The Delicatessen – Growing Up In New York

The Delicatessen- Growing Up in New York

“As I see it, there are two kinds of people in this world; people who love delis and people you shouldn’t associate with.” Damon Runyon

I just saw Deli Man. a documentary film that chronicles the delicatessens that opened up in the twenties on the lower east side of New York City. . They started as German restaurants. As the Eastern European Jewish immigrants began coming to America they brought the foods of Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Poland and Russia. The film tells the stories of  the rise of the delis and the Jewish immigrants. Their success and technology erased the old traditional urban blocks with everything you need run by mom and pop storefronts and delis on every block. In the 1930s New York had fifteen hundred Jewish delis. Now there are about twenty left. As the Jewish population assimilates and we all become foodies, we don’t just eat Jewish food anymore.

In other cultures  such as Mexican, Italian and Asian, there are always new immigrants coming in and cooking and wanting the food from their countries. There is no more Eastern European Jewish culture. The ones who live here have assimilated and the Holocaust took care of the rest. The Deli Culture is dying out.

There were two or three small delis on a block where I was growing up. There were larger deli restaurants as well. The people who worked in the delis had been there forever. They were the old timers and warranted a certain amount of respect. There was a kind of familiarity that the waiters and waitresses had – like they knew you for your whole life, even if they didn’t. They could be funny, mildly insulting and roll their eyes while you ordered everything on the side or asked for the fat to be cut off the corn beef.

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I was brought up on natural and health foods at a time that no one was. People who ate like this and exercised regularly were called heath nuts. Now they are called normal. Everyone that I knew except my family was eating Wonder Bread, Hershey Bars, Frosted Flakes and drinking Cokes and lemonade.There was no Whole Foods or McDonald’s.

We had fruit and vegetable stores so we always had plates of fresh sliced fruit and vegetables after school – not that anyone wanted that, but it was there so we ate it. We made our own candy out of peanut butter, raw coconut and honey. It was definitely more fun to make it with our hands than eat it. Our package desserts included Fig Newtons and something inedible called halvah. (It wasn’t till I went to Turkey that I found out that when it was served fresh it was delicious.) I thought Fig Newtons were inedible also. I can’t believe they are still around. We had some green herbal thing in a salt shaker that they tried to pass off as salt. We drank orange juice and we could have had a V8 instead of the cokes we longed for. We ate meat that was very rare, sometimes it looked right off the cow – blood for the blood. I don’t think I ever ate brisket until I was much older and to this day I do not like potted meat (in Yiddish gedempte flaisch)

We did not eat out because the kitchens were dirty and unsanitary in most restaurants – according to my father. It was before the rating system and they probably were. We did not use aerosol sprays because he said there was a hole in the atmosphere – something only he knew about so I was sure it was untrue. We did not have a car because it caused pollution and had to ride our bikes everywhere or take public transportation. Everyone else had cars. I was sure he was wrong about that as well.

But for some reason, delis were ok. I never asked why. Maybe it was the food of their childhood, their parents who I never met, the lower East Side of Manhattan – food they knew. We could have knishes, blintzes, sour pickles from a barrel, frankfurters, muenster cheese, peppery roast beef and they would let us order a chocolate egg cream. Occasionally we would have pastrami and corned beef sandwiches on fresh rye bread.  We ate a lot of smoked fish. Those small smoked golden white fish  had a lot of bones but they tasted good and I guess they were cheap. We were not rich and lox was expensive even then. My mother would buy a ¼ lb of lox and could easily feed six people on bagel and lox sandwiches that were mostly cream cheese. I think those neighborhood delis probably kept me alive because there was not much I was eating at home. I stopped in one every day.

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We could not have salami or bologna because “we didn’t know what was in it and there were probably chemical additives”. I grew up bringing ham sandwiches to school for lunch and lying and saying it was bologna because the Jewish people in my neighborhood did not eat ham. We used to eat Lithuanian black pumpernickel bread. I dreamed about having white bread sandwiches like everyone else. I’m not much of a bread person now unless I see that black whole grain bread of my childhood and then I can eat the whole loaf. Mayonnaise on meat still grosses me out and I’ve lived in California for a long time.

