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Born to Die

Monday, August 29th, 2011

“The Axe” A Short Story by Rosanne Dingli

Friday, July 8th, 2011

As my readers know I am interested in all types of writing be it novels, newspaper, magazine, etc. Recently, I have been fortunate to come across the work of award-winning Australian author Rosanne Dingli. By the author’s permission I have printed one of her short stories, “The Axe”. I enjoyed it immensely and think you will, too. “The Axe” is part of a collection of short stories called “The Astronomer’s Pig”. Take a minute to savor how the story builds as you imagine yourself sharpening the axe. Slow down and allow yourself to follow the rhythm of the story. Maybe suck on a humbug or other candy. Roseanne generously includes a recipe after each and every story. I’m going to try this one for sure. Enjoy!

The Axe

Today I sharpened the axe. I found a grey stone at the hardware store, found out about using oil. Eager to try it, I sat in the long grass and poured a few drops of sewing machine oil onto the grey oblong. It darkened, and absorbed oil at once into a dulled porous surface.

The axe was heavy, unwieldy. I sat with it in my lap and rubbed the dull rusty blade across the stone, holding the edge at an angle I thought was right, and rubbed it slowly at first, then faster and more rhythmically. It was a while before I found a comfortable position, with the stone in one hand, then stroked it with a circular motion on the axe blade, making a marvellous noise one would expect from a mechanical grinding stone on a lathe. I turned circles, keeping up the momentum, the rhythm of the noise. Sharp shiny marks appeared on the blade. I imagined it was the noise that made the circular scratches.

In an hour, I had made a difference. I turned the axe over only once, concentrating on doing the same thorough job on the other side of the blade. The grinding noise filled the air about me. In another hour, I made a greater difference. I could slide a thumb gingerly on the honed edge and feel potential in its sharpness. Only my arm had moved.

A pair of turtledoves watched from the power-line, heads nodding in unison. They flew off at exactly the same time and returned to the same spot twice. One of them cooed, but I could not be sure which, because raising my eyes from the blade made me miss a beat. I did not want to re-address my rhythm, to get it started again. So I concentrated, thinking only of the circular motion and the fine grating noise, which was making a difference to the blade edge.

It was as if I were alone in the world, watched from a great distance by birds. The feeling of being watched grew. I nursed the sensation, cradling fancy until I could toss my head without losing the grinding rhythm. I imagined someone could see my hair move in the sun. Long grass hid me from the house and it was as if I did not share it with two other women. I thought of the night’s argument in front of the fire.

‘Too big,’ Mara had declared, looking from underneath slanting eyebrows at the huge log I had just put into the blaze. Corinne tucked her skirt around her hips. She cocked her head and we all knew she would agree with Mara. So she said nothing.

‘The axe is blunt.’ I said it softly, the last T hardly sounding in the room where loud crackles from the dry jarrah log filled the silence. ‘I can split, but I can’t chop.’

‘So buy another axe.’ Mara looked at Corinne for approval.

‘So buy another axe … ’ Corinne repeated. She looked at me and pretended to sip from an empty mug. I jumped up and made more coffee for all of us, thinking of the dent the price of a new axe would make in the kitty.

At the hardware store, we wandered separately, coming back to the counter with tightly clasped objects. Corinne and Mara held identical axes. I put the whetting stone on the counter and the man said its price. It was under a quarter of that of an axe. I won, but it was not before Mara had her final word. ‘You do the sharpening,’ she said.

Mara and Corinne stood on the back steps blinking into the orange sky that was this day’s sunset. They did not see me. Theirs were not the imaginary eyes I felt, tangible on my back. Theirs was not the gaze I invented, a gaze that tunnelled through the noise, through the cooing of turtledoves, to my rhythmic movement in the grass as I ground and ground at the axe blade. Theirs were high voices, uncurious stares. I heard them talk about me: about the stone and about the axe.

‘She’s still at it, I heard the grinding noise,’ one of them said.

I heard the swishing of skirts as they turned back into the house. There was the scent of baking bread, of simmering soup. They baked together: substantial Irish soda bread left a patina on the teeth. Its taste stayed not only on the tongue, but also on the mind. I thought of their bread, then of the night and burning slivers of log in the big hearth.

