Friday, February 24, 2012

Free Photo Friday -- Food

I can't imagine anything in the world that excites me more than . . . food. What were you thinking? Food. I often go to restaurants alone so that I can enjoy the evening chewing and licking and swallowing food. And if you find that icky, well to each his own. If you say the word FOOD enough, it starts to sound dumb and stunted. We should have a new word for food. In Italian it's cibo, which sounds much cuter than food. In Chinese the verb to eat is 吃, which is pretty. You pronounce it like this. As always, Friday's photos are free. Eat them up, as it were.    

It's difficult to see just how enormous 
these peppers are. They're the size of 
watermelons. Could you imagine one
of them roasted and stuffed with goat's cheese?

A symbol of Peace--the humble artichoke.

The best ham I've ever tasted. Bilbao, Spain. I put one in my carry-on.

These lemons from the Amalfi Coast are the size of grapefruits. The white meaty flesh between the rind and the juicy part is meant to be eaten with honey and vinegar.

Presentation is everything.

Aubergine in Palermo

If my memory serves me correctly, this gigantic loaf of bread is in an Alsatian shop window at Christmas. Or was it a church?

A tomato truck on its way to market near Cairo. I took this picture from inside a bus on my way to Giza. It's not a great picture, but I couldn't get over the precariousness of a zillion tomatoes teetering down the road.
I'll be traveling for the next few days. Next stop on this life of adventure and airplane meals is Brazil, where I will eat my fill of moqueca de peixe, a fish stew made with coconut milk. 

I must be off,

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Five Things to Love about Bilbao/Bilbo

The Guggenheim, Bilbao
The Matter of Time, Richard Serra
(Important! If the bottom of this post is cut off by the homepage pictures, try reloading the page. This usually works.)

First of all I have to say I knew I'd love Bilbao--or Bilbo as the city is known in Basque. I don't know why I knew this--but I did. Like millions of other people, I first heard of the city when the Guggenheim museum landed like a wavy UFO on the bank of the river Ibaizabal or Nervion, depending on who you talk to. I saw pictures in travel magazines and dreamed of visiting one day--but of course not actually to breach the doors of the Guggenheim. I hate museums, as you will know if you've been following my blog for any length of time at all.

Within about an hour of being in a museum, I start getting what I will coin here as "museum legs," a muscular condition characterized by the need to run laps around artwork when one is categorically prohibited from doing so. The proper behavior in a museum is to walk excruciatingly slowly, to nod knowingly at works of art which are heavy on concept and light on whatever separates one completely black canvas from another. I don't know. The Guggenheim in Bilbao will always be more loved for its shell than for the art it contains.

The Guggenheim's Pet Dog
1. The above notwithstanding, The Guggenheim and its Flower Dog are certainly the first reason to love Bilbao. If I was paying attention to my audio guide, there are only 133 works of art on display in The Guggenheim right now, and I think I nodded knowingly at all of them. I could have trotted around them if I'd needed to. There`s so much space in The Guggenheim. I even walked--quickly--through Richard Serra's enormous steel swirls and thought about my existence in space and steel--that is, until my museum legs made me run out and order a glass of Rioja at the museum restaurant.

2. Pintxo Bars. These are like Tapas Bars where you can graze typical Basque pintxos--which I'm told is Spanish for skewers although very few of the pintxos are actually on skewers--and drink wine at wonderfully reasonable prices. A small glass of Rioja is usually less than 2 euros. For readers concerned about eating gluten-free, you can eat the tortilla, a potato and egg pie filled with ham, cheese, mushrooms, or lots of other ingredients (pictured below). We spent a few hours at the Pintxo bar Santa Maria because it was just down the street from our hotel in the casco viejo--drinking one small glass of Rioja after the other.
Have a look at this GREAT POST by Lauren Aloise on the pintxos of Bilbao. 

A Pintxo Bar in the Old City of Bilbao

The variety of Pintxos
was astounding.
3. Everything's cheaper in Bilbao! I hadn't planned to go shopping for clothes, but the prices were just too good to pass up. I'm surprised my carry-on bag was big enough for everything I bought. Our three-star hotel in the old city was only 60 euros a night.

