Culinary, cultural crossroads in Beirut

Beirut exists today as a crumbling, bullet-ridden melting pot of exquisite food and enchanting, endlessly hospitable people. The urban landscape is unique, typified by pastel buildings where concept stores sit side by side with garages fixing vintage Chevrolets – it feels at once like Berlin and India.

Illogical driving, intense heat, and an ever- present security threat results in a place unlike any other. The current Syrian crisis, so near and yet so far from a politically jaded Lebanese people, doesn’t help, but they don’t want to talk politics – they simply want to be left alone to live their lives peacefully and be allowed to grow their country.

Most of all, though, they want to be left to cook, eat and enjoy food and live their lives as beautifully as their evolved culture demands they do.

There is no one who embodies the essence of what Lebanon is more than my friend Kamal Mouzawak, farmer, food artisan and culinary activist. Since my first visit in 2006, he has emailed countless yallas for my return; as Lebanon has been close to my heart and my stomach ever since, I felt it was time now, with my four-year-old son Öni.

Kamal assured me that all was peaceful on the ground and it was. We booked into the four-bedroomed Hayete guesthouse in Ashrafieh, Beirut, a hybrid of Oriental and European architecture with some Brooklyn neon, mother of pearl mirrors, Russian art photographs, mid-century furniture and a huge birdcage where Birdie would chirp us awake in the morning.

Breakfast would arrive, not too early – Turkish coffee with manakish, the za’atar flat breads filled with labneh, feta, cucumber, mint and olives, making a perfect, typically Lebanese start to the day.

Then it was on to school for Öni, whom I enrolled in a French school in Gemmayze for the weeks we were there. He came back smelling of eau de citron, as Amal, the warm-hearted woman teacher kissed and hugged him as he came and left.

He picked up some words in Arabic and French, talked fondly of the hummus, labneh and flat breads which were a staple on the school menu, made new friends and experienced something uniquely different.

After I dropped Öni off to school, I would walk or get an always-eventful service taxi to Kamal’s restaurant Tawlet. Meaning Table in Arabic, the simplicity of Tawlet’s name is indicative of its simple yet empowering ideals.

It is an aesthetically striking space run by inspired and dedicated people. It brings old traditions of Lebanese food and recipes to modern Beirutis by hosting 25 women in rotation from all areas of Lebanon. Each day a different cook comes to produce food from her region. Tawlet thus feels unique – changing daily yet remaining the same.

I spent my time in Tawlet working and observing. Having a restaurant myself in Ireland, it is fascinating to watch another run so well and with such a strong culinary and community commitment. Kamal has created a model of space, food and ideology that is utterly where food is at right now in a global context. I am not alone in thinking that – René Redzepi from Noma has invited Kamal and 25 of his cooks to the MAD Food Festival in Copenhagen in August.

Mornings were spent prepping, drinking anise tea and chatting with Fadi, Ellie and Sami, my workmates. There are many idiosyncrasies to this country but the use of English, French and Arabic all in one conversation has to be the best, a testament to the diversity and the cohesion of these exceptional people. Conversations with Lebanese friends meander along in various languages and I love the rhythm of it.

Tawlet attracts fascinating people and so days are full of conversations with NGOs, environmentalists, UN workers, the odd intrepid tourist, diplomats and so on. Each conversation or lunch is seasoned with exceptional encounters, which is the essence of this vibrant city.

Lunch in Tawlet is a buffet of 15 to 20 dishes and always a feast. In Lebanon you start with the mezze – stuffed vine leaves, hummus, kibbeh, fattoush, tabbouleh –  then you move on to the hot food, lamb with roasted almonds and freekeh, for example. You can wash it all down with arak or any of the exceptional Lebanese wines.

Lunch finishes with exotic desserts and with the classic café blanc, simply hot water with a few drops of orange blossom water.

There are a few rules when eating – it’s rude to mix up courses, ruder still to refuse food and the height of rudeness not to have endless amounts.

The Lebanese are always eating one meal and planning the next – food is their life-blood, it defines their culture like literature does the Irish.

At weekends, the desire to escape traffic and the busy social life was intense and we headed to Batroun, a seaside town an hour north of the city. Small alleyways with food sellers drew us in. On the night of the Good Friday candlelight parade we passed a tiny house with the divine smell of baking, a simple bakery where fig rolls specially for Easter called maamoul just out of the oven created another golden food memory for Öni.

If not in the country, we would head to Souk El Tayeb, the farmers’ market Kamal set up. Suppliers come every Saturday morning from all over Lebanon, including war-torn Tripoli in Libya.

They are the most engaging, passionate food people I have ever met. They brought endless gorgeous products like Chouf black honey, yellow pomegranates, rose jams, date juice, all the mouneh (summer produce preserved for the harsh winter), carob molasses, green almonds and candied fruit.

The whole of Beirut shows up in a celebration of food and traditions no longer lost. Children run around and taste and laugh and then everyone gravitates to the central table for the eating and drinking.

Mouzawak arrives and I ask: “Are you proud of what you have created?”

“No, I am just happy,” he says, and he has every reason to be.

Lebanese people asked me constantly how I felt about their country. “It is opening like a flower,” I would say, and as the days passed each brought new encounters and experiences that both Öni and I will long remember.

Tourism is down 37 per cent this year. As a tourist you will be treated like royalty and rewarded endlessly. You will connect with the humanity of these people and you will need your clothes let out at the bounty and goodness of the food.

Yalla to Lebanon, don’t be afraid.

Q&A with Kamal Mouzawak

Kamal Mouzawak is a Lebanese food visionary. He has created the farmers market Souk El Tayeb in Beruit, which brings people from all over Lebanon to sell their produce. He set up Tawlet in an old garage where small producers and cooks from around Lebanon can come to cook the regional recipes. He also extends himself way beyond these two spaces into a number of other projects including education, writing and various international public speaking. He is due to participate again at the MAD food circus in Copenhagen.

Drop Everything asked Aoibheann Mac Namara of Ard Bia at Nimmos to hit him with a Q&A on food, life and getting things done.

What motivates you every morning?

“Be the change you want to see” said Gandhi, which means, in other words like, shut the fuck up, you know? Stop nagging and go just do it. Just do it. And this is what motivates me every everyday. If we have mind and energy, what is it all for…? What can my contribution be to life? This is what I think. In Islam they say every act is an act of adoration. Do the best thing possible, what ever you do. This is your act of adoration this is your contribution to life, speaking, cooking… do your job what ever it is… talk, write.., do the best possible.

How do your projects come about?

Projects are simply an expression of what you want to do. So you believe in something and projects are just an expression. I started with the farmers market and it was about supporting small farmers and producers who are doing an amazing job. How to bring small producers from land to city rural to urban with a developing purchasing power? It was an organic evolution. Then we realized we needed food education for children, food and feast regional food festivals in the villages, then we thought to enjoy the cuisine itself, then Tawlet came about. Tawlet is not just about the produce but it is about the cuisine itself, cooked by the woman themselves or the producers themselves.

What are the driving forces in your life?

Well I told you, be the change you want to see… and amazement by life and its expression. I am not religious at all. I was born into a Christian family but from a very young age I saw people destroyed by religion. If your God is right then mine must be wrong or vice versa so how can this be? There must be a bigger truth than all of these religions I totally believe in a wonderful amazing big super power but I don’t want to explain, or understand, or preach at all… I just try to celebrate and enjoy it in every single breath. I respect religions but I do not believe in them.

Are there personal and professionally principals in your life that are one and the same ?

Totally the same. Totally, how can we be schziophrenic you know? They have to be one and the same. Life, a certain way to live, different expressions of who we are … life, house, family, friends all facets co-exist… they can not but be the same… you can read someone from one detail and you can see the whole person.

What does food mean to you in its very essence?

It’s a wonderful expression of people, of their land. It is the most important most authentic expression of people, their land and their history. So for me it’s a story rather then a gastronomic adventure.

So has America lost touch with its roots? Not at all. America is a mish mash of cultures and its cuisine is the same. It’s the most authentic expression of people, their land and their history.

What do the next five years bring for you?

I never think five years or ten years, it’s one belief and one vision that brings different expressions along the way.

How do you feel you’ve impacted on the Lebanese society, food scene, the people, the culture?

I am just doing my job. But as I am a face, and a mouth, I must speak… but every time I am trying to do something I am just speaking for Suzanne who makes the best Kibbeh, or Amalie who is making the best breads. My work is to talk about these people and I have to do it as well as their Kibbeh and their breads. This is how I see it.

How did it come about that this is your vocation?

I am a son of farmers and producers, this is the most important thing. I was born between gardens and kitchens.

What’s the future for Lebanon?

Ouff!! Who knows… it’s a country of uncertainty… unfortunately… which makes it very exciting for a visitors and very tiring for those that live here. You know, it’s a lot of adrenaline, which makes dipping in and out for a week or two, or a month or two amazing, but when you live in so much adrenaline on a daily basis… it’s like, can I go to Switzerland?!

At some points I want to have a green light or a red light that on may 15th I have a meeting and it is ON. Things can be unpredictable all the time, this is what we live in.

Will you live here forever?

I am living here today… I believe very much in the here and now. Wherever I am it’s, you know, how to make the best contribution to life? And how to enjoy wherever I am, here and now… How to enjoy it the best for me, for me to be able to give out the best… on whatever level it is.

But I feel, you know, this place gave me a lot and I am grateful to this land first of all, and secondly if there are things to be done here and there… if I am not going to do them… not me as Kamal, but me as a Lebanese, then who will do them? I have a certain devoir, what you call devoir? Duty.

Public office is that a possibility for you?

I’ll do whatever. And if you want to make any real change you need to be in the system.

But the system might not be ready for you?

Well I don’t know, we have to try… OK yalla let’s have lunch!

IMG NEW

Weekend Brunch

Our team have put together the most amazing weekend brunch menu guaranteed to ease you into a lazy weekend. Feast your eyes on this!brunch Saturday and Sunday brunch menu Ard Bia granola, seasonal fruit compote, natural yoghurt

Stuffed French toast, poached pear and soft cheese, cinnamon Orchard syrup

Buttermilk pancakes with orange, lemon and poppy seed, whipped mascarpone, runny honey

Poached Market eggs, herby hollandaise, baked ham and wilted spinach on potato cake

Full fry, Colleran’s smoked streaky bacon, oaty black pudding, Sausages, roast tomato, Poached eggs, spiced tomato relish, toast.

Poached Market eggs, roast mushroom, grilled halloumi, herby hollandaise on potato cake

Hippy Fry, poached eggs, roast mushroom, spinach, roast tomatoes, potato cake spiced relish

Sides

Hollandaise Baked ham Brown, white toast Spinach Potato cake Sausage Roast mushroom Haloumi

 

Trailblaze at Body & Soul

Wonderlust stage at Body & SoulWonderlust is brought to you by pop up productions

A stage of curiosities at Body & Soul, Wonderlust is dedicated to the exchange of wonder and ideas. Expect inspiration, music, talks, discussions, live performance, and other eclectic experiences.. Happenings in the mix include Sonic Revelations, Trailblaze, Come Rhyme with me, Philosophical Musings, Illuminati Salons, Scientific Discovery, Cool Collectives , Chats and Lols, Cups of Tea , Fun and Games, Bingo, Ballroom Dance offs, Bedtime Stories, A bespoke Choir Service and Things That Make You Go Hmmmm. For full line up details see below. bodyandsoul.ie/wonderlust

TRAILBLAZE The Trailblazery will host a two day extravaganza showcasing and promoting creative and socially engaged ideas, people and possibilities from Ireland’s most exciting cultural provocateurs. Experience a platform where pioneers share their personal moments of risk and inspiration. DIY activists, artists, musicians, designers, social architects, entrepreneurs, and educators of all ages and persuasions - blazing trails in their own spectacular or intimate way. Speakers include Darragh Doyle ( Social Media Storyteller ), Grace Dyas ( TheatreClub), Joan Mulvihill (Irish Internet Association), Sheila Gallagher (Green Sod ) Rosie O’Reilly (Re-dress Fashion Initiative), Colm Keegan (poet), Ruth Meehan (Film Director & Writer) and Susan Quirke (Social Activist), Davie Phillips (Cultivate) Mari Kennedy ( the ireland : iceland project ) Ruairí McKiernan (Social Architect) Themes : Sat - Things that make you go Hmmmm? & Sun -Between The Click of the Light and the Start of the Dream

MUSIC Ambient sets at sundown from some of Ireland’s sonic wunderkinds. From the sacred to the secular, with spiritual laments and feisty folk songs a plenty, expect magic and moonlighting from Patrick Kelleher, Daitihí Ó Drónaí, Traz, Rhob Cunningham, Elaine Mai, Hidden Highways, Twin Headed Wolf, Lisa O’Neill and more.

TEA & SYMPATHY Tea for two and two for tea. Bite-size conversations with harmonious pairings of Ireland’s movers and shapers. This series will explore passion, ideas and philosophies on work, play and life. Speakers include Michelle Darmody (Cake Cafe), Aoibheann McNamara (Ard Bia at Nimmos), Grace Dyas (THEATREclub), Philip McMahon (This is Pop Baby), Michael McDermott (Le Cool Dublin), Una Mullally (journalist and broadcaster), Shane Byrne (THEATREclub) and Dylan Haskins ( DIY Activist ) & Neil Watkins ( Actor, Writer, Year of Magical Wanking )

DISCUSSION : IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT We are marking the Summer Solstice 2012 with a discussion on the evolutionary edge we find ourselves at in Ireland, and in the world today. What does it mean to be alive at this point in time, at the end of the world as we know it? Exploring ideas around social activism, culture, politics, science, spirituality and the digital realm, the conversation will be chaired by Mari Kennedy of the ireland : iceland project and features John O’ Donoghue (former broadcaster and youthful octogenarian), Dolores Whelan (shaman and scientist), Ruairi McKiernan (social activist), Peter O’ Brien (cultural creative/Upstarter) and Darragh Doyle (social media storyteller)

COME RHYME WITH ME Verbal highs and down-low oral riffs, Come Rhyme With Me brings you a Thesaurus Rex of slammed-down words. Una and Ragin and their merry word-bandits of Temper-Mental MissElayneous, Raven and guests, will get your tongues wagging. Oh come all ye phonetic freaks and lingual lovers and articulate your tittle-tattle. We will lust up your language, retort, retract, respond and rap your rants around this watercooler we call Body&Soul.

BINGO & RAFFLES Dancing Queen, seventeen! Buckle my shoe, twenty-two! Brush up on your bingo lingo and join us for a bit of old-fashioned fun and frolics with a surprise comedy host with the most. Hosted by the one and only Neil Watkins (Heidi Konnt and Year of Magical Wanking) with the help of his lovely assistant the delectable Brian Quinn ( BQ )

PARLOUR GAMES Expect extreme welly throwing, sackless races and games of physical dexterity with matchboxes and blindfolds. During the Victorian era in Great Britain and in the United States, gentlemen and ladies amused themselves with Parlour Games at small parties. Events are competitive, but cumulative scores are not usually kept. The phrase "parlour game" is used in political dialogue to accuse opponents of using nebulous or confusing language when describing a particular position on an issue. Games mistresses are Lara Campbell and Victoria McCormack. Tea and Marietta biscuits rewards for best teams.

BALLROOM DANCE–OFF A little light relief for the feet with the sensational David McDermott as dance instructor. Don your best tea dresses and pin stripe suits and learn to dance the Foxtrot with a step out of rhythm and a step back in time.

CHOIR SERVICE We’re exercising our vocal chords and asking you to come join us. If you fancy your moment of glory on a stage at Body and Soul festival come to our choir practise and worship with your lungs.

Wild garlic, nettle and barley soup

[Serves 4–6] This uplifting soup demands a meander in your local parklands or wooded area, where you’ll find the slender garlic spears offering up its persistent scent to the breeze. The season can run from late spring to early summer, and wild garlic tends to be rampant wherever it grows. The white flower is easily recognised, though some aficionados prefer the milder flavour pre-blossom. Always forage sustainably.

INGREDIENTS 3–4 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion, diced 250g wild garlic, washed 250g young nettles, washed (be sure to wear gloves!) 250g pearl barley, washed 2 large floury potatoes, peeled and diced 1 litre vegetable stock Salt and pepper

INSTRUCTIONS Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based pot over a medium heat. Add the onion, reduce the heat and gently sweat to draw out the moisture and sweetness.

Once the onion has turned opaque, you can add all the other ingredients and simmer until barley is soft and potatoes are cooked, about 15–20 minutes.

Allow to cool a little before blending with a stick blender and season well to taste. If you prefer, you could leave this as a chunky soup, or just blitz it a little to thicken the broth but to hold some of the texture.

If you picked the wild garlic while in blossom, their pretty white flower would make an attractive garnish scattered over the top.

HOME-TRUTHS… Always use gloves when picking nettles, and choose the young tender tips. It’s worth picking slightly away from pathways or roadsides, and avoiding the lower leaves which may have caught the scented spray of a passing dog or cat!

Exhibition

Ruby Wallis

 Photographs at Ard Bia

Art is fashionable, fashions in art come and go, the fashion world and the art world are clearly entwined at the moment, but it is only occasionally that fashion becomes the subject of art. In these photographs by Ruby Wallis the two worlds are playing happily together. Arising out of a publicity shoot for Triona Lillis’s “Props and Vintage “ specialist movie properties company, the pictures feature the exceedingly glamorous staff of Ard Bia and the photogenic location of Nimmo’s pier and the resaurant.

Ever since Cindy Sherman dressed herself up as a’B’ movie actor deliberatetly constructed photographs have raised interesting questions about the interpretation of pictorial identity. Here fictional scenes suggest  moments from movies not yet made: the Italian artist Marinetti about to embark on the crazy car chase that ended up in a ditch and from which the Futurist manifesto emerged in 1909, scenes deleted from Antonioni’s 1966 film ‘Blow Up’ where the photographer is the protagonist for the sexual revolution, a Tango dancer about to meet her lover somewhere in 1950’s Argentina before the Junta.

Fictions tell stories but these beautiful photographs also reveal their true subject, a group of contemporary people at ease with each other and at play in the world.

What else are we here for?

CJW Déardaoin 22 Nollaig 2011

Ruby Wallis is a practice-based PhD researcher with National College of Art & Design, Dublin (NCAD) and GradCAM. She has completed a M.A. in Documentary Photography at The University of Newport, Wales, holds a Degree in Painting at GMIT and has been exhibiting internationally since 2003.

Aoibheanns Christmas bread and butter pudding

[Serves 4–6] INGREDIENTS

4 old croissants (fresh is fine too) 50g butter 1 large bar dark chocolate, 70% cocoa (we love Green & Blacks) 300ml cream 4 tablespoons brown demerara sugar 3 eggs, beaten 1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped 30ml (one shot) brandy

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas mark 6. Generously butter a 900g loaf tin, or alternatively use individual ramekins.

Shave the chocolate with a small sharp knife or vegetable peeler (if this is tricky you could finely chop with a big cook’s knife or just break up into small pieces). Tear up the croissants and scatter in the tin or ramekins, layering the chocolate and croissants.

Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod. In a saucepan combine the cream with the sugar, vanilla seeds and pod, eggs and brandy and mix well. Bring to the boil, simmer for two or three minutes and remove the vanilla pod.

Pour over the croissants and chocolate and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Serve with fresh cream.

Visiting Varanasi

(February 2011) Mark Twain once said of Varanasi, “It is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together”.  It is also dirtier then all other places put together too! That aside, it is an iconic city that pulsates with life and is spiritual to the core.  Varanasi is a city situated on the banks of the holiest River Gangas. It is regarded as a holy city by Buddhists and Jains, and is the holiest place in the world to  Hindus. The city has been a cultural and religious centre in North India for several thousand years and many prominent Indian philosophers, poets, writers, and musicians resided or reside in Varanasi.

 

In my youth, I was in Varanasi  ‘hanging out’ and watching the monkey steal bananas from our dilapidated hotel balcony overlooking the Gangas. It was so hot that ten minutes after showering we would be ready for another. But my memories of this place were good and I was delighted to return, this time with the additional huge pull of the Dalai Lama teaching in Sarnath, just 10km from Varanasi. In order to further ignite the Varanasi love in me, I had just finished reading Geoff Dyer’s recent novel, the wonderfully entitled ‘Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi’, and so I was drawn to return to this germ-infested, vibrating city! He had stayed at a hotel that is near impossible to get a booking in. ‘The Gangas View’ at Assis Ghat. Varanasi is positioned along the river and the ghat represent the funeral pyres where the bodies are burnt. To be cremated and your ashes deposited in the River Gangas is regarded as the ultimate culmination of life and death. So death is everywhere; you are constantly confronted with differing coloured tin-foiled bodies on their not so merry ways. This is not a holiday for the faint hearted and is a million miles from a week in the sun in Lanzarote. After some hard email wrangling, we got the booking and up the steep steps we went. Prakash, the main man, greeted us with no great enthusiasm, but the warmth grew as the days went on.

 

The hotel is from another time. In the main dining room was a movable antique fire, which warmed the heart and the toes after a 24-hour train trip from Delhi. The hotel sits proudly over four floors, with the top floor bedrooms richly decorated in a ‘Maharaji chic’ way. The art and furniture throughout is period Indian and impeccably sourced; you get the sense that the wonderful owner, Shashank, gets first dibs at all the best antiques around. Shashank drinks chai and chats while his merry three daschshunds, bedecked in maroon woolies, trail around his legs. He is delightful to engage with and you become aware that he is central to the fabric of the Varanasi cultural and intellectual life. Throughout our stay, there were art exhibition openings, documentary evenings and a wonderful series of lectures in the hotel on ‘Aspects of Varanasi’, which he co-ordinates and facilitates. Gangas View is a hotel like no other; a bit like being invited to a private party where you get to access and enjoy the cultural peaks of this intoxicating city through its protective embrace.

 

Gangas View had great kudos and this attracted the most interesting of people to stay. Tabla or sitar music classes, early morning boat trips on the Gangas just before dawn, a trip ‘to the other side’ (the far bank of the Gangas, an almost purgatory place where you can ride bare back horses for a euro), a frenetic night at the main Ghat, where you feel like you are crashing the craziest of parties, are just some of the most interesting things to do. Trips to the tailor to get apparel made with the famous Benaras silk is a must, as are walks along the riverin the morning to witness the ablutions of the people and the joyful coloured washing of clothes.

 

There is so much to do in Varanasi - all you need is to stay healthy, which will be your greatest challenge. If you can do this, you will be richly rewarded. In fact, as a photographer, I doubt there is a place that will reward you so richly, nor is there a place in the world that will deliver such a fantastic sense of frenetic life.  The 14th Dalai Lama was teaching in Sarnath, the birthplace of Buddhism, for four days during our stay. Sarnath turned into Tibet central with hordes of adorable Tibetan woman selling welcome woolly socks and ornate shawls. Sarnath, normally an antidote to the bustle of Varanasi, was now busily teeming with maroon-clad monks, thousands of Tibetans from all over India and a fair share of devoted Westerners. Transistor radios were given out for the simultaneous translation of his holiness’s teachings and a general sense of conviviality prevailed. Crisp cold days warmed up to sunnier ones as an uncharacteristic  ‘cold snap’ lifted and the heat was welcome on the long days of teachings.  Towards the end of our stay, we delighted in a festival of kites that engulfed the city with brightly colored home made kites lighting up the sky above the Gangas as the children and adults delighted in this affordable and endlessly fun pursuit. For me, this was a wonderful sight and on a lazy afternoon we sat on the highest roof of the Gangas View and watched this theatre of colour unfold, far away and protected from the madness of the place, sanitized by distance from the overpowering masses and softened by a series of papers playing in the wind.  Varanasi is difficult and challenging; it’s India in full throttle and overload in all its good and bad incarnations. It’s also hypnotically beautiful and otherworldly. It’s a once in a life time must see, like the Rio carnival or the Burning Man festival in Nevada - teaming with life, death, cultural and religious intensity and filth.  But it’s a place you’re not likely to forget; it will influence you and affect you for a long time afterwards

Aoibheann x

 

Indian Intrigue

Aoibheann McNamara hits the otherworldly shores of India India is a vast microcosm of craziness and mystifying order, of 1.3 billion people, of countless religions and endless sun rises and sunsets. India is my great love affair. I have endured and been deeply pleasured by this country over ten times since I first visited 15 years ago. It is very much like going home - a home of warmth, compassion and intense fascination.  I often start my trips in Goa, a place I like very much but which I almost don’t consider to be India as it is too easy. It was described very accurately by a friend as a real life version of the body and soul section at the Electric Picnic.

Since the 60s, Goa has been the focal point of the lost generation and those hippies with a lot of time on their hands. This mixes with a wonderfully rich Portuguese heritage, which has resulted in a beautiful region architecturally.  It is to Purple Valley Yoga Centre I keep returning to as it is, for me, one of the best yoga centres in the world. It is an oasis of calm in a busy enclave of North Goa and it stands alone as a dedicated Ashtanga yoga centre, with the world’s top teachers coming year after year.

I was there to do David Swenson’s two-week course over Christmas and was delighted by the teaching of this wonderful man who at 56, has been doing yoga since he was 13 and whose practice, tuition and deep under- standing was inspirational. The mornings start on the mat at 6am and a 90-minute intense practice follows - pure bliss. The focused consideration of the practice over the time in Purple Valley is second to none and your yoga moves forward in an extraordinary way. Purple Valley is unique in many ways - not least for the ease of the set up with three wonderful vegetarian meals provided daily, beautiful boho surroundings and exceptionally warm staff. It also attracts a very eclectic and interesting group of practitioners which keeps conversation fun at the dinner table.

It is difficult to  leave purple valley to explore North Goa, but you should rent a moped and really get the laid back feel of this busy, cool place. The main focus of the area tends to be Anjuna, a busy hub with a meandering beach with lots of busy bars and restaurants. Other highlights include the Saturday night market which has endured since the sixties and still has some interesting vintage finds. What sets this market apart from others in India is the exceptional European fashion designers who have escaped the cold of Europe and relocated to Goa for ease of living and inspiration. One of the most interesting designers by far is the German designer Miriam Strehlau who I buy season after season. She combines club cool with old Indian fabrics to create the most exotic of collections. She has a wonderful workshop beside the famous shore bar and it epitomizes the life-meets-work design space that so many of these artists/musicians/fashion designers inhabit here in Goa and it is inspiring to see.

Another designer is Akal, an Italian woman I first came across at the market when I saw a frenzy of woman around her stall. She designs amazing wool scarves which are very inspired by the Italian designer Missoni, but at a fraction of the cost. The quality is exceptional, the pieces are timeless and she is such a warm and gentle woman.  There are also countless places to eat. I love to brunch in Villa Blanch in Assagao; it is especially nice on Sunday when it draws an interesting crowd of the extensive group of Europeans that live here. Food is average, but the place itself is loungy and tastefully done - not like the aged hippy décor of most places. Another wonderful place where the food is amazing and yet the décor is challenging (we can never have it all?) is Jam Connection. Janet, the owner, is from Austria and makes everything herself. She knows her way around a Sacher chocolate cake and she knows how to welcome people so you never forget her.

Goa is a place of ease, with warm people and relaxed attitudes. It is very much not the real India, but it’s a great place to land first in order to acclimatise, settle the stomach, find your feet and have a great few days before hitting off to the vast crazy expanse of the real India. With body limbered up, bronzed and massaged, we fly to Dehli in the wonder- ful North India and prepare then for our 17-hour sleepy train trip to Varanasi and to the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Sarnath. Now the fun really starts and the magic is tangible as we enter the beating heart of India and we spend days looking at the holy River Gangas and let the drama unfold…

Aoibheann x

Follow Aoibheann’s adventures in Sarnath in part two of Indian Intrigue next month.

Scary-by-Scary

scary–by-scary is a pop up interactive series of events hosted at Ardbia at Nimmos, Galway.

From the 12th - 25th July 2010, this installation will take place over 14 days & nights introducing an smorgasbord of art, performance, photography, fashion, design, music, food and parties dedicated to scary. The scary-by-scary title is a tongue in cheek play on the Marc-by-Marc Jacobs fashion line. The show involves an eclectic crew of internationally sourced artists, designers and musicians making new work inspired by a personality known as scary. - The scary-by-scary collection will be provocative, ready to wear, ethical and hot off the scary runway of ideas. Brooklyn meets Berlin in a stylized homage to the world of scary. - scary-by-scary is curated by Mary Nally.

Festival Season

Upstairs in Ardbia Well its July in Galway which means one thing…Festival Season! And we say let the madness and mischief begin. After the craziness of last year we have decided that 12 months R&R was more than enough and we are ready to break out and do it all again. Those of you who remember last year didn’t party hard enough so get ready for some serious fun this year! To make the most of the festivities, Ardbia at Nimmos will open upstairs so that the ultimate house party feeling can be felt on both levels. We will have a chilled out area downstairs where you can enjoy some of the yummy rustic summer menu and a glass or two or three of wine.

Upstairs is the place to go to embrace the madness, grab a cocktail, and get ready to move as the decks will be spinning all night

Fine Dining Meets Underground Rave

sacry ..scary presents the ultimate dinner party..

Introducing the first of what potential could be many... A colourful night of surprises and madness in Ard Bia at Nimmos where the hot hot staff will be styled to the nines (make up by Smasha Kelly) and will spoil the fuck out of you - There will be fine wines and high food, there will be prosecco, there will be buckfast jellies, there will be dancing, there will be glasses broken,  and there most definitely will be a major buzz.

Nimmos chef Niamh Fox will be creating a special atmosphere fused menu - food that is high energy and visually stimulating. With propaaa tunes from Mike Smalle, Cane 141 and Cyril Briscoe, 110th St. our DJs on the night.

THIS EVENT IS INVITE ONLY WITH LIMITED SPACES AVAILABLE ON A FIRST COME FIRST SERVE BASIS.

BOOK NOW or miss the party of the summer - fabulous dress essential and if ya gots nothin in ya wardrobe a box of props will be provided by vintage store Public Romance to help ya get ya schtyle on.

Saturday, July 17th, 9pm sitting.

ph. 091-561114 / 087-2620391 e. ardbia@gmail.com / scaryis@gmail.com

as part of the exhibition that is, scary-by-scary, july 12th-25th 2010.