Right under your nose

When I was a kid burying my feet (thankfully, not my head, although I’ve been accused of that on occasion) in the sand in Ocean City NJ, I used to love watching for the banner-towing planes that flew back and forth over the crowded beaches.  The sky banner I remember most vividly advertised a nightclub in “wet” Somer’s Point, just outside “dry” Ocean City:

Your Father’s Mustache… where the time of your life is right under your nose.

I’ve pilfered that versatile slogan time and time again. So many treasures and curiosities lie just beneath the visible surface of our everyday lives—just under your nose, in fact. When you’re #retired, you have time to search them out. And so I did today.

My initial goal was to locate a photo of the restoration of a historic church in Harrisburg, PA, where I was raised but not born (that was Boston, remember?). My uncle, an Old World-worthy stonemason, had rebuilt the brickwork some 50 years ago. While my search for the photo proved fruitless, in the process I stumbled on an interesting website—The Historical Markers Database, “an illustrated searchable online catalog of historical information viewed through the filter of roadside and other permanent outdoor markers, monuments, and plaques” produced and maintained by an “organization of self-directed volunteers” and over 500 “contributing correspondents.”

Within the database listing for “Old Salem Church,” I found nothing about the  church’s restoration, but I did find links to other historic sites in Harrisburg, including “The Peanut House.” My mother had often talked about the little store at 2nd and Chestnut Streets, run by  Italian immigrant Salvatore Magaro, and for years I’d thought the owners were cousins. The digging I did today leads me to believe that they probably were not. What I did discover, however, is that “The Peanut House,” in a prior incarnation, figured in the genesis of our National Anthem. Here are excerpts from the inscription on the marker:

On this site for nearly 180 years stood a two and a-half story brick building with ties to local, state and national history. Initially the home of early settler John Frey, the house was sold in 1817 to a noted clockmaker, Frederick Heisley, whose son George is linked to the National Anthem. George Heisley, during the War of 1812, was a member of Pennsylvania’s First Regiment. At the siege of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, September 1814, he reportedly provided Francis Scott Key with music for the Star Spangled Banner.

The house later was owned by the Boyd Family, then a succession of merchants. At various times it was an oyster house, a dry cleaning business and a restaurant. Its nickname, “The Peanut House,” comes from Salvatore Magaro, an Italian immigrant who came to America as a stowaway at age 17 in 1889. In 1921 he leased the building and turned it into a grocery store and living quarters. His store, “The Buzy Corner,” lasted 70 years and earned a reputation and a name for its fresh vegetables and its nickel-a-bag fresh-roasted peanuts.

Considering that I’ve lived in Central Pennsylvania for so much of my life, it’s pretty sad that I know so little local history, and that local history as a discipline gets so little attention. So—here’s an idea for those summer days when you’re looking for something to do with your partner, your pals, or your grands. Go to the Historical Marker Database, pick a location near you, and head out the door. You may be pleasantly surprised at what’s been right under your nose all along.

A village by the lake

It’s HOT here in Central Pennsylvania, so it seems logical to continue the “going north” theme of my  “I miss the mountains” post a few days ago. Turns out I also miss northern waters.

I am absolutely enthralled by the Great Lakes. So far, I’ve been on the US shores of Erie, Michigan, and Ontario. The others are on my you-know-what list, and I’m really itching to see them from both sides of the border.

Sackets Harbor, NY is on the banks of Lake Ontario, near the point where it meets the St. Lawrence and an easy drive from Watertown NY.  It was an unexpected surprise during a September trip to the 1000 Islands. More about that trip in a future post. Sackets Harbor is historically important—there’s a War of 1812 battlefield there—and absolutely lovely. You can see in the photo above that the blue of the lake and sky just about match! How’s that for soothing?

I miss the mountains

This time of year, I get a very specific wanderlust that  always involves going north, to the mountains. I was never lucky enough to live in New England, but my father was born and raised in western Maine, just 30 miles from the Canadian border. I’ve had one Yankee foot since I was old enough to understand that I was born in Boston, not Pennsylvania.

Throughout most of my life, being “down the shore” was always my favorite summer treat. I still love the ocean—don’t get me wrong—but some time in the mid-90s, the mountains of New England stole my heart. Every year since, when summer comes, I begin to yearn—there is no other word for it—for the mountains up north, and the sweeping crystalline lakes, as blue as a June sky, that punctuate them.

Just about wherever you go in New England, the mountains are with you. At the “Height of the Land” on the way to the Rangeley Lakes region in Maine, you can see Canada on one side, New Hampshire on the other, and Mooselookmeguntic Lake beneath. It’s hard to imagine a more breathtaking landscape—that’s one view in the photo above. Click the links to learn more, including the real truth about the lake’s interesting name, which the natives simply call “Mooselook.” And if you want to have your cake and eat it, too, drive up the coast to Bar Harbor and take in the view at Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, where the mountains meet the sea.

By the way, I’m so grateful to our relatives up north, who always welcome us warmly and share their favorite places with us.

