Machu Picchu is a destination to rival Luxor or Angkor Wat, and ever-growing numbers are making the pilgimage to the lost mountain redoubt of the Inca kings. (The suppression of the once-deadly Maoist guerrila group Shining Path helped a lot.) Many of those visitors make the journey with little foreknowledge of what they may encounter. Let’s see – indigenous people wearing derby hats, llamas, and the Andean panpipe and drum bands seen at tourist sites across Europe and North America. That’s about it, probably. So here’s more.

(1) The Inca Empire was less than a century old when it fell to the Spanish in 1532.

Organized tribes were in evidence in what is now Peru from about 2500 B.C., evolving into several important larger cultures. The Inca didn’t even begin to coalesce in the Cusco Valley until 1430, but in fifty brief years, their empire stretched from present-day Argentina to Columbia. Pizarro and his small band of conquistadors assassinated the Inca king in 1527 and sacked Cusco. They never found out about Machu Picchu.

(2) A favorite comfort food of Peruvians and their Ecuadorean neighbors is cuy. Guinea pig, that is.

A common sight in Andean kitchens is a tiny shack made of scraps of wood or cardboard, its guinea pig inhabitants scurrying in and about. Unaware of their destiny as future dinner entrées, they contentedly stay where they are fed and watered. Roasted cuy is often served with a peanut sauce.

(3) The Inca didn’t have the wheel, mules, or horses.

Yet their temples, ceremonial platforms, walls, waterworks, and related monuments are constructed of boulders weighing many tons that had to be maneuvered up steep mountain slopes and settled into place atop one another. In most cases, the building stones were so finely cut they fit together without mortar. Even today, a copper penny can’t be pushed into the cracks in the most important structures.

(4) There are said to be over 2,000 different kinds of potatoes grown in Peru, and probably many more.

The starchy national diet can be laid in large part to the wide-scale poverty of its citizens. A single dinner plate can include portions of rice, potatoes, beans, and pasta. Vegetarians have a tough go, for even bean and potato dishes are likely made with bits of meat or animal fat.

(5) “Ciao!” is a freqent greeting among younger Peruvians.

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You’re an American. Let all those foreigners know it. To make sure you are absolutely, positively identified as a tourist, observe these rules:

* Speak up. Waiters and the people at the next table appreciate knowing your preferences and every other detail of your life. Express dismay that someone doesn’t understand English; they’re just stuck-up.

* Hoist a backpack at all times, wherever you go – museums, restaurants, churches, theaters – preferably with mesh pockets revealing that your travels are planned and directed by Rick Steves and Fodor.

* Carry a water bottle everywhere, as if traversing the Gobi and not the Piazza San Marco. You never know when you might need hydrating between cafés, which are often a block or two apart.

* Wear shorts. On the rue de Rivoli, as if walking at water’s edge on the Redneck Riviera. Better still, get a pair of those pants that zip off, just in case you need to get cool while checking out the Mona Lisa. Alternatively, knee-length cargo shorts are an option, especially if the side pockets look to be full of dead fish and wet sand.

* Buy a beret. No one in Paris wears them, so you’ll make a clear statement. Ditto, that souvenir Bandito sombrero you picked up in Madrid. Or, have one of those Tilly Endurable hats, the kind with the floppy brims. You’re the smoothest guy in Evanston and you can look like a doofus if you want. What’s more, you can pretend that only you and a very few muggers know about the secret money pocket in the hat.

* Don’t read anything about your destination before leaving. Be surprised.

* Foreign languages are hard. Don’t bother learning words for “hello” or “please” – you’ll only forget them as soon as you get home.

* In shops, always ask how much that is in real money.

* Be certain to wear clothing with English words and symbols all over them. “Red Sox World Series 2007″ is good, since foreigners know about baseball like you know about cricket. “Muff Diver Deluxe” is a little more direct.

* Take every opportunity to discuss politics, especially if you thought invading Iraq was a good idea.

* When in Spain, where the customary dinner hour is around 10:00, whine endlessly about how you’re starving. (Ignore all those tapas bars and table-service restaurants called cafeterías that are open continuously from early morning to late evening.)

* After your honeymoon in Hawaii, be sure to tell everyone you’re “going back to The States.” That’s always endearing to the locals.

* And a word to British visitors to The States: Never leave a tip for the bartender. You don’t do it at home, do you? And for the French: Be astonished when you ask for martini and get vodka.

Money Swapping

Some people have no difficulty mentally calculating the equivalent of pesos or yen or euros in dollars – on the spot, the seller of the English teapot or Turkish prayer rug or Mexican candlestick impatiently waiting. Then there are the rest of us. There are devices and dodads to do the chore, but they take almost as long as pencil and paper.

So try this: Go to www.oanda.com. Click “Travelers” at the top of the page. After the jump, scroll down in the “Leisure Traveler” column and click “Travelers Currency Cheatsheet”. Insert the foreign currency for which you wish to exchange your dollars. The program will then produce a chart listing stepped amounts of dollars to, say, euros. Another chart will reverse the equation, say euros to dollars. They are conveniently wallet-sized.

Print out the charts, cut them out, and take them to the nearest UPS or stationery store to be laminated. They’ll cost about a buck.

On The Block

Draw a gentle arc from the eastern end of New York’s Long Island across the water to the knuckle on the fist of the flexed arm of Cape Cod in Massachsetts. It takes in some of the most blessed and glittery summer retreats on the Eastern Seaboard - the fabled Hamptons, home to movie notables and billionaires; Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the retreat of presidents and high-end intelligensia, and Cape Cod, the here-comes-everybody beach villages that shade from family-friendly to hyper-gay Provincetown.

Often overlooked is Block Island, a lamb chop-shaped rock breaking the water fifty minutes off the southern rim of Rhode Island. It’s less celebrated than the others and therefore not as trampled by people who prefer their lobster served out of the shell, need two bathrooms for every bedroom, or require stabling for their polo ponies. We missed The Block this year, taking a break after a decade writing about it for Frommer’s New England, and wish we hadn’t.

The island is pure summer resort. Little about it can be described as chic or glamorous. It has not (yet) been afflicted by too many of the sprawling angular architectural experiments that crowd the former potato fields of the Hamptons. Obligatory sights are largely absent, unless you count two lighthouses, at the north and southeastern corners, or the local history museum that consumes barely fifteen minutes. Its perimeter is rimmed by almost contiguous beaches, its many sections presenting distinctive uses. A couple are rocky, isolated, difficult to access. Others are ideal for shore fishing; one has waiter service to your blanket; another is a long scimitar of smooth sand, shallow at one end for kids and transitioning to a steeper dropoff with wave action at the other.

Great Salt Pond is a deepwater port on the west shore that almost reaches to the opposite side, ideal as a marina, and providing gentle interior waters for kayaking. While cars are permitted, most people get around by motorscooter or bicycle. Over a third of the island’s surface is protected land under the aegis of the Nature Conservancy, popular with hikers and birdwatchers. Charter boats stand ready to take anglers deepsea fishing. A different adventure can be had parasailing, sailing as high as 900 feet above the Atlantic.

There is only one town, its main street bordering the old harbor where the ferries from Point Judith in Rhode Island arrive. It is lined with hotels surviving from the late Victorian era when The Block was popular with working- and middle-class vacationers. There are shops here and on side streets sufficient to occupy a couple of hours of a visit. A variety of eating places, only two or three aspiring to gourmet stature, assure that every lunch and dinner of a week-long stay can be had in a different place. While nightlife doesn’t approach the intensity of P-Town or Key West, live music is heard in a few bars from late afternoon to past midnight most days during high season, as well as weekends at one or two of the larger hotels.

Some of the best reasons to consider The Block are what it doesn’t have. There are no golf courses or country clubs. Tennis courts are few. The lone gas station has no brand name. There is only one bank and, at last look, only two ATM machines. Franchise and chain retail operations are banned, so get your flame-broiled Whopper fix before leaving the mainland.

For a more comprehensive description of Block Island, check the appropriate chapter in the aforementioned Frommer’s guidebook. However, among the hotels and eating places to put at the top of your list is the Atlantic Inn (800-224-7422, www.atlanticinn.com), the choice of visiting celebrities and politicians – including former President Clinton. It sits on six acres atop one of the highest points of the island, an 1879 Victorian with wide views down over rolling hills to the harbor. Near sunset, grab one of the Adirondack chairs set out on the lawn in front of the veranda, and order drinks and tapas from one of the amiable servers. A soothing sunset evening ensues. Room rates can reach $300 on high season weekends, and don’t expect TV or airconditioning.

