May 27, 2018

Gloucester, MA. May, 2005

How do they know? How are they able to pop exactly on Memorial Day each year, even when the date changes to accommodate the shifting last Monday of May? But somehow they do. Our Gloucester garden has a section of bright poppies that bud mid-May and then wait patiently, gathering steam and purpose, until they explode to our great delight. The earlier-appearing artificial lapel-sized ones sold to aid veterans’ causes are simply a tease, a reminder of the outside riot to come. And! They never fail to disappoint. Long a symbol of sleep (because of the association with opium poppies) and death (because of their blood-red color), these connotations were well known to the Wicked Witch of the West. Another association with the poppy (one not lost on Glinda) is the promise of resurrection after death. Especially benevolent at the end of May when a long Massachusetts winter is (in most but not all cases) finally over.

May 26, 2018

Prince Street, Boston. May, 1988

One of the few reasons I used to like visiting the home in which I grew up in Springfield, NJ, was that I always had vivid dreams whenever I slept in my childhood bed. Still do. On one such visit, on the night before my friend Charlie’s funeral, I dreamt that I was at a big party with some Boston friends. It was in a huge old house with many rooms, and someone I knew came up to me and said Charlie (above, right) was inside and wanted to see me. I hesitated, but gradually made my way through the crowds and the music, and sure enough, there he was, motioning for me to come over to him. He smiled at me and I remember saying, “I don’t know exactly how to bring this up, but aren’t you dead?” He took my hand and said, “Yes, I’m dead. But I just wanted to let you know that I’m OK.” I woke up. And I went to the funeral (along with my friend John, above, left.) And I wept and wept for my lost friend.

May 25, 2018

Los Angeles. January, 1992

The first time I visited Vincent Price at his home in LA, I was somewhat in awe. Yes, we’d been friends and colleagues (on PBS’s Mystery!) for years. But still...he was a movie star! He’d housed me in what he called the Jean Marsh bedroom and when I realized that the walls and shelves were filled with signed photos from his friends, other movie stars, I was completely dazzled. As he knew I would be. I’m not proud of this, but I spent some time that night secretly photographing the photographs, like this one from Bette Davis. Vincent mentioned that she’d asked him once to pick her up and give her a ride to a party at Roddy McDowall’s house. Vincent’s wife Coral told me, “That’s like picking up a time bomb.” When he and Davis -- and Lillian Gish and Ann Sothern -- were filming The Whales of August, the production company was named Alive Films. Coral smiled at me and said, “Barely Alive would be more like it.”

May 24, 2018

Mercado Central, Habana, Cuba. February, 2012

Many (not all) of the folks in our “Art & Architecture” trip to Cuba were nice and a lot of fun. But still, I didn’t want to spend all of my time with them. So there were a few instances where I skipped out to do some things I thought were essential. Like visiting Havana’s Mercado de Cuatro Caminos. A nice walk through non-touristed neighborhoods, asking directions a few times along the way, brought me here. What a treat. People from the country bring their produce to this indoor market to sell. Mostly organic (thanks to a merciful shortage of agricultural chemicals in Cuba), there were artful, mountainous displays of pineapples, mangoes, fruta bomba (I’d been warned not to call it papaya, a word Cubans only use to describe a lady’s most private parts), plantains, bananas, tomatoes, yuca and other Spanish-speaking vegetables, and citrus fruits of all varieties. No English heard here. I loved it. (When I rejoined the group that afternoon and mentioned where I’d been, I was told it was a dangerous place for a single gringo to be. Maybe. But I’d walk on the wild side for this experience again in a hot second.)

May 23, 2018

Enna, Sicily. May, 1988

I love this picture of my friend Nick and his cousin Enzo, taken when we were visiting Enzo’s hometown in central Sicily. (Enna is also the place where I had the smallest and strongest espresso in Italy. One tablespoon, rocket fuel.) Nick is not an overly tall person, and it’s amusing now to look back at this and other photos of him with his diminutive relatives. But height notwithstanding, Enzo was a big man about town that day as he strutted and guided us around, saying hello or stopping to do business with just about every person on the street. This sidewalk sunglasses stand was too good a photo op to pass up. And I love the little “si prega di non toccare” sign just above Nick’s head. We obeyed it and didn’t touch a thing.

May 22, 2018

Sofra, Cambridge. July, 2011

The mezze platter at Sofra: five selections, a little bread, $9 and worth every single penny. The casual spinoff of Oleana’s chef/owner Ana Sortun and pastry chef Maura Kilpatrick, this Cambridge bakery and cafe is within quick walking distance to my house in Watertown. (I anticipated its arrival so much that I went there three times on opening day. No joke.) These plates were assembled on a visit three years later with friends Diane, Georgia and Dana, and as you can see, no one held back. Beet tzatziki, whipped feta with Turkish peppers, Moroccan goat cheese spread, parsnip skordalia, spicy carrot puree...just some of the rainbow assortment of the dozen or so offerings available on any given day. No one I’ve ever brought here has been disappointed or even neutral. And the mezze platter is only one of its many delights. Now if I could only figure out when it’s the least crowded...

