June 29, 2017

Watertown, MA. May, 2017


The company that ripped out the asphalt apron from the new sidewalks along our street promised to fill in the space with soil and grass seed. For some reason, they delivered the soil (which turned out to be mostly sand) and poured it in place in the middle of a rainstorm. Naturally, it all washed away downhill, creating this mess that we call the Mississippi Delta. And, in spite of many neighbors' calling the Watertown Public Works department, no cleanup or correction has been made. What a mess!

June 28, 2017

Zurich. June, 2007


The world’s most livable city? I’ll buy that. On our way home from Istanbul, we stopped in Zurich for a night (Nick stayed on) at the very nice Hotel Storchen, and here’s one city resident I watched from our window. On he went, right through the middle of the city, down the river from the lake, into the center of things. Later that evening, we met our friend Andreas for a terrific dinner outdoors at Josef (on “gas meter street”), a ride on the cleanest tram in the world, and a stroll through some of the more colorful, adult parts of town near the university. After a good night’s sleep, I got up and ran for miles on both sides of the lake, through gardens and parks, past docks, early-morning boaters, commuters. Then back for the Storchen’s magnificent breakfast buffet of rolls, pastries, meats, cheeses, yogurt, cereals, etc. (Don’t you love vacationing in countries that take breakfast seriously?) A final stroll through the center and I was off on the ultra-convenient train from downtown to the airport and home on SWISS. Yes, I’d say that’s most livable.

June 27, 2017

Kadikoy, Istanbul. June, 2007


I wanted to go to Asia. Easier than it sounds, actually, given that Nick and I were in Istanbul and ready to board one of the many cross-Bosphorus ferries on our first full day in the City of the World’s Desire. Sailing the fabled waterway was a thrill in itself as I thought of the history that had transpired on this very spot. Kingdoms come and gone, intrigues that resulted in empires, sultans and emperors welcomed or slain. My first foot onto the Asian continent was marked with appropriate ceremony and then Nick and I headed off in search of Çiya, a restaurant with true Anatolian cuisine that I had been reading about. Actually Çiya is three restaurants, all of them located within a stone’s throw of each other on this shadowy street not far from the docks. We settled in at Çiya Sofrasi and then let our waiter “John Travolta” (whose limited English just about matched our Turkish) bring us whatever he recommended. It was a fine introduction to the high level of cooking we would find throughout our ten days on both the European and Asian halves of this magical city. And, happily, we would return to Çiya again before those days were up.

June 26, 2017

Cambridge, MA. June 26, 1982


When I first moved to Boston in 1977, I worked at The Caption Center at WGBH, the local public broadcasting station. I was part of the crew that added subtitles to the nightly Captioned ABC News, which was broadcast across the country as a service to deaf and hard-of-hearing TV audiences. It was a good place to work, staffed by earnest and dedicated people. And as we provided this captioning service, we also learned the basics of TV production, direction, lots of things. This photo was taken at a Caption Center cookout and the sunglassed individuals featured here represent a cross section of the kinds of people I worked with. Wickedly funny and smart Leda. Conniving and self-promoting Laura. Dazed but worldly Rebecca. Allyson, who grew up in some foreign land without knowing who the Beatles were. I’m in the center, probably somewhat dazed myself...this was taken on my last day of drinking. I am sober 35 years today.

June 25, 2017

Boston, MA. May, 2017


A young art lover waits on the steps of Boston's Museum of Fine Arts on a Wednesday afternoon at 3:55pm. Wednesdays after 4pm, patrons can pay whatever admission they like. Including nothing.

June 24, 2017

Gloucester, MA. June 24, 2010


La Noche de San Juan. When I read about this Puerto Rican feast day on both Evelyn’s and Julia’s Facebook status updates, I suggested we drive to Niles Beach in Gloucester to enact the ritual, one which Puerto Ricans, at home and “away,” follow each year on this day. At midnight, you enter the water (ocean, river, lake, bathtub) and throw talismanic “ingredients” over your shoulder into the water, encanting (en español, por supuesto) the areas in which you hope for good fortune: flowers (“amor!”), fruit (“salud!”), coins (“prosperidad!”)...and then, honoring the M.O. of St. John the Baptist himself, you throw yourself into the water. Backwards! Seven times!! Fortunately we were blessed with a warm night, warm sand, warm water and a moonlit beach all to ourselves...until just after our midnight ritual, when a young Belgian fire-juggler (with a burned and bandaged right hand, just saying) came along. We coaxed him out of his clothes and into the water so as to give a saintly boost to his love life, health and prosperity. As you can see, Natalia is no stranger to posing half-naked in the middle of the night, even though the Puerto Rican native confessed this was her first noche participation ever. Evelyn and Julia, frequent St. J ritualists in their PR homeland, provided the guidance and enthusiasm that made this night a special one from start to late finish. ¡Gracias, chicas locas!

June 23, 2017

South Orange, NJ. December, 1969


Younger, thinner, more hair...but the same glasses! Some things never change. Like my disinterest in basketball games like this one. (Aside from one winter in the 1990s when Dennis Rodman was a volatile Chicago Bulls troublemaker, I never watched a single game on TV in my life, even under pressure. Just never got into it.) So why was I here? I was carrying a torch (literally) for my boyfriend the photographer. He’d placed me on the sidelines of the action (I’ll say) so that he could shoot the players head on and have them lit dramatically from the left. Anything to oblige. In those days anyway. At a lull in the game, he snapped me. Seton Hall University, Class of 1970. Pleasant memories for the most part. In spite of the pouty face. (To provide some balance: This is the same gymnasium in which two years earlier I had seen Judy Garland in concert, OK?)

June 22, 2017

Tucson. March, 2017


Here's another look at Gates Pass at sunset. Magnificent. Look at all the upright Saguaro cacti and the frightening road that I politely decline to drive down. Too scary.

June 21, 2017

Tucson. March, 2017


What better way to welcome summer than with a photo of a sunset in Tucson, where it seems to us Yankees that it's summer every day. Here, the sun sets over Gates Pass, one of the more photogenic spots just out of town. Please note my penchant for backlighting, a vainglorious attempt to wash out facial lines and wrinkles. At least in the photo.

June 20, 2017

East Houston St., New York, NY. Autumn, 1985?


My baby brother and I were walking all over lower Manhattan this day how many years ago? I remember that as we crossed the Bowery and encountered many drunken panhandlers, Brien asked me, “How do they know to come here?” An interesting question, no? How does anybody know where to go? From accumulated knowledge? The movies? Popular culture? Tradition? Happenstance? Continuing east, we passed community gardens, local musicians and this huge mural (Kenny Scharf continues to contribute to it even now) that stretched for almost a block. How could we not take advantage of the photo op it afforded? Brien obliged. A lovely serendipitous find. How did we know to come here?

June 19, 2017

Salem, MA. July, 2007


Sometimes the side streets are best. I headed to the Peabody Essex Museum specifically to see the Joseph Cornell exhibit, which was sensational (collages, boxes, films, assorted ephemera) in spite of the gruff guard and the somewhat day-care crowd (The museum is admirably free to Salem residents, especially, it seems, to those with loud youngsters in strollers. Just saying.) I bypassed the Chinese house, a top draw at this museum, and happened upon this mixed-media installation by Bose Krishnamachari. The artist had strung up 162 lunchpails, typical of the kind that are daily delivered to Indian laborers for their midday meal, and fitted 102 of them with small video monitors displaying a range of Mumbai residents -- street vendors and socialites, industrialists and intellectuals -- talking about their day-to-day lives (their voices heard on headphones if you so desired.) Surprising and unexpected, it provided a lovely reality-based moment after hours spent within the seductive and phantasmagorical world of Cornell.

June 18, 2017

Istanbul. June, 2007


It seems every time I run into a friend these days, he or she has become vegan. What’s going on? Is everyone turning vegan? Is this The Twilight Zone? Actually, when I started cooking for these friends, I realized, hey, I’ve generally been eating somewhat vegan myself without knowing it. And now that the tide is turning, and even mainstream restaurants offer vegan options (sometimes they’re not on the menu, but they have them), this dining philosophy is shedding some of its “outsider” status. Chinese, Indian and other ethnic restaurants here in the USA seem to serve up the easiest choices. And sticking to a “no animals/no animal liquids” diet while traveling can be relatively simple, too. For example, consider Turkey, land of lamb, lamb, more lamb...and yogurt. Turkish cooking also has a rich tradition of savory vegetable dishes braised in olive oil found in just about every restaurant. Here are just three examples of the many zeytignali (olive oil) offerings we had at Istanbul’s Haci Abdullah: grape leaves stuffed with rice, mint and pine nuts; beets with peppers and cabbage; artichokes with potatoes, carrots and peas. All terrific. Spain, France, Italy...assembling a vegan meal from appetizers, antipasti and a wide variety of vegetarian choices is a snap. (In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that my vegan friend David arrived in Italy, surveyed the markets, saw all the wonderful cheeses, quickly announced that he was going to be lacto-vegetarian for his three-week stay...and eventually couldn't resist the pasta alla carbonara.) Vegans of the world, rejoice! Just like at home, you are no longer forced to eat salad at every meal when you travel.

June 17, 2017

Essex, MA. January, 2017


Now that summer is a-comin' in, those in the know avoid Woodman's, the fabled fried seafood shack, like the plague. Filled with hot and sticky families returning from the beach, even its seafood combo and fried calamari (seen here) are not enough to lure us onto the block-long lines. Fortunately, we live close enough that we visit only during the cold-weather months. See how happy Dr. Blake is that we can enjoy some off-season peace and quiet.