The other foods in the delis were weird to me. “What is that?,” we would ask. Stuffed kishka – skin – ew really?), chopped liver–yuk, , gribenes – fried chicken skin -uh, schmaltz, -chicken fat – gross, borscht – beet soup, (I cannot eat beets in any form), kasha –buckwheat, kreplach – dough floating in soup with liver and onions in it, kugel -noodle pudding, matzoh balls – dumplings made from matzoh that were really big and heavy), tzimmes – root vegetables and varnishkes – pasta with kasha. It all sounded awful and I’ve never liked it. But when I see it and smell it now, it always reminds me of my mom and the stories she would tell of how her mother made those foods.

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When I turned thirteen years old,  I started having summer jobs and my own money. I began going to diners, coffee shops, Italian and Chinese restaurants. I drank cokes. I ate pistachio nuts with the red dye on them that got all over your fingers, red M and Ms (we grew up in fear of red dye #2 and BHA and BHT – which was a preservative in packaged sugar cereal),  Bonomo Turkish Taffy – the kind that was really bad for your teeth and Carvel swirl ice cream cones.  I was rebelling. But NY delis were always around. You could smell the food as you walked down the street. It was the comfortable smell of my childhood and I thought it would always be there.

With the demise of Delis and  the Yiddish language comes the loss of our Eastern European cultural roots. With the pursuit of complete assimilation into American culture, and the absence of new Eastern European Jewish immigrants, we lost our history and we are losing our food.

I did not pass on the cultural traditions and Yiddish phrases of their grandparents to my children. They don’t know about their life on the lower east side of NY in the thirties and forties. They don’t know the stories from Yiddish theatre and vaudeville that my mother used to tell or the Eastern European melodies I heard growing up.  They don’t know the old Jewish comedians, the Borscht Belt, the Catskills or that we were the people of the clarinet. But they do know a good pastrami sandwich and a black and white cookie and that Nate and Al’s Deli makes a delicious chicken soup when you are sick.

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Fly safe,

JAZ

Driving From Hue to Hoi An, Viet Nam

Driving From Hue To Hoi An, Viet Nam

“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me as is ever so on the road.”Jack Kerouac

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American bunker with bullet holes near Da Nang

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China Beach, Da Nang

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American hangars in Da Nang

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Vietnamese coffee

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

 

Where Are The Kings Of Hue? (Viet Nam)

Where are the Kings of Hue? (Viet Nam)

“And so sepúlchred in such pomp dost lie, that kings for such a tomb would wish to die”  John Milton

Between 1802 and 1945 Hue was the imperial capital of the Nguyen Dynasty which had thirteen kings.  Huế was the national capital until 1945 when the last king abdicated and the new capital was Saigon in the south.

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The Imperial City at Hue is the best-preserved remnant of a vast citadel and royal quarters that once existed on the site.

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In the early nineteenth century the first King Gia Long wished to build a replica of the Forbidden City of Beijing.

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The King decided to locate his own palace within the walls of the citadel of his “Forbidden City”along the east side nearest the Perfume River.

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The “Purple Forbidden City,” was where the Emperor built a network of palaces, gates, and courtyards that served as his home and the administrative core of the Empire. The occupants were many concubines, wives, eunuchs and children.

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The ruins of the Imperial City are both old and more recent.

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In 1968 the Viet Cong launched an attack on the city of Hue. It was the Tet Offensive and the largest and bloodiest military action of the war up until that point. The fighting went on for a month and the Viet Cong massacred many people. This resulted in the destruction of the city by U.S. forces. The Viet Cong hid in the Imperial City fighting the US until they died from lack of supplies.

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Though the city was in ruins, long before the US bombed it, there was a lot of war damage to the historic buildings and many were reduced to rubble.

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Even so, the remaining buildings are enough to give the visitor a sense of how the Vietnamese interpreted Chinese imperial architecture and adapted it to their culture.

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The Nguyen Dynasty lives on in Hue if only through the Tombs of the Kings. The best and the worst of the line are commemorated through their imposing tombs, scattered through the hills of Hue.

Only seven of the thirteen kings have tombs in Hue. Each tomb began construction during each kings lifetime, and was completed after his death with a stone inscribed with the dead king’s biography. A few of the actual bodies have never been found and their tombs remain intact. All the tombs are equipped with statues and monuments in perfect “Phong Thuy” (Feng Shui) harmony to create a natural setting, in the architecture of which the king’s philosophical tendencies are often reflected.

The respective tombs of Tu Duc and Khai Dinh reflect the absolute extremes of tomb design. Tu Duc’s tomb is expansive and poetically beautiful in its layout.

