Home Thoughts, from Abroad

cotswolds-paola-thomas-food-photography-6

Home Thoughts from Abroad

BY ROBERT BROWNING

Oh, to be in England

Now that April’s there,

cotswolds-paola-thomas-food-photography-4

And whoever wakes in England

Sees, some morning, unaware,

That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf

Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,

cotswolds-paola-thomas-food-photography-5

While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough

In England—now!

cotswolds-paola-thomas-food-photography-3

And after April, when May follows,

And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!

cotswolds-paola-thomas-food-photography-7

Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge

Leans to the field and scatters on the clover

Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—

That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,

cotswolds-paola-thomas-food-photography-8

Lest you should think he never could recapture

The first fine careless rapture!

cotswolds-paola-thomas-food-photography

And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,

All will be gay when noontide wakes anew

The buttercups, the little children’s dower

—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

cotswolds-paola-thomas-food-photography-2

Last April we went back to England in the Springtime and spent a couple of days in the Cotswolds. I’ve been feeling homesick every since.

Share

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Hotel Diderot in Chinon

When my dear friend and mentor Jamie Schler – food writer extraordinaire – announced last year that she and her husband Jean-Pierre were taking over the Hotel Diderot in the Loire Valley, I decided to tack a trip to France onto our planned vacation in England. A workshop was arranged, my friend Stacey and I spent an incredible day in Paris before taking the train down to Chinon, and I returned to Seattle sated with beauty, inspiration and croissants.

clip_image002[4]

And I realise that I never ended up blogging about Jamie’s wonderful hotel. If you’re visiting France and want to stay somewhere just bursting with charm, history and inspiration; stunning rooms; exquisite breakfasts; and, exceptionally delightful proprietors, then I recommend you book immediately.

When it comes to property you can keep your two-car garage, your granite countertops and your walk-in closets. The only things I’ve ever truly coveted in a house are a mature wisteria, a gravel driveway of exactly the right sort of crunchiness and a wrought-iron spiral staircase.

clip_image004

As I turned into quiet, cobbled rue Diderot, the first thing I saw, piled up on the weathered stone gate pillar like an old lady’s swimming cap, was a wisteria of exceptional age and magnificence.

clip_image006

Worse was to follow.

clip_image008

The gravel of the entrance crunched in the most deliciously satisfying way and as I turned to look at the façade, I saw, to my chagrin, the pièce de résistance spiralling upwards. Quelle horreur!

clip_image010

Jamie greeted us and showed us to our room.

clip_image012 clip_image014

Of course there were acres of toile de Jouy and ancient beams and French doors looking out onto a pretty terrace wreathed in peonies.

clip_image022

clip_image024

clip_image018

Tentacles of jealousy started writhing around my cold black heart – this was not just any hotel, it was the fantasy French hotel of everyone’s dreams.

clip_image016

clip_image026

clip_image028

To be fair to the woman, it seems like there might be a little work involved in running a successful hotel.

clip_image030 clip_image034

Jamie posts exhausting updates on Facebook describing her efforts to keep the perfect preserves cupboard stocked with delicious jams of every conceivable flavour and hue.

clip_image036

It is possible that getting up early to prepare a magnificent breakfast replete with locally sourced goat’s cheese, walnuts and honey for hungry hordes of eccentric English tourists is not always sweetness and light.

clip_image041

And I’m prepared to accept that ensuring all twenty-three bedrooms are lovingly cleaned and tidied each and every day might get slightly wearing, as well as spending the winter carefully nurturing the perfect French garden.

clip_image039

But then I remember the evening light caressing the weathered façade, the shadows dancing on the peony-pink umbrellas on the terrace and yes, dammit, the ivy twisting through the railings of that SPIRAL STAIRCASE and I am consumed by bitter envy once more.

clip_image020

Here is madame la châtelaine trying not to look smug. Unfortunately she is far too lovely to hate.

clip_image032

Share

Summer’s End

HeronPoint-6

It was the best of summers here in Seattle. Day after sultry golden sun-filled day, followed by night after velvety warm summer night spent drinking pistachio sours with friends up on our roof deck. (One day I’ll blog the recipe for these).

