Tag Archive: GLBT

The Book Stack #6

jumbled books
Continuing with some more fantasy, and a bit of other….

My Tender Matador / Tengo Miedo Torero, Pedro Lemebel, September 2002, Translator: Katherine Silver

Let’s start outside the realm of fantasy. I actually don’t remember how this one came to my attention – it’s the story, basically, of the end of the days of Augustin Pinochet’s rule over Chile, focused on the events leading up to an attempted assassination. The book goes back and forth between Pinochet’s viewpoint, and that of an aging drag queen, the latter of whom has befriended a young, handsome man who turns out to be involved in the assassination attempt. It’s extremely well written, and the characters are well defined. It was a little slow reading for me as I initially started reading this in the original Spanish version, but the constant use of colloquial terms and street slang made it near impossible, and what I ended up doing was reading the two versions more or less side by side (learned a lot of Chilean street slang!). ☆☆☆

Code of Conduct, Brad Thor, July 2015

Over time I’ve read through the entire previous series (15 previous books) of the “Scot Horvath” novels. These are sort of Jack Bauer/24 on steroids if you can imagine that. They’re thrillers. They’re fast paced, they require some level of suspension of disbelief – they’re not totally out of left field, they’re basically, “what if?” scenarios that any of us could imagine given the state of the world right now, even if highly unlikely. And Thor makes them completely believable as potential scenarios. For me, given that I like thrillers of this sort, they’re entertaining as well as thought provoking. Fast reads. And, this one fits right in with all of that. There’s now a 17th novel out, Foreign Agent, and it’s on my reading stack! ☆☆☆☆

The Ronin Trilogy, Travis Heermann

Another trilogy, this one consisting of Heart of the Ronin (2010), Sword of the Ronin (2013), Spirit of the Ronin (2015). I stumbled across this one when I was looking for some martial arts books for study, and it looked interesting. Since the first volume was available for free on my Kindle Unlimited account, I gave it a spin, and rapidly went on to the sequels. Although set in feudal Japan, and following the story of a ronin, a masterless samurai, the writing style is very “western” in its approach, which gave them an interesting flavor – sort of like watching a completely foreign culture and concept develop from an outside observer’s eye. The author has a nice little quip on his site, “Writing fiction set in a far different time and place is challenging. The key is cram as much background information into your brain, let it percolate for a while, and see what bubbles out.”. And, no question, that’s what he’s done – creating a real image of a very different world than I’m familiar with, and at the same time, letting it develop in a way that I could actually visualize it, without feeling lost. I loved it. ☆☆☆☆

The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin

And, yet another trilogy! The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (2010), The Broken Kingdoms (2010), The Kingdom of Gods (2011). This one took me a little bit to get into. I can’t even tell you exactly what it was about it – it’s certainly well written, and an interesting concept. I think that it was that the protagonist in the first volume just didn’t resonate with me, and I initially found her viewpoint to be sort of a bore, or maybe it was just that the development of the story started out too slowly for me. But, the book picked up, and I ended up enjoying it enough to go on to the other two volumes, which take place from the viewpoints of other characters, and I liked both of those volumes much more. I mean, what’s not to like about a world where humans, gods, godlings, and demons, all live together and interact on a daily basis? In the end, highly recommendable. And, a nice perk that you can buy the entire trilogy in one volume. ☆☆☆☆

The Price of Retribution, Christopher Cartwright, March 2015

For such a small book (okay, 370 pages), it’s a pretty sweeping epic story, that starts with a jewel heist in long ago London and then jumps across the oceans to Australia, and back again. Another sort of “gentleman thief” – I guess those sort just attract me – it’s a great story, with romance, revenge, and a bit of rampaging. I found the writing to be quite good – at times it wandered a little, and I felt like for a moment that I, or the author, was losing the plot, but then it came back on track. The characters are interesting, though I felt that while the central ones are really well developed, that those who were not directly a part of the main storyline were a little greyed out by comparison, as if they didn’t really matter that much. ☆☆☆

The Book of Strange New things, Michel Faber, June 2015

The writing itself was fine, the author is excellent at drawing out characterization and visuals that many would find difficult to imagine. And the overall arc of the story is interesting and was enough to keep me going through to the end. However, the protagonist, and his wife, who we basically don’t meet other than briefly at the beginning and then through a series of letters, are some of the most unpleasant, unsympathetic “good guys” that one could care to encounter. Misogynistic, racist, religiously intolerant, judgmental, and constantly spouting stereotypes about everyone and everything around them – it was just plain unpleasant to read. (Honestly, given the time period I was reading this in, it was like trying to listen to Donald Trump talk about anyone who isn’t American, White, Male, and Christian.) And it was made worse because it was cloaked in a sort of pious righteousness. ☆☆

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Lo que pasa en Buenos Aires

Passport Magazine
February 2009
pgs 34-40

Lo que pasa en Buenos Aires

This exciting and inexpensive South American city is well known for its historic landmarks, beautiful parks, and excellent art museums. It is also an easy-going culture, where stopping to chat with friends, lingering over a coffee in a sidewalk café, or enjoying a glass of one of the country’s great wines at a local bar, all take precedence over any business appointment or preplanned event. Despite being located in a very conservative, Catholic with a capital C, country, the city of Buenos Aires itself is a bastion of liberality. Same-sex domestic partnerships have been legal since 2003, with a proposed full marriage ill up for debate. Gay bars abound, and restaurants that cater to our set are scattered throughout the various neighborhoods. Meanwhile, curious travelers will discover a plethora of entertainment, shopping, and nightlife options to rival any of the world’s great cities.

RESTING YOUR HEAD

Among the most popular spots for gay travelers are the gay owned bed and breakfasts. the two principal ones are Lugar Gay in the historic San Telmo neighborhood, and Bayres in Palermo, the former being men-only, the latter mixed gender. Another favorite, Posada de Palermo, in Palermo, has wonderfully comfortable rooms, great prices, and one of the best breakfast spreads in the city. For those on a budget, the End of the World Gay Hostel, on the border of San Telmo and La Boca, is a relatively new option. It’s a somewhat seedy neighborhood, but the place is clean and well kept, and transportation is easily available to other parts of town.

Celebrating its first anniversary this year, the self-proclaimed “five-star” Axel Hotel, located just outside of San Telmo in Monserrat, is becoming the new in-spot for the upscale gay traveler. A gleaming architectural triumph of glass and steel, it houses four dozen rooms, two pools (including a completely glass one located on the roof, hovering over a six story open lobby). The Axel’s one drawback is its location on a deserted (at night) industrial street, but then, anyone staying at the Axel is likely to have no problem springing for a taxi to more interesting zones.

Other gay-friendly options include the Art Hotel in Recoleta, which offers up quite nice, if slightly small, rooms at a very reasonable price, and boasts an excellent multilingual staff. On the fancier side is the Faena + Universe, situated on the far side of the refurbished warehouse and dock area known as Puerto Madero. It’s a fair hike from the rest of town, and sort of like taking a room at the South Street Seaport in New York or Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. It’s one of the finest hotels in the city and it features two excellent restaurants, a couple of delightful bars, and its own art galleries.

Meanwhile, the new Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt is attracting jet setters to its converted mansion packed with amazing artwork, several restaurants, and one of the few true wine bars in the city. Smaller boutique hotels that offer more personalized service are springing around the city as well. The two most well known, and among the best options, are the Home Hotel and the Bobo, both located in the heart of Palermo’s trendy design district.

EAT, DRINK, & BE MERRY

Porteños (port dwellers), as the local citizens call themselves, seem to spend more time in restuarants and cafés than they do at home or work. It does help that the North American/European penchant for “turning tables” is non-existent in Buenos aires; once seated, the table is yours until you care to leave, whether you order anything past your first coffee, cocktail, or appetizer…or not. It would be unthinkable of a restaurant to even suggest that you might order more, or free up the space for a more spendthrift customer – it’s just not done. With free Wi-Fi access in most of the central part of town, whiling away the day at a table is de rigeur.

