Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Il Cantinone Osteria - Florence, Italy

I failed. I forgot to write about another fantastic Florence, Italy dining experience until now. A friend's facebook post about a 3 week Italy trip awoke my memory.

One of the best streets for culture and food is Santo Spirito. Here I found traditional Tuscany dishes, fine prosciutto, tango dancers, and mysterious beckoning doors.
They finally opened and I was able to reserve seating for 1pm the following day. The next day I again filled myself on wonderful gelato. That's how I prepare for fine dining experiences in foreign countries. Dessert first.
Brick stairs beckoned downstairs into their ample dining areas. I perused the menu, having already noted the chef recommendations which were posted outside.
I started with their second item, the bruschetta topped with burrata, diced tomato, and anchovy fillet.
These were simply huge. I immediately regretted having so much gelato earlier, if only because it ruined my appetite. I ate this slowly, savoring each bite. This combination of bread, fresh diced tomato, and burrata was so filling. However, you can't just have one menu item at a fine Italian restaurant, correct?
Feast your eyes on the wild boar terrine with reduction mushroom and aspic of chianti wine. This is Tuscany here. Wild boar, mushroom, chianti wine. I mixed and matched and achieved a greater appreciation for boar and mushrooms.
This is another back dining room with wine bottles.
Another view of a dining area. You can see the stairs leading outside.
Diners enjoying their underground meal.
Noticed the exposed brick.
There is an outdoor seating area on Santo Spirito.
A selection of what you might find on Santo Spirito.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lindy Hop Portugal Saga - Part 4 (Braga)

There's a saying in Portugal that goes like this: "Lisbon parties, Coimbra studies, Porto works, Braga prays." Lisbon people do party hard, Coimbra is known for its universities, Porto works hard, and Braga has many churches.

Guedes, Monica and I drove up to Braga together in early April. Braga is filled with old historical churches. Most were covered in purple anticipating the Lenten season. Sidenote: don't give directions based on which church has bells ringing - they are all ringing. We wandered into one that had interesting statuary, designs, architecture and a guard. Eventually, our wandering led us to one room containing five plaques which listed the bishops since A.D. 45. I was eager to capture this image, but the guard was watching. Guedes, being the gregarious friendly type, pulled the guard outside out of earshot and engaged him in conversation. I noisily shot a dark panoramic. What you see is what you Guedes.
That same day, we met with Helena. One of her contacts mentioned an abandoned hotel near Braga. She does restaurant photography and gets access to or learns of the most intriguing places. This was no exception.
This hotel resides on a large property. It's an immense four story structure which peers behind these trees. Exploration revealed dirt, ruined walls, broken glass, slight garbage and more.
Exploring this place was so fun. And the awesome part... many access points to the roof.
There were also steps alongside the roof.
It's easy to get excited when you're up here.
Overall, this Braga adventure rates two thumbs up.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Lindy Hop Portugal Saga - Part 3 (Story Time)

It surprises me that some friends haven't heard certain Portugal stories. Stitches, secluded beaches, aerial workshops, purse thief catcher, marriage proposals, FC Porto, and others need recounting. I'm not one for gathering people around me and telling stories en masse. Not from the guy who reads at parties. So people have gained glimpses verbally, mere written snatches on Facebook, snippets missed due to feeds. Gather round then.

I would be teaching in Portugal for three months. An aerials workshop was a given. Abeth and I planned it as soon as we could, but we had to allow time for me to train her. She had done some previous aerial training, but not to the level that was required to teach an aerials workshop.

Day 1 found us at Leça da Palmeira. We practiced basic aerials such as the frog jumps and a litany of trip flips. We worked our way towards Moons which was easy enough. Then we started building up the pancake aerial. We got to the dive into the swing prep where I realized my mistake. Don't practice in sand if you're ill prepared for sand flying in your face.