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Khai Dinh’s is done in a more monumental style – crafted of concrete, the grayness outside broken on the inside with pieces of broken glass and porcelain.

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Khai Dinh is said to have intended for his tomb to be built at the top of a long series of stairs, so courtiers would have to exert extra effort to pay respect to his memory.

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His tomb took 11 years to complete.

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His enduring unpopularity is due in part to his heavy taxation on peasants to finance the construction of this edifice.

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Once the capital of Vietnam and an inspiration for poets and artists alike for centuries, Hué is divided by the waters of the Perfume River, which separate the city’s 19th century citadel from the suburbs that radiate from the eastern shore. The second half of Stanley Kubrick’s film Full Metal Jacket takes place primarily in and around the bombed-out ruins of the city of Huế.

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It is a very Buddhist city with many monasteries and vegetarian restaurants. The food in Hue which is in central Viet Nam is spicier than the north and south.

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Thich Nhat Hanh, world-famous Zen master originates from Huế.

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Hue was declared “ a master of urban poetry” and a Unesco site in 1981 due to its history and cultural heritage.

My guide in Hue and Hoi An was Mr. Ngo Duc Huan. Huan had a huge amount of information about the Kings of Hue. I hope I retained some of it. Huan was fun, knowledgeable and kind.  My time in Central Viet Nam was definitely better because of him and I learned a lot. Thank you so much for the wonderful time I had in those cities.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn

JAZ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countries That I Used To Know

Countries That I Used To Know

‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world”. – Mahatma Gandhi

If you are looking for missing countries from the maps of your school days, here is a list of all the names. Countries have split apart, gotten back together, gained/lost independence or just didn’t like their names. How do we understand our place in the world if we don’t know about other places? Americans typically score very low in geographic literacy. What happens in the world is connected to where it happens in the world. We are supposed to be a “global village.” We should know the correct name of our neighbors and be interested in why they changed them.

. Used to Be                                                    Now

Burma                                                             Myanmar

Ceylon                                                            Sri Lanka

Czechoslovakia                                               Czech Republic, Slovakia

Rhodesia                                                         Zimbabwe

Southwest Africa                                              Namibia

French Somaliland                                           Djibouti

Tanganyika and Zanzibar                                 Tanzania

French Sudan                                                  Mali.

Basutoland                                                     Lesotho

Zaire                                                              Democratic Republic of Congo

The Gold Coast                                             Ghana

Dutch Guiana                                                Surinam

East Pakistan                                               Bangladesh

Western Samoa                                            Samoa

East Germany and West Germany               Germany

North Yemen and South Yemen                  Yemen

North Viet Nam and South Viet Nam           Viet Nam

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)       Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan

Yugoslavia                                                  Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia                                       and Montenegro, and Slovenia

Tibet                                                          Xizang Autonomous Region Of China

We can’t afford not to pay attention to the world anymore. We have to change the story.

Fly safe,

JAZ

The Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

The Mekong Delta, Viet Nam

“Now without the bombs and gun shots, people can have a better sleep.“ from someone in the Mekong Delta.

The Mekong River has its origins in the mountains of Tibet, and it traverses six countries and 4500 km before spilling out into the Mekong Delta region of Viet Nam.

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After the rainy season, the water is brown from the silt that has been washed into it upstream.

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During the dry season the river becomes blue-green in color. There are many boats of different sizes and shapes traveling in all directions, including cargo boats, fishing boats, ferries, tourist boats and house boats.

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Everything happens on the river including the floating market of Cai Bei.

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All along the river, small huts are perched precariously on stilts so that the water at high tide does no more than wet the floor.

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Some are in good shape, but most are ramshackle, and one wonders how they manage to survive.

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During the Viet Nam War there was there was fighting there between the Viet Cong and the US Navy boats. After the war the Khmer Rouge attacked Viet Nam to reclaim the Delta area. This campaign precipitated the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and later downfall of the Khmer Rouge.

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The Mekong Delta is called the Rice Bowl of Viet Nam because most of the countries rice production comes from the Delta. They also have most of the country’s fisheries.

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The towns along the river are fun to explore by foot or bicycle.

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You will find French colonial architecture and delicious fruits and vegetables.

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The Mekong Lodge is an interesting place to stay on the Delta.

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It is reachable by boat and a good location for exploring the nearby villages and floating market. They are socially and environmentally responsible using eco-friendly materials for the bungalows, solar energy, rainwater, local ingredients and local employees. There is not a lot of English but it adds to the charm. Hand motions are the universal language and I am fluent in them.

