Sailing from Byzantium this time. South through the Sea of Marmara, the Hellespont, the Aegean Sea. And here, from our stateroom’s porthole, the view upon leaving Bodrum, Turkey -- the ancient city of Halicarnassus. It was so easy and deeply relaxing to sleep onboard ship. Such silence save for the gentle murmurs of the sea. The comfort of knowing that when you woke up you’d be in yet another fabled port. No luggage to carry, no hotel room to locate. I think back about the years I avoided going on a cruise, harboring fears about the other people, the protocol, etc. Now? I can hardly wait to go on the next one.
February 28, 2012
Oh, no. Just before we landed in Tangier, my camera started misbehaving. Shades of purple would appear. The image would blur and run. But mercifully, not on every picture. So I would never know if I’d get the shot or, as in this case, not. Fortunately I managed to take plenty of photos in both Tangier and in our next and last stop, Lisbon. And when I got home, Canon customer service was extraordinarily helpful. They listened to my description of the trouble, acknowledged their responsibility for the problem, reassured me that it would be fixed...and then not only paid for postage both ways for the free repair, but had my camera back to me within a week! So, as evocative as this lavender blur of Tangier’s medina may be, I’m happy to be back on track for more conventional photos with my trusty Canon PowerShot A95, a simple and reliable travel companion.
February 27, 2012
What a lovely break from the crowds of Istanbul was this day trip west to Edirne. On the Turkish border with Greece and Bulgaria, it was originally founded by Hadrian as Adrianople, then later became the Ottoman capital before the sultanate moved to Constantinople. Consequently it’s dotted with wonderful examples of remarkable architecture and decor. Like this domed ceiling in the Eski Cami, the “old mosque.” “Old” in this case means 1413. And this was only my first stop in this quiet eastern Thracian city. Before the day was over, I’d hit two more wonderful mosques (one out in country fields, one a major historical site), a Turkish bath, two markets and a father-and-son sandwich shop where I had a chicken shish on pita for less than a dollar. Then, on the two-and-one-half-hour bus ride back to Istanbul, the movie being shown featured my old pal, actress Deborah Rush. (I’d seen a book by her curator brother Michael, a good friend from high school, in an Istanbul book shop the previous night.) Small, wonderful world.
February 26, 2012
Each summer, when Vincent Price would come to Boston to tape his introductions to Mystery!, we’d have a small party after we’d finished. His wife, the actress Coral Browne, would arrive for the event, and we’d all have a generally good time. On Vincent’s last day of taping before he retired as program host in 1988, the party was a tad more extravagant, posters of him hanging around the studio, monitors showing scenes from his classic films, some of the crew members’ families in attendance. The stage manager’s French wife arrived with their young daughter who became fascinated with the scenes from The Tingler. When the spiny demon emerged to choke one of its victims, the little girl became upset and concerned and asked her mother for consolation. “Oui, ma cherie,” her mother comforted, “C’est langouste.” (Of course a little New England girl would recognize a lobster.)
February 25, 2012
When I find a recipe I like, I stay with it. And when it comes to baking, I always use my friend Nick’s recipes. He tests them so thoroughly and has such a sympathetic appreciation of the “home baker,” that his recipes always work. For example, his Torta di Nocciole alla Veronese, pictured here. When Nick and I were traveling through Italy in 1988, gathering recipes for his Great Italian Desserts book, visiting bakeries and restaurant kitchens, tasting every baked good that wasn’t nailed down, he found this recipe in the hazelnut-growing northern Italian region near Verona. It’s so easy and so good and comes out beautifully every time. Ground nuts. Breadcrumbs. Eggs, separated and each part beaten with sugar. Marsala (I use vanilla instead.) Melted butter folded in. Basta. Bake for 30 minutes at 350, cool, dust with confectioner’s sugar. One hour from start to finish. Perfect. This time around, I made it with almonds...with Nick’s blessing. So good. Check the recipe section of Nick’s website to learn how to do it the right way. I suspect this will be a winner you’ll stay with, too.
