January 31, 2015

Lisbon. October, 2009

If you’re going to take the #28 tram all the way up to the top of the Graça neighborhood in order to eat at the Churrasco da Graça, then of course you’re going to order the mixed grill. Quite a lot of meat for these two chicken-and-fish eaters. But a wonderful treat. Also wonderful: We seemed to be the only tourists in this locals-only hangout.

January 30, 2015

Sintra, Portugal. October, 2009

Thirty minutes from Lisbon by frequent train brings you to the UNESCO-honored town of Sintra, once the summer residence of Portuguese royalty. Popular with tourists and filled with photogenic buildings and vistas, it struck me as rather Disneyfied. Look at this picture and you’ll see what I mean. Beautiful, yes. But too tidy and prettified for my taste.

January 29, 2015

Lisbon. October, 2009

Did someone say “flea market”? No matter where in the world I am, the siren song of second-hand goods invariably calls to me. Taking the #28 tram way up to the top of the Alfama neighborhood, I arrived at the city’s biggest swap meet, filled with religious and secular goodies, paintings, lamps, jewelry...and counterfeit DVDs like these. Interesting to see the titles of some Almodóvar favorites in Portuguese. Not interesting to see the dreaded Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow with their fat faces staring.

January 28, 2015

Lisbon. October, 2009

What’s black and white and tread all over?  (Sorry.) Why, this cobblestone Lisbon sidewalk, of course. One of many hundreds in this beautiful city.

January 27, 2015

Lisbon. October, 2009

I have always loved that in Europe, billboards are a revered and effective way of conveying information. And they’re generally adequately sized and placed at eye level. From the Southern Italian funeral notices posted in various neighborhoods, to the movie posters pasted up through France, Spain, Turkey, just about everywhere I’ve visited. Like these concert notices along a busy street in Lisbon. Some fado, some rock, some Lisbon Traviata.

January 26, 2015

Kasımpaşa, Istanbul. September, 2014

That’s chestnut honey, if you please. Also on offer here at the Kasımpaşa Kastamonu food market each Sunday morning, homemade tahini, pomegranate molasses and many other things I don’t know the names of. All presented in whatever containers the vendor was able to find back in his Black Sea village. (My favorite was the cream sold in re-used Coca-Cola bottles.) A bit of advice: Don’t indulge in the raw-milk yogurt if you haven’t built up a tolerance for it. The price you pay at the market will be nothing compared to the price you’re likely to pay for several days afterwards. Just saying.

January 25, 2015

Madrid. November, 2013

In the middle of Estación Atocha, Madrid’s main train station, there is a tropical garden. Complete with this pond. And these turtles! They’re real. But why they were inclined to climb up this ramp and dry off, we couldn’t guess. Little kids would stop and stare, fascinated. And why not? When was the last time you saw dozens of turtles in a train station?

January 24, 2015

Madrid. November, 2013

The hills may be alive with the sound of music, but this ain’t no hill. It’s the side of a building  in the center of town, just across the street from the Prado, on which Patric Blanc has installed one of his famous vertical gardens. We’d seen it first when we were in Madrid four years earlier. It’s grown.

January 23, 2015

Red Bank, NJ. Autumn, 1950

This cute little boy (born 1.23.45) grew up to be the handsome man I love. Cowlick and all. Happy birthday, Dr. Blake.

January 22, 2015

Barcelona. November, 2010

When Jay was a little boy, living in Mallorca, he loved his daily breakfast: an ensaimada. So when we traveled to Barcelona a few years ago, he again (under pressure) indulged. And once again when we made a quick day-trip to Mallorca (20 minutes by plane.)

January 21, 2015

Barcelona. November, 2010

Wow, those Spaniards sure do take their paella seriously. Look at the size of those paella pans we saw outside a hardware store on our walk to Barceloneta. You could bathe a small child in them. And this isn’t even in Valencia, reputed home of the fabled Spanish rice dish.

January 20, 2015

Barcelona. November, 2010

“Wait, wait! Don’t eat anything until I take a picture!” How many times did I badger Dr. Blake with this on our trip to this justifiably fabled eating city? Here: some pintxos at Sagardi, a Basque tapas place we had searched for. Platters of toothpicked delights are displayed on the bar. You choose which ones you want. And at the end of your meal, they count the toothpicks and charge you accordingly. So convenient. So civilized. Not to mention one of the bartenders was wearing the best eyeglasses in town.

