Down and Out in Denver

The ATL, y’all!

Posted in fashion, food, gays, travel by Blake on April 19, 2011

View of Piedmont Park from the 20th Floor

While Alastair was in New York for the weekend, I also flew East, but further South: to Atlanta to celebrate my Gentleman Friend’s birthday.  He’s from “the ATL,” as he calls it, and so we were able to stay at his parents’ apartment; they were conveniently out of town in Puerto Rico celebrating their anniversary.  The shot above was taken from the balcony of the GF’s parents’ apartment; they live in Midtown, overlooking Piedmont Park, which was devoted this past weekend to celebrating the Dogwood Festival.  Aside from the first night’s storms, we had perfect weather the entire time and a really fantastic time in Hotlanta.

My previous two or three experiences there had been for conferences and I had mostly stuck to the conference hotel and its environs, getting lost amid all the streets named Peachtree (Atlanta could invest in a few more street names; they’re free!), but this time, with the GF in the role of Julie McCoy, I saw lots of the city I’d never seen before.  That first night we dined across the park at the Park Tavern, which was probably the worst of the many meals we ate out.  The Park Tavern is a combination of a bar specializing in beer on tap, burger joint, and sushi bar.  Filled to the brim with straight folks on the make.  It was all just a little bit loud, and the queso with which we began was of the creamy variety (not the kind I was recently introduced to by our Oklahoma Gal Pal, which is essentially just melted cheese on a plate and far preferable).  After braving the stormy weather, we headed to one of the neighborhood gay bars (the parents live, coincidentally, in the heart of the gays), Blake’s on the Park.  I was feeling right at home!

The next morning, after nursing my hangover with some Tivoed HGTV (I do miss TV sometimes) we headed to the Flying Biscuit for brunch. Love their name!  Filled with biscuits and a chicken sandwich with bacon and cheddar (I’m not much for breakfast food), our day was just beginning: a trip to the Georgia Aquarium.  Not only did we take in all the fishes and sharks, but the GF had bought us tickets for the dolphin show, “A T & T Dolphin Tales,” which had only debuted a couple weeks previously. Here’s the thing: the aquarium itself was very impressive and while the dolphins themselves were adorable and their tricks were fun, the show itself was pretty dumb.  They had turned it into a Disney-style musical with an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoatesque cape worn by some mythical ship captain who relied upon the dolphins to rescue him from a different evil ship captain.  Or something like that.  He sang about all of this drama and I got kind of confused. Thankfully we had saved the sea otters and Beluga whales for post-show, and they were adorable.  After that we needed to do some shopping.  The GF’s mother had suggested that we shop at Midtown’s “The Boy Next Door,” which seems to sell what my friends and I call “homosexual clothing”: lots of underwear and what the store itself calls “exciting summer swimwear.”  We went to Buckhead instead, home to two large malls. This is all I have to say about Buckhead’s malls: Alastair may be excited about the new H&M, but Atlanta has us beat.  There was a Vince and a Theory.  Be still my heart.

That night we dined at South City Kitchen.  Delicious.  Appetizers: fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and red pepper coulis; pork barbecue on a scallion hoecake with slaw.  Entrees: jambalaya and buttermilk fried chicken.  Dessert: banana pudding and pecan pie.  Desserts were not as great as everything else, but the meal itself was wonderful, including the GF’s “Country Thyme” lemonade: spiked lemonade with fresh thyme.  Our waitress, Autumn, was a little loopy, but very friendly.  And the neighbors at the next table, a flight attendant named Connie from Minnesota and her best gal pal joining her on a buddy pass, were delightful. While the GF was the only native (Autumn is from Connecticut), it was just southern hospitality and friendliness all around. (And, it must be said, just a wee bit of heartburn later that night, but well worth it.)

