Who’s that with Georgia? That’s actually what we call a delightfully endless series of photos that our beloved friend has continued to add to over the years, topping herself each time. Somehow, even in Baltimore (though not exclusively), she manages to find out where the (alleged) celebrities are going to appear (concerts, book signings, public events) and shows up with her Instamatic. The result? Her friends have been sometimes shocked but always entertained by prints of her with the likes of Johnny Mathis, Jesse Jackson, Gregory Hines, Cornel West, Bobby Short (featuring a guest appearance by her daughter Dana), the list goes on and on. And it’s’ not just black men, either, as evidenced here by her snap with Quentin Crisp, as well as others with Leon Uris, Ben Gazzara, Nancy Pelosi, Amy Goodman. Additionally, in her spare time, she manages to keep up on ALL the showbiz news from the past six or so decades, wondering why the recent obits for Tony Curtis “failed to mention” how good he was in The Rat Race, why friends don’t send her condolences on the anniversary of Jackie O’s death, why Melina Mercouri’s passing went improperly unheralded, why no one, in short, “honors the greats” anymore. Georgia, you are the greatest of them all.
June 29, 2011
My home in London. At least it was for a part of two summers. On the right, Madge Osborne, my landlady. On the left, Mary Hayes, her chatty friend and neighbor. Both ladies Irish, living in Chelsea. Mrs. Osborne was a wonderful lifesaver when I was looking for a room my first time away from home in the summer of 1969. She ran her terraced house as a B&B back then, serving up beans on toast, eggs, tea each morning. (Three years later she had dropped the second B and rented rooms long-term, but fortunately she had an opening for me.) She also told great stories: about actress/neighbor Samantha Eggar, about stage star Tommy Steele who was rude to her as she walked her dog Chubby one morning. Beaufort Street was still a bit rough around the edges back then; I’m told it’s quite posh these days. Rolling Stone Brian Jones had a pied a terre just across the street. (He was found at the bottom of his country-home swimming pool that ’69 July: “death by misadventure” was the coroner’s summation.) I could walk all over the city, go to the theatre for next to nothing, meet people from so many different countries. For the first time, I realized that the world was bigger and more exciting than hometown New Jersey. Life-changing those summers of European freedom.
June 28, 2011
The world’s most livable city? I’ll buy that. On our way home from Istanbul, we stopped in Zurich for a night (Nick stayed on) at the very nice Hotel Storchen, and here’s one city resident I watched from our window. On he went, right through the middle of the city, down the river from the lake, into the center of things. Later that evening, we met our friend Andreas for a terrific dinner outdoors at Josef (on “gas meter street”), a ride on the cleanest tram in the world, and a stroll through some of the more colorful, adult parts of town near the university. After a good night’s sleep, I got up and ran for miles on both sides of the lake, through gardens and parks, past docks, early-morning boaters, commuters. Then back for the Storchen’s magnificent breakfast buffet of rolls, pastries, meats, cheeses, yogurt, cereals, etc. (Don’t you love vacationing in countries that take breakfast seriously?) A final stroll through the center and I was off on the ultra-convenient train from downtown to the airport and home on SWISS. Yes, I’d say that’s most livable.
June 27, 2011
I wanted to go to Asia. Easier than it sounds, actually, given that Nick and I were in Istanbul and ready to board one of the many cross-Bosphorus ferries on our first full day in the City of the World’s Desire. Sailing the fabled waterway was a thrill in itself as I thought of the history that had transpired on this very spot. Kingdoms come and gone, intrigues that resulted in empires, sultans and emperors welcomed or slain. My first foot onto the Asian continent was marked with appropriate ceremony and then Nick and I headed off in search of Çiya, a restaurant with true Anatolian cuisine that I had been reading about. Actually Çiya is three restaurants, all of them located within a stone’s throw of each other on this shadowy street not far from the docks. We settled in at Çiya Sofrasi and then let our waiter “John Travolta” (whose limited English just about matched our Turkish) bring us whatever he recommended. It was a fine introduction to the high level of cooking we would find throughout our ten days on both the European and Asian halves of this magical city. And, happily, we would return to Çiya again before those days were up.
June 26, 2011
When I first moved to Boston in 1977, I worked at The Caption Center at WGBH, the local public broadcasting station. I was part of the crew that added subtitles to the nightly Captioned ABC News, which was broadcast across the country as a service to deaf and hard-of-hearing TV audiences. It was a good place to work, staffed by earnest and dedicated people. And as we provided this captioning service, we also learned the basics of TV production, direction, lots of things. This photo was taken at a Caption Center cookout and the sunglassed individuals featured here represent a cross section of the kinds of people I worked with. Wickedly funny and smart Leda. Conniving and self-promoting Laura. Dazed but worldly Rebecca. Allyson, who grew up in some foreign land without knowing who the Beatles were. I’m in the center, probably somewhat dazed myself...this was taken on my last day of drinking. I wish I could claim that the beverage in the glass in front of me was my actual last drink, but I suspect that I had a few more when I got home that evening, knowing (hoping) that the following day a new way of life would begin.
June 25, 2011
Can you say “gold mine”? This hopping place is a new favorite in Tucson, introduced to me by Simon and David and mercifully shoehorned in twice during my visit. Thank you. On Speedway just a bit west of the University, it’s a self-serve frozen yogurt emporium with almost 20 flavors and just as many toppings, always packed and always worth it. (As I write this, there are four locations in Arizona, two more in Ohio.) Small Sony screens above the yogurt dispensers indicate the flavors (taro, peach, nutella, peanut butter, strawberry, cookies & cream, pineapple, green tea, espresso, you get the picture) and because there are sugar-free and dairy-free offerings, too, it has something to offer just about every diet. Plus, as if all that weren’t good enough, they even offer you teensy little cups so you can sample the different flavors before you decide. The place is spotless, it has tables inside and out, the young staffers are genuinely nice and the design is chic-alors. Choose your flavors, pile on your toppings, weigh (BTO = by the ounce) and pay. The best.
June 24, 2011
La Noche de San Juan. When I read about this Puerto Rican feast day on both Evelyn’s and Julia’s Facebook status updates, I suggested we drive to Niles Beach in Gloucester to enact the ritual, one which Puerto Ricans, at home and “away,” follow each year on this day. At midnight, you enter the water (ocean, river, lake, bathtub) and throw talismanic “ingredients” over your shoulder into the water, encanting (en español, por supuesto) the areas in which you hope for good fortune: flowers (“amor!”), fruit (“salud!”), coins (“prosperidad!”)...and then, honoring the M.O. of St. John the Baptist himself, you throw yourself into the water. Backwards! Seven times!! Fortunately we were blessed with a warm night, warm sand, warm water and a moonlit beach all to ourselves...until just after our midnight ritual, when a young Belgian fire-juggler (with a burned and bandaged right hand, just saying) came along. We coaxed him out of his clothes and into the water so as to give a saintly boost to his love life, health and prosperity. As you can see, Natalia is no stranger to posing half-naked in the middle of the night, even though the Puerto Rican native confessed this was her first noche participation ever. Evelyn and Julia, frequent St. J ritualists in their PR homeland, provided the guidance and enthusiasm that made this night a special one from start to late finish. ¡Gracias, chicas locas!
June 23, 2011
Younger, thinner, more hair...but the same glasses! Some things never change. Like my disinterest in basketball games like this one. (Aside from one winter in the 1990s when Dennis Rodman was a volatile Chicago Bulls troublemaker, I never watched a single game on TV in my life, even under pressure. Just never got into it.) So why was I here? I was carrying a torch (literally) for my boyfriend the photographer. He’d placed me on the sidelines of the action (I’ll say) so that he could shoot the players head on and have them lit dramatically from the left. Anything to oblige. In those days anyway. At a lull in the game, he snapped me. Seton Hall University, Class of 1970. Pleasant memories for the most part. In spite of the pouty face. (To provide some balance: This is the same gymnasium in which two years earlier I had seen Judy Garland in concert, OK?)
