Tag Archive | Travel

A Closer Look at Breezy Point

Photo credit: Dina Temple-Raston/NPR

A few weeks ago I posted some options for people who might want to help out with the devastation in the states affected by Hurricane Sandy. One of the aid efforts listed was a community fundraising project for the Breezy Point neighborhood started by a young college student, Matthew Petronis. To get the word out about the grass roots effort in Breezy Point and to practice the important skill of writing solid questions to discover information, my high school English students collaborated on a series of interview questions to which Matthew graciously responded. one tiny violet is pleased to host the results of the student interview below.

Where were you when Hurricane Sandy arrived and what was your reaction to news of the devastation?

When Hurricane Sandy arrived I was in my dorm room at college (Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C). I found out about the devastation the morning after the hurricane arrived. I woke up and went on face book and saw all the devastation and homes demolished through videos and pictures.

What inspired you to help raise money for your community?

It wasn’t really an inspiration, it was more of instant reaction. I sat in my room feeling terrible for my community and I thought to myself, “No use sitting here sobbing. How can I create a way to help and keep my friends positive?” Breezy Point is a town where everyone helps each other out in any situation. This was my way of helping out.

There is a ticker on your website counting down the days remaining to reach the fund goal of $500,000. Why the time limit? And how will the funds raised be used to assist Breezy Point residents?

There really is no limit to days or money raised. I just put it on the page to see how much we could raise in 90 days. As for the fund goal, the sky’s the limit — we will take anything we can get. The funds will be used to help all of the victims of the hurricane. Many people have insurance on their homes, but are receiving little to nothing for them. And some people don’t have insurance at all. This fund will go directly to aiding them in the rebuilding process and to helping Breezy Point rebuild as a community.

How are you keeping up with your classes at CUA in addition to juggling this fundraising project?

I have learned through my life to handle the cards you’re dealt. I never expected this to happen, so I’m just handling it like I’ve handled everything in my life. I have always played sports and been a part of clubs from middle school and up. Playing sports and participating in after school activities has taught me to juggle multiple things at once and still maintain myself in my studies.

Where is your home in relation to those that sustained the most damage in Breezy Point? Was your home damaged as well and to what extent?

My home is on the west side of Breezy, closest to the jetty that divides Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. My home was severely flooded and the deck around my home was torn apart.

It has been three weeks since Hurricane Sandy hit. How are things looking in your neighborhood now? Are schools and churches or businesses operating? Give us some sense of how people are coping, especially with winter and the holidays approaching.

Every one in Breezy is holding their own. No businesses are open due to lack of power or clean water. The Red Cross and many other organizations have done their part to help and spirits are high with all the support.

What place in Breezy Point holds special memories for you that you would most like to see rebuilt and why?

The field in the center of Breezy. It was where all my CYO sports were held and it was a safe haven to many who wanted to get away from school work or anything else going on in their lives.

What are your religious views and did they play a role in your decision to help your community?

I am Christian and my beliefs helped me all along the way and have not stopped. I have been taught to do what is right and when help is needed, you find a way to help in any way possible.

What has been the most difficult struggle you’ve experienced since helping to organize this project?

I haven’t had any struggles so far and do not plan on having any in the future because everyone in the U.S has been so supportive and I don’t see that slowing down in the near future.

God can make good come out of any situation or tragedy. What good has resulted from Hurricane Sandy? What lessons have you learned from your experience that others might benefit from?

Although my town was destroyed, things like this make my community even stronger than it was before. If this has taught me anything it’s to always stay positive, don’t give up, and that someone out there wants to help you.

This interview was conducted by Michelle Hall, Rebecca Plaster, Misha Johnston, Marissa Sigala, and Matthew Boucher, who would like to thank Matthew Petronis for his time in answering the questions.

For information about the Breezy Point Fund or to donate click here.

The Best Ever Pesto Recipe

Photo: BasilGardening.com

As summer wanes, I’ve been gifted with a bumper crop of basil, which is wonderful because I have the most awesome pesto recipe ever! With the weather here heating up beyond tolerable, school starting, and going back to work after a summer off, I’ve had little time or energy for much of anything, so it’s nice to be able to make something quick, without turning on the stove, with herbs fresh from the garden.

The traditional way to serve pesto in Italy’s Cinque Terre region, is with pasta cooked with potatoes and green beans. But if pasta isn’t your thing, or if you don’t want to turn the stove on AT ALL, pesto is fabulous on grilled chicken or fish and is perfect tossed with assorted grilled bell peppers or roasted potatoes. Freeze any leftovers in an ice-cube tray for winter or nights when you don’t have time to cook. 1-2 cubes per person is a good bet. Be sure and put the pesto cubes in a freeze zip bag — they’ll keep about 3 months. Buon appetito!