June 16, 2017

Vicenza, Italy. October, 1986


I was staying in Venice for a few days with a train pass to allow easy access to other places in the Veneto that I wanted to visit, including Vicenza, 60km to the west. I came here to see the villas designed by the great 16th-century architect, Andrea Palladio, but I found so much more. I discovered what appeared to be a small village living within (almost in spite of) Palladian grandeur. As I walked from the train station to the main piazza, I was stunned by a poster for the local porn cinema with a somewhat shocking English title...next to a Renaissance palazzo. Then a group of elderly Vicenese women carrying bags of groceries as they walked home through magisterial public spaces, arches within arches, columns and more columns. I love the photo of this cool guy, in shades and a sweater tied around his waist, cycling idly past me in the empty main square, the Piazza dei Signori. I’d seen him approaching, readied my camera, and just as I pressed the shutter, his greeting. Ciao.

June 15, 2017

Coimbra, Portugal. October, 2009


What a lovely find this small Portuguese city midway in our trip between Santiago de Compostela and Lisbon. We’d stopped earlier for a few hours in Braga, then trained it here, checked into the Hotel Oslo and headed out to find dinner. No problem. The streets were filled with students who kept ducking in and out of restaurants and bars to check on the progress of the evening’s soccer game. Jay and I settled in for a meal of cream of vegetable soup, stewed goat, roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Mmmm. Vegetables, and lots of them. This was also our first introduction to Portuguese portion sizes. Yikes! I read somewhere that the meals are geared toward men who’ve spent their day in manual labor. OK with us. After dinner, a stroll through the warm and relatively empty downtown, its beautifully crafted sidewalks reflecting the golden light, the sounds of music echoing through this wonderful university town.

June 14, 2017

Lexington, MA. April, 2009


Why Lexington when this is clearly the main hall at Ellis Island? Because this was a photo on display at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, part of an exhibit of Augustus F. Sherman’s Ellis Island photos that I visited with my pal Eileen. She and I each possess a great fascination and reverence for Ellis Island, the legend-filled entry point and processing center for thousands and thousands of immigrants to the US of A in the early 20th century. The first (and only) time I visited the actual Ellis Island was with my brother in 2003. We drove to Liberty State Park on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River, caught the first boat, and arrived early before the crowds. Then (employing a trick I’d learned to access the Sistine Chapel) I avoided the main entrance on the lower level and raced immediately upstairs to the Great Hall. I was stunned being in that mythical room all alone. Well, not alone actually. The memories and spirits of those who’d passed through this “golden door” to a new life, all seemed to be there with me. Who had stood on this spot before? Where did they go from here? How scared were they? How excited to leave their past behind and begin anew? No wonder I got all teary and emotional. Brien and I later backtracked through the rest of the exhibits, fascinating all. But nothing could match my first solo moment in that great Great Hall.

June 13, 2017

Boston. May, 2017


On view at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, Derek Jarman's film 'Blue,' a rumination on life and death, health and disease from the acclaimed filmmaker who died of AIDS after a long battle. The screen remains as you see it, blue, as the audio offers a mix of conversation, sound effects, diatribes, you name it. People walked in and out of the gallery where 'Blue' was being shown, taking in as much as they wanted or could.

June 12, 2017

Watertown, MA. May, 2017


I've recently begun to volunteer to tutor English to local immigrants through the Project Literacy program at my town's library. I love it. My student Mohammed is from Morocco, speaks Arabic and enriches my life in so many ways. Project Literacy's annual picnic was almost rained out this year. Yes, it rained, but huddling beneath a gazebo's canopy, we mixed, mingled and sampled the potluck offerings from so many different cuisines. I met people (and sampled the dishes) from Turkey, Syria, Iran, Jordan, Moldavia, Ukraine...and this young man from Brazil, Anthony, who didn't seem to let the weather dampen his spirits one bit.

