January 31, 2013

Barcelona. November, 2012

Bubble stuff! I loved blowing bubbles when I was a kid. But never did my creations even approach the proportions of this artist outside our hotel’s front door in Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic neighborhood. That little boy on the right was fascinated, too, watching patiently as the man in the plaid pants created huge bubbles, one after another. Of course, a little boy’s patience has its limits and it wasn’t long before he raced after the soapsuds, popping them all. Or, to be generous, embracing them.

January 30, 2013

Pinar del Río, Cuba. February, 2012

“Use it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Or do without.” This was once told to me by the WASPiest woman I’ve ever known. And yet, it seems somehow appropriate to the Cubans I met both in Havana and (especially) in the outlying areas. Look at these oranges, served for dessert at an outdoor tourist restaurant in this rainforest community. So simple, yet so beautifully rendered. Was this done to make the fruit more attractive? Or was the zest used in another dish? Either way, that little rhyme may apply.

January 29, 2013

Venice, Italy. October, 2012

Let’s face it, Venice is beautiful no matter the weather. In sunshine, it dazzles. And in fog, such as on this recent morning, it emerges more suggestive and mysterious. Just look at this rooftop of the Basilica of San Marco: Saint Mark himself, beneath him his symbolic lion posed with his gospel on a blue field of stars, a procession of angels paying tribute, multiple spires and decorative doodads. (For those wishing a vicarious trip to La Serenissima under even more mysterious and foggy circumstances, have a look at the Julie Christie/Donald Sutherland film Don’t Look Now.)

January 28, 2013

Beyoğlu, Istanbul. October, 2011

I love the night life. Well, within reason, of course. Fortunately there are plenty of others who do, without reason, and they’re usually a lot of fun to observe. Take this wonderful narrow backstreet we passed in Istanbul on an early autumn night. A few outdoor tables, some strings of lights, bottles of raki, music, lots of friends and conversation. The amazing thing to me was that this was not a big production devised by some commercial profit-maker as it might be in, say, oh, somewhere else. Instead, it seemed thrown together by folks who just wanted to have a good time. And to let their friends have a good time, too. They succeeded.

January 27, 2013

Providence, RI. January, 2013

On a recent visit with my friend Simon to the museum at the Rhode Island School of Design (his alma mater), we had the great pleasure of seeing an exhibit/installation by artist Alejandro Diaz. Diaz blends elements of Pop Art, text, irony, self-mocking and other related elements to create some beautiful and provocative results. He’s known for his black-marker-on-cardboard signs that carry such legends as “By Disappointment Only,” “Will Work For Ever,” “I Beg to Differ,” “May Contain Peanuts” and “In the future, everyone will be famous for $15.” This sign outside the museum is Diaz’s work, too. As is the promotion that promises a toaster to everyone who initiates a new museum membership or renews an old one. “While supplies last.” (By the way, this sign violates truth in advertising. Probably a good thing.)

January 26, 2013

Woodman's, Essex, MA. December 30, 2011

Let others revel in their holiday traditions that find them unwrapping gifts under the tree, singing carols with family and friends, traveling great distances to visit relatives during the year’s worst weather. My favorite end-of-year custom is one Jay and I established many years ago and one which we happily maintain every December 30: an off-season fried seafood dinner at Woodman’s. Free of the overwhelming crowds, this place is still a gold mine whenever we head over there, just a few miles from our Gloucester home. And now that they offer gluten-free takes on all of their offerings (except crab cakes and, sadly, onion rings), it welcomes flour/sugar-challenged diners without their having to cave. Seen above: the “Down River” combo, featuring clams, scallops, haddock, shrimp, french fries and, yes!, onion rings.

January 25, 2013

Kadıköy, Istanbul. June, 2007

Oh, what wonders befall the intrepid tourist who bravely crosses the Bosphorus by ferry to explore the Asian side of Istanbul. First of all, there’s Çiya, my favorite restaurant in all of the city (and one that’s slowly being recognized by a growing number of international fans. A meal there is a thrilling adventure.) Then there are the numerous shops offering honey and yogurt, an amazing assortment of olives, candied items that boggle the mind (candied tomatoes? baby eggplants? olives?) And that’s even before you get to the weekday outdoor market further up the road where farmers come in from the country to offer strange greens and herbs, the ripest fruit, the freshest produce, along with vendors of socks, underwear, kitchen utensils...oh, and these wigs and hairpieces in all the shades you might want. Or need.

January 24, 2013

Cannes. November, 2012

French breakfast radishes. The first time I learned about these was when my friend James, an excellent and adventurous gardener, arrived at my house with a handful of them, freshly picked. And now, I think of him every time I see them. Especially when I see them here in France right around breakfast time.

January 23, 2013

Gloucester, MA. September, 2008

Dr. Blake. Jay repeatedly tells me that he doesn’t photograph well. Um, could it be that each time the camera appears, he starts making faces? (Seen here, his signature “moose face.”) Fortunately I take no blame this time; our friend Kim shot this excellent photo on a walk along Gloucester’s Eastern Point jetty. So lest I’m accused of being mean, as sometimes happens (the accusing, not the being), I will demur and aspire to be “always nice” as Jay frequently claims to be. He was born on the easy-to-remember 1.23.45, and today is his birthday. Best wishes, Moose Face.

January 22, 2013

Barcelona. November, 2012

Plucked from the frieze of some ancient building on the Acropolis, this teen’s pose seems almost classical. (’Ceptin’ for the smartphone.) Or maybe my judgment is clouded by all that white marble, that golden light. Jay and I had come here to the conservatorio in Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood to hear a dual student recital (first, a jeans-and-hoodie-sporting flautist who oh-so-casually opened the evening; then a determined pianist whose technical fireworks at the keyboard were impressive, but who left us wanting even un poquitito of something pianissimo for contrast.) An interesting evening, our last before heading back home, it began with some mighty fine tapas, impressive and admirable in their own way.

January 21, 2013

La Bodeguito del Medio, Habana Vieja, Cuba. February, 2012

Mojitos all around! Well, almost all. As soon as you sit down in a restaurant in Old Havana (or anywhere else we ate in Cuba), the mojitos appear, often before the menus. It’s assumed you want one of these Ur-Cuban cocktails: rum, lime, mint, sugar, soda. (The overturned glass here is mine, the sole abstainer at our table of four. Lisa and Pam, yes, please. Patti, maybe...but one sip turned out to be suficiente for her to recall an unpleasant college overindulgence with rum, and she pushed hers aside.) Still, I love the glasses (I bought two to bring home) and the Havana Club logo (which is emblazoned on the ribbed athletic shirt I bought for Jay.)

January 20, 2013

South Orange, NJ. June, 1966

High-school graduation. And the sight of these three graces brings back some interesting memories. From left... Ray Stato: The first person I knew who had an FM radio (in his car), he began his high-school career as a divinity student (declaiming his faith on the local bus to the horror of his fellow passengers) and ended, rumor has it, touring in summer stock with Joan Fontaine. Gerry Lang: Known affectionately for his pale complexion as White Flang, also a divinity student; he could not control his laughter when I returned to class after my driving test and showed him the certificate indicating that I’d failed because I’d had an accident during the test. And Robert Tirpak: A beloved friend with whom I shared many, many adventures, he was sadly lost to a real car accident years later. What nice boys we were.

January 19, 2013

Gloucester, MA. December, 2011

I love our little town of Gloucester, especially in the off season. The crowds and the noise are gone, the beauty remains. And with fewer summer distractions, we notice things more. Like these two dinghies tied up next to Beacon Marine, seen on a cold December stroll along the harbor. Jay says he likes the off season because the summer drivers are gone from the roads. His complaint about them: “They have no sense of urgency. And they’re unfamiliar with local ways.” Whatever.

January 18, 2013

Palma de Mallorca. November, 2010

Jay spent part of his childhood here on this Mediterranean island not far from Barcelona. So when our cruise itinerary was altered, skipping a stop in Palma, we flew there for the day anyway. For lunch, we thought we’d “do as the Mallorcans do” and eat in a small neighborhood restaurant far from the tourist trail. Maybe not such a good idea. Or maybe we should have ordered the menú del día as these guys did instead of the off-menu paté-like local sausage. Or maybe we should have had bottled water. Whatever. We both wound up with food poisoning, an ominous start to an otherwise wonderful sailing.

January 17, 2013

Spice Bazaar, Istanbul. June, 2007

Pretty and shiny. If I can’t be it, can I at least buy it? Yes! Especially so here in the City of the World’s Desire. Touristy? You bet! But who cares when you’re enveloped by the aromas that have made this emporium a center of spicy commerce for centuries. And every time you look up, you see this. Bits of glass, of metal, of multicolored frou-frou. OK, if I can’t be it or buy it...can I at least wear it?

January 16, 2013

Monemvasia, Greece. October, 2011

For an isolated and small “island” town built into the side of a mountain and accessed only by a very narrow causeway, Monemvasia has an astounding number of churches. In fact, the names of the churches serve as addresses in this maze of a rocky place, confounding tourists at every turn. And because this Peloponnesian outpost has been conquered and ruled by so many countries (each, it seems, with its own official religion), the churches have had their allegiances flip-flop throughout history. Roman Catholic basilica one year, Islamic mosque the next, Greek Orthodox church the next, and so on. Fortunately, because the buildings have been flexible in terms of taking on so many different faiths, they have endured, remaining in place through the centuries.

