Thursday

Cartoonist Art Spiegelman's CO-MIX retrospective





The massacre of four of France’s best-known cartoonists set an eerie stage for the retrospective of  one of the world's pioneering  and provocative cartoon artists. The exhibit, at the Art Gallery of Toronto, is called, “Art Spiegelman’s CO-MIX: A retrospective."  Occupying room after room, it traces Spiegelman's progress, from  his first teenage efforts, distributing, at age 15, a fanzine called Blaze, to his bubblegum trading card sketches for Topps Chewing Gum company, through his transitions from counterculture comics about sex and drugs. The over 300 works on paper range from trading cards to magazine covers.

Here the writing’s on the wall -  and so are the drawings, a mesmerizing mix of  tragedy, pop culture, politics and art,  shaped by influences ranging from Mad Magazine to cubism


The centerpiece of the exhibit is a display of  original manuscripts of Spiegelman's masterpiece, Maus, rarely seen due to their fragility.  Spiegelman won the Pulitzer prize in 1992 for the Holocaust story of victims drawn as mice and Nazis shown as cats. The New Yorker called it the first masterpiece in comic book history. 





Tuesday




@Jacqueline Swartz

  Food Trends: Eateries and Markets


When it comes to food trends, you can’t slice it by the year. So many trends, like choosing local produce, are continuing, so little is really new. Still, there are some directions that stand out: who ever saw people buying big bunches of kale a few years ago?  Below is a list of some trends, and where to experience them – namely restaurants and markets, all in North America.

1. Peruvian Food: With its mixture of Latin and Asian, Peruvian cuisine continues to make its mark. What has long been traditional to Peruvians  - ceviche and quinoa – are super popular among health conscious foodies.

Where to experience it. LaMar Cebicheria Peruana, a high-ceilinged restaurant on San Franciso’s Waterefront features a ceviche plate that includes varieties inspired by Japan, China and Peru itself.
Ceviche at La Mar Peruvian Restaurant in San Francisco
2. Octopus. “Octopus everything: grilled, carpaccio, salad, seviche”, announced Salon.

Where to find it: Avli, Toronto’s best Greek restaurant, grills octopus with tangy lemon and top-notch olive oil (Did you know that Greek olive oil is never blended with oil from any other country). Avli also has the best homemade eggplant dip outside of Greece, as well as expertly grilled fish and a savvy list of Greek wines.

3. Mexican Food: Going way beyond the guac and burritos, Mexican food is appealing to discerning eaters by using fresh ingredients and making the most of authentic chiles, cilantro and fish. Even tacos have become inventive.
ElCatrin, Toronto

Where to find it: El Catrin:  When Toronto got its first great Mexican restaurant, it really got it. El Catrin, in the city’s atmospheric, cobblestoned Distillery district, offers authentic and inventive dishes. Start with the Ensalada Destileria – grilled shrimp green papaya, mango, cilantro, toasted pecans, frisee lettuce, with a tajin sour vinaigrette.Taco El Cazador is corn tortillas filled with foraged mushrooms, huitlacoche, queso cotija and cilantro. Chile Xcatic is a chili pepper stuffed with mahi mahi stew with axioto sauce, black bean puree and guacamole. The two-story restaurant is decorated by colorful murals; in summer there is a large outdoor patio.

4. Classics refined : Fusion and foams should not preclude the great culinary classics.  The most sensitive chefs respect the classics but know how to refine them. In New Orleans, classics like Shrimp Remoulade and Jambalaya are being given new twists.

Where? Dominique’s on Magazine in New Orleans. French-trained Dominique Macquet applies both respect and creativity to both French and New Orleans Cuisine.
The classic Oysters Rockefeller inspires Louisiana Oysters, with cauliflower crème fraiche, and scotch bonnet roasted tomato. Duck a l’Orange becomes Seared Duck Breast with parsnip puree, crispy arugala, and bing cherry essence. The classic French Isles Flotants becomes Floating Islands, caramel syrup, and mint crème anglaise.
Oysters with cauliflower, creme fraiche, Dominique's

5. Fermented Foods: Yoghurt has become popular once again, with Greek, meaning thick, yoghurt cinching top spot. The news is that fermentation went from being considered bad for us to desirable, as Michael Polan wrote in his book, Cooked. Now we’re taking a second look at other fermented foods.  Like sauerkraut

Where to find it? Farmhouse Culture, at San Francisco’s Ferry Building, sells organic sauerkraut out of a stall. Who knew the fermented cabbage could be so tasty - or so varied? Jalapeno includes carrots, onions and daikon radish. Horseradish includes leeks and carrots. 
Farmouse Culture, Ferry Building Market, San Francisco
6. Fish sustainability. Fish. With our oceans at risk, eating fish, more and more people are realizing is something you should do with awareness. Chilean bass, for instance, is being refused by eco-diners because it is overfished. Other fish accidentally get caught in nets, and still others are at risk because of polluted habitats. Look for menus that mention ocean sustainability.

