and the results are spectacular.
While their original budget was only $35,000, total costs eventually topped $155,000 (roughly $3mm today). While it would be nearly impossible to build this structure today due to environmental impact issues (this structure has been assessed regularly has having a negligible impact on the environment, which says something about environmental regulations, as well as Wright's ability to deliver on a vision), the costs would clearly be far higher than the inflation-adjusted figure of $3mm. In addition, you'd have to account for the costs of ego, which were significant in this project.
Continue reading "Frank Lloyd Wright"
Yesterday a friend emailed me his photo of sunset from a Dominican Republic resort. He called it Paradise, I don't know why. Cheap but excellent ceegars? Paradise for me is a cold, wet duck boat on a northern marsh, but there are times, I must confess, when the sub-tropics and tropics are appealing. For example, I do love Bermuda and the Everglades.
Mrs. BD is planning a winter trip to Islamorada, but I have sort-of lost my enthusiasm for fishing - I just like to know that the fish are there - and I will not sit on a beach for more than five minutes although I am happy to swim in salt water. Might be good bird-watching, though.