Our favorite hotel in Barcelona is the Hotel Jardi just off Las Ramblas, near the opera house and the city’s central market, in the oldest part of town. The rooms are small, but the location can’t be beat. Also the prices. Here’s a look from our room down into the Plaza del Pi and the outdoor tables where cafe patrons while away an evening, chatting, nibbling, sometimes picking at a quiet guitar. [And here we are, another year, a good one, come to an end. Happy New Year.]
December 30, 2014
From our hotel room in the oldest section of Barcelona, we could look down on plazas, along alleyways, even into apartments. Like this one. I am reminded of a line in a Mark Doty poem in which he describes looking from a window of a NYC YMCA into other windows and likening the vista to “a voyeur’s Advent calendar.”
December 29, 2014
December 28, 2014
December 27, 2014
We in the US of A are so used to buying shrimp, clams and such at the same places we buy haddock, salmon and other fin fish. Not so in Europe, especially not here in La Boqueria, the central market of Barcelona. Seafood (shellfish) in one place. Fin fish in another. You can see which type of vendor this is.
December 26, 2014
Whenever I return from a trip, friends ask me what was the best part of it. And the answer is always the same: the people. Here, two waiters at a Barcelona tapas bar who’ve stepped outside for a break from the lunchtime crush. The guy on the left has a girlfriend in Washington, DC, not to mention the best eyeglasses in town. And they both were so gracious when I asked to take their photo. As always, a little bit of Spanish goes a long, long way.
December 25, 2014
One of the many extravagant displays of fanciful ironwork and gold leaf within Barcelona’s massive cathedral. Imagine the poor folks who must have been dazzled by this work when it originally appeared. Were they impressed by the richness and power of their Church’s resources? Or maybe a little resentful of the outlay of more funds for this one tiny corner of the cathedral, many times more than they would earn in a lifetime? Whatever. Merry Christmas.
December 24, 2014
Visions of sugarplums, so many sweets here in Lisbon. Many of them (like all the yellow ones in this window) made primarily (or exclusively) from egg yolks and sugar. A little bit cloying for my taste. Not that that kept me from trying a few. Research.
December 23, 2014
December 22, 2014
In the center of this holy pilgrim town, it’s easy to forget that there’s “country” all around. Easier to remember when you take this shortcut from your hotel to your molecular gastronomy 13-course (tiny ones) dinner at nearby Casa Marcelo. There are merciful patches of undeveloped land all around this green Galician town.
December 21, 2014
Autumn sunlight. Beautiful no matter where in the world you are. Seen here on the up, up, upward path to the top of the hill where the beautiful Bom Jesus do Monte church is overlooking the town of Braga, often called the most religious place in Portugal. (Nice to remember beautiful sunlight on this first day of winter, the day with the least daylight all year.)
December 20, 2014
Oh, the Spanish and their musical instruments. Here in the Galician town that has attracted pilgrims from around the world for centuries, you’re just as likely to hear bagpipes being played in the streets as the Spanish guitar. We passed a harpist on several occasions. And look at this thing in the town museum. It’s called a corda and has both the strings of a guitar and a keyboard. Please note the scallop shell in the case as well, the symbol of the city and its saint.
December 19, 2014
Once at the top of the challenging uphill climb and then the even more challenging massive staircase, you reach the church of Bom Jesus do Monte (and you realize the significance of Monte in its name.) Dr. Blake has a fear of heights, afraid to look down from the top of stairs, escalators, the Grand Canyon, etc. Probably a good thing that he stayed down below and did not accompany me as I climbed the steps (not on my knees, though, as some pilgrims do.)
December 18, 2014
Europeans know how (and why) to do parks right. Take this one, for example, smack dab in the middle of this charming Portuguese university town. Spacious and spare, it’s enjoyed by relaxed locals and visiting tourists alike. So peaceful on this lazy Sunday morning.
December 17, 2014
December 16, 2014
December 15, 2014
December 14, 2014
In Spain, the rule seems to be if you can still find more room for ornamentation, then you haven’t yet completed your job. The swirly filigree of the stonework on the left. The patinated metal squares studding the door here at the town’s cathedral. And how’s that for a smart little door knocker?
December 13, 2014
December 12, 2014
One of the pleasures of having a stateroom on a lower deck of Windstar’s Wind Surf is that you really feel like you’re on the water. Sometimes in the water, actually, when the waves rise higher than the porthole, as happened very frequently on this sailing. The ship’s stabilizers neutralized so much of the “rocking” that no one felt queasy at all, allowing us to enjoy the adventure unimpeded.
