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Visiting with Oz Mondejar and John Verlinden




Visiting with Oz Mondejar and John Verlinden

I consider a home to be where the heart of a family can be nourished and prosper. The home of Oz Mondejar and John Verlinden is filled with a welcoming abundance of art and artifacts. This invites one and all in for a party of sharing cultures from all around the world with a focus on Cuba, the ancestral homeland of Oz. Here they have created a fantastic place that offers comfort and delight for all who enter.I see this as a reflection of the deep love shared between two men who together form an expansive bond of abundant joy.      

IA: How long have you both been in a primary relationship of love and respect?

O&J: We met in Baltimore in 1985 and have been in a relationship since then. It has always been a whole lot of fun – humor is the glue that keeps us attached, respect & love are always present, we just care for each other.

IA: Did you always consider yourselves a married couple in an affectionate and spiritual manner?

O&J: Yes, we did and do.  We’re creative, kindred spirits, we share an appreciation for family, friends, animals, community, nature, the cosmos, a good meal with vino and the arts.  We have a few interests in common, and our own passions.  One commonality is that it’s hard for us to sit still. We’ve been told we have ants in our pants.   We’re just never done … there’s always a looming project or adventure under foot. 

IA: Are you married legally in the State of Massachusetts?

O&J: Yes

IA: If married in a legal sense do you consider that status to have contributed to the well-being of yourselves and your extended family?

O&J: Yes! By the time marriage became legal in Massachusetts, we’d already been together for 19 years, so we really questioned whether or not we should even bother, but we did consider it a historic event, so we decided to go ahead and do it. We were both surprised at how meaningful and important being able to officially marry would be for us. The process and the government’s endorsement of it affirmed us and has made us stronger as a couple. It was validating.

IA: Briefly, what are your individual professions?

O: Hospital Administration, Executive with Partners Healthcare, Spaulding Rehabilitation network.

J: — Chef, Food Writer “To Cook Is To Love,” published 2010 and Small Business Consultant

IA: What is a highlight of each of your professional careers that has been particularly fulfilling?

O&J: We are both community guys, and our professions have facilitated our efforts.  We have been able to do many things to support and enhance and advocate for our communities — People with Disabilities, Hispanic, LGBTQ, Woman’s Rights & Children’s issues.

IA: When and how did you find your house?

R to L, John and Oz greeting us at their front door                                  Photo by Iory Allison

O&J: It was 1987 — we were looking for a condo, and had just put an offer in on an apartment (650 square feet) in the South End, when Oz’s sister who was also looking for a condo, suggested we pool our money and look for a two-family home. We started looking in Brookline because our niece was in school and Brookline has great schools.

IA: What condition was the building when you found it?

O&J: In a word — it was ‘rough — a hot mess’. The headline of the classified ad for the house said “Developer or Would Be Developer?’ At the time, we purchased it (in reality it purchased us), the house was being utilized as a rooming house. We purchased it from the estate of a woman who’d lived in it for 60 years. After raising her family and losing her husband, she rented out rooms on a short-term basis.

IA: What were you attracted to about this house in particular?

O&J: It is a great old house with lots of character, the woodwork on the first floor was installed by skilled craftsmen and is intact.  It has survived the allure of paint for nearly a century. The house has a welcoming aura. Also, when we first moved in, the presence of Pauline, the previous owner was palpable.  She was loved by the neighbors…we felt welcomed by her. 

The house is a grand ol’ dame, she requires regular touch-ups and grooming. We truly are the caretakers much more than the owners.

First floor parlor with original paneling, diptych painting by Magda Campos – Pon, Cuba Artist, Professor at Mass College of Art.                          Photo by Iory Allison

IA: Did you have to do extensive renovation to create the third-floor guest suite?

O&J: Yes, we did a gut-renovation. We took everything back to the studs; we took out almost all of the walls and took the ceiling out to create a space that is open to the rafters.


Third floor guest suite with original roof beams exposed        Photo by Iory Allison

IA: Do each of you have specific and singular interests concerning your home?

O&J: It’s warm, eclectic, with many quirks.   Although it’s a never-ending fixer upper, we both love everything about the place. And, we feel like it’s happy having us live here.

IA: Do these individual interests complement each other?

O&J: We collaborate on almost every project. Oz has a great eye for design, so he is the creative visionary, John is handy and crafty, so our skills are very compatible.

IA: Is there something that you do together concerning your home that you both love and adore?

O&J: We both enjoy hospitality and entertaining — opening doors for gatherings.  This stems from our upbringing. Both our families hosted, loved cooking, and breaking bread…it was rare not to have guests at the table.   Sharing the house keeps that tradition, it feels right and we’re also recovering restaurateurs.  We both grew up in the service biz, working our way through every food & beverage station. It’s in our DNA…we’re seasoned party planners.

A corner of John’s office – hanging paintings by Pat Peter from Gateway Arts. Abstract animal hanging plaque, ‘S/T’ by Roberto Baranda. The freestanding sculpture and the basket are created by South African Zulu Tribe Artists                                         Photo by Iory Allison

IA: Did you have an idea of the look or style of your completed home?

