Who is that smiling guapo staring at me from an interior courtyard window in our pensión here in the main city of Andalusia? Why, it's the man I married some 18 years later. He still had red hair then. And I, sigh, still had any hair then.
March 30, 2016
Jumping knows no limits. Here, an irreverent leaper outside of La Mezquita, the astounding building that is a must-see in this Andalusian town. A huge and important mosque so impressive that the Catholic Spanish conquerors couldn't bring themselves to knock it down...so they built an entire Catholic cathedral inside of it. Admission free on Sundays if you tell the guard you're on your way to Mass. Just saying. (Click here for an inside look.)
March 29, 2016
March 28, 2016
It was on this 50th birthday trip (Dr. Blake's, not mine) that I first was exposed to the beauties and mysteries of Islamic art and architecture. Look at this dazzling example here in Spain's best-preserved Moorish attraction. No figures, no saints, only the innate loveliness of geometry and Arabic script. The fascination that began on this trip continues strong to this day.
March 27, 2016
He is risen, indeed. Here, my jumping photo tribute to Easter, the most solemn day in the Christian calendar. And you can see how solemn and respectful are Dr. Blake and our friend Phil, who showed up most unexpectedly at our Barcelona hotel in the Plaza del Pi. In spite of an incipient flu that kept Phil in bed for days to come, he indulged my request to jump in one of our favorite spots in one of our favorite cities.
March 26, 2016
March is Women's History Month. And here's a sign that greets you as you are about to enter the jewel-like Rüstem Paşa Mosque, famous for the beautiful blue of its tilework, not far from Istanbul's Spice Bazaar. In this mosque, as in many others, the women are secluded behind a carved screen, usually in the back, separate from the men.
March 25, 2016
The one place I wanted to visit in this Sicilian port town was the Chiesa delle Anime del Purgatorio. It's the resting place for the larger-than-lifesize statues representing the Stations of the Cross. Every year (reportedly since 1612) on Good Friday, various guilds of workers in town shoulder the tableaux and parade them through the streets (no less than 16 hours, sometimes more than 24) before returning hours later to the church. "No flash" signs are posted everywhere in the church, so this photo (The Wound to the Chest, sponsored by the guilds of the Painters and of the Decorators) is not of the highest quality. Scusi.
March 24, 2016
Whenever I travel, I always check beforehand to see if I can attend any meetings in the places I'm visiting. As luck would have it, our stopover in Valletta allowed just such an opportunity. And when I found out that I could reach my destination either by bus or by ferry across the harbor...well, can you guess from this photo I snapped en route which option I selected?
March 23, 2016
Dr. Blake and I live in coastal Massachusetts. In fact, his cliffside home overlooks Gloucester harbor. So we are no strangers to fresh fish and seafood. But even we are impressed by the freshness and selection of the catch here in Istanbul. And each time we visit, we make a point of having as many seafood meals as we can possibly fit into our stay. A favorite waterside lunch spot is just beyond this seaside fish market, under those trees you can just make out in the back. Oh, to be there right now with a plate of fried hamsi, the Black Sea anchovies (seen here) that always seem to be in season during our visits.
March 22, 2016
Islamic art tends to shun the figurative. Stylized tulips occasionally. But you're not likely to find images of saints as you do in Western religious art. Instead, the illustrations tend toward beautiful geometric patterns and florid script. Here's but one example, this on one of a mosque complex's outbuildings in a mountain town in central Turkey.
March 21, 2016
Welcome the first day of spring. And while the 168 daffodil and hyacinth bulbs I planted last autumn have begun to emerge here at my Massachusetts home, I thought I'd honor the season with this floral pattern instead, the tilework underfoot as you enter my favorite baklava parlor in the City of the World's Desire. If you can pronounce the name of the place (Güllüoglu), you deserve a free piece of its specialty.
March 20, 2016
The fortressed city of Valletta is made from golden stone. And no matter from which direction you approach it, there is no mistaking that it was at one time a fortress. High up on a hill, it's a challenge to climb toward it. But we did. Later, as we descended, we heard laughter and we looked up. Some morons were walking along this precipice (on the left, near the flagpole), showing off for their girlfriends. We didn't stick around to see what happened.
March 19, 2016
I ran this five years ago, but it holds as true today as it did then. Here's some of the original post: "Every year when St. Joseph’s Day comes around, I start jonesin’ for my friend Paul’s mother’s home cooking. The Sicilian spitfire sets a mean holiday table, complete with fritattas, sausages, antipasto, zeppole di San Giuseppe and, yes!, Pasta con Muddica. This traditional pasta with garlic (raw), a little sugar, optional anchovies, parsley and breadcrumbs (meant to symbolize the sawdust of the carpenter saint) is a much welcome once-a-year starch picnic. And no one serves it up with as much enthusiasm or generosity as Mrs. A. (Just as appetizing are her childhood stories about past family celebrations at which she would dress as the Blessed Virgin and participate in living-room pageants.)" Sadly, in spite of our begging, those pageants are no longer part of the evening's entertainment.
March 18, 2016
If there's a better way to spend Saint Patrick's Day than listening to the wonderful Irish writer Colm Tóibín, I don't know what it is. The generous and entertaining author of Brooklyn and many other books was the guest of honor at the New Repertory Theater's "An Evening with Colm Tóibín" fundraiser last night, and, knowing that Tóibín is one of my very favorite writers, New Rep artistic director (and former high school student of mine) Jim Petosa was kind and thoughtful to invite me. It was the first time I had been in the Commander's Mansion not far from my home. The buffet included corned beef and cabbage spring rolls. I'm not kidding. They were good.
March 17, 2016
I ran this photo five years ago today, but I really like it, and it's Saint Patrick's Day, so I'm running it again today. Here's some of the original post about my taking my father to Ireland for the first time: 'Driving south from Dublin and then up the west coast, we approached the famed Cliffs of Moher, at which point my father announced a fear of heights (“I’m afraid I’ll jump off”) and a desire to return to our B&B. He had a point; the cliffs are some 700 feet high and only the flimsiest of cordons is there to prevent you from falling straight down to the Atlantic Ocean below. Delivering my father to the B&B, I soon returned to the cliffs where I encountered this fearless brother and sister, fresh from church where they’d just received their First Holy Communion. Almost 20 years have passed. I wonder who they grew up to be. And if they still go to Communion.'
March 16, 2016
Have you noticed the many recent postings about Napoli? Why? Maybe because I've been reading the four "Neapolitan novels" by Elena Ferrante. The Italian author, as you probably know, has been a literary sensation around the world, nowhere less so than here in the US of A (in translations by Ann Goldstein, copy editor at 'The New Yorker.') Part of the Ferrante mystique lies in the fact that "Elena Ferrante" is a pseudonym for a reclusive and secretive author whose identity remains unknown...though plenty of theories abound about who she or he may actually be. I've just finished Book #4 (shown here) and am ever so grateful to my neighbor Allan who has generously loaned me his copies. Good thing, too, as the request lists at the library for the books are well into the hundreds.
March 15, 2016
Sacred and profane. As Antonio, my friend from Lucca, once told me when I asked how the country that housed the Vatican could also have a porn star as an elected politician: "In Italy, we have the Pope and Cicciolina." Well, nowhere do the sacred and profane mix more comfortably than here in Napoli. Organized crime continues to flourish, as do a remarkable number of manifestations of religious devotion, like this family shrine here. Behind bars, just to be safe.
March 14, 2016
March 13, 2016
Taralli. Little savory rings of dough, flavored in any number of herbal ways -- caraway is the seasoning I've seen the most. I remember coming across taralli the first time I visited Napoli, back in 1984. I was walking along the bay in the Mergellina neighborhood and vendors were selling them along the esplanade. Since then, I've seen them in Italian-American markets. And my friend Nick has recipes for them -- both savory and sweet -- in his cookbooks. These are some large ones I spied while walking through the city's Spaccanapoli neighborhood last autumn.
