February 28, 2011

Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome. October, 1984

Here we are at stop #3 on my Tosca tour of the Eternal Città. Act 1: The baroque church of Sant’Andrea della Valle, where the jealous and fiery dark-haired diva grills her lover Mario about why the Madonna he’s painting is so blonde and blue-eyed. Act 2: The Michelangelo-designed Palazzo Farnese, just a few blocks away (now the French Embassy and closed to the public), where she bargains with the mean and nasty Scarpia, kills him and, as she stands over his dead body scoffs, “And in front of this guy all Rome trembled.” Across town, Act 3’s castello, fortress of the popes, connected to the Vatican by private underground tunnels, where the imprisoned Mario awaits his fate. Alas, Scarpia has been more double-crossing than either of the lovers imagined; (spoiler alert) Mario is killed by firing squad and Tosca takes a flying leap from the parapet. No such hijinks the day that my beloved Patrice Giselle snapped this photo, complete with vanishing-point perspective, autumnal weather...and my suede jacket bought earlier at Florence’s San Lorenzo outdoor market. Kisses.

February 27, 2011

Mouraria, Lisbon. October, 2009

When my Irish friend John recently told me that the eruption of the Iceland volcano had stranded his brother and sister-in-law in Lisbon, I thought, “There are worse things.” Certainly worse places to be stuck than this golden city of lovely memories. We’d heard of a small, family restaurant in the Graça district and were eager to try it, especially as we’d be taking tram #28, which zig-zags all over Lisbon, in and out of all of its distinctive neighborhoods. Up and up we went in the packed tram until some residents kindly showed us just where we needed to get off. The Churrasco da Graça was small, very “local,” and it seemed we were the only tourists in the place. After our fried empanadas, our waiter suggested a mixed grill, a good choice: beef, bacon, lamb, a pork chop, several kinds of sausage. Of course, I needed to try the arroz doce, and Jay (“I don’t like desserts”) had a bite (“This is really good”) and wound up eating at least half of it. Afterwards, we decided to walk back down to our Baixa hotel, stopping to enjoy the panoramic view at the Miradouro da Graça, and then descending through the thrilling, dark, winding streets of Mouraria, occasionally brightened by a small shop or bar like this welcoming beacon. A woman out walking her dog graciously explained how to make a series of additional turns that finally landed us back on familiar ground. A fine Lisbon evening from start to finish.

February 26, 2011

Tucson Museum of Art. November, 2006

On this, another wonderful trip to Tucson, I had a chance to sit in on one of Simon’s popular classes: Students would bring samples of their work, colleagues would comment, Simon would critique and offer direction. Foothills housewives, timid high-school students, established artists, the class attracted a mixed bag in terms of both demographic and talent. Miles, an experienced painter whose chosen medium was encaustic, showed his work that day. I’d met Miles during an earlier visit (he’d been inserting tens of thousands of toothpicks into Saguaro sculptures Simon was creating) and had liked him instantly; he was extremely nice, friendly from the get-go and welcomingly flirty, an unbeatable combo. After class, I accompanied Miles back to the gallery he’d opened, saw his work on exhibit, toured his studio and wound up buying a beautiful small encaustic from him, one that I now admire daily in my New England home. This photo, shot through a window during Simon’s class, seems to be framed by the vertical stripes that also boldly mark the painting I bought from Miles. Textures, colors, shapes and light -- it suggests so much that I love about the American Southwest.

February 25, 2011

Montreal. October, 2006

When Jay and I make our autumn trips to Montreal, we tend to return year after year to our favorite places to eat. They’re so good, we can’t help it. Au Pied de Cochon on Rue Duluth is usually our first-night meal, meat-heavy and wonderful after a 20-minute walk from our B&B. Along with its namesake dish, there are imaginative foie gras presentations, charcuterie plates, “duck in a can,” and, if you still have room, pouding chomeur, a homestyle cakey dessert soaked with maple syrup and heated in the wood-burning oven. Really popular these days, reservations are a must, cholesterol be damned. Another gem: L’Express, a casual/chic bistro on Rue St. Denis with all the proper decor (bentwood chairs, black-and-white tiled floor, mirror behind the zinc bar) as well as the proper bistro menu (oysters, steak tartare, pot au feu, veal kidneys, chicken and fish specials, crème caramel) prepared so well that the place is full at breakfast, lunch and dinner. No reservation? You can usually dine at the bar and be treated royally. Pictured, our customary final-night dinner spot, Au Petit Extra, corner of Rue Ontario and Rue Papineau. Nathalie, our favorite waitress, has worked here for some 25 years (did she start as an infant?) and always remembers us no matter how long ago our last visit. Their soupe de poisson, wonderful. Confit de canard, bavette avec frites, superb. So is everything else we’ve tried, the menu for all of it displayed on chalkboards throughout. Filled with locals, this open and airy place always has us smiling, looking forward to our next visit, wishing we could accommodate more than just three meals in each day.

February 24, 2011

WGBH Studios, Boston. August, 1985

Back in the 1980s, when I was writing Vincent Price’s introductions to the PBS series Mystery!, his wife, the actress Coral Browne, would always visit us in the studio on the last day of taping. Here she is between us during her mercifully brief curly-haired period (“I look like f*cking Michael Jackson!”) on the set during our wrap party. The previous afternoon, I had casually mentioned to Vincent that Jeremy Brett (our Sherlock Holmes) was slated to appear on the London stage as Noel Coward opposite Patricia Hodge (Rumpole) as Gertrude Lawrence. That same night, when I picked them up at their hotel for dinner, Coral was hardly in the cab when she demanded, “Who’s the writer? Who wrote that play you told Vinnie about?” Well, I didn’t know, but I promised her I’d investigate. Which I did. The following day, when she arrived in the pin-drop-quiet control room and sat next to me with a sotto voce “Hello, darling,” I was able to whisper to her, “I found out the writer of that play is Sheridan Morley.” “Sheridan Morley!?!” she exploded. “He couldn’t write ‘f*ck’ on a dusty Venetian blind!” Coral was Australian, after all.

February 23, 2011

Florence, Italy. September, 1986

I’ve heard that visitors to Italy divide naturally into two camps: those who favor Florence, those who side with Rome. I’m squarely in the earthier Roman camp, but that doesn’t render me immune to the charms of its more formal northern rival. The glorious Tuscan light, the Giotto frescos in Santa Croce, the vibrant student life in the oltrarno, the treasures of the Uffizi (uncrowded only during the lunch hour), the gritty communal energy of the no-frills working-men’s trattoria I’d discovered (pasta or soup? beef, chicken or pork? basta) and the serendipitous views, like this one, a fisherman I spotted by chance in the Arno late one autumn afternoon.

February 22, 2011

Westwood, CA. October, 1981

My first trip to Los Angeles, so naturally I wanted to see all the mythic places, fabled in legend and in song. Among them: the Hollywood Sign, Marilyn Monroe’s grave, Muscle Beach, Frederick’s of Hollywood, the stars along Hollywood Boulevard, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Fortunately my friend Artie, a transplant from NYC to LA, was happy to indulge me. And my proclivity toward jumping pictures, this example of which was shot at Westwood Mortuary. I stayed at the Chateau Marmont (before it got all glammed up after John Belushi’s overdose) as Gore Vidal had lionized it in Myra Breckenridge. Artie and his partner Danny took me to a genuine Hollywood party (where I was introduced to “Loretta Young’s decorator” and an out-of-it young lady who said she played “the nurse in American Werewolf in London.”) Danny, at the time, was working for Paramount, his main responsibility, he told me, making sure Cindy Williams “stayed sober and behaved” at events. They generously made sure their starry-eyed East Coast friend had the complete Hollywood experience, even taking me to a Mexican restaurant “where Jane Fonda eats.” And before I left town, I’d seen Jimmy Stewart on a streetcorner and Elizabeth Taylor in a car stopped at a red light. Hooray!