June 22, 2011
I am famous in the central Naples post office. Or at least I was for a short while back in the autumn of 1984. Apprehensive before my first months-long solo stay in Italy, I’d asked friends to write to me along the way in care of various postas. My friend Simon, as is occasionally his wont, took the occasion to create a scene. When I arrived in Naples, booked into my pensione in the Mergellina neighborhood and set out to explore, I had no idea what might await me. I’d been told that drivers don’t obey red lights (true) and not much else. I stopped at a street fair for a porchetta sandwich and promptly chipped a tooth on the crusty pork goodness. Then, when I arrived at the post office and asked for any held mail for Richard Leonard (the name on my passport), the counterman’s eyes lit up and he started announcing, “LAY-oh-nard! LAY-oh-nard!” About a dozen and a half postal workers gathered around and I was ceremoniously presented with Simon’s 8x12, plastic-encased mailing as the crowd broke into applause. They explained that the card had arrived a week earlier, they had never seen anything like it and they were eager to see who would show up to claim it. Grazie mille, Simone.
June 21, 2011
The first time I went to Europe, I had to prepare for the trip in secret. I had an inkling that my parents (my mother especially) would resent the freedom such a trip would allow. And I was right. When I finally announced that I had my passport, my airfare, my student work visa (which I wound up not using once I got there and saw how cheap everything was), my mother responded, “See America first.” Ooops, too late! I headed to London and pretty much stayed in Britain except for a boat-train trip to Paris and Nice. One stop in the City of Light: 27 Rue de Fleurus, the home of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. (Here’s a photo snapped by Debbye, my travel companion from the state of Georgia.) I ventured through the entrance and opened a set of frosted glass doors onto a small courtyard where a man was repairing a sailboat that filled the tiny enclosed space. He nicely pointed out the atelier windows of the fabled Stein salon and was extremely welcoming, something that surprises me in retrospect as he must have had his fair share of gawkers over the years. (When I passed #27 again on an early morning run in December, 2005, I noticed the entrance was closed up tight. Glad I saw it when I did.)
June 20, 2011
My baby brother and I were walking all over lower Manhattan this day how many years ago? I remember that as we crossed the Bowery and encountered many drunken panhandlers, Brien asked me, “How do they know to come here?” An interesting question, no? How does anybody know where to go? From accumulated knowledge? The movies? Popular culture? Tradition? Happenstance? Continuing east, we passed community gardens, local musicians and this huge mural (Kenny Scharf continues to contribute to it even now) that stretched for almost a block. How could we not take advantage of the photo op it afforded? Brien obliged. A lovely serendipitous find. How did we know to come here?
June 19, 2011
Sometimes the side streets are best. I headed to the Peabody Essex Museum specifically to see the Joseph Cornell exhibit, which was sensational (collages, boxes, films, assorted ephemera) in spite of the gruff guard and the somewhat day-care crowd (The museum is admirably free to Salem residents, especially, it seems, to those with loud youngsters in strollers. Just saying.) I bypassed the Chinese house, a top draw at this museum, and happened upon this mixed-media installation by Bose Krishnamachari. The artist had strung up 162 lunchpails, typical of the kind that are daily delivered to Indian laborers for their midday meal, and fitted 102 of them with small video monitors displaying a range of Mumbai residents -- street vendors and socialites, industrialists and intellectuals -- talking about their day-to-day lives (their voices heard on headphones if you so desired.) Surprising and unexpected, it provided a lovely reality-based moment after hours spent within the seductive and phantasmagorical world of Cornell.
June 18, 2011
It seems every time I run into a friend these days, he or she has become vegan. What’s going on? Is everyone turning vegan? Is this The Twilight Zone? Actually, when I started cooking for these friends, I realized, hey, I’ve generally been eating somewhat vegan myself without knowing it. And now that the tide is turning, and even mainstream restaurants offer vegan options (sometimes they’re not on the menu, but they have them), this dining philosophy is shedding some of its “outsider” status. Chinese, Indian and other ethnic restaurants here in the USA seem to serve up the easiest choices. And sticking to a “no animals/no animal liquids” diet while traveling can be relatively simple, too. For example, consider Turkey, land of lamb, lamb, more lamb...and yogurt. Turkish cooking also has a rich tradition of savory vegetable dishes braised in olive oil found in just about every restaurant. Here are just three examples of the many zeytignali (olive oil) offerings we had at Istanbul’s Haci Abdullah: grape leaves stuffed with rice, mint and pine nuts; beets with peppers and cabbage; artichokes with potatoes, carrots and peas. All terrific. Spain, France, Italy...assembling a vegan meal from appetizers, antipasti and a wide variety of vegetarian choices is a snap. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that my vegan friend David arrived in Italy, surveyed the markets, saw all the wonderful cheeses, quickly announced that he was going to be lacto-vegetarian for his three-week stay...and eventually couldn't resist the pasta alla carbonara.) Vegans of the world, rejoice! Just like at home, you are no longer forced to eat salad at every meal when you travel.
June 17, 2011
On one of my first trips to visit Simon and David in Tucson, we drove 82 miles southeast, through Tombstone (and its OK Corral) to Bisbee. Founded as a copper, gold and silver mining town in 1880, it has revived itself as an artists colony and tourist destination. Walkable, charming, populated by artists (painting, sculpture) and artisans (cheese, honey, coffee) and dotted with bakeries and cafes, Bisbee retains its quirky turn-of-the-century heritage without any stultifying Disney gloss. There’s a Copper Queen Hotel in addition to the royal alternative shown here, evidence of its mining past. I remember buying a string of red chili pepper lights on this visit. And running into an old acquaintance from Boston from many years earlier when Simon was still on the East Coast. (After we left him, Simon turned to me and said, “He hurt me.” I didn’t ask.) Several years later, I returned to Bisbee with Jay, who got mildly freaked out by a sidewalk vendor selling “killer bee” honey, but calmed down after a visit (and a complimentary espresso) at Old Bisbee Roasters, whose admirable motto is “A gentleman is always ready to serve coffee at a moment’s notice.” Words to live by.
June 16, 2011
I was staying in Venice for a few days with a train pass to allow easy access to other places in the Veneto that I wanted to visit, including Vicenza, 60km to the east. I came here to see the villas designed by the great 16th-century architect, Andrea Palladio, but I found so much more. I discovered what appeared to be a small village living within (almost in spite of) Palladian grandeur. As I walked from the train station to the main piazza, I was stunned by a poster for the local porn cinema with a somewhat shocking English title...next to a Renaissance palazzo. Then a group of elderly Vicenese women carrying bags of groceries as they walked home through magisterial public spaces, arches within arches, columns and more columns. I love the photo of this cool guy, in shades and a sweater tied around his waist, cycling idly past me in the empty main square, the Piazza dei Signori. I’d seen him approaching, readied my camera, and just as I pressed the shutter, his greeting. Ciao.
June 15, 2011
What a lovely find this small Portuguese city midway in our trip between Santiago de Compostela and Lisbon. We’d stopped earlier for a few hours in Braga, then trained it here, checked into the Hotel Oslo and headed out to find dinner. No problem. The streets were filled with students who kept ducking in and out of restaurants and bars to check on the progress of the evening’s soccer game. Jay and I settled in for a meal of cream of vegetable soup, stewed goat, roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Mmmm. Vegetables, and lots of them. This was also our first introduction to Portuguese portion sizes. Yikes! I read somewhere that the meals are geared toward men who’ve spent their day in manual labor. OK with us. After dinner, a stroll through the warm and relatively empty downtown, its beautifully crafted sidewalks reflecting the golden light, the sounds of music echoing through this wonderful university town.
June 14, 2011
Why Lexington when this is clearly the main hall at Ellis Island? Because this was a photo on display at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, part of an exhibit of Augustus F. Sherman’s Ellis Island photos that I visited with my pal Eileen. She and I each possess a great fascination and reverence for Ellis Island, the legend-filled entry point and processing center for thousands and thousands of immigrants to the US of A in the early 20th century. The first (and only) time I visited the actual Ellis Island was with my brother in 2003. We drove to Liberty State Park on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, caught the first boat, and arrived early before the crowds. Then (employing a trick I’d learned to access the Sistine Chapel) I avoided the main entrance on the lower level and raced immediately upstairs to the Great Hall. I was stunned being in that mythical room all alone. Well, not alone actually. The memories and spirits of those who’d passed through this “golden door” to a new life, all seemed to be there with me. Who had stood on this spot before? Where did they go from here? How scared were they? How excited to leave their past behind and begin anew? No wonder I got all teary and emotional. Brien and I later backtracked through the rest of the exhibits, fascinating all. But nothing could match my first solo moment in that great Great Hall.
June 13, 2011
I may be jumping joyously here in 1988, but two years earlier, as I left this familiar piazza on my way to take some laundry to the Campo de’ Fiori not far away, I was less so. After traveling through Italy for weeks, I needed my jeans washed. So I was wearing my chinos, and that’s, I suspect, what caused the trouble. Three gypsy children came up to me with their cardboard “tray” that they pushed toward me asking for money. I’d seen this routine many times around Rome but I was caught by surprise, which was their intention. Having had just about enough, I yelled, “Polizia!” and they scattered as shopkeepers looked out from their doors and passing Romans nonchalantly glanced my way. I thought I was home-free, but then one of the children returned, stuck out her tongue and handed me back my passport that she’d skillfully extracted from my trousers’ loose front pocket. Then she ran back to join her cohorts. I was pretty shaken, feeling violated, realizing that even though I’d been my usually cautious self, these con artists really knew their craft. From then on, I’ve always been especially on my guard, hand on my wallet, every time I see these kids. Too bad.
June 12, 2011
For some reason, I rarely have people over to my home for a visit. (I’ve been in my current house, the Palazzo Sandro, for about ten years. Friends have come for dinner at most three times; this could be because most entertaining, on weekends, is done in at Jay’s place in Gloucester.) A recent exception, lunch for my beloved friend Patti at the fashionable hour of 2pm. All the more time to shape this centerpiece of local and sustainable early-summer blooms from my backyard. And a memory, of course: When Jay’s sister, her husband and young son were visiting from the Northwest some 25 years ago, we invited them to our Cambridge home for brunch. We also invited our friend Eleanor, who arrived with a big bunch of flowers that I trimmed and quickly arranged into a “docent bouquet” for the table. When Mara and her family arrived and we were having our meal (her son Paul blurting out, “This is better than the breakfast we just had at the restaurant!”), she artfully covered with “What lovely flowers.” I said, “Yes, Eleanor brought them.” Mara smiled in a sisterly way and said, “You can tell a woman arranged them.” We all remained silent. For the time being. This has become one of our absolute favorite comments, repeated over and over again through the years each time one of us brings flowers to the table.