4. I don't have children, but if I had a few I'd dress them up like pirates, cowboys and Smurfs and take them to Bilbao for Carnival. Saturday night was mild and dry: a perfect evening for the traditional Carnival processions through the city and especially the old town (casco viejo). I was expecting a parade, but what we witnessed were hundreds of families--from toddlers to great grandpas--each group dressed in matching costumes (troupes of spacemen, witches, bumble bees, etc.). There were also groups of friends dressed alike and processions with large carts playing loud music. Carnival in Bilbao is a lively, fun and relatively safe place.

A Family of Smurfs
A Slice of Tortilla (gluten-free!)

5. And Bilbao is a friendly place. One advantage of a city's relative inexperience with tourism--compared to, say, Venice's two-hundred-year-old love/hate relationship with tourists--is that Bilbao still seems truly grateful for guests. Not once was I treated rudely. Not once did a waiter sneer at my attempts to speak Spanish and say gruffly "I speak English. What do want?" as a server did in Paris last summer (I told her I wanted a different server). The big tourist cities of Europe are over you quite frankly, Mr. Tourist. They don't think they need you.

London, Paris, Rome, Florence and Venice will always have visitors no matter how incredibly awful they treat you, the humble-sweet-wonderful tourist who's spent a lot of money to be there. May Bilbao never become so jaded.

I HEART Bilbao/Bilbo.Have you been to Bilbao? What were your impressions?

I must be off,
A Year Ago on I Must Be Off!


Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type. Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Monday Reader -- Reading Worth the Read

I was in Bilbao, Spain at the weekend. I'll be posting something about that later this week, but right now imagine that you are still in Bilbao--that you forgot to crawl back into my carry-on luggage--and you're resting your tired, aching legs on this bench-like chair. Oh, wait. You can't rest; you have to pedal. This bench is like a paddle boat that doesn't go anywhere. No matter. Click on these links and they'll take you to a few people who have something to celebrate. Congratulate them if you have time. Everyone loves a little love.

Great News from the Lit Blogs

Dan Powell has a story in The Best British Short Stories 2012

Tania Hershman's second short story collection will be published in the spring!

Joani (JP) Reese's first collection of poetry has sold out of its first printing!

Michelle Elvy has received a grant! Who doesn't love a grant?

After you've congratulated all these wonderful people, sit back and read about a couple of places you might want to go . . .

From the Travel Blogs

Whale Watching at Newport Beach by Ruth at Tanama Tales

Mardi Gras! from Glen Abbott (lots of pics)


Beautiful Pictures of Santorini taken by Diana at Just Wanderlust

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Ten Flowers for Valentine's Day -- 2012

(Important! If the post below is cut off at the bottom,
reload the page. This usually solves the problem.) 
Welcome to Free Photo Friday. The photos below are free, which doesn't necessarily mean they're not incarcerated; it means they're free for you to use them if you want. I don't know what you'd do with them, but that's not really my concern. You're free to decide, which doesn't mean you're not incarcerated. You might be. I suppose there are some people in prison who occasionally come across my blog. If you're in prison, I'm really sorry about that. The law is, however, the law. That said, even if you are in prison, you can still enjoy these ten flowers for Valentine's Day. Much love and much freedom from I Must Be Off!
Is this a species of thistle? The bank along the Fleuve St. Laurent was dappled with these dots of purple. The bees loved them. They must be tasty.
An offering? On the island of Madeira.

I love these simple yet intricate flowers. Each one is different. Amalfi, Italy.
Another busy bee. This one is high atop the island of Capri in Anacapri.
An individualist. The Badlands, South Dakota

Lost in the Crowd. Somewhere in South Dakota

Wild flowers in South Tyrol, Italy. I've had this picture as my screensaver for months. It reminds me that there's beauty everywhere you look. But you have to look.
And flowers always help beautify. Bali, Indonesia
The day was cold, but inside the greenhouses of Berlin's Botanischer Garten the air was humid and warm. The tree bearing this flower had hundreds of bursts dripping with pink. Happy Valentine's Day!