From the Atlantic Inn, exotic animals can be seen in fields below, with emu, llamas, camels, and a Scottish Highland ox strolling about. That property is attached to The 1661 Inn & Hotel Manisses (800-626-4773, www.blockisland rersorts.com), two separate buildings that are the main units of an island conglomeration of several satellite guesthouses and restaurants. Antiques and fireplaces are featured in the main hotel. Champagne breakfasts are served to guests of all the properties at the inn up the hill. The Inn has recentlydecided to remain open the entire year, very unusual for The Block. In summer, room rates run from as little as $190 to well over $350.

Fine dining on the island pretty much ends beyond the dining rooms of these hotels, and menus of fried fish, chicken, and burgers dominate. Execution and relative professionalism are subject to the abrupt changes predictable in all seasonal resorts, with often rootless chefs, managers, and waitpeople departing and arriving on short notice. Reputations ebb and surge and ebb again. That understood, my own favorites start with The Oar (401-466-8820), overlooking the Great Salt Pond on the west side of the island. The barroom ceiling is hung – you guessed it – with oars inscribed with a variety of drawings and humorous or boastful messages. Go for calamari or lobster rolls on the deck. Beachead (401-466-2249, www.thebeachead.com) has sought to elevate, however slightly, the standard island fare. There’s a pizza of the day and grilled or fried seafood are good bets. Families are welcome and children tolerated. There are indoor and outdoor tables. Everyone eventually winds up at Ballard’s (401-466-2231, www.ballardfsinn.com), and why not? It has a vast, cool, barn-like main space, with live music most nights in summer; an L-shaped deck with small rock bands in the afternoon; and an adjoining beach with waiter service. Ballard’s is at the tip of the lower arm of the main harbor.

Caveats: It’s a short, short season, and businesses must make enough from Memorial Day to Labor Day to get through the year. Prices are steep. Just about every inn, guesthouse, eatery, and store is closed by Columbus Day or earlier, not to open again until late May or April. Even in the larger hotels, TV and A/C are not to be expected, so ask, if those conveniences are important. Avoid weekends, if possible. Apart from the fact that room rates are at their highest then, the island is swarmed over by daytrippers and overnighters. Many of them gather at the hotels along the main street facing the harbor and drift over to the nearby bars and clubs. Since their primary intent is to down as much alcohol as can be retained, the last ferry to the mainland is rarely restful.

The principal transportation is provided by the Block Island Ferry (866-783-7996, www.blockislandferry.com). It runs all year from Point Judith on the mainland, and is the only one of the ferry services that carries vehicles. The trip takes about 50 minutes, putting in at the Old Harbor. Hi-Speed Ferry (401-783-7996, www.islandhighspeedferry.com) runs from late May to mid-October out of Point Judith, taking thirty minutes to make the trip. From New London, CT, the Block Island Express (860-444-4624, www.longislandferry.com) is equally fast but takes about 75 minutes, since the distance is greater. Fare schedules are complicated and change every year – upward, of course – but the range for one-way trips for adults is from about $12 to $ $25.

Weekend At Tanglewood

It is difficult to conjure a more agreeable way to pass a summer afternoon than in the presence of accomplished musicians on sun-washed rolling lawns shaded by ancient pines. At Tanglewood, an estate in Lenox in The Berkshires devoted to performance and education since 1937, attendees have polished the experience to highest sheen. They arrive with folding chairs, sun umbrellas, picnic baskets, and coolers of wine and beer. They sprawl on blankets, dozing, cuddling, reading books while attending to concerts by the Boston Pops and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with occasional changes of direction to jazz combos and the folky likes of James Taylor. Some in the audience go all out with tables set with crystal and silverware and three-course repasts on snowy napery; others settle for chips and turkey sandwiches.

We were invited to Tanglewood for an all-Mozart concert by the BSO, led by James Levine, on a Sunday afternoon. As an extra attraction there was a concert the preceding evening by the Pops, conducted by John Williams, the composer of so many popular movie soundtracks. Tanglewood’s “Film Nights” are hugely popular, with thousands of spectators filling every seat in the great open-sided, wedge-shaped “Shed” and multitudes more on the lawns beyond. Even before Williams gave the first downbeat, someone shouted “I love you, John”. After a tribute mosaic of snatches of dozens of recognizable themes from Gone With The Wind to Jaws to Star Wars to Harry Potter, the versatile Pops rolled into more complete suites from such films as Far and Away, The Witches of Eastwick, and E.T. The Extra-Terrestial.

