Do you remember those vocabulary tests from elementary school that used to present you with a list of terms and ask, “Which item doesn’t belong?” I thought of that question one recent afternoon as I passed the Bar Lo Spuntino near the docks of Portoferraio on Napoleon’s island of Elba.
November 14, 2018
One of the major attractions in this sunny Côte d’Azur seaside city is the Palais des Festivals, the auditorium that hosts the Cannes Film Festival each year. And surrounding it, embedded in the sidewalk, Cannes’s own version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. My goal? To find Pedro Almodóvar’s imprint. And here it is. Just look at that grip! Among the other international luminaries who’ve left their marks: Catherine Deneuve, Jean Paul Belmondo, Sophia Loren, Vanessa Redgrave, Jean Louis Trintignant, Charlotte Rampling, Claude Lelouch, Michelangelo Antonioni. (My only question: What is Cameron Diaz doing here?)
November 13, 2018
Part of the thrill of each cruise we take is the “sail away” from the initial port. In 2011, Istanbul’s departure down the Bosphorus and into the Sea of Marmara seemed hard to beat. And then in 2012...leaving Venice from the Giudecca canal into the Venetian lagoon, passing the Piazza San Marco, the Lido and here behind me, Palladio’s Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, built as a votive church in the 16th century to thank G_d for sparing the city from a major outbreak of the plague. It’s difficult not to get emotional in the face of such majesty and beauty, in spite of the somewhat mawkish, brass-heavy musical selection played at full tilt over the ship’s sound system. As you can see from the sign, I decided to take refuge on the Star Deck. It seemed appropriate.
November 12, 2018
Sure Pula has some of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world, a remarkable amphitheater that rivals the Coliseum, a Temple of Augustus that inspires awe. But our first stop in this fabled city? The fish market. Housed in a spanking new building that adjoins its fruit and vegetable counterpart, it features some two dozen vendors offering the freshest of the daily catch, including those octopi over on the right. I guess this vendor has seen it all before, so he can be excused for texting or whatever it is he’s doing. But these abundant markets are still thrilling for us, and we generally make them our first stop in every port we hit.
November 11, 2018
Market day in Kotor, and all of the vendors carrying their produce from local farms and gardens into town to sell. On this beautiful crisp autumn morning, olives and mushrooms were in greatest abundance. Unripe, uncured olives, as seen here, still not freed of their bitter unappetizing juices. And huge mushrooms, fist-sized, most already sliced and primed for drying, readying them for storage and use during the winter. Farmhouse cheeses, homemade breads and brandies, and the last of the October harvest’s fruits and vegetables. For us, a wonderfully different experience these markets. For the Montenegrans, a way of life.
November 10, 2018
Having breakfast each morning on the upper deck of our Windstar ship as we approach the day’s new port, a great treat. For me, sometimes Greek yogurt with pecans, raisins, bananas and pineapple. Sometimes more. For Jay, always smoked salmon with tomato slices and pesto. (Another great treat: being gently awakened each a.m. by coffee brought to our stateroom.) I’m generally uncomfortable with, well, comfort. But for these cruises, I bent the rules.
November 9, 2018
There are lots of advantages to staying on the island of Giudecca when visiting Venice. It’s only a two-minute vaporetto hop to the main part of town. You don’t run into thousands of tourists as you walk to the market or to the bar for your morning coffee. The restaurants are frequented mostly by residents of the neighborhood, so the food is good (prompting revisits) and simple, the prices are lower, and the conversation is lively and in Italian (or Venetian.) Also, you get to sit outside on the quay as you dine, looking across the channel at this beautiful vista of the magical city. When you stroll leisurely back to your lodgings afterwards, you’re likely to be either alone in your wanderings or in the company of, at most, two or three Giudecca locals. And when you go to sleep at night, it’s blessedly quiet.