O&J: Curious and eclectic are good descriptors. We’re collectors, so we have filled the house with furniture, art and collectibles from many different eras, made of many different materials and from many different places around the world.   It’s always evolving, we like change — so we change it up.

IA: I see your home as a museum of whimsy and uninhibited delight. I see a relationship between the art and artifacts as you have chosen and arranged them that animates an audible conversation. That conversation seems to be to be expressing an appreciation of the beauty and richness of many cultural references and indeed speaks of a universal joyous aesthetic. Is there a theme to your collecting or a kind of story that you are telling with your incredibly rich world?


The Big Boy Hamburger kid in red checks, Jackie all boxed in, and Bart Simpson – just to mention a few of the denizens of the high shelves in John’s office              Photo by Iory Allison

O&J: (Iory this is a lovely description and spot on).  Although a specific theme is not always at the top of our minds at times. it’s a bit reminiscent of vintage 30’s, 40’s & 50’s.

we’re attracted to items that are playful and tell a story…most are vintage.  We see relationships between some items that we already have and a new item we see that we’d like to acquire, if they belong together, they have come home.

IA: Have you always collected art? What is art in your home and what is merely utilitarian? I ask this because there are vignettes composed of, for instance what looks like old garden tools, but arranged as a sculptural composition with purpose and I am amazed by the myriad of details that fill every corner with a twinkling smile.


Old garden tools as sculpture                   Photo by Iory Allison

O&J: We do see art and style in utilitarian things. And, we do have a rule about our collecting — No piece just gets to sit around and look pretty and collect dust; everybody has to work.

IA: John what items of your personal collections are most important to you? What items of your personal collections allows you a private giggle?

J: I do have favorites, of course, but I would never let the other pieces know.  We love all of our little collectible children equally.

IA:  what items of your personal collections are most important to you? What items of your personal collections allows you a private giggle?

O: A relic from Cuba of yesteryear… our patron saint – La Caridad del Cobre (Lady of Charity) from my family’s home in Cuba. The Giggle part is my Jane Mansfield hot water bottle

La Caridad del Cobre, the trials of life leave marks on the blessed Madonna and her companions

IA: John what of Oz’s collection strikes you as profound and enriching to your life?

Paramount Theatre on Washington Street, Boston by street artist, Sykel      Photo by Iory Allison

J: Ozzie has great taste, so I love just about everything he brings home. If not, I hide them.  And, anything that I’m not crazy about in the beginning seems to grow on me as time goes by. I would say that Ozzie has brought a level of sophistication and refinement to our collection that I would never have been able to achieve on my own.

IA: Oz what of John’s collection strikes you as profound and enriching to your life?

O: John has the best rubber toy collection  really (IA, see Email photo)

… and since he’s the Chef and creative ruler of the kitchen, I’ll say his Russell Wright dinnerware, they complement his every dish.  As a writer, the book he authored, “To Cook is to Love,” is the best example and collection of his passion, creativity and knowledge of food and all these ingredients come together to please the palate. Everything he makes has Mucho Gusto.

 (IA, Cook = Love, is first a conversation then an invitation to dinner with Sra. Mondejar where she relates her stories of growing up in pre-Castro Cuba – Oz is a first-generation USA citizen born in New Jersey.)   

John’s biographical cook book about Oz’s Mom, “Mami Aida” and her Cuban recipes.  

IA: Did you always want a garden component to your home? Did you look for a home with a garden?

O&J: Yes, gardens are really special places. There is something about being outside with nature that inspires and enriches us. When looking for a home, we definitely wanted some kind of outdoor space.   Our garden is urban, it’s on the smaller side and the perfect size for us.

IA: How have those gardens, decks, porches and outdoor spaces evolved?  

Garden pavilion off the back deck of the rear garden                       photo by Iory Allison

O&J: Our outdoor spaces have really evolved over the years, and they will continue to gain more character and create more interest in the future. Just like our indoor rooms, the look and feel of these outdoor rooms has grown and become more layered over time. They are extensions of the house, a bit country, vintage furniture and honky-tonk warmth. This was the first season that the garden felt pretty settled; it has been a work in progress since the beginning. 

IA: I see, inside and out, your home is created with numerous places for socializing. Do you entertain a lot? Do you like sharing your space with family and friends?

O&J: Yes, as indicated above, we do a lot of entertaining. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t have at least a friend or two over, and we also like to throw larger gatherings for benefits.

The gentlemen of the house


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Russian Orthodox Cathedral, London

Royal Gates, Russian Orthodox Cathedral, London                               Photo by Iory Allison

Last November, 2018, T 2 H 2, The Two Happy Husbands, Leo and Iory were in London stopping at The Rembrandt Hotel in ever so chic Knightsbridge across the Cromwell Road from the V & A. One afternoon, on a rambling stroll of that neighborhood we came across the charming Russian Orthodox Cathedral of The Dormination of the Mother of God and All Saints. Dormination is a R O, term comparable to the “assumption” in the western church referring to the passing of Mary from earthly life.  One of the charms of this small cathedral is that it is in a residential neighborhood nestled beside a mysterious private park of considerable size that is jealously guarded behind high iron fences with tall trees softening the surrounding urban formality. The church is accessed by a little cul-de-sac off Ennismore Gardens, South Kensington.  This creates a dignified progress towards the west front entrance where a 120-foot campanile stands proud, punctuating the architecture. This architectural ensemble closely reproduces the facade of The Basilica of San Zeno in Verona and as a Lombardy style church it is an unusual sight in Anglican London.