View of Atlanta through Botanical Gardens

But wait!  It wasn’t over.  There was still Sunday.  We had reservations at Watershed for brunch. And it, too, was scrumptious. Brainchild of Indigo Girl Emily Saliers, Watershed is located in lesbian-friendly Decatur, a suburb of Atlanta.  I had the shrimp and crab burger with fries and among the most delicious cole slaw I have ever tasted.  The GF got the sausage gravy with biscuits (that was the third meal in 24 hours in which he’d had biscuits; someone was missing his Southern home!).  We strolled around downtown Decatur, then toured Emory University, alma mater of the GF, and finally finished the afternoon with a walk through Atlanta’s Botanical Garden.  This must be said: while Denver’s Botanical Garden seems much smaller, it is also much more impressive and has, well, flowers.  And paths that lead somewhere instead of into what the GF called “traps”: seating areas devoid of flowers.  The ABG had just finished its “Atlanta Blooms” bulb extravaganza and was distinctly short on blooms of any sort.  A wee bit disappointing, but we hadn’t allotted it much time.

A scant few blooms at the Botanical Gardens

Finally, that night we dined in Virginia Highlands, another very cute Atlanta neighborhood, at Panita Thai Kitchen.  This little Thai restaurant, which had created a front garden for itself out of tubs of plants and herbs, seemed to be run as a one-woman show: she cooked, she poured, she served, she chatted with her guests.  And it was really tasty.  The spices reminded me of Thailand more than most Thai food I’ve eaten in the U.S.  This tom yum goong had a kick!  And the GF loved his fresh ginger tea and chicken curry.

We retired early that night to finish our taxes after 2.5 days of sunny weather, delicious food, and lovely sights.  If I had been skeptical about Atlanta before (and I admit it, I had been), my doubts had been quelled.  The ATL is delightful. And people really do say “y’all” quite a bit.

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Blizzard of 2010

Posted in travel, weather by Blake on December 28, 2010

Impassable Driveway

View in front through wet glass

Greetings, loyal readers, from the other side of the Blizzard of 2010.  Forgive the DOD silence, but I’ve been celebrating Christmas in northern New England. Above is what we woke up to yesterday morning.  We were trapped!  But trapped surrounded by ample leftovers and endless Christmas cookies; we had more than enough food, water, and firewood to survive. And the power actually remained on, which is rare in a storm like this one.

By this morning, the plow had come through and it was possible to get out.  My almost full 8-passenger flight left on time (after the most rigorous airport screening I have ever experienced) and I’m now camped out at Logan awaiting my second, and final, flight home.  Despite all kinds of dire warnings about overcrowded airports and delayed planes, things are remarkably calm here.  And thus far, no word about my own flight being delayed.  Fingers crossed…

Frontier Airlines: Where’s My Seat?

Posted in denver, travel by Blake on September 29, 2010

In the constant back-and-forth that is Denverites’ allegiance in airlines, I seem to have given myself over to the forces of evil. That is, United, and their terrible customer service.  Even as they continue to disappoint me with their silly promotions.  There are a number of reasons for this, one of which is the impetus for today’s post.  First, however, I will admit that I seem to have racked up more miles with United and thus get more benefits. This makes me prefer them.  I get to board early, check a bag for free, and sit in “Economy Plus” for no extra charge.  Frontier probably has similar benefits in their frequent flyer program but I just haven’t arrived at that level yet.

There is another reason, however, and I experienced it today.  When you buy a ticket from United, either on their websites or through another (like Orbitz, for instance), United lets you pick your seat.  Frontier does not, unless, presumably, you are an Ascent or Summit member (their silly name for advanced status in frequent flyer miles).  Frontier only allows you to choose a seat when you check in online, anytime within 24 hours of your departure.  The last time I did this there was one seat left, 14E, halfway back in the middle.  Every other seat was already taken and I had gone online a full 24 hours in advance. How was this possible, I ask you?  Today I checked in for a flight tomorrow night and discovered that the only seats available were the front seats with extra legroom. I could pay $25 extra and be assigned one of those.  Otherwise I had no assigned seat. That’s right; I’ll just have to wait and see what happens when I get to the airport.  Now of course my hope is that I get put in one of those seats anyway, but my question remains: how does everyone else get to pick a seat and I do not?  Even more: why won’t Frontier allow me to select a seat when I book my ticket? Aren’t there supposed to be certain rewards that accrue to those who plan ahead (as I did; I bought this ticket at least a month ago)?

Snowy the Cottontail?

