In Istanbul, time and space are fluid. One moment you’re in the 17th century, bedazzled by tulip tiles in the harem of Topkapi palace, the next you’re dining on 21st century tapas at a hip café atop a 19th century building. I’ve spent hours on the ferries that zig-zag across the Bosphorous, sailing from Europe to Asia and back again. On a rainy day, there is no better place to be than on the top deck, sipping a glass of hot Turkish tea, gazing at the minarets of tiny mosques, carved wooden yalis or summerhouses clinging to the shore, giant container ships heading to the Black Sea.
What makes a trip special is getting to know the people who live there. In Andalusia, we spent an unforgettable day with Blas and Andres, two passionate young olive oil producers who arranged a tasting of the extraordinary oils they make at a spotless high tech production facility. Later we had a delicious luncheon in an old house in the midst of their olive groves, attended by workers and family members. Buttery Manzanillo olives stuffed with anchovies, freshly roasted almonds, hunks of bread with tomato, and thinly sliced pork, brushed with lemon and olive oil, grilled in a blackened fireplace over smoldering olive wood logs—it doesn’t get much better than this.
I loved the time I spent in Oaxaca with Susana Trilling, whose cookbook, Seasons of My Heart, was featured in a PBS series. Her classes are a great way to learn about the cooking of the region. You might go to the Mercado de Abastos, where you’ll find a staggering variety of dried chiles and herbs, then return to Rancho Aurora to make a delicious mole. Or you could head up into the mountains to gather wild mushrooms. There’s always room for the unexpected—we skipped a lecture on corn to go to a christening party for a friend’s grandson where we drank homemade mescal and danced under a glitter ball.
I admire anyone who travels light, but personally, I’ve given up the pretense. For long trips I have a rolling duffel with numerous zippered pockets, perfect for stashing ziplocked bags of spices and vitamins. I always stick the Bali Bag in my suitcase: I bought this soft, zippered fake batik bag for $8 in Ubud many years ago. It’s where I stow the dirty laundry when the duffle is filled with peacock fans and Moroccan rugs. And no, I don’t own an iPad. I always travel with books, which is why excess baggage charges and I are old friends.
Even though I write on an iMac, I take travel notes in bound notebooks. I’m a fan of Moleskines, of course, especially the soft colorful ones for short trips and interviews. For longer trips, there are the discreet hardbound black books, but I’m also partial to Papier + linen-covered journals which come in wonderful shades like fuschia and aubergine. I always stock up in Paris. Why take notes? If I don’t, I’ll never remember the details.
I’m a market junkie. Two favorites: 1. KK wet market in Singapore, where you’ll find giant blue Sri Lankan crabs, and spices like fresh turmeric and lime leaf; afterwards go across the street to Komala Vilas and order a onion rava dosa, a semolina pancake stuffed with purple onion, green chilies and cumin, served with coconut chutney, for breakfast. 2. Kadikoy market in Istanbul, for barrels of tangy red pepper paste, fresh pomegranate juice and silvery palamut, small bonito displayed with gills pulled out like bright red flowers. Then have lunch at Ciya, where you can taste Musa Dagdeviren’s take on “the forgotten foods” of southeastern Turkey: I loved the sis berek, tiny manti or meat-stuffed dumplings in an Anatolian soup of chickpeas with yoghurt and fresh mint.
A memorable encounter at Mapusa market in Goa: Two sly young women were hawking fresh cashews out of a basket in the middle of an aisle. I bought a few to taste: they were soft and creamy, so fragile they quivered like jelly. Suddenly an angry spat erupted beside me. A woman selling vegetables, there “since 5:30 A.M.,” was furiously screaming at the interlopers who were “from another town”—and at me since I was blocking her customers. “I’ll hit you in the head with a coconut,” she shouted, then sloshed water on my feet. Everyone laughed. I moved on—quickly.
Traveling with B has convinced me of the virtues of the vassilondo, a wandering walk without purpose or destination. On an afternoon meander in Granada, we encountered a group of girl Goths with electric blue hair drinking cortados at a sidewalk cafe, gypsies hawking fake saffron outside the Cathedral, and an out of the way shop selling 16th century tiles. You never know what you’ll discover when you don’t care where you’re going.
If I had my way, I’d travel by camel whenever possible. Their two-toed feet are large and soft, and leave no imprint in wet sand. It’s easy to become accustomed to their slow, rolling gait. Some, like Zidaine, the camel I rode on the beach at Essaouira, have long eyelashes and a dreamy, faraway look in their eye. Soft lips too, but watch out for those wicked-looking teeth. With transport like this, who needs planes or trains?