Farmer’s Markets are the pulsing heart of a town or city. All the colors, tastes, smells, the intensity of the busy shoppers and the characters that are drawn to the scene make for a vibrant visit. Whether you go to photograph or nosh, people watch or shop, it’s always a great idea to seek out a local Farmer’s Market.

In San Francisco, miles away from the posh Ferry Building Farmer’s Market is the Alemany Farmer’s Market. Set between two freeways and adjacent to the housing projects, it’s an unlikely spot for the bountiful harvest each Saturday morning.  Lots of families, eager organic eaters and people of all walks of life and ethnicities, all just trying to fill their bellies with healthy fare, meander though the dazzling array of local products. I often see Muslim women with headscarves bargaining with the Chinese vendors, Russian couples arguing animatedly about the price of cherries or seniors out with their shopping cart. The bread stand is run by a Brazilian family and the Hummus guy is Algerian. Blueberries are sold by a Russian gal with my name (I always walk by and say hello) and the Japanese cucumbers are to die for. Continue reading »

1 Comment | Filed Under California, Family Travel, Farmer's Markets, Feature

A few years ago I wrote an essay called “First Flight” that was published in The Best Travelers’ Tales 2004. The piece focused on the marvel of flying and how these days we fail to appreciate what we’re doing when we leave the ground and cruise through the air at 30,000 feet. I lamented that flying wasn’t a marvel anymore and told a story about my first flight, an experience I found astonishing and fantastic in the traditional sense because it was so unusual.

Other writers have addressed the notion of getting window seats whenever they fly because they don’t want to miss the extraordinary sight of Earth from cruising altitude, an experience no one had ever had before the 20th century. I remember John Flinn, executive travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, writing about how he would stubbornly refuse to lower his window blind to accommodate movie-watching passengers because his entertainment was outside. “Bravo!” I said when I read that column. Continue reading »

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The Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco opened this June and I had been wanting to see the William Steig exhibit for weeks. I had seen it in New York last December with my older son, and wanted to have my little one share the experience. You probably know William Steig from his hilariously sharp social commentary as a New Yorker cartoonist. His work spanned more than half a century. Bill Steig lived next door to me as a child in Greenwich Village, and was my godfather of sorts. I remember watching him draw in his back studio and he always let me look at his latest creations. It’s one of my great pleasures as a parent to share his work with my my children. I love reading his smart, decidedly sophisticated, always colorful children’s books but most of all I was thrilled his work was being recognized, albeit posthumously. He, after all, created Shrek, and as the story goes, he only got $60,000 for it!

Continue reading »

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, California, Family Travel, Feature, Museums

“The map is not the territory” is a famous comment from semanticist Alfred Korzybski that reminds us we can’t tell from a map what we’re going to find in the actual place. But a good map is a godsend and sometimes even a friend who keeps us honest and out of trouble. In this age of GPS and Map Quest, Google Maps, and Yahoo! Maps, however, some people don’t know a good map when they see one. And now it appears that AAA Northern California is laying off its cartographers either to save money or because it feels the online competition is too stiff. Well, John Flinn in the San Francisco Chronicle has a few things to say about that.

2 Comments | Filed Under Travel

apple tree I grew up on the East Coast and have such fond memories of apple picking. We would drive up the Hudson from NYC, ride on a hay ride, drink the most scrumptious cider and eat numerous homemade sugar and cinnamon doughnuts. I used to eat so many apples in one day I had a hard time looking at them in the weeks that followed! I have lived in San Francisco for more than 15 years and have been wanting to pick apples every year. The apples are ripe earlier on the West Coast, mid August, so I kept missing it. Finally, this year we made the trek to Sebastopol: two moms and four kids. We went to Gabriel Farm. Continue reading »

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Some time ago I was traveling via taxi from the Manila airport to the center of the city and was amazed that the traffic seemed to veer all over the road, unmindful of lane markings or what car should be where. To an American (me) it seemed complete chaos, but to the Filipinos it was smooth as could be. Everyone’s awareness was on the vehicles around them, not on their “right” to the lane they were in. Later, in the city, I was further amazed to see that when too much traffic flowed in one direction and there was room on the other side of the road, drivers simply crossed the center line and took over a lane or two, so traffic coming the other way had to squeeze over. Again, madness to an outsider, but it actually allowed the traffic to flow faster.

This sort of cooperative driving is common the world over, and is true in Cairo, as Anthony Bourdain discovered on a trip where he communed with Bedouins, felt most comfortable deep in the desert, and empathized with the millions of Egyptians struggling to get by. Things seem to work out one way or another when people cooperate, even when times are tough.

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Post 9/11 America is so scared of the Muslim world. Many of us have no idea about the rich and diverse history, food and culture of the vast and varied swathe of Muslim nations. France is a great place to introduce yourself. The French have their own long and complicated relationship with Arab cultures. It is a relationship influenced by Colonialism, Racism and their own fears, but the French also take a keen interest in the fascinating world that includes countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In my experience, the French are also great at tooting their own ‘inclusive‘ horn and criticizing America as an insular, ignorant group of unsophisticated, often obese, materialist workaholics. All that said, and having witnessed numerous acts of racist behavior when I lived in France, the World Arab Institute is a formidable structure, institution and statement. Continue reading »

2 Comments | Filed Under Museums, Paris, Travel

Travelers in the Pacific Northwest have many options for superb outdoors experiences, but an unusual one that seems to be catching on is positively, uh, radiant. Hugo Martin in the Los Angeles Times reports on the growing numbers of kayakers and jet-boat tourists cruising the Columbia River past the Hanford Reach in Hanford, Washington, America’s most contaminated nuclear site. Soon the reactor that produced the plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan in World War II may be designated a historic landmark and open for tours. I wonder if you’ll need to wear a lead suit?

(Via LA Times’s Daily Travel & Deal Blog)

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Almost 30 years after my one and only Carnival Cruise I still have a twinge of guilt over the tip I left my waiter at the end of my week. I didn’t know at the time that waiters relied exclusively, or almost exclusively, on tips from their guests for their livelihoods. My guy was too overbearing for me, and when I gave him an envelope containing maybe half of what he expected he just about chased me off the ship. When I learned why he was so distraught it was too late to do anything about it. Now a new book, Cruise Confidential, brings it all back to me in living color (and then some). USA TODAY travel editor Chris Gray takes a look at it on The Cruise Log blog.

Leave a Comment | Filed Under Books, Caribbean, Cruises

It’s human nature to push limits and one-up friends, so it should be no surprise that for some travelers the world’s dangerous places are the places they want to go. Iraq, for instance. Or how about Afghanistan? Jayne Clark reports for USA Today that while these places may not be for the average traveler, they do appeal to a certain breed, and there are ways to get in and get out unscathed.

1 Comment | Filed Under Travel