While the cattle call of Southwest holds no appeal for me at all (just thinking about it makes me shudder), at least they are perfectly clear about their policy: check in as soon as you can to get the best number and a chance at the best seat when you make a mad dash onto the plane.  And other airlines are usually equally clear: select seat at time of purchase.  Frontier is playing both ends against the middle and I’m none too pleased about it.  I don’t care if Snowy the cottontail rabbit is joining me on my flight, I’d still like to know where I’m sitting!

Check, Please! Bay Area

Posted in food, travel, tv by Blake on September 13, 2010

I’ve been traveling back and forth between Denver and San Francisco over the past year to see my Gentleman Friend.  And one of the things I’ve discovered in my time in the Bay Area is a public television show called “Check, Please!  Bay Area.”  I love it.  More than I can probably describe to you in this post.  This is the deal: Three “regular Bay Area residents” apply to be on the show by picking a favorite restaurant and extolling its virtues.  When they are selected they are given the names of two other restaurants. All three people visit each other’s favorite restaurants and assemble for the taping of the show, which is hosted by Leslie Sbrocco, oenophile and foodie.  And this is where the fun begins!  They all sit around talking about their experiences at the three restaurants.  Things remain calm if everyone is in agreement about how wonderful they all are.  But that is rarely the case.  Usually at least one person doesn’t like another’s very favorite restaurant.  And it can be all kinds of uncomfortable as one person is either aggressively or apologetically critical, all while Leslie tries to smooth things over.  The production values are pretty low and the awkwardness level can be well nigh excruciating because many people in the Bay Area are WACKY, but it is, quite simply, addictive.  I can’t get enough.  I can talk about CP!BA in the way that I can talk about my favorite NPR reporters: obsessively.  And that includes talking about its host, Leslie Sbrocco, who is herself a polarizing figure, even amongst people otherwise devoted to the show.  I adore all of her quirks and her awkwardness; she drives some people insane.

The show is great, however, not just for entertainment, but of course because you can go visit any of the restaurants reviewed!  For instance, I have now been to two of the three restaurants featured in Episode 5 of Season 5 (above), neither of which I would have known about without CP!BA.  Marnee Thai (locations in the Inner and Outer Sunset) is the best Thai I’ve had in the Bay Area and certainly better than anything I’ve had in Denver (and I’ve been to Thailand).  And on Friday night, my Gentleman Friend took me to Chez Spencer for my birthday.  We had a true feast, which included a number of the dishes featured on this episode of CP!BA: the pan seared sea scallops with hearts of palm; the steamed asparagus with shaved parmesan and truffle emulsion; and the filet mignon with morels and truffle oil.  We also ordered the foie gras and the my GF had the venison.  We split the profiteroles for dessert.  Tucked away in the Mission on 14th at Folsom, Chez Spencer is a bit unexpected in that neighborhood.  And while it wasn’t cheap, it was delicious and romantic and the service was excellent. And we knew about it because of the wonders of Check, Please! Bay Area.

So what does all of this have to do with Denver, you ask?  I want such a show here!  I’m not fully convinced that we have the restaurants to support it, but I think we could swing it.  The show in SF covers the entire Bay Area — suburbs from San Jose all the way up through Marin — so they’ve drawn their boundaries generously.  We could even just do the whole state or everything within two hours of Denver, say.  Chicago also has its own version (in 2001 state senator Barack Obama was on to talk about his favorite restaurant.)  What do you think, Denver foodies?  Check Please! Denver?

Christian Radio Road Trip

Posted in politics, travel by Blake on August 21, 2010

My regular driving pals: Renée and Steve

I recently completed a little road trip all by my lonesome: San Francisco to D-Town.  Before leaving I dutifully printed out my NPR map (courtesy of NPRroadtrip.com).  I can hardly stand to be in my car without Steve & Renée; Robert, Melissa, and Michele. What I had forgotten, however, was that good portions of the drive through Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming on I-80 leave you out of range of local NPR stations.  I did have some CDs with me but for whatever reason I ended up just flipping through various radio stations until NPR came back to me.  And guess what I found?  Christian radio.  Lots and lots of Christian radio.