November 8, 2018
Yum yum! No matter how you spell it, in English or in Catalan, it still means the same thing. And Jay and I were echoing that napkin’s printed sentiment as we ate at Tapas, 24 not that long ago. Prompting our deep satisfaction, the following selection of tapas: braves, pa amb tomàquet, truita espanyola amb pernil and boquerones al limón. For those of you whose Catalan may not be quite up to snuff, that’s fried potatoes with hot sauce and garlic mayonnaise, toast rubbed with tomato and olive oil, potato and onion omelette with Serrano ham and fried anchovies with lemon. A wonderful assortment at a wonderful place we were happy to revisit.
November 7, 2018
My late friend Dali, martyr to any photo op she was offered. For example, here in the famous water gardens of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli. Less than 20 miles outside of Rome, Tivoli is also the site of Emperor Hadrian’s Villa, his country retreat from Rome, built during the 2nd century AD. (He is said to have disliked Rome so much that he governed almost exclusively from his Tivoli home during the last years of his reign.) Much of his 250-acre estate remains unexcavated, but one site that has been unearthed is Hadrian’s temple to his young lover Antinous whom he proclaimed a god. A religious cult grew up around Antinous, one that continues to this day. (Unfortunately, YouTube has removed the video of my friend Ernest in his BBC debut, pointing out representations of the gay god in the Louvre. Antinous, if you're listening, please take care of restoring it, OK?)
November 6, 2018
Have you all voted today? I love voting and do it every chance I get. I have friends who never vote. Can you believe that? Their excuse: “What difference does my one vote make?” I don’t even have to answer that, do I? With all the shenanigans that surround this year’s American presidential election (challenging voters’ rights to vote, CEOs threatening to fire employees if their chosen candidate doesn’t win, etc.), our electoral process is beginning to approach that of, say, Venezuela. Just a matter of time, I think. Still, I believe that my vote counts. And I believe that yours does, too. Do it. (I wrote the above text on Election Day 2012. And just look at what has happened to our country in the years that followed. VOTE!)
November 5, 2018
There’s a madness about Spain that I love. At one moment, people are reverent, sophisticated, traditional. Then turn the corner and it’s a completely different story. Nowhere is this more true than in Barcelona. Even the language, Catalan, seems to a foreigner a mad take on Spanish loaded with lots of Xs and incorporating bits of French and Italian throughout. And take a look at this building, Gaudí’s Casa Battló on the Passeig de Gràcia. Bits of color splashed here and there. Balconies that appear to leer with menacing masked grins. And that mad tiled building on the left! These are not sequestered off in some precious, preserved neighborhood, either. They’re smack dab in the middle of downtown, next to perfectly ordinary office buildings and shops. Locura. I love it!
November 4, 2018
Who is that mysterious Catalan at the gates of Gaudí’s famed park, photographed on our first visit to Barcelona almost 18 years ago? Oh, wait... For Jay’s 50th birthday present, I told him I’d take him on a trip anywhere he wanted, that he should think about it. That he shouldn’t say Montreal if he really wanted to go to Moscow. After a few days, he told me he’d decided. Key West. Key West!?! I asked, “Really? Wouldn’t you rather go to Spain?” Well, yes, he said, so we went to Spain. Madrid, Toledo, Córdoba, Granada, Sevilla and Barcelona. (For the record, Jay offered me the same present on my 50th birthday. My choice, a place I’d always wanted to visit: Istanbul. And Jay replied, “Absolutely not!” He was afraid. I wasn’t. I wound up going with Nick a few years later. Oh, wait...I’m not 50 yet. At least not in this photo.)
November 3, 2018
The last overnight stop on our 2012 cruise, before ending in Barcelona: St. Tropez. The chic French Riviera playground of the rich. Well, it used to be, back when Brigitte Bardot was here filming Roger Vadim’s And God Created Woman. Since then, well not so much. Still, the “St. Tropez tan” continues to be touted in ads for Bain de Soleil. And it’s still a long holiday weekend in here in France, so there ought to be lots of activity. And, please, please, I prayed, let it be a market day like this one I remember so well in the Belleville neighborhood of Paris some seven years earlier. And please, I begged, let there be some place I can buy socca, that wonderful chickpea flour pancake drizzled with olive oil that I remember from my first visit to the Riviera back in 1969. Alas, neither of my prayers were answered.
November 2, 2018
Today is All Souls Day. (Though the official Catholic name is “The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed.”) But if you happen to be in Mexico (or here in Southern Arizona), it’s known as the Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. No surprise that Mexicans have more fun with the holiday than those stuffy European Western Christianity types do. Sugar skulls that laugh at death, candle-filled shrines in public spaces, personal altars filled with the departed’s favorite foods, covered with marigolds, with photos and other family memorabilia in more private locations. Whenever I’m in Tucson on this day, I love to come across the various ways that people here mark the occasion. Of course, the big occasion in Tucson is the annual All Souls’ Procession the Sunday after All Souls Day. I'm hoping to be there for this spectacular event again this year.
November 1, 2018
Today is All Saints’ Day, a national holiday in France where it’s known as La Toussaint. And a holiday in Italy, too, Tutti Santi. Once in Rome on this day, we’d decided to drive to the country for lunch and I remember Paolo (occasional Fellini actor and my late friend Dali’s ex-boyfriend) checking to make sure there were no cemeteries on the route because all Italians go to their ancestors’ graves on this day and the traffic would be intense. One year on Tutti Santi, I was visiting Antonio and Roberta in Lucca and they brought me to their family picnic at the cemetery. (I still remember Roberta was wearing a Betty Boop T-shirt with “Let’s Get Physical” emblazoned across it.) When Jay and I spent an overnight in Monte Carlo on November 1 in 2012, the place was packed with vacationers taking advantage of the long weekend as All Souls’ Day (November 2) is also a national holiday. And those luckyduck French schoolchildren have a two-week autumn vacation right about now, too.
October 31, 2018
I had not seen my friend Antonio in almost 25 years. We met for the first time in 1984 when I was touring Italy solo, taking trains all over the place, from Venice to Palermo. When I got off the train in Lucca, Antonio was there waiting for me. We’d never met before, but we’d corresponded frequently (in the days before email) and exchanged artworks through a network of mail artist connections. I remember staying at his parents’ house, touring the city, visiting him in his graphic design studio, meeting his girlfriend Roberta (in orange, above). I have not seen him since visiting Lucca in 1988 (Antonio is holding a wineglass in the photo) with Nick and Miriam. Fortunately, Antonio came to meet us in Portovenere when our boat docked there in 2012. It was as if no time at all had passed.
October 30, 2018
Sicily is such a wonderful study in contrasts. The life-loving music and food that enhance day-to-day life. The solemn widows who wear black for the rest of their lives. I remember the trip that Nick and I took to Noto, southwest of Siracusa. Monumental buildings made of local golden stone, richly filagreed ironwork everywhere you looked. Jay and I were in Sicily for a day a few years ago when our boat stopped in Messina, then on past the still active volcanic island of Stromboli that we saw erupting in flames in the dark night as we sailed by.
October 29, 2018
Today: the town that has been the port of Rome for centuries, Civitavecchia. In 2011, when we arrived here, we headed subito to the train station and sped into Rome proper. The following year, we managed to spend some time in this busy port town itself. There’s a market (of course) and also a local flea market to be explored. And we were hoping that we’d be close enough to Rome that the lunch menu at some little trattoria might feature the Roman specialties we fell in love with on past trips: spaghetti cacio e pepe and carciofi alla giudea. Fortunately I not only know how to order both in Italian, but can easily ask for lo stesso ancora. The same again.
October 28, 2018
When I first arrived on the storied Isle of Capri. I headed up, up, up via funicular to the top of the mountainous island. It’s way up top where you’ll find the jet set who turned Capri into a millionaires’ paradise many decades ago. I suspect the real jet set has long abandoned the place to the hordes of tourists that descend upon it daily. When I was there some 34 years ago, I remember walking back paths through groves of lemon trees to the palace of Emperor Tiberius, staring at the cliff from which he threw his enemies to the coastal rocks below. Also, more gently, the kind boatman (a shoulder shrug, a nice tip) who took me into the Blue Grotto after the last official boat had left, affording me a quiet and private view of this natural wonder. I suspect now, more than three decades later, such privileges may no longer still be so easily available.