January 19, 2015

Barcelona. November, 2010

“Go to the store and get me some sausage.” Um, if you’re in Barcelona’s central market, La Boqueria, you’ll need to get more specific than that, I’m afraid. Look at all the choices here at just one of the dozens of vendors. And I bet they’re all good, too.

January 18, 2015

Aegean Sea. October, 2011

People sometimes joke about how much weight they gain while on a cruise. Sure, if you make all the wrong food choices all the time and then don’t walk it off when in port. The food on the Windstar cruises we’ve been on has been uniformly excellent. And healthy. Look at this starter, for example: a salad of smoked fish, prosciutto, goat cheese, greens.

January 17, 2015

Lisbon. October, 2009

Hotel room picnic lunch. One of many for these two frugal travelers. Some good bread, a local cheese or two, olives, a piece of fruit. (This was before we realized we could make an abundant cold-cuts sandwich at the hotel’s breakfast buffet and spirit it away for the day’s lunch.) And, as is difficult at most restaurants, the weary tourist is able to lunch barefoot. No napkins? Use toilet paper. Inelegant but efficient.

January 16, 2015

Lisbon. October, 2009

And I thought the tilework in Istanbul was elaborate. Here in Lisbon, tile is everywhere. Look at this bookstore downtown. And this is just one of hundreds you’ll encounter during a leisurely stroll through the beautiful narrow streets.

January 15, 2015

Lisbon. October, 2009

Why do things always look and sound better in a different language? In this case, the entrance to a jewelry store in this beautiful Portuguese city.

January 14, 2015

Lisbon. October, 2009

I love Lisbon. And I love that this subway exit brings you out in the middle of a lovely, peaceful park. On this beautiful autumn afternoon, there were people reading, chatting, musicians playing. So civilized. We returned home from this wonderful city, realizing how calm and enjoyable daily life can be, and I started to plan my early retirement, which began less than three months later.

January 13, 2015

Lisbon. October, 2009

One of the many things I love about Lisbon is that you’ll be walking along a rather ordinary street, turn a corner and wham! A pink building. Or a turquoise one. Or one covered with elaborate tilework. A city of wonderful surprises.

January 12, 2015

Race Point, Provincetown, MA. September, 2014

How kind of my friends Alan and Gerald to offer me a ride to Ptown this sunny and windy day to head for the off-season beach, to sit and have coffee and watch the passing parade along Commercial Street, to dine at The Squealing Pig (where the flirty knockout Brian was our waiter)...and to (our real purpose) attend the opening of our friend Rich’s first solo painting exhibition. A perfect day.

January 11, 2015

Sea of Marmara, Turkey. October, 2011

Jay claims to eschew sweets, though he’s often asked for a ladylike portion...and then maybe a tiny bit more for seconds. We often joke that his idea of an ideal dessert is fruit and cheese. Though this time it’s me, the first night of our Windstar cruise out of Istanbul, I’m trying to stick to a diet (ha ha ha) by choosing the cheese plate for dessert. Good though it was, I think this was the only time I had it.

January 10, 2015

Watertown, MA. July, 2013

So many corners, so many right angles. An early morning perspective from the top of my stairs. Art in front, open window to the left, sleeping porch on the right. And the summer sun, already hot at 6am on this fifth day of a relentless heat wave. Ah, July remembered in January.

January 9, 2015

Giudecca, Venice, Italy. October, 2012

Why does Dr. Blake look so eagerly happy? Because he’s anticipating his dinner of spaghetti in squid ink followed by a mixed grill of fish and seafood here in a tiny trattoria in Giudecca. We stay on this small island just a two-minute water shuttle ride from the mainland because it’s quieter, cheaper, much less crowded. And so when our landlady recommended her favorite neighborhood place to eat, we ran there...and were not disappointed.