Trenette con Pesto alla Genovese (serves 6)

Ingredients

50 fresh medium basil leaves

2 garlic cloves

1 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Parmesan-Pecorino Romano blend

2 Tbsp. pine toasted pine nuts

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

5 1/2/ tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1 Tbsp. creme fraiche (if creme fraiche is unavailable in your area, substitute soft cream cheese)

1/2 lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices

1/2 lb. green beans cut into 1 inch lengths (I use haricot verts, but regular green beans will do. If using regular, you may want to use only 1/4 lb)

1 lb dry trenette or linguini

Place basil in bowl of food processor and chop fine. Add the garlic and continue chopping. Add cheese and pine nuts and process until the nuts are chopped fine. Gradually add the olive oil while the motor is running. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and the pepper and pulse to combine. Add the creme fraiche and pulse to combine. Do not over process — this whole procedure should only take a few minutes. (If you are making ahead, pour the pesto into a bowl, cover with a thin layer of olive oil to preserve color, and refrigerate until ready to use. The pesto should be used within one day of preparing or frozen.)

Bring 5 qts. water to a boil and add remaining salt. Add the potatoes and return to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. About 2-3 minutes before the end of the pasta cooking time, add the beans to the pasta and potatoes.

While pasta cooks, heat the pesto in a large saute pan with 1-2 Tbsp. of the cooking water from the pasta. Do not boil. Transfer pasta, potatoes, and beans to colander to drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add pasta to the pan with the pesto and toss to coat evenly. Add reserved water as needed.

* This recipe is adapted from the Il Fornaio Pasta Book — a highly recommended cookbook with traditional regional Italian dishes. The dish will use all of the pesto, so if you’ve got enough basil, double the recipe and freeze the rest.

Bella Vacanza

My good friend, Todd Hansen, has graciously agreed to allow me to post his reflections and pictures from his recent trip to Italy! When I’m unable to get much beyond the confines of home, sharing armchair travel with friends is a breath of fresh air that satisfies the wanderlust — at least temporarily.  I hope you enjoy! And thanks again, Todd, for sharing your beautiful experience with others.

I have to tell you about a beautiful vacation to Italy that my girlfriend and I took this summer! It was way better than we anticipated and involved planes, trains, automobiles, and many boats.

We had a beautiful room on the island across from Venice (Giudecca) for 2 nights. Of course, this is where the boats come in: boat from airport to hotel, frequent shuttles to Venice, and a very nice gondola ride.

The view from the hotel at Giudecca. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

We both love the classic Italian preparation of Seabass (traditional Branzino) the whole fish, de-boned and looking at you, with lemon and herbs. So I ordered it 3 times on the trip! Each time was different, one being so lightly breaded, you could call it “dusted”. Each preparation was a savoury delight.

Then, a high speed train out of Venice to Rome was a great idea. There, we picked up a rental Fiat for our drive to Sorrento, 3 hours South. It was a wonderful drive that took us right around the base of Mt. Vesuvius. My driving skills were tested coming into the sloping cliffs of Sorrento on a busy weekend. I didn’t hit one scooter!

The Sorrento Coast. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

I was treated to a perfect birthday dinner in Sorrento overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. The next day we jumped on a large ferry to Capri for a daylong excursion of even narrower roads (with a great taxi driver), molta bella views of the Tyrrhenian, and a dip into the ancient waters.

Back at the Sorrento hotel lounge for a drink, we found ourselves devouring a complimentary plate of olives (one of many bar snacks). Seems they had a perfect blend of fennel seeds, peppers, and olive oil, one we would never be able to re-create on our own. And it gets better! The 30 year veteran bartender, Gemmaro, served me the best cocktail I’ve had in recent years: an Alexander — my first experience of the drink & also my girlfriend’s last name.

On our way out of Sorrento, we thought we would swing over to Positano for lunch. This is the famous Amalfi Coast where the homes and buildings are built on sloping, rocky hills right down to the water. It is a must see. And I recommend doing so from a nice little restaurant overlooking the coast with a plate of Pasta Carbonara in front of you — Scusi, more pepper please!

The Amalfi Coast. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

Next stop: Pompeii. Not an easy park to find, but once we did our luck improved greatly. After walking around a bit, we asked a worker for advice and he proceeded to give us a quick guided tour of the highlights that we would never have found on our own. We saw a beautiful fresco, an ancient grape crusher, and to my amazement – actual human remains from that fateful day in 79 AD.

