January 31, 2011

Venice. September, 1984

I am not your garden-variety tourist. When I go to Las Vegas or Montreal or Madrid, I like to check out the supermarket, the public library, the places where the natives go rather than the standard, pre-packaged “sights.” So I was thrilled on this, my second trip to Venice, when I experienced the acqua alta, the high-water flooding of the Piazza San Marco. There were elevated boardwalks quickly assembled for those who wanted to avoid the inconvenience. But I just took off my shoes, rolled up my pants and joined the Venetian grandmothers who were also “making do.” The shimmer of the water over the meandering black-and-white geometric designs in the pavement was beautiful. And as you can see from my right foot, the acqua wasn’t all that alta, maybe an inch or two. Still, the near-panic and irritation among those crowding the boardwalk was remarkable, eliciting some snickers and sidelong looks from everyday Venetians. In a few hours, the tide retreated into the lagoon, the boardwalks were disassembled and all was returned to normal. Or at least normal for Venice.

January 30, 2011

Boston. June, 2010

One thing I’ve learned from being a “visitor” so often myself, people like to be welcomed. I have made such interesting acquaintances by (selectively) engaging in conversations with strangers in Istanbul, Mexico, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, lots of places. So it’s only natural that I tend to initiate conversations with visitors to Boston, too (the mother and son from Madrid, asking directions; the young German couple walking the jetty into Gloucester Harbor, many others.) One afternoon, arriving very early to hear filmmaker John Waters (in conversation with my friend Scott) at the Boston Public Library, I started a conversation with this young man, also early for what turned out to be an overflow-crowd event. Luis is from Obregón, Mexico, here in Boston to stay with friends for two months, working a little, but mostly enjoying his summer vacation from studies back home. He doesn’t have a computer with him, so he goes to the local Apple Store each day to “check in” (and take the photo above.) On the afternoon we met, he’d been on the subway, read in the paper about Waters’ appearance that day and freaked out (Pink Flamingos is one of his favorite films.) We were each carrying Waters’ new book, Role Models, so we started talking. Then, when the auditorium doors opened, we both raced to the front, sat together and talked about everything from Mexican movie star María Félix to the psicomagia of Chilean filmmaker and author (and tarot enthusiast) Alejandro Jodorowsky. Afterwards, Luis had his picture taken with Waters, a dream photo he quickly zapped to friends back home. And that was it. A new friend, a nice chance to learn about another place, another way of life. And to be reminded that foreigners, especially students, are not as afraid as Americans often are to talk with strangers. Hola, Luis.

January 29, 2011

Aya Sofia, Istanbul. June, 2007

Scaffolding. A given in just about every vacation I’ve ever taken. Something somewhere is bound to be “under restoration.” In Italy, I’ve come across so many “in restauro” signs (on closed buildings, on museum walls in spaces normally occupied by paintings, etc.) that I used to joke with a friend that the museum in the town of Restauro must be chock full of the best paintings in the world. The certainty of restoration has become almost laughable now, and a good thing it has, because scaffolding and repairs are inevitable. Notre Dame in Paris. The Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The Prado in Madrid. Less so in the USA, but then we’re not as old as those other places and need fewer facelifts, it seems. Above, the scaffolding within one of the oldest buildings in the world (dedicated in the year 360; not a typo), the big and beautiful Aya Sofia (current structure dates from 532; also not a typo.) First a church, then a mosque, now a museum, this building has seen it all, survived it all. Wars (holy and otherwise), schisms, revolutions, earthquakes...and it’s still standing, still welcoming visitors throughout the passing years. And, frankly, because the interior is such an eclectic mix of Christian and Muslim, secular and religious imagery, the scaffolding has a beauty all its own and somehow doesn’t look at all out of place.

