Whenever I travel with my friend Nick, we always wind up assuming nicknames drawn from our surroundings. In Turkey, he is Acili Ezme (a spicy, red pepper paste meze) and I am Ekmek Kadaif (a sweet syrup-soaked bread dessert.) In Paris, we can’t remember what Nick’s name was, but mine was Mimolette (a deep orange cheese.) And in Italy, where everything sounds so good in that most beautiful language on Earth, Nick is Uscita Sottopassagio (a sign in train stations indicating that the exit is via a tunnel under the tracks) and I am Svendita Totale (“Final Sale. Everything must go!”) It was a tough decision because of the many Italian options. I almost went with Caduta Massi (a highway sign indicating potential rock slides), mezzo-soprano.
October 21, 2017
While we love visiting local markets wherever we travel, sometimes they can be a bit alarming. Take these menacing looking fish at the mercado central in Cartagena, please. We’d been admiring the displays of local fruit and vegetables, olives, spices and hanging hams. And then we turned the corner. Well, better on ice in the market than in the water while swimming. Because we aren’t equipped while traveling to purchase and cook the many wonderful offerings at the markets we visit, we often feel sad. This time we didn’t.
October 20, 2017
This is the day I learned how to say “on strike” in French. Robert and I had traveled 35 miles south by train to Fontainebleau, as a day trip from Paris, to see the fabled château and the adjoining forest, formerly a royal hunting ground. Instead we were greeted with signs that read, “En grève.” As you can see, that didn’t stop us from posing on the famous “horseshoe staircase,” the site from which Napoléon Bonaparte bid farewell to his Old Guard in 1814 and headed into exile on the island of Elba. (Which is why Robert is holding his hand in Napoleonic fashion.) Thirty-four French sovereigns from Louis IV (“Louis the Fat,” just saying) in the 11th century to Napoléon III in the 19th resided in Fontainebleau at some time. And had we known upon the occasion of our thwarted visit that Patricia Highsmith’s talented Tom Ripley reportedly lived nearby, we might not have headed back to Paris as quickly as we did.
October 19, 2017
Bustling by day, peaceful at night, this grand boulevard follows a three-kilometer stretch of pedestrian road (though I’ve always seen cars on it, and a streetcar clangs its way from one end to the other) between Tünel and Taksim Squares. “Independence Street” in the Beyoğlu district is often visited by up to three million people on a weekend day, tourists and residents alike, sometimes difficult to tell apart. (I remember the Turkish teenager who asked me the time in his language and was surprised to hear me answer in mine.) During its early 20th-century continental heyday, it was known as Grand Rue de Pera, and after a late-century slump into seediness, it’s back again with cafes, boutiques, restaurants and a rich roster of characters. Walking alone in the evening, I was often approached by touts (aka pimps), suggesting I follow them to an excellent club owned by a cousin or to an assignation with some lovely Russian ladies. One “textile merchant from Cyprus” told me he needed a place to stay for the night. I see. My favorite come-on though was the young man who offered me female companionship one night and then the next, when I reminded him he’d already unsuccessfully approached me, asked me if I was gay. When I told him I was, he outstretched his hands and asked, “Well, how about me?”
October 18, 2017
October 17, 2017
It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the Büyük Hamam (“Big Bathhouse”) was wonderful inside. Possessing some remarkable marble architecture throughout its variously temperatured rooms (cool, tepid, hot), this Turkish bath was the last of four I tried during my first visit to Istanbul. By the time I got there I was a pro, having started out at the much-touristed (designed by Sinan, the architect of Blue Mosque fame) and relatively luxurious Çemberlitaş Hamami (a $40 scrub and massage and their signature sudsy finale with a soapy Turkish towel -- natch! -- squeezed over your head so the bubbles come cascading down all over you.) A somewhat run-down and unmemorable Ağa Hamami was next, near a neighborhood favored by transvestite prostitutes. Whatever. The third, Sokullu Hamami, another Sinan wonder in the pre-Istanbul capital of Edirne out in western Turkey near the Greek and Bulgarian borders. (This one was low-key and terrific; the masseur was enthusiastic and I had the feeling that this was what the real hamam experience for Turks was all about. Cups and cups of warm water poured over me at the finish.) And finally the Büyük Hamam, the son of whose owners I had met through my research on YouTube. It was a great, friendly, family-run place, filled with locals young and old, not a tourist in sight in this part of town. They welcomed me warmly, even gave me a towel with their name on it when I left. Middle Eastern hospitality.