October 27, 2018
Ah, the golden fried pleasures of arancine. Rice balls that contain, in the classic preparation, meat and tomato sauce, lovely melted cheese, peas. We’d first enjoyed these treats at Galleria Umberto, the Sicilian American pizzeria and tavola calda in Boston’s North End. Because it was a popular item that sold out quickly, the counter man would regularly call back to the kitchen, “Sam! More arancin’!” (And how many times did we have a piece of pizza or two waiting for Sam to deliver?) Here in Sicily, we made a beeline to a busy downtown snack bar filled with university students on lunch break. No Sam, but plenty of arancin’.
October 26, 2018
Oh, look at Dr. Blake, so comfy and cozy, already settled into our spacious stateroom on the Wind Surf. Seven years ago at this time, we’d just sailed out of Istanbul and were headed south to Asia Minor, the Greeks Isles, Athens. The following year, we spent a day sailing around the boot of Italy, ready to arrive the following morning in Sicily. The customary at-sea day on most Windstar cruises provides a nice time to just relax, read, maybe use the fitness center, have tea, do the things you might not normally do when busy in port. Well, it’s almost time for dinner. Better put on shoes, Jay.
October 25, 2018
Six years ago, we sailed into the fjord-like port of Kotor in Montenegro. (I do like saying Montenegro.) I knew little about it beyond the fact that it has been at times ruled by Venetians, Ottomans and a few others. (Sounds good to me.) And that because of its embattled past, the city is surrounded by fortified walls. Also that it has no national currency but uses the euro as its money even though Montenegro is not part of the European Union. And I was delighted to see that we would be arriving on a market day. It seems that every new place I go, I love to head to the market. I see real people (vs. tourists) there, hear the language, watch the interactions. Here’s a small fruit and vegetable market (one of many such) that we visited in Istanbul years ago at this harvest time of year.
October 24, 2018
Along with the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market is a major emporium here in the City of the World’s Desire. Consequently it’s filled with tourists, filled with the sounds of many languages. But it also serves as a market for locals who know that the freshness of the spices and other wares can be vouched for by the large volume of sales and quick turnaround. That said, there is a decidedly tourist slant to the goods on offer. “Premium” caviar. Belly-dancer costumes. And something called “Turkish Viagra,” a helvah-type of sweet with embedded pistachios.
October 23, 2018
Before sailing into the port of Split. I asked my Croatian friend (and expert home baker) Marin to provide me with the names of some different kinds of Croatian pastries and breads so that I could have a farinaceous scavenger hunt in his hometown, an activity that combines two of my favorite things to do while traveling: hunting down local specialties and eating them. (Here are some finds from our earlier trip to Lisbon. Our time in Split was just as rewarding.)
October 22, 2018
That smiling fellow on the right is our friend Marin. A Croat. Before Jay and I sailed into Pula, Croatia, I had considered asking him how to say a few simple phrases in Croatian, things like “hello” and “thank you.” But I worried that he might teach me words that were, well, naughty instead. Don’t you think he has a playful and mischievous look about him? (We did sail, language-less, into Pula, and then into Split, Marin’s hometown.)
October 21, 2018
Yes, there are pigeons in front of the major cathedrals and in the big squares in both Florence and Rome. But nowhere are they more dense than here in front of the Basilica San Marco. (This picture shows only a small fraction of them.) A lot had changed in the 25 years between my visits here. For example, you now can book your free ticket online to enter the basilica for one euro. Certainly worth it during the peak summer tourist months. Another welcome change, as in Florence, people who feed the pigeons are now fined for doing so. Bravo.
