Category Archives: USA

A Previous Visit to Morocco

Epcot World Showcase

The Disney Web Site introduces Morocco like this: “A realistic Koutoubia Minaret leads the way into this faraway land of traditional belly dancers, intricate Moroccan architecture and swirling mosaics made by native craftsmen. The Morocco Pavilion has 2 fascinating sections: the Ville Nouvelle (new city) and the Medina (old city). Discover a bustling plaza with a variety of shops and be on the lookout for some familiar Arabian Disney friends throughout the day.”

Read the Full Story…

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Naples, Celebrating the Pizza

53-naples-pizza

“Hey Mom, they have pizza in Italy too!”  American tourist family overheard in Rome

There was no debate or discussion about evening meal, we were in Naples and it had to be pizza, it had to be pizza because Naples is the home of the dough based, tomato topped classic.

Legend has it that Queen Margherita of Savoy gave her name to the most famous pizza of all on a visit there in 1889.

Tired of French gourmet cooking (as you might well be) she summoned the city’s most famous pizza-maker, Raffaele Esposito, and asked him to bake her three pizzas and she would chose her favourite.  Like a judge on a cookery TV programme she decided upon the patriotic version, prepared in the colours of the Italian flag – red (tomato), green (basil), and white (mozzarella) and this became the Pizza Margherita.

Everyone in Naples eats pizza, I have never seen so many pizza restaurants in one place, I tried to work out how many pizzas might be eaten here in a single day but I found the number to be so big it was so incalculable that I feared my head might possibly explode.

Interestingly I cannot see that Italy has a National Pizza Day.  Maybe, and this is an interesting fact, because in terms of pizza consumption per population Italy is only fifth in the World.   A lot of places outside of Naples are clearly bringing the numbers down.  Fourth is Germany, third is the UK, second is the USA but first is NORWAY!  I can understand that, if I lived in Norway I would eat cheap pizza because Norway is amongst the most expensive places to live in the World.

The USA has a National Pizza Day on February 9th.  Over four billion pizzas are sold in America every year, 17% of all restaurants are pizzerias, including Italy at World Showcase at Disney World at EPCOT and around about three hundred and fifty pizza slices are eaten every second. Pepperoni is the most popular pizza at just over one-third of all pies ordered.  Not one of my favourites I have to confess.

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s Amore” (Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

pizza-tonight-when-the-moon-hits-your-eye-like-a-big-pizza-pie-h2cg4e

When I was a boy growing up we didn’t have pizza!

For my Mum preparing food took up a lot of every day because there were no convenience meals and everything had to be prepared from scratch.  We had never heard of moussaka, paella or lasagne and the week had a predictable routine.  There was complete certainty about the menu because we generally had the same thing at the same time on the same day every week, there were no foreign foods at all, no pasta or curries and rice was only ever used in puddings.

I can still remember my very first pizza and I consider myself fortunate that it was in Italy, in 1976, my first ever overseas holiday when I visited Sorrento with my dad.

I became an immediate fan of the Italian classic and all of its variants just so long as it doesn’t have pineapple on it.  Unless you live in Hawaii pineapple on a pizza is just plain wrong.  And, I am not the only one who thinks this way; in February 2017, the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson said  and he was ‘fundamentally opposed’ to pineapple on pizzas.  In his words…

“I like pineapples, just not on pizza. I do not (unfortunately) have the power to make laws which forbid people to put pineapples on their pizza.”

pineapple-pizza

Today, authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made only with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional speciality’.  This allows only three official variants: pizza Marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita Extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Pizza should be kept simple but it is not only pineapple that is used to spoil it.

Canada joins in on USA Pizza Day and I nominate this Poutine (fried potato, gravy and cheese curds) Pizza as probably the worst ever variation on the famous pie.

poutine-pizza

If we had ever had pizza at home and my mum served this up I can guarantee that I would be there twenty-four hours later listening to her repeat over and again – “you are not leaving the table until you have eaten all of your dinner” or, on rare occasions that I could wear her down…” one more mouthful and you can get down” and just to make it clear that didn’t include “I don’t want to eat this shit.”

