Your Gimlet should model that badass chick from junior year–never sweet, never dull, never limeade, never soda in that flask. A little edge is key; add the ingredients to a shaker with ice, rattle and strain into a cocktail glass. Gas it with a splash of sparkling water and give it wheels…of lime that is.
– .5 Parts Simple Syrup
– 1 Part Lime Juice
– 4 Parts of Boodles Gin
adapted from The Fine Art of Mixing Cocktails
Above is the Godfather’s take, found in the essential book FAoMC, but I’ve decided to add some tang.
On a black night, in the misery of a rainy Paris winter, I scamper past Place de La Republique into the upper east corner of Le Marais. Suddenly, I see a burst of color emanating from a narrow set of stairs.
This mysterious passage looks run-down, filthy even. On closer inspection one I see that it’s filled with a battery of enigmatic street-art and murals.
It’s curious, a bit eerys even. The wall reads like modern-day hieroglyphics.
A steep descension underneath several buildings.
The altitude drop is more curious–it reveals its age. In fact, Passage du Pont aux Biches is a remaining portal between medieval and modern Paris. It served as Rue du Pont Aux Biches, which led to the castle walls.
It dates back to 1550. The road below is stone-laden and narrow, and up above you have a modern road meant for thoroughfare.
As for the spectrum of colors at night, I haven’t found out the reason.
Palermo is a clash–a battleground of sorts where class, lifestyle and cultural identity impose on one another everyday. For me, it’s an enigma.
Sicilians are the warmest people you’ll meet, but then again, they have a legacy of tensions with North Africa, of racism and xenophobia. Palermo has a dearth of Baroque architecture, but their definitive style is Arab-Norman architecture, and now a burgeoning street art scene. They embrace the slow-cooking movement, but have legendary street food. They are equal parts finger-snapping street vendors, as languid, sunshine dwellers.
700k reside in the capitol of Sicily, the largest city on the largest island in the Mediterranean.
Palermo’s landscape is so stark and vivid, one can’t compare it to ‘postcard’ Italy–Rome, Venice, or the ever trending Florence. Personally, I believe that these destinations verify the beauty we know exists in Italy; but in Sicily, something lies unknown, undiscovered.
The city has a rough reputation. Palermo of today seems to be falling to pieces. But in all honesty, they don’t seem too broken up about it.
Despite the reputation, you step off the plane onto the tarmac.
A sweeping countryside with red, mountainous terrain out one window and a choppy sea outside the other, eventually your ride will reach the urban fringe.
Both commutes drop you near to the central walking street, Via Maqueda.
20h00 Dinner – Bisso Bistro
Via Maqueda, 172A, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy
Drop your bags at your AirBnb and head straight to this place. Sumptuous, yet inexpensive, Bisso Bistro looks like something your favorite joint in Brooklyn is trying to replicate. Exposed ceilings, beams, funky chandeliers, chatty intellectuals, a bartender with a moustache who speaks English with a thick accent; they’re all here.
There’s probably a wait-list. Tutto Bene. It’s all good. Drink a 2€ glass of Sicilian wine on the street corner and sink into the surroundings. Then, prepare for an excellent introduction to Sicilian food.
I have the theory ☝🏽that Sicilian food is the original fusion cuisine.
No, really. It starts from 2 distinct origins, Italy (duh), and North Africa. And when you surround yourself with the agricultural diversity that’s available in Sicily, you get one of the more complex culinary traditions in the world. 🧀🍕🍝The Italian base lends pastas, pizza, tomatoes, garlic, cheese, etc. 🍚🍆🍊Northern Africa brings oranges, mint, saffron, rice, semolina, tuna, aubergine. 🦑🐙Geography lends terre et mer, calamari, octopus, olives, capers, dates, pistachios.
It’d be wrong to restrict Sicilian food to ‘Italian.’
