Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Polishing an Urban Gem

According to the Financial Times, the Italian city of Bologna is embarking in a much-needed $37 billion, 15-year urban renewal project. The heart of the project will be a new railroad station designed by Japanese architect, Arata Isozuki.

My wife, Maria, and I visited the city for the first time this past July. Our intention was to enjoy the culinary aspects of the city. After all, it is birthplace of Bolognese sauce, tortellini, and Mortadella, the original baloney. We did eat very well. However, we also fell in love with the city’s small scale, its humanely urban pace, the fewer tourists than other cities in the area, its affordability, its red brick and stone buildings, and its porticos, which provide shelter from the rain and the hot summer sun.

In fact, because of its central location and it’s a transportation hub, we think Bologna would serve as an ideal home base when visiting the Emilia Romagna region as well as Venice to the northeast, Verona and the lake region to the north, and Florence to the south.

The city also serves as an education hub with the world’s oldest university in the Western world, the University of Bologna and the city boasts one of the highest per capita income in Italy.

But the city needs to improve its infrastructure, and if it all goes as planned—proposed projects include a subway, new roadways, and buildings—the challenge, as the FT story notes, is whether it will be able to modernize the 2,500-year-old city while retaining its character.

More photos can be found below:

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Farm in the 'Hood

It is a most unlikely place to build a farm, in the middle of a struggling Philadelphia neighborhood at a location that once housed a steel plant. But since 1998, Greensgrow Farms has not only survived the lean early years but has thrived as a community center and a pioneer in the urban farm movement in Philadelphia.

Mary Seton Corboy and Tom Sereduk started Greensgrow as a hydroponic farm operation in the Kensington neighborhood selling lettuce and then tomatoes to local restaurants. Hydroponic farming essentially means growing plants in a nutrient solution without soil. Today, the operation grows a variety of vegetables on raised beds of organic soil. In addition to the farm operation, Greensgrow now has nursery, a farm stand that includes produce and fruit from local, family-run farms, and a Community Supported Agriculture center, or CSA, which generally supplies households with locally grown food through the growing season for an upfront cost. The farm even makes its own honey. Sereduk left the business a few years ago but is still active on the farm, my wife and I chatted with him during a visit a couple weeks ago.

On our most recent visit a few days ago, the food stand was a colorful display combining the end of the summer’s harvest with new fall items. Radishes, beets and multi-colored carrots shared a section of the stand with Bok Choy, Swiss chard, and broccoli rabe. Purple cabbage shared another section with red and green long peppers. Meanwhile, heirloom tomatoes were set beside a display of squashes and Indian corn. The cashier’s hut was already set for fall with a pumpkin and hay display, and even though it is late in the season, the nursery seemed to be in full bloom.

We bought spinach and arugula grown on the farm, locally grown Bok Choy, and fresh strawberries (yes strawberries in September) from Linvilla Orchards in Media, Pa., grown from a strain that seems to remain active in the fall months. We also purchased some of those colorful carrots. In addition, picked up some of the best tasting bacon we ever had from Country Time Farm, a small, family-run hog farm in Berks County, Pa., and a young chicken (less than three pounds) from Griggstown Quail Farm, in Princeton, N.J.On Saturday, Oct. 3, the farm will host its first Fall Festival.

Unfortunately, the fall season means that Greensgrow will soon be packing up for the winter. Thanksgiving Eve is its last day of operation for the season.

Greensgrow Farms,
2501 E. Cumberland St., Philadelphia, PA 19125

Pictures of the nursery are below:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

‘Classic’ Swedish Coffee

I sadly discovered there are very few Swedish products for sale in the duty-free area of Stockholm-Arlanda Airport.

Becoming a bit desperate to find something to bring home to my wife and use the rest of my Swedish krona, I stumbled upon a little section of authentic Swedish food products at a newsstand. Among the items was something called Classic coffee by the Arvid Nordquist company.

It turned out to be an excellent find. The brown, white and gold wrapping revealed a medium-brew coffee with hints of nuts and chocolate, or as the package describes as “French nougat.” It has a balanced, mild flavor. Unfortunately, it isn’t sold outside of the Nordic and Baltic regions.

I also purchased three boxes of milk chocolate covered macadamia nuts on sale with the name “Sweden” on the front of the box along with a picturesque Nordic winter scene. They turned out to be made in Australia. While disappointing, it didn’t make them any less delicious.

Arvid Nordquist Classic coffee, Arvid Nordquist H.A.B | Ekensbergsvägen 117, 171 25 Solna | Tel.08 - 799 18 00 | info@arvidnordquist.se

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Century of Swedish Design Innovation

Innovation, minimalism, and practicality that are among the hallmarks of Swedish design are on display at the Nationalmuseum of Stockholm in an exhibition titled, “Design 19002000.”

The permanent exhibition in Sweden’s largest museum contains about 30,000 items including business class serving sets used by SAS airlines (pictured above), hand-crafted fine jewelry, appliances, kitchen tools, and of course, furniture. All of the major design periods are featured in the exhibition, including works from the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930, the Scandinavian Design movement of the 1950s and Swedish new simplicity movement in the 1990s.

Following are some photographs from the exhibition:

Cleaning products, coffee and tea pots, typewriters and other items display the practicality of Swedish design.

Simple chair designs that have been used throughout the world.

Egyptian necklace made of gold, silk and titanium by Swedish designer Helena Edman.

Glass bowl by American artist Mary Ann Zynsky.

More practical designs.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Museum Dedicated to Ideas

The Nobel Museum certainly isn’t the largest of the many museums in Stockholm, but per square-inch, it packs the biggest punch with multi-media displays honoring and celebrating more than a century of human achievement.

A part of the space is dedicated to Alfred Nobel, who founded the Nobel Prize in his last will. Nobel was an inventor and businessman most known for the invention of dynamite. He held more than 300 other patents, and had 19th Century manufacturing empire throughout the world. The collection contains his books, furnishings, his inventions, original documents pertaining to the creation of the Nobel Prize and his vast business holdings.

At the time of my visit in early September, there was an exhibit on freedom of expression and censorship throughout the world, including the partial censorship by Chinese authorities of speech given by Marcus Storch, former president and chief executive of the Nobel Foundation Board of Directors; and the story of Carl von Ossietzky, a newspaper editor and pacifist who was convicted of high treason and espionage in 1931 for publishing a campaign against the spread of Nazism. The exhibit also questioned whether hate speech should be the subject of censorship. As an example it discusses a law in Norway that makes a criminal offense to make hateful expressions.

There are many artifacts, including the typewriter used by Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky and the Nassan Passport, created by Norwegian explorer, scientist and diplomat, Fridtjof Nansen, for Russian refugees after World War I (pictured left). There are films of every Nobel winner from 1901, many telling their stories in their own words.

If you look above, a portrait and prize citation of each of the more than 800 Nobel Laureates pass by, along a cableway in the ceiling. There’s also a children’s exhibit called the “Bubble Chamber.”

The Nobel Museum, Börshuset, Stortorget. Gamla Stan, Stockholm.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Work in Progress

For the first time in its 143-year history, the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm is undergoing a renovation. The idea is to restore the building to its original grandeur while adapting it to meet modern needs.

Much of the work has to do with bringing light into each room by restoring windows that have been covered up over the years. Under the plan, the different environments in each room, including the way sunlight is shown and the outside views, will create a variety of experiences.

While under renovation, these rooms will still be in use in a clever and creative exhibition called, a
"Work in Progress: The Museum in a New Light." The first installment of this project showcases the museum’s vast collections of sculptures, including works that have been in storage. They are shown in two large rooms that are being restored. In one room sculptures are peering among columns and newly painted circular ceilings in a room that is otherwise bare (pictured below). In another room sculptured heads are placed on bare scaffolding in a haphazard way, pointing to what the museum calls “a period renovation and refurbishment, aiming to introduce new ways of presenting the collections.”

