Category Archives: Travel

Time Travel

The Daily Count
Yesterday morning I experienced a boomerang memory spin like a scene from “Back to the Future.” One of my favorite daily reads is Poppytalk, a “Canadian design blog collecting inspiration and dedicated to promoting emerging design talent.” The posts are loaded with delicious photography. A recent guest post about a cool place in London called Go, Do & Drink struck a chord. It’s my kind of destination: a cafe with fun stuff for sale (including the furnishings!) and onsite DIY crafting, too. Wow! But the photos here are about a place that was called The Daily Count.

My Shop
This was my little experiment in cafe-retail heaven.

mural on cafe wall
Back in 2004 ’til 2006.

for my customers
It was part cafe (organic espresso with beans from a local roastery); part low-sugar, low-carb, gluten-free grocery that soon included organic, free-range meats, too; and it also functioned as a meeting location  for writing workshops and an entrepreneurial group I had co-founded.
for the love of color
There was a monthly ‘Gluten-free Recipe Club’ and annual gluten-free cookie swap. So many wonderful customers. All great fun.
mural on cafe wall
One of the shop’s features was the wall mural. It was my first painting-painting ever.
Memories of Brazil
Inspired by my Brazilian adventure in 2001. Look familiar? It’s also my blog banner. Guess I miss traveling, too …
cafe window
There are a multitude of reasons that the business closed after only two years. Many lessons learned. And without a doubt, new frontiers opened up afterwards. But boy,  Go, Do & Drink looks like a fun place to hang out and make stuff. Time to renew my passport? You bet!

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A Day of Beauty, or Saturdays are for Road Trips, part 1

What better way to celebrate the arrival of an out-of-town friend than to organize an all-day art tour? That’s what my friend Cynthia did, and Trudie and I were fortunate to be invited along. The day was full of many wow!s, beginning with a tour of C’s house and gardens, and an al fresco breakfast served on the porch. Sun hats provided by the hostess!

Did you notice that that’s a repurposed grill from which a butterfly garden now spews forth? Clever!

Rose petal and blueberry ice cubes for our iced blackberry tea were an elegant embellishment to the menu:  Tomato Frittata  –  Scones and Corn Muffins with Lemon Curd  –  Strawberries dipped in Yogurt. The rose petals were freshly picked, too. It would have been easy to linger on the porch, but we had places to go! First stop, apotheca flower shoppe & tea cart, a feast for the eyes and heart, in a charming train depot in Goffstown village.

There were so many handmade and vintage delights to admire here, not to mention an astounding number of beverage choices. But we had many more artful destinations in front of us.
a secret gardenAs C pulled up alongside this path, we all called out “photo opp!” in unison. Talk about Vitamin N — this was pure intoxication. After experimenting with various camera settings with which to capture the most sumptuous range of greens, I resisted temptation and got back into the car.

Stay tuned for more photos and Part II of our Saturday Artist Tour of southern New Hampshire.

Birthday Bubbles

bubbles at DeCordova Museum by Lisa AllenChasing memories with birthday bubbles for G at DeCordova Museum.

Waste Land, a movie that has changed lives


This film represents a convergence of so many facets of my life that I hardly know which aspect bears the most weight, or would be most fitting here. Perhaps I should begin at the beginning …

In January 2001 I spent a month in Alpercata, a small farming community in mid-eastern Brazil. When I arrived, my Portuguese language skills  were non-existent, but after several weeks in what could only be called a cultural immersion, I was able to engage in light conversation and make purchases at the market. The details of that month are best saved for another day, but for your amusement, here is a quick peek at yours truly, posing for posterity in Pai Pereira’s dairy cow corral (he’s the gentleman in the white shirt):
alpercata, brasilThree important things from that trip that relate to Waste Land the movie: 1) In both the rural farming communities where I spent the most time, and along the coast in the state of Bahia, I observed problems with trash disposal and management;  2) the lyrical nature of the language was intoxicating; and, 3) the grace, dignity, and hospitality of the Brazilian people endeared me to their country for life.

What happens in the world’s largest trash city will transform you.” — from the Waste Land movie trailer

The photographs that are the result of the creative collaboration between  Vik Muniz, his unique artistic vision, and a select group of catadores (pickers of recyclable materials) who worked alongside him in his Rio de Janeiro studio, drew the second largest crowd ever to Rio’s Modern Art Museum. The catadores’ lives were forever changed. And honestly, after watching this film, I cannot imagine anyone not thinking differently about: art (what is it? why do we make it?) and trash (how can I make less of this stuff? how can I be more ingenious in my upcycling and recycling?) and the people who work in the trash industry.

Four days have gone by since I watched the film and I’m still thinking about it. How often does that happen? Needless to say, I recommend it highly. For those who don’t like subtitles, there are some, but a considerable portion of the film is in English, as well. Please — go see it or rent it from your library. And then share your thoughts here. It will be fun to discuss.

Time Travel, a photo tour – part 1

Oceanic Hotel, Star Island, NHThe second half of the summer residency (SNHU-MFA) was held at the Oceanic Hotel on Star Island, in the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of Rye, NH. My first thought as I stepped off the Thomas Laighton ferry was, “This is just like the setting for a Bobbsey Twins novel!”

Around the Corner
Peeking around the corner towards Vaughan Museum (above) and the flowers at the entrance (below).

Star Island Vaughan Museum flowers
The Parsonage
Old fashioned climbing roses and bubble-gum scented iris flank the front door of The Parsonage.

Oceanic Hotel on Star Island and cemetery

Nesting season for the gulls meant that this was as far as we could walk on the rocks that day. The males stand guard and dive bomb intruders. Best to walk with a stick held high, just in case.

Social solitude. Everyone is working on their book-in-process.

