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Tue, Jul. 1st, 2014, 02:48 pm
Fun, Positano style

Never say we people in Positano don’t know how to have fun. We do! We have great fun! Our Positano hosts know how to show us a good time, and then–before you can say Volare!–we know how to have it!

Fun, Positano style, starts with a free ride. A bus from the restaurant picks you up at your corner, or at your hotel if you happen to have one, and then wends its way up impossible hills on streets so narrow it takes a five-point turn to get around the corner, to pretty nearly the very top of the mountain on whose slopes Positano is laddered.

The views of Positano way below us are breathtaking.

Positano from above

Fun continues at La Tagliata restaurant when the waiter asks if we’d like white wine? Red? Water?

We are quite literally on top of the world, and we’re in a good mood. Yes, we say. Yes. All three of those things. And we are in fact plied with bottles we lose count of, house-made white wine and red wine. And water.

And the food! We are served endless courses of bountiful variety of food. More than enough for everyone. But still it keeps coming.

Somewhere around dessert time, the band comes out, and they begin singing the most tacky, the most schmaltzy, your-grandmother-would-have-loved-this kind of well-known Italian songs imaginable. But there is no groaning allowed here. This is the *fun* program!

Percussion instruments are handed out to every table, and everyone is encouraged to participate. And someone from every table inevitably does.

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But you’re not off the hook if you don’t want to stand up and play an instrument. You can still clap! This is the Positano Fun Restaurant we’re talking about here! So if you won’t even clap, we have just the thing for you. Handkerchiefs! Stand up, folks, and wave those handkerchiefs! That’s Amore!

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If some of us inhibited New Englanders require instruction, it is provided. And it works!

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But sooner or later, all good things must come to an end. The bus awaits to take us home. There are seven of us and only four seats left, but no problem! We sit in each other’s laps and make the acquaintance of our new best friends on the bus. Of course this leads to the ever-popular refrains of Volare and That’s Amore, and one by one as each group leaves the bus we sing each other Arrivederci.

I still have Volare stuck in my head. Can someone help me out a little here?

 

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Mon, Jun. 30th, 2014, 02:32 pm
Positano, my home town

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Okay, actually Positano is not my home town. I live in Newton, Massachusetts, USA. But for a week this year–May 3 through May 10–it became the home town of my husband Dan and me, our children Margot, Adam, and Clair, and our friends Steve and Susie, when we rented a gorgeous villa with the view you see above.

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Our last full day in Positano after a busy week going one place or another, we spent at home. For visualization purposes, I have outline this home in red in the picture above. The corner room with the Juliet balcony is our bedroom. The next two windows each belong to a separate bedroom, and the fourth bedroom, with a private balcony is around the corner. Below, a broad terrace opens up from the living and dining areas. This terrace has an area for sunbathing and a covered area with a table that’s great for breakfast, lunch, and snacks while enjoying the sea breezes. Below the terrace sweeps an extensive garden, and below that, vistas of the sea, where we can watch the ferries going up and down the coast and out to Capri.

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This villa, like many in Positano, can be accessed only on foot, along a narrow pedestrian street punctuated with stairways.

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Finally, on our last day here, I walked down the 375 stairs (okay, that’s probably an exaggeration) to our local beach, the smaller of Positano’s two beaches. There’s one very attractive hotel and restaurant, and the opportunity to rent beach chairs and umbrellas.

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Myself, I chose to follow the path that from here winds around the cliffs to the larger beach at the town center. 

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From here, I walked farther north, to the far end of Positano’s main commercial tourist area, where the views looking back at the town were–like everything about Positano–charming.

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Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sun, Jun. 15th, 2014, 02:10 pm
Views near Golden Grove – the Southeast Light

I would have thought that after some twenty-five years of having a home on Block Island there wouldn’t be much of the touristy stuff left that we haven’t done at least once anyway. But the other day, on the drive around the southern part of the island, my friend Ellen and I stopped at the Southeast Light.

Block Island Southeast Light

And–here’s the new part–we went in. There’s a gift shop in the ground floor of the light tower. As I peered admiringly up at the handsome circular stairs…

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…I became aware that a tour of the tower was about to get started. So of course I signed up. How could I not? This is exactly the kind of tower a person (well, me) wants to climb. The circular stair is graceful and elegant.

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The views from the top are expansive.

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And–best of all–there’s an actual functioning Fresnel lens! A moment’s diversion here. Fresnel lenses are arrangements whereby the arcs of the lens divert the light from a source so that instead of shining all around it’s focused in one direction. This makes the light source much brighter, so that it can be seen from farther away. I couldn’t get far enough away to take a complete picture of the entire lens, but here’s one of the Fresnel lens that used to operate at San Diego.

