I went to one of Boston’s best restaurants last night.  A family favorite, never disappointing, not after all these years, and whether it’s from the back or in the main room, Santarpio’s always has the city’s best pizza.

Not just the pizza, of course, but the general vibe of staff and customers having a great time at great value.  In the main room, it starts with the server asking, “Youse need menus?”  In the back, it’s the chubby guy in checkered pants shouting your name after you tell him who you are so he can get your order.

The pizzas are baked in huge ovens that look like Blodgett, and the bottoms have cornmeal.  Toppings are hidden beneath mozzarella and tomato sauce that’s scooped from an old tin.

$45 for three to eat two pies, a half carafe of wine, and a bottle of beer in the dining room, including tax and tip.  (That’s about $40 less for the same items in most Boston restaurants where the food is about 40% as good.)  $30 for two pies to take home.

The 1/2 sausage and 1/2 anchovy are a favorite, and the pepperoni or

mushroom wonderful, too.

This is the kind of food Boston excels at it.  Though might as well be in Jersey, and that’s the highest compliment.

Cash only.


March Hare

Knausgaard recommended in an interview, “Voices from Chernobyl,” and I read sixty pages before sending it back to Amazon and getting a refund.  Sixty words would have done the same trick.  Page after page of repetitive despair, I’m not knocking it, nothing like someone else’s misery to make your own insignificant.

So now reading Judd Apatow’s book of interviews with stand-up comics.  Each page offers something new.

In between these accounts of pain and laughter, two pieces I wrote were published last week, one about a luxury spa in Flims and another about how to travel in Switzerland as a Swiss.  What other country does so well with other people’s money?

On the broader front, my book proposal on Japanese cognition ought to go out today, and my book about lost children in Japan still seeks a home, which is kind of ironic.

Day to day, I stock up on food for the upcoming apocalypse.  I gave up eating dinners out in Boston awhile back, with one or two exceptions, but I know that the night will come when I crave a $17 cocktail, burgers, fries, poutine, Chinese meals with protein from commercial farms, pizza, and pork.  Then I’ll step out my door and head into town.


In the Swiss stations

At the airport, the COOP supermarket is stocked with shelves of food, and the breads, chocolate, chickens, fruits, and vegetables turned out to be delicious.

At the next station, Eduard Hitzberger, whose restaurant Paradies in Ftan I’d been thrilled by ages ago, opened a first-rate coffee shop with wonderful baked goods and freshly prepared foods.  Chef Hitzberger is tuned into environmental concerns and among his sandwiches is: “Insekten Sandwich,” made up of mealworms.

On the top of the mountain, which we reached just before noon by funicular, paths and the one narrow “street” in the village were clear though icy in parts.  The valleys are clear, up here the snow is four or five feet high.

Dinner was Irish smoked salmon on dark bread with Swiss mustard and dried marjoram, curried lentil soup with red onions and a touch of ginger, and fried chicken with an array of cauliflower florets.  Good white Ticinese Merlot from a guy named Guido whom I met years ago, and a decent Pinot Noir from Graubunden.  Good thing I shopped for food at the station as the local restaurants are often crowded and not so restrained as the customers are hungry from a full day of skiing.  The wines were already here.

A late night of the Super Bowl, thanks to German TV.  US internet providers and stations blocked the signal to carriers outside the States.  Germany has regulations about access, and no commercials were aired during the game.

Game over at 415 AM, slept ’til noon.  The Dorfladen is closed on the lunch break.  We might go to the cafe, or wait until the Laden opens.


Winter Recluse

I went into a bookstore the other day, the first time I’d been in one in several years, looking for some titles by a few authors.  Why is it that the aisles are so often filled with gaseous patrons wearing flannel?  Of the three authors I was looking for, all of whom are famous, there was one book by each of them, but none were what I was looking for.  So I went home and ordered what I wanted from Amazon.  Which is what I usually do when it comes to books, music, movies, household supplies, etc.

As it turns out, there’s little need in my life for most things retail.  I love the Armenian market down the street, the Jewish market over the bridge, the Caribbean and African market in Dudley Square, and EATALY downtown, but when it comes to things I can’t buy to cook things to eat, staying home is the best option.

I haven’t any tickets for local theatre nor any musical acts coming to town, the next time I’m eating dinner out locally is at the end of March.

If it wasn’t for the gym, work, local food markets, and one or two or three bakeries, I might as well be on Mars.


Kiss this One Goodbye

Looking forward to a much needed new year though I bet that next year around this time I’ll be writing the same words.

It was a tumultuous year, as we all know, and although the pre-trial Bill Cosby said wisely never to say, “it could be worse,” it could be worse.

2018 will bring out the best in people, and it will bring out the worst.  It’s likely to be a year of extremes, and, as Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote, “If you can imagine it happened, it happened.”  But how does one prepare?

In the world of food, writers will continue to collude with industry and ignore the realities of one of the last unregulated industries based primarily on servitude and a military model of relatedness.  There’s a reason why the front of the house in restaurants are called servers–it’s a nice way of saying, “servants.”  And in the back of the house, cooks work in, “brigades.”

The big trends in 2017, put forward by industry and outsiders, are little things like eating out more, eating at home more, more Asian cuisines, smaller plates, fermentation, etc.

But the real trends, consistent with servitude and the military, are, first, the increasing takeover of the industry by private equity and hedge funds. The biggest profit margins are in bread, coffee, pizza, noodles, and baked goods–you’ll see more investment in each of these.  You’ll also see greater uniformity in overall dining–business plans–and a huge push to sell alcohol, which is where more profitability exists than in food.

