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 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.

May 10, 2017

Tucson. March, 2017

The restored-diner craze has finally hit the Southwest. Here's one example, The Welcome Diner in Tucson where Simon and David and I had a fun, easy dinner on the last night of my visit. For me and for David: burgers with fries. For Simon: fried chicken with a honey-based sauce. Excellent choices because they avoided the "small plates" options on offer. We like big plates.

May 9, 2017

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Easter, 2017

One of the reasons I endured the six-hour Good Friday bus ride from Boston to Manhattan was knowing that my destination would be the home of my oldest friend Nick. I knew that he'd be preparing a real feast for his Easter guests, and he was. Here's the menu's main course: a slow-roasted lamb (six hours at 250 degrees) with vegetable accompaniments. Mmm-mmm good.

May 8, 2017

Tucson. March, 2017

My friend Simon moved from his whole life in New England to the Tucson desert, where he has flourished. When I asked him if he misses the ocean, he replied, "The sky compensates." I wonder if the distance from water, the expansive and cloudless sky are some of the reasons that so many oases of blue appear throughout the city. One example: this wall outside of the Tucson Museum of Art.

May 7, 2017

Lisbon. October, 2009

“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

Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles. January, 1990

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

Rue Robin, Montreal. October, 2006

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

Istanbul. June, 2007

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.

May 3, 2017

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY. Easter, 2017

A series of health issues has not robbed our friend Miriam of her dignified, regal mien. Here she is on her first outing since hip surgery, after having made her way up the stairs to Nick's second-floor apartment for Easter dinner. I only get to see Miriam on holiday occasions at Nick's home. To see another portrait of her, this one from Christmas 2015, click here.

May 2, 2017

New York, NY. July, 1990

I love collage. And I love found art. So naturally these peeling layers of posters appealed to me right away.

May 1, 2017

Tucson, AZ. March, 2017

On a recent visit to Tucson to see my friends Simon and David, we headed to an evening of "artistic events" at the Tucson Museum of Art. One such was a ballet to the music of Tchaikovsky in the museums central courtyard by students at a local dance academy. I took this photo at one point. Later, seeing it, David remarked that it looked like the aftermath of some slaughter, probably carried out by the perp escaping upper right.