No matter what part of the city I may have traveled to on any given day, it always seemed as if I were returning to the Hotel dei Portoghesi through this same small piazza and always between 5 and 6pm. At that time, the skies would darken with thousands of birds creating a loud cacophony of dissonant song. What set them off each day? (Was it me?) Look up. Though this photo hardly does justice to the phenomenon, I knew I must try to document it somehow. Googling to find the exact location on the map just now, I was unsuccessful. But not really, because instead there appeared the names of so many other memorable Roman moments nearby: Ristorante da Pietro (wild strawberry risotto, spinach gnocchi that we still call “little poems”), Via dei Prefetti (my beloved Pizzeria da Pasquale, home of potato pizza straordinaria), Via dell’Orso (L’Orso ’80 and its superb, endless assortment of antipasti that keep being brought to the table.) Ah, the Eternal Città. No wonder all roads lead to it.
August 19, 2017
August 18, 2017
When I started househunting several years ago, I wanted a single-family home with off-street parking in a quiet neighborhood. Oh, and a little backyard. Just enough for a few tomato plants. Presenting my tiny summer garden, which I plant according to a different recipe or two each year. Here you can see tomatoes and more tomatoes. Also some pots of basil and parsley. What you can’t see are the green peppers (got nary a one this year from six plants) and the dill, mint and scallions. Just enough to make Itch (Middle Eastern grain salad) once I buy the bulghur. And some salmorejo (a cold gazpacho-like soup from Córdoba) when the tomato plants all start to produce at once. The cucumbers have pretty much come and gone by late August. The parsley is the last to go, usually right after Thanksgiving. And last year, my generous neighbor Alice and her husband gave me access to their super-abundant garden during their month’s vacation in Maine just as the tomatoes were coming into season. “Don’t let the tomatoes go to waste!” Thanks, Alice. Gazpacho and homemade tomato sauce forever! With some of my own basil and parsley thrown in for good measure.
August 17, 2017
When I was working on The Captioned ABC News at public television in Boston, I was sent (along with my deaf friend Sandy T, left) to the National Association of the Deaf Convention to cover its centennial celebration, interview its organizers and phone in daily news reports. (I have no idea who this signing man in the natty three-piece suit is, but evidently he was important enough that the two of us needed to interview him.) Some of my memories of this trip to Cincinnati: walking across the bridge into Kentucky to watch the fireworks on July 4, making a beeline to Skyline Chili to try a three-way, attending a deaf disco in the convention hotel in which the bass was turned up so high I thought my fillings would fall out, attending a late-night party with my friend Eleanor in a room whose sliding door gave onto the hotel’s pool area (and, because we were so out-of-it, walking back through the wrong door into the bedroom of soundly sleeping strangers.) After almost a week of being at this non-speaking convention, imagine my surprise when I decided to take a walk early one morning and heard someone on the street say the first word I’d heard in days: maquillage.
August 16, 2017
As I write this in August at my desk in Massachusetts, the Muslim world has recently finished honoring the holiest period of the year, Ramadan. This is the time that the faithful read daily from the Koran, fast from sunrise to sunset, are especially devout. And it’s also the time of iftar, the meal that nightly breaks the day’s fast and fortifies people to get them through the next stretch of daylight abstinence. Though the iftar may have had its humble beginnings as a few dates and some bread, it has in some circles become a lavish spread guaranteed to fill the eater for hours to come. Some restaurants expand their normal menus to include special dishes to mark the holy season. Others set up extra tables outside, sometimes under tents, to accommodate the Ramadan crowds. The meals often extend way past midnight, some almost until sunrise when the fast begins again. I wonder if these three waiters, who kindly agreed to be snapped at our farewell meal in Istanbul, have to deal with any especially spikey diners at the excellent Sofyali 9, people whose blood sugar may be low from hours of fasting, testing the limits of even the most gracious traditions of Middle Eastern hospitality.
August 15, 2017
August 14, 2017
August 13, 2017
Why is autumn my favorite season? The colors? (Too easy an answer.) The schoolteacher in me? (The opposite should be true, no?) I think it may have to do with so many wonderful memories of things happening in this crisp, precise, no-nonsense season. When I was in high school and college, autumn would be the time that we’d go into Manhattan most often, making our student films, buying cheap sweaters, attending recent openings on and off Broadway, tracking museums and galleries. The extremes of summer and winter far off, the rains of spring forgotten. Most of the photos I have from those years were taken in the fall. There just seems to be more energy after summer’s laziness. Oh, and the colors, too, like those seen here in our front yard in Gloucester.