June 11, 2011
Souvenirs. Why do people buy what they buy, I often wonder. But then, others could justifiably wonder the same thing about me. Instead of the typical snow-globes, keyrings and ceramic knicknacks that crowd the shelves of thousands of souvenir shops worldwide, my tastes run toward the practical, the personal, the jokey. (Unless the venue itself is a bit of a joke -- ex. Las Vegas’ Liberace Museum -- in which case, bring on the refrigerator magnets. Oh, and there’s that Pope John Paul II bottle opener I bought at the Vatican; I’m not kidding.) Sometimes it’s a T-shirt or team memento from a local sports shop (I still treasure the Slavia Praha towels I bought in then-Communist Prague in 1972.) When I visit Tucson, I have a tradition of bringing home at least one item that is excessively bulky to pack and highly breakable, too (dozens of votive candles, huge tin or glass Mexican stars, mirrors, framed artwork, etc.) I buy kitchen utensils for friends who cook (knives and wooden spoons from Paris, Lisbon and Istanbul.) Food items not readily found in New England (carrot jam from Portugal, smoked black Urfa pepper and candied olives from Turkey.) I recall the beautiful Shostal shop in Rome every single time I wear the pajamas I bought there. And the “Turkish towel” store in Istanbul where I bought Jay a luxurious terrycloth robe. Dehillerin, the wonderful cooking supply house in Paris, comes to mind each time I slice bread with the sturdy knife I bought there. And isn’t that what souvenirs are supposed to do, bring you back?
June 10, 2011
I do not have a cell phone. I don’t really want one. Though I do admire the creative uses that many people put theirs to. For example, this photo, one of a series from a former co-worker friend who will remain unnamed. Months after I walked away from my most recent place of corporate employment, I received this photo via email. Accompanying it was a brief note indicating that my colleagues missed me and thought I might like to see the new buzzcut and up-a-notch style of dressing that an attractive favorite was now sporting. (Attractive? Colleagues of both sexes would gasp audibly as this guy sauntered into the cafeteria each day precisely at 12:10pm.) How do people manage to have the nerve to snap photos like this? Granted it’s hurried and blurred and doesn’t do its subject justice, but still. Another great use of cell phones: The friend who sent me this photo was entertaining us at lunch in the cafeteria one day with a tutorial about the M4M cruising app Grindr that he’d installed on his iPhone. Suddenly, a shriek: “Oh my god, it says the closest person also on Grindr is only 13 feet away! Who is it?” Sadly for all of us, not Mr. Gasp.
June 9, 2011
After a morning at Topkapi Palace, a wonderful lunch of fried Black Sea sardines at our favorite outdoor waterside fish fry along the Golden Horn, Nick wanted a nap. I wanted adventure, so I hotfooted it to the Eminonu docks and boarded a ferry across the Bosphorus to the less-touristed Asian-side neighborhood of Üsküdar. It was a lovely revelation. A student who was learning English engaged me in conversation. I found some mosques that were so far off the vacationer’s path that they seemed more solemn, more serious. And I found this market street with many vendors whose shop windows opened to the sidewalk. What drew me to this one was more than just a chance to speak with this charming young man whose English was on a par with my Turkish. It was that he was offering two of my favorite local desserts. Ekmek kadayif (left) and tulumba (right), both sticky with syrup, both magnificently simple, both sold by the pound. Or the kilo, actually. Ekmek kadayif is bread (or rusks), syrup-soaked and softened. Tulumba are extruded lozenges of dough (see the ridges on the three-inch "fingers"), fried, then also soaked through and through with a sugar-water-lemon juice syrup. Both treats are often served topped with kaymak (the clotted cream of Turkey) and dusted with crushed pistachios. I can’t remember exactly how much I bought of each delight, but I know that it was, well, significant. A memorably sweet close to a fine Asian afternoon.
June 8, 2011
Don’t you love leftovers? I think the pleasure of having containers of favorites waiting in the refrigerator may be one reason I indulge in high-yielding recipes whenever I have the chance. Say, for our annual boat parade party on Labor Day weekend. Or for this warm, late-spring afternoon when we welcomed Julia, Daniel (did he take this picture?), Jim and Mike to Gloucester for an outdoor lunch. I can see some reliable standbys on the plate here -- a roasted bird done in the Weber grill, some homemade pickles, Jay’s bread and three salads: a standard green, Itch and beet tzatziki. I could probably make the Middle Eastern grain salad Itch blindfolded at this point, I just couldn’t make a small amount. Sauté three medium chopped onions (and sometimes a chopped garlic clove) in 3/4 cup olive oil until tender. Add a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes and a healthy tablespoon of Turkish hot pepper paste. After 10 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the juice of one lemon, salt to taste, two cups of fine bulghur. Cover and let sit off heat for 45 minutes. Then fully mix in a chopped-up combo of one bunch of scallions (white and green parts both), one bunch of parsley, one green pepper. Serve at room temperature. Makes a ton. And, fortunately, even better the next day.
June 7, 2011
Nick and I were tooling around Italy, doing the heavy research (finding restaurants and bakeries, getting recipes, photographing the food, eating) that resulted in his Great Italian Desserts book. Our day in Bari began by calling on Paola Pettini, a wonderful cooking teacher who had relocated here from her native Rome. She warmly welcomed us at her elegant home where her handsome assistant soon brought us refreshments. As we chatted and laughed, she had an idea: Would Nick teach an impromptu baking class that afternoon for her club di cucina? “Something American,” she suggested. “What can I do that’s American?” Nick quietly asked me as he struggled to come up with a shopping list for her. “I do French and Viennese.” A quick conference resulted in a stars-and-stripes solution: apple pie and chocolate chip cookies. The day was saved, the class was a big success and all of the Barese housewives left extolling the delights of “CHOcola-CHEEpa KOOkies.”
June 6, 2011
One of the blessings of living in (or visiting) Galicia is the availability of a wide variety of Atlantic seafood. Clams anyone? This amiable woman at the town market has several delicious types to choose from. As well as the currently chic (and therefore astonishingly pricey) percebes, or gooseneck barnacles, ugly as prehistoric sin but, once maneuvered, tasting unmistakably of the sea. Other nearby vendors specialized in eels, lobsters, squid, crabs, cuttlefish, mussels, shrimp, octopus and the city’s ubiquitous symbol, scallops. Oh, yes, you can get fish, too. There’s even a cafe called Churro Maria within the market that will, for a small fee, boil or steam whatever it is you bought (boiled octopus was a hot seller the day we were there), just in case you can’t wait to get back home to cook up your caldeirada a la gallega...or, like us, had no kitchen facilities at our disposal, always a bit of a torture when visiting these wonderful foreign markets.
June 5, 2011
When Billy Wilder’s 1963 film Irma La Douce opened, I couldn’t wait to see it. (I was 14 and didn’t meet the age requirement, but I managed to “dress older” and get into the Lavalette, NJ, theater where, two days earlier I’d passed for the under-12 discount to see Hayley Mills in Summer Magic. Just saying.) I loved it. The music, the clichéd presentation of Paris, the forbidden humor and intrigue surrounding ladies of the night. (And I also liked the film’s ads, the graphics of which I reproduced with driftwood charcoal on the side of a lifeguard shack late one night to the general disgruntlement of the awakening Silver Beach, NJ, community.) So, arriving in Paris for the first time in 1969, I made a beeline to Pigalle. Well, it was short on Hollywood glamour but still possessed a seedy charm. I can recall an older, heavy and worn woman leaning in a doorway, humming “La Vie en Rose” as I walked by. Know your audience, chérie. On a recent visit to the City of Light, I noticed that even the Parisian sex trade in Pigalle has been commercialized, the human element removed, with a supermarché erotique on almost every block, porno DVDs for sale on the sidewalk...and few ladies to be found. I suspect a misguided, late-1980s Times-Square-style cleanup by a politically motivated mayor with little respect for tradition. Have you no sense of indecency, sir?