June 11, 2017

Grand Bazaar, Istanbul. June, 2007


Souvenirs. Why do people buy what they buy, I often wonder. But then, others could justifiably wonder the same thing about me. Instead of the typical snow-globes, keyrings and ceramic knicknacks that crowd the shelves of thousands of souvenir shops worldwide, my tastes run toward the practical, the personal, the jokey. (Unless the venue itself is a bit of a joke -- ex. Las Vegas’ Liberace Museum -- in which case, bring on the refrigerator magnets. Oh, and there’s that Pope John Paul II bottle opener I bought at the Vatican; I’m not kidding.) Sometimes it’s a T-shirt or team memento from a local sports shop (I still treasure the Slavia Praha towels I bought in then-Communist Prague in 1972.) When I visit Tucson, I have a tradition of bringing home at least one item that is excessively bulky to pack and highly breakable, too (dozens of votive candles, huge tin or glass Mexican stars, mirrors, framed artwork, etc.) I buy kitchen utensils for friends who cook (knives and wooden spoons from Paris, Lisbon and Istanbul.) Food items not readily found in New England (carrot jam from Portugal, smoked black Urfa pepper and candied olives from Turkey.) I recall the beautiful Shostal shop in Rome every single time I wear the pajamas I bought there. And the “Turkish towel” store in Istanbul where I bought Jay a luxurious terrycloth robe. Dehillerin, the wonderful cooking supply house in Paris, comes to mind each time I slice bread with the sturdy knife I bought there. And isn’t that what souvenirs are supposed to do, bring you back?

June 10, 2017

Stow, MA. May, 2010


Until recently, I did not have a cell phone. I didn’t really want one. Though I did admire the creative uses that many people put theirs to. For example, this photo, one of a series from a former co-worker friend who will remain unnamed. Months after I walked away from my most recent place of corporate employment, I received this photo via email. Accompanying it was a brief note indicating that my colleagues missed me and thought I might like to see the new buzzcut and up-a-notch style of dressing that an attractive favorite was now sporting. (Attractive? Colleagues of both sexes would gasp audibly as this guy sauntered into the cafeteria each day precisely at 12:10pm.) How do people manage to have the nerve to snap photos like this? Granted it’s hurried and blurred and doesn’t do its subject justice, but still. Another great use of cell phones: The friend who sent me this photo was entertaining us at lunch in the cafeteria one day with a tutorial about the M4M cruising app Grindr that he’d installed on his iPhone. Suddenly, a shriek: “Oh my god, it says the closest person also on Grindr is only 13 feet away! Who is it?” Sadly for all of us, it was not Mr. Gasp.

June 9, 2017

Üsküdar, Istanbul. June, 2007


After a morning at Topkapi Palace, a wonderful lunch of fried Black Sea sardines at our favorite outdoor waterside fish fry along the Golden Horn, Nick wanted a nap. I wanted adventure, so I hotfooted it to the Eminonu docks and boarded a ferry across the Bosphorus to the less-touristed Asian-side neighborhood of Üsküdar. It was a lovely revelation. A student who was learning English engaged me in conversation. I found some mosques that were so far off the vacationer’s path that they seemed more solemn, more serious. And I found this market street with many vendors whose shop windows opened to the sidewalk. What drew me to this one was more than just a chance to speak with this charming young man whose English was on a par with my Turkish. It was that he was offering two of my favorite local desserts. Ekmek kadayif (left) and tulumba (right), both sticky with syrup, both magnificently simple, both sold by the pound. Or the kilo, actually. Ekmek kadayif is bread (or rusks), syrup-soaked and softened. Tulumba are extruded lozenges of dough (see the ridges on the three-inch "fingers"), fried, then also soaked through and through with a sugar-water-lemon juice syrup. Both treats are often served topped with kaymak (the clotted cream of Turkey) and dusted with crushed pistachios. I can’t remember exactly how much I bought of each delight, but I know that it was, well, significant. A memorably sweet close to a fine Asian afternoon.

June 8, 2017

Gloucester, MA. May, 2009


Don’t you love leftovers? I think the pleasure of having containers of favorites waiting in the refrigerator may be one reason I indulge in high-yielding recipes whenever I have the chance. Say, for our annual boat parade party on Labor Day weekend. Or for this warm, late-spring afternoon when we welcomed Julia, Daniel (did he take this picture?), Jim and Mike to Gloucester for an outdoor lunch. I can see some reliable standbys on the plate here -- a roasted bird done in the Weber grill, some homemade pickles, Jay’s bread and three salads: a standard green, Itch and beet tzatziki. I could probably make the Middle Eastern grain salad Itch blindfolded at this point, I just couldn’t make a small amount. Sauté three medium chopped onions (and sometimes a chopped garlic clove) in 3/4 cup olive oil until tender. Add a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes and a healthy tablespoon of Turkish hot pepper paste. After 10 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the juice of one lemon, salt to taste, two cups of fine bulghur. Cover and let sit off heat for 45 minutes. Then fully mix in a chopped-up combo of one bunch of scallions (white and green parts both), one bunch of parsley, one green pepper. Serve at room temperature. Makes a ton. And, fortunately, even better the next day.

June 7, 2017

Boston. May, 2017


Who knows what politicians and patrons were really like during the Italian Renaissance? Could they have been any worse than those we have today? Seen here, the death mask of Lorenzo de Medici, the Florentine often said to be the reason the Renaissance took place. The mask, part of a Botticelli exhibit at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, reminded me that even the greatest art patrons, who knew how important artists were to civilization, pass from this world. As do those present-day connivers who aim to cut funds for the arts.