October 16, 2017
OK, I admit it. I put off taking a cruise for years because I never though I was a “cruise person.” (No remarks, please.) And also, frankly, because of some dreadful television commercials for the large cruise lines, boats that seemed to be populated by too many people, all of them individuals I’d rather avoid. And here’s something else I’ll admit: I took my first cruise and I LOVED it. Granted it was on Windstar, a cruise line that came highly recommended (thank you, David): small boats (149 or 300 passengers), interesting itineraries, casual style, competitive pricing. There are no assigned seats at meals. No suits or formal wear required. Nicely sized staterooms. And one of the best bathrooms and showers I’ve ever encountered. Jay and I sailed from Barcelona to Lisbon, stopping at Valencia, Cartagena, Almería, Málaga and Tangier. We made friends easily on board. And, in spite of some unfortunate cosmetic surgery in a few cases, the people were exceptionally nice, and so were the staff. Genuinely nice, not just professionally nice. When I snapped this photo, I knew we were leaving our last port before reaching our final destination. And in spite of the Andrea Boccelli/Sarah Brightman duet playing over the sound system (the one lapse in taste during the whole week at sea), I was somewhat wistful.
October 15, 2017
Which country has more tiles, Turkey or Portugal? A tough call, as both lands seem to put tiles just about everywhere -- on mosques, on homes, you name it. But whereas there seems to be a commercial, “downtown” appeal to Portuguese tilework, there is a reverential, almost sacred perspective to those found in Turkey. Take these Iznik tiles, for example, at the somewhat hidden and so seldom-touristed Rüstem Pasha Mosque in the Eminonu neighborhood. The famous blue is here. Legend holds that 15th-century tilemakers in the town of Izmik were influenced by the blue-and-white porcelain of the Chinese Ming dynasty. They gradually added turquoise and the difficult-to-produce red to their palette. And because Iznik potters’ skill was unsurpassed, the sultans soon brought them to Istanbul to fashion tiles only for the great mosques. Look closely and you’ll see there’s also an homage paid to the respected tulip, seen here in several stylized forms.
October 14, 2017
On October 14, 2011, Jay and I met acclaimed Istanbul-based food blogger Cenk for lunch. When he heard we were going to be visiting his hometown, he suggested we meet, and I asked him to come up with a place we’d never find on our own, a place where we’d be the only Americans. Be careful what you ask for. Cenk replied: “Great! I have the perfect place in mind. Hope you guys like beans :)” OK. We do. Then, a few days later: “A friend of mine can not stop talking about the place. I haven't been there before, but she has amazing taste in food and I trust her. She said they only had two tables (two more outside during the summer), only serve beans, rice and pickles....Unfortunately they do not have a phone and she doesn’t even have an address....Her last visit was about a year ago, so if it turns out they are not open anymore, I’ll come up with something else.” He did find something else, and we had a great lunch, a great visit. Meanwhile, of all the places I ate on my earlier 2007 Istanbul trip, my favorite (and Cenk’s, too, it turns out) is Çiya, seen above. We eat there at least once every time we visit the City of the World's Desire. They serve beans, too.
October 13, 2017
Believe it or not, you are looking at one of my favorite restaurants in Istanbul. A few tables, some rope stools, an umbrella here and there. And some of the freshest and best-prepared fish in town. It ought to be fresh. The establishment is set up behind the Karakoy fish market, just steps from the waters where the Bosphorus meets the Golden Horn. It’s popular with people from all walks of life, locals mostly and a few adventurous tourists who’ve read about it. The first time Nick and I went (after a morning visit to Topkapi Palace), he had hamsi (fried Black Sea anchovies), I had pan-fried mackerel. Mmmm-mmm. Of course we returned, this time both of us getting the hamsi, a little salad, a lot of atmosphere. As I think about my upcoming return visit with Jay to the City of the World’s Desire, I wonder just how many lunches we can fit in here this time.