Among the spots in the city where you can enjoy a quiet dinner, Desde el Alma in Palermo is considered by many to be the most romantic in town. A converted home with small tables and comfortable chairs stuck in various nooks and crannies, this hot spot offers creative takes on Argentine cuisine, and you can count on virtually every customer being paired up for date night.

On the gay front, the petite La Olla de Felix, located in the heart of Recoleta, can’t be beat. Here you will find simple, classic French food at a great price from the former chef of the Ritz-Carlton in Paris. Empire Thai, located in the heart of downtown, is home to some of the better Asian food in the city. Owner Kevin Rodriguez, a former banker, fell in love with this restaurant while visiting Buenos Aires on a business trip. When he heard the owners were selling it, he quit his bank job and bought the place.

For those who want truly exquisite culinary experiences, the modern Argentine stylings of various chefs await your discovery. These include: Germán Martitegui’s trendy and expensive Casa Cruz in Palermo where an ever present bevy of cute youngsters brings some of the best food in town to your table; Martin Molteni’s amazing cuisine at Pura Tierra is served up in a beautiful old home in Blegrano; Rodrigo Ginzuk’s stunning French-Argentine fusion cuisine at Maat, a gorgeously restored palacio in Bellgrano – officially a private club, but open to the public when not filled with members; and Fernando Mayoral’s borderline “molecular gastronomy”style served up at Thymus, in Palermo. All are don’t miss spots.

If you find yourself in need of English-speaking company, Amaranta Bistro in Recoleta prepares an odd mix of US, Mexican, and Italian cooking in a café environment with virtually all customers speaking English in one form or another. They also offer one of the better brunches in town.

THE NIGHT IS YOUNG

There’s no one district in the city that is particularly gay, though there’s been a push to declare historic San Telmo as the heart of the gay community. This is an odd choice, given that outside of one B&B (and the nearbynew hostel and hotel, both mentioned above) and the odd business here and there, there’s no gay nightlife to speak of here.

Most nightlife, gay or straight, begins late in Buenos Aires. It’s not unusual for a club to open around midnight, with bars opening not much earlier. Drag and stripper shows are popular in many venues. One of the few places open for an earlier drink is Flux Bar, located in Retiro near to downtown, where an after-work crowd gathers in an underground space hosted by owners Jamie Taylor and Ilia Konon.

A hotspot for gathering (locally called a punta de encuentro) is the area in Recoleta near to the intersection of avenues Pueyrredón and Santa Fé. Here you’ll find the casual café El Olmo, a spot to meet with friends before heading out for a night of drinking and dancing, as well as a place to pickup local taxi-boys, or hustlers. Within a few block radius are several gay bars, including the ever popular Search for its late night shows, Km Zero for its dancers, and Angel’s Disco for its transvestite and rough-trade crowd. On the far side of Recoleta, bordering on Palermo, the city’s largest barrio, are the large clubs Amerika and Glam. These p;laces are generally packed with boys who want to dance the night away, and/or disappear into the “dark rooms.” Just a few blocks away is the new kid in town called Sitges, with a mix of young gay, lesbian, and straight folk in a large lounge-style space that rivals Amerika in size, though with a focus on drag shows and lots of drinking.

FIRMING AND TONING

After a few late nights of drinking, dining, and dancing (not to mention sightseeing packed days) you’ll probably need to relax and rejuvenate a bit. Full spa treatments are available at almost all the luxury hotels, regardless of whether you’re a guest of the hotel or not. A few hours spent at the popular Markus Day Spa in Recoleta will set you feeling right as well. Inexpensive massages are available throughout the city: most hotels have someone on call or at least someone to recommend. If you’re in or near Recoleta, the Centro Cultural Chino along Santa Fé doles out deep-tissue acupressure-style massages. The same is available at any of several locations in Belgrano’s small Chinatown neighborhood.

When it comes to working out, porteños, for the most part, aren’t into the whole muscle building world. Gyms are social spots, and working out is more for simply keeping healthy and looking good rather than developing large biceps. Most gyms, and they’re all over the city, offer up daily or weekly rates that are quite inexpensive. Amongst the gay set, the friendly and fairly “hot” gym is the American Hot Gym in Recoleta. The one real “chain” gym in the city is called Megatlon, a very sleek, modern group with spaces in multiple locations. They cater to the expat and wealthy crowd, with a large number of gay men in attendance, and their prices are pretty much the same as you’d pay in the States.

SHOP TILL YOU DROP

While most travel guides will send you off to the famed pedestrian mall that is Calle Florida, the truth is, you won’t find anything there that you can’t find back home, including the same brands, and probably at the same price. Where Buenos Aires stands out is with its legion of young, hip designers.

For the designer set, head off into the aptly named Palermo SoHo. Here, you’ll find the streets lined with one shop after another, interspersed with enough restaurants and cafes to give you a spot to rest while you shop. For the guys, start off along Gurruchaga, in the 1700 block (near Costa Rica Street) at the well known El Cid, the best spot for anyone into the preppy look. Some of the hottest sweater designs, sport jackets, and classic style shirts line the racks here. For the gals, the neighboring Vietnam: Moda offers up some trendy local takes on Asian design.

If you’re a bit more informal than the preppy type, visit the completely hip and casual Antique Denim shop just a block away, where new takes on old jeans and vintage clothing makeovers are the order of the day. A mere block further on you’ll find yourself at Bolivia, which somehow manages to combine gay style and equally intriguing designs for women as well.

Moving over to the parallel Armenia Street, women discover trendy suburban and country style looks at Awada, or edgy, urban designs at Janet Wise . For those missing out on their high end skin care products, Kiehl’s of New York has just opened up a Buenos Aires branch on the same block, bringing in their whole range of products direct from the Big Apple.

There are plenty of other shops to poke your head into along the way, but there are two musts to end your neighborhood stroll. For the obys, there’s simply no gayer design shop than Garçon García. Here the clothes are beyond trendy and you may need to use a fire extinguisher on the staff just to cut back on their flaming.

Meanwhile, the lesbian set, especially those with a true shoe fetish, have to end their walk at Lucila Iotti where some of the hottest designs in multi-textural footwear are on display in the teensiest of shops.

Outside of designer clothes, Buenos Aires is, of course, famous for its leather. The heart of the leather world, offering everything from clutch purses to full length dusters, is the three block wholesale leather district along Murillo Street. This is where you’ll find not only the best designs, but the best prices. Probably the best known shop for visitors is 666, conveniently located along the street at that same address.

If you’re looking for home furnishings and décor, by far the best spot to head is the Buenos Aires Design Center, located in the heart of old Recoleta. The design center is a two story complex containing a couple dozen shops, each specializing in one form or another of objets d’art for the home. If you reach the end of the shop till you drop day here, the upper level has a selection of restaurants, from the very casual Hard Rock Café to Primafila, one of the better Italian spots int eh city and a renowned spot for celebrity watching.

ART = LIFE

Buenos Aires is known for its art and architecture, and there are wonderful museums and galleries throughout the city to explore. For those who simply want a taste of what the city has to offer, there’s a convenient strip of museums, sort our own Museum Mile, that begins at the Palais de Glace with its photo and plastic arts exhibits, generally with a historical and political bent; the Recoleta Cultural Center, a free multi-space museum cum gallery that hosts a regularly changing array of works by contemporary and classic Argentine artists; the Bellas Artes, or fine arts museum, with its stunning collection of 17th- to 19th-century European art; the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo, a beautifully restored palace with each room decked out from a different colonial period, showing off the changing fashions of home design over the last two centuries; and MALBA, one of the finest private collections of modern and contemporary Latin American art. If you only have time to visit one museum, I highly recommend the Xul Solar museum – they say there’s a fine line between genius and madness, and this artist’s work may be one of the most amazing demonstrations of that truism.