August 12, 2017
My friends Donna and Emilia recently returned from Lisbon where they stayed in a small hotel over a bridal shop. Breakfast included. But they never had breakfast in their hotel, they told me, because each day they toddled on down to this wonderful cafe and bakery, the Casa Brasileira on the Rua Augusta, to try yet another of their seemingly endless assortment of confections. Look at those spikey, sugary things on the lower left up there. You can almost imagine how they’d collapse in a brittle surprise the minute you bit into them. I loved each of my own visits here, slowly learning the names of the pastries, many of them named for different saints, many solely named for their shapes or ingredients or both. Over on the right, can you pick out the “apple snails” and the “fruit rocks”?
August 11, 2017
I grew up in New Jersey. When we went to the beach, there was no greenery nearby. No lawns, no plants, nothing. Just lots of sand and bungalows with pebbles in place of lawns. So when I came to Massachusetts and visited Cape Cod, I was amazed at having woods within sight of the beach. Lawns and gardens, even densely grassy dunes. But that was nothing compared to what I found in Ireland. Look at how lush this landscape is a stone’s throw from the sea’s edge. And so green, I couldn’t stop laughing. I always find it comic when things are as they’re portrayed in cartoons or clichés. When an owl says, “Who,” for example. Or when, as I found here, Ireland turns out to be really green, the Emerald Isle really emerald.
August 10, 2017
I maintain a tradition whenever I visit Tucson. I must purchase something to take back to New England with me that is big, breakable and very difficult to pack. I usually have no problem identifying several items that qualify during each trip. For example, these stars, seen at the excellent Mexican restaurant, El Charro. I love them. And I couldn’t help myself from buying an excessively large one several years ago when Jay and I ventured just south of the border to Nogales, Mexico. So large in fact that we could not find a box to contain it for the trip home to the East Coast and had to cobble one together from several cartons on hand. Getting it on the plane was another story as it was too big to fall within the acceptable dimensions. And then transporting it from the Boston airport to my house, well, it was a challenge from start to finish. But now it hangs proudly on my front porch, a little out of place in the Boston suburbs, but a nice reminder of our Nogales visit. It sure would look perfect accompanied by a pair of similar stars like the illuminated lineup here at El Charro. Next time.
August 9, 2017
August 8, 2017
Recently, a new Turkish restaurant has opened not far from my home outside Boston. Called Istanbul’lu, its breakfast menu features an item poetically described as “A Plate of Turkish Mornings.” Mmmmm. How could you not order something that sounds so wonderful, so evocative? Early-morning running in Istanbul along the Sea of Marmara. Walking down the steep steps toward the Galata Bridge to buy some breakfast simit. Sitting at the wide-open cafe in Tunel Square on my first morning in the City of the World’s Desire. Or, to take a more literal route, this man, carrying his tray of baked goods through the Sahaflar Carsisi, a tiny, leaf-shaded square lined with used-book shops in a quiet neighborhood of Istanbul between the Grand Bazaar and the Beyazid Mosque. (It’s one of the oldest markets in the city, built on the same site as the ancient book and paper market of the Byzantines; since the 18th century it’s been a place where intellectuals have met and books have been sold. Still is.) Looks like he’s got plenty of açme, a flaky, egg-enriched pastry, as well as some other sweet items. He just strolled casually through the courtyard, stopping each time a customer wanted to buy something, and before long, to the delight of those around him, his plate of Turkish mornings was empty.
August 7, 2017
Agosto, capa r’virn’. Or so said my friend Nick’s grandmother in her Grottaminarda dialect every year at this time, announcing, “August is the beginning of winter.” I love this and have since the first time I heard it. Maybe because I like autumn the best of all the seasons, a time to sharpen pencils and head “back to school” or off to some foreign land once all the students are back in their classrooms and the temperature is more forgiving. One September, on my first solo trip to Italy, Nick’s Grottaminarda relatives welcomed me to their small town east of Naples, a wonderful friendly place. Here are Nick’s cousins Michele, Pupetta and Zia Letizia (whom Nick’s season-savvy grandmother with her flair for nicknames referred to as “crooked ass.”) I remember walking to the store with Pupetta to buy the fresh pasta for her ciambotella (sauté a red pepper, a green pepper, a hot pepper, a vinegar pepper.) The other dish she made that remains happily in memory is sartù, a loose sort of scrambled frittata with eggs and potatoes. Mmmm. Hearty and substantial fare, perfect for those blustery days of August. (Happy birthday to my baby brother, Brien. How does it feel to finally have a winter birthday like all the rest of our family?)