December 11, 2014
None dare call it pizza. Actually, some do. “Turkish pizza.” As if such a thing existed. But I guess it’s effective shorthand for those who wouldn’t pick up on “pide with toppings.” Call it whatever you like, it’s still sensational. Seen here in a busy passageway behind the Spice Bazaar, just one of many offerings on every block in the City of the World’s Desire.
December 10, 2014
Yes, Spanish will get you by in Barcelona. But the official language is Catalan, closely related but not the same. The written language is one thing, the pronunciation quite another. Here’s the daily menu at Tapas, 24, a wonderful place to eat in the Eixample neighborhood of the city. Count the Catalan Xs. As their napkins say, "ñam, ñam!"
December 9, 2014
December 8, 2014
As I write this in summer 2013, Turkish Airlines has just announced that it will begin a new non-stop, Boston-Istanbul flight starting next May. Yippee! No more changing planes in New York, Frankfurt or Zurich. Does this mean that another welcome trip to the City of the World’s Desire is in my future? I hope so. (Seen here, our 2011 Windstar cruise leaving the Bosphorus, Topkapi Palace on Seraglio Point in the background. Update: We did return to the City of the World’s Desire, and on Turkish Airlines, in September 2014. Yippee again!)
December 7, 2014
RISD business. Get it? This exhibit at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum was great, filled with signs made of marker on cardboard, blurring the lines between privileged and less so. You can just about read some of the signs behind the window. For more, google "Alejandro Diaz artist" or click here.
December 6, 2014
Nick had asked me to bring home some pimentón from Spain. No problem. This stand in Barcelona’s fabled market, La Boqueria, had plenty. And so many kinds, that I had to ask (repeatedly) to make sure I bought the right stuff. Sweet and hot, both smoked. I also got some for myself, which I have been using in every chili, curry, stew and soup I’ve made all year. It adds such a lovely smoky enhancement to them all. And even though I’ll only be in Barcelona for a few hours on our next trip this autumn, La Boqueria and this stall are definite stops. (I hope the lovely, patient lady from Ecuador is still working there.)
December 5, 2014
Weeds anyone? This summer’s weather has alternated between rain and high heat and humidity, making yard work almost impossible. The weather has also delivered a perfect combination to encourage the proliferation of weeds, allowing the few tomato, parsley and bush bean plants in my raised bed to be infiltrated by many, many unwelcome and thirsty neighbors. What a mess! Today, with relatively cooler and drier weather, I managed to do the first of many (alas) weedings. Onward. [Actually, I found an easier, softer way. Click here.]
December 4, 2014
Working the steps. After years of climbing a flight of distressed wooded stairs to my front door (careful paintings did little to mask their lack of integrity), I’ve followed the example of the third little pig and upgraded to a brick-and-granite solution. Interesting to watch the progress, especially as I had no idea how involved and precise this construction would be.
December 3, 2014
Ruby is the alpha dog these days in the home of Simon and David. In spite of the fact that they now have two stronger and more active whippets. Alas, Ruby is an old dog, much thinner now than she was. But possessed of every ounce of dignity that she has always had. She sleeps with Weasel, her Siamese consort, and would have it no other way. [Update: Sadly, she is no longer with us, no longer sleeps with Weasel...but maintained her dignity until the very end.]
December 2, 2014
On the Sunday after All Souls Day (November 2), Tucson unleashes its annual All Souls Procession. Snaking its was through the city after dark, accompanied by the sounds of mariachi, thousands of living souls pay homage to thousands of dead ones, parading with photos of their lost loved ones. Some dress in costumes. Many paint their faces to resemble the famous Mexican Day of the Dead skulls. The parade winds up at a stage set up in a huge field where videos of beating hearts, acrobats suspended from cranes, fire jugglers, Aztec dancers, singers, you name it perform this spectacular finale. At the close, a huge geodesic urn, filled with paper prayers and the names of the dead collected from the crowd, is ignited. No wonder it’s the city’s largest and most popular festival of the year. (To see the finale from the 2006 procession, click here.)
December 1, 2014
One of the things that makes me the happiest is realizing that I have truly wonderful friends. And I love it when I can introduce them to each other. For instance, here. Christian (right) was in Tucson to run a half-marathon. And I was also in this great city, visiting my friends Simon and David, and eating every bit of Mexican food that wasn’t nailed down. So naturally I wanted them to meet. And they did, and they hit it off easily. Of course. Here they are in S&D’s garden, poolside, at sunset. See how everyone is smiling?