On this occasion we stumbled upon an excellent pizzaria down a predictable untidy back street and went downstairs into the restaurant.  Good job we were early because within half an hour it was heaving with customers.  The food was cheap, the house wine was served in a jug and I would like to tell you that I had a classic Margherita but I can’t because I added ham, olives and artichokes to the topping.  It was wonderful.  So good we made an instant decision that we would return again the following evening.

We walked back through the grubby urban scarred back streets of Naples to our accommodation, our senses and stomachs overflowing full to busting after an excellent first day.

I liked it here.  I really liked it here!

What is your favourite pizza, do tell?

My Pizza in Naples

A Recommendation…

Recommended

I have stumbled upon and started to follow a blog with a series of posts based on letters sent home by a traveller in the 1960s.

It is really good and I think you might find it as interesting as I do.

This is how the blog introduces itself and it contains the link to the posts…

 

Published by Tone’s 1960s Travels

Tony is 79 and lives with his wife in South West England. Aged 26-29, he travelled the world with his friend Colin, cataloguing their adventures in his letters home – and he’s now revisiting those memories, 53 years later. Tiffany is Tony’s daughter, a features journalist who loves tales of true life. She’s set up this blog to share her father’s letters and photos. Jackie is Tony’s wife, who’s in charge of dictating the letters, using voice recognition software. Jackie has now been nicknamed ‘The Dictator.’ Tony, Tiffany and The Dictator welcome you to Tone’s 1960s Travels!

Eugene Schieffelin, William Shakespeare and Starlings in the USA

Eugene Schieffelin

Although the Sparrow and the Starling are on the conservation red list in the United Kingdom it is interesting that by comparison they are doing rather well in the United States.

The European Starling was introduced into North America in the 1890s, and quickly spread across the continent.  It is a fierce competitor for nest cavities, and frequently expels native bird species and is therefore widely regarded as a pest and has been blamed for a decline in indigenous bird populations, especially the infinitely more attractive Bluebird.

The Sparrow and the Starling together with the Pigeon are the only three unprotected bird species in North America, they are all introduced and there are more of them than all the other birds put together.

European Starling

The European Starling is resident in the US because in 1890, a wealthy American businessman called Eugene Schieffelin introduced sixty Starlings into New York Central Park and then another forty the following year.  In doing so he radically and irreversibly altered America’s bird population because today European Starlings range from Alaska to Florida and even into Mexico and their population is estimated at over two hundred million.

Schieffelin was an interesting man who belonged to the Acclimation Society of North America, a group with the seemingly laudable, if misguided, aim of aiding the exchange of plants and animals from one part of the world to another.  In the nineteenth century, such societies were fashionable and were supported by the scientific knowledge and beliefs of an era that had no way of understanding the effect that non-native species could have on the local ecosystem.

Actually, in his defence, some recent revisionist thinking has concluded that the introduction of the Starling was perhaps not as devastating has had previously been suggested and one thing is certain and that is that is was not nearly so thoughtless as the introduction of the European rabbit to the continent of Australia in 1859 by a certain Thomas Austin who wanted them there to satisfy his hunting hobby.

rabbit

The effect of rabbits on the ecology of Australia has been truly devastating and entirely due to the rabbit one eighth of all mammalian species in Australia are now extinct and the loss of plant species is at present uncalculated. They have established themselves as Australia’s biggest pest and annually cause millions of dollars of damage to agriculture. The introduction of the rabbit was an ecological mistake on a monumental scale!

Similarly the humble hedgehog to the Hebrides Islands in Scotland. The prickly interlopers were introduced in 1974 in a misguided act of biological control of slugs and snails. As the numbers of hedgehogs spread across these islands, so the breeding success of many of the internationally important populations of wading birds decreased. A link was made – hedgehogs are partial to eggs, and these hedgehogs were emerging from hibernation just as the birds were laying a smorgasbord of eggy delight. Now the UK Government spends thousands of pounds of taxpayers money trying to eradicate them.

