Author Archives: Peter Jones

Where have all the flowers gone?

“The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind”
 

I listened to a fabulous segment on the radio the other day.  It was on a favorite show of mine called A Celtic Sojourn.  It’s hosted by Brian O’Donovan every Saturday, on station WGBH in Boston.  Brian is a Celtic music aficionado, among many things.  The other day, long after the show had finished, I paused to hold the show in my mind.

Question. What role does Art, music and poetry play during times of great upheaval and conflict on a global stage? The title of the piece Brian brought together was War, Peace and Empathy.  Brian played music and read poetry that had and has been significant in times of war and unrest or injustices. Specifically, and particularly, as we watch the slaughter of innocent people in Ukraine.  We look on as we have before like a bad show barely rescripted in different locations across the world.  And it is always the innocents that suffer.  As we seem to look on powerless with only our empathy and our economic sanctions facing up to another hideous genocide.  Nothing, but a slaughter amidst a game of global chess with children, mothers and fathers passed into the shadows of darkness.  “The pity of war, the pity war distilled.” As Wilfred Owen had written over a hundred years ago during the First World war.

How many of us have worn a poppy on Veterans Day, recited Flanders field, gazed at the horror captured in Picasso’s Guernica.  How many have listened to antiwar songs across the ages, some of them embedded into our minds forever, to remind us of the possibility that things can change if we sing and shout and paint and write louder than the people who drop the bombs?  Even though the whole world watches, we are nearly numbed into submission.  But still we sing, create art and play music. Nearly numbed but not quite. Taking in the nightly news, applauding the bravery of those who stayed and those who fight. And we think of the Cellist of Sarajevo and we write and paint and sing and one wonders who listens. Someone listens.

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing. A Cossack song originally and rewritten by Pete Seeger.  In some ways, the power of art and protest is everywhere, in every generation.  Turn, Turn, Turn. And every generation ironically lets us down. A new war begins, an old one resurfaces. Peace remains elusive.

When will they ever learn; when will they ever learn? Our power is in the passing and preservation of hope and light and remembrances.  Never to fade. A vital glimmer and a necessary spark to reset our course.

Thanks to Brian for making a moment more significant and let us hope and pray for peace and justice for the innocents in Ukraine.

  • Brian O’Donavan
  • A Celtic Soujourn
  • Celtic.org Empathy
  • #celticsojourn
London Theatre Pietro Place Peter Jones

THEATRE

The uniqueness of London Theater is renowned worldwide. The quality of the performances, the affordability of the seats, the sheer madness of quantity of theater within inner London.  Modern auditoriums like the Bridge Theatre, the National and the Barbican in addition to the intensity of theatres on St. Martins Lane and Shaftesbury Avenue makes London the Theater capital of the world. And then there are the rituals of the Theatre visit itself. The glass of wine before the performance and the reserved glass prepaid for the intermission. But there is something else about London Theatre that I find utterly irresistible.  Ice cream!  

Ice cream during the intermission is an old tradition. Usually, the ice cream is made by Loseley. The ice cream company that seems to have served ice cream, to theatregoers since I was a child growing up in London. I find it a welcome pick-me up during a long play. Think “Long Day’s Journey into Night” (aptly named) and think of two intermissions and think ICE CREAM!

But why and where did it come from.  For sure it doesn’t exist on Broadway.  In old theatres where air conditioning is not part of the service, ice cream melts fast and gets messy.  So what is the derivation. Could it be that it was a Victorian tradition? Maybe beginning at seaside resorts where Punch and Judy shows and music halls on Victorian piers provided children with fun and….ice cream!  Pantomimes are children’s events so ice cream would obviously be around, but Pantomime is a Christmas tradition. And Christmas is hardly the time for an ice cream! Likely there is an Italian connection. 19th century immigrants bringing their ice cream traditions to outside shows and then inside as theaters became more weather existent.  In Shakespeare’s time it certainly was not ice cream that kept the crowd on its feet.  It was alcohol.  Lots of it. Usually, beer or some ghastly form of it  

 I will be content with my glass of white wine at the intermission and a tub of Loseley to keep me alert for the second half!!  Incidentally, vanilla is the most consumed of all the flavors. 

