57+ Countries, All Important, But A Few Favorites

Stelios Trilyrakis, the chef behind Ntounias in Crete, pats one of his heritage cows, a rare Cretan species called Gidomouskara. SteMajourneys

I have a longstanding habit, in an article like this one listing travel experiences including 5. Savor an Unforgettable Lunch at Ntounias in Western Crete, of skimming to find whether the writer(s) have been to anywhere that I know firsthand; if they write something meaningful about a place I know, I read the entire article. These days I have less interest in going to places I do not already know (between 57 and 60 countries where I have had meaningful experiences, ranging from a few days to living there for a year or more).

When I see Crete, I am all in, for reasons I have made plain previously. In this case I want to abandon all responsibilities and get on a plane.

Since that is not possible I am left to desk-travel, which is what I did to learn more about this place. I see now that on the two occasions when I have mentioned Xania I have spelled it two different ways. With the X my spelling was transliterating into English the letter used in the Greek alphabet for spelling that town’s name; otherwise the dipthong of Ch is necessary to produce the sound of the Greek letter that looks like an elongated X. Now that I have excused my spelling discrepancies, and daydreamed of a meal on the island of Crete at a later date, I will get on with my responsibilities.

Wonders Of The Yucatán

In Calakmul and elsewhere, the fierce jaguar was worshiped as a deity. Ancient rulers and warriors adorned themselves with the animal’s skulls, skins, fangs and claws. Adrian Wilson for The New York Times

Several months ago when we confirmed our plans to attend a wedding in Merida, Mexico on November 5, Calakmul came to mind. We had already explored many famous Maya sites in Central America, most recently in Belize, not to mention Mexico, over the last three decades; and we have also been fortunate with big cat sightings.

We decided against extending our stay, choosing to spend a few days in Mexico City instead (I have been obsessed with Barragán in recent years, so seeing his former home and workshop there was a must). Charly Wilder‘s article in the New York Times, which I am only seeing now, makes me wonder when we will return to see what we neglected in the Yucatan:

The number of jaguars is growing in Mexico, especially in areas of the Yucatán Peninsula. Patryk Kosmider/Getty Images

Thanks to Mexican conservation efforts, the jaguar is making a comeback in the Yucatán Peninsula. A traveler ventures into its habitat in the tropical jungles surrounding an ancient Maya city.

From the top of the great pyramid of the ancient Maya city of Calakmul in the southern Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, you can see all the way to Guatemala. The jungle stretches out infinitely in every direction, an ocean of green punctuated only by the stepped pyramid peaks of two other Maya temples. Continue reading

Victors’ History Reconsidered

Yesterday, in a post about one type of spoils of victory, we shared some reading about responsibilities. Today, in a discussion of the book Indigenous Continent, we consider a different type of spoil of victory.

The accepted wisdom that history is written by the victors is contestable, and David Treuer seems the perfect person to walk us through this book’s attempt at doing so with regard to the indigenous peoples of what is now called North America:

Do We Have the History of Native Americans Backward?

They dominated far longer than they were dominated, and, a new book contends, shaped the United States in profound ways.

A portrait of Thayendanegea, painted in London, in 1785, by Gilbert Stuart. Art work by Gilbert Charles Stuart / British Museum

I remember when I first encountered what must be the best-selling book of Native American history ever published, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” by Dee Brown. I was twenty years old, and had made my way from the Leech Lake Reservation, in northern Minnesota, where I grew up, to Princeton, in a part of New Jersey that seemed to have no Indians at all. Since “Bury My Heart” appeared, in 1970, it has been translated into seventeen languages, and sold millions of copies. In the opening pages, Brown wrote, “The greatest concentration of recorded experience and observation came out of the thirty-year span between 1860 and 1890—the period covered by this book. It was an incredible era of violence, greed, audacity, sentimentality, undirected exuberance, and an almost reverential attitude toward the ideal of personal freedom for those who already had it. During that time the culture and civilization of the American Indian was destroyed.” Continue reading

Coffee, History & Literature

Adam Gopnik, one of our favorite essayists, wrote an excellent essay on this topic; and Michael Pollan, among others, wrote a book.

There is still plenty to say about the history of coffee, as far as we are concerned, and Ed Simon demonstrates it in this essay from The Millions, an online magazine:

Coffee, the Great Literary Stimulant

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” –T.S Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915)

Maronite priest Antonio Fausto Naironi once claimed that the greatest of miracles happened in ninth-century Ethiopia. It was then and there, in the province of Oromia, that a young shepherd named Kaldi noticed that his goats were prone to running, leaping, and dancing after they had eaten blood-red berries from a mysterious bush. Continue reading

Truffles From A Farm Near You

Someone saving a truffle

Berthold Steinhilber / Laif / Redux

We hope, from a culinary perspective, that truffle cultivation has advanced enough such that the statement in the title of Federico Kukso’s article below is correct. Thanks to the Atlantic, and to Knowable, for this:

Truffles Are Everywhere Now

Farmers around the world are trying to cash in on the prized black truffle.