Of course, you may prefer art that will end up on your walls at home. While there are galleries throughout the city, there is also one spot where some of the best are concentrated, the short, two-block Arroyo street on the edge of hte downtown area. Centered around the Sofitel hotel, this duo of blocks hosts galleries that contain everything from centuries’ old classic European art at places like Santo Stefano and Renoir, to contemporary galleries such as Palatina, Aldo de Souza, and the Holz that showcase local artists.

If antiquing and flea market wandering is more your style, you can’t miss the weekly Sunday afternoon outdoor market in San Telmo, centered around the Plaza Dorrego and stretching out along the main street of Defensa. During the week, the same Defensa street is home to some of the finest antique shops in the city, and an afternoon of browsing will likely net you something for your collection.


Passport magazine is a relatively new, ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay travel magazine. My friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who have owned and run QSF magazine for many years, launched this publication recently. It has received industry accolades. They asked me to come along and write the occasional article for this venture as well.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Domestic Partner Analysis

agreementUniversity of Florida has opened its benefits plan to domestic partners, gay or straight. The application for benefits requires that the two people swear to the following:

1.We are each other’s sole Domestic Partner and intend to remain so indefinitely;

2.We reside together in the same principal residence and intend to reside together indefinitely;

3.We are emotionally committed to one another, share joint responsibilities for our common welfare, and are jointly responsible for each other’s financial obligations as demonstrated by the presentation of two of the following:

– a. joint ownership of real property;
– b. common ownership of an automobile;
– c. joint bank accounts;
– d. a will, retirement plan, or life insurance policy designating the other as primary beneficiary;
– e. a rental agreement showing both parties;
– f. driver’s licenses showing the same address for both parties; or
– g. IRS tax returns showing the same address for both parties
– h. durable property or healthcare power of attorney granted by either party to the other

4.We are each at least 18 years old and mentally competent to consent to a contract:

5.We are not related by blood closer than would bar marriage in the State of Florida;

6.We are not legally married to anyone else and are not involved in any other Domestic Partnership.

7.We have been in a non-platonic relationship for the preceding 12 months.

First off, I’m all for domestic partnership benefits, and I totally understand that any organization granting them wants to avoid situations like a couple of friends or roommates deciding to apply for them just to save money. But, a couple of thoughts…

#1 & #2 – the word indefinite means: “unclear, vague, lacking precise limits, uncertain, undecided.” Although in common speech people often use it to mean “forever” or “a really, really long time,” that isn’t what it means, and this is a legal document.

#3 – I know married couples, especially those where both people work, who couldn’t qualify with two of those, though I do think it’s a reasonable list.

#4 – If someone happens to be mentally incompetent to consent, but consents, how does that affect the contract? Not being a lawyer, I haven’t a clue.

#5 – Though on the face of it completely sensible, it brings to mind a wide array of jokes, many of which are often told about folks in the south…

#6 – Shouldn’t there be some way of phrasing this in the singular for each person?

#7 – Already the butt of internet jokes making the rounds on this one, and selected out for particular taunting by Randy over at This Is True this week. As he pointed out, many married couples swearing to that would be lying. As I pointed out to him in return, the statement doesn’t require them to swear to being in a sexual relationship with each other, nor does it require they be monogamous, merely that they state, in essence, that they’ve been engaged in sexual activity during the preceding year…

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Gay Bomb

Gay Bomb 2The Gay Bomb
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That’s our national military’s policy on homosexuality. (By the way, I was in ROTC back in college in the mid-70s, I told when asked, it didn’t stop them from admitting me to the program – though, of course, that was before the policy, it was during the “no way you’re getting in” era. I was also once interviewed by the CIA, originally for a position in psychological profiling, but then was offered a position in data analysis – they asked, I told, they still offered. Who knows?)

Regardless, the policy is clearly for our military, not our enemies:

“Category # 3: Chemicals that affect human behavior so that discipline and morale in enemy units is adversely affected. One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior.”

This from the Wright Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, part of a 1994 study paper entitled “Harassing, Annoying, and “Bad Guy” Identifying Chemicals. The paper came to light this week as a result of efforts from the Sunshine Project, a biological/chemical warfare watchdog group. According to the officer in charge of such things, neither this nor any of the other silly ideas in the paper were pursued, they were merely proposed and discussed.

There’s clearly not enough detail in the paper released to figure out things like: How did they plan to test this one?

“Conduct tests to determine safety/toxicity for humans, then conduct field trials to determine initial and lasting effectiveness in various climates and conditions….”

(Some commentators have suggested that San Francisco’s Castro district and New York’s Greenwich Village might have been test sites…)

If homosexuality is a combination of “nature and nurture”, as is generally believed, just exactly what sort of chemical was going to convert heterosexuals to homosexuals? Did someone really think that just by making soldiers super-horny (aren’t they already?) they would drop their weapons, stop listening to their orders, and jump each other in the foxholes… so to speak?

On the flip side of this, and in a clearly clairvoyant moment, Weekly World News reported way back in August of last year that:

“Extremist Muslim scientists are developing a bomb that turns anyone within a 30-mile radius of its blast into a homosexual, say U.S. Intelligence insiders.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Exploring South Australia

Passport Magazine
Issue 15 – April 2003

GLOBETROTTING – Exploring South Australia

thornpark1If your idea of an Australian vacation is hanging out at the 24/7 gay bars of Sydney’s Oxford Street then South Australia is not for you. For my money, a vacation means getting away from the hustle and bustle and need to constantly do things, and the wine and hill country of the Clare and Barossa Valleys is a great option. I’m seriously into food, wine, and true relaxation, so I naturally put South Australia on my “must do” list. Exploring wineries, small farms, wildlife parks, and the countryside are just a few of the things that await the intrepid traveler.

I started my vacating by winging my way into Adelaide. Flights from the United States tend to connect through Melbourne or Sydney. You can also arrive by rail from either of those stopovers. The city proper is a square mile of only about 40,000 people, ringed by a manicured parkland. Just across a small river, North Adelaide is half the size and is the center of the main historic district with many beautiful homes and buildings worth exploring. Overall, Adelaide’s suburbs take up 140 square miles, populated by over a million people.

There are many places to stay in Adelaide, from small boutique hotels to modern luxury towers. Two places that exemplify this spectrum are The Embassy, a new luxury apartment tower on the North Terrace (www.pacifichotelscorporation.com.au), and the quirky Fire Station Inn in North Adelaide. The latter is a converted firehouse that rates five stars in most travel guides with huge, well appointed rooms, and, for the ground floor unit, a restored antique fire engine parked in the bedroom (www.adelaideheritage.com/firestation.html). This conjured up some interesting fantasies for me, as I never outgrew wanting to be a fireman.

A day or two to explore this city with its beautiful art museums, lively pub scene, and many fine dining restaurants gets the ball rolling. I spent a morning wandering the Central Market and its many food shops, including “Stall 55” that sells reasonably authentic “bush tucker” (indigenous Australian foods). I also viewed some of the more fascinating indigenous peoples’ exhibits at both the South Australian Museum and the Tandanya Art Gallery. If you’d like a truly personalized tour of the city and its bounty, touch base with Tourabout Adelaide where they can set you up with an individual guide. (www.touraboutadelaide.com.au)

Before long it was time to drop in at the Universal Wine Bar and have a glass or two of the local vino. One of Australia’s most famous chefs works the range at The Grange, a haute cuisine establishment that serves a unique tasting menu of love it or hate it fare. If you’re interested in a modern take on many of the unique ingredients of the Australian outback, drop in for dinner at Red Ochre, a floating restaurant on Torrens Lake, just off the North Terrace.

Perfect timing would have your visit coincide with Adelaide’s famed Feast. This is a gay and lesbian extravaganza of cultural, political and social events that takes place over a month-long period in late October and early November. Whether it’s a discussion group on gender identity, a picnic in the park, an evening of music, or a stunning drag show, everything and everyone is included. (www.feast.org.au)

natwinecenterBefore heading out to the countryside, a mandatory stop is the National Wine Centre of Australia which features a fascinating interactive museum dedicated to fermented grape juice and the people who make it. While there, drop in for a glass or two and a bite at de Castella’s, the Centre’s delightful restaurant. In a fun reversal of typical menus, this one lists the wines available by the glass and offers some suggested pairings of dishes that the chef can whip up.

When visiting the wine country you will need to rent a car, and keep in mind that whole driving on the wrong side of the road thing. My introduction to some of Australia’s finest white wines, especially those made from Riesling, begins in Clare Valley. Most wineries here have tasting rooms, and some even have organized tours. I found some of the more fascinating happenings at the smaller venues like Mount Horrock’s, Grosset, and Knappstein, but don’t neglect the bigger wineries where there might be a chance to sample a bigger selection.

thornpark2There are two absolutely delightful places I recommend for accommodation in Clare Valley. The first, gay owned and operated Thorn Park Country House, is located in the Sevenhill area. Long-time partners David Hay and Michael Speers have put together one of the coolest guest houses at which you’ll ever stay. Beautifully furnished and appointed private rooms are located in a century and half old homestead on 65 acres of rolling hills. Here you can kick back and relax, or take advantage of art and cooking classes offered on site. Deliciously prepared breakfast and dinner are included in the package. (www.thornpark.com.au)

The second place is the gorgeous 19th century Martindale Hall. A perfectly restored and maintained museum home, the rooms are available for rental packages for individuals or small groups. As an active museum, you’ll have to vacate the premises during the day (your belongings safely stowed away), but come evening, dinner is served in formal manor style, and the classic rooms are prepared for sleeping like a nobleman or noblewoman. (www.martindalehall.com)

After enjoying some of the pleasures of Clare Valley, take a short drive over the hills to the Barossa Valley. Here Shiraz is king, and some of Australia’s best examples are available. I wouldn’t dream of missing the tasting rooms at Peter Lehmann, Henschke and Kilikanoon for award winning representatives of the class. Lunch at the famed Bridgewater Mill affords samples of some of the best modern Australian fare in the South. For a Mediterranean-Australian fusion, the Vintner’s Bar & Grill is a great choice.

To arrange an individually planned tour of the region, with a focus on food and wine, contact A Taste of South Australia (www.tastesa.com.au). Whether it’s driving, cycling, hiking or even a private limousine, you can’t beat having people who know the right connections on your team.

If you have the time and feel adventurous, there are other wine regions to explore, including McLaren Vale and the other “Southern Vales“, the Adelaide Hills, Coonawarra and many more. For more information about South Australia visit www.southaustralia.com


Passport magazine is a relatively new, ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay travel magazine. My friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who have owned and run QSF magazine for many years, launched this publication recently. It has received industry accolades. They asked me to come along and write the occasional article for this venture as well.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Great Wines For the Discerning Connoisseur

Q San Francisco
September 2002
Pages 44-45

greatwinesdiscerningIt’s hard to be the arbiter of fashion. But somebody’s got to do it. When the question of fashion is not Yohji Yamamoto versus K-Mart, but wine, the average consumer takes one of two well-defined paths. Either leads to the same result.

The first, I shall call the “pansy,” defined by my dictionary as “a man or boy considered childish or unassertive”. There are other definitions, but I’m sticking with this one. A pansy announces, with practiced timidity, a complete lack of knowledge of wine. He then proceeds to order the same wine that he has ordered at every dinner, at every restaurant, for as long as any of his friends can remember. It’s the same wine to be found in his home. Always.

Now, this same individual would never take the same approach to his wardrobe fashion. If so, he’d still be wearing brown Farrah corduroys that are just a little too short, a white shirt buttoned to the throat, and, no doubt, a pocket protector.

The second, I call the “narcissus”, only because I’m in a floral-print mode. This is that person in each of our lives who is in love with the timber of his own voice. He has an opinion on everything, and, regardless of whether soundly based, is going to share it with you. He will order “an amusing little wine which shows great promise.” It will no doubt be the same wine he has ordered at every dinner, at every restaurant…

Now, he wouldn’t be caught dead still wearing his blue blazer with gold buttons and the white shirt with the monogrammed pocket that he used to wear in debate club. Would he?

When I go out shopping for clothing, I’m the first (well, one of the first) to admit that I’m vaguely clueless. I’ve learned to ask for help, usually from whomever is the current boyfriend. They always tell me they have better fashion sense than I do. Maybe they do. All I know is that other than having heard them endlessly discussed, I basically don’t know the difference between D&G and H&M.

So that’s how I end up here, offering up the latest in wine fashion. Because hopefully, somewhere out there, one or more of you will decide not to take the pansy or narcissus fork in the road. You will strike out in fresh directions, creeping over boundaries, taking over the winelist and trying something, new.

For those of you willing to explore, I give you new wines. Trust me, your friends will stare at the new you in awe; much like when you showed up to that soiree in lime-green capri pants and a teal fishnet tank. At least you’ll be drinking good wine.

Over the past few years it has become completely acceptable to drink South African wine. Yet, for most consumers, these wines are still unknown. The grapes are not all that unusual: Chenin Blanc (the main white wine of the Loire Valley in France) and Sauvignon Blanc are the mainstays of the whites and Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Pinotage (South Africa’s unique red crossing of Pinot Noir and Hermitage, the local name for Cinsault) make up the bulk of the reds.

The wines you shouldn’t miss: Ken Forrester Chenin Blanc and his dessert wine “T”; Martin Meinert Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend; de Trafford Chenin Blanc and Shiraz; Fairview Pinotage “Primo”; Spice Route “Flagship” Pinotage and Shiraz; Hamilton Russell Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; Glen Carlou “Grand Classique”; Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc; and Fleur du Cap “Noble Riesling” for dessert.

Everyone has heard of Beaujolais, especially in the context of Nouveau when it’s released in late November. And we’ve all drunk our share of these simple, fruity wines made from the Gamay grape. How many of your inner circle know that the Beaujolais region has ten “crus” or declared top-quality vineyards? How many know that there is Beaujolais Blanc and Rosé?

Here is one from each of the crus I know you and your guests will enjoy. On the lighter side, try Domaine Berrod Fleurie, Bernard Santé Chenas, Pascal Granger Julienas, and Christophe Pacalet Chiroubles, Raymond Mathelin et Fils St.-Amour. On the medium to full bodied side, pull the cork on a bottle of Alain Michaud Brouilly, Bernard Dalicieux Moulin-à-Vent, Château Thivin Côte-de-Brouilly, Domaine des Souchons Morgon, Château de Pizay Régnié. And just so you can look especially chic next time you want a Chardonnay, turn to Terres Dorées Beaujolais Blanc.


Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Shaping Up For Summer

Q San Francisco
May 2001
Pages 42-43

Shaping Up For Summer
The key to success is a positive attitude and healthy food!

I love going to the gym. I really do. I’m not a body-builder, far from it. I enjoy working up a little sweat and feeling like I’m doing something constructive with my body, but I’m not in it for pain and gain. I like the people watching.

Everyone is getting ready for summer. 24-7-365, they’re getting ready for summer. Doesn’t matter if it’s January 2nd and they’re working off that New Year’s resolution, or it’s Labor Day and they want to look good for the last weekend tea dance.

