January 31, 2012

Essex, MA. December, 2011

Anyone familiar with Boston’s North Shore knows that you can’t attempt to eat at Woodman’s of Essex (“A Yankee Tradition since 1914”) during the summer without encountering lines of staggering lengths. Hot and covered with suntan oil and sand, families try to mollify their antsy kids while waiting for freshly steamed lobsters, fried clams, fried everything. Yes, there are other such emporiums in the vicinity, but their lines are not as long, and there’s a good reason for that. Woodman’s, aside from staking a claim as “inventor of the fried clam” (on July 3, 1916, to be exact), serves up the freshest, most skillfully cooked seafood in the area. And if the high prices don’t jive with the plastic plates and utensils, so what. We live not far from Woodman’s, but we only attempt to eat there off season. Each December 30, it’s our tradition to arrive at the near-empty eatery around 7pm for a day-after-birthday treat: the “Down River” fried combo plate ($26.95 this year: clams, shrimp, scallops, fish, fries, fried onion rings), a golden mountain of delight (seen being assembled here) that never fails to please.

January 30, 2012

Barcelona. November, 2010

Frequent readers of this blog may think that all I did in Barcelona was eat. Not so. Witness this wonderful community arts center that Jay and I visited (OK, on the way to a nearby restaurant) at Carrer Comerç, 36 in the El Born/La Ribera district of the city. A former monastery (started in 1349, completed in 1700), the building has recently been renovated by the city as the Centre Civic Convent Sant Agustí, fitted out with a bar/cafe, gallery and meeting rooms used by locals. It is enchanting. On the warm evening we visited, there was a gallery opening in one wing, a concert by neighborhood musicians in another, a lively scene in the bar and a genuinely welcoming spirit among those just hanging out in the former cloister, seen here.

January 29, 2012

Los Angeles. January, 1992

This is my long-lost pal, Artie Gaffin. I met him in Boston through my friend Dali and we clicked immediately. Soon after, he left his native Manhattan and moved to Los Angeles to work with various theater groups. In fact this photo was taken on the morning after I’d endured a one-man performance by Stacy Keach in Solitary Confinement at the Pasadena Playhouse, which Artie was stage managing. (Much more dramatic and exciting than the play, however, was the all-night adventure that began with our post-theater dinner being interrupted by a waiter who said Artie’s partner Danny had been rushed to the hospital with a severe back injury. This is in the days before cellphones, and all the information we had was part of the name of the hospital. Thus began a multi-stop drive around LA until we found him and arranged for his painless return home.) The last time I saw Artie was when his production of M. Butterfly passed through Boston and we got together. Years after that, while watching the Tony Awards, I was happily stunned to hear Nathan Lane accept his prize for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and acknowledge “Stage Manager Arthur Gaffin.” We had a lot of laughs, a lot of fun.

January 28, 2012

Cambridge, MA. January, 2011

My goal: to eat at every Indian buffet restaurant in Cambridge. My cohorts (so far): James, Karen, two Michaels, Daniel, Patti and Sandra. A daunting task, actually, because in Central Square alone there is at least one Indian resto per block, it seems. The winning CSQ spread to date: Shalimar of India, hands down. In fact, we like it so much that we keep returning here instead of trying out new places. (Note: a recent lunch at nearby India Castle finds that spot gaining ground.) The buffet has more choices, more variety, higher quality, several kinds of breads, vegetarian options...and their kheer (rice pudding) is so good that even when we’re “full,” we still can manage at least a tablespoon. Or two. Today’s lunch with Karen found us selecting (along with the mandatory portions of chicken tikka masala and whatever fried appetizer is featured) the popular saag paneer, a piquant vegetarian dosa and a spicy minced chicken dish, items not always on offer. Seen here, plate 1 of 2. Eaters, on your mark!

