Sigueme el Corriente…

Anthony Bourdain has huevos. That’s for sure.

The erudite New York City chef and – self confessed – former drug addict is now arguably the food and travel multimedia powerhouse of our time.

The fearless provocateur peppers acerbic musings throughout his TV series, books and columns with enviable ease.  Maxims to make me slap my thigh with gleeful approval; “Vegetarians and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans … are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit” or “as a chef I’m not your dietitian or your ethicist, I’m in the pleasure business” and my favourite, “your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”

And he won’t pause after such quips and stare down the camera – for effect – daring you to respond. He moves on. He doesn’t really care what you think.

It takes courage to be that cool.

It takes courage to be this cool

Anthony Bourdain, whats not to respect?

Anthony Bourdain is also an insightul social commentator. Just read this superb post on Mexico.

Under The Volcano – Anthony Bourdain May 2014

Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—as we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy—the restaurant business as we know it—in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are “stealing American jobs”. But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position—or even a job as prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, provably, simply won’t do. 

We love Mexican drugs. Maybe not you personally, but “we”, as a nation, certainly consume titanic amounts of them—and go to extraordinary lengths and expense to acquire them. We love Mexican music, Mexican beaches, Mexican architecture, interior design, Mexican films.

So, why don’t we love Mexico? … READ MORE… (It’s definitely worth it)

A brilliant piece don’t you think?

Of further interest to me is that Bourdain omits a glaring parallel; that Mexico could be rather like Bourdain himself. The once seemingly corruptible drug addict, searching for global salvation as a preeminent food and travel icon?

Does that not also describe Mexico in many ways too?

Put simply, Bourdain’s redemption and his elevation to American – phoenix like – hero is just the sort of development strategy Mexico could implement to guarantee its renewal and perhaps a new position in the modern world. A cleanse and purge rehab then to emerge as a world class – safe and eco friendly – travel destination, sans the cartels.

I can’t think of anywhere more exciting to look for a weekend home.

Cancun, Mexico

Cancun, Mexico

Cancun is on the eastern side of Mexico and considered a gateway to the Caribbean. It may not be the edgiest destination in Mexico – towns like Cabo San Lucas on Baja are just too expensive – but it has everything we need for a weekend home. An international airport, historical sites, art and culture, beaches, heat and to die for food. And it’s entirely, overwhelmingly beautiful.

Cancun Peninsula

Cancun Peninsula, best avoided during American ‘Spring Break’

Snorkel around the sculptural installataions in Cancun’s Underwater Museum

Snorkel around the sculptural installations in Cancun’s Underwater Museum

Mayan ruins to explore near Cancun

Mayan ruins to explore near Cancun

 Cancun, Mexico

USD$116,000

This two bedroom delight is but blocks from the beach. Can you believe it?

Cancun 2.1

Una casa hermosa

Cancun 2.2

Fabulous brick patterned ceiling

Cancun 2.3

Love the staircase and curved plaster work

For the character-full ceiling alone, I’ll take it.

Cancun, Mexico

USD$94,000

Yes I know. Bourdain wouldn’t go for this beach front condo because it’s too cookie cutter. But he’s lugged his small daughter around New York enough to know that if the children are happy, the parents are happy. My three year old would live in the water slide playground below if I let him.

And since this condo is only one bedroom, I may have to let him.

Cancun 3.1

Oh yes please

Cancun 3.2

Apartamento muy pequeño? Tiny!

Cancun 3.3

Waterpark within complex

I think Bourdain would understand if I go with the condo with a dedicated children’s area.

OK, that’s a long shot.

I’ll take it nonetheless.

See Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations in Mexico here.

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Terror Australis

When Dorothea Mackellar wrote her poem ‘My Country’, I wonder if she knew her daringly dichotomous description of Australia would arguably become one of the most recognisable.

My Country, second verse 

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror –
The wide brown land for me!

I love this poem even if it’s a little done to death. It’s so darn evocative. I’m not often outwardly patriotic but reading all six verses leaves me awash with pride to be an Australian. I’m almost embarrassed to say it. Actually, I am embarrassed to say it.

Dorothea wrote the poem while enduring homesickness – missing her Sydney home – during a visit to London in 1904 and it was an instant success. Her insightfulness was known the Commonwealth over. As it is today.

What a cool photograph for the time

Dorothea in her twenties, around the time she wrote ‘My Country’

Now, I’m not sure how much of Australia’s terror Dorothea would’ve experienced from her family’s grand home ‘Dunara’ on Sydney’s jewel-like harbour. I can’t quite imagine exclusive Point Piper ever being so terror inducing.