Where to find it: The Blue Door, Fredericton’s finest restaurants, made the top 50 restaurants in Canada list. Its fish have the oceanwise.ca seal, created by the Vancouver Aquarium to educate consumers about sustainable seafood.




Friday

Klimt's Vienna (a version appeared in Maclean's Magazine)

KLIMT'S VIENNA


Travel, in a great historical city like Vienna, is often time travel. Vienna is known for its ornate palaces, for Mozart, for pastries – Sachertorte lives here. Yet strolling the streets of Vienna, for centuries the capital of the Hapsburg Empire,





Secession Building

Secession Building with Klimt's Beethoven Frieze



 I wasn’t captivated by fantasies of the glittering l8th century, but by the Viennese fin de siecle. What a time: Freud was charting the psyche, composers like Mahler were astonishing audiences with their bittersweet music and art was moving into modernity. My choice of inner guide to Vienna during the turn of the last century? The painter, Gustav Klimt.

Klimt (1862-1918) has long been famous for posters of his masterpiece, The Kiss, taped onto too many student walls. I wanted to see the original, and so I visited the Austrian Gallery housed in the Belvedere, a baroque palace built in the early l700’s. The grandiose buildings are imposing, and it was pleasant to stroll around the formal French gardens. Entering the gallery I felt like I was trespassing on the private collection of Maria Theresa, or Archduke Ferdinand, just two of the past royal occupants of the palace.
Belvedere Palace/Museum
First I saw Klimt’s landscapes, delicate impressionistic paintings of birch and apple trees. Then an accomplished early portrait in an academic style. And then The Kiss - larger than any poster, more opulent, more erotic, more inscrutable. Is the woman consenting to the man’s embrace? They are swathed in the same luxuriant gold cape, but the decorations – black rectangles for him, gold circles for her - indicate they can never be as one. The woman, not a helpless maiden being forced by the man, seems to gaze out in ambivalence. This is a psychological painting, a decorative painting, and there’s even a section of wildflowers at the bottom. It’s a painting that’s as up-to-date as today, and I will never forget seeing it. Or the painting of Judith, the Biblical heroine who in Klimt’s painting embodies the dangerous femme fatale of the time. She, too, is dressed, or rather half-dressed, in gold. But like most of Klimt’s women, she is alone, and her half-closed eyes indicate erotic satiation. Women were Klimt’s preoccupation and main subject, in art and in life. He is said to have slept with most of his models, from the wives whose affluent husbands paid for his portraits to the women who posed for his frankly erotic drawings.

Klimt used allegorical figures like Judith and Athena to express the female erotic, but his gold leaf backgrounds, into which these women seemed to be set like precious stones in a necklace, harked back to the Byzantine Empire with its gold icons. Vienna’s fin-de-siecle hothouse of the arts flourished in the midst of an empire. Although it was crumbling, its visual splendor, then as now, is impossible to avoid.

The smallish, walkable city core is full of royal residences and grand public buildings. But what impressed me were the blocks and blocks of l9th century apartment buildings, inhabited and seemingly in good repair. They were built as part of an extensive urban renewal that began in the l860’s. Today, they’re rented by the city at reasonable prices to a half a million lucky inhabitants. Klimt, who began his career as an architectural decorator, helped adorn many of these buildings. He lived in an apartment with his mother and sisters, and never married.

Walking around the trendy district called Spittleberg, I noticed how these elegant, well-kept buildings morph into the present, in the form of ground floor boutiques and restaurants. In a long, narrow restaurant called Schon Schoen I had a ten Euro lunch of artfully prepared cucumber soup and vegetarian cassoulet. The communal table attracts mainly local merchants and artists, and I was probably the only tourist there. In an adjacent, shared space was a dress designer, sitting at her sewing machine beside a rack full of samples. I thought of Klimt’s lifelong friend, the successful dress designer, Emilie Floge, whose boutique he helped design. In turn, she designed the somewhat bizarre caftans he wore, a skirt chaser in skirts.

In Vienna, I came to expect to be surprised. Sometimes it was an edgy store like the Art Supermarket, complete with aisles, which tries to make the novice collector feel comfortable. Other times it was the continuation of the old. The grand cafes, for instance, look the same as they did a century ago. Café Sperl is typical: built in l880, it has high ceilings, plush upholstery and brass fittings. Just like a century ago, a variety of newspapers are available on sticks, and I brought my self up to the present with a glance at the Herald Tribune. But the menu was traditional. When it comes to coffee, Vienna has long been known for its high standards and wide array of choices. I ordered a mélange, a version of café latte, and wondered how I could ever return to my usual morning brew. For dessert I chose monschitte, a poppyseed cake. The cluster of dark seeds resting on a dense pastry seemed to me the dessert version of caviar. Was I experiencing a poppy high?
Cafe Sperl
I strolled over to one of the most interesting museums in Vienna, The Museum of Applied Arts, called the MAK. It’s a large, decorative arts museum modeled after the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. For me, the main attraction was the furniture, glassware and other objects made by the Wiener Werkstatte, an association of craftsmen known for their Art Nouveau and Art Deco designs. Curved coloured glass vases, narrow cabinets made of inlaid wood….imagine a life surrounded by only these objects.
The Wiener Werkstatte was part of the Secession, a movement led by Klimt, which aimed to leave behind the entrenched styles of the past. The Secession movement had its own building, which served as an architectural manifesto: it aspired to be a simple and elegant sanctuary for the art lover. The building meets its mission. Topped by a cabbage-shaped gold dome, it’s an assemblage of cubes; only the gold lettering suggests the Viennese Art Nouveau. Inside, it’s as stark white as any modern gallery. Pride of place is given to a Klimt frieze, called Beethoven. It was supposed to express the Ode to Joy with nude female allegorical figures. For the exhibit’s opening, guests were led into the building like pilgrims, and composer Mahler played an abbreviated version of the Beethoven piece. How I wish I could have been there. Instead, I crossed the street to the Naschmarkt, the city’s largest and liveliest outdoor food market. In Vienna, there’s always another pleasure.
END



Partial view of Klimt's The Kiss

San Francisco's Richmond District

San Francisco’s Richmond District: yet to be discovered, by Jacqueline Swartz

San Francisco’s Richmond District is a middle-class residential area with some of the best moderately priced restaurants in town. Unfortunately it’s usually a flyover zone for visitors going to Golden Gate Park to the south or Ocean Beach to the west.  Still, those in the know, who have done Fisherman’s Wharf and the Mission District, come here to eat and discover the main shopping streets. Buses going to Geary and Clement run from downtown on Market Street and cost $2 (75 cents for seniors).

Some years ago the locals started coming to the Richmond for the neighborhood Asian restaurants - there are great Chinese, Vietnamese, Sushi and Thai eateries. But the Richmond is also an Irish and Russian enclave, with Russian restaurants and Irish Pubs.

Exploring the ‘hood
Clement Street, is best for strolling the area. At 116 Clement, near 2nd Avenue, is The Plough and the Stars, an Irish pub that serves expertly poured Guinness and hosts famous Irish musicians.

For a pan-Asian dinner, Burma Superstar, is at 309 Clement Street near 4th Avenue.  Veggie-friendly, Burmese cuisine combines Thai, Chinese and Indian dishes. Burma Superstar’s no reservations policy doesn’t deter San Franciscans coming for the Rainbow salad, which has 22 ingredients, including four types of noodles, green papaya, tofu and diced shrimp in a tamarind dressing.

Walking towards 6th Avenue you will see the large, whimsical sign for Green Apple Books (506 Clement) which opened well before the fruit-named computer was known. One of the best independent bookstores in the city, Green Apple has expanded into two storefronts and three stories full of new and used books. .There’s an entire section devoted to San Francisco.  