May 21, 2018

Rome. May, 1988

Isn’t it amazing the details that surface in our dreams? Last night, I dreamt that I’d run into an old boss on the streets of Lisbon, his first visit to one of my favorite cities. I asked him if he’d like a restaurant recommendation...and he walked silently away. I woke up with an attitude. My beloved friend Carolyn, who studies such things, is my go-to person for dream interpretation, but I think I can handle this one myself. (I once told her of a dream in which I was preparing a dish to be served at a party in a neighbor’s house, the host walked in and threw it into a toilet that happened to be in the center of the kitchen. Carolyn’s take: “It’s clearly work-related.”) This photo was taken when Nick (reflected, left) and I were on a research trip for his Great Italian Desserts book. Many months later, Nick asked me what I remembered about a pastry we’d encountered called Bianco e Bianco. He said that he recalled our friend Dali had mentioned it was made with white chocolate and whipped cream, etc. It was only days later, after neither of us could remember anything more, that he realized he’d dreamt the whole thing.

May 20, 2018

Watertown, MA. July, 2011

Saying goodbye to an address book is like bidding farewell to an old and much-beloved friend. I’ve had this one since October, 1980, when I climbed into the window display of Vertecchi, a stationery and art supplies store in Rome, because the red-ribboned version of this rubrica was no longer in stock...except in the display. Hey, when in Rome, etc. Since then, I’ve inscribed the names and addresses of many friends (some of whom are sadly no longer with us) as well as many professional contacts from years working in television and industry. The elastic now sags instead of keeping the covers firmly closed. There are more crossed out and altered addresses than there are pristine listings. And there’s the occasional pretentious if amusing oddity, too, like the address and phone number of Jacqueline Onassis (supplied by a gossipy pal who answered a phone while attending a party at NYC’s Morgan Library and got a call-back number from Jackie O.) I actually called once, asked if John Jr. was home, and was told he was out but would return shortly. Ah, so many years ago. How could I possibly get rid of this book chock full of memories?

May 19, 2018

Aegean Sea, Turkey. October, 2011

Some of the lovely amenities aboard our Windstar cruise from Istanbul to Rome, these toiletries from L’Occitane en Provence. But why would I want to take a photo of them? To send to our friend Judy whom we met on Windstar the previous year. When she and I met and started in discussing important things, I brought up how I loved finding these bath items. She quickly said, “Right in my bag!” A girl after my own heart. And, I’m delighted to say, so aligned with something Vincent Price once told me. He revealed that when he checked into a hotel, he immediately put any “luxury” bath products into his suitcase, then called the front desk to ask, “Don’t I get any shampoo or anything with this room?” Kindred spirits, enviably bathed and scented.

May 18, 2018

Mykonos, Greece. October, 2011

It’s said that in order to confound any pirates or invaders, the people of ancient Mykonos deliberately built their narrow streets and alleyways in unpredictable and illogical patterns. This plan has the same effect on tourists today. On a solo afternoon stroll, I turned one of many confusing corners and, look, it’s Joyce from our cruise. We’d met this peppy and immediately likable Long Island lady in the ship’s lounge one night; she was softly singing “New York, New York” while a small combo played across the room. Joyce completely enjoyed herself on this trip and her great pleasure was infectious. And she loved what we loved about Mykonos, too. Winding whitewashed walls, blue shutters everywhere, delightful paths that lead you nowhere near your intended destination, the luxury of getting lost.

May 17, 2018

Galway, Ireland. May, 1992

Oh, those wicked, wacky Irish. Making jokes even a non-Gaelic speaker can understand. Though it must have been hard to resist the sexual suggestion offered by the woman’s handbag there in silhouette. And while today a message of this sort might be a strike in the direction of equal rights, 20 years ago, especially in Ireland, it was probably just someone with a marker, maybe a little bored, maybe a little tipsy. I was with my father walking through this coastal town when we saw this restroom sign. We didn’t stop.

May 16, 2018

Habana Vieja, Cuba. February, 2012

There was music everywhere in Cuba. In restaurants and snack bars. On street corners. Everywhere. Most of it welcome and engaging. This time though, un poco uncomfortable. Here my friend Patti (known throughout Cuba as Señorita Qué Lástima) is serenaded by a street singer who happened by as we were waiting for our bus. What began as his gentle rendition of Patti’s favorite “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” soon headed south as he thrust his hips rhythmically in her direction, calling her “Mommy” in between verses. I recognize Patti’s “OK, that’s enough now” facial expression at play here. Fortunately our bus arrived moments later. It was all good fun, Cuban-style. Especially for those of us who just watched and photographed from the sidelines. 

May 15, 2018

Taormina, Sicily. October, 1984

Look at the attitude on these Sicilian kids. A school trip to Taormina. An afternoon stop for gelato. Then a little relaxation. When I came along with my camera, this one teen struck a pose in a hot second. Sweater tied so insouciantly around his waist, ice cream in one hand, cigarette in the other. While all of his other friends just lounged around. And I do mean lounged. I was here on a day trip from Catania. I’d checked out the Greek theater, the San Domenico Palace hotel, the other sites in town (I’d tried unsuccessfully to find Fontana Vecchia, Truman Capote’s former home from which he was virtually driven because neighbors thought he possessed the “evil eye”) and was on my way back to the bus station (with a bunch of American GIs, also on a day trip) when I came across this lazy and lovely tableau vivant.

May 14, 2018

Marché Jean-Talon, Montreal. October, 2005

Why is it so hard to find good produce, especially fruit, locally when it’s so abundant once you leave the United States? Yes, farmers markets in late summer and fall bring fine supplies. But don’t you find the abysmal offerings in US supermarkets to be pitiful? Witness these lovely cherry tomatoes at the big public market in Montreal. And look at the care the vendor has taken to assure they’re visually pleasing, too. Jay and I usually visit in the fall when the full harvest on display causes us to have mixed emotions. Excitement, of course, because of the beauty and flavor of what we find. But disappointment that we never have access to a kitchen in which to prepare any of them. No problem. There is always something from which to fashion a great no-cooking-required picnic lunch.

May 13, 2018

Baraka Cafe, Cambridge, MA. August, 2011

Each year, honoring a tradition I look forward to, I mark my friend Michael’s birthday by taking him to dinner at the wonderful Baraka Café in Cambridgeport. We can walk there from his house, allowing us time to cover many (not all) of the essential conversational topics we’ve been saving up. This tiny place (that we suspect was someone’s apartment at one point) offers Algerian-Tunisian cooking of the finest, home-style quality, with Madame (in full black burkha) at the stove, flames soaring toward the ceiling as she tosses those pans around. The results of her labors -- meze like these beauties: karentika (warm chickpea custard with harissa tapenade), spicy carrots in m’chermla sauce with raisins and onion jam, smoky eggplant salad topped with labna, North African merguez (lamb and beef) sausages with roasted peppers. We often say that the next time we’ll have a complete dinner made from all the meze on offer. But we always cave to the delicious-sounding entrees. This time: roasted, stuffed eggplant over couscous for Michael, seafood tagine for me. (Madame also makes, with 36 hours’ notice, the classic bastilla: filo pastry layered with almonds, cinnamon, saffron, parsley, figs, mint, orange blossom infusion and chicken or squab.) Cash only, no reservations, no alcohol, so good. Why do we only come here once a year?

May 12, 2018

Zurich. June, 2007

Packing. As I write this (in October, 2011), it’s the day before I’m leaving for three weeks in Istanbul, Athens, Rome. I’m trying on sport jackets that might go with the shirts I’m planning to pack. Then there’s the “running stuff” -- shoes, hat, shorts, T-shirts. Then there’s the possible overnight in Zurich, which means more than just a sweater. And so on. This photo was taken on an earlier overnight in Zurich at the Hotel Storchen when Nick and I were on our way back from Istanbul. He was staying on in Switzerland; I was leaving for Boston the following afternoon. Which is one reason he has tons of luggage and I have a simple backpack. When we’d arrived in the Turkish capital two weeks earlier, Nick’s enormous new Victorinox suitcase (some Manhattan apartments are smaller) did not arrive with us. After much hassle and forms filled out, we left the Istanbul airport for our hotel sans suitcase. The bag eventually showed up in his room late the following evening. And I still half-suspect the baggage handlers engineered this maneuver as a way of scolding for such a voluminous case. 

May 11, 2018

Lisbon. October, 2009

I often wonder, when I see dazzlingly excessive displays such as this in European churches, what the poorer parishioners must have thought back then. What they think now? The Igreja e São Roque was the first Jesuit church in the Portuguese world, built in the 16th century, and one of the few buildings to (miraculously) survive the 1775 Lisbon earthquake that virtually leveled the city. Actually it was a disaster, a different one, that caused this church to be built. Constructed on the site of a cemetery, it started as a shrine to house a relic of Saint Roch, patron saint of plague victims, and just got grander and grander. This is the Chapel of the Most Holy Sacrament, just one of many such devotional sites within. Begun in 1636, it, too, houses a number of reliquary busts in each of those niches. Nothing succeeds like excess, they say. Could you fit another cherub into this tableau?

May 10, 2018

Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome. October, 2011

Our last morning in Rome and our hotel was only three blocks from a major basilica I’d never visited in all of my many trips to the Eternal Città. I had to take a little passagiata and check it out. Grand, of course. And posted outside, a sign pronouncing vergogna (shame) on those who’d earlier pissed on the church walls. Also, to my discomfort, a posted announcement inside indicating that you could download the church’s app for iPhones and iPads. Somehow that didn’t seem right. What did seem right was this decidedly low-tech posting on one of the many confessionals, listing the different languages in which confessions could be heard. (Nearby confessionals listed other languages.) It reminded me, also with some personal discomfort, of the far-reaching and long-enduring arm of Mother Church.

May 9, 2018

Istanbul. October, 2011

Temptation to go. Look at those little containers, each nestling three syrup-soaked tulumba. At only 1 Turkish lira (55 cents) a porsiyon! And who knows what other sweet delights those are in the display cases here at a shop open to a busy street behind the Spice Bazaar? Tulumba are puffy, thumb-sized lozenges of extruded dough, deep fried and then bathed in a sugary syrup until they’ve soaked up their fill. Wonderful here in the City of the World’s Desire. And also, I’m sorry to say, wonderful at the Turkish-Armenian Sevan Bakery just steps from my home in Massachusetts. Sorry? Yes, too close to resist the temptation, made fresh daily.

May 8, 2018

Stow, MA. January, 2009

Meet my friend Erin. She and I were colleagues at my last job (last meaning both previous and final) where she was an island of reality-based sanity and fun, just as she seems to be an island here in this lounge filled with balloons. Why balloons? Well, it was thought that a boatload of inflated balloons would lighten the department’s mood after 20% of our workforce had been let go six days earlier. Guess what? It didn’t work. But that didn’t stop Erin and me from recognizing a rare workplace photo opportunity. Alas, she was unhappy with the photo and deleted it when I posted it on Facebook. I still love it and offer it here...where she has no veto power. Cheese. (All best wishes to my pal as she makes her escape this week to begin a new job in a wonderful department that’s sure to recognize and honor her exemplary talents.)

