My beloved friend Simon is an artist in Tucson. Among his many public-art contributions, his magical Diamondback Bridge downtown stands out. Crossing six lanes of traffic on Broadway, the pedestrian “snake bridge” is a wonderful addition to the landscape and personality of this hip town. Each time I visit the bridge, there are always parents and children, equally delighted by the whimsicality of it all. It lights up gently at night. Its yellow eyes glow. The sidewalk within the patterned bridge is incised and tinted in a diamondback design; when it emerges from the fanged mouth it suggests a forked tongue. Why, there’s even a raised tail at the rear and a motion-activated sound device to produce a rattle. Simon planned this project for some five years, working with city panels, funding sources, neighborhood groups and engineers, simplifying his original plans, retaining its spirit of fun and identity. I’ve been visiting this bridge since it debuted in 2002 and I have yet to find a way to snap a photo that captures it fully. Maybe that’s the way magic should be. Thank you, Simon.
July 25, 2017
July 24, 2017
July 23, 2017
Two things I try to be aware of when I travel. Are you allowed to take photos in the museums? (Mostly yes, without flash; some museums, like those in Cairo, charge you to bring a camera inside.) When are the museums free? (Varies. Madrid’s Prado is free to all most evenings and Sunday; Paris’s Musée d’Orsay has a more complicated policy, of course. Check local listings.) Admission to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on Wednesdays from 4pm to 9:45pm is by “voluntary contribution,” which for many means “free.” Such MFA freedom allows an hour or so to look at one or two things without the burden of the normal $22 admission fee. For example, on this afternoon I sampled the “Avedon: Fashion, 1944-2000” exhibit (Suzy Parker, Dovima, China Machado, Jean Shrimpton, Penelope Tree, Twiggy), a show of Japanese tattoo paintings, a moment with the Eqyptian mummies, a walk through the Catalonian chapel. One hour and fifteen minutes of visual delight, accompanied by the pleasure of eavesdropping on many foreign visitors speaking a lovely mix of Italian, Spanish, French, Portuguese. Gratis.
July 22, 2017
When we left Santiago de Compostela this Saturday morning, it was shrouded in misty fog, a bit of drizzle, the damp chill of early autumn in Galicia. Almost miraculously, as the bus headed south from Vigo and crossed the border into Portugal, the sun came out, bright and warm. A sign of good things to come. The first, our stop in Braga. Though the guidebooks and online sites indicated there were lockers to store our luggage at the Braga bus station, they’re weren’t. So we carried it the few blocks to the tourist office to inquire. A wonderful young man told us they were just closing for lunch but we could leave our heavy bags with them as long as we picked them up by 5pm closing time. Welcome to Portugal. And off we went to catch the bus to the Santuário Bom Jesús do Monte, Braga’s #1 attraction just outside of town. Up, up, up the double switchback stairs, up past the grottos representing the Stations of the Cross, up to the basilica at the very top, which houses a number of three-dimensional tableaux of religious/historical scenes...as well as a dolorous statue of the Blessed Virgin with seven full-size swords piercing her heart. Braga, we were told, is the most religious and conservative spot in the country. Yes, indeed. That afternoon, we took the train further south to the somewhat looser university town of Coimbra.
July 21, 2017
I love this picture of Jay, taken on some business-related outing. We live in what’s sometimes been sarcastically called “a fishing town that ran out of fish.” (Or had them taken away by increased government restrictions.) And because so many fishermen live in Gloucester, there really is no decent fish store because there aren’t enough customers to sustain one. (I once went into a fishmonger's shop in nearby Rockport and asked for bluefish and the owner pointed down the street to the beach and said, “Go catch one yourself.”) Odd that we wind up having to go to a supermarket (or wangle our way into a wholesale outlet, or rely on a fishing neighbor) to find decent fresh fish. Not this day though. Jay caught this beautiful bluefish, had it cleaned, ate it. I told him he looked so happy in this photo snapped by a colleague. He told me, “I was scared to death.”