I must be off,

Christopher Allen is the author of the absurdist satire Conversations with S. Teri O'Type

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Reader -- Reading Worth the Read

Have a seat on this romantic bench and read today's romantic reads. Imagine you're in a little town in Croatia. It's Easter and sunny. Mid-morning. You have this little park all to yourself and your Monday Reads: mix of poetry, feel-good humor and beautiful shots of Hawaii. What more could you want? Yes, I know--a cushion. These benches are hard. 

Poetry From the Lit Blogs/Zines

Three Love Poems by Len Kuntz

Coal Poetry by Sheldon Lee Compton

Two Poems by Rose Hunter

From the Travel Blogs

Robin Graham writes about Adopting a Baby!
Ruth at Tanama Tales wants to do something nice for you this month for Valentine's.


Beth Whitman's photos of Hawaii

My Monday Muse Photos

Sunday, February 12, 2012

My Brush with Whitney

I'm conflicted. Should I mention this or not? A momentary brush with a superstar? I wasn't a fan. She was good, but my feelings about Whitney Houston have always been somewhere in the middle of fan and anti-fan. She had a good voice, but a good voice isn't everything. I'm not making a negative or a positive comment on her life; I'm simply mentioning this to document two lives crossing...and to bid her farewell. I'm glad she's not suffering any longer.

It was 1991. I was living in LA for about six months and waiting tables at Jerry's Famous Deli. The graveyard shift. I waited on every comedian--both professional and incredibly amateur--in LA. One night Whitney with her entourage of four or five friends showed up at one of my tables.

She ordered fried chicken at a Jewish deli.

"It's not going to be good," I said--as a good waiter should.

"I want fried chicken," she said.

"And fried chicken you'll get," I said. Really really bad chicken, I didn't say.

Twenty minutes later when she got here food, her reaction was "Bullshit. Just like I thought. Bullshit." She laughed hysterically as if even bad fried chicken were something to smile about. She had a beautiful smile.

"Actually," I said, "I was the one who said it would be bullshit." She should have ordered the lox or the matzo ball soup.

She laughed. I laughed. And she ate it, I think. I don't remember her sending it back.

In LA I waited on the likes of Billy Idol (very nice) and Marlon Brando (from top to bottom, total and complete, every bit an asshole), but Whitney was just there to have a good time with her friends. I don't think she ever looked at me--which is perfectly fine. When I worked as a waiter, I wanted to be invisible. 

So--besides telling all my students in Germany that "I Will Always Love You" was actually a country song written and sung for decades by Dolly Parton--my few invisible moments in LA with Whitney are all I have to cherish. I was a twenty-something in the 80s, so I knew every Whitney song by heart. Her downward spiral saddened everyone I knew.

Her life was too short.

I must be off,

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

From D to NZ -- Eine Wanderung

This blog post is part of An Aotearoa Affair: A Blog Fest from Kiel to Kaitaia, a collaborative web initiative in anticipation of the Frankfurt Bookfair in October, where New Zealand is the Guest of Honour.

On sunny autumn days, the mountain lakes of Bavaria are overrun with families and couples and elderly hardcore walkers getting their last walk in before winter, at which point many of these people will then strap on their cross-country skis and do essentially the same thing...just a bit more quickly. Walking, for them and for me, is a solitary endeavor: a time to learn the rhythm of one’s thoughts.

Marienplatz in Munich
In Munich, I work in two parts of the city that are miles apart from each other. I walk between my appointments to free my mind. In fact, I have some of my less awful ideas while walking. I've learned that I need moments when I'm not trying so hard to come up with the perfect phrase or an original plot. When I walk my mind has permission to wander—die Gedanken sind doch frei, gel? Not long into the wandering, my mind will work out a problem in my writing, and I'll think, "Man, why didn't I think of that?"

You know the adage If you want to find something, then stop looking for it. That's hard to do when you're walking in an extraordinary place bursting with photo-ops. When I'm walking in the mountains, my camera often stands between me and my thoughts. Always looking for a perfect photo motif is like always looking for that great idea. You could drive yourself crazy looking, turning the idea this way and that to get just the right perspective—and in the end you rob your brain the chance to wander. Though there was natural poetry all around, I didn’t take many photos in New Zealand. I think the beauty must have been too big to capture within the frame of my little Nokia camera. Or maybe I just didn't know how to use the camera? 