Eyes watched my arm move, and my hair shine in the grass. I wondered if the palpable stare would follow me when I went to the chopping block. I thought of a lean man swinging an axe high over his head and splitting a log with a girth thick as Mara’s waist. I closed my eyes and brought his image into the long grass.

Resuming the rhythmic circular sharpening, bringing the noise back to sharpen the axe, I drew a lean imaginary man into the last slant of sun from the sunset and he sat with me. His sleeves were rolled back and he crossed his legs and planted each elbow on a corresponding knee. He tilted his head and smiled at my closed eyes. I smiled at my own musings. I made believe he pulled a crumpled paper bag from a pocket and offered me a humbug. In my mouth, it was huge; the sweet taste of black and white mixing quickly with the solid thirst of the afternoon’s work.

‘Go on,’ said my lean man.

So I continued, sucking the sweet and turning my arm in an automatic motion to make the noise that would sharpen my axe. I thought of the man taking the axe and chopping neatly into huge logs behind the house.

The turtledoves had gone. I knew without opening my eyes. I heard the women’s voices in the house. I leaned over slightly to feel the arm of the man beside me in the long grass. But he was not there, of course. I had sucked the humbug until it was a tiny sliver under my tongue. I had dismissed him from my imagination. The sun had gone down.

When I stopped sharpening, I looked at the rectangular whetting stone. It was black. Shreds and specks of black littered my green skirt, bunched in my lap. Both my hands were black. I imagined my tongue being black, from sucking the striped sweet. I looked around, half expecting my imagined man to jump up as I did, from the bent and fragrant grass. Behind the house, I chose a large log and rolled it upright onto the block. I closed my eyes and heard the last laughs from the kookaburras that lived over in the park.

The man was there again. With rolled up sleeves and smelling of the grass, he moved in next to me. Together, we lifted the axe and with a heavy plunge and thud, fairly bisected the log. Whack. It worked. I looked at the sharp edge of the axe in excitement laced with disbelief. The man’s approval radiated and bounced against my chest, against my forearms and tightened on my wrists, where my pulse was now palpable.

After a pause, I walked into the house with a basketful of jarrah splinters. ‘It works,’ I said.        

Mara peeped over my shoulder at the wood. Corinne was stirring soup.

‘You smell of aniseed,’ one of them said.

I laughed. ‘A man came and sat next to me. He gave me a humbug. Look. My tongue is black.’

‘Your tongue is fine and pink. It’s your hands that are black. And your skirt!’ They both raised their eyes with impatience, as if they spoke to a child.

‘Do I really smell of aniseed?’ I was curious.

‘You must have sat on it. There is a clump growing in the long grass.’ Corinne lifted the ladle. Thick soup ran back into the pot.

I was hungry. A savage thirst clawed at my tongue and throat. ‘A man popped a sweet in my mouth and helped me chop the wood.’

Sure. Then he put his arm around you, kissed you soundly and sent you inside with the full basket, right?’ They laughed together.

In the hearth, the wood spat and crackled. Heat radiated and reached the leather bound books in the shelves around the walls.

‘It worked,’ I said again.

‘Yes, but you were out there all afternoon. Didn’t the noise set your teeth on edge? It’s a horrid grating noise.’

‘The axe got sharp.’

‘She likes it, Mara,’ said Corinne. ‘She likes strange things like weird noise. She listens to kookaburras.’ She sneered in her effort to keep Mara on her side.

‘And turtledoves,’ I added, piling fuel on the fire. ‘Two watched from the power line.’ I bent my head over my soup bowl and caught its aroma. ‘ … And the man wore a checked shirt with rolled up sleeves. He pulled a bag of sweets from … ’ I looked up just as they cocked eyebrows at each other.

‘Today I sharpened the axe.’ I addressed both of them – neither of them – and was full of satisfaction. They just looked at me.

The wood ran out just before eleven. We were all warm from sitting in the big sofa, knitting and reading, with the old quilt thrown over our three laps. Occasional flashes from traffic on the highway blinked past the curtains and blind. The soft blue whirling lights of a police car passed our corner twice.

I went out and shivered on the back steps. I would not recreate eyes to watch me this time. It was too dark for fanciful diversions. I reached blindly for the axe, which leaned against the side of the house, as I turned the corner near the pile of logs.

