Herr kissemiss

Ever-resilient Franklin is adapting admirably to Swedish life.

At home in Austin

We spent the last weeks of fall in Austin, a city that always seems to feel like home. My former postdoctoral mentor, Adron Harris, graciously arranged my visiting faculty status at UT-Austin, and it was a joy to reinhabit his inspiring team for a while. Reconnecting with Harris Lab colleagues Cecilia Borghese, Igor Ponomarev, and Olga Ponomareva was particularly valuable, and Rick Aldrich’s journal club kept me on my toes. We even worked in a seminar visit from my Swedish summer host Erik Lindahl and his student Stephanie—a great collegial convergence!

As usual, everything was bigger in Texas, from our porch pets to the enthusiastic kayak polo match we encountered crossing MoPac Bridge. At a time of year many of our recent homes (Sweden, New York) were covered in snow, we enjoyed a cozy outdoor training on Scott Walker’s upgraded barrel smoker.

We made our short-term home on Austin’s East Side, a neighborhood that’s experienced explosive development since we left in 2012. With plenty of Lady Bird Lake shoreline, and a stone’s throw from Austin’s encroaching downtown, the area’s appeal recently leveled up with the shutdown of noisy Holly Street Power Plant. Tex-Mex classic Juan in a Million has been a neighborhood landmark for 35 years; newfound treasures included butcher Salt and Time, fish market Mongers, ranch-to-table Jacoby’s and Dai Due, and artisinal coffeeshop Cuvée. We enjoyed evening walks to Launderette, a high-end diner operating out of a former laundromat, and Craftsman, a music venue with a house-party feel; ATX Boudain Hut satisfied my Cajun craving under a nest of wild parakeets, and Mezcalería Tobalá served a dozen variations on tequila in clay copitas. We also liked Mettle [edit: while it lasted; on the dark side of rapid change, it closed in January].

The East Side hipster surge represents a controversial gentrifying force; thrilled as we were by our beautiful treehouse, we were conflicted about our contribution to the family-oriented neighborhood’s short-term rental industry. The area’s rapid growth made it to the New York Times Travel section in 2014, and has become a subject for scholarly study in sustainability and urbanism, with disturbing predictions for ongoing segregation. Austin - 4A catalyst was the demolition last February of a local piñata store, evidently to the surprise of the shop’s tenants, and with their stock still inside; its replacement by a Austin’s first cat cafe sparked further accusations of abusive gentrification. The ensuing legal conflict took ten months to resolve, and ignited protests by social justice groups including PODER. In October, Austin architect David Goujon commemorated the lost business with three colorful piñata sculptures—each ten feet tall—on nearby Festival Beach. We hope this compelling community continues to find a creative and conscientious path through urban change.

In the  meantime—since my last two posts closed with cocktails—I’ll sign off with a distinctly Austin recipe. Pro tip: try with jalapeño olives, or beet juice.

Mexican Martini

  • 3 oz añejo tequila
  • 1 ½ oz Cointreau
  • 1 ½ oz fresh lime juice
  • ½ oz olive brine
  • Splash fresh orange juice

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled salt-rimmed glass.
Garnish with olives and lime.

At home in San Pancho

Distilleries aside, our week on the Nayarit coast—mostly in the tiny village of San Francisco (San Pancho), an hour outside the congestion of Puerto Vallarta—was a gentle spectacle.

The surrounding jungle and beaches teemed with slow-moving wildlife.

Oliver and a few of our housemates took advantage of a sunny morning to catch dorado off the northern coastline.

Dynamics of culture and class are real for a group of white US travelers in Mexico. This was our second time to Nayarit, and the ten of us did our best to minimize our footprint—staying in a shared house (glorious Villa las Clavellinas), coordinating home-cooked meals, splitting a single car (Gecko treated us well), exploring beyond major tourist areas while keeping our environmental impact down. No doubt we fell short, and perhaps there’s no truly responsible way to vacation south of the border. We did learn a great deal, and value enormously the privilege of witnessing this remarkable place in person.

A million thanks to Manuel, Mari, Amairani, and Cesar for making San Pancho home.

Cliffs - 1

Sweet on Söder

Boaters on HornsgatanWe’re a little in love with Södermalm, and kept finding our way back there. So after one week with Tim in Vasastan and another with Nick in Valencia, we were pleased to find a cozy spot in Skanstull on Söder’s south end for the last week of our Stockholm residency.

Södermalm—particularly its gentrifying west side, Hornstull—has drawn criticism for its love of all things Brooklyn; and the fashion, food and drink choices do feel familiar after time in New York. (Brooklyn Brewery opened its first European branch here in 2013, and is now in every pub in town). But the north and east waterfronts are unmistakably Stockholm; in our limited experience, it can feel like the best of both worlds.

In contrast to New York, Stockholm held a zero-tolerance graffiti policy until last year; but what little exists is mostly in Södermalm. This summer witnessed the gradual ornamentation of the Kolingsborg port house on the island’s north end, a cautious effort by the city to support controlled street art.

Vita Bergen park, the famous backdrop to Strindberg’s The Red Room, covers four square blocks with greenery on Söder’s east side. We caught a free performance by Swedish funk master Nils Landgren in the park theater, part of the Kulturhuset Stadsteatern summer concert series. Our view was woefully obstructed, but the sound worked its way through just fine; fortunately another crowd member recorded some of the action.

The view was somewhat better at Fåfängan, a hilltop fort-turned-cafe on Södermalm’s northeast end. Our brunch there turned rainy, but the smoked shrimp were a thorough consolation.

But Söder really comes alive at night. Gondolen (at top) and Mosebacketerrassen offered particularly potent views (and beverages); other favorites have been Bistro BonBistroteket, and the Fotografiska Museum.

Thanks to our final host Kris for help enjoying a few more adventures before bidding the city goodbye.

At home in Valencia

NickWhile in town for ESBRA, we got to explore a bit of Valencia, the city that lives without sleeping. Oliver’s cousin Nick, joining us from Dublin, kept us busy whenever work abated.

Although dwarfed by other Spanish cities, Valencia packs a wealth of ancient opulence and contemporary creativity into 50 square miles, concentrated in and around the historic Ciutat Vella. From its early recorded history as a Roman colony in the 2nd century BC, through medieval German invasions, five centuries as a Moorish taifa, and its 13th-century conquest by Spain, Valencia’s cultural heritage is complex; the official language, Valenciana, is closest to Catalan, though Spanish is also universally spoken.

After the Reconquista, James I the Conquerer established Valencia’s landmark cathedral (Església Catedral-Basílica Metropolitana de l’Assumpció de la Nostra Senyora de València) on the site of a former Moorish mosque, previously a Visigoth church. Trekking up the 207 steps of the 15th-century Micalet Tower made for a sprawling city view.

Valencia thrived for centuries on the accessibility and protection of the Túria River, which skirted its borders before flowing into the Mediterranean Sea. An anthropomorphic fountain in the Plaça de la Verge immortalizes the Túria in a figure of Neptune by Valencian sculptor Manuel Silvestre Montesinos. But the river also brought tragedy, in the form of dozens of recorded floods; Túria as Neptunethe Gran Riuà of 1957 took at least 81 lives, provoking the Spanish government to undertake a dramatic engineering project rerouting the river away from town.

The bridges around the former city walls now overlook a lush greenway populated by playgrounds and sculpture gardens. And since 1998, the southeast end houses the stunning Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, a cultural complex designed by famed architects Calatrava and Candela. Walking through the Ciutat’s planetarium, aquarium, science museum, visual and performing arts spaces was a vacation in the future.

Valencian cuisine was another potent sensory experience. The Mercat Central, one of the oldest markets in Europe, dates from the early 19th century and was bursting with gourmet olives and vegetables, seafood, pork, and tourists.

By night, the sleepless city glowed gold under a constellation of low-pressure sodium lamps.

Thanks to Ramón for coordinating a central home base for our Spanish excursion!

Plaça de la Verge

At home in Östermalm

Balcony breakfast over Gärdet
Balcony breakfast, Gärdet

We enjoyed a tranquil week in David’s sunny studio between the Karlaplan and Gärdet districts of Östermalm, Stockholm’s manicured east end.

For 250 years, the clearing at Karlaplan was a toll station on the eastern edge of Stockholm; lands beyond were the yttersta mörkret (utter darkness). The city’s expanding and prosperous population replaced the toll booths with large stone houses at the end of the 19th century, and the area became famously home to August Strindberg, the Shakespeare of Sweden. A certain drama remains in the Flygarmonumentet, commemorating the disastrous 1897 Andrée arctic balloon expedition in which Strindberg’s second cousin Nils perished with his two crewmates; the statue’s apparent Nazi aesthetic has generated repeated controversy.

After a brief return to agriculture in the first World War, Karlaplan and neighboring Gärdet were more thoroughly developed in the 1930s with modernist apartments and garden walkways. In our short time there, the roses lining Tessinparken added welcome color to the fading summer.