Every morning, for three months of the year, Lola wakes up at 8 and goes hunting. Continue reading

Birds, Us, Past & Future

Our daily photo feature has been a long-running privilege for us to share from our various bird photographer friends who travel the world, and clearly a reason for some visitors to stay tuned here. We do what we can to ensure those birds are there for future generations to appreciate. The book featured above is likely to be of interest to many of those visitors. The author, seen only once before in our pages more than ten years ago, Tim Birkhead offers historical perspective that is well-reviewed and his publisher has this to say:

Since the dawn of human history, birds have stirred our imagination, inspiring and challenging our ideas about science, faith, art, and philosophy. Continue reading

Peanuts, Soil Regeneration & Coffee

I will not blame Ruby Tandoh for the link to the predatory bookseller in her essay; the magazine she writes for is responsible. Instead, I will just put a better link from the book image on the left to where you might purchase it. Bringing our attention to the book is enough of a good deed to overlook that link. Especially as I work on finding new ways to fix nitrogen in the soil we are prepping for coffee planting:

The Possibilities of the Peanut

I’ve made salads of peanut with watermelon and sumac, fries dunked in garlic-scented satay sauce, and more variations on my aunt’s Ghanaian groundnut stew than I can remember.

Illustration by Sophia Pappas

It would be hard to find a more devoted champion of the peanut than the agricultural scientist George Washington Carver. Born into slavery in Missouri around 1864, Carver studied at Iowa State University and then taught at the Tuskegee Institute, where he would spend much of the rest of his life learning to repair the environmental damage wrought by intensive cotton farming. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In New York City

Installed in several locations on the Allen Street Malls between Broome and Hester Streets, this group exhibition features four artworks by five artists addressing themes of nature. Artists include Elizabeth Knowles and Eric David Laxman, Elaine Lorenz, Judith Peck, and Michael Wolf.

While at Cornell University last month I got my fill of early autumn florals and educational signage. While in the Botanic Gardens I was struck by a floral sculpture, a type of art I am not often moved by. But that one worked. And so, looking through the Art in the Parks section  of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation  website,  the  image to the right caught my  attention.  And scrolling further through that collection I saw the image  below, which on a day after hurricane-driven rains  in  Costa  Rica,  with  the  morning sky clear of clouds,  hits the spot:

Naomi Lawrence, Tierra Fragil

September 25, 2022 to September 10, 2023
Morningside Park, Manhattan

Description:Tierra Fragil, depicts endangered insects and birds with the flowers and plants imperative to their survival. The mural informs and encourages the preservation of familiar species whose presence we may have taken for granted.

Tierra Fragil is made possible in part with public funds from Creative Engagement a regrant program supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with support of the office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, UMEZ Arts Engagement a regrant program supported by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation and administered by LMCC. Additional funding was provided by the Friends of Morningside Park.

Olives, Farmers, Beauty & Beastly Heat

Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times

My thoughts today start with the people who farm olives in this location deprived of the water needed to sustain their livelihoods. Because my mother was born on an olive-producing farm in an olive-privileged region of Greece, my eye is always drawn to stories about olive farmers.

Jaén, a province of Andalusia, has over 67 million olive trees. Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times

When there are photos of olive trees, I am in for the whole story. My strongest, earliest memories are of the olive trees surrounding the terrace of the farmhouse my mother grew up in. Stories about olive farmers challenged by climate change are more difficult to read without sympathy pain, but I do so knowing that olive trees are survivors.

Panacite, a store in Ubeda, sells a range of variants of oil production from the region. Emilio Parra Doiztua for The New York Times

David Segal and José Bautista have reported this story with compassion and clarity:

Spain’s Jaén Province, home to one fifth of the world’s supply of “green gold,” copes with climate change and threats to its way of life.

The branch, plucked from one of thousands of trees in this densely packed olive grove, has browning leaves and a few tiny, desiccated buds that are bunched near the end. To Agustín Bautista, the branch tells a story and the story is about a harvest that is doomed. Continue reading

McKibben With 2022 Perspective

If Timothy Egan thinks that one day Bill McKibben may win a Nobel prize, do not bet against it–only ask whether it will be for his contribution to literature or instead to world peace:

In his writings, his many speeches and bullhorn exhortations, Bill McKibben comes across as one of the least cynical people on the battlefield of public opinion. He’s passionate about solving problems others have given up on, about building a better world and particularly about climate change, the issue that has made him the Paul Revere of alarm about our fevered planet. Continue reading

The Parthenon Marbles, Back Where They Belong

The Parthenon in 1875.