When he wasn’t tinkering with the environment Eugene Schieffelin liked joining clubs and societies and his obituary in the New York Times in 1906 listed his membership of The New York Genealogical and Biographic Society, The New York Zoological Society, The Society of Colonial Wars, The St. Nicholas Club, the St. Nicholas Society and the Union Club of New York which in the 1870’s was generally regarded as the richest club in the world. Obviously Schieffelin had too much money and too much time on his hands!

Birds of Shakespeare

There is an alternative story behind the introduction of the European Starling. It is said that Schieffelin belonged to a group dedicated to introducing into America all the birds mentioned in the complete works of William Shakespeare because they they thought it would be nice to hear the sound of the poet’s birds warbling their old world songs on the tree branches of America. If this were true he must have been unusually familiar with the works of the Elizabethan bard because Shakespeare’s sole reference to the starling appears in King Henry IV, part 1 (Act 1, scene 3): “Nay, I’ll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but ‘Mortimer.’”

As well as the Starling Schieffelin was also responsible for introducing the House Sparrow, which was released into Brooklyn in New York in 1851 and by 1900 had spread as far as the Rocky Mountains and is today common across the entire continent. The sparrow too is regarded as a pest as it is in Australia where it was introduced at roughly the same time, paradoxically as an experiment in pest control.  How badly wrong can an experiment go I wonder?

Schieffelin wasn’t always successful however, probably just as well, and his attempts to introduce bullfinches, chaffinches, nightingales, and skylarks were not successful.

Interestingly the House Sparrow gets four mentions in Shakespeare’s works, in Hamlet, As You Like It, The Tempest and Troilus and Cressida. The full list of avian references in the works of Shakespeare were researched by the Scottish geologist Sir Archibald Geikie and recorded in his book published in 1916, ‘The Birds of Shakespeare’ and they are the Blackbird, Bunting, Buzzard, Chough, Cock, Cormorant, Crow, Cuckoo, Dive-dapper, Dove and Pigeon, Duck, Eagle, Falcon and Sparrowhawk, Finch, Goose, Hedge Sparrow, House Martin, Jackdaw, Jay, Kite, Lapwing, Lark, Loon, Magpie, Nightingale, Osprey, Ostrich, Owl, Parrot, Partridge, Peacock, Pelican, Pheasant, Quail, Raven, Robin, Snipe, Sparrow, Starling, Swallow, Swan, Thrush, Turkey, Vulture, Wagtail, Woodcock and the Wren.

Some people research some very strange things!

I have told you before about my Dad’s schoolboy notebook about birds, well, this is his Starling page…

Dads Starling Page

Ireland, Sligo – The Town and the Poet

Sligo Postcard

“In a year’s time when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo.” – W.B. Yeats

I confess to being disappointed when we first arrived in Sligo.  It appeared rather austere and grey and subdued and dull compared with the colour and vibrancy and the vivaciously energetic Westport that we had left behind. There were no gaily painted houses and no effervescent floral displays, no pavement tables outside the pubs and no evidence of any bubbling street entertainment.

But, I have said before that it is wrong to be too hasty and make a premature judgment about a place and this proved to be the case in Sligo because a walk into the town centre revealed its hidden charms. Now and again you have to scratch the surface a little to find what you are looking for.  Sometimes you need a crowbar but in Sligo we only needed a toothpick.

There is a strong association in the town with the poet W. B. Yeats (William Butler) and although he wasn’t born there he lived there for a while as a youth and according to his wishes is buried in a church yard nearby.  The town has connections with Goon Show star and writer Spike Milligan whose father was from Sligo and the boy band Westlife was formed there in 1998.

W B Yeats Sligo Statue

There is a statue of Yeats (not very flattering, in my opinion) but not of Spike Milligan or of Westlife, well, not that I could find anyway.  Down by the river quayside there was another famine statue, one of a family comforting each other at a spot where thirty-thousand people emigrated between 1847 and 1851.  I am beginning to understand that no Irish city or town is complete with a Famine Memorial.  As it happens there are also quite a lot in USA and Canada and one or two in Australia as well.