I don’t want to get into a long discussion here about religion. This post is meant to be about Christian radio specifically, not Christianity as a whole.  Here’s my beef: no matter the subject up for discussion the answer to every single question, problem, conundrum, or mystery is the same on Christian radio: God.  Why did it happen? God.  Who made it happen? God. How did it happen? God. When did it happen?  Whenever God felt like it should.  To whom did it happen? Whomever God chose. This may well be the party line in certain Christian denominations but it makes for incredibly boring radio.  In under an hour you quickly realize that there are not going to be any surprises coming your way.

Until I realized that there were indeed surprises, and not particularly pleasant ones either.  In one segment the host was interviewing Lynn Cherry, co-author (with her daughter) of Kalyn’s Secret, the story of Kalyn’s abuse by an older member of the Cherrys’ church.  While this is clearly a serious issue, it quickly spiraled into a condemnation of the “teaching” of homosexuality in schools, and of Islam, as the host trotted out the specter of the prophet Mohammed’s child bride.  But Kalyn, of course, was abused by a male fellow parishioner in the church where her father was pastor.  In other words, not a lesbian or a Muslim.  I was flabbergasted.  How on earth could these things be related? Was no one else stunned by these leaps?

And that’s just the news and “debate” portion of the show (the latter in quotation because there never really is any debate). The music, too, is all about God (or his kid).  Almost every singer either praises the Lord or hopes desperately that s/he could return to properly loving God.  While secular music tends to dwell on one theme (love and sex) a little more than most others, at least other themes do exist (revenge, sadness, joy, depression, California gurls being unforgettable).  Not so much on Christian radio.

Driving through Eastern Nevada (surely one of the ugliest places in this great nation of ours) I heard an interview with Cathy Liggett, author of Beaded Hope, a novel about four Ohio women who embark on a mission to South Africa to help AIDS patients. While Liggett was extremely articulate about South Africa, AIDS, and the novel’s theme of female friendship across racial and national divides, she also fell back into the same old rhetoric when explaining how she came to write the book. Why did it take her so long to finish the novel after she’d started it?  God’s plan.  How did she come to have the money to journey to South Africa to do the research for the novel?  Once again, the Big G.

I tune in to the radio either for music or to learn something new about the world, something that I didn’t know before.  It became clear to me that Christian radio might offer the former but not so much on the latter.  It simply confirmed — over and over and over again — what listeners presumably believed already.  It also offered up passivity and abnegation of responsibility as a strategy for living. If everything is God’s plan, what decisions do we actually make for ourselves?  Who is responsible for his or her life?  Most of the people on Christian radio seemed to think that God was.  And that left me a wee bit scared.

The Ace Hotel & Swim Club, Palm Springs

Posted in design, travel by Alastair on August 9, 2010

I’m quickly becoming a big, big fan of Palm Springs… And it has nothing to do with the clothing-optional resorts, Blake. I love the weather (even in the dead of summer…“it’s a dry heat”), the mid-century modern architecture, and the louche lifestyle. And my stays at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club have been a major factor in my Palm Springs good times.

The Portland-based hoteliers have really created a unique brand for themselves concentrating on understated design choices that feel comfortable and accessible while still maintaining a modern atmosphere. The sprawling complex—five barracks-like, two-story structures built on the site of a 1965 Howard Johnson hotel—features an indoor-outdoor spa, two Swim Club pools, and an old Denny’s restaurant, now King’s Highway and the Amigo Room.

Not least among the reasons I enjoy the Ace is their commitment to offering a number of rooms for under $100. I spent the first two nights with the Goldsteins in a King lounge that had a faux animal-skin rug on the dark cork floor… We swear it was a poodle in its previous life. The remaining days were spent in my own standard King that was somewhere around $55 a night (plus a $20 per day resort fee). The rooms were filled with vintage furniture, denim headboards, kaftans instead of bathrobes, and amenities from Rudy’s Barbershop. Off-white canvas covered one wall with French doors to an adjacent small private patio in the King lounge. Two additional walls of horizontal white wooden slats had pictures from old National Geographics hanging from S-hooks. In short, there was nothing to dislike.

