February 20, 2018

Çiya, Istanbul. June, 2007

Çiya. The best place Nick and I ate in Istanbul. We’d heard of this casual restaurant (where Chef Musa Dağdeviren hunts down and serves up acclaimed dishes from central and eastern Turkey) from the food writings of both Paula Wolfert and Oleana chef Ana Sortun, and we wasted no time in trying it. Our first full day in town, we were right there, asking waiter “John Travolta” to bring us an assortment of dishes he recommended. What a good idea! Among the many, many dishes we shared was this stew of lamb, bread and sour cherries. Others were a vegetable-and-herb-studded pilaf enclosed in a pastry shell. A spicy homemade meat and grain sausage. A soup of tiny ravioli-like manti in a minted yogurt base. And we were so delighted, we returned a few days later to do the same thing all over again. Even as I write this, years later, planning another trip to this magical city, my mouth still waters in anticipation.

February 19, 2018

Diamondback Bridge, Tucson. March, 2011

I love when my friends’ paths cross. Even remotely. Here’s my pal Ted (a former Bose-o like me) standing within the Snake Bridge (as Tucson residents familiarly refer to it) that was designed by my friend Simon. Cool. On a recent visit to Tucson, I’d had breakfast with Ted (who’d driven south from his Phoenix home) at the Little Cafe Poca Cosa, then ambled around downtown, along 4th Avenue, winding up at the Epic Cafe to pass a lazy afternoon with lemonade, iced coffee and enjoyable conversation. Somewhere in between we squeezed in a visit to the bridge, now one of the city’s most recognizable and beloved icons. Its internal geometry and midday shadows almost cry out “photo op!” We obliged.

February 18, 2018

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. February, 2011

All right, I will eat my words. I have held the Boston MFA in somewhat low regard, calling it very JV, lacking in any real masterpieces, etc. After several visits in the summer of 2010, I thought it a fine place to pass the time, walking among the ancient art of Egypt, the large hall of Italian Renaissance pictures, the occasional French Impressionist. But nothing stood out, took my breath away. All that has changed with the opening of the museum’s new American Wing. Of course the masterpieces would be American, hidden away while these impressive new galleries were under construction. When I recently returned, saw the new wing for the first time, I gasped upon entering the gallery and was confronted by this. John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark. One of my forgotten favorites, positioned for optimum effect, and quite shocking against Copley’s more sedate and formal portraits for which he’d gained his reputation as a society painter. Based on a true story of a 14-year-old cabin boy’s disastrous 1749 swim in Havana harbor (the tale related to Copley by that same grown-up cabin boy when they became friends years later in London), it contains Cuban geographical elements from a place Copley had never been. The artist had also never seen a shark, much less one on the attack, but you’d never know it. What a painting! (Note: If all goes as planned, I will arrive in Havana today for the first time. Harbor swimming not on the itinerary.)

February 17, 2018

Paris. December, 2005

There are few things as evocative as the art nouveau design and lettering of the Paris metro. The first line opened in 1900 during the Paris World Exposition, grew to more than 133 miles of track and 384 stops during the next 40 years, and since then has gone on to become the second busiest subway system in the world (only Moscow’s is busier.) And still, with its clearly color-coded maps and signs, it remains among the easiest international systems to decipher. On film, many directors have paid homage to the metro, including François Truffaut and the Coen Brothers. All aswirl and suggestive of its turn-of-the-century beginnings, here’s the entrance to the station at the equally evocative location, Bastille. And when you emerge from the metro here, you’ll be very close to the daily street market (lots of oysters, lots of lobsters just before New Year’s Eve), the new opera house and the wonderful brasserie, Bofinger.

February 16, 2018

Fette Sau, Brooklyn, NY. July, 2011

I’m not a voracious meat-eater. But every once in awhile, nothing seems to satisfy as much. So when Nick suggested a trip to this BBQ joint in the Williamsburg neighborhood, I was delighted. Fette Sau is hip (like its location) and basic and good. You enter what seems to have once been an auto-repair shop and approach the counter. A chalkboard indicates what’s available that day, and the server puts a piece of butcher paper on a metal tray and loads it up with your selections. No plates. We got (clockwise from lower left) pulled pork, half-sour pickles, flank steak, sausages, broccoli salad, ribs and pork belly. (The hamburger buns we left; we were both dieting.) Rolls of paper towels on the picnic tables (both inside and out) and utensils as needed. A complete bar tended by a real sweetheart completes the scene. This meat-heavy meal is probably not for everyday...but I can’t wait to return.

February 15, 2018

Lisbon. October, 2009

The tiny side streets that lead into the Praça de Figueira in downtown Lisbon serve up a rich roster of visual delights. One offers several 19th-century hardware stores, another features storefronts displaying prepared foods to go, a third is a nightly gathering place for streetwalkers of all varieties. There’s also the fancy men’s hat shop. And the store with its front window filled with hanging dried sausages. One of my favorite places is Hortelão, this seed and garden shop that borders the square. The inside is just as “casual” as the outside would indicate, with bins of bulbs, racks of seed packets, salespeople who look like they’ve been there since the day the store opened and who know their business as few others do. And I love that their sign makes the fine distinction found in the languages of many European countries between hortas (kitchen or vegetable gardens) and jardins (flower or decorative gardens.)

February 14, 2018

Piazza Navona, Rome. October, 1984

Whenever I hear someone talking about how immoral America has become, I laugh. [Note: I wrote this in 2011; I no longer laugh in 2018.] Violent video games and relatively tepid nudity in films may seem loose to some, but only because of an underlying Puritanism that still seems to serve as an American benchmark. Whenever I travel to a warmer, more sensual European destination -- be it Italy, Portugal, Spain, even France -- I’m reminded of just how straight-laced and conservative we are at home (and becoming frighteningly more so.) Maybe that’s why I love this photo of a couple in this beautiful Roman square. Not because it’s a good photograph, not at all, but because it makes me smile, thinking about how natural it is to see affection like this as you walk through Rome. Or Paris. Or Lisbon, Barcelona. A little later, as I walked by these two again, they were both sitting up, he was trying to nuzzle her ear, she was saying (but not meaning) “basta.” I wondered who they were, did they live at home with their parents and were they only able to meet here in public? Fellini said he liked to take the bus in Rome because he saw little dramas when he looked at his fellow passengers. I like to walk when I’m in Rome, seeing little dramas like this one all the time. Happy St. Valentine’s Day.