February 24, 2012
The fabled La Fenice theater in Venice. Aptly named, “The Phoenix” has burned and been rebuilt many times since it opened its doors in the late 18th century, since it hosted the premieres of Verdi’s Rigoletto (1851) and La Traviata (1853). Here it is the night I went to hear a concert (before the theater burned again in 1996, arson this time), not caring overly much what the music or who the composer (Ciakovski) was, just wanting to enter the stunning jewel box of a hall. I’d bought my ticket earlier in the day, then returned that evening, took my seat (next to a chatty woman who’d come in by train from her home in Verona). The lights went down, the music began. I recognized it. Tchaikovsky! Just as I had been fooled earlier when I discovered that all my favorite Titian paintings seemed to be attributed to someone named Tiziano, I was once again humbled by Italian spelling.
February 23, 2012
When we arrived in Córdoba on the rápido train from Madrid, we hoisted our bags and headed for the centro. Still looking like the Arab city it once was, the city offered small streets and alleys bordered by chock-a-block stuccoed houses, whitewash all over their thick walls (to keep out the heat), all containing an interior central courtyard. Here’s the view from our pensión, where the senora warned us not to eat the oranges when we’d admired them. “Muy fuerte,” she said. Could they have been the bitter oranges used to make marmalade? Or was she just trying to keep us from sampling?
February 22, 2012
I’m not much given to luxury. It makes me uncomfortable. (In fancy restaurants, I’d much rather speak with the kitchen staff than with some snooty hostess or wine expert. While running in the nicer sections of my town, I’m usually much more at ease with the landscaping crew than I am with the homeowners.) However, I make an exception for the laid-back comfort provided by Windstar Cruises. Take for example, this on-board dinner at Le Marché, the outdoor, top-deck dining option on our recent cruise. A Greek island port twinkling in the background, a temperate evening that invited all things al fresco, an early dining time to insure some privacy, the sushi appetizer, the shellfish combo, the low-key friendliness of Ony and the other servers...and knowing that I was enjoying this while wearing a Ralph Lauren sport jacket that cost me all of $3 at a Boston thrift shop. In such heady surroundings, it’s good to maintain one’s perspective.
February 21, 2012
Look closely and you’ll notice that this is another in a series of jumping pictures. Easy for the jumper to get lost in all this faded grandeur though. These public thermal baths were built in the early 3rd century during the reign of the emperor whose name they bear, and they remained in use until the 6th century sack of Rome by the Ostrogoths. But you knew that. At one time they encompassed several swimming pools (with polished bronze mirrors that directed the sunlight into the water for warmth), boxing gymnasiums, even libraries. Early images of the vast structure provided the inspiration for the design of Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station (before the late 20th-century Ostrogoths sacked that architectural wonder, too.) Since 1937, the baths have provided the setting each summer for musical events, most notably and appropriately for performances of Verdi’s Aida. And, for better or worse, the site provided the location on July 7, 1990, the eve of that year’s FIFA World Cup Final, for the first of many concerts given by The Three Tenors (Domingo, Pavarotti, Carreras) and the marketing phenomenon that came in its wake (and the subsequent antitrust action by the US Federal Trade Commission against some 3.10 business dealings that were judged, well, operatic.)
February 20, 2012
Çiya. The best place Nick and I ate in Istanbul. We’d heard of this casual restaurant (where Chef Musa Dağdeviren hunts down and serves up acclaimed dishes from central and eastern Turkey) from the food writings of both Paula Wolfert and Oleana chef Ana Sortun, and we wasted no time in trying it. Our first full day in town, we were right there, asking waiter “John Travolta” to bring us an assortment of dishes he recommended. What a good idea! Among the many, many dishes we shared was this stew of lamb, bread and sour cherries. Others were a vegetable-and-herb-studded pilaf enclosed in a pastry shell. A spicy homemade meat and grain sausage. A soup of tiny ravioli-like manti in a minted yogurt base. And we were so delighted, we returned a few days later to do the same thing all over again. Even as I write this, years later, planning another trip to this magical city, my mouth still waters in anticipation.