Mostly, I love the routines that people have worked up for themselves. I’m not talking about the hardcore body-builders, though even some of them have fascinating workouts. I’m talking about the average guy or gal like you and me.

I have a friend who goes to the gym every day – to read the New York Times online. He sits on one of these new high-tech exer-cycles with an Internet hookup and pedals his way through. He manages to get in an hour and a half of bicycling a day. He covers a simulated five miles. He doesn’t pedal too fast, because he wouldn’t be able to read the screen.

Recently, I listened in as two guys talked about doing crunches. One was so proud of his abs, which indeed were rippling away. He told the other how he was managing to make it through a hundred crunches each day. The other, whose abs were somewhere lost beneath a layer of too many doughnuts, decried his genetics. “I do between 500 and 1000 crunches, and look – nothing!

His friend exclaimed in disbelief, so he set out to demonstrate. Somewhere around 50, the youngster with the six-pack murmured that perhaps the crunches would work better if his shoulders actually came up off the mat.

The diets people talk about at the gym are also amusing. I have listened in on tales of Pritikin, Atkins, mastering zones, grapefruit, Fitonics, Suzanne Somers, 5-day Miracles, Beverley Hills, low-fat, high-fat, low-carb, high-carb, low protein, high protein, and cabbage soup. I’ve heard tales of weight loss that range from a pound a month to five pounds a day. Of course, none of them came from people who you’d want modeling in the latest swimsuit issue.

I recently returned from a vacation where I stayed at a clothing optional resort. During the first couple of hours, I couldn’t help myself. Guys who, in my mind at least, shouldn’t have taken their clothes off alone in a dark room were wandering around in the buff. Meanwhile, other men who should have been bronzed and placed on a pedestal were under wraps.

Before long I realized that there was a mix of body types in all categories. As I spent my vacation chatting with and getting to know a good number of these men, I discovered that it really didn’t have a whole lot to do with what they looked like. Some guys are comfortable with little or no clothing, regardless of what their body looks like, others aren’t.

Some of the men who clearly spent hours daily at the gym were obsessed with every perceived flaw that someone might notice. Others were perfectly content to lay it all out in the sun. Men who probably spent gym period in the cafeteria were as likely to heave themselves glistening onto the pool deck or drape their torsos in a caftan.

So here’s the long and short of it. I think it’s all about attitude. You have to be relaxed and happy with who you are. When you’re tense and obsessed, everyone around you knows it. Now, perhaps that means long hours of therapy, deep meditation, spiritual retreats, sensory-deprivation tank time, or a facial at Elizabeth Arden. If, however, you’ve paid any attention to my columns over the past many years, you know that I’m about to recommend food. And why not? If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, that should include your own heart. If friendship is promoted by good food and good drink, shouldn’t that start with making friends with yourself? We should put things in our bodies that make us feel good all over. And I don’t mean a tab of ecstasy washed down with mineral water.

As for me, the ultimate “get ready to go out and face my adoring public” meal would probably be a big bowl of hot fudge sauce and something, oh, maybe just my finger, to dip in it. How could you not go out and have a fabulous night after that? But running an awfully close second is a bowl of homemade soup and fresh bread. There’s nothing better for aligning my stars, synching my biorhythms, and just plain gearing up for a night out or a day at the pool.

Here is one of my favorite springtime soups. It is extraordinarily simple to make. It is served cool, not chilled. It is filling, nourishing, and completely sensual in texture.

Cantaloupe-Yukon Gold Soup

1 ripe cantaloupe
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled
1-2 dried chipotle peppers
1 cup plain yogurt
salt to taste

Unless you’re opening a can, it doesn’t get much easier than this. Boil the potatoes and the chipotle peppers in water until the potatoes are tender. Drain and reserve a little of the cooking liquid. Cut the cantaloupe open, remove the seeds and scoop the melon flesh into a food processor. Puree and then add the potatoes, peppers and yogurt. Process until smooth, if you need to thin it out a little, add some of the reserved cooking liquid. Add salt to taste.

Cool in the refrigerator until it’s a refreshing temperature – a bit colder than an air-conditioned room is just right. You could sprinkle some of your favorite chopped herbs on it – if you can get epazote, a delicious Mexican culinary herb, use that. Serve with flatbread, I like the kind with all sorts of seeds on it…

A note on the bread – if you’re not going to make it yourself, at least go to a bakery and get freshly baked bread. Plastic wrapped slices of preserved, baked flour just don’t cut it in my book. Remember, we want to enjoy the meal!


Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Throwing the Perfect Oscar Night Party

Q San Francisco
March 2001
Pages 56-57

Throwing the Perfect Oscar Night Party

martiniglassI have never been nominated for an Academy Award. I’m informed by friends in the know that this relates to my not having acted since a production of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas in fourth grade. I narrated; Brilliantly, I might add. Regardless, I don’t find myself in possession of one of those golden statuettes, affectionately dubbed “Oscar”. Hollywood’s most enduring symbol of achievement was described by screenwriter Francis Marion as “the ideal symbol… an athletic body… with half its head, that part which held his brains, completely sliced off.” At 13-1/2 inches high it would be just perfect as a centerpiece on my dining table.

The true purpose of the Academy Awards, for those of us living in the forgotten fringe of theater stardom, is to see and be seen. It is far more important to be seen IN an Oscar de la Renta than WITH an Oscar de la Statue. The golden boy on your arm should be slightly more pliable than cast metal, and preferably earning his own paycheck.

In this regard, it is truly the Oscar Party that is more important than the awards ceremony. Who’s at the Governor’s Ball? Who’s at Spago? Who’s at Pagani? Who’s with whom? I might note, nobody’s asking, “what did they eat?” Lets face it, more than one salmon canapé and they’ll start popping out of their Cynthia Rowley gowns. Wolfgang Puck may have roasted his chicken breasts with risotto and black truffles, but it didn’t make the front page. As long as there’s champagne and cocktails, everyone’s happy. Not me. Personally, I can’t tell the difference between a Vera Wang and a Vera Charles; But I’ll whip up a Snapper Veracruz or a Pasta PrimaVera faster than you can fasten your seatbelts. There may be no statuette on my sideboard, but I can put a Veal Oscar in front of you that’ll make you forget about Cher’s new dress.

To throw a fab Oscar party begin by inviting those friends you can make catty comments about the movies with, get a big screen TV, and set up the dining table where you can watch the whole thing while you wine and dine. Also, bring out the good crystal, china and silver service – let’s do this right!

THE NOMINEES ARE…

Start the night off by preparing “real” cocktails, not cosmos and apple-tinis and woo-woos. If you must drink those, please do it in secret. Martinis and Manhattans are perfect for this sort of party; simple, elegant drinks. A couple of notes about Martinis: First, they involve two ingredients, either gin and vermouth or vodka and vermouth. Looking at the vermouth bottle does not constitute making it an ingredient – that’s a glass of vodka or gin, up. I know we’ve all been raised to think a dry martini doesn’t contain the stuff – it does – just less of it. The original martini was 1/3 vermouth. A dry one should be about 1/8. Try it, you might find out that a martini is actually capable of having flavor. Also, let’s put one fallacy to rest her and now, gin doesn’t bruise. You can shake or stir to your heart’s content. The only thing that shaking does is dilute the gin (or vodka). The same will happen if you stir too long.

When it comes to preparing cocktails, always use good quality ingredients. My current faves for vodka: Mor, Van Hoo, and Rain. Save the more commercial brands, albeit good, for cocktails where the other ingredients are providing the flavor. For gins: Old Raj, Tanqueray #10, and Junipero. Noilly Prat makes a good, basic dry vermouth, but you might try one of the new, interesting brands like King Eider or Vya.

In my book, Manhattans contain bitters. Just a couple drops, but like the vermouth in a Martini, they add to the complexity. A Manhattan is also classically made with rye whiskey. Bourbon makes a good drink as well, but for a change of pace, why not try the original?

