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, August 25. 2014
Sunday, August 24. 2014
Wellfleet is for swimming.
My niece is an ocean lifeguard out there. Cool job.
Lots of seals swimming off that stretch of beach. Harbor Seals or Grey Seals? I could not tell. Happy seals, anyway.
Thursday, August 14. 2014
AVI reminded us that the Cape Cod National Seashore turned 50 this week. That Sponge-headed Science Man loves the Cape as much as we do. The Farm is wonderful, but being inland has always made me feel a little claustrophobic. I like access to sea and sky.
Pic above of a stretch of South Beach, with our group of intrepid birders. We hopped down from Wellfleet to Chatham last week to catch a Mass. Audubon birding trip out to Monomoy Island (about which we posted recently). Monomoy is designated a National Wilderness. The size and shape of Monomoy is constantly in flux, as is its intermittent connection with Chatham's South Beach (which is an extension of Nauset Beach - the Cape's southern barrier island group which now reaches down towards Nantucket.
We ended up boating down to lower South Beach instead of Monomoy proper, due to tidal water depth. Our guide du jour, Ellison, an expert birder, led us on an arduous 4 mile barefoot (watch for sharp shells) hike through mud flats, soft sand, and sharp-edged marsh cordgrass - and non-stop biting marsh bugs - to check out the early migrants and the breeding shorebirds. Ya gotta be tough to be a birder.
Bird list and more pics below the fold -
Continue reading "Monomoy bird list, plus Chatham MA, reposted"
Saturday, August 9. 2014
Recommendation from a friend who just returned from a vacation trip: Crillon Le Brave.
Looks pleasant enough to me. I'd prefer to rent a villa with a cook and housemaid, though, get a few rental cars and bikes, and invite everybody to visit.
Wednesday, July 23. 2014
NYC offers countless sights and countless sensory delights - many of them free (someday I may make a list of our favorites for those readers with vehement New York-ophobia - they just never did NYC right), but we have come to make strolls on the High Line an annual pleasure. This July, the perennial beds were wonderful to see. Why can't we make gardens this interesting at the farm?
Well, I thought the idea of making the High Line trail out of the old elevated railroad which was built to bring animals from the Hudson ferries to the slaughterhouses and meatpacking factories (the now-popular and fashionable Meatpacking District) was foolish was stupid (from the West 30s to Gansevoort St.), but I have been wrong a few times in the past. Only a few times.
More pics below the fold -
Continue reading "A July stroll on the High Line"
Sunday, July 13. 2014
Wednesday, July 9. 2014
A very cool company, Intrepid Travel. Not expensive either, and they go everywhere.
Mrs. BD wanted to schedule their trip to Jordan, but they are sold out for this fall. Friends told us that Petra was one of the most interesting places they had been to, and they have been everywhere. We rarely opt for organized tours, but for Jordan we thought it might be OK with us even though it's not exactly an exotic place. Mrs. BD wants to see all of the TE Lawrence places. 7 Pillars is a fine read.
Maybe I am a jaded traveller, but I have seen enough Greek, Roman, and Phoenician rockpiles to last a lifetime, and I've read it all, too. Jordan would be something different, with maybe a side trip to Israel.
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, May 1. 2014
My snap above is the main lodge. As I mentioned previously, it's a barrier island accessible only by small boat.
What sorts of people would spend serious bucks to inhabit rustic cabins built in 1910 on the edge of a swamp with far fewer amenities than home, the air full of skeeters, Diamondback Rattlers and gators roaming around, no elegant plantings other than God's, simple home cookin, no umbrella drinks, and where the evening entertainment is an academic talk on bird migration?
Well, as Mrs. BD pointed out, it can be expensive to get that old-timey vigorous WASPy in-the-woods time these days in remote places. A condo on a beach with WiFi and TV, hotel menus, and Pina Coladas and lounge chairs around the pool would be less than half the price tag, but boring as heck. She believes that my Yankee-types, as a matter of taste, like either grand luxe or rustic roughing-it, and nothing in-between. Probably right. In addition, we do not like to sit on vacations. Go Go Hi Ho.
As she also pointed out, the price at Little Saint Simons is all-inclusive - all meals (no menu choices, of course - family-style), all of the naturalist adventures, all the boats and kayaks and bikes, all the booze and cocktail hours and oyster roasts and shrimp boils at the beach. And the entirely private 7-mile island, just for you. Chef is a grad of the CIA (Culinary Institute of America for those of you in Yorba Linda) but he does home cookin like his grandma.
So who was there (all with spouses)? A self-selecting elite bunch of folks. A recently-retired career Army Ranger from Colorado who discovered an interest in natural history. A retired Memphis cotton broker. A NYC doctor. A high school teacher couple from Salt Lake City. An 8th-grade Science teacher from Michigan. A famous nature artist from Massachusetts. An Ornithology prof from Georgia Southern (not a railroad - a university). A professor of something from Boston. A fund manager from Chicago. A jolly, congenial, and intelligent crew, and a tattoo-free zone for sure. Lots of laughs at mealtimes.
Despite the skeeters, they have a high repeat rate. I would recommend March-April-May or October for a place like this. Too hot and too many bugs in the summertime - for me, anyway.
Our temps last week were daytime highs around 76 and nights high 50s-low 60s. Constant sea breeze. Perfect.
I remarked to Mrs. BD that it must be a rare "resort" vacation spot indeed where, when one of the resident naturalists asks for a show of hands for the next morning's 7 AM birding in the marsh, almost everybody present raises their hands.
"Meet at the trucks at 7 on the dot."
More boring travelogue pics and nature details below the fold -
Continue reading "A free ad for Little Saint Simons Island, Part 1"
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"