HeronPoint-12

I’m always conflicted about summer. On the one hand there’s the obvious glorious summeriness of it all (see above), which I love and adore, but on the other school is out (for thirteen weeks no less), so sometimes it seems I spend more time driving the Minx to various camps and desperately trying to cram all my assignments into a few hours than lying on a lounger working on my Vitamin D levels.

HeronPoint-11

HeronPoint

This year though, I was determined that things would be different. We’d already been to Europe in the Spring, so we decided instead to rent a house out on Whidbey Island, and just hang out as a family. I had in mind the sort of place I wanted – near Coupeville, my favourite town on Whidbey, close to the beach, and just as comfortable and relaxing as being at home

HeronPoint-15

But soon, after spending long hours poring over vacation rental sites with a fine toothcomb, we were starting to despair. Everything was either too big, or too small; too booked or too expensive; frankly rather shabby or decorated in various distressing shades of shit brown (all too common unfortunately in the Pacific Northwest).

HeronPoint-16

Until, out of nowhere, the most perfect little house popped up. Close to Coupeville, right on a point with beaches to the front and side, and newly decorated in soothing shades of grey and blue.

Heron Point Beachhouse

Heron Point Beachhouse-5

I spent the whole summer wondering what on earth would be wrong with this place but when we arrived in August it was immediately clear that it was absolutely, utterly, perfect.

We met the charming owner and it turns out the property was being remodeled over the spring, only became available in May, and had been immediately booked solid.

Heron Point Beachhouse-4

See, manifesting WORKS people! Soon I will be a skinny blonde millionaire with a three-masted yacht, a Brazilian toyboy and lavender farm in Provence.

Heron Point Beachhouse-2

Heron Point Beachhouse-3

I  was deeply, fabulously content here.

HeronPoint-10

HeronPoint-14

We watched the sun rise over Mount Baker through the huge glass windows, as herons tiptoed daintily over the sand dollars left at low tide.

HeronPoint-2

We paddleboarded out in the tranquil bay – thankfully avoiding the orca that hung out near the point – kayaked round the mussel beds and rented a yacht from a local skipper.

HeronPoint-8

The Minx (on the right) and her friend who stayed with us

We ate wonderful foods crafted by local artisans, produce which had woken up that morning on a nearby farm and pretty blue eggs that our neighbours were selling on an honour system. A local roaster crafted a coffee blend just for us and dropped it round personally.

HeronPoint-7

We found the best places for lunch, dinner and wine and ate vast quantities of fresh mussels and clams, plucked out of Penn Cove that very morning. We instigated a ‘no electronics’ rule – and did bizarre things like read books, play board games, do jigsaws, and make art.  I joined a nearby yoga studio for morning sessions and watched the sun go down over the point every night.

HeronPoint-3

We laughed. A lot. And I felt all the knots in my shoulders and in my mind slowly unwind.

HeronPoint-9

HeronPoint-5

I even got through a ton of work, though it didn’t really feel like work. Instead they were fun day trips with writing attached. Here are some ideas for things to do in Coupeville, in Port Townsend and on San Juan Island, which I wrote and photographed for Seattle Refined. And here are some ideas for restaurants on the island which appeared in Zagat’s.

HeronPoint-13

Since we’ve been back, it’s been one thing after another – the Minx is off to middle school, our beloved Flora was hit and killed by a car and I’m just coming to the other side of a snotty cold, but through it all memories of my happy place keep peeking through.

And I’m only able to tell you about it now, because we’ve already booked it again for next year.

HeronPoint-17

Hello Autumn.

Share

Springtime in Paris

Springtime in Paris, photography by www.paolathomas.com

Failed right off the bat with the non-touristy shot

I’m recently back from an wonderful trip back home to England and then on to Chinon in France to attend a workshop with the ever-inspirational Ilva and Jamie. I have so many thoughts to process, ideas to hatch and plans to create – I think we’ll be making some significant changes as a result of this trip – but suffice it to say that going back to Europe in the spring was probably not a sensible thing to do from a homesickness point of view.

Springtime in Paris, photography by www.paolathomas.com

Paris in the Springtime. Not remotely a cliché

Before heading down to Chinon, I spent an afternoon in Paris with my friend Stacey who was accompanying me to the workshop. We walked our feet to bloody stumps from Place Vendôme through the Marais to the Rive Gauche and in between I tried to take non-clichéd, non-touristy photos of Paris. In the Springtime. Yeah, good luck with that.