Actor Frank Langella came out to introduce the second half program. In contrast to the unsympathetic or villanous roles for which he is known – Richard Nixon, most recently – he proved a charming but disciplined host who introduced segments of a tribute to Warner Brothers, focusing on such stars as Bette Davis, James Dean, Humphrey Bogart, and Jimmy Cagney. Large screens dropped from the ceiling to show composite clips from their movies in coordination with associated music. It was a rousing and sentimental but clear-eyed hour, followed by an encore from Star Wars. What fun it was.

The next afternoon was the Mozart with James Levine. We had access to The Shed, but not to the central seating area. Instead, we found space on one the green wooden benches that are set around the perimeter. The audience within and without was noticeably older than for film night, with the over-60 set far outnumbering the under-30s. Walkers, canes, and wheelchairs were much in evidence. Yet the effect was less of an ambulatory nursing home than of a confabulation of devotees coming together to celebrate a lifelong enthusiasm. When the music was playing, the throngs were respectfully silent, each of the thousands intent in their own ways.

The sun warmed our shoulders, a breeze drifting through during interludes of shifting cloud cover. We grew drowsy. Mozart doesn’t stir the blood – not mine, anyway – and we were thinking about leaving at the intermission. Instead, and for no reason we could determine then or later, an usher came over to us and asked if we’d like to move to better seats. But of course. The seats were in the sixth row and the tickets he gave us were marked $88 each, free.

The Tanglewood website is www.tanglewood.org. Off-season, look up thecoming summer schedule at www.bso.org, typically set by mid-February. Tickets are usually under $20 for access to the lawn, up to $99 for seats in The Shed. Teenagers with their families are often free. Popular attractions (that’s Steve Martin on his banjo on the right) sell out fast.

We arrived at our motel in Great Barrington at 4:00 PM Saturday. The less said about that lodging the better, given that it provoked an impulse to glance around for the presence of a Tony Perkins doppelganger. But last-minute room reservations in The Berkshires on weekends in July and August are both hard to come by and ridiculously expensive. We dropped the overnight bags and drove into town for a walk-around. Great Barrington is the retail and dining center of the southern Berkshires. This time, three art galleries were holding receptions for new exhibitions. We stepped into one of them on Railroad Street, feeling a touch guilty that we had no intention of buying any artworks, but enjoying plastic glasses of wine and samples of Shropshire Blue cheese.

One of our favorite stops in town is Rubiner’s (264 Main St., 413-528-0488), a cheesemonger and gourmet grocer in a former bank building. Down in back along the alley to the left is the companion Rubi’s, a casual coffee shop serving speciality sandwiches, pastries, and and espresso drinks. Lately, on Fridays and Saturdays from four to seven, they feature oysters on the half-shell. With an iced selection of the bivalves and a glass or two of sauvignon blanc, that’s my idea of a happy hour.

Following our customary coupling of culture with cuisine, we had an opportunity to try two new Berkshires restaurants that weekend. Neither qualified for Stop the Presses! hosannas, but both proved worthy of consideration by locals and visitors. We chose Viva (14 Glendale Road/Route 183, 413-298-4433), partly because it honors the Spanish tapas tradition, but also because it is a straight ten-minute shot to Tanglewood (and even less time to the Norman Rockwell Museum). Inside, the old roadside farmhouse is done up in the ochre and siena colors associated with Spain and adorned with bullfight pictures, tiresome decorative clichés that I thought had gone out around 1964. There was a guitarist wandering among the tables, another feature that sets my teeth on edge. Never mind. At least he wasn’t too pushy. The food was generally well-executed, whether hewing to tradition or veering off into pan-oceanic riffs with little concern for authenticity. The full dinner menu offered the usual range of salads, soups, entradas, as well as the expected paellas, but we chose from the long card of hot and cold tapas. Allowing for various kitchen practices, four or five tapas to share are usually sufficient, especially when, as here, a basket of warm chewy bread, a dish of also warmed olive oil, and a small plate of olives arrives with drinks. The pulpo gallego, meaty octopus tentacles dusted with smoked paprika and accompanied with a scoop of potato salad was a good choice, as was the Serrano ham with Idiazaberl cheese. We overdosed on potatoes, with creamy-centered deep-fired croquettes and patatas bravas, a standard dish I can rarely resist. This version didn’t have the spicy tomato sauce expected, the fried diced potatoes instead scattered with bits of peppers and onions, more like hash than fries. We were full, and for only $53, an economical virtue of the small plates phenomenon.

