Sunday, December 25, 2011

Childhood Christmas Memories

Christmas means so many things to so many people. My Christmas memories are warm and idyllic, and I thank my parents for that.

My father really enjoyed the season. Papa Testa made the holiday special and meaningful to me as a child. I remember we lived in the city of Somerville, Massachusetts,  and we did not have a fireplace. Every year my father would assemble the faux fireplace. My father insisted  that Santa would be able to visit us with this makeshift fireplace. My mother would assist me in writing a letter to Santa Claus letting him know that I was "a good boy", and in the letter there would be a short list of Christmas wishes....

(Somerville, MA mid 1960's)

Every Christmas eve my mother would bake sugar cookies, The shapes were always the same: Christmas tree, bell and star. The frosting was white and there was always sprinkles of red and green. The cookies were always left out the coffee table near the Christmas tree with a glass of milk AND, a carrot for Rudolph.

Every Christmas morning my father would be first to awake and he would always say "Good bye Santa Claus, Good bye Santa" We would rush down the stairs, amazed that we missed him. Upon coming down the stairs, I was always in awe to see how the living room was transformed into a magical world of toys and presents. Christmas morning was spent opening presents, as my parents sipped their coffee and watched the smiles on their children grow wide.

(Christmas Card from 1963)

As I got older, I realized that Christmas is not about presents, or what you have or what you don't have, but rather its a feeling. A feeling of happiness and joy. When I sit back  now and think of my parents, I think of the joy my father had in shopping for presents. His joy in decorating the Christmas tree with the family while "The Chipmunks" Christmas album played on the hifi. And the joy he would get "waving" bye to Santa Claus, knowing his children would wake up, thinking they had just missed the jolly man in the red suit...

My father was what you call a "good guy". He was good father, husband and person. During the holidays these traits truly shined. My father worked for the Boston Globe  Newspaper. One of the Globe's charities was Globe Santa, which provided toys to needy children in New England. My dad was involved in this charity. He believed in the magic of Christmas and the joy that spread from this magic. I truly miss my father during this time of year and I am happy he gave me the gift of joy. That is the gift I carry with me everyday. This gift will never go out of style and is non-returnable. Thank you, Papa!

(me, in my new velour shirt, which was the rage in the Italian-Americans in the 1960's. My father, and I  at my Aunt Santa's house-Yes, that is correct, I had an aunt named: Santa....).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

'Twas la nochebuena...

Fue la Nochebuena all through the house,
not a creature was stirring not even los perros.
The stockings were hung by the palms with care,
in hopes that Papa Noel would soon be there.

I was nestled in my chaise by the pool, and ready for a swim,
as visions of helado danced in my head.
When all of sudden I sprang from my chair;
to the sight of eight tiny geckos dancing mid-air.

I rubbed my eyes and thought it was a tropical dream,
to see Papa Noel  appear in a palm tree.
He was dressed for surfing from head to toe
and carried a big sack that really glowed.

His face was happy and his beard was nicely trimmed;
his body a little round, which  made me look extra thin.
He glanced at me and nodded his cabeza,
as he danced around the patio y la piscina.

Without warning, he lifted his hand into the sack,
and filled the stockings with dulces y regalos rather fast!

And then he snapped his fingers and said:
Happy Christmas and Feliz Navidad to all, and to all a good night, ciao!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Common Good

Unless we work for the Common Good, there won't be any...

Public beaches,  parks, libraries and public pools are some of the simple things that I enjoy.  In my lifetime these attractions have always been part of "my community".  I have always taken advantage of these public "institutions" and never have taken them for granted. These places provide recreation, entertainment and enjoyment for the public good.

During these times of cutbacks, and "slash and burn" tax anger, we need to re-think the rolls that these places provide for the common good of the community.

As a child my parents instilled in me the importance of taking advantage of these attractions. Virtually everyday I am on the beach, Marginal Way, in a library or at a public pool. I can not imagine life without these great American treasures.

Many of these public treasures are in "plain view" and many do not see them every day. Many communities have public tennis courts, baseball fields, and other recreation venues. As a public we need to see beyond the grind of our daily lives and realize  the importance that these places provide for the common good.

So many people are angry with Wall Street and the one percent. Instead of occupying Wall Street, lets "occupy" beaches, parks, pools and libraries. Lets use these  institutions before we loose them. Taking advantage of public beaches, parks is for the Common Good.

Friday, November 25, 2011

El Ateneo

I have always imagined Paradise will be a kind of library
                               -Jorge Luis Borges

I have always loved browsing through bookstores. However, its not that easy anymore in this digital age. Here in the USA, bookstores are becoming a thing of the past. While visiting Argentina, this is not the case. Bookstores are quite common and plentiful. Virtually every neighborhood in Buenos Aires has a couple of bookstores.