Springtime in Paris, photography by www.paolathomas.com

I love how cool Parisians are.

Paris-13

As was she.

Paris-14

And as was he.

Paris-3

I’m sorry. I didn’t ask her to wear a beret. OK?

Paris-5

Nor did I arrange for a wedding to be taking place. Outside Notre Dame no less.

Paris-31

Paris-22

If only walls could talk. Yep, clichés a-gogo round here.

Paris-9

And she was just sitting there in her cute dress, in her cute hat, with her cute ray of sunshine artfully arranged. That’s Parisians for you.

Paris-17

Graffiti and padlocks.

Paris-21

Splodges

Paris-11

and stripes.

Paris-28

The stuffed rats of Les Halles hanging in the window of the ratcatchers shop Maison Aurouze

charcuterie

The most epic plate of charcuterie I’ve ever sampled (that terrine at bottom left will live on for ever in my memory).

Paris-15

And an amazing array of cakes that I did not.

Paris-16

Rive gauche

Paris-20

Rive droite

Paris-27 Paris-29

Paris-10

Paris by night

Paris-24

Paris-26

Paris without a tripod

Paris-19

OK, Paris in the Springtime. You win.

Paris-7

Share

Karneval in Germany –Part 1

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

When I was living in London, I resolutely avoided Germany. Even though I studied German at school and at one point even at university, the idea of Germany was very much less appealing than the sunshine, beaches and olive oil of the south of France and Italy.

I travelled every opportunity I could as a student but the cheap train fares and summer jobs always took me south, and I never once set foot in the land of bier, wurst and Beethoven. And in the end, when I realised that I could read the works of Goethe and Schiller, but could order neither a bier nor a wurst in their native language I gave up studying German too.

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Aside from an unplanned trip to a rebuilding Berlin when I was first going out with the Husband, I had no real desire to travel to Germany, and when the lovely Veronika Miller invited me to go on BlogTour to the Ambiente gift and tabletop show in Frankfurt I must confess that I wasn’t entirely convinced.

We spent most of our five days there gliding along the moving walkways and wandering the gigantic hangar-sized halls of the Messe Frankfurt (of which much more in other posts), but for one day of our trip we were taken to visit Oppenheim and Mainz along the banks of the Rhine and I realised quite how foolish I had been all these years. These German towns were really rather lovely and the cobbled streets, half-timbered houses and gothic churches spoke tenderly to that part of my soul that requires extravagant doses of ancient buildings to keep it fully alive.

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

My Italian mother would hang a little sprig of mistletoe over our back door to ward off evil spirits.

We are supposed to tour the catacombs in the little town of Oppenheim, but I decide not to join the group and instead spend time wandering through the antique streets in a sort of photographic daze, bedazzled by the extraordinary creamy light. Everything is beautiful.

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Would YOU go underground with this bunch?

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

The layers, textures and shapes are almost overwhelming  – rough wood, bumpy stones, pointed spires and gables and arches, the wacky tartans of the half-timbered houses and the hard, intricate curlicues of stone, wrought iron and gothic-fonted street signs. In Seattle buildings are new and smooth, modern towers of granite, metal and glass and the wooden houses are carefully painted. I’ve missed the worn and weatherbeaten so much.

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

And to cap it all it is karneval time. Kids and adults, monks and jesters, clowns and executioners, even – displaying a less PC sensibility – lady cannibals in Ugg boots, are gathering in the streets, their very costumes reflecting a sense of history that is missing nowadays from Halloween in the US and UK.

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

An old woman approaches me and talks to me in German – I think my fur collared jacket makes me look like I belong. Her speech is fast and guttural and I reach deep into the dusty,  cobwebbed German library that’s tucked somewhere in my brain to understand her. Using that same library I tell her how charming I find her town to be. She beams with pride and we nod and smile, and I realise sadly that we’re actually mostly communicating through facial expressions.