Once we got back to Rome we were quite exhausted from the long, hot drive. But our hotel was another pleasant surprise, with a wonderful balcony for 2. So we relaxed with some local olives and wine. Now we had to try to give Rome it’s due respect in one day! We set out for the Colosseum early the next day and again we stumbled upon a group tour that worked out for the best. The 2 guides were very informative about the Colosseum and nearby ruins.

The Roman Colosseum. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

Even though it was a national holiday, we thought we should go to The Vatican to push our good luck. Now, I’ve seen a lot of big Italian churches from my previous trip to Italy, but St. Peter’s Basilica is by far the biggest — OMG! Luckily, Lorna begged a scarf for her shoulders so that we could witness the magnificence of the Pope’s home turf.

After such a grand display, I needed a drink. So we hoofed it over to Trevi Fountain for a sip of water supplied by an ancient Roman Aqueduct (working almost continuously since 19 BC!) and some Italian Pinot Grigio. It was amazing to me how there are remnants of Roman Aqueduct all around the city. These are very old structures, proudly secure amongst buildings of steel and glass, quick moving autos, and time itself.

Todd and Lorna at Trevi Fountain, Rome. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

So you can see we did a lot in a short amount of time thanks to my girlfriend’s expert planning. We both agreed on the highlight of the trip: the food. It was all so flavourful and fresh, inventive and classic, and yet you knew you were eating healthier than home.

Want to sample Todd’s authentic Alexander cocktail? Here’s the quintessential Italian how-to.

This post is dedicated to my friend, Ruth Nina Walsh, who has a great love of travel and art and who has always wished to visit Italia. Buon Viaggio!

August 4: The Birthday of Percy Bysshe Shelley

Nothing is more human than for man to desire naturally things impossible to his nature. It is, indeed, the property of a nature which is not closed up in matter like the nature of physical things, but which is intellectual or infinitized by the spirit. It is the property of a metaphysical nature. Such desires reach for the infinite, because the intellect thirsts for being and being is infinite.
JACQUES MARITAIN, Approaches to God

Years ago, a friend took a writing sabbatical in England and sent me an image of Percy Shelley‘s Memorial on a postcard. I thought then that it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. The sculpture is a fitting memorial to a man who searched for truth by exploring Beauty through poetry. The memorial always reminds me of Shelley’s own poem “Adonais,” which he wrote as an elegy to John Keats, whose untimely death at the age of 26 from tuberculosis greatly saddened Shelley. But Shelley himself died young, drowning in a storm while sailing before he turned 30, the event so poignantly called to mind in the composition of the memorial. One might even find “Adonais” to be hauntingly prophetic of Shelley’s own early demise.

 
I
I weep for Adonais – he is dead!
Oh weep for Adonais! Tho’ our tears
Thaw not the frost which binds so dear a head!
And thou, sad Hour, selected from all years
To mourn our loss, rouse thy obscure compeers,
And teach them thine own sorrow! Say: “With me
Died Adonais; till the future dares
Forget the Past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and a light unto eternity!”
 
**********
 
LIV
That Light whose smile kindles the Universe,
That Beauty in which all things work and move,
That Benediction which the eclipsing Curse
Of birth can quench not, that sustaining Love
Which thro’ the web of being blindly wove
By man and beast and earth and air and sea,
Burns bright or dim, as each are mirrors of
The fire for which all thirst; now beams on me,
Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality. 
 
LV
The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven,
Far from the shore, far from the trebling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am bourne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst burning thro’ the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.
 

It might be argued that Shelley’s atheism precludes reading his work as a testament to the existence of God.  I disagree. There are many paths and tributaries that feed in to the one Way to God and the artist can come close to God, can know God, through his art. Without doubt, Shelley sought truth and he sought it through Beauty. It would not be wrong to suggest that Beauty, in all its forms, was Shelley’s god. But God himself is the author of Beauty. He IS Beauty. As Keats so aptly wrote, “Beauty is Truth, and Truth Beauty.” Shelley’s quest for the infinite placed him squarely in the presence of all Truth, however unconscious of it he might have been.  To paraphrase (badly) Flannery O’Connor, whether or not we understand it, know it, or believe it, it’s true just the same.

Shelley’s poetry certainly raises the heart, mind, and soul to God. It is infused with a beautiful sense of the spiritual, the eternal, and a grasping sense of truth that necessarily points from inside to somewhere outside of man and — as “Adonais” makes clear — an awareness that man is himself made for eternal life. Man is not all there is, Beauty is not an “accident,” and the gift of the ability to create beauty, harmony, and order is one proof that God exists. Art itself can prove the lie of atheism.

