Friday, October 31, 2008

Tales from the Crypt

I know, it was a really horrible show in the 80s(?), but I thought that on Halloween the title was quite appropriate for this post dedicated to the beauty of the Cementario General in Santiago de Chile.

I'm a frequent cemetery visitor on vacation looking for the final resting places of local legends and perhaps even more so, just looking for a quiet place in the city to appreciate the unique beauty of grave markers and mausoleums. Cementario General can in some ways be likened to the more famous Recoletta Cemetery in Buenos Aires made even more famous as the final resting place of Eva Peron. Certainly at its best the statuary, mausoleums, and foliage are comparable; however, Recoletta is the domain of the very rich and important while Cementario General is the final resting place of over a million folks both rich and not so rich.

Here are a few pictures from a recent trip to Cementario General:

Anywhere but Chile this would be creepy as it looks an awful lot like a vulture, but it is a condor the national bird.

Two beautiful mausoleums on a high-end "street" in the cemetery. The wealthy like to be close to their own in life and in death.

A "new money" tree lined street. Cementario General is said to have more than 4,000 varieties of trees, including a number of orange trees (no one seemed to be interested in the free fruit).

Another Beautiful street, I'm always a fan of graves that include seating for the living. The very clean lines of the center mausoleum appealed to my minimalist side.

These mausoleums had a very 60s/70s style to them. Another common feature in the cemetery are these underground mausoleums with steps below grade. I'm not fond of the thought of walking down a flight of steps to a below-grade crypt to visit.

Angel statuary wasn't as common in Cementario General as it is in Recoletta though they had some beautiful seraphi.

Another that includes a clever planter.

This part of the cemetery was the "China Town" and included this amusing see no evil, hear no evil, say no evil statue. A good reminder to the living.

This grave was very touching. It now housed both the husband and wife. He outlived her for some time, I can imagine him standing in life looking at the memorial imagining their reunion.

This was perhaps the most touching memorial. Under a beautiful tree we both shed a tear when we rounded the corner and saw this lovely piece of sculpture.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Vocabulary is more than a part of your elementary school education or taking the SATs, it's the mark of a true lady or gentleman. It's rare that I run across a word I don't know, unless I go looking for one, but it's always fun to add a word that's inevitably more descriptive of something than the word I had previously used for it. So when I find a fun way to accumulate a few new words I like to share it. I heard about on NPR some time ago. It started as a way for a father to help his children prepare for the SAT, then he decided to use his tool to help do some good in the world. That's where the name came from. For each vocabulary word you get right a 20 grains of rice are donated to hungry people throughout the world. I know you're thinking what's a few grains of rice really do, but it really adds up if enough people use the site. It's fun to rack up some rice and maybe learn a thing or two.

Here's what has to say about their mission:

"FreeRice is a sister site of Our partners are the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the United Nations World Food Program.

FreeRice has two goals:

Provide education to everyone for free.

Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.

This is made possible by the generosity of the sponsors who advertise on this site.
Whether you are CEO of a large corporation or a street child in a poor country, improving your education can improve your life. It is a great investment in yourself.

Perhaps even greater is the investment your donated rice makes in hungry human beings, enabling them to function and be productive. Somewhere in the world, a person is eating rice that you helped provide. Thank you."

I find it's an enjoyable way to take a quick 2 minute break between tasks at work and feel good about it. Give a try and do some good for yourself and for some very hungry people.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Today I received an e-mail from Brooks Brothers. It was an add from the 1940s, which seems quite timely today.
It's always a good idea to buy truly quality things, for they are almost certain to last longer and remain more fashionable than their lesser quality substitutes.
In this regard I certainly endorse Brooks Brothers as a quality purveyor of both off the rack clothing and made to measure.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In Praise of Fat

I was checking a few days ago to see if they had posted any new food related articles and found one on Jennifer McLagan on her new book Fat: Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes. The article in the Q&A style, though not paricularly in depth, sparked my curiosity. Jennifer is a food stylist (one of those brilliant people who arranges food for the glossy photos in cookbooks and magazines), and from the looks of it a very good one, and the author of a previous book Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore.

It would seem from her bio and blog that her adoration for these foods lying somewhere between meat and offal comes from her love of French cooking enhanced by her frequent trips to Paris where she keeps a flat. Lest you think that Jennifer's love of fat is in any way personified in her physique here's her picture.

I ordered Fat and after a mouthwatering perusal of the recipes and pictures I can't wait to try out a recipe or two this weekend.