Subsequent days found us training at the Palácio de Cristal. The sand free grass made it an easier training environment. Abeth worked hard even adding pliometrics to her workout routine. The aerials progressed well since we narrowed the teaching list to 4-5 aerials. We stepped through preps, down and ups, then overs so we understood together how the workshop would proceed. This is because workshops are best when both people can contribute to the learning process. Besides, both of us would have to pass around the room assisting people and letting them know whether they could proceed or refine an intermediate stage. Here's one video of us training the pancake.
Aerials were progressing well. The aerials workshop went rather smoothly and we had about 30 students. About half the guys worked with two women each, but they hung in there and were still throwing them at the end. Everyone got the pancake that day too. Talk about success! Abeth and I then did an aerial wrapup video that went quite well too. As I wrote in an email: "Your students should also admire the effort you put into learning and teaching these aerials with me today". See for yourself.


The Francos metro station was near my house and there was a tempting rock wall surrounding it. I was training plyo jumps there for parkour. I choose a slightly higher target, one foot makes it, the other doesn't. My shin's in pain. There's an open wound but no blood. I start moving the surrounding skin and notice it's moving independently related to the white stuff I see underneath. Then the blood wells up and I freak out (foreign country, no insurance, will I need stitches?).
I call Carlos.
Then I called Abeth (yeah, not many numbers on my phone).
 She sent me numbers for Carla and Mariana. They happened to be working at the same clinic that day, so I merrily began my trek. It was a fun 20 minute walk where the blood slowly dripped down my leg. Needless to say, they were great, Mariana makes wonderful stitches, and I can't complain with 3-4 female doctors in the room with me.
The creepy thing about this- my brother predicted this in a dream. A broken arm is close enough to stitches in a shin, right? I learned Portuguese swing dancing doctors are great. Mariana learned that stitches begets Belgian chocolates.
And my stitches earned me company with traceurs from Belgium, Germany, and Japan.

The Purse Thief

Lindy Hop Portugal held the Atlantic Swing Festival June 3-5. Abeth and I taught alongside Argentina's Gaston Fernandez and Tina Rizza. After Sunday's workshops, everyone headed to the gazebo near the Jardim da Cordoaria for my farewell party. If I read Google Groups ever, I would have trusted this information. Any time someone would mention "hey, it's your farewell party", even if it was Gaston and Tina, I inwardly scoffed. It seemed appropriate to have a relaxed Sunday party, but I never trusted the intel related to me.
So many dancers came. They brought food, alcohol, and blankets. Eventually, the food and bags were pushed to the edges so people could dance. I still didn't trust the intel until there were toasts and a 3 song steal jam. It was a nice thank you from the Portuguese dancers. They even gifted me with a Taylor's 20 Year Old Tawny Porto (still unopened and safely stored away). Eventually, I got worn out and headed outside the gazebo and chatted with Nuno (the suited guy).
We talked of a few things, including my possible return. Suddenly two guys run past us, snatching a purse from the gazebo's edge, and continue running. A few seconds elapse and then I threw my camera bag to Nuno and took off after them black jacket flapping open. They sprinted through the hedges, trees and down the steps exiting this garden. They were heading toward the Centro Português de Fotografia and I was catching up. When I was nearly 10-15 meters away, the back guy tossed the purse to the front guy. The front guy missed and I snatched the purse off the ground. They warily walked a few meters from me feebly gesturing toward the bag. My eyes were then quickly drawn to the 4-5 lindy hopper guys pounding pavement towards me and them. The failed thieves scampered off to friendlier environs.

It was an adrenaline rush. The purse was unopened, the guys were congratulating me, we successfully returned. It was an exciting moment that deserved mental replay, but you can't recapture that feeling. The purse belonged to Mariana, the doctor who stitched me. She jokingly proposed to me and I gently declined.

I had trouble walking after that hard sprint. I thought it was my sciatic nerve acting up and my Porto chiropractor didn't give me conclusive information to dissuade me from this self-diagnosis. Only until I arrived in Colorado did I get a proper diagnosis. My lasting reminder - a scarred meniscus. My range of motion is improving, but I have to watch my landings.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Lindy Hop Portugal Saga - Part 2

Portugal is fortunate to have Abeth as their instructor and Abeth is fortunate to have Portugal. She works hard as their teacher, they work hard as her students. Trust me, I've seen some amazing old footage of some of their current best dancers - Diana, Hugo, Ana Margarida.
She has brought in some of the world's best lindy hop instructors- Skye and Marie, Thomas and Alice. Portugal, though it's sometimes a financial struggle, shows up to learn. She also manages to capture wayfaring leads to Portugal for short visits- Dave, Marc-Andre, Gontran and myself. She's picky and selective with whom she has teaches, though. Not every wandering minstrel gets to teach there. If I recall correctly, I passed the initial inspection thanks to my youtube channel and I'm sure Lexi Keeton. Abeth is protective of her lindy hop cub.