Two blocks down is Good Luck Dim Sum, at 736 Clement.  It’s hard to believe that succulent dim sum can cost  $1.60 for three pieces. There are only a few tables, so most people buy their hargow and pot stickers to take out. If you’re hungry, you can munch and walk. If the line is daunting, try one of the other dim sum places nearby

Ready for dessert?  Sees Candies, at 754 Clement, is on the corner of 9th Avenue. Many San Franciscan’s prefer these locally made chocolates to any other brand, including the more expensive. Since 1921 Sees, which has stores across the western US, has been calling itself “the happy habit”; when you enter, you are offered a free chocolate du jour.
The bridge mix and nuts and chews are favorites.

Shopping:
The Richmond is a real neighborhood and its stores meet practical needs. You won’t find chain stores or tourist trinkets here, but there are some finds. Kamei Restaurant Supply (547 Clement) is a treasure trove of kitchenware, much of it from Japan. The locals frequent this store for its huge inventory, high aesthetic level (see the Japanese pottery) and notably low prices. The enamel sushi dishes and bamboo place mats can travel without breaking.

A few blocks down, at 905 Clement, is Get Thee to Nunnery, a fashion boutique that sells casual and business clothes by mostly California designers. The clothes are distinctive and moderately priced.  Typical of the neighborhood, the owners run the store. 415 752-8889.

Parallel to Clement and one block over is Geary Boulevard. There’s a Peets Coffee and Tea cafe on 16th Street that’s a must try. And a few blocks down, at 5800 Geary, is the Richmond’s very own Michelin-starred restaurant, Aziza The food here is Moroccan-influenced and California inspired. And despite the fine food and chic minimalist decor, there’s no need to dress up.

Four blocks south is eucalyptus-scented Golden Gate Park. The de Young Museum, renovated in the last few years, is a draw for museum-goers. But don’t miss the California Academy of Sciences, with its planetarium, its African penguins and its atrium of atriums: three levels of rainforest, from Borneo to Madagascar to Costa Rica. The “Earthquake!” exhibit delves into the science behind earthquakes; and you can experience a simulated high-magnitude jolt.

The Academy’s moderately-priced cafeteria offers a dazzling variety of food, from mac and cheese to vegan tofu Thai curry, and you can eat outside in the picturesque garden in the park. Why is the food so good? It was created by Charles Phan, of the renowned Slanted Door restaurant uptown. Just another Richmond District find.  

Back to Clement Street is another museum, this one much lesser known, but certainly worth visiting. The California Palace of the Legion of Honor was modeled on the one in Paris, and its French-accented collection includes an important group of Rodin sculptures. Currently, until Oct 13, 2013, there's a traveling exhibition titled "Impressionists on the Water". May of the painters were sailors and yachtsmen - Camille Pissarro sailed the Atlantic, Claude Monet sometimes painted from a floating boat. Cezanne, Signac and Renoir make an appearance. And no one who appoaches this museum that sits on a bluff (at Clement and 32nd Ave.) fails to be impressed by the sweeping view of the Bay.
For more information, visit www.sanfrancisco.travel



                                                                               END

Wednesday

BOTSWANA: Elephants and the Orient Express



                  BOTSWANA: ELEPHANTS AND THE ORIENT EXPRESS
                                          



Onyx, our guide

Savute Elephant camp boutqiue"tent"


In The Double Comfort Safari Club, Alexander McCall Smith’s recent  novel featuring Precious Ramotswe, the proprietor of Botswana’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, there’s a scene where Precious  and her assistant journey through Botswana’s Okavango Delta by canoe. They are at the upscale but environmentally correct Eagle Island Camp (www.eagleislandcamp.com),  surrounded  by waterways, grasslands and teeming wildlife.  Distracted by the exotic birds and the beauty of the lily-pads strewn along the water, at one point these two “traditionally built” ladies notice that the rim of the canoe is perilously close to the level of the water; meanwhile, the poler is telling them stories of hungry crocodiles and grumpy hippos.

It brought me back to my own Botswana experience.  It happened during a night safari ride in an open jeep in the bush near the Khwai River lodge, situated in the eastern region of the Moremi Wildlife Reserve, a spectacular game viewing area with forests and marshes, giraffes and birds. On this dark night ride, everything seemed hyper real:  the blackout sky was crammed  full of stars, and our open jeep swayed like a camel on the sandy path that served as a road. The daytime palette of tan-colored savannah punctuated with acacia trees had morphed into a ghostly green, and the sounds gave eerie hints of invisible bird and animal life.

An elephant nonchalantly crossed in front of our jeep - was it real?. To the left, we could make out a group of dark, bulky hippos standing by a marshy pond. Hippos are much more dangerous than people think, our guide was saying,  when we stumbled upon a jaw-dropping sight: lions, lots of them,  sprawled out just ahead.

“It was touch and go for awhile,” I said that evening over dinner, expansively recounting the event over a fine local Pinotage, a South African blend of Pinot Noir and Hermitage wines
“All these lions were  blocking our path;” I continued. “We couldn’t just shoo them away so we had to veer left, and we woke them from their sleep.

The lions were there all right, but they did little more than raise an eyebrow before going back to their snoring. My safari mates grinned at the tall tale.  We were in the perfect place to tell safari stories - the wooden, wall-less bar at the Khwai River Lodge (www.kwairiverlodge.com).
.
 Decades ago, we might have arrived in pith helmets and high boots, carrying shotguns. Add to that steamer trunks and valets, for this five-star pinnacle of rustic- luxe is part of the Orient Express. No trains here, just an experience of Africa, wild and at the same time safe.

It’s no accident that the Orient Express chose Botswana, a country where peace reins and animals roam freely. Surrounded by Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Botswana’s two million people live in a country about the size of Texas. Diamonds fuel the economy but the plan is to augment mining with a major diamond cutting polishing and finishing centre next year in the capital of Gaborone. The country’s numbers are impressive: the GDP grew 7.5% in 2010 and the literacy rate is 84%. Cell phone service covers this mostly rural country. The bad news is that: there is a major AIDS problem, but anti-retrovirals are paid for by the government. And when it comes to tourism, preserving the environment and the wildlife that depends is at the top of the list.

At dinner (the three Orient Express safari camps are all-inclusive), the menu aimed for a kind of African fusion. There was chakalaka soup, an African spiced vegetable soup, followed by chicken stew and bream fillets, accompanied by pumpkin stuffed with baby corn. Other nights I sampled kudu meat and ostrich carpaccio.

Khwai has a small spa, and a certain chic ambiance. But when I long to return to Botswana I think of the Savute Elephant Camp, less marshy and forested, than Khwaii. Welcome to the elephant capital of Africa. Over 80,000 of them live in the 10,000 square kilometer Chobe National Park.  In the northern part of the park, a rugged, semi-arid wilderness, is the 5000 sq km Savute area.  This is prime wildlife territory.  Zebras migrate through here, and you can see the endangered wild dog, as well as giraffe, cheetah,  imapala (a snack for lions, I was told) and kudu; recently leopards have been sighted.. But the chance to see an amazing number of elephants living out their natural lives is what makes this place a magnet for people partial to pachyderms.         

   The Savute Elephant Camp (www.savuteelephantcamp.com) is situated on the banks of the Savute channel. It’s a mystery - no one knows why it flows for several decades and then suddenly stops, sometimes for decades. It stopped  flowing in 1982 and then one January  morning in 2010 it started again, making the camp an instant waterfront property. Savute Elephant Camp includes some l5 tent tents that on the inside look and feel like boutique hotel rooms. Each one has a deck with a hammock.  They’re clustered  around a  main building, roofed but without walls. It’s a combination dining room, lounge and meeting place.   Everywhere in the camp local materials are used - wood, straw, stone; even the chandelier is made of ostrich eggs.

The colors, here and at the other Orient Express camps are tan, sand, ecru, just like the land itself.  The hut-like tents and the lounge on stilts fit right into the wilderness. (What a horror it would be  to see a sprawling luxury resort and golf course.) There are no concrete foundations, all the better to be able to pull up stakes in case the l5 year lease is not renewed by the government (no land can be sold in conservation areas). The harmony of the lion- colored land and the aesthetic, African-style furnishings, made me feel a kind of nostalgia for some kind of unruined past. It’s the feeling of  being in sepia photograph.

Just outside  the camp, in plain view, the elephants drink, wash, jostle and splash each other in the water; they come and go, exchanging greetings with their trunks. Even the heaviest elephant walks silently, as if the sound had been turned off.  Males walk away alone, females arrive with their adorable little ones. It is the female elephants who live communally, aunts caring for their sisters’ offspring, while the males, from adolescence onward, are on their own. The younger ones do not even know who their fathers are, and try to attract a male mentor by showing off.  So much elephant behaviour  is going on that it’s tempting to just sit on the deck and watch.

