Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bele Chere

Annually held the last weekend in July since the 1970's, Bele Chere ranks as the largest free music and arts in the southeastern United States. The festival attracts something like 350,000 people to Asheville, North Carolina. This summer my daughter and I once again joined those masses.

Our primary draw is the 6 stages of diverse musical offerings, but we also peruse the arts and crafts vendors, often making a few purchases and play some games. Here the daughter tries her skills at the Wells Fargo Stage Coach adventure.

Before taking on the crowds, we fortified ourselves with brunch at a favorite eatery, Sunny Point Cafe in West Asheville on Haywood. Sunny Point serves consistently good food at reasonable prices and their wait staff is alt eye candy. They sport detailed and colorful tattoos, interesting hairstyles and hair colors and the dress code is decidedly not uniform.

Fresh flowers grace the tables.

The klezmer sound reeled me in and we soon decided our favorite band that Saturday was Sirius B. Billing themselves as absurdist gypsy folk funk punk. It’s the band’s gypsy-infused violins (they have two), European street sensibilities, world-traveled tunes and multiethnic lineup that warrant comparisons to New York City gypsy-punk icons Gogol Bordello.

Sirius B, however, isn’t planning to follow in Gogol Bordello’s footsteps. Instead, the group considers its sound a happy accident. “Fusion would imply intention, that’s my impression,”says the guitar player Xavier Ferdón. “Absurdist” is one description they’re comfortable with—which is fitting with lyrics like, “Your aunt was a microbe who lived in a bathrobe. She’d wear it night and day.”“This is more our own thing,” the guitarist states, “flavored with various elements.”

Since winning a third-place mention as one of a local paper's readers’ favorite as-yet unknown bands, it’s obvious people want to listen to them and so did we.


Saturday, July 23, 2011

France - It was all about the Food

And the company.

My daughter was finishing an 8-month work assignment. She had contracted to spend the academic year teaching English in the French public school system. Done. We were joining forces for a 24-day exploration of Europe. Her French is fluent. Swedish is my first language and somehow we would manage to communicate with the Germans in Berlin.

I flew in to Lyon and later we met up at the train station. My daughter accompanied me to St. Etienne, the town where she shared an apartment with two other language assistants. That corner of southwestern France was ours to explore for the next several days.

This was a trip for pleasure, not business, and as such the planning was loose. The overbooked, must see everything phenomenon was clearly to be avoided.

We primarily explored in and around St. Etienne, a town of approximately 180,000 people and an industrial heritage. Our food obsession became finding the best macarons in the region. Macarons are a predominantly French confection, made with egg whites, icing and granulated sugar, ground almonds and food coloring. Two disks or cookies are joined together with a filling of jam, ganache or buttercream.

We began our mission with a box from Au Jardin des Douceurs (the Garden of Sweets) trying out pistache, cerise griotte, cassis, framboise, chocolat and praline (pistachio, cherry, black currant, raspberry, chocolate and praline).

We broadened our search during a day trip to Lyon.The venerable bakery of Pignol, an institution of 50 years, is situated just around the corner from Place Bellecour on Rue Emile Zola. They had lovely macarons, but Sève, located on the presqu'île between the Rhône and Saone rivers, was easily the best.

Sève's pomme tatin macaron was all lovely and sparkly (yes, glittery-sparkly) and tasted absolutely delectable. This macaron is a riff on a classic upside down apple tart created in the Loire Valley in the late 1800's.

Sève is even older than Pignol, established in 1905. Richard Sève, a master chocolatier, was voted best pâtissier in the Rhône Alpes region in 1999. The attention to every detail of production is evident in the taste and appearance of each sweet little morsel. Accordingly, Sève's offerings were the priciest of the three as well. Have a peek for yourself.

While I think we sufficiently fulfilled our search for the best macaron, the prospect of further research intrigues me.