That is unless the Australian real estate market was as terrifying then as it is today.

These days you’d consider yourself lucky to pick up a cottage on Point Piper for less than USD$25 million. Houses such as Altona, Elaine and Villa Del Mare continue to break real estate records.

I wonder what Dorothea would’ve made of that kind of Australia.

Just to give you an idea, this Point Piper pile – ostentatiously named Villa Del Mare – has all the luxurious bells and whistles you’d expect for USD$40 million including imposing Corinthian columns flanked by limestone cherubs and glistening harbour views from every room. It’s got everything. Except authentic character. It just isn’t for me.

At the other end of the Australian market, finding a charming weekend home in Australia for a modest USD$100,000 is easier said than done. Even cheap houses are, well, unexpectedly pricey. There is a smattering of properties around this price point but most are either studios (too small and hotel room like), immobile mobile homes (I’d rather a Jayco Expanda Caravan and actually be mobile) or properties with conditional ownership (retirement villages, serviced apartments within resorts etc).

My other issue in Australia is location. I just can’t bring myself to go beyond the black stump. The outback isn’t for me, nor is the bush. I’m not intrepid and don’t pretend to be. I’d like a coastal location, perhaps within 30 minutes of a pristine swimming beach.

And I’d like some balmy weather please. Too much to ask?

So after an excruciatingly long search I found an intriguing elevated cottage in Macknade, Queensland.

Macknade Map

Macknade is 12km northeast of Ingham

Macknade QLD.

USD$84,000

This two bedroom rough diamond below – in tropical Macknade – is just a few streets from the glorious Herbert River. The town has two pubs and is located between Townsville and Cairns in Far North Queensland’s sugarcane heartland. Children can be nippers at nearby Forrest Beach Surf Lifesaving Club and it’s a short boat ride to world class National Parks including stunning Hinchinbrook and Orpheus islands. Orpheus also has OMG day spa facilities.

The delightful tropical climate would also ensure year round swimming and an oft used weekend home.

Stunning Herbert River

Stunning Herbert River

I could easily renovate this charming little Queenslander and give it a traditional FNQ look to the exterior. I’d start with a wide, wrap around veranda and source two pairs of reclaimed French doors to replace the front windows. Cool white paint, pale grey Colorbond roof and new staircase. Definitely a new staircase.

Macknade diamond in the rough

The little Macknade diamond

It could easily end up looking something like this.

Macknade 2.1

The perfect symmetrical Queenslander

The interior isn’t much chop, but it has promise.

Macknade 1.2

Ripe for renewal

Macknade 1.3

Easily fixed ‘lean to’ kitchen

Converting the interior with reclaimed materials appeals to me and seems appropriate for a weekend home. Perhaps I’d be inspired by this kitchen below, sans wood heater of course. Is it too nitpicky to say I love the recycled timber range hood cover? It’s darling!

Macknade 2.2

Converted to this, the house would make an uplifting weekend home

I’ll take it.

Just as I leapt from cloud eight to nine and prepared to call the estate agent, I found this.

The infamous Macknade backyard croc

The infamous 1952 Macknade backyard crocodile

Oh my.

Dorothea didn’t say those dramatic flooding rains bring eight foot crocodiles to your back door while your neighbours reach for their shot guns.

Now that’s terror Australis.

So perhaps I won’t take this house afterall.

The drawing board beckons and my search for a weekend home in Australia must continue elsewhere.

Postscript: In the time it took to write this post, the Macknade house has been placed under offer.

It wasn’t me. I swear.

Remind me to send a felicitous card to the lucky new owner.

 

Kan Du Gissa?

Prominent American photographer and trail-blazing conservationist Ansel Adams once mused “a great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.”

I wonder if his images left even him deeply surprised.

His landscape photographs were often so epic and astounding not least because they were strikingly devoid of anything man made but they captured something natural happening; affecting and changing the landscape. Changing our viewpoint forever. True feats of nature.

Lyall Fork loomed large over Ansel Adams

Lyall Fork looming large over Ansel Adams

AA.2

Iconic Jeffrey Pine yields to Yosemite’s wind

So my question this week is – when it comes to extraordinary landscape photography – have we seen it all? Has the best there is already been reprinted on endless calendars and posters? Or can a scenic photograph still leave you feeling entirely surprised?

Utterly beautiful landscapes can still suprise

Astonishing imagery or obvious cliche?

