When my friend Nick invited me to a dinner party in NYC that summer, I didn’t have to think twice about accepting. Bolt Bus cheapo ticket. And the chance to meet up again with this lovely duo -- Lisa and Pam (aka LouLou and Coco.) Saving graces on our group tour to Cuba the previous February. We met them in JFK airport before heading south and knew right away that they would be our best amigas on the trip. And they were. Their apartments (down the hall from one another) in the West Village are beautiful, spare, filled with just the right art. (I mean look at that pristine kitchen, those delicately arranged refreshment plates.) It’s so nice when you meet someone, click immediately and know that you will be friends always. Even nicer when it happens twice. ¡Hola, chicas!
September 17, 2018
Cativi. Naughty boys. We were strolling by this school on what must have been a break in classes, and one of these little devils started to make dirty hand signs to us and the other pedestrians. Horns. Sort of a milder Italian version of the finger. All of this kid’s friends were giggling and highly amused...until a neighborly grandmother type stopped and yelled at them. Appropriately chastised, they withdrew from the window. And the old woman broke her seriousness, smiled a “That’s that” face at us and moved on with her groceries.
September 16, 2018
Meet my friend Marjori, seen here with her friend Marge at our Boat Parade Party six years ago. The big pink smile is no accident. “She radiates kindness,” said my pal Patti when she met her. I agree. And wisdom. A dedicated yoga enthusiast, Marjori has an amazing way of putting even the most troubling thoughts into perspective with suggestions like, “If you don’t know how to respond in a situation, why not try kindness?” This was Marjori’s first time at our annual party, and when I asked Jay afterwards if he'd liked meeting her, he said, “I love her! She’s a real take-charge type.” High praise from our resident physicist.
September 15, 2018
A recently spotted bumper sticker on a neighbor’s truck momentarily irked some of the East Coast staff here at SLS. It showed the current papal coat of arms and the words: “TRUTH. Don’t mess with it!” Some of the items that quickly crossed our minds: humility, arrogance, who’s claiming to know the truth, who’s zoomin’ who? (The sticker has since been peeled off the truck, leading us to believe that the vehicle had been purchased used and came with said unwanted embellishment.) Meanwhile, this locally spotted van is much more in keeping with how we like to mix religion and daily life. (We knew he was a carpenter but didn’t know he’d branched out.) Don’t mess with it!
September 14, 2018
Even back in my drinking days, the thing that most impressed me about the champagne caves in the Taittinger winery, was the beautiful geometry of the quietly fermenting wine within these bottles’ alternating bottoms and corks. Robert and I had taken a train from Paris to this capital of the champagne region and joined a free tour that ended with sips and, bien sûr, sales. (This was way before the fabled wine-house was purchased by congolmerates Starwood Hotels in 2005 and Crédit Agricole in 2006, way before it had a website.) I remember we bought a bottle and brought it back to our ultra-cheap Paris hotel. No refrigerator? No problem. We just put it into a sink of cold water. Besides, we emptied the bottle pretty quickly if memory serves.
September 13, 2018
Money. It’s so interesting to me what happens to my thoughts about money when it’s no longer American money I’m dealing with. Changing to Turkish lira (YTL), as I did here at Istanbul's oldest book market, it’s almost as if I have play money, Monopoly money. When I crossed the Iron Curtain to visit Czechoslovakia in 1972, I encountered hard currency’s double standard for the first time. I was required to change so many US dollars for each day of my visit at government rates; but once inside the country, people were often asking me to change my dollars at a much more lucrative black-market standard. I’ve been in Italy when the lira-dollar exchange rate was great. But now with the euro, it’s not so great. In Cuba, there are two currencies, both called pesos and both indicated with the $ sign -- one for residents, one for tourists. Alas, no American bank-based business is available in Cuba. Or at least this was the case when I visited in 2012. No using USA credit cards. And no relying on the current saving grace of tourists seeking good and easy exchanges elsewhere in the world -- the ATM.
September 12, 2018
Whenever I mention to someone that I’ve recently been to Cuba, most times their eyes light up and they say, “Oh, I really want to go.” Well...go. Granted it’s not easy. Or cheap. At the moment, even with the slight loosening of US travel restrictions to the Pearl of the Antilles, the State Department still only allows Americans to travel if they meet very strict requirements (cultural groups, doctors, religious leaders, etc.) Of course, not everyone goes there legally. In fact, hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans travel to Cuba each year through Canada, Mexico and other stopovers. Cuban officials don’t stamp your passport, I’m told, only the visa, which they then keep as you leave the country. (I travelled legally with the Center for Cuban Studies in NYC.) Meanwhile, for those yanquis still jonesing for a Cuban sojourn, let me recommend Tom Miller’s excellent Trading with the Enemy. It’s the closest account I’ve found to match my own experiences there.
September 11, 2018
I love produce markets. Especially at this time of year. Each of our trips to Montreal has been in autumn, markets brimming with seasonal fruits and vegetables. (OK, so asparagus is a spring vegetable. It’s spring somewhere.) Our trips to Lisbon, Barcelona, Istanbul are often in October, too, so we get to see what’s available there. Sadly, of course, we rarely have cooking facilities, but that hasn’t stopped us from having a breakfast of fresh figs with thick yogurt in Istanbul, unbeatable pears in Agrigento, Santiago de Compostela and Málaga. (I took this picture the month before our first visit to Croatia and Montenegro, wondering what might be in store. We were not disappointed.)
September 10, 2018
Nick and I were staying in nearby Siracusa, so we hopped into our rented Fiat Panda and headed to the golden, baroque town of Noto. Baroque because the town, leveled by an earthquake in 1693, was rebuilt in the prevailing style. And golden because it seems that all the buildings are made from the local ochre-colored stone. (Declared a "masterpiece of Sicilian Baroque," Noto was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2002.) And, just to show that they were back in business, the builders make everything HUGE. Look at Nick, dwarfed there on those steps. It’s a good thing he’s wearing red or you might have missed him. After a visit with acclaimed local pastry chef Corrado Costanza, we found a small trattoria for lunch. And when we ordered a salad to start, the owners sent their teenage son out to buy the requisite greens. A good meal. A good trip.
September 9, 2018
A lovely platter of ham, prepared by Nick, carved by Cara, and served to the dozen or so guests at Nick’s Christmas table. And then served again to Nick and me at each meal for the next several days. I’m not complaining. I’d taken the bus from Boston to Manhattan early that morning to spend a few days with my friend. Little did we know that later that night, a record-breaking blizzard would hit New York and keep us pretty much apartment-bound for the duration of my visit. The city came to a standstill. Return buses were cancelled. The New York Times called Manhattan “the new Buffalo.” And I affirm my strong belief that if you’ve got to be stranded, better to be stranded with a chef. We had ham and eggs, ham and cheese sandwiches, ham and vegetables, ham and ham. We still laugh about “that ham.” And, truth be told, I suspect Nick still has some of it in his freezer.
September 8, 2018
Who is this smiling glasses-free child? All dressed up in a jacket (!) and school tie (St. James School.) Hair all combed and plastered down with a mucilaginous tonic called O’Dell’s Hair Trainer, the noxious aroma of which remains uncomfortably in memory. (It would dry and solidify hair into something you could bend at right angles.) Second grade? I don’t remember smiling very much back then. But, of course, whenever a camera was present, well.... My teacher was Mrs. Marino, a very kind (if excitable) woman who provided a certain degree of stability and warmth when I needed both. No wonder then that some 62 years later I still remember her.
September 7, 2018
Honest food. That’s pretty much what I look for both home and away. At home, I’m much more likely to find it at the wealth of ethnic restaurants that abound in Boston and Cambridge. And away, well, I try to avoid the tourist restaurants and look for the places where the natives eat. In Cuba, that’s somewhat difficult. Especially for an American. To travel legally in Cuba, I pretty much had to stick with my sanctioned tour group, eating planned meals at scheduled stops and attractions. Not to worry. Here in the middle of a rainforest northwest of Havana, we were served platters of baked chicken, roast pork, yuca and -- surprise! -- beans and rice. Always some salad. Always some bread. Always good. (And always a mojito, whether we wanted it or not. The lucky person next to me always got mine.) Honest food.
September 6, 2018
Bread pudding. Lemon. With a meringue topping. This was my favorite thing that my mother would make when I was a child. I miss it. I miss her. And I wish she had given me the recipe that I asked for countless times. Finding it mysteriously on the day of her funeral, I tried to make it a few times, always with unsatisfactory results. Fortunately my good friend Nick is a pastry chef and he was able to “refine” the recipe so that even a child could make it, as they say. (In fact, he’s including it in his book, Nick Malgieri’s Bread. Here’s my take on Nick’s take on my mother’s recipe (which, as it turns out, she must have found in an early Joy of Cooking.) Lemony, tart and sweet, it still brings back childhood memories and big smiles.