What's your opinion of fat? In looking for a witty quote to start this post, it was quite clear that fat hasn't been a word with a positive connotation for at least the last two hundred years.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bring Home the Blossoms

There are the obvious flower days: valentine's, birthdays, anniversarys, etc. But I think that a random Wednesday is superior when there is no expectation of flowers, only a weekday supper.

It's easy and inexpensive to pop into the Trader Joe's, Fresh Market, Whole Foods, or your favorite grocer and pick up a bunch, or two. I say two because in my experience most single bunches don't provide enough material for a full arrangement. The pictures above are <$25 from Fresh Market and put in vases we already have. The added bonus is that if you buy fresh, they'll be in full bloom over the weekend when you can enjoy them over a lazy breakfast or while you're fixing dinner.

Bring some home tonight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chilean Cuisine

It's a blog not a meal, so why not start with dessert. My lunch after a long morning of siteseeing and lapis lazuli shopping. I think I earned it.

At the risk of offending 16 million or so people, the title of this post may be a bit of a misnomer, as Chile has very little in the way of a definitively Chilean cuisine. Much of the ingredients are grown in-country as they have a wonderful climate for growing produce, as well as a long coastline with cold waters that provide abundant and quite succulent seafood; that said, the way these foods are prepared can clearly be identified as Peruvian, Italian, or French.

If there is a Chilean cuisine at all, I would call it bland and avocado-centric. Avocado is to Chile as ketchup and parsley are to the US, they are abundant, nearly everpresent on the plate, and contribute little in the way of enhancing whatever they're covering. Now I must confess to having an Avacado allergy, so I'm perhaps a bit more sensitive to this, but they even serve mashed avocado as a breakfast condiment!

In spite of these comments I must say that we had many excellent meals in Chile, primarily at Santiago's finest restaurants. When traveling dining is of the utmost importance to us and cost is generally ignored. This luxury provided by two years of saving before each "major" vacation with only minor trips in the off years.

In order of preference (favorite first) here are the restaurants we visited: Cuerovaca, Puerto Fuy, Happening, El Cid (Sheraton Santiago), Mare Nostrum, and Astrid Y Gaston. There were a few others, but I don't even want to put their names in print lest it be considered a recommendation.

Parmesan clams at Mare Nostrum. We thought these a novel appetizer on our first night only to "discover" them on menu after menu. In any event they were delicious and the presentation was fun.

The "Peruvian Sampler" appetizer at Astrid Y Gaston. It was the only thing at the restaurant that we really enjoyed. This was a most expensive and least enjoyable restaurant. I think that by virtue of being a "chain" in the same sense as Emeril's is a chain in the US the food, restaurant, and staff lacked passion and excitement.

The lobster risotto at Puerto Fuy. It was simply beautiful and quite tasty.

The duck three ways at Puerto Fuy. Delicious! Duck seemed to appear on a disporportionate number of menus. I think it's a good protein choice as grazing animals like cows don't have a lot of habitable land in Chile unlike their neighbor to the East, Argentina.

An upside down shephard's pie at a restaurant near Pablo Neruda's Santiago home. It was quite good.

Sea bass (corvino) with shrimp mashed potatoes with quail eggs at the same restaurant as the shephard's pie. Good, if a bit strange.

Dinner at the top restaurants in Santiago with bubbly and pisco sours to start, a shared appetizer, two entrees, dessert, and a mid-priced bottle of wine averaged US$130 including a 10% gratiuty. As a value proposition this is probably 60% of the cost of a comparable meal in Atlanta, or 40% of the cost of the same meal in NYC, San Francisco, etc. The real values were to be found on the carte vino particularly if you have a taste for Carmenere.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Cocktail for Fall

Whether you're hosting a pumpkin carving, costume, or apple picking party this fall a seasonal house cocktail is in order. For my pumpkin carving party I'm going back to an old favorite, my version of the Stone Fence:

A "Punch" Version
2 parts Laird's Applejack
1 part good bourbon
6 parts apple cider (the real stuff)
Juice of 1/2 a lemmon
2 dashes bitters

A "Cocktail" Version
2 parts Laird's Applejack
1 part good bourbon
2 dashes bitters
Hard Cider as preferred
Garnish with lemon twist

If you're feeling particularly ambitous go pick your own apples and make the cider using your juicer or, at some orchards, they'll make it for you.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Home (Far) Away From Home

"At the little town of Vevey, in Switzerland, there is a particularly comfortable hotel. There are, indeed, many hotels, for the entertainment of tourists is the business of the place, which, as many travelers will remember, is seated upon the edge of a remarkably blue lake--a lake that it behooves every tourist to visit. The shore of the lake presents an unbroken array of establishments of this order, of every category, from the "grand hotel" of the newest fashion, with a chalk-white front, a hundred balconies, and a dozen flags flying from its roof, to the little Swiss pension of an elder day, with its name inscribed in German-looking lettering upon a pink or yellow wall and an awkward summerhouse in the angle of the garden. One of the hotels at Vevey, however, is famous, even classical, being distinguished from many of its upstart neighbors by an air both of luxury and of maturity." Daisy Miller by Henry James

These lines begin the story of Daisy Miller by Henry James. I think it's quite appropriate that a great story start with a great description of a hotel, just as a great vacation should.