Drinks – Bonter Bar
Across from Teatro Massimo (we’ll stop here later), down the dark, narrow alley Via Orologio, young Sicilians and Erasmus gather at night.
Bonter Bar is the best on the street. This cocktail bar houses a cast of stuck-in-the-30’s hipsters with large suspenders, pinstripe trousers and hand-knit shirts. But hey, with cocktails, they don’t play around.
They use high quality products, have a good vibe, and were also friendly enough to introduce me to the Italian jewel, Madame And Monsieur Gin from the Jerry Thomas Project. A lifelong friendship was forged.
10h00 – 11h00
Everything is at your disposal on this lovely, yet often hectic road. In the morning, however, it shows its calm side. Grab an espresso, cornets, and a table on a sunny terrace. Or check a couple of things off your list.
These landmarks are within a dozen steps from one another.
11h00 – 12h00
Al Pacino, Mr. Corleone, took his last seat here in Godfather 3. The theatre, 3rd Largest in Europe is well-kept, and renowned for its stellar acoustics. Its unique round structure should be worth the visit to Palermo by itself. 8€ for a 30-min tour of this spectacle.
While Massimo was known as the theatre for the Sicilian bourgeois, the other, Politeama was for the Sicilian middle class. I toured Politeama, and while still very beautiful, it needs refurbishing. Palermo doesn’t have a plan to make this happen any time soon, but it’s still worth a visit.
12h00 – 14h30 Castellamare & Kalsa
Breezy neighbourhoods by the water stand still as postcards. Small, winding roads with weathered buildings and fresh-swept streets. Balconies reach like an outstretched hand, ushering you through these visually stunning quarters.
Terraces, Piazzas, and Bistros–it’s the Sicilian version of diners, drive-ins and dives. Stop for grilled octopus, fresh calamari and a glass of white wine, or indulge with fat slices of Focaccia, while posting up on the corner facing some ancient fountain.
Afterwards, I recommend a good amount of wandering.
Gagini Social Restaurant – 👨🏻🎨🍤An elegant Sicilian, slow-food restaurant with stone interior, and large contemporary paintings.
Restorante Quattro Mani -🍝🍋A modern Sicilian restaurant sourced by organic, sustainable and almost exclusively local traders.
Flies buzz in summer heat; a motorbike leaves white pamphlets floating in its wake. An emptied Coca-Cola bottle lies strewn to the side of a black, empty alleyway.
This neighbourhood, a bit inland from the historical center of Palermo, hosts as a plethoric number of passageways, hidden landmarks, and the sprawling Ballaro market.
Turn the corner to yammering locals, and colors, vibrant colors. Green celery stalks, ruby tomatoes, and pink filets of swordfish. Fresh and local produce, seafood and street food, Ballaro Market is a reflection of the lush culture in Palermo.
Other Places of Interest:
Torri di San Nicolo di Bari – A tower open to the public with a view of the city.
Torre Dei Federic – Bed and Breakfast in a medieval building with Norman facade and baroque interior.
MoltiVolti -🍲🎨Coworking space/ colorful restaurant, ideal if you need to stop for a snack and wifi.
15h30 – 17h30
Palazzo dei Normanni
The pearl of Arab-Norman architecture, the Norman Palace. If you visit one thing in Palermo, this should be it.
The zenith of Palermo: origins tell that this area was initially a fortress during the Roman Empire. In the 9th century, North Africa invaded and conquered the Sicilian region. They prospered over a period of 200+ years in Sicily, and are believed to have begun the construction of this building. Then, the Normans arrived.
This gorgeous palace is actually a collaboration. The Normans hired Arabs to accomplish textile work to transform the fortified area into an ornate palace for the kings of Sicily.
The vivid golds and light blues from the North African region while the characters are painted in a Norman style.
Now, it also holds congress.
Nello Musumesci serves a five-year term as the President of Sicily, which is considered a region of Italy and has the power to establish its own laws.
