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Showing posts from November, 2009

Taste Trippin' Part Four

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It's November in Chicago. This is the time my mind turns to thoughts of island life, not that it doesn't most times but now is when I really focus. So I grabbed a quick excursion to Jamaica. Of course, I'm not talking about a physical jaunt but a gastronomical trip to the South Loop's Utopia International Caribbean Cuisine. Outfitted in rich tapestries and bordeaux velvet sofas, the place doesn't conjure up any images of Jamaica at all. That's because it used to be an upscale tapas lounge. That concept apparently didn't work for them so a few months ago they switched to Jamaican fare. Now, as you'd expect, I'm pretty particular when it comes to Jamaican food. All the jerk chicken joints that populate this city do not necessarily qualify as authentic Jamaican cuisine. I have my criteria and my check list that an eatery must pass before I'll try them but mostly I send my Caribbean friends to scout it out. I called Utopia personally when they open

Bahia Bounty

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I've never been a fan of shopping as a travel activity. Generally, I'm quite allergic to shopping malls, department stores and the special hell that's called warehouse clubs. I don't experience any pleasure from wading through mounds of generic, mass produced merchandise and I despise it even more in another country. If it isn't distinctive and doesn't reflect the nuances of the culture, what's the point? You can probably buy it anywhere. Now an outdoor market, on the other hand, offers the sights and sounds of a particular country as well as the experience of bargaining and bartering. Once in the Dominican Republic, a vendor admired my husband's yellow polo shirt and he exchanged it for an ebony sculpture. Whenever I look at that sculpture, I remember the story of how we gained it. In Bahia, the vibrant culture shines through everything, including the Mercado Modelo. From the capoeiristas chanting and kicking outside, to the smell of sea and moquec

Browsing through Bahia's Mercado Modelo

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I think the term "shop til you drop" was created with Bahia's Mercado Modelo in mind. Over 300 handicraft stalls cram three levels, along with a colorful collection of bars and restaurants. Although the Mercado is filled with authentic Bahian culture, from baianas selling acaraje , to capoeira performed at the entrance, the place was clearly created for tourists. So it you're like me and can't stand to go near any silly tourist traps, don't pass up the Mercado. You'll have to haggle and the sheer number of souvenirs, along with huge crowds and echoing noise is overwhelming but its worth the experience. The paintings reveal a riot of vivid colors and talent. Most of the vendors aren't aggressive and you can browse without being harassed. I think it helped that I was mistaken for a local Baiana, even though my Portuguese is horrifying. I haggled for two small orixa paintings that now hang triumphantly in my hallway. For music and instrument fa

Bom Dia From Brazil

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Brazilian creativity is legendary, fresh ideas and innovations just seem to flow with the ease of samba on a sunny day. So you think Brazilians would speak on ordinary public phones? Please. Brazilian phone booths are called orelhao (big ear) because of the function and rounded shape but they hardly resemble anything close to a boring, old phone. In Bahia, I was excited to see phone booths looking like big, green apples but that wasn't all. Some perched on corners in the form of gigantic swans. Others beckoned with the bright petals of the sunflower. Or the imposing beauty of the rose. And this duck character, I can't explain who he is, probably the cooler, more stylish (check out the carefully coordinated hat) cousin of Daffy.

Mounting Mayan Ruins

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I like to climb. Hills, mountains, volcanoes or anything offering a scenic backdrop inspires me to scale untold heights. I never seem to feel the same inspiration for climbing stairs. I think my legs are spoiled from climbing so many stunning structures. A climbing standout was in Belize, at the Xunantunich Mayan ruins. The site is a classic period (300-900 AD)ceremonial center adorned with large plazas and pyramids. The tallest, El Castillo, rises 130 feet. I watched barefoot children scamper up the crumbling stones and I eventually followed them. The climb is steep and the sun blazes down mercilessly. I was rewarded with a gorgeous panoramic view of the jungle canopy, Belize River and a glimpse of Guatemala just over the border.

Anti-Terrorist Fashion

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With the Taliban hovering in the background and located just two hours from al- Qaida headquarters, Pakistan hosted its first fashion week in the cosmopolitan city of Karachi last week. It might seem like a frivolous choice at a time when violence and religious oppression affects most of the country but I think its a signal of bravery and hope to Pakistan's women. "This is our gesture of defiance to the Taliban," said CEO of Fashion Week Pakistan, Ayesha Tammy Haq. Although the fashion show displayed traditional Pakistani tunics and veils, bared shoulders, legs and midriffs were also on view. The event had been re-scheduled twice because of violence and security concerns and some models admitted that they were afraid of Islamic militant attacks but they strutted down the runways nonetheless. Showcasing a mix of traditional Pakistani influences and contemporary style, Pakistan's top designers demonstrated the vibrant culture that's too often overshadowed by po

London Love and Thornton's Toffee

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I love London. The energy, the quirkiness, the music, the markets, excite me. I never sleep when I visit, there's always something happening and some place to be. I also rarely eat when I'm there. If there's no curry shop or Jamaican eatery nearby, forget it. British food is my least favorite thing about London. You can only eat fish-n-chips and do high tea so many times before you crave real food. And well, there really is none. There's a saying that British colonialists really weren't trying to to take over all those countries, they were just looking for a good meal. On my first trip to London, I ate maybe once a day, usually scones or fish n-chips. I never saw much food that looked appetizing to me. Then at the end of my visit, I discovered Thornton's toffee. My discriminating sweet tooth went wild. I can not explain the joy, the chewy, rich, deliciousness of that experience. Forget food, I could live on a good batch of Thornton's toffee for weeks. The

Blues From The Blue Men

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Last week, half of my CD tower collapsed. It covers an entire wall and holds hundreds of my lovingly collected CDs. The CDs crashed to the floor. Some are cracked, some are scratched. To say that I'm sad about it is an understatement. I haven't been able to deal with it at all. I just look at the piles of music and turn away because I can't bear to go through them and see what I've lost. Today I realized that it was the left side of the case that collapsed. This means that all of my American music genres--blues, jazz, rock, soul and hip hop are in piles on the floor. My global music--Latin, reggae, soca, calypso, African, Celtic and everything in between, rests safely on shelves in the other half of the tower. I haven't figured out what this means but for now it means that I only have access to my global music. The feeling of loss and regret that hovers over me has created a hankering for the blues. I can't reach for B.B. or Buddy or John Lee but I can listen