A blog about literature, politics, crime novels, recipes and restaurants, food and wine, travel and other essentials. Visit my author website. For my custom walking tours of Paris (and elsewhere), please visit my Paris, Paris Tours blog. For my travel, food, wine and tours of the Italian Riviera, visit my new site WanderingLiguria

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Paris, Paris Goes to Politics & Prose in Washington, DC

Writer and teacher Janet Hulstrand teaches courses at the great indie bookstore Politics & Prose in Washington, DC. This year her class is entitled "Paris: The Literary Adventure Continues" and it features among half a dozen classics new and vintage my modest little book Paris, Paris.

Here's the lede of the course description and a link to keep reading.

In “Paris: The Literary Adventure Continues,” we will explore one of the world’s most beautiful and fascinating cities, with the inside knowledge, insightful perspective, and storytelling skill of some very fine writers to guide and enrich the experience. We will begin with David Downie’s Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light, a delightful collection of illuminating essays on topics ranging from Coco Chanel to the boat people of the Seine, and Beaumarchais’s Marais.



Saturday, January 5, 2013

La Spezia: A Gutsy Alternative to the Cinque Terre

We were back in the Cinque Terre recently, attempting to set up a tour next June, but also because we wanted to do some hiking in winter, our favorite season. It turned out that the hiking trails were closed (all but the topmost trail and we weren't quite up for it). So we headed to La Spezia instead. And boy did we have a wonderful time... Here's the lede to the story I wrote about our day for my monthly column on Gadling dot com, plus a link so you can keep reading and sharing the story with others who love Liguria, the Italian Riviera and the beleaguered Cinque Terre.

In The Shadow Of Cinque Terre, Discovering The Treasures Of La Spezia

by David Downie (RSS feed) on Dec 28th 2012 at 10:00AM

Will the loved-to-death, storm-martyred Cinque Terre ever see the light at the end of the tunnel?

Which tunnel? There are many, many tunnels between the wave-lashed coves and perched, pastel-painted villages of the over-subscribed, over-reported, and now brutally hobbled Cinque Terre.

Above all there's a long, dark tunnel not of love but of disdain or disregard in the mind of the global public lying between the little-loved, unsung port city of La Spezia and the tourist mecca of the Cinque Terre 5 miles north.

The latest blow to the Riviera's breathtakingly picturesque suspended villages came last September, with yet another flash flood and killer landslide.

Read on

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

When in Rome... Drink as the Romans Do: 3 real wine bars

Wine bars in Rome?

No, not the trendy, fancy-dancy wine bars that the big glossy corporate magazines promote. Well, only one of the three I list fits into that category, and the reason it's included is, I'd like you to go by, try it out, then compare it to the real deal. That's the best way to judge between what's solid, honest, warm, human and authentic, and what's trendy, superficial, surface, phony, and therefore hugely popular and widely reported.

I can just hear you sighing. "Oh, he's so cynical..." Actually I'm an idealist and an optimist. It's the corporate clowns and their readers who are cynical. Once you've hit these places you might even decide to buy a copy of my book Food Wine Rome (Terroir Guides)">FOOD WINE ROME and discover all the other authentic, real, wonderful places in Rome. I am an optimist!

Here's the lede to my piece on about Roman wine bars, plus a link so you can read the whole thing. And, at the bottom of the page, an image-link in case you feel like breaking the piggy bank for Food Wine Rome (Terroir Guides)">FOOD WINE ROME. Cin-cin, salute!

What’s with the Roman wine bar craze? Wine and bars have been popular in the Eternal City since the first plebian grape-grower about 2,765 years ago set up a stall and filled travelers’ terracotta cups with fermented grape juice.

Sure, plenty of hipster newcomers will tell you it all started around the year 2000 with Uno e Bino, a fancy creative-style restaurant with a mile-long wine list and a Franco-American wine bar atmosphere. Since then the fad for non-Roman food and non-local wines served in non-Roman surroundings has spread to every corner of the city.


Three Real Roman Trattorias: Eat As the Real Romans Do

When people tell me about the bad meals they've had in Rome I sigh and wish they'd sought some expert advice before traveling to the Eternal City, which has about 1,001 lousy restaurants, trattorias, osterias and the like. Luckily Rome also has about 1,001 really wonderful places to eat. You've just got to know where and how to find them.

Here are three of my favorites, shared with you by my latest assignment for Be warned, I do not go in for creative cooking, nuova cucina, or the muddled fusion stuff so many budding chefs are trying out in Rome. If you like play-with-your-food meals you won't like my book, my blog, or me. And that's fine. There's plenty of room for trendy people and vapid, silly, trendy food that has lots of entertainment value (I'm told).

Here's the lede and a link in case you'd like to read about the great Gino and others...

Are you sitting down? My claim: Rome may well be Italy’s greatest eating city. Yes, Rome. Florence, Genoa, Milan and Naples will deny my claim with knives and forks drawn. But there’s no other place in Italy that offers the range of eating experiences you get in the Eternal City—from the sublime to the ridiculous. Few cities have fresher, better produce, meat, fish, and specialty foods than Rome. Rome is rich, is Italy’s capital, and is also populated by its most demanding eaters.

Given the bounty it may surprise cosmopolitan outsiders that most Romans eschew the temples of contemporary, creative cooking and head to beloved traditional trattorias, among the simplest and most authentic category of Roman eatery. Why? Because lunch or dinner at a family-run trattoria is the closest you can get to a Roman grandmother’s food.


And if you want to break that piggy bank and actually buy the book (it only took me 15 years to put together), here's a clickable image. Buon appetito!

Roman Holiday Feasting: Tis the Time to Eat in Rome

Rome has great food year round, as anyone who has been there knows (or ought to know). The Christmas-New Years-Epiphany period is particularly great for feasting.

Here's the beginning of a piece I just wrote for about Rome, food, and the holidays. Buon appetito!

America and Northern Europe may well be under snow in December and January, but in the Eternal City ripe oranges glow in leafy gardens dotted with ancient ruins. Flour and powdered sugar are about the only dustings Rome gets. Fashionable, gift-laden locals saunter under the citrus trees as they head from gaily decorated marketplace to specialty food shop and onward to the Nativity scenes in the city’s thousand or so churches.

When it comes to feasting, the Roman holiday season means a rafter of succulent, special treats, plus rites and rituals from egg to apple. Unlike most other world capitals, Rome has its own cuisine, developed over the last 2,500 years. Long before Christmas and Epiphany were coined, Romans followed the seasons and their bounty. Despite globalization your Roman holiday plate reflects a multi-layered, millennial heritage.


For a concise history of Roman food and wine, and hundreds of addresses...

Real, Authentic Bistros in the Marais? Yep. Here are 3 for you

We all like to grumble that there's no good food served in the Marais but the truth is slightly more complicated and also more positive. Having lived there for the last 26 years and being out and about many hours a day, researching, giving tours, and just indulging my addiction to walking... I have reason to try many eateries. Happily I put together a short list of three local favorites for

Here's the lede to the story and a link so you can read the whole thing. Bon appetit!

Hip, young, and wall-to-wall with boutiques and museums, the Marais may well be Paris’ Earthly Paradise. Everyone gleefully reminds me how lucky I am to live here. But in real life I want more to eat than paradisiacal apples crafted for tourists, trendies, and the beautiful one-percent. I want real food at reasonable prices served to real people who have a stake in the neighborhood beyond the window shopping and runway shows.

That’s why locals gravitate toward authentic bistros out of harm’s way. They’re far enough from Rue des Francs-Bourgeois and the Place des Vosges—the historic, 1600s heartland of this fashion-and-partying neighborhood—to be attitude-free.

Keep reading

Art Treasures in Paris: No Lines, Great Shows

On assignment for I discovered (or rediscovered to be precise) the wonderful Yves Saint Laurent Foundation in Paris. Anyone who knows me also knows I'm not exactly a fashion plate... not important in this story. It's the art that counts.

Here's the lede to the story and a link so you can read the whole thing on

"Fine arts and fashion meet in the name and above all in the spirit of one of Paris’s newest, most ambitious and most insiderish private art foundations: the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent.

Pierre Bergé might not be a household name outside France. Yves Saint Laurent certainly is: the celebrated couturier died in 2008. But his long-time partner and associate Pierre Bergé keeps YSL’s heritage alive by preserving haute-couture clothing and putting on world-class temporary exhibitions that evoke the lifestyle, history, and heritage of creative Paris.

The setting: a handsome, Belle Époque townhouse at 3 Rue Léonce Reynaud in the chicest part of the 16th arrondissement, minutes from Paris’s monumental Art Déco-period Palais de Tokyo, and the exquisite fashion museum in the lavish Palais Galliera."

Keep reading