October 20, 2018
When you enjoy your coffee at the bar in Italy, it is relatively inexpensive. When you decide to enjoy it while seated at a table, it is more expensive. And when you decide to sit at a table at Florian, the fabled café here on the Piazza San Marco in Venice, it is most expensive. Even for Venice. Still, these ladies seem to be enjoying themselves, probably listening to beautiful atmospheric music from a nearby string quartet (either one at Florian or at Quadri, the competing cafe across the piazza; a six euro charge is added to your bill is the music plays while you’re seated.)
October 19, 2018
“See Venice and die.” Isn’t that what people say? Here I am, on my first visit to this magical city trying to prevent just that. Or pretending to be a Venetian blind. Or some other sophomoric photo op. When I took Jay there for his first trip, we had only three things on the agenda: Thing #1: Visit the Basilica di San Marco. Thing #2: Visit my favorite painting in the world, the Titian Assumption in the Frari Church. Thing #3: Find zaleti here in the city that first developed them. Oh, and eat. We accomplished everything on the list.
October 18, 2018
I love Halloween. And that year, as in the previous few, I wouldn't be at home for all the fun. (And I wouldn't be able to walk with my friend Vinny through his Waltham neighborhood, looking at the kids in costume, the houses decorated.) Instead, and I’m not complaining, Jay and I were in Italy, in the town of Portovenere, where my friend Antonio, whom I had not seen in 25 years, met our boat and spent the day with us. So I was happy to see that some of my Watertown neighbors had already started to put up their Halloween decorations, including this rather extravagant, inflated death coach. Illuminated no less.
October 17, 2018
Issues and candidates. And endless television ads. “Critical analysis” from so-called experts. It’s too much even for me, who stopped watching television on Election Night 2000: First Gore was winning, then Bush, so this former news junkie went to bed knowing the outcome would be decided upon awakening. Guess what? It wasn’t. The whole Florida ballot mess. I decided I had had enough and haven’t turned on the TV since. Still, I can’t escape political posters, even some that make me smile like this one I passed on my traditional downtown walk in Tucson. (I thought Dean Martin was long gone.) Anyway, I’ve already absentee voted in the 2012 election -- for president, for senator, for local contests and ballot questions. And I’m happy to be leaving the country tomorrow, not back until Election Night. I will, I hope, miss the last three weeks of all this.
October 16, 2018
This beautiful mission church rises from the desert outside of Tucson, seen from miles away on its arid plain within the Tohono O’odham Nation. And no matter how many times I visit, I’m always in awe of its beauty and majesty. This time, Simon and I took a spur-of-the-moment drive on a Sunday afternoon, just because. Magnificent. Can you imagine what this must have looked like to those who approached it back in 1797 when it had just recently been completed? No highway drive for them, approaching by donkey along rough routes dotted with mesquite and cactus with nothing in sight, and then suddenly -- this! Some 200,000 visitors come to pay their respects each year and to marvel at its visual beauty both inside and out. It’s called the “White Dove of the Desert.” And it’s easy to understand why.
October 15, 2018
Because of its reputation (since colonial days) for bucking the status quo, Cambridge has often been given a bad rap by some of its more conservative and narrow-minded critics. And, I’m happy to say as a former long-time resident, it lives up to its rep. Among its many derogatory nicknames, the People’s Republic of Cambridge. So I’m always happy to walk past this mid-Cambridge bar, The People’s Republik, halfway between Harvard and Central Squares, and be reminded of its "in your face" attitude. Love the faux-Cyrillic lettering, the use of red, the play on “party.”
October 14, 2018
Oh, how I wish I had taken a second, better, unblurred shot of this. (The young man seated below the banners thought I was taking his picture, so I had to play it cool and couldn’t risk a second photo. Scusi.) The three panels you (can just about) see here publicize a drawing show (from the previous Spring!) at the Cambridge Arts Council. The first time I saw these panels, I was struck by their simplicity, their extravagance in taking up precious, costly advertising space. (Only later realized that the cost of the placement was probably heavily discounted for the city project.) The second time I saw the panels, they’d been enhanced by a bus-riding “primitive” who’d drawn a silly face (can you see it?), laughing at the zebra in the middle panel. A burst of creative inspiration? A critical comment? Whatever, I love this. (In the spirit of fairness, you can learn about the exhibition here.)