Auckland, New Zealand
I started in Auckland, where I hiked The Coast to Coast Walkway through the city, the university and up to the domain . . . and then I got lost in a residential area, wandering through imagined stories of the people inside the houses. The next day, I left Auckland in a motorhome and travelled from the North Island to the South Island on a 16-day trip—bis jetzt die beste Reise meines Lebens. I had no idea where I was going. Just south. It was like wandering on four wheels--or I guess six.

Abends--after I'd walked for seven or eight hours around lakes and up glaciers--I listened to Crowded House in the motorhome. I woke up every morning to freezing water lapping against the shores of mountain lakes. A Crowded House lyric would still be lapping in my head. ‘Lose yourself when you linger long / Into temptation.’ I was tempted to linger a lifetime in that motorhome, wandering through New Zealand. What an incredibly free place for my thoughts (and my legs) to live.

On the third day when I stopped at a supermarket to stock up on steaks, salad and wine--I wasn't exactly roughing it--I also grabbed a Brooke Fraser CD. I’d heard one song on the radio. I liked the song, but I ended up loving the CD. It became the soundtrack of the trip. I sang the songs as I walked along rivers, through temperate rainforests, up to (and onto) glaciers, up the hill in Queenstown and a small part of the Queen Charlotte Track. I walked and walked, my mind wandering through the lyrics of Crowded House and Brook Fraser songs. The CD still brings back those days in New Zealand, still reminds me that wandering through New Zealand worked ‘an indelible change in me.’

Read more about An Aotearoa Affair HERE

To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to R is for Rio de Janeiro.

I must be off,


Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen's award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly's Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, The Best of Every Day Ficton, Pure Slush, Bootsnall Travel and Chicken Soup for the Soul. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen. Recently, Allen--along with editors Michelle Elvy and Linda Simoni-Wastila--hosted Flash Mob 2013 in celebration of International Flash Fiction Day. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Monday Reader -- Reading Worth a Read

Imagine you're sitting on this bench in Central Park and enjoy this Monday's reads. Um, imagine you have cushion too. 

Literary Reads

Today I'm beginning with Marcus Speh's post A Week on the Far Side of the Moon. Marcus knows social networking like his vest pocket and writes about it brilliantly. This post is well worth the attention of a Monday reader.

Jincy Willett's review of Henry Alford's Would it Kill You to Stop Doing That?

Martha Williams asks the question Why Do We Write (letters)? Lovely post. Her children are so lucky.

Dan Powell's story "Soiled" appears in Friction Issue 4. Read it HERE. And his story "The Man Who Lived Liked a Tree" HERE.

M.J. Nicholls must read 24 hours a day. Here's his January in novels PART I and PART II. Lord bless his eyes.

Travel Reads

Robin Graham writes about a hidden bar in Granada.

Andy Higgs interviews himself about his trip to Prora, Rugen, a seaside resort begun but never completed by the Nazis. Excellent article. Very informative.


The Positive Light People's Choice Finalists

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Whirlwind Weekend in NYC

Not the one in Paris
Would you like to fly ten hours to New York and ten hours back . . . for the weekend? Heck yeah. Why not? It takes me four or five days to get over jetlag when I travel to the US, so last weekend was, in every sense of the word, a whirlwind.

The flight to Newark was delayed an hour (the flight was actually operated by a United Airlines crew, which meant that the on-board service was incredibly unpleasant and sparse). I ended up sitting behind one of my favorite passenger types for ten hours. I've written about this type of passenger before. He's the animal who doesn't know exactly what he bought when he bought his ticket.

"Are these bags yours?" he asked as he opened his overhead bin.

"One of them is." I smiled because I'm cute when I smile.

"Well, they're in my overhead bin."

"Hmmm. Does it have your name on it?" I didn't say this.

"It has my seat number on it," he said.

Rockefeller Center
"Well, then you need to tell the guy behind me to take his luggage out of the overhead bin that has my number on it," I said.