The Parthenon in 1875. Interfoto/Alamy

The Elgin Room of the British Museum in an undated photograph taken during the Victorian era.

The Elgin Room of the British Museum in an undated photograph taken during the Victorian era. Keasbury-Gordon Photograph Archive, via Alamy

The original Parthenon marbles belong back in Athens, in the museum built for them. With all due respect to my British friends, my opinion is informed partly by my mother being from Greece, but mostly by an impartial logic.

That logic is expressed in the article below, which also happens to lay out an interesting sideshow:

Robots at the Marmi di Carra marble workshop in Italy carved a replica of a horse head, the original of which sits in the British Museum in London.

Robots at the Marmi di Carra marble workshop in Italy carved a replica of a horse head, the original of which sits in the British Museum in London.

Few cultural disputes inflame British passions more than the disposition of the Parthenon Marbles. Public debate about the statuary has raged since the early 1800s, when the sculptures and bas-reliefs, which date from 447 B.C. to 432 B.C., were stripped from the Parthenon and other Classical Greek temples on the Acropolis of Athens by agents of Thomas Bruce, a Scottish statesman and seventh earl of Elgin. The marbles were purchased — some say looted — by Elgin during his time as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, the occupying power; they have resided in the British Museum since 1817. Continue reading

Biblio-Entrepreneurship, Alive & Well

Ana Cabreira/InOssining.com/AP. Amy Hall, owner of Hudson Valley Books for Humanity in Ossining, N.Y., poses for a picture in her bookstore. Ms. Hall, who offers mostly used books that reflect economic and ethnic diversity, is one of many new bookstore owners who recently opened their own store.

We have a thing for independent bookstores. They are better in several important ways. We have a thing against one particular big online retailer, whose start in books was just one step in the wrong direction. Our thanks to  Hillel Italie, the Associated Press and the CS Monitor for this story, and especially to the biblio-entrepreneurs showcased in this article:

Indie bookstore boom turns page to a more diverse America

The year 2021 saw a substantial increase in the number of independent bookstores in the United States. And a growing proportion of these stores is owned by individuals from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds.

Laura Romani, a Chicago-area resident with a background in education and library science, had long been thinking of a new career. “I was at home a couple of years ago, reflecting on all the experience I gained and how I wanted to contribute to the Latino community, while also allowing myself to be on my own and make use of my love for books and passion for multilingualism,” she said. Continue reading

Adriatic, The Experience & The Book

When I first set foot in Croatia more than two decades ago it was for a project to assist the country in defending the coastal areas from the pressures of mass tourism development. Within a couple of years I was doing similar work in Montenegro. Before too long we were enough in love with the region to make it our family’s home for a year.

So seeing this book about the future importance of the region, by an eminent scholar, is both heartwarming and concerning:

“[An] elegantly layered exploration of Europe’s past and future . . . a multifaceted masterpiece.”—The Wall Street Journal

“A lovely, personal journey around the Adriatic, in which Robert Kaplan revisits places and peoples he first encountered decades ago.”—Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads

In this insightful travelogue, Robert D. Kaplan, geopolitical expert and bestselling author of Balkan Ghosts and The Revenge of Geography, turns his perceptive eye to a region that for centuries has been a meeting point of cultures, trade, and ideas. Continue reading

Two Wheels Good, The People’s Nag

The historian Jill Lepore has only been linked to twice before in our posts. Not more, because her topical variety is constantly beyond the scope of topics we focus on.

But her most recent essay is on topic for us. Bicycles might have been the invention that kept us part way out of the climate crisis, but then came the car.

She uses the publication of the book to the right as a launch pad for an excellent history of the bicycle, combined with personal history:

Bicycles Have Evolved. Have We?

From the velocipede to the ten-speed, biking innovations brought riders freedom. But in a world built for cars, life behind handlebars is both charmed and dangerous.

My first bicycle was not, in fact, a bicycle. I rode it in 1968, when I was two years old and as tubby as a bear cub. It had four wheels, not two, and no pedals: strictly speaking, it was a scooter. But Playskool called it a Tyke Bike, so I say it qualifies, and aside from the matte-black, aluminum-alloy number that I’ve got now, which is called (by the manufacturer dead seriously, and by me aspirationally) the Bad Boy, the Tyke Bike may be the swankiest bicycle I’ve ever ridden. Continue reading

Library!