But there are other animals to see. At 6:30 am, we take off in the open  jeep. Our guide, the camp’s resident environmentalist named Onx, scrutinizes the animal tracks and easily finds zebra, gazelle and giraffe. This is not a big zoo; it’s the unfenced wild, one of the best places in Africa to see animals. The same might be said of the whole country.


Useful Information:: The Okavango Delta has a variety of lodgings and prices. However, in the region of the  Khwai and Savute safari camps, also in the north,  there are fewer camps, and many of these are high-end (4 and 5 stars).  The vast Kalahari desert to the south includes a game preserve which offers wildlife viewing in some of the most remote, unspoiled wilderness in Africa. This is not five-star territory, and low-priced lodgings and camping is available..

Getting to Botswana: Air Botswana (www.airbotswana.co.bw), a thoroughly modern airline with more amenities than many North American carriers,  flies often  from both Johannesburg and Capetown. For the Okavanga Delta and the Chobe area, the best place to land is the town of Maun. It contains both banks and goats (shepherds bring their herds to market) and is safari central. Here is where you take small planes  to the various safari camps (Mack Air is one, at www.mackair.co.bw) , and rent four-wheel vehicles. . The capital, Gaborone, is in the south and is closer to the Kalahari area..



Thursday

San Francsico's French Connection

SAN FRANCISCO’S FRENCH CONNECTION
By Jacqueline Swartz

San Francisco has always been a Francophile’s refuge. When the Bush Administration renamed pommes frites Freedom Fries and made French wine seem un-American, a group of San Franciscans protested with a champagne dinner. French Champagne, of course.

The French influence began with the city itself. Some of the first immigrants were Parisians feeling the uprising of l848. 

And of course there was the lure of the gold rush. The French fortune seekers stayed and opened department stores, restaurants, a hospital, laundries and bakeries - the famous sourdough bread was called French bread, and Isidore Boudin (whose bread is still made) was one of the first to bake it. The City of Paris, a venerable department store modeled after the Galleries Lafayette, first did business on a ship in the harbor; today it is a Neiman Marcus store, and only the dome remains.

A few blocks away, on Bush Street near the gates of Chinatown, an area once known as Frenchman’s Hill is now called the French Quarter. This is not some invented tourist theme park but an area rooted in the history of the city.

“A City Hall, a café, a church”, traditionally that’s what you need for a village,” remarked Jean Gabriel, founder Café de la Presse (www.cafedelapresse.com) It includes a news stand selling French newspapers and magazines, a small bookstore and a large café/restaurant. Across the street is the French Consulate, which is near Notre Dame des Victoires, the French Catholic church.

Restaurants

The French Quarter has several clusters of restaurants. Among the most authentic is Le Central (www.lecentralbistro.com). It is achingly traditional, with banquettes, mirrors and chalkboard menus. The food includes traditional fare like leeks vinaigrette and a cassoulet rumoured to be simmering since 1974. San Francisco’s flamboyant former mayor, Willy Brown, is a frequent customer, and so are French tourists who cannot do without their cuisine. The wine list here is exceptional, and includes both California and French wines by the glass.

Nearby is Café Claude (www.cafeclaude.com), in Claude Lane, just behind the intersection of Stockton and Sutter streets. On Bastille Day, July l4, the streets are packed with revelers. Café Claude is French down o its zinc bar and the other furnishings, which were bought from an old Paris bar. Inexpensive and casual, but also romantic, it was once awarded first prize by the Bay Guardian weekly newspaper as the “best place to have a clandestine lunch”. The croque monsieur, the couscous with the traditional Merguez sausage are assertively French. So is the luscious tarte tatin, rich with apples and creme fraiche. Fusion might the culinary trademark of restaurant-obsessed San Francisco, but it is conspicuously absent in this French enclave.

One of San Francisco’s most celebrated restaurants, Fleur de Lys, is run by Hubert Keller, known as the chef’s chef. Now boasting a Michelin star, this haute cuisine palace, with its votive candles and tented ceiling is the place San Franciscans go for special occasions. www.fleurdelyssf.com

The French influence extends well outside the “village”. The best bakery-cafe in San Francisco, Tartine, is in the Latin Mission District, at 600 Guerrero Street (www.tartinebakery.com). It serves celestial tarts, croissants and other sweet and savoury goodies; the only downside is the lines, even in the rain.