An arm came out and grabbed my waist. I heard breathing.

I gasped, but kept silent. Did I hear the soft rustle of a paper bag in a pocket? My eyes were wide open but everything was black except for a lighter patch of sky over the highway.

‘I need to chop some more wood,’ I said foolishly into the darkness.

The arm tightened round my waist. I could feel a rough cheek against mine, warm breath on my neck. I reached a tentative hand and felt a rolled-back sleeve. He did not talk. He breathed deeply, and a lean arm squeezed my waist. I pawed blindly for the axe.

‘Leave it.’ The voice grated, like a whetting stone. He whispered, out of breath. ‘Leave it. Don’t even think of the axe. Who’s in the house?’

‘M-mara and Corinne … They want … wood —’

‘They will get their wood.’ Then, ‘You smell of bread.’

‘Soda bread – they made it today.’

He took me by the wrists: both my hands in one of his big fists. In my mind, I felt a cold hard sweet being pushed into my mouth. In reality, my throat swelled and I nearly panicked. Then I was pressed down to sit on a log and suddenly the loud thwack of the axe biting into wood split the night. Again and again, the axe rained chopping sounds into the darkness while I mentally sucked a sweet, its taste running down my throat until it was a tiny particle.

His hands were suddenly under each of my arms. He lifted me bodily until I stood on the back step. His mouth covered mine and in the dark, I was kissed soundly. My surprise had hardly taken before I felt the wood basket being pushed into my arms. ‘Bring me some of that bread,’ he said.

‘And soup?’ I whispered, surprised at myself.

‘And soup.’

Today I sharpened the axe. I listened to the whetting stone’s noise, to the kookaburras and the turtledoves. I conjured a pair of eyes to watch me as I sat in the long grass, as I made that jarring grinding noise, making the blade sharp. I sucked sweets and ate soup and bread. I chopped wood behind the house and took it in to be burnt. I listened to Mara and Corinne talking while I knitted a few rows in my green jumper.

Today I sharpened the axe and carried food to a man in rolled up sleeves, who told me not to turn on the porch light and not to tell a soul I had seen him. Perhaps he knew that Mara and Corinne would turn him in. Perhaps he knew they noticed the police car going past twice.

I still smell of aniseed.

*

Rosanne Dingli is the author of The Astronomer’s Pig, the collection of food stories from which this story is taken. She has been connected to publishing in one way or another since 1985, and has also worked as a heraldic artist, travel consultant and cook. According to Luke and Death in Malta are her two novels, published by BeWrite Books. Read more about this author and her work at http://www.rosannedingli.com

Irish Soda Bread

6 cups flour

2 teaspoons sugar

2 & 1/3 cups buttermilk

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons corn starch

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a baking sheet and set aside. Take all dry ingredients and mix together. When blended well, slowly add buttermilk, kneading until a good dough forms. Separate into two sections and form into loaves on the baking sheet. Prove for 10 minutes. Take a knife and cut three lines across the top of the loaves, and bake immediately for 45 minutes.

You can find Roseanne’s books here 

Storm Chaser: A novel by Mark Hunter

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

A new novel by author Mark Hunter promises to be a fun read for those of you fascinated by tornadoes.  Grounded by a strong female character scared of nothing this fresh take on adventure/romance promises to be a must read for the summer season.  In the author’s own words:

“The black funnel of an approaching tornado makes all other troubles seem small. But when Indiana State Trooper Chance Hamlin “rescues” Allie Craine from a twister, his troubles are just beginning: Allie, a disaster photographer, rescues him when he drives into the storm’s path.

Chance doesn’t like being rescued, he doesn’t like photographers, and he definitely doesn’t like being stuck with Allie when she wants to stay in calm, peaceful Indiana. Too bad his family, friends, and even the other members of Chance’s volunteer fire department think she’s great. Suspicious of Allie’s motives, he decides to drive her away out of sheer boredom – but that’s not so easy when someone begins causing fires and other catastrophes around the area. That someone might be Allie, who has plans of her own… ”

Mark has worked for years as an emergency 911 dispatcher in tornado alley.  His experience and expertise with natural disasters add the realistic details to this entertaining story.  Read it and let me know what you think!Author Mark Hunter

The Best Chinese Food in Tampa!