March 12, 2016
My friend Nick is in Istanbul right now. And if all goes as planned, our friend Cenk (pronounced "Jenk") will be taking him to a big farmers market on the outskirts of the city today. Dr. Blake took this picture of me and Cenk the last time we were in the City of the World's Desire. We're at Çiya, a favorite restaurant of all of us. This warm night, Cenk gave me two copies of his cookbook Cafe Fernando, named after his outstanding blog. Since that night, his book has gone on to win all the major prizes and, I believe, is the biggest-selling cookbook in Turkey ever. And why not? It's beautiful. And, I'm happy to report, it's been snapped up by an American publisher and will soon come out in an English-language edition. Bravo, Cenk.
March 11, 2016
Poor Dr. Blake. He says he wants to accompany me in my wanderings through foreign cities. But then the map I'm following proves a challenge and our walks wind up being longer (sometimes much longer) than he'd hoped. This passeggiata took us (finally) to a big street market where fish, produce and lots of other stuff was on offer. Like this collection of scarves, ripe for the picking. I wound up buying (from a man who'd set up a folding table in the street just outside this shop) two caps for the Lazio soccer team, which must have "fallen off a truck" because they were only one euro each.
March 10, 2016
My friend Nick is in Istanbul right now, eating his way through the list of restaurants he'd compiled before heading to Turkey. Here's one that I recommended to him. It's a tiny, unassuming and very casual fish place not far from the Galata Tower. Jay and I ate there the night we arrived in advance of our Black Sea cruise. The place is terrific. Mainly because they serve simple fish, unadorned by unnecessary sauces or other distractions. Just good fresh fish. We sat at the bar had several kinds, including hamsi (Black Sea anchovies) and grilled calamari. So good.
March 9, 2016
Don't you love photobooths? Here we are -- my friends John and Deborah and I -- at the honky-tonk Salem Willows summer amusement boardwalk, fresh from our psychic reading with a woman named Donna Lee Caramello. I remember that she had long fingernails and that she held her hands above mine over the selected cards and her hands trembled as if channelling some spiritual energy. I tried not to laugh. But she did say that I'd meet a red-haired King of Diamonds. And I soon did.
March 8, 2016
March 7, 2016
The protected harbor here in this Black Sea town is formed by a crescent of land that extends into a peninsula, seen on the right and in the background. The wealthier section of town is, naturally, the one with the sea exposure. But that doesn't seem to bother the friendly dog who followed us in our travels. As did several cats. Turks, I was told, tend to take care of certain cats and dogs as their pets, but rarely do they actually own them or let them into their houses. Hence the great numbers of them on the street and in the parks, especially in Istanbul.
March 6, 2016
March 5, 2016
March 4, 2016
March 3, 2016
Dr. Blake does not like crowds. But he loves Istanbul. So I had to be very strategic in mapping out walking routes from here to there. One place avoided: this underground shopping arcade that affords an easy way to avoid the multi-lane main road and get from the Galata Bridge to the Spice Market. The crowd, overwhelming at times, tends to amuse rather than frighten me. Which is why I had to go out on my own, camera in hand, to the famous market and the nearby "New Mosque" (built 1597-1663.)
March 2, 2016
Though I'm generally an advocate of looking down as I visit new places, sometimes it pays to look up, too. As here in the glitzy St. John's Co-Cathedral in the golden capital of Malta. I've seen some mighty snazzy churches in my travels, but nothing rivals this one for over-the-top bling.
March 1, 2016
I am not an envious person. Having clarified that, let me just say that my friend Nick is about to head back to Istanbul in a few days. Which means that he'll be enjoying these fried Black Sea anchovies at our favorite waterside, outdoor "restaurant" just next to the fish market along the Golden Horn. We first found this place together in 2007 and have been back separately several times since. I can almost taste those lovely fish every time I look at this photo, taken when Jay and I most recently visited. As you can see, we both ordered the same thing. Hold the onion.