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Friday, October 4, 2019

Sunshine at the HOLA! Cuban Café






One step into the Hola! café and you feel like you’re walking into a friend’s rustic kitchen.  For me, home is where the coffee is and this tiny and roughly elegant café is my home a few mornings a week. Fairly new, having opened in 2013; it’s just off Center and 4th Ave in downtown Fernandina Beach.  Has the look and atmosphere of a place the locals have been coming for years.  



Step through the door and Anna greets you with a bright smile and a southern accent as friendly as a your next door neighbor’s.




Anna doesn’t own the place.  That honor belongs to Chris Garcia and Marisol Triana.  Both migrated from Miami and are the offspring of Cuban immigrants.  Obviously, they share a love for Cuban culture.  Photos and painting and bright Caribbean colors race up and down the walls inside and out on the veranda. 





Subdued Cuban music plays, permitting normal conversation.  Remember perhaps the most popular of all Cuban music, Guantanamera?  Know what it means?  Read on.



I go for the coffee, which includes an array from espresso to cortadito to café con leche.   The last two are espressos served in medium to large cups, with milk and often a toss or two of sugar.  All are rich and powerful, but not bitter, which is a pleasant surprise after torturing my taste buds with Seattle’s Gimme-yer-Bucks.



And as far as food goes, try one of the many versions of empanadas, or a Cuban sandwich, or a Media Noche (midnight), any of which give your mouth a joy it won’t soon forget.  If you’re here in the morning, you may want to try the breakfast empanadas.  Glutton that I am, I’ve tried them all and loved them all and want more of them all.

Not sure which to choose?  Anna can help.  She takes the order, makes the coffee, and arranges for the hunger killers, which come from a tiny kitchen behind the counter.  Ever had Cuban bread?  No need to describe it, just taste it on one of the pressed sandwiches. Gotta have one, and be sure to dose your choice with mojo sauce.  There are also sweet and savory versions of pastelitos (little pastries).  Don’t quite understand?    No prob.  Once again, Anna is ready to help.

Not sure about the bread, but everything else, from the shredded pork to the scrumptious black bean soup is house made.  




This morning I tried a cheese Pastelito.  Sounds like some thing savory, but instead, it’s a crispy, flakey pastry, filled with something close to cheesecake.  Taste one and you’ll want another.

Many times I’ve heard from other patrons, “My gosh, I’ve never had anything like this!”  Delicious is one way to describe the food, but better words are:  habit forming. 

My companion and I usually each order a cortadito and split an empanada.  Ok, I confess:  My name is Bill and I am a Cuba-holic.

Yes, I promised.  Guantánamera means a cute and pretty woman from Cuba’s Guantánamo Province.




Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Back a Couple of Thousand Years: Herculaneum




Our excursion to Naples took us to Herculaneum, another of the cities destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  Unlike Pompeii, which is more or less out in the countryside and some two-thirds uncovered, Herculaneum is in the middle of a suburb of Naples, only about twenty minutes by van from the center.  Which brings us to the most startling difference:  The archeological dig of Herculaneum is surrounded by modern, populated apartment buildings stacked like building blocks.  Directly under those apartment buildings is more of the ancient city, yet to be discovered.


Not entirely surrounded by apartments.  This view faces the sea.

Standing at the edge of a deep hole, you gaze about ninety feet into a huge pit and see the ruins of the stone city.  A long, wide ramp leads you down.



Interesting why there’s such a difference in elevations. I’m not an archeologist, just a star struck gazer of antiquities, so forgive me for painting with broad brush strokes, very possibly mishandling expert phrasing, and glossing over important points.  In a word, the difference in elevations is mud. 

Time for an explanation.  Pompeii was much nearer Vesuvius and during the eruption was pummeled by a destructive showers of stones, some as big or bigger than basketballs.  

The citizens left in Pompeii were pelted and the city smashed.  Even those who found shelter inside their homes had roofs crash down on them. There was no escape. Then came the molten lava, leaving the city entombed for a few hundred years.  Fortunately, most of the population had already read the tea leaves and moved away.  Of 20,000 souls living in Pompeii, only about 2,000 perished. 

Unlike the much larger Pompeii, picture Herculaneum as a seaside resort for the rich. Well prior to the eruption, the wealthy of Herculaneum evacuated, but some staff and merchants stayed and died.  About 300 died along the waterfront and you can still see the skeletons, frozen in their agony.

If not the eruption, what drove the populations of both cities out of town?  In years prior, several earthquakes rattled both cities, but the earthquakes alone didn’t cause the population to flee.  The quakes burst water pipes and left the city without a steady supply of water. 