January 8, 2015

Watertown, MA. January, 2015

When I read my Turkish friend Aylin's article earlier this week about anuş abur ("sweet soup") that's made for Twelfth Night, I had to race down to the Armenian stores at the bottom of my hill to try to find some. At Massis Bakery (Lebanese/Armenian), my Syrian friend Angelina told me that their store doesn't make it, but that her mother does her own version of it at home. "We add sugar and nuts and raisins to the wheatberry-chickpea mixture at the table," she said. On to Sevan Bakery (Turkish/Armenian) where kind owner Kapriel Chavushian told me that his wife makes three variations at home (traditional; nut-free for a grandchild with a nut allergy; and sugar-free for a diabetic family member) but that they don't sell any of them in the store. Then, with a smile, he went behind the counter and spooned out some of his own for me to share. And here it is, gussied up by yours truly with some dark raisins and some almonds (added "at the table" in the Syrian manner.) For more about this "Armenian Christmas Pudding" (which my Armenian friends the Hagopian Sisters had never heard of even though it's in an Armenian cookbook they gave me), click here to read Aylin's article and recipe.

January 7, 2015

Tucson. April, 2013

Along my running route that follows the dry riverbed of the Santa Cruz, this moment of blue, a suggestion of water. And, in fact, this wall shelters a drinking fountain (or, for my New England friends, a “bubbler”). Another example of how the occasional appearance of man-made blue on the dry, brown ground references the cloudless blue above. And look at that mountain of saguaros just beyond. An excellent running route.

January 6, 2015

Tucson. April, 2013

For documentary purposes only. The prison I pass on my morning run along the dry Santa Cruz riverbed. Often there are work crews in the yard, prone to obscene gestures directed at each person who passes. When I once mentioned to a Boston acquaintance that I love Tucson, he told me he used to live there. And when I mentioned my morning run, the river, the prison, he told me that he was once a prisoner in that very institution. Um, small world.

January 5, 2015

WGBH Radio, Boston. Mid-1980s?

When my friend Diane’s mother, “Annie Baltimore,” visited our WGBH workplace one day, we took her into the radio studio of our pal Ron Della Chiesa whose other guest that day was Robert Merrill. Was Little Miss Ann intimidated by the man she so admired? On the contrary. She soon had the Metropolitan Opera star singing Yiddish duets with her, much to the delight of all gathered. Sadly, Annie B is no longer with us, but her memory lives on in many, many wonderful stories like this one. And her spirit lives on in Diane whose birthday is today. All best wishes, Diane. And mazel tov.

January 4, 2015

Tucson. April, 2003

The sun is wicked in Tucson. Colors fade. Skin burns. Land dries out. Look at what’s happened to the letters on this sign, for example. The trolley hasn’t even been installed yet and already the letters are peeling. Fortunately there’s SPF for us. And those spellbinding blue skies.

January 3, 2015

Summit, NJ. Spring, 1978

Jacques. One of the bright student lights when I was an English teacher at Summit High School. He worked on the yearbook when I was faculty moderator and we clicked immediately. I don’t think I ever had Jacques in class. But our interests were so well aligned that we both signed up for sign-language classes, went to the movies, laughed our heads off together. Was it wrong for a student and teacher to socialize like that? It never occurred to us. And besides, after a few years, he was no longer a student. I was no longer a teacher. But we were still friends. And we still are. So there.

January 2, 2015

Istanbul. September, 2014

There are many ways to cross the Bosphorus to get from the European side of the city to the Asian side. Commuter ferries (two of which are seen docked in the background), private water taxis, tourist excursion boats...and this, a small fishing rowboat, probably the most historically enduring method of transport.

January 1, 2015

Tucson. November, 2014

Oh, just two typical residents of Tucson out for an evening stroll. Except that this night is the city’s annual All Souls Procession, and these characters are but two of many hundred revelers who don outfits based on the famous Mexican Day of the Dead skeletons. Tradition says that this is a happy and joyous celebration, remembering lost loved ones who are having a ball in the afterlife. But it made me teary to see parents walking the procession route, holding photos of their children who had died. (On a definitely happier note, I'd love to be in Tucson on this, the wedding day of my beloved friends Simon and David. Though I'd probably get teary there, too. Is it a coincidence that they chose to wed on this, the fifth anniversary of the SLS blog? Probably. Abrazos, amigos.)