Looking from our room down into the hotel’s interior patio, we saw this party going on. What was it? There’s so much black being worn. Could it have been a funeral party? Or is everyone in Madrid just so chic, especially after Labor Day, that few colors (and certainly no white on any of the women) are to be seen. A pink shawl draped over a chair back here, a golden brown suit there, a gentleman’s khakis. Otherwise, nada.
February 27, 2019
Don’t you love pears? Maybe not as much as I do. I love their taste, their texture, everything about them. But only when they’re perfectly ripe. Why is it so hard to find ripe fruit in the United States? Maybe it’s me. Recently, my friend Nick offered beautifully ripe Forelle pears as part of his Christmas dessert table. He said he’d bought them firm, ripened them in a paper bag, removing them at the first touch of softness at the blossom end. I found some Forelle pears and tried it. Nada. Oh, well. I have my memories. Like that of these beauties in Montreal’s central market. So ripe and juicy and flavorful. And look. There’s a plate of sample slices just in case you’re from the USA and don’t believe that ripe pears can be found.
February 26, 2019
In a college classical art history course, I learned from Professor Barbara Kaufman that the right-angled, squiggly ongoing line so prevalent in ancient Greek artifacts is called a meander. Makes sense. So I was doubly excited to find it represented on this manhole cover on the Greek isle of Milos. Why doubly? Well, I was able to throw around the term “meander.” And I could indulge my love of photographing manhole covers of many lands. This is a particularly good one, I think, not only because of the meander, but also because of the surrounding stonework, no?
February 25, 2019
When Nick and I lunched at the wonderful Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, here’s some of what we had. From left. Grilled sausage, Umbrian lentils, cipolline, sage. Pulpo a la Plancha: seared octopus, shaved carrots, pomelo, lime, radish, black garlic. Mmmm-mmm. We also had fried rabbit. And three cheeses from Emilia Romagna for a diet dessert. Right.
February 24, 2019
Among the many reasons we like to stay at the Galata Residence in Istanbul: the private apartments available for short-term stays; Faruk, the most charming and welcoming handyman; the proximity to the streets of Beyoğlu; the short walk to ferries to the Asian side of the city; the quick tram ride to the splendors of the oldest part of the city -- Aya Sofya, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi. AND the fact that we have a small kitchen at our disposal. Not that it takes much equipment for us to make tea or to concoct a simple but magnificent breakfast like this. Yogurt, made by people who know what they’re doing. Almonds secured from spice-and-nut vendors on almost every streetcorner. And whatever fruit happens to be ripe and in season, in this case, these beautiful figs. Who needs more than this?
February 23, 2019
I’ve written before about this magnificent house, home to so much history. So imagine my horror when I was running toward it just before Christmas and noticed the light in the neighborhood was somehow different from the way I remembered it. Surprise! Red Roof had been demolished. Razed to the ground. Gone. All that history, all those memories. Mrs. Isabella Stewart Gardner, a frequent guest, would be appalled. What kind of monstrosity will be constructed on the site, I wonder? I’d heard that the recent buyers of the long-family-held homestead were interested in restoring the property. Guess not. A shame, really. Glad I got inside to visit on two occasions.
February 22, 2019
February 21, 2019
Ah, the splendid pastry shop Sandri on this medieval town’s main thoroughfare. No wonder so many people I know have been here. My Croatian friend Marin, when he was a high-school student in Perugia for the summer, was a regular visitor. Nick, Miriam and I were here while doing research for Nick’s Great Italian Desserts book. And my friend Simon, when he was trying to find a place he would like to live. (He finally chose Tucson.) Simon went into Sandri, saw these cheese breads, saw the price listed, and asked for one to be wrapped up for purchase. It was only when he was presented with the bill that he realized that the price was per etto (about 3.5 ounces) and he told me his weighty Crescia cost something like $40. Oh, well, I’m sure it was good.
February 20, 2019
When friends sometimes ask me where in the world I’ve encountered the nicest people, I never hesitate in my answer: Cuba. I felt a welcome, a warmth there that I’d never experienced in even the hospitality-famous cities of Turkey, in Italy, in Spain, and certainly in France. Was it because I could speak a little Spanish? Maybe. Or because of the eager curiosity of people inside Communist countries to hear what’s really going on outside. Maybe. (I’d come across a bit of this when I crossed the Iron Curtain into Czechoslovakia in 1972.) But mainly, I think, it’s just a Latin ease and friendliness combined with a desire to share what little they might have. Even if it’s just a bit of conversation, such as the one I had with this happy group.
February 19, 2019
I had come to Montmartre for three reasons. Reason #1: I heard there was a good, cheap thrift shop, and there was. I got a number of shirts that I still wear, thinking of Paris each time I do. Reason #2: I wanted to visit the cemetery and pay tribute to the late François Truffaut, which I did. And I was not alone in doing so. Reason #3: I wanted to visit the Abbesses neighborhood where the charming film Amélie take place. And here it is, just as the snow started to fall.