In this case it's the San Cristobal Tower (operated by Sheraton's Luxury Collection Brand). We selected this hotel for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was it's commanding view of the city, a distinct benefit of it's location at the foot of Cero San Cristobal across the Mapuche River from the majority of the city and the Providencia neighborhood. Here are a few photos of this excellent hotel with perhaps the most attentive staff I have ever had the privelege of meeting.

View of the hotel from the edge of the Mapuche river, the trees in the background are on San Cristobal Hill.
Here is a photo of the hotel lobby. The desk to the left of the image is one of three desks where check-in and check-out take place with a glass of Spumoso (Local Sparkling Wine).

A picture of our room, very traditional in a very sort of Ritz Carlton style, though a bit more spacious than the typical Ritz and with nice touches like operable windows and 110 outlets in the room and bathroom.

A picture of the bed after turn-down service. Loved the little chocolates, bottled water with crystal tumblers, and the slippers laid out on a little mat. I can be a bit germ phobic so the remote on the sheet didn't thrill me, but I can forgive this one questionable judgement call.
A spread of wine, pisco sours, cheeses, meats, nuts, fruit, and pasteries on the 21st floor where we frequently watched as the sun set casting beautiful shades of pink and orange on the snow capped Andes.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Historic Homes Struggling with the Economy

"The lack of money is the root of all evil." ~ Mark Twain

CBS Sunday Morning had an excellent story this morning on the plight of house museums all over the country struggling with large debt and decreasing donations and visitors. I've posted in the past about The Mount (previous post), Edith Wharton's historic home which was again featured in this story along with several other notable homes.

In this post I wanted to call your attention to The Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT. Financial problems are nothing new for the home. Twain had to sell it in 1903 due in large part to his own financial problems.

The Mark Twain House and Museum was the home of Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Langhorne Clemens) from 1874 to 1891 in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. The architecture of the 19-room house is Victorian Gothic. Twain wrote The Gilded Age, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, Life on the Mississippi, Huckleberry Finn, A Tramp Abroad and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court all while living in the home.

Here's an abbreviated history of the house after the Clemens sold it from the homes' website:
The house was privately owned until 1929 when the "Mark Twain Memorial and Library Commission" was chartered to restore and manage the Twain House.

In 1955, the mortgage was paid in full and the trustees began a 20 year restoration of the house to its former glory during the Clemens 17–year residency.

The Mark Twain House was given a National Historic Landmark designation in 1963.
A visitor's center and museum adjacet to the hosue was completed in 2003 at great expense, and is largely responsible for the current financial problems facing the museum, though the Robert A.M. Stern designed museum looks like a great building in its own right. It also has the distinction of being the first LEED certified museum in the country.

Please consider making a donation to this historic home, or one closer to where you live as they need our help.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm back (from Chile)

Pardon my extended absence, but the Mrs. and I just got back from a fantastic trip to Santiago, Chile. The country was specatular, the weather perfect, the people friendly, the wine stupendous, and the food, well nothing's perfect. Here are a few photos from our trip to inspire a trip south for the winter. Future posts with more cohesive themes upcoming.

A massive city of six million people is built in a long valley with the Andes to the West and the Chilean Coastal range to the East. This leads to a constant haze, particularly in the winter. Spring is just starting so the smog should be lessening soon.
The benefit of smog, if there is such a thing, is colorful sunsets. The sun set behind our hotel each night, but the light reflected off the snowy caps of the Andes was magnificent.

The old, this Church in Providencia, one of the 34 comunas (semi-autonomous districts within the city), represents some of the typical colonial architecture that can be seen throughout the older and more affluent parts of the city.
This skyscraper, also in Providencia, represents the new. There's a building boom going on in Santiago with new office towers (like this one), condo buildings, and infrastructure improvements everywhere. Santiago will soon be home to the tallest building in South America, it's currently up to the 26th of its 60+ floors.