October 13, 2018
Why do all my low-light photos taken in Latin restaurants come out grainy and lacking in color. Oh, well. What’s missing in photographic warmth was made up for by the excellent company provided by my dining companions, Bose-os Mike and Erin, former colleagues of mine at “the most respected name in sound.” We were part of a team that has since (and sadly) been dismantled. So we tried to get together and gossip madly at least once every few months. This night, upscale Southwestern food at this South End fixture. The “tower” seen here, a pretty (and pretty small) portion of Negro Modelo braised pork shoulder with sauce borracha and little “moments” of port and fig jam, baby arugula and garlic whipped potatoes. It tasted good. So good, in fact, that I wanted more.
October 12, 2018
When my late friend Dali first visited Rome (with her husband) and then decided to stay for a long while (without her husband), she knew minimal Italian. But one of the phrases she learned pronto was Quando comincia lo specttacolo? When does the show begin? Going to the movies in Italy is a trip. No matter the length of the film there is an intermission during which ushers roam the auditorium selling refreshments, people go outside to smoke. For me, even the posters are a treat. Billboards for American films (like House of Games, seen here) rewritten in Italian. Phrases like un film di David Mamet. I wonder if these two Grottese kids came up with the 2500 lire to attend.
October 11, 2018
Right around the corner from the cathedral in this fabled Tuscan town is the Sexy Cine. I can’t remember what film was on, but I do recall that in the other cinema in town, the family one, was Disney’s Gli Aristogatti. As my friend Antonio reminded me, “In Italy, we have the pope and Cicciolina.” Indeed. It got me thinking about how American youths learn about sex. A group of friends and I once shared stories about how our parents told us about the birds and the bees. Mine was the most painful: At bedtime, my father read to me from some Catholic tract called Dear Son, as I squirmed and hoped it would soon be over. (My younger brother, under the covers in his twin bed across the room, was laughing and making flatulent noises. I suspect my father was the most uncomfortable one in the room because he only tried this indoctrination once.) One friend, I wish I could remember which one, said that his entire sex education consisted of his father’s saying to him, “Don’t use anything.” He had no idea what that meant and still doesn’t.
October 10, 2018
The first time I visited Boston, Nick and I arrived on an overnight Greyhound bus from New York, stumbled out of the bus station into Park Square around 5am and were accosted by a toxic drunk who snarled, “F*ck both of you!” Whereupon Nick remarked, “How nice of the Chamber of Commerce to greet us upon our arrival.” That same trip, I remember someone had altered with spray paint the incised “Washington” on the base of this statue, adding “Irving, Author.” It’s since been cleaned up and beautifully lit on a recent warm, full-mooned evening. The Public Garden always seems special to me, no matter how often or in what season I visit.
October 9, 2018
When the Obama administration began to open up travel to Cuba again (after the doors had been slammed shut during the Bush years), I leapt at the chance to visit. I went legally with New York’s Center for Cuban Studies, a group that had received a “people-to-people” license from the US State Department. This license allows qualified groups to visit Cuba in order to exchange cultural information, learn about art, music, healthcare and other topics. It is renewed annually. Or not. This year, it seems, not. Reports abound that the State Department has been more than unusually sluggish and the many licensed groups (including National Geographic and many Ivy League alumni associations and other cultural travel organizations) have had to cancel planned trips because they no longer have these precious licenses. You can read more about this here. Meanwhile, I count my blessings that I was able to go when I did.