February 18, 2019
I once took a poetry workshop with Mark Doty in Provincetown. Of the dozen or so young men in the class, at least half had an Anthony Perkins story. And I mean a story. Mine (writing him a mash letter and delivering it to the stage door of The Star-Spangled Girl on Broadway when I was in high school) was the mildest and least sensational by a long shot. One young poet had had an ongoing thing with the Psycho star. A few others just a one-off evening. I met him once when he was appearing with Mia Farrow in a Boston tryout of a play called Romantic Comedy. They had both come into the television station where I was working and I was determined to introduce my friend George (a fanatic Farrow fan) to his inamorata. Perkins was peevish, probably because of the play’s less-than-positive notices. He swept by with a preoccupied look on his face. Farrow could not have been more charming and down to Earth.
February 17, 2019
Sail into a Greek island town off-season on a Sunday and there are usually only two things open: the bakeries and the churches. After a hike to the top of the island, we came upon what seemed like a completely deserted village. That is until we passed the small hilltop church and heard the haunting chorus of voices inside. Then down again to the sea, passing some very blasé goats, we arrived here, a welcome sight after the appetite we’d worked up. (Oh, yes, there were souvenir vendors at the harbor, hawking the island’s famous armless Venus, even though she currently resides, as she has for years, in the Louvre.)
February 16, 2019
The Harvard Square Theatre, when I first moved to Cambridge in 1978, used to show a different double-feature every single day. All day long. And they were cleverly programmed, too. Two Altman films like Images and Three Women. Or The Godfather, parts one and two. Or a Truffaut two-up of The 400 Blows and Small Change. Because they were not first-run films, the admission was remarkably inexpensive. Could it have been $1.50? I used to work on a nightly news program, so I’d often spend the daylight hours inside the huge auditorium watching the movies over and over. Years later, the space was divided up into a handful of smaller screening spaces, moved its entrance around the corner, changed its programming to new releases. And slowly it failed. This past summer, it closed for good. Instead, the space will be used as a concert/club venue. Lots of memories for lots of people within those walls.
February 15, 2019
As you can see, I’m in good company. And, in spite of all these Italians, I’m in Spain. On the front steps of the Prado to be exact. On the afternoon Jay and I arrived back in the Spanish capital for our first visit in 14 years. An auspicious trip, it turned out -- I had such a good time in Spain and Portugal that I couldn’t quite adjust back into the American corporate way of life. So I investigated early retirement, found it feasible, and leapt at the chance within weeks of our return. Haven’t looked back (or regretted it for a moment) since.
February 14, 2019
Flowers to honor Saint Valentine's Day. Beautiful and dangerous. Just like a lot of things in Tucson, one of my favorite places on earth. I was fortunate to visit my friends Simon and David during a spring after a (relatively) heavy winter rainfall. Consequently the desert was in bloom. Just look at those blossoms on that spiny prickly pear cactus. This photo brings up bittersweet feelings for me. It was taken on land that Jay and I bought in the Tucson Mountains with plans to build a home there. Alas, plans change. The desert is still beautiful and beckoning. The land, sadly, is no longer ours.
February 13, 2019
Taos? Santa Fe? Nope. It’s a fortified Greek town in the Peloponnese, accessed by sea or by a very narrow causeway, ruled by just about every country in that part of the world at one time or another. Not a great destination for non-climbers, the town huddles against sheer mountain cliffs, carved out of rock, with steps leading in so many directions that it’s easy (and fun) to get lost on the way to the top. But when you get there, it’s worth it. Not only is the view magnificent, but you quickly see why the town was so valuable, as a fortress, as a pivotal spot along the Aegean trade routes. Think Georgia O’Keefe would have liked this building and so many others nearby?
February 12, 2019
Is this Oz? Are we somewhere over the rainbow? Look at that riot of colors and shapes here in Barcelona’s central market. And this is just one of many such stands in that crowded, crazy emporium that caters equally to tourists and grandmothers from the neighborhood. Produce, meat, fish, shellfish, juices, you name it. Plus a few spice shops, bakeries and -- because everyone knows what hard work shopping can be -- a few bars and lunch counters (where the food is always fresh.)
February 11, 2019
My first visit to Istanbul was in cherry season. Wowee! Also in their prime at that time, a green plum with a slightly tart bite to it, called erik. I bought lots of each during my ten days in the City of the World’s Desire. Here they are on abundant display in the big outdoor market in Kadıköy on the Asian side of this magical city, the only city in the world split between two continents. Oh, what we Americans could learn from this country of eaters who demand good quality fruit sold at a time of perfect ripeness. Not for them pre-ripened fruit picked and shipped for the wholesaler’s (not the consumer’s) convenience, sadly sacrificing taste for appearance.
February 10, 2019
Welcome. Well, sort of. After Nemo the Blizzard took his sweet old time passing through the area (snow and wind from 9am Friday until 11am Saturday), the denizens of Hillside Road emerged, shovels in hand. A first two-hour shoveling, through drifts as high as four feet, carved this path from my door to the street. (Never mind that continuing winds and passing snowplows covered it up again.) A late-afternoon encore found my beloved neighbor David showing me how to work his snowblower...allowing me to liberate my driveway and car. Then I helped neighbor Don open up his driveway, too. Raking leaves, shoveling snow and yard sales -- the three times a year we’re sure to connect with our good neighbors.