July 20, 2017
October seems a perfect time to visit this lovely city. It’s still warm enough to stroll around in light clothing even at night. The early mornings are crisp and perfect for a nice, long run to investigate the city as it’s waking up. (I found neighborhoods near athletic fields and the university that I never would have come across in my normal walks through the centro.) The summer crowds have gone home, so there are no lines at museums and restaurants. And it’s not blisteringly hot as I’m told it is in July and August. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and, once we got settled at our NH hotel on Calle de José Abascal, we walked south toward the Prado, which offers free admission on Sundays as well as on weekday evenings. How civilized. In a park along the way, these two madrileñas, chatting and smoking under the watchful eye of a señorita on an exhibition poster. Inside, we decided to find just one painting and enjoy it: Las Meninas by Velasquez. Then on our way we went, lured by the siren song of fried calamari sandwiches at one of our favorite places, El Brillante.
July 19, 2017
July 18, 2017
July 17, 2017
My “best friend” Doris was visiting from New Jersey, and Dali decided we should drive to some beaches north of Boston to show her a Yankee New England coastal experience. Of course, Dali’s dog Harry came along, and I snapped this cloudy afternoon photo of the two of them, together as always, and as they always will be remembered. In September, 1978, when I was moving from my temporary stay with Dali in her North End Boston apartment to my own place in nearby Charlestown, we stopped at a supermarket parking lot...and an abandoned dog appeared. Dali checked around, summed up the situation, and loaded her frightening new pet into the car. Into my lap, if I recall correctly. From then on, and for years, they were inseparable. Almost until their deaths, which were just months apart. Jay still remembers running into Dali following a concert on the Boston Common and her saying, “It was great. Harry conducted.” Jay was confused, understandably, until he realized she was referencing Boston Pops conductor Harry Ellis Dickson, a family friend with whom she had first-name privileges. Still, the alternative is interesting to consider.
July 16, 2017
I love to go to markets in every place I visit. Yes, it’s frustrating not to always have a kitchen at my disposal so that I can prepare all the beautiful ingredients on display. But most times the visual assortment is so dazzling that I’m still satisfied. And the more “foreign” the country and the cuisine, the more interesting it proves to be. Not long ago, when my friend Sandra mentioned that she was thinking of making a recently found recipe for rose petal jam, I was reminded of this small market in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu neighborhood on a sunny Sunday morning in early June. The first time I’d seen rose petals sold by the kilo in any market anywhere. Beautiful and surprising and shown off in a box draped with grape leaves. Also for sale elsewhere throughout the same market, purslane, the “weed” that, as I write this, is taking over the gardens of New England, riding on the heels of our winter/spring heavy rainfall. A few snips of it in a salad add a nice tart element, one reportedly rich in antioxidants or omegas or whatever the current health interest is. At a dinner with friends after weeding kilos of purslane from my backyard last week, I smiled when I saw it as an ingredient of the delicious Pea Green Salad at Bergamot, the justifiably popular if somewhat pricey restaurant near my home just outside Boston.
July 15, 2017
There is no mistaking that you are in Catholic territory when you visit Ireland, a country that someone once told me was similar to Italy in that both nations have lots of religion-based visuals all around, but that it’s only the old people who take the Church seriously. The same cannot be said for the tourists. When my father and I pulled into the huge parking lot at the shrine at Knock, it was filled with Americans toting their recently purchased rosary beads, their small plastic bottles of blessed water. I’d never heard of Knock and its shrine to Mary in all of my years of Irish American Catholic schooling. For those of you similarly uninformed, here’s the official summary: In 1879, fifteen people witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin, Saint Joseph and Saint John the Evangelist at Knock Parish Church. Bingo! A shrine, a pilgrim destination, a tourist attraction. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not, um, knocking the beliefs of the one and a half million pilgrims who visit annually. In fact I’ve always been kind of charmed by the theatrical and magical elements of my past faith, stories of visions, healing miracles, grottos filled with discarded crutches, etc. But I did have to smile when I saw this directional sign herding the faithful this way and that.
July 14, 2017
July 13, 2017
Before I went to Istanbul for the first time, there were only two restaurants that I’d made reservations for in advance. One was the late Korfez, a popular and somewhat fancy place on the Asian side of the Bosphorus a bit north of the city centre; they send a private boat to pick you up on the European side. The other was Asitane, in the Edirnekapi neighborhood, right next door to the beautiful Byzantine Chora church with its remarkable mosaics. The food at Asitane was pretty remarkable, too. Take, for example, this delicious Kavun Dolması -- a baked melon, scooped out and filled with a tasty mix of ground lamb, ground beef, rice, pine nuts, almonds, currants and herbs. Asitane specializes in recreating historical dishes from the kitchen registers of Topkapi, Dolmabahce and Edirne palaces, as well as from books and memoirs of visiting foreign dignitaries and other official documents. They regularly delve into menus from famous royal celebrations of the past, such as the months-long feast to mark the 1539 circumcisions of two sons of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. “Dishes from Mehmet the Conqueror’s Reign” and “Aphrodisiacs from the Palace Kitchen” are two of their more recent offerings. My melon entree dates from a 1539 recipe, though whether it was part of the circumcision festivities...I didn’t really need to know. Either way, it was terrific.
July 12, 2017
I have been walking along University Blvd in Tucson for years, past this fence of desiccated ocotillo stalks, dry as dust. Then this year, presto! Heavy spring rains awakened the stalks, they took root, went into leaf, bloomed. A living fence. How miraculous and beautiful. What a wonderful reminder of nature’s powers of transfiguration and renewal. Fouquieria splendens, better known as ocotillo, also known as desert coral, coachwhip, Jacob's staff and vine cactus, although it is not a true cactus. Because of their light weight and decorative patterns, ocotillo stalks have been used as walking sticks for centuries. Protected by state laws, beloved by those who live among them in Arizona and Northern Mexico, they can survive on as little as eight inches of rain a year. Or, as evidenced here, go dormant for long periods before blooming again when conditions are encouraging. Couldn’t we all learn a lesson from that?
July 11, 2017
July 10, 2017
It had been stormy, rainy and windy all day. Then, just as we were about to despair about grilling our swordfish outdoors, the turbulent weather passed and was replaced by this. I ran for the camera. It was one of those vistas that, if you’d seen it in a painting, you might be tempted to think the artist had “enhanced” the actual view to make it more dramatic. Instead, this was just what midsummer sunsets can sometimes look like from our back patio overlooking Gloucester Harbor. A sea breeze whisked away the lingering humidity. The evening turned cool and dry. Our moods improved. The swordfish was great.
July 9, 2017
Why do we love to go to the sea, to be near gently lapping water? Jay suggests that it’s because we came from the sea, that so much of our bodily composition is still water. Maybe. Whenever I’m asked during one of those “picture a peaceful place” meditation exercises, I always think of Silver Beach, New Jersey. I’m probably 13 years old, floating on an inflatable raft in water that’s so remarkably clear that I can see the sandy floor six feet down. The waves are more like ripples. The sun is mild and comforting. I’ve drifted away from everyone else and I’m comforted by the peace, the quiet, the rolling water. Probably such a welcome memory because I have managed to escape from my chaotic and noise-prone family, pushed to the extreme by spending a week in the close quarters of a small bungalow (romantically and oddly named La Cigale.) Recently an acquaintance told me that to distance himself from his violent home as a child at the beach in Ogunquit, Maine, he’d lose himself building elaborate sandcastles, cities even, where the receding tide had created inlets in the sand. “I’d pretend it was the Nile and I’d build Alexandria.” When other kids would ask to help, he’d assign them unimportant minor projects, perhaps a granary, keeping the main parts of his vision for himself. He, too, knew the deeply satisfying and imaginative pleasures offered by the sea.
July 8, 2017
July 7, 2017
July 6, 2017
When my new friends Daniel and Will invited me to their home for “una noche puertorriqueña,” of course I accepted con mucho gusto. I’d met these two guapos not long before at a Sage Farm party and we’d clicked immediately. (That is, immediately after Will realized that this friend of host Mike’s he’d heard about who was studying Spanish was serious about it; that it wasn’t going to be, as he put it, “an endless night of la puerta está abierta.”) Fashion-blogger Daniel is a serious cook when it comes to his homeland’s dishes, and the dinner was terrific. Tostones (mashed, fried green plantains), red beans and rice, seasoned beef and onions. At that aforementioned party, another Puerto Rican friend had described his country’s cuisine as being mostly based on salt and fat. Daniel’s meal this wonderful night gave the lie to that over-generalization. Gracias, chicos.