Photo: Mooselook, in the Rangeley Lake Region.

Note: “I Miss the Mountains” is an absolutely gorgeous song from the Broadway musical, Next to Normal. I borrowed the title for this post but, unfortunately, the song has nothing to do with mountains. Still, it’s worth a listen.

 

 

Roman holiday

I’ve been sitting here tonight with Hubby and Miss Pup enjoying Roman Holiday for the umpteenth time. It never loses its luster. If you need reasons to love it, I’ll give you three, in no particular order:

Rome
Audrey Hepburn
Gregory Peck

Although “iconic” has become so overused as to be almost meaningless, Roman Holiday is replete with scenes that truly do seem iconic to me. After all, this is the movie that introduced not only Audrey Hepburn, but also the Vespa, to the rest of the world. And talk about impact: it gives me shivers when Hepburn’s princess rounds that dark corner to return to her “real” life, as Peck’s reporter, stricken with grief, watches helplessly from the car. More than 60 years later, I still fantasize about having that jaunty Italian haircut.

One of the things I’ve always loved about TCM is the back story, and Roman Holiday’s is fascinating. You should check it out on the TCM website.

When we had our own Roman holiday a few years ago, the streets were crowded with tourists, our time was limited, and it was difficult to get good pictures. I do, however, have photos of an extraordinary and memorable lunch we had, in a charming little restaurant, La Buca di Ripetta,  just outside the Piazza del Popolo. I’m sharing them with you tonight.

 

 

IMG_1239

Photos: Cover—gnocchi in a sauce infused with zucchini blossoms. Below, the menu, the wine we chose, vegetable fritters with aceto balsamico, lamb chops and potatoes.

Food we loved in Florence

Food memories, like song lyrics, stick.

One of our favorite places in Florence was San Michele all’Arco, a farm-to-table “resto” (kitchen in the photo above) with the most marvelous local olive oil, prosciutto, and cheese. The soup pictured below was just exquisite—every flavor came through, every flavor mattered. The same was true for everything else we enjoyed there.

We stumbled on  another neighborhood spot, I Ghibellini, in Piazza San Pier Maggiore,  just after we arrived in Florence.  We’d been on the train for half the day, we were starving, and it was the closest restaurant still serving lunch. Lucky for us! Oh, that pasta al limone! Oh, those exquisite white beans! Oh, that bistecca!

The things is… even though you can buy superior imported Italian products here, they don’t—they can’t— taste quite the same as they do at the source.

We returned to both restaurants several times, which is our habit when we find places we especially like. So often, the neighborhood places that don’t show up in the tour guides end up being the most memorable.

Cinque Terre delights

Whenever we travel, I take photos of what we eat—unless, of course, we’re in a restaurant where doing so would constitute bad behavior.

Today I’m sharing a few lovely food memories from Italy’s magnificent Cinque Terre, five picturesque villages on the Mediterranean coast of Liguria. Pesto reigns supreme there, but the spaghetti with clam sauce was the most exquisite I’ve ever tasted, probably because those little clams were gathered from the sea the day I ate them.

The trattoria pictured above is in Riomaggiore; the spaghetti a la vongole was in Monterosso al Mare, where we stayed. One of our favorite meals was actually a simple pizza night there. The ebullient owner was so very proud that his pizzeria, and the town itself, had come back from the devastating mud slides of the prior year. It was a joy to chat with him, and, especially, to be among the local families enjoying their pizza. That’s the kind of experience that many guidebooks wouldn’t suggest, but being part of “real, everyday life”  is precious to us. It’s  the difference between being a tourist on the outside edges and, however briefly, feeling a part of the community you are visiting.

Okay, I’m hungry now.

 

Tranquil in Bethlehem

Bethlehem is one of Pennsylvania’s treasures, for its rich historic significance and the gracious, centuries-old buildings that have held fast despite the encroachment of time, the birth and death of the steel industry, and the Sands Casino erected in Bethlehem Steel’s reclaimed brown fields. That the casino and its trappings flourish within blocks of the Northern Province headquarters of the Moravian Church in America, and rarities like the annual Bach Festival staged this time of year by the world-acclaimed Bach Choir of Bethlehem, seems more than a little ironic to me.

Bethlehem, of course, is appropriately known as the “Christmas City.” Its Christmas decorations are resplendent, and it’s fun to tour the shops and the Old World Christkindlmarkt, while carolers in Victorian garbs walk the streets. There’s an annual Celtic Festival, and Musikfest during the month of August. All of these are fine, but a cast of thousands rarely appeals to me; I much prefer the city, especially its historic heart, in quiet times.

I took these photos a few years ago on a gorgeous spring day in early May, on Moravian Church grounds. In another life, I spent quite a bit of time in the shadow of Central Church, the Bell House, and Moravian Academy’s Lower School. I always found this spot to be an oasis of great tranquility. You can learn more at the Historic Bethlehem website: Do enjoy. And visit if you can.