March 29, 2017

Chianti, Italy. October, 1981


My first real trip to Italy (I'd been there for dinner in a border town while I was staying on the French Riviera in 1972) was with my friend Dali. She'd lived in Italy before and knew exactly the right itinerary for this starry-eyed novice. Rome. Florence. Padova. Venice. Back to Rome. We'd stop along the way for lunch or for photo opportunities. Like this one. So many vineyards in Tuscany. So many classic views of grapevine-filled fields and hills. No wonder Italian wines are so good (if memory serves) and so plentiful.

March 28, 2017

South Tucson, AZ. March, 2017


My friend Simon is a public artist, designing projects around the country that incorporate elements of light, color, sculpture, whimsy, magic. His "rattlesnake bridge" has become one of Tucson's recognizable icons, one I delight in seeing on each visit to that Southwestern town. So when he asked me if I'd like to accompany him to the foundry that was manufacturing the models for his latest project, I jumped at the chance. Warned not to pet the resident German Shepherd, I happily complied. But what was I to make of this sign that greeted us at the foundry's front door?

March 27, 2017

Grand Canyon National Park, AZ. Autumn, 1995


I still look like this, right? Ha ha ha. Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted. Still is fun. This is my first trip to the Grand Canyon, what David Hockney calls a "must" trip to "the biggest hole in the world." I was visiting my friends Simon and David in Tucson and we set off on a road trip. Perfect weather, perfect sights, perfect companions. I smile every time I look at this photo and relive the memories.

March 26, 2017

Hudson, MA. January, 2010


One of the great things about living in the Bay State is the wide range of ethnic neighborhoods to be found from Boston outwards. A recent discovery: the Portuguese community in Hudson. Hailing not only from Portugal but also from Brazil and the Azores, the welcoming folks in this small town serve up their culture, their cuisine, their language to anyone who wants to appreciate them. Like me. So when some colleagues offered a lunch to mark my leaving “the corporation,” I suggested a Brazilian buffet nearby. Heidi and Stan seemed game, so off we went. It was simple and satisfying: fried plantains, saucy beans, savory rice dishes, unidentifiable meat stews. But best of all may have been our stop at Silva’s Bakery on the same block where we purchased some amazing rolls (crusty outside, moist crumb inside) and a dazzling assortment of pastéis with fillings that included bean, orange, almond and the flaky, black-topped, egg-rich-custard delight we’d loved so much in Lisbon, the pastel de nata. (As you can see, I bought two of those.) Good thing I snapped this photo relatively quickly, because these beauties disappeared very soon afterwards.

March 25, 2017

Tucson, AZ. May, 2005


There are so many reasons I love Tucson, none more than the heady mix of sacred and profane that blends so easily into the everyday life of this university town just an hour north of the Mexican border. For example, this video store that I pass every morning along my Congress Street running route. I have never seen anyone go in or out in all my years of watching. It sits across a lazy intersection from a heavily barred drive-thru liquor store, scene of occasional “situations.” In spite of a casual facelift, it still looks like the gas station it once was. Diego Rivera would smile, I think, at the miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe mural along its western wall (complete with a small milagro-filled commemorative shrine.) Then there’s that big VIDEOS boldly emblazoned mid-apparition as if to proclaim modern technology’s own miracle available on demand, right here, right now. In this dry land of rattlers and other serpents, even the snakey green garden hose seems biblically right at home. Oh, sure, the Arizona sun has taken its toll on the mural, fading it with each passing year since it was painted, until its now-pastel hues might seem more at home in Miami Beach than in the Southwest Sunbelt. No matter. The miracle remains.