After cappuchinos and croissants at Ruby’s Sunday morning, we browsed among Rubiner’s offerings of international and domestic cheeses, charcuterie, breads, various gourmet packaged products, and its selection of not-readily found grains such as farro, a terrific substitute for rice. The smells alone can impel excessive purchases, but from samples laid out at the front counter, we managed to confine ourselves to three choices. All, as it happened, were from cow’s milk: A tangy, aromatic Der Scharfe Maxx from Switzerland, a stinky (as in good) washed-rind Cato Corner Drunken Hooligan from Connecticut, and a semi-soft Neal’s Yard Dairy Cashel Blue from Ireland. Consumed at home over the next week, there wasn’t a disappointment in the lot. Rubiner’s is open Monday through Saturday from ten to six, Sunday from ten to four.

Before the afternoon Mozart, we drove north to Pittsfield for lunch at Jae’s Spice (297 North St. at Summer St., 413-443-1234). The eponymous owner opened the first of his pan-Asian emporia in the Boston area, then moved on to North Adams, Williamstown, and, a year ago, to Pittsfield. That distressed old manufacturing town can use Jae’s ministrations and those of a lot more entrepreneurs, but the main drag is showing encouraging signs of renewal. This Jae’s is a large space, with a lot of tables to fill. On our visit, only about half were occupied, mostly by families. The hostess assured us that the spacious barroom was three-deep as weekends approached, aided by live music and a popular bar menu. We hope it works out. We want to return for the exceptional scallion and seafood pancakes, the mandoo (fried meat dumplings), and the grilled squid stuffed with smoked salmon. As is increasingly our practice – a greater variety of tastes, a lesser reckoning – we chose to order only appetizers. The cranky reviews on the Zagat website to the contrary (who are these people?), this is a most pleasurable stop when you’re hungry and in the area. Our bill was $51, with wine and tax, but before tip.

Alhambra Under Snow

Granada was the last major Spanish city held by the Muslim armies which once occupied the entire Iberian peninsula and marched almost to the gates of Paris. They were rolled back over nearly eight centuries, but the pace of the Reconquest was agonizingly slow, and the cream of the Arab mercantile and artisan classes migrated to the city and nourished it for nearly three hundred years. Potentates of the Almoravid and Nasrid dynasties had the leisure and funds to build exquisite mosques and palaces for themselves and their subjects. Most were razed over the centuries, first through the royal Muslim predeliction for destroying the monuments of predecessors, then through the vindictiveness of their Spanish conquerors after 1492 (yes, a big year for Spain).

The fact that it is so rare enhances the aura of the famed Alhambra, the ultimate architectural achievement of the Arab empire in Spain. It ranks in near-mystical exuberance with the Taj Majal, the Parthenon, and Macchu Picchu. Not a single building, but a multi-level complex of castles, churches, fortifications, and royal residences connected by tiers of gardens, massive gates, terraces, corridors, and half-hidden staircases, it occupies a steeply sloped ridge lomming over the entire city.

Downtown Granada has its points of interest, including a cathedral with the final resting place of Queen Isabel and King Fernando and a picturesque ancient Arab quarter called Albaicín. The city is backed by the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, whose peaks are covered with snow well into the late spring, surprising this far south. For much of the year, it is possible to ski in the morning and, in the afternoon, swim in the Mediterranean, a little over an hour’s drive away. The motive for staying a few days, however, is not the city, but the Alhambra.

As is unfortunately true at every major site in Europe and much of the rest of the world, floods of tourists wash over the Alhambra from April through October. About the only strategies to skirt at least some of the crush are to be at the entrance the minute it opens or wait until late in the afternoon when the crowds have dispersed. Better still, go in the off-season , November through March. Weather in Granada isn’t too bad then, mostly rain and chilly nights. Despite the nearly year-round snow in the mountains, frosts are only occasional in all but January and snowfalls are rare.