The brightly lighted King’s Highway served up basic, but satisfying dishes, such as a chicken club sandwich with homemade mayo and roasted tomatoes on rustic bread. They have great weekday lunch specials for under $10, including a hearty BLT. I added avocado. They also make the food that’s served poolside, including a watermelon, heirloom tomato & burrata salad and a couscous salad with roasted pistachios, arugula, preserved lemon, carrots and chicken. The service poolside on the weekends is slow (understandably as the party atmosphere rises on Saturday and Sundays), otherwise no complaints.

What really creates the Ace-like charm in my eyes are the many interesting details: chalk board signs, pool lounge chairs constructed with flexible rope and beige furniture that perfectly blends with the surrounding mountains, hammocks, a giant macramé elephant head that adorned the wall above our brown leather booth one late morning in King’s Highway, and the field journal style menus written with old school typewriter font. Other guest perks include free bikes which we took out for a spin or two.

East Coat Adventures

Posted in bars, food, gays, outdoors, scene, travel, weather by Blake on August 3, 2010

While Alastair was soaking up the sun in Palm Springs – are you staying at a clothing-optional resort, Alastair? Enquiring minds want to know – I was having an East Coast adventure.  It all began with a work trip last weekend to Rochester, New York; continued with four days at a friend’s cabin in the Adirondacks; then a night in New York City.  I then joined some of my best gal pals from college for a road trip to West Virginia. For a gay wedding.  I kid you not.  Then back to New York, and finally back home.  Some observations about my ten days on the road:

Pandora Boxx

Gay bars in Rochester are fun!  Not only did we see Pandora Boxx, one-time star of RuPaul’s Drag Race perform live at the Tilt Nightclub and Ultralounge (more than a lounge, an ultra lounge), but we also hung out at Rochester’s Leather and Levi Bar, Bachelor Forum (a little lite on the leather and levi, it must be said, not that I’m complaining; they also have what can only be described as a gay sculpture garden out front), and the most fun was had at 140 Alex: karaoke, drag shows, great music, strong drinks.  Best of all, it was as mixed as can be: people of all shades and hues, ladies and gents, butch and femme, even straight people!  This is what seems to happen in small towns: less queer self-segregation.  DOD approves.

The Garbage Plate at Nick Tahou's in Rochester

Rochester is known for something called the “garbage plate”: macaroni, beans, red hots (apparently some sort of spicy miniature hot dog), beef, and a variety of other delicious elements.  Health.com has named the garbage plate the fattiest food in New York State.  Needless to say, I did not partake, though I did have sushi. In Rochester. At a restaurant that “specialized” in the food of at least 5 Asian nations.  And it wasn’t half bad.  The rust belt surprises every once in a while.

The Adirondacks are lovely in July.  Highs in the low 80s and overnights in the 60s.  My gal pals and I swam, we boated, we ran, we ate ice cream at a stand called Northern Lights in a quaint lakeside town sitting on a bench.  One of us (not me) prepared a delicious bourbon marinated (though he said marinaaaded) pork loin on the barbecue.  We even hiked.  In short, it was rather all-American.  And that was not actually unpleasant.

I love New York City.  Sometimes I miss it like I might miss an absent limb.  I used to feel like my life continued on there even while I was physically in Denver.  I am pretty much convinced that it is the center of the universe.  That said, it is a foul disgusting humid pit of a city at the height of the summer.  The nights were actually reasonable but during the day I was a sweaty mess and found myself missing the very dry heat of Denver, which doesn’t leave a boy feeling quite so unkempt.  That said, I must have lost about three and a half pounds in water weight just walking around in one afternoon.

The Hillbrook Inn near Charles Town, WV

West Virginia is beautiful!  I was a wee bit scared that four gay boys on a road trip to WV might well have difficulty making it out of the state alive, and while we definitely got a couple strange looks at a rest stop, we also had a fantastic time.  We were staying at the Hillbrook Inn, a beautiful 1920s Tudor mansion converted to a bed and breakfast and the site was idyllic.  Manicured lawns, patios and porches, and a stream running through the property all made it the ideal spot to lounge around with good friends for a weekend.  They even provide quilts for that very lounging on the lawns. The wedding party had the whole place to itself and it turns out that the grooms’ other friends were lots of fun as well.  We also ate well and drank ourselves silly.  In short, it was all a wedding weekend should be, and this is coming from someone who objects to marriage.