March 24, 2017

Istanbul. June, 2007


I sometimes wonder why I love to travel alone. Yes, I enjoy the pleasure of a friend’s company at mealtimes and for occasional shared excursions, but the more foreign and exotic my destination, the more I treasure time spent solo. Maybe it’s because I like to immerse myself in the everyday life of the place I’m visiting in a way that tends to make companions impatient -- lingering in Montreal or Mexico supermarkets to see packaging in a foreign language, stopping by the Las Vegas or Miami Beach public libraries, sitting in a Lisbon or Segovia park to see how locals pass their idle time. In Turkey, I became fascinated by Muslim people’s behavior in mosques. Some would be silent and reverent. Others, especially those with young children, would refreshingly treat the vast interior as if it were their living room or the public square. Still more interesting to me were the outwardly secular (uniformed policemen, suited businessmen, et al.) entering and revealing their sacred selves in a personal, devotional way. For me, solo travel also erases the slate, allows me to be whoever I choose to be. No one knows me. One of my favorite memories is of a young man’s stopping me on Istanbul’s Istiklal Caddesi one evening to inquire (in Turkish) the time. When I showed him my watch, he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were Turkish.” I wasn’t sorry at all.

March 23, 2017

Tucson, AZ. March, 2017


After Simon, David and I had attended several gallery openings this evening, we were enjoying dipped cones at the local Dairy Queen, when a man whom I'll generously call "middle aged" walked by in a complete bride's outfit: dress, veil, wig, bouquet, heels, the works. (A "late December" bride, he should brush and floss more often if he wishes to retain what's left of his teeth. Just saying.) Later, as we were returning to the car, we saw several more visions in white and realized that there must have been some bridal-themed event at IBT's, the local gay bar. Here's another participant, an undone drag queen waiting for the 4th Avenue streetcar, his wig removed and plopped on the seat next to him. I love Tucson.

March 22, 2017

Gloucester, MA. February, 2017


When I arrived in G'ster on this Saturday morning, the fog was magical and I went to the beach and snapped many pictures before the skies cleared and the sun came out. Only later that day, as the fog returned in the evening, did I see how much more magical the skies could be. Here's what it looked like from our back deck.

March 21, 2017

Tucson, AZ. March, 2017


You know how you have certain friends who, no matter how much time elapses between your meetings, you pick up right where you left off, as if nothing at all had transpired in the years since you last spoke? Kate is one of those friends. She and I worked together at public broadcasting in Boston some 25 years ago and didn't reconnect until not long ago in Tucson. Now, each trip I make to that Southwest town, she and I meet for breakfast at The Little One (formerly known as Little Cafe Poca Cosa) and we scream and laugh our heads off, as seen here earlier this month.

March 20, 2017

Grand Teton National Park, WY. July, 1992


Why am I jumping for joy? My friend Donna's birthday? The first day of spring? Because I love jumping pictures? All of these and more. This was my first trip to the West and I loved it. I even went for a swim in this chilly lake nestled among the snow-covered mountains in the Teton Range.

March 19, 2017

Stoneham, MA. March, 2010


Is there anything better than Italian home cooking? No. I still remember the first time I went to my friend Nick’s family’s house for dinner when I was in high school. (I had grown up in an Irish-American home, not known for its fine dining.) When Nick’s mother brought the lasagna to the table, I thought I was in heaven. And then to find out that it was only the first course, that there would be more? Lord, take me now! (It was on a follow-up visit that I offered to serve Nick’s mother some pasta, I doled out a ladylike portion, and she replied, “Jesus Christ! Could you spare it?”) A few years ago, when I learned that my friend Paul’s Sicilian mother made a traditional pasta dish with garlic, parsley and breadcrumbs (symbolizing the carpenter-saint’s sawdust) for Saint Joseph’s Day, I hinted heavily that I would love to try it. The following March 19, Paul was selfishly on vacation in Florida (priorities!), but this year, 2010, he was home and I was kindly invited. What a great night! Paul’s family was a treat, his mother a hoot! And the food! In addition to the pasta c'a muddica, there was a resplendent antipasto spread, stuffed artichokes, frittatas, sausages, Italian bread...and for dessert, zeppole di San Giuseppe (big cream-puff-like pastries with three kinds of filling: whipped cream, pastry cream and ricotta with chocolate chips.) I am always ready at a moment's notice to join the festivities. [UPDATE 3/19/17: Guess where I'll be having dinner in a few hours?]