That’s why it was such a delight to be on site a few years ago when several inches fell on the Alhambra. I was there. Children were delirious, adults became children. There were impromptu snowball fights and pranks, and snowmen were set upon the ancient walls. There are more images in the Photo Gallery, under the heading, Alhambra Under Snow.

Montréal Style

Normally, people don’t visit Montréal for the weather, but in spite of it. But by happy circumstance, we arrived there under porcelain blue skies and temps in the 70s, leaving sixteen days of continuous rain back in the Lower Hudson Valley.

It stayed that way for six days.

I’ve been writing about Québec since 1991, with update revisions every year since. (See Frommer’s Montréal & Québec City, now written by my stepdaughter, Leslie Brokaw.) Montréal is a destination of many virtues. The city beside the St. Lawrence has hosted a Summer Olympics and a World Fair called Expo, and there are annual international fireworks competitions, impressive jazz and comedy festivals, winter carnivals, gay diversity fêtes, two week programs of African and Caribbean music, world film festivals, and enough other celebrations and shorter events to ensure that only serious misadventures in scheduling will deny a visitor an opportunity to join in.

All these provide an opportunity (in addition to partying) to enjoy a city notable for its innovative rehabilitations of entire neighborhoods, beginning with Vieux (Old) Montréal, where the city was birthed, proceeding with the adjacent Vieux Port, transformed from a dreary industrialized area into a broad linear park with multiple recreational possibilities, and continuing with the renovation of the miles-long Lachine Canal, which once provided access to the Great Lakes for shipping and is now employed by private boats and for hiking and biking on adjacent trails.

But here’s the thing: While there is an excellent art museum, a fascinating archaeological center with an underground route revealing the progress of human settlement beside the St. Lawrence River, and two or three other specialized repositories meriting consideration, there is not the daunting abundance of obligatory sights of the sort that demand attention in Paris, London, or New York. There is ample time to stroll ancient quarters and shopping streets, take the sun in sidewalk cafés, revel in the gastronomical possibilities of 6,000 reastaurants, and club-crawl far into the small hours…all without the oppressive guilt of trying to cram as many mandatory sites as possible into the limited time available.

The great cities of the world cannot be exhausted. Montréal isn’t among them. Instead, it tenders time to linger, to savor, without pressure.

For me, as will surprise almost no one who reads this website, that means long lunches and longer dinners in a city that offers up scores of appetizing possibilities, from ethnic munchies to langorously epic meals in temples d’cuisine to rival those of Manhattan, in achievement, if not in number.

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Party Rules

We’ve avoided throwing large parties the last few years – too much work, too expensive. But on the principle that our time and energy are in ever shorter supply, we geared up last month and filled a couple of tables with food and two ice coolers with wine and beer. It went well, we thought, and we rediscovered two rules of party-giving:

1.  There is no such thing as too much shrimp.

2.  No guest ever uses guest towels. Ever.

Here’s my recipe for one of the centerpiece dishes. I think the original was found in the newspaper, but it’s undergone so many changes over the last twenty years, I choose to claim co-ownership. Amounts are readily doubled or tripled.

Mussels, Shrimp, and Potato Salad with Ginger Vinaigrette

Serves 4 to 6

2 pounds waxy red or yellow potatoes, peeled and cubed

½ pound cucumber, trimmed, peeled, seeded, and cubed

¼ cup onions, finely chopped

¼ cup parsley, minced

3 pounds mussels, debearded and scrubbed

½ teaspoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

Salt to taste

½ pound snow peas

1 ripe, unblemished mango, about one pound

1 small head Chinese cabbage, thinly sliced crosswise

½ cup scallions, sliced

½ cup basil, chopped

For the vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons grainy mustard

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1½ tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 cup canola or corn oil

Put the potatoes in a pot with a pinch of salt and water to cover. Bring to a low boil and cook until firm-tender, six to eight minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. Add the cubed cucumber, onions, and parsley. Toss gently.

Put the mussels in a large pot. Add the thyme, bay leaves, and vinegar. Cover, bring to a boil. Remove mussels to a bowl as they open, three to six minutes. Discard any mussels that don’t open. Reserve the cooking liquid and strain it through cheesecloth. There should be at least one-half cup.

Put the liquid in a saucepan and bring to a low boil. Add the shrimp and a pinch or two of salt. Cook the shrimp until they are pink and opaque, about three minutes. Remove from the heat and drain. Set aside. Remove the mussels from their shells and set aside in the same bowl with the shrimp. Discard the shells.