February 21, 2011

Estación de Atocha, Madrid. October, 2009

Hardly anyone I asked at the train station knew where the 11 M Memorial was, and those that did gave me roundabout directions in Spanish that got me no closer to my destination. From the outside street level (where one set of directions took me), I saw an 11-meter cylinder of glass bricks in the middle of a traffic circle. Reverse-engineering where the below-ground entrance might be, I arrived minutes after it had closed for siesta. So I passed the time (easy to do in Madrid) at a siesta-free art gallery/garden nearby and returned at 16:00 to this quiet and somber place, unoccupied but for two German tourists as moved as I was. The memorial, which honors 191 people who died in the March 11, 2004 bombings of four trains destined for Atocha Station, offers an upwards tunnel of light (rising within those glass bricks I’d seen outside) observed through a clear plastic balloon imprinted with thousands of multilingual messages of hope and condolence. A spiritual space, at once sad, uplifting and reverential.

February 20, 2011

Istanbul. June, 2007

It’s interesting to me that so many people speak about Turkish coffee when the overwhelmingly preferred beverage in Turkey is tea. Strong, dark, served in tulip-shaped glasses on saucers with tiny spoons, çay is everywhere you look, day and night. Sometimes pre-sweetened, most times with sugar cubes on the side. (I’ve seen men put the cubes directly into their mouths and then sip the tea through them.) Bars even offer a delivery service that is a wonder to behold: a young man (usually a teenager) is dispatched with a tray holding several filled glasses, the tray suspended by three chains that come together in the carrier’s hand, similar to the trays suspended from each side on an old-fashioned scale. And the variety of tea leaves! Some locally grown teas come from plantations along the Black Sea. Most, judging from the more-expensive kinds on display in the Spice Bazaar, are imported. I saw this simple glass outside the entrance to the Beyazit Mosque near Istanbul University, but it could have been anywhere at all in this City of the World’s Desire.

February 19, 2011

Berkeley, CA. November, 2005

The first time I visited San Francisco, well, it was in a “past life.” Note: I never even saw the Golden Gate Bridge. So when I returned some 25 years later and ran, all weepy, across the bridge, twice, it was a very different kind of visit. A glorious, magical one. For my day in Berkeley, I BART’d out over the bay into the town known for its funky, iconoclastic place in history. I was not disappointed. Just look at this sidewalk I found within minutes of my arrival, nestled into surrounding walkways studded with poems and artwork. I walked to Chez Panisse to see what it looked like and wound up -- what luck! -- having a wonderful, welcoming lunch there. A stop at the Cheeseboard/Pizza Collective (so Berkeley) across the street for some hazelnut shortbread. A stroll through the university, natch, and its kiosks plastered with political notices, its neighboring bookstores and record shops still thriving in this online age. A beautiful day, indeed.

February 18, 2011

Rome. November, 1984

Oh, the people who sometimes drift into our lives, offering the pleasure of their company, and then drift out, never to be heard from again. I met Jonathan in Catania when we were both traveling solo through Sicily. I’d seen him in a piazza, reading the Let’s Go guide (as I was), and struck up a conversation. He was from San Francisco, had an aunt who lived near me in Massachusetts, had no real agenda or plans. We met for dinner that night (pasta alla Norma, pesce spada alla griglia) and went to Siracusa the next day, touring the old city, the caves, the ancient anfiteatro, the alleyways that gave onto the “wine dark” Ionian sea. From there, we followed different paths but connected again a week later in Rome, where his “no plans” approach to travel added a welcome italiano flexibility to my more scheduled routine. Here at the Campidoglio, the hand of an ancient colossus provided all the direction he seemed to need. Before long, I headed home, he headed who knows where. A moment, a lovely few days spent, more than 25 years ago.