March 18, 2017

Tucson, AZ. March, 2017


As we entered the main lobby of the Tucson Museum of Art, we encountered a number of installations, including this one: a screen, a light source, a space to, well, improvise. Then we encountered Kita, a bubbly young woman with multi-colored hair and oversized star-shaped earrings sparkling with turquoise glitter. When she entreated me to join her in making shadows on the screen, of course I complied. Little did we know that my friend Simon was on the opposite side of the screen, camera at the ready. Here's the result.

March 17, 2017

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland. May, 1992


My father nursed my mother through a debilitating illness at the end of her long life. And after she died, I waited six months and then asked him if he’d like to take a trip to Ireland. He’d never been out of the country (except for his WWII posts in Japan and New Guinea) and I thought he might want to visit his own mother’s birthplace and some of the locations he’d been singing about for years (ex. Galway Bay.) He did. So I made the arrangements and off we went. Driving south from Dublin and then up the west coast, we approached the famed Cliffs of Moher, at which point my father announced a fear of heights (“I’m afraid I’ll jump off”) and a desire to return to our B&B. He had a point; the cliffs are some 700 feet high and only the flimsiest of cordons is there to prevent you from falling straight down to the Atlantic Ocean below. Delivering my father to the B&B, I soon returned to the cliffs where I encountered this fearless brother and sister, fresh from church and their First Holy Communion. Almost 25 years have passed. I wonder who they grew up to be. And if they still go to Communion. [I post this same photo every Saint Patrick's Day, I love it so much.]

March 16, 2017

Charlestown, MA. March, 2016


Twice a year, as do many American cities, Boston declares "Restaurant Week," (now foolishly re-branded as "Dine Out Boston.") Restaurateurs, especially those who want to beef up their potential customers list, offer special menus at reduced prices. My friend Christian and I decided to try a local Moroccan place, Tangerino, seen here. I like basic and unfussy places, where they focus their energies on the food rather than on the decor. (Tablecloths tend to make me suspect and uncomfortable.) And while this place was OK, it was a little self-conscious and heavily draped. The Restaurant Week meal was good, relatively inexpensive compared to other weeks of the year...but I suspect I won't be returning soon to this red-velvety, louche spot. Thank G_d the belly dancer was not on that night.

March 15, 2017

Rome. October, 1981


This is one of my favorite photos. I took it on my first trip to Rome in 1981 with my friend Dali. A boatman on the River Tiber seen from a bridge above. I like the composition, the color...and the memories that this oarsman brings up. A beautiful trip, the first of many to the Eternal Città.

March 14, 2017

San Gimignano, Italy. October, 1981


Sharpen your pencils. There’s something about the onset of autumn that always makes me feel good. Maybe it’s the former schoolteacher in me, the tendency toward organization and a tightening of the laziness brought on by summer’s heat and humidity. Even in this medieval Tuscan hilltown I was drawn toward the local schoolbus, appropriately sized for this tiny walled hamlet not far from Siena, still relatively uncrowded when I visited some 30 years ago. I remember a man selling bottles of homemade Vernaccia wine from his open garage. I wonder what changes three more decades of tourism have wrought. I love and am amused by the fact that San Gim is sometimes called “the Manhattan of Italy” because of its 14 towers, though these famed structures were mostly built in the 12th century rather than the 20th. Originally founded by Etruscans and later named after a bishop who defended the town from Attila’s Huns, the town has a rich history and has now been recognized as an official UNESCO World Heritage site. I suspect that the schoolbus and its inhabitants haven’t changed too much as a result of this distinction.

March 13, 2017

Watertown, MA. February, 2017


Pretty. Atmospheric. Peaceful. These are words friends have used to describe this night photo of my street after several days of snowfall. Or, more personally, several days of snow shoveling. I'm hoping that by the time you read this, I will have already been to visit my friends Simon and David in Tucson, will have returned home to a Massachusetts poised for springtime with no more snow in its future. [Update: Spoke too soon. An estimated 12-18 inches of snow forecast for tomorrow. A week ago I was applying sunscreen in the Arizona desert. Sigh.]

