Eating (and rowing) in Rio de Janeiro

For the January issue of Air Canada's enRoute, I ate my way around Rio de Janeiro, trying to keep up with an Olympian training diet.

The story, "Rio on 8,000 Calories a Day" – my traveling companion, Joao Canziani, bagged a bright shiny cover shot, and I may never see my byline under a more bang-on title for as long as I live – is a story about eating, sweating, and two brothers chatting across continents via WhatsApp.

At the time I traveled to Rio, in late 2014, my brother Michael was training with Rowing Canada and hoping to qualify for his second Summer Olympics in 2016 in Rio. Being the helpful older brother that I naturally am, I scouted the city's athletic venues and also did due-diligence on its, er, post-race opportunities. And being the unpredictable younger brother that he is, Michael chose THE EXACT SAME MONTH MY ODE TO HIM WAS PUBLISHED as the right moment to retire from international rowing competition. 

I guess the motto of the story is that you can lead a younger brother to feijoada, but you can't make him eat. Still, it's heartening to know that the boy calls his own shots in life. Way to go, my Olympian.

L.A. stories

A few weeks ago I hopped down the California coast to Los Angeles to research two stories.

The first appeared last weekend in the Globe and Mail's Drive section. I test-drove the new 2016 Mercedes-Maybach ... by which I mean I rode in the luxurious back seat. See, the Maybach has been designed with the backseat rider in mind. In other words, if you find yourself sitting behind the wheel, you're not a car-owner – you're the chauffeur:

My second dispatch was the kind of L.A. Story that Steve Martin could get behind. I went and saw a bunch of movies. But there were no multiplexes on the itinerary – I stuck to single-screen theaters from Tinseltown's golden age. I even managed to catch some pretty good flicks along the way, including Oscar nominees Selma, Force Majeure, Song of the Sea ... and a double-feature of Shaw Bros kung fu B-movies at Quentin Tarantino's New Beverly:

Fun fact: Los Angeles is actually Spanish for "The Angeles."

A Top 5 of 2014 projects

Welcome to 2015, everybody. It's nice to see you all here. Glad you could make it.

Before we sweep the past under the rug, here are five stories that I'm most proud to have written in 2014:

1. I'll remember 2014 as the year I published my first book. Sure, it was only an e-book, so I didn't get to kill any trees. And it was only 20,000 words long, so reading it probably only takes as long as the graceful draining of a fancy bottle of wine. But I spent two years researching and writing the story of a renegade band of winemakers who defy the wine pest phylloxera by growing own-rooted grapes. And it's the best thing I've written to date. I hope you'll check it out:

2. For the second year running, I spent a month eating my way across Canada and got to choose a top ten list of "Canada's Best New Restaurants" for enRoute magazine. Whenever anybody hears about this gig and tells me I've got the best job in the world, I don't do what I'd usually do, which is to downplay it and go all aw shucks and if you only knew. No, I own it and I say, "You're right, I do have the best job." Because it's the truth:

3. My first ever piece for American Express's haute-travel magazine Departures was a short one, but one of my best calls of the year: months before it opened, I previewed what turned out to be one of the biggest phenomenons of the global year in art. Ai Weiwei's exhibition "@Large: Ai Weiwei on Alcatraz" was conceptualized and built by the provocative dissident Chinese artist in Beijing, and shipped to the site of one of America's most notorious island prisons in SF bay. The artist wasn't unable to attend his big opening, sadly – Ai Weiwei was secretly detained by his own government for 81 days in 2011 and has still not regained the ability to travel outside China:

4. I wrote about architecture and design in Mexico City for the Globe and Mail's glossy StyleAdvisor magazine. The highlight of the trip was an exquisite lunch at Eduardo Garcia's restaurant Maximo Bistrot Local – housed in a former wheelchair shop that had been transformed into a serene, minimalist white space that the chef himself described to me as "very Barragan."

5. I wrote a travel piece about the city I call home. This I accomplished by using home-grown San Francisco technology to explore some exiting new corners of the city – with old friends and new ones alike – that I might not otherwise have noticed. I called the result, "Five digital postcards from the land of the new new thing." Even if technology sometimes makes us stupider, other times it can still make the world a brave new place to experience:

Have a great 2015 and thanks for reading.