September 5, 2018
In addition to pals my own age, I have a number of friends in their 20s and 30s. And one of the pleasures of their company is to observe how they approach social situations differently from my contemporaries. For example, some seem to be more casual about RSVPs, some about thank-you notes. An age/cultural thing? But what amuses me most is their seeming dependence on hand-held devices -- iPhones, iPods, iPads, etc. At our La Noche de San Juan event earlier that summer, six of the nine amigos in attendance were all on their smartphones at one point. With each other, I wondered? Here are Kevin and Rich at our Boat Party six years ago. Fireworks were blossoming overhead; the boys were captivated by something on their iPad. WTF? When I questioned Kevin afterward, he said, “I was watching the fireworks on YouTube.” Was he kidding? These days, I never know.
September 4, 2018
As I write this, I’m currently reading Tom Miller’s excellent book, Trading with the Enemy. A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba. Unlike so many other books about the fascinating island, it does not mouth the party line, doled out by publicists and government spokespeople (both American and Cuban.) Instead, Miller traversed the island, meeting the people, living and speaking with them personally and reporting what he learned. Among the many details that resonate so strongly with me, his take on Cuban Spanish, which, he says, “has no vowels and no consonants.” You laugh. My first experience with Cuban Spanish was with the prostitute-neighbor in Almodóvar’s Volver. The letter S vanishes. Vamos becomes vamo, and so on. Add to that a rapid-fire method of speaking and ¡Ay, caramba! On several occasions I asked my new Cuban friends there to “speak to me as if I were a baby.” It worked. Sometimes. (Printed Spanish in Cuba, as in the understandable warning above, follows normal rules. Mercifully.)
September 3, 2018
Wouldn’t you like to hang out in a bar with such an appealing name? This little hole in the wall (literally) off the beaten path in the pilgrim town of Santiago de Compostela was deserted by day, packed to the rafters by night, patrons smoking and singing until the wee hours. Some Spanish bars allow smoking, some not. This one does and proudly announces its status on the door: In this place one can smoke. I wonder if bar owners have to choose which status they want to obtain. And do they decide by their own personal philosophies or by a supposition based on the clientele they want to attract?
September 2, 2018
My parents used to call me from their New Jersey home every Sunday morning. Just to check in. One Sunday, toward the end of my mother’s life, I wasn’t at home for her call. And I had forgotten that my outgoing answering machine message was my own impression of Maya Angelou reciting William Waring Cuney’s poem, “No Images.” My mother’s understanding of even the most basic technology (like an answering machine) was, to be generous, almost non-existent. So when she heard my performance (“...If she could dance naked under palm trees and see her image in the river,” etc.), she didn’t know what to make of it, and unbeknownst to her, her astonishment was recorded as a message on my machine: “It’s not Sandy,” you hear her say. “It’s some colored woman talking about palm trees.” As things turned out, that was the last time she would hear my voice. And the last time I would hear hers.
September 1, 2018
The Bose-os! Look at all my Bose-based friends, assembled here at our once-annual end-of-summer party in Gloucester. There’s Eileen, front and center, just one of our colleagues who’s moved to Arizona (Ted, upper far right, is the other.) The occasion: Gloucester’s Schooner Festival, every year on Labor Day weekend, the Saturday night of which features a Boat Parade -- G’ster boat owners dress up their craft in costumes, festoon them with lights and zig-zag them through the harbor. Fireworks follow. We were never sure who (or how many) friends would show up. Somewhere between 15 and 50, the guest list changing every year, but always providing lots of love, lots of laughs. We haven't had this party for a number of years now. But the memories (like this one) are still sweet.
August 31, 2018
An outtake from Blow-Up? Hardly, though I suspect that film may have provided some of the inspiration. Actually, a group of friends and I decided to set up a huge roll of seamless paper in a Beacon Hill apartment one night and then spent the evening taking “fashion photos.” Whatever. (My friend David took this shot of my friend John shooting me.) Barely three months free of any drugs or alcohol I was at this point...and probably a little shaky. Still, I had enough presence of mind to remember that “accessories make the outfit” and managed to bring the rhinestone cuff. And to leave my glasses with the assistant. Cheese.
