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.