But yet, in this country I’ve hardly visited, surrounded by people I can hardly understand, I feel a sense of belonging and connection that I rarely feel in the US. The history of this little town is MY history, these cobbles and cathedrals, monks and jesters are MY heritage. I’m back in Europe and in a very real, very visceral way, this European girl is back home.

  Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Karneval in Germany photography by www.paolathomas.com

Share

Nuns and Sea Gypsies

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

I’m not a particularly spiritual person, but like so much else in Thailand the unassuming, yet sincere, spirituality of the Thai people really got to me and provided much food for thought.

The Thais we met were so courteous and friendly, their smiles so wide and genuine and their kindness to each other and to the animals with whom they shared their streets so apparent, that it was difficult not to think that somehow our materialistic, hyper stressed, hyper angry Western society has got things very, very wrong.

I’m not so naïve as to imagine that life in Thailand is all rainbows and unicorns, but people in general did seem more relaxed, more satisfied and more genuinely happy than in any other place I’ve ever been. It’s had me thinking ever since.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

One of our most remarkable days there was spent with Chaya NaTakuathung who leads ‘Meet the Locals’ tours in Old Phuket. I started the tour thinking that we were going on some nonsensical fake tourist-y bullshit thingy and finished several hours later feeling like I’d had a profound spiritual experience. If you ever find yourselves in Phuket, don’t hesitate even for one second before taking a tour yourselves.

Chaya is a fiercely intelligent, immensely knowledgeable, super friendly guide who speaks perfect English and is driven by a genuine desire to show tourists a side of Phuket that only the locals get to see.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

She squealed with delight when she discovered that our group was just women, as that way she could take us to visit a local Buddhist nunnery, where no men are permitted to enter.

The nunnery is an oasis of tranquillity in the middle of the noise, chaos and bustle of Old Phuket. As we walked through the carefully tended gardens, the traffic noise seemed to melt away, together with our Western preconceptions and anxieties. The rhythmic chanting of the nuns at prayer was immensely moving and contemplation seemed easy in this simple, serene environment. I understood nothing, but didn’t need to, the energy in the room was enough.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

The nuns there were a mixture of permanent nuns and women on longer term retreats – as signified by their shaven heads – and other women and girls who were just attending on a short term basis, for short retreats or for counselling, who can keep their hair as it is. Chaya herself had spent many retreats at the nunnery and you could see that there she was surrounded by friends and mentors.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

And I started to realise how smart it is, to have a place where you can just go for a few days when you need to regroup and recharge your batteries; where teenage girls can receive advice from wise older women or where you can just spend some time thinking and relaxing and contemplating and praying. I had ended up paying thousands of $$$ for that retreat experience and it still felt like a wacky and self-indulgent thing to do. Instead in Thailand it is an ordinary part of everyday life. They understand that sometimes we all need a bit of down time, simplicity and space for contemplation.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Time just to sit, hang out and finally smell the flowers.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

After a visit to a temple and an excellent meal, Chaya then took us to visit the village of the sea gypsies, or chao le (people of the sea) in Thai.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

The chao le are a nomadic people of Polynesian heritage and strikingly different in build – much taller and sturdier – than the diminuitive Thai people. They used to live out to sea and come to land only rarely but in recent times they have created one or two settlements along the coast of the Andaman Sea, though they still make their living by deep sea fishing, diving deep without scuba equipment.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Their village was destroyed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but they didn’t lose a single member of their tribe. When their elders saw the sea draw out dangerously far from the coast,  their deep understanding of the sea meant that they recognised the warning signs and urged their people to move to higher ground.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Their rebuilt village is nothing but a shanty town, and the people are obviously heartbreakingly poor, but after a while you stopped noticing the shabbiness. What I shall remember more is how clean the kids’ clothes were, how litter was bagged up neatly for disposal, how everyone was smiling and laughing. Soccer balls were being kicked, kids of all ages were playing together and whole families lounging on their verandahs waved and smiled and invited us into their homes to share their evening meal.

Thailand - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

And as I watched, I started to understand that these people were rich. Rich in wisdom, in generosity, in friendships and fun, and that maybe it is we who are the poor ones.

At the nunnery my soul had been touched, with the sea gypsies it was my heart. In both places, and very in different ways, I had been shown the wisdom of simplicity, of community, of sharing, of smiling, and that maybe our relentless chase after the material has left us Westerners greatly impoverished as a result.

