Meditations #67

August 27, 2015


Around the bend, my first glimpse of the temple’s golden roof. And then I see the huge complex: the chalky white stupa; the dry stone prayer halls washed in cinnabar and fringed with temple trim; the monks’ quarters, with cleanly swept courtyards open to the elements. The temple feels ancient, lost in time, as if it had rooted itself on the mountain flank, and, for added protection, sought anchorage in the gnarled trunks of the juniper forest.

Photograph:  Lisa Lindblad

Location:  Kangtsa Monastery, Zorge, Gansu Province, China


The Tibetan Plateau (1)

August 20, 2015

The Tibetan Plateau is the largest, highest region in the world. An immense upland, averaging more than 16,500 feet in elevation, it includes almost all the world’s territory higher than 13,000 feet. Its southern rim, the Himalaya-Karakoram range, contains not just Mount Everest and all 13 other peaks higher than 26,400 feet, but hundreds of 23,000-foot peaks, each higher than anywhere else on earth.   

I have come for many reasons.  George Schaller, the biologist who studied tigers in India, lion in Africa and bharral and snow leopard on the Tibetan Plateau, fascinated me years ago with stories of his long, solitary months gathering data; Peter Matthiessen’s book, The Snow Leopard (written while on a 3-month trek with Schaller), describes in his magnificent, inimitable way the flora and fauna and faith of Inner Dolpo, the region of the Plateau far to the west of us; and my discovery of two new ventures here – Norden Camp and Norlha Textiles – is the current draw that makes an old dream become reality.

I booked my flight to Shanghai, connected straight through to Xian, one of the gateways to the roof of the world. (more…)

Where Travel Begins

August 8, 2015


I am a traveler.  I am a literal traveler, moving from place to place for work and for pleasure.  I am a habitual traveler, possessing what my father called “the bougeotte”, a wanderlust, a desire to see the world.  Bougeotte is a visceral thing, a deep-in-the-bones disturbance that rises and falls like a temperature depending upon the length of time from, or to, the next trip.

And I am an imaginary traveler, what the 19th c termed armchair traveler, finding pleasure and inspiration in stories that evoke landscape, preferably an intimately described external one that illuminates an even more complex internal one.

I can reach way back and find the seeds of some of my greatest journeys in books. In The Wilder Shores of Love, by Leslie Blanch, I found a tradition and a flock of women I wished to join, and, together, they drew my sight away from my euro-centered world of geography and culture toward Africa.  Her book, Journey Into the Mind’s Eye was another I savored around the same time, and it instilled in me the desire – yet to be realized – for a long solo train journey across empty landscapes surrounded by my books.

When I reached university, it was Levi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques that inspired me to become an anthropologist. 19th and early 20th century anthropologists studied far flung communities and so, of course, the exotic and the unknown appealed. But it was more than that, and I recognized myself in L-S’s identification of the anthropologist’s quandry: why, when she has a perfectly good society to study at home, does she feel the need to go halfway around the world?  I recognized myself in his answer: “ his past certain objective factors show him to be ill-adapted to the society in which he was born.”  My first passion flowered.

During the following decade I made friends with the field biologist, George Schaller and his wife, Kay.  Kay sent me a book on the Lascaux Caves which ultimately resulted in the most moving cultural experience of my life – a 23-minute visit to the original cave (no longer open).  On a leisurely visit with George to the Bronx Zoo’s, he spoke to me of his work on the Tibetan Plateau.  And then, because I was intrigued, I read Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard – an account of his journey with Schaller to the area –  and found, therein, not only a carefully and beautifully drawn book of days in the high altitude natural and cultural world of Nepal and Tibet, but also, and even more importantly, a wrenchingly honest and exceedingly wise search for inner truth and acceptance.

I have read all of these aforementioned books many times over in my life and am re-reading now Matthiessen’s because, finally, I am on my way to the Tibetan Plateau.  It has taken all these years to get there, yet I believe there is a time and place when journeys make themselves required.

Journeys start in interesting places deep within our own history.  Not all need to be actualized, but it is fun to credit the sources.  They teach you a  lot and they also tell you a lot about where you have come from.

Meditations #66

August 2, 2015


Travel is at its most fun when chance encounters and discoveries are made.

Serendipity’s best friend is time.

And so, I am convinced, that lingering in place with an agenda that smiles on change is the path to a meaningful journey

Photograph:  Rebecca MacGregor

Peljesac Peninsula, Croatia

Messner’s Mountain Museums

July 31, 2015

Corones, Zaha Hadid-designed addition to Messner's Mountain Museum
Corones, Zaha Hadid-designed addition to Messner’s Mountain Museum

Reinhold Messner, the legenday climber and prolific writer, has just completed his 6th Mountain Museum located in Italy’s Dolomites.  Designed by Zaha Hadid on an Alpine Peak with underground galleries and a cantilevered viewing platform over the valley, Corones is devoted to Alpine history.

The scale, scope and vision of Messner’s extraordinary gift to Alpinists, climbers of all kinds, lovers of mountain cultures – I would say to the world – is staggering.  His other museums are:

Messner's Mountain Museum Ortler
Messner’s Mountain Museum Ortler

“Together with the architect Arnold Gapp, Reinhold Messner has created a unique museum. The South Tyrolean architect has located most of the museum inside a hill next to an old farmhouse which is now an inn by the name of Yak & Yeti. Access to the museum is via an opening in a retaining wall built to support the hill, which is covered with slabs of stone. A short ramp takes visitors into the depths of a man-made cavern built of fair-faced concrete. The high interior is illuminated by a skylight in the form of continuous ribbon of glass that interrupts the surface of the upper floor like the line of a crevasse. At one point, the opening offers a direct view of the snowy peak of the Ortler with its mountain-top glacier.”

Messner's Mountain Museum Firmian
Messner’s Mountain Museum Firmian

A number of Messner’s Mountain Museums are located in rescued and refurbished castles, Firmian being one of them.  MMM Firmian, in Sigmundskron Castle near Bozen, addresses the subject of man’s encounter with the mountains.

Messner's Mountain Museum Ripa
Messner’s Mountain Museum Ripa

Ri (Tibetan for mountain) Pa (Tibetan for man) is another of Messner’s restored castles – Bruneck – that focuses on mountain peoples from the world over and their life ways.

Messner's Mountain Museum Juval
Messner’s Mountain Museum Juval

The museum in Juval Castle in Vinschgau is dedicated to the Magic of the Mountain and houses several fine art collections: a Tibetica collection, a gallery of paintings of the world’s holy mountains, a collection of masks from five continents, a unique Gesar of Ling exhibition, a Tantra Room and the Expedition Cellar.

Messner's Mountain Museum Dolomite
Messner’s Mountain Museum Dolomite

And, finally, Fort Monte Rite, with its 360 degree drop dead views, is an ode to – and a history of – the Dolomites, where Messner grew up in a mountain climbing family.

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There are two words for journey that I love: the Swahili, safari and the Dzongkha, kora.  The latter refers to both an internal and a physical journey, and it is this one that comes to mind when I imagine an immersive journey to the Messner mountain museums.  Located in the Tyrol, one would start with Firmian, perhaps, using Bozen as the hub for day trips by car, rail or on foot, to the five others.  Or, one could easily access the individual museums as a day trip from any of the gorgeous cities in the Veneto.


July 30, 2015

hirohisa exterior - Brie Passano for The New York Times

I love restraint which is probably why I love most things Japanese.  On Thompson Street, within a few doorways of a favorite Japanese restaurant, Omen, is Hirohisa. With the proportions and aspect of a village house, Hirohisa is marked only by a discrete plaque bearing its name.  I was already hooked.


The interior is as spare as the exterior – a handful of wooden tables, a counter with few seats and a slit window through which reels a movie of street life.  But it is the food, of course, that enchants, plated, spooned, and bowled on to wood, ceramic and glass vessels.  Chef Hirohisa comes from Echizen, famed for its Washi as well as ceramics; for Hirohisa, however, it is his home’s beautiful mountains and sea, pure water, and natural resources he wishes to celebrate here.

We had the omakase, a light, lively parade of small dishes that tilted toward uni – a favorite of ours – yet incorporated beef, an extraordinary few sips of tomato broth clear as water, and an unctuous tofu.

Saipua: Dream Flowers

July 20, 2015

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I adore flowers and have rarely seen such hauntingly beautiful arrangements as Saipua creates.  Started in 2006, Sarah is a self-taught flower designer with a studio in Brooklyn and a farm in upstate New York.  She also makes floral soaps and candles, but it is these glorious – sometimes commonplace and sometimes rare blooms – that enchant.


BONDST Restaurant

July 17, 2015


Situated in an historic, Soho-style brownstone, BONDST offers guests  three, distinct levels of enjoyment.  The ground floor houses BONDST Lounge, an intimate space with its own sushi bar and banquettes set amidst a soft, textured space.  On the main floor, the restaurant presents a festive seventy-five seat dining room with a lively sushi bar, as well as a bar overlooking NoHo’s cobblestoned Bond Street. The second floor offers an elegant and comfortable dining room, as well as the Tatami Room which can be booked for private events.

BONDST has been around for a while but, for me, it was a first.  And I adored it.  Luckily, I come to BONDST in the quiet of a NY summer when the crowds are diminished and reservations are plentiful.  What a joy!  Booked at the last minuted, we had a table on the second floor, a spacious, lively but not impossibly noisy, space.  And we tucked in to a menu that was, quite simply, delicious.

Notable from our dinner:  big eye tuna tarte, fois gras chawan mushi, jalapeno scallop roll, tuna crispy rice – and there was more; the food came easily, paced smoothly, beautifully served, not over explained.  What a lovely dinner, one that I could return to over and over again without ever tiring.


Almanac of World History

July 7, 2015


I had recently expressed (somewhat jokingly) a desire to learn the history of the entire world. For my birthday, I received National Geographic’s Almanac of World History (3rd Edition) by Patricia S. Daniels and Stephen G. Hyslop—the key to my success.  As the foreword so candidly states: “History is an exciting and complicated affair. It is difficult to look at events occurring in one location without considering those taking place elsewhere at the same time.” Loaded with detail yet entirely readable, the almanac is divided into three sections: Milestones (agriculture, writing), Major Eras (prehistory to present) and World at a Glance (major wars and religions). An engaging blend of facts, analysis and visuals, the book is a straightforward breakdown for those with lots to learn (myself) as well as for history buffs looking for a refresher. 

This almanac has become a part of my daily routine—I read a page every day!

 Posted by Rebecca MacGregor

Chefs Club

June 30, 2015


Located in the Puck Building on Mulberry just off Houston, Chefs Club is a masterful, innovative dining experience.  The daily menu is created by four chefs drawn from Food & Wine Magazine’s choice of the year’s best, but prepared by two permanent chefs; that is, until the four celebrated chefs make limited engagement star appearances (announced on the website) in the Studio Kitchen, located within the restaurant, and offering an exclusive venue for just a handful of guests.

Our meal – a selection of appetizers and entrees that we shared – was delicious.  We sat happily at the bar, only one of a number of different table options that include round, family style and high top, all overlooked by a rock mountain of Himalayan salt bound in beautiful Japanese knotted rope. Kitchens are open, the ceiling soars, the noise factor is comfortable.  This is a supremely satisfying evening, a rare thing, I find, in the restaurant scene today.