When I asked my cousin Kathryn, my architecture guru, what I should see in Andalusia, she recommended Granada and sent me this little limerick :

Dale limosna mujer,                      (Woman, give alms to the beggar,
que no hay en la vida nada,          
for there is no pain in life
como la pena de ser,                      like the pain of being
ciego en Granada                          
blind in Granada.)

Granada would in fact be a bad place to be blind for several reasons :
1) It is a hilly city and there are a lot of uneven cobblestones and stairs.
2) Fortune-telling gypsies who tell you you're beautiful and then want €10 would be able to sneak up on you. 
3) You wouldn't get to see the incredible beauty - both natural and man-made - of Granada.

Sierra Nevada

I had the good fortune to visit when the orange blossoms were in bloom, making the whole city smell divine.  I had a delicious melón y jamón for lunch one day, which is one of my all time favorites.  I watched the sun set over Alhambra and the city from a hill.  I was charmed by the white washed buildings with tile roofs, dripping with wisteria.  I got asked on four dates in a little over 24 hours (slightly above my usual average).  I liked Granada a lot, but all my plans went a little bit awry. This may or may not have been caused by a gypsy curse (see no. 2 above).  The only truly devastating snafu had to do with my visit to Alhambra.


Alhambra, as you may know, is a world famous castle built by the Moorish Emirs of Granada around seven hundred years ago.  It's a big deal and a very hot ticket.  In order to get day-of tickets you have to show up at the crack of dawn.  Once you're in the huge compound, there are lots of different buildings to see. The most famous of these buildings is the Nasrid Palace, for which you are given a specific entrance time on your ticket.  

I got to Alhambra well before my visit time and did the other buildings first so I could leave after the Nasrid Palace.  Somewhere between the second to last thing I visited and the Nasrid Palace, however, my ticket fell out of my back pocket.  It is impossible to get in anywhere without your ticket.  I retraced my steps; I asked at the information desk if anyone had turned it in.  No luck - gypsy curse.  So after exhausting outrage, attempts at bribery, begging, and tears I had to leave without seeing it or miss my bus.

But now, I have a reason to go back, right?


The City of Tiles

Lisbon is decked out in tiles.  Whole buildings are covered with their floral and geometric spiraling in navy, mustard, olive and terra cotta like the table cloth your grandmother spreads over her table on Sundays when your whole family goes to her house for dinner in the garden.  The city has a slippery glisten as the sun hits the tiles.

In Portuguese, tile is "azulejo."

Portuguese Kindness

At every turn in Portugal we were met with kindness, friendliness, and generosity.  Here's one little story of it :

My last afternoon in Lisbon, I met a man named Sergio with only a few teeth.  He’s always lived in Afalma, in Lisboa.  We were sitting in the shade looking out over the water when a pinecone fell – thwack – onto the cobblestones between us. 

He spoke to me in Portuguese as he went to pick it up.  I looked at him and at the pine tree, twisty and sinuous unlike the pencil straight pines I knew growing up. 

He brought his treasure next to me and with rough fingers began to pull apart the prickly cone, plucking brown stones from its womb.  With a rock he cracked open one of the little stones, offering me the soft whiteness inside – a pine nut.

When I sat beside a cone’s worth of nuts, he told me his name and asked me mine.

“Ah. Maria,” he said, “Maria.”

Depending on the kindness of strangers,


On our first night in Lisbon, we went to a tiny local restaurant. Devagar Devagarinho, for dinner and fado.  We got there around nine and were worried that the fado would never begin. 

Around eleven, however, they turned out the lights except for a couple of red-scarf-covered lamps that threw the room into a dim pink glow.  Two men with Portuguese guitars started strumming gently and sure-fingeredly.  They looked around at the crowd, a mix of old and young locals, talked to each other, closed their eyes a little ; they never looked down.  They knew the music better than they knew themselves.

The man who had stood behind the bar at the grill when we entered the restaurant came upstairs to sing for us.  The guitar player sang.  A short woman who also worked there took off her shoes and sang in a voice rough but breakable like the bark peeled off of an oak tree.

A group was there filming the real fado of Lisbon.  They shot the woman out on the steep stone-paved street.  Fado is important to Portugal - its name means "destiny" and it is their national music, part of the deep soul of the nation.  It is like the sea : melancholy and beautiful, with all its drama coming from its swells, the great crashing wildness juxtaposed against the sweetly gentle lapping of the voice as it trips from soft to loud.

A Portuguese guy who spoke a little English asked me if I knew enough Portugese to get the story. 
"No," I said, "What's it about?"
"Longing," he replied.
I told him, "I don't understand, but I understand."