The Long Room is at the heart of a $95 million conservation project at Trinity College Dublin’s Old Library. Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

The exclamation point in this post’s title signifies enthusiastic appreciation for a pleasant surprise. A story about libraries to take the mind off all that other news, and point it to lasting treasures. Our thanks to Ed O’Loughlin for the story, Paulo Nunes dos Santos for the photos, and The New York Times for the publication:

An Irish National Treasure Gets Set for a Long-Needed Restoration

The majestic Old Library at Trinity College Dublin, where some of Ireland’s most ancient and valuable books are stored, is a popular tourist attraction.

A librarian walking along the corridors in the upper gallery. Paulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

DUBLIN — The Long Room, with its imposing oak ceiling and two levels of bookshelves laden with some of Ireland’s most ancient and valuable volumes, is the oldest part of the library in Trinity College Dublin, in constant use since 1732.

But that remarkable record is about to be disrupted, as engineers, architects and conservation experts embark on a 90 million euro, or $95 million, program to restore and upgrade the college’s Old Library building, of which the Long Room is the main part. Continue reading

Learning To Appreciate Wasps

Wasps are one of the least appreciated creatures on the planet, but we have always suspected they deserve some respect. We just never investigated why that might be the case. So, our thanks to the Guardian for bringing this book to our attention in an article titled Why we should all love wasps:

Wasps have always had a bad press. But Dr Seirian Sumner, who has spent her life studying them, argues they are sophisticated, socially complex and essential to the environment

In The Wasp Woman, a 1959 B-movie directed by Roger Corman, the owner of a failing cosmetics company becomes the test subject for a novel anti-ageing formula manufactured from the royal jelly of wasps. Continue reading

Guided Forest-Bathing In The Loire Valley

The tree houses at Loire Valley Lodges are spread out throughout the forest and each is decorated by a different artist. Joann Pai for The New York Times

After several days of heavier fare, today’s recommended reading leans to the escapist:

Beyond the Châteaux: New Escapes in France’s Loire Valley

Rethinking what the region’s travel should be has meant expanding the focus from fairy tale castle crawls to experiences anchored more firmly in nature, food and the arts.

The Loire Valley is a UNESCO Heritage-protected region, and drew in 9 million yearly visitors to its cultural sites before the pandemic. Joann Pai for The New York Times

On my last prepandemic trip to the Loire Valley, in 2018, I found myself in a familiar place.

Ten years after my first road trip on the region’s castle route, I was back at the 500-year-old Château de Chambord, joining a small group of European and American tourists on a guided tour. Within seconds of convening in the inner courtyard, we were craning our necks to marvel at the structure’s ornamental bell towers as our guide rattled off facts and dates about King Francis I and his former hunting lodge. When she ushered us up to the towers, chiding us for not listening, a feeling of deja-vu washed over me. Continue reading

Indigenous Knowhow & Conservation

Prof Ian McNevin said ‘the scale of Indigenous oyster harvesting is extraordinary’, and compared it to contemporary commercial oyster farms. Photograph: Orjan F Ellingvag/Corbis/Getty Images

Some of us writing in these pages have been fans of oysters primarily for their culinary value (living in France, and then later in Croatia, could create such bias). But we have posted more frequently about the resiliency that oysters have come to represent in the search for protection against climate impact. Here is some more on that topic, intersecting with another theme we pay frequent attention to:

Precolonial First Nations oyster fisheries sustained millennia of intense harvests, study shows

Researchers in Australia and North America say management of oyster reefs should incorporate Indigenous knowledge

Oyster fisheries in Australia and North America survived for up to 10,000 years prior to colonisation, sustaining First Nations communities even under intense harvest, according to new research. Continue reading

Unexpectedly Amazing In Kerala

Shaji has a prized collection of more than 200 varieties of tubers. Photograph: Shaji NM

In our Kerala days we visited Wayanad many times, but I would remember if I had met Shaji. We would have sought his advice to expand on the agricultural initiatives at the properties we developed and managed.  Monika Mondal’s story ‘The tuber man of Kerala’ on a quest to champion India’s rare and indigenous crops brings back memories of unassuming neighbors doing unexpectedly amazing things:

Shaji NM has devoted his life to collecting and farming tubers such as yam, cassava and taro, and promoting them across the country

Shaji NM has spent the past two decades travelling across India to collect rare indigenous tubers. Photograph: Shaji NM

Known as “the tuber man of Kerala”, Shaji NM has travelled throughout India over the past two decades, sometimes inspecting bushes in tribal villages, at other times studying the ground of forests closer to home among the green hills of Wayanad in Kerala. His one purpose, and what earned him his title, is to collect rare indigenous varieties of tuber crops.

“People call me crazy, but it’s for the love of tubers that I do what I do,” says Shaji. “I have developed an emotional relationship with the tuber. When we did not have anything to eat, we had tubers.” Continue reading