Walking at night in the Eternal Città. What memories this photo brings back of months spent in Rome during 1980, 1984, 1986, 1988. Pre-euro, it was easy and cheap to live there. Especially when a nighttime stroll was all the entertainment you’d need to keep yourself amused. Plus maybe a stop in a bar, in a pastry shop for a little qualche cosa di buono. (Wise Romans move their cars out of the city and into the country tonight. Why? Because revelers in the Eternal Città take New Year’s Eve seriously, tossing “the old” out of their apartment windows. “The old,” as in old refrigerators, televisions and other car-damaging appliances. Happy New Year.)
December 30, 2013
We were so happy to be able to revisit the magnificent Alcazaba, the Moorish fortress high above this coastal city. The gardens, the stonework, the pools and cascading water paths throughout. We’ve always thought of it as a quieter, calmer version of Granada’s Alhambra. With much more peace and far fewer people. A steep climb uphill from Almería’s Arab neighborhood and worth every step.
December 29, 2013
I came across this photo the other day. On the back, in my father’s handwriting: “Mom + Sandy. Mother’s Day. Sea Bright, NJ.” I was five months old. Today, my birthday, and I’m somewhat older than that. You do the math. I just have two things to say: Bring on those senior discounts. And...Why don’t people wear corsages like that any more?
December 28, 2013
Mamma mia! Rome on a holiday weekend! (All Saints Day was the next day.) When I lived here in the 1980s, it was a lot less crowded. I would customarily climb these Spanish Steps on my way to and from different neighborhoods and not give it a second thought. Today? Well, take a look for yourself.
December 27, 2013
December 26, 2013
Olive references abound in Greece. And with good reason. According to legend, Poseidon, god of the sea, and Athena, goddess of wisdom, were challenged to see which could provide the citizens of a newly formed city in Attica with the most precious gift. Poseidon struck a rock with his trident and, as water rushed out, out ran a horse. Next Athena struck the rock with her spear and the first olive tree appeared at the gates of the Acropolis. Residents of the new city declared her the winner and declared themselves Athenians for life.
December 25, 2013
Talk about a niche market. Or, rather, a niche mercado. There was a wonderful man whose stall in the mercado central of Málaga offered for sale only these tiny little clams. One product. And he was doing a booming business. A single sign on his display: Sin arena. Without sand. May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be without sand.
December 24, 2013
Istanbul is a great city for walkers. Especially on a warm, late-spring night. Especially along the steep and narrow streets of Beyoğlu after strolling the Istiklal Caddesi, a more traveled pedestrian-only (allegedly) thoroughfare. What star is this? Hark! A hot red neon restaurant sign proudly heralding meatballs within.
December 23, 2013
We’d booked a direct flight from Boston to Madrid ten months in advance. Then Iberia nixed that direct flight and altered our schedule SIX TIMES, routing us through JFK with five-hour layovers. Nice. Still, we were going to Madrid, one of our favorite cities. Even our early-morning arrival did not dampen our spirits enough to prevent Dr. Blake from cozying up to this gargantuan fried calamari sandwich at El Brillante, home of (allegedly) the best such sandwiches in town. No argument from us. We lunched there every day we were in Madrid.
December 22, 2013
Several years ago, when I heard the word “macaroon,” I thought of somewhat heavy, chewy, coconut-laden cookies. And as I became familiar with those featured at Italian-American bakeries, I also included the almond-based cookies sometimes studded with pine nuts. Then along came the French with their macarons, sandwich cookies of rich and flavorful filling supporting meringue tops and bottoms. The flavors were as varied as the colors. The ones I tried in Paris at Pierre Hermé and Ladurée remain happily in memory. Here, three pyramids of jewel-like macarons in the window of Zürich’s famous Sprüngli, along with little indications of their flavors -- coffee, raspberry, vanilla.
December 21, 2013
I’ve never been a big fan of Turkish Delight. Maybe because it “gives” too much when you bite into it. Or something. But it sure can be pretty, especially when arranged with a Turkish sense of repetitive design evidenced in dozens of shop windows in Istanbul. Like this one.