August 6, 2017
I just can't keep away from Fonda. This time, a midsummer meal of guacamole made to order (muy picante tonight, served with hand-pressed tortillas, chips and pasilla de Oaxaca salsa), ensalada de sandia, taquitos de carne asada (marinated skirt steak with onions, cilantro and chile de arbol salsa), and, my entree, a wonderful pescado de guajillo -- a pan-seared filet of red snapper over guajillo-passion fruit sauce, served with potatoes, asparagus, roasted red peppers and red onion (apologies for the inexpert and somewhat ghoulishly misleading flash photograph of this terrific dish.) Excellent company (friends Nick, Robin, and chef/owner Roberto), a terrific space (packed with discriminating locals) and, as always, superior food. No wonder it’s one of my favorite restaurants in the world and I try never to visit New York without at least one dinner here.
August 5, 2017
August 4, 2017
August 3, 2017
Even more Mexican food! Here, some great tacos from recipes by el mejor chef mexicano Roberto Santibañez (of Fonda and Rosa Mexicano fame.) Roberto consults worldwide, offering his expertise in Mexican food of superior quality. Among the dishes he’s guided establishments in preparing: excellent tacos with an assortment of fillings (carnitas michoacan, chorizo con papas, pollo asado, pescado, camarón and more), all simply prepared from the freshest ingredients and laced with your choice of salsa (mild, medium, hot, very hot.) We recently had these tacos al pastor (adobo-marinated pork with onions, cilantro, pineapple and hot chipotle salsa. Mighty fine.) Roberto’s enviable knack is to take classics you think you may know, and then surprise you by showing how much better they can be when lovingly and skillfully prepared from only the best components. No skimping. No cutting corners. Sublime.
August 2, 2017
More Mexican Food! And a return to our favorite restaurante mexicano, bar none, Fonda. And what could be better to counter the Brooklyn heat than this refreshing ensalada de sandia? Cubes of chilled watermelon, chunks of peeled and seeded cucumbers, just the right amount of slightly salty queso fresco, all laced with a lime juice-olive oil dressing, then sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and a pinch of chives. Just the thing to start us off on another wonderful dinner at Roberto Santibañez’s jewel of a restaurant in Park Slope. So simple, so satisfying. (See more of Roberto’s offerings in his new book, Truly Mexican.)
August 1, 2017
"August is the beginning of winter," said my friend Nick's Italian grandmother. Maybe so in her Neapolitan hilltown, but not in the American Southwest. Seen here, the Café Poca Cosa, hands down, my favorite restaurant in Tucson. Simon and David brought me here for the first time many years ago when super-hospitable Suzana Davila was operating her upscale Mexican eatery out of its original Broadway location. Funky, colorful, loud, red. It was the first time I’d had Mexican food that wasn’t Tex-Mex, that was nuanced and sophisticated and un poco formal. I loved it. Now in its Pennington Street space, it’s a bit more stylish and chic, but just as wonderful and exciting. And, best of all, it still features the “Plato Poca Cosa,” which I have always ordered. Why? It’s the chef’s choice of three samplings from the evening’s entrees, allowing a tasting across the menu. Here, on a recent visit, I was served (clockwise from bottom) Carne Asada Adobo de Morita, Pollo Pipian Amarillo and Pastel de Elote Champiñones. artfully separated by slices of vegetables and presented with their signature mountain of salad and fruit. A bowl of beans, a bowl of rice, a basket of tortillas. All this and the evening’s charming and delightful host, Norbert, to boot. Cielo.
July 31, 2017
July 30, 2017
July 29, 2017
Look at this handsome Turkish devil, hawking his wares in the alleys of Istanbul on a warm late-spring evening. Couples amble by, on their way to or from dinner at any number of snug little neighborhood spots. Street musicians here and there. See the mussel-seller there in the background, shellfish and lemons at the ready should anyone crave a snack. It’s a welcome tradition, these calm and passive salesmen, never aggressive, often amusing. And with Beyoğlu nightlife in this neighborhood extending into the wee hours toward dawn, with more and more raki being drunk on patios and in restaurants and clubs nearby, who knows? A surprising number of people may somehow reason that they can’t get on without an illuminated headband of devil’s horns. And so this charmer returns night after night, smiling in the dark, proffering a handful of wickedness.