January 28, 2011

Córdoba, Spain. March, 1995

When Jay turned 50, I told him that his gift would be a trip anywhere in the world. That he should take his time and think about where he’d like to go, anywhere. After a few days, he told me: Key West. “Key West?,” I said, “Wouldn’t you rather go to Spain?” “Well, yeah.” So here he is inside the most memorable spot in Córdoba, La Mezquita. This great mosque was built in Andalucía’s Islamic capital by Moorish rulers in the 8th century. And it was so grand that later, when it was to be converted to a Catholic Church, the Spanish monarchs instead were able to build an entire Gothic cathedral within its vast expanse. It was my first mosque and it made a big impression, pointed me in a direction that I follow, fascinated, to this day. Other Córdoba memories, less grand but no less indelible: the señora at our pension who, when she saw how interested we were in her courtyard’s orange tree, warned us of its bitter fruit, “Muy fuerte.” And at breakfast in the same pension, the tweedy British lesbian admonishing her partner to stop lingering with a stern, “Come along, Sybil!” (When I turned 50, and Jay returned the birthday favor, I announced that I’d like to go to Istanbul. His instant, fear-prompted reply: “Absolutely not!” I wound up going without him.)

January 27, 2011

Poilâne, Paris. December, 2005

In an effort to overturn the wisdom found in Nika Hazelton’s essay, “Why It Tastes Different Over There,” I have, through the years, attempted to bring food back from my travels. Sometimes this is easy (Mexican sauces and peppers from Tucson, for example) and sometimes less so (a kilo of potatoes from Rome to recreate the wonderful potato pizza served at Pizzeria da Pasquale on Via dei Prefetti; this was long before potato pizza could be found in “gourmet” USA pizzerias.) I’ve heard tales of customs officials and dogs trying to sniff out illegal international groceries, but no one has ever stopped me, I think because my cache has always fallen just this side of the legal line (maybe not the potatoes.) Cheeses from Paris or Istanbul have been carefully cryovac’d. Spanish sherry vinegar carefully wrapped in dirty laundry to prevent breakage (this after a very unfortunate incident with a big bottle of olive oil on an earlier trip.) Barmbrack (a fruit-studded cakelike bread) from Ireland. And several samples of different loaves from Poilâne for my bread-baker Jay, including one of the signature “P” rounds seen above. In fact, now that I think of it, I actually brought back an entire potato pizza from a 1984 Rome trip so that Jay and I could have it for dinner that same night in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Nika Hazelton, please note: It tasted exactly the same as it did over there.

January 26, 2011

Cliffside Park, NJ. October, 2007

A Turkish meze plate in New Jersey? Yes, at Dayin Yeri, a big party to honor Nick’s big birthday. A beautiful Sunday afternoon, a restaurant he’d frequented since our vacation in Istanbul, a menu selected for this special party from memories of our vacation meals. Hummus, two takes on eggplant salad, cacik (yogurt, cucumber, garlic, mint) and, of course, acili ezme. I say “of course” because our daily consumption of this spicy red pepper salad/relish was so central to our stay, it became Nick’s Istanbul nickname. (He still sometimes signs emails to me with AE.) Trying to find examples of it and recipes for it back home indicated one thing: Lots of people call lots of things acili ezme. Some restaurants serve a muhammarah (walnuts, pomegranate, hot pepper) and call it AE. Online and cookbook searches turned up many tomato variations but nothing like we remembered...until the Turkish husband of an old acquaintance provided a recipe that was just within tweaking distance of the real thing: tomato, onion, peppers, parsley, paprika, walnuts, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, pomegranate syrup, red pepper paste. Of course, if you really want the genuine article, you have to go to Istanbul. Or Cliffside Park.

January 25, 2011

Lisbon. October, 2009

My friend Stephen, an astute social observer and blogger/critic, recently pegged me as “a great internationalist.” I’m not exactly sure what that means, but here’s what I’d like it to mean: that I view the world as my home (and everyone else’s, too), that I explore the wonders of various cultures and languages, that I try to broaden my horizons by embracing perspectives different from my own. So there. Along those lines, I think it’s simply respectful to learn a little of the language before visiting another country. How else could I have had the pleasure of chatting with this wonderful woman stringing hot peppers in Lisbon’s Mercado da Ribeira? Or the sweets seller in Istanbul, the train conductor in Madrid, the cheese vendor in Paris? And I love to help foreign visitors feel welcome in my part of the globe, too. As soon as I hear a foreign language or a question asked in beautifully accented English, I’m on it. I’ve met some terrific world neighbors that way, great internationalists all.

