Enter this small, crumbling courtyard during the day and you’re likely to meet a variety of neighborhood types hanging out, chatting. And because they’re Cubans, they kindly included me in their conversations. One young man told me he had a magazine that featured this staircase I’d just photographed. Did I want to see it? A woman who unofficially sits guard all day told me she thought my Spanish was good. (At least that’s what I think she said.) A man wanted to know about my life in the Estados Unidos. Return at night, and you’ll be able to eat at the famed paladar La Guarida on the top floor, often called the best restaurant in Cuba, frequented by such luminaries as Sean Penn and Queen Sofia of Spain. And, if you adjust your standards accordingly, by such luminaries as my friends Patti and Jeannie and I. We didn’t only come for the fine food, but because La Guarida occupies the apartment in which the excellent Cuban movie Fresa y Chocolate was filmed. See it.
May 30, 2012
Is it my love of collage that draws me to to the torn-poster walls I see all over Europe? Or is it the other way around? Madrid, Naples, Istanbul, and here in Lisbon, surfaces all over the place blossom with ripped layers of color and text, suggesting far more interesting and sometimes surprising moments than the original events or products advertised. I’ve always been fascinated by the Cubist collages of Picasso and Braque, the later collages and assemblages of Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell. Maybe someday these multi-layered walls will be remembered for the beauty and fascination they offered.
May 29, 2012
The Pantheon is my favorite building in the whole wide world. I love the rotunda (still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome), its oculus open to the sky (letting in a moving circle of sunlight or rain), originally intended as a ventilating escape for the smoke from animal sacrifices below. Commissioned by consul Marcus Agrippa circa 27 BC as a temple to all the ancient Roman gods, it was rebuilt in 126 AD by the emperor Hadrian to pretty much its present structure. I love that back in the 1980s, I would pass by on my Roman wanderings, step inside and be the only person within its cavernous interior. (Not the case during my most recent visit; there are now guard rails to shepherd the tourist crowds in and out in an orderly fashion.) It still functions as a church (which it has been since the 7th century); there are several altars, the tombs of Raphael and Italian kings Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I and his queen Margherita (of pizza fame.) Regular recorded announcements in several languages urge the noisy throngs to remain silent in this “sacred place.” No such luck.
May 28, 2012
Every year I walk down the hill to watch my town’s Memorial Day parade go by, and every year I get weepy, trying to deal with conflicted feelings that well up. I love the slightly out-of-synch twirlers and cub scouts and other young marchers who are having a good time tossing candy to kids watching from the curb. I remember wonderful parades from my Springfield, NJ, childhood, marching as a cub scout, racing at the route’s end to the local Dairy Queen that was giving out free sundaes to all. (“Maple walnut, please.”) The sound of a brass marching band always gets me going. But then, the adults and their politics get in the way of my nostalgic reverie. I grew up in the 1960s after all. Fortunately, I’m quickly shaken out of my troubled thinking by my irritation over a glad-handing local politician or, worse, bagpipes! The 2011 standouts: a passing 1959 two-tone DeSoto FireFlite (fins!) and this float of mothers and kids representing a local autism research group. I can get behind both of those with no problem.
May 27, 2012
How do they know? How are they able to pop exactly on Memorial Day each year, even when the date changes to accommodate the shifting last Monday of May? But somehow they do. Our Gloucester garden has a section of bright poppies that bud mid-May and then wait patiently, gathering steam and purpose, until they explode to our great delight. The earlier-appearing artificial lapel-sized ones sold to aid veterans’ causes are simply a tease, a reminder of the outside riot to come. And then...wow! They never fail to disappoint. Long a symbol of sleep (because of the association with opium poppies) and death (because of their blood-red color), these connotations were well known to the Wicked Witch of the West. Another association with the poppy (one not lost on Glinda) is the promise of resurrection after death. Especially benevolent at the end of May when a long Massachusetts winter is (in most but not all cases) finally over.