February 17, 2011

Braga, Portugal. October, 2009

Early on a misty gray Saturday, we boarded the bus in Santiago de Compostela and headed south. Was it my imagination or did the sun really come out the very minute we crossed the border into Portugal? First stop: Braga, reportedly the country’s most conservative and religious city. We loved it. Off we went to Bom Jesús do Monte, the grand hilltop church approached by an almost endless series of stairs and terraces. But our first dazzler was something down below: the beautiful sidewalks everywhere we looked. Pixillated tableaux, crafted by hand from smooth black and white stone blocks, arrayed in patterns that ranged from simple stripes and criss-cross diagonals, to more elegant designs such as this one, to spelled-out names of adjacent merchants, sometimes complete with iconographic flourishes indicating products or services offered. Bright in sunlight and radiant by streetlight at night, these underfoot artworks serve up a real clue to the country’s reverence for beauty and craft, simple day-to-day pleasures that life can offer when you slow down and notice.

February 16, 2011

Kadiköy, Istanbul. June, 2007

Young Turks. Literally. Why is it, I wonder, that most people I encountered in this City of the World’s Desire liked to have their pictures taken? These guys, for instance, workers at a popular corner lahmacun stand, casually having their morning meal together (tea, bread, jam, cheese, olives) before they open to the public. The smile on the young man facing straight into the camera, the comfortable way he drapes his arm across his co-worker’s shoulder, the inquisitive half-grin of the check-shirted man in the back, the lovely sense of unselfconscious ease I found in every part of the city. Shakers of red pepper ready, containers of sliced lemons and parsley filled, just waiting for customers to scatter their contents (“Lemon first,” reminded Nick) on the day’s lahmacun, hot from the ovens. Which is exactly what we did the minute these young men finished their meal and opened for business this beautiful Sunday morning on the Asian side of Istanbul.

February 15, 2011

Nogales, Mexico. May, 1987

I like this photo for many reasons, not least of which is that I look thin and young and very much elsewhere. Part of my first visit to Tucson included the traditional one-hour drive to the Mexican border. I loved the idea of leaving the country. Sort of. Yes, there were border guards, customs officials and ID checks. But most of the people in Nogales seemed to be other American tourists there for the day, snapping up woven blankets, decorative tin items, sandals with soles made from discarded tires, some Mexican glass, some tiles. Being with Simon and David, who often made this trip back then to find antique Santos and other talismanic treasures, meant having at least one camera at the ready for a quick pose against this public works garage (I’m a sucker for signage.) I’ve been back many times since, once with Jay on a visit that netted a great lunch at La Roca, a large painted ceramic vase for him and for me a way-oversized pierced metal star (a packing nightmare)...plus the memory of our skittish crossing between the freight cars of a stalled train, but only after una mujer vieja on crutches had led the way.

February 14, 2011

Almodóvar’s Madrid. October, 2009

Jay and I had just finished our lunch in the tiny, hidden away Taberna Almendros 13 (thin fried potatoes dappled with egg and ham; a sesame bread ring filled with charcutería), and as we were so close to the art nouveau cinema that had featured memorably in Almodóvar’s film, Talk to Her, I had to see it. (Jay declined the opportunity.) It was stunning in its decorative boldness, all the more so for being surrounded by the glum industriousness of what seemed like Madrid’s Chinatown. Other Almodóvar sites on our visit: the Plaza Mayor and a Roca toilet shop (The Flower of My Secret), an office building on Paseo de la Castellana (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown), a former drug-filled Chueca plaza (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), the modern Segovia prison (Talk to Her) and -- does this qualify? -- La Bardemcilla, the Chueca restaurant owned by the family of Javier Bardem whose menu items are each named after his film roles (Live Flesh, Jamón Jamón, etc.) Alas, we did not cross paths with Penélope Cruz...not for lack of trying.