January 24, 2011

Las Vegas. January, 1992

I don’t drink. I don’t gamble. I don’t engage prostitutes. I love Las Vegas. For one of the same reasons that I like Washington, DC: People from all over the world come here for vacation, allowing you a global cross-section of society without having to travel very far. Of course, this may not be the most polite and tidy cross-section (I endured a severely inebriated Scottish woman’s harangue against the riders on a Strip bus early one afternoon, for example), but so be it. I’m also drawn toward the glitzy artifice, the insistence on the purely superficial and transient, on things not what they seem. Female impersonators. Elvis impersonators. ZZ Top impersonators, for God’s sake. Even the buildings are impersonators: Caesar’s Palace, The Venetian, Paris Las Vegas, Excalibur, Luxor, the poseur list goes on and on. After several trips here, I now pepper my itinerary with some of the more obscure “attractions”: The Liberace Museum (now sadly closed), the public library, trailer-park yard sales. My early morning running route takes me miles off the Strip, out to the airport and back, passing working residents sipping their coffee, waiting for the bus. No high rollers these, just ordinary folks like you and me when we’re not on vacation.

January 23, 2011

Provincetown, MA. August, 1989

I can still remember how hot and close it was that evening. Jay and I went out to Race Point beach with David and Roy, and the light was so beautiful, the sand so cool...well, this picture that David snapped brings it all back. Much more memorable than the dinner we all had afterwards at some forgettable place in North Truro. There are other photos from this idyllic beach evening, one of which Jay and I had made into change-of-address cards on our 20th anniversary together in 1999. (Minimum order: 500 cards. Um, we’ve each moved at least once since those cards were printed and, well, we still have plenty of them if anyone would like a few dozen.) With waves that break a bit more aggressively than those at Herring Cove, Race Point is much more relaxed and peaceful in the evening after all of the beach crowds have gone home and the sounds of the sea and the gulls are all that you hear. And then there’s that light...no wonder so many visual artists have always been drawn to magical Provincetown, one of the few East Coast beaches where the sun sets over water.

January 22, 2011

Gloucester, MA. January, 2005

When we were little kids growing up in New Jersey, my brother and I would watch the same Christmas programs on TV year after year. Television itself was only a little older than we were, and the programs I remember were in black and white and lacking any special effects...but they were no less special to us. One that I remember was about how Franz Gruber had composed “Silent Night” one snowy evening in Austria. I took this snowy picture on the Saturday night my brother called me from New Jersey to say that our father had died. A blizzard had begun earlier in the day, and it would continue all night and all the following day, making travel impossible. After the storm had finally passed, and we were able to dig out, I headed south. Brien and I got through the formalities and the sadness by listening to the soundtrack album from Robert Altman’s Nashville on his truck’s CD player in the funeral parlor parking lot. When I see this photo, I think of that “Silent Night” TV program, of my late father, of “heavenly peace.”

January 21, 2011

Zurich. September, 1986

Fortunately, Zurich is not that far from Milan by train, so that when I was visiting the style-conscious Italian metropolis, it was an easy jaunt for me to head north to visit my Swiss friend Andreas (center in photo). And because Zurich is not that far from Hamburg by train, either, my friends Ernest and Klaus headed south for a giggle-filled weekend. Ernest (right), a one-time Texan, had been my colleague at public broadcasting in Boston. Possessed of a European sensibility and a penchant for adventure, he’d left the USA and moved to Germany years earlier, met Klaus (from Austria; left) and settled in. Aside from giggling, the four of us toured the city’s many delights, including the after-dark pleasures of the not-yet-gentrified Barfüsser (allegedly the oldest, continuously operated gay bar in Europe), the red-light, honky-tonk Langstrasse district, and an art gallery that remains in memory chiefly because of its floor made of compressed chewing-gum wrappers. I can’t remember where we all slept in Andreas’ small Weststrasse apartment (the kitchen counter lifted up to reveal the bathtub), but as you can see, we all had such a good time that it didn’t seem to matter.

January 20, 2011

Taksim, Istanbul. June, 2007

Mmmmmm. Ekmek kadayif. Syrup-soaked bread topped (if you like) with the thick creamy delight called kaymak. I came to Istanbul determined to try this elusive sweet and did...on my very first day in the city and on several subsequent occasions. I’d initially learned of this dish from Maura Kilpatrick’s recipe for Palace Bread in Spice (the cookbook by Ana Sortun from her great Cambridge restaurant, Oleana.) Once I read it, I was on a mission. (Alas, Oleana only occasionally features this dessert and never, as it happens, when I’ve been there for dinner.) When I asked Murat about it at the Turkish-Armenian Sevan Bakery in my Watertown, Massachusetts, neighborhood, he told me it was made with bread that “you can’t get in the United States.” Well, I’ll show you! I’ll go to Istanbul. Here at Saray pastry shop, I finally had my first taste. Dense and cloying with sweet syrup, it was magnificent. Of course, I wanted more. (Later in the week, I found a young man selling it by the pound in a small market in Uskudar on the Asian side of the city and bought quite a bit.) Egyptian recipes for “palace bread” tend to soak the bread in honey, while Turkish recipes call for a simple sugar syrup, sometimes scented with rosewater. And recently I was thrilled to find a recipe in Armenian Cooking Today (it calls for “Holland rusks” aka zweiback), a gift from my sister-friends Lisa and Susan. Whenever Nick and I travel somewhere together, we tend to take on nicknames drawn from our surroundings. In Turkey, I am always, if you please, Ekmek Kadayif.

January 19, 2011

Nantucket, MA. July, 2009

When I lived in New Jersey, figuring I could go to the Statue of Liberty any old time, I never went. Now I live in Massachusetts, and I figure I can go to Nantucket any old time. You know the rest. So when I was working not that long ago on some copy to describe the benefits of new noise-reduction headsets engineered for pilots, my client suggested I might want to fly with the product and experience it firsthand. Good idea. Even better idea: When we took off in the small, luxurious plane from Mansfield Airport, our pilot floated the possibility of flying to Nantucket for lunch. All in favor? Everyone. And even though we ate at the airport restaurant, it was the best reuben I’ve ever had, owing mostly to the company, the view and the spectacular approach, seen here. When we all returned to the mainland and I, sadly, to my office, colleagues asked me where I had been most of the day. “Oh,” I said, “doing some product research with a client.” Thanks again, Matt.

January 18, 2011

Delaware Water Gap, NJ. October, 1973

When I was a teacher at a Catholic boys high school in New Jersey during the early 1970s, I made an unlikely friend in the head of the Science Department, Tom, shown here, center, with refreshment and Fu Manchu ’stache (which, I now notice, seated right, I had adopted, as well). Tom had grown up in Brooklyn, was now living near the school, and many afternoons we’d wind up at a bar in nearby Westfield called The Jolly Trolley, where we’d laugh at the expense of others and Tom would regrettably act snotty to one particular waitress for reasons I still can’t figure out. Early one school-free July, he called to say that he was driving to Kalamazoo for a few weeks to work on a funded university project that provided an apartment, and did I want to come? Sure, I had the summer off. I packed, waited for him to pick me up, he never showed. Had I misunderstood? He brushed if off later with a nonchalant, “Oh, I changed my mind.” Um, OK, we were younger then. But not as young as these students whom we took on a Saturday field-trip hike to the Delaware Water Gap at the Garden State’s westernmost border. I love the perspective down to the river in the background, the clothing and haircuts from so many years ago, the easy camaraderie of that bygone time. I wonder who these nice kids grew up to be, what became of Tom.

January 17, 2011

Trastevere, Rome. October, 1986

There are lots of reasons to visit Trastevere, the section of Rome “across the Tiber” from the centro. My first trip was to a Sardinian restaurant where I’d sampled the flaky, ultra-thin flatbread carta di musica (sheet music.) Another time was with Paolo, a sometime Fellini actor and Italian teacher-turned-boyfriend of an American friend, who was going to show me the best pizzzeria in Rome, the St. Ivo. The place was packed with sports fans, the pizza memorable, and I recall moving several barricades so that we could park within an off-hours construction site, no other space being available. (I call this kind of shenanigan “When in Rome” behavior.) But if I had to pick my favorite site in Trastevere, it would be this: the Bernini statue of Blessed Ludovica Albertoni in the church of San Francesco a Ripa. Bernini is well known for his Roman masterpieces: fountains in the Piazzas Navona and Barberini, the baldechino and colonnaded piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica, his magnificent sculpture of Saint Teresa in Ecstasy in the Cornaro Chapel of Santa Maria della Vittoria (an almost daily Roman stop for me.) This quiet and subtle memorial rests in a small niche to the left of San Francesco’s altar, lit naturally from a small window hidden above. Yet another wonderful example of how Bernini could make marble ripple with a soft, liquid expressiveness, evidenced as much in the suffering facial expression as in the billowing expanses of fabric. Ludovica is considered a “blessed person” in Roman Catholicism, known for her religious ecstasies and her alleged gift of levitation. Beatified in 1671, her canonization and sainthood are still pending.