Again, good quality ingredients are key. For rye, Canadian Club Classic (12 year old) makes a great drink. My favorite, Van Winkle Family Reserve (13 year old). For sweet vermouth I prefer Martini & Rossi. Also give a look at Vya, which makes a unique style.

THE ACADEMY AWARD GOES TO…

Veal Oscar

The classic Veal Oscar is a cutlet of veal topped with white asparagus, crabmeat, and Bearnaise sauce. With a little inspiration from a chef friend, here’s my, slightly different, version. Serves six.

6 thin veal cutlets
1 package of “dashi” flakes (about 5 grams)
3 sheets of “nori”
salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 dozen asparagus spears
1 pound lump crabmeat
½ cup rice flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup cooking oil

Sauce:
juice of two lemons
3 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
2 egg yolks
1 cup olive oil
1 branch of fresh tarragon leaves

Dashi flakes are dried, shaved bonito (a tuna relative) that are used to make broth. Nori sheets are the large green seaweed squares used in making sushi. Both should be available at a good grocery or certainly at any Japanese market.

You will need two small plates and a bowl to prepare. On one plate put the rice flour, on the other, a finely processed (in your food processor) mix of the dashi and nori. In the bowl, lightly beat the two eggs with a couple spoonfuls of water. Season the cutlets with salt and pepper. Coat in the flour, dip in the egg wash, and then coat well with the dashi/nori mix.

Saute in the oil in a large skillet until golden brown on both sides. Place on a warm platter in the oven to hold until ready to serve. Meanwhile, cook your asparagus in just a little water and butter until tender. Season with salt and pepper and reserve on the side.

In your blender, on fairly high speed, whip together the mustard, lemon juice and egg yolks. Gradually add the olive oil – you are basically making a light mayonnaise. At the last moment, drop in the tarragon leaves (not the branch) and process till finely chopped.

In a small pan, warm the crabmeat and when it is hot, stir in enough of the sauce to thoroughly coat the crab. Remove from the heat.

To serve, place a cutlet on each plate, decoratively arrange a half dozen asparagus spears, and top with a good dollop of the crabmeat mixture. Pop a bottle of champagne, or pour another round of cocktails, and seal your bets on Best Picture with a toast.


Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

ROME: The Eternal City

Q San Francisco
January 1999
Pages 26-30

ROME: The Eternal City
Images Brett Kaufman

roma1

The Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Imperial Fora, the Circus Maximus, the Sistine Chapel, the Borghese Palace, the list goes on and on. These are the ancient places you’ve read about since you were a kid. Welcome to The Eternal City!

Over the course of western literary history, more has been written about Rome than about any other single city on the planet. For the inveterate traveler, wanderer, amateur archaeologist, poet or artist, it is, perhaps, the one “must visit” city. It is hard to imagine a more fascinating assemblage of the ancient and the modern in one place.

During my years of reading about Rome two things always stood out. First, I was led to manifest visions of a city overrun by feral cats. Somehow or other there seemed to be more denizens of the feline variety than the human. When I arrived, I did find cats, scattered here and there, and indeed they do run free, but they tend to remain in small, localized areas of some of the older ruins dotted throughout the city.


“I should like to see Rome,” she said; “it must be a lovely city, or so many foreigners would not be constantly arriving there. Now, do give me a description of Rome. How does the city look when you enter in at the gate?”
– Beauty of Form and Beauty of Mind, Hans Christian Anderson


Second, I was led to believe that Rome existed as a city of fountains–which turned out to be absolutely true. Fountains are everywhere. Most of them are small, not quite nondescript. But the major ones are truly awesome. The foremost spouting water attraction in the world is undoubtedly the Fontana di Trevi, a massive, amazing sculpture of water and marble. A photo in front of this fountain, preferably in the evening when it is beautifully lit, is a must for tourist and Italian alike.

My fountain of choice is Fontana delle Tartarughe. Located in Piazza Mattei, this 16th century fountain has been modified by several major sculptors over time. The graceful sculpture depicts four young boys in the buff assisting four tortoises on their climb into the top of the fountain. The Tartarughe is also located near one end of one of my favorite streets in Rome, Via Giulia, the main street of the old Jewish Ghetto, now home to great little art galleries and design shops.

One of the most popular places to hang out and people watch is Piazza Navona. Crowds of locals and tourists gather round to watch artists and performers do their thing around this multi-block open space.

For myself, Piazza del Popolo is where I go to sit, soak up some sun and watch the world pass by while surrounded by four massive lion fountains that guard the space. Popolo is also known, by those who apparently know such things, as one of the piazzas where gay men and women congregate. Popolo makes a great starting spot for a day of sightseeing, equipped with gothic churches, ancient ruins and a fascinating Italian art museum.

Sightseeing is the major reason to vacation in Rome. There is, of course, the necessary visit to the Vatican Museums, especially the Sistine Chapel. If you don’t want to wait in line forever, get there early, take a walk through the Chapel first, and then go back to the Museums later. (Major tip: Don’t wear shorts or sleeveless shirts when touring Rome, especially in religion related places–Romans are notoriously conservative about mode of dress and will bluntly refuse you admission to most churches, and definitely Vatican City. The same is true of many restaurants.)

roma2If, like me, you are into really ancient ruins, a stop by the Largo Argentina for a look at the four Republican temples is well worth it. This square block area is also home to an amazing number of cats that have overrun the sacred grounds and are now considered kind of sacred themselves. A morning at the Imperial Forum and the Colosseum is impressive, however, access to the latter, and whole sections of the former, is limited because of crumbling rock and restoration attempts.

For the truly classical-oriented, a short train trip out to the 1st century city of Ostia Antica is an absolute must. I spent an entire day there exploring the ancient ruins. Some of the most fascinating mosaics, including a gym floor laid out in black and white tile pictures of naked athletes and an anatomical invitation floor mat at the local bathhouse, are a couple features sure to catch your eye.

Speaking of bathhouses, if you want to see what they were really all about, drop by and spend an hour or two at the Baths of Caracalla near the Circus Maximus. When operational, the Baths–equipped with gym, solarium, sauna, whirlpool and private lounges–handled 1600 people per day. You’ll never look at a modern “health club” the same way again!

If you want to be awed by a monument, go to the Pantheon. Incredibly well preserved and beautiful, it will take your breath away. Dating over two thousand years old, it is in better shape than many buildings built in the last century. While you’re in the neighborhood, you can drop by Piazza Minerva and see one of my favorite statues, a really cute little elephant.

The impressive Spanish Steps (with a great little fountain at the bottom, the scene of much cruising) is also, of course, a must visit. I prefer to start at the top, from where you get a full view of Rome, and walk down, though the fitness buffs among us will want to walk up. From the base of the steps you can hit the major shopping district where you will find every fashion designer in Rome along Via Condotti and Via Borgogna.

If you just want to relax and see some beauty, drop in and wander around the nearby Borghese Park where you can see everything from old villas to statuary, to a small lake, to the stunning Galleria Borghese (by appointment only).

DINING OUT

Food in Italy is, of course, a major concern. Let’s start simply. Coffee. More specifically, espresso. Two places serve exceptional espresso: Sant’Eustachio (82 Piazza Sant’Eustachio) and La Tazza d’Oro (84 Via degli Orfani), both near the Pantheon. Personally, I am a fan of the latter, but try both and decide for yourself. Also, in the late afternoon, La Tazza d’Oro serves a great espresso ice with whipped cream.