I’m still not sure quite where all these thoughts will end up, and certainly they were displaced for a bit by the materialistic orgy of Christmas, but boy, were many chords struck.

Share

Looking for Orcas in the San Juans

 

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

This weekend we were dropping the Minx off for an eleven day camp at magical Canoe Island in the San Juan Islands, a couple of hours north west of Seattle (overnight camp!!!) and decided to make a weekend of it. On a bit of whim, we booked ourselves on a whalewatching trip to see the islands’ pods of resident orcas in the San Juans. Long time readers of this blog may remember that we’ve been twice before and not spotted even the fin of a single whale -  the mythical orcas were obviously a figment of the Washington Tourist Board’s imagination.

We set off on a glorious afternoon through the beds of bull kelp.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

The Husband and the Minx were excited.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

We spotted bald eagles

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

and very charming seals

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

and other whalewatching boats (always a good sign).

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

And then, behold! A fin!

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

In fact several fins.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Coming closer

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

and closer

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

until, peekaboo I see you!

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Wildlife photography is HARD, people! The boat is always gently rocking, the boats are not permitted to get too close, and those pesky whales would pop up and disappear when you were least expecting it. These pics are the best out of dozens and dozens I took, of several different orcas. Male orcas have straight side fins and females have curved ones, and that’s mostly all you get to to see.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

We also had the company of a whitesided dolphin who kept racing our boat before moving over to the side to breathe. Our captain was really excited by this as apparently they’re rare in the San Juans and it was the first he had seen all year.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

The movement blur on the below was unintentional but I like it…

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

After a while the dolphin spurned us, to go and play with one of the orcas! I would have loved to have had an underwater camera at this point.

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

 

After that we headed back to Eastsound, and into the most glorious sunset. The stunning beauty of the day and of those playful giants of the ocean will live for a long time in my mind. Sometimes magical is not a strong enough word. How lucky we were.

 

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Orcas in the San Juans - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Share

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

This year we decided to start our family vacation in Rome, and I went back for the first time since working there for six months way back when.

I had lived in an apartment in Campo de’ Fiori in the heart of the medieval Centro Storico, which I adored, and this time we decided to rent a really cute Air BnB apartment in the same neighbourhood. One of the things I love most about Campo de’ Fiori is the magnificent market which fills the piazza every morning and is a paradise for food and street photography. It was great just to hang out in the mornings watching the stallholders and restaurant owners set up, before the serious sightseeing of the day began.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Come for a little walk with me through the twisty streets of Rome and the market of Campo de’ Fiori.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Our apartment was in this little cobbled street between Campo de’ Fiori and Piazza Farnese.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Fountain in Piazza Farnese

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

We breakfasted every morning in the Caffe Farnese, five minutes from our apartment. Here is the Minx writing her vacation journal (she became markedly less diligent the further we got into our holiday).

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

The market was a delight.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Campo de’ Fiori means ‘field of flowers’ and that still rings true today.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Rome was gripped by World Cup fever when we arrived, which lasted only until Italy’s ignominious defeat at the hands, or more accurately teeth, of Uruguay, which we watched in one of the open air restaurants in the piazza.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Even my old friend, the statue of Giordano Bruno, which gazes out over the piazza at the site where he was burned to death, was subdued that evening.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Unfortunately I made a terrible parenting mistake by buying Mission Rome for the Minx. It’s a sightseeing scavenger hunt book which I thought would keep the Minx vaguely amused if we took in a few sights.

Instead I refer to the review of the book I wrote on Amazon. My love/hate relationship with this book runs very deep.

Do not on any account by this book! *****

If you want to have a pleasant, relaxing, wine-fuelled Roman interlude that is… I bought this for my nine-year old daughter and then spent 3 days being marched all over Rome while she figured out every possible permutation of itinerary and points scores (also tremendously good for her math). Half of me was thrilled she was so inspired and half of me wanted to take the book to the very heart of the Colosseum (4 points), stab it, burn it and gouge its eyes out .