June 4, 2011
The first time I went to Los Angeles was on business in 1981. I was working at The Caption Center at WGBH Boston, and just before my trip, we were told that there was a real chance our department would shut down. I quickly changed my reservation from the Motel 6 to the Chateau Marmont. I knew nothing about the hotel except what I’d read in Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge: that Garbo had always stayed there, that it had a faded splendor, that a huge lady cowboy sign revolved outside, that it had history. That was more than enough for me. I arrived to the great news that The Marmont had no more single rooms available, would a small suite be OK? I loved the place right off -- the small, shaded pool, the Spanish colonial atmosphere, the whispered conversations, the cool tiled floors, the huge sunglasses everyone wore, the haunted secrecy of it all. (Who, I wondered, had occupied my suite in the past?) That night, I took a walk along Sunset Boulevard (I had to!) and was stopped by the police: Why was I walking? I quickly learned that respectable Los Angelinos rarely walk anywhere, least of all along The Sunset Strip, least of all at night. Whatever. Years later, the Chateau Marmont was the scene of John Belushi’s highly publicized drug overdose, and since then it has undergone a major facelift with a consequent skyrocketing of prices. Still, that magical first visit remains with me to this day.
June 3, 2011
A little jet-lagged but unreservedly enthusiastic about seeing this fabled city, Nick and I woke up on our first morning, a warm and sunny Sunday, and climbed the steep hill to Tünel for breakfast at Kaffehaus. We were not disappointed. Strong tea, a sesame-coated simit, cheese, olives, a warm hard-boiled egg, tomato, cucumber, honey and jam. “Let’s take it easy today,” Nick suggested as we ate. Sure. Before the day was finished we’d been to Asia and back, ferrying across the Bosphorus to dine on Anatolian cuisine at Çiya, a restaurant we’d return to over and over again. Each June 3 since then, no matter where I am, I always recreate this breakfast plate as best I can, remembering that first morning in the City of the World’s Desire.
June 2, 2011
I first knew about Marta Curro from her frequent appearances on The Merv Griffin Show when I was in high school and college. Griffin's sidekick, Arthur Treacher, would list the guests during the opening of the evening's program, and if he mentioned Marta's name, I would always stay tuned. "The Gypsy Lady" they called her then, back when she was married to actor Jerry Orbach. Who would have imagined that some 40 years later she and I would become friends…through Nick at whose 60th birthday party I snapped this photo. Always the glamour girl, Marta was wearing these same sunglasses one evening a year later at Christmastime when we went to see her at the Village Nursing Home in New York. (Recuperating from a fall, she was under the mistaken impression that she'd be released on New Year's Day, and when she wasn't, she dialed 911 and announced she was being held hostage. She was thereupon transferred to a ward in nearby St. Vincent's Hospital for “further observation.”) During a happier time, having lunch at her favorite NYC spot, La Luncheonette, I'd asked her why they called her "The Gypsy Lady." "I have no idea," she told me. "Actually there were a lot worse things they could have called me back then."
June 1, 2011
Why, I wonder, do I always wind up at the public library whenever I visit a new city? Miami, Las Vegas, Montreal and here in San Francisco, the most beautiful library of them all. Open and airy, with a multistoried atrium dotted with the names of writers of consequence. And where else but in this populist city would they paper the walls with the old cards from the card catalogue when they switched over to a computer-based system? Everything about this wonderful library speaks to its vital place in the lives of the people it serves. One example: the quiet and hallowed room devoted to gay and lesbian studies. A small and dignified space, it is crowned by an awe-inspiring trompe l’oeil ceiling that depicts a community in the process of building a monument to honor gay and lesbian authors, artists and other leaders throughout the world, throughout history. Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Gertrude Stein and James Baldwin, of course. But also Raphael, Michelangelo, Frederick the Great, Ma Rainey, Cole Porter, Yukio Mishima, Aaron Copland, Willa Cather, Lorraine Hansberry, the list goes on and on, as the building of the monument seems to. A place so uplifting, it’s hard not to become emotional. Plus, Vasco da Gama...who knew?