Venice, Taparelli and Ice Cream

I guess, for me it all started with a visit to the Carnival in Venice.  February 2020.  I remember the spectacle. I had never really seen anything like it.  A piazza that looked more like a show, colors and masks and people parading around, posing and becoming photo opportunities for the tourists and the casual travelers.  Centuries condensed into a parade and a piazza turned into a Broadway show.  Leaving there, I remember thinking how extraordinary it was to have seen this event.  For all the years I had traveled to Venice, I had just missed it.  And as we drove out of Venice heading north, I remember thinking I had witnessed something special.  And then, Covid.  

Italy first, shut down and slowly this phenomenon engulfed all of Europe.  That was 2 years ago.  Now, I am heading back to Carnival and Italy to meet our staff and clients.  The suppliers who have just about survived these past 2 years with no business.  Some never made it.  Never to reopen.  For most of us, we are back and I cannot wait to hear the sounds of the Vaporetti, the lapping of water of the gondolier jetties and the winter light in beautiful Venice.  This is where it all began for me.  The windows closed. The doors shut. And now, they’re opening again.

Someone once asked me what I loved about Italy.  Was it the Forum, St. Peter’s, the Duomo, the Basilica in San Marco, the food, the wine, etc.?  The wonder of Italy is that the list is endless.  But it remined me of a funny story.  My niece lives in Rome.  She had bumped into Hugh Grant, the English actor, at a well-known bar and she had asked him what he loved most about Italy.  He paused and then said, “the beautiful darkness that hotel rooms afford me during the day!”  What he was referring to are the blinds in the rooms and in every house, apartment and shop. The Taparelli as they are called.  A moving curtain of metal slats that gives you utter privacy and solace from the sunshine and light. The bliss of absolute darkness in the afternoon for a snooze before an evening venture around the streets of Rome or Venice. Not, I hasten to say, venetian blinds.  A whole different story and a whole different century! And nowhere near as effective!! 

Taparella means a conveyor belt.  Sliding, rolling slats that interlock and offer perfect darkness. Operated electrically or on a rope-pull. They are one of the great inventions of Italia.  I always think of that great line in Life of Brian.  “What have you Romans done for us lately!  Roads, heating, bridges, sanitation, aqueducts, baths, and…Taparelli!”

COVID

Over the past few months, I have been back and forth across the country, across the Atlantic and crossed a few borders during the Covid restrictive era.  Now, we are seeing the windows opening, the snow melting, and the restrictions being rolled back.  Covid rates are dropping, vaccine (percentages are at an all-time high), and what didn’t seem possible just a few weeks ago, now seems in the cards.  Travel is about to return!

There are still hurdles and country requirements that everyone needs to be aware of, but each week, the days get longer, and the outlook gets better.

Even so, we still have one last hurdle to overcome. The need to remove the re-entry Covid test back to the USA. It makes no sense anymore to hold onto this last vestige of caution and unjustifiable hurdle for travelers. Fully vaccinated travelers are not required to have a Covid test before entering Europe. 

To travel in the USA, you do not even have to have proof of vaccine. The only requirement is the wearing of a mask. Large gatherings often without a mask are pretty much ok and in the case of some states have been ok for months. 

When I last traveled to Europe. I traveled to the UK.  I needed a 2-day test (gone) proof of vaccine (remains) and then traveled to Spain (no test, but proof of vaccine) and from Spain I had to go to Italy where I needed a test (remains) and proof of vaccine (remains) and from there back to the UK where all I needed was proof of vaccine and a booked 2-day test (gone).  In the UK, I needed a test to return to the USA (remains).

The world has changed.  In a matter of 4 weeks, it has opened up. And travel…our beloved travel is back.  Let us hope the USA can now remove the pretest for returns to the USA.

Rue du Cherche -Midi

There is a very cool hotel in the delightful neighborhood of the 6th arrondissement. It’s called La Belle Juliette. I have stayed there several times and always recommend it to friends. It’s reasonable and one of those places that immediately immerse you into the feel and touch of a Parisian neighborhood. It’s on the Rue du Cherche-Midi. A favorite street of mine. So called because a sundial was at the top of the street and was used as the clock for Paris for centuries. There’s even a French phrase that references the name. Chercher-Midi a quatorze heures. To find midday at 2 pm. To over complicate things.