February 13, 2011

Los Angeles. January, 1992

The first time I went to stay with Vincent Price, after his wife Coral had died, we joked that I would only visit LA if a movie star picked me up at the airport. He did. We cooked together: risotto that he’d learned how to make from Marcella Hazan in Venice. (He also told me that the last time he’d made it for Maggie Smith, it was just at the precise point of being done when she announced, “Oh, let’s have another bottle of wine before we eat.”) We drove to the mission in Santa Barbara (where his emphysema prevented him from climbing the few steps to the entrance) and all along the way he told me stories: how a famous Ventura brothel in the 1930s was run by a glamorous madam who, upon her death, was discovered to be a man; how he didn’t care for Sam Waterston, Jodie Foster or Milton Berle because they’d been haughty or rude to him; how “that house over there” with the glittery pink stucco walls had belonged to Jayne Mansfield; how Joan Crawford demanded he bring a case of Smirnoff vodka when he visited her in London, etc. He knew his audience. The guest room in his house had signed glossies from his colleagues on the shelves, and before I went to sleep, how could I help myself from taking photos of the photos, like this one from Ava Gardner.

February 12, 2011

Confeitaria Nacional, Lisbon. October, 2009

I’d been passing this beautiful old pastry shop every day of our stay in Lisbon, checking out the sweets in the window, deciding which I would try when I finally stopped in. One late afternoon following a long walk through the Alfama, my time had come. The bar inside was jam-packed with fashionable women, chatting, sipping, snacking. It was so busy; no one seemed to speak English; I was intimidated but determined. Then, a very stylish older woman with a cane entered and everyone went silent. The young ladies behind the counter treated her with reverence and respect; they already knew what she wanted and brought it to her at a smaller counter off to the side: two small doce de ovos pastries, a glass with about two inches of hot coffee, a small container of cold milk. Occasionally someone would come up to inquire after her health, to simply say hello. When she paid and left, her itemized receipt remained on the counter, so I picked it up, showed it to a saleswoman and said in Portuguese, “I want this.” But as you can see, I had one more pastry than she did.

February 11, 2011

Gloucester, MA. September, 2008

Each Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the city of Gloucester holds its annual “Parade of Lights.” Local boat owners gussy up their craft in “costumes” and strings of lights and zig-zag them through the harbor for review. Boats disguised as huge illuminated sharks, skimming the surface with human dummies in their jaws. Or as flaming rockets. Or as SpongeBob SquarePants. After the parade, fireworks blossom and sparkle over all. We always host a big party where, we believe, the real firecrackers are the guests who attend. Like these two (snapped, gracias, by fellow guest Eileen.) Wouldn’t you love to know what bons mots sly puss Nancy (who once “faked” her ashes to deceive her parents into thinking she’d been to Mass on Ash Wednesday) has just delivered to make Kristin (who once yelled down the hallway at the corporation where we both used to work, “I wear these shoes when I want to get f*cked!”) laugh like that? Ladies, please.

February 10, 2011

Santiago de Compostela, Spain. October, 2009

I live in New England, so it’s hard for me to shake the idea that all pilgrims don’t dress in cover-up black and big hats with buckles. Visiting Santiago de Compostela, I was quickly disabused of this notion. Pilgrims have been arriving here since the 12th century, shortly after San Tiago (Saint James) himself is said to have shown up. Or at least what was left after the infidels in Jerusalem had had their way with him. His bodily remains, legend holds, arrived here in a stone boat, were buried properly, and his resting place provided the location for an early church. Several centuries and several churches later, he’s still a big draw among the devotional crowd, most of whom sport some scallop-shell ornamentation to mark them as followers. Nowadays some 100,000 pilgrims arrive each year, the majority of them making their way along the camino from the Pyrenees at the French border. Hikers mostly, they dress for the road. And if that means a backpack, an iPod, a cell phone and an I’ve-seen-it-all insouciance like this lad here has, well so be it. I admire his faith.