June 6, 2017

Watertown, MA. May, 2017


A storefront near my home. I love the little sign that says "Art Show," dwarfed by the larger rendering of someone whose name I neither say nor write.

June 5, 2017

Pigalle, Paris. December, 2005


When Billy Wilder’s 1963 film Irma La Douce opened, I couldn’t wait to see it. (I was 14 and didn’t meet the age requirement, but I managed to “dress older” and get into the Lavalette, NJ, theater where, two days earlier I’d passed for the under-12 discount to see Hayley Mills in Summer Magic. Just saying.) I loved it. The music, the clichéd presentation of Paris, the forbidden humor and intrigue surrounding ladies of the night. (And I also liked the film’s ads, the graphics of which I reproduced with driftwood charcoal on the side of a lifeguard shack late one night to the general disgruntlement of the awakening Silver Beach, NJ, community.) So, arriving in Paris for the first time in 1969, I made a beeline to Pigalle. Well, it was short on Hollywood glamour but still possessed a seedy charm. I can recall an older, heavy and worn woman leaning in a doorway, humming “La Vie en Rose” as I walked by. Know your audience, chérie. On a recent visit to the City of Light, I noticed that even the Parisian sex trade in Pigalle has been commercialized, the human element removed, with a supermarché erotique on almost every block, porno DVDs for sale on the sidewalk...and few ladies to be found. I suspect a misguided, late-1980s Times-Square-style cleanup by a politically motivated mayor with little respect for tradition. Have you no sense of indecency, sir?

June 4, 2017

Chateau Marmont, West Hollywood, CA. October, 2007


The first time I went to Los Angeles was on business in 1981. I was working at The Caption Center at WGBH Boston, and just before my trip, we were told that there was a real chance our department would shut down. I quickly changed my reservation from the Motel 6 to the Chateau Marmont. I knew nothing about the hotel except what I’d read in Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckenridge: that Garbo had always stayed there, that it had a faded splendor, that a huge lady cowboy sign revolved outside, that it had history. That was more than enough for me. I arrived to the great news that The Marmont had no more single rooms available, would a small suite be OK? I loved the place right off -- the small, shaded pool, the Spanish colonial atmosphere, the whispered conversations, the cool tiled floors, the huge sunglasses everyone wore, the haunted secrecy of it all. (Who, I wondered, had occupied my suite in the past?) That night, I took a walk along Sunset Boulevard (I had to!) and was stopped by the police: Why was I walking? I quickly learned that respectable Los Angelinos rarely walk anywhere, least of all along The Sunset Strip, least of all at night. Whatever. Years later, the Chateau Marmont was the scene of John Belushi’s highly publicized drug overdose, and since then it has undergone a major facelift with a consequent skyrocketing of prices. Still, that magical first visit remains with me to this day.

June 3, 2017

Istanbul. June 3, 2007


A little jet-lagged but unreservedly enthusiastic about seeing this fabled city, Nick and I woke up on our first morning, a warm and sunny Sunday, and climbed the steep hill to Tünel for breakfast at Kaffehaus. We were not disappointed. Strong tea, a sesame-coated simit, cheese, olives, a warm hard-boiled egg, tomato, cucumber, honey and jam. “Let’s take it easy today,” Nick suggested as we ate. Sure. Before the day was finished we’d been to Asia and back, ferrying across the Bosphorus to dine on Anatolian cuisine at Çiya, a restaurant we’d return to over and over again. Each June 3 since then, no matter where I am, I always recreate this breakfast plate as best I can, remembering that first morning in the City of the World’s Desire.

June 2, 2017

Brooklyn, NY. April, 2017


Another resident of Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery: artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Beloved by many and puzzled over by even more, Basquiat continues to draw tribute-laden admirers to his simple grave.

June 1, 2017

Brooklyn, NY. April, 2017


Oh, did someone mention political corruption and obstruction of justice? History, as always, repeats itself. Seen here, the tomb of NYC's Boss Tweed, a man who knew the ins and outs of both corruption and obstruction. But nobody lasts forever. He's now a resident of Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery.

May 31, 2017

Istanbul Modern, Istanbul. June, 2007


There are so many things to enjoy about the Istanbul Modern, the contemporary art museum that opened in the Tophane district of the City of the World’s Desire in 2004. That it’s a lovely air-conditioned respite after a day of hot city walking. That it sits beautifully on the Bosphorus and its cafe offers a relaxing water view. That its spire-like red sign ironically proclaims “modern” against a skyline of historic domes and minarets. That its security guards take a casual approach to the enforcement of the “no photos” policy. And then there’s the art, of course. But perhaps my favorite thing is the humor and ingenuity that come across in so many of its decorative and architectural touches. Like this dropped ceiling in the museum’s library. Retaining the spacious feel of its multistoried height, the designer honored the room’s purpose by creating this lower, more intimate open ceiling with hundreds of books, each at the end of a tied cord, each floating at the same height as its partners. Intimacy and spaciousness. In a city rich with so many ancient visual surprises, this museum offers an assortment of wonders that seem so, well, modern.