January 15, 2013

Madrid. October, 2009

A quick picnic in our hotel room before launching out on an afternoon’s activities? Or did we nap first? Whatever. Excellent bread from one of the dozens of bakeries nearby. Some local Spanish cheeses selected at Poncelet, reputed to be the best cheese shop in the city. The only thing missing from the photo is what we’d already devoured by the time I remembered to take the shot -- the sublime slices of jamon iberico de bellota, the finest (and most expensive) of Spain’s remarkable hams, this one made only from black-footed pigs whose sole diet has been one of acorns. Six slices = 11 euros, if memory serves. Worth it. Once.

January 14, 2013

Venice, Italy. October, 2012

Where to look in the Basilica di San Marco? Look up and you’ll see the golden mosaics on the walls and ceiling that told the stories of the saints in pictures for those early worshippers who could not read. (They also trumpeted the glory and riches of the Church to those who might have doubted its power and majesty. Ahem.) Look down and you might see this: equally intricate mosaics on the floor, fashioned from so many colors of marble the eye dazzles. (And even after the generous breakfast we’d just had at our wonderful Giudecca B&B, I must confess that those little black-and-white squares made me think of my friend Nick’s checkerboard cookies.)

January 13, 2013

Springfield, NJ. December, 1972

When I was in college during the late 1960s, the Vietnam War and protests against it were at their peak. Students had deferments for the most part. But then the dreaded “draft lottery” came along. Dates were officially drawn, the order of their picking determining the order in which young men (whose birthdays corresponded to the dates) were called for the draft. I was at a college basketball game that was paused to follow the broadcast of the lottery, and I can recall how my heart sank as my birthday came up #16 in the drawing. I can also recall the mix of comedy and horror that was my draft physical examination in April, 1970. There was a bomb scare and the building was evacuated. A young man interrupted a strutting, spouting sergeant (“If you don’t fill out this form correctly, you goin’ to Veet Nom!”) by suddenly playing a harmonica. A bad scene. No wonder my heart rate was way higher than acceptable when it was taken, my blood pressure, too. Still, that was not the end of the frightening saga. It was not until two years after the physical that this, my draft card, finally arrived in the mail, classifying me as unfit for service.

January 12, 2013

Fonda, New York, NY. December, 2012

On a recent windy and rainy NYC night, Nick and I ventured out to one of our favorite restaurants, Fonda, run by one of our favorite friends, Roberto Santibañez. With locations in both Brooklyn and Manhattan (this time we ate in Manhattan), Fonda’s food is unbeatable. And the low-light and primarily red decor is both exciting and relaxing...but makes available-light photography somewhat of a challenge. Fortunately a nearby diner took out her iPhone and afforded an opportunity. What we ate: tortilla soup, pozole, carne guisada, albondigas/köttbullar (Roberto’s recent Mexican take on Swedish food; came with lingonberry-chipotle sauce), yellow rice, black beans. No room for dessert this time. Always so good.

January 11, 2013

Venice, Italy. October, 2012

Titian’s Assumption is my favorite painting in the world. It hangs in the place for which it was originally painted, above the main altar in the Franciscan church, Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, in Venice. Back in the 1980s, when I visited the church on each trip to Venice, I’d duck in for a moment or two each time I passed by, always in awe of the painting’s quiet majesty and power. This past October, when I took Jay to experience it, well, you can see that it was covered with scaffolding. Still, just a peek here and there are visible, reminding me of past viewings, of how powerful this canvas remains. For a less obscured view of Titian’s masterpiece, click here.

January 10, 2013

Dubrovnik, Croatia. October, 2012

I love miracles, don’t you? And while my personal experience of such phenomena is sadly limited, I still find wonder in evidence of miraculous grace bestowed upon others. Here in the otherwise demure white marble Church of St. Ignatius within the fortified walls of this Dalmatian city -- surprise! -- this striking grotto, festooned with flowers, rosary beads, crutches and a hat, tokens of thanks for miracles performed.

January 9, 2013

Athens. October, 2011

Look at this great spice store. Actually “store” is a bit of a stretch. It was more like a closet that opened onto the main market street in downtown Athens. We’d just come from the Acropolis and were headed to what turned out to be the most crowded, most crazy indoor fish market ever. But before that chaos, we were able to enjoy the sights and smells of this calm and well-stocked shop. What do you suppose those multi-hued packages contain?