Museums

San Francisco’s French connection goes beyond food. France Today, a monthly U.S. magazine about all things French, is published in San Francisco. In the Richmond District, the Palace of the Legion of Honor (34th and Clement Street) is a museum modeled after Le Palais de la Legion d’honneur in Paris, on the spot where Napoleon first established his civil and military order. It was built for the people of San Francisco by sugar heiress Alma Spreckels and opened in l924.

Spreckels was a passionate collector of French art, and thanks to her early championing of the sculptor, Rodin, the museum has over 80 pieces by him. It’s worth a visit just for the setting, dramatically situated on a hill overlooking the San Francisco Bay and the coastline.

San Francisco’s Museum of Modern art (www.sfmoma.org) , ranked second only to New York’s), has its own French collection: a startling roomful of paintings by Matisse. They were donated by the Haas family, of Levi Strauss fame, who bought the paintings from Gertrude Stein, originally from Oakland and later of Paris.

Vineyards

The French influence extends to the vineyards of the Napa Valley, San Francisco’s wine country, a mere hour and a half from the city by car. Even before the gold rush, the first grapevines in the Napa Valley were planted in 1836 by George Yount, from Alsace. In 1899, the Marquis Georges de Latour settled in the valley and came to produce the famous Cabernets of Beaulieu vineyards.
San Franciscan’s can drink to that.

Wednesday

Caravaggio and his followers (appeared in NUVO Magazine)


For art lovers, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610), is the hottest baroque painter who ever held a brush. He was also one of the founding fathers of the baroque style. In the first Canadian exhibit of this very contemporary Old Master, the National Gallery presented Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome, which closed September 11.

Caravaggio’s genius is eerily contemporary. “Four-hundred years later, he seems to touch our sensibilities more than any of the Old Masters,” remarks Sebastian Schutze, co-curator of the exhibit and Chair of the Department of Art History at the University of Vienna.

The chiaroscuro element - the dark background and the light-infused figures in the foreground inspired film noir, notes National Gallery Director, Marc Mayer. And Caravaggio’s emoting figures, so full of subtle glances and dark passion, draw us into the story of each painting. “A real live Caravaggio - the actual object, not a photo or something you see on the internet - is a very powerful experience,” Mayer says. “His high drama, his realism - you almost forget you’re looking at a painting”.

Caravaggio used his low-life posse - pimps, prostitutes, musicians – as models, sometimes as biblical figures. The Roman prostitute, Fillide Melandroni, posed as Mary Magdalene in The Conversion of the Magdalene, one of the ten Caravaggios in the exhibit. Although such models were considered scandalous, wealthy collectors sought his paintings, full of sex and violence, saints and sinners.

Dozens of European painters were drawn to Rome to check out this virtuoso wild man. The exhibit intends to show how Caravaggio influenced his Baroque contemporaries, called Caravaggisti The 50 paintings include works by Artemisia Gentileschi, Peter Paul Rubens and Simon Vouet; according to co-curator Schutz, “they offer challenging new perspectives on the art of Caravaggio”.

Caravaggio’s life was as violent as some of his masterpieces. He killed a pimp in a dual over a woman, then went on the lam, running from Rome to Naples to Venice, then to Malta, where he joined the Knights of Malta. Imprisoned for assaulting one of the senior knights, he escaped to Naples after a month, only to be slashed in the face by a knife-wielding attacker. He died less than a year later, in July 1610, in the Tuscan town of Porte Ecole.

The artist’s range is part of his continued appeal. He could accomplish eloquently spiritual paintings like Sacrifice of Isaac (in the show); he also painted musicians, fortune tellers and shady card players. Alongside his Card Sharp is a painting on the same subject, The Cheat With the Ace of Clubs, by French painter, Georges de la Tour.

Assembling the paintings for this show, the second largest display of the artist’s works in North America after the Metropolitan’s l985 exhibit, itself required masterful negotiating. Not a single Caravaggio painting exists in Canada, and most are in Europe’s great museums and churches, which are reluctant to lend them. In one instance, the National Gallery exchanged a Rembrandt to the Italian Museum, Pinacoteca Capitolini, which will keep the painting as hostage until it gets its Caravaggio back.
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“I can’t imagine another Caravaggio exhibit in Canada”, sighs NAC director Mayer. “This will be an experience of a lifetime.”

In October, Caravaggio and his Followers in Rome will travel to the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth Texas, the exhibit’s only other stop.

www.gallery.ca/caravaggio