March 12, 2017

Annisquam, MA. May, 2010


Do you like kids? Meet Lulu. She and her brother Yuk-Yuk are two baby goats that we met recently when our friends Charlene and Steve adopted them to keep their older goat Pepi company. (After Pepi’s female companion had passed away, he cried for two months until these youngin’s appeared.) Jay was too reserved to hold the little critters, but I wasn’t, and Steve snapped this photo. As I was cradling her, Lulu dug her face into the the crook of my sleeve and at one point began to nibble tentatively on my shirt pocket. I loved it. This was the first day they’d been separated from their mother and they were a bit mouthy, but I’m told that they have since settled in and calmed down, and that the three goats now sometimes even nap together. Charlene and Steve live on a steep piece of rocky land in this Gloucester neighborhood that gives onto the Annisquam River, and they began raising goats not for the milk, not to make cheese, but as a way to keep the invading brush from overgrowing their property. It seems to be working.

March 11, 2017

Paris. December, 2005


Paris. City of Lights. City of Eating. Before I’d set off on this winter trip, I did my homework and had made a list of various recommended cheese shops to visit. The hallowed Barthélémy (Catherine Deneuve shops here) at 51 Rue de Grenelle was a small gem, its bounty displayed to suggest a haughty superiority that carries over into its customer service. (When I asked a saleswoman in French if she could help me, her reply was “Perhaps.” She slowly warmed and made some recommendations, all of which I later enjoyed in my hotel room along with some bread from nearby Poilâne.) But the real sampler’s delight is La Fromagerie 31 at 64 Rue de Seine. There in a small cafe attached to the shop, Nick and I were able to taste platters prepared for each of us, a total of 14 excellent cheeses...in addition to our special order of a Vacherin. We were asked first if we liked blue cheeses. Yes. When the plates arrived, we were kindly guided to start at the top and work our way around clockwise, the cheeses increasing in pungency. Comté, Reblochon, Camembert, Pont l’Évêque, Livarot, wonders all. (La Fromagerie 31 offers sampling plates of five, seven or nine cheeses.) A little soup, a little salad, bread, cheese -- our perfect lunch as a rare Parisian snow began to fall.

March 10, 2017

Pemaquid Light, ME. September, 1986


Jay’s parents vacationed in Maine for years before finally building a summer home there on McCurda Pond when he was in graduate school. And that’s where I first met them. I knew that Jay’s father was a cartoonist (he penned the strip Tiger), but I didn’t know that his mother had worked at Vogue (he casually mentioned this to my great excitement as we approached the house) as a photographer’s assistant. When I asked his mother if I might’ve known any of the photographers she’d assisted, she calmly said, “Probably. Cecil Beaton?” (His stylish mother never quite adjusted to Maine after her New Jersey upbringing, claiming that the local poultry man spoke in such a way that she couldn’t tell if he was saying “roaster” or “rooster.”) Over the several occasions we visited them, a routine developed: buying blueberry pies from Dot’s roadside stand, driving to Round Pond for lobsters, sometimes heading to Pemaquid Point to see the lighthouse and climb on the rocks, beaten by the rough Maine sea. On this trip, the fog was so thick we didn’t risk a climb. But we were treated to a misty, evocative early-afternoon scene that suggests some of the wildness early settlers encountered here before “summer people” arrived “from away.”

March 9, 2017

Watertown, MA. May, 2016


I like to cook. And I like cookbooks. The real kind, made of paper, whose pages you can turn. Over the years, those pages, with their stains and smudges of splashed ingredients, tell their stories. But as my kitchen bookshelves become overloaded, I have to choose (with the delicacy of Sophie or Solomon) which volumes need to find new homes. Here, a selection in the out box. Some went to my friend Bonnie, a cookbook vendor in NYC; some to the library, some into a yard sale pile. See any you'd like?