May 26, 2012
One of the few reasons I used to like visiting the home in which I grew up in Springfield, NJ, was that I always had vivid dreams whenever I slept in my childhood bed. Still do. On one such visit, on the night before my friend Charlie’s funeral, I dreamt that I was at a big party with some Boston friends. It was in a huge old house with many rooms, and someone I knew came up to me and said Charlie (above, right) was inside and wanted to see me. I hesitated, but gradually made my way through the crowds and the music, and sure enough, there he was, motioning for me to come over to him. He smiled at me and I remember saying, “I don’t know exactly how to bring this up, but aren’t you dead?” He took my hand and said, “Yes, I’m dead. But I just wanted to let you know that I’m OK.” I woke up. And I went to the funeral (along with my friend John, above, left.) And I wept and wept for my lost friend.
May 25, 2012
The first time I visited Vincent Price at his home in LA, I was somewhat in awe. Yes, we’d been friends and colleagues (on PBS’s Mystery!) for years. But still...he was a movie star! He’d housed me in what he called the Jean Marsh bedroom and when I realized that the walls and shelves were filled with signed photos from his friends, other movie stars, I was completely dazzled. As he knew I would be. I’m not proud of this, but I spent some time that night secretly photographing the photographs, like this one from Bette Davis. Vincent mentioned that she’d asked him once to pick her up and give her a ride to a party at Roddy McDowall’s house. Vincent’s wife Coral told me, “That’s like picking up a time bomb.” When he and Davis -- and Lillian Gish and Ann Sothern -- were filming The Whales of August, the production company was named Alive Films. Coral smiled at me and said, “Barely Alive would be more like it.”
May 24, 2012
Many (not all) of the folks in our “Art & Architecture” trip to Cuba were nice and a lot of fun. But still, I didn’t want to spend all of my time with them. So there were a few instances where I skipped out to do some things I thought were essential. Like visiting Havana’s Mercado de Cuatro Caminos. A nice walk through non-touristed neighborhoods, asking directions a few times along the way, brought me here. What a treat. People from the country bring their produce to this indoor market to sell. Mostly organic (thanks to a merciful shortage of agricultural chemicals in Cuba), there were artful, mountainous displays of pineapples, mangoes, fruta bomba (I’d been warned not to call it papaya, a word Cubans only use to describe a lady’s most private parts), plantains, bananas, tomatoes, yuca and other Spanish-speaking vegetables, and citrus fruits of all varieties. No English heard here. I loved it. (When I rejoined the group that afternoon and mentioned where I’d been, I was told it was a dangerous place for a single gringo to be. Maybe. But I’d walk on the wild side for this experience again in a hot second.)
May 23, 2012
I love this picture of my friend Nick and his cousin Enzo, taken when we were visiting Enzo’s hometown in central Sicily. (Enna is also the place where I had the smallest and strongest espresso in Italy. One tablespoon, rocket fuel.) Nick is not an overly tall person, and it’s amusing now to look back at this and other photos of him with his diminutive relatives. But height notwithstanding, Enzo was a big man about town that day as he strutted and guided us around, saying hello or stopping to do business with just about every person on the street. This sidewalk sunglasses stand was too good a photo op to pass up. And I love the little “si prega di non toccare” sign just above Nick’s head. We obeyed it and didn’t touch a thing.
May 22, 2012
The mezze platter at Sofra: five selections, a little bread, $9 and worth every single penny. The casual spinoff of Oleana’s chef/owner Ana Sortun and pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick, this Cambridge bakery and cafe is within quick walking distance to my house in Watertown. (I anticipated its arrival so much that I went there three times on opening day. No joke.) These plates were assembled on a visit three years later with friends Diane, Georgia and Dana, and as you can see, no one held back. Beet tzatziki, whipped feta with Turkish peppers, Moroccan goat cheese spread, parsnip skordalia, spicy carrot puree...just some of the rainbow assortment of the dozen or so offerings available on any given day. No one I’ve ever brought here has been disappointed or even neutral. And the mezze platter is only one of its many delights. Now if I could only figure out when it’s the least crowded...