My first Porto visit stands out even more for its contrast against Galway's swing scene. Tiffiny Wine and I just taught a one day workshop there. Her and her boyfriend, Jason Stingl, went to Barcelona afterward, I went to Porto. We had an excellent time in Galway. The people are great, socialable, very hospitable, and they applauded a lot (this rarely happens at the Mercury Cafe classes). Their dancing is a bit old-school much like Denver pre-2004. Portugal, however, was current and up to date with international trends. It felt a bit like Denver. Again, kudos to Abeth's hard work.

This meant I had an easier transition into Portugal's scene. It wasn't seamless, but it was relatively smooth. It's delicate entering into someone else's domain especially in a foreign country. You have language and culture barriers. I'm not the most socialable creature. But since I would be here three months, I had to jump in and tread Portugal's lindy hop waters.
Treading was easy with my supporting cast. Daniel got me doing indoor rock climbing. Niko, my Argentine flatmate, introduced me to CuevanaTV. Monica introduced me to useful and naughty Portuguese phrases. Guedes wanted to train parkour. Helena was a great tour guide. Dalia introduced me to aguardente. Carla had a vast English sci-fi and fantasy book collection. I could speak fluent and rapid English with Abeth, formerly of San Francisco. David was my long lost Portuguese twin (somehow). Carlos offered me rides. Diana repaired my shirt. The list continues on.

In the midst of this, I taught 10 hours or more a week. Teaching more hours depended on team practices or a random workshop. Other dance hours were consumed planning classes, workshops, training, or choreographing. A few new ideas occurred when I was there.

First, we decided to change Level 1's swingout. Eventually, the more intermediate levels are taught rocksteps, stylings, on the 1,2. In essence, the stretch/release lindy hop component. Not so with Level 1. This changed soon after I arrived. It slightly disrupted Level 1 but they toughed it with us since this was a fundamental alteration to their basic.
 This video comes from their Atlantic Swing Festival Performance. Abeth and I added to the original choreography taught by her and Gontran when he was in Porto. It was a great way to reinforce patterns taught during Gontran's workshop and then material we had been teaching in Level 1.

A second change was no stretching before class. Abeth loved to stretch the dancers before class, but I rarely (very rarely) participated. I am used to dynamic and active stretches before parkour, crossfit, and aerials, but this languid stretching was neither. We talked together and brought in another lindy hopper with outside active interests who agreed with me. Stretching does not help your muscles before physical activity, but classes generally had a warm up. Warm ups were either charleston, 8 ct rhythm, jazz, or general dance based.

Third, was the first formal Portuguese lindy hop aerials workshop. Several dancers had been practicing aerials on their own before. They would learn from youtube videos, workshops they attended outside Portugal, a gymnastics coach, or from DVDs I shipped Abeth. In fact, some of these dancers finally realized I was on some of those youtube videos they watched. Abeth and I taught one Porto aerial workshop, I ran one Porto beach aerial practica, and taught another aerial workshop in Lisbon.

Finally, and this trickled down from Level 4, we got the leaders to catch the follows more solidly on the swingout's 3,4. It was surprising for Abeth to hear me tell her she was light because the Portuguese leaders made her feel heavy. So, we played with incoming and outgoing momentum, catching follows with lats and legs, and being athletic. I'd like to think the follows trust their leaders with their momentum more and the leaders are more grounded, but that's for them to say.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lindy Hop Portugal Saga - Part 1

People fall into three categories this summer.

1. The people that didn't realize I was gone.
RI (Random Individual): "Hey Kenny, where have you been? I haven't seen you out much."
A: "Well, I was living in Portugal for three months."
RI: "Cool. Wait! You what?"

2. The people that thought I was in Paraguay, Spain, etc.
RI: "Hey Kenny, how was Spain?"
A: Bam! [swift kick for the Portuguese you just insulted.]