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I had a great foot massage in a bamboo chair outside of my room overlooking beautiful gardens and fruit orchards of longan, rambutan, mango, durian trees and flowers. http://mekonglodge.com

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Another option are local guesthouses where you can stay with a lovely family on the Mekong.

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I spent some time at Muoi Huong Tourist Garden (070 3859992) with their lovely family and highly recommend it for a wonderful local experience. (Binh Hoa Phuoc Island, Long Ho District, Vinh Long, Viet Nam).

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I had a chance to talk to people in the Mekong Delta. What I noticed throughout Vietnam was some of the nicest friendliest people I met came from the Mekong Delta.

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There is an interconnectedness that all Vietnamese have with past generations that we do not have. Every home has an altar to their ancestors with photos and their favorite things on it. The smell of incense used for prayer permeates the country (not so good for me because I am allergic to it). But I love the idea of it – how the smoke rises up to connect them with their ancestors.

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They worship at communal houses.

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They work hard. They are underpaid and they do not complain.

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They have been helped by the efforts, work and suffering of previous generations and ancestors.

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Now they are part of the present, with each other, working toward a future when others will pray and thank them.

Special thanks to my tour guide in Saigon and the Mekong Delta Mr. Nguyen Dinh Thanh. Thanh is smart, funny, intuitive, helpful and very knowledgeable about everything related to Viet Nam. I had the best time exploring the Delta with him and highly recommend him as a tour guide.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ

Six Burger Joints That Serve Turkey Burgers In LA

Six  Burger Joints That Serve Turkey Burgers In LA

“You can find your way across this country using burger joints the way a navigator uses stars….We have munched Bridge burgers in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge and Cable burgers hard by the Golden Gate, Dixie burgers in the sunny South and Yankee Doodle burgers in the North….We had a Capitol Burger — guess where. And so help us, in the inner courtyard of the Pentagon, a Penta burger.” Charles Kuralt

There are hard-core burger bloggers. To be a serious member of the burgeratti you need to eat meat which is why the Lunch Friend came with me on the burger blog. I  do eat meat when traveling or trying new restaurants with amazing chefs but I prefer not to. I would rate the turkey burgers and she would rate the beef.  We have been teenagers and had kids. The two of us have consumed enough hamburgers in our lifetime all over the world to consider ourselves competent judges.

I think it is much harder to make a good turkey burger and not as many turkey burger bloggers. They can be dry or have too many spices in them tasting like turkey meatloaf.

How to judge a burger? Should it stand on its own? Should it bring out the taste of the condiments? I feel a great burger can always benefit from a little something on it. Great burgers begin with great meat. I like minimal toppings. I’m not a fan of tasting everything but the burger. The best hamburgers aren’t the most expensive ones unless you are in Australia or Japan where everything is expensive. Sometimes you are paying for a lot of fancy toppings. Burgers are something that everyone is a connoisseur of and has an opinion and a favorite burger place.

Here are our results. Remember the first rule of eating hamburgers is that hamburgers come when they are ready, not when you are ready.

Golden State Café http://www.thegoldenstatecafe.com

The turkey burger comes with ground turkey, provolone, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, aioli and onion. It is an amazingly good burger. Every bite was perfectly juicy which is not easy for a turkey burger. It was dense and chewy at the same time. The meat to bun ratio is flawless. The jalapeño coleslaw was light, creamy and delicious with a little kick if you don’t pick out the jalapeños. This is the Lunch Friend’s favorite place for burgers.

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Bachi Burger http://www.bachiburger.com

The next restaurant on the LA Burger Blog tour was the long-awaited Bachi Burger. I had the The Lonely Bird. It was a ground chicken & turkey “Tsukune” Burger with herb pesto, žlettuce ,ž tomato and brown ale battered onion rings. There is careful attention to the elements that go into the burger as well as a beautiful presentation. All the ingredients tasted very fresh.

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The meat to bun ratio was spot on and I really enjoyed the bun which I don’t always eat. Pesto aioli was good but I preferred the ketchup.The burger had a sweet taste to it which I like. It was a bit on the dry side but still good. I would definitely go back. This is a new LA restaurant.The room is inviting and cool and the staff is very helpful.The Lunch Friend liked the beef burger. She went back with her family. They preferred Golden State.