You’ll also see more chefs and restaurateurs toppled by women coming forward to report the sexual harassment and abuse that takes place in their establishments.

And then, in 2019…

@ Narita

@ Narita, once again, after 8 nights in Japan on a trip that took me from Tokyo to Kyoto and back to Tokyo.  Not much between meeting people and taking notes and observing except for really delicious food, from eggs to noodles to broths to chicken to beef to pork.

Late last night, solo @ LAPIN, a subterranean bar in an alley in Ginza. Something out of a movie.  Originally from 1928, habituated by several famous writers, like Dazai, banned during the fascist era, reopened as a coffee salon during the American occupation when liquor was scarce or illegal, moved, reshaped, back to what it was supposed to have looked like nearly a century ago.

It was like being in a movie, from the ancient, doddering, serious staff to the idiosyncratic, outgoing guests, to the low ceilings to the small wooden stools facing the bar.

Now heading to the States.

Couldn’t decide between kaarage, gyu, or yakitori for airplane picnic so bought all three.

“OK, Time to Fly!”

“OK, time to fly!” was a slogan of the state airline of Czechoslovakia back in the day, around 1981, when I made my second visit to Prague before the whole Soviet collapse.

Today in Tokyo, it’s time to fly once again, back to the States, returning to Battleship Amerika.  People here in Japan with whom I’ve spoken, friends I’ve known for well over a decade, nearly two, have pushed aside their usual reticence about shortcomings of the States they perceive.  Long conversations laced with fear and anger and sadness.

All this over delicious grilled beef or grilled chicken, fresh vegetables, eggs, soba, udon, and broths.

Returning soon.

Saturday Morning in Kyoto

The house I’m in is new, not open yet to the public, and it is in a small compound that belongs to a late nineteenth century mansion within which are numerous artifacts and art from various sources, including Zen temples shut down during the Meiji Restoration.

The house faces an enormous private garden of deciduous and pine trees, lined on one side by a canal and a narrow street, on the other side there is a busy, four lane city street.

I’ve been in Japan nearly a week.  Lots of meetings concerning writing and projects, each evening with friends, mostly old friends though some new, and great people watching day and night.

Long walks through the downtown area and also the Eastern hills.  Kyoto is one of my three favorite cities: Manageable scale, extraordinary mix of architecture, people reserved but pleasant, a wide river lined on one side by an elevated bank and little cafes.

I’ve been enjoying udon and soba, yakitori and beef, beautiful apples and persimmons, delicious young ginger.

I’ve read two novels by Mishima in the past few days, and the morbid fascination with decay and self-loathing make clear why he appealed to me in junior high school when I seem to have shared some of his doubts with similar intensity.  Now I can still appreciate the ferocity of the writing, his commitment to what he is writing.  He is more like a sculptor than a painter.  But I’m lost when his fantasies turn from reality rather than observe what is around us.

14 Hours Ahead or Behind

Not sure why jet lag this time around seems particularly brutal.  Not so much the disrupted cycles of sleep, moreso the waves of fatigue that happen at any time.

I arrived in Japan a couple of days ago for eight full days.  Tokyo, Kyoto, Tokyo.

The city–Tokyo–seems to be gaunt and celebratory, Christmas lights and decorations up, from big trees to snowmen wearing stovepipe hats.  Trees still bearing leaves and the light crystallized so that things are in stark relief and then vanishing.

Subways crowded, as usual, but delightfully silent and postures showing sleep or recognition of private pleasure barely concealed.

SEO is a wonderful yakitori place beneath Tokyo Station.  Maruzen has a great branch of its Ginza bookstore on the north side of the station that I hadn’t known about until yesterday.  But English language translated books by Japanese authors cost between $20-30, which complicated selection.  Dinner at a vegetarian place near University of Tokyo with a friend who teaches Agriculture there, and is retiring soon.  Late night snacks with another friend in the warrens of big office buildings in Marunouchi.

Morning today in Ginza, assuming no missiles are launched, then a train to Kyoto.


It’s a few days until another Thanksgiving, and then a few weeks until Christmas, and then before you know it, it’s 2018.  You don’t need me to tell you that, I think you’ve got a handle on these things, and I mention it in passing just to get it down, just to get my head clear, perhaps, and it’s as if you are listening in.

The past month, I’ve had a flurry of publications about Seoul, Switzerland, and Japan, places I’ve been, a couple quite often.  Next week, I return to Tokyo and Kyoto for nine days of work, meetings, and what-not.

Speaking of Japan, I finished my book inspired by the boy left in the mountains near Hakodate on Hokkaido.  Now it’s with an agent, and my thoughts and prayers, who could be the person who could rep it, will rep it, and then find a home.  The style of the book owes a debt to Hideo Yokoyama, whose, “Six Four,” is a wonderful and strange novel about a police investigation as well as family and work in Japan.

And as long as we are mentioning family, this week a welcome inundation begins, and we’ll have ma pa tofu with shiitake mushrooms on Monday night, Red Snapper on Tuesday night, fondue made with Rolf Beeler cheeses on Wednesday night, and on Thursday, there’s this:

Curried lentil soup, two dry rubbed 12 pound turkeys from Pennsylvania with lots of butter under the skin, chestnut and cornbread stuffing (maybe one with Chinese sausages), Robuchon whipped potatoes, cranberry sauces, some greens with sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds. 450 for 20 minutes, then 250 for about three hours. Good Austrian reds.

And pies, lots of pies.