May 7, 2018

Trinidad, Cuba. February, 2012

Group travel is not my preference. And yet it seemed the only practical and legal way for this norteamericano to visit Cuba. But enough is enough, and this day I decided I wasn’t up for a long, organized lunch when I could grab a snack and wander the backstreets of this small jewel of a town. I found the small plaza you see here, a little bit of shade, a place to sit down. Looks like this local found all of the same things I did. My Colombian friend Micho told me “Cuba, el lugar ideal para un fotografo.” Yes, indeed, the ideal place for a photographer, especially when subjects, colors, shapes and patterns such as these present themselves at almost every turn.

May 6, 2018

Boston. Spring, 1997

Jeanette Winterson is one of my favorite writers. She almost never comes to the United States, and so when I learned that she was actually planning a visit to Boston, I took the day off from work and attended her morning book signing at Glad Day Bookstore and her evening reading (performance actually) at the Barnes & Noble in Kenmore Square. Her background as a young evangelist was clearly a plus as she worked the overflow crowd, leaping from the podium, working the aisles. It was a madhouse, and I was glad I got to B&N two hours early in order to get a good seat; hundreds were turned away. Not so at her signing earlier at Glad Day when I was the only one with books for her to autograph. (She’s famous for not reading reviews, but I sheepishly gave her a copy of my review of her Art & Lies from the Boston Globe, which she politely put into her pocket.) She wondered if I’d like her to inscribe “To Sandy” on each of the six or seven of her books I’d brought along. “I don’t at all mind doing it. I only ask,” she said, “because some people just prefer the author’s signature. It makes them easier to sell.” To sell? I would never sell these sacred texts and told her as much. When she saw I was missing her essay collection, Art Objects, she found it on the store’s shelves, inscribed it “To Sandy,” handed it to me and said, “Buy this. You’ll like it.” Yes, ma’am.

May 5, 2018

Watertown, MA. May, 2012

As I continue to gather items for my yard sale (one of 50+ that will take place in an annual town-wide event today, May 5), I am amazed at how things I once held sacrosanct I now consider disposable. My friends who’ve seen the sale-related Facebook postings of my green Depression glass have commented. One says he’s glad he never got bit by that Depression glass bug. Another questions my sanity in choosing to sell these treasures. I wonder myself what has changed. Is it that as I get older I no longer need to acquire? That now I need to divest? Maybe. These two old oil paintings, the only items I wanted from my paternal grandmother’s home when she died, have been in my attic for years. Do I really need to hold onto them any longer? Why?

May 4, 2018

Istanbul. October, 2011

Breakfast in Istanbul. It was our first morning in the small apartment we had there. And on our way back from an early run, we’d stopped by the simit seller to pick up two items: a sesame-seed-covered simit, of course, and also an açme, the wonderful yeast-risen almost brioche-like ring (pictured, on the right. Actually pictured on the right is Jay, still in his running togs, deeply involved with Capote’s Answered Prayers.) Just bread and water? Hardly. Still to come, a bowl of Turkish yogurt with almonds and some fresh figs we’d picked up from a late-night fruit vendor near the Galata Tower the previous evening. Our reward for having endured a loud lovers’ fight on the floor above us the night before that went on until past 1am. Maybe they split because, mercifully, their shrieking performance never occurred again. Fortunately for us, our breakfasts did.

May 3, 2018

Rome. October, 2011

Within minutes of our arrival back in Rome, the first time I’d been there since 1988, Jay and I were already at Pizzeria da Pasquale on the Via dei Prefetti, my very favorite place to eat my very favorite pizza in the world. And here it is. Pasquale’s excellent thin-crust piece of heaven, his potato pizza. For those of you who might eschew this “starch picnic,” you don’t know what you’re missing. Pasquale serves it a taglio (by the piece) and you simply indicate how large a slice you’d like, he heats it in the oven, then serves it as shown. Crust, potatoes, salt, rosemary, oil. It is ethereal. In November of 1984, on the evening before I was heading home from a long stay in the Eternal Città, I bought un taglione which was about 18”x24”, just the right size to fit between the two halves of my fold-up suitcase. Per portare via, I said, “to go.” Jay and I enjoyed it hours later for dinner in Cambridge, MA. But it was even better to bring him to its place of origin this time around. (Want to try making it yourself? You can find a recipe in my friend Nick’s book How to Bake.)

May 2, 2018

Boston. July, 2011

When I first read that the Boston Museum of Fine Arts was going to host a show of works by glass artist Dale Chihuly, I thought ho-hum, no interest in glass. So when I took advantage of one of the MFA’s pay-what-you-can Wednesdays, I didn’t bring my camera. Man, was I wrong! This show was sensational. I was enchanted by the colors, the whimsy, the vision that completely disabused me of the notion that glass art was not worth much of my attention. The exhibit was so beautifully curated, ushering viewers through a series of rooms, each more magical than the one before. Chandeliers, spires, even a boatload (literally) of Venetian-inspired fantasies. I went back for more than one visit. With my camera. (Another fine touch: a note on the wall from Chihuly, inviting photographers to shoot his work as long as it was not for commercial publication. Nice.)

