September 28, 2010. The 2010 MacArthur Fellows were announced today, the “genius” awards for exceptional, non-traditional-thinking individuals, mostly. One such recipient, theater director and actor David Cromer, who, in a New York Times profile earlier in the year, observed, “My mother’s been saying it to me since I was a child, and it remains true to this day: if I do not want to do something, I will not do it. There is no force on earth that can make me. I never did my homework, ever. I would say I was a very unpopular kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends. In high school somehow I found like-minded people, sort of interested in the arts, sort of enlightened nerds, and I found living in that community to be the most interesting thing.” Interesting, indeed. And now award-winning. I wonder who lives in this non-traditional different-drummer “garden” apartment seen here. I pass this building almost every day and smile when I think of the road less traveled by, its differences, its blessings.
September 23, 2017
What visual memories do most people bring home from Lisbon? The water views of the River Tejo. The city’s many hills and steeply sloped streets. The old quarters with their crooked alleys and colorful facades. Color-rich tiles in buildings and on buildings. Beautiful sidewalks, fashioned as mosaics of black and white stones. And, of course, the trolleys, those iconic yellow trams that weave in and out of even the tightest corners of the Alfama. Here’s a memory of mine: the Elevador da Bica. This tram-like funicular runs from its low point near the waterside Cais do Sodré train station up through funky neighborhoods to the top of the Bairro Alto leaving you off near the Miradouro de Santa Catarina, a beautiful lookout in a quiet residential locale. The elevador is a quick and atmospheric way to ascend and you’ll be in the fine company of Lisboetas who’ve learned that it’s easy to walk down to the Mercado da Ribeira to shop, but less easy to climb back home with shopping bags full of daily provisions secured at the bustling market.
September 22, 2017
Jay and I had walked from the port of Tangier up to the old city and through the Friday morning market. When I saw these tangerines and thought of their namesake significance to city, well, I had to take a picture, no? The woman in the market stall started yelling something that I didn’t understand, but which I thought was her urging me to visit her stand next door. I snapped the photo of the fruit and the woman came tearing over to me and raised her hand, threatening to strike. A man nearby calmly said to me in English, “She said no fotos.” Ooops. I made my apologies as best I could given that my Arabic isn’t what it might be, and we somewhat sheepishly walked away. Jay paled at the experience, thinking that it was forbidden to take any photos hereabouts. And each time I took out my camera over the next few hours, he looked frightened at what my snapping might next provoke. Nothing, as it turned out. And we had a wonderful time walking through the maze of the medina and the Kasbah without further incident.
September 21, 2017
Look at this beautiful old store in the Barri Gòtic. It’s a knife store. But it looks as if it could be selling jewelry instead of scissors, switchblades and corkscrews. And that signage! Those arched windows! Doesn’t it look a bit like an old train? The Orient Express? No Target here. No Wal-Mart. Instead, stores that mono-task: gloves, candles, soap, scissors. And the pride that’s evident in the displays. We passed a pastry shop that had its cakes and macarons so lovingly presented...we wanted to wear them. No wonder it’s such fun just to walk in European cities. Windows, stores, even billboards. All eye candy, all the time.
September 20, 2017
September 19, 2017
September 18, 2017
There are so many benefits to living on a cliff, overlooking the “living painting” of the harbor and the sea beyond. And a few drawbacks. Like wind. Unprotected on our precipice, exposed to the occasional hurricane-strength breezes, can sometimes be daunting. So far, nothing fatal. But timing (and placement) are important. We woke up one morning to find that, in addition to the commonplace fallen limbs here and there, an entire tree had been uprooted overnight (shown here under the steadying hands of Dr. Blake.) We called our “tree man,” who was, as you can imagine, rather busy this morning all over town. When he arrived, he sawed off the trunk at ground level, then pushed the dirt and roots back in place. Done. At least the nearby stone wall remained intact. This time.
September 17, 2017
Downtown Tucson faces challenges. I’ve been visiting my friends Simon and David there for some 20 years and the storefronts along Congress Street and Broadway change hands, close, reopen as something else, undergo remodeling, then close again. There have been bookstores, art galleries, upscale local crafts shops, cafes, you name it. One of my favorites, the Cafe Quebec, was having difficulties, went on the market, was bought and reopened by someone else, had a name change, etc. Last time I was there, it was struggling. Another favorite, the Cafe Magritte, gone. In spite of that great name. Happily, an all-time favorite, Wig-O-Rama, remains. Although, as you can witness, it has seen better days. The huge windows (barred no less) are filled with lineups of white styrofoam heads, each with a different style wig, most slightly askew. Some curly blonde creations, some throwbacks to The Supremes, even some turquoise and royal blue geometric cuts these days. We’re hoping that a few missing letters will not signal the end of this downtown institution.