One can imagine Shelley being literally awakened by the kiss of Beauty, even at the moment of death.   Remembering today with gratitude the gift of a beautiful poet, whose work points to God’s work in what surely must be a beautiful soul.

The Awakening of Adonis, by John William Waterhouse

 

Beauty Break: Taking the Time to Listen

Photo credit: Lisa Marie Mazzucco

I’ve been stalking Simone Dinnerstein for about a year now, since I heard this interview with her on NPR last year when she spoke about her unique interpretation of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and her new album Strange Beauty. I was captivated by her presence in the interview and her unique perspective on Bach’s music, which is unlike anything I’d ever heard.

Funny how God listens — we think we aren’t being heard and then suddenly a wish to satisfy the soul’s longing for beauty comes true. I’d wanted to hear Ms. Dinnerstein since I heard her on the radio and then suddenly news came through the local symphony that she’d be playing in a recital for the Corona del Mar Baroque Festival, right in my own back yard. I had to go.

Last night, I was not only able to finally purchase Strange Beauty, but was able to hear Ms. Dinnerstein play live at the Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa. A true beauty break. I simply floated away, eyes closed, on a cloud of baroque dreams. Since I’d had an uber-busy day, I was very aware of how uptight I felt when I arrived at the concert. But as Ms. Dinnerstein began to play, I gradually felt the tension, fatigue, and anxiety of the day melt away as my breathing slowed and became more regular and I just closed my eyes and gave myself over to the music, entranced, relaxed, at peace.

Something about the way her fingers flitted along the gleaming white piano keys like a dragonfly over a water-lily . . . Something about the diaphanous way she coaxed Bach’s fluted flurry of notes lightly out of the keys . . . She at once gave voice to his compositions for clavichord and harpsichord while at the same time making them her own.

A few things occurred to me while I was listening to and watching this gifted musician. She’d memorized each of the four extremely complex pieces she chose to play for this recital. This is simply amazing to me. I know a little — very little — about the difficulty of what I saw her doing with her hands, and the timing of the pieces she shared, to appreciate the delicate and complex beauty of her choices and her approach to expressing them.

Another thing I noticed was the depth of her gift and how long and hard she certainly has had to work to cultivate such mastery of her art. She makes it look easy, effortless, but I know this is an illusion. For myself as a writer, Ms. Dinnerstein is an apt role model. Writing should have rhythm and order, structure and beauty. Good writing, beautiful writing, should be musical at its very heart. Ms. Dinnerstein approaches music something like a painter or a writer — perhaps because her father is an artist — and is acutely aware of her “voice” as a musician, what she brings to a piece that makes it uniquely her own. I desire to have such fluidity in the practice of my craft and its end results and ultimately such an awareness of a signature voice in my own work.

Finally, the experience of slowing down after a rat-race day just made me more aware of how much more of a concerted effort I need to make to reduce the clutter in my life and make a place for slow beauty. Taking my time, trying to live more in the present moment will enable me to be more open to whatever gift the moment holds. There can be a “strange beauty” even in the difficult times and Ms. Dinnerstein’s perspective on Bach reminds me to try to pay attention to that.

Curious to know more about this brilliant artist? Need an extra special beauty break?  Take a few minutes to check out the links here, or simply sit back, relax for a moment, and enjoy this gorgeous video.

Take Back Your Time

The Head of Nimue, by Edward Burne-Jones

“In terms of taking back our time, the first essential tool is saying no. No to our own greed and self-importance. No to the extra work we carry home. No to hearing without listening, looking without seeing; no, above all, to the insistent voice of advertising, which thrives on our restlessness and dissatisfaction, and does everything it can to exacerbate them. A Brobdingnagian NO to all those things makes space for an even more gigantic YES.

My private code for this is to refuse and choose.

We . . . can refuse to participate in the ‘mad race of time.’ We can choose to talk face to face with our friends instead of via email or on the telephone; we can play with our children, now, this very afternoon; we can go off for long walks across the hills. We can turn off the television once and for all. In short, we can rejoice in being one of the elite who actually does have the privilege of choice instead of complaining endlessly about our lack of time.

The Red Studio, by Henri Matisse

Of course it can feel difficult to drop out of the rat race: to stand at the side of the road while our friends and colleagues race on across the horizon. But that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. In Matisse’s painting, “The Red Studio,” the clock has no hands. We need to find a ‘red studio’ of our own, the studio of our own insistent heart, perhaps, in which to set up an easel or a writing desk, or pull a dreaming daybed towards a broad, wide-open window. It sounds so simple — almost too simple to be worth saying — but slowing down can be a tremendous source of joy.” (Excerpted from World Enough & Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwan, pp.30-31)

What would you do if you had more time? Find one thing, and then find the time and make it happen.