It’s the home of several monasteries, a now defunct prison, and several very cool restaurants. A fantastic bar and café are on the corner of the Rue St. Placide and the Rue du Cherche-Midi. The 6th is where I would choose to be. A bit encompasses Notre Dame, St. Germain, the Jardin Luxembourg’s, and all along the river on the left bank. The bookstores and overpriced antique stores and the delightful Rue du Bac. It stretches all the way to Montparnasse.

And of course, the famous Hotel Lutetia, recently renovated and offering rooms at 1300 EUROS A NIGHT. YEAH RIGHT. A beautifully designed building, with its past a rich and checkered tapestry brilliance and blemishes. Jazz found its home here and the jazz bar still plays on. It was a part of the Belle Époque. Splashes of Art Nouveau stretching all the way to Deco. It sits opposite a tiny park and the busy Boulevard Raspail. I have stayed there many times when the Hotel Lutetia was a tad shabbier and afforded more affordable rates. It’s still worth a visit for the restaurant and the jazz bar. The rooms. Dunno. Too expensive, but I recall great views on the upper floors of the Eiffel tower! I’ll just have to do with the memories for now.

Paris

Sometimes a city just has it. Paris is one of those places. Our office is in a small and quaint space nestled inside a residential building along the Rue de Babylon. It’s a stone‘s throw from the swish Conran’s store and the Belle Époque style Bon Marche, Paris’ super chic department store. It’s also the home to the Épicerie. Paris’ version of Harrods food halls and one of the greatest food halls in the world. And strangely enough there is a Chapel opposite the Department store. The Chapel of the Miraculous Medal that attracts 2 million visitors a year.

According to the story, the Virgin Mary visited a 23-year-old novitiate in 1832 with a request for medallions to be made to facilitate miracles. Catherine Laboure thus became the facilitator of miracles. And…there were miracles. A cholera epidemic was halted once medallions were distributed to the sick, a fire was halted that threatened to spread from the Bon Marche department store to the church and lastly, when they exhumed her body to place her inside the church, her body was identical to the day she passed away. A miracle indeed! As a skeptical miracle believer, it all makes a pretty decent story and more important the extraordinary site is jammed between the two trendy stores and a épicerie all on the beautiful Rue du Bac. So called because the ferry (The Bac) would moor at the bottom of the street and was used to transport the stone that was used for the construction of the Palais des Tuileries. A wonder of wonders. Our little and humble office is right in the middle of all these amazing non touristy apparitions!

Notre Dame Cathedral with Paris cityscape panorama at dusk, France

The Journey to Paris

Arrived very early at St. Pancras station. It was organized but you need more time than I recalled. More time for vaccine card.  Proof of a negative Covid test.  And everything takes three times longer. But, at some point you get through. They give you a tiny card at French customs on the UK side and as long as you don’t lose the card you are good. The breathtaking journey to Paris.

Whoever remembers those awful journeys with flights from Heathrow or the ferries from Dover. I was musing about the absolute brilliance of bringing Europe together the other day. Brexit? Never going to happen. Boris Johnson. A joke. A clown. No way! Here we are. It’s all happened. Agghh!! But at least we have the train under the channel!!

Built over 5 years and opened in 1994 it has transformed access to Europe. Imagine. Two hours and 15 minutes. Thirty-eight minutes under the channel. 250′ feet under the bottom of the chalk seabed. The longest underwater tunnel in the world. Napoleon. Hitler. Nobody since 1066 has ever managed to breakthrough. Except the Chunnel. Even the EU got rejected. It’s a shame but at least we have the champagne bar to send us off as we go into the unknown. At least we have Europe. Well, hang on. They don’t want the Brits. The Chunnel was it. Brexit was the end! Oh well!

Corfu

Corfu is an island well known by ferry travelers enroute to Athens. In the summer, ferries push straight on from Brindisi in Italy to Athens but off peak, Corfu is a stopover. It has one off the most charming towns in all of Greece. Corfu Town. The influence of Venetians is everywhere. Four centuries of influence. A castle and beautiful pastel-colored buildings with medieval cobbled marbled streets that house the usual souvenir stuff that I confess I’m attracted to! There is a cool bar and restaurant scene, lots of nighttime activity and several narrow passageways that offer mystery tours through the old town. It is probably the most beautiful town of the Greek Islands. Small enough to boast and show off its history and lively enough not to dampen the vacation spirits. And if course, in every plaza there is ample time to catch up on Greek salad, grilled octopus and moussaka. Whatever your fancy.