West front of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, London                  photo by Iory Allison

The original denomination of this parish was indeed Anglican and that church was also dedicated to and known as All Saints, Kensington. But in 1955 that parish was adjudged to be redundant and the building was leased to the Russian Orthodox Church who have recently completed an extensive restoration that makes the place shine and sparkle.

The original architect was Lewis Vulliamy and the church was built in 1848-49, although, the campanile was not constructed until 1860 because of monetary constraints. The interior decoration was likewise simple to severe also due to lack of funds. A major refurbishment was eventually accomplished in 1891-92 by the architect Charles Harrison Townsend. The most visible component of that work was completely redesigning and extending the main entrance façade to closely reference the twelfth-century façade of S. Zeno Maggiore in Verona, thereby enhancing the original Lombardy style of the church.  

Murals decorating the nave of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, London      photo by Iory Allison

Vulliamy employed Heywood Sumner to decorate the interior of All Saints and its new west front. Sumner used sgraffito technique on the interior walls and over the front door. Sgraffito utilizes layers of colored plaster which is then “scratched” or incised with images and decorations that reveal the various layered colors. There are two main subjects of these murals, Creation to Calvary depicted in rondels flanking the arches of the side aisles. Above those, a sequence of Saints framed in rectangular pictures appears on either side of the clerestory windows. Sumner was also contracted to design a new series of stained-glass windows of which the nave windows depict a parade of decorative “tree of life” images. He also designed three more prominent windows decorating the apse of the Sanctuary that depict the Trinity.

Iconostasis in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, London           photo by Iory Allison

The most prominent addition to the church by the Russian Orthodox Archdiocese is the astoundingly beautiful Iconostasis or icon screen that separates the congregation in the nave from the Sanctuary where the high altar is. The Royal Gates at the center of this screen are from the old czarist embassy chapel that was dismantled following the 1917 revolution.  The Icons surrounding the Gates were painted by pupils of Russian Iconographer Leonid Ouspensky. 

Detailed view of the Iconostasis Russian Orthodox Cathedral, London      photo by Iory Allison

I love the central icon here where Mary and Jesus, accompanied by the ox and ass, are secreted inside a snug hillside as if planted in the bosom of the earth, the womb of safe harbor. Although perhaps not liturgically intended, to me the juxtaposition makes reference to Mary as Mother Earth. All details are more easily seen by following the link at the bottom of this post. 

Icon shrine (ionostasia) in the nave of The Russian Orthodox Cathedral, London     

photo by Iory Allison


To see my full photo essay of the cathedral in all its glory, enlarged and in detail, click here

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Barrancas Del Cobre, Chihuahua, Mexico

Photo by Iory Allison

 The bright orange and piquant smile of Hotel Mirador lures tourists into her embrace where we are all struck with awe at the naked beauty of Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua State, Mexico.

Photo by Iory Allison

A river of old silver wood flows over the bumpy road of time. Locked in the history of her trunk the angular tango of life’s struggle is a triumph. Olé! Olé! Olé!

Photo by Iory Allison

An old knurled tree branch on the rim of Barrancas del Cobre speaks of long decades of blazing sun and strong winds dashing over the empty expanse.

Photo by Iory Allison

The profound silence of vast spaces at Barrancas del Cobre is interrupted by the faint chatter of swallows dancing on the wing in the effervescent sparkle of afternoon sunshine

Photo by Iory Allison

My Hubby, Señor Leo looking as cute as a button, posing on the rim of Barrancas del Cobre. Time adds a twinkle to the eye of a wise man.

Photo by Iory Allison, painting by Oscar Soto H. 1998 in the collection of Hotel Mirador, Barrancas Del Cobre

The weary gaze of this Rarámuri or Tarahumara young man (indigenous people of the area) is a result of centuries of harassment by European invaders and their censorious priests. His people have been chased into the hinterlands of Rarámuri country where the last scraps of arable soil are loosely held by families enslaved and abused for over 400 years. The imperial capitalist wrenched gold, silver and other minerals from the Sierra Tarahumara mountain district with relentless greed. Now the Rarámuri are even further exploited by drug cartels and logging companies that in concert strip the last vestiges of natural resource from the land and continue a reign of terror that is intrinsic to “civilized cultures.”    

Photo by Iory Allison

The tenacity of life clinging to the edge of geological time is resilient without measure. Sitting on a cliff beside a bone-dry rivulet I listen to the vast and open spaces whisper the truth of what is enough. I am my breath – the empty canyon is full of wonder.

Photo by Iory Allison

The scrappy twig salutes his sister clouds, each knows the other’s place – they are becoming.


Click here to join Iory at Barrancas Del Cobre