January 27, 2012

Istanbul. June, 2007

I don’t subscribe to a lot of emailings or Facebook groups or things like that. But one that I do enjoy is Istanbul Eats (a serious eater’s guide to the city). Helmed by Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer, two Americans eating their way through that storied capital, the blog contains excellent recommendations (“We’re talking about serious food for serious eaters, hold the frills”) about great places to eat, what to eat where, the “characters” who do the cooking and terrific bits of cultural context and background. Most of these recommendations are new to me and I stash them away against my next visit to the City of the World’s Desire. These guys have also published some of their finds in a book that makes a great guide for visitors as well as a great vicarious excursion for those of us here at home. Only one problem: I have so many cafes and restaurants and street-food carts on my list now...how can I fit them all into my next visit there? I’ll manage. Shown, foreground: the excellent sea bass cooked in parchment at their recommended Tarihi Karaköy Balikçisi. (We call the place “Screwdriver Fish” because it’s smack dab in the middle of the city’s large hardware market.)

January 26, 2012

A Esquina da Fé, Lisbon. November, 2010

On our second trip to this hidden-away local restaurant, I had the same treat that I’d enjoyed the first time: sopa à alentejana. A rustic, homestyle soup, it’s made from the simplest of ingredients, often a dish cooks create to use up leftover things. Excellent chicken stock, laced with garlic, is the base and the key to making the broth as flavorful as it is. Slices of yesterday’s bread gone dry. A small handful of chopped cilantro. And a very fresh egg that’s been softly poached in the pot and gently placed on top in the bowl. Filling, nutritious and oh so good, it’s one of a number of bread-based soups from the rural Alentejana region south of Lisbon (also home to porco com ameijoas à alentejana, the famous Portuguese pork-and-clams dish.) Nothing could be better on a chilly November evening in magical Lisbon.

January 25, 2012

Near Úbrež, Czechoslovakia. July, 1972

My friend Jeff recently told me he likes the old photos I post here and wondered how I remember all of these stories. Well, as my pal James likes to remind me, “You have something to say about everything.” No matter his meaning, I take it as a compliment. And of course I’ve been thinking about these things from time to time through the years and so I tend to remember them. Alas, not always. Take for example, this slide that I found recently. I have no recollection of the circumstances surrounding my taking this photograph. Written on the slide’s collar: “Near Úbrež. July, 1972. Choreographer’s wife + kids + Setka.” The choreographer? Who was he? And why isn’t he in the picture? And why can’t I remember these happy kids? Or the wife who certainly knows how to hold a flattering pose? I have only the vaguest memory of Setka, the grandmother in black whom we met in our behind-the-Iron-Curtain travels that charmed summer. The photo brings back the subtlest recall of her quiet wisdom, her smile, nothing more.

January 24, 2012

Tucson. May, 1987

Jumping pictures. Philippe Halsman was the master, getting everyone from Audrey Hepburn to Salvador Dalí, Albert Einstein to the Duke and Duchess of Winsor to oblige. It was my late friend Dali who got me started on them when she introduced me to Rome back in 1980. She put it pretty simply: “Would you rather have a picture of you in front of the Colosseum or a picture of you mid-air in front of the Colosseum?” The answer was obvious. And it’s become more obvious over the years as I look back over my photos. It’s the jumping pictures (in Paris, Washington, DC, Istanbul, wherever) that are the most interesting, to say nothing of the most amusing. Look at Simon and David here in Tucson Mountain Park and tell me they’re not having fun. (I had only just met David so he gets extra points for being an especially good sport.) It was easier to time these (1-2-3-jump!) with film in a no-wait SLR camera. There’s a delay with digital that often results in crouching or landing poses, so now I sometimes have to be satisfied with a simple ta-da pose of extended arms and hands (see title banner above). An easy compromise to accept.

January 23, 2012

Barcelona. November, 2010

Jay’s father was a cartoonist with a successful comic strip, Tiger, that still runs in syndication nationwide (though, oddly, never in a newspaper wherever his son happens to live.) When Jay and his sister were still single-digit kids, his father realized that he could send in his strip from anywhere in the world (rather than only from their New Jersey home) and he picked up the family and moved them all to the island of Mallorca. It was there that Jay remembers having the local pastries, ensaimadas, for the first time. A long, narrow rectangle of flaky dough, rolled out like a snake (sometimes filled, sometimes not) then coiled up, baked and dusted with powdered sugar. Here is the grown-up Jay having his first ensaimada in more than 55 years near Barcelona's Plaça de Catalunya, a mere 20 minutes (by plane) from his Mallorcan boyhood home. (Happy birthday, Jay, born -- no kidding -- on the numerically memorable 1.23.45.)

January 22, 2012

Newark, NJ. June, 1973

When I decided to make the leap from teaching for three years in a Catholic high school to a higher-paying job in a public school, I signed up for all the teaching credits I’d need (I had none) in one summer session. One of the classes was modestly called “Media,” and for my final project I planned an instructional slide show. About how to make strawberry preserves from start to finish. It starred my friend Nick and it was called The 39 Steps...to Strawberry Preserves. (I had to.) We began by going to the late-night farmers’ market “Down Neck” to buy the berries. Then headed to Nick’s family kitchen for the rest. Here he is hulling the washed berries, probably Step 4. Almost 40 years later, Nick is a seasoned professional with television appearances alongside Julia Child, Martha Stewart and all the rest. But I always remind him that I gave him his modest media start.

January 21, 2012

Springfield, NJ. December, 2010

I love this photo of my niece Emma enjoying the squeak toy that I brought her when we met. Before I headed south to the Garden State to be introduced to my brother Brien’s new puppy, I’d found a rubber toy duck that quacks each time it’s squeezed. (Jay said, “Your brother is going to kill you.”) Emma loved it, shaking it and squeezing it all over the house. A few days later, Brien called to say that it is the only toy she will retrieve when he throws it across the yard. A few days after that, he called again to say that the squeaking was driving him nuts. (I could hear it in the background of the call.) He has had to deal with much worse. Evidently some dog thieves earlier had lured her from her backyard tether with food, found her too much to handle...and Brien got a call from a friend a few hours later reporting that Emma was wandering downtown off her leash. She’s either a German Shepherd or a Belgian Shepherd or both. Whatever she is, she’s a squeakin’ sweetheart.

January 20, 2012

Cartagena, Spain. November, 2010

When I signed on to my first corporate job, at Bose (aka “the most respected name in sound”), I had the great good fortune to be paired up with Mike, art director extraordinaire. We didn’t know at the time how easily and wonderfully we’d click, how our hard work together would not only be a pleasure but would result in some pretty successful materials. All I knew then, aside from his easy sense of humor and sass, was what he announced at a first-day session to introduce us to the rest of the department. When asked to reveal something that others might not know about us, Mike said without hesitation, “I love Charo.” Our friendship was sealed. Since then, every time I see a reference to Charo, any Charo, I bring it on home to my beloved friend. From this hair salon in southern Spain to Charo’s Bakery in Lowell, MA (“Best Prices in Wedding Cakes...Period!”) As for the genuine article, Mike went to see her not long ago at a nearby Native American casino, but was too shy (or stunned) to speak with her. Charo, if you’re reading this, get in touch with this guy, por favor. There’s a 12 Euro lavar y marcar in it for you. My treat.

January 19, 2012

Beyoğlu, Istanbul. June, 2007

Can’t decide what to order? Order it all. That’s what we did here at the Borsa Lokantasi on the Istiklal Caddesi in Istanbul. This popular and welcoming cafeteria-style cafe has, like many places in the City of the World’s Desire, steam tables that feature whatever the chef has prepared for the day. You can order as little or as much as you like, in whatever combination you like. So we ordered (counterclockwise from left center) a grilled chicken kebab that came with a tomato bulgur pilaf, an artichoke cooked in the zeytinyali style (simmered in olive oil, served at room temperature), pureed eggplant salad, cacik (yogurt, cucumber, mint), fasulye (broad beans cooked in tomato), and (center) eggplant stuffed with lamb and spices. I think there are some other dishes in there, too. Mmmmm. And off to the left I see a container of ayran (yogurt drink with water and some salt) and a small bowl of rice pudding. Did we order too much? We didn’t think so. But I do remember the manager coming over and shaking our hands. Maybe he thought we must be food writers. Or just his best customers ever.

January 18, 2012

WGBH Studios, Boston. August, 1985

“My wife, the actress, Coral Browne” is how Vincent Price always used to introduce her. She was not as well known in the USA as she should have been (and regrettably she turned down playing Joan Collins’ mother on Dynasty because, she told me, “They don’t let you rehearse for American TV.”) But she did play the memorable Vera Charles in the movie Auntie Mame and had an enviable stage and screen career in Britain, even running the besieged Savoy Theatre all throughout the Blitz. (Some think her best performance is as herself in Alan Bennett's An Englishman Abroad.) Coral was revered for her wit, savage though it sometimes was. When we became friends, I felt blessed. I once asked her (at lunch in the green room between taping the scripts I had written for Vincent’s Mystery! introductions on PBS) about her relationship with photographer Cecil Beaton whose recently reviewed diaries had mentioned her. “Careful,” warned Vincent. “Yes?” Coral urged me to continue. I told her the review had hinted at a sexual liaison. “Yes,” she said. Then I naively mentioned that I had always thought Beaton had been gay. She smiled at me and said, “Well he may have been gay, darling, but he was like a rat up the drainpipe with me.” Coral was Australian.

January 17, 2012

Pozzuoli, Italy. September, 1984

OK, I admit it. The only reason I took the brief train ride from Naples to visit nearby Pozzuoli was because it’s where Sophia Loren grew up. Sue me. Still, when I got there, I was happy to find that there is more to experience than just movie-star thrill. San Procolo, the city’s patron saint, was beheaded here in the fourth century; because his feast day (November 14) is often rainy, he is affectionately if sacrilegiously nicknamed ’u pisciasotto (the pants-pisser.) This smokey plot, the Solfatara, is actually the site of Saint Piss Pants’s martyrdom, happily presented for your visual enjoyment here without the overwhelming sulfurous odor that exists at the location itself. A sign warns, "Danger!" And for good reason. Not only is the land prone to tremors, some of which occurred during the time of my visit, but the allegedly dormant volcanic crater regularly emits jets of noxious steam (used for medical purposes since Roman times.) There are also foul-smelling mud pools. Some historians believe that the area’s eerie vapors may identify Pozzuoli as the Land of the Dead that Odysseus visited during his Homeric travels. Maybe, but that wasn’t enough to get me -- or Sophia -- to stick around for very long.

January 16, 2012

Barcelona. November, 2010

What’s wrong with this picture? Absolutely nothing if you live in Barcelona. Or anywhere in Spain for that matter. The New England-originated Dunkin’ Donuts had to adapt a bit when it arrived here, officially because of “trademark issues.” With stores opening (and closing) all over the world, the corporate behemoth boasts more than one thousand different donut varieties (and allegedly many more lawsuits against its franchisees than other fast-food operatives), yet more than half of its business today is in coffee sales. “Donut” suggests less to those who don’t list English as their primary language. But “Coffee,” as every writer knows, means the world to just about everybody. (I used to work with a talented copywriter who was justifiably proud of having invented the DD --or DC-- name “Coffee Coolatta.” I would be, too.)

January 15, 2012

San Francisco. October, 1981

This was the year of Mommie Dearest, the regrettable Joan Crawford biopic that torpedoed the career of director Frank Perry (David and Lisa) and forever relegated Miss Faye Dunaway to the category of shrieking caricature. Yes, I saw it. But I have an excuse. I was in Los Angeles and it was playing at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. How could I not? A few days later, arriving in San Francisco, I found the Castro neighborhood had embraced the film as only a community that welcomes shrieking caricatures could. Witness this Castro Street gift shop window, one of many. Actually, the memory that remains with me most from that trip took place just outside this shop. I noticed the approach of two big, intimidating butch guys done up in tutto leather: chains, boots, gloves, mirrored shades, caps, cigars, the whole bit. As they passed me, I heard one say to the other, “You can’t make a quiche with half-and-half.” I swear to God.

January 14, 2012

New York, NY. December, 2010

"Chance of flurries." So said the forecast when I left Boston for Manhattan on December 25. The next day, a blizzard. High winds, more than a foot and a half of snow, freezing temperatures. We were housebound in Nick’s apartment on West 10th Street, watching in amazement as the wind-blown snow accumulated. Flights, trains, buses were cancelled for that night and the next day. (Fortunately Nick had terrific leftovers from the Christmas dinner that he served up in any number of ways: ham and baked beans, ham and eggs, ham and cheese omelette, etc.) After the snow stopped and the sun came out, so did I to shoot this picture of cars parked along Washington Street. Imagine the owners arriving to find their vehicles buried. Surprise!

January 13, 2012

WGBH Studios, Boston. November, 1978

I had only been working at Boston’s public television station for a few months when I saw a small posting by the elevator inviting staff to be in the studio for an interview with Maya Angelou. Of course I went. The audience was a dozen or so young women bussed in from a local college...and me. I was the only man. And the only white person. When Angelou entered (in an orange, wide-wale corduroy pants suit), she came right over to me and graciously extended her hand: “Hello, I’m Maya Angelou.” I was stunned. “I’m Sandy Leonard. It’s a great pleasure to meet you.” And she smiled broadly, “The pleasure is mine, Mister Leonard.” This was not the only time we would meet over the years, but it certainly was the most memorable. And long before that whole Clinton thing.

January 12, 2012

Madrid. October, 2009

Because we wouldn’t be able to get to the northern Spanish region of Asturias this trip, I had asked cookbook author and restaurateur Teresa Barrenechea for some recommendations on where I could find authentic Asturian cooking in Madrid. She pointed us to Los Asturianos. Muchisimas gracias, Teresa. This small bar with tables (outside in nice weather) was terrific, just what we were looking for. Good food, welcoming staff, no fuss. After some chorizo in cider and some fried potatoes with melted Cabrales cheese, came the fabada, perhaps the dish most closely associated with Asturias. A bean and sausage stew made with the prized large white beans called fabes de la Granja, the dish also contains lacón (pork shoulder), thick bacon, morcilla (black pudding), chorizo, and sometimes longaniza (a sausage similar to linguica.) Spain’s answer to the French cassoulet, it is not for the meat-averse. For the rest of us, it is magnificent.

January 11, 2012

Rome. October, 2011

We are now, my friend Ernest (who revels in such things) tells me, marking the Ancient Roman Juturnalia Festival, honoring Juturna, goddess of lakes, rivers and, yes, fountains. I’m assuming that would include this peaceful dribbler outside the Palazzo Farnese (Tosca, Act II.) As Ernest tells it, “The story goes that it was on this date that the divine twins Castor and Pollux miraculously appeared in the Forum, watering their horses in the fountain of Juturna (adjacent to the Temple of Vesta), announcing that the Romans were victorious at the battle of Lake Regillus.” Because twins C&P (aka Gemini, whose mother was Leda and whose father, well... Castor had a mortal father -- the King of Sparta-- while Pollux’s father was Zeus, who’d ravished Leda while disguised as a swan) chose Juturna’s fountain to proclaim the freedom of the Romans from the tyranny of their kings, succeeding generations looked on their city’s fountains as “a continuing, ever-flowing symbol of Roman freedom from monarchs.” Thank you, Ernest. And grazie mille, Juturna.

January 10, 2012

Provincetown, MA. August, 1989

When I signed up for a second summer poetry class in Provincetown, I did so through my friend Kathe’s organization, Thalassa Writing Workshops. I had taken one with Mark Doty the previous year and loved the exercises, the communal meals (cooked by Sharon, Kathe’s girlfriend at the time and a featured player in several John Waters’ films), the musical evenings as Sharon sang to Neal Sugarman’s sax, bunking in the farmhouse next to the dunetop barn where classes were held. This time around, the workshop was helmed by another poet I admired. And during the week, we’d bonded nicely both in class and in shared off-hours conversations each night about personal issues we were both struggling with. So as the week ended, and we were saying goodbye, I asked, “Can we be friends?” He paused in thought for a brief moment, looked at me directly and said, “No.” I started laughing. He didn’t.

January 9, 2012

Barcelona. November, 2010

Instead of spending upwards of $350 on a tasting dinner for two (with water and wine) at Comerç, 24, an early pioneer in the molecular gastronomy phenomenon, why not just shell out only a tenth of that amount and still have a great meal by the same great chef? Tapas, 24 is Michelin-starred Carles Abellan’s bow to the wave of gastrobars that are popping up all over Spain and serving up modern takes on the tapas classics. Located just off the fashionable Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona’s fashionable Eixample neighborhood, Tapas, 24 is an entertaining, noisy, rambunctiously popular spot for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night snacks. We were lucky to get a table on our arrival around 8pm (early for Barcelona) and soon were agonizing over which (and how many) of the tapas del día to share. Seen here, the first three to arrive: a wonderful spin on the tortilla española (potato/onion omelette) topped with cheese and sectioned for sharing; ham and cheese croquetas, plus the ubiquitous and always welcome pa amb tomàquet (grilled bread rubbed with a ripe and artfully squeezed tomato, then drizzled with fine olive oil.) Oh, sure, we enjoyed our pricey din-din at Comerç, 24. But we also loved our casual cheapie at Tapas, 24 just as much.

January 8, 2012

The Dardanelles, Turkey. November, 2011

On the morning after our ship had sailed all night from Istanbul through the Sea of Marmara, I made sure to be awake early enough to witness this storied waterway, fabled in legend and in song. Literally. AKA the Hellespont, this narrow passage connects the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara (and then via the Bosphorus to the Black Sea beyond) and as such has been strategic (both militarily and commercially) for millennia. Leander swam it nightly to keep his rendezvous with Hero. Bryon did likewise to show how manly he was. These days, there is an annual swim across its one-mile width that’s rather more for sport than a show of love or bravado. (My linguist friend Michael knows someone who has swum across it twice, “a Sanskritist,” he adds, as only he could.) I was just happy to be there, to see it (Look! There’s Gallipoli! Look! There’s Troy!)...and then to go have breakfast.

January 7, 2012

San Francisco. July, 2006

Part of the pleasure of a vacation for me is the freedom from having to drive. I love taking public transportation. Not only because I never have to look for a nonexistent parking place, but because it can provide a theatre-like experience sometimes. Characters, stories, situations. An unexpected treat on this trip to San Francisco was learning that BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) has a wonderful “Spare the Air” policy that benefits both public transit riders and the environment. When the air pollution index is expected to rise toward a certain unhealthy level, travelers can ride the BART trains for free in order to encourage everyday motorists to leave their cars at home and take the train. What a great idea. And while I wasn’t too pleased at the air quality news, I loved using public transit for the days I was in the city. To and from the airport and Union Square. Out to Berkeley and back. The city’s MUNI bus system and other regional transit systems participate in the program, too. Terrific.

January 6, 2012

Venice, Italy. October, 1986

Imagine my surprise as I walked through the narrow alleys of Venice, coming upon this eyeglasses shop and seeing a friend in the window. Well, a picture of a friend, Ken, a model with 20/20 vision, the college roommate of my pal Jacques. Small world. Ken, whom I remember as the toast of Provincetown during the summer of 1979, had befriended Divine, who was appearing there onstage with Holly Woodlawn in The Neon Woman. (At the party after the final performance, a cake depicting Divine was rolled in and Ken, knowing my fascination with the 300-pound bombshell, cut off the face -- to the silent horror of those assembled -- and saved it for me. I wish I could say that, like Dickens’ Miss Havisham, I have kept it to this day. I have not.) Where is he now? The Spanish have a wonderful expression to convey “small world”: El mundo es un pañuelo. The world is a handkerchief. And one, it seems, that keeps on shrinking.

January 5, 2012

Málaga, Spain. November, 2010

When our cruise ship docked each day along its Barcelona-Lisbon route, many of our fellow passengers hopped on waiting buses to take advantage of local excursions the cruise line offered. We never did. Our reason, aside from not wanting to be on a tour bus, was that most of the ports we called at were so interesting that it was a pleasure just walking around on our own, getting lost, making discoveries. Take Málaga. Our first stop, as always, the central mercado to revel in the local produce and seafood on display. (We bought two of the most beautiful and delicious bosc pears because good ones are so hard to come by in the States.) Then a visit to the Picasso Museum here in the town of the artist’s birth. (He left at age 10, never to return again.) The museum, unlike the one in Barcelona, is small and uncrowded, filled with an admirable collection that will satisfy but won’t exhaust you. A picnic lunch in a small park, a stroll through backstreet neighborhoods, in one of which we spotted this tiled tribute to the city’s two patron saints, Ciriaco and Paula. Martyrs who refused to renounce their Christianity during the fourth-century Roman (pagan) rule of the region, they were stoned to death on a site not far from this brickwork.

January 4, 2012

Kadiköy, Istanbul. June, 2007

Meet John Travolta. Well, not really. But before I went to Istanbul the first time and was engaged in my travel research, I found an online site in which a young woman had mentioned a certain waiter at Çiya, the wonderful restaurant on the Asian side of the city. She had written that his co-workers jokingly referred to him as Travolta...and it caught on. Sure enough, when Nick and I arrived one afternoon, there he was. And when we greeted him by “name,” he was all smiles and became our waiter for the afternoon, suggesting dishes, bringing us samples of things...including this complimentary pillow-like bread. Fortunately “John” knows a little English, a bit more than I know Turkish, just enough to figure out what would be the ideal selection for us. And when we returned a few days later, there he was again, ready to do the same. The perfect host, he even let us take his picture. (And he remembered me when Jay and I returned in October, 2011, showing us to a coveted outdoor table and another excellent meal.)

January 3, 2012

Lisbon. November, 2010

A general strike was slated to hit the city a few days after we left. And for the few days that we were there, we saw signs for the strike everywhere. Cars with loudspeakers mounted on their roofs, broadcasting pleas for support. When I asked our cab driver on the way to the airport if the strike would include him, he said, “Everyone.” Stores, trains, buses, cabs, restaurants, bars, everyone. (He also told us that “your Barack Obama” was scheduled to arrive the following day along with the other heads of state for the World Economic Summit. I’m sure they hotfooted it out of town before any inconveniences began.) My only other brushes with European job actions were in France in 1972 when I’d arrived at Fountainebleau only to find it closed, its staff “en greve.” And in Agrigento in 1984, when I’d bought enough excellent local produce in the small Sicilian town to get me through the next day’s sciopero. I needn’t have worried. That strike was pretty casual with bars and restaurants remaining fully in operation...but with their door grates only open halfway.

January 2, 2012

New Orleans. March, 1991

I once asked a female friend why women seemed to love shoes so much. Much more than men seem to do. She said she suspected that it was partly because a woman’s shoe size generally never changes, no matter how her age, body type or other aspects of her appearance might. True? Who knows? The same “permanence” may fuel my ongoing interest in manhole covers of many lands. Seems like every place I go, I snap a photo of one. Solid markers that indicate the geographic location...and much more. Most times there is some pride of craftsmanship, some decorative whimsy, too. I love the moon and stars in this beauty from The Crescent City. I’ve also got some nice cover shots from Istanbul, Berkeley, Barcelona, just about everywhere I’ve been. The only problem, and it’s a very slight one, is the confusion often registered by locals when I seem to be ignoring all the beauty around me and focusing on the pavement instead. I can deal.

January 1, 2012

Barcelona. November, 2010

Happy New Year to you. And happy one-year birthday to us here at SLS. What better way to honor the occasion than with these zero-calorie birthday cakes, found in the window of a funky linens shop in Barcelona. Just don’t try to eat them unless you like the taste of terrycloth. Many thanks all year to our followers, our daily readers, our encouraging friends and enthusiastic commenters (especially the repeaters.) In addition to just having fun with this each day, I’ve also been touched by hearing regularly from blogspotters as far away as Portugal, Turkey, Indonesia and Homer, Alaska, and as close as, well, next door. All best wishes for a wonderful new year, filled with travels, meals, memories, much happiness and many dreams-come-true.