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Short Order http://shortorderla.com

Next on my burger pilgrimage was Short Order. I had been there before and had high expectations. This time I had the Commando turkey burger which is a build your own burger. I had lettuce tomato, ketchup mustard and avocado It had a good texture  but had much less flavor than I remembered. The bun was soggy and thicker than I like.   It was a bit of a disaster.I don’t know if it was just an off day, but it was not the turkey burger that I had anticipated.The Lunch Friend was underwhelmed.

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Umami Burger http://www.umamiburger.com

We went to the new Umami Burger at the Grove on a very hot day with the D-o-g – another burger connoisseur who basically eats anything that falls on the floor. The turkey burger was called Greenbird with avocado, green cheese, green goddess dressing and butter lettuce. Yes, it was green. The D-o-g preferred the beef. So did I. The Lunch Friend was bored.

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 Pono Burger http://ponoburger.com

I was expecting a delicious burger at Pono. I had been there before.The burgers are organic, grass-fed, and the other ingredients come from local farmers. It is the perfect philosophy for the green Santa Monica mentality.The brioche bun is delicious but I opted for the gluten-free one which is never good.The turkey burger was particularly dry.The Lunch Friend hated her burger. She said it tasted like boiled meat.The Lunch Friend does not like to say anything bad.The place is so cute and near my house so I was really hoping to give it a better review.

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Burger Lounge http://www.burgerlounge.com

I was not planning on reviewing any chain restaurants but I happened to have a quick-lunch at Burger Lounge. Burger Lounge is a fast food restaurant that uses high quality mostly organic ingredients and free range beef. I had a bison burger and I really liked it. I went back with the Lunch Friend to try the turkey burger. She had the beef and was not disappointed. The patties though the same in weight as other places are flatter like an In And Out Burger. The burgers are half the price of the specialty burger restaurants and they have free drink refills. The onion rings are delicious and not greasy.The turkey burger was good, moist and definitely worth trying.

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All the burgers were judged on appearance, presentation, flavor and texture. I’m not burger obsessed. I don’t eat them every day. I don’t have a burger tattoo to show my devotion. I like everyone else on the planet, just loves a good burger. Does anything else really taste as good as a great burger and fries?

Fly safe and thanks to the Lunch Friend for driving (I hate that) and tasting the beef burgers,

JAZ

Art In Hanoi – Thanh Chuong Viet Palace, Viet Nam

Art In Hanoi – Thanh Chuong Viet Palace, Viet Nam

“Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

 Thich Nhat Hahn

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There is no right way to experience an art museum or gallery .

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As a traveler who knows a little something about art, I always have a list of art work that I have to see in a country which I can check off in my brain.

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But at the Thanh Chuong Viet Palace in Hanoi, I did not know the artist or his collection.

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I did not know which was considered a masterpiece and which was not so I slowed down and looked at what I liked – what interested me and what touched me.

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It is easier to make a connection with the art that way – when you don’t know what it is that you are “supposed to see.

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It is a different experience when you choose what resonates with you instead of what is famous.

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The palace houses Vietnamese artist Thanh Chuong’s vast collections of Vietnamese spiritual and folk art along with his modern paintings. (artist)

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It is located forty kilometers from the center of Hanoi and covers over 10,000 square meters. There are thousands of cultural and historical artifacts from different Vietnamese dynasties which the artist spent his life collecting and storing.

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It includes all kinds of architectural elements, different houses antique and replicated, furniture from all periods, statues, a theatre for water puppetry and a beautiful restaurant.

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Thanh Chuong comes from a talented and literary family. There is an altar to his father the writer Kim Lan and a room displaying his work.

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The palace is not without its critics. The “House of Auspicious Clouds’ has been called an artistic theme park, and “an ostentatious display of wealth and social status.

It attracts local and foreign visitors who are interested in understanding Vietnam’s artistic and spiritual culture.

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I loved walking around in this beautiful and very feng shui environment and finding all the old and new pieces together.

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The lotus ponds, bamboo beds, mud cottages made you think of Viet Nam’s history. I liked his modern paintings, sculptures  and the creative way he juxtaposed the old and the new.

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When you spend time looking at something, you actually begin to see it.

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A very special thank you to my guide in Hanoi Mr. Do Sy Quy. He was my first guide on this trip and set the tone for an amazing experience. “Buffalo Joe” is kind, friendly, funny, intuitive and very knowledgeable about Hanoi and Viet Nam history. I connected with him immediately and feel like I have a friend in Hanoi.

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Di du lịch một cách an toàn,

JAZ