March 8, 2017

South Tucson. April, 2010


On the Dallas-to-Tucson flight, I was seated next to an arguing couple who kept at it for almost two hours. When we landed, she finally said, “Let’s go get a hot dog.” Oh, no! I thought I was the only gringo who’d heard about Sonoran hot dogs, the latest local fast-food rage. Within moments, my beloved friend David (himself a vegan!) had kindly whisked me off to El Güero Canelo for a sampling. (Actually, I ordered a Sammy Dog, distinguished, according to the posted menu, by “two winers.”) Hot dogs estilo sonora: a frankfurter, wrapped in bacon, topped with beans, salsa, mustard and mayo, cradled in a football-shaped soft roll. Pretty darned good. So good, in fact, that I ventured into South Tucson the next day on my way back from Mexico to try the fare at BK Carne Asada y Hot Dogs. You can see what I ordered (good thing I speak a little Spanish): two hot dogs estilo sonora, with all the fixin’s...one I topped with chopped black olives and the other with avocado mayo. Grilled pimientos on the side, por favor. I’d ordered a Diet Coke, but how could I say no when asked, “¿Pepsi está bien?

March 7, 2017

The Kasbah, Tangier. November, 2010


Come with me to the you-know-where. Eschewing the guided tour organized by the cruise line (in spite of many warnings that Tangier was not a place to wander alone), off we wandered. And it was great. Or at least I thought it was. Jay, who had previously been a-scared of even going to sophisticated Istanbul, blanched when our cruise itinerary changed and suddenly included this Moroccan port. Still, he was a good sport and, I think, trusted that maybe I knew what I was doing. What I was doing was getting lost in the medina, the old Arab section of the city, criss-crossed by dark alleyways and twisty passages that led to nowhere but dead ends. Trying (mostly) successfully to bypass aggressive beggars and “guides” of all ages, we arrived (miraculously) in the fabled Kasbah at the top. And a bit later on our way down again, we found ourselves in a small enclosed square, a woman filling her water jug at a pump in its center. Five paths led from the square and I pointed to one and, hoping she spoke Morocco’s second language, asked, “Fermé?” She pointed to all five in succession and said, “Fermé. Fermé. Fermé. Fermé. Non fermé.” We took the obvious choice and continued without any further snags.

March 6, 2017

Watertown, MA. August, 2016


My friend Ernest is usually the one who alerts me to the celebrations linked to certain days. National Friendship Day. National Hot Chocolate Day. National Multiple Personality Day. Stuff like that. (Today, by the way, is, among other things, both National Dentists Day and, somewhat relatedly, National Oreo Cookie Day.) However, expert that Ernest is, he did not warn me about National Lemon Meringue Pie Day. I suspect that might be because it is an invention of the supermarket whose flyer you see here. I did, on that day, alert my friend Mike, who, while he claims not to like pie (what is wrong with him?), he does make an exception for lemon meringue pie. (When I told this to our friend Dave, he responded, "That's a queen thing.")

March 5, 2017

ICA, Boston. October, 2008


When is a foam coffee cup not a foam coffee cup? Maybe when artist Tara Donovan takes thousands of them and, without altering them in any way, places them together in such a formation on the ceiling of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art that they suggest a threatening storm cloud. Visiting her show was part of our stay-at-home vacation that autumn, one of the several local events we took time to appreciate as perhaps only out-of-towners normally do. On the chilly morning following our “chef’s whim” tasting dinner at Craigie Street Bistrot (sauteed coxcombs, anyone?), we walked to Harvard Square, Red-Lined it to South Station, then hopped the Silver Line to the ICA, our first time there. The harbor-hugging building itself is pretty spectacular, and it was fun to run into director Jill Medvedow, an old pal from a “previous life,” but Donovan’s show was the magical highlight. The sculptress takes mass numbers of single ordinary objects -- pins, toothpicks, plastic drinking cups, paper plates, plastic straws, tape, mylar strips -- and arranges them into huge self-standing cubes or spheres or hazy walls or floor “landscapes” that make you stop and look and wonder.

