Food & Wine Classic at Aspen celebrates 30 years, tickets going fast

aspen food and wine 2012Who would have guessed that 30 years ago, a high-altitude, fancy-pants gathering of some chefs, winemakers, and hungry and thirsty revelers would have evolved into the nation’s preeminent food and wine festival?

This year, from June 15-17th, Food & Wine magazine will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the legendary Food & Wine Classic at Aspen. Join the nation’s top chefs including Jacques Pépin, Mario Batali, Ming Tsai, Michael Symon, and Tom Colicchio, as well as internationally renowned winemakers, master sommeliers, brewmasters, and mixologists at the most anticipated and prestigious culinary event of the year.

The three-day weekend also features over 80 cooking demos, wine and interactive seminars, panel discussions, tasting events, and classes on food and wine pairing, as well as a bacchanalia involving 300 winemakers, craft brewers, distillers, and food purveyors in the Grand Tasting Pavilion. This year, new seminars and demos include “Game on!” with Andrew Zimmern; Ming Tsai’s “Asian BBQ;” “Undiscovered Grapes of Spain” by Steve “Wine Geek” Olson; “Fried Chicken for the Soul” by Marcus Samuelsson, and “Swill for the Grill” by uber-restaurateur Danny Meyer.

Special anniversary events are also on the menu, including a hands-on knife skills seminar, “Butchering for Beginners,” by acclaimed chef John Besh, a 5K charity run, an anniversary party, and a late-night dessert bash (Fact: your metabolism actually speeds up at 8,000 feet!). Additional special events will be announced over the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen Facebook page over the next few months. Psst…tickets are selling fast, so hop to it.

Tickets are $1,125 before March 15, 2012 and $1,225 thereafter. Food & Wine donates two percent of the net proceeds from all tickets sold to Grow for Good, a national initiative dedicated to supporting local farms and encouraging sustainable agriculture. To purchase tickets, click here.

Need an affordable place to stay after splurging on said tickets? Here’s an insider tip.

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

­­­­

The Acropolis: Greece’s most famous monument weathers the crisis

The Acropolis, Athens, Greece
Visiting Greece and not visiting the Acropolis is unthinkable. Set atop a high rock overlooking Athens, the temples here were built primarily to honor the city’s patron goddess Athena in all her attributes. The buildings here are some of the best examples of Greek architecture and have had a profound effect on the architecture of all the Western world. While I have a preference for medieval sites like Acrocorinth, and I’ve visited the Acropolis before, I couldn’t help but go back.

The last time I was there was 1994, and a lot has changed. There has been a great deal of restoration and the world-class Acropolis Museum has opened up.

Here’s one attraction that the Greek government needs to preserve as it passes through its worst economic crisis since World War Two. People still flock here and it’s a major reason why Greece is an important tourist destination. Tourism accounts for 18 percent of the Greek GDP and tourist numbers went up last year. Several sources told me there were two reasons for this: budget-conscious Europeans are traveling closer to home and people are staying away from North African favorites like Tunisia and Egypt.

Even though sites like the Acropolis generate billions of euros a year in revenue, the Ministry of Culture survives on just 0.7 percent of the national budget, and that budget is shrinking faster than the supply of Greek olives I brought back from this trip. In the past year the ministry has seen its budget slashed by almost a third, with warnings of more cuts to come. Museums are already feeling the pinch and now ministers, archaeologists, and site directors are scrambling to find ways to maintain their their heritage. There are even plans to lease the Acropolis for film backdrops and photo shoots to help raise funds.

%Gallery-146241%This last bit is actually nothing new. Archaeological sites have always been available for rent, but costs were enormous and most projects were rejected out of hand. Now the Acropolis will go for the bargain-basement price of $1,300 a day for a photography session and about $2,000 a day for filming.

Despite Greece’s financial woes, restoration and conservation are continuing. Funds are still coming through from the government and from the European Union. The most visible is the restoration of the pronaos (front inner porch) of the Parthenon shown here in this image by flickr user dorena-wm, who obviously had better luck with the weather than I did. This image was taken last year and now there is considerably more scaffolding obscuring the front. The photo I took last Sunday is in the gallery.

At the Erechtheion, where Poseidon and Athena competed for possession of Athens, the interior of the famous south porch with its caryatid columns is screened off as the ceiling is cleaned with an innovative laser system developed specifically for this project. In ancient times it was believed that Poseidon, the sea god, struck at the ground here with his trident and a salty spring gushed forth. Athena created an olive tree, the first in the world. The Athenians judged that the olive tree was more useful and so dedicated their city to her. The city continued to honor the sea god, though, and the Erechtheion is devoted to his local aspect Erechtheus. Athens owed her power to her great navy, and so it was smart to honor the god who rules the waves, even if he did come in second place in the competition for the city.

No reconstruction was going on when I went, though. I took advantage of Sundays being free to revisit the Acropolis. It was low season and bitterly cold and overcast, but there were still large crowds exploring the ruins. One family from Crete entered at the same time I did and took the same route through the monuments. The father gave a long lecture about the place to his young son and daughter. It was heartening to see how much they enjoyed it. They asked questions, told him some things they’d learned in school, and were obviously having a good time. They took dozens of pictures and I offered to take one of them all together. That got us talking. The father’s English was limited, but his national pride was obvious even through the language barrier. As we talked, his kids went off to take more pictures.

The Acropolis Museum was opened in 2009 to much fanfare and became an instant success. Between between June 2010 and May 2011 more than one million and three hundred thousand Greek and foreign visitors passed through its doors. The museum explains the importance of the site from earliest times through the Classical era and beyond. It’s probably best to see this museum before you see the Acropolis as it will give you a much deeper understanding of that most historic of attractions.

To combat museum fatigue, take a break at the restaurant or café. Prices are remarkably reasonable and floor-to-ceiling windows give a splendid view of the Acropolis and two of its buildings-the Parthenon and the Sanctuary of Athena Nike.

The museum is not free on Sundays but that didn’t stop the crowds coming out in full force. The restaurant, café, and gift shop were all doing a brisk business. Most popular was the third floor, where a reconstruction of the Parthenon sculptures can be seen. As the labels make clear, most of these are plaster casts because between 1801 and 1805 Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire that then ruled Greece, got permission to remove about half of them. As you can see from the display at the Acropolis Museum, he took the best ones. Now they are in the British Museum in London, while several other sculptures were taken by other antiquarians and ended up in other museums.

The Greeks want their sculptures back. The British Museum says they took them with permission of the government that was then in power. Here is the official Greek position and here is the British Museum’s position.

The economic crisis has added a new dimension to the struggle to return the sculptures. While the plaster casts in the Acropolis Museum are very well done, seeing the real thing is always better. Getting them back would be a major coup for a country that has only had bad news for far too long, and it would help bring in much-needed tourism revenue. But with both sides dug in, it looks like the Greeks won’t be getting good news like that anytime soon.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Our Past in Peril, Greek tourism faces the economic crisis.

Coming up next: The Athens War Museum

Charles Dickens featured at new Museum of London exhibition

Charles DickensThe Museum of London has opened a major new exhibition on one of the city’s greatest writers–Charles Dickens. Dickens and London celebrates Dickens’ 200th birthday looks at the relationship between the writer and the city he used as inspiration for many of his novels.

The exhibition recreates the sights and sounds of 19th century London, something the museum does very well for many eras. London 200 years ago was one of the greatest cities of the world, and one of the worst. The center of global commerce and culture, it was also home to grinding poverty and drug abuse. One item on display is Dickens’ notes from an opium den he used as inspiration for one of his scenes.

Dickens often wrote about the plight of the poor and he knew what he was talking about. When still a child, he had to work ten-hour shifts in a shoe polish factory while his father spent time in debtor’s prison.

The British Library in London is also marking the bicentennial with a small exhibition titled A Hankering after Ghosts: Charles Dickens and the Supernatural. Dickens loved a good horror story and penned many, although another author once accused Dickens of plagiarism, an accusation that had some foundation in fact.

