November 30, 2012

Kotor, Montenegro. October, 2012

The cruise ships in the harbor of this small, mountain-surrounded town did nothing to discourage this local fisherman from doing what he must do everyday. Taking his small rowboat out, returning with the daily catch for the harborside market. So peaceful this watery scene, the whole town really, tucked away as it is at the end of a twisty series of inlets, best accessible by boat, hidden and safe for centuries.

November 29, 2012

Portovenere, Italy. October, 2012

I met my friend Antonio in 1984 when I traveled to Italy solo and sought out the company of many of the mail artists I’d corresponded with for years. He was living in Lucca, where he still lives now, about a hour’s drive from Portovenere where our ship arrived on Halloween. Antonio generously drove to meet us there, the first time I’d seen him in 25 years. He’s now married, the father of two children, still pursuing his passion for illustration and cartoons. He knew Portovenere and showed us around the small town, up to an old stone church lit by candles, through the main street with its various shops offering samples of the local Ligurian pesto smeared on bread to entice passing shoppers. A short visit, but one that reminded me how friendships endure in spite of years and distance. It was as if no time had passed at all; we picked up where we’d left off in 1988. Ciao, Antonio, and grazie mille.

November 28, 2012

Dubrovnik, Croatia. October, 2012

Before I went to Croatia, my Dalmatian friend Marin told me that his hometown of Split was a hodgepodge of different architectural styles ranging from Roman, through medieval and Renaissance to whatever. Dubrovnik, he said, was all of a piece. He was right. All polished stone, golden in the sunlight. Bombed and restored. Enchanting. Especially so early in the day, not yet packed with tourists. Like us. And like this young family, enjoying the open spaces before the busloads arrive.

November 27, 2012

Kotor, Montenegro. October, 2012

You can spot the locals easily in Kotor. They’re the ones not looking up. They’ve grown up around these peaks. The rest of us? Well, it’s hard not to peer skyward in this small port town surrounded by mountains. Comparisons have often been made to Norwegian fjords, such is the grandeur of the cliffs that drop to the water’s edge. And when you’re in Kotor, and you do look up, here is one of the beautiful sights you’re likely to see. High atop the city, this monastery, and further up, a glimpse of the fortress walls that have protected the territory for centuries and are now a major tourist hiking route. We stayed harborside.

November 26, 2012

Ponza, Italy. October, 2012

When the seas were too rough for us to approach Capri, our ship’s captain opted wisely to head instead to the more sheltered port of Ponza, an island further north, closer to Rome. A bustling summer vacation spot that’s packed with Romans escaping the city’s heat, Ponza was very sleepy and low-key on the off-season cloudy Sunday we set foot on shore. And that was fine with me. Fewer people to get in the way of a lazy hike past its Necco-colored houses, its narrow streets and staircases leading up to nowhere and back again. The sound of Sunday’s soccer game on a TV. A cat wandering by. A dog barking in the distance.

November 25, 2012

Messina, Sicily. October, 2012

When we were in Messina a year ago, one of the first things I wanted to do was to try an authentic Sicilian version of the arancini I’d enjoyed for years in Boston’s North End. Mission accomplished. On our return this year, I again made a beeline to the student-filled emporium run by the Famulari brothers. Thirty -- count ’em -- variations available in this joint that my friend Michael has called the Baskin-Robbins of arancini. I opted for #1, the traditional rice ball, filled with tomato-meat sauce, peas and cheese. Michael said he’d go for #6, with a filling of fried eggplant, ricotta, tomato-meat sauce, peas, and dubbed (as is a local pasta/eggplant dish) the Norma, after the opera by native son of nearby Catania, Vincenzo Bellini.

November 24, 2012

Between Montenegro and Sicily. October, 2012

One of the great experiences of our recent sailing with Windstar Cruises was a tour of the ship’s galley kitchens given by Executive Chef Klaus. A down-to-earth, very engaging and kind man, Chef K resembles not at all those driven, competitive types seen regularly on cable TV culinary slapdowns. He laughs. He generously answered questions, pointed out things (like the gi-normous mixers), let us take our time. One of the things I found most fascinating amid all the kitchen’s spotless stainless steel: this huge photo-chart of what the plates should look like before they’re delivered to patrons in the Wind Surf’s three dining rooms. Not exactly paint-by-numbers, but close.

November 23, 2012

Saint-Tropez, France. November, 2012

As I walked the darkened streets of this Riviera town, a light ahead beckoned. A glitzy shop display. Was it Gucci? Louis Vuitton? One of them. And this in the window. Which product could it possibly be promoting? Doesn’t matter, does it? Something tells me that I would love the designer who came up with this idea. Or not.