"Alles falsch eingeräumt [everything's in the wrong place]," he said, shook his head and proceeded to put his bags in the overhead bin two rows behind his seat. People who do this make me crazy. When the plane lands, they'll have to go against the flow to get their bags. Always put your bags in the overhead bins in front of your seat, not behind (if the one above your seat is already taken).

Here's the big news for the guy in front of me: when you bought your ticket, the overhead bin above your seat was not in the deal, bub.

Time Square

Then . . . Then! When he was done reading his newspaper he stuffed it under his seat on top of my feet. You can imagine what I did: I kicked the newspaper into the aisle. A few minutes later he saw it and tried to stuff it over my feet again. At this point he had an ah-hah moment. The person (me) behind him actually had legs just like he did. Here's the second bit of news for the guy in front of me on the flight to Newark: when you buy your ticket, you do indeed purchase the space under the seat in front of you. That space is for your legs, not for other passengers' newspapers or pillows. He stuffed a pillow on top of my feet later on. Was he that stupid, or was he trying to piss me off. Hmmmm. I like to believe in the goodness of others, so I'm going for stupid on this one.

In NYC I was fortunate to spend a few hours with three writers whom I've become acquainted with over the last few years. Sara Lippmann, Julie Innis and Susan Tepper--all dauntingly brilliant. I must apologize to them if I seemed a bit tired. I'd comment on the conversation, but I don't remember much. I was Jet Lag Man (JLM) the entire weekend.

Playwright/ Screenwriter Lori Fischer
I spent much of my weekend with my close friend Lori Fischer. She's working on so much these days. Screenplays, plays, songwriter nights, writing seminars. I had the treat of previewing her new film, in which one of the characters mentions my name and my writing. I'm still smiling about that. How cool is that? Very very very cool.

At the weekend, we went all the way to the top of the Rockefeller Center (Top of the Rock), ate at Lori's favorite Italian restaurant, Azuri Café with its three tables and great food, a Thai restaurant on Ninth that I barely remember (JLM strikes again!), and a diner on Ninth for breakfast each morning. On Saturday night we saw a cabaret show at Don't Tell Mama, and on Sunday we walked for three hours in Central Park.

Central Park
Needless to say, I slept the entire flight back to Munich. If the guy in front of me stuffed anything under my feet, I have no idea. JLM was out to the world.

Stay tuned to I Must Be Off! I have so many trips planned the year, it's freaky to think about it. My next trip is to Bilbao.

I must be off,
Christopher (JLM)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Free Photo Friday -- Patterns

It's the return of Free Photo Friday. I know you're as excited as I am. It's possible that you're even more excited than I am. I'm a little tired actually.

Today I'm bringing you some of my favorite photos on the theme of pattern, shapes and structures. Yes, that's a unified theme. As usual, these pictures are yours not only to enjoy but also to steal. Well, it's not a crime if I say you can do it.

Here for the taking . . .

I'm drawn to patterns. I guess we all are. I guess that's why patterns exist: to draw our eyes to them. This is a hand-painted plate (probably still) hanging outside a shop in Amalfi on the Amalfi Coast.

A rooftop in a Croatian village. I want to be as pretty as these old roof tiles when I'm that old.

A tree garden exhibit in Montreal. I read the sign several times, trying to figure out what the point was. Something about appreciating the importance of trees? Of plastic trees?

These are elk antlers--thousands of them--that make up the four arches in the center of Jackson (Hole), Wyoming. Just a stone's throw away from Jackson Hole, tens of thousands of elk shed their antlers each year, so the creative people of Jackson, Wyoming made arches out of them. When life gives you antlers, make antler arches.

These are monstrously large jacks in the tiny port of Amalfi. It makes you wonder what giant played here. OK, maybe it doesn't.

A bit of Americana from a church on Mackinac Island, where Americana made in Nicaragua, Pakistan and China can be found in every shop. Yay?

I'm that guy taking pictures of the floor while all the other tourists are taking pictures of . . . well I don't know what they were taking pictures of. I was looking at the floor in a church on the Sea of Galilee.

Carnival on Madeira.