July 28, 2017
When I took my father on a vacation to Ireland after my mother had died, my patience steadily eroded and I thought I would go crazy from all the noise he made. At best, it was singing. Raised in a big Irish family, he knew all the songs. And he sang each and every one of them as I drove from Dublin to Waterford, from Doolin to Lisdoonvarna. The song he sang the most: “Galway Bay.” “If you ever go across the sea to Ireland, then maybe, at the closing of your day....” over and over and over. So when we finally arrived in Galway and settled into our B&B, I suggested that he and I go down to check out the fabled inlet. When we got there, he turned to me and said, “What’s the big deal? It’s not so great.” That’s my father. Still, after all that singing, I thought a picture was required. And here it is.
July 27, 2017
Every November 1, All Saints Day, I think of my friends Antonio and Roberta (shown here with Lupo, their gentle, pasta-loving dog), a couple back when this photo was snapped, living in a wonderful farmhouse just outside Lucca. Tutti Santi in Italy is the day, I was told, that “everyone goes to the cemetery.” (I remember planning a country restaurant visit in Italy on November 1 six years earlier, and my Roman hosts charted their route to avoid getting anywhere near a cemetery. They knew.) Antonio and Roberta invited me along on their cemetery visit. Any trepidation about respecting proper decorum I may have had vanished when Roberta came to the car with a picnic basket, jam-packed Italian-style, wearing a Betty Boop T-shirt with the English legend on it: Let’s Get Physical! I had a feeling this was to be no ordinary cemetery visit. It wasn’t. It resembled a family party. People were sitting on graves, eating antipasti, pizza, pastries, elaborate meals, you name it. Laughter and screaming, kids running around being kids. I loved the whole thing so much. It taught me more about Italy and Italians than just about anything else I’d experienced.
July 26, 2017
My beloved friend Simon is an artist in Tucson. Among his many public-art contributions, his magical Diamondback Bridge downtown stands out. Crossing six lanes of traffic on Broadway, the pedestrian “snake bridge” is a wonderful addition to the landscape and personality of this hip town. Each time I visit the bridge, there are always parents and children, equally delighted by the whimsicality of it all. It lights up gently at night. Its yellow eyes glow. The sidewalk within the patterned bridge is incised and tinted in a diamondback design; when it emerges from the fanged mouth it suggests a forked tongue. Why, there’s even a raised tail at the rear and a motion-activated sound device to produce a rattle. Simon planned this project for some five years, working with city panels, funding sources, neighborhood groups and engineers, simplifying his original plans, retaining its spirit of fun and identity. I’ve been visiting this bridge since it debuted in 2002 and I have yet to find a way to snap a photo that captures it fully. Maybe that’s the way magic should be. Thank you, Simon.
July 25, 2017
July 24, 2017
July 23, 2017
Two things I try to be aware of when I travel. Are you allowed to take photos in the museums? (Mostly yes, without flash; some museums, like those in Cairo, charge you to bring a camera inside.) When are the museums free? (Varies. Madrid’s Prado is free to all most evenings and Sunday; Paris’s Musée d’Orsay has a more complicated policy, of course. Check local listings.) Admission to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on Wednesdays from 4pm to 9:45pm is by “voluntary contribution,” which for many means “free.” Such MFA freedom allows an hour or so to look at one or two things without the burden of the normal $22 admission fee. For example, on this afternoon I sampled the “Avedon: Fashion, 1944-2000” exhibit (Suzy Parker, Dovima, China Machado, Jean Shrimpton, Penelope Tree, Twiggy), a show of Japanese tattoo paintings, a moment with the Eqyptian mummies, a walk through the Catalonian chapel. One hour and fifteen minutes of visual delight, accompanied by the pleasure of eavesdropping on many foreign visitors speaking a lovely mix of Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese. Gratis.
July 22, 2017
When we left Santiago de Compostela this Saturday morning, it was shrouded in misty fog, a bit of drizzle, the damp chill of early autumn in Galicia. Almost miraculously, as the bus headed south from Vigo and crossed the border into Portugal, the sun came out, bright and warm. A sign of good things to come. The first, our stop in Braga. Though the guidebooks and online sites indicated there were lockers to store our luggage at the Braga bus station, they’re weren’t. So we carried it the few blocks to the tourist office to inquire. A wonderful young man told us they were just closing for lunch but we could leave our heavy bags with them as long as we picked them up by 5pm closing time. Welcome to Portugal. And off we went to catch the bus to the Santuário Bom Jesús do Monte, Braga’s #1 attraction just outside of town. Up, up, up the double switchback stairs, up past the grottos representing the Stations of the Cross, up to the basilica at the very top, which houses a number of three-dimensional tableaux of religious/historical scenes...as well as a dolorous statue of the Blessed Virgin with seven full-size swords piercing her heart. Braga, we were told, is the most religious and conservative spot in the country. Yes, indeed. That afternoon, we took the train further south to the somewhat looser university town of Coimbra.
July 21, 2017
I love this picture of Jay, taken on some business-related outing. We live in what’s sometimes been sarcastically called “a fishing town that ran out of fish.” (Or had them taken away by increased government restrictions.) And because so many fishermen live in Gloucester, there really is no decent fish store because there aren’t enough customers to sustain one. (I once went into a fishmonger's shop in nearby Rockport and asked for bluefish and the owner pointed down the street to the beach and said, “Go catch one yourself.”) Odd that we wind up having to go to a supermarket (or wangle our way into a wholesale outlet, or rely on a fishing neighbor) to find decent fresh fish. Not this day though. Jay caught this beautiful bluefish, had it cleaned, ate it. I told him he looked so happy in this photo snapped by a colleague. He told me, “I was scared to death.”
July 20, 2017
October seems a perfect time to visit this lovely city. It’s still warm enough to stroll around in light clothing even at night. The early mornings are crisp and perfect for a nice, long run to investigate the city as it’s waking up. (I found neighborhoods near athletic fields and the university that I never would have come across in my normal walks through the centro.) The summer crowds have gone home, so there are no lines at museums and restaurants. And it’s not blisteringly hot as I’m told it is in July and August. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and, once we got settled at our NH hotel on Calle de José Abascal, we walked south toward the Prado, which offers free admission on Sundays as well as on weekday evenings. How civilized. In a park along the way, these two madrileñas, chatting and smoking under the watchful eye of a señorita on an exhibition poster. Inside, we decided to find just one painting and enjoy it: Las Meninas by Velasquez. Then on our way we went, lured by the siren song of fried calamari sandwiches at one of our favorite places, El Brillante.
July 19, 2017
July 18, 2017
July 17, 2017
My “best friend” Doris was visiting from New Jersey, and Dali decided we should drive to some beaches north of Boston to show her a Yankee New England coastal experience. Of course, Dali’s dog Harry came along, and I snapped this cloudy afternoon photo of the two of them, together as always, and as they always will be remembered. In September, 1978, when I was moving from my temporary stay with Dali in her North End Boston apartment to my own place in nearby Charlestown, we stopped at a supermarket parking lot...and an abandoned dog appeared. Dali checked around, summed up the situation, and loaded her frightening new pet into the car. Into my lap, if I recall correctly. From then on, and for years, they were inseparable. Almost until their deaths, which were just months apart. Jay still remembers running into Dali following a concert on the Boston Common and her saying, “It was great. Harry conducted.” Jay was confused, understandably, until he realized she was referencing Boston Pops conductor Harry Ellis Dickson, a family friend with whom she had first-name privileges. Still, the alternative is interesting to consider.
July 16, 2017
I love to go to markets in every place I visit. Yes, it’s frustrating not to always have a kitchen at my disposal so that I can prepare all the beautiful ingredients on display. But most times the visual assortment is so dazzling that I’m still satisfied. And the more “foreign” the country and the cuisine, the more interesting it proves to be. Not long ago, when my friend Sandra mentioned that she was thinking of making a recently found recipe for rose petal jam, I was reminded of this small market in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu neighborhood on a sunny Sunday morning in early June. The first time I’d seen rose petals sold by the kilo in any market anywhere. Beautiful and surprising and shown off in a box draped with grape leaves. Also for sale elsewhere throughout the same market, purslane, the “weed” that, as I write this, is taking over the gardens of New England, riding on the heels of our winter/spring heavy rainfall. A few snips of it in a salad add a nice tart element, one reportedly rich in antioxidants or omegas or whatever the current health interest is. At a dinner with friends after weeding kilos of purslane from my backyard last week, I smiled when I saw it as an ingredient of the delicious Pea Green Salad at Bergamot, the justifiably popular if somewhat pricey restaurant near my home just outside Boston.
July 15, 2017
There is no mistaking that you are in Catholic territory when you visit Ireland, a country that someone once told me was similar to Italy in that both nations have lots of religion-based visuals all around, but that it’s only the old people who take the Church seriously. The same cannot be said for the tourists. When my father and I pulled into the huge parking lot at the shrine at Knock, it was filled with Americans toting their recently purchased rosary beads, their small plastic bottles of blessed water. I’d never heard of Knock and its shrine to Mary in all of my years of Irish American Catholic schooling. For those of you similarly uninformed, here’s the official summary: In 1879, fifteen people witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist at Knock Parish Church. Bingo! A shrine, a pilgrim destination, a tourist attraction. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not, um, knocking the beliefs of the one and a half million pilgrims who visit annually. In fact I’ve always been kind of charmed by the theatrical and magical elements of my past faith, stories of visions, healing miracles, grottos filled with discarded crutches, etc. But I did have to smile when I saw this directional sign herding the faithful this way and that.
July 14, 2017
July 13, 2017
Before I went to Istanbul for the first time, there were only two restaurants that I’d made reservations for in advance. One was the late Korfez, a popular and somewhat fancy place on the Asian side of the Bosphorus a bit north of the city centre; they send a private boat to pick you up on the European side. The other was Asitane, in the Edirnekapi neighborhood, right next door to the beautiful Byzantine Chora church with its remarkable mosaics. The food at Asitane was pretty remarkable, too. Take, for example, this delicious Kavun Dolması -- a baked melon, scooped out and filled with a tasty mix of ground lamb, ground beef, rice, pine nuts, almonds, currants and herbs. Asitane specializes in recreating historical dishes from the kitchen registers of Topkapi, Dolmabahce and Edirne palaces, as well as from books and memoirs of visiting foreign dignitaries and other official documents. They regularly delve into menus from famous royal celebrations of the past, such as the months-long feast to mark the 1539 circumcisions of two sons of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. “Dishes from Mehmet the Conqueror’s Reign” and “Aphrodisiacs from the Palace Kitchen” are two of their more recent offerings. My melon entree dates from a 1539 recipe, though whether it was part of the circumcision festivities...I didn’t really need to know. Either way, it was terrific.
July 12, 2017
I have been walking along University Blvd in Tucson for years, past this fence of desiccated ocotillo stalks, dry as dust. Then this year, presto! Heavy spring rains awakened the stalks, they took root, went into leaf, bloomed. A living fence. How miraculous and beautiful. What a wonderful reminder of nature’s powers of transfiguration and renewal. Fouquieria splendens, better known as ocotillo, also known as desert coral, coachwhip, Jacob's staff and vine cactus, although it is not a true cactus. Because of their light weight and decorative patterns, ocotillo stalks have been used as walking sticks for centuries. Protected by state laws, beloved by those who live among them in Arizona and Northern Mexico, they can survive on as little as eight inches of rain a year. Or, as evidenced here, go dormant for long periods before blooming again when conditions are encouraging. Couldn’t we all learn a lesson from that?
July 11, 2017
July 10, 2017
It had been stormy, rainy and windy all day. Then, just as we were about to despair about grilling our swordfish outdoors, the turbulent weather passed and was replaced by this. I ran for the camera. It was one of those vistas that, if you’d seen it in a painting, you might be tempted to think the artist had “enhanced” the actual view to make it more dramatic. Instead, this was just what midsummer sunsets can sometimes look like from our back patio overlooking Gloucester Harbor. A sea breeze whisked away the lingering humidity. The evening turned cool and dry. Our moods improved. The swordfish was great.
July 9, 2017
Why do we love to go to the sea, to be near gently lapping water? Jay suggests that it’s because we came from the sea, that so much of our bodily composition is still water. Maybe. Whenever I’m asked during one of those “picture a peaceful place” meditation exercises, I always think of Silver Beach, New Jersey. I’m probably 13 years old, floating on an inflatable raft in water that’s so remarkably clear that I can see the sandy floor six feet down. The waves are more like ripples. The sun is mild and comforting. I’ve drifted away from everyone else and I’m comforted by the peace, the quiet, the rolling water. Probably such a welcome memory because I have managed to escape from my chaotic and noise-prone family, pushed to the extreme by spending a week in the close quarters of a small bungalow (romantically and oddly named La Cigale.) Recently an acquaintance told me that to distance himself from his violent home as a child at the beach in Ogunquit, Maine, he’d lose himself building elaborate sandcastles, cities even, where the receding tide had created inlets in the sand. “I’d pretend it was the Nile and I’d build Alexandria.” When other kids would ask to help, he’d assign them unimportant minor projects, perhaps a granary, keeping the main parts of his vision for himself. He, too, knew the deeply satisfying and imaginative pleasures offered by the sea.
July 8, 2017
July 7, 2017
July 6, 2017
When my new friends Daniel and Will invited me to their home for “una noche puertorriqueña,” of course I accepted con mucho gusto. I’d met these two guapos not long before at a Sage Farm party and we’d clicked immediately. (That is, immediately after Will realized that this friend of host Mike’s he’d heard about who was studying Spanish was serious about it; that it wasn’t going to be, as he put it, “an endless night of la puerta está abierta.”) Fashion-blogger Daniel is a serious cook when it comes to his homeland’s dishes, and the dinner was terrific. Tostones (mashed, fried green plantains), red beans and rice, seasoned beef and onions. At that aforementioned party, another Puerto Rican friend had described his country’s cuisine as being mostly based on salt and fat. Daniel’s meal this wonderful night gave the lie to that over-generalization. Gracias, chicos.
July 5, 2017
“Fellini doesn’t make those things up,” my friend Dali had told me in advance of our trip, my introduction to Italy. On our very first day there, within minutes of our arrival in Rome, we encountered this mad scene. A Japanese film crew shooting a television commercial with singing nuns, sidecar motorcyclists, baroque fountains and a “peppy” soundtrack to set the mood. Later in the day, we came upon a fashion shoot outside Bulgari on ultra-fashionable Via dei Condotti, a bit tamer (but not much), featuring platinum blonde models covered in cosmetics and jewels. Four years later, when I was visiting Fellini’s hometown of Rimini, not only did I visit the bakery run by his family, but I was also awakened from a mid-autumn afternoon nap as a small marching band appeared out of nowhere and made its way through the piazza beneath my window. When I asked the locals what the occasion was, they all gave me the same answer: a open-palmed shrug. Watch the maestro’s Amarcord again. It’s set in Rimini. You’ll understand.
July 4, 2017
July 3, 2017
When I told the handsome Armenian-Turkish brothers at Sevan, a Middle Eastern bakery near my home, that I was going to learn some Turkish, they both informed me, “You can’t do it.” (This was also what they'd earlier announced when I said I was going to learn to make the Turkish dessert ekmek khadayif. I see a pattern here.) Well, I did learn Turkish, biraz, a little, just enough to make me feel comfortable when I visited Istanbul. (I like to learn some of the language before I visit any country. I feel it’s respectful, and it often opens a door to a smile, to get to know someone a little better.) “I want a scrub and a massage.” “Where is Sultanahmet Square?” “I only want to go shopping.” I practiced with the Pimsleur Language Course Basic Turkish CDs. I also took a beginners’ conversation class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, but the students were so scattered in their interest and unruly in their demeanor, there was not much chance to learn the language. Though I did pick up some valuable cultural information. Like the fact that Istanbul taxicabs charge a higher rate after midnight, a fact that came in handy when a driver started his meter on this late-night rate at 7pm and I was able to tell him to switch to the standard rate...in Turkish. And, begrudgingly, he did.
July 2, 2017
Why I like the internet. Or one of the reasons why. Because by googling and clicking and searching further and further, you make some remarkable discoveries. Awhile ago I was watching a homemade Glee fan video on YouTube (I admit it) and was struck by the music track used. The phrasing sounded a bit like Tracy Chapman in that staccato way she’s got, but the voice was purer, more angelic. A few more clicks and I found out the song was called “Half-Boyfriend” by someone named Jay Brannan. Click, click, search and I'd not only learned more about Jay Brannan and seen dozens of photos, but I’d located videos of live performances, found his own videos shot in his Brooklyn apartment and purchased every CD and MP3 of his that I could find. From his own website I learned I’d just missed his tour stop in Boston, but I was poised for his next visit. And when it came time, I bought tickets online the first day they went on sale. Man, he is good. Not only that voice. But an onstage presence so casual and amiable, so nonchalant yet entirely in control of the capacity crowd at Cambridge’s intimate Middle East club, many of whom sang quietly along and behaved in an appropriately reverent manner. It sure beat anything on the internet. Here’s a photo from our upfront vantage point.