Dickens fans will also not want to miss the Charles Dickens Museum. Although Dickens only lived here from 1837-1839, the prolific author finished The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby in that time. Even if you’re not terribly interested in him, his house gives you a good idea of a moderately wealthy family home of the era.

Dickens and London will run until June 10, 2012.

Photo of Dickens with his two daughter courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Is the Romulus and Remus statue a copy from the Middle Ages?

Romulus and Remus
It’s one of the most famous symbols of ancient Rome–the legendary Romulus and Remus suckling from a she-wolf. Legend has it the brothers were born to a Vestal Virgin who had been abducted by the war god Mars. Abandoned, they were raised by a she-wolf. As adults they fought each other. Romulus killed Remus and went on to build Rome. The statue graces Rome’s Capitoline Museum and is photographed by tens of thousands of visitors every year.

But it may date from centuries after Rome fell.

In fact, it may date from the Middle Ages. The bronze wolf has long thought to be Etruscan, an ancient Italian culture that predated the Romans. Modern carbon dating shows it wasn’t made in the 5th century BC but rather the 13th century AD. The babies are known to have been added in the 15th century. The tests on the wolf were conducted five years ago and were shrugged off by the Capitoline Museum as inconclusive.

Now scholars are saying the museum was wrong to dismiss the results and have pointed out that the statue was cast as a single piece, something the Etruscans and Romans couldn’t do with a statue so large. Medieval artisans could. It’s possible the present statue was a copy produced from an earlier statue that was, indeed Etruscan. It’s impossible to say.

The museum is adding this “alternate theory” to its literature, although that doesn’t mean they’re giving up on the Etruscan theory just yet.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

From myth to Empire: Heracles to Alexander the Great

Alexander the great
Today’s royals have nothing on the ancients.

Alexander the Great and his predecessors enjoyed a sumptuous lifestyle that beats anything William and Kate will ever enjoy, not to mention real power as opposed to lots of TV time. Now an amazing new exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, gives an insight into the life of the royal family of Macedon.

Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world before his death in 323 BC, but he didn’t come out of nowhere. He was the second-to-last king of a proud royal lineage that traced its roots to the legendary Herakles. Heracles to Alexander the Great: Treasures of the Royal Capital of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy looks at the development of one of the ancient world’s greatest royal families. Their palace was almost as big as Buckingham Palace and what remains shows it was much more luxurious. There was gold, silver, ivory, and jewels everywhere, and plenty has made it into this exhibition. There’s everything from ornate golden wreaths to tiny ivory figurines like this one, which graced a couch on which a king once quaffed wine and consorted with maidens. It’s good to be the king.

The displays focus on more than 500 treasures from the royal tombs at the ancient capital of Aegae (modern Vergina in northern Greece). Three rooms show the role of the king, the role of the queen, and the famous banquets that took place in the palace.

%Gallery-122395%Especially interesting is the gallery about the role of the royal women, who are often overlooked in all the accounts of manly battles and assassinations. Women had a big role to play in religious life and presided at holy festivals and rites alongside men. They also wore heaps of heavy jewelry that, while impressive, couldn’t have been very comfortable.

The banqueting room shows what it was like to party in ancient times. Apparently the master of the banquet diluted the wine with varying proportions of water to “control the time and degree of drunkenness”!

There are even items from the tomb of Alexander IV, Alexander the Great’s son with princess Roxana of Bactria. Alex Jr had some pretty big shoes to fill, what with dad conquering most of the known world and all, but he didn’t get a chance to prove himself because he was poisoned when he was only thirteen. At least he went out in style, with lots of silver and gold thrown into his tomb with him.

This is the first major exhibition in the temporary galleries of the recently redesigned Ashmolean. Expect plenty of interesting shows from this world-class museum in coming years.

Heracles to Alexander the Great: Treasures of the Royal Capital of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy runs until August 29, 2011. Oxford makes an easy and enjoyable day trip from London.

[Image © The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism – Archaeological Receipts Fund]