My mother's "unofficial" birthday is today. She was actually born on December 30, but I didn't learn this until many years later when I saw her death certificate. I questioned my father about it, and he said she wanted her birthday to be New Year's Eve. So. And that's why I honor this day with one of the MANY religious personages she championed. Padre Pio (now Saint Pio) was a priest and mystic who became famous among American Catholics in the 1940s-1960s because of his bearing the stigmata, the marks of Christ's crucifixion. It's said by some that his stigmata actually bled, and his legend generated much interest and controversy. But evidently that didn't stop this Neapolitan family from erecting a somewhat startling streetside shrine outside their home in the center of the city. My favorite element: the two plastic bottles seen through the patio glass. Happy New Year! And Happy Birthday, Mom.
December 30, 2015
Oh dear, it looks like the "Love forever" lock custom has hit the American Southwest. I've seen this bizness previously in Paris and in Venice, but never stateside. Until now. You and your loved one affix a lock onto these hearts (there were several along Fourth Avenue) and then throw away the key, uniting you for all time. In theory. (There is a bus driver here in greater Boston who announces the stop at a local church in his thick New England accent as "Sacred Hat," so I'm wondering if the tattoo parlor seen in the background is somehow related to these sacred hearts.)
December 29, 2015
Well, happy birthday to me. It was sometimes tough as a kid having a birthday so close to Christmas. "Santa" would always come up one gift short on the 25th, which would then materialize -- surprise! -- on the 29th. But who's complaining? These days I don't even like getting gifts. So, please, please refrain. Also, please note: slipper socks! (Does this picture make me look gay?)
December 28, 2015
It's said that the Joshua Tree was named by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. The 15-40-foot tree's unique shape allegedly reminded them of a biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. It's also said that it only grows in the Mojave. But my friend Simon and I saw these at Tucson's Desert Museum. So there.
December 27, 2015
Another shot from one of the city's many outdoor markets. This man takes his eggs seriously. I kept hoping I wouldn't trip on the cobblestones and "encounter" his fulsome and fragile display. (Click here to see another egg-based display that I saw in Rome some years ago.)
December 26, 2015
December 25, 2015
December 24, 2015
I like this snowy photo of the deer that visited us last winter, but I have mixed feelings about Christmas Eve. There was always a fight in my childhood home on this night, something that I fled as soon as I was able to drive. I headed to my friend Nick's family home where we always had lots of laughs, lots of good food, lots of love. If things work out as planned, I'll be spending Christmas Eve with Nick again this year, going for dinner at Brooklyn's Hazar, our favorite Turkish restaurant. My own home has a lot more love in it and fewer fights than the one in which I grew up, but I still try to spend Christmas with my oldest pal as I've been doing for some 50 years. (Our Mexican friend Marco, when he was giving us all nicknames based on religious holidays, dubbed Nick "Noche Buena." Christmas Eve. Just right.) As for the deer, I'm sure if they had found a manger they would have eaten it.
December 23, 2015
This painting, 'The Seven Works of Mercy' by Caravaggio, is the reason I walked all across the city one Sunday afternoon. I love Caravaggio and I'd never seen this canvas. Painted in 1607 for the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia, it's still in its original location. Because of the distance I had to stand from the painting in order to take this picture, you are forgiven if you're unable to spot all seven of the corporal works of mercy: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom the captive, bury the dead. Originally the project (for which the painter was paid extravagantly) was to have been seven paintings, each with one work of mercy, positioned throughout the church. Instead, Caravaggio incorporated all seven into the one altarpiece. One-stop shopping.
December 22, 2015
When I travel, I love to go off on walks by myself, never knowing what I might find. Here in Napoli, I was wandering around (knowing that I wanted to somehow get to the chapel that housed a Caravaggio painting I'd never seen -- more on this in tomorrow's blog) and came across a slow food/local-and-sustainable farmers market in the forecourt of the cathedral. Look at this vendor (with his single Michael Jackson glove) lovingly slicing his prosciutto. It looked as if there were lots of sales. And, once again, I was a tourist without a kitchen to prepare any of the beautiful offerings.
December 21, 2015
Today is the shortest day of the year, the longest night of the year. Let's hope you're not spending any time after dark with this wedding couple. At first they may look scary. But as with most participants in the All Souls Procession, they're pretty friendly and welcoming. Though they could use a good meal or two.
December 20, 2015
December 19, 2015
December 18, 2015
December 17, 2015
Walking through this Arabic-influenced Sicilian town, I asked a man on the street where the fish market was. He gave me directions and was about to leave when he stopped to add, "But don't buy anything there." My Italian is a little rough, but I think he said something about red tide. Whatever. I finally found the market (by accident) but the only thing red there were these colorful fish. It was a bustling great place with vendors yelling back and forth and loudly hawking their catch. I didn't buy anything.