March 4, 2017

Rome. May, 1988


“This is Sylvia Poggioli in Rome.” When Nick asked me to come along as production assistant on his trek through Italy to research his Great Italian Desserts cookbook, of course I said si. I’d been to Italy three times before and knew some of the ropes -- the ins and outs of train travel, hotel bookings, maps, and several dozen of the thousands of Italian bureaucracies. I was working in public broadcasting at the time, and it was Jay who actually suggested I call up NPR to get in touch with Rome correspondent Sylvia Poggioli. Sylvia graciously agreed to meet me for coffee and we hit it off immediately. She told me about press protocol at the Vatican (no one is allowed to ask the Pope a question directly; you can only speak through one of his supernumeraries, etc.), about how she’d hidden all her jewelry and cash in her car when she went to interview the head of a gypsy clan outside Rome, and about some tips on her favorite restaurants in the city. When she and her husband came to Cambridge, MA, as fellows at the Kennedy School of Government not long afterward, they attended a little book party I threw for Great Italian Desserts. Sylvia brought a visiting Italian friend, and Nick took one look at her, then drew me aside to whisper, “She’s wearing REAL Chanel.”

March 3, 2017

Gloucester, MA. September, 2016


Before I went to Istanbul for the first time, I made a list of all the foods I wanted to try. On this list: menemen. Eggs, peppers, tomatoes, and whatever appropriate personal enhancements the cook feels like adding. I enjoyed it for a late breakfast one morning in a small coffee shop on the Asian side of the city. And here is my attempt to make it myself. What I had there was creamy and smooth. What I made myself was somewhat granular and lumpy, more like scrambled eggs with some peppers and cherry tomatoes thrown in. Still, it was good.

March 2, 2017

New York, NY. May, 2010


My friend Monica tells me she loves that I take pictures of the food when I travel. Well...yeah. Though the fact that she mentions it reminds me that not everyone does this. Sadly. (If you need some encouragement, aside from a lovely visual record of memorable meals, consider this incentive: The manager may think you’re a food reporter and be kinder to you, filling your water glass with greater frequency.) My lunch this day was at Momofuku, the always excellent noodle bar on 1st Avenue at E. 10th Street. I enjoyed (and photographed) their acclaimed steamed pork buns (an oval of light dough wrapped over pork belly with hoisin sauce and cucumber slices) and the Momofuku ramen (a perfect bowl of thin wheat noodles in broth with sliced fish cake, shredded pork, some greens, more pork belly, sheets of dried seaweed and a lightly poached egg.) Just what I needed. Then, heading back to the West Side along 10th Street, I finally stopped for some ice cream at Sundaes and Cones (between 3rd and 4th Avenues), a place whose curious and inventive flavors I’ve long admired -- green tea, corn, taro, mango, red bean...in addition to their takes on basic flavors you’d expect in an ice cream shop. My selection: sesame. Made from toasted black sesame seeds, this rich, flecked, gray treat was a terrific way to end an extraordinary meal.

March 1, 2017

Kadiköy, Istanbul. June, 2007


Why does the food in Istanbul taste so very, very good? Hint: fresh local ingredients, seen in all their abundant splendor at outdoor markets like this one. Local, ripe fruit. Honey. Vegetables to please even the pickiest Turkish chef. And greens? At Doğa Balik, a wonderful rooftop fish restaurant that we found in Cihangir (and ate at during a spectacular passing thunderstorm one night), their meze offerings include more than a dozen kinds of greens, prepared to show off the special distinctions of each. Those greens could easily have come from this woman at the Kadiköy market. Growing, gathering, cleaning, packing and transporting them by hand, she comes to the city from her country home twice a week with just about every kind of roughage imaginable, from exotic lettuces to omega-rich purslanes and everything in between. Plus some scallions, some figs, some tiny unripe pears for pickling -- this lady has a devoted following who will only buy their greens from her. Stewed, mixed with yogurt or eaten raw, many of her garden treasures haven’t yet found their way into the American food consciousness. But if history is any indication, they will.