Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fairy Grass, Nostalgia Reflections and Fine Food in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare, Ireland

Sometimes they say one can travel a long way as it were to arrive at the same place. This thought came back to my wife and I when we revisited the magical ‘Fairy Grass’ Tea Room in Ballyvaughan last weekend. The informative menu explains that the name Fear Gorta refers to a kind of fairy grass found in the Burren area of County Clare which supposedly if stood upon causes severe hunger, hence the more exact translation ‘The Hungry Grass’. However, just in case this unfortunate affliction should befall you while trekking along the lovely guided Walks around the Village of Ballyvaughan, I feel that you should first take the wise precaution of dropping into the The Hungry Grass Tea Room and feasting the eyes and taste buds on the great food served there. Indeed, as my wife and I sat there last weekend, we enjoyed a selection of wonderful home cooked treats in the sun room looking out on a garden filled with wild flowers and odd shaped limestone’s rocks, and my wife reminded me that we first visited this lovely tea room over 30 years ago soon after our first child was born. In fact we carried her in a wicker basket which the owner kindly allowed us to set down beside our table as we ate our delicious food. Although we of course have visited this eatery several times since, for some reason we felt particularly nostalgic last weekend. Perhaps it was the realisation that despite so many years having passed since our first visit and so many things having occurred both in our own lives and indeed in the world in general, these lovely Tea Rooms retain all the character and quality of food so evident on our original visit. So I would like to recommend that anyone visiting the lovely Ballyvaughaun Village in County Clare should take time out to park facing the sea and drop in for a taste of this magical ‘fairy food’ sensation. And you know you don’t even have to bring baby along to instigate your own love affair with this place. If I have one little quibble with this oasis of fine food, it is the name given to the site on Twitter. The follower link of @TeaGardenRooms does not at all do credit to the magic inherent in the actual Tea Room name at the actual location. For me at least, it will always be ‘An Fear Gorta’, which is much more aligned to fairy feasts and heritage lore alike. Finally, I see from inside photos that Steven Spielberg, the famous film director, was so enchanted by the place and its food that he almost missed his flight home to the United States. A case a ‘Close Encounter of the Food Kind’ perhaps. I am posting a few photos taken in Ballyvaughan on our visit to whet the appetite both for Ballyvaughaun in general and An Fear Gorta in particular. All comments and musings welcome!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sicily:Where the Landscape yields a dazzling dialogue with the Baroque and the Beautiful

I think it was the Nobel Prize winning Italian poet Salvatore Quasimodo who was quoted as follows: “The poet finds day and starts a diary that is lethal to the inert. The dark landscape yields a dialogue” On a recent visit to the south east of Sicily, I had occasion to visit the town of Modica where Salvatore Quasimodo was born and having noticed a commemorative plaque there on the house where he lived, I decided to read up about the poet on my return. The quotation referred to above stuck a special cord with me for although in a different context, I feel that the bright but certainly not dark landscape of south east Sicily does indeed yield a wonderful visual dialogue with the visitor. As the UNESCO plaque in a central square of Scicli informs us, at least eight towns in the region were completed rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1693. Many of the larger civic buildings and churches were constructed in a dominant Baroque style and perhaps because of the relative lack of resources in this poor area of southern Italy, they are not characterised by the excessive decoration and arrogant style of some of the Baroque impositions elsewhere in Italy. In fact, each of the towns that I visited had a unique character and offered a rich cultural experience to the visitor. Although many of these towns are perhaps more popular in the public eye in recent times as settings for the television series Inspector Montalbano, it would be a shame if they were only visited for this reason. In reality, the landscape of the towns themselves, their food restaurants and indeed even the settings used as background to the Montalbano series all offer an opportunity for great enjoyment. However, on the basis that a picture says more than a thousand words, I am posting a few pictures taken in these towns to whet the appetite as it were. They may not quite represent a visual diary of the type alluded to by the famous poet by they at least illustrate some of the many attractions in this region. One final thing that puzzled me is whether the journey by foot from Ragusa New Town to Ragusa Ibla should be classified as a walk or a climb. Whichever, it is certainly a stairway to Heaven! As to the great taste of the local cuisine, I’m afraid that you will have to sample that for yourselves.