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Anyone who has ever had to listen to someone from the New York metropolitan area whine about food, when we’ve moved to another part of the country, knows how annoying we can be.  When my family plans a trip back to New Jersey our plan starts with a list of all the food we need to eat while we’re there.  Pizza, bagels, a good diner breakfast and of course, Chinese food.  Without seeming provincial, I just haven’t eaten any of these items in Florida that have come close to my home state.  That is before last night.

I grew up being able to go into Chinatown with friends for the real deal.  Walking down the stairs into a ground floor restaurant like Hop Kee in Chinatown was something we just accepted as our right.  We were so spoiled!  So when a friend and member of The Culture and Cuisine Club suggested a road trip to a Chinese restaurant I was skeptical.  Seriously skeptical.

Was I ever wrong!  The best pork fried dumplings I’ve ever had, fantastic hot and sour soup, the list goes on and on!  We ordered so much food, we were like drunken sailors, and we laughed hysterically when it all arrived.  But was any left?  Only the dark meat and carcass of the Peking duck came home with me, which will be made into a duck stock today.

Only a few of the dishes we consumed.

In the haze of  a Chinese food hangover this is what I remember eating:  Roast pork chow fun with black bean sauce, Lobster Cantonese, sesame chicken with broccoli, Peking duck, moo shu pork, a curry hot pot, beef with broccoli and I’m sure I’ve forgotten something.  It was all served family style on a big glass lazy Susan in the center of the table which Cynthia controlled like a card dealer in Vegas. It was an unbelievable feast, and I’ve taken a couple of pictures to tempt you.  The restaurant is named China Yuan, on Armenia north of Waters. Here is the link, enjoy!  http://www.chinayuanrestaurant.com.

Very little food is left!

Digging Deep: Guest post by writer Boyd Lemon

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

The life of a writer can be difficult.  Self-enforced writing schedules and mental blocks are just two of the many challenges we face in the creative phase.  To turn out a beautifully written book and get it published are hurdles many would be authors never overcome. So, a huge congratulations goes out to fellow writer Boyd Lemon as he can proudly discuss his most recent book, “Digging Deep:  A Writer Uncovers His Marriages”.

“Twelve years after my third divorce I began writing a memoir about my marriages.  My journey in writing the memoir was excruciatingly painful, but in the end healed me and brought me the peace that I had never achieved by simply “moving on” after each divorce.  I believe the book can help others to deal with issues in their own relationships.”

“I had written a dozen short stories before I had left California, encouraged by my friend and muse Kate,  so I felt ready to move to the “writer friendly” city of Boston. I have always liked Boston, and the woman I call Kate in the book and I platonically shared an apartment. She encouraged me to continue what had developed into a passion.  Kate is a talented writer and teacher in her own right, and her guidance throughout was critical.  Initially I did not intend to write a memoir.  Kate suggested that I explore the dynamics of my three marriages, pointing out that my experiences would not only allow me to work through the remaining feelings I had, the pain, conflict, betrayal and guilt, but that this book might also be inspirational to others.”

“The writing was difficult on many levels.  When I was done with the first draft, Kate’s take was that I had approached it all wrong.  I took her suggestions to heart, and went to work again.  She said I needed to understand my role in the destruction of my marriages.  I realized she was right.  With the help of Natalie Goldberg, the great writing teacher and author, I began digging, meditating and agonizing over those events I would have rather forgotten.  Some of what I’ve written shocks me even now.  I have learned that writing can heal, as this excruciating process healed me.”

“I am published with “Outskirts Press”, and the book can be purchased through the link below.  At the urging of several artists, I used a drawing that I had sketched of myself for the cover.  Relationships these days are terribly difficult, and I feel privileged to write a book I think might help people understand and deal with their own relationships.  Thank you.”

Boyd’s book can be purchased at his website http://www.BoydLemon-Writer.com in print and Kindle format.  If you prefer, it is also available from Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and by order from your local bookstore.

Investing in You in 2011!

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

January is usually the time of year when people make their New year’s resolutions.  Lists of things we want to change, often without the guidance of individuals who are expert in their fields leave us feeling stressed and clueless as to how to reach our goals. The intentions we have are good, but where do we start?  How do we decide on a plan of action that will make us healthy, centered and closer to personal success?

