MUSINGLY By Karen D'Or

Writing Portfolio, Travel Stories & Other Diversions

Tag: writing

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My Top Seven Writing Distractions

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I’ve neglected my musingly writing for months, and the reasons at first seem infuriatingly bland — the mechanics of my suburban life. So, this fall, I am making a public commitment to write more regularly — beginning with this cafeteria-style confessional of my top seven writing distractions*:

1) Thinking about food. I spend a lot of time ruminating about food (and drink). ­I particularly get focused on these two favorite hobbies just as I am about embark for — or am returning from —­­ New Orleans. Whole red fish drizzled in fresh herbs from Peche, fried oysters at Clancy’s, fresh oysters at Casamento’s, pretty much anything at Restaurant August. I continue to obsess about the New Orleans’ dining scene, and plan my restaurant runs months in advance. Closer to home, I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting Bay Area dining spots. Suggestions, anyone?

 2) Online shopping. Admit it: the ubiquitous Amazon ‘prime’ shopping is a great distraction for folks who work from home on a computer and like to pretend they are getting a good deal. I can find nearly instant gratification on prime, congratulate myself for saving money, and avoid traffic and fuel costs, all with just a few button clicks. Did I really need double-sided indoor carpet tape delivered in two days?

3) Family. Acute family problems derailed my writing earlier this year (see the Pins and Needles post) but I have only myself to blame. I continue to overthink family issues, get too emotionally involved, and become diverted away from more important matters such as my own creativity. I have an odd itch for an unattainable “normalcy” —and my family will never be normal. Thankfully, my family is an eccentric troupe that could inspire my writing, including: sassy urban teachers, aspiring artists, musicians, someone who has been mistaken for Martha Stewart, a couple of famous British authors, and a former Reagan appointee. My people are characters.

4) Pilates. I recently re-discovered my love for this rather rigorous form of body toning; Pilates is a particularly rewarding exercise for those of us who spend many hours hunched in front of a computer keyboard. This healthy distraction helped to inspire my summer blog post: Five Reasons Why I Love Being Curvy. 

ATT Park, San Francisco, California

ATT Park, San Francisco, California

5) Baseball. Although we are heading into December, it seems only yesterday that the San Francisco Giants won the World Series. Since it is the third time in six years, it should be par for the course around here; nevertheless, during Orange October, I was constantly interrupting my writing flow by jumping up to turn on the TV, or tuning into the pre-game warm-up show on the radio, or ordering the essential World Series pizza. Those magical men from the City by the Bay did it again this year, and I have no regrets for their joyous (and sometimes hunky) distractions.

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Cycling Back Through Nice

Cycling Back Through Nice

In the tiny Cote d’Azur town of Agay, the tired brown brick hut that was once the rail station is shuttered, and the single plastic overhang on the far side of the rails doesn’t offer much shelter as a soft rain begins. Bullet trains race past the platform. My husband and I find cover alongside well-dressed strangers, both of us hoping we haven’t missed the coastal train bound for Cannes, Antibes, and Nice. A little before eleven o’clock in the morning, second class tickets in hand, we embark the #3 TER (Transport Express Regional) train, settle in with a late-morning picnic of baguette and prosciutto, and watch out our window as the red ravine landscapes give way to famous port-filled colonies.

Red mountains above Agay, France

Red mountains above Agay, France

This is our second visit to Nice, and as the train nears the central station, I’m struck by the city’s urbanity: freeways, indistinguishable chain hotels, and gray apartment buildings congregate on the city’s outskirts before the train veers north and enters the downtown station. I know that Nice is France’s fifth largest city, and the country’s second most popular city for tourists, but this second entrance is startling, for I recall a very different arrival back in 1998: we arrived from Venice on a summer night train, with two teenagers– his son, my daughter. That first journey was only one year after I married Bob and our family was just forming, and still fragile.

It was a steamy August night, on an express overnight train chugging through tiny countries that still had kings. I awoke early, exhausted from a sleep interrupted by Italian porters who roused Bob and I repeatedly to check our documents as our children slept. (Predictably, we hadn’t loaded enough lire on our family rail pass, but after handing over all the bills we had, we were allowed back to our sleeping car.) Disheveled and groggy, I snuck out of our compartment, and tiptoed down the corridor to the vestibule window to find one of those transcendental travel sights: an ochre-hued Mediterranean sunrise illuminated sandstone apartment buildings perched between the narrow sea cliffs and the rail tracks. I lingered there alone, as the train crawled slowly toward the edges of Nice, and caught intimate glimpses of lush backyard patios, and men in yellow hard-hats getting ready to start the work day.

On that long-ago trip, Nice welcomed us with butter-pastry mornings, afternoons watching pretty sunbathers while their children negotiated the waves, long evenings trying out exotic gelato flavors, and warm nights at the quirky Hotel Canada, a divey apartment-style hotel, just two blocks from the city’s rocky beach. Nice seemed to me manageable, family-friendly and quite middle class.

I am hoping to recapture the achingly beautiful memories of that summertime “grand tour” when our teens were obedient, and still curious about grown-up beverages like coffee and red wine. All these years later— our young adult children now off on their own exotic travels — Bob and I arrive in the same Nice Ville train depot, but this time the platform looks cavernous and unwelcoming. We each drag our bags through squeaky metal turnstiles, the rooftop rattling as the storm begins to intensify.