Sligo Irish Famine Statue

Although the streets were rather sombre in their appearance there were some interesting places in the town centre and it was nice to see individual traditional shops rather than modern chains. There was a pleasant walk along the banks of the river where people were enjoying the unusually high temperatures by standing in the doorways of the pubs and cafés and at the far end of the town was Sligo Abbey, long ago abandoned and ruined of course but still worth the entrance fee for a poke around inside the walls.

Interestingly it features in two short stories by W. B. Yeats – The Crucifixion of the Outcast, set in the Medieval times and The Curse of the Fires and of the Shadows describing its destruction in 1641. I made a note to look them up when I returned home.  Sligo Abbey was sacked and destroyed by the English and this is a recurring story in Ireland.  You need a thick skin to visit Ireland if you are English but at least the Irish people seem to have a forgiving nature even if they might not forget.

Sligo abbey Detail

After the walk around the town we took the advice now of the hotel staff and drove five miles west to the coastal village of Strandhill to a wonderful beach and a raging sea. I liked Strandhill straight away because there was free parking all along the front. I always compare this with my local seaside resort at Cleethorpes where the Council charges exorbitant fees to park up even in the Winter and Cleethorpes doesn’t get anywhere near comparison with Strandhill I can tell you!

When it comes to parking the priciest resort in England is Brighton, which charges £30 a day making it one of Europe’s most expensive destinations for leaving a car on a small strip of tarmac.  Next is Bournemouth at £18 – still more than millionaires’ playgrounds Monaco and Sorrento charging £15 and just under £18 respectively.

There was a good walk to be had along the pebble littered sand and we strolled along past the beach people and the brave surfers but there were no swimmers because everywhere there are warning signs saying that swimming is forbidden because although it looks inviting the sea is especially treacherous here.  It looked relatively safe and benign to me so I enquired of local people what the problem was. Apparently the way the tides and the currents enter the bay produce savage hidden rip-tides which make this place especially hazardous.

As we looked out over the Ocean and admired its natural beauty it was hard to imagine that it could be so dangerous.

Strandhill Beach Sligo Ireland

After an hour or so we left and as we drove away I was certain that Strandhill could easily force itself into a list of my top ten favourite Ireland beaches.

We returned to Sligo now because our plan now was to head north towards Donegal, the most northerly of the Southern Irish counties but we found time to stop on the way in the village of Drumcliff, just about five miles out of Sligo because in the cemetery there is the grave of W. B. Yeats with a headstone inscribed with the poet’s famous self-penned epitaph:

“Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman, pass by.”

Yeates Grave Sligi Ireland

An Alternative Independence Day

I love my blogging pals in the USA but every 4th July there is a emotional patriotic outpouring about American Independence that is like a lava flow of double sticky Maple Syrup.  What is there to be that proud about?  Three hundred years or so later the USA has Donald Trump as President!

In England we have to National Day, no Independence Day, in fact we tend to celebrate a day when we were invaded and lost our Independence.

1066 is probably the most memorable date in English history.

On October 14th (now officially Hastings Day) that year Harold, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England and most of his army with him were cut down at the Battle of Hastings, and William, Duke of Normandy earned his nickname “William the Conqueror”. William, who was using Hastings as his base, then claimed the crown and changed the way England was governed forever.

Unlike the Scots who sing national anthems (unofficial) about fighting the English and the Welsh can’t get over the military campaigns and begrudge the castles of Edward I (even though they generate lots of tourist revenue) it is a curious fact that the English actually celebrate and embrace the 1066 Battle of Hastings. I suppose this says a lot about the nature of the English because instead of sulking behind a defensive nationalist barrier and bristling with rage and resentment we have actually hijacked the event and reorganised our subsequent history around it.

After the successful invasion William the Normans set about imposing their military domination and completely reforming the previous Anglo Saxon administrative and political  regime and they were so successful that modern English history really starts from that date.  The subjugation and the transformation was so completely successful because the English (except Hereward the Wake of course) recognised the benefits of this, allowed it to happen and simply got on with their lives.  They didn’t sit in caves watching spiders or retreat to Anglesey to brood and get angry about it.

Today the French irreverently refer to the English as Anglo-Saxons (in the same way that we refer to them as Frogs) but their description is entirely incorrect because for a thousand years we have been Norman-English whereas the French do eat frogs!