For most of us it is very difficult to revamp our lives and break the patterns, be they dietary, attitudinal or spiritual, that keep us from achieving our full potential. We need mentors to guide us. Opening ourselves up to change can be scary, but we need to accept the risk. So, if you are ready to really attack that list of goals that now sits with a layer of dust on it, I have a suggestion for you.

How about visiting Italy with a top notch staff of inspired individuals and successful business women?  Sight-seeing and shopping expeditions led by an Italian insider are combined with spa treatments and spiritual guidance . The bold, fresh flavors of Italian cuisine and world famous wine are enjoyed. Luxurious accommodations in Florence and the gorgeous Tuscan countryside relax and help you to absorb the positive vibe of the group leaders.  Programs are tailored to you and your goals and like minded travelers surround you and support you on your journey.  Combine this with incredible art and designer shopping and you won’t even realize how much you’ve walked!

Led by host Micaela Passeri, an Italian Inspirational Designer, you are in for the trip of a lifetime designed to help you renew yourself.  As a European handbag designer Micaela brought her creative spirit to her pieces.  Now she is sharing her knowledge of Italian culture and shopping with a small group of individuals who seek inspiration.  Joined by such experts as Ungenita Katrina Prevost, a certified life and business coach who can take your life from “Frazzled to Fabulous”, Micaela has a program planned that will hit every expectation.

If this sounds good to you, then check out Amore! The Ultimate Retreat.  The trip runs from June 6 to June 16, 2011.  Use the trip as the reward for the work you are doing now.  You deserve it!

The C & C Club goes Brazilian!

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Wine enjoyed on Brazilian night!

The Culture and Cuisine Club celebrated recently with another night of fantastic food and sublime wine.  Chuck and I hosted and we chose Brazil as the featured cuisine.  I did lots of research online and talked to several Brazilian friends of mine.  This resulted in a menu that included some of the most popular dishes although I was amazed at the diversity of the cuisine. The other C & C members outdid themselves on the food.  It is so wonderful to get together with friends and have such a delicious dinner that is truly a group effort.

We started the evening with a drink called  a caipirinha, the national cocktail of Brazil.  It is comparable to a mojito but uses fresh muddled lime instead of mint leaves.  The main liquor is cachaca which is a Brazilian liquor distilled from sugarcane juice. Refreshing, delicious and potentially dangerous since you can’t really taste the liquor.  The recipe is listed under cocktails.

The Brazilian flag

Our first course was an empanada appetizer made by Debbie who has become the queen of all things empanada and pierogi like.  The filling was shrimp and sausage, the dough was perfect, and it was a wonderful munchie we could all enjoy while socializing. The C & C Club wasn’t able to get together over the holidays so we had a lot of catching up to do!

On to the salad course prepared by Lovely featuring hearts of palm and feta cheese.  My daughter went crazy over it as did everyone else!  Very fresh tasting with lots of different textures.  My daughter begged for the recipe which I will post on this blog. It’s a keeper!

The host usually prepares the main course and since this is the first time I was asking my husband to grill I decided to prepare a Brazilian Black Bean Stew in addition to picanha, a special cut of beef that I do not know the English word for. I went to the  butcher with my little pad of notes and read off exactly what my friend had told me I needed.  They were very helpful, and the directions on how to cook the meat that my friend Leila gave me worked out great.  The meat is simply rubbed with a specific type of rock salt, Sal Grosso, the excess is removed and then you grill.  Chuck used our internal meat thermometer and the result was wonderful, especially because the ends were a little more done and the middle was a beautiful medium rare. Everyone could choose the type of “doneness” they liked.

The Brazilian Black Bean Stew was a lot of chopping but  very flavorful.  I made it the day before, something I like to do so I don’t have to stress so much the day of the party.  I’ve posted the recipe on the blog and here is a picture. It really made a lot and the Le Creuset casserole is pretty enough to go right from the oven to the table.

Brazilian Black Bean Stew

Pam made tasty stuffed eggplant which is a vegetable featured often in Brazilian cuisine.  After all this deliciousness how, you might ask, could we possible have room for dessert?

A passion fruit layer cake was the perfect temptation.  I rushed to get a picture of it before it was cut because it was really beautiful. The cake was delicious and after  it was served it was left at my end of the table. My dinner partner and I were happy to take advantage of this situation.