February 19, 2012
I love when my friends’ paths cross. Even remotely. Here’s my pal Ted (a former Bose-o like me) standing within the Snake Bridge (as Tucson residents familiarly refer to it) that was designed by my friend Simon. Cool. On a recent visit to Tucson, I’d had breakfast with Ted (who’d driven south from his Phoenix home) at the Little Cafe Poca Cosa, then ambled around downtown, along 4th Avenue, winding up at the Epic Cafe to pass a lazy afternoon with lemonade, iced coffee and enjoyable conversation. Somewhere in between we squeezed in a visit to the bridge, now one of the city’s most recognizable and beloved icons. Its internal geometry and midday shadows almost cry out “photo op!” We obliged.
February 18, 2012
All right, I will eat my words. I have held the Boston MFA in somewhat low regard, calling it very JV, lacking in any real masterpieces, etc. After several visits in the summer of 2010, I thought it a fine place to pass the time, walking among the ancient art of Egypt, the large hall of Italian Renaissance pictures, the occasional French Impressionist. But nothing stood out, took my breath away. All that has changed with the opening of the museum’s new American Wing. Of course the masterpieces would be American, hidden away while these impressive new galleries were under construction. When I recently returned, saw the new wing for the first time, I gasped upon entering the gallery and was confronted by this. John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark. One of my forgotten favorites, positioned for optimum effect, and quite shocking against Copley’s more sedate and formal portraits for which he’d gained his reputation as a society painter. Based on a true story of a 14-year-old cabin boy’s disastrous 1749 swim in Havana harbor (the tale related to Copley by that same grown-up cabin boy when they became friends years later in London), it contains Cuban geographical elements from a place Copley had never been. The artist had also never seen a shark, much less one on the attack, but you’d never know it. What a painting! (Note: If all goes as planned, I will arrive in Havana today for the first time. Harbor swimming not on the itinerary.)
February 17, 2012
There are few things as evocative as the art nouveau design and lettering of the Paris metro. The first line opened in 1900 during the Paris World Exposition, grew to more than 133 miles of track and 384 stops during the next 40 years, and since then has gone on to become the second busiest subway system in the world (only Moscow’s is busier.) And still, with its clearly color-coded maps and signs, it remains among the easiest international systems to decipher. On film, many directors have paid homage to the metro, including François Truffaut and the Coen Brothers. All aswirl and suggestive of its turn-of-the-century beginnings, here’s the entrance to the station at the equally evocative location, Bastille. And when you emerge from the metro here, you’ll be very close to the daily street market (lots of oysters, lots of lobsters just before New Year’s Eve), the new opera house and the wonderful brasserie, Bofinger.
February 16, 2012
I’m not a voracious meat-eater. But every once in awhile, nothing seems to satisfy as much. So when Nick suggested a trip to this BBQ joint in the Williamsburg neighborhood, I was delighted. Fette Sau is hip (like its location) and basic and good. You enter what seems to have once been an auto-repair shop and approach the counter. A chalkboard indicates what’s available that day, and the server puts a piece of butcher paper on a metal tray and loads it up with your selections. No plates. We got (clockwise from lower left) pulled pork, half-sour pickles, flank steak, sausages, broccoli salad, ribs and pork belly. (The hamburger buns we left; we were both dieting.) Rolls of paper towels on the picnic tables (both inside and out) and utensils as needed. A complete bar tended by a real sweetheart completes the scene. This meat-heavy meal is probably not for everyday...but I can’t wait to return.
February 15, 2012
The tiny side streets that lead into the Praça de Figueira in downtown Lisbon serve up a rich roster of visual delights. One offers several 19th-century hardware stores, another features storefronts displaying prepared foods to go, a third is a nightly gathering place for streetwalkers of all varieties. There’s also the fancy men’s hat shop. And the store with its front window filled with hanging dried sausages. One of my favorite places is Hortelão, this seed and garden shop that borders the square. The inside is just as “casual” as the outside would indicate, with bins of bulbs, racks of seed packets, salespeople who look like they’ve been there since the day the store opened and who know their business as few others do. And I love that their sign makes the fine distinction found in the languages of many European countries between hortas (kitchen or vegetable gardens) and jardins (flower or decorative gardens.)