October 12, 2017
On my long list of must-try food items in Istanbul was aşure, seen here on display at Saray on the Istiklal Caddesi. One of the oldest and most traditional desserts in Turkish cuisine, it’s also known as Noah’s Pudding, and therein lies the tale of its dubious origin. When the biblical flood subsided and the ark wound up on Mount Ararat, a celebration was called for as an expression of gratitude. But the ship’s stores were depleted, so those on the vessel made a sweet soup of everything they had left in the pantry. Today, especially in the “month of aşure” (following the Islamic holy day that honors Abraham’s sacrifice, Eid-ul Adha, or Kurban Bayrami in Turkish) but also throughout the year, the dish is made with upwards of 15 ingredients, including wheat kernels, chickpeas, white beans, rice, dried apricots, dried figs, raisins, orange, sugar, rose water, walnuts, almonds currants, hazelnuts, pomegranate...and whatever else is available. Some recipes call for a piece of the traditionally sacrificed meat to be simmered in the soup, too. There are regional variations, of course, and Saray’s may be the gussied-up urban version, but it was mighty good. And, do I have to mention, filling.
October 11, 2017
I’ll have that one right there, please. And that one. And that one over there, too. Oh, the pleasures of the meze tray that’s brought to you at Sofyali 9 (and many another Istanbul restaurant) from which you can choose your selection of appetizers. What have we here? Some stuffed peppers, some whipped feta with hot peppers, some cacik (cucumber, yogurt, garlic, mint), broad beans slow-simmered with tomato, marinated anchovies, some acili ezme (a hot pepper relish), potato salad, the list goes on and on. And these are just the cold selections. At Sofyali 9 (where Nick and I had our first and last meals on this first trip to the City of the World’s Desire), they bring around an assortment of hot meze, too, right from the cook’s kitchen: fried liver cubes (a Turkish specialty) and small cheese turnovers to name just two. It’s so hard not to fill up on meze in order not to spoil your appetite for the main courses, which are also excellent here. And for dessert, how about a slice of perfectly ripe melon? Yes, please.
October 10, 2017
October 9, 2017
Zumos on parade! One of the many fruit and juice stalls within Barcelona’s central market, La Boqueria. For 1.5 Euros you can pick up one of these refreshing juice containers in any number of flavor combinations: orange, raspberry, orange/carrot, kiwi/pineapple, papaya/coconut, you understand. I chose pineapple/mango and was glad I did. It’s tough to walk through this great market and not develop an appetite, one that you might not want to spoil before your 1:30pm lunchtime. So a zumo de something may be just the ticket. Just be careful to count your change. I gave the señorita a ten-Euro note and she only gave me change for a 5. A few moments later I realized the discrepancy and returned to a look of feigned astonishment. She quickly acquiesced after my detailed (and loud) explanation witnessed by other nearby potential customers. A little knowledge of Spanish comes in handy.
October 8, 2017
Can you hear Marjory Wentworth, poet laureate of South Carolina, as she beautifully reads Imagist poems by Amy Lowell here at the poet’s grave? One of the high points of “Sweet Auburn: An American Parnassus,” an event marking the first Massachusetts celebration of Dead Poets Remembrance Day. (The marathon day began before dawn in Gloucester, ended at sunset in Concord, with other events en route in Beverly, Peabody and Boston.) Additional stops along the two-and-one-half-hour stroll through Mount Auburn Cemetery were the graves of such lesser known scribes as Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Fanny Osgood and John Pierpont, Sr. (whose estranged son James wrote “Jingle Bells”), along with luminaries Charles Eliot Norton, Buckminster Fuller, Julia Ward Howe, Robert Creeley, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell and (ta-da!) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A good attentive crowd, a few loose nuts and bolts, a beautiful day. Readings from poets Lisa Starr and Rhina Espaillat, songs and commentary from the Proper Ladies (a quirky duo whose 19th-century dress and demeanor were almost frighteningly appropriate.) Why South Carolina? Seems Miss Amy, of the Brookline Lowells, chose to spend a lot of time in Charleston, claiming it had “more poetic appeal than almost any city in America.” Maybe. But it seems many chose to spend eternity right here in Cambridge.
October 7, 2017
Was this my first visit to San Xavier del Bac Mission? Or had Simon and David taken me there on an earlier visit to Tucson? At any rate, it was after the 1989 emergency restoration of the interior. An expert job that brought out some of the original 18th-century colors but not so much that it looked like it was born yesterday. Nine miles south of Tucson, rising out of the desert landscape as we get closer, this Franciscan church is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, built when this land was still part of New Spain. Little is known about the artists who decorated the interior of the mission known as the White Dove of the Desert, but the general consensus is that artists in Mexican guilds and workshops created the sculptures, which were then transported north by donkey. Craftsmen then sculpted the gesso clothing on the figures once they were in place. In place outside the Mission (on land that is part of their reservation) are local Tohono O’odham people selling their traditional fry bread from the backs of vans. Food for the body, food for the soul.
October 6, 2017
I turn my back for one minute, and look what happens. OK, more like 40 years, but still.... When I was growing up in Springfield, NJ, I would take the train to Hoboken and then hop the PATH train under the Hudson River and into New York. All the time. I rarely lingered in Hoboken, but when I did, I usually headed to the dark and divey Clam Broth House, a throwback to an earlier age when the city was pretty rough around the edges and still suggestive of its 19th-century heyday. You would not have been surprised to see Walt Whitman (or a lookalike) next to you at the bar. And that’s what it was, a bar, a tough one...with a few tables to the side almost as an afterthought. Good draft beer. Shots. And filling, unsophisticated seafood meals. The clam broth of the name was self-dispensed into little plastic cups from what looked like a large coffee urn. Take as much as you like. Now? On a recent visit I looked in the big picture windows and saw white tablecloths, artfully folded napkins, a Zagat rating! I can’t imagine the broth dispenser is still in evidence. The city itself is cleaned up and respectable, too. The rents are high, the people on the street suddenly chic. At least the old sign is still perched above same as it ever was. Progress.
October 5, 2017
October 4, 2017
Mmmmm. Sometimes all you really want is roast chicken. OK, and potatoes and salad. And if you happen to be in Lisbon, the place to go is Bonjardim right downtown, just off the busy pedestrian Rua das Portas de Santo Antão. This great place has been serving up perfectly charcoal-spit-roasted birds for years and years. They know what they’re doing. Each time we’ve been to Lisbon, we’ve headed straight for Bonjardim on our very first night. Juicy, just the right amount of salt, simply served with a small pot of the fiery piri-piri sauce on the side to be brushed on as desired. And...inexpensive! Dinner for two with wine and water came in at less than $30. We’ve recommended this place to friends over the years, and we’ve even run into them by chance on our trips there. (On a recent November visit, we happily found friends Judy and Seth enjoying our recommendation. The four of us were the only non-locals in the place, that night filled with families and dates enjoying a Sunday evening meal.) Our world standard for roast chicken when it comes right down to it, this memorable restaurante always leaps to mind now when we cook chicken at home, one of us always rhapsodizing, “Remember that chicken we had at Bonjardim....”
October 3, 2017
There are so many reasons why it’s wonderful to learn some of the language before heading abroad. It shows respect for the country and the people you're visiting. It helps you out if you get lost in a non-touristed section of town (like the time we got happily confused descending through the Mouraria neighborhood of Lisbon one night.) It also shows taxi drivers you’re not some bumpkin they can take advantage of (like the time the Istanbul cabbie set the meter to the higher night rate one afternoon.) And then there’s just the simple pleasure of starting a conversation with someone you might not normally engage. Like this cute waiter at the excellent tapas bar Sagardi in Barcelona. Because he wears the same Ray-Ban glasses I do, I was prompted to say, “Me gustan mucho sus anteojos.” He replied with a simple “gracias,” until he saw my glasses and an animated conversation began. He told me where he bought his, how his girlfriend in Washington, DC, didn’t like them at first, etc. It was so nice just to meet someone this way. Also nice, later that same day, was being able to tell the barista in the Bar del Pi that I was leaving Barcelona the day the Pope arrived because “Esta cuidad no es lo suficientemente grande para los dos.”
October 2, 2017
October 1, 2017
There’s an old New England joke: “Don’t like the weather here? Wait five minutes.” Turns out it’s no joke. In the past two weeks the temperatures have been 90 one day, 40 the next. Time to finally harvest my basil before a frost. Time to make pesto. Above, most of my garden’s yield (I kept some plants going for a last-minute tomato sauce or some other culinary emergency.) With almost ten cups of packed leaves, I wound up with plenty of pesto to last me (and some deserving friends) for a good long while. The recipe I follow, which I call “Two of Everything,” came to me from my late friend Dali. Where she got it, I’m not sure, but I suspect it was from her friends the Romagnolis (who had an Italian cooking series at the TV station where we all worked at one time.) Two: two cups of packed basil leaves, two Tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese, two peeled cloves of garlic, two Tablespoons of pine nuts. Throw them all in the food processor, turn it on and add extra-virgin olive oil until it combines and looks like pesto (3/4-1 cup usually.) Presto! And while I make a face when I read about pesto being made with additions of parsley or cilantro, I do regularly substitute walnuts and grated Romano. Put in a small container and covered with a thin layer or oil, this freezes nicely. And it’s great to have the taste of summer in the middle of January. Especially with that nasty New England weather.