3. The people that knew I had left, where I went, and what I was doing.
RI: "Hey Kenny, how was teaching in Portugal?"
A: Read this blog post.

Why don't you quit your job and come live here for a few months?
....come on spend 3 months in Portugal. Not asking for much :)
If you want to get into something where you make a difference, Portugal is really on the edge. You'll feel like you're doing something that's affecting people's lives.

I was introduced to Abeth Farag, face of Lindy Hop Portugal, in September, 2009.
A good friend of mine, Lexi Keeton, knew I desired to visit another European country after a Galway, Ireland teaching gig, so she suggested I contact Abeth in Portugal. I did and found a place to stay, a Porto tour guide, a 2 hour class to teach, and a friend whom I stayed in contact.

From this continued communication came the above online Gmail Chat snippets. Wheels were set in motion for me to teach during an extended Portuguese stay. I was dissatisfied with Denver's dance scene and my job. What was a difficult decision became easier as I tolerated work and disappeared from the Mercury Cafe.

I gave work 3 weeks notice and started training my replacement. Heather Ballew and I were working hard getting our balboa team ready for Rocky Mountain Balboa Blowout. Ten couples, one darn piano, still turned in a satisfying performance.
The next weekend I taught at the Heartland Swing Festival. In this middle of these two events, I frantically packed. Clothes were donated, furniture thrown out, items given to friends for storage, a car overflowing with goods. I drove to Kansas City, offloaded my car to my parents, and then flew to Portugal 4 days after the Heartland Swing Festival.

I arrived in Portugal the second weekend of March to coincide with a beginner workshop Abeth taught with Johan Umefjord in Faro, Portugal. My departure was scheduled 89 days later after the first weekend of June.

Upon my arrival, I immediately caused confusion amongst Portugal's dancers. Lisbon dancers and at least one Porto follow drove down for the Saturday dance where Desbundixie played. We danced, stayed out late, listened to "Caliban" sing and play his guitar, and generally enjoyed ourselves. These dancers were describing the new instructor to their Porto counterparts, but there was mild disagreement about my hair length. I arrived to Faro with long hair, having not cut my hair in 10 months.
I taught my first Porto class the coming Monday after getting the shortest haircut in my remembered life. On Thursday, when I taught in Lisbon, the confusion was laid to rest now that both major Portugal lindy hop groups had seen me.

My transition to Portugal was easy. I moved into Abeth's former apartment with her two roommates. I remembered dancers from 2009
 and met new ones.
English speakers were prominent, so I eked by with few Portuguese words and phrases. Abeth gave me a phone, started me with a metro card, and picked me up for classes. Rent was cheap, food was cheap, Hulu was replaced by Cuevana and CH131, and walking around was easy. I cheered for FC Porto and mocked Benfica.
 I carried around 5 liter water jugs.
Most importantly, I was provided hand drawn Porto maps, a top cities list, and Portuguese phrase "survival kits". Examples below:

Portugal Map:
Top City List:
Phrase Survival Kit:
Futbol Survival Kit:
After reviewing these survival kits, being in good physical shape is necessary too, so you can either run, duck from slaps, or take a punch.

Lindy Hop Portugal has 5 class levels: 0 (complete newbies), 1 (beginner), 2 (intermediate), 3 (advanced intermediate), 4 (advanced). I saw Levels 1-4 every week and only Level 0 when they became the new Level 1 at May's end. Classes enjoy a 3 month cycle where dancers may move up a level after that period depending on their improvement, gender ratio, or if they're dating someone in their class. This means a new group of dancers cycles through every 3 months.

It's a fine gender balance since lindy hop isn't considered "macho" enough for mainstream Portuguese society. You'll often find classes have slightly more women attending, though the reverse did infrequently occur. The women have learned to sign up quickly for workshops or festivals since Abeth will often place them on waiting lists. The other tactic is to sign up with a partner or boyfriend to avoid the dreaded waitlist.