December 20, 2013
This trip we only had one day in Lisbon, a favorite city of ours. So we used our time wisely. Walking, mostly, looking, remembering previous visits. A stop at Cafe Brasileira to pick up a half dozen of pasteis de nata. And some time spent here in the wonderful Rossio Square, where the wavy cobblestoned plaça was allegedly designed to honor Lisbon’s debt to the sea. Makes us dizzy every time.
December 19, 2013
I’ve written elsewhere about dogs in Turkey. People tend not to have them as pets indoors but rather to take care of them as they live in public places. Consequently, the dogs, living as they do in the middle of things, tend to be rather blasé about the comings and goings of the people around them. Such as this doggie, taking a breather as tour groups come and go in this heavily visited ancient Roman city in Asia Minor.
December 18, 2013
We loved this guy. Walking through the mercado central in Málaga, in search of two perfect pears to eat with lunch, we spied this corner stall and its proprietor. He was selling only these tiny clams. And when he saw me take out my camera to take a photo, he jokingly made himself more camera-ready by slicking back his hair. Such as it is.
December 17, 2013
December 16, 2013
As our ship headed from Málaga to Cádiz, the captain announced that we’d be sailing through the Strait of Gibraltar at around 10:30pm and that we might be able to glimpse the famous Rock about two miles in the distance. At dinner that evening, another member of the crew had said, “It’s nothing special, really.” When we got back to our cabin with lowered expectations and I casually looked out the porthole...wow! This is what we saw. Nothing special?
December 15, 2013
Spaniards take their ham seriously. Whether it’s the precious sliced-to-order jamon iberico de bellota (from the prized black-footed pig who's been fed a diet of only acorns since birth) or something much simpler bought pre-packaged in a supermarket. Here, a selection available in Barcelona’s central market, La Boqueria. (Is it any surprise that Spain’s first couple of the cinema, Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz, first met while working on a film titled Jamon, Jamon.)
December 14, 2013
The ruins of this ancient Roman city in Asia Minor are fascinating. One reason is because the entire city is in various stages of restoration, so you get an idea of what was where and in relation to what else. The library, for example, holds a central position. The forum. The theater. Here is the head of the welcome committee, a member of the original Roman settlement. And in the back, that multi-storied building with the columns is the amazing library.
December 13, 2013
December 12, 2013
Our first day in Cuba, we were bussed out to a model community within the tropical rainforest in the western part of the island. (Seems like this is on the list for all tour groups as we saw busses come and go all morning.) While we got our orientation and listened to a local group offer some great music, we were offered a rum-based cocktail (10am). I declined. But looking up, I saw this roof made of thatched palm fronds. Nothing is wasted in Cuba. Except maybe the tourists who didn’t decline that breakfast mojito.
December 11, 2013
On the morning we docked at the Canary Island of Tenerife, Dr. Blake and I hopped on a spiffy new tramvia and rode 45 minutes up into the mountains to the beautifully restored city of San Cristóbal de la Laguna. With its narrow streets and vibrant colors, it reminded me of parts of Havana. And I said as much to a nice woman in the tourist office where we’d gone to get a map. She teasingly corrected me, saying, “La Laguna does not look like Havana. Havana looks like La Laguna.” So noted.
December 10, 2013
Inside the city’s large central market. But it’s not so crowded on a Monday; many of the stalls (especially the fish and seafood ones) don’t bother opening. But enough do that it’s always worth a visit. Portuguese is not one of my best languages, but I know a little. Mostly “menu Portuguese.” And it’s often close enough to Spanish or Italian so that I can read it sometimes. How about you? How many of the categories listed above can you make out?
December 9, 2013
December 8, 2013
Our first day out of Istanbul was spent cruising the Dardanelles. And one of the perks of cruising with Windstar is that the ships have an “open bridge” policy. Except when the ship is in port or is dealing with an issue, the bridge is open to passengers to inspect. Here’s Dr. Blake checking out the instruments and computer screens aboard the Wind Surf. You can just make out the whitecaps on the choppy sea. But what you can’t see are the crew members who seem to take a genuine interest in answering questions and pointing out how the instruments work. The real-time maps showing where the ship is are my favorites.
December 7, 2013
Who likes to walk through foreign cities at night? I do, I do! And Istanbul may be the best city in which to do that. Here along the pedestrian-only (allegedly; there is a small tram that rides up and down the one-mile street; oh, and delivery trucks, too, and some other cars) Istiklal Caddesi, people are always on the move, 24 hours a day. But I think the best time to stroll here is between 9-11pm. There’s always a palpable sense of something exciting about to happen. In a good way.