January 16, 2011

New York, NY. Autumn, 1983

An ethnologist’s delight. What were we doing at the Museum of Natural History? And did we even go inside or just stop at the sign to seize the photo op? While Nick, my best friend since high school, assumes a well-earned glam-shot lean, Jacques, whom I actually taught when he was in high school, catches us up on the latest danceclub moves. And who better to demonstrate the current fashion on or off the floor? Note: keys, leather, stretch pants, sock treatment, proper footgear. Jacques and Anthony were living in the East Village back then, a beautiful big apartment overlooking Tompkins Square Park with a striking Starn Twins photo that greeted you upon entry. A successful if frustrated stockbroker on Wall Street, Jacques quickly became disillusioned with the ups and downs (mostly downs) of high finance and ditched that world for the land of haute cuisine. And who better to lead him by the hand through that dicey territory than the well-seasoned Nick? Dinosaurs notwithstanding, I can’t imagine a diorama much better than this one.

January 15, 2011

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul. June, 2007

Yes, I know, the signs clearly said “No photos.” But this bejeweled dagger was one of the very first items that had fired my interest in Istanbul more than 40 years earlier. In Jules Dassin’s film, Topkapi (which provided the inspiration for both the TV and film versions of Mission Impossible), a bunch of clever thieves (and a few bumblers) plot the perfect heist, stealing this very dagger from a locked display case within the heavily guarded palace museum (whose floor is wired to sense intruders.) One of the first films to have a character (played by Melina Mercouri, aka Mrs. Dassin) speak conspiratorily to camera, it shows off the City of the World’s Desire and its environs beautifully -- from the Bosphorus mansion where the gang preps, to the mosque-filled view afforded from tiled rooftops high above the city, to the famed oiled wrestlers out west near Edirne. Even as a teenager, I knew I had to visit this palace someday. And I did, remembering the catchy Manos Hadjidakis film score as I entered. Hey, two amenable guards had posed for our cameras in the famed royal kitchens earlier that morning, so I decided I could risk snapping a shot of this pricey curio. Fortunately I wasn’t apprehended and thrown into a Turkish jail. I’d seen Midnight Express, too.


January 14, 2011

Marken, The Netherlands. August, 1972

How many times do you suppose this woman has posed with tourists? Dressed in a traditional manner that has endured for centuries, she was, I remember, "a character." Robert and I had taken a bus-and-boat day trip from Amsterdam, the last stop on our summer-long vacation. Short on cash and eager to return home, he and I had different approaches to these last days of travel. I took free tours (diamond processors, Rijksmuseum, etc.) and went to see What's Up, Doc? (imagine Barbra Streisand with Dutch subtitles.) He took to his bed at the Hotel Seven Bridges -- selected for us by the local tourist booking service; only later we did we learn it catered to a gay clientele. I went looking for this photo not long ago when, at my last job, the possibility arose of relocating to Amsterdam to train our European-based writers in various corporate mysteries and ways. There was a lot of talk, the project was slow to materialize and then was subsequently dropped after a management shift, but I had fun imagining living there and thinking about how I’d travel all around Europe from this base. I even started to learn a little Dutch. Very little. The useless "I don't speak English" and the wholly practical "Enjoy your meal." This affable woman looks as if she might be comfortable saying both.

January 13, 2011

Hollywood, CA. October, 2007

Limited availability increases desire. Back when Coors beer was only available near its Colorado home, every East Coast drinker I knew wanted it. Today, available anywhere, it’s been relegated to the “so what” category. Witness the current phenomenon of In-N-Out Burger. Aside from their appealing approach to the fast-food business model (no frozen meat, no frozen potatoes, very limited menu, higher-paid employees, cleanliness...OK, so they put biblical references on the underside of their soft-drink cups), they’re found only in a few Western states and all of their outlets remain company-owned and -supervised. Plus, the food is great. My first brush with In-N-Out (unaware of its mythic status, I just liked the name) was at this location on Sunset Blvd, next to Hollywood High School. I loved it. Since then, I’ve learned a great deal about its history, its family conflicts, its loyalty to the original high standards. Recently, my pal Ted took me to an In-N-Out in Phoenix; again, a great experience. (He says because it’s always packed, locals call it the In-N-Wait.) A Double-Double, please, yes to the onions, fries, Diet Coke. I later looked up my soda cup’s scripture, John 3:16 -- “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” Whatever.

January 12, 2011

Calle de Zurbano, Madrid. October, 2009

For me, one of the great joys of travel is heading off in the morning with just a vague idea of where I want to go, letting the streets and the sights lead me on. This morning in Madrid, after an early run through neighborhoods slowly coming to life with half-asleep university students on their way to class, I started down the Calle de Sta. Engracia to find Poncelet, the cheese store I’d been told was the best in town. It was. I left with some queso Manchego curado, some queso de Madrid de cabra and their recommendation to find la charcutería Mope, where I would buy the much-prized jamón ibérico de bellota -- the fabled Spanish ham made from the black-footed pig fed exclusively on a diet of acorns. Some bread from a nearby panadería, some olives...the makings of a terrific lunch. Along the lovely morning’s route, this hapless dogwalker and his three enthusiastic charges.

January 11, 2011

Rome. October, 1984

Walking through the Villa Borghese one glorious autumn afternoon, Patti, Dali and I were possessed by an adventurous spirit. This wild abandon was further stoked by our coming upon a waterless fountain, the appearance of four sweet young Italiani strolling by, and the willingness of Patti’s recurring alter-ego, Gina, to surface at a moment’s notice. The elements were there, all we needed was the bravado to make them come together. Did I mention that Dali was with us? She fearlessly approached i vitelloni with a bold request to climb into the fountain, “Gina” struck a flirtatiously simpering pose, and I quickly snapped what has become a favorite souvenir from our brief but golden dolce vita in the Eternal City.

January 10, 2011

Chicago. July, 2006

What a weird day this turned out to be. I headed from Boston to Chicago very early in order to get a head start in scouting some O’Hare locations for Bose headphones posters and billboards. My pre-dawn cab ride was just early enough to miss the falling ceiling tiles in the Ted Williams Tunnel that closed down access to the airport later that morning and prevented my colleagues from joining me in Chicago. So, a very hot and humid day to myself, I hit the downtown Nokia store (business) with its kaleidoscopic color-changing walls and counters, Ohio Street Beach (pleasure), Gold Coast Dogs for lunch and a “Rush Hour” classical concert at St. James Cathedral. I also hit (literally) the bar at Topolobambo when I too-quickly bent down to retrieve a fallen umbrella, resurfacing somewhat dazed to ask the startled bartender a conversation-stopping “Am I bleeding?” I was. But my dinner there was wonderful and, because I needed a little boost after my injury, I had dessert. So there. The following morning, taking public transit back to O’Hare, I learned that I’d just missed a subway fire that had shut down the system for several hours. Accidents barely avoided on both ends of my trip (but not in the middle)...no wonder a colleague called me Mr. Magoo.

January 9, 2011

Košice, Czechoslovakia. Summer, 1972

Before Robert and I crossed the Iron Curtain to visit his relatives, I had learned a few words in Czech: mustard, potato, sleep and three ways to say drunk. Little help these at the border crossing from Austria when asked why we were carrying a suitcase filled with wigs and cosmetics. A charter flight from Hartford to Frankfurt, a noisy overnight train to Vienna, and a bus that we thought would take us to the checkpoint...only to learn that we’d have to hitchhike the final few miles. A motorist picked us up in the middle of farmland, but didn’t want to approach the crossing with us in tow, so he let us off and we walked the rest. Consequently, when the guards pointed to various pictures to indicate how we’d arrived (car, bus, boat, plane), we “let our fingers do the walking” to answer. He was not amused. And that’s when he ordered us to open our bags and found the kozmetica. “For the women,” Robert confidently explained in Czech, only to learn later that he’d actually said, “We are women.” Eventually crossing into Bratislava, we got a cheap taxi to a cheap hotel room with the biggest bathroom I’d ever seen, and before the night was over, I'd made my unplanned Eastern Bloc cabaret debut singing “I Cant’ Give You Anything But Love” with a gypsy vocalist onstage at the smoky and zither-enhanced Lotus Club. A long story. And one that utilizes three of the Czech words I’d learned.

January 8, 2011

Marché Jean-Talon, Montreal. October, 2006

No matter where I travel, I always wind up at the outdoor market. A mixed blessing. It’s thrilling to see local produce so lovingly displayed, like these beauties in Montreal, but it’s often frustrating being without a kitchen in which to prepare such wonderful bounty. Jean-Talon market, a long walk or a quick metro ride from downtown, sits at the northern edge of Montreal’s Little Italy, always a good sign when it comes to food. Jay and I usually visit in autumn when the harvest is in full swing, offering a final triumphant flourish before colder weather sets in. Quebecois fruit and vegetables, artisanal cheeses and sausages, breads, all sorts of things. Smaller indoor shops surround the big lot and serve up patés, terrines and other makings for a wonderful midday meal. One of our favorite vendors is a woman who claims her cheeses come from “happy sheep.” We once asked her if the cuts of lamb in her cooler also came from such sheep. Fortunately her sense of humor was as rich and satisfying as her fromages, several of which contributed to our very happy lunch that day.

January 7, 2011

New Orleans. March, 1991

I had long wanted to visit this fascinating city, so central to the writings of some of my favorite authors. So when Nick mentioned he was going to be teaching in nearby Jackson, Mississippi, and did I want to meet him afterwards, well.... I got there a day early (with a change of planes in Nashville and the purchase of a Goo-Goo Cluster) and took a National Park Service walking tour of the French Quarter to contain my wonder and get my bearings. More intriguing was my own walking later in the afternoon when a complete stranger came up to me, kissed me full upon the lips and announced, “Welcome to New Orleans!” OK. Nick arrived and we hit the French Market, had lunch at a small place run by a then-little-known chef named Emeril, walked through the Irish Channel to the Garden District, split a muffuletta from Central Grocery, and hooked up with some friends of my pal Bambi who took us to a gospel concert at Tulane and a soul-food dinner afterwards. Amen. On a walk through the above-ground St. Louis Cemetery #1 the following day, I noticed these tokens of thanks for grace received. And, yes, we saw the famous streetcar on display not far from Elysian Fields, though public transit route 86 is now serviced by a bus named Desire. Imagine.

January 6, 2011

Dogtown, Gloucester, MA. October, 2008

The shrinking US dollar. The exhausting prospect of our long annual drive to Montreal. We decided instead to take what my friend Mike laughably called a “stay-cation,” doing things around home that we wouldn’t normally do. A multi-course “chef’s whim” at Craigie Street Bistrot in Cambridge. The terrific Tara Donovan exhibit at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, followed by Chilean sandwiches for lunch at downtown’s Chacarero. An orchestral concert at Boston University and a late dinner at Saray, a favorite Turkish restaurant nearby. Then to Gloucester: dinner at Duckworth’s Bistrot (with that overly smug, mood-dampening waitress.) And an inspiring morning hike through Dogtown, the abandoned 18th-century village in the center of Gloucester Island where, during the Great Depression, philanthropist Roger Babson hired out-of-work stone carvers to inscribe a series of boulders with moral lessons like this one. Even the perils of hunting season didn’t dent our enthusiasm for this magical place. A fried seafood platter the size of the Ritz at Lobsta Land brought our weekend to a very full and very satisfying close.