September 16, 2017
I love to see the route the artist took to reach his destination. The pentimenti under the finished painting that first got the painter started. Then to see the finished work, which sometimes follows the original intention, sometimes differs greatly. Word choices in early versions of poems that never made it to the finals. Yes, I like Raphael’s School of Athens fresco in the Vatican Museum. But I like his “cartoon” sketch for it in Milan’s Ambrosiana Museum just as much. I have a diptych by painter Adam Cvijanovic that represents Oedipus (in the right half of the panel) and the Sphinx (in the left.) When I visited Adam in his Boston studio in 1984 as he was working on this painting, Oedipus was also originally on the left with the Sphinx. I love knowing that he made this change. That the artist changed direction and altered the composition and I know what's underneath it all. Here is a photo I took of an unfinished painting in a museum in Arles. I can’t remember who the painter was. It almost doesn’t matter. I just love having this almost private, unintended look at what his unrealized plans were. Who knows how the completed painting would have wound up?
September 15, 2017
September 14, 2017
The first time I visited Naples, I’d arrived on an overnight train from Zurich where a Swiss friend had warned me not to wear my watch or carry my camera on the streets. That drivers didn’t obey traffic lights. That the city was going to be a shock after the precise and disciplined behavior in Switzerland. He was right, and I loved it. Crossing six lanes of traffic that paid no attention to red lights became somewhat of a game. There was a happy chaos in the markets, on the streets. People smiled and enjoyed life. I came upon a street fair, also chaotic, and bought a porchetta sandwich on which I promptly chipped a tooth. Oh, well. Years later, when Nick and I arrived there for his Great Italian Desserts research, we sought out a pastry shop that made sanguinaccio, a pudding whose principal ingredient was pig’s blood. We misread the map and wound up on a backstreet in Spaccanapoli, a very poor section that was as fascinating as it was intimidating (alleyways of cavelike homes open to the street with only dining tables and huge TV sets.) And, after a great lunch, we found a (relatively) quiet square where one napolitano had kindly scrawled this omaggio in advance of my return.
September 13, 2017
Back in the days when the economy (and the honorable, hands-off management crew then in place) encouraged such things, our creative team at Bose, where I worked for some eight-plus years, would create billboards to announce new products. Mostly for placement in warm-weather locations, like this one on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Mike, the best designer I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and I would then travel to check out their locations and decide how best to use the space. And then we’d sometimes return later to inspect the installation and relative effectiveness. As you can see, even in a city like LA, plastered with more billboards per capita than anywhere else on Earth, Mike’s design pops (as clients were fond of requesting.) So how could I resist a jumping picture in front of it? Later we’d heard that Dr. Bose had seen this billboard on a trip to LA and had complained that the palm trees got in the way. Just saying.
September 12, 2017
I am fortunate to live in a town with a sizable Armenian community, assuring that the local markets are well stocked with the Middle Eastern ingredients I rely on for so much of my cooking. For example, each of the five such stores within blocks of my home carry at least a half dozen different types of feta, my current favorite being the creamy and less salty French style. And olives! I have stopped counting these days and go straight to the Moroccan oil-cured black olives that I love. (A Lebanese man in my nearest store once stopped me and said, “We eat those for breakfast.” Now I do, too.) But the rich roster of olive types near my home is nothing compared to the varieties that were available in the open market here on the Asian side of Istanbul. Zeytin means olive in Turkish, and just look at some of these beauties. Dried, cured in salt, cured in oil, black, purple, green, large and small from all over the country and beyond. Just imagine the breakfasts.
September 11, 2017
September 10, 2017
Meet Emma. My new niece. My dog-loving brother Brien has been wanting a purebred German Shepherd puppy for a long time, and now he has his beauty. Look at the size of those paws at 10 weeks! I couldn’t wait to head down to the Garden State to meet her. Brien is so good with dogs, taking the time to bond, to train. He told me that the first night he brought her home and fenced off the kitchen as her space, he slept in there with her and woke up with her nestled on his stomach. Growing up, we had a dog, and it was always understood that she was Brien’s. And as long as my travels prevent me from adopting a dog (yet), I’m so happy to have my niece to play with. (I sent this photo to my friend Gail, a writer who loves dogs, and she wrote back, “OHMYGOD! Can I have her?” Brien was pleased that this Pulitzer Prize-winner has given Emma her seal of approval, even her wondering if the puppy’s real name might be Emma Gail. I think that can be arranged.)
September 9, 2017
When I first arrived in Lisbon, I had no idea. Yes, I knew to look for pastéis de nata, the fabled custard tarts baked in a kind of puff-pastry shell. And I knew where to look for them, too. I was aware of Portugal’s tradition of egg-yolk sweets, many originally made in convents from the yolks left over after the whites had been used to (depending on which story you believe) clarify local wines or starch the nuns’ habits. But I was unprepared for the variety of baked and fried sweet pastries that would delight me as I strolled by countless pastry shops each day. Here, a window of the Casa Brasileira on Lisbon’s busy pedestrian Rua Augusta. Every day, new selections would appear, allowing me to try something different at each passing. Like these beauties, Lisbon’s interpretation of sugar-coated, deep-fried beignets. Mmmm-mmm. They certainly did live up to their name: dreams.
