Inside the Tower: Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House

Photo of Robinson Jeffers, 1937 By Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“A chill rippled across my skin as I realized that we were standing in that very room and the bed before me was the subject of the poem — the death-bed in ‘The Bed by the Window.’ Robinson Jeffers had written the poem as a young man shortly after building the house. Many years later, he had indeed died in the room, thereby fulfilling its destiny.” Continue Reading →

Book Review: Chronicles of Old San Francisco

Chronicles of Old SF Book Cover

Cities are complicated creatures best understood by peeling back the layers of time and sifting through the accumulation of secrets, lost artifacts, and earlier incarnations that might otherwise go unnoticed. Chosen well and presented correctly, such exhumed history excites our curiosity and exposes our imaginations to the gamut of a city’s character and mystery. We become incapable of seeing it through the same eyes again because, no matter which direction we turn or where we look, the voices, the faces, and the stories instantly appear.

In the first part of Chronicles of Old San Francisco, Gael Chandler makes an ambitious attempt to squeeze 240 epic years into a modest 208 pages, and is surprisingly successful with her efforts. Continue Reading →

The Real Cuban Taxi

Cuban Hitchhikers Boarding Transport Truck in Pinar del Rio

Mention Cuba in a crowd of Americans and two topics will emerge: Buena Vista Social Club and vintage American cars. The Cuban taxi, or taxi particular has effectively supplanted Fidel Castro as the island’s most recognized feature, even though a change in Cuban import law may eventually render the cars extinct. Does the average Cuban really use taxis or is their primary purpose to entertain tourists? It’s not unusual in cities like Havana to see taxis particulares stuffed to capacity with Cubanos, particularly away from the central tourist areas. But taxis are far too expensive for the average Cuban when traveling long distances. Other forms of transportation are available: buses that may not arrive, trains that are frequently delayed, and planes that, in the words of one native, “…are Russian-style; not so good.” After the Russians pulled out of Cuba in 1993, the government faced many new challenges, including transportation. Gas and oil were scarce. The Cuban people were more impoverished than ever. Officials responded with Continue Reading →

A Sweet Spot in Brittany: La Fée Cabosse Chocolat

La Fée Cabosse Chocolat - Dinan, Brittany, France

Perhaps one of the most attractive and well-preserved towns in the region is Dinan, an 11th century walled village that straddles the graceful Rance River. One of my favorite epicurean discoveries while staying in Dinan was the La Fée Cabosse Chocolat shop. Passersby are likely to find themselves as helpless as Hercules in Circe’s grasp when resisting the urge to enter. Continue Reading →

Five Places to go Medieval

From Robin Hood to Star Wars, the Middle Ages have kept a tight grip on our imaginations. We’re drawn to the clash of steel against steel, the pageantry of a royal court, or the bawdiness of a peasant tavern. Whether you want to take a deep dive into medieval life or a momentary trip back in time, here are five portals into the gothic past. 1. Castello di Amorosa, Calistoga In 1995, vintner and modern-day Don Quixote, Dario Sattui, began a 15-year quest to build an authentically styled 13th century castle in Napa Valley. The resulting 121,000 square foot compound boasts a drawbridge, secret passageways and 107 rooms. General admission includes a tasting in the main bar and roaming access to part of the castle. Or take the full guided tour which also includes a private tasting. Open daily except Christmas Day. 4045 N. St. Helena Hwy. (707) 967-6272. www.castellodiamorosa.com. 2. Knight School, Ramona (San Continue Reading →

Five Places to Squeeze Out a Tune

Smythe's Accordions, Oakland

Glass sculptor Dale Chihuly collects them. Well-known practitioners include Charles Dickens, Richard Nixon and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket). Long associated with lederhosen and bubble machines, the accordion is enjoying a resurgence in popularity and is showing up in modern music in imaginative, new ways. Accordions are hip and increasingly ubiquitous. Whether you want to get your arms around this hot new trend, or just catch a live gig, here are five places to dive into squeezebox culture. Petosa Accordion Museum, Seattle The Petosa family has been making handcrafted accordions since 1922. Adjoining the factory, which is open to visitors, is the largest accordion museum on the West Coast. A collection of 100 instruments are on display, including some that date back to the nineteenth century. Factory and museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. 313 NE 45th Street. (206) 632-2733. www.petosa.com/history/museum Jim Boggio Monument, Cotati This statue of Jim Continue Reading →