February 14, 2012
Whenever I hear someone talking about how immoral America has become, I laugh. Violent video games and relatively tepid nudity in films may seem loose to some, but only because of an underlying Puritanism that still seems to serve as an American benchmark. Whenever I travel to a warmer, more sensual European destination -- be it Italy, Portugal, Spain, even France -- I’m reminded of just how straight-laced and conservative we are at home (and becoming frighteningly more so.) Maybe that’s why I love this photo of a couple in this beautiful Roman square. Not because it’s a good photograph, not at all, but because it makes me smile, thinking about how natural it is to see affection like this as you walk through Rome. Or Paris. Or Lisbon, Barcelona. A little later, as I walked by these two again, they were both sitting up, he was trying to nuzzle her ear, she was saying (but not meaning) “basta.” I wondered who they were, did they live at home with their parents and were they only able to meet here in public? Fellini said he liked to take the bus in Rome because he saw little dramas when he looked at his fellow passengers. I like to walk when I’m in Rome, seeing little dramas like this one all the time. Happy St. Valentine’s Day.
February 13, 2012
There’s a lawlessness in Tucson that I find very appealing. It’s not quite like the James Gang ridin’ into Tombstone, pistols blazing. It’s more like tattoos and warm-weather drinkers and edgy types just hanging out. On a recent visit, I noticed more condom wrappers on the ground, along with spent nitrous oxide (laughing gas) cartridges, though usually not together. I also noticed many more signs outside just about every bar and restaurant, alerting patrons that guns were verboten within. Did some new firearms law get passed? Is a sign really going to prevent a six-shooter’s appearance at the bar...or better yet, on the bar? Most of the signs, like this one, seem to laugh at themselves, suggesting that the premises owners are acknowledging the law, but only just barely. Whatever. I didn’t actually hear any guns being fired. But then, I was only there five days.
February 12, 2012
When it comes to finding the best ice cream in Rome, everyone you ask seems to have a different favorite. So the only foolproof way to a correct answer? Try every place yourself. OK! Among our favorites, the old standbys: Giolitti, where I sampled my first gelato autentico, several flavors (I’m sure hazelnut was one of them) built vertically onto a cake cone until you think it can hold no more. Then they ask you if you want panna, yes, so they put whipped cream on the very top. Plus a triangular wafer! No wonder this place is always crowded. Another favorite, the mela stregata (witch’s apple) at, where else, Biancaneve (Snow White), a neighborhood gelateria of long standing. Another wonderful memory from my first trip to Rome in 1980 was the famed tartufo served here at Tre Scalini on the Piazza Navona. A brandied cherry surrounded by chocolate ice cream, which is bathed in a chocolate coating and rolled in chopped pieces of chocolate. Topped with panna, of course. To me, no real truffle has ever tasted as good or as memorable.
February 11, 2012
When you can’t find the time to travel to other parts of the world, chances are that some of those places have found the time to travel to you. An example: the Yasmin Levy concert I attended on a cold winter night just miles from my home. Backed by a flamenco guitarist from Scotland, an Armenian virtuoso on clarinet, duduk and zurna (flute- and Middle-Eastern-horn-like instruments), an electric bassist from Ghana and her Israeli percussionist husband, the very pregnant Turkish-Israeli Levy charmed the crowd with her mix of Spanish and Ladino songs and her entertaining personal forays into storytelling (in English, Spanish and French) for context. She introduced one number as “the saddest song...ever,” but managed to leaven the playlist with some upbeat takes that had the audience clapping and singing melodically in Spanish at one point. Ladino is the collective term for the Judeo-Spanish languages spoken by the Jewish diaspora forced from Spain in 1492 that absorbed linguistic influences from their new countries: Arabic, Turkish, Greek, Slavic, Portuguese, French, Italian and Hebrew. Levy has assumed as her mission to keep the dying Ladino language alive through song. And judging from the packed house and the line to buy her CDs afterwards, she’s doing just that.
February 10, 2012
Is this Tippi Hedren? She wishes. Alas, it is one of the many thousands of people who find themselves in the beautiful Renaissance city of Florence and who also find themselves surrounded by thousands of pigeons. Fed over the centuries by countless tourists with good hearts, these dirty birds now have a sense of entitlement bred into them that would rival that of any Hapsburg princess or Kardashian sister. Photo ops notwithstanding, what’s the point? Look at this poor woman outside the basilica of Santa Maria Novella. I remember she wanted her picture taken among the birds. She got much more than she bargained for. In 2006, the Florentine municipal authorities, recognizing the hazard that these birds pose for people, as well as for statues and monuments, imposed a 50-euro fine for anyone caught feeding the pigeons in public squares. (A similar ban went into effect in Venice two years later.) Not sure what the results have been, but I imagine that there may be at least a bit more light in the piazzas.
