“Why do Frenchmen eat such small breakfasts? Because one egg is un oeuf.” Maybe that groan-producing joke comes across better in the telling than in the reading. Maybe. But clearly one egg is not enough for some people, so happily this vendor at the Bastille market offers up fresh oeufs for the low, low price of 17 cents each. Cheaper by the dozen.
August 30, 2013
My friend Andy is experiencing a calling to join the Franciscan order. A recent convert from some British branch of Protestantism, he’s off this month for a year in Maryland, working with the Franciscans, doing God-knows-what. I came across this photo of some other Franciscans today. Just one of dozens of shop windows filled with them here in the land of St. Francis himself. I felt no temptation to purchase any of these. But if I had known Andy back then (had he even been born?), maybe I would have.
August 29, 2013
The Piazza del Campo was bustling on this crisp autumn morning. Bright sunshine created dramatic shadows. And it seemed as if every grandmother in town was here, charges in hand. Or in strollers. Probably a daily event, a chance to catch up with others, enjoy the sunshine, the fresh air, scented this day with roasting chestnuts. The brickwork of the piazza was the inspiration for Boston’s City Hall plaza, which, to put it mildly, somehow lacks the warmth and humanity of its Tuscan predecessor.
August 28, 2013
Here in the Boboli Gardens, I wonder how many other times this statue has been subject to similar photographic indignities. This was my first trip to Italy and I loved it. So much so that I returned there three more times in the 1980s. On one trip, I looked up a Florentine young man that a colleague at work had met when she’d visited the city. She gave me a baby gift for him, which I dutifully delivered, and he asked me what sights I intended to see. When I mentioned the paintings of Fra Angelico at the San Marco Museum, he suggested we meet there the following morning. Which we did. Unfortunately. I hadn’t realized that this man was a professional tour guide, and I was mortified as we walked the museum and he announced to me in a stentorian voice things like, “Notice the way the painter accentuates objects in nature...” and such. Other museum goers actually came up to him and asked him to lower his voice, which he declined to do. I couldn’t get out of there and away from him fast enough.
August 27, 2013
My late and beloved friend Bernard once told me that no matter where he went in the world, he always wound up eating noodles. China or Italy, Paris or Worcester, noodles. I don’t think BB ever had a chance to visit Momofuku, a really funky hole in the wall of a place that became so popular for its noodle soups that it moved two doors down, expanded and spiffed up considerably. I love it. Here’s what I usually have, the Momofuku ramen: roast pork, pork belly, scallions, rolled fish cake, noodles, broth, egg. Oh, and that dried seaweed, too. Bernard would have been right at home here.
August 26, 2013
I recently came across this photo of my late friend Eldon, whom I met when I went to graduate school at Georgetown (a friend of a friend, he worked at the university.) Thoroughly silly and irreverent, he became a good pal. I saw him last here in Southern California, where he was working for public television, and where he died a few months after my visit. How many wonderful friends did I lose to AIDS back then. Too many.
August 25, 2013
August 24, 2013
Meeting my old pal Antonio (whom I hadn’t seen in some 25 years) when our ship docked in Portovenere was a real treat. And he’d been to this small coastal town before, so he showed us around. Among our stops, this small store (one of many) that sold jars of their homemade pesto. (Portovenere is in Liguria, as is Genoa, the birthplace cosi detto of pesto.) Look, you can even see a mortar full of the basil-garlic-pinenut ambrosia there on the right. We had some samples (wonderful) and Antonio bought a jar to take home to his family. Now, come basil season, I know how to adjust my old recipe to get it closer to the real thing.
August 23, 2013
An online friend from Italy recently told me that he didn’t want to visit the United States because he thought everyone was shooting at each other here. Hmmm. I remember being somewhat similarly put off when I saw this storefront in Southern California on my first visit there in 1990. How different the attitudes there were from those I was used to on the East Coast. It was only some dozen years later that I found a gun shop with the exact same name in Westborough, MA. Maybe it is safer to stay in Italy.
August 22, 2013
Barcelona by night. And there’s Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia center stage. Actually it maintains that same position in broad daylight, too. No wonder it’s become the symbol of the city. This night, the place was all atwitter, preparations being made for the pope’s arrival the following morning. We couldn’t get out of town fast enough, a task made more difficult by closed streets and traffic barricades to facilitate the papal visit.