We’ll leave Pompeii for a moment and concentrate on Herculaneum.  Herculaneum was what today we would call a resort town.  Many of the homes were owned by the very wealthy and prior to the eruption the city was at the edge of a cliff, overlooking a beachfront.  Within the stone homes, there were interiors decorated with huge frescos, spacious dining rooms and living rooms, most with open gardens and some with steam rooms.








The city itself had street side shops selling wine and olive oil, fruit and prepared meals.  Under the main streets, ceramic sewer lines carried away wastewater.

The wide set stones allowed rainwater runoff.

The source of the city’s drinking water was some sixty miles away, flowing to Herculaneum via an aqueduct, supplemented with underground cisterns that stored rainwater. 

But, when the niceties and necessities of life disappeared, the rich and most other thirsty people felt the immediate need to leave town.

Also, the volcano’s destruction treated Pompeii and Herculaneum differently.  In Herculaneum, winds of up to 60 miles per hour, heated to about 400 degree Fahrenheit, swept the city, killing everyone left and even those on the beach hoping for a last minute rescue.

Some 2000 year old scorched timbers.

Next came a viscous slide of hot mud, combined with stones and earth gathered on it’s way down. Mudslide after mudslide followed.  Not only was the city buried under some 90 feet of mud and debris, but the mud also covered the cliff overlooking the beach and up to a mile into the Mediterranean Sea.

About the excavation:  Herculaneum was re-discovered some ten years prior to Pompeii, both of them in the mid-eighteenth century.  In the case of Herculaneum, a man was digging a well and uncovered antiquities.

Early excavations were haphazardly done by neighbors and fortune seekers looking for valuables.  Then came work ordered by the King of Naples, who also apparently plundered marble and such for his palace.

As you can guess, digging through centuries of mud was no easy task, but easier than digging though centuries of lava rock, as was the case in Pompeii.

As I said, there is more of Herculaneum to be discovered in the surrounding area. Archeologists have dug tunnels and exposed bits and pieces.  Unfortunately, because of the surrounding and highly populated neighborhoods, Herculaneum may never be fully exposed.

Old ruins?  So what?

The more you see of the ancient world, the more you begin to understand history itself is built in layers, many of which will never be uncovered.  We know something of the Greeks and the Romans, but less about the civilizations that came before.  Like much of science, archeology and anthropology and the many other ‘ologies are a road of continuing discovery and a constant quest for knowledge of the human past.

Even as amazing as they are, when we walk the streets of Pompeii and Herculaneum, we are also walking on the graves of even earlier peoples. 

Seeing and learning more of the Greeks and Romans is a worthy start to seeing and gaining insights into our own, modern world, as well as appreciating the remarkable development of prior civilizations.  As has been said, we progress greatly, but only because we stand on the shoulders of giants. 

Note the scorched walls.









Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Colmar Deux in Jingles







Colmar’s not so very far
If you’re driving in a car.
If you’re walking, ‘nother story
Feels like you’re in purgatory.




She’s got those nice, long legs and she’s really really neat
You can see that fanny twitching as she’s walking down the street.
The guys all think she’s sexy, but her momma knows she’s sweet,
And when it comes to sweetness, well the guys just can’t compete.





A water pitcher on the roof,
Oh, my, it seems so aloof.
With a garden near or far.
I wonder how it’ll ever get thar.




Blue shoes do amuse
But not at all what I would choose.
I would choose the browns and blacks,
For they would go with all my slacks.
Although ordinary they may be,
If not for others, they suit me.
Still the blues do amuse.




I would rather watch a fowl,
Whether sparrow or an owl,
As they flutter in the wind,
…I’ve no idea how this will end!




I ate French bacon once or twice
And I found it very nice.
And I ate some salad, too
As you knew that I would do.
For I can never get enough
Of this Frenchy, savory stuff.




Darkest chocolate tempts my taste.
I will let none go to waste.
Spoon by spoon I pop it in
And then I pop some more again.
They say dark chocolate by the ounce,
Cures some ills I can’t pronounce.
So I gobble once again,
For chocolate is the body’s friend.




Now my stomach’s full of beer
I think I’ve made it very clear.
I may drink some wine or brandy
In fact the bottle’s very handy
And since the beer has left me full
My stomach needs a little lull
It's not the fault of brew alas,
But hand and eye that filled the glass.
And left me in this awful state
Of wanting more, but forced to wait.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Colmar, France and The Statue of Liberty



Colmar, France and The Statue of Liberty

On the highway leading into Colmar


This past week, we spent a couple of sunny days in Colmar, another treasure in the Alsace Region. Went there on the spur of the moment. We’d seen photos on the net and heard great things, but still, we didn’t know quite what to expect, other than old and beautiful.  Colmar is a fairly large city of about 71,000, but the place you want to spend your time is the old city.

