Sometimes you need to set your own boundaries, know your limitations. That’s especially the case with chilis.
They may merely add flavor to cooking or set your mouth ablaze in a manner that will send you running for the icewater (and have other repercussions, too, if you know what I mean.)
I was in New Mexico a couple of weeks ago where chilis–red and green–are in just about everything you eat. Fall is the height of chili season there and you’ll find them piled in farmers’ markets and smell them roasting, “New Mexico aromatherapy,” at the market or on the roadside. You’ll find them in restaurants any time of year. When ordering, your server may ask, “Red or green?” By that she means the color of chilis you want. If the answer in both, it’s common to say “Christmas.”
Some chilis hot, some not. In some cases it’s like playing roulette–one in ten is hot, you just don’t know until you eat it. Either way, they’re beautiful to look at.
If you’re a traveler, fall, not Christmas, is the “most wonderful time of the year.” Same sites but fewer crowds, cooler temps, and often, lower prices. It’s the perfect time to go so many places, you may find it hard to choose a destination. The answer lies on your bookshelf. Whether they’re classics or “beach reads,” your favorite books can offer guidance and inspiration for a “lit trip” to see the sites of the stories, absorb the environment that inspired the authors, and even walk the paths of fictional characters. Literary travel allows you to extend the experience of a great book and expand your understanding of your destination. Reading and travel enhance each other, and one taste will leave you yearning to go back for more. Best of all, you don’t need to head for Hemingway’s favorite Paris haunts or Jane Austen’s English countryside to take a lit trip. Opportunities for book-based travel abound in the U.S., too, and many are at their best in fall.
California Wine Country – Vintage Reading
Harvest time in California’s wine regions, typically from mid-August through October, overflows with vibrant golden yellow and crimson colors and the trucks rumbling by overflow with grapes ready for the crush. M.F.K. Fisher captured the delights of Napa and Sonoma where she lived and wrote her classic essays on food, wine, and life. Jack London also loved the Sonoma area where he lived and wrote in his later years. And, for fans of another type of grape, The Grapes of Wrath (which has absolutely nothing to do with wine), the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, is a short jaunt from wine country, making literature and wine the perfect blend for fall travel.
Read: M.F.K. Fisher, Musings on Wine and Other Libations, (Anne Zimmerman, ed.)
Jack London, Valley of the Moon (another name for Sonoma),
For more contemporary reading, try James Conaway, Nose, and Rex Picket, Sideways.
Explore: the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties, and take a side trip to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas (www.steinbeck.org)
Stay: L’Auberge Du Soleil, Rutherford (www.aubergedusoleil.com)
Eat: pack a picnic and enjoy it on the grounds of your favorite winery or in Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen www.jacklondonpark.com
Events: Fall in wine country means special celebrations of wine and food such as Flavor! Napa Valley in November (flavornapavalley.com), vintner dinners such as those at Grgich winery (grgich.com). Schramsberg winery in Calistoga offers special camps in fall and spring for wine and food lovers (www.schramsberg.com/news/campschramsberg)
Santa Fe – Willa Cather’s Archbishop Comes to Life
Santa Fe is a sensory fiesta year-round but in fall the aroma of roasting chili peppers adds to the mix. New Mexico’s beauty, dramatic history, and architecture have lured for artists and writers for decades. Among them, D.H. Lawrence (to Taos) and Willa Cather, who captured the drama of the New Mexico environment as she wrote a fictional version of the real-life story of Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, in Death Comes for the Archbishop. Shoppers and art lovers will find equally dramatic adventures in Santa Fe.
Read: Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop
Explore: Bishop’s Lodge which offers a spa, horseback riding, and a chance to see Bishop Lamy’s chapel and home. (www.bishopslodge.com)
Stay: Inn on the Alameda (www.innonthealameda.com)
Eat: The Shed (www.sfshed.com)
Events: Santa Fe Wine and Chili Fiesta (www.santafewineandchile.org)
Newport, RI – America’s “Downton Abbey”
Since the 1800s, America’s wealthiest families have flocked to Newport, Rhode Island, and built summer “cottages” that most of us would call “palaces.” Among them was Edith Wharton, who wrote of her experiences in Gilded Age Newport in books such as The Buccaneers, which is about wealthy heiresses who married into the British aristocracy, much like “Downton Abbey’s” Cora Crawley. You can explore Newport’s Gilded Age mansions as well as its gorgeous seaside sites. The more “off season” you go, the more you can afford live like a Vanderbilt.
Read: Gail McColl and Carol Wallace, To Marry and English Lord
Edith Wharton, The Buccaneers
Explore: Newport Mansions (newportmansions.org)
Stay: Vanderbilt Grace (www.gracehotels.com/vanderbilt) Ask about packages that include admission to the Newport Mansions.
Eat: The Mooring (www.mooringrestaurant.com)
Polo matches, sailing regattas, or just a hike along Cliff Walk. In Newport you can sample “upper crust activities” or just enjoy the view. (www.gonewport.com)
Nantucket – A Whale of a Trip
You can’t find a more concentrated dose of New England charm than in Nantucket. And, if you’re a fan of Herman Melville’s whale tale, Moby Dick, you know that Nantucket is the place where Captain Ahab’s ship, the Peaquod, set sail.
Read: Herman Melville, Moby Dick,
Nathaniel Philbrick, Why Read Moby-Dick? and In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
Sena Jeter Nasland, Ahabs Wife
Or for more contemporary tales, read Summerland and other books by Nantucket resident Elin Hilderbrand.
Stay: White Elephant (www.whiteelephanthotel.com)
Eat: Millie’s. Enjoy the sunset and sample a Whale Tale Pale Ale. (www.milliesnantucket.com)
Explore: Nantucket Whaling Museum (www.nha.org)
Events: The Nantucket Maritime Festival. You’ll hear sea shanties sung, see harpoons thrown, and boats raced. (www.nantucketmaritimefestival.org)
Driftless in Wisconsin
Because of its geology, the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin is a place tailor-made for meandering. And the fall colors are reaching their peak in Wisconsin right now. As David Rhodes explains it in his beautiful book Driftless, “The last of the Pleistocene glaciers did not trample through this area, and the glacial deposits of rock, clay, sand, and silt–called drift–are missing. Hence its name, the Driftless Region. Singularly unrefined, it endured in its hilly, primitive form untouched by the shaping hands of those cold giants.” In this area, you’ll meet friendly folks who may remind you of the characters in Rhodes’s book—organic farmers, artists, shopkeepers, and the nice Norwegian lady at the dairy coop. Amish folks sell produce and hand-made wares at roadside stands, making the entire area a giant farmers market through fall. By the end of your trip, you’ll be reluctant to leave. But you can return by reading Rhodes’s newest book, Jewel Weed.
Read: David Rhodes, Driftless and its sequel, Jewel Weed
Stay: Charming B&Bs abound in the Driftless Area. Check out The Roth House(therothhouse.com) and the sister property The Old Oak Inn (theoldoakinn.net) in Soldier’s Grove or Westby House Inn in Westby (www.westbyhouse.com)
Santa Fe is one of my favorite places. Fabulous art, Native American crafts, great food, shopping, music, and outdoorsy pursuits abound. If you’re traveling with a group, it’s hard to keep everyone together because everything you see makes you want to stop and stare, from the wisteria draped adobe architecture to the fabulous Native American jewelry and even the distinctive high desert sky.
Santa Fe’s sky and special light–clear and stunningly bright–is one reason Santa Fe and nearby Taos have attracted writers and artists for decades. Author D.H. Lawrence fell in love with the place. He wrote in “New Mexico,”
The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine high up over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend… In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the old world gave way to a new.
Willa Cather found a similar fascination with the New Mexico sky. In Death Comes for the Archbishop she says
The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was the brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere anthills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky.
While Lawrence and Cather painted New Mexico with words, stroll through Santa Fe and you’ll see how countless artists have portrayed the area in oil, clay, bronze and more, which has made Santa Fe the second or third largest art market, depending on who you’re talking to. The city was designated a UNESCO Creative City in 2005, the first U.S. city to be so honored and currently one of only a handful of Creative Cities in the world. In 2009 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Santa Fe one of the Trust’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations.
You’ll find a concentrated dose of art on the city’s famous Canyon Road, with over one
hundred galleries, specialty shops, and restaurants. It’s a visual fiesta at just about every turn, and if you look carefully you’ll find something for every budget. Though the galleries would love to have you purchase a work of art, you’re welcome to come in and simply savor what you see for a while.
Just looking? Santa Fe is also a city of museums with more than a dozen different facilities including the Museum of International Folk Art, The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, SITE Santa Fe, New Mexico Museum of Art, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe Children’s Museum, New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, and one of my favorites, the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts.