Sunday, August 30, 2015

PortLand Malt Shoppe, Duluth, Minnesota

Malted milkshakes invoke images of 50s drug stores, Norman Rockwell and long summer days in small-town America. Today, nowhere brings back those memories any better than the PortLand Malt Shoppe in Duluth, Minnesota. There are other ice cream desserts offered as well, but a chocolate malt topped with whip cream, a vanilla wafer and a maraschino cherry makes for a little bit of heaven in your hand for $6.95, and it's worth the price. That's why there are often very long lines. The secret ingredient is malted milk powder, a once popular staple of frozen treats that gives a satisfying crunchy texture to the shake while coming up easy through the straw.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What Remains: Life and Death in Palermo

By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
                                                                                                                                                                                Genesis 3:19

We had only a morning to spend in Palermo, capital of Sicily. Most of what I know about this place relates to the Mafia or the last world war, and I was eager to look beyond that. We chose a short tour of the city's catacombs and two 18th-century oratories, book-ended by motor-coach rides past the main monuments of the old city.

From the late 16th century through the early 1920s, Capuchin monks and the richest families of Palermo had their dead embalmed, then displayed in lifelike poses in the city's catacombs, which were perhaps intended as a place of solace for bereaved relatives. Friends confer, families pose together, stern friars clasp ropes of penance and stare down through darkened eye sockets--these are the nearly-walking dead. The macabre display of 8,000 corpses is a lesson in anatomy--before the last century few people topped more than 5 feet tall, and oral hygiene has come a long way since.

Warning, there are photos of mouldering corpses beyond this point that readers may find disturbing.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

On the Road Again

Well, maybe not the road.

Other than that I'm naturally lazy, when I'm not writing it's because in my spare time I'm having too much of a good time. I'm headed for a big boat with my second son on a father-son adventure to the western Mediterranean. I won't have much in this space for a couple of weeks while I build more source material. A week on a cruise bookended by a couple days each in Barcelona and Rome should keep me going for a while. My last such trip, myself and two other men sweated on a Princess; I'm much less avant-garde these days, there are two of us this time, though my wife planned it all.

As with any vacation, I had to get myself in a relaxed mood on the first night. What could be better than Mexican food? But "best Mexican food in Duluth, Minnesota" is apparently on par with "best accomodation in a cemetery."

Will two men sweating through Southern Europe overcome an inauspicious start?