Kizomba ("macho", because grinding never gets old):
Lindy Hop Portugal (guys looking macho):

Now, a 3 month teaching cycle seems dreadfully long if you're me. However, I've had the benefit of weekly dances in accessible venues. These venues and their instructors have adapted faster teaching cycles, month long courses, and more frequent tentpole workshops. Porto, in contrast, has 1 monthly dance at Maus Hábitos and a weekly practica. The urgency to get people dancing moves isn't there, so more time is spent teaching slows, quicks, and triple steps inside very basic 8 count patterns. As a result, I slowed my teaching pace, and learned to really drill and refine their lindy hop technique especially in Level 1.

Important Teaching Tips:
1. Speakly slower and enunciate
2. Remove American idioms
3. Create solid visual examples
4. Listen well to their questions whether in Portuguese or English
5. Smile and be pleasant
6. Build rapport

Team Porto

Team Lisbon

Monday, August 8, 2011

Biker Jim's - Fry Anything Friday

Persistence and a prodigious food related memory pays off. As an avid Westword Cafe Society reader, I remembered this article and the news of Fry Anything Friday. My imagination was captured and I anxiously awaited Biker Jim's restaurant opening. The opening was postponed and eventually I left Denver for a 3 month stay in Portugal. While I did enjoy my Portugal stint, I kept abreast of Denver's restaurant news, even purchasing discount deals for Biker Jim's.

3 days after I returned to Colorado, I contact Biker Jim and asked if he was doing Fry Anything Fridays. I hadn't seen any news about this on Facebook, his website or the Westword (always a Biker Jim fan). We immediately started talking and tried to arrange a frying date. We talked in person at the July Justice League of Street Food Party, but finally at the Uptown Block Party we set a date - Friday, August 5.
I invited several friends, but was the first to arrive. I contented myself with their Street Burger, a great concoction of a beef patty, bitter lettuce, fried green tomato, onion strings, roasted poblano pepper, basted egg, and bun. Great flavors all around.
Biker Jim's menu has slightly changed. There are signature items and also dogs you can pair with select toppings. Love the sign typography.
I first seated myself at the bar to be closer to the action. I met Shane, Ian and Andrew over there, one of which brought liquid nitrogen for future evening fun. Finally, another friend arrived with some food stuff and we chatted with Biker Jim for a while. He had ideas, we had ideas, and other incoming friends did too.
First, we started with fried duck fat or his take on cracklins. The first batch was fatty with an unusually tasty smoky flavor. My friend went so far as to describe it as nutty. The second was batch was addictively saltier.
Next were the Irish Egg experiments. You take a hard boiled egg and wrap corn beef and hash around it. The corn beef and hash were his own creations. He wasn't satisfied with this first take, so we enjoyed attempt #2.
He took the same mixture, but also fried it with tempura batter. It held together much better and was just as delicious.
Delicious looking, right? You're wishing you were here with us, aren't you?
In between the fried food, I encouraged my attending friends to order food. According to Jess, if you're a Texan living in Colorado longing for home, try the Rattlesnake & Pheasant Dog.
Pop quiz: What's been soaked in brine for 6 hours and buttermilk for 16 hours? Answer: Biker Jim's fried chicken. Crunchy outer shell, tender meat, fantastic treat. It was fend for yourselves time.
And what would life be without a large, thick sourdough waffle with butter and maple syrup? Much emptier. We quartered this amongst us three and another guest who heard the Fry Anything siren call.
Welcome to the lemon blueberry cheesecake ice cream with exploding whipped cream. Whipped cream was forced through liquid nitrogen so it exploded it your mouth as it was cooled. What a reaction! Well done experimentation, Biker Jim!
Now it was our turn. We listened attentively to the battering and frying instructions.
Fried pickle spears were the first.
While they were frying, we were adding battered peppadew peppers stuffed with bacon and goat cheese.
Here Kevin is getting creative with speared cheese slices featuring dried cranberries between.
Savor the fried pickle spears with mustard and peppadew peppers.
Biker Jim contemplating a fried stuffed peppadew.
Sporting Movemental gear, I join the frying fun.
It's getting crowded as we're frying reese's cups, bananas, strawberries, and a Snickers bar.
Our fried bounty.
The picture sums up the ridiculously good time we had. Thank you, Biker Jim, for hosting Fry Anything Friday. The food was amazing, the experimentation awesome, the frying so much fun. My friends and I can't wait for this to happen again!