February 9, 2011

Coronado, CA. January, 1990

I was going to be in Los Angeles anyway for the tenth-anniversary party of Mystery! (for which host Diana Rigg called in sick from London, replaced at the last minute by a somewhat tipsy and rambling Jeremy Brett), and so I took the train south to San Diego to visit Eldon whom I hadn’t seen in years (and whom, sadly, I would not see again.) My one request: a visit to the Hotel del Coronado, location for the film, Some Like It Hot. After a short drive through the swanky Republican and military Coronado neighborhoods, we arrived at the “Hotel Del,” and before long were taking jumping pictures and screaming “Wait for Sugar!” just like Marilyn Monroe had done in the Wilder film. Eldon, weak as he was even then, humored me. Then my first fish tacos for lunch on the patio and a walk through the lobby, peppered with photos of the cast and crew during the fabled picture’s filming in the late 1950s. Another silly memory that remains and continues to make me smile: the name of the local San Diego gay bowling league -- “Spare Me.”

February 8, 2011

Tucson. January, 1992

This photo says Tucson to me. The light of an early evening, even in January. The colors displayed with a caliente abandon that you’d never see back home in New England. The casual approach that’s found in every aspect of life there, from dressing to dining to waking up in the morning. Gwen possesses all these things, too. She comes from Lubbock, Texas, but she is total Tucson to me. She buys inexpensive properties, fixes them up little by little, lives in them or rents them or both. I associate her most with this house where I first met her. Having breakfast in her kitchen, I didn’t know where to look, so many interesting hues, objects, oddities, all vying for attention. At last count, she was living in a rehabbed church, singing along with her opera recordings under the high ceiling. Gwen often works in local elementary schools, using puppets to tell stories, to encourage young students to do the same. And the kids love it, love her. When you’re out around town with her, you’ll sometimes hear a little excited voice blurt out, “Mommy! Look! It’s the puppet lady!”

February 7, 2011

Rome. October, 1986

When I was in elementary school, our rare class trips were to dry, minimally interesting, often Catholic-related venues -- local cathedrals, the Maryknoll Mission, some “living rosary” in a nearby baseball stadium, you get the idea. So while traveling in Europe, I’m always charmed whenever school groups turn up in places like the Prado, the Louvre or Milan’s Brera (where I once heard a guide hold schoolchildren in thrall as he explained foreshortening in the paintings of Andrea Mantegna. Imagine.) My favorite encounter, bar none, was here at the Forum in Rome. Through historic temples, past the ruined Senate, in front of Nero’s Golden Palace, checking out Livia’s house, the rambunctious kids traipsed, swathed in bedsheet togas whose drapings sometimes appeared to owe less to Calpurnia and more to Mother Teresa or Indira Gandhi. I smiled, asked to take a photo, and their teacher tactfully explained, “Romani anziani.” Ancient Romans, indeed.

February 6, 2011

Karaköy, Istanbul. June, 2007

Every neighborhood in this evocative city possesses its own brand of visual magic. Even the tiny section of Karaköy tucked in behind the waterside fish market, filled with hardware shops whose wares spill out into the dizzying maze of tiny alley-like streets. Tubs of shiny nails and screws (some on display in wine goblets), pipes and plumbers’ snakes that shape a practical calligraphy as fascinating as any in nearby mosques, toilet seats, tools, tapes...or buckets of pure bright pigments like these, ready to be mixed up into any kind of paint or stucco a tradesman might fancy. On our way from Aya Sofia, trying to locate Tarihi Karaköy Balikçisi, an elusive restaurant we’d read about, Nick and I were bombarded with a rich palette of colorful distractions that almost (but not quite) prevented us from finding what we later renamed “Screwdriver Fish,” a simple and satisfying seafood lokanta that’s been serving up fresh fish in this down-to-earth tool-based neighborhood for more than 80 years.

February 5, 2011

Perugia, Italy. May, 1988

Halfway through the adventure Nick and I were having -- researching, photographing and eating our way through all of Italy’s dolci for his Great Italian Desserts book -- Miriam joined us in Bologna. From there we made our way to Perugia in our little Fiat Panda, now jam-packed with luggage and acquisitions, professional and otherwise. So much so that when I turned the car down a street the map had indicated was the most direct route to our destination and it suddenly became a staircase, I couldn’t see anything in the rear-view mirror in order to back up, much to the amusement of the gathering locals. Eventually we got free, parked, had lunch and snapped this photo (which for reasons she still can’t explain, is one of Miriam’s favorites.) It was on this same Perugian soggiorno that we visited Sandri, the enticing pastry shop about which both Simon and Marin would later rhapsodize at length: Marin for the pasticceria he remembered from his student days, Simon for the cheese bread whose displayed price, he didn’t realize before his purchase, was for an etto not for the whole bread, which, he says, cost him almost $40.

February 4, 2011

El Brillante, Madrid. October, 2009

We had just arrived in the Spanish capital after an overnight flight from Boston and change of planes in Frankfurt. A quick check-in at our Priceline-secured hotel, and the big question that dogs any serious traveler to this magical city: The Prado? Or El Brillante? The home of Velasquez’s Las Meninas? Or the home of “el mejor bocadillo de calamares de Madrid”? How ’bout a little of both, señores? Jay and I paid our quick respects to the Velasquez masterpiece...and then hot-footed it down to #8 Glorietta del Emperador Carlos V (Metro: Atocha) where the lively and always hopping Spanish bar welcomed us with all the charm and good eats we’d remembered from our first visit(s) there 15 years earlier. Two other branches of this storied Madrid institution exist, but the original Atocha location will always be tops with us. Dos calamari baguettes comin’ right up.

February 3, 2011

Cimitière de Montmartre, Paris. December, 2005

A cold morning in Paris. A run through the Tuileries, around the Louvre, through the Luxembourg Gardens. Then, after breakfast at the hotel and a brief stop at a Place Clichy thrift shop where I found a prize checkered shirt, a walk through this small cemetery in the 18eme. Nijinksy, Degas, Stendhal, Berlioz, Mme. Récamier, as well as hundreds of less-visited resting places, tended to by families rather than by fans. Then, unexpectedly, this. My beloved auteur. Was any filmmaker a better storyteller? The cyclamen told of another recent visitor, equally enamored. A few notes from admirers, a touching prayer from a student. I searched my pockets, found a card, placed it nearby. It started to snow.

February 2, 2011

St. Mark's Place, New York, NY. December, 2006

In 1950s New Jersey, when my brother and I were little kids and our parents would sometimes take us to Manhattan, I always looked forward to an exciting and glamorous chance to eat at the Automat. I was enthralled by the little windows that, for a few inserted coins, would click open and allow access to the treasures within: sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, slices of pie, any number of splendid offerings. The milk dispenser alone was a source of constant fascination: Place an empty glass in the small grotto beneath the spout, insert a nickel, and cold milk was dispensed into the glass. Amazing. I brimmed with childhood curiosity: Who put the food into the compartments? How did the food stay warm? Could you really take as much as you wanted from the condiments table? What if you inserted your nickel before you put your milk glass in place? Horn & Hardart -- the name still suggests those magical cafeterias that vanished long before the 20th century ended but that continue to cast their nostalgic spell. Not long ago, a Japanese firm tried to revive the automat phenomenon in the East Village with Bamn! Sporting a slick design that owed more to Hello, Kitty! than H&H, it offered hand-held fare aimed toward a late-nite munchies sensibility. Alas, the original magic was nowhere to be found, and in spite of its coterie of enthusiasts, Bamn! lasted only a short time.

February 1, 2011

Los Angeles. October, 2007

Don’t believe everything you hear. Television is not a glamour industry. Working on commercials, in fact, is an exhausting mix of alternating quick panics and boring stretches of waiting. And after Saturday’s 16 hours of meticulously lit in-studio product shots, we were just finishing our long outdoor Sunday shoot in Pershing Square, interviewing owners of Bose in-ear headphones, trying to get in a few last participants before the sun set. Boom boxes and downtown traffic messing with our sound record. Park residents stepping “accidentally” into frame. The works. Then, an unexpected moment of calm, this man, a spiritual vision in primary colors. A good omen. A sunset unto himself.