September 30, 2017
Happy birthday to my best and oldest (in a good way) friend, Nick. We’ve been pals since we met at our high school’s 1962 auditions for Macbeth, an auspicious beginning. Here we are almost 30 years later in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Nick had been teaching in nearby Jackson, Mississippi, and I’d always wanted to visit NOLA, so we met up there. (Actually we met up at lunchtime in a popular little restaurant run by some local newcomer named Emeril, who sat us at the bar that overlooked the kitchen; he put plates in front of us and kept giving us little tastings of things he was cooking for others. Why the special treatment? I suspect because our luncheon companion was a woman, well, in his good graces at the time.) We had a great long weekend, visiting the Irish Channel, the Garden District, the French Quarter, of course, and every single Tennessee Williams reference point I could think of. We even went to a gospel concert at Tulane and out for soul food afterwards with some local friends of friends. Through many years, many trips, our friendship endures and strengthens. And, on this, my favorite of days, Nick becomes two years older than I am...at least until my own birthday three months from now.
September 29, 2017
You may have noticed that most of my Barcelona photos are of food. Not an accident. There were just so many things we needed to try. And to photograph. Here, a tapas afterthought. One of many during our time in the Catalan capital. Typically, we’d make our initial selection of tapas for lunch...then, having polished them off, we’d wonder if maybe we should have a little something more. Instead of dessert. In this case, how could we leave the cozy El Xampanyet without trying the fabled Spanish ham? And that little item on the right is a slice of rolled-up omelette wrapped around some cheese and hot pepper condiment. Mmmm. ¿Gracias por nuestra visita? De nada.
September 28, 2017
I love seeing movie posters in Italy. Especially if they feature the Italian translations of English titles. My all-time favorite was one I saw as I walked aimlessly through the streets of Reggia Calabria: an announcement for the American Danny DeVito vehicle, Getta la Mama dal Treno. And each time I’ve been to Rome, the 1959 Monroe-Curtis-Lemmon film A Qualcuno Piace Caldo seems to be playing somewhere. I love that film, too, but even now, many decades later, the Italian filmgoing audiences won’t let it go. Of course, like Film Sexy Movie here, there are always provocatively named adult flicks showing somewhere, their titles oddly always in English. I remember walking through the architecturally beautiful while marble arcades of the Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza one afternoon and seeing posted a porno film (just steps from the sedate Basilica Palladiana) with the succinct and efficient simple title, F*ck Me (asterisk mine.) Some, it seems, like it very hot.
September 27, 2017
Bread, bread and more bread. It seems like I’ll use any excuse to try yet another kind. This time, a trip to Rincon Guatemalteco, a panaderia in nearby Waltham. The señoras were a lot of fun and kind enough to practice my Spanish with me as they showed us the many different kinds of pan and pan dulce they make there, including one ring-like confection that was a vivid red and somewhat off-putting. In the end, I settled on some of their wonderful linked-together rolls (top) and two kinds of pan dulce -- a concha (right) and a star-shaped one, whose elusive name I asked for twice and I still didn’t get it. No problem. I’ll just ask on my next visit. Which could be as early as tomorrow. When I left, I thanked them por practicar español conmigo and suggested that maybe I should get a job there. “Detrás” one of them said with only half a smile. “In the back.”
September 26, 2017
September 25, 2017
September 24, 2017
September 28, 2010. The 2010 MacArthur Fellows were announced today, the “genius” awards for exceptional, non-traditional-thinking individuals, mostly. One such recipient, theater director and actor David Cromer, who, in a New York Times profile earlier in the year, observed, “My mother’s been saying it to me since I was a child, and it remains true to this day: if I do not want to do something, I will not do it. There is no force on earth that can make me. I never did my homework, ever. I would say I was a very unpopular kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends. In high school somehow I found like-minded people, sort of interested in the arts, sort of enlightened nerds, and I found living in that community to be the most interesting thing.” Interesting, indeed. And now award-winning. I wonder who lives in this non-traditional different-drummer “garden” apartment seen here. I pass this building almost every day and smile when I think of the road less traveled by, its differences, its blessings.
September 23, 2017
What visual memories do most people bring home from Lisbon? The water views of the River Tejo. The city’s many hills and steeply sloped streets. The old quarters with their crooked alleys and colorful facades. Color-rich tiles in buildings and on buildings. Beautiful sidewalks, fashioned as mosaics of black and white stones. And, of course, the trolleys, those iconic yellow trams that weave in and out of even the tightest corners of the Alfama. Here’s a memory of mine: the Elevador da Bica. This tram-like funicular runs from its low point near the waterside Cais do Sodré train station up through funky neighborhoods to the top of the Bairro Alto leaving you off near the Miradouro de Santa Catarina, a beautiful lookout in a quiet residential locale. The elevador is a quick and atmospheric way to ascend and you’ll be in the fine company of Lisboetas who’ve learned that it’s easy to walk down to the Mercado da Ribeira to shop, but less easy to climb back home with shopping bags full of daily provisions secured at the bustling market.
September 22, 2017
Jay and I had walked from the port of Tangier up to the old city and through the Friday morning market. When I saw these tangerines and thought of their namesake significance to city, well, I had to take a picture, no? The woman in the market stall started yelling something that I didn’t understand, but which I thought was her urging me to visit her stand next door. I snapped the photo of the fruit and the woman came tearing over to me and raised her hand, threatening to strike. A man nearby calmly said to me in English, “She said no fotos.” Ooops. I made my apologies as best I could given that my Arabic isn’t what it might be, and we somewhat sheepishly walked away. Jay paled at the experience, thinking that it was forbidden to take any photos hereabouts. And each time I took out my camera over the next few hours, he looked frightened at what my snapping might next provoke. Nothing, as it turned out. And we had a wonderful time walking through the maze of the medina and the Kasbah without further incident.
September 21, 2017
Look at this beautiful old store in the Barri Gòtic. It’s a knife store. But it looks as if it could be selling jewelry instead of scissors, switchblades and corkscrews. And that signage! Those arched windows! Doesn’t it look a bit like an old train? The Orient Express? No Target here. No Wal-Mart. Instead, stores that mono-task: gloves, candles, soap, scissors. And the pride that’s evident in the displays. We passed a pastry shop that had its cakes and macarons so lovingly presented...we wanted to wear them. No wonder it’s such fun just to walk in European cities. Windows, stores, even billboards. All eye candy, all the time.
September 20, 2017
September 19, 2017
September 18, 2017
There are so many benefits to living on a cliff, overlooking the “living painting” of the harbor and the sea beyond. And a few drawbacks. Like wind. Unprotected on our precipice, exposed to the occasional hurricane-strength breezes, can sometimes be daunting. So far, nothing fatal. But timing (and placement) are important. We woke up one morning to find that, in addition to the commonplace fallen limbs here and there, an entire tree had been uprooted overnight (shown here under the steadying hands of Dr. Blake.) We called our “tree man,” who was, as you can imagine, rather busy this morning all over town. When he arrived, he sawed off the trunk at ground level, then pushed the dirt and roots back in place. Done. At least the nearby stone wall remained intact. This time.
September 17, 2017
Downtown Tucson faces challenges. I’ve been visiting my friends Simon and David there for some 20 years and the storefronts along Congress Street and Broadway change hands, close, reopen as something else, undergo remodeling, then close again. There have been bookstores, art galleries, upscale local crafts shops, cafes, you name it. One of my favorites, the Cafe Quebec, was having difficulties, went on the market, was bought and reopened by someone else, had a name change, etc. Last time I was there, it was struggling. Another favorite, the Cafe Magritte, gone. In spite of that great name. Happily, an all-time favorite, Wig-O-Rama, remains. Although, as you can witness, it has seen better days. The huge windows (barred no less) are filled with lineups of white styrofoam heads, each with a different style wig, most slightly askew. Some curly blonde creations, some throwbacks to The Supremes, even some turquoise and royal blue geometric cuts these days. We’re hoping that a few missing letters will not signal the end of this downtown institution.
September 16, 2017
I love to see the route the artist took to reach his destination. The pentimenti under the finished painting that first got the painter started. Then to see the finished work, which sometimes follows the original intention, sometimes differs greatly. Word choices in early versions of poems that never made it to the finals. Yes, I like Raphael’s School of Athens fresco in the Vatican Museum. But I like his “cartoon” sketch for it in Milan’s Ambrosiana Museum just as much. I have a diptych by painter Adam Cvijanovic that represents Oedipus (in the right half of the panel) and the Sphinx (in the left.) When I visited Adam in his Boston studio in 1984 as he was working on this painting, Oedipus was also originally on the left with the Sphinx. I love knowing that he made this change. That the artist changed direction and altered the composition and I know what's underneath it all. Here is a photo I took of an unfinished painting in a museum in Arles. I can’t remember who the painter was. It almost doesn’t matter. I just love having this almost private, unintended look at what his unrealized plans were. Who knows how the completed painting would have wound up?
September 15, 2017
September 14, 2017
The first time I visited Naples, I’d arrived on an overnight train from Zurich where a Swiss friend had warned me not to wear my watch or carry my camera on the streets. That drivers didn’t obey traffic lights. That the city was going to be a shock after the precise and disciplined behavior in Switzerland. He was right, and I loved it. Crossing six lanes of traffic that paid no attention to red lights became somewhat of a game. There was a happy chaos in the markets, on the streets. People smiled and enjoyed life. I came upon a street fair, also chaotic, and bought a porchetta sandwich on which I promptly chipped a tooth. Oh, well. Years later, when Nick and I arrived there for his Great Italian Desserts research, we sought out a pastry shop that made sanguinaccio, a pudding whose principal ingredient was pig’s blood. We misread the map and wound up on a backstreet in Spaccanapoli, a very poor section that was as fascinating as it was intimidating (alleyways of cavelike homes open to the street with only dining tables and huge TV sets.) And, after a great lunch, we found a (relatively) quiet square where one napolitano had kindly scrawled this omaggio in advance of my return.
September 13, 2017
Back in the days when the economy (and the honorable, hands-off management crew then in place) encouraged such things, our creative team at Bose, where I worked for some eight-plus years, would create billboards to announce new products. Mostly for placement in warm-weather locations, like this one on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Mike, the best designer I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and I would then travel to check out their locations and decide how best to use the space. And then we’d sometimes return later to inspect the installation and relative effectiveness. As you can see, even in a city like LA, plastered with more billboards per capita than anywhere else on Earth, Mike’s design pops (as clients were fond of requesting.) So how could I resist a jumping picture in front of it? Later we’d heard that Dr. Bose had seen this billboard on a trip to LA and had complained that the palm trees got in the way. Just saying.
September 12, 2017
I am fortunate to live in a town with a sizable Armenian community, assuring that the local markets are well stocked with the Middle Eastern ingredients I rely on for so much of my cooking. For example, each of the five such stores within blocks of my home carry at least a half dozen different types of feta, my current favorite being the creamy and less salty French style. And olives! I have stopped counting these days and go straight to the Moroccan oil-cured black olives that I love. (A Lebanese man in my nearest store once stopped me and said, “We eat those for breakfast.” Now I do, too.) But the rich roster of olive types near my home is nothing compared to the varieties that were available in the open market here on the Asian side of Istanbul. Zeytin means olive in Turkish, and just look at some of these beauties. Dried, cured in salt, cured in oil, black, purple, green, large and small from all over the country and beyond. Just imagine the breakfasts.
September 11, 2017
September 10, 2017
Meet Emma. My new niece. My dog-loving brother Brien has been wanting a purebred German Shepherd puppy for a long time, and now he has his beauty. Look at the size of those paws at 10 weeks! I couldn’t wait to head down to the Garden State to meet her. Brien is so good with dogs, taking the time to bond, to train. He told me that the first night he brought her home and fenced off the kitchen as her space, he slept in there with her and woke up with her nestled on his stomach. Growing up, we had a dog, and it was always understood that she was Brien’s. And as long as my travels prevent me from adopting a dog (yet), I’m so happy to have my niece to play with. (I sent this photo to my friend Gail, a writer who loves dogs, and she wrote back, “OHMYGOD! Can I have her?” Brien was pleased that this Pulitzer Prize-winner has given Emma her seal of approval, even her wondering if the puppy’s real name might be Emma Gail. I think that can be arranged.)