It is only noon and already we are arguing about the best way to get to our hotel.

Approaching an empty taxi, we interrupt the driver’s lunch break — he holds a fragrant plate of rice and lamb — asking hesitantly if he can take us the scant mile to our hotel. With the grace of an expert, our driver guides us through a harrowing twenty-minute trip, a scene of streets brimming with rainwater, erratic streetlights, and shopkeepers shuttering their doors. Paul tells us this is a particularly violent September storm. At the hotel, drenched tourists who were huddling in the doorway jump out to grab his cab, but our driver firmly turns them away to go home for the day, “You are my last customers, it’s not safe!” he tells us as I hand him our Euros, and Bob wrestles our still-damp luggage onto the curb.

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Roadside Llama

Vertical Shift

Wearing tight jerseys announcing their most recent cycling event conquest, six petite women straddle their shiny carbon-framed bikes and cluster together inside a meager circle of sunlight in front of the Pink Box bakery in Santa Rosa.  They are the Hilly Jillies cycling club gathering on a chilly Saturday morning for their monthly beginning level bike tour through Sonoma County’s pot-holed wine roads. But the women’s pricy equipment and tight-lipped welcome leave me skeptical that this is the route for a novice athlete. Having started late in life, leisure cycling is a weekend sport I’ve grappled with for years, trying to find the right balance between leisure and cycling.

But the Hilly Jillies are serious, lean, and driven, and I am about to discover how they got their name.

vineyards With little ceremony or chitchat, the Jillies and I embark on a 37-mile trip east to Sonoma Valley. I quickly fall to the back of the queue, huffing and puffing just to keep up with the group that is easily flying up the first grade. Our terrain is renowned: Sonoma County is one of the top five bicycling destinations in the world, and cycling is the number two tourist draw. To me this morning the landscapes are indistinct. I’m so focused on keeping up that I barely see the new growth on the vines, and so intent on taking deep breaths that I don’t hear the robust grunts of the wild turkeys flushed out of oak groves. Already, before we even get to the steep grades that will summit this route, I’m getting discouraged as I see the entire pack of Jillies disappear around the bend.

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Maurepas Lunch

New Orleans Food and Drink Marathon

SoBou Delights

SoBou Delights

I posted this trip report on Chowhound after my most recent visit to New Orleans, and a local chowhounder commented that I was a great ambassador for his City. Here is the full report; I take my eating and drinking seriously!

     It was her first night in New Orleans. We arrived late but not too late to mosey over to Irv Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse in the elegant Royal Sonesta hotel. I had a delightful house version of the Dark n Stormy, Dear Friend had a bright pink Passionfruit cocktail. We were too tired to venture much farther so opted for Desire Bistro and Oyster Bar, next door, for salads and sweet potato fries — which arrived as cold as the salads. A glorified coffee shop. My earlier Dark N Stormy was prophetic as it started sprinkling, followed later that night by a scary April T-storm.

French Quarter Fest 2013

French Quarter Fest 2013

     The sun came out for Sunday morning, the last day of French Quarter Fest (FQF) 2013. We started at Cafe Beignet for hot beignets, cafe au lait, and the Royal Street location did not disappoint. Met Dear Daughter and her friends for FQF music and a leisurely food graze which included: crab sliders from Something Else cafe (hit the spot!), Abita Amber, Tropical Daiquiris from Organic Banana and a highly-anticipated early dinner at Killer Po Boys. We each chose a different Po Boy filling: pork, shrimp, veggie and beef. Not the raves I expected from companions, however I liked my veggie/coulis version and felt Killer’s lived up to the hype.

     DF and I went to the famed Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone to find that  lightning from the prior night’s t-storm halted electricity so: a) the carousel was motionless, b) glasses were not cold, and c) no air conditioning. They closed the bar at 8 pm. DF took a sip of my sazerac; sadly it was warm. However, Monday was fantastic! Took the Confederacy of Cruisers “History of Drinking” tour with Lara the bartendress from R Bar. She led us all around the quarter on cruiser bikes with clipped-on moveable drink holders on drizzly Monday morning. First, she prepares island style (unblended) daiquiris before launching a multi-stop 3-hour French Quarter bike tour with stops for full size: 1) Finnegan’s Easy for local beer, 2) Napolean’s House for classic Pimm’s cups, stop 3) Roosevelt Hotel for Sazerac or Ramos Gin Fizz and 4) Erin Rose for frozen (or hot) Irish Coffees. At several other stops she tells the history of New Orleans relationship with alcohol. Rain was coming down as we cycled down Bourbon back to the Marigny, drinks in tow.
     A great morning followed by lunch at Maurepas Foods. After the tour we couldn’t conceive of a Maurepas cocktails, however hitting the spot were their Strawberry Salad, Arugula salad, Braised Broccoli — along with cheesy bread and their top-notch grits. Service was fantastic and everyone loved their dishes which warmed us up after the soggy bike ride.
Maurepas Lunch

     That night DF & I tried to get into Mr. B’s Bar: mobbed. Carousel was still out of power. Thank goodness we found French 75 which we loved. Why had I not been there before? Lovely bar and great drinks. DF enjoyed The Baroness cocktail x 2, and I had the very creative Caibiscus — a blend of a caipirinha with hibiscus tea. Chris Hannah is a legend and lives up to his reputation as a superb bartender.

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