18h00- 20h00 Apero
Mazzini 30 Taverna A high end cocktail bar with elegant decor and an outside area. Sicilian charcuterie plates, among other delicious tapas.
Hic! La Folie Du Vin Another option nearby with planchas accompanied by Sicilian wines instead of cocktails. A lively crowd in a small establishment.
Dinner – Frida
There is a pizzeria in Palermo that rivals any pie that I’ve had before, and its name is Frida.
Specializing in Roman and Neopolitan style pizza, this pizzeria leavens bread for 48 hours before using it. I have no idea what that does, but the pizza is excellent.
The secret is to forego the other two styles and order a Quadro, folded corners and stuffed crust. I’d heard of this only in legend.
Also; the place also seems to be a LGBTQ hub of Palermo. So, that’s cool.
7h00 Palermo Central
What? You didn’t know you were going to get up so early? My bad. But trust me, it’s worth it.
Cefalu is a beautiful, picturesque town of stone buildings, steep terrain, and radiant waters. Spend the day here. Yes, the entire day.
Lay your towel on the sand and watch the waves roll, gregarious Sicilians surround you, and seagulls bounce upon the current. Open up that book you haven’t touched since the flight.
The beach is entirely unpretentious, one of my favorite things about Sicily. I’ve never felt classed out of a place. I never received that condescending glance from an old rich lady, or a guy who feels like he deserves priority.
13h00 Antica Foccaceria
Mouthwatering slices of focaccia, stuffed calzones, proscuitto sandwiches, this place is perfect for a brown bag lunch, either by the ocean or on an open piazza. It’s the embodiment of the Sicilian dream.
Also, the eggplant pomodoro was heavenly.
14h00 Cefalu Cathedral
A 10th century Cathedral, Norman architecture, very well-maintained and beautiful.
I’d recommend heading back before it gets too late. Grab a coffee or an Apero back in Palermo before you catch the bus to the Airport. Make sure to allow plenty of time–my commute was easy, but I’ve read horror stories about late buses and a slow airport. Tutto Bene. Enjoy yourself, and leave a comment if you enjoyed your stay.
It’s a breezy, mid-spring Wednesday in Paris, the ninth Arrondissement. A fluffy white Samoyed pops out of a narrow road closely tailed by his athleisure fitted owner.
I stumble upon a moment of peace; a sudden gust of wind flows through the Sycamore trees. They encircle a small, neoclassical fountain. I approach. Pigeons bounce at the foot. Three mythic nymphs, holding hands, share an austere glare across the courtyard.
They stand guard over the Cité de Trévise, over the welfare of an elite who once lived in this quarter, when the quarter was gated, and the king still ruled. This was the final decade of a monarchy. 1840. 8 years later, after the outbreak of revolution, King Louis Phillipe fled into exile.
I continue my day, moved by the magic that lies in this city. The location is linked below.
And pass the intersection of Rue Bichat and Rue Alibert–Le Petit Cambodge on the SouthEast corner, the hospital on the North–there are flowers, candles, pictures from loved ones in memoriam of the 2015 shootings.
Soap suds, draining water; circa 2015 I worked as a bar-back for an indie movie theatre in Seattle. I was scrounging, saving for a two-month trip to Paris. My phone blinks with a message. It’s my gf. She’s trapped in a bar in Montparnasse, desperate, waiting for news.
3 years later, we’re together, standing on the corner where it happened.
We continue into the night.
Two slight lefts along a wide Boulevard that scales the hospital. The bar rests on a corner, the HasBeen.
An L-Shaped bar. High-tables near the front, full, but not crowded. The bar at the heel. 2 bartenders.
We salvage a low, leather loveseat at the far side. Squeezing three. I sit on the armrest to abate my oncoming fatigue.
The drink menu consists of ‘house’ cocktails. Standard drinks with an ingredient thrown in, basil, honey, etc., to mask low-grade alcohol with a dulcifier.