September 9, 2017
When I first arrived in Lisbon, I had no idea. Yes, I knew to look for pastéis de nata, the fabled custard tarts baked in a kind of puff-pastry shell. And I knew where to look for them, too. I was aware of Portugal’s tradition of egg-yolk sweets, many originally made in convents from the yolks left over after the whites had been used to (depending on which story you believe) clarify local wines or starch the nuns’ habits. But I was unprepared for the variety of baked and fried sweet pastries that would delight me as I strolled by countless pastry shops each day. Here, a window of the Casa Brasileira on Lisbon’s busy pedestrian Rua Augusta. Every day, new selections would appear, allowing me to try something different at each passing. Like these beauties, Lisbon’s interpretation of sugar-coated, deep-fried beignets. Mmmm-mmm. They certainly did live up to their name: dreams.
September 8, 2017
Each time I visit Tucson, my soul opens. Is it because I’m back in the realm of conversational magic with my friend Simon, who always urges me to release stress and embrace the paths that avoid spirit-sapping corporate pitfalls? Or because people there take their time, seeming to amble from one task to the next (rather than to dash frantically as those of us in the Northeast seem to do most often)? Or that the weather encourages a shoulder-dropping relaxation, a nonchalance that comes with the territory? All of these and more? There’s a freedom that pervades things there. A freedom to do what you want when you want. And to be what you want to be. (One example: I’ve met several people who, I later learned, started out their lives with gender identities different from the ones they have now.) People take time for coffee and conversation. I don’t see as many people constantly checking their phones, their emails, their texts. Independence. It’s as if one is embracing a spiritual detox. The light, the landscape, the sky.
September 7, 2017
September 6, 2017
The busy intersections at either end of the Galata Bridge can be difficult to maneuver if you try to do so above ground. Fortunately, city planners have provided underground walkways for pedestrians and (less fortunately) filled them with specialty shops such as this one. I was astounded the first time I saw it, coming around a corner in the jam-packed tunnel, through the labyrinth and around impromptu vendors who’d set up their small folding tables wherever they pleased. Nothing impromptu about this popular gun market though, always crowded no matter what time of day I happened to pass by. What I found most surprising, I think, was the boldness of it all. No attempt to cover up what would be much more clandestine in the US of A. Instead, men and teens inspected merchandise, weighed the pieces in their hands, inspected workmanship, took practice aim. Much in the same careful way that their mothers, wives and girlfriends might determine the ripeness of a melon in the nearby fruit market. The repetitive precision of the heat on display impressed me, too. Don’t you think Andy Warhol would have liked it?
September 5, 2017
Waking up in Gloucester can be a great pleasure. Especially at this time of year when early morning fogs often envelop the town. “Fog at 7, sun by 11,” the sailors say, and I found that to be true as Rocky Neck, seen here, emerged Brigadoon-like from the mists on this Easter morning. By the time Memorial Day arrives, most of the beautiful fogs are gone, replaced, alas, by the “summer people” who, as Jay complains, “have no sense of urgency are unfamiliar with local ways.” Here’s my complaint by way of a story: As I was running along East Main Street on the Saturday morning of that holiday weekend this year, I stumbled, fell forward onto the pavement, my cap and sunglasses flying, and I wound up on my back in the middle of the road, stunned and breathless for a moment. No one stopped to help me. No one. The cars continued to drive by as I fell, as I lay there, turning ever so slightly to avoid me, on their way to their summer homes. How long is it until Labor Day?
September 4, 2017
Is Rosa Mexicano still open? This limited chain of Mexican restaurants used to be a good choice in Union Square when Chef Roberto Santibañez was at the helm. (He’s since moved on to open his own place, Fonda, which, frequent readers of this blog will know, I think is sensational and easily merits a quick trip to Brooklyn.) One of the things that I liked best about the earlier restaurant was “Más Clavadistas,” the fountain/sculpture that dominated the main dining room -- a cascading, vertical wall of water, illuminated in saturated pink and blue and dotted with the repeated sculptural image of a man diving through space over and over again. Who needs to go to Acapulco to see these fabled cliff divers when they look so beautiful right here in midtown Manhattan?