September 8, 2017
Each time I visit Tucson, my soul opens. Is it because I’m back in the realm of conversational magic with my friend Simon, who always urges me to release stress and embrace the paths that avoid spirit-sapping corporate pitfalls? Or because people there take their time, seeming to amble from one task to the next (rather than to dash frantically as those of us in the Northeast seem to do most often)? Or that the weather encourages a shoulder-dropping relaxation, a nonchalance that comes with the territory? All of these and more? There’s a freedom that pervades things there. A freedom to do what you want when you want. And to be what you want to be. (One example: I’ve met several people who, I later learned, started out their lives with gender identities different from the ones they have now.) People take time for coffee and conversation. I don’t see as many people constantly checking their phones, their emails, their texts. Independence. It’s as if one is embracing a spiritual detox. The light, the landscape, the sky.
September 7, 2017
September 6, 2017
The busy intersections at either end of the Galata Bridge can be difficult to maneuver if you try to do so above ground. Fortunately, city planners have provided underground walkways for pedestrians and (less fortunately) filled them with specialty shops such as this one. I was astounded the first time I saw it, coming around a corner in the jam-packed tunnel, through the labyrinth and around impromptu vendors who’d set up their small folding tables wherever they pleased. Nothing impromptu about this popular gun market though, always crowded no matter what time of day I happened to pass by. What I found most surprising, I think, was the boldness of it all. No attempt to cover up what would be much more clandestine in the US of A. Instead, men and teens inspected merchandise, weighed the pieces in their hands, inspected workmanship, took practice aim. Much in the same careful way that their mothers, wives and girlfriends might determine the ripeness of a melon in the nearby fruit market. The repetitive precision of the heat on display impressed me, too. Don’t you think Andy Warhol would have liked it?
September 5, 2017
Waking up in Gloucester can be a great pleasure. Especially at this time of year when early morning fogs often envelop the town. “Fog at 7, sun by 11,” the sailors say, and I found that to be true as Rocky Neck, seen here, emerged Brigadoon-like from the mists on this Easter morning. By the time Memorial Day arrives, most of the beautiful fogs are gone, replaced, alas, by the “summer people” who, as Jay complains, “have no sense of urgency are unfamiliar with local ways.” Here’s my complaint by way of a story: As I was running along East Main Street on the Saturday morning of that holiday weekend this year, I stumbled, fell forward onto the pavement, my cap and sunglasses flying, and I wound up on my back in the middle of the road, stunned and breathless for a moment. No one stopped to help me. No one. The cars continued to drive by as I fell, as I lay there, turning ever so slightly to avoid me, on their way to their summer homes. How long is it until Labor Day?
September 4, 2017
Is Rosa Mexicano still open? This limited chain of Mexican restaurants used to be a good choice in Union Square when Chef Roberto Santibañez was at the helm. (He’s since moved on to open his own place, Fonda, which, frequent readers of this blog will know, I think is sensational and easily merits a quick trip to Brooklyn.) One of the things that I liked best about the earlier restaurant was “Más Clavadistas,” the fountain/sculpture that dominated the main dining room -- a cascading, vertical wall of water, illuminated in saturated pink and blue and dotted with the repeated sculptural image of a man diving through space over and over again. Who needs to go to Acapulco to see these fabled cliff divers when they look so beautiful right here in midtown Manhattan?
September 3, 2017
September 2, 2017
I’ve always admired busdrivers able to maneuver difficult turns in tight spaces. In Harvard Square, in Manhattan, or here among the many hairpins along the Amalfi coast. (I took this photo looking straight down from my window seat on the bus. Yikes!) The local bus from Sorrento to Amalfi carried not only tourists like me (and like the British matron who kept saying, “I fancy an Orange Crush,”) but also many schoolchildren on their way home. (It functioned, I learned, as the official schoolbus.) As we tried to make a tight squeeze through a tiny town square, it soon became evident that there was no way past an illegally parked car. The busdriver got out, went into a nearby store, then a bank, and eventually emerged with a woman, the car’s owner, who prepared to move her car to the cheers of the kids chanting, “Brava, Signora Fiat Uno!” A skillful maneuver, a memorable moment.
September 1, 2017
When traveling in Europe, I’m always drawn to the many city billboards. Especially if they are layered, ripped, half peeled off, turning the whole into an accidental collage worthy of Kurt Schwitters. Why don’t we have billboards like these in the United States? Yes, we have some. But nothing that even approaches the volume that one sees in Madrid, Zurich, Istanbul, Lisbon, Rome. I love that they continue to be an effective and sometimes beautiful means of communication in a world that’s gone personal-device-crazy. I remember throughout Italy the art-like death notices pasted up all around the different neighborhoods, alerting friends and extended family to a loved one’s passing. Galleries, concert halls, you name it, they’re all there with their visuals, waiting for you at the next corner, sometimes hanging around for years as more and more are pasted on top of them. Calendars, diaries in their own way.