I’ll take a Moscow Mule. It’s been a while hasn’t it?Crisp, sure, sugary too, but it’s not bad for the price.
Surveying the room; it’s not a dive bar in the colloquial sense. Less grunge, more catwalk.
A large group of Parisians occupy a 12-person table. Black turtle-necks. Colourful air max 95’s. Friends from a high-ranked university, meeting for their bi-weekly drink and dance where they find themselves smoking cigarettes outside of a small boite de nuit at 3am before pairing up for the night.
Small squadrons of 3 or 4 separate and hover around the bar to converse with the barmen.
My focus shifts back to the loveseat.
The girls gang up on the Londoner. He’s a talker, but he’s younger. And they’re old friends. He doesn’t stand a chance against their prying, their frank questions with hidden motives.
I motion to get another drink.
At the bar,
Je voudrais un Negroni svp. (I’d like a Negroni please.)
A balding 50-something year old with a stubbled beard camps at the pine. In a heavy French accent, he asks,
Where are you from?
American. But I live here.
Ah oui, and you’ve been here for how long?
Depuis 6 mois. (For 6 months)
Has it really been that long? What do I have to show for that time? A couple of blog entries and a certificate for A-2 French. Restaurants that I frequent. A small group of (potential) friends from ecole, whom I’ve only shared beers with. I think a lot about whether this was a good move for me. This move to Pairs. Whether I take it for granted, after all, it’s the immovable feast. To live in Paris. To understand Paris. It’s priceless.
6 months, has it really been that long!?
The barmen returns to the pine.
A rock’s glass with ruby red liquid, and on top, curved like a capsized canoe, drifts an orange peel.
Bon soiree (Have a good night).
The drink is bittersweet. When I finish, we decide to move.
Two weeks later. The Gilets Jaune have given us all a break over the holidays. Paris is calm, for the moment.
We traverse the river once again, to La Patache, the same bar that we’ve been several times already. The long, narrow dive is packed. Every seat occupied. The table runner with the cap and the moustache sees us, winks: he’s going to hook us up.
Wait at the bar.
Three beers and a nice glass of white wine.
One of our friends, a Londoner, has given up beer for white wine. Every time he orders; he says, thick as molasses accent, I’ll have a nice glass of white wine.
It’s hilarious really.
Planche Mixte in the mix. One of my favourites in the city. A Truffle Gruyere. It melts in your mouth. Nothing more delightful. House-made Paté too. Cornichons. A plate for 4–17 Euros.
Elbow to elbow tonight, service is slow.
Parisiennes, elegant women of lore brush passed me. Sometimes they step on my feet. I’m too large for my chair. Either way, I glance upwards.
I notice regulars. We’re regulars now, so we can spot other regulars. Like a sixth sense. A one-sided admiration. They’re much cooler looking than us. A Lennon shades guy with long black hair, another with a blonde buzz, a flowing black trench, and a neck tattoo. A well-groomed black dude with a designer button down and a cutting smile. Ragtag artistic bedfellows surround them.
The Parisian landscape is immersive yet alienating. Within reach, I could tap 15 people on the shoulder, but that wouldn’t be polite, would it?
La Patache, at times, feels like a dystopian dive bar where all people must meet a certain threshold to enter. If your trench isn’t long or grey enough and your nose isn’t distinguished enough, if your parole isn’t witty enough, you must vacate your table.
A cat perches above, on the high shelf, sleeping. Yawning. Opening its eyes slightly and closing them. Sleeping again.
Who cares what us humans do, or think, or see, or feel, or wear, or drink to try and separate ourselves from the jungle. To you, we’re all. well. Illiterate.
Another beer and we finish the Planche mixte. The boys are overwhelmed tonight, so we’ll cut it short. Head somewhere else.
It’s rude to scarf and leave, so I nod my gf to put in a nice word for us. They’ll remember we were there, amongst the others, in the wildlife.
Marseille is one of those cities that make you dream—the Vieux Port, the Mediterranean, the lifestyle. It has all the qualities of paradise.
A normal afternoon consists of a large terrace, a highball of chalk-yellow Pastis, a good book, salt water, sunshine, and maybe, the occasional rabble of passing tourists. C’est la base.
But trouble swam through paradise. Marseille earned a sorry reputation as maybe the only Mediterranean city with a fat red ❌. Do not visit. An Immigration crisis, drug trafficking, and entanglement with the mafia created a melange more potent and lethal than your strongest Bouillabaisse. Each hit the city hard. Marseille and shootings are almost like, well, the U.S. and shootings.
The city fell into a state, which up until a few years ago, seemed unlikely to restore.Mars, they dub it up north.
Word around Paris now is that Mars is–out of this world 🤟🏾.
Good friends made the move southward last year, so we paid them a visit to verify this rumour.
A 3-and-a-50-cent-piece ride from Paris; our train pulls in to Gare St. Charles at 22h30.
The climate strikes first. Stark cold, and barren like a desert night.
Street lamps tacked high on buildings, they’re dim-lit, filtering down in an eery resonance. Boulevard d’Athenes is thick with fast food, mini-marts and bloated trash cans. Tram tracks slice through the gaping Boulevard, which for a Friday night, is lifeless.
The city changes.
From one block to the next, a brusque development, and by the time we arrive at our friend’s apartment on the impressive Boulevard de la Republique, the city resembles, what I know as France.
11h00 – 13h00
Colourful pots filled with dangling plants embellish windows. Striking alleyways, graffiti covers the facades of vibrant orange and yellow apartments. This is Le Panier–the most charming and picturesque quarter of Marseille. Located in the 2nd Arrondissement, (yes, Marseille also has them) it’s one of the cities oldest neighbourhoods.
After a winding flight of stairs that scales the Intercontinental Hotel grounds, we arrive at Place des Moulins, a small empty courtyard that serves as the gateway to the rest of Le Panier.
Translated into English, the basket is a rather lame name for an iconic quarter. The origins come from the 17th-century Inn Les Logis du Panier, which used to house beggars and homeless.
Located between the Vieux Port and a seaside promenade that hosts Cathedral La Major and MUCEM (two interesting, yet time-consuming experiences), Le Panier is known for its cafe’s, cantines and thrift shopping–in the original sense–antiques, not 90s streetwear. This area is perfect for a Saturday lunch and stroll.
@bardes13coins, 🥙a standard sit-down lunch with locals and aioli on a sunny terrace. @takosan🍜Japanese street cantine, specialising in Kansai regional Takoyaki. @ComptoirOHuiles 🥒a small olive oil dealer who serves superb local fair.
After Le Panier we walked along the water until we reached this massive brick and stone structure.
Built in 1856, Les Dockes serve as the storage space of the city for boat and marine equipment. At this point Le Vieux Port served as leisure marina, and trading had shifted to this area. It was the golden age for Marseille. The city had developed into an important trading port in the world.
In 2001, they renovated this historically impressive structure into an aesthetically pleasing one, and probably the closest thing that this city has to ‘posh.’ It’s a hybrid of office space, a covered market, and a food court. Think Chelsea Market. Only, it was near empty.
Notre Dame de la Garde
Perched at the apex of the Marseille is the Bonne Mere, Notre Dame de la Garde. Over 800 years old, constructed in a style not-at-all French, this immaculate and striking cathedral is another reason why Marseille seems bizarre in contrast to the rest of France. It’s also a mandatory visit.
If not for the Byzantine textiles, which I’m sure we all know and love, there is an Instagrammable panorama of the city.
You can get there on the 60 bus, scaling the hill on foot (approx. 15 min), or what I recommend, taking a Lime scooter.
A hilly, picturesque neighbourhood that connects the Bonne Mere to our next point of interest, Vallon des Auffes. I found this neighbourhood particularly stunning.
