February 28, 2017

Watertown, MA. February, 2017

When I was a mere child of 11, I wanted to see Alfred Hitchcock's recently released Psycho. The Millburn (NJ) Theater had a "no one under 12" policy, which I successfully thwarted by "dressing up." My payback for such deceit, however, has been a lifelong queasy fear of translucent shower curtains (such as this one, purchased at a local Conran's years ago.)

February 27, 2017

Mouraria, Lisbon. November, 2009

When my Irish friend John recently told me that the eruption of the Iceland volcano had stranded his brother and sister-in-law in Lisbon, I thought, “There are worse things.” Certainly worse places to be stuck than this golden city of lovely memories. We’d heard of a small, family restaurant in the Graça district and were eager to try it, especially as we’d be taking tram #28, which zig-zags all over Lisbon, in and out of all of its distinctive neighborhoods. Up and up we went in the packed tram until some residents kindly showed us just where we needed to get off. The Churrasco da Graça was small, very “local,” and it seemed we were the only tourists in the place. After our fried empanadas, our waiter suggested a mixed grill, a good choice: beef, bacon, lamb, a pork chop, several kinds of sausage. Of course, I needed to try the arroz doce, and Jay (“I don’t like desserts”) had a bite (“This is really good”) and wound up eating at least half of it. Afterwards, we decided to walk back down to our Baixa hotel, stopping to enjoy the panoramic view at the Miradouro da Graça, and then descending through the thrilling, dark, winding streets of Mouraria, occasionally brightened by a small shop or bar like this welcoming beacon. A woman out walking her dog graciously explained how to make a series of additional turns that finally landed us back on familiar ground. A fine Lisbon evening from start to finish.

February 26, 2017

Tucson Museum of Art. November, 2006

On this, another wonderful trip to Tucson, I had a chance to sit in on one of Simon’s popular classes: Students would bring samples of their work, colleagues would comment, Simon would critique and offer direction. Foothills housewives, timid high-school students, established artists, the class attracted a mixed bag in terms of both demographic and talent. Miles, an experienced painter whose chosen medium was encaustic, showed his work that day. I’d met Miles during an earlier visit (he’d been inserting tens of thousands of toothpicks into Saguaro sculptures Simon was creating) and had liked him instantly; he was extremely nice, friendly from the get-go and welcomingly flirty, an unbeatable combo. After class, I accompanied Miles back to the gallery he’d opened, saw his work on exhibit, toured his studio and wound up buying a beautiful small encaustic from him, one that I now admire daily in my New England home. This photo, shot through a window during Simon’s class, seems to be framed by the vertical stripes that also boldly mark the painting I bought from Miles. Textures, colors, shapes and light -- it suggests so much that I love about the American Southwest.

February 25, 2017

Watertown, MA. January, 2017

"Hey, Laaaaady!" Here, a few brief paragraphs about the truculent Jerry Lewis from the recent biography of Joan Rivers, Last Girl Before Freeway. Words fail.

February 24, 2017

Springfield, NJ. December, 1955

My mother and father met when both were working at New York Life Insurance Company. And here, straight from the NYLIC employee magazine, the happy offspring of their union. My brother looks as distracted as most people were in that somewhat challenging household, especially so around the holidays. And, as you can see, all I wanted for Christmas, as the song goes, were my two front teeth. Alas, Santa failed to deliver.

February 23, 2017

Florence, Italy. September, 1986

I’ve heard that visitors to Italy divide naturally into two camps: those who favor Florence, those who side with Rome. I’m squarely in the earthier Roman camp, but that doesn’t render me immune to the charms of its more formal northern rival. The glorious Tuscan light, the Giotto frescos in Santa Croce, the vibrant student life in the oltrarno, the treasures of the Uffizi (uncrowded only during the lunch hour), the gritty communal energy of the no-frills working-men’s trattoria I’d discovered (pasta or soup? beef, chicken or pork? basta) and the serendipitous views, like this one, a fisherman I spotted by chance in the Arno late one autumn afternoon.

February 22, 2017

Westwood, CA. October, 1981

My first trip to Los Angeles, so naturally I wanted to see all the mythic places, fabled in legend and in song. Among them: the Hollywood Sign, Marilyn Monroe’s grave, Muscle Beach, Frederick’s of Hollywood, the stars along Hollywood Boulevard, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Fortunately my friend Artie, a transplant from NYC to LA, was happy to indulge me. And my proclivity toward jumping pictures, this example of which was shot at Westwood Mortuary. I stayed at the Chateau Marmont (before it got all glammed up after John Belushi’s overdose) as Gore Vidal had lionized it in Myra Breckenridge. Artie and his partner Danny took me to a genuine Hollywood party (where I was introduced to “Loretta Young’s decorator” and an out-of-it young lady who said she played “the nurse in American Werewolf in London.”) Danny, at the time, was working for Paramount, his main responsibility, he told me, making sure Cindy Williams “stayed sober and behaved” at events. They generously made sure their starry-eyed East Coast friend had the complete Hollywood experience, even taking me to a Mexican restaurant “where Jane Fonda eats.” And before I left town, I’d seen Jimmy Stewart on a streetcorner and Elizabeth Taylor in a car stopped at a red light. Hooray!