I had not been back for a long time. It was nice to get back into the travel groove again. Especially if you have been watching the gorgeously told TV series on the Durrell’s who lived on the island during the 1930’s before the start of the Second World War.

How to get there….I traveled from Rome to Corfu on Ryan Air. BA flies daily from London. There are several flights from Athens each day. Hotel Cavaliers Hotel is right in center of town and convenient to everything.

Check out the Hotel Cavaliers here:  https://cavalierihotel.gr/

 

 

 

 

Ryan Air

I confess I have never taken Ryan Air before. It’s something I have avoided up till now. But with the collapse of Alitalia, Italy’s national carrier, the shorter flights in and around Italy that were once covered by the National carrier have disappeared. And so, in came Ryan Air. We were flying into Corfu, Greece from Rome. There was no other option but Ryan Air. And off we went out to Rome’s other airport, Ciampino, for my Ryan Air flight to Corfu. It was strange to be in Ciampino. The ride out along the Via Aurelia is stacked with Columns and ancient discards. There are the catacombs and scattered treasures. In the distance are the Alban hills and there was Rome’s other airport, Ciampino. About 8 miles from the city center. And there was Ryan Air. A hub airport for this carrier. I heard the stories of jammed seats, toilets you must pay to use, rude staff and nonexistent service onboard. Bags you must pay for, etc. What a pleasant surprise! We paid for extra leg room and the flight was pleasant. Staff were nice. Bags checked and arrived intact and on time. Maybe it was the luck of the Irish but honestly, it seems better than Alitalia. Which is not saying much but…

An Evening Stroll Through Rome – Part 2

I have a walk I always used to take in Rome in the evening. My first evening back for a year and a half prompts me to walk that route once more as an introduction to Rome. Start at the Pantheon. At the Piazza della Rotonda. Take an aperitive and say hi to the waiters who I have known for 30 years. The Pantheon is always a fabulous start to any walk in Rome. It begins at the start of it all. A perfectly preserved dome. Built in 125 AD and never replicated until Brunelleschi built the Duomo in Florence in 1296! Amidst this huge structure in the middle of old cobbled streets is Bernini’s elephant in the Piazza Minerva. And the gentle color on the sandstone buildings starts the evening walk. Ahead Bernini fountains and Borromini churches. The superstars of Baroque. Ronaldo and Messi of their day! Piazza Navona and the Campo di Fiori and Piazza Farnese. History jammed into three squares. Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Ancient. And in between ice cream, espresso and an aperitivo. Not necessarily in that order.

An Evening Stroll Through Rome- Part 1

It’s the sunset that so attracted me to Rome all those years ago. I usually start at the Temple of Cats and make my way to the Campidoglio via the Piazza Venezia. The colors of a Roman evening are quite extraordinary. There is the Vittorio Manuel monument. Awkward and towering with its white marble uncomfortable in between the Baroque Domes and Medieval Church of the Aracoeli but it’s a vital landmark for those unfamiliar with Rome. The Cordonata provides a gracious entrance to the Piazza Campidoglio with Marcus Aurelius equestrian statue, a copy, marking the center of Michelangelo’s square. The Capitoline Museum, a treasure trove of Ancient Rome on the right but beyond and around the corner lies the real treasure. And I had forgotten how impactful that first sight of ancient times is. Breathtaking. The Palatine on the right. Oleander, Cyprus and umbrella pine all around and there is the Forum. The columns and arches, the Senate, and the path to the Coliseum. I first brought my parents here 30 years ago. I think of them and the memories of Rome and everything in between. At sunset.

Across the Divide

My Roman friend has a system for crossing the road. I thought of this while trying to cross along the busy road opposite the Campidoglio. There is no zebra crossing. No traffic lights. Just a steady stream of unrelenting traffic both ways. There is no gap. No opportunity to cross. So, I did what he had suggested. I just walked out into the road slowly but confidently and amazingly the traffic simply parted. He always told me never to hesitate. Keep a straight line and keep walking. I must confess it took some adjustments. And of course, I always wave to the cars and scooters as a thanks as they slow down or maneuver to avoid me. They think I’m mad. Not to cross under their noses but to thank them! Very, very unItalian. It’s been a while. Feels good to be back.