I’ll boldly suggest this photograph by Thomas Uts would’ve appealed profoundly to Ansel Adams. It lovingly captures so much more than light flooding a charming – soothingly linear – woodland.  It’s also more than its technical mastery and a slow – hold your breath – shutter speed. And although this photograph was captured a world away from Ansel Adam’s beloved NoCal it may just have the same ability to mystify.

This image is so surprising and utterly special for one simple reason.

Can you guess? Kan du gissa?

This incredible photograph perfectly captures the sun shining in summer.

At midnight.

There are a handful of countries that spill over the Arctic Circle where you can experience 24 hour sunlight but for me Sweden has been the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’ since a family summer holiday there in 1986. I remember the idea of the sun never going down was wildly exhilarating, just as it should be for a child! We were based with local friends in Vasteras and the trip was one of the most memorable of my childhood.

Old Vasteras with traditional falu red paintwork

Old Vasteras with traditional Falu Red paintwork

Our visit to Sweden certainly left a lasting impression. There were so many sites and experiences to absorb but – for me – the most unforgettable were the brisk dips in the lakes and the trip to the family summer house. I also remember playing on the most perfect green lawn as hedgehogs rustled in the bushes, picking endless fresh berries with my sister and the air smelled of crispbread. I also remember the sun shining late into the evening.

It really was that idyllic.

So as summer begins to thaw Sweden this June, my mind is naturally turned towards buying my own delightful fritidshus or Swedish weekend home. And because I have the fondest memories of Vasteras, I am focusing my search around the nearby lakes to the town’s southwest towards Gothenburg (Gothenburg is a convenient gateway to southern Europe with regular car ferry crossings to Denmark). Although I won’t have a midnight sun this far south, we can easily do the drive north whenever the ideal weather is predicted. Bra plan?

Vasteras is west of the Stockholm archipelago and within easy reach of many recreational lakes

Vasteras is west of the Stockholm archipelago and within easy reach of many recreational lakes

My ideal fritidshus doesn’t necessarily need to be Falu Red but it absolutely must have character. It will also have a guest cottage or ‘sleep out’ for kids, breathtaking water views and be south west facing to ensure maximum exposure to that famous Swedish summer sun. I certainly wouldn’t want to be sitting by the fire in the dark in my summer hus staring across the lake at other cottages bathed in sunlight. Nej tack. So a south westerly aspect or sunny entertaining deck is just about essential.

With all those requirements in mind, I’ll need my entire USD $100,000 budget. Perhaps a little more.

Lake Stora Le

Dalsland, Sweden

USD $128,000

I know, I know. This cottage is over budget. But hear me out.

This two bedroom, two story Falu Red house overlooking majestic Lake Stora Le is fully renovated yet retains rustic character. There is a matching red guest house and plenty of sunshine. Lake Stora Le borders Norway and is around two and a half hours north of Gothenburg or four hours from Vasteras. It stretches my budget and perhaps weekend driving distances but I just love its vantage point. Could it be more happily situated?

Lake Stora Le cottage

Traditional Lake Stora Le cottage and lake view

Renovated living area with charming wood heater

Renovated living area with charming wood heater

Sunny and inviting kitchen

Sunny and inviting kitchen

Maybe we can go halves? I’ll take it.

Skredsvik

Uddevalla, Sweden

USD$105,000

This pale yellow gem is a convenient one hour from Gothenburg and almost within budget. It has three rooms and lake views. What more could we need?

Sweden 2.1

USD$105,000? Stop it.

Sweden 2.2

Can I have my evening punsch on the porch?

Sweden 2.3

I am strangely attracted to the retro interior. It sings simple lake side living. Perhaps some lime wash will make it less sauna like.

Anyone for badminton?

So adorable, so much potential.

Sweden 2.4

Yes, that’s the lake below.

I’ll take it.

Fullero Strand

Vasteras, Sweden

USD$101,000

I’m so comforted this delightfully sunny cottage is close to Vasteras. It’s an easy 30 minute drive from centre of town on Sweden’s famous Lake Malaren and with only two bedrooms, a living area and a small updated – eat in – kitchen to maintain, it’s just the liten hus I’m looking for. Swedish flag and all.

Sweden 4.1

Even the easterly aspect doesn’t put me off this cottage. We’ll have to sit by the water for evening sun.

Sweden 4.2

What should we do today? Swimming, fishing or lolling about on the lawn?

This is the one. I’ll take it.

These simple summer houses are unquestionably picturesque and engage with the environment flawlessly. I feel an astounding inner peace just looking.

I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Ansel Adams approved of such a weekend home.