February 9, 2012
Teresa, a Spanish cookbook author and restaurateur friend of Nick’s, had provided us with an interesting list of places to eat when in Madrid. I especially wanted to eat Basque cuisine, so I paid attention when she, a Basque native, mentioned that Currito was her favorite. We emerged from a nearby metro station in the middle of an evening downpour and took refuge under a leaky awning, trying to make sense of the map on my iPod Touch. A few false turns, some directions offered by pitying locals, and we found it within a nearby park. Worth all the effort. The food and service were exceptional. Including this chuletón, a big grilled steak, sliced and brought to the table on a hot stoneware platter on which it continues to cook. The chef came out to chat, gave us his handwritten recipe for Salmorejo Cordobés, which we had expressed an interest in, showed us what salt cod looked and felt like before and after soaking, and even walked us to the back door of the kitchen to point out a closer metro stop. The rain had stopped. We were full and happy.
February 8, 2012
Granted, most people come to Assisi to admire the Giotto frescoes. To follow in the footsteps of native son San Francesco. Or maybe to visit the nearby resting place of his Facebook friend Santa Chiara, patron saint of television (no joke). Well, we did all of those things. But then Miriam, Nick and I took some paths less traveled in this beautiful Umbrian hilltown. Good meals, visits to friendly proprietors of local pastry shops (Nick was researching his Great Italian Desserts book) and then just some ordinary things like dropping into a hardware store (where I bought one of those clicking ignitors for manually lit gas stoves, which I still use today.) And this. A reminder of how completely gaga tutto Italia was about the King of Pop’s tour. He continued to dog us for the rest of our Italian visit. And the first leg of my journey home (a flight from Torino to Zurich) was actually dominated by his staff and technical crew on their way to the next gig. Michael, it seems, had arranged private transportation.
February 7, 2012
I don’t particularly like to drive. So a vacation perk for me is not having to get behind the wheel, not having to think about the responsibility of driving, of parking. Give me public transportation every time. I’ve only had to drive twice in all of my times in Europe, and one of those times was only for 20 minutes (when my friend Antonio asked me to take a car from his home in the country into the city of Lucca.) Tracking down information with Nick for his Great Italian Desserts book, we needed a car to access smaller towns and to cover long distances in an efficient way. (Aside from what was a nightmare-inducing, mile-high drive over the excessively windy and cliff-hanging highway en route to Calabria, it was pretty much non-threatening.) But I opt for the train (especially in Europe) every time I can. Or the bus. Or to fly on one of the new cheap intra-Europe airlines like Spanair (one hour from Madrid to Santiago de Compostela) or Vueling (20 minutes on our day-trip from Barcelona to the island of Mallorca, seen here.) Letting others do the “driving” means a real vacation for me.
February 6, 2012
This is my friend George expressing wonder and delight at a wedding vehicle in San Francisco’s Chinatown. I met him in Boston before he moved west, and he kindly hosted me when I hit SFO for the first time. (He was a better host than I was a guest, I’m afraid.) He was also a big Mia Farrow fan, and back in Boston in 1979, when I was working at WGBH-TV, l learned that Farrow and Anthony Perkins (they were then starring onstage in the Boston tryout of Romantic Comedy) were coming into the station for an interview. I arranged for us to sit in. And then, in the lobby as they were leaving, I decided, now or never, to introduce my friend to the actress. “Miss Farrow, I’d like to introduce George Hatzis, a big fan of yours. He’s seen everything from Guns at Batasi to Hurricane.” George, never shy, blurted out, “No I haven’t. I don’t even know what Guns at Batasi is.” She smiled, looked at me and kindly said, “But you do.”