This book is like sightseeing crack, perfectly pitched at 3rd to 6th graders, and has pulled together some really interesting facts and cool things to locate, which kept the interest not just of my grade schooler but also of her exhausted parents. Thank goodness we only had three days to spend in Rome and very good walking shoes. Seriously you buy this book at your peril. Caveat emptor.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Here’s the Minx scribbling in the accursed book and here’s the Husband just after telling some heinous lie to the Bocca della Verita.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I think we stopped to talk to pretty much every cat in Rome.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

And, as has been the case since time immemorial, the cobbled streets of the Eternal City were filled with gladiators and nuns.

Colours, Cabbages and Cobblestones in Rome - photography by www.paolathomas.com

It was lovely to be back.

Share

Tuscan Landscapes And A Small Goodbye

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

I  was going to move on from Tuscany with my posts this week, but my thoughts have been returning there in recent days after I received some truly awful news. Chef Enrico Casini, who brought such vivacity and personality, as well as seriously good food, to Le Casacce – the Tuscan agriturismo where the Plated Stories workshop was held – died quietly in his sleep at the weekend.

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

He was far too young – only sixty-two – but apparently he went with a smile on his lips, after a busy night in his restaurant, in his own little corner of paradise.

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

I didn’t know him well of course, but he was a man of such obvious passion and heart, such energy and kindness, such a love for his craft and the ingredients that inspired it  –  that I know he will be sorely missed as a father, friend, employer and chef. 

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Every morning he would be bustling around the property, always wearing a pair of colourful glasses, and dashing in and out of his kitchen. Every afternoon he would,if he could, sit quietly in his lounger, reading the paper and gazing on the landscape for an hour or so. And every evening he would stand in his busy, laughter-filled dining room, more often than not with Barry White playing in the background, and describe the exquisite meal he’d just created in his broken English, invariably using produce ‘from this land’ and liberally garnished with ‘my olive oil’.

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

We would wait for those words, spoken in his inimitable way, and laugh when he got to the punchline, but underneath they spoke of a deeper truth – his abiding love of the land, of the ingredients that sprang from it and the food it inspired.

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

According to his obituaries, Enrico, through his many restaurants, his cooking and his food writing, was at the vanguard of the revival in cucina italiana in the 60s and 70s, focusing on traditional Roman and Tuscan recipes, using local ingredients. I feel honoured and privileged to have been able to cook with him, albeit briefly, and came away with a sheaf of notes, that I hope soon to be able convert into recipes as a proper tribute to him.

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

In the meantime, here are some photos of the landscape which so inspired him and informed and infused his cooking, all taken either within a few miles of Le Casacce or from the grounds of the property itself. I don’t usually feel moved to take landscapes – photos generally can never do them justice – but the land here was so beautiful I had to try (and bear in mind these photos don’t do the real landscapes justice either).

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Caro Enrico, may you rest in peace, I am grateful to have met you, to have experienced the warmth and generosity of your hospitality and to have come away with some of your recipes. I so much wanted to return to Le Casacce but now it will never be the same. I will also never again be able to hear Barry White without thinking of you. Ciao, ciao.

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Landscapes - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

Linda Bass of Tuscan Muse, which she ran in partnership with Enrico, is heartbroken, but soldiering on, and has confirmed that the workshops will be continuing at Le Casacce as Enrico would have wanted and as part of his legacy.

Share

Animali Toscani

 

It seems in Tuscany even the animals are ridiculously photogenic and happy to strike a pose.

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘There’s a reason they call it a door FRAME’.

I’m not a huge animal person, but seemed to be followed by cute creatures everywhere I went. Not forgetting of course the infamous Socrates.

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘Looking forward to putting my feet up and watching a nice bit of telly.’

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘Around every corner is……… another corner’

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Mumm-eeeeee we’re STAAAAAAARVING’

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘What was he saying about corners?’

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘I am  so, so, so, so, so, SO bored.’

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘Like REALLY bored.’

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘Like friggin’ HUMUNGOUSLY bored’

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

In Tuscany even the snails are cute.

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘One sheep…two sheep…three sheep….four sheep’

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘Sheesh, what do those dogs want now?’

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Animali Toscani - photography by www.paolathomas.com

‘I just want to lie here next to the flowers so you can take my portrait’

See also, Le Casacce, our Tuscan home from home; Tuscan street photography, Tuscan churches.

Share