November 22, 2012

Watertown, MA. November, 2012

The wonders of The Museum of Innocence continue to reveal themselves. First, the Orhan Pamuk novel itself, a 2009 gift from my friend Nick, an engrossing and obsessive read. Then a 2011 trip to Istanbul casually hoping to find the novel’s setting and, surprise!, finding the Museum itself, not yet ready to welcome the public. But, another surprise!, within minutes we found ourselves inside as the guests of visiting members of the German Bundestag. (Only later did we learn from our Hamburg-based pal Ernest that one member, Claudia Roth -- to whom we said the only thing we know in German: Do you want to dance with me? -- is one of the most important politicians in the country!) And now comes in the mail, this wonderful and wonder-filled gift from my friend Stephen -- the museum’s catalogue, filled with beautiful essays and photographs and, yes, inscribed. For these and the many gifts of friendship itself I’ve received in my lifetime, "thanks" hardly conveys the fullness of what I'm feeling. But on this day, well.... 

November 21, 2012

Split, Croatia. October, 2012

As I mentioned yesterday, I love to take pictures of what others are trying to photograph. And nothing pleases me more than to happen accidentally upon a professional photo session. I’ve encountered fashion shoots in Milan, weddings in Venice, television commercials and feature films in Rome’s Piazza Navona, many others. So I was delighted to wander aimlessly through the fascinating alleyways of Diocletian’s former palace within this Croatian city and -- surprise! -- a fashion project! Rather casual these Croatians when it comes to nuptials, no? Or is this supposed to be post-ceremony, the groom’s tuxedo all awry, the bride relaxing in her whipped cream pastry of a dress?

November 20, 2012

Piazza San Marco, Venice. October, 2012

I love to take pictures of people taking pictures. Also love to take the same picture that another person nearby is trying to take. Especially another tourist. Like this one: Three Spanish women, posing like fashion models for their friend the photographer on a wonderfully foggy Venetian morning in front of the Basilica di San Marco. Sacred and profane. But which is which?

November 19, 2012

Monaco. November, 2012

Oh, those Europeans. So cavalier in their approach to things that here in the US of A we address so puritanically. In Italy, for example, they serve wine with hospital meals. In France, dogs are allowed in restaurants. But here at the central market in Monaco (which, any Monégasque will remind you, is not in France), our friends the dogs must wait for their masters outside in this spot. Maybe dogs are only allowed near food after it’s been cooked? At least the vendors here should be happy the dogs don’t smoke. Or do they?

November 18, 2012

Cannes, France. November, 2012

Our experience has been that cruises attract a rich roster of, shall we say, characters. Most are pretty benign. Some are even amusing, like this woman who sailed with us from Rome to Barcelona. Each day, with red (and I do mean red) hair expertly piled into place, she’d appear on deck with her Kindle, her beverage and her snazzy and distinctive outfits. One of our favorites, these pretty blinged-out toreador pants, a lynx jacket and (though she’s removed them here) sparkly high heels that seemed solar-powered such was their radiance. Seen in the background, Cannes, a city famed for its glitter and glam. “Gwen Verdon” (as we nicknamed her) gave it a run for its money.

November 17, 2012

Monaco. November, 2012

The good news: Our ship pulled directly up to the dock in this glamorous capital on the French Riviera. So instead of taking a tender into town as we had to do when our boat was anchored offshore, we could simply walk. The less-good news (at least for Jay): The port was hosting an amusement park for the long holiday (November 1, All Saints’ Day) weekend. So a certain amount of maneuvering was necessary to navigate through the crowds of screaming children. At least they were screaming in French.

November 16, 2012

Portovenere, Italy. October, 2012

Beaded curtains over a shop’s front doorway are not all that uncommon in Italy. They allow the air to circulate, prevent insects from entering, provide a modicum of privacy. However I’d never seen one made of pasta before. Here’s Jay, who has always claimed not to like the penne rigate pasta shape, draped by a curtain made of just that. What happens when it rains, I wonder?

November 15, 2012

Portoferraio, Elba. Italy. October, 2012

Do you remember those vocabulary tests from elementary school that used to present you with a list of terms and ask, “Which item doesn’t belong?” I thought of that question one recent afternoon as I passed the Bar Lo Spuntino near the docks of Portoferraio on Napoleon’s island of Elba.

November 14, 2012

Cannes, France. November, 2012

One of the major attractions in this sunny Côte d’Azur seaside city is the Palais des Festivals, the auditorium that hosts the Cannes Film Festival each year. And surrounding it, embedded in the sidewalk, Cannes’s own version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. My goal? To find Pedro Almodóvar’s imprint. And here it is. Just look at that grip! Among the other international luminaries who’ve left their marks: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Paul Belmondo, Sophia Loren, Vanessa Redgrave, Jean Louis Trintignant, Charlotte Rampling, Claude Lelouch, Michelangelo Antonioni. (My only question: What is Cameron Diaz doing here?)