Put the snow peas in a saucepan, add a pinch of salt and water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower immediately to a simmer for about two minutes, or until crisp tender. Drain, and briefly run cold water over the vegetables to stop the cooking.

Peel the mango and cut the flesh away from the stone. Cut the flesh into cubes. After slicing the cabbage, combine it in a large bowl with the mango, snow peas, and scallions.

To make the ginger viniagrette, put the mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper, and grated ginger into a jar with a tight lid. Shake vigorously until blended.

Add four tablespoons of the vinaigrette to the mango-cabbage mixture and toss to blend. Add four tablespoons of the vinaigrette to the mussels and shrimp and toss to blend. Add the rest of the vinaigrette to the potato mixture and toss to blend.

Mound the potato mixture in the middle of a serving platter. Ring the potatoes with the mango-cabbage mixture. Arrange the mussel-shrimp mixture neatly over the assemblage and sprinkle the minced basil over the top. Serve.

Target: You

Too many travelers carry the notion to foreign countries that they are somehow immune or invisible or invulnerable to the attentions of street thugs and con artists. In fact, they are highly desirable targets of opportunity for those who think it’s a fine idea to rob rich foreigners.

New York Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof travels to a lot scarier places than I do – Darfur and the slums of Bangladesh and Peru, for three – but in a recent Op-Ed column, he offered strategies for fending off bad people that can be applied even by those travelers who rarely stray far from their hot showers and WiFi. Here are a few of his suggestions, paraphrased, and a couple of mine:

* Carry a “decoy wallet” so that you have something to hand over to a mugger if threatened. Have $30 or $40 of the local currency inside, along with a couple of items that lend it authenticity – an old library card and a lapsed frequent-flier card, for example.

* Carry your real cache of currency and a single credit card in a (1) money belt or (2) a pouch that hangs from your belt inside the front of your trousers, skirt, or shorts. (I guarantee you’ll know if someone’s trying to get at it.) Find a variety of such pouches at www.travelsmith.com.

* Avoid carrying your passport, extra credit cards, or more money than you need for each outing. Leave everything else in the safe in your hotel room or at the front desk. You might also copy important pages of your passport to carry for identification.

* Available to travelers are wire cables and locks with which you can secure your laptop or locked luggage to a radiator or or something similarly secure.

* Before going to bed, set a chair against your door so it will fall over and crash if someone tries to enter after you are asleep.

* Bedbugs don’t respect class – I was once covered with red welts from the waist down after a night at one of the most luxurious hotels in Madrid. When you check into your room, lift the sheet to look for bloodstains, evidence of the bugs’ presence.

* Women especially, but men, too, should avoid accepting drinks from strangers. Date rape drugs and knockout powders are a palpable danger.

* Lock the doors of your taxi or rental car and, if it isn’t too hot, roll up the windows. Robbers often lunge from cover at stoplights and grab whatever they can reach inside.

* People pretending to be cops, usually in pairs, accuse you of criminal acts. One threatens action and demands ID while the other one rifles your pockets pretending to search for drugs or weapons. Demand to see their idenitification. If you have a cellphone, call someone -anyone. Often as not, the fake cops will split.

* It shouldn’t need to be said, but leave home the flashy jewelry, expensive watches, and designer-label accessories and don’t thumb through fat wads of bills in the presence of others.

* A favorite ploy of street scum is to squirt a fluid – mustard or catsup or something similar – on the victim’s back. The lead con then offers to clean up the mess, preferably in a restroom or a space off the street, where he or his partner lifts the vic’s valuables.

* A variation on the above involves a person, often a young woman, holding up a large street map and asking for help in a way that distracts the mark and obscures his view while her associate pokes through his pockets.

* In Third World countries – Mexico, for one – taxi drivers can be seriously dangerous. They are known to threaten injury if their demands for money are refused and are not infrequently involved in kidnapping followed by ransom demands. I’ve had good luck making advance arrangements by phone or Internet with my destination hotel for pickup by a car service.

The Battle of New Haven

New Haven boosters trumpet many notable inventions – the cotton gin, Colt revolvers, the first telephone switchboard, corsets, the lollipop…and Frisbee. Admittedly, it’s a list that draws yawns. For controversy, despair, rage, and triumph, nothing matches the conflict that has simmered and periodically erupted over another local creation: Pizza.