October 8, 2018
I love bits of overheard conversation. Taken out of context, they sparkle on their own and remain fixed in memory. This is my friend Jacques (the photo taken when he was a student of mine in Summit High School some 35+ years ago.) Years later, when Jacques was walking through Boston’s North End, he heard two women speaking in Italian. Suddenly one turned on the other and snapped in English, “I was talking about the lentils!” Years after that, my friend Nick, Christmas shopping on NYC’s Fifth Avenue, heard someone arguing, “Right? I know I’m right!” It was Jacques mid-fight with his boyfriend. But my absolute favorite bit (among hundreds) was when Nick and I had arrived in Paris on the day after Christmas, 2005, jet-lagged and walking toward lunch at Bon Marché when we heard two young British women (you must hear this in a British accent.) One was making a point to the other: “So she said to me, ‘Go! Have lunch with Lola!’” Maybe you had to be there.
October 7, 2018
My garden was pathetic this year. Six cherry tomato plants yielded a total of, count ’em, six cherry tomatoes. Period. The basil survived, but the parsley withered early. The only things that really flourished were the marigolds, which my friend James reminds me “like bad soil.” Thanks. The curlicues and cages seen here were my vainglorious early-season attempt to keep the neighborhood woodchuck from his eager sampling by creating a kind of fence-barrier. Epic fail, as the children say nowadays.
October 6, 2018
The summer was weird here in New England this year. Record-breaking heat, high humidity, drought conditions offset by heavy rains, you name it. Biblical weather. Consequently the plant life has been somewhat skewed as well. Crabgrass in my neighborhood is rampant in ways no one can remember. And look at this skeletal rosebush in my yard. Some flourishing stems, some desiccated ones, a blossom here and there. Odd as it looks, I like it. There’s something Japanese about it, don't you think? Something that might be found on a kimono, a piece of silk or porcelain, instead of against a stucco wall in an autumn garden.
October 5, 2018
As I mentioned yesterday, I am sometimes known by certain friends as ChiChi. And so I was delighted to visit this pottery studio, Casa ChiChi, on a recent visit to Cuba. And to meet the proprietor, the other ChiChi, while I was there. It seems that all of my good friends have alter egos, or at least alternate names. Marin is sometimes Cupcake, James sometimes Muffin (in their attempts to include me in their bakery triumvirate they desperately dubbed me Little Debbie.) Marin is also Psychine (French pronunciation), James also Crunches. My favorite of Nick's, um, nicknames is Uscita Sottopassagio. My friends Lisa and Pam are LouLou and Coco. Jay is Mr. Spofford (based on his shocking resemblance to that character in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.) But no one has more names than my friend Patti. I sometimes forget her real name, she has so many: Patrice Gizelle, Tapenade Roulet, Taffy Haynes, Miss Piatelli, Chaka Cohen (author of the memoir, White by Mistake), Qué Lástima, the list goes on and on.
October 4, 2018
Back in the 1980s, when I was at the peak of my Italomania, Jay came home from work and mentioned that some visitors from Italy had been to his plant that day. I went crazy! Where in Italy? What were their names?? He hesitated (never good with names) and then said, “I’m not sure, but I think one was called ChiChi Fargo.” Bingo! Of course, the visitor was not called ChiChi Fargo (he was from Assisi, so his name was, of course, Francesco), but from that moment on, I was. It was just too good a name to waste. I use it for online Groupon-type services, Facebook, Instagram, you name it. I am ChiChi to my Puerto Rican friends, to my Spanish tutor, to many others. And so I was delighted to see that my placecard at my friend Brooks’s 30th-birthday dinner was prepared (by his delightful eight-year-old stepsister Mary) as seen above.
October 3, 2018
Did someone say “brunch”? Yes, indeed. My friend Marin, who has a wonderful knack for combining great food and great company, did. To mark the opening of the saison, he assembled an enviably dishy crowd and served a remarkable homemade spread: scones with clotted cream or orange curd to begin; then, seen here, bacon, a homemade paté, a wonderful layered dish of zucchini, herbs and fresh mozzarella. But wait, there’s more. Ham “shelters” cradling poached eggs with mushrooms and chives. And for dessert, a baked blueberry/pecan French toast dish with a lacing of maple syrup. The conversation was intoxicating and non-stop. A perfect "welcome autumn" afternoon.
October 2, 2018
My friend Steven has a thing for publicity-crazed New England Patriot Rob Gronkowski. And so when Dunkin’ Donuts announced its contest with a “Lunch with Gronk” prize, he was beside himself. If the winner were to be decided by the number of photos someone takes of his friends with this larger-than-life cardboard cutout of the promotion-savvy tight end, Steven would be sure to win. (He had taken 23 before he got me into position.) Here I am, a latecomer to the game, somewhat more amused than interested or involved. I wished Steven luck. (And I thanked my late friend Coral Browne for teaching me the “fingers around the side” maneuver seen here and here.)
October 1, 2018
Meet my friend Sam, seen here rocking this venerable old Boston institution upon the occasion of the official launch event for his new book, Ghosts of Boston, Haunts of the Hub. Sam is an inspiration. Was it really only the year before that he was out of work, low on hope, wondering what he’d do next? Then suddenly, an idea to parlay his interest in the paranormal into a book about one of America’s oldest cities (and therefore chock-a-block with ghosts and other spirits.) He wrote a proposal, found a publisher, wrote the book against an almost impossible deadline (two months.) Now it’s been published and has sold out several times already on Amazon. If the famous ghosts who reside in the Old South Meeting House were at home this night, they were respectfully quiet. And rightly so.
September 30, 2018
This photo was taken on the night before the photo shoot for the cover of Nick’s Great Italian Desserts. The shoot was in Boston, so Nick came up a day early, brought some of his desserts with him, made some additional ones in my Cambridge kitchen. How could we not take advantage of this photo op? Nick and I have known each other 56 years this fall. Today is his birthday. (It is also the birthday of Truman Capote, Johnny Mathis, Deborah Kerr and Angie Dickinson, all of whom he has resembled at one time or another.) He is older than I am. And always will be. Tee-hee. Happy birthday.
September 29, 2018
A note arrived in the mail. Handwritten. From a Watertown address. At first I thought, oh, no...it’s one of those “neighbor” letters asking for a donation to a cause. But I was wrong. “Dear Sandy,” it began. “You were my high school English teacher @ Summit High in the late ‘70s. I was delighted to stumble across your blog today.” Ann! One of my favorites when I was a teacher (all teachers have them, no matter what they say.) Turns out she’s lived in my town for some 30 years. “I’d love to buy you lunch @ Red Lentil if you’re around.” I was. And she did. What a pleasure connecting again...as if no time at all had passed. Amazing how many of our adult interests are so aligned. Even more amazing, however -- How could she possibly be the age she told me when I’m not even that age?
September 28, 2018
It’s sometimes good to remember that not all tourists are from outside the country. Take this souvenir shop in Amalfi, for example. I love the various personalized items that are on offer here. And how the names are SO Italian. (It reminds me of a similar store closer to home in Boston, filled with keyrings and license plates emblazoned with American names, the T section photographed by my Thai American friend Tong who humorously pointed out “Tong would be here.”) I remember a shop in Los Angeles that had the widest assortment of names I’d ever seen, some leaning toward Latino, some toward African American, some just plain gringo. Meanwhile, it’s nice to be reminded that Tiziano is a living current name in Italy (my friend Antonio’s son claims it) and not just the nome of the 16th-century Venetian painter. It’s also nice to see that “Sandro would be here.”
September 27, 2018
I always wind up at the library. No matter where I go. In Las Vegas, others swarmed The Strip and its casinos. I went to the library (to send email via their computers) and met some amiable homeless people who use the men’s room as their personal bathing center. In Miami Beach, same thing. Montreal’s National Library, in addition to its other treasures, has wonderful rotating exhibits. (Two that remain happily in memory: an insect exposition that seemed to have lost some of its itinerant inhabitants; and a history of illustrations of “Little Red Riding Hood” that indicated the path to be followed from display to display by wolf footprints painted on the floor.) Rome’s libraries are raucous social centers where no one pays much attention to the “no talking” rule. Istanbul’s are solemn affairs. Here in Rhodes, however, I was stumped. I knew it was the library, and I could figure out the opening hours (sort of), but that was it.