January 8, 2013

Giudecca, Venice, Italy. October, 2012

Ding, dong. "Avon calling.” I still recall that commercial jingle from my youth for the door-to-door cosmetics and beauty supply sales outlet. And I remember Dianne Wiest’s excellent delivery of the line as she enters the scary house in Edward Scissorhands. Imagine her challenge upon approaching this roster of doorbells on a palazzo on the island of Giudecca. Poor Miss Wiest, having to press all those bells, pronounce all those mellifluous Venetian names. 

January 7, 2013

Split, Croatia. October, 2012

Among the many interesting vendors at the central market in this Dalmatian town, this woman selling her homemade sauerkraut. When I mentioned this to my Croatian friend Marin months later, he told me about his surgeon father’s odd sauerkraut experience. Marin’s father was ministering to a woman whose digestive track had become mysteriously blocked and required exploratory surgery. Upon operating, the good doctor soon found the source of the blockage: a formidable piece of wood from her sauerkraut barrel that the voracious woman had inadvertently consumed in her, well, enthusiasm for the pickled cabbage. Let’s hope this blue plastic barrel doesn’t become part of anyone’s meal. Or medical record.

January 6, 2013

New York, New York. December, 2012

For lunch on my recent visit to Manhattan, my friend Nick made reservations at Il Buco on Great Jones Street. Tucked in behind a shop of upscale Italian groceries (fine cheeses, breads, sausages, olive oils, etc.) the dining room fronts an open kitchen and seats about 40 people at two communal tables, some two-ups and a bar. The food was excellent: We split three appetizers (grilled octopus with grapefruit, sausage with lentils, fried rabbit) and two cheeses (from Emilia-Romagna) and left satisfied. At one point, we looked up...and saw this chandelier above us. Italian rustic meets Steam Punk through the skills and vision of artist Warren Muller.

January 5, 2013

Scotch Plains, NJ. March, 1974

Oh, no. What’s wrong with this picture? The mustache? The tinted aviator glasses? The red and green checked flannel shirt (mercifully rendered here in black and white)? The staged enthusiasm for the benefit of the camera? I was teaching at Union Catholic Boys High School, not far from my Garden State home, my first job out of graduate school. Can you see the poster for the disastrous film adaptation of The Great Gatsby (Robert Redford, Mia Farrow) taped on the front of the desk? The scribbled “alliteration” (my least favorite poetic device) on the board. I was a mess. Can I blame the ’70s? “We will not regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” Or something.

January 4, 2013

New York, New York. December, 2012

I have only met Mara, my partner Jay’s sister, once. She, her husband and young son came to brunch at our Cambridge, MA, home one Sunday some 30 years ago. To leaven the guest list, I had invited my friend Eleanor who brought an assortment of cut flowers. I arranged them in a vase and put them on the table. When Mara arrived and admired the flowers, I said, “Yes, Eleanor brought them.” At which point Mara said, “Yes, you can tell a woman arranged them.” Giggles were stifled at the time, but the story has become part of the archive and surfaces each and every time I arrange any flowers (such as these on my friend Nick’s recent Christmas table.)

January 3, 2013

Venice, Italy. October, 2012

For years, I’ve been making zaleti (aka Venetian cornmeal diamonds) according to the recipe in my friend Nick’s book, Great Italian Desserts. They are always crowd-pleasers. (My friend Joe, who sometimes can’t stop himself, calls them “a gateway cookie.”) So when I returned to Venice for the first time in 26 years, of course I had to search out the original. Nick had told me that Rosa Salva was the place to try them. And here I am, about to bite into the real thing. Verdict: I like Nick’s recipe better. The folks at Rosa Salva were really nice, showing me the corn flour they use, and humoring this American’s telling them that he makes zaleti at home in New England, that his are smaller, that his use cornmeal, etc. This year for Christmas, I made double my usual amount. So there.

January 2, 2013

Central Market, Athens. October, 2011

Greek olives. Lots of them. I live in a neighborhood with many Middle Eastern food markets, each of them offering about six different olive varieties. But even so, I was not prepared for the great assortment of them here in the ancient city’s central market. (Mercifully, the produce section is outdoors. The more chaotic fish and meat sections are crammed inside a building in which there were so many people, we just had to go with the flow, literally.) Nearby, vendors offering many varieties and thicknesses of yogurt of which we bought the thickest. And then there’s the feta....

January 1, 2013

Split, Croatia. October, 2012

Inside the reception hall of Diocletian’s Palace. I can’t think of a better place to be on this New Year's Day, the second anniversary of this blog. Thanks to the many who have offered encouragement and kind words, the new friends in other countries who have somehow found and followed the daily SLS postings, even some folks from the past who have happily come across us and resurfaced. I have fun sharing these entries with you, and if what they say (“what you do on January 1, you do for the rest of the year”) is true, then I hope to be here a while longer. Happy New Year.