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The Block Island Southeast Light operates a green light that blinks every five seconds. I can stand right next to it and look at it without any pain or afterimages–and yet it can be seen eighteen miles out to sea. The light is inside a Type 1 Fresnel lens (large), of which there are only eleven or twelve still operating on the coasts of the United States.

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These two pictures are looking directly at the lens; here’s looking up from below:

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What the tour of the Southeast Light does not cover are the living quarters for two families that are part of the structure. This might be made into a B&B sometime in the future. What fun!

 

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sun, May. 11th, 2014, 12:57 pm
What I know about the olive trees of Puglia

Almost as soon as we entered Puglia (or Apulia, as it is known in English) from Campagna, we noticed two things: the landscape, while still beautiful, had gotten flatter–and it was filled with grape vines and olive trees.

And some of those olive trees looked really, really old. “How old,” I asked Dan, “do you think those trees are?”

“I’d guess really old,” he said. “Maybe two or three hundred years.”

The charming and peaceful Masseria Salinola in Ostuni, where we are staying, has some of these old trees on its property, so I asked our host Daniele how old the trees are.

“These here,” he said, “are at least one thousand two hundred, or maybe two thousand years old. But the oldest trees in Puglia are three thousand years old, maybe more.” It is very strange, as I write this, looking at a tree that was probably a young sapling when Jesus was alive.

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“Did you know,” Daniele continued, “That Italy produces the most olive oil of any place in the world? And forty percent of Italy’s olive oil comes from Puglia.”

Olive trees self-seed when left wild. If you think about it, this is not surprising. That pit inside the olive is, after all, a seed. All it takes is the right terrain and the right climate, and both of them are right here in Puglia. The original people of this region harvested the olives from the trees wherever they happened to grow. But the Romans, when they arrived in the region, did what the Romans seemed to naturally do–they arranged the trees in rows.

The olive oil of Puglia is good beyond all reason. As are the olives. We’d love to take some home…if only we weren’t already laden with some five bottles of wine… more liquid than we can really carry onto the plane, and only two days left to drink some of it down…

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sat, May. 3rd, 2014, 02:29 am
Munnar actually has a town

Munnar actually has a town, and it’s actually cute and kind of fun. This came as a bit of a surprise, since tourists don’t generally go to Munnar to visit the town. They go to Munnar to visit the resorts and spas, healthfully and ecologically sensitively set in the mountainous countryside, such as the delightful Blackberry Hills Retreat and Spa where we stayed.  They go to see the stunning scenery, to enjoy the fresh mountain air, and to learn about tea.

I don’t think that going to town even ranks in the top 34 things to do in Munnar in tripadvisor.

Well, true, the town is kind of small, but we enjoyed visiting it all the same.

There were, for example, craftsmen hard at work at their craft. This man is, I believe, doing something involving fire. And gold. And jewelry.

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There was a fruit and vegetable market–which Dan and I always find interesting.

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And maybe best of all, shops piled on shops in a jumbled pattern that for me was sheer delight.

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Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sat, May. 3rd, 2014, 02:00 am
At the top of the world in Munnar

Yes, it was our own choice to eschew the standard tourist fare and instead hire a four-wheel drive vehicle to take us to Kolukkumalai Tea Estate, allegedly the highest tea plantation in the world. But after about thirty-seven hours of bouncing around on rocky and rutted terrain that only loosely resembled a road, we were beginning to wonder whether this was a good idea.

Actually, I have slightly exaggerated the amount of time it took.

Also, you have seen pictures of the scenery along this road, and you’ve learned all about how they make the tea at the Kolukkumalai factory, so I’m sure you’ll agree that this excursion was in fact a very good idea.

We stopped for some photos at the entrance to Kolukkumalai Estate, with stunning vistas of the mountains on both sides of the–dare I call it?–road.

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I have this uneasy feeling that the haze, even in this remote mountainous area, may be at least partly smog. I hope I am wrong about this, because the place is truly beautiful.

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Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Fri, May. 2nd, 2014, 03:39 pm
Tea processing in Munnar

I’m sure you’ve been wondering how tea gets from those lush green mountainsides into your teabag in your steaming and delicious cup of tea. Well, wonder no more. You have questions, I have answers. I even have answers to questions you didn’t know you had.

First, the tea is picked. At a distance, you might hardly even notice the pickers in the, er, fields? of tea.

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The pickers are literally trimming the “tiny little tea leaves” from the growing edges of the plants, and they make their circuit of the plantation every ten days or so. Which completely explains why the landscape has that magical and completely groomed look.

The implement used for this task is a large set of shears with a collection box attached.

med IMG_3886After the tea leaves are clipped and collected, they are brought to the factory.