August 21, 2013
On our whirlwind day trip to Palma (flew in from Barcelona in the morning, back again late afternoon), we managed to take in a lot -- the hotel where Jay and his family lived in his childhood, the famous ice cream parlor where we tried the terrific frozen almond delight, the pastry shop that featured ensaimadas with a filling of candied squash, and lots of walking through back streets like this one. Sadly, we didn’t pay a visit to the Arab baths. But there’s always a next time.
August 20, 2013
August 19, 2013
Oh, just give me an empty stage and let me go. Especially if it’s in a seaside park in Palma de Mallorca. A quick glance at the surroundings explains the name of this town. Jay and I were just walking around and, surprise!, there was the platform from a performance the night before. And as our food poisoning (or “Mediterranean Tummy” or whatever it was) didn’t kick in until later that evening, we were game for a little “Copacabana.” Or at least I was. Jay took the photo.
August 18, 2013
August 17, 2013
Part of our excellent Boxing Day lunch at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria was this serving of fried rabbit, which Nick and I polished off in no time flat. I was reminded, when I came across the photo today, of my late friend Dali’s food category: “Too cute to eat.” Among her forbidden items: rabbit, veal, duck, lamb and a few others I can’t remember. Fortunately I’ve never subscribed to this way of thinking.
August 16, 2013
It was here in the Spice Bazaar that I found what I’d been looking for: Urfa or Isot pepper. Made from a dark purple Anatolian pepper that’s dried in the sunlight on rooftops during the day, sweated under covers at night, the pepper is then ground and looks like this dark brown spice you see here. I brought some home from my first trip to this magical city. And I loved it so much, I brought home six times as much when I visited again four years later. It adds a little bit of heat and a lot of subtle smokiness to every dish I use it in. I’m running low. May have to schedule another trip.
August 15, 2013
As my Italian friend Antonio from Lucca once reminded me when I’d questioned why we were seeing so many prostitutes hanging out near bridges in a devoutly Catholic country like Italy: “In Italy, we have the pope...and Cicciolina.” And, he seemed to imply, most Italians waver somewhere in between. I am not drawn to any organized faith myself, but I do like to see outward manifestations of others’ devotion as I travel through Italy. Like this one on the island of Elba. It was on the outside of a wall surrounding a military installation. Far from any bridges.
August 14, 2013
No one shows off quite like Venice does. Just look at that ceiling in the Basilica of San Marco, the Byzantine church originally the chapel of the Doge and begun in the year 832. Layer upon layer of rich detail. All that glitter is mosaic tile, much of it glass backed by gold. But then again, they had a lot to prove. Not only was the city one of the wealthiest in the world, but the Church had to impress all those followers who couldn’t read and relied on the narratives to instruct them in the stories of the bible. Could they really see them that far up on the ceiling?
August 13, 2013
No doubt about it. Those French are particular about their food. Here at the Bastille market in Paris, it was December 29, and these Parisians were scooping up their oysters for New Year’s Eve. How many types of oysters are available in your fish market? Thought so. Look at the many different kinds here. Don’t forget the lemons.
August 12, 2013
We arrived here early one morning on the fast train from Madrid. Long before the tourist buses poured into town, we had the place almost to ourselves. And one of the things we learned as we toured the palace where Columbus approached Ferdinand and Isabella with that crazy scheme of his: Segovia, situated as it is on a steep promontory overlooking the plains all about, was a natural place for a fortress. The early Roman settlers knew that the only necessity it lacked was water. Hence the construction this aqueduct from the Fuente Fría river 20 miles away. Solid and lasting, it’s undergone periodic reconstructions and is still in use today, some 2000 years later.
August 11, 2013
One of the real pleasures of “pay what you can” Wednesdays after 4pm at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is the luxury of entering the collection for just an hour or two, selecting one exhibit or a few paintings to see and then going on your way. Always on my agenda is this painting, one of my favorites: John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark. Based on a true story (as told to the painter by his friend, the survivor Brook Watson), it records a 1749 attack in Havana harbor. That Copley had never been to Havana doesn’t lessen the impact. Neither does his never having seen a shark (judging from his portrayal of the killer fish with lips and maybe even lipstick.) Why the man in the water is naked, who knows? But it does lend a classical air to the story, based, I was told, on the statue of the “Borghese Gladiator” in the Louvre.
August 10, 2013
“First Things First.” Good advice in Madrid. Good advice just about anywhere. Interesting to see this familiar slogan in this typeface recognizable from so many bumper stickers, here in the Spanish capital. My other favorite was Hágalo con Calma. “Take it Easy.”
August 9, 2013
In Madrid, you never know. Is this building under renovation? Or is this an artist’s statement about something? The city possesses a high sense of drama, evidenced in billboards, fashion, architecture, everyday conversations. Spanish formality clashes with Spanish creativity. It’s no wonder that surrealism flourished here. Whatever is going on in this photo, I love the ghostly quality that it possessed. Especially during the week we visited, just before Halloween.
August 8, 2013
It’s no accident that the word graffiti is Italian. In Rome, in Florence, in Naples and especially here in Venice, I’ve seen a huge amount of scribblings, most of it political like this. The last time I was in Venice, I remember seeing a tag Amor e Anarchia (Love and Anarchy; I photographed it because I love the 1973 Lina Wertmüller film of the same name.) This time, a posting by a local who wants his city to buck the growing national movement of conservative rulemakers. I love the sketch of the ancient helmet. Point taken.
August 7, 2013
Just across the Giudecca Canal from our B&B, at the Zattere vaporetto stop, was this church with the huge rosary suspended above the door. Jay, who professes to know nothing about Catholicism, was surprised when I told him that this hanging visual was an oversized pair of rosary beads. When I asked him what he thought it was, he said, “Kissy lips.” From then on (even now), that’s what we’ve called it.
August 6, 2013
How many thousands, millions of tourists have been photographed here in Venice with the Grand Canal in the background? Why, there are so many cameras around, one hardly knows where to look. Except for this Swiss woman’s little doggie, who knew exactly which way to turn as I snapped this photo. Perhaps it was not blasé Powderpuff’s first trip to La Serenissima.
August 5, 2013
Venice? Yes. Sadly. Can you use the term “international conglomerate” in a sentence? Fortunately, the abundant morning meal at our Venetian B&B included none of this nonsense. Instead: salami, cheeses, fruit, rolls, juice. And some sensational coffee. All prepared and waiting for us when we got to the breakfast room with its panoramic view of the city over the Giudecca canal. Coco Pops may be tops with some, but not us.
August 4, 2013
My friend Michael reminds me in the opening line of his prose poem, Movie rain and movie snow: “Henry James famously said that the two most beautiful words in English are summer afternoon.” Hard to disagree. Especially remembering this late July afternoon at Larry’s -- the good company, the beautiful weather, the plentiful food, the laughs. (This is also the same afternoon that the photo at the top of the page was taken, in just about this same spot, actually. Minus me and the ducks.)
August 3, 2013
It’s hard to maintain my preferred level of humility when accolades such as this keep popping up. I was visiting my late friend Eldon here in Southern California, and he took me to Dog Beach, where pets and their owners come to play, and I saw this graffiti. Recently I sent this photo to my friend British Andy, who, with his customary sense of wonder and inquisition, asked, “Warhol?”
August 2, 2013
In spite of the Buddhist-style pose, this is Assisi, land of Roman Catholicism. One of the stops along the route my friend Dali had constructed for my introduction to Italy. Rome, Florence, Siena, Assisi, Padua, Venice. I suspect we were walking along, she saw a photo opportunity, I posed, she snapped. I do recall that the signora at our pensione, when she was registering us and saw our USA passports, made special mention of our need to be quiet. “Pianissimo,” Dali assured her.
August 1, 2013
Every year on this day, I think of Nick’s grandmother’s saying, “August is the beginning of winter.” Maybe in her Italian hometown of Grottaminarda it was, but not here in Massachusetts. Still, in the middle of brutal summer heat and humidity, it’s nice to look at a cold-weather photo like this one. I love the skating rink in the Boston Common even though I’ve never laced up and been on the ice. I just like watching. Like the idea of an outdoor rink in the shadows of skyscrapers. Love the squeals of the delighted kids, skating, falling, skating and falling again.