“There is no blue without yellow” Vincent Van Gogh

Seeing this invigorating cover of HGTV Magazine this week really got me thinking.

Blue and yellow decor is back!

A blue and yellow decor renaissance?

Blue and yellow decor is officially on trend,  just in time for the Northern Hemisphere summer. Magazines, Pinterest and endless blogs are ablaze with decorating ideas boldly using this – oh so easy to get wrong – colour combination. I do like what I see but have to wonder if I can embrace this trend. I’d have to work through my painful recollections of these hues. They’re just so tainted.

I haven’t seen bold blue and yellow used seriously in interior design since that awful coastal decor craze in the very late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Remember all those pointless blue and yellow accessories so many of us had in our living zones and bathrooms? Blue sofas with yellow cushions. Yellow spray painted coral stuck to blue signs saying ‘life’s a beach’. Blue starfish shaped soaps . Tissue box covers made from small yellow cowrie shells and seahorses – there were plenty of seahorses.

The rule was if it was yellow or blue it was indeed for you!

Perhaps its a universally excruciating memory because I can’t find any photos of this trend online. At all. Boy have I tried. It really is the fad that time – and thankfully Google – forgot.  (It does beg the philosophical question; if a trend doesn’t appear on the internet, does that mean it didn’t exist?)

All I could unearth was an image of this wallpaper border on currently for sale on Ebay and it gave me chills. Coastal chills.

Ring any daggy decor bells?

Ring any decor bells?

By the time the mid 1990’s rolled around I began to associate blue and yellow more with with IKEA. Coming off the back of the coastal decor craze, I really was OK with that. I like IKEA. No matter what the design purists say every house needs a little bit of IKEA. It’s what connects us to the rest of humanity. It used to be religion. Now it’s IKEA and the three wise bookshelves Billy, Expedit and Hemnes.

Extra Ikea nulla salus.

So now blue and yellow have been delightfully rebooted. And I have been wondering who really does it best and would the scheme be soothing enough to work at all in a weekend home.

I found the answer in Morocco.

You see, while I’ve been grappling with my Pavlovian aversion to blue and yellow. Moroccans have been doing it with aplomb. For a long time.

 

Blue and yellow accessories in the souk

Bold rugs and mirrors in Rabat

Seeing blue and yellow used so effortlessly in the Rabat souk inspired my search this week.

Rabat is Morocco’s capital and perfectly positioned between Tangier and Casablanca on the Atlantic coast. The climate is more Mediterranean than African it seems with temperatures in summer reaching 30 degrees centigrade and evening lows in winter literally freezing. This contrast makes for comfortable living in my book and far from the blazing heat I would have expected.

OK, some tourist reports imply it could be in the top ten of the worlds most boring capital cities, edged from the top spot by Ottawa and Canberra. But I don’t buy that. It has a fabulously colourful souk, UNESCO World Heritage sites and wide palm lined boulevards. Boring or utterly livable? With houses like these to choose from, I think the latter. Just the sort of place for a blue and yellow weekend home.

Rabat, Morocco

USD$61,000

This delightful 2 bedroom, bijou riad in central Rabat is superb. Blue and yellow – how it should be – for just over USD$60,00. Each time I peruse the photographs, I can’t believe it could be mine for such a price.

Rabat 1.1

Quite possibly the most beautiful front door I’ve ever seen. Blue and Yellow magnificence.

Rabat 1.2

Stunning painted fretwork.

Rabat 1.3

Light and airy central courtyard with a blue spiral staircase.

Rabat 1.4

The media room?

It makes my heart sing.

I’ll take it.

Rabat, Morocco

USD$46,000

This airy one bedroom mezzanine apartment (according to my school girl French translation) has plenty of room for entertaining and stunning views over the Bou Regreg river. There may not be an overt blue and yellow detailing but everything about the panorama croons blue and yellow. The view of the  blue sky and river juxtaposing the sand beds and yellowy building skyline is lovely. I’d wager these hues would change constantly with the movement of the northern African sun and become truly alive as the sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean beyond. What more could we need?

Rabat 2.1

Blue and yellow views in Rabat.

Rabat 2.3

Arched windows in the living room.

 

It’s gorgeous and USD$46,000.

I’ll take it.

So a snap poll this week of my friends has revealed I’m just about the only person I know who hasn’t experienced the magic of Tangier, Meknes, Fes, Chefchaouen or Palmeraie and Marrakech. Yet no-one I know has spent time in Rabat.

I’d quite like being the first I know to discover Rabat’s pleasures and pick up a weekend home that will have everyone falling in love with blue and yellow again.