May 21, 2012
Isn’t it amazing the details that surface in our dreams? Last night, I dreamt that I’d run into an old boss on the streets of Lisbon, his first visit to one of my favorite cities. I asked him if he’d like a restaurant recommendation...and he walked silently away. I woke up with an attitude. My beloved friend Carolyn, who studies such things, is my go-to person for dream interpretation, but I think I can handle this one myself. (I once told her of a dream in which I was preparing a dish to be served at a party in a neighbor’s house, the host walked in and threw it into a toilet that happened to be in the center of the kitchen. Carolyn’s take: “It’s clearly work-related.”) This photo was taken when Nick (reflected, left) and I were on a research trip for his Great Italian Desserts book. Many months later, Nick asked me what I remembered about a pastry we’d encountered called Bianco e Bianco. He said that he recalled our friend Dali had mentioned it was made with white chocolate and whipped cream, etc. It was only days later, after neither of us could remember anything more, that he realized he’d dreamt the whole thing.
May 20, 2012
Saying goodbye to an address book is like bidding farewell to an old and much-beloved friend. I’ve had this one since October, 1980, when I climbed into the window display of Vertecchi, a stationery and art supplies store in Rome, because the red-ribboned version of this rubrica was no longer in stock...except in the display. Hey, when in Rome, etc. Since then, I’ve inscribed the names and addresses of many friends (some of whom are sadly no longer with us) as well as many professional contacts from years working in television and industry. The elastic now sags instead of keeping the covers firmly closed. There are more crossed out and altered addresses than there are pristine listings. And there’s the occasional pretentious if amusing oddity, too, like the address and phone number of Jacqueline Onassis (supplied by a gossipy pal who answered a phone while attending a party at NYC’s Morgan Library and got a call-back number from Jackie O.) I actually called once, asked if John Jr. was home, and was told he was out but would return shortly. Ah, so many years ago. How could I possibly get rid of this book chock full of memories?
May 19, 2012
Some of the lovely amenities aboard our Windstar cruise from Istanbul to Rome, these toiletries from L’Occitane en Provence. But why would I want to take a photo of them? To send to our friend Judy whom we met on Windstar the previous year. When she and I met and started in discussing important things, I brought up how I loved finding these bath items. She quickly said, “Right in my bag!” A girl after my own heart. And, I’m delighted to say, so aligned with something Vincent Price once told me. He revealed that when he checked into a hotel, he immediately put any “luxury” bath products into his suitcase, then called the front desk to ask, “Don’t I get any shampoo or anything with this room?” Kindred spirits, enviably bathed and scented.
May 18, 2012
It’s said that in order to confound any pirates or invaders, the people of ancient Mykonos deliberately built their narrow streets and alleyways in unpredictable and illogical patterns. This plan has the same effect on tourists today. On a solo afternoon stroll, I turned one of many confusing corners and, look, it’s Joyce from our cruise. We’d met this peppy and immediately likable Long Island lady in the ship’s lounge one night; she was softly singing “New York, New York” while a small combo played across the room. Joyce completely enjoyed herself on this trip and her great pleasure was infectious. And she loved what we loved about Mykonos, too. Winding whitewashed walls, blue shutters everywhere, delightful paths that lead you nowhere near your intended destination, the luxury of getting lost.
May 17, 2012
Oh, those wicked, wacky Irish. Making jokes even a non-Gaelic speaker can understand. Though it must have been hard to resist the sexual suggestion offered by the woman’s handbag there in silhouette. And while today a message of this sort might be a strike in the direction of equal rights, 20 years ago, especially in Ireland, it was probably just someone with a marker, maybe a little bored, maybe a little tipsy. I was with my father walking through this coastal town when we saw this restroom sign. We didn’t stop.
May 16, 2012
There was music everywhere in Cuba. In restaurants and snack bars. On street corners. Everywhere. Most of it welcome and engaging. This time though, un poco uncomfortable. Here my friend Patti (known throughout Cuba as Señorita Qué Lástima) is serenaded by a street singer who happened by as we were waiting for our bus. What began as his gentle rendition of Patti’s favorite “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” soon headed south as he thrust his hips rhythmically in her direction, calling her “Mommy” in between verses. I recognize Patti’s “OK, that’s enough now” facial expression at play here. Fortunately our bus arrived moments later. It was all good fun, Cuban-style. Especially for those of us who just watched and photographed from the sidelines.
May 15, 2012
Look at the attitude on these Sicilian kids. A school trip to Taormina. An afternoon stop for gelato. Then a little relaxation. When I came along with my camera, this one teen struck a pose in a hot second. Sweater tied so insouciantly around his waist, ice cream in one hand, cigarette in the other. While all of his other friends just lounged around. And I do mean lounged. I was here on a day trip from Catania. I’d checked out the Greek theater, the San Domenico Palace hotel, the other sites in town (I’d tried unsuccessfully to find Fontana Vecchia, Truman Capote’s former home from which he was virtually driven because neighbors thought he possessed the “evil eye”) and was on my way back to the bus station (with a bunch of American GIs, also on a day trip) when I came across this lazy and lovely tableau vivant.
May 14, 2012
Why is it so hard to find good produce, especially fruit, locally when it’s so abundant once you leave the United States? Yes, farmers markets in late summer and fall bring fine supplies. But don’t you find the abysmal offerings in US supermarkets to be pitiful? Witness these lovely cherry tomatoes at the big public market in Montreal. And look at the care the vendor has taken to assure they’re visually pleasing, too. Jay and I usually visit in the fall when the full harvest on display causes us to have mixed emotions. Excitement, of course, because of the beauty and flavor of what we find. But disappointment that we never have access to a kitchen in which to prepare any of them. No problem. There is always something from which to fashion a great no-cooking-required picnic lunch.
May 13, 2012
Each year, honoring a tradition I look forward to, I mark my friend Michael’s birthday by taking him to dinner at the wonderful Baraka Café in Cambridgeport. We can walk there from his house, allowing us time to cover many (not all) of the essential conversational topics we’ve been saving up. This tiny place (that we suspect was someone’s apartment at one point) offers Algerian-Tunisian cooking of the finest, home-style quality, with Madame (in full black burkha) at the stove, flames soaring toward the ceiling as she tosses those pans around. The results of her labors -- meze like these beauties: karentika (warm chickpea custard with harissa tapenade), spicy carrots in m’chermla sauce with raisins and onion jam, smoky eggplant salad topped with labna, North African merguez (lamb and beef) sausages with roasted peppers. We often say that the next time we’ll have a complete dinner made from all the meze on offer. But we always cave to the delicious-sounding entrees. This time: roasted, stuffed eggplant over couscous for Michael, seafood tagine for me. (Madame also makes, with 36 hours’ notice, the classic bastilla: filo pastry layered with almonds, cinnamon, saffron, parsley, figs, mint, orange blossom infusion and chicken or squab.) Cash only, no reservations, no alcohol, so good. Why do we only come here once a year?
May 12, 2012
Packing. As I write this (in October, 2011), it’s the day before I’m leaving for three weeks in Istanbul, Athens, Rome. I’m trying on sport jackets that might go with the shirts I’m planning to pack. Then there’s the “running stuff” -- shoes, hat, shorts, T-shirts. Then there’s the possible overnight in Zurich, which means more than just a sweater. And so on. This photo was taken on an earlier overnight in Zurich at the Hotel Storchen when Nick and I were on our way back from Istanbul. He was staying on in Switzerland; I was leaving for Boston the following afternoon. Which is one reason he has tons of luggage and I have a simple backpack. When we’d arrived in the Turkish capital two weeks earlier, Nick’s enormous new Victorinox suitcase (some Manhattan apartments are smaller) did not arrive with us. After much hassle and forms filled out, we left the Istanbul airport for our hotel sans suitcase. The bag eventually showed up in his room late the following evening. And I still half-suspect the baggage handlers engineered this maneuver as a way of scolding for such a voluminous case.
May 11, 2012
I often wonder, when I see dazzlingly excessive displays such as this in European churches, what the poorer parishioners must have thought back then. What they think now? The Igreja e São Roque was the first Jesuit church in the Portuguese world, built in the 16th century, and one of the few buildings to (miraculously) survive the 1775 Lisbon earthquake that virtually leveled the city. Actually it was a disaster, a different one, that caused this church to be built. Constructed on the site of a cemetery, it started as a shrine to house a relic of Saint Roch, patron saint of plague victims, and just got grander and grander. This is the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament, just one of many such devotional sites within. Begun in 1636, it, too, houses a number of reliquary busts in each of those niches. Nothing succeeds like excess, they say. Could you fit another cherub into this tableau?
May 10, 2012
Our last morning in Rome and our hotel was only three blocks from a major basilica I’d never visited in all of my many trips to the Eternal Città. I had to take a little passagiata and check it out. Grand, of course. And posted outside, a sign pronouncing vergogna (shame) on those who’d earlier pissed on the church walls. Also, to my discomfort, a posted announcement inside indicating that you could download the church’s app for iPhones and iPads. Somehow that didn’t seem right. What did seem right was this decidedly low-tech posting on one of the many confessionals, listing the different languages in which confessions could be heard. (Nearby confessionals listed other languages.) It reminded me, also with some personal discomfort, of the far-reaching and long-enduring arm of Mother Church.
May 9, 2012
Temptation to go. Look at those little containers, each nestling three syrup-soaked tulumba. At only 1 Turkish lira (55 cents) a porsiyon! And who knows what other sweet delights those are in the display cases here at a shop open to a busy street behind the Spice Bazaar? Tulumba are puffy, thumb-sized lozenges of extruded dough, deep fried and then bathed in a sugary syrup until they’ve soaked up their fill. Wonderful here in the City of the World’s Desire. And also, I’m sorry to say, wonderful at the Turkish-Armenian Sevan Bakery just steps from my home in Massachusetts. Sorry? Yes, too close to resist the temptation, made fresh daily.
May 8, 2012
Meet my friend Erin. She and I were colleagues at my last job (last meaning both previous and final) where she was an island of reality-based sanity and fun, just as she seems to be an island here in this lounge filled with balloons. Why balloons? Well, it was thought that a boatload of inflated balloons would lighten the department’s mood after 20% of our workforce had been let go six days earlier. Guess what? It didn’t work. But that didn’t stop Erin and me from recognizing a rare workplace photo opportunity. Alas, she was unhappy with the photo and deleted it when I posted it on Facebook. I still love it and offer it here...where she has no veto power. Cheese. (All best wishes to my pal as she makes her escape this week to begin a new job in a wonderful department that’s sure to recognize and honor her exemplary talents.)
May 7, 2012
Group travel is not my preference. And yet it seemed the only practical and legal way for this norteamericano to visit Cuba. But enough is enough, and this day I decided I wasn’t up for a long, organized lunch when I could grab a snack and wander the backstreets of this small jewel of a town. I found the small plaza you see here, a little bit of shade, a place to sit down. Looks like this local found all of the same things I did. My Colombian friend Micho told me “Cuba, el lugar ideal para un fotografo.” Yes, indeed, the ideal place for a photographer, especially when subjects, colors, shapes and patterns such as these present themselves at almost every turn.
May 6, 2012
Jeanette Winterson is one of my favorite writers. She almost never comes to the United States, and so when I learned that she was actually planning a visit to Boston, I took the day off from work and attended her morning book signing at Glad Day Bookstore and her evening reading (performance actually) at the Barnes & Noble in Kenmore Square. Her background as a young evangelist was clearly a plus as she worked the overflow crowd, leaping from the podium, working the aisles. It was a madhouse, and I was glad I got to B&N two hours early in order to get a good seat; hundreds were turned away. Not so at her signing earlier at Glad Day when I was the only one with books for her to autograph. (She’s famous for not reading reviews, but I sheepishly gave her a copy of my review of her Art & Lies from the Boston Globe, which she politely put into her pocket.) She wondered if I’d like her to inscribe “To Sandy” on each of the six or seven of her books I’d brought along. “I don’t at all mind doing it. I only ask,” she said, “because some people just prefer the author’s signature. It makes them easier to sell.” To sell? I would never sell these sacred texts and told her as much. When she saw I was missing her essay collection, Art Objects, she found it on the store’s shelves, inscribed it “To Sandy,” handed it to me and said, “Buy this. You’ll like it.” Yes, ma’am.
May 5, 2012
As I continue to gather items for my yard sale (one of 50+ that will take place in an annual town-wide event today, May 5), I am amazed at how things I once held sacrosanct I now consider disposable. My friends who’ve seen the sale-related Facebook postings of my green Depression glass have commented. One says he’s glad he never got bit by that Depression glass bug. Another questions my sanity in choosing to sell these treasures. I wonder myself what has changed. Is it that as I get older I no longer need to acquire? That now I need to divest? Maybe. These two old oil paintings, the only items I wanted from my paternal grandmother’s home when she died, have been in my attic for years. Do I really need to hold onto them any longer? Why?
May 4, 2012
Breakfast in Istanbul. It was our first morning in the small apartment we had there. And on our way back from an early run, we’d stopped by the simit seller to pick up two items: a sesame-seed-covered simit, of course, and also an açme, the wonderful yeast-risen almost brioche-like ring (pictured, on the right. Actually pictured on the right is Jay, still in his running togs, deeply involved with Capote’s Answered Prayers.) Just bread and water? Hardly. Still to come, a bowl of Turkish yogurt with almonds and some fresh figs we’d picked up from a late-night fruit vendor near the Galata Tower the previous evening. Our reward for having endured a loud lovers’ fight on the floor above us the night before that went on until past 1am. Maybe they split because, mercifully, their shrieking performance never occurred again. Fortunately for us, our breakfasts did.
May 3, 2012
Within minutes of our arrival back in Rome, the first time I’d been there since 1988, Jay and I were already at Pizzeria da Pasquale on the Via dei Prefetti, my very favorite place to eat my very favorite pizza in the world. And here it is. Pasquale’s excellent thin-crust piece of heaven, his potato pizza. For those of you who might eschew this “starch picnic,” you don’t know what you’re missing. Pasquale serves it a taglio (by the piece) and you simply indicate how large a slice you’d like, he heats it in the oven, then serves it as shown. Crust, potatoes, salt, rosemary, oil. It is ethereal. In November of 1984, on the evening before I was heading home from a long stay in the Eternal Città, I bought un taglione which was about 18”x24”, just the right size to fit between the two halves of my fold-up suitcase. Per portare via, I said, “to go.” Jay and I enjoyed it hours later for dinner in Cambridge, MA. But it was even better to bring him to its place of origin this time around. (Want to try making it yourself? You can find a recipe in my friend Nick’s book How to Bake.)
May 2, 2012
When I first read that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was going to host a show of works by glass artist Dale Chihuly, I thought ho-hum, no interest in glass. So when I took advantage of one of the MFA’s pay-what-you-can Wednesdays, I didn’t bring my camera. Man, was I wrong! This show was sensational. I was enchanted by the colors, the whimsy, the vision that completely disabused me of the notion that glass art was not worth much of my attention. The exhibit was so beautifully curated, ushering viewers through a series of rooms, each more magical than the one before. Chandeliers, spires, even a boatload (literally) of Venetian-inspired fantasies. I went back for more than one visit. With my camera. (Another fine touch: a note on the wall from Chihuly, inviting photographers to shoot his work as long as it was not for commercial publication. Nice.)
May 1, 2012
The power of language. Friends have asked me if Cuba were plastered with propaganda slogans, posters and such. Somewhat. Driving along the highway, entering a new town or province, we would customarily come across a billboard testifying to the area’s allegiance to Fidel, to the revolutionary government. (The mural pictured above is at a bus stop fronting the Malecón, steps from the city’s largest hospital.) There are memorial signs for Che that appear regularly. But there are also tributes (monuments, statues, billboards) to José Martí, the national hero and educator who fought for Cuban independence (from Spain) and the rights of all people way back in the late 1800s. And even when it came to spoken language, I was struck by certain phrases that people would use almost by rote. Our tour guide, a young Cuban woman in her twenties, would never refer to the revolution but always to “the triumph of the revolution.” Happy May Day.