December 6, 2013
Our wonderful lunch in Morocco’s capital on that nation’s Independence Day. (So enthralled were we by this dish that I only remembered to take the photo after we’d eaten half of it.) As Paula Wolfert, the authority on Moroccan cuisine, says in her definitive The Food of Morocco: “Chicken with lemon and olives is one of the great combinations in Moroccan cookery, the dish that most often seduces foreigners and turns them into devotees of Moroccan tagines.” Sold!
December 5, 2013
How many markets are there in Istanbul? I lost count. And not just those offering produce or fish or spices. The book market is wonderful. And this is the restaurant supply and kitchen equipment market. Walk through the back of the Spice Market and make a right. Then just keep going.
December 4, 2013
Because Islamic art avoids the representational (no human figures, no animals, maybe some stylized flowers but hardly ever), it dazzles with wild and complicated geometrical patterns like this tilework in the old medina of Morocco’s capital city. Just one of dozens of such walls we passed during our brief visit on Moroccan Independence Day last month.
December 3, 2013
My friends Ginny and Alan, whom we met on our trip to Cuba last year, recently emailed to say they’re returning to the Pearl of the Antilles to attend a medical conference or something. If I were the jealous type, I might be jealous. Instead, I’m thrilled for them. Kind of. I wonder if they’ll see this boy sitting quietly on his front porch, strumming his guitar, in his rainforest community in the western part of the island.
December 2, 2013
A bread seller in the old medina of Morocco’s capital city, just arrived on a delivery scooter with reinforcements he’s adding to his pushcart. Of course, we bought one. Most people bought half a dozen. Paula Wolfert, in her magnificent The Food of Morocco, says, “North African bread is sacred and is treated with respect. If you see a piece lying on the ground, you pick it up and kiss it and put it someplace where it will not be stepped on.”
December 1, 2013
I couldn’t help myself. I was at a party thrown by my friend Michael Bronski upon the publication of his (along with friend Michael Amico and Ann Pellegrini) new book, You Can Tell Just by Looking. I spotted this LP by Rusty Warren, a foul-mouthed entertainer who peaked in the 1950s. Michael, who has more LPs than anyone I know and who knows more about entertainers from the ‘50s than anyone I know, told me that Warren reportedly was a lesbian who’d been in a long-time relationship with Elaine Noble (an activist/politician that every Boston-area resident of a certain age remembers.) You learn something new every day. (Thank you, Jim Farley, for the photo.)
November 30, 2013
I used to work here at WGBH, Boston’s public broadcasting station. And this is one of the anniversary photos of long-term employees back in the “golden days.” I put in 23 years by the time I left in 2001. And I look now at this photo. Few people here are still there. Some have voluntarily moved on. Some were fired. Some were ushered out via dishonest maneuvers. Some died. Just like any company, I guess, no matter how “community friendly” it pretends to be. In fact, the closer I look at the faces, I don’t think any of us are still there. Can you find me? Hint: plaid.
November 29, 2013
November 28, 2013
On Thanksgiving especially, lots of people find themselves in church. I often find myself in lots of church basements. And here’s one of my favorites. Unitarian, natch, with a Hebrew school occupying several of its rooms. I love it when I find artwork and philosophy by the kids who attend. Who couldn’t benefit from a Mensch Guide? And those Kitah Bet Rules...words to live by. “Only raise your hand when you have something to say.” I wish this had been a requirement at every corporate job I’ve ever had.
November 27, 2013
November 26, 2013
November 25, 2013
It may have been an early, foggy morning. And there may not yet have been any cafe-goers at the tables here outside on the Piazza San Marco. But the musicians were in place, filling the square with Mozart as we strolled by. Jay paused and stayed, getting weepy at the music, as I continued picture-taking around the piazza. A magical way to start the day in this most magical of cities. And, when one band takes a break, another starts up across the way. Three in all, dueling in styles and repertoire, each hoping to fill those tables as the day goes by.
November 24, 2013
Dr. Blake and I return to the US of A today. And while we only change planes in Madrid, we are so tempted to race into the city proper and pay yet one more visit to El Brillante, home to the best fried calamari sandwiches in the city. Or so their signs claim. And their customers. The two of us included. Perhaps we should warn them in advance that we may be on our way and looking for some transatlantic takeout.
November 23, 2013
The Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco, are owned by Spain and are said to feel like they’re part of the Caribbean. Here, my friend Patti (the toast of Havana in her alter ego, Qué Lástima) pays homage to both Spain (Gaudí) and the Caribbean (those colors!) And I’ll let you know if Tenerife lives up to its reputation. Rumpole liked it.
November 22, 2013
Neither Dr. B nor I has been to the Canary Islands before, and we’re both looking forward to a new adventure (in spite of Jay’s concern about the “false widow” spider who calls these islands home.) All I really know about them is what Almodóvar showed of Lanzarote in Broken Embraces. And that they are reputed to be “Caribbean in nature.” This photo from Cuba could be a mash-up of those two references, no?
November 21, 2013
My only Caribbean trip was a winter excursion to Cuba, a magnificent and eye-opening adventure. Seen here, a smoochy musician whose group appeared out of the rainforest to entertain us (and all of the other tourist groups who arrived at this government-sanctioned site.) The Canary Islands, I’ve heard said, are Caribbean in nature. Especially the markets. We’ll see.
November 20, 2013
I’m fine in countries where people speak a Romance language. And in Turkey, knowing even a little bit of the language shows respect and opens up worlds of welcomes. Fortunately here in Morocco, French is the second language. Good thing, because my Arabic is non-existent. The best I can muster is “insha’Allah,” to mean “G_d willing.” And while I'm OK with Arabic numerals, the alphabet, alas, is another story.
November 19, 2013
Oh, look at how proud of himself Dr. Blake seems to be here at the wheel. The Wind Surf, the ship we’ve always sailed on, is small enough (300 passengers) that the captain allows some casual shenanigans. Like this. And when the ship is at sea, passengers are allowed into the bridge control room to see how the instruments work to get us from one port to the next. From, say, Casablanca to Agadir.
November 18, 2013
I had a very suburban New Jersey childhood. In a house like many seen on TV shows at the time. So when I think about children growing up in, say, Manhattan or on a military base or, as here, within the medina of old Tangier, I wonder what it must have been like. Where’s the swingset, the playground? Where’s the park? The lake where we went rowing? The brook, the woods? (Today is Moroccan Independence Day.)
November 17, 2013
Ah, another day at sea. We tend to travel in autumn. Schools are back in session so there are not a lot of families or college kids. And the summer heat has generally lifted. The weather? Mostly good, sometimes iffy. When we sailed out of Istanbul on this 2011 trip, the skies and the seas were stormy. But all that lifted and the sun shone brightly when we approached Bodrum, the ancient city of Halicarnasus.
November 16, 2013
One of the revered café/pastry shops of Lisbon. I wondered which was the best, and so I tried them all. The winner? Still not sure. May have to repeat the exercise when I return to the beautiful city this November. I do remember that, true to its name, Suiça featured lots of chocolate items. (David Leavitt’s new novel, The Two Hotel Franckforts, opens at the Café Suiça and takes off from there. A twisty, engaging plot that hits all of my favorite spots in this favorite city.)
November 15, 2013
November 14, 2013
I can still taste this pear, purchased at the central market in Málaga. We asked the vendor for fruit that could be eaten that same day, and he sold us two wonderful pieces. I remember sitting in a park not far from Picasso’s birthplace and eating this pear, so juicy that it dripped all over my hands and attracted every single bee within a ten-mile radius. I’m not complaining.
November 13, 2013
Once a thriving port and trading center, now a thriving tourist destination. Picasso was born here...and fled as soon as he was able. That has not stopped the city from establishing a Picasso museum, filled with paintings and sculpture mostly from his family. When we visited the museum three years ago, they made me check my pocket-sized camera AND offered me an unsolicited senior discount on admission. The nerve! No wonder Pablo P skipped town pronto.
November 12, 2013
I’m told that signs like these appear in butcher shops throughout Spain the day after a bullfight. In case you see one, you can take advantage of the offer to come enjoy the bull’s tail meat for only three euros. (All best wishes to my pal Eileen who marries her pal David today. I know there will not be bull tail meat served at the wedding. Eileen doesn’t like meat. “It’s a texture thing,” she explains.)