Passion Fruit Layer Cake

Our hosts for the March C & C dinner have chosen …………. Australia!  Other than vegemite, kangaroo and pavlova I know nothing about Australian food.  This will require, yet again, a bit of research, but I don’t mind. On to the land of Oz!

Liz and Lois’s Great Adventure Part 2: Savannah, a Southern Jewel

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

Part 2 of our adventure begins with a foreign language lesson, how the insider orders at Starbuck’s.  I said, it’s hot and that cinnamon thing looks good.  Translation in Starbuck’s speak?  A tall, iced, skinny, cinnamon dolce latte ordered by my favorite daughter, and yes, it began to be a better world.  I felt the caffeine course through my body, making me more aware of my surroundings.  We love caffeine.

It was about 8:45 when we departed lovely Ashland.  Our plan was to drive about 3 hours and stop for lunch, then I would take over for a while to give my daughter a break.  One side note, we decided not to beautify ourselves, so we both still had really bad hair.  There are no pictures documenting this. Better to primp before going out to dinner.

I still had my 36 inches of territory, and we made good time until we stopped at a Ruby Tuesday’s in South Carolina.  They had these cheddar/chive/garlic biscuits that were amazing.  Northerners need to make sure if you’re going to eat biscuits or grits, that the person making them knows what they’re doing.  The results can be sublime.

I drove after lunch and we hit traffic from an accident.  Elizabeth could have walked faster than we crawled along. We knew we wouldn’t make our dinner reservation at The Olde Pink House, so we called and they kindly pushed it back to 8:30.

We got to Savannah about 7:00 and began the laborious beauty preparations.  Since we had never been to Savannah before I had googled restaurants and came up with The Olde Pink House.  Little did I know that it was literally a 5 minute walk around the corner.  The mansion is lovely with many different rooms that can suit whatever mood or number of guests you require.  We went up a very old  winding staircase to the second floor where we were seated in the Grand Ballroom.  It is a very formal rectangular space, 12 crystal chandeliers, silk wall treatments that glow when you take a picture, intricate draperies and a huge fireplace.  Really gorgeous!

We're happy!

Our waiter James, (we unfortunately don’t have a picture of him), was excellent, and explained in detail every appetizer and entree.  While contemplating our entrees we looked over the cocktail menu;  you can’t fool us twice.  We decided on a Raspberry Martini, made with Absolut Raspberry, Chambord, Champagne and a fresh raspberry garnish.  We sipped and relaxed, the longest part of our journey was behind us.

The Grand Ballroom

James came back to check on us.  While we enjoyed our cocktail I made an exciting discovery on the wine list, which probably had something to do with wearing my reading glasses, (although I really don’t need them). Treasure!  Is there actually a Ramey  Chardonnay available? Could the planets have aligned for our dining pleasure?  (My husband and I met the winemaker many years ago.  Future story.) I skipped around the dining room, (not really, but I wanted to), and immediately ordered the precious bottle.

James came back with the bottle, blessed man, and opened it.  I took a deep breath of its perfumed bouquet and then tasted it.  It was sublime, and I watched as my daughter smelled and then tasted it.  Her reaction confirmed my hopes and dreams. She said she wanted to dip her fingers in it and use it as perfume, and that it was the best glass of wine she had ever drunk. We were so happy with James that we anointed him James-Bog 2.  (Bogdan worked at Mise-en Place, and was the best waiter I’ve ever had.  He has disappeared, and I fear he was under government protection, or a spy who needed a temporary cover.)

We ordered blackened oysters, the BLT salad, (featured on Food Network’s The Best Thing I ever ate), which was made with fried green tomatoes.  I ordered the whole flounder and E ordered deep fried lobster.

Dinner was wonderful from start to finish, and I would highly recommend The Olde Pink House to anyone who wants an elegant dining experience, with a good bit of history mixed in. (The Habersham House, as it was originally called, has figured heavily in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.)   When we were done eating we were given a tour of the mansion, ghost stories of course, and we ended in the basement bar, formerly the kitchen, and settled in two club chairs in front of a roaring ‘gas’ fireplace.  I tasted and then ordered two Cockburn ports, and as we savored our candy the sommelier stopped by for a chat.  He showed us a small room, the original bank vault, the mansion was also The First Bank of Georgia, established 1811.  He said the goal is to clean it out, it was being used for storage, and host small wine tastings there.

We walked, a bit unsteadily I must admit, to our hotel.  E had a friend who was staying in Savannah and they were going out for a drink. I went up to the room, removed the pounds of make-up I had spackled on, and got into my comfy Hampton Inn bed.  E came in a short time later, and we both had a fantastic night’s sleep in preparation for the last leg of our journey.

The Mercer House

Cruising may become your guilty pleasure

Thursday, November 11th, 2010

There are as many types of vacations as there are the people who take them.  What is your ideal vacation?  Walking on a perfect pink sand beach with only the sounds of the sea to distract you?  Biking through France on your way to lunch at a 17th century Chateau?  How about a cruise aboard a first class ship where you can be as idle as you like?Liberty of the Seas

That’s what cruising is all about.  No pressure to do very much of anything except eat whenever you’re hungry, have a spa treatment, or go to a free show.  Great for those work weary types who need to completely unwind.  Just watch the islands and the sea go by.

A cruise also allows you to take one of the many port of call excursions and try something you might never have experienced, or see an important foreign landmark first hand.  My friend and business associate Steve Balavender has a passion for cruising, and  in the last year has started a business enabling him to assist others with their dream cruises.  Here is Steve’s account of a recent trip he took aboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas.

“My wife and I just returned from another great voyage on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, our second sailing aboard her but our first cruise ever without our children.  Liberty was the world’s largest cruise ship until she was surpassed in 2009 by Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the seas.  This ship is built to please all ages of travelers, with 3 main pools, 2 hot tubs, a rock climbing wall, and a water park!  And there’s more: an ice skating rink, miniature golf, casino, Flowrider surf simulator, spa, and even a full gym with the only boxing ring at sea.”

Surfing at Sea

“Liberty’s regular schedule is a 7 day cruise departing from Miami, however a private party had booked a 4 night charter.  So my wife and I lucked out and took a 3 day Halloween sailing, a unique cruise with a one port stop in Coco Cay, RC’s private island.  There was so much going on on the ship that my wife and I stayed on board the entire 3 days, and had a blast!  There was even a special Halloween party our last night, with most of the guests dressed up in costumes, and a special celebration commemorating the 300th RC cruise of 3 couples!”

The Royal Promenade“Even though Liberty can hold over 4000 passengers, we didn’t feel crowded.  We liked to take walks down the Royal Promenade, a kind of Main Street, with lots of shops, a wine bar, English Pub and even a barber shop.  We were satisfied with the excellent food presented in the 3 story dining room, however if you want to branch out there are 2 excellent specialty restaurants, Chops Steak House, and Portofino Italian Restaurant.”

“The accommodations range from basic to luxurious.  My wife and I always like to have a balcony, to enjoy a book or a private cocktail.  We can just sit and talk while staring at the incredible ocean views.”One of many choices in accommodations.

I agree with Steve, we’ve sailed three times aboard RC ships, and those vacations have been memorable.  Thanks for the info, Steve, and I look forward to hearing about your next cruise experience.

I am Love, the lovely movie.

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Seeing a movie at the Tampa Theatre is always a treat.  The movie palace is a unique space, a 1926 Spanish style theatre that hosts many chic local events, and where movie buffs can satisfy their craving for something other than the latest Hollywood mediocrity.  Those in the know keep an eye on the schedule for exciting cultural offerings.

This Saturday my husband and I saw the foreign film from Italy, called ‘I am Love’.  Starring Tilda Swinton it is the story of a wealthy Italian family whose textile business is located in Milan.  The movie is beautifully and artistically filmed, making the most of the families amazing villa as well as the natural beauty of Italy. The acting is superb.  Tilda Swinton is a woman suffocated by the expectations of her family and position in society.  Her frustration releases in one of the most explicit yet metaphorically shot love scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

Food figures heavily in this movie, used as a seduction and finally as a betrayal. True to Italian artistic mentality the movie stops, seemingly abruptly, leaving one to speculate if it was time for an expresso, or if the story had truly reached the point where the  complexity of life, and the results of our choices, made it unnecessary to continue.  I am glad I had Italian Cinema in college, never thought I would use it.