In 1966, I was twelve years old and England went into a frenzy as the 900th anniversary was celebrated and it was such a success that Hastings Borough Council decided to mark the date every year as Hastings Day.

On the build up to the event there were commemorative stamps and gold coins, tea towels, pencil sets and mugs and everyone got in on the act: “Battle of Hastings 1066—Bottle of Guinness 1966” frothed a thousand billboards. ‘Whoosh! It’s another big breakaway conquest,’ proclaimed the makers of Bri-Nylon clothing in advertisements showing mounted Bri-Nyloned models setting out against the Saxons and another alternative version of the battle showed the Norman warriors armed with Desoutter Power Tools.  Heinz offered a chance to enter an archery contest in which the first 1,066 winners would be rewarded with Kenwood Chef food mixers.  Every English town that could claim the remotest connection with either Harold or William beckoned tourists with such  attractions as Conquest puppet shows, town-crier contests and battle re-enactments by grown men who still liked dressing up and playing soldiers.

  

Naturally, in the forefront of all this  was Hastings, which, as its local newspaper proudly pointed out, ‘is better known internationally than almost any other town.’  To give the anniversary its deserved importance and promote tourism, the Hastings Town Council spent a small fortune building a triple-domed exhibition hall called the Triodome.  The principal exhibit was intended to be the great Bayeux Tapestry but the tapestry is the property of the town of Bayeux in Normandy, which, fearing damage to the precious artefact, refused to lend it for the occasion, and so, rather than sulk,  like the Greeks and the Elgin Marbles, Hastings produced its own.

The Hastings Embroidery was made by the Royal School of Needlework in 1965. It took twenty-two embroiderers ten months to finish and it was intended to be a modern day equivalent of the Bayeux Tapestry.  It consists of twenty-seven panels, each nine by three foot, and shows eighty-one great events in British history during the nine-hundred years from 1066 to 1966.

The Embroidery is worked in appliqué by hand, with the addition of couched threads and cords in the same way as the Bayeux Tapestry.  It incorporates tweed from Scotland, fabrics from the Victoria and Albert Museum, and feathers from London Zoo.  When completed it went on public display in Hastings, firstly in the Town Hall and then at the White Rock Pavilion.  The Embroidery is currently in storage, and, despite local campaigns to have it brought out of the bottom drawer, apart from two panels on permanent display in the Town Hall, it is not on public display.  The reason given is that to preserve the cloth and appliqué that special storage displays would have to made and the cost would be prohibitive.  I can’t help thinking there may be another reason – perhaps it isn’t that good?

I began this article by trying to rise above patriotic smugness but I cannot finish without reminding the French that, in a delicious twist of fate, less than three months before the 900 year celebrations of a French victory over the Anglo Saxons, England beat France in the World Cup group stages by two goals to nil.  France finished bottom in the group, England finished top and went on to win the Jules Rimet trophy!

More Leif Ericson – Statues in the USA

Leif Erikson Boston  Leif Erikson Minnesota

After recent travels to Italy I told the story of Giuseppe Garibaldi and how he is so famous that his statues appear all over the World and now I have been to Iceland and seen Leif Ericson and although not nearly as prolific in his bronze and stones appearances as Giuseppe, Leif does seem to have an impressive number of likenesses of his own, especially in the USA.

This is not entirely surprising of course because Norsemen from Greenland and Iceland were the first Europeans to reach North America in what is today Newfoundland, Canada when Leif Ericson reached the Continent via Norse settlements in Greenland around the year 1000.

Nearly a thousand years later many Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the second half of the nineteenth and the first few decades of the twentieth century. According to the most recent United States census there are more than four and a half million Norwegian Americans and most live in the Upper Midwest and currently comprise the tenth largest American ancestry group.

In the two pictures above Leif can be seen in Boston, Massachusetts and then not surprisingly in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Below he is in Chicago, Illinois and (my personal favourite) Newport News in Virginia.

leif-eriksson-chicago  Leif Erikson Newport News Virginia

Reyjkavik, Vikings and Explorers