May 30, 2017

Tucson. April, 2010


The desert in bloom. To those of us who don’t live there, this seems so unlikely as to be miraculous. And it is. Dry, windblown, desiccated for most of the year, suddenly with the spring, presto! And given the unusually frequent rains the winter of early 2010, that spring’s cactus really went hog-wild. Forgive the mixed metaphor. Here’s another: Vacations in Tucson for me open my spirit, provide the vast, unobstructed perspectives that my home in the Northeast Corridor does not. Whenever I’m here in the Sonoran Desert, creative ideas emerge as easily as these unexpected yellow blooms on the purple Santa Rita cactus. Could that be one reason why so many artists, writers and free thinkers have gravitated to this liberal oasis within the conservative Southwest?

May 29, 2017

Watertown, MA. February, 2011


When I want to cook something that I’ve not made before, I usually do a couple of things. First, I look through all of my cookbooks likely to have a recipe for, let’s say, Imam Bayildi, the storied stuffed eggplant dish simmered in olive oil. Then, I take what I like from each recipe (for this dish, some suggest it be made in a Dutch oven on the stovetop, others in a 350-degree oven) and rely on past knowledge of how to treat any familiar ingredients and on memory of what the dish was like when I’ve tasted it before. My beloved friends the Hagopian Sisters told me that in Armenian, cooking according to what you think it should look like is called “atch-keh-chop.” My spelling is all wrong, but it combines the words for “eye” and “make.” Here’s a photo of the Imam Bayildi I made on a cold winter’s day. The cookbooks on my shelf (The Sultan’s Kitchen, Classical Turkish Cooking and a Turkish “community cookbook” from Berkeley, CA), the familiar ingredients (eggplant, onions, tomatoes, parsley, lots of garlic)...and the rest, well, atch-keh-chop.

May 28, 2017

Cambridge, MA. April, 2017


On my first trip to the new Cooper Gallery of African and African American Art in nearby Harvard Square, I lucked out. Not only is the gallery space beautifully designed, but I chanced upon a terrific retrospective exhibit by Afro-Cuban artist Juan Roberto Diago. Here's a detail from one of his fabric-based installations that ran along the wall of an entire hallway.

May 26, 2017

Siena, Italy. October, 1980


I like mushrooms. A lot. But even my enthusiasm for them was no match for this restaurant we passed in the center of Siena. We were there in the fall, prime funghi season in Tuscany, and many trattorias had signs outside proclaiming their abundance and their specialties. This one’s display case showed off some attractive specimens, and its menu offered up ravioli with wild mushrooms, ribbon-like pasta with mushroom sauce, mushroom soup, grilled mushrooms, stuffed mushrooms, scallopini with mushroom sauce, veal with mushrooms, mushrooms “truffle-style,” chicken breast with mushrooms and probably a whole lot more. Mmmm-mmm.

May 25, 2017

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation, AZ. Autumn, 1995


Perhaps the most iconic landscape of the American West, thanks in part to the many Hollywood Westerns that were filmed here, Monument Valley has also been the location for countless Marlboro advertisements, car commercials...and now this somewhat psychotic faux-Helmut Newton fashion shot. Minus the fashion. (Though I notice I’m wearing my fake Armani belt purchased in 1984 for $1 from a street peddler in Rome. Does that count?) Simon and David and I were on a trip from their home in Tucson, up through Phoenix and Flagstaff and on to the Grand Canyon. On our circuitous route back home, we made sure to hit Monument Valley in the axis of Four Corners where Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado all meet. Maybe it was the big sky that inspired me? Or the reckless abandon of the Old West? Or maybe I had just recently seen Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Whatever. I kind of like it.

May 24, 2017

Scotch Plains, NJ. Winter, 1972


I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but when I was teaching at Union Catholic Boys High School in the Garden State, I was head of the drama club one year and assistant coach of the freshman basketball team the next. (I understand the former; it’s the latter I can’t fathom, never having learned to play basketball myself. I suspect it had a great deal to do with my being drinking buddies with the head coach.) I remember each of the players in this picture very well. They’d be in their mid-50s now, but for me they are frozen in time. So serious they were. So possessed of an interest in the sport, in winning, an interest completely lost on me then and even now. Some of these kids were my classroom students, too. None was in the drama club.

