Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Taste of a few selected Drinks

Morning reflexion upon a cup of coffee

I know there is no accounting for taste. But here is what popped up to my mind this morning as I was sipping my daily cup of coffee.
I am one of these strange persons that happen to love the taste of good coffee, particularly at breakfast time. French coffee is usually good but the Italians are the best in the art of making coffee. This is one of my best enjoyable moment when I am in Italy – which I am not far to think is my favorite place to be. As I often transit via Fiumicino Airport, my first move is to find a place to have one of these tiny cups of espresso! Condensed as it is, it tastes like the perfume of all coffees! Well, during all my many travels, I have tried them all everywhere. Coffee is like red wine. It has its own blend. According to me, it is either, undrinkable, passable, good or excellent. Living in America, a long time ago, I remembered drinking on and on their light black hot liquid that could be endlessly refilled and that they pompously called 'American coffee'! The French have an expression to qualify this type of beverage: it is called 'jus de chaussette' (literally a sock juice). Obviously, this is in the category of the undrinkable, tasteless one. Fortunately, there came Starbucks later on that
revolutionized the taste of coffee everywhere. I lived in southeast Asia at that time, where coffee was basically non-existent. I had to bring coffee from elsewhere or simply buy some while transiting via Singapore. Soon, Starbucks started to be everywhere, drastically changing the local attraction for teas, (which also is another type of drinks worth talking about). Starbucks brought science and knowledge to people as a powerful educating tool for business. I took classes as I keep going to wine-tasting sessions. First, let me say that between Robusta and Arabica, I personally prefer the second. Again, this is a matter of taste like for chocolate, where my preference goes to bitter black to black, milk or white. I guess this classifies me in the extreme category. I won't argue with that. In coffees, some of the best origins come from Columbia, Brazil but also for Ethiopia, its original place of birth. I must admit that sipping a small glass of Turkish coffee in Istanbul can be a real pleasure,
provided you take the basic precaution of not stirring it! But coming back to Starbucks, their coffee beans come from all major world origins: South or Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia. They classify them as a blonde, medium or dark roast coffees. I like their 'Guatemala Antigua', 'Ethiopia', 'Kenya', or 'Colombia', which are all medium blends. These would be in the 'good' category. However, my taste, once more, goes to their Dark roasts: 'Sumatra', 'Caffè Verona','French' or 'Italian Roast'. These would be classified as very good and I notice this ends a circle to come back to the original French or Italian blends.
At this point of time, it could be useful to go back to the origin of coffee. As we know, it originates from Ethiopia and probably the southwestern tip of the Arabic peninsula, like the mocha bean from the town of Mocha in Yemen. It eventually made its way to Cairo, Egypt, then to Constantinople in Turkey (Istanbul) and finally to Venice and later on to Paris, in Europe. All these countries have remained strong lovers of coffee.
So far, we have talked of all the categories of coffees up to 'very good' but not yet of the top one, classified as 'excellent'. The scientific approach of Starbucks is an asset but it seems it cannot reach the overwhelming weight of tradition. For this, let's turn to wines; red wine, that is to say. Here my personal taste goes to Syrah, Pinot Noir, or Malbec. The Shiraz grape evokes the origin of the Iranian wine of Shiraz sung by the XIth century Persian poet Omar Khayyam. However, it refers to three
main grape origins: Syrah comes mostly from the Rhône Valley; Pinot Noir, from Burgundy; and Malbec, from the Bordeaux region of France. Today, Chile, South Africa or Australia also make great Syrah. Argentina has a great Malbec, which has become its trademark. The best Pinot Noir is also produced along the Rio Negro of Argentina, in California or Oregon, in Germany, Italy or New Zealand. The same difference exists between a simple table wine, or a Beaujolais, with let's say a 'Pomerol' from Bordeaux, a 'Clos Vougeot' or a 'Gevrey-Chambertin' from Burgundy, or a 'Châteauneuf-du-Pape' from the Rhône Valley. This may take us far away from coffee. But there is a
parallel between origin and tradition. I once received a tin box of real Ethiopian coffee from friends. And that was a real elixir. Yet, I don't know what it takes but I am a firm believer that Italian coffee remains the best among which two well-known brands emerge. One is starting to get as famous as Starbucks, it is called 'Segafredo'. There are already a few premises in Bangkok, one which I patronize regularly near my home. But as far as I am concerned, in the category of excellent coffee, the king of all, is 'Illy'. By the way, it also comes in a tin box; and yes, it is more expensive than the rest, for a reason!
Perhaps, it is not accidental if the coffee vocabulary uses Italian: 'caffè' (from Kaffa, in Ethiopia), 'barista', 'espresso', 'cappuccino', 'caffè latte'...
After having a plain cup of 'San Marco', for a few days – which I thought was a good Italian brand – I switched to 'Illy'. It could not be clearer. This is what it takes to make it a definite excellent among all the black elixirs. It may sound a bit as a publicity for a company. But my morning daily cup convinced me I had to write something about the taste of Italian coffee. Grazie!