July 5, 2017
“Fellini doesn’t make those things up,” my friend Dali had told me in advance of our trip, my introduction to Italy. On our very first day there, within minutes of our arrival in Rome, we encountered this mad scene. A Japanese film crew shooting a television commercial with singing nuns, sidecar motorcyclists, baroque fountains and a “peppy” soundtrack to set the mood. Later in the day, we came upon a fashion shoot outside Bulgari on ultra-fashionable Via dei Condotti, a bit tamer (but not much), featuring platinum blonde models covered in cosmetics and jewels. Four years later, when I was visiting Fellini’s hometown of Rimini, not only did I visit the bakery run by his family, but I was also awakened from a mid-autumn afternoon nap as a small marching band appeared out of nowhere and made its way through the piazza beneath my window. When I asked the locals what the occasion was, they all gave me the same answer: a open-palmed shrug. Watch the maestro’s Amarcord again. It’s set in Rimini. You’ll understand.
July 4, 2017
July 3, 2017
When I told the handsome Armenian-Turkish brothers at Sevan, a Middle Eastern bakery near my home, that I was going to learn some Turkish, they both informed me, “You can’t do it.” (This was also what they'd earlier announced when I said I was going to learn to make the Turkish dessert ekmek khadayif. I see a pattern here.) Well, I did learn Turkish, biraz, a little, just enough to make me feel comfortable when I visited Istanbul. (I like to learn some of the language before I visit any country. I feel it’s respectful, and it often opens a door to a smile, to get to know someone a little better.) “I want a scrub and a massage.” “Where is Sultanahmet Square?” “I only want to go shopping.” I practiced with the Pimsleur Language Course Basic Turkish CDs. I also took a beginners’ conversation class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, but the students were so scattered in their interest and unruly in their demeanor, there was not much chance to learn the language. Though I did pick up some valuable cultural information. Like the fact that Istanbul taxicabs charge a higher rate after midnight, a fact that came in handy when a driver started his meter on this late-night rate at 7pm and I was able to tell him to switch to the standard rate...in Turkish. And, begrudgingly, he did.
July 2, 2017
Why I like the internet. Or one of the reasons why. Because by googling and clicking and searching further and further, you make some remarkable discoveries. Awhile ago I was watching a homemade Glee fan video on YouTube (I admit it) and was struck by the music track used. The phrasing sounded a bit like Tracy Chapman in that staccato way she’s got, but the voice was purer, more angelic. A few more clicks and I found out the song was called “Half-Boyfriend” by someone named Jay Brannan. Click, click, search and I'd not only learned more about Jay Brannan and seen dozens of photos, but I’d located videos of live performances, found his own videos shot in his Brooklyn apartment and purchased every CD and MP3 of his that I could find. From his own website I learned I’d just missed his tour stop in Boston, but I was poised for his next visit. And when it came time, I bought tickets online the first day they went on sale. Man, he is good. Not only that voice. But an onstage presence so casual and amiable, so nonchalant yet entirely in control of the capacity crowd at Cambridge’s intimate Middle East club, many of whom sang quietly along and behaved in an appropriately reverent manner. It sure beat anything on the internet. Here’s a photo from our upfront vantage point.
July 1, 2017
I love cliches come to life. Owls that “who.” Sober judges. Drunken sailors. And Ireland’s being green as can be. Also, I love that in Ireland, the potato really does rule. As my father and I were driving around the country, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant in Killarney. I still remember the waitress offering me a choice of “boiled, mashed or chips.” When I hesitated, she smiled and said, “I know what you’d like. I’ll bring you all three.” My kind of place. Also, my friend Dali once told me that when she was staying in Dublin, she’d decided to eat in her hotel room one night and went to a nearby storefront for a takeaway tomato-and-cheese pizza. When she got the familiar flat box back to her room, she opened it to find in addition to her pie, you guessed it, a boiled potato. A joke? Maybe not.