May 1, 2018

Centro Habana, Cuba. February, 2012

The power of language. Friends have asked me if Cuba were plastered with propaganda slogans, posters and such. Somewhat. Driving along the highway, entering a new town or province, we would customarily come across a billboard testifying to the area’s allegiance to Fidel, to the revolutionary government. (The mural pictured above is at a bus stop fronting the Malecón, steps from the city’s largest hospital.) There are memorial signs for Che that appear regularly. But there are also tributes (monuments, statues, billboards) to José Martí, the national hero and educator who fought for Cuban independence (from Spain) and the rights of all people way back in the late 1800s. And even when it came to spoken language, I was struck by certain phrases that people would use almost by rote. Our tour guide, a young Cuban woman in her twenties, would never refer to the revolution but always to “the triumph of the revolution.” Happy May Day.

April 30, 2018

Rome. October, 2011

Spaghetti cacio e pepe. Mmmm-mmm. How fortunate we were to have our Rome-based friend Sylvia’s restaurant recommendations. And even more fortunate to have discovered this wonderful Roman specialty at every place we ate. Here, the first and best version (shown pre-tossing), at Trastevere’s Da Gildo. (Forgive the shadow, an unfortunate consequence of our no-flash policy and our dining al fresco.) An online search in pursuit of recreating the dish at home revealed two things: 1. Every recipe calls for spaghetti, grated cheese, coarsely ground pepper and a bit of the water the pasta was cooked in. 2. No one seems able to agree on which cheese, whether there is butter, or oil, or if the pepper is “roasted” first, or if the dish is “finished” in a frying pan, etc. We’re sticking with our late neighbor Franco Romagnoli’s simple approach. Cook the pasta al dente. Drain and divide it among the dinner plates. Put on a few tablespoons of grated Romano, a few grinds of pepper. Toss on the plate, add a tablespoon or two of the hot water, toss again to melt the cheese and create a creamy sauce. Basta.

April 29, 2018

Gaslight, Boston. April, 2011

I love artichokes. I came to them relatively late in my eating life, when I was in college and dining at the table of my friend Nick’s parents. His mother served us each a steamed artichoke...and I stared at mine for awhile before confessing I not only didn’t know how to eat it, but that I had no idea what it even was. A lesson followed -- peeling, scraping, scooping, eating -- and I haven’t turned back since. My friend Linda makes a great artichoke stuffed with ground beef and Italian seasonings. Nick has since taught me how to prepare a savory dish of baby artichokes and peas in olive oil (which I sometimes serve over pasta with sliced sausages.) And many years ago, I used to enjoy the bitter, artichoke-based Italian aperitif, Cynar. My most memorable experience with this edible bud of a flowering thistle was when I ordered the Roman specialty carciofi alla giudea (trimmed, pressed flat and deep fried so that they resemble sunflowers) on my first trip to the Eternal Città. And my most recent, this artful and tasty appetizer of “fried artichokes with Niçoise olives, onion, sweet pepper and spicy aioli,” $8.75 at the excellent Gaslight, one of my favorite restaurants in Boston.

April 28, 2018

Washington, DC. June, 1989

Dali and I had decided to travel to DC to visit our friend Charles, knowing that because of his health it would probably be the last time we’d see him. Dali did not sit well with the idea of illness, ever, and she kept insisting that Charles walk with us everywhere. Charles, a master thinker, knowing how hard it would be to say no to her, deflected the situation by telephoning a friend with an antique Cadillac convertible, urging him to swing by and take us for a ride. A brilliant idea, for as you can see here, Dali took to the luxury of the back seat with an easy sense of entitlement and satisfaction. I think we went for Chinese food in the capital’s Chinatown (which, owing to its small size, Dali kept calling Chinablock.) The meal was unmemorable, but I do remember lots of laughs. And I remember the pleasure of being with my two remarkable friends, now both gone.

April 27, 2018

Vatican City. October, 2011

I never cease to be fascinated by people’s faith and devotion. And by how their belief systems are made manifest in public. Whether it’s manipulative, hate-based TV ads by political grotesques or simply silent displays such as this one we encountered on the main approach to St. Peter’s one Sunday morning. We saw clouds of smoke halfway down the Via della Concilazione and decided to investigate. Incense. Dispensed by these Peruvian ladies who were walking backwards toward the basilica in advance of a major religious banner with Christ (El Señor de los Milagros) pictured on one side and his mother on the other. Their show of faith would be moving no matter what your (or my) beliefs might be. Sincere. Personal. No hidden agenda or motive. I recently found myself in a church-basement classroom, the walls bearing the results of what I reverse-engineered to be a teacher’s asking “What is God to you?” The kids had drawn pictures and written (with their kid-like printing) “a friend,” “a father,” etc. One rather mature response stood out: “incomprehensible.” Bingo.

April 26, 2018

Cienfuegos, Cuba. February, 2012

¡Qué chicas! I saw these young ladies sauntering and giggling their way down a quiet street in the lazy southern Cuban town of Cienfuegos and wanted to take their picture. But I hesitated. Then I remembered I wasn’t in the United States and I approached them. No problem. They seemed completely unselfconscious, happy to oblige. Another example of how nice, friendly and open people were all throughout this country, much to my amazement and delight. And don’t you love how, even though these girls are in school uniforms, they distinguish themselves with different colored bookbags, sunglasses, hair treatments? They know, as we all should, that accessories make the outfit.

April 25, 2018

Ischia, Italy. October, 2011

After an early morning run through the parks and back streets of this off-season resort island, I went back for a more leisurely stroll to observe. The fishermen pulling their rowboats up to shore and selling their catch. Locals hanging out in doorways, gossiping, enjoying the slower pace after the summer crowds have gone. And this man, reading the death notices pasted up on a neighborhood wall. I’d seen this type of announcement before on earlier trips to Naples (visible just across the bay from Ischia.) Even in this day of texting, Facebook and such, this is still the traditional way for Italian families to let friends and neighbors know of a loved one’s passing (scomparsa), the anniversary (trigesimo = thirtieth) of a past death, and the time and place of any memorial Mass to be held.

April 24, 2018

Grifin, Istanbul. October, 2011

One of my favorite fish restaurants, which Nick and I casually refer to as “Screwdriver Fish,” is, alas, only open for lunch. But on my most recent visit to the City of the World’s Desire I was delighted to learn that the owner has opened Grifin, a dinner-only restaurant right next door. And five flights up. The menu features many of the same marvels served at “Screwdriver” (like the excellent fish soup, the sea bass cooked in parchment), supplemented by some additional standouts (the marinated sea bass remains happily in memory.) But why mince words? As good as the food is (and it really is), nothing compares to the spectacular view afforded by Grifin’s enviable position high above the Golden Horn, overlooking Old Istanbul with its panorama of mosques, minarets, Topkapi Palace and, sigh, Aya Sofya. Jay says this is the best, the most memorable meal he had in Istanbul. And I would be hard pressed to disagree.

April 23, 2018

Hoboken, NJ. December, 2010

It was somewhat of a shock to stop in Hoboken on my way from New York to visit my brother in New Jersey. When we were little, our parents would sometimes (if we were good) drive to Hoboken and take the car on the ferry across the Hudson River en route to visit family friends in Brooklyn. I remember the town as somewhat shabby and deserted, especially on a weekend. During my college years, I would sometimes stop here to have a few beers and some seafood at the Clam Broth House, two blocks from the train station and a bit funky, rundown and cheap. No more. Hoboken, a quick commute by PATH under-the-Hudson train to Manhattan, has become gentrified and chic, desirable, expensive. Still, look hard enough and you’ll see reminders of the not-too-distant past, like this patinated copper facade of the train station and ferry terminal.

April 22, 2018

Rome. October, 1986

One of the first words I learned in Italian was Standa, the name of a department store with branches throughout the country. Travelers who need to stock up on basics -- toothpaste, shampoo, even groceries -- can usually find what they need at Standa. At least I always did. And it was a great place to wander, to read labels to see what things were called in Italian. Another of the first words I learned in Italian was sciopero. It means “strike.” And along with guasto (“broken”), it’s a word you’re very likely to see frequently while traveling in Italy. I’ve encountered scioperi many, many times on my trips there. The most memorable one was when I was spending a few days in Agrigento, Sicily, where all shops, all public transportation, everything was set to close for a full day. I prepared by stocking up on cold cuts, bread, fruit. But I needn’t have bothered. When I awoke on strike day, I found my nearby cafe with its security grate pulled down, but only part-way, and locals simply bending down in order to get under and inside for their morning coffee. I guess Sicilians, maybe all Italians, take a casual approach to lo sciopero as they seem to do with many other things, too. An excellent way to live.

April 21, 2018

Boston. April, 2011

For the longest time, I tried to distance myself from my Irish heritage. Yes, I’d been to the Emerald Isle twice over the years, and each time I had to laugh at how very green it was, comically so. But I was just too uncomfortable with childhood memories of unspoken family resentments, tacky St. Patrick’s Day decorations, and all those songs my father would enforce upon us. Maybe I just needed someone whose approach was a bit more subtle, more gentle. Maybe Colm Tóibín. The Irish novelist swept me away from the minute I read the first page of his The Blackwater Lightship, and the luxurious undertow has continued through each novel and collection since. A master of captivating, unobstructed storytelling (you’re never aware of a “writer at work”), his tales of what he calls “almost-ness” strike a real chord in me. So when he appeared in Boston recently for a Q&A with novelist Christopher Castellani (left) and a later talk and reading (a performance really) of his story “Two Women,” I was in the front row for each. My family always used the expression “the gift of Blarney” as a way of saying someone had the knack of spinning a good yarn. And while he may not call it something that obvious, Tóibín sure has got it.

April 20, 2018

Watertown, MA. April, 2011

My mother was Irish-American and not a remarkable cook. She kept our family fed, and varied the food we ate to make sure we didn’t get bored with “the same old thing.” Period. As I learned more about food (especially about the food that my friend Nick’s Italian-American mother served), I realized that there were few of my mother’s recipes that I would like to save. Only one, actually. Her lemon bread pudding was a wonderful dish that remains happily in memory. When I moved away from home, I asked her for the recipe. She hesitated, then stalled for months, years. I pestered and she finally said she’d send the recipe. She didn’t. (Did I mention she was Irish?) Years later, on the afternoon following her funeral, when my brother and I were sitting quietly at home, I spotted an old “diary” from 1962, something my mother used to stash clippings and coupons and such. As I picked it up, a sheet of paper slid out and fell to the floor. The recipe. Finally. It’s still the best example of this homey dessert I’ve found, not for want of searching. Above, my most recent taste-test, the banana-chocolate bread pudding from the wonderful (and mercifully close) Russo’s. Among the baked goods on offer, their ciabatta-like Rustic Bread cannot be beat. But their bread pudding can be.

April 19, 2018

Bofinger, Paris. December, 2005

When I studied French in high school and college, the textbooks always contained “conversations” from which to learn. The most memorable one for me was “au restaurant” with Pierre and Philippe. The resto they spoke about: Bofinger. So, when Nick and I were in Paris a few years ago, we had to go. Bofinger is a storied brasserie near the Bastille, serving up, as all brasseries do, great platters of shellfish followed by equally great platters of sausages, sauerkraut, boiled vegetables. Brasseries were originally large beer halls, which later started to add food to their offerings, soon settling on what has now become their standard fare. The Parisian classics are Brasserie Lipp (favored by Hemingway), Brasserie Flo, Au Pied de Cochon, La Coupole, many more. But for me (as for Pierre and Philippe), Bofinger will always be the one. “On y mange très bien, paraît-il,” if I remember my textbook correctly, “One eats very well there.” Oui.

April 18, 2018

Centro Habana, Cuba. February, 2012

La vida real. That’s what I wanted to see when I visited Cuba. Real life. When I visit anywhere, actually. Alas, in order to travel to the Pearl of the Antilles legally, I had to go as part of a US State Department-licensed group, and our time and activities were scheduled morning, noon and (sometimes) night. On one of the free nights, I was traveling solo though Central Havana and met Hanoi, a Santería diviner, who guided me through the shadowy byways of his neighborhood, places unwise for a gringo to negotiate alone, especially at night. As we walked down one such calle, I could see a shining storefront ahead, a bright beacon in the darkness, a barbershop. Could I take a picture? Hanoi asked his neighbors, they were gracious, this is the result. ¿La vida real? Un poquito.

April 17, 2018

Santa Cruz River Park, Tucson. March, 2011

I have running routes in many of my favorite cities, none more treasured than this one in Tucson. From Simon and David’s house, down through the neighborhoods (where everyone seems to have at least one barking dog; I only know the hyperactive chihuahua Muchachito by name), along Congress Street and onto the path that follows this dried-up river bed. Then it’s out through desert landscape to the prison and back, about five miles total. But all of it is flat. And warm. A nice treat to run in shorts and a T-shirt mornings in early March. And while my wildlife sightings are usually limited to other runners, cyclists and the occasional prison work crew, I’ve often see quail, prairie dogs and rabbits, even some cartoon-like roadrunners and coyotes along the way. I start out along the A Mountain side (see it there on the right?) and cross the river for my return, passing behind Mexican-American homes with chickens and horses. And, of course, more dogs. And because the air is so dry, you do break a sweat, but it evaporates almost instantly.

April 16, 2018

Rome. October, 1980

The first time I went to Rome, I was shocked when I saw SPQR on buildings, on municipal trash barrels, on manhole covers like this one. I’d always associated these imperial initials only with the glory that was the early Roman Republic, with the Caesars, Marc Antony, Nero, Spartacus. Senatus Populusque Romanus, the senate and people of Rome. It appears on ancient coins, monuments and on the standards of Roman legions. (My friend Janet’s mother had it as her vanity license plate years ago, which might tell you something about the woman’s parenting style.) Who knew that it still existed, still meant the same thing in the 20th century? I was also shocked to see that this cover was made in Florence, a longtime Roman rival in the fields of politics, culture and sport. So it came as less of a surprise when a Tuscan friend told me that many in the north of Italy translate SPQR as Sono porchi questi Romani. “What pigs these Romans are!” Nice.

April 15, 2018

Red Roof, East Gloucester, MA. April, 2012

Years ago, when our friends Tom and Paul asked if we’d like to join them at a party at Red Roof near our Gloucester home, we leapt at the chance. The party was an annual one thrown by the multiple owners of the historic house, complete with great food from a local BBQ joint, live music, a talent show in one of the outbuildings and a relatively open house for the curious like me. (I ran right to Isabella Stewart Gardner’s room and to the secret library, filled with stacks of old French Red Cross posters and accessed by pressing a hidden button to activate the sliding bookcase.) Built in 1902 by A. Piatt Andrew (Harvard economics professor, founder of the American Field Service during WWI, director of the U.S. Mint, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Republican member of Congress and local legend -- the bridge into Gloucester bears his name), the house has a gym on the top floor accessed only by the fit via rope ladder. (It also had at one time, we were told, an underground tunnel to Beauport next door, allowing clandestine trysts at the home of Andrew’s fellow gay pal Henry Davis Sleeper.) The elaborate stonework in the back descends to the water and includes six terraces and a natural saltwater swimming pool. I recently paid another visit to Red Roof, this time to an estate sale when Andrew’s heirs put the storied home up for sale. My pieces of history: a necktie I found in a closet and book from the 1920s (inscribed in French) from Mrs. Gardner’s bookcase.

April 14, 2018

Messina, Sicily. October, 2011

The air was moisture-heavy as I set out on my exploratory run that Wednesday morning. Remembering enough Italian to ask directions, I headed along the port, off toward the Municipal Museum, hoping to chart a course that Jay and I would later walk to find the two Caravaggios (both new to me) housed there. I passed fishermen selling their early-morning catch from small boats, pocket-sized produce markets laden with the season’s first artichokes and persimmons, a few parks and, finally, the museum. Surprise! Mercoledi chiuso. Closed Wednesdays. Oh, well. Guess I’ll have to return to Messina some other time, some other day. It started to drizzle and I returned to the boat after a nice run to find the dock wet and reflective. Just like me.