 

The Pizzardone

There is a name in Roman for the guy who stands in the middle of the traffic intersection at the Piazza Venezia. I had not seen him for a while but this time, as if to greet us all back, there he was. The Pizzardone. It’s an art. He is a conductor. His white gloves holding the craziness of motorists, busses, and cars. It is dramatic. He has this immense power. A rotary like the Piazza Venezia and four streams of congested moving anxious Romans on bikes, scooters and in cars would seem no match for the Pizzardone. But Romans become extraordinarily compliant. Obedient. Nobody moves without his assent. The hands are all drama. His whistle ready to pounce on anyone who breaks the rules. And fantastically nobody does. It is a play. A performance. There is a special school that trains Pizzardones. It requires incredible organizational skills, judgement and flexibility. It is knowing how to work on the fly. In the moment. Moving traffic along and avoiding bottlenecks. His orchestra is the sea of traffic. His baton is his hands. It is quintessentially Italian and more importantly its timeless. Traditions are held sacred in this ancient crazy city. Green lights. Red lights. Sophisticated computer algorithms. Not in the main piazza. Not in the center of Rome. The show must go on!

Rome….I’m back!

Travel life between countries is a series of Covid tests and passenger locator forms. The rapid types. Antigen. Results in 15 minutes. The journey from Mallorca to Rome was fairly smooth. Two flights, masked up, and the usual endless wait at Fiumicino for the bags to land on the carousel. I have a theory about Rome airport waiting. The baggage handlers clearly wait and then give the carousel a whirl to get everyone’s hopes up. And then the great “nothing.” More waiting and an occasional sporadic whirl again. This goes on for half an hour. At some point the bags did arrive. And then we were out and into the night air of Fiumicino, Italy. A year and a half. And then it came back.

The drive into the city. There is no skyline to illuminate the skies. Simply an expectation and a longing for the familiar that has been part of my life for 40 years. The Aventine with its views across its neighbor hill the Palatine. The breathtaking ancient villas that sit above the Circus Maximus. The crazy traffic as we wind around by Teatro Marcello that sits on the outskirts of the ghetto. And then the Campidoglio with castor and Pollux atop the beautiful and graceful staircase of the Cordonata Capitolina and we are in the city. And I disappear into Rome.

Roman Ways

Seeing Rome on a Vespa

Riding around on a red Vespa in the center of Rome is a way to see the city. Not necessarily the safest, but a way. So, I had the pleasure of riding on the back of my friends scooter so I could take in the sights and film the chaos while he focused on the road.  Rome makes its claim on being built on seven hills but ironically the two hills that afford the most spectacular views of the city are not on the coveted list of the magnificent seven!  So, off we went!

The Pincio is the hill that sits high above the Spanish steps. It backs onto the Borghese Gardens and always in my mind belongs to Sundays.  Sunday walks, Sunday picnics and strolls from the Piazza del Popolo through the chic and glitzy streets that lead to Keats house and the Babington’s Tea Rooms. One of my favorite cafes is on the via Condotti, the Main Street that showcases the Spanish Steps.  Antico Caffe Greco. The oldest bar in Rome and second oldest in Italy.  Cafe Florian in Venice has that title. The tiny sandwiches at cafe Greco are simply like no other!

The other hill is the Gianicolo. This is the hill that winds its way out of St. Peters and descends back again past the Spanish Embassy into Trastevere.  Most notable for Punch and Judy shows on Sundays and the classic view of Rome stretching from the wedding cake building far beyond to St. John’s in Lateran.  It’s Garibaldi’s hill.  His statue dominates the top of the hill.  The revolutionary who became the catalyst that united Italy and ended Vatican and French dominance. The Gianicolo was a battleground, and now is probably the most peaceful place on earth to take in this magnificent city.

A tale of two hills.  Neither on the list of seven, but both significant and meaningful to the tourist for the classic view of Rome.

Oh, and I survived the Vespa experience too!

Watch the video tour here:  RomeVespaTour2021