I was warned by our tour guide not to venture into the “dangerous” neighborhood of Havana’s central market, the Mercado de Cuatro Caminos. Too late! I’d already been there earlier in the day. And mucho happy that I had been. No other tourists around. Just Habaneros doing their daily shopping from whatever happened to be available that day. If the truck arrived with a certain kind of produce, it was up for sale. If not, not. Potatoes, I was told, only make a rare appearance here. Look at that great old scale!
February 27, 2014
Along the fabled Havana seafront, the Malecón, you run into these two items at almost every turn: classic American cars from the 1950s, some lovingly restored and maintained; and once-beautiful buildings that have crumbled into disrepair and have become victims of bureaucracy and poverty (and decades of salty sea spray) as efforts to restore them have become hopelessly snagged.
February 26, 2014
As soon as you wander away from the tourist-heavy streets of Old Havana and approach this neighborhood where most of the city’s residents live, the brightly restored colors are no longer in evidence. Things get a little funkier. And, for me, much more real and interesting. This is one of the streets I was warned not to walk down because it was likely that a piece of crumbling building might fall on me. I listened politely to the well-meant warnings...and then headed right down the street as soon as I took this picture. Much more interesting than the Disneyfied tourist sites filled with, well, tourists.
February 25, 2014
The streets of Old Havana are filled with surprising visual delights. Here on Calle O’Reilly (honest), a former business (several actually, it seems) leaves a memory of its telephone number on pink tiles that make you wonder what this business must have been. Pink and white tiles, black door...I wonder if they sold Good & Plenty.
February 24, 2014
Everywhere you look in Cuba, even in the heavily mosaic’d neighborhood of Jaimanitas, you find remnants of that moment in the country’s past when Americans were living high on the hog, filling Havana’s casinos, driving their snazzy cars down the avenidas. When the Revolution took place and Castro took over, the Americans fled. Their cars remained. Many have been beautifully refurbished and still grace the streets. Others, like this one, simply languish.
February 23, 2014
One thing you quickly learn when visiting the monumental buildings and grounds in Istanbul: the Islamic architects knew the power of water to calm both visually and audibly. In reflecting pools. In gardens with ponds or slow-paced waterfalls. In fountains...like this one here, added centuries after the construction of Aya Sofia seen in the background.
February 21, 2014
Angels galore. Palm trees aplenty. Grandeur that evokes a former, more prosperous time. And warm humid weather with skies changing from sunny to stormy and back again each minute. Our visit to the city’s central cemetery couldn’t have been better.
February 20, 2014
Just hanging out here in the less gussied-up section of Havana. There’s more poverty here in Centro than in Old Havana (see yesterday's entry). All through this downtown neighborhood and all along the sea at the Malecón, the buildings were in various levels of disrepair (some were crumbling into the street as I passed), but they still suggested an affluent past with their stained glass, their architectural details, their wrought iron fancies.
February 19, 2014
Though much of Havana is crumbling (to the point where Cuban friends warned me to walk in the middle of certain streets to avoid falling debris), this section of the old city is beautifully preserved. Tourism is numero uno in Cuba these days, and this part of town is numero uno among the tourists. Cobblestone streets, gas lamps, music all around you.
February 18, 2014
La Bodeguita del Medio, where Hemingway used to drink mojitos (allegedly), has become a top tourist destination (aka trap) in Old Havana. Consequently the food needn’t be the best. And the prices are high. The strolling musicians are just fine. And the graffiti by thousands who wanted to leave their mark is, well, remarkable. But I do love the way that ceiling fan looks.
February 17, 2014
Hemingway is said to have enjoyed a mojito or two here. Consequently that legend, along with some persistent marketing, has resulted in a flood of tourists every day since, it seems, each with a Magic Marker or ballpoint pen to inscribe his or her moniker on every available surface. And the lack of available space these days isn’t stopping anyone from scribbling away.
February 16, 2014
When you order Pulpo al la Gallega in the very-much-fun and very-much-local hangout Jai-Ca in Barceloneta (not far from where Las Ramblas meets the waterfront), here’s what you get. A healthy portion of sliced octopus, boiled (as they prepare it in Galicia) and enhanced with a little salsa. And slices of plain bread for (as Jay and I call them) “sopping rights.” The bread at the top that’s been rubbed with a sliced tomato is the fabled pa’ amb tomaquet that we order at every tapas spot we visit.
February 15, 2014
It’s said that there are no straight lines in Gaudí’s design for Casa Milà (better known as La Pedrera), his apartment building on the city’s chic boulevard, the Passeig de Gràcia. Can that be? Of course some of the later-added windows have straight lines. But look at those poured-concrete curves, that convoluted wrought-iron business along the top balcony. Imagine living here. Dizzying.
February 14, 2014
An empty-hearted mailbox hoping for some affectionate billets doux on Saint Valentine’s Day? Maybe. You can get away with things in Tucson that wouldn’t fly in staid New England. This flight-of-fancy mailbox, for example, at a daycare center not far from the home of my friends Simon and David. Beautiful and imaginative and silly. But were I to do that at my suburban Boston home, imagine what I might be labeled. Oh, wait...
February 13, 2014
February 12, 2014
I live in an Armenian-Middle Eastern neighborhood where the local grocery stores carry many, many different kinds of olives. But not as many as I found here in the huge central market in Kadıköy, an Istanbul neighborhood on the Asian side of the city. Look at all of those varieties! The Turks and the Greeks may disagree about many things, but love of olives isn’t one of them.
February 11, 2014
Topkapi Palace seen from a ferry crossing the Bosphorus from the Asian to the European side of the city. See all those chimneys in the center of the building? The kitchens. Plural. For those of you unfamiliar with this palace and its treasures, please find and watch Jules Dassin’s superb heist thriller, Topkapi, starring Mrs. Dassin (aka Melina Mercouri). It’s a great screen adaptation of Eric Ambler’s The Light of Day (a wonderful book that my friend Stephen led me to many years after I’d seen the film and visited the palace.)
February 10, 2014
February 9, 2014
February 8, 2014
The older I get, the less stuff I want hanging around. Things that I’ve acquired over the years, things I had to have, now have diminished importance and some of it is just plain clutter. My friend Ernest says that the six matching napkin rings you buy as a 20-year-old for that dinner party you think you’ll have someday? You never have it, and the rings just sit in a drawer someplace until you get rid of them. Why was I thinking this way? I was preparing for our town-wide series of yard sales and I was putting up lots of past treasures for sale once again. But this? How could I part with this?
February 7, 2014
Mmmmm. The meze selection here at Sofyali 9 is so good, it’s hard to save room for the main course and dessert. And these are just six of the many cold offerings brought to the table for your choosing. Octopus salad, marinated anchovies, eggplant salad, stuffed peppers, acili ezme (red pepper paste) and fried eggplant (?) in yogurt. Finish these and the hot appetizers will soon come your way. No wonder Turkish meals go on happily for hours and hours.
February 6, 2014
There’s no getting around it. Istanbul is a hilly city. Sometimes ridiculously so. Especially if you’re in a taxi from the airport trying to wend its way through the steep and narrow streets (alleys) of Beyoğlu on its way to your hotel. On foot, it’s another story. Steep sidewalks are stepped or scored to aid in traction. Or for a more aesthetic climb, there’s this beautiful staircase. Henri Cartier-Bresson admired these Kamondo Stairs back in 1965 and shot them beautifully. And so have many others since.
February 5, 2014
Pretty amazing this Library of Celcus in the restored ancient Roman city in Asia Minor. Imagine how difficult the task of finding all those pieces and re-assembling them to indicate the grandeur of this center of civilization. It’s no wonder this library is the visual most often used to illustrate materials about Ephesus.
February 4, 2014
OK, not a good photo. But I couldn’t pass up this kickline of nuns on display at the Franciscan Center in downtown Boston. I especially like that they are all young, some alarmingly so. And that their relative sizes are somewhat off. I was taught by Benedictines (the order not the liqueur) which seem to be represented by the doll fourth from the left. How about you? (There was a second showcase with a miniature Pope John Paul II and an even tinier Mother Teresa, but I was shaking so much the photo I took is horribly blurred.) I also like the aerodynamic look of the nun second from the left.
February 3, 2014
February 2, 2014
I’m tired of the word community. I think it’s overused to such an extent that it has been robbed of any meaning. Neighborhood is more like it. And this neighborhood, not far from the highly secured Castro complex, is a fine example of the meaning of the word. The residents have followed artist José Fuster’s lead and plastered their homes, walls, street corners with mosaics of every stripe. Consequently, first-time visitors tend to lose their grip on reality and enter a very surreal, well, neighborhood.