Christian Sorand
Previous link: Café Kaldi, Bangkok
Coffee beans from Ethiopia

Publishing link: EHS (Educators Home Share)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bogor Botanic Garden (Kebun Raya Bogor}

At Bogor Botanical Garden
Asia, and Southeast Asia, in particular, has some of the most wonderful botanical gardens.
One of these prime places is the Royal Botanic Gardens of Peradeniya, near the city of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. It is probably one of the oldest too as it was founded in 1371.
Founded in 1859, Singapore Botanic Gardens is the only one to have been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. But it has also received awards from Trip Advisor or the Michelin guide.
There still exists another great place, south of Jakarta, on the Indonesian island of Java: the Bogor
Botanical Gardens (Kebun Raya Bogor), founded by the Dutch in 1817.
Although I lived in Indonesia for many years, I still hadn't been able to visit the hill town resort of Bogor. A few months ago, as I was visiting friends in Bandung, we decided to spend a weekend in Bogor, specifically to visit the garden. It is also a major research center.
The town of  Bogor is literally built around this huge garden right in the middle of this now sprawling city. Known as the 'Rain City' (Kota Hujan), the landscape is dominated by a volcano, Mount Salak   (Gunung Salak) towering at 2,211m above the city. The region known as Puncak meaning 'peak' in Bahasa Indonesia, is a favorite weekend spot for the citizens of Jakarta, the nearby country capital.

Christian Sorand
Map of Bogor Botanical Garden.
Forest trail

Balinese demons
Suspended bridge above the river
Add caption

A giant 'Elephant's ear'.

Gunung Salak volcano above Bogor

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Les Carrières de Lumière, Les Baux-en-Provence.

Classé comme l'un des plus beaux villages de France, le village médiéval Les Baux-de-Provence  attire une foule de visiteurs. Formidable nid d'aigle, il tire son nom du provençal bau (prononcer bao) signifiant 'falaise'. Haut perché sur son rocher de calcaire, le village se confond avec le paysage environnant où seuls quelques toits rouges attestent de son identité. Célèbre au Moyen Âge et pendant la Renaissance, le site du Val d'Enfer, inspira, dit-on, Dante pour son célèbre ouvrage. Quant au Pavillon de la Reine Jeanne, son tombeau inspira Frédéric Mistral pour le sien dont il fit une copie au cimetière de Maillane. Refuge de Huguenots ('Pax in Lumine'), le village fut en partie détruit par Richelieu. En 1642, il devint la propriété des Grimaldi de Monaco. Les princes monégasques portent toujours le titre de marquis des Baux. C'est la raison pour laquelle, le Prince Rainier fit don des vitraux à la petite église romane semi-troglodytique Saint-Vincent-des-Baux où l'on y célèbre une crèche provençale vivante, chaque année à Noël.
C'est également dans la vallée des Baux qu'on exploita pour la première fois le minerai d'aluminium désormais appelé bauxite. Ses immenses carrières de pierres servirent longtemps pour la construction. Le site inspira aussi le romancier écossais Alistair MacLeane (1922-1987) pour son roman 'Caravan to Vaccarès' avant de devenir le lieu d'un théâtre audiovisuel connu aujourd'hui sous le nom 'Les Carrières de Lumières'.

Le spectacle change chaque année. Pour la saison 2017 le spectacle 'Bosch,Brueghel,Arcimboldo' transporte les visiteurs dans l'univers fantastique et imaginaire de ces trois peintres du XVIe. Monté par des artistes italiens, ce spectacle audiovisuel total transforme l'atmosphère intérieure des carrières en un univers surréaliste absolument captivant, par la simple magie d'une technique élaborée.
Intérieur des carrières

Le spectacle commence...

Add caption

Les spectateurs s'intègrent aux tableaux.

L'Été d'Arcimbolo

Le Printemps d'Arcimbolo

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Arles, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of the oldest cities in France. Amazingly, some of its exceptional treasures have only been found recently.
In 1995, the architect, Henri Ciriani (b.1936), designed a new building to serve as Arles Museum of Antiquity. Built on the left bank of the Rhône River, near what used to be the Roman Circus, it was soon nicknamed 'Le Musée Bleu' (The Blue Museum). Although rather small in size, it displays some remarkable artifacts mostly dating from the Roman period. It also holds temporary exhibitions, which attract a large audience. The building also serves as an archaeological center specializing in restoring newly-found artifacts.
Until recently, some of the most famous pieces of museum collection were:
  • the 'Vénus d'Arles', a copy of the original, which is now at the Louvre Museum, [Venus of Arles]
  • a giant marble statue of Augustus (3.10m high), [Statue of Augustus]
  • a marble bust of Aphrodite, known as 'Tête d'Arles' [Head of Arles]
Copy of the Venus of Arles
Statue of Augustus.
In 2007, a team of archaeologists discovered a bust of Caesar on the river bank near the museum. It features a fine portrait of the Roman emperor – the oldest-known portrait of Julius Caesar. [The Guardian]
Bust of Julius Caesar
In 2004, an entire Roman barge was found buried underwater in the Rhône River. It took a few years for the archaeologists to figure how to pull it out safely and then how to restore it entirely in its initial form. Measuring 31m in length, they also had to extend the museum by building a new aisle in order to be able to exhibit it. [National Geographic]
The prow of the Roman barge.
The boat tail.
Prow description
Central part of the boat.
Description of the boat tail

Story of its discovery.

A widely used disposable packaging.
Antique sea trade.
Trade with North Africa.
Nabeul amphorae.
Moreover, the museum displays some outstanding Roman mosaics and a collection of early Christian sarcophagi found at the Alyscamps.
Christian sarcophagus.

Stone-carver tools.
Esoteric signs?
Another interesting frieze on a sarcophagus.
Christian Sorand

Friday, July 14, 2017

New antique discoveries in Trinquetaille, Arles-en-Provence

In 2015, the French newspaper Le Monde published an article entitled 'Pompei-like frescoes found in Arles'.
The city of Arles became famous at the time of the Roman conquest of the Gaul. Arelate became their first capital before Nîmes [Nemausis] and later Lyon [Lugdunum]. Its fame continued in the Middle Ages as it became an important Christian center. In 1981, UNESCO added the city to its World Heritage sites.
The antique city lies on the left bank of the Rhône River. But in the late 20th century, archaeologists started to make new discoveries across the river, on the right bank of town known as Trinquetaille. 
As a matter of fact, this is the place I called home whenever I come back to France and the newer archaeological excavations are literally a few steps away from my own place. For the past few months, I had wanted to know more about these discoveries. Usually, they offer a guided visit there once a week, but until recently I had not been able to find an appropriate time to get there. Last June, the opportunity finally came. So, I asked my Mum and my sister to join the planned visit despite the late spring heat. It was a fascinating tour explained in full detail by the lead archaeologist himself.
Trinquetaille in Roman times
2014-Discovery of a thought to be bedroom  (Ist c.B.C.)
2015-Rare motif artefacts
2015-Discovery of a reception hall from the mid-Ist c. B.C.

If Arles acquired its present celebrity in the Roman period, it was already inhabited by the Ligures and later the Celts and also the Greeks. Circa 600 B.C., Massalia [Marseilles] was founded by Greek settlers from Phocaea [modern Foça, Turkey]. At the time, the Greeks used the Rhône River to establish the inland trade.

One of the most interesting facts of the Trinquetaille dig out, is that the archaeologists found several layers of settlements, some dating before the Roman settlement!  However, in order to protect the copyrights of the searching team, we were asked to wait till an official statement will be made in the next few months.
So, this is a story that will continue later on.