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I don’t really understand the tea factory. Yes, I was there. Yes, I took pictures. Yes, I listened to the explanations. But I was so fascinated by the antequated beauty of the machinery and the timelessness of the process that I couldn’t take in the words. So here’s what I know, and if words fail me from time to time, I hope you will enjoy the pictures of what I saw.

Freshly picked tea leaves are brought first to a room where they are spread out in large troughs to wither, which is one of perhaps many stages of different kinds of drying.

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After the leaves are withered enough, they are rolled, which causes them to lose their green color and become a kind of coppery red. I think this solid old “Britannia” machine is for rolling.

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Then the tea leaves are subjected to a process of “fermentation,” the term used for oxidation. The tea must be kept cool for this process. It is therefore spread out on a “bacteria free” cement floor. Fermentation takes maybe two to three hours. At the end of this time the tea begins to smell like tea. (Which is delicious!)

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The tea is then further dried, removing its remaining moisture to stop the fermentation process. The speed of the drying machine is the critical component that determines the production rate of the factory.

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After drying, the tea is sifted through a machine with different size meshes that extract any remaining fibers and grade the tea according to size (the smallest leaves are the best).

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All of the output of this factory is earmarked for Saudi Arabia. Except, that is, for the small amount they sell to tourists right at the factory either in bulk or in a refreshing cup of tea.

 

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Tue, Apr. 29th, 2014, 01:29 pm
Munnar – it’s all about the tea

Munnar is more than beautiful–it’s exquisite. First, of course, there are the mountains. Mountainous scenery, whether wild or cultivated, tends to be beautiful. The scenery in Munnar is mostly cultivated, and the jigsaw tea bushes growing along the slopes add something so beautiful it’s almost painful. So beautiful, at any rate, that your friendly photographer could not stop clicking. And clicking. And clicking.

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These tea bushes are low and neat-looking beneath the trees, but some of them are surprisingly old.

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Even the houses and factories and shrines seem to blend into the scenery.

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More views…

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Now, you may be wondering why or how the tea bushes are shaped the way they are. In the next post we will look at harvesting.

 

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Sat, Apr. 26th, 2014, 09:04 pm
Arriving at Munnar

I didn’t know about Munnar before I started researching the trip to Kerala, but it didn’t take long to find out. High in the mountains of the Western Ghats, Munnar is famous for its tea and for its beauty. And after the heat of the coast, we were ready for a couple of cool evenings in the mountains. So we asked our houseboat manager to find us a driver, and off we went! Wide expanses of rich, flat farmland, rivers, and lakes gave way to hills and these to the usual–and welcome–mountain scenery.

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We arrived in the late afternoon at the welcoming Blackberry Hills Retreat–which our very competent driver had no trouble finding.  There was a different problem about the driver–he didn’t want to say goodbye. He explained that he used to work at the tourist bureau and could easily show us the sights in Munnar tomorrow, and then drive us on to Kochi the next day. The problem was that we didn’t want to see the tourist package of sights. We wanted to visit the Kolukkumalai tea plantation, at 7,900 feet supposedly the highest in the world, with amazing views and one of (I think) only two tea factories that offer tours to the public. And Kolukkumai is accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle, an all-day trip. So we turned down our taxi driver’s offer. But he was persistent, and we finally agreed that he would drive us to Kochi the following day at the price the hotel indicated was fair. This seemed to make sense, since Kochi is very close to Alappuzha so that in effect he’d get some money for his return trip.  And so he slept in his taxi in the parking lot while he waited for us. The Blackberry Hills Retreat is built as a series of two- and three-story buildings cascading down the side of a mountain.

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Probably every room has a lovely view from its balcony. Certainly, ours did.

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Yes, you probably guessed it–those green maze-like bushes growing up the slopes and under the trees are tea! More on this in the next post.

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

Fri, Apr. 18th, 2014, 10:31 am
Views near Golden Grove

Last night’s sunset was exquisite. The sun’s moving north, and it’s now setting between Sachem Pond and the North Light. Streaks of clouds added vividness and color.

Sunset near Golden Grove, Block Island

The sun will also, alas, be setting sometime soon over our tenure in this wonderful location. We bought this unique piece of land the year my daughter was born; we built this house twenty-four years ago; and we have been coming here whenever we could ever since. We love this place, and it will always be close to our hearts.

But yesterday the house officially went on the market. The listing agent is Ballard Hall Real Estate, and you can view the listing here.

I hope whoever buys this wonderful home will find that it is a home not just for your visits and your things but also for your heart and for some deep place that defines who you are.

 

Mirrored from Ginger's Blog.

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