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.)