I picked the hotel at random, with only two things in mind:  close proximity to the old city and an economical price.  I got both with Hotel Saint-Martin.  It’s a jewel set in a beautifully restored old stone building, with a friendly, helpful staff, some of whose English made mincemeat of my stumbling high school French.  After a sputtering attempt to blend, I asked the middle aged lady at the desk, Parlez-vous Anglais? Got a quick response: My English is a little rusty, but I will do what I can to help.

Yep, you’ll do.

I’d made arrangements at the hotel, but messed up both day and month.  In mere moments, the desk clerk patched up my self-inflicted wound and found us a very comfortable accommodation.  We dropped off our luggage and stepped out into the blazing sunshine of a perfect June day.




Old town Colmar is a maze of cobblestone walking streets, lined with two and three story half-timbered buildings, most of them over 400 years old, as evidenced by blackened and twisted timbers.   The Hotel Saint-Martin is right in the middle of these noble, historical tributes.



With hundreds of outdoor cafes on every corner of this self-porclaimed Capitol of the Alsatian wine region, it was time for refreshment.  But, on this , sunny, sweaty day, we grabbed a table in the shade and swigged a fruity Alsatian bière. Wait.  No we didn’t.  We swigged two big ones and fortified our period of rest and relaxation with stylish cups of Armagnac.



Don’t know Armagnac? Think of Cognac with more flavor and a smoother, rounded finish.  A luscious gift from the sun bleached south of France.

But, our trip was not all outdoor cafes.  There was also an outdoor supper in the fade of the day, in an out of the way, small and beautiful plaza.  I’ll let photos give you the details.





Aside from being surrounded by historic beauty, what else did we enjoy?

As my three faithful readers know, I don’t just visit a spot to snap a few photos and down a libation or six.  Certainly not!  I like to fill my curious mind, mostly about things no one else cares about.  In Colmar I found something that perhaps a few more may share my interest in.

The Bartholdi Museum

The Great Man himself.

Colmar is the birthplace of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of one of America’s treasures, The Statue of Liberty, or as Bartholdi named it, Liberty Enlightening the World. This huge, copper statue, stands 151 feet 1 inch tall, and counting the base, it’s over 300 feet.

Of course we went to the Bartholdi maison, now a museum.  But, if you’ve seen one museum, you’ve…….STOP RIGHT THERE.  In this museum you get much more than dusty relics and trivial facts; you get an intimate tour of the mind of the artist.  Of course there are photos of his greatest work, which now resides on Liberty Island, but there is also the creative trail that led from concept to reality. No telling how many sketches Bartholdi made, and when he began to work in clay, the process fascinates even more, from crudely fashioned small, brown figurines, to the final gargantuan finish.   With glance upon glance you can follow the progressive growth of his final creation.  




The preposterous idea that a sculptor creates a masterpiece in an afternoon of light work and few sips of wine falls away.  Neither did Bartholdi work alone.  Although he was the driving force, he consulted with metal workers and engineers and so many others who accepted the challenges of such a massive work.

Here are some other little known details that connect Lady Liberty to America and the world at large: The statue’s tiara or diadem has seven spikes, symbolizing the seven continents and seven seas. In her left arm she holds a tablet engraved with the Roman numerals for 4 July 1776. Lady Liberty herself is modeled after the robed Roman goddess of liberty, Libertas.  Should you want to climb to the top, stand by for a steep climb of 20 stories and don’t expect to be able to take a view from the platform surrounding the torch.  It’s not been allowed since 1916.


Models with and without the seven spikes on the crown.

Aside from the famous statue, the museum is also a dispeller of so many myths.  While Bartholdi’s vast body of work is fully displayed in photos and smaller versions, most of it commissioned for public display in French towns and cities, many of his projects were abandoned for lack of cash, or because city fathers were not pleased with his ideas.  Other times he had to repeatedly change his work to comply with the wishes of this or that committee.




So, anything else to do in Colmar besides cafes and the Bartholdi museum?  You bet!  Colmar is also known as the Venice of Alsace and the Larch River flows down the middle of town.  Beautiful place for photographs or to treat yourself to a boat ride.  Then there’s the Unterlinden Museum of  Art, featuring art from the middle ages to the present. Monet and Picasso are two names I have to mention.  And don’t forget the magnificent Saint Martin’s Church, dating to 1235 (or perhaps earlier) and restored several times since.




We were only In Colmar for one full day and one night, but what an adventure and what a wonderful experience.  So, would I go back?  Mais, oui!  And would I drink more beer and dine on lovely French cuisine, and stay at the Hotel Saint-Martin?  I think you know the answer.

Getting there: Colmar is two and a half hours by train from Paris.  The cost is about 25€ or $30.  If you’re coming from Frankfurt, Germany, it is also two and a half hours and costs 35€ or $40.  From Luxembourg, the fastest trains are 2-3 hours and the cost ranges greatly, depending on the time of day.