Now, alas, back to work…

Palm Springs Weekend

Posted in travel by Alastair on July 26, 2010

I could not be more pleased to be headed to Palm Springs this week, that desert oasis where the 1950s never went out of style. Yes, it’s going to be hot, but having a pool nearby and sweet tea vodka in my hand is all I’ll need to keep cool. Throw in a few nights at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, about a dozen of my best gal pals, and one 40th birthday celebration (not mine) and some serious good times are guaranteed. Expect a full report upon my return and, in the meantime, some vintage Palm Springs postcards for your pleasure.

Gay (Pride) by the Bay

Posted in bars, fashion, food, gays, parties, travel, Uncategorized by Blake on June 30, 2010

This weekend was a wild one for the DOD boys, both of us in San Francisco to see friends and my Gentleman Friend, and to celebrate the wonders of Gay Pride.  Alastair did more of the latter; I go more for “Gay Acceptance” than “Pride.”  It’s not like I had anything to do with it, after all.  As my brother is fond of saying, nature or nurture, it’s on my parents either way.  So, on to the weekend…

We started off with a Thursday night trip with gal pals of Alastair’s to Tubesteak Connection (vile name, huh?), the weekly party at Aunt Charlie’s Lounge in the Tenderloin.  The space is tiny and crowded with hipsters.  The drinks are strong and the disco tunes kept coming. Aunt Charlie also forbids the use of cell phones (even for texting!); Blake approves.  Your DOD boys danced the night away and then headed somewhere-or-other (memory gets fuzzy at this point) for an after-party.  Way to start the weekend off with a bang!

Chow on Church below Market

The next day started with a little recovery.  Alastair and I brunched at Chow, just below the corner of Church and Market.  We began with a couple salads; Alastair had his perennial Chow favorite, the Shrimp Louie, and I went for the iceberg wedge.  Mine wasn’t so great.  They throw in just about everything imaginable: carrots, cucumbers, radishes, olives, even a beet!  (Alastair’s was served with the same accompaniments, though he didn’t seem to mind as much).  We finished things off with a smaller portion of the fusilli with sausage and mushrooms (me) and a cheese pizza with arugula (Alastair).  Deelish!  But even more tasty from Alastair’s point of view was that we were served by DJ Jason Kendig.  Cause that’s the way things are in San Francisco: your afternoon waiter will be spinning at that night’s club.  The afternoon was a lazy preparation for a friend’s party that night: running in Golden Gate Park (lovely for a jog if it’s not too windy) and a little happy hour cocktailing at DOD favorite Blackbird.

The rest of the weekend was a blur of cocktails and recovery (I was heavier on the latter than the former).  Alastair, of course, attended the Goldfrapp concert in Oakland on Saturday night as well as Juanita Moore’s Pride Party on Sunday afternoon and evening.  I admit it: I skipped the Pink Party on Saturday night, where a good chunk of Market and Castro is closed off for pedestrians (probably for the best as I also avoided the tragic  shooting death), and I skipped the parade on Sunday.  Bad gay!  I did, however, dine with my Gentleman Friend at Memphis Minnie’s, a barbecue joint on Haight Street (their phone number is 415.864.PORK; they’re serious about their meat).  We split the Minnie’s Taster: any three meats and two sides for $17.95. Combine that with an order of their very tasty BBQ-dusted shoestring fries and I was totally stuffed.

On Monday we regrouped, stopped at Bean There at Steiner and Waller for a coffee, and headed downtown for a little shopping. I picked up a discounted blazer at H&M that will be perfect for a summer wedding I’ll be attending in August.  Alas, and despite all the sales, Alastair’s shopping ambitions were somehow stymied and he returned to Denver empty-handed.  We then had a gossipy lunch with some of Alastair’s gal pals at Stacks in Hayes Valley.  Their slogan is “Comfortable Food.”  Really.  It’s basically a diner with enormous (and very dusty) fake flower arrangements in gigantic urns, but in a very nice location right at the corner of Hayes and Octavia.

All in all, a very fun weekend was had by both of your DOD boys!

Blake in Italia

Posted in fashion, food, gays, travel, wine by Blake on June 12, 2010

View of the Ponte Vecchio from the Uffizi Gallery, Firenze

Forgive my silence of late (not that you’ve probably noticed, Alastair has been so busy in his postings), but I have been abroad.  In Italy, to be specific, with mi famiglia (that is about the extent of my Italian).  La famiglia di Blake rented a house on a working vineyard in the hills northeast of Siena (courtesy of la mamma di Blake).  We spent a couple nights in Firenze and then rented a car and drove south. When we arrived at what we had somewhat facetiously been calling “the villa,” we realized the description was not far off.  It was a house on the property of an actual eighteenth-century villa.  We were met by the scion of the wine-making family, who acted as caretaker for the rental properties. Pietro came in from a nearby field he had been tending, and, dear reader, he was seriously cute.  He was also a former semi-professional tennis player. Were I a heterosexual teenage girl, this would have all the makings of a summer blockbuster starting Amanda Seyfried. We would have had a romance complete with moonlit chases in fields of grapes and chaste makeout sessions in abandoned medieval castellos on winding lanes.  It would have ended in heartache when I returned stateside, but then Pietro would have…  I digress.  Instead let me share some of my observations on the pluses and minuses of Italia.

The pluses:

1. Gelato.  In all of its many wonderful flavors.  My two favorites — which, I kid you not, I consumed every single day — are caffè and cioccolato.

2. Wine.  As I believe I mentioned, we were staying on a working vineyard and while we consumed plenty of wine just about every time we ate (including lunches), we also got a tour of the vineyard and a private wine-tasting with Pietro’s older brother, Alessandro, who heads up the vineyard.  Though it is purely coincidental to Alastair’s recent post on the wonders of the rosé, I brought back a bottle of the very stuff that I look forward to sharing with him soon.

3. Wine, part due.  We mostly drank red — we were in Chianti, after all — but ordering a glass of house white in Italia you can be almost guaranteed you will not be served a dreaded, oaky, buttery California chardonnay.  It’s pinot grigio and soave and orvieto all the way.

4. Acqua gassata.  I hate water.  I need flavor or carbonation to drink the stuff.  And so I love that at all restaurants in Italy you are automatically given the choice of acqua naturale OR gassata.

One of the tamer moccasins at Maledetti Toscani

5. Footwear.  The shoes are gorgeous.  From the moment we landed at Roma’s Fiumicino airport, I knew I was in a different land because people were just so well shod.  The leather!  The stitching! The colors!  The shapes!  Women and men, boys and girls.  I picked up two hand-stitched pairs in a shop in Montelpulciano called Maledetti Toscani.  Check out their men’s selection here.

6. Eyewear.  Ditto above (minus the leather and the stitching).  The colors!  The shapes!  Italians just are not constrained by trying to blend in and the men especially don’t seem to be super concerned with appearing masculine so they take chances that straight American men would see as “gay.”

7. Which brings me to my final point.  Italian men wear clothes that fit.  And while some of them are tight (even overly so at times), this is not my real point.  They buy clothes in their actual sizes, not in the American straight man’s baggy large and extra-large.  This is bad in one way because one of the American homosexual male’s tried and true methods for identifying his brethren is to look at the fit of clothing and Italian men (like many of Europeans) are thus confusing.  But it is good for two even more important reasons: (a) it is so easy to find clothes that actually fit!  Stores there have real size small and even the equivalent of an extra small.  (b) Italian men look good in their fitting clothes!

Minuses:

1. The bread was surprisingly awful.  Dry, tasteless, floury.  As my mother remarked at one dinner, “And they’re  really not that far from France, you’d think they could figure it out.”  Indeed.

2. The showers (or lack thereof).  Many European homes still insist on those cumbersome bathtubs with handheld shower heads that you have to manipulate yourself while trying not to flood the whole room.

That might be it.  And when you’ve got a view like this one to come home to every night, complaints seem foolish:

View from the porch