December 16, 2015
Dr. Blake and I and our new friend Simon whom we met on board our recent Windstar cruise around Sicily and Malta. Jay and I were in the outdoor hot tub, Simon joined us, we became friends in an instant. (As a testament to how much we like him, I'm posting this photo in which both he and Jay look much better than I do -- in spite of my old tricks of covering my sagging chin, wearing sunglasses at all times and always opting for back-lighting.) Simon is an emergency room doctor in Sydney and, in between silly showbiz stories, was able to share some welcome advice with us about Jay's unexpected bout of gout. We're hoping our paths will cross again either here in Boston or there in Australia.
December 15, 2015
This is my father's birthday. He would have been 99 years old today. Hard to imagine. Of course, this is based on his birth year being 1916 (as I saw it on my application to Seton Hall Prep when I was about to enter high school.) Readers who come from Irish families (or who happen to be aging Hollywood starlets) know that such factual information is highly suspect. Here he is at the John F. Kennedy Library on his first visit to Boston. If he looks like he might be crying, he probably was, moved by being in the middle of that whole Camelot/Kennedy business. He cried easily. Just one of the things I loved about him. In retrospect.
December 14, 2015
In the North End of Boston, the city's traditional Italian neighborhood, there is a wonderful pizza place where dozens of people wait on line for unsurpassed thick-crust slices. Also for arancine, spinach calzone, panzarelle and other Southern Italian delights. The decor is "high school cafeteria," ditto the noise level. It's called Galleria Umberto and it is a landmark. When Dr. Blake and I were in Napoli recently, we went to the original Galleria Umberto, a gilded-age arcade of upscale shops with beautiful tilework floors and -- look up! -- this magnificent iron-and-glass ceiling. No pizza though.
December 13, 2015
Meet my friend Kate. We worked together many, many years ago at Boston's public television station, WGBH. She left. Then I left. And we lost touch. Until last year when I got an email from her out of the blue (she'd somehow found me through this blog) telling me that she was alive and well and living in Tucson. I happened to be in Tucson at the time. We met and picked right up where we'd left off some 25 years earlier. This year when I visited my friends Simon and David in that wonderful desert city, Kate and I met again for breakfast, again at the Little Cafe Poca Cosa. And even though the place is famous for its loud music, our non-stop laughs (at the expense of others) drowned it out.
December 12, 2015
December 11, 2015
Crossing this fortressed city can be a challenge. Up, down, up, down. But worth it. Late one afternoon I was headed to the docks to take a ferry to a meeting in Sliema and came down this street. When I looked back...the raking light, the steps instead of sidewalks, the almost total lack of color in this otherwise golden city. A wonderful sight well off the established tourist path.
December 10, 2015
The tomb of favorite son and opera composer Vincenzo Bellini in Catania's cathedral. There are so many references to this man throughout the city that it was surprising to us when the tour director on our Windstar cruise kept referring to him as Benini. Even in his prepared slides. Do your homework, mister! Fortunately, not disturbed by bad spelling, Bellini's work survives and continues to come alive through the voices of singers around the world. (My own version of "Casta Diva" from his 'Norma' remains flawed but enjoyable. Though not as riveting as Callas' cover.)
December 9, 2015
December 8, 2015
At every corner in each Sicilian neighborhood, you're likely to come across some private expression of devotion like this. (Much nicer than the plaster madonnas that decorate lawns in neigborhoods near my New England home.) And while we're revering the Blessed Virgin, this little shrine might serve as a reminder that today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation. Been to Mass yet?
December 7, 2015
A principal industry here in the northwest of Sicily is salt production. And nowhere more than in Trapani. We were mesmerized watching these salt flats near the town's main port. Sections are flooded with sanitized water and left to evaporate in several stages. Then, when the salt is ready to harvest, that little train you see in the photo heads out to be loaded with what will become, after further processing, the final product.
December 6, 2015
December 5, 2015
Traveling down one of the many, many staircases that lead from Valletta's fortressed heights to our ship in the port below, we saw, off to the side, some strange, small shelters. It was only later, at the bottom of the stairs that we encountered this sign that explained, sort of, what this tiny shantytown was all about.
December 4, 2015
I always hold my breath when ever I'm a passenger in a car traveling around the hairpin turns on the unbarricaded road that heads down through Gates Pass. Dozens of cars have tumbled off the pavement in the past and continue to do so each year. Still, that's no deterrent to scores of people who come out here, west of Tucson proper, to enjoy the unmatched sunset vistas each evening.
December 3, 2015
Oh, hello, officers. Not exactly the visual you might have imagined when told that police were in the area. But then this is Italy. And even more so, this is Napoli. These cops were standing guard at a street fair not far from the San Carlo Opera House. Sort of. Check out the haircuts. And the eye treatment on the fuzz second-to-left.
December 2, 2015
OK, I love sfogliatelle. And I have a big appetite. And I love a bargain. But even I was able to pass on this larger-than-life pastry hanging in front of a shop in the Spaccanapoli neighborhood -- former dicey area and current tourist attraction -- of this most unpredictable of Italian cities.