Claims about who sold the first pizza in the New World were disputed from the start. New York and New Haven both assert that the first “tomato pie” was made in their respective Little Italy neighborhoods sometime around 1900. (Put aside the inconvenient fact that baked flatbreads topped with bits of meat and vegetables existed in the time of the Greeks.) As far as New Haven loyalists are concerned, an Italian immigrant by the anglicized name of Frank Pepe peddled pies in the streets soon after he arrived in Connecticut from southern Italy. Success led him to open his pizzeria in 1925. It’s still there.
Defining what’s special about New Haven pizza isn’t difficult, starting with what it isn’t. It isn’t showbiz. The dough isn’t twirled and lofted in the air. There are no gimmicks, no cheese-stuffed crusts or dipping sauces. The pies don’t lie under heat lamps coagulating for hours. And no New Haven pizza looks as if it was stamped out according to precise corporate directives.
First, New Haven pizza is thin. You can’t quite read the page of a book through the typical crust, but close. Local pizzaioli (pizza chefs) don’t test the dough’s aerodynamics and they don’t flatten it with rollers. They push it and pull it into shape by hand, which guarantees that no pie ever looks exactly like the one before. The pies are laid directly on the stone floors of brick ovens and they emerge bubbly, charred, and as wobbly in shape as amoebas, cut into random slices as pointy or broad or narrow as the chef finds convenient. You want symmetry, check the frozen food aisle. This is pizza as primordial and earthy as the flatbread with wild onions once baked on the shields of Roman legionaires.
There are as many opinions about where the tastiest or most authentic pies are sold as might be expected among New Haven’s 123,000 self-anointed experts. Disputes among them are largely lighthearted, but on occasion lead to bellicose offers to rearrange noses. At the risk of enflaming the champions of unlisted pizzerias, though, history and consensus favor three of the oldest parlors as those to beat – the Holy Trinity, as it were.
Frank Pepe’s original stand was renamed The Spot when he expanded into the larger structure fronting on hallowed Wooster Street, the heart of the oldest Italian neighborhood. Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana (157 Wooster St., 203-865-5762) remains in the family, his seven feisty grandchildren in charge. Remarkably, Frank was allergic to both tomatoes and mozzarella (pronounced “mootz” hereabouts). Partisans insist that the best pie still bears neither ingredient. They’re right: The crust of the white clam pie (at right) is strewn with dozens of the whole, fresh bivalves, drizzled with olive oil and scattered with oregano, grated Parmesan, and minced garlic. Thin but not brittle, it’s sturdy enough to fold and lift to watering mouth. At least fifty gallons of clams are shucked daily, sometimes not enough to satisfy demand.
This gastronomic wonder is produced in a monster coal-fired brick oven twelve feet square. It is so deep that pies are inserted and withdrawn with twelve-foot-long peels, the traditional paddle-like implement. An average 500 pies are swept into paper-lined cookie trays or take-out boxes every day. Sausage is an equally popular topping, and broccoli and spinach have been added as options. Seating in the two rooms is at high-backed booths with vinyl seats and Formica tabletops. There are photos of Bill Clinton eating. Décor is not a central concern at these pizzerias. Arrive early or expect to join a waiting line – 45 minutes to get inside is the norm.
Occasional turmoil is to be expected in extended families. Frank Pepe’s business was booming, even in the middle of the Depression. In 1938, disagreements of unknown nature sent Frank’s nephew Salvatore Consiglio out the door. He didn’t go far, just a block and a half down Wooster Street, where he opened Sally’s Apizza (237 Wooster St., 203-624-5271).  “Apizza” is the old name for pies, pronounced “ah-peetz”.) The interior is no more aesthetically beguiling than Pepe’s, unless you’re a Sinatra fan. Frank was so enamored of Sally’s pies he dispatched flunkies on the four-hour roundtrip from New York just to pick up a few. His photos are all over the place.
The assertions of their partisans aside, the pizzas of the two parlors are more alike than different – thin, blackened, irregular ovals of a few exquisitely balanced ingredients. Kitchen crews change, as do ingredient availabilities and management decisions, but steady hands at the helm smooth the bumps. Sal’s widow is still on the job, as are their sons, Bobby and Rick. Continue Reading »

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