April 13, 2018

Washington, DC. June, 1989

Some people take to jumping pictures more enthusiastically than others. Witness this photo of my two friends Barbara (left) and Dali. It didn’t take much more than a hot second to get Barbara mid-air. Dali, who first turned me on to this kind of photo, must have gotten a slow start this time because normally she’s airborne without any prompting. The folks here at the Lincoln Memorial didn’t seem to notice or even care that we took shot after bouncing shot like this. A memorable weekend trip from New England, the first and only time these two ladies got together. Dali was my first friend and helping hand when I moved to Boston. Barbara was the sassy secretary of the Georgetown University English department when I was a graduate student there, and we clicked immediately. (Barbara, if you’re out there and seeing this, please get in touch. Or at least jump up and down.)

April 12, 2018

Los Angeles. January, 1992

During my first stay at Vincent Price’s home, he told me several stories about Old Hollywood that he knew would hold me in thrall. One was that he had been refused admission to the legendary Hollywood haunt, The Brown Derby, when he arrived one night in the 1930s with Anna May Wong. The management said she was “colored.” (The Los Angeles-born actress was Chinese American.) Another tale took place many years later when an autograph seeker came over to Vincent while he was dining in a restaurant and asked for his signature. He made pleasant conversation, graciously signed the young lady’s book and continued eating, only to be interrupted by the same person, complaining, “You signed it ‘Dolores Del Rio.’” Yes, Vincent explained, “Just before Dolores died, she begged, ‘Please don’t let them forget me.’”

April 11, 2018

Gallery 360, Boston. March, 2011

My friend Peter Madden has been collecting things since he was a child. In a good way. So good, in fact, that many of them have found their way into the wonderful artworks he’s been producing for years now. Peter is generally recognized as one of the trailblazers of artists’ books and the two included in the show I saw this day were exceptional -- hand-sewn pages within hinged wooden covers display his witty narrative skills, his twisted Catholic background and his ability to find beauty in objects that others might pass by. A small key found on a windowsill. A matchbook from a dangerous bar recommended by a late-nite transvestite. The quirkily fastidious documentation of a romance gone south. Wonderful all. Seen here, part of half of a recent work, a collection of fruit stickers, assembled and fixed, serving as the “negative” for a cyan print (the second half of the work) that turns the colorful display into a blue-and-white study of geometric wordless shapes. He’s clearly found his “voice” and continues to extend it. Nice work, Peter.

April 10, 2018

Rome. October, 1980

Long before bling became a thing here in the states, the Romans were high-stepping with these extravagant, twinkling heels. And while they may not be made for distance walking, these little accessories sure did light up the window of this shoe store (one of many in shoe-conscious Rome.) Why didn’t this glittery high-heel “look” ever catch on here stateside? Different strokes. I was once told that the only sure-fire way to spot a tourist in Italy or Spain is to look at his or her shoes. Try it, as I have, and I think you’ll find this axiom valid. The German tourists wear practical and completely unfashionable hiking shoes. Ditto the English and, mercy, the Swiss. The French must be taken on a case-by-case basis. I should talk. I wear sneakers almost all the time because of the great amount of walking I do. (I switch to black sneakers for evening wear.) But no one beats the Italians and the Spanish. The old, the young, even in the supermarket or out walking the dog, these leather lovers sport loafers, lace-ups and boots that command respect and set them apart.

April 9, 2018

Edirnekapi, Istanbul. June, 2007

Look at these guys, “noble ancestors of Christ” if we can believe the guide, all decked out in their bold geometric prints. Hard to believe that such modern designs were in fashion back in 1315 when the mosaics here in the Holy Savior in Chora church were created. Sometimes mistranslated as Saint Savior, this Byzantine church (first built in the 5th century, converted to a mosque in the 16th, and made into a secular museum in 1948) is one of the glories of Istanbul. A bit out of the way (chora = the country; the church was originally outside the city walls), but your efforts to get there will be rewarded by an up-close visual spectacle unlike any other in this visually spectacular city. The tour groups are all back in the city center, too, so take your time and enjoy the uncrowded show. And, if you like, top it off with a superb lunch at Asitane right next door.

April 8, 2018

Piazza Bellini, Catania, Sicily. October, 1984

When I look back through my photos from trips to Italy over the years, I’m always amazed at the formality that some of my Italian friends assumed as I focused the camera. Stiff postures. Unsmiling faces. Rarely do they look into the camera. What gives? Is this some cultural thing instilled in them from childhood? This photo is not of friends of mine. It’s a group of card-playing men I saw in Sicily, and look...not a smiling face among them. Isn’t anyone having any fun on this mild evening in one of the most beautiful squares in Catania, named for the town’s hero-son, the composer of such operatic works as La Sonnambula and Norma. (Nearby, earlier that evening, I’d dined on Pasta alla Norma, a namesake dish made with rich tomato sauce and slices of fried eggplant.) These guys are clearly no-nonsense types when it comes to cards, and I remember being somewhat hesitant to take the picture. (As an aside, there had been a police/Mafia shootout in another Catania square earlier the same day.) I suspect that the pasta dish must have given me the little bit of operatic courage I needed.