November 13, 2012

Leaving Venice. October, 2012

Part of the thrill of each cruise we take is the “sail away” from the initial port. Last year, Istanbul’s departure down the Bosphorus and into the Sea of Marmara seemed hard to beat. And then this year...leaving Venice from the Giudecca canal into the Venetian lagoon, passing the Piazza San Marco, the Lido and here behind me, Palladio’s Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, built as a votive church in the 16th century to thank God for sparing the city from a major outbreak of the plague. It’s difficult not to get emotional in the face of such majesty and beauty, in spite of the somewhat mawkish, brass-heavy musical selection played at full tilt over the ship’s sound system. As you can see from the sign, I decided to take refuge on the Star Deck.

November 12, 2012

Pula, Croatia. October, 2012

Sure Pula has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world, a remarkable amphitheater that rivals the Coliseum, a Temple of Augustus that inspires awe. But our first stop in this fabled city? The fish market. Housed in a spanking new building that adjoins its fruit and vegetable counterpart, it features some two dozen vendors offering the freshest of the daily catch, including those octopi over on the right. I guess this vendor has seen it all before, so he can be excused for texting or whatever it is he’s doing. But these abundant markets are still thrilling for us, and we generally make them our first stop in every port we hit.

November 11, 2012

Kotor, Montenegro. October, 2012

Market day in Kotor, and all of the vendors carrying their produce from local farms and gardens into town to sell. On this beautiful crisp autumn morning, olives and mushrooms were in greatest abundance. Unripe, uncured olives, as seen here, still not freed of their bitter unappetizing juices. And huge mushrooms, fist-sized, most already sliced and primed for drying, readying them for storage and use during the winter. Farmhouse cheeses, homemade breads and brandies, and the last of the October harvest’s fruits and vegetables. For us, a wonderfully different experience these markets. For the Montenegrans, a way of life.

November 10, 2012

Between St.-Tropez and Barcelona. November, 2012

Having breakfast each morning on the upper deck of our Windstar ship as we approached the day’s new port, a great treat. For me, sometimes Greek yogurt with pecans, raisins, bananas and pineapple. Sometimes more. For Jay, always smoked salmon with tomato slices and pesto. (Another great treat: being gently awakened each a.m. by coffee brought to our stateroom.) I’m generally uncomfortable with, well, comfort. But for these cruises each autumn, I bend the rules.

November 9, 2012

Giudecca, Venice. October, 2012

There are lots of advantages to staying on the island of Giudecca when visiting Venice. It’s only a two-minute vaporetto hop to the main part of town. You don’t run into thousands of tourists as you walk to the market or to the bar for your morning coffee. The restaurants are frequented mostly by residents of the neighborhood, so the food is good (prompting revisits) and simple, the prices are lower, and the conversation is lively and in Italian (or Venetian.) Also, you get to sit outside on the quay as you dine, looking across the channel at this beautiful vista of the magical city. When you stroll leisurely back to your lodgings afterwards, you’re likely to be either alone in your wanderings or in the company of, at most, two or three Giudecca locals. And when you go to sleep at night, it’s blessedly quiet. (This is the third time I’ve stayed on Giudecca, the first time for Jay. We wouldn’t stay anywhere else.)

November 8, 2012

Barcelona. November, 2012

Yum yum! No matter how you spell it, in English or in Catalan, it still means the same thing. And Jay and I were echoing that napkin’s printed sentiment as we ate at Tapas, 24 this past Monday evening. Prompting our deep satisfaction, the following selection of tapas: braves, pa amb tomàquet, truita espanyola amb pernil and boquerones al limón. For those of you whose Catalan may not be quite up to snuff, that’s fried potatoes with hot sauce and garlic mayonnaise, toast rubbed with tomato and olive oil, potato and onion omelette with Serrano ham and fried anchovies with lemon. A wonderful assortment at a wonderful place we were happy to revisit.

November 7, 2012

Tivoli, Italy. October, 1984

My late friend Dali, martyr to any photo op she was offered. For example, here in the famous water gardens of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli. Less than 20 miles outside of Rome, Tivoli is also the site of Emperor Hadrian’s Villa, his country retreat from Rome, built during the 2nd century AD. (He is said to have disliked Rome so much that he governed almost exclusively from his Tivoli home during the last years of his reign.) Much of his 250-acre estate remains unexcavated, but one site that has been unearthed is Hadrian’s temple to his young lover Antinous whom he proclaimed a god. A religious cult grew up around Antinous, one that continues to this day. (Unfortunately, YouTube has removed the video of my friend Ernest in his BBC debut, pointing out representations of the gay god in the Louvre. Antinous, if you're listening, please take care of restoring it, OK?)