A wannabe fadista,


Lisbon | Lisboa

Dear Lisbon,

This is the way I will always think of you, just the way we are right now.  Me at the white-curtained window, leaning against the sill looking at you.  At you, with your just after sunset haze of pink, orange, purple and blue over the river, with your bells tolling softly in the distance, with your roofs staring back at me and birds braiding the air with their evensong.



I'm traveling for two weeks, so I may not post much.

"We are all inventors, each sailing out on a voyage of discovery,
guided each by a private chart, of which there is no duplicate.
The world is all gates, all opportunities."



Words, words, words

Like learning French?  Me too!  Here are some wonderful new aquisitions of mine:

un orfèvre : n. a goldsmith
un requin : n. a shark (I can never remember this, for some reason)
une flaque (d'eau; de boue) : n. a puddle (of water; of mud)
foufou/fofolle : adj. scatterbrained ; n. scatterbrain
chatouiller : v. to tickle (adj. form is chatouilleux/-uese)
flou : adj. hazy, vague, blurred
un tube : n. a success, a "hit"
une serre : n. a greenhouse
un clic-clac : n. a futon
sournois(e) : adj. sly, underhanded, devious
éternuer : v. to sneeze (I always mess this word up.)
arobase : n. at sugn (@)

A logomaniac,


Oh hey sweet thang!

Last weekend I had a couple of friends in town, which meant a weekend full of semi-touristy things.  One thing they wanted to do, and rightly so, was eat French pastries.  I ate more pastries this weekend than the rest of the year combined. (Not really.)  Every pâtisserie has it's own unique creations, but some things remain the same.  Here is a guide to the staples when it comes to little cakes, tarts, and cream puffs.

 Le Millefeuille
A tripple-decker puff pastry and creme filling sandwich, topped with icing or powdered sugar.  Sometimes you get a little strawberry thrown into the mix.  The combination of height, crisp pastry, and soft cream makes this pastry extremely difficult to eat elegantly.  Not first date food.

Le Paris-Brest
Choux pastry puff filled with praline flavored cream filling.  This pastry is round, like the bike wheels in the Paris-Brest bike race it commemorates.

An opéra is a moist almond cake with chocolate and coffee filling/icing.  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what's going on inside the opéra...

La Tartelette aux Framboises
A tartelette is simply a mini tart.  It comes in lots of different flavors, but raspberry is my favorite.  A hard tart shell is filled with custard and topped with raspberries.  Simple, but perfect.  Tartelette au citron is PDG too - lemon filling with whipped meringue on top.

L'Éclair ou La Religieuse
The éclair and the religiese are the same except for their shape.  Both are cream puffs covered in icing.  The éclair is long and thin and the religieuse is two balls stacked on top of each other.  The standard flavors are chocolate and coffee, however others exist, such as the violet-flavored religieuse and caramel, grand marnier, and pistachio eclairs pictured above.  A divorcé is a religiuese that is half chocolate, half coffee. 

Le Flan
This is not your Spanish flan.  French flan is like custard pie, but firmer.  The butter-yellow slices of it kind of look like cheese cake, though the texture is different.  The taste is simple but delicious: eggy, not too sweet, and vanilla-y.

Le Cochon
Since the new year, I've seen these long patisseries dressed up as pigs all over Paris.  I asked what they were once and was told that they are chocolate covered in pink marzipan.  I kind of want to get one to keep as a pet.

Sugar and spice,


Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Yesterday was the most beautiful day of 2011.  It was sunny and warm and perfect.

In celebration of that weather and in invitation of its continued presence in my life, here is a list I compiled with a friend on good places to while away an afternoon in Paris.

Camila and Maria's Afternoons Outside Par Excellence :
(in no particular order)

La Fontaine des Amoureux in the jardin de Luxembourg.

Parc Monceau - no one minds if you sit on the grass.

Parc des Buttes Chaumonts.

Canal Saint-Martin.

Place des Vosges.

The Right Bank.  By that I mean the north bank of the river, especially between Pont de la Concorde and Pont Sully.

Sacré Coeur and its little park.

Parc Floral de Paris in the Bois de Vincennes.

Champs de Mars.

Square in front of the Centre Pompidou.  Watch some street performers and people blowing enormous bubbles.

Partners in crime : Camila & Maria
Enjoy soaking in sun-drenched days and starlit nights outside!

Making daisy chains,
Maria and Camila

P.S. Yes, I know the title of this post only makes sense in Cajun French.  Je m'en fiche!