Clothes dry on high-wire. Small chemins (alleys) suddenly open onto cliffside vistas. No traffic, in fact, the alleys are unoccupied except the occasional lone cat traversing the road and climbing the fence of a house.
Vallon Des Auffes
Les Vallon Des Auffes is a small picturesque viaduct, which used to be a common port for fisherman dating back to the 16th century. Now, it serves pretty much the same purpose, after a reconstruction in the ’60s to repair from its destruction during WW2.
A petit semi-circle of white fishing boats dipped in a rippled blue. The shadows of the viaduct and picturesque buildings distort over time, swallowing it in darkness. Twilight is the hour to view this stunning marina.
Like the rest of Marseille, the view is breathtaking, but lasts only a moment, before it’s taken away by loud traffic or a group of thugs kicking around.
@ChezFonfon, an upscale Bouillabaisse restaurant, known as one of the best in the city. Michelin-starred @L’Epuisette or @TABI are haute-cuisine at its finest.
Ah La Corniche, a lifestyle like none other. The Corniche is the winding road that leads along the Mediterranean coast. The goal is to get here while it’s HH, and finish a couple drinks and a planche before the sun sets.
In the summer La Corniche wild; in the winter it’s relaxing. If you’ve been trekking around, the promenade is the best place to stop and soak in the rest of the sunshine.
Ascend a long, dolled up staircase, weaving past potential crowds of smokers to reach Cours Ju. Around an asymmetric, man-made pond, terraces and bars convene to create this beloved district for partying.
Cours Ju is just the hippety-dippest place for a fete in all of France, they say! But mannnn, the weekend I went, it was dead. And being dead in Marseille means sketchville. I’ll have to give it a one-time pass.
That night, we ate at @LaCantinetta, an Italian restaurant on the short-list of several blogs and guides, however, the food doesn’t touch anything from the Big Mamma group.
The proof is at the port, Marseille is the oldest surviving city in France.
800 B.C. founded by the Phocaea Greeks, a small civilisation from modern-day western Turkey, who were the pioneers of Greek naval exploration. They were the first Greeks documented to reach the kingdom of Spain in that epoch–and they were the Settlers of Massalia or Marseille.
They did the hard work, so you wouldn’t have to. The easiest move on a Sunday morning is the port. Sunny terraces, mediocre coffee, and tourists. Take a book. If you get bored of reading, there’s a market where local items are sold (perfect for gifts).
Try a Navette, an oddly shaped sweet-biscuit from the region.
Then, drop what you’re doing and head to @LaBoiteàPanisse for another regional staple, the Panisse. This chickpea/fish fritter is remarkable. There’s a reason Alice Waters named her institution Chez Panisse. And if the rest of the United States wises up, it’s an optimal replacement for the sweet potato fry.
Frankly, Sundays in France are awkward. Everything is closed because of the church, or ‘family time’ yet you walk outside and everyone’s waddling around like they’re searching for something to do. In Paris, the neighbourhood is waiting in line at the one Boulangerie that’s open. You’ll see people curb on benches and crack a beer at 11h30 for fear of boredom.
Cliffs and blue waters that rival Greece or the Caribbean.
Marseille has the fortune of having a national park in their backyard. Designated as such in 2012, Les Calanques is a collection of limestone precipices with green vegetation sprouting directly from the stone.
Trekkers and small boats convene during the day and disperse at night.
It’s worth every second of the perilous terrain that you take to get there. We went for 2-hours, and I consider it a highlight.
There are dozens of tour offices who will get you there and back within the day, but c’mon, live a little, explore for yourself.
For late trains: Kick around Opera. It’s close enough to Gare St. Charles.
Pretty much everything will be closed, except a Beer House called @LesBerthom, where you can get a good (and surprisingly local) beer and some finger food for a real unproductive and out of it return to wherever. Other options include fast food and tourist traps…but you’ve avoided them so far, so why start now?