Star Island dining hallAnd after so much quiet, the rush to meal time. The social stimulation was an intense contrast to the windswept simplicity outdoors.

Ocean Hotel Star Island

Leaving Paradise

hair 1978

I loved it there. Loved. It: temperate climate. Exotic architecture. No spoken English. I don’t speak Arabic and only the most pitiable self-taught survival French, but that didn’t matter.

It all began one Sunday afternoon while walking through Harvard Square. A pair of pointy-toed boots was keeping pace with me, whether I sped up or slowed down and pretended to admire a window display.

“May I pay you a compliment?” he asked.

“Why not?!” They’re few and far between, I thought.

“You have beautiful eyes.”

“Thank you.”

“Would you care to go for a cup of tea?”

I’d never been in Cafe Algiers before, although it was located in the same building as the Brattle Theatre, a landmark dating back to my childhood. With its giant copper tea urn, middle eastern background music, and harmony of languages, Cafe Algiers was soon my favorite place to meet with friends. The gentleman-of-great-compliments was Algerian, studying for his master’s degree in Boston. Through him I met other Algerian students, including a young woman whose sister lived and studied in Paris. I don’t know if it was the influence of these travelers or utter boredom with my job, but by November I’d resigned from my father’s company, renewed my passport, and bought a roundtrip ticket with an open-ended return date.

The woman’s sister welcomed me into her sixth-floor garret living quarters but made it perfectly clear that she had no interest in learning to speak a word of English. For two weeks we hobbled along quite happily with a combination of super-simple French emphasized with a hefty dose of sign language.

By the time my ex-disco dancing partner blew into town from Algiers wearing a linen suit and brown silk socks but with no luggage, (“Meet me at your mailing address,” his telegram demanded), I had learned how to order coffee and a Croque Monsieur at a cafe and to purchase fresh fruit at the market. Hamid assumed we would pick up where we had left off back in Boston, but after he’d been called back home, I’d learned that he was married. To his chagrin and fury, we were now on a friendship basis only. And I guess that is how and why I ended up in Tunisia.

In Tunisia the palms and cacti were crazy big and beautiful.

Hotel DjerbaThe iron filigree work was mesmerizing.  …

The manager of my hotel on the island of Djerba asked if I’d teach him English. After a lesson or two Taoufik invited me to his mother’s house for a meal. In spite of my advanced sign language skills while traveling in non-English speaking territories, I was slow to realize that I was being courted. When his mother presented me with an orange already peeled and ready to eat, I started to get the picture.

Taoufik was impressed with my sketches of jackets quilted in patterns that mirrored my window’s iron grill. He was enchanted with the possibilities that come with such close association with an American. He thought we should set up a manufacturing enterprise and produce my fashion ideas. Sitting in an open-air cafe with him, taking turns excitedly jotting projection numbers in my little notebook, a man’s voice chanting in Arabic through the outdoor speakers overhead, I was aware that I was the only woman, but didn’t give it much thought. I knew next to nothing about the Muslim religion but had the good sense to cover up and not flaunt my body like the German tourists who insisted on sunbathing topless.

Lisa_Tunis_1978Every day the weather was smooth and clear. One sunny day slid into the next. One language lesson flowed into another; my French improved. A parade of relatives, including an important uncle, marked another dinner with Taoufik’s family. While I photographed the sheep and chickens in the courtyard, Taoufik’s mother wept and wailed as she recounted stories I would never understand. A month had passed.

I don’t remember exactly how I got the news, but my departure was abrupt. My oldest childhood friend was getting married and I couldn’t imagine not being there. I made promises to return to Djerba. Taoufik and I cobbled together a communication plan that involved me telephoning the rug shop that was just down the street from his hotel; I’d have to call from the States at 4:00 a.m. And of course we could write.

What if I hadn’t left then? What if my friend hadn’t gotten married and I hadn’t found a reason to leave that little patch of paradise on earth? That’s what I’ve been thinking about over the past week, with the latest political news out of Tunisia. After I told Taoufik during one of those 4 a.m. phone calls that I wouldn’t be returning to Djerba to set up a factory and clothing business with him, he sent me a post card with the picture of a camel’s head. From what I could decipher in the message, the image was message. I think now how lucky it was that I had that wedding to attend.

Sorry for such a long post, but I’ve been itching to tell a bit of this story in light of recent world events. It seems that it is only now that I am considerably more settled that I can clearly see how adrift I was then. At the time I was simply following the allure of what felt exotic, living my life like a National Geographic assignment.

I realize that I never told you exactly how or why I landed in Tunisia, but I’ll save that for another chapter.

Artist Date! Time for something completely different

Approaching Griffis Sculpture Park in East Otto, NY, an hour south of Buffalo.

I promised myself and my dear friend G_ that as soon as I was finished with school, I would make the trek out to Buffalo for a long overdue visit. G and I met on the job twelve years ago. Although we only worked together for less than a year. we’ve stayed in touch and current with each other’s lives with monthly, regularly scheduled “phone dates.” (This works really well, by the way!)

So on Wednesday, after a celebratory lunch at the Asa Ransom House, we piled into the car and headed to Griffis Sculpture Park, which just so happens to be one of G’s most favorite places on the planet. And now it’s one of mine, too!

Look out -- giants on the horizon!

Photos were taken with the camera in a cell phone, as I’d left my bulky SLR at G’s house.

Approaching the Aluminum Bathers.

We weren’t able to see everything in a single afternoon, but the Aluminum Bathers were my personal piece de resistance.

Mist from the pond’s fountain entices the swimmers in the water.

A few of the bathers up-close.

Walking some of the park’s 400 acres, I could feel my world view shifting, tilting, turning. And that’s what an artist date is all about, isn’t it?