Ice cream, well, gelato, is an Italian passion. The most famous and most popular spot to get some frozen heaven is Giolitti at 40 Via Uffici del Vicario; with their array of flavors that makes Baskin Robbins look like amateurs, it’s tough to do much better. There is one exception, San Crispino. With two locations (56 Via Acaia, in the southern suburbs, and 42 Via della Panetteria, by Fontana di Trevi), they serve the most amazing ice cream you will ever have. The owners use only the absolutely best ingredients they can find: their house flavor uses honey from their own bees, their zabaglione flavor uses a twenty year old reserve marsala wine, their scotch flavor uses an eighteen year old single malt–an ethereal experience to say the least.

roma3You’re in Italy, so pizza, right? Not quite what you’re used to at home, but you’ll find the real thing here. Hands down, the best pizza I’ve ever had is from a little hole-in-the-wall called Da Giovanni, at 39 Piazza Campo de’Fiori. Piazza Campo de’Fiori is also one of the coolest places to hang out. There are several coffee bars, several wine bars (including one of the best, La Vineria, at #15), and one of the best open-air food markets you’ll ever visit. The other must see food markets for those who, like me, like to visit them, are at Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and, if you’re in the area of the Vatican, Piazza dell’Unità.

Now back to pizza; rather, Pizza Bianca–which is basically what we call focaccia. Simple, oiled, salted and sometimes herbed pizza dough baked light and delicious. Romans slice these open and fill them with a variety of meats, cheeses, and vegetables. The secret spot to acquire some has no name on the door, people just usually call it the “you know, the no-name focaccia place.” Owned by Salvadore Paladini, and located at 29 Via del Governo Vecchio, this is the one snack place you can’t miss in Rome. Have a Bianca filled with stracchino cheese and arugula while you sip some mineral water and stand around. Then take another one to have with you for when you get hungry later. Maybe stuffed with mortadella and cured Sicilian olives?

Few restaurants in Rome are really great, but almost all that I’ve eaten in are quite good. Here are the four that I would recommend you check out if you have little time and want to sample the best.

For lunch, Sora Margherita, at 30 Piazza delle Cinque Scole. This is a bargain priced osteria serving serious Roman-Jewish fare. Watch for owner Margherita Tomassini to serve you, with a twinkle in her eyes and a casual “signorine” (“ladies”) as she sets your food out.

For a simple dinner and great people watching, head over to the area around Piazza Navona. Hang for a bit and watch the world walk by, then walk down the little side street off the west side of the piazza to the corner of Via delle Pace, #25, and have a drink and dinner outside at Bramante. This savory little place is owned by friend Giuseppe Pecora. Tell him I said, “Buona Sera.”

For a great dinner and an incredible wine selection, you must visit Al Bric at 59 Via del Pellegrino–one of Rome’s newest wine bars that, unlike many wine bars, pays just as much attention to food. While not inexpensive, the selection of great Italian fare and wines is worth the tab. By the way, restaurants in Italy, generally, charge the same as retail stores for wine, so you won’t get hit with outrageous prices for your fave quaff.

Last, but by no means least, one of the best high-end restaurants in Rome is a place called Il Convivio, at 44 Via dell’Orso. Not particularly classic food and not even completely Italian, this restaurant offers more of the cutting edge of cuisine in Rome. If you want to see what a great chef in Rome is doing with modern multi-cultural cuisine, this is the spot you want to hit.

WHERE TO STAY

The fun thing about Roman accommodations is that you can live like a queen or live like a monk. There are plenty of good hotels in Rome ranging from really cheap to really expensive. Expect that hotel rooms will not be particularly large. In general, however, the hotels are clean and well-managed.

Hotel staff in Rome are notoriously helpful for making sure you enjoy your stay. Most hotels provide a Concierge who will get you restaurant reservations, gallery appointments, and provide you with directions and ideas for all sorts of things to do.

roma4If you don’t mind a room in which it’s hard to turn around without bumping into something, I recommend the Rinascimento, conveniently located near Campo dei’Fiori, at 122 Via del Pellegrino. A small (18 room) converted palazzo with modern, clean rooms, this is one of the better bargains you will find in Rome. Another good choice is Hotel Alexandra at 25 Via Veneto–a bigger hotel, with larger rooms, but still relatively inexpensive.

A last note on hotels. Make sure you have reservations and confirmation in advance. Rome is not a great place for people who show up planning to “wing it.” It’s a popular tourist destination and hotels rarely have rooms available for someone who just wanders in off the street.

SPECIAL NOTES FOR THE GAY TOURIST

Start from the following groundrules. This is a major European city controlled by one of the most rigid religious organizations on the planet. Living space is at a premium both in terms of availability and cost. Gay people have a choice of living with their parents till the day they “marry” or sharing a small apartment with way too many people. Friends expect each other to hang together, and they don’t really care about sexual orientation; they’re more interested in the clothes they wear, the movies they just saw, which coffee or wine bar is the present hot spot, and whether the sauce on last night’s pasta was made the way grandma used to make it. (Of course, that’s pretty much what you’re interested in as well!) So, it makes perfect sense that the only gay bars and clubs in Rome are oriented around tourists–nobody local really goes to them except occasionally to dance, or to show friends visiting from elsewhere that there are really gay clubs in Italy.

Generally, gay friends gather around their favorite coffee bar, wine bar, or at some local piazza–every clique has its hang-out. Cruising in Rome is not one of the easier propositions since everyone gives everyone else the once or twice over. It’s just hard to tell if they’re looking at you or at your clothes. There are gay events, dances, lectures, social gatherings. Some of them are by invitation, many are open to whomever wants to attend. The best way to find out is to consult one of the monthly magazines that cover the social scene in Rome. Try glancing through Time Out Rome (English and Italian), or Babilonia (Italian only), a national gay publication that also publishes an annual guide to the entire country in both Italian and English; or drop by Rome’s only gay bookstore, Babele on Via dei Banchi Vecchi just off Via del Pellegrino. The magazines and guides are generally easy to find at street kiosks.

roma5A quick listing of the more popular gay places; everyone knows The Hangar, Rome’s oldest gay bar. The best times to visit are Friday, Saturday, and Monday late evenings. American owned, it is probably the most popular (and one of the easier to find), with a primarily tourist clientele, though a lot of the Gen-X age Romans hang there too. A great address too: Number 69, Via in Selci, near the Colosseum. Nearby you’ll find L’Apeiron (5 Via dei Quattro Cantoni), a two level club big on music videos. For dancing, there are two major places: L’Alibi in the Testaccio district, at 44-57 Via di Monte Testaccio, near the Pyramide; and L’Angelo Azzuro, at 13 Via Merry del Val.

Except for the above-mentioned places, gay spots seem to open and close with such rapidity they would leave the Tasmanian Devil dizzy. Even a just acquired, up-to-date listing probably warrants a phone call to ensure that any given club is actually still there. Bars and clubs are also notoriously difficult to find. Most are hidden behind plain facades with little if any indication that you are in the right spot. They also tend to be in either out-of-the-way neighborhoods or somewhat seedy locales.

OUT & ABOUT IN THE CITY

A few notes about getting around Rome. First, you will probably arrive at Fiumicino Airport. Unless you’ve got an incredible amount of luggage, don’t take a cab into the city. It’s not a short drive and it will blow a huge hole in your budget. There’s a direct train line into the center of the city, you can take either a local or express, each no more than a few dollars. From Stazione Termini you can then take a cab, bus, or metro. Cabs, again, are not cheap, but depending on where you need to go, they may be your only reasonable option.

The bus system covers the entire city extremely well, but it can be incredibly slow, incredibly packed (especially close to rush hour), and very confusing. It is, however, only 1500 lire, less than a dollar. The metro, or subway, consists of two lines that cross the heart of Rome. To get to any of the major sightseeing spots, this is probably your best choice other than your own two feet. I’m a big fan of walking around Rome. It’s not laid out in “a grid” like many American cities, so it can be a bit bewildering, but you’ll discover some amazing little piazzas and sights as you wander.

