Street Talk - March 2006

By staff March 1, 2006



Photographer Luca Guarneri takes aim at social issues.

Luca Guarneri uses no words to tell compelling stories; instead, his black and white photography tells tales about Italian immigration in Brazil, tourists around the Coliseum in Rome and poverty in Newtown. His photos capture the journey from his native Sicily through Europe and the United States, where he ended up in Sarasota in 2004. Guarneri's work has been exhibited in galleries here, in New York and in Italy, and he's expanding his repertoire through work for Mary McCulley's Sarasota studio (occasionally featured in these pages).

What's your background? I had my first camera when I was 12. My mother was an amateur photographer and my brother was, too. Then I studied at the Scuola Romana di Fotografia in Rome and the International Center of Photography in New York, where I was doing everything from sweeping floors to serving as a photographer's assistant.

Was there an experience from which your current work sprang? I decided to describe [through photography] the tourists around the Coliseum in the summertime. I began working every day to build a story about these people.

Compare some of your experiences shooting. In New York I used to take photos of people without asking them. It was accepted there, but in Newtown I had to ask every person [for permission]. I'm white and I'm not even American and not from Sarasota. I was just an outsider. So I had to make them believe I was there for them, not against them.

Where is your work headed? My work used to be focused on the international movement. Now I focus on social issues, on the most human level-trying to capture people's suffering and joy in a way that demonstrates how every person is worthy of great respect.-Nichole L. Reber


Dining off the beaten track with Bob Ardren.

There was a time when Sarasotans had to travel to find genuine tastes of different cultures-the Jewish deli in New York for real pastrami, Chinatowns on either coast for, well, good Chinese, Wisconsin for Eastern European sausages or Santa Fe for moles. Not only were these foods enlightening, they were always a wonderful taste treat, and since you were in their home locales, they were usually cheap.

Now more of that real ethnic food (besides ubiquitous Italian and its follower, Peruvian, with its country cousin called Mexican) has found its way to Sarasota. In at least one other case, the food originated here, is still here, but is getting downright hard to find.

You need to get some before it's gone.

But let's start with a beautiful bowl of something we can thank Sarasota's Eastern European circus community for bringing here: Polish orange-ginger-carrot soup. If that sounds intriguing, it's because it is, and you can find it at the Bay Leaf Café, 7252 S. Tamiami Trail.

My old fishing buddy, Catfish Johnny Klein-like me a card-carrying Slav-was spooning in his orange-ginger-carrot soup ($3.75 a bowl, $2.50 a cup) about as fast as humanly possible and muttering "Creamsicle, creamsicle-no sugar, hmmmmm." And he was right, the wonderful flavor combination did taste like an old-fashioned creamsicle, but without the sugar.

The less adventurous can order more traditional potato leek soup, which costs the same but isn't nearly as exciting.

That's just the beginning at the Bay Leaf, a cozy spot owned and operated by Iga and John Tyrka for nearly four years. She serves and charms while he cooks, and also charms, but from the spotless, open kitchen.

Who knew crepes were Polish? There they are on the luncheon appetizer menu-spinach, ricotta, mozzarella and pine nuts ($3.95). And if your Slavic itch really needs scratching, the appetizers also include chicken livers in port wine with an herbed crepe ($3.95).

A big blackboard on the side wall lists the daily dinner specials, such as chicken paprikash ($11.95) and items as interesting as duck confit rolls served with cream cheese in cherry port sauce ($17.25).

Of course, Eastern Europeans have to have their stuffed cabbage rolls ($10.50), so good I'd recommend them to my mother. And there's more comfort food, such as beef goulash ($13.95), served with potato pancakes. The only thing I missed was the heavy rye bread.

Walt's Fish Market (4145 S. Tamiami Trail) is a longstanding seafood wholesaler, market and restaurant, and its owners, the Wallins, know Cracker food. Eat some and you're tasting Sarasota history.

Equally importantly, the Wallins try to keep Cracker (now don't go calling it redneck) food traditions alive in Sarasota. For example, they make and sell excellent smoked local fish. One look at that new fish case in the market and you'll know they're using local fishermen and crabbers, not products shipped from a central warehouse.

So although we all knew it was a goof and a grin when Brett Wallin (third generation to operate the Sarasota market) put a "Cracker Special" ($10.99) of fried alligator, fish and wild local frog's legs on the menu, we tried it anyway. With a couple of sides like potato salad and coleslaw included, it may not be what your heart specialist ordered, but he misses out on the good stuff. These people know how to cook seafood.

Real Crackers choose fried mullet, of course, in their Cracker Special, but Aunt Maria from Chicago can get some of that mostly flavorless farm-raised catfish if she prefers.

Every meal at Walt's starts with a free tasting cup of smoked mullet salad (pâté, if you prefer), and it's the only place left in town where you can buy huge blue crabs or even a $25 bag of briny fresh oysters out the back door.

Pave your driveway with the shells.

Make plans now to stop by Sarasota's last Cracker seafood joint. Rumors aren't being denied that it may move upwards and upscale in the near future.

Lastly, you can't get much more ethnic and less expensive than a bag full of tacos from Dona Chela's Tortilleria. The growing Latino and Hispanic population has made a delicious difference on Sarasota's restaurant scene, and this place is one of my favorites.

It's fascinating to step into the shop and just gawk at the long, impossibly mechanical device that presses and cooks both corn and flour tortillas right before your eyes. Both the tortilla maker and the tortillas are exactly like the ones you find all over Mexico and Central America.

And at lunchtime you can buy tacos made with those super-fresh tortillas for only $1.50. Your choice, corn or flour tortillas.

Oh, sure, Dona Chela's tacos are almost always beef-and that's just fine when you can also ask for a dollop of the house onion, cilantro and pepper salsa spread across the top. What it is, is pretty wonderful.

But the tacos are only available at lunchtime. And be prepared to stretch your pidgin Spanish if you've any questions, because while you may think you're at 1155-C N. Washington Blvd., truth is, you've stepped right into a tiny bit of real Mexico transplanted into our city.


Inside the visual arts with Mark Ormond.

The Ringling Museum of Art has hired Stephen Borys as the new curator of collections, a position that's been vacant since Mitchell Merling moved to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in the summer of 2004. Borys was previously curator of Western art at the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin, Ohio, and before that he was assistant curator of European art at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. A Canadian by birth, he's married to Hazel Morizon, a town planner who's worked with Andres Duany, and they have a 16-month-old son named Roman. Borys is excited about the new exhibition space under construction, and he says he knows the Ringling collection well.

While the Ringling Museum is spending close to $45 million on new construction, the original 1920s structure needs attention, too. When the cooling towers of the air-conditioning system malfunctioned in December and leaked water, curators and interns had to come to the rescue and carry out of the gallery several works, including Piero di Cosimo's Renaissance panel painting purchased by John Ringling.

The work of Terry Denson, who shows large-scale watercolors at Art Uptown on Main, will soon be seen in the lobby of the new Five Points Tower just a block away. A self-taught artist who began painting in 1995 and had a career as an army officer before taking up the brush full-time in 2003, Terry says she was contacted by Judy Hahn, who lives in Bradenton and was a scout for the New York interior designer working on the project. They purchased two existing works and commissioned a third.

Jonathan Greene, who already operates galleries Metamorphosis and ETC, says he "could not pass up the opportunity" to rent Christine Desiree's building on Pineapple Avenue, next door to Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art. Desiree has decided to dedicate her efforts full-time to her art; her piece currently on the bayfront as part of the Sarasota Season of Sculpture has received nods of approval from Mark Anderson and Doug Loewen at the Ringling School, her alma mater. Greene continues to introduce new artists, including Tom Joyce, an abstract painter from New York, and Brian Haverlock, who lives in Englewood.

Pamela Sumner, who orchestrated the art program of the interior and exterior of the Whole Foods building downtown last year, received a commission for her own work that was installed at the company's new Palm Beach Gardens store. The eight hanging glass panels incorporate her Chinese brush paintings of bamboo. Sumner challenged the glass manufacturer Images in Tile, whose PR firm is located in Sarasota, to come up with the solution for her proposal that "celebrates bamboo as a renewable resource." That's in keeping with the Whole Foods philosophy of using renewable resources in their stores.

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