Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Off to London, Lisbon, Livorno, Lille, Lahore

I’m on my way yet again this week, but wanted to write you some notes before stepping back onto the jetway. First I’m headed to Heathrow via Chicago, total travel time just over 13 hours. I plan to hit the ground running in London, and I’ll be based in Paris all of August. The Medinge Group meets in Lisbon on September 1, and I look forward to some colorful dialogue with my fellow think-tankers and our special guests at that event. But first, some notes from my last trip.

London always has great art, old and new, to offer. But contemporary art can be frustrating or exhilarating depending on who’s making it, and more importantly where you see it. The venue becomes increasingly a part of the theatre these days, and immense and impersonal spaces like Gagosian often speak more about the ego and power of the dealer than the art contained therein. I always like to check out Riflemaker in Soho London, since the eccentric space and eclectic art are consistently worth a look either for beauty or provocation or both. This is a gallery to follow, with a finger on the pulse of compelling new art. Tot Taylor and Virginia Damtsa are the directors. Through the end of this month you can see works by the incredible Stuart Pearson Wright, who makes John Currin look lightweight like Fragonard. Francesca Lowe’s huge, incisive canvases will be up September through November, another mesmerizing vision worth a visit.

79 Beak Street, London W1F 9SU, UK
020 7439 0000
Open Weekdays 10am-6pm; Sat 12pm-6pm

Years ago I first met Rafaella Baruzzo when she was with Rococco, a Kings Road chocolatier of extreme quality. Rafaella’s since moved on to launch her own incredible line of bespoke chocolates rendered in the Italian style, fatto a mano. In May I attended a Covent Garden launch tasting of her Summer 2011 Collection, dazzled by the fresh basil ganache, and the strawberry/balsamic truffle she designed. In addition to her retail line, this true superstar of chocolate, creates limited edition delicacies for the Italian consulate, among others. Finding her work is like digging for gold. Low production means fewer retail venues. Chocoholics are advised to visit Baruzzo’s website before embarking to London, to make certain you find the clever London vendors selling this superb line.

Baruzzo Chocolate

I intercepted a rumor about two new ventures by the irrepressible Giuseppe Mascoli. Giuseppe, who created the successful Franco Manca pizza parlors, has plans to open a new restaurant located in a container down in Brixton, serving hamburgers and BBQ. He promises only the finest quality filet mignon, Angus beef, and Kobe mince, and three flavors of sauces inspired by the American West. It will be called Bukowski.

Ironically, I also learned that he plans a new poetry magazine called Spanner, with a focus on anarchist and new deconstructionist verse. Giuseppe likes fireworks, so this ought to be an explosive launch. Stay tuned.

Must say Lisbon is so appealing with its post-colonial grandeur, shabbiness, and joie de vivre. One night last trip I took a long nap and went out at 1030pm down to the neighborhood at the foot of the hill under the castle of St George, in search of Fado. The neighborhood is just below the cathedral, medieval lanes, cobbled streets, echoes of music and drunken tourists staggering out of the early shows. I’d been through all the guidebooks, listed all the clubs, listened to my experts, and I realized that one doesn’t go for the food or the price, and later is better. There’s not such a mob in the restos, and you’re not obliged to buy an extortionate meal at Michelin prices with cafeteria quality dishes. Still it costs minimum 20 Euros, but I struck gold at the second place, Casa de Fado, which a famous mandolinista owns. It has that slightly distressed décor and attitude, and friendly service, which may have been because the crowd had thinned. Heard an excellent woman singer accompanied by 3 musicians, then an excellent male singer. After the crowd thinned, about midnight, we were down to 3 tables, and the singers were singing for each other, their voices warmed up, and only the die hards left sitting around. I ordered a glass of the Riserva (8 Euros and I still feel it today, Gigondas it wasn’t) and 5 shrimps in garlic (18 Euros, what the hell, dipped my bread in the juice, it held off the ill effects of the wine) and paid the 10 Euro cover charge, happily. Then rode a cab back to the hotel down deserted city streets. I like the mild euphoria of these half-drunken returns through exotic cities, rich in ambience, that night a lovely temperature 64F, an almost cinematic quality to the experience.

I managed to get a look at two more Heritage properties in Lisbon in May.

Just off the Avenida da Liberdade, Hotel Brittania, turns out to be a hidden gem luxury grade property. Housed in a beautifully restored historic deco building, the landmark hotel has 33 light and airy north-facing rooms, including two terrace suites on the newly-added sixth floor. Though tourists favor the property, it’s an optimal upscale hotel for business, with an upmarket price starting at €200 in the off season. There’s a discreet elegance to the arched entryway, and a profusion of heritage architectural details preserved in the lobby/reception area, old drawings, a vintage barber shop, original furniture and frescoes, and display cases of antique tableware and place settings. While there is neither gym nor restaurant, there’s free wi-fi throughout, 24-hour reception, top amenities, and a cozy business center just off the classic bar area. Room 65 has a double terrace. Best of all, breakfast is served from 7-noon, an incredibly civilized detail only a four-star would know to include. A very friendly and professional team at work here. Highly recommended.

Hotel Brittania
Rua Rodrigues Sampaio, 17
1150 278 Lisboa
Tel 351 21 315 50 16

Heritage’s Av Janelas Verdes, located next door to Lisbon’s National Ancient Art Museum is a super find, offering excellent value and to my taste great ambience, the best of hospitality, in a brilliant location. Art hounds will adore the 2-minute walk to the extraordinary museum, with its jaw-dropping collection. Your correspondent had Bosch’s Temptation of St. Anthony all to himself for example, as well as audiences with Rembrandt, Durer, Goya, Velasquez, and other world-class names. There are endless cases of decorative arts, and a visit to those galleries is suggested before you start buying any pottery in Lisbon. The hotel has only 29 rooms, in an old and new wing, and it’s been discovered by top publications, so it frequently appears in the 100 best lists. Caters mostly to tourists who stay an average of 2 nights. There’s a wonderful library with a view of the river Tagus, a terrace, honor bar, and a relaxed pace to the place, which is set outside the city center, away from the hustle-bustle. This quirky heritage hotel retains all the feeling of an 18th century palace, and it has 24 hour room service with all natural food and sense of history reflected in the dishes prepared. You are advised to restrain yourself and try to eat only two pastel de nata, the traditional Lisboan pastry, despite the corrupting urgings of Palmira, the gracious governante. At rates starting at €200 per night you can’t go wrong. I can think of no greater pleasure than a leisurely fresh-squeezed orange juice out on the patio, or a wee dram of port on one of the double balconies in room 23. Room 28, in the new wing, has a king bed, river view, and a marble bath. When you reserve you can request one of the 6 spaces in the hotel’s private parking garage. I like this property because it has lots of history which recollects Portugal’s glorious past and its love of tradition shows in the hospitality and attention to detail present. Remember that the Museum next door is closed on Monday, so reserve accordingly.

As Janelas Verdes
Rua das Janelas Verdes, 47
1200-690 Lisboa
Tel 351 21 396 81 43

Last year my good friend Luca Magni and his partners set up a dream business called Sailing The Web, a superior concept which assists lovers of the sea to find contentment in a multitude of nautical ways. The Milan-based business can help you locate a charter, sailing school, crew, cruise, find specialized equipment, or sell or buy a yacht. The company’s latest product offering, themed Gourmet Charters, facilitates exclusive culinary pairings in the Mediterranean with luxury yachts, chefs and customized itineraries. Gourmands and oenophiles take note. This highly selective and limited listing delivers private gourmet cruises, for almost any budget, starting from as low as €5000 for 2 persons. A private cruise is the ultimate way to enjoy your travel, and these charters range from plain posh to seriously elegant. Chartering one of Sailing The Web’s Gourmet Cruises vessels means first class vessels; a private chef at your service to combine your tastes with the local gourmet traditions; an ongoing table of flavors of the region; a private guide to the best restaurants and taverns of the Mediterranean; an endless wine list with on-board delivery; a personalized luxury vacation in absolute privacy, in the most beautiful coves and havens of the World. You can request information over the web with the latest listing of vessels and chefs, an exceptionally appetizing dream.

Sailing The Web

Goodness me, I have been blogging a lot about Point2paint, the new iPad app I helped with at Silvergate Software over the past few months. Now it’s on the market and available at a low introductory rate of $1.99 (not kidding and not forever) at the app store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/Point2paint/id449945734. We also have a Facebook page up with a small album of drawings, the first rumblings of a new online community. I hope you’ll take a look- people seem to love the product. This week I created five tee shirts using icons from the app, available at my online store: http://www.zazzle.com/gifts?cg=196282191963684823&st=popularity&cn=250283932111514415&ch=diganzi

I’ll be in Paris most of August, when the French go away and the city is empty. I plan to do a lot of sitting at cafes, visiting boulangeries, and living the life. If you pass through town, send me an email, maybe we can meet up for a pastis. Have a great end of Summer and a beautiful rentree, one and all.

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