A caveat about public transportation. It’s operated on the honor system. You buy tickets from machines and walk through open gateways or climb onto buses through doors that are not necessarily close to the driver. You are supposed to punch your ticket in little stamping machines located near these gates or doors. The ticket is time-stamped and is then good for 75 minutes. Within that time period, should someone official ask to see your ticket, you’re in good shape. You’ll see that a large number of locals don’t bother to buy or punch tickets at all and take a chance that nobody will ask to see their ticket. They’re probably right. But it’s a major fine if you’re caught without one that is stamped.

As far as I’m concerned, the one indispensable guide to wandering around Rome is The Blue Guide to Rome (Norton). This 400 page, regularly updated guide covers not only detailed instructions for getting to and from places, but detailed historical and cultural notes and tips. It also includes pretty decent maps that detail the core of Rome.


Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Summer Parties

Q San Francisco
April/May 1996
Pages 44-45

Summer Parties

You have an incredible terrace with the best view in the city. It is modest, however, limited to accommodating no more than forty of your closest, dearest friends. Your budget will not allow for any more than a few kilos of caviar and certainly no more than three cases of Dom Perignon – in magnums.

From my fire escape (comfortably seating two) overlooking the local chapter of the Hell’s Angels parking strip, I will, however, try to advise. My delightfully spacious studio apartment makes a swell place for a gathering of eight close friends, or six casual acquaintances. For my last summer party I invited fifty. Many of them brought dates. It was a raging success.

Summer parties en appartement are based on the well-known economic principle “KYSSS” — Keep Your Soiree Simple, Sweetheart! You need a theme. It doesn’t have to be something exotic like requiring everyone wear red or tropical fruit hats, or serving Hawaiian barbecue from a pit dug in your very own windowbox.

At my last party I chose Italian wine and cheese. I sent out incredibly witty invitations with Dante’s inscription from over the gates of Hell (in both the original Latin and an English translation) and a sketch of the leaning tower. I served Italian wine, beer, cheese, olives and those great hot cherry peppers stuffed with parmesan and prosciutto. There were still hangers-on when the sun broke the horizon.

Select your food and wine in keeping with your theme. There are, in my view, a few “musts.” A crudite plate: raw vegetables, fruit, and some kind of dip. Cheese: even though I have to pop lactase pills to eat the stuff, I love it. Bready, crackery, chippy kinds of things with dip. And, of course, something sweet like cookies or brownies.

You’ll have to figure out decorations, party favors, and your own ensemble yourself. I’ve been wearing black since the late 1970s. Not because I was anticipating its trendiness in the 1990s, but because I don’t have to worry about coordinating anything with anything else. I saw a picture of someone wearing a striped tie with an identically striped shirt the other day. My boyfriend, a designer, said it was okay. I don’t know, it looked awfully complicated to me.

Enough rambling. Let’s get onto some food and wine favorites for summer partying.


tomatoesYou have an incredible terrace with the best view in the city. It is modest, however, limited to accommodating no more than forty of your closest, dearest friends. Your budget will not allow for any more than a few kilos of caviar and certainly no more than three cases of Dom Perignon – in magnums.

Aioli Dip

Been there, done that, bought a t-shirt. It’s a classic — no one ever turns it down. A favorite for dipping those veggies.

8 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
4 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Juice of 2 lemons
2 cups extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor whip yolks, salt and lemon juice until pale and thick.
Slowly drizzle oil in through the top.
Don’t pour too quickly or it will separate.
When all the oil is in, you should have a thick sauce – hey, you’ve just made your first homemade mayonnaise!
Continue processing and drop in the garlic and parsley.
Blend thoroughly and then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to combine flavors.
Makes about 2-1/2 cups.


Smoky Yellow Salsa Dip

This one is a favorite at our parties – it’s just different enough to stop those chip-dippers in their tracks.

3 large yellow tomatoes
1/2 cup finely diced fresh pineapple
1 or 2 yellow habanero peppers
1 yellow bell pepper
1 large Spanish onion
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pink peppercorns

Roast bell and hot peppers over an open flame (hopefully you don’t have an electric stove) and rotate until skin blisters.
Cool and peel.
Meanwhile, peel and seed tomatoes.
Finely dice tomatoes, pineapple, peppers and onion.
Add lime juice, olive oil, mint leaves and liquid smoke
(okay, it’s cheating, but are you going to buy a food smoker just to make salsa?).
Season with salt and pepper (if you can’t find pink peppercorns, use black or white but only 1/4 teaspoon).
Makes about 3 cups.


Chocolate-Lemon Squares

Since we’ve got this sort of yellow thing going, I thought I’d go with a favorite that bolsters the theme.

Crust:
1 stick of butter
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/4 cups flour
1 egg
1 teaspoon powdered cocoa

Chocolate Filling:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup half-and-half or cream
1 egg
pinch of salt

Lemon Filling:
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
Juice and grated zest of 2 lemons

For crust, cream butter and sugar together (food processor is fine for this), add flour, egg and cocoa and process or mix until blended.
Grease and flour 9-inch square baking pan.
Press crust into pan and bake at 375¡F for 10-15 minutes until firm and lightly golden.
For chocolate filling, bring half-and-half to boil and pour over chopped chocolate. Let sit for five minutes.
Whisk together thoroughly. Beat egg lightly with salt and quickly mix into chocolate cream. It will immediately begin to thicken.
Pour over crust.

For lemon filling, beat two eggs with sugar and lemon juice.
Sift flour, baking powder and salt together.
Stir in egg mixture and add lemon zest.
Pour carefully and slowly over chocolate layer.
Layers will swirl a little bit together, but won’t completely mix up.
Reduce heat in oven to 325°F and bake for 25-30 minutes until firm and lightly golden on top.
Cool, cut into squares (6×6 gives 36 good-sized squares) and serve.


Summer Wine Picks

corkscrewSummer is a time for crisp, light wines with lots of zip and character. Well-chilled Sauvignon blancs are my favorites for hot day drinking. Choices should be “as young as possible,” with wines from the southern hemisphere being 1995 vintage and from the northern, generally the 1994s. Here are my round-the-world picks for this year

Starting in the down-under part of the globe, Cloudy Bay in New Zealand makes a ripe, rich Sauvignon that is best described as “raspberries climbing out of the glass.” Nearby Stoneleigh is similar but a little leaner with a more “green” character. A good part of the way around the world, from South Africa, the unpronounceable, but basically unbeatable, Buitenverwachting Sauvignon blanc is minerally, grassy, and perfect for summer drinking. Running a close second is the entry from Mulderbosch. Also from the deep south, Chile delivers up the tart and tasty Santa Rita Reserva. The runner-up, Miguel Torres, a top Spanish producer who was one of the earliest investors in the rejuvenation of the Chilean wine industry.

Moving north and way east, the French entries that grabbed my attention most recently were the Domaine Fernand Girard Sancerre “La Garenne” and the Domaine de la Charmoise Touraine “Cuvee M.” Unfortunately, my top choice for California Sauvignon blanc is not available on the market — the Araujo Estate “Eisele Vineyard” may just be one of the best to come out of the state. But coming in close behind, latch onto the latest offerings from Sanford if you love that herbal, lean style, or, if you prefer a richer, fuller style, try the new release of the Peter Michael “L’Apres Midi.”


Q San Francisco magazine premiered in late 1995 as a ultra-slick, ultra-hip gay lifestyle magazine targeted primarily for the San Francisco community. It was launched by my friends Don Tuthill and Robert Adams, respectively the publisher and editor-in-chief, who had owned and run Genre magazine for several years prior. They asked me to come along as the food and wine geek, umm, editor, for this venture as well. In order to devote their time to Passport magazine, their newest venture, they ceased publication of QSF in early 2003.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail