OK, I admit it. The only reason I took the brief train ride from Naples to visit nearby Pozzuoli was because it’s where Sophia Loren grew up. Sue me. Still, when I got there, I was happy to find that there is more to experience than just movie-star thrill. San Procolo, the city’s patron saint, was beheaded here in the fourth century; because his feast day (November 14) is often rainy, he is affectionately if sacrilegiously nicknamed ’u pisciasotto (the pants-pisser.) This smokey plot, the Solfatara, is actually the site of Saint Piss Pants’s martyrdom, happily presented for your visual enjoyment here without the overwhelming sulfurous odor that exists at the location itself. A sign warns, "Danger!" And for good reason. Not only is the land prone to tremors, some of which occurred during the time of my visit, but the allegedly dormant volcanic crater regularly emits jets of noxious steam (used for medical purposes since Roman times.) There are also foul-smelling mud pools. Some historians believe that the area’s eerie vapors may identify Pozzuoli as the Land of the Dead that Odysseus visited during his Homeric travels. Maybe, but that wasn’t enough to get me -- or Sophia -- to stick around for very long.
January 16, 2018
What’s wrong with this picture? Absolutely nothing if you live in Barcelona. Or anywhere in Spain for that matter. The New England-originated Dunkin’ Donuts had to adapt a bit when it arrived here, officially because of “trademark issues.” With stores opening (and closing) all over the world, the corporate behemoth boasts more than one thousand different donut varieties (and allegedly many more lawsuits against its franchisees than other fast-food operatives), yet more than half of its business today is in coffee sales. “Donut” suggests less to those who don’t list English as their primary language. But “Coffee,” as every writer knows, means the world to just about everybody. (I used to work with a talented copywriter who was justifiably proud of having invented the DD --or DC-- name “Coffee Coolatta.” I would be, too.)
January 15, 2018
This was the year of Mommie Dearest, the regrettable Joan Crawford biopic that torpedoed the career of director Frank Perry (David and Lisa) and forever relegated Miss Faye Dunaway to the category of shrieking caricature. Yes, I saw it. But I have an excuse. I was in Los Angeles and it was playing at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. How could I not? A few days later, arriving in San Francisco, I found the Castro neighborhood had embraced the film as only a community that welcomes shrieking caricatures could. Witness this Castro Street gift shop window, one of many. Actually, the memory that remains with me most from that trip took place just outside this shop. I noticed the approach of two big, intimidating butch guys done up in tutto leather: chains, boots, gloves, mirrored shades, caps, cigars, the whole bit. As they passed me, I heard one say to the other, “You can’t make a quiche with half-and-half.” I swear to God.
January 14, 2018
"Chance of flurries." So said the forecast when I left Boston for Manhattan on December 25. The next day, a blizzard. High winds, more than a foot and a half of snow, freezing temperatures. We were housebound in Nick’s apartment on West 10th Street, watching in amazement as the wind-blown snow accumulated. Flights, trains, buses were cancelled for that night and the next day. (Fortunately Nick had terrific leftovers from the Christmas dinner that he served up in any number of ways: ham and baked beans, ham and eggs, ham and cheese omelette, etc.) After the snow stopped and the sun came out, so did I to shoot this picture of cars parked along Washington Street. Imagine the owners arriving to find their vehicles buried. Surprise!
January 13, 2018
I had only been working at Boston’s public television station for a few months when I saw a small posting by the elevator inviting staff to be in the studio for an interview with Maya Angelou. Of course I went. The audience was a dozen or so young women bussed in from a local college...and me. I was the only man. And the only white person. When Angelou entered (in an orange, wide-wale corduroy pants suit), she came right over to me and graciously extended her hand: “Hello, I’m Maya Angelou.” I was stunned. “I’m Sandy Leonard. It’s a great pleasure to meet you.” And she smiled broadly, “The pleasure is mine, Mister Leonard.” This was not the only time we would meet over the years, but it certainly was the most memorable. And long before that whole Clinton thing.
January 12, 2018
Because we wouldn’t be able to get to the northern Spanish region of Asturias this trip, I had asked cookbook author and restaurateur Teresa Barrenechea for some recommendations on where I could find authentic Asturian cooking in Madrid. She pointed us to Los Asturianos. Muchisimas gracias, Teresa. This small bar with tables (outside in nice weather) was terrific, just what we were looking for. Good food, welcoming staff, no fuss. After some chorizo in cider and some fried potatoes with melted Cabrales cheese, came the fabada, perhaps the dish most closely associated with Asturias. A bean and sausage stew made with the prized large white beans called fabes de la Granja, the dish also contains lacón (pork shoulder), thick bacon, morcilla (black pudding), chorizo, and sometimes longaniza (a sausage similar to linguica.) Spain’s answer to the French cassoulet, it is not for the meat-averse. For the rest of us, it is magnificent.
January 11, 2018
We are now, my friend Ernest (who revels in such things) tells me, marking the Ancient Roman Juturnalia Festival, honoring Juturna, goddess of lakes, rivers and, yes, fountains. I’m assuming that would include this peaceful dribbler outside the Palazzo Farnese (Tosca, Act II.) As Ernest tells it, “The story goes that it was on this date that the divine twins Castor and Pollux miraculously appeared in the Forum, watering their horses in the fountain of Juturna (adjacent to the Temple of Vesta), announcing that the Romans were victorious at the battle of Lake Regillus.” Because twins C&P (aka Gemini, whose mother was Leda and whose father, well... Castor had a mortal father -- the King of Sparta-- while Pollux’s father was Zeus, who’d ravished Leda while disguised as a swan) chose Juturna’s fountain to proclaim the freedom of the Romans from the tyranny of their kings, succeeding generations looked on their city’s fountains as “a continuing, ever-flowing symbol of Roman freedom from monarchs.” Thank you, Ernest. And grazie mille, Juturna.