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
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
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
May 26, 2017
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
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
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
May 21, 2017
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
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
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
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
May 16, 2017
May 15, 2017
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
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
May 12, 2017
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
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.
May 10, 2017
May 9, 2017
May 8, 2017
May 7, 2017
“There sure are a lot of cats in this town named Perdu.” A few years ago, when my friend James and I were on a trip to Montreal, we noticed quite a number of postings about lost pets. Most featured cat photos, entreaties, rewards, contact information. James made the above remark after we’d seen so very many, all of them headed with the French word for “lost.” His gaffe has become something of a joke with us. So much so that whenever I travel and see similar postings, I photograph them and needle my friend with a reminder. Recently I sent him this notice of a missing cat in Lisbon, one that promises a rather substantial reward to the lucky person who returns Phuong. (Or maybe that’s the owner’s name. Maybe the cat’s name is Desapareceu or Perdu.) In any event, we hope the kitty was found in the busy yet cat-friendly Praça da Figueira neighborhood where, happily, no stray goes unfed for very long.
May 6, 2017
Dali, the friend not the artist, seen here on the left, knew how to pose better than anyone else I’ve ever met. How, for example, did she intuit on the spot that this expansive stance would be so perfect against the art nouveau swirls of the nouveau riche home on Rodeo Drive that we happened upon during our afternoon walk? Vinny, meanwhile, complements her “ta da” with his closed, pensive faux introspection. The three of us were in L.A. to attend the press events surrounding the 10th anniversary of the PBS program, Mystery!, on which we all worked. A visit to the Getty Museum (Mystery! host Vincent Price had told us he suspected the place was overrun with fakes), a drive to Malibu, and then Rodeo Drive. All this while the Northeast was buried in snow. And by the time we had to behave officially, welcoming actors and press to a reception that evening, we’d been laughing so hard and so long (Buddy Ebsen’s paintings on display at a “fine art” gallery!) that we were ready for anything. Including the press agent’s warning to a somewhat tipsy and inappropriately flirtatious “Sherlock Holmes” slated to speak from the podium: “Lay off the booze, will you?!”
May 5, 2017
A great deal has been written about celebrity trash. Literally. People who sifted through Bob Dylan’s garbage for years then documented it. And no doubt kept a few souvenirs. Hard to believe? At one point I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, around the corner from the homes of both Tracy Chapman and Marianne Faithfull, and I can assure you that scavengers would regularly sift through each of their garbage cans looking for mementos. And while the pastime holds no appeal for me, I have to confess that I was fascinated by this particular splayed-open garbage bag I walked past in Montreal a few years ago. Hundreds of oyster shells. On a small residential side street far from any restaurant or seafood market. What was the story, I wanted to know. Party trash? What? I’m only surprised that the pile hadn’t attracted all of the neighborhood cats. Or maybe it had and I just happened by too late.
May 4, 2017
When I first heard of tavuk göğsü, the famed Turkish dessert made from chicken breast, I had mixed feelings. The food adventurer in me couldn’t wait to try it. The rest of me gagged. Following a tradition that some say goes back to ancient Rome but that peaked under the Ottoman sultans, the chicken breast is pounded to a thread-like consistency, then boiled with cracked rice, water, milk and sugar before being spread in a pan to cool. Cut into rectangles, it is often rolled up and dusted with cinnamon for serving. It sounded to me like something that might best be sampled in private, so I bought a portion at Saray, the big pastry shop on the Istiklal Caddesi and took it back to my hotel room. Creamy yet unctuous, gamey yet slightly sweet, with a mucilaginous texture suggestive of day-old tapioca, this pudding did for me what many non-syrupy Turkish sweets do -- left me wanting something additional to bring it all together. A fruit sauce? A salad? Something. I finished it, was happy to have tried it, and remained respectful of the tradition behind it and determined that this was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience.