Oooooh Vienna! Halloween im Wien – pumpkins, every witch way

Witch, pumpkin, Naschmarkt
Naschmarkt, Vienna – a contemplative witch among the pumpkins

In Vienna, Halloween is about pumpkins. If you’re a fan, it’s the perfect place to be – what Austrians can’t do with pumpkins simply can’t be done.

If you get a chance to lay your hands on a bottle of Kürbiskernölpumpkin seed oil, grab it and run. Delicious in soups, as a salad dressing, or even on ice cream (with crushed walnuts or pecans), it’s also rumoured to make you live longer. This may be true – like many visitors to Austria, I was truly amazed by the age of some of the locals, who looked for all the world like mummies, unwrapped and reanimated. For Halloween.

The sweet taste of Halloween

American Halloween is about, yes, all things American; pumpkins and parades, Trick or Treat, getting dressed-up and getting made-up.

In the UK, Halloween is about importing all things American, but isn’t nearly as much fun…

…and in Belgium, where life is sweet, Halloween is all about…chocolate.

Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille: The Good Mother

Detail, first cupola, Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille

The ornate gold mosaic is typical of (Neo) Byzantine architecture, which was popular during the mid-late 19th century; cf London’s Westminster cathedral.

Notre Dame de la Garde (Our Lady of the Keeper) dominates the city’s skyline and is known fondly by the locals as la bonne mère.

Consecrated in 1864, it predates London’s basilica by around forty years, and is in considerably better condition.

Fine images of the cupola and interpretations of the biblical images intersecting the arches can be found on the Wikipedia entry for Notre Dame de la Garde.

Snow tomorrow

Snow, Walthamstow Central
Snowbound, February 2009

Walthamstow Central rail station, February 2009, when a cold snap shut down most of London for a couple of days.

Shades of the Beguine

Chimneys, rooftops, the Beguinages, Bruge

Bruges is a strangely sinister little town, with deep houses and twitching net curtains.

As the sun sets, shadows lengthen and night begins to fall, a strong sense of the gothic creeps across the town.

My Kingdom for a Horse

For those of you who watch Heroes, Ventimiglia will be an Italo-American, all-flying, all-teleporting, multi-purpose dreamboat called Milo, who sports a razor-sharp jaw and flawless skin. For the rest of you, it’s a one-horse town on the Franco-Italian border that, at some point in history, lost its horse.

Faux Gucci handbags and sunglasses...gone

Friday morning and early afternoon are best spent ambling through the town’s weekly market, which sprawls along the promenade, its myriad stalls selling wares that range from good quality, inexpensive and delicious food: cheeses, oils, olives, and dried meats; to outrageously naff designer rip-offs; handbags, belts, sunglasses, bling, blang, best ignored – you could end up arrested for selling contraband at the French border.

Trains return to France infrequently after 3pm, and we found ourselves stranded until 11pm after an evening spent trudging around in search of a decent restaurant by the bay (on a Friday night!)

My mother and I were reduced, for nearly two hours, to sipping (delicious) red wine, in near silence, at a tiny café opposite the town’s cinema. Near silence, for those of you who know my mother, is rare, but we were rendered speechless by the tangible sense of inertia that seemed to hang, like dustsheets in an abandoned house, softly over the town.

So watch Heroes, stick to Milo, and give the town a miss.

Fun-paqued cooking from the Middle Ages

Échaudé – a traditional French Easter delicacy

The Échaudé takes its name from the French and means, literally, “scalded”. Hurled briefly into boiling water before being chucked into a hot oven, this Easter speciality (hence the awful pun) hales from the Middle Ages, in whose times unlucky humans were wont to suffer a similar fate.

These were baked and photographed at La Capeline, Place Centrale, Vieux Nice, but can be found in most ancient Provençal towns, of which there are many.

Tardivo magnifico: worth the wait

Radicchio Tardivo di Treviso – deeply delicious

Radicchio tardivo is a subspecies of chicory, and owes its striking colour to Francesco van den Borr, Belgian agronomist and inventor of the imbianchiamento technique, which uses scalding spring water to transform the colour of the leaves.  A little bitter when eaten raw, cooking changes the flavour to a deep, rich sweetness.

This specimen was discovered in a Treviso market, and found a home in nearby Piombino Dese, where the formidable talents of Mara Quarneti magicked it into three memorable feasts risotto con tardivo, lasagne con tardivo and, of course, polenta con tardivo.

And no, we didn’t get sick of it, at all.

More on Treviso and its famous radicchio at radicchio.com .