May 23, 2017

Brooklyn, NY. April, 2017


My friends Natalie and Paolo, Brooklyn residents, had some time ago told me I might like the Green-Wood Cemetery. They were right. Last month, while visiting my friend Nick for Easter, I took the slowpoke R train from his Bay Ridge home to the cemetery, got an official map and was on my way. You will be seeing more of this fantastic place here on SLS, but for now, a comment about decorated gravesites. The Italian families are winners hands down. If I saw a huge floral display in the distance, I knew it would be the work of Italian-American families. (The WASPS had the least.) And as my visit was on the Saturday following Palm Sunday, I saw a lot of woven palm frou-frou...like this remarkable extravaganza.

May 21, 2017

Košice, Czechoslovakia. July, 1972


This is what results from having vodka for breakfast. Robert and I, both schoolteachers at the time with summers off, decided to visit his relatives behind the Iron Curtain. After a few days in Bratislava, where we crossed the border and had our luggage questioned (Why did we have so many wigs and negligees? A story for another time), we made our way west to visit his cousins Michael (right) and Vera. Michael, no stranger to intoxicating breakfasts, was actually disbarred from his position as a company lawyer, so it was told to me, because of one too many nights on which he’d run, naked and screaming, down the main street in town. His wife Vera, the recipient of those aforementioned wigs and negligees, was a calming if saucy influence. Though she appears sweet as pie in this photo we stopped to take on our way to their vacation cabin (no plumbing, no electricity) in the Tatry Mountains. I remember laughing a lot. But not much else.

May 20, 2017

Istanbul. June, 2007


This young Istanbul mussel man would appear every midafternoon at the same spot not far from the northern side of the Galata Bridge. He would set up his simple operation, display his mussels, put out a few halved lemons for customers to squirt. I never saw anyone stop and sample, but they must have or else why would he, and dozens of others like him, persist? Street food is a longstanding tradition in the City of the World’s Desire, but one that is under new threats from municipal intervention, especially in the Beyoğlu and Fatih neighborhoods. Recent laws and licensing restrictions there limit the number of street vendors and the types of food that can be hawked. Corn on the cob, chestnuts and simit (bread rings): fine. Mussels, fruit juices, homemade desserts, anything else: not fine. Still the vendors appear each day, quickly scooping up all their wares and hustling the hell out of there should any municipal patrol officers suddenly appear. The hard-to-obtain, expensive licenses and sliding-scale monthly fees (prices depend on which streets they position their carts) are prohibitive for most of the vendors who just about make a meager living as it is.

May 19, 2017

Cambridge, MA. April, 1967


On a first visit to Boston, Nick and I had taken an overnight bus from New York and arrived, groggy and not at our best, early in the morning. But soon we headed over to nearby Cambridge to knock on Julia Child’s front door. We were both fans of her TV show, The French Chef, and were surprised to find that she was listed in the phonebook: 103 Irving Street. And even more surprised when she herself opened the door. We mumbled some explanation and she graciously signed autographs before we went on our way, amazed at what had just transpired. Who would have known that years later, I would be working at the same Boston television station as Julia, and Nick would become an acclaimed cooking professional, requested by Julia to interview her onstage when her kitchen was installed at the Smithsonian. The night that the two of them were meeting on Irving St. to prep for that gig, I arrived to pick Nick up and joined them briefly for a snack and a few laughs at her kitchen table. At one point, Nick said, “Julia, we have a confession to make. We’ve both been here before....” As we explained, she said, “I hope I was nice to you.” She was.

May 18, 2017

Piazza Navona, Rome. October, 1980


My beloved late friend Dali had a number of tricks up her sleeve. Especially when it came to taking pictures. Especially in Rome, where she had once lived for a number of years. When she and I worked together at Boston's public television station, she offered a trip to introduce me to Italy: Rome, Florence, Padua, Venice, Siena, heaven. During that vacation, she also introduced me to the phenomenon of the “jumping picture” (found in abundance elsewhere on this blog) and to this second, more subtle technique: If you want to take a picture of some people, have your companion get into their “frame” and make believe you’re taking your companion’s picture. Here’s an example from that first Italian trip in 1980. Dali wanted a picture of these old Roman women knitting and chatting on a sunny bench, so she quickly ran over and sat next to them and said, “Take my picture!” Think the smirk on her face reveals her questionable intentions? Snap.

May 17, 2017

Tucson. March, 2017


Every time I visit my friends Simon and David in Tucson, I'm amazed at how neighborhoods have changed since my last visit. Downtown is thriving one year, galleries and restaurants all over the place. The next time: empty storefronts. A recent development is "The Mercado" on the west side of town. It's a big success. And with good reason. Reasons, actually, most of them listed here.

May 16, 2017

Tucson. March, 2017


A tabletop in my friend David's painting studio.