November 6, 2012

Tucson. April, 2010

Have you all voted today? (I’m in Barcelona, headed home tonight, but I voted with an absentee ballot last month before I left the US of A.) I love voting and do it every chance I get. I have friends who never vote. Can you believe that? Their excuse: “What difference does my one vote make?” I don’t even have to answer that, do I? With all the shenanigans that surround this year’s American presidential election (challenging voters’ rights to vote, CEOs threatening to fire employees if their chosen candidate doesn’t win, etc.), our electoral process is beginning to approach that of, say, Venezuela. Just a matter of time, I think. Still, I believe that my vote counts. And I believe that yours does, too. Do it.

November 5, 2012

Barcelona. November, 2010

There’s a madness about Spain that I love. At one moment, people are reverent, sophisticated, traditional. Then turn the corner and it’s a completely different story. Nowhere is this more true than in Barcelona. Even the language, Catalan, seems to a foreigner a mad take on Spanish loaded with lots of Xs and incorporating bits of French and Italian throughout. And take a look at this building, Gaudí’s Casa Battló on the Passeig de Gràcia. Bits of color splashed here and there. Balconies that appear to leer with menacing masked grins. And that mad tiled building on the left! These are not sequestered off in some precious, preserved neighborhood, either. They’re smack dab in the middle of downtown, next to perfectly ordinary office buildings and shops. Locura. I love it! Do we really have to head home tomorrow?

November 4, 2012

Parc Güell, Barcelona. March, 1995

Who is that mysterious Catalan at the gates of Gaudí’s famed park, photographed on our first visit to Barcelona almost 18 years ago? Oh, wait... For Jay’s 50th birthday present, I told him I’d take him on a trip anywhere he wanted, that he should think about it. That he shouldn’t say Montreal if he really wanted to go to Moscow. After a few days, he told me he’d decided. Key West. Key West!?! I asked, “Really? Wouldn’t you rather go to Spain?” Well, yes, he said, so we went to Spain. Madrid, Toledo, Córdoba, Granada, Sevilla and Barcelona. Today, we’re back in Barcelona (if all goes as planned), a favorite of ours that we visited again in 2010. Here for two nights to revisit our favorite modernisme buildings, shops, tapas bars. (For the record, Jay offered me the same present on my 50th birthday. My choice, a place I’d always wanted to visit: Istanbul. And Jay replied, “Absolutely not!” He was afraid. I wasn’t. I wound up going with Nick a few years later. Oh, wait...I’m not 50 yet. At least not in this photo.)

November 3, 2012

Paris. December, 2005

Our cruise is scheduled to make its last stop today before ending tomorrow in Barcelona. St. Tropez. The chic French Riviera playground of the rich. Well, it used to be, back when Brigitte Bardot was here filming Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman. Since then, well not so much. Still, the “St. Tropez tan” continues to be touted in ads for Bain de Soleil. And it’s still a long holiday weekend in here in France, so there ought to be lots of activity. And, please, please let it be a market day like this one I remember so well in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris some seven years ago. And please let there be some place I can buy socca, that wonderful chickpea flour pancake drizzled with olive oil that I remember from my first visit to the Riviera back in 1969.

November 2, 2012

Tucson. November 2, 2006

I’m slated to be in Southern France today, so I’ll be calling All Souls’ Day, Le Jour des Morts. (Though the official Catholic name in English is “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.”) But if you happen to be in Mexico (or here in Southern Arizona), it’s known as the Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. No surprise that Mexicans have more fun with the holiday than those stuffy European Western Christianity types do. Sugar skulls that laugh at death, candle-filled shrines in public spaces, personal altars filled with the departed’s favorite foods, covered with marigolds, with photos and other family memorabilia in more private locations. Whenever I’m in Tucson on this day, I love to come across the various ways that people here mark the occasion. Of course, the big occasion in Tucson is the annual All Souls’ Procession this coming Sunday. I’ll be thinking of it as our ship docks in Barcelona on that morning.

November 1, 2012

Paris. December, 2005

Today is All Saints’ Day, a national holiday in France where it’s known as La Toussaint. And a holiday in Italy, too, Tutti Santi. Once in Rome on this day, we’d decided to drive to the country for lunch and I remember Paolo (occasional Fellini actor and Dali’s ex-boyfriend) checking to make sure there were no cemeteries on the route because all Italians go to their ancestors’ graves on this day and the traffic would be intense. One year on Tutti Santi, I was visiting Antonio and Roberta in Lucca and they brought me to their family picnic at the cemetery. (I still remember Roberta was wearing a Betty Boop T-shirt with “Let’s Get Physical” emblazoned across it.) Jay and I are slated to spend an overnight in Monte Carlo this evening. I expect the place will be packed with vacationers taking advantage of the long weekend as tomorrow, All Souls’ Day, is also a national holiday. And those luckyduck French schoolchildren have a two-week autumn vacation right about now, too.