Off to the side in a shipping container is Triton by Dutch sculptor Adriaen de Vries (pictured above). The bronze statue of a nude figure is twisting round as he sits on a ring of fish. The man's head is turned to the right and is slightly raised as he blows on a horn-shaped shell held in his right hand. The life-sized statue is perched on a skid and is partially boxed in with protective wooden boards. Foam wrapping is around its abdomen. The sculpture and packaging is covered on three sides by a plastic sheet, which blocks all outside light. Only a small spotlight from above is shown on the statue, another way of using light. The card explains that the work spends much of its time traveling to different museums around the world. It is part of an outside fountain that is in museum storage.

The exhibit will change, move and develop as renovations continue.

Nationalmuseum, Södra Blasieholmshamnen, Stockholm

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Stockholm Wine and Spirits Museum

It’s difficult for me not to like a city with a museum dedicated to the manufacturing, distribution, and drinking of alcohol in all of its refined beauty.

The Vin & Sprithistoriska Museet (The Historical Museum of Wines and Spirits) in Stockholm takes a look at the influence of wine, vodka and other spirits on the culture and politics of the country. The museum was founded in the 1920s by the government monopoly that distributed all alcohol in the country at the time. It is now privately owned. The manufacturing and distribution of alcohol is also in private hands with the largest company being V&S Vin & Sprit AB, which owns the Absolut brand. Attempts by the government and populous movements to control the distribution of alcohol are detailed in the museum. Thankfully, these attempts failed and the Swedes now openly enjoy their snaps (shots) in public.

Artifacts in the museum include a 500-year-old Italian wine press (left), a variety of distilling equipment, and containers and glasses through the years that were used in houses to serve their spirit of choice. My favorite part of the museum is the “scent organ,” which dispenses the scents of 55 spices used to flavor vodka and other local liqueurs, such as Swedish punsch (below).

Even though Sweden lacks the climate to produce its own wine, in the 1970s wine overtook vodka as the alcoholic beverage of choice for the Swedes, according to the museum. However, vodka remains the drink that is most associated with Sweden (Absolut please) and the museum spends a great deal of time examining its origins.

According to the museum the first distilled drink that resembled vodka was akvait (“water of life”), which was originally distilled from grapes. Later grain and then potatoes were used. This, along with improvements in the manufacturing of the product made vodka more affordable for the masses.

The museum is on the third floor of a non-descript brick building. It is not in the center of town but is easily accessible by bus or tunnelbana (subway). The cost is 50 SEK ($7.33). The cost includes an audio guide in English and takes about 45 minutes to complete.

Vin & Sprithistoriska Museet, Dalagatan 100, Vasastan, Stockholm

Monday, September 21, 2009

Free Blues Jam in Stockholm

The Stampen jazz club is a little room with a sound so big that it drifts out of the open door and through the narrow streets of Gamla Stan (Old Town) on Saturday afternoons, attracting locals and tourists like a Pied Piper with soul.

Amateur and professional musicians filter in during the four-hour jam session filling the small stage (that could double for a typical blues club in the U.S.) and spread onto the floor playing blues standards to music aficionados who strain and struggle to get a closer look.

Blues guitarist and New York native, Brian Kramer, started the afternoon jam sessions more than 10 years ago as a way to spread the blues in the Swedish city. It’s designed to be a friendly environment that challenges amateur and professional musicians while entertaining the audience.

At one point between songs, Kramer, emphasizing the universal language of the blues and the improvisational nature of the jam, said “I don’t know this guy from Adam (pointing to a tall, round bass player standing next to him) but we just made some music together.”

Stampen, Stora Nygatan 5, Gamla Stan, Stockholm. The Blues Jam is held Saturdays, 2 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Below is a video of the blues jam. Kramer is in the center wearing a hat.