February 21, 2017

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. March, 2016

Here, under wraps, is the dessert my friend Nick made for Easter dinner: Cassata alla Sulmonese. Several layers of butter cream, each incorporating a different mix-in (torrone, croccante, chopped chocolate, etc.) I foolishly thought that by quietly putting my placecard on it, I could reserve the entire cake for myself. Alas, that was not to be. But I did manage two generous servings (as did almost everyone else at table.) And I confess that I picked a little at the crumbs during cleanup after the guests left.

February 20, 2017

Cambridge, MA. October, 2016

I never met a French-fried onion ring I didn't like. Alas, some more than others. Witness these rings from the Tasty Burger in Harvard Square. Below average. Too crinkly, the batter breaking and falling off the onion. (That, of course, did not prevent me from eating every last crumb.) Fortunately the superb company for this dinner out more than made up for any shortcomings in the rings department.

February 19, 2017

Berkeley, CA. November, 2005

The first time I visited San Francisco, well, it was in a “past life.” Note: I never even saw the Golden Gate Bridge. So when I returned some 25 years later and ran, all weepy, across the bridge, twice, it was a very different kind of visit. A glorious, magical one. For my day in Berkeley, I BART’d out over the bay into the town known for its funky, iconoclastic place in history. I was not disappointed. Just look at this sidewalk I found within minutes of my arrival, nestled into surrounding walkways studded with poems and artwork. I walked to Chez Panisse to see what it looked like and wound up -- what luck! -- having a wonderful, welcoming lunch there. A stop at the Cheeseboard/Pizza Collective (so Berkeley) across the street for some hazelnut shortbread. A stroll through the university, natch, and its kiosks plastered with political notices, its neighboring bookstores and record shops still thriving in this online age. A beautiful day, indeed.

February 18, 2017

Rome. November, 1984

Oh, the people who sometimes drift into our lives, offering the pleasure of their company, and then drift out, never to be heard from again. I met Jonathan in Catania when we were both traveling solo through Sicily. I’d seen him in a piazza, reading the Let’s Go guide (as I was), and struck up a conversation. He was from San Francisco, had an aunt who lived near me in Massachusetts, had no real agenda or plans. We met for dinner that night (pasta alla Norma, pesce spada alla griglia) and went to Siracusa the next day, touring the old city, the caves, the ancient anfiteatro, the alleyways that gave onto the “wine dark” Ionian sea. From there, we followed different paths but connected again a week later in Rome, where his “no plans” approach to travel added a welcome italiano flexibility to my more scheduled routine. Here at the Campidoglio, the hand of an ancient colossus provided all the direction he seemed to need. Before long, I headed home, he headed who knows where. A moment, a lovely few days spent, more than 25 years ago.

February 17, 2017

Braga, Portugal. October, 2009

Early on a misty gray Saturday, we boarded the bus in Santiago de Compostela and headed south. Was it my imagination or did the sun really come out the very minute we crossed the border into Portugal? First stop: Braga, reportedly the country’s most conservative and religious city. We loved it. Off we went to Bom Jesús do Monte, the grand hilltop church approached by an almost endless series of stairs and terraces. But our first dazzler was something down below: the beautiful sidewalks everywhere we looked. Pixillated tableaux, crafted by hand from smooth black and white stone blocks, arrayed in patterns that ranged from simple stripes and criss-cross diagonals, to more elegant designs such as this one, to spelled-out names of adjacent merchants, sometimes complete with iconographic flourishes indicating products or services offered. Bright in sunlight and radiant by streetlight at night, these underfoot artworks serve up a real clue to the country’s reverence for beauty and craft, simple day-to-day pleasures that life can offer when you slow down and notice.

February 16, 2017

Watertown, MA. January, 2017

I have no idea who this is. I found this creased and stepped-upon photo as I was running past a town cemetery one recent morning. Of course, I picked it up and saved it. I love found "evidence." And if you do, too, you may want to check out Found Magazine, a growing collection of "discovered" items submitted by readers. It has been a source of much delight. Many years ago, when I was a teacher, I once found a young lady's notebook in the cafeteria and delighted in a page on which she had listed the names of her seven future children and their astrological signs. I returned the notebook. But I didn't want to.

February 15, 2017

Watertown, MA. November, 2016

Waking up each morning is a little easier when this is what greets me.

February 14, 2017

Gloucester, MA. October, 2016

When I was working at Bose ("the most respected name in sound"), we had an in-house, online bulletin board on which employees could post items for sale, announcements of musical events, etc. In advance of Saint Valentine's Day one year, an enterprising (if creepy) staffer posted a notice that indicated he'd made dinner reservations at all the best local restaurants under various names (months in advance) for this special night, and that he would, for a hefty fee, tell the buyer what time and under what name the chosen reservation was waiting. His hope was that last-minute Romeos who'd neglected to reserve would pay him (cash only) for such information. Alas, his hopes were dashed when the most respected company removed his posting. And, if memory serves, shortly thereafter removed him from the firm's employ. Here, a less larcenous way to honor my beloved and funny Valentine today. You make me smile with my heart.

February 13, 2017

Los Angeles. January, 1992

The first time I went to stay with Vincent Price, after his wife Coral had died, we joked that I would only visit LA if a movie star picked me up at the airport. He did. We cooked together: risotto that he’d learned how to make from Marcella Hazan in Venice. (He also told me that the last time he’d made it for Maggie Smith, it was just at the precise point of being done when she announced, “Oh, let’s have another bottle of wine before we eat.”) We drove to the mission in Santa Barbara (where his emphysema prevented him from climbing the few steps to the entrance) and all along the way he told me stories: how a famous Ventura brothel in the 1930s was run by a glamorous madam who, upon her death, was discovered to be a man; how he didn’t care for Sam Waterston, Jodie Foster or Milton Berle because they’d been haughty or rude to him; how “that house over there” with the glittery pink stucco walls had belonged to Jayne Mansfield; how Joan Crawford demanded he bring a case of Smirnoff vodka when he visited her in London, etc. He knew his audience. The guest room in his house had signed glossies from his colleagues on the shelves, and before I went to sleep, how could I help myself from taking photos of the photos, like this one from Ava Gardner.

February 12, 2017

Confeitaria Nacional, Lisbon. October, 2009

I’d been passing this beautiful old pastry shop every day of our stay in Lisbon, checking out the sweets in the window, deciding which I would try when I finally stopped in. One late afternoon following a long walk through the Alfama, my time had come. The bar inside was jam-packed with fashionable women, chatting, sipping, snacking. It was so busy; no one seemed to speak English; I was intimidated but determined. Then, a very stylish older woman with a cane entered and everyone went silent. The young ladies behind the counter treated her with reverence and respect; they already knew what she wanted and brought it to her at a smaller counter off to the side: two small doce de ovos pastries, a glass with about two inches of hot coffee, a small container of cold milk. Occasionally someone would come up to inquire after her health, to simply say hello. When she paid and left, her itemized receipt remained on the counter, so I picked it up, showed it to a saleswoman and said in Portuguese, “I want this.” But as you can see, I had one more pastry than she did.

February 11, 2017

Gloucester, MA. September, 2008

Each Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the city of Gloucester holds its annual “Parade of Lights.” Local boat owners gussy up their craft in “costumes” and strings of lights and zig-zag them through the harbor for review. Boats disguised as huge illuminated sharks, skimming the surface with human dummies in their jaws. Or as flaming rockets. Or as SpongeBob SquarePants. After the parade, fireworks blossom and sparkle over all. We always host a big party where, we believe, the real firecrackers are the guests who attend. Like these two (snapped, gracias, by fellow guest Eileen.) Wouldn’t you love to know what bons mots sly puss Nancy (who once “faked” her ashes to deceive her parents into thinking she’d been to Mass on Ash Wednesday) has just delivered to make Kristin (who once yelled down the hallway at the corporation where we both used to work, “I wear these shoes when I want to get f*cked!”) laugh like that? Ladies, please.

February 10, 2017

Brooklyn, NY. July, 2016

Last summer, my friend Nick threw a dinner party, Thai from start to finish. And here's the finish. I asked Nick recently to describe this exotic-looking dessert. Here's what he said: "Let’s call it 'Thai chocolate fantasy.' Flourless chocolate cake infused with jasmine essence, slices of dragon fruit, palm sugar crumb topping, and coconut whipped cream." Seven months later, I'm still thinking about it.

February 9, 2017

Boston. January, 2017

Given the current political climate here in the US of A, my friend Paul and I decided we had to do something to display our displeasure. So we joined an Occupy rally and march in downtown Boston. Also joining the activities were these brightly dressed cyclists, whose kind words and demeanor led me to believe that there existed a certain brotherhood-like sympathy.

February 8, 2017

Tucson, AZ. January, 1992

This photo says Tucson to me. The light of an early evening, even in January. The colors displayed with a caliente abandon that you’d never see back home in New England. The casual approach that’s found in every aspect of life there, from dressing to dining to waking up in the morning. Gwen possesses all these things, too. She comes from Lubbock, Texas, but she is total Tucson to me. She buys inexpensive properties, fixes them up little by little, lives in them or rents them or both. I associate her most with this house where I first met her. Having breakfast in her kitchen, I didn’t know where to look, so many interesting hues, objects, oddities, all vying for attention. At last count, she was living in a rehabbed church, singing along with her opera recordings under the high ceiling. Gwen often works in local elementary schools, using puppets to tell stories, to encourage young students to do the same. And the kids love it, love her. When you’re out around town with her, you’ll sometimes hear a little excited voice blurt out, “Mommy! Look! It’s the puppet lady!”

February 7, 2017

Rome. October, 1986

When I was in elementary school, our rare class trips were to dry, minimally interesting, often Catholic-related venues -- local cathedrals, the Maryknoll Mission, some “living rosary” in a nearby baseball stadium, you get the idea. So while traveling in Europe, I’m always charmed whenever school groups turn up in places like the Prado, the Louvre or Milan’s Brera (where I once heard a guide hold schoolchildren in thrall as he explained foreshortening in the paintings of Andrea Mantegna. Imagine.) My favorite encounter, bar none, was here at the Forum in Rome. Through historic temples, past the ruined Senate, in front of Nero’s Golden Palace, checking out Livia’s house, the rambunctious kids traipsed, swathed in bedsheet togas whose drapings sometimes appeared to owe less to Calpurnia and more to Mother Teresa or Indira Gandhi. I smiled, asked to take a photo, and their teacher tactfully explained, “Romani anziani.” Ancient Romans, indeed.

February 6, 2017

Essex, MA. January, 2017

Just in case anyone needs a reminder that Woodman's of Essex claims to be the inventor of the fried clam, there is this bivalve tableau near the fried seafood shack's parking lot. What the "stars and stripes"-painted lobster is meant to represent, who knows?

February 5, 2017

Perugia, Italy. May, 1988

Halfway through the adventure Nick and I were having -- researching, photographing and eating our way through all of Italy’s dolci for his Great Italian Desserts book -- Miriam joined us in Bologna. From there we made our way to Perugia in our little Fiat Panda, now jam-packed with luggage and acquisitions, professional and otherwise. So much so that when I turned the car down a street the map had indicated was the most direct route to our destination and it suddenly became a staircase, I couldn’t see anything in the rear-view mirror in order to back up, much to the amusement of the gathering locals. Eventually we got free, parked, had lunch and snapped this photo (which for reasons she still can’t explain, is one of Miriam’s favorites.) It was on this same Perugian soggiorno that we visited Sandri, the enticing pastry shop about which both Simon and Marin would later rhapsodize at length: Marin for the pasticceria he remembered from his student days, Simon for the cheese bread whose displayed price, he didn’t realize before his purchase, was for an etto not for the whole bread, which, he says, cost him almost $40.

February 4, 2017

Garwood, NJ. November, 1929

Recently, as I was going through papers to find what I needed to renew my Irish passport, I came across this photo of my father as a boy. The back of the card reads: "Richard Leonard, age 12. And his cat Lindy, 6 years old. Grade 8a." I never knew my father had a cat. (Nor did I know that my father had been a real fashion plate. Check out those socks. And those pants!) I wonder, did he develop an allergy toward cats as an adult as I did?

February 3, 2017

Cimitière de Montmartre, Paris. December, 2005

A cold morning in Paris. A run through the Tuileries, around the Louvre, through the Luxembourg Gardens. Then, after breakfast at the hotel and a brief stop at a Place Clichy thrift shop where I found a prize checkered shirt, a walk through this small cemetery in the 18eme. Nijinksy, Degas, Stendhal, Berlioz, Mme. Récamier, as well as hundreds of less-visited resting places, tended to by families rather than by fans. Then, unexpectedly, this. My beloved auteur. Was any filmmaker a better storyteller? The cyclamen told of another recent visitor, equally enamored. A few notes from admirers, a touching prayer from a student. I searched my pockets, found a card, placed it nearby. It started to snow.

February 2, 2017

Enna, Sicily. May, 1988

Anyone who has traveled in Italy, especially those travelers who have stayed in what I'll generously call "economy" lodgings, is familiar with waffle-weave towels, much like the one shown here. Perhaps hoteliers stock them because they suspect no one would want to steal them. Their ploy did not work this time.

February 1, 2017

Watertown, MA. January, 2017

Rabbit, rabbit. The first day of the month. And with February, we enter the third calendar month of winter. As I write this mid-January, we've so far been mercifully spared any major snow events. Oh, yes, one storm that required multiple shovellings, but nothing like Januarys past. Fingers continue to remain frozen and crossed that things stay relatively mild. And saying "Rabbit, rabbit" on the first of the month will provide the good luck to keep it so. Right?