February 5, 2012
During the early spring of 1992, a friend introduced me to photographer Joel (Cape Light) Meyerowitz in a Provincetown bookstore. We started chatting and when I mentioned that I was planning a trip to Ireland, Meyerowitz interrupted, “You must go to Achill Island!” Um, OK. Here was one of the world’s great seers making a recommendation. Of course, I’d go. So when my father and I were in the Old Country a few months later, that's where we headed. One look and I knew why Meyerowitz had been so charmed. Muted, pearlescent light. Expanses of sea, sand, sky. Limited palette. Space. It was off season and this beach was abandoned except for an inveterate surfer and his two dogs. But it was easy to see why this is a favorite summer excursion for locals when the weather and the sea warm up.
February 4, 2012
I am an all-or-nothing kind of guy. Sometimes that’s good, often not. This time it was good. A few years ago, I was checking out the world-music shelves at my local library and found a CD by a Portuguese fado singer with remarkable hair -- platinum blonde, plastered-down tides of finger waves. I took a chance. One listen and I was hooked. I wound up getting all of Mariza’s albums right away, checked her out on YouTube (and found I was not alone in my enthusiasm) and bought tickets to see her three times within the year on her swings through Massachusetts: Amherst, New Bedford and Boston. My two trips to Lisbon were initially prompted by the appeal of her songs. (She was out of town for each of my visits to her hometown: once in Switzerland, once in Japan.) Mariza does not yet have the fan base here that she enjoys in Europe (where it borders on madness), and so her Bay State venues were smaller and more intimate, her smokey deep voice easily filling the halls even without amplification. And here in New Bedford, with its sizable Portuguese population, there was a special connection with the audience at the Zeiterion. Just check out the local sponsors for her concert and you’ll get an idea what I’m talking about. (We ate at Antonio’s, but more on that another time.)
February 3, 2012
I love the street food in Istanbul. Yes, there are simit sellers early every morning offering their sesame-studded bread rings (sometimes from carts, sometimes from trays balanced on their heads) to willing buyers throughout the city. But as the morning wears on, other vendors appear selling mussels with a squeeze of lemon, various fruit juices, kumpir (baked potatoes with an assortment of toppings) or misir (roasted and salted corn on the cob), which is what this young woman is selling on Istiklal Caddesi, a pedestrian thoroughfare, very near the Galatasaray high school and so, near a lot of hungry teenagers looking for a quick snack that happens to be healthy. A bargain, too, at 1.5 Turkish lira or roughly 95 American cents (though away from this prime location, you can find it even cheaper.)
February 2, 2012
Mmmmm. Patatas bravas. Found on every tapas menu in Spain, from the most elegant big-city lounges to the simplest country tavern. (I’ve even had them at a “small plates” Spanish restaurant in Boston.) Of course, there are slight variations from region to region, bar to bar. But for my euro, no one does it quite so well as Tapas, 24 in Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood. The starting point for all presentations is simple enough: sliced potatoes, deep fried, laced with a spicy tomato sauce. There is a related dish called patatas alioli which substitutes a garlicky mayonnaise for the tomato sauce. Tapas, 24 gives you both. Who doesn’t like fried potatoes? Even vegetarians can find happiness in meat-heavy Spain with a dish of these beauties. And one wonderful thing about tapas is that if you like something you’ve eaten, you can order another portion immediately. You will not be alone.
February 1, 2012
I value my private time when I travel. If I’m in Rome, I want to be among Romans, to speak and hear Italian. The same applies in Istanbul, Lisbon, Barcelona. I’m on vacation to be “away.” I want to get lost in the alleyways of Venice, the markets of Montreal, the medina of Tangier. Fortunately much of my travel has been solo. And at other times, my infrequent companions have (mostly) understood and indulged my preference. I don’t have to be on my own all of the time. But some of the time, yes. I need to escape anonymously into the city with my camera, to stop whenever I want, to be unconcerned about anyone else. And then to meet up for dinner. I live alone and I’m used to the wonderful luxury of time I have to think, to be silent. It’s one reason I have always avoided guided tours, why I was apprehensive for so many years about signing up for a cruise. (The Windstar cruises Jay and I’ve taken have mercifully provided ample opportunities for solitude. The upcoming group trip to Cuba, my fingers are crossed.)