February 9, 2019
I like snow when it’s decorative. When it’s inconvenient, not so much. As I wrote this, the blizzard named Nemo was bearing down on New England, promising forecasts of some two feet or more of snow. Of course, the storm-panicked zombies have descended upon the supermarkets, clearing shelves with the voracity of biblical locusts. Ditto the fuel at gas stations. How did we get like this? I blame TV.
February 8, 2019
Imagine walking out of church and seeing this view. That’s what happened when I climbed the hill to the cathedral here in Monaco, not far from the royal palace, the cathedral where Princess Grace and Prince Rainier were married, and where they both now lie in rest. I’d toured the inside of the church and was making my escape just as Mass was beginning (it was November 1, a holy day) when I was stunned by this magnificent vista. Why, it would almost make it worthwhile attending church again. Almost.
February 7, 2019
Oh, the glories of tapas. And the casual approach to these side dishes of potatoes, sausages, omelets, seafood and much more extends to the surroundings as well. Here we are, once again, with great pleasure at Tapas 24, a popular spot in Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood. So popular is this place that it was packed even late this afternoon, well after lunch and well, well before any respectable Spaniard’s dinnertime (usually 10-11pm.) Alas, the tapas revolution that seems to have taken hold in los Estados Unidos hopes to approach the content of the dishes but seems to have completely neglected the “whatever” quality of the atmosphere. Maybe it’s just the Boston places I’ve visited that invest their delivery of “small plates” with a reverence and sanctity I’ve never experienced in Spain. Or maybe I just miss the chalkboard menus written in Catalan.
February 6, 2019
No matter where we travel, we always wind up at the central market. And no matter which market it may be, we always wind up at the artichokes. Or, as they say in Valencia, the carxofas. Maybe it’s because we have a tendency to travel in autumn, prime season for our favorite produce item. Alas, it’s always a pity that we never have access to a kitchen in which to prepare them. So our enjoyment of these beauties is always visual and vicarious.
February 5, 2019
As I write this, in the chill of a New England February, I’m thinking back to this warm day last July when my friend Chris invited a handful of friends to his lakeside childhood home for the afternoon. Swimming, boating, eating, laughing. I love that watersprites Kevin and Rich maintained their sunglasses even while plunging into the deep. And I also love that I had left before the voyage on the pontoon boat sputtered to a halt in the middle of the lake. It was towed back to the dock by the passengers who unexpectedly found themselves in the drink, pushing and pulling the stalled craft.
February 4, 2019
Once, in a movie theater on my first trip to Rome, I didn’t know enough Italian to distinguish between the words on the doors to the restrooms. Signore? Signori? So similar, which one? I opted for the former. Wrong! But too late did I discover my error and I had to hide in a stall as Roman ladies came and went. Finally it was all clear and I managed to escape the ladies room if not the embarrassment. Now, with more Italian language skills to draw upon, I don’t think I’d make the wrong choice in this Venetian grocery store: baby food on the left, pet food on the right. Buon appetito!
February 3, 2019
When my beloved friend Simon was an undergraduate at the Rhode Island School of Design, he walked up the hill to Brown to attend a presentation by artist Julian Schnabel. In the elevator with his friends en route to the talk, he began, like any good self-righteous undergraduate, to trash Schnabel. “I can’t believe people pay any attention to this fraud. He’s not an artist. He paints on plates. A total phoney. He’s laughing at people and producing garbage, etc.” When they arrived at the auditorium level, the man behind him left the elevator...and walked to the podium. It was Julian Schnabel. It’s one of my favorite stories. On a recent walk down memory lane in Providence, Simon pointed out, to my delight, the elevator in the List Arts Center at Brown where it had all transpired.
February 2, 2019
Who says it’s hard to manage food allergies in a restaurant? More and more I see vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options listed on menus. And with a little bit of understanding of how food is prepared (soups and sauces thickened with flour, etc.) or a little bit of courage to ask, it’s no problem at all. An example: this birthday dinner at Gaslight, one of my favorite Boston restaurants. Roasted pear salad with walnuts and goat cheese; Brandt Beef Rossini (shown) with potato puree, spinach, a swirl of foie gras butter and sauce Bordelaise; artisan cheese plate (yes to the pickled carrot slices and watercress, no to the toast and jams). Three delicious courses, no sugar, no flour. Onward.
February 1, 2019
I love the reflected autumn light here against the beautiful Riviera pastel buildings. For me, even more than the sea, these colors, dappled as they are by gentle sunshine, evoke the South of France. So many of the sights that I’d enjoyed in Monaco 40 years earlier were gone when I recently visited again. The charming small train station, gone. The waterside, family-run seafood restaurant where I’d had grilled daurade served on top of an arrangement of twigs, gone. Now it’s all skyscrapers, tidy streets and sidewalks, displays of wealth. But the colors and the light endure.