December 12, 2017

Florence. October, 1981

Chickens. Fashion. Lamb. This was my first trip to Italy (not counting a dinner in a seaside town on the French border eight years earlier) and I loved everything about it. Some things more than others, of course. Like the wonderful juxtapositions so natural there that would seem so astonishing back home. Another lineup that we saw time and time again was: Bar. Pasticceria. Duomo. (Bar. Pastry Shop. Cathedral.) Also ancient Roman ruins side-by-side with sweater stores. My friend Antonio tried to explain these seeming mismatches to me the first time I went to visit him in Lucca. We were driving home from dinner at a great restaurant owned by a friend of his, passing lots of haggard prostitutes hanging out under bridge overpasses, waiting for pickups. I wondered aloud how something so carnal and so obvious could exist in such a Catholic country. He shrugged and, referencing the famous porn-star-turned-politician (who continued to make hardcore films while in office), said, “In my country we have the Pope...and Cicciolina.”

December 11, 2017

Pennington Street Garage, Tucson. March, 2011

OK, what is this? Among the many public art projects that my friend Simon has devised in and around his hometown of Tucson are these panels to enhance a downtown parking garage. Charged with retaining the natural light of the garage’s open spaces, with designing something that would look good in both daylight and at night, and with keeping the materials’ budget as low as possible, here’s what he came up with: diagonal panels that zig-zag across the openings on each level, made from two perforated sheets of aluminum sandwiched together with blue and golden marble in between. Sunlight reflects off of them and also shines through them, bringing a watery shimmer into the garage. At night, lights inside the garage provide the opposite effect, illuminating the panels from within. When I showed this project to my friend Ted on his recent visit to Tucson, he wondered, “How do people come up with great ideas like this?” Ask Simon.

December 10, 2017

Çukurcuma, Istanbul. October, 2011

It was drizzling and raining on and off. We’d just had lunch with our new Istanbul friend Cenk, then stopped for a quince dessert before descending the very steep streets to this neighborhood of antiques dealers, one we’d read about in Orhan Pamuk’s extraordinary novel The Museum of Innocence. Jay had loved the book as much as I did, and I had promised I’d show him the area. Who would have thought we’d find the actual corner, the very house so pivotal to the book’s narrative...and that when we found it, we’d spy this plaque! A real museum? Even more remarkable, just then a small group from the German Bundestag approached in the rain, knocked on the door, it opened and they started to enter. When they told me they were having an “exclusive” advance tour, somehow I was bold enough to ask, “Can we join you?” They kindly asked the museum proprietress who said no. In Turkish I implored, “Lutfen?” (Please.) Then a miracle happened. As if entering the door to Alice’s rabbit hole, we were allowed into the most magical and wondrous and teary hour of our trip. Among the many obsessive treats in store when the museum opens to the public this spring: hundreds and hundreds of lipstick-stained cigarette butts, gathered after the novel’s “loved one” has dropped them, mounted as precisely and as tenderly as butterflies in a science display. Mesmerizing.

December 9, 2017

Coimbra, Portugal. October, 2009

It’s a given that the internet has made the world a smaller place. Or at least a more connected, accessible one. So why should I be shocked when I receive a comment here from a reader in Portugal, mentioning he’s been following SLS for some time now and saying, “Every day is a great and funny surprise”? But shocked (and thrilled) I was, maybe because the beautiful town he’s from, Coimbra, is one of my favorites. Our first overnight in Portugal. Our introduction to hearty Portuguese meals (and portion sizes!) Our initial encounter with pastéis de nata, the splendid custard tarts, which we then sampled as often as possible. And a memorable lazy Sunday afternoon spent sitting in a riverfront park along with like-minded locals. Earlier that day, we’d run through this same park, along the river, in and out of the dense morning fog. But once the sun came out, we were ready, just like this guy, to observe a wonderful day of rest. And to my new friend in Coimbra: Olá, Miguel, e muito obrigado.

December 8, 2017

Santorini, Greece. October, 2011

This volcanic Greek Isle, thought by some to be inspiration for the legendary Atlantis, blew its top a long time ago. The result: a deep, deep harbor (so deep that our ship, seen here, couldn’t drop anchor) called the caldera, surrounded by a number of remaining border islands. When you leave your ship and get transferred to the small dock area, you have three choices to get to the town 1,000 feet up on the cliffs. 1. A cable car for 4 euros. 2. A donkey ride for 5 euros. 3. Walk up a switchback path (carefully, because it’s the same path the donkeys take) for no euros. We opted for the cable car, as you can see. The donkey option sounded “authentic,” but everyone we know who made that choice smelled like donkey for the rest of the day. Some for longer.

December 7, 2017

Lynn, MA. September, 2011

Peter Madden and I have been friends for some 30 years. Since before he decided to go to art school, move to New England from NYC (where he grew up on Jane Street), and before he became an acclaimed book artist, admirably blurring the lines between book making and fine art. From early on, we’ve both shared an inordinate interest in singer Ronee Blakley and the films of Russ Meyer, specifically those featuring the late, great Tura Satana. In the years since Peter has gone legit, he’s taught and been an inspiration to countless students and has exhibited his work around the world. And whenever one of those exhibitions is local, I try to attend. Like this one, ‘Beyond the Book,’ at nearby LynnArts Center. You can see one of his stitched, accordion-pleated books in the back on the left, one of his cyan prints on the wall behind his head. Built from the simplest of materials and infused with his talent for quirky memoir, no wonder his books have such appeal.

December 6, 2017

Monemvasia, Greece. October, 2011

Our only stop in the Peloponnese, this beautiful medieval town has, like many coastal towns in Greece, an old city and a new one. This is the old one, a pedestrian-only island connected to the mainland by a thin causeway (off the left of the photo) that can barely accommodate the width of one car. (Monemvasia actually means “single entrance.”) The city was founded by the Byzantines in the sixth century and, as with other fortified ports in this part of the world, was conquered by the Franks, the Byzantines again, Catalonian mercenaries, Turks, Venetians, Turks again, Greeks, and now by tourists. Cobbled alleys and paths, many staircases built into steep cliffs, houses established wherever space appeared, often on the cliffs themselves between existing structures. Look at the top over towards the right. See the domed building? It, too, has a checkered past. Built in the 12th century as a Byzantine church (one of 40 in the small town), it became a mosque under the Turks and a church under the Venetians, etc. It’s called Agia Sofia reportedly because it was said to resemble its namesake in Constantinople. Only about 100 times smaller. Still, a lovely visual reward for our vigorous climb to the top.