The Grande Dame, of bookstores in Buenos Aires is the gilded El Ateneo. This once opulent theatre sits on busy Avenida Santa Fe. El Ateno Gran Splendid has an illustrious history. Live  performances and radio broadcasts featuring Carlos Gardel were produced from this building in Barrio Norte. This grand opera house was built in 1919 during wave of European immigration and features a Vatican-esque dome ceiling mural painted by noted Italian artist Nazareno Orlandi.

The stage in the theatre is now a cafe where you can get a macchiato and a light lunch. The cushion theatre boxes are now places where you can sit and read a book. El Ateneo is an amazing bookstore and rated as one of the top 10 bookstores in the world. If you are visiting Buenos Aires, this is one attraction that is worth visiting.

Most books are in Spanish, but there is a wide variety of books in English and other languages. There is also a large selection of music CD's and DVD's. This bookstore is well worth a visit!

The Details:
El Ateneo Bookstorre
1860-1865 Ave Santa Fe, Barrio Norte/Recoleta neighborhood
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Hours: Monday to Saturday 10am to 7pm
Sunday 10am to 5pm
Phone/Contact Info
+54 11 4811 6104

Bookstores are quite common in Buenos Aires, this Bookstore, Clasica y Moderna features a restaurant and jazz club with live entertainment....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cafe San Juan - Restaurant Review

While channel surfing in Argentina, I came across reality show about a restaurant called Cafe San Juan on Fox Life TV in Buenos Aires. The show is about a small boutique restaurant in San Telmo district of Buenos Aires. I am not a fan of reality TV, and really don't watch those types of programs ( e.g., I have never seen Survivor, Big Brother etc). I find these types of programs boring and over dramatic. However, this show caught my attention. The series presents itself as a "docu-reality", which I think is more accurate than, just a reality show. The situations and characters are real, not contrived.

Cafe San Juan is a small boutique restaurant located on Calle San Juan in the San Telmo District. San Telmo is known for the legendary San Telmo fairs on Sunday. San Telmo is also an antique and art destination. The district is: edgy, young, gritty, immigrant and up & coming. Think NY city's Chelsea or Lower East side in the 1970's.  Celebrity Chef/Owner/skateboarder, Leonardo Cristobal  is young and edgy. He looks like a younger version of Spanish rock star Manu Chau.

Cristobal is a passionate man. He is passionate about his restaurant, food, presentation of the meal, and skateboarding. He buys all is vegetables locally and uses products that are in season. There is no delivered processed food.
What really piqued my interest while watching the television program is how well the staff got along. Everyone, sliced, diced and prepared the food for dining clients. This was true when we dined. The staff operated like a well tuned orchestra.

 (San Telmo is gritty, artsy and full of passion, like these street performers)

The restaurant is small, with tables outside and maybe 10 to 12 tables inside. The kitchen is open, and diners can observe celebrity chef Cristobal prepare the evenings meals. Like San Telmo, the food is edgy, eclectic and entertaining.  Jazz and ambient music flow through the small restaurant. There is no set menu; the waiters truck a chalkboard from table to table with the day's specialties. Tonight's specials were, Squid, Rabbit and Salmon.

I decided on the salmon. It's spring in Argentina and the wild salmon are in season. The portion was a good size and was accompanied by eggplant, onions, and covered in greens. The meal was delicious, and the presentation was perfect. The salmon was probably the best I've ever had.

I must admit, part of my attraction to this restaurant was it's style and sexiness. Dining in Argentina is a process. It is not rushed. Like the saying, "life is too short for cheap wine", this is how Porteños dine, leisurely, relaxed and luxuriate at a table for hours. There is no, "eat and run" in Argentina. Dining is an art form. Food is celebrated. Argentines have adopted the Spanish culture's way of eating late,  the Italians love for food, and the Frenchman's passion for the Cafe Society.

For dessert we split a chocolate mousse with almonds and topped by eatable chocolate  gold thread-Need I say more! Like most restaurants in Buenos Aires, desserts are homemade!

I found the staff helpful, and efficient. The restaurant opens in the evening at 8pm ( reservations are highly recommended).  This was my best meal in Buenos Aires this year, and Buenos Aires is known as a foodies paradise. Prices are a bit higher than most restaurants in Buenos Aires, but still much cheaper than stateside restaurants. Cafe San Juan only accepts cash, and not credit cards.

The Details:
Cafe San Juan
450 Calle San Juan
San Telmo ( Buenos Aires)
Telephone: 4300 1112
CASH ONLY Dollars accepted.
Reservations are highly recommended.

Watch the Video
Episode One of Cafe San Juan

Farmers market in San Telmo

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pizza in Buenos Aires

Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around
-Anna Quindlen

Italians invented it, Americans perfected it, and Argentines celebrate it!

Every where you go in Argentina there  are pizzeria's. But these are not like American pizza Parlors.

A big part of Argentina's population is of Italian origin, Some statistics indicate that over 50 percent of Argentina's population is Italian descent. So it's no surprise that Pizzeria's, pasta shops, and other Italian eateries dot the Argentine landscape.

Names like Fugazzo, Roquerot and Faina ( a garbanzo/chick pea bean based pizza that originated in Genova, brought over by the immigrant Italians ) are on almost every menu along with muzzarella and Jamon.

Pizzerias also carry empanadas. An Empanada is basically a hot pockets with minced meat, or chicken.

Pizzeria's are also big hang-outs to watch football ( Soccer) matches. The authentic pizza joints also have   soda water with the syphon cartridges. I have not seen these types of bar accoutrement since the 1960's......

The best party about travelling with my friend Jay, is that he is always up for Pizza. My favorite Pizza place is La Americana Pizzeria. This place is been around for generations. There is table service, or you can get take-away slices and eat standing at the counter. Argentine Pizza places are lively and entertaining.

Jay enjoys Fugazza pizza and anchovy pizza....Fugazza pizza is a white pizza LOADED with savory onions! Brought over by the northern Italians in the late 1800's

Like New Yorkers,  Portenos walk a lot which helps burning off these carbo calories. I do not feel to bad about eating so much here, I am able to run virtually everyday in Recoleta and Palermo.

The Details:
La Americana Pizzeria
Avenida Callao, 83
Buenos Aires
Telefono: 4.371.0202
This is one of my favorite pizza parlours in Buenos Aires. Place is busy, entertaining and lively. Prices are quite reasonable.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Colonial town of Colonia Uruguay

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
 You understand now why you came this way
 'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small
 But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a comin' day
Crosby, Stills & Nash

The charming town of Colonia de Sacramento sits 50 kilometers across the Rio de la Plata and a world away from Buenos Aires.  I am really enamored by this little colonial town. The pace in this historical town is much slower, than cosmopolitan Buenos Aires. I have always been attracted to places that sit on the water.

The side streets are tree lined with cobble stones. Much of the architecture is Spanish & Portuguese colonial. The United Nations declared this town a UNESCO world heritage site.

Colonia is the oldest town in Uruguay. The town was founded by the Portuguese in 1680, for its strategic importance. The Portuguese built  a walled fort, churches and a trade port. The Spanish acquired the town in 1771.

Uruguay has an abundance of lighthouses. Some of the islands surrounding Colonia in the Rio de la Plata  are dotted with lighthouses.  In Colonia, the Colonia Lighthouse is famous and administered by the Uruguayan Navy. There are 119 steps to the top if this lighthouse. The admission is 15 Uruguayan Pesos ( .75 USD). The Lighthouse was rebuilt in 1857, and sits on the ruins of the San Francisco convent.

Climbing to the top of the lighthouse is an experience, the stairs are narrow, and the doorways are low. I got a bit dizzy climbing the stairs to the top, but the site was well worth it! The views are incredible.
You can also see the faint skyline of Buenos Aires, islands, and other lighthouses.

There a lot of cute restaurants to have lunch or dinner. Like Argentina, lunches are GRANDE!

Time sits still in this town....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Recoleta Cemetery

This year I am staying in the Recoleta section of Buenos Aires. Recoleta is known for its chic shops, well heeled gentry, tree lined streets and French architecture. Recoleta is also home to the Recoleta Cemetery.

Named for the Recollect priests, this walled city of the dead houses some of Buenos Aires most famous people in history: Presidents, writers, generals and industrialists.

The necropolis was built in 1822, and was original resting place for common folk, but quickly became the place to be interned...

The crypts are actually mini houses with doors, windows, and sub-terrain levels. The coffins are displayed with artifacts, pictures, relics and sometimes other family members.

The mini-city is 13 acres and houses over 6,500 people. It's also a major tourist attraction.

Its best to go in the morning during the week, when the cemetery is quiet. Feral cats wander amongst the mausoleums and tree lined passages of this walled city.

The architecture and art alone is worth the visit, with Roman, Greek, French, Victorian, Modern, Art Deco well represented.

One of the most famous residents of the Recoleta cemetery is Evita Peron. Her family tomb is simple: black marble mid-century modern with her family name Duarte. Visitors from near and far visit her tomb and pay respect with flowers.

 The Details:
Recoleta Cemetery
Calle Junin
Hours: 7am to 6pm
Admission is free