August 30, 2018
These little twisty things looked so mysterious to me when I saw them in the window of Brunells pastry shop in the Old City section of Barcelona. And they remained a mystery until I did some major research when I got home. Encenalls de Sant Josep, they’re called in Catalan, a specialty of the nearby island of Mallorca. Sugar, vanilla and egg whites are beaten to somewhat stiff peaks, piped out through a pastry bag into slightly boomerang shapes and sprinkled with chopped almonds. Baked until firm, they are then bathed in chocolate. And this is the result. Why didn’t I buy some when I saw them in this window? Not to worry. We’re always up for a trip to Barcelona, euros in hand, ready to pounce.
August 29, 2018
Copa Lolita. The latest Cuban dancing sensation at the famed Tropicana revue in Havana? Nope. But a sensation nonetheless. It’s a dessert found everywhere in Cuba and one which we sampled there without knowing its name. One evening in Cienfuegos, we were served a dish with what looked like vanilla ice cream laced with chocolate sauce. But several spoonfuls in, we realized there was something under the ice cream. Cake? No, it was flan! Only when we returned stateside did we learn this flan-ice cream-chocolate sauce combo had a name: Copa Lolita. Here’s my first take at assembling this totally simple and richly indulgent dessert. (My friend Nick’s recipe for Flan de Tres Leches, the postre seen at the back, resulted in a custard so smooth and creamy, it was almost a shame to add anything on top. But shame never stops us.)
August 28, 2018
“Mmmmm. Let’s go eat at the vegetarian-vegan restaurant down the street!” Am I wrong, or is this something you’re not all that likely to hear? Unless you live on my street and the restaurant in question is Red Lentil. The place is always packed, and with good reason. The food is delicious, beautifully prepared and so healthy. I’ve been there twice now: Once for dinner with visiting Simon when we had some crafty salad and marinated tofu steak that delivered much more than it promised. And then again recently for lunch with my former student Ann (more about her elsewhere) when we each ordered the same thing: sweet potato quesadilla. Here’s mine before it quickly vanished from my plate. Ann took half of hers home. I did not.
August 27, 2018
A bow to tradition, an acknowledgment of modernity. Here in this non-touristed section of Asian Istanbul (a short ferry ride across the Bosphorus from the European part of the city), I found these two signs next to each other within a mosque. Hanimlar means “women” and this sign indicates the special segregated section where female Muslim worshippers must seclude themselves from the main part of the mosque that is reserved for men only. The other sign applies to both men and women equally: Shut off your cell phones in this holy place.
August 26, 2018
I admit it. I’m a sucker for collections. Buttons, dishes, photographs, you name it. So it was with a certain level of excitement that I joined the Cambridge Men’s Group on its tour of The Plumbing Museum. So close to my home, the museum adjoins a plumbing and heating supply company on a street I’ve driven past many times each week for years. Who knew? Offering what it calls a “trade-specific take on American history,” the exhibits feature collections of sinks, tubs, toilets (seen here), pipes, faucets and plumbing hardware through the ages. A library chronicles decades of plumbing products, catalogues and print advertisements. A three-story cutaway diagram of a house and its fixtures comes complete with a behind-the-walls look at how normally hidden pipes and valves bring water where it’s needed and, sometimes, back again. I loved it. (The man illustrated in the toilet-filled exhibit above: Thomas Crapper. Just saying.)
August 25, 2018
When my former student Ann suggested we meet for lunch recently (we hadn’t seen each other in 35 years), she said I’d recognize her because she’d be holding two flowers for us to wear in our lapels. I thought, of course, she was kidding. So maybe that’s why I was hesitant at first to pin a rose on my shirt. But I did, and afterwards, at home, took this picture of a lovely bit of old-school gentility that made its way into an otherwise fast-paced and sometimes thoughtless world. (The reverse letters on my T-shirt, the result of photographing in the mirror.) Thank you, Ann, for being so thoughtful and for reminding me of how manners (especially those from your Southern childhood) can still have meaning in the 21st century.