May 15, 2017

Perkins School, Watertown, MA. September, 1979


When I was working on the Captioned ABC News back in the 1980s, I would occasionally produce short video features to include on subjects of specific interest to the hearing-impaired audiences we served. I did a whole series about how deaf people were represented by Hollywood, capped off by an interview with Patty Duke here at the Perkins School (in what is now my hometown.) As a child, Duke had portrayed Perkins graduate Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker both on Broadway (1959) and in the subsequent film (1962). When she met with us, she had just finished a made-for-TV movie of the same story in which this time she played Keller’s teacher Annie Sullivan. She told me that it was her first visit to Perkins because back when the Broadway production was trying out in Boston, director Arthur Penn would not let her anywhere near the place, fearing that it might influence the performance he had worked so hard with her to develop. I remember her beautiful polka-dotted teal silk dress, the huge numbers of yellow jackets buzzing around us...and the alarming last-minute announcement by the DC-based deaf interviewer (with the impressive TV-heavy resume) that she had absolutely no on-camera experience whatsoever. Duke was charmed by her and it all went smoothly.

May 14, 2017

Nişantaşi, Istanbul. June, 2007


Mmmmm. Simple ingredients, simply prepared. Çoban salatasi, Shepherd’s Salad. Found throughout Istanbul on every menu. And why not? Tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, scallions, oil, lemon, parsley, salt. (I’ve seen some variations that occasionally include radishes, though that’s not traditional.) OK, this gussied-up version at the Komşu restaurant in the upscale Nişantaşi section of the city featured a bit of pinwheel presentation, but the center attraction -- the simple fresh goodness -- is always still the same. How can you go wrong, especially at this time of year when backyard gardens yield the main ingredients so readily? I’ve had this refreshing salad in restaurants in Turkey, in Turkish restaurants in New Jersey and Massachusetts, and it’s always been simple and sensational. But this evening, dining on an outdoor terrace in the warm Istanbul evening, it was especially good.

May 13, 2017

Le Baratin, New York, NY. April, 2017


Following up on yesterday's post, this relatively new bistro in Greenwich Village, Le Baratin. A real French place (none of this fusion stuff) where Nick and I recently took Marco and Roberto for Roberto's birthday. A good meal, lots of laughs...and the only time I've seen champagne poured from a Jeroboam (google it.) As it happens, the owner is the son of the proprietor of the late Cafe des Sports, heralded in yesterday's writeup.

May 12, 2017

Le Comptoir, Paris. December, 2005


This morning, I took one look at this photo and for some reason started to think about the first restaurants I went to in New York City so many years ago. Back in my high-school and college days when eating on the cheap was a requirement and having a good, well-prepared restaurant meal was a real luxury. Steuben Tavern, a long-gone midtown German beer hall on West 47th was a college mainstay with its hearty offerings (sauerbraten, potato dumplings, wursts) and exotic drinks like Berliner Weisse (sour wheat beer with raspberry syrup.) El Faro, a formerly inexpensive Spanish place still holding forth in Greenwich Village (we’d learned of it from our paperback The Underground Gourmet) had memorable veal with almonds and pitchers of sangria for peanuts. My favorite though, bar none, was Cafe des Sports, a small French place on West 51st between Eighth and Ninth. Could my parents have told me about it? Or a radio ad on WNEW-AM? You went down a few steps, through the cozy bar and banquettes into the small main room of about 16 tables, mostly filled with regulars, neighborhood types, Breton expatriates. And the menu! This was where I first learned about cuisine and its classics: soupe a l’oignon, artichaut vinaigrette, sole meuniere and veronique, civet de lapin, blanquette de veau, boeuf bourguignon, pot au feu, and so many more. The goodnatured waitresses would sometimes let us practice our classroom French. The many visits spent in that warmly remembered spot were always wonderful (as were those few later enjoyed in Yves Camdeborde’s Parisian hotspot, pictured here.)

May 11, 2017

Santiago de Compostela. October, 2009


Is it because I live with a bread baker that I’m so drawn to the stuff? Or is it something more elemental? Who knows or cares? Long before I visit a new place, I try to learn something about the kinds of bread I’m likely to find there. More than likely, actually. I make it my mission, my crusade, to find and sample them all. While waiting for Jay at the market here in Santiago de Compostela, I chanced across this small bread-only bakery about the size of a shower-stall and covered with a fine dusting of flour everywhere. The proprietress was more sour than any starter I could imagine, especially when I asked if she had the special cornbread for which the town is famous. “Trigo!” she barked at me. “Wheat!” Take it easy. How beautiful her loaves are, though. Later, I did manage to find a shop that specialized in the cornbread of my dreams (much more coarse and chewy than our cakey American South type) and bought several varieties. So dense and punitive was this bread that it defied leavening and remained virtually unrisen, solid and heavy and wonderful.