January 5, 2011

Beyoğlu, Istanbul. June, 2007

Before I went to Istanbul, I did a great deal of preparation -- what I wanted to see, where i wanted to go, what I wanted to eat. Among the many things on my food wish-list: fried mussels with walnut tarator sauce, kokoreç (lamb intestines wrapped around a horizontal skewer like elastic bands and then sliced into servings), tavuk göğüsü (the famous chicken-breast dessert), ekmek kadayif (which became my Turkish nickname, a kind of syrup-soaked bread served with a rich clotted cream), hunkar beğendi (eggplant puree topped with chunks of roast lamb) and many, many more. One place I was determined to visit, Petek Turşuları, a pickle store near the fish market in Beyoğlu. Just pickles -- string bean, plum, unripe melon, tomato, beet, garlic, okra, cherry, apple, quince, egg, apricot, cauliflower, peach, pear, etc. -- displayed in colorful jars lining shelves up to the ceiling. At a small bar, regulars -- from old neighborhood men to suited women executives -- come for an afternoon mug of mixed pickles served in their brining liquid of grape vinegar, lemon, garlic and spices. I tried it, of course. A salty and sour challenge, but not an unpleasant one. Once.

January 4, 2011

Tucson. May, 1987

On my first trip to this enchanted town, visiting my beloved friends Simon and David, we were going out to dinner one evening and, as we exited their University Blvd. home, their cat ran out the door with us. We headed to Fourth Avenue for Mexican food, had a great time, and when we returned after a few hours, their cat scooted back in the door as we did. It was a little while later that we all noticed their dog, Betty, was acting very miffed, very aloof, not at all like her usual gregarious and affable self. Simon diagnosed the problem. “She’s jealous. She thinks we took the cat out to dinner with us.” Treats soon materialized to remedy a potential “situation.” I love this photo, taken during a walk just outside of town, where, as it happens, Jay and I wound up buying land some 20 years later.

January 3, 2011

London. Summer, 1972

The play: Tom Stoppard’s Jumpers. The reason I went to see it: its star, Diana Rigg. Long a fan of her performance as Emma Peel in The Avengers, I’d brought my camera to the storied Old Vic Theatre, and with the aid of a very clunky telephoto lens, managed to snap this admittedly grainy shot from an upper balcony during an acrobatic musical number. Robert and I had finally arrived in London after weeks in still-Iron-Curtained Czechoslovakia (visiting his relatives, touring Prague) and in France (Paris, Monaco, Provence) and were up for some good theater. We got it. Many years later, working with Dame Diana and writing her host material for PBS’ Mystery!, I mentioned over dinner that I’d taken a picture of her during this play. “I hope you didn’t photograph my bum,” replied the acclaimed and titled potty-mouth.

January 2, 2011

Plaça del Pi, Barcelona. March, 1995

After an all-night train ride from Sevilla in a sleeping compartment with three Spaniards (“Fiesta!”) and one Swiss German (“Turn out the light. Time to sleep!”), Jay and I pulled into Barcelona, the last stop on our two-week Spanish vacation. Emerging from the metro onto the leafy Ramblas, we found ourselves literally in the midst of a parade of giant papier maché heads, held aloft over billowing cloth bodies, all of them drifting magically through the warm, sun-dotted Sunday morning. We made our way to the Hotel Jardí, checked in, then headed to the nearby Bar del Pi for some much-needed coffee. I listened to how the regulars were ordering and decided to emulate their slang. “Do’ con leche,” I said. Jay, ever the linguistic purist, made a face of amused disapproval, a face we joke about to this day. The coffee was terrific, and so was the Bar del Pi, our new local.

January 1, 2011

Paris. New Year's Day, 2006

An invitation to a New Year’s Eve party in the City of Lights, hosted by a pastry chef, featuring a Moroccan master serving up couscous...who would say non? Nick and I had already spent a week in Paris, mostly eating and walking, looking and shopping. My birthday: lunch at fabled Bofinger; dinner at Mon Viel Ami (thanks, Nick.) Miriam arrived in time for an end-of-year nosh with us at Le Comptoir (Nick and I had also been there a few days earlier.) And failing to find a suitable fireplace, I’d tossed my annual Dec. 31 list of resentments into the cold and dark waters of the Seine, hoping they’d drift away and not enter the new year with me. The party at Dorie and Michael’s was warm and sophisticated, the food memorable, the conversation stimulating. And as midnight approached, we walked to the nearby Pont des Arts to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle in the distance, marking the stroke of midnight and signaling the sparklers all around us to light up. Everyone was happy. Happier still those of us who headed back to the party for the Pierre Hermé Ispahan-inspired dessert Dorie had prepared -- lychee and raspberry ice creams, candied rose petals, lavender marshmallows, plus financiers and teensy madeleines. Best New Year’s ever.