August 24, 2018
Two-fisted eating here. Witness my beloved friend Patti at one of her favorite Harvard Square haunts, Clover. The food-truck phenomenon has hit Boston hard, and Clover may be its biggest success. So much so that the truck has spawned several of its kind and even two storefronts, none more delightful than this one just steps from the renowned university. Vegetarian without being pushy, Clover offers imaginative salads, sandwiches, “plates” (sandwich innards + salads) along with sides like french fries with rosemary. At 3pm each day, they spring a surprise item onto the menu -- parsnip fritters, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles, blueberries with cream -- whatever happens to be in season and try-worthy. Patti favors the chickpea fritter sandwich of which she carefully eats only the filling, having determined after many years that she doesn’t really like pita bread. (And how wise of her to have dressed in a colorful way that would mask any spillage.)
August 23, 2018
Visiting the memorial to the 191 victims of the March 11, 2004 terrorist violence aboard four rush-hour commuter trains in Madrid, this dizzying view is what you see when you look up. Messages of hope and condolence in so many languages, those spoken by the people from 17 different countries who were killed in ten different explosions. It’s a stunning memorial both for its visual impact as for the reverent silence maintained by visitors. For more background and another view of this memorial, click here.
August 22, 2018
Two friends, both named Vincent. On the right, friend Vincent Price with whom I had the pleasure of working on Mystery! for so many years. On the left, friend Vincent Straggas with whom I continue to have the pleasure of friendship and many, many laughs. We were all in Los Angeles for the 10th anniversary press event for the PBS program and some of us met Vincent P. for lunch at the Bel-Air hotel. A nice afternoon which somehow found us invading the shrubbery for photo ops. And why not? I love this picture, love both these friends.
August 21, 2018
We left misty and damp Galicia early on a Saturday morning and wound up that afternoon in sunny and beautiful Portugal. Our initial disappointment at not finding a “left luggage” counter in the Braga bus station evaporated as quickly as that earlier Spanish mist when we entered this tourist office in the center of the city. We explained what we were looking for and the gracious young man behind the desk said, “No problem. You can leave your bags here. Just be back by 5pm.” How kind. Can you imagine that happening in, well, you name it? Unburdened of suitcases, we hot-footed it to the top of the Bom Jesús do Monte sanctuary, enjoyed lunch in a park, coffee in a neoclassical cafe, savored our first look at this magical, beautiful country that soon became one of our very best favorites. Oh, and just look at that great typeface on the tourist office!
August 20, 2018
Oh, my! Is that really what I looked like back when I was teaching English at Summit High School? If the photo seems a little out of focus, it’s probably because I was, too. The woman is my partner-in-crime Marilyn, another English teacher, with an arch sense of humor and an enviable gift for the spontaneous. (This was the shot for our department’s yearbook entry, taken in the school’s greenhouse. I just remember how hot and humid it was, and me in that sweater and that hair!) One lunchtime, I was telling Marilyn about a student of mine named Flavia, a tall and very shapely sexpot whom the boys all swooned over. Marilyn claimed not to know her. So the following period, when I had Flavia in class, I asked her if she’d deliver a note to Mrs. (Marilyn) W in the next classroom. The note, which I sealed in an envelope, read: “This is Flavia.” No reply necessary. Last I heard, Marilyn had run off with a student’s father to Costa Rica to grown cardamom. No word on Flavia’s trajectory.
August 19, 2018
Oh, Shirley Hunsperger. If you only knew how much amusement you’ve provided me over the past 20 years or so. Every once in awhile I come across your real estate listing in my files and wonder how much ribbing you must’ve taken, both in person and on the web. Thank you. You also remind me how important one little letter can be. At least 35 years ago, there was a contest at the back of New York Magazine in which entrants were asked to submit common phrases or slogans that had been altered by changing a single letter. Most of the submissions are lost to me now, but I will never forget my favorite: “Ruth is stranger than fiction.”
August 18, 2018
My friend David took this picture of me posing (no!) on land that Jay and I had recently purchased bordering Tucson Mountain Park. A beautiful five acres with city views in one direction, mountainous solitude in the other. And look at all those saguaros standing at attention all over the place. Alas, Jay and I have recently decided to put the lot on the market. Not that we don’t love Tucson or this land, not at all. It’s just that, well, who has the energy to endure the challenge of clearing the land and building? Someone, we hope. Just not us anymore. Do we still think of retiring to southern Arizona (in spite of its politics)? Sure. But maybe into a home that already exists. Maybe something as simple as Mae West once described: “Just four walls and a swimmin’ pool.” (I feel certain that Miss West would also have had something to say about that saguaro on the right. Ooo-aaah.)
August 17, 2018
Oh, it’s so hard to decide. So just have everything. It feels as if that’s what Nick and I did when we first visited the City of the World’s Desire. Or at least everything on offer at Saray, a fabled pastry shop on the pedestrian street Istiklal Caddesi. Look at those beautiful pistachio baklava. And the rolled up shredded filo dough with the pistachio centers. And over on the left, my beloved tulumba, the siren song of which called to me from every shop we passed. (It continues to chant my name from the Turkish-Armenian Sevan Bakery just steps from my Watertown, MA, home.) This first visit to Saray, Nick tried the profiteroles with chocolate sauce, while I tried the ekmek kadayif, a syrup-soaked bread dessert topped with kaymak (clotted cream) that was so good, it soon became my default Turkish nickname.
August 16, 2018
My father and I were never really close. Partly because, I suspect, that “being close” was not part of our family’s skill set. No one talked about feelings. No one talked about anything really. Complaints, yes. And angry arguments on an alarmingly regular basis. Was this partly due to our family’s rich history of substance abuse and its consequent guilt and isolation? As has always been my custom, I broke with tradition, put down the substances and started talking about things (I think I was the first family member to say “I love you” to another). It took some time for my family to get used to this. Usually I’d drop an L-bomb, then keep my distance, letting people digest. I remember the last time few times I visited my father in New Jersey. Each time I told him I loved him, he would cry, silently.
August 15, 2018
After my mother died, I decided to take my father on a trip to Ireland, a place he’d always wanted to visit. We found his own mother’s birthplace, drove 1,000 miles in 10 days, had some good times, got on each other’s nerves. Then, after laughing for days about how green the whole place was, we suddenly found this moonscape smack dab in the middle of the country. Rocks, ledges and only the occasional bush for miles and miles. No houses, no people, just stone. And some 90 megalithic tombs, a Celtic high cross and a number of ring forts, all of them stark and awesome (original meaning.) The “holy” nature of this barren landscape did not, however, dampen my enthusiasm to engage in yet one more jumping picture.
August 14, 2018
Sissy Spacek in a cinema moment from some lost film about Appalachia? No. It’s my Grandma Leonard, two of her sons and a neighbor in a suburban New Jersey backyard shortly after the Leonard Family move from Brooklyn. I was touched and surprised when I came across this photo in a pile of others recently. My father, front and center, is so young and mischievous looking. And he so much resembles my brother Brien when he was a kid. My uncle Joe, on the right, is unmistakable. But it’s my grandmother, whom I never saw out of doors much less as a young woman, that touches me the deepest. Look at how happy, how proud she looks. Look at how her left hand graces her son Joe’s shoulder. (No touching, please, we’re Leonards!) So unlike the older, um, shall we say “introspective” woman I knew, someone I never saw smiling. I’m so glad I found this photo and shared it with my Cousin Bobby, Uncle Joe’s son, who had his own thoughtful response to it.
August 13, 2018
In this neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana, the ceramic artist José Fuster has not only covered every available surface of his home with mosaic tile, but he’s persuaded his neighbors for blocks around to do the same. Consequently, entering these few square blocks is like being on some loco, psychedelic moonscape. (This shot was taken directly across the street from the mad Casa Fuster.) I must admit that my initial interest in visiting Jaimanitas was sparked by learning that Fidel lives there, too. Could we maybe take a peek at Casa Castro? No chance. Not only is his heavily guarded compound surrounded by a pine forest and electrified barbed-wire fences, but all of the streets nearby are one-way away from his home. (No word on whether his fortress’ walls are enhanced with mosaic tile.)
August 12, 2018
“That time of year thou may’st in me behold...” Well, Shakespeare was talking about getting older, a subject forbidden chez moi. But I’m speaking about late August, that time of year for ratatouille. Tomatoes are ripe, peppers full, eggplant heavy on the vine, ditto the zucchini (green and golden varieties.) OK, I bought the onions. But the basil is mine, so there. Every year at this time, I go through many, many cookbooks, searching for clues on how to make this year’s batch. Many authors (including Elizabeth David) include eggplant, peppers and onions, and then the recipes vary. Thyme instead of basil, some advise. Leave out the garlic...never! I decided to roast the eggplant, yellow peppers and squashes. Then mixed them in with the onions and mucho garlic stewed in extra-virgin olive oil. Salted, simmered, then the chiffonade (love saying that) of basil and some oregano. I let it cool down, then refrigerated it. Served hot, room temp, cold, all good. Better the next day, even better the day after that. Another reason to look forward to cooking (and eating) as August gives way to September.
August 11, 2018
Abundance. Tomatoes and more tomatoes. An embarrassment of riches. By the time Labor Day comes around, it sometimes seems as if I’d prefer never to see another tomato. Especially cherry tomatoes. This past year, I put them in several batches of ratatouille, salads galore, a few vegetable curries. I made gazpacho and salmorejo. And an eggplant and tomato gratin. Yes, I know that some people peel, seed and core their bumper crop and freeze them in Zip-loc bags. But for me, it’s the freshness, the ephemeral goodness that is the appeal. In January, as I pass by the pale waxy imposters in the grocery store, I’ll be wishing I had these bowls full again. Instead, I’ll just look at this picture and count the months until summer yields again. (Alas, 2012’s weather and late summer blight have resulted in four cherry tomatoes, total. Thank goodness for friends.)
August 10, 2018
Some come to Assisi in pilgrimage to honor San Francesco. Some to visit the tomb of Santa Chiara (St. Clare, the patron saint, as it happens, of television.) Some for the frescoes of Giotto, Duccio and Simone Martini. Nick, Miriam and I came to check out the bakeries and pastry shops as research for his Great Italian Desserts book. An interesting selection of old and new in this shop that remains happily in memory: pine-nut cookies, panforte, shortbreads, almond cookies, meringues, cream-filled puff-pastry delights. I remember the young man whose shop this was as being extremely nice and hospitable, and somewhat amazed that Americans would be as interested in his business and craft as we were. As a courtesy, of course, we purchased a great number of items and were professionally bound to eat every last one.
August 9, 2018
Two of my greatest pals, alas, both gone now. This was during a break in our taping of Vincent Price’s introductions to the PBS series, Mystery! He and Dali decided to camp it up (for a change!) and posed for this very soigné photo in the Mystery!/Masterpiece Theatre office. Back when you could still smoke there. Not that any rule would have stopped either of them. Dali is wearing her BBC jacket with her Union Jack pin, always an Anglophile. Once, when she wanted to visit a British boyfriend in London and had no vacation time left, she enlisted her friends to “cover” for her whenever her boss would ask where she was. “Oh, you just missed her.” “Oh, she said she was going across the street to the edit room.” “She was here working past midnight last night and said she’d probably be a bit late coming in today.” And so on. It worked. She was gone for an entire week and had a great time! Naughty. But nice. And you can tell Vincent thinks so, too.
August 8, 2018
Why, I wonder, don’t I spend more time traveling in the United States when there is beauty such as this to behold? En route from Montana to Wyoming, we drove through two remarkable national parks, Yellowstone and Grand Teton, each breathtaking in its way. This waterfall, just one of many such sights along the way. This was my first trip to the American West and I was spellbound. By the natural wonders, by the vast expanse of sky, by landscapes unlike any I was accustomed to back East. We witnessed the geysers and the buffalos of Yellowstone, swam in the lakes at the base of the Tetons, slept in a log cabin, ate biscuits and “gravy” for breakfast, went to a gay cowboy bar. Firsts all.
August 7, 2018
There are lots of monuments in Havana’s main cemetery. Lots of stories, too. Tombs that remain empty until the owners who fled the revolution are allowed to return to Cuba. Beautifully designed mausoleums to local heroes. The stone domino erected by the guilt-ridden children whose mother got so excited during one of their games that she had a stroke and died. The tomb of La Milagrosa, a woman who died in childbirth buried with her dead son at her feet; when the tomb was opened years later, the baby was reportedly in his mother’s arms. In addition to plaques and memorials decorated with flowers, birds, weapons and other symbols carved into marble with a Latin sensibility that reminds us that nothing succeeds like excess. So it was with a certain relief and, frankly, shock to come across this monument in the graveyard’s center to students killed in the 1957 attack on Batista’s presidential palace. Look how the Cuban flag’s five stripes and single star are indicated through positive and negative space. How the lack of color adds to the stark impression.
August 6, 2018
When mi amiga Evelyn suggested we re-enact our Noche de San Juan ritual again this year, how could I decline? Two years earlier, it had been three puertorriqueñas and me. This time, eight guys and Evelyn. It sounds as if she’d stacked the odds in her favor, but with these guys...not really. There’s Jay on one end and Pablo on the other, lending the event the tiniest smidgen of seriousness and respectability. Flowers (for love), fruit (for health) and coins (for prosperity) in hand, here we are waiting for the midnight hour when all these things (including ourselves) are tossed backwards into the sea with much screaming. Desafortunadamente our riotous good time attracted the Gloucester police. But afortunadamente they didn’t arrive until after we’d completed our ritual. All this and the Schaeffer beer commercial sung in Spanish? A glorious noche.
August 5, 2018
It’s so easy to walk by beautiful sights, lovely locations, and not notice them. Especially if they’re places you pass by every day. An “internet friend” from Turkey, whom I’ve never met, once asked me to send him some pictures of where I live, the places I frequent. For the next few days, I saw my home, my neighborhood in a completely different way, the way a stranger might. Everything was much more interesting. Carrying a camera with me does somewhat the same thing. It urges me to see the beautiful. Coming out of a restaurant where we’d dined for my friend Marin’s belated birthday, we looked up and saw this. Extraordinary, no. But beautiful.
August 4, 2018
I’m often pleasantly amazed when looking through old print photographs, by coming across shots of friends I haven’t seen in decades, haven’t heard from in a long, long time. Like my friend Bambi, seen here. Bambi moved to Boston in the 1980s from New Orleans where, if the stories are true, her wild life was remarkable even in that town. When I met her, she had calmed down some, was finally learning to drive (in Boston?) and told me, in her tough Tennessee Williams drawl, “Boston is a mean and nasty town. Birthplace of democracy? I don’t get it.” Still, she received not only her driver’s license but, soon after, her longed-for acceptance into the ranks of National Park Service rangers. Then she disappeared as mysteriously as she’d arrived. Ranger Bambi was a real hoot and I hope our paths cross again someday.
August 3, 2018
Meet my Cousin Bobby. We hadn’t seen each other or been in touch for some 30 years when he found this blog online and contacted me. And shortly thereafter, here he was, visiting me from his San Diego home, catching up. Actually, it was almost as if no time at all had passed, so easily did we click again. Among his few requests: to have a local fish dinner. Jeez. Where? I’m so used to Jay’s grilling fish at home in Gloucester. Wait...Morse Fish! Off we went to reputedly the oldest existing fish market in Boston and a genuine original in a crowded South End sea of daily-sprouting fusion bistros and such. And you can see how pleased he is. After our casual meal, a leisurely walk to the Museum of Fine Arts where we went our separate ways, checking in each hour. Then, after terrifying him with my jaywalking, a visit to Jordan Hall for an evening concert of Beethoven string quartets. A long day, a good day, a great visit.
August 2, 2018
While visiting the famed home and neighborhood of ceramic artist José Fuster (who has persuaded all his neighbors for blocks around to decorate the outsides of their homes with mosaics), Patti and I decided to break away from the group and explore on our own. We came across this man, standing at the doorway to his home, and Patti asked me how to tell him in Spanish that we liked his house. She told him, he beamed a smile and graciously invited us inside to see the rest, including his backyard (shown here) that featured avocado and mango trees. Such a sweet and generous man. A little shy when I asked to take his picture (he couldn’t understand why I would want to), he happily agreed and wished us a good stay in his homeland.
August 1, 2018
“August is the beginning of winter.” So said Nick’s grandmother, and I think of her and her optimistic seasonal wisdom each August 1. (Though it’s hard to imagine winter, stuck as we are in serial heat waves here in New England this summer.) Seen above, some snows of yesteryear, which somehow I remember as being deeper and more intense. (Maybe because I was shorter then?) Earmuffs, hat and hood, I’m ready to pick up that Flexible Flyer, head to the sledding hill near our suburban home and fly until sundown. Just Rosebud and me.
July 31, 2018
One of the things I noticed everywhere I went in Cuba: the resourcefulness of the people. Whether they are making their own car parts to replace necessary items in those old American cars from the 1950s. Or refilling butane cigarette lighters for resale. Or fashioning handmade musical instruments from local woods and gourds. Or weaving palm fronds into amazingly detailed images of animals and birds and insects. So many have found ways to make so much out of so little. Here, a woman on a main street in Old Havana wheels her cart filled with homemade meringues, selling them by the piece, by the bag, to neighbors and tourists alike.