Jasper Johns at the Whitney
Still Life in Philly
Richard Selden • November 5, 2015
Portraitist of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton and other figures of the American Revolution, Charles Willson Peale raised a family of painters in Philadelphia, naming his sons Rembrandt, Raphaelle, Titian and Rubens and his daughters Angelica and Sophonisba (not a complete list).
One of the major works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s new exhibition, “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life” (on view through Jan. 10) is Peale’s group portrait of his family: nine peaches-and-cream-faced Peales, including himself; the children’s nanny; and his dog Argus. On the green tablecloth is a still life — a tray of fruit next to a paring knife and a curled apple peel (pun no doubt intended).
On each side of this canvas, nearly seven and a half feet wide, are two small still-life paintings by Peale family members; nearby are classic still lifes by Raphaelle, one of the first American artists to specialize in the genre. His father, like many artists before and since, considered flowers, fruit, cheese, cutlery, serving ware, wine bottles, dead fish and the like more a subject for artistic training than for finished works, despite the still-life obsessions of Dutch Golden Age painters (excluding Rembrandt and Hals).
Grouping outstanding examples, many unfamiliar, in roughly chronological order under the thematic headings of Describing, Indulging, Discerning and Animating, the exhibition — the first of its kind in three decades — aims to make the case that, in the words of curator Mark D. Mitchell, “the story of American still life is the story of American life.”
At several points, context is provided in inventive ways. Plate 26 from John James Audubon’s “Birds of America,” depicting now-extinct Carolina parakeets, is accompanied not only by several of the huge folio volumes but by four specimens collected in 1843 and owned by Audubon, their colors — orange, yellow and turquoise — still bright.
In the Indulging section, visitors can explore the language of flowers at “You In Flowers” interactive stations, which generate personalized (sort of) on-screen bouquets from self-submitted adjectives.
Velvet curtains evoke the Gilded Age setting of William Harnett’s largest trompe-l’oeil (trick the eye) painting, “After the Hunt” of 1885, painted for the Paris Salon but purchased for Theodore Stewart’s extravagant New York saloon. Trained in Munich, Harnett was a genius at depicting feathers (dead game birds), fur (a dead rabbit), metal (two firearms and a hunting horn) and the life-size green door — with rusty ornamental hinges, a keyhole escutcheon and a dangling key — on which these and other precisely rendered objects appear to hang.
The superb selection of trompe-l’oeil works in the Discerning section includes “Reminiscences of 1865,” the movingly subliminal tribute to Lincoln painted in 1904 by Harnett’s contemporary John Frederick Peto, which shows a black-and-white portrait of the president and various forgotten scraps of paper tacked to a wooden panel in which ABE and his birth and death dates are carved.
The later works under the theme of Indulging (which overlaps with Discerning) show the influence of Japanese art, both directly — as in Robert Blum’s virtuosic “Flower Market, Tokyo,” of 1891–92 — and indirectly, by way of the French Impressionists.
Finally, the galleries featuring 20th-century art give example after example of modernism’s embrace of the genre. By including works by modern masters with distinctive personal styles — Charles Sheeler, Georgia O’Keefe, Stuart Davis, Paul Cadmus, Andrew Wyeth, Jasper Johns — the curatorial team compels us to ask “How does this work fit into the American still-life tradition and what does it add to it?”
Several of these works are sculptures, such as Andy Warhol’s seemingly trompe-l’oeil “Brillo Boxes” of 1964. Screen-printed on three wooden cubes, the piece actually proclaims its artifice through the imperfections of its handmade process.
One of the most beautiful works in the show is by an artist, like Peale, with Philadelphia connections: Alexander Calder. “The Water Lily,” c. 1945, constructed from sheet metal and wire, is black with a gray base, as far as could be from the colorful flower canvases in the preceding galleries. The flat piece of metal representing the lily’s seed pod, punched with holes, would never trick the eye, yet it is instantly recognizable, a triumph of observation to rival Audubon’s.[gallery ids="102346,125538,125533" nav="thumbs"]
Tour Philadelphia Like a Local
Jenice Armstrong • October 28, 2015
Yo, the next time youse come to Philly, you’ve gotta do more than see the Liberty Bell and buy a cheese steak.
Excuse the stank Philly addytude as well as the vernacular but the City of Brotherly Love has a whole lot more going on than what you see in a Rocky movie. So, while it may be fun to make like Rocky Balboa and run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, that’s only the beginning of what all there is to do here.
Begin a leisurely fall weekend with a trip to one of Philly’s newest and best attractions, the Barnes Foundation. Originally located in a Philadelphia suburb, the impressive art collection opened in downtown Philadelphia in 2012 – which was an exciting thing for fans of the eclectic collection of paintings by Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso that once belonged to the late Dr. Albert C. Barnes. Tickets are required. You could easily spend a whole day taking it all in. But why? A whole city awaits.
Grab a late lunch on the run at the Reading Terminal Market, Philly’s famed historic farmers’ market. You’ll be dazzled by the sights and smells and have so many food choices you won’t know whether to get a freshly baked pretzel or one of the city’s famed hoagies. (The turkey hoagies with provolone cheese at Salumeria are a personal favorite.) For some Pennsylvania Dutch flavor, slide onto a counter stool at the Dutch Eating Place. Their open-faced turkey sandwich is a classic choice. You can’t go wrong with that. Same thing with the apple dumplings.
When it is time to walk off all that food, head east on Market Street in the direction of Independence Park. Skip the line for the Liberty Bell and head over to Independence Hall, the birthplace of the U.S. Constitution. You’ll need a free ticket to tour it. Afterwards, the President’s House is a short walk away and well worth it. This open-air exhibit plays tribute to Presidents George Washington and John Adams and the nine slaves who served at that house under Washington. You don’t need a ticket to walk around and imagine what it would have been like to have been owned by a man who fought the British to ensure freedom for Americans.
Since you’re already steeped in history, walk past the Betsy Ross House at Second and Arch streets. The house is open March through Nov. 30 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Cost: $5 per adult.
For dinner, the historic City Tavern, 138 S 2nd St., is a classic pick. It’s a replica of a former spot where many of the founding fathers once dined. In keeping with that historical heritage, the servers wear period clothing and you can order 18th century-esque dishes such as mallard duck sausage and colonial turkey pot pie. But this is Philly and good food is everywhere. Whether you’re talking an authentic Philly cheese steak from Jim’s Steaks on South Street (this is where I would go if I still ate cheese steaks) or one of Stephen Starr’s popular restaurants. My favorite? Continental because of the lobster mashed potatoes with red wine reduction sauce and fried calamari salad. There’s a Continental in Old City as well as Center City.
Day two in Philadelphia could start with a brisk walk around picturesque Rittenhouse Square, Philly’s most fashionable address. Think high-end stores, stately homes and condos and a peaceful, in-city park setting. Afterwards, rewards yourself with a hot cup of coffee. But skip Starbucks in favor of Philly’s own La Colombe at 130 S. 19th St. You won’t find a lot of extras there like soy milk and sandwiches, but the coffee is soul satisfying. Enjoy it there or take it with you as you stroll along Walnut Street, Philly’s ritziest retail strip. Shopping in Philadelphia is changing as big-name, major retailers such as H&M, Zara, Theory and Apple have replaced home-town stores which had been long-time staples on Walnut Street.
Since Philadelphia is known as the city of neighborhoods, make sure you take time to explore at least one.
Northern Liberties is the buzziest thanks to new development that includes a European-style piazza surrounded by cool restaurants and funky boutiques. It’s a popular space for concerts, festivals, and screenings. This past summer, Brooklyn’s famed flea market began opening at the Piazza on Saturdays. You can’t go wrong with going where the locals dine. We hang out at P.Y.T. for burgers or Darling’s Diner for an old-fashioned diner feel that’s open 24 hours.
The doors to Philadelphia’s first casino opened in 2010 and since then, SugarHouse Casino, 1001 N. Delaware Avenue, has become a fun hangout for gaming fans.
But if you’re looking for something more seasonal, catch a night-time Terror Behind the Walls Tour of the Eastern State Penitentiary. Formerly the most famous prison in the country, this time of year, it’s the top Halloween attraction in Philly. The final date for the haunted house is Nov. 9. Purchase tickets online at easternstate.org for the best deal.
End your getaway with a Sunday brunch at Green Eggs Café (there are three locations) with an order of red velvet pancakes and layered with strawberry mascarpone cheese. Yes, that’s a calorie-laden dish, but with all the walking you’ve done around Philly, you’ll have more than earned the treat [gallery ids="101515,150878" nav="thumbs"]
Take a Trip to the Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show
Linnea Kristiansson • March 11, 2015
The 11th Annual Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show, a perfect event for travel lovers to get inspiration, information and interaction with other travelers, comes to town this weekend. The show is part of the largest series of consumer travel shows in the U.S. and takes place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on March 7 from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. The event is also open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 8.
At the Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show, you’ll discover thousands of authentic travel experiences and speak directly to the travel experts who can get you there, give you the inside scoop, and save you money on exclusive travel deals.
The show will feature speeches from some of biggest names in the industry, including Rick Steves, Pauline Frommer and Travel Channel personality Samantha Brown, will be featured speakers at
Back by popular demand, the Destination Theater will feature location-specific seminars where travelers can draw inspiration and get information about the world’s most sought-after travel destinations like New Zealand and Alaska.
Attending Washington D.C. Travel & Adventure Show is like walking through a living guide book with thousands of world experts to talk to. You can spend countless days and hours searching the internet or thumbing through a book for this information or just make a trip to the Washington, D.C. Travel & Adventure Show/
For full event information about speakers, stage and seminar schedules, exhbitions, prizes, giveaways and more, visit travelshows.com/washingtondc.
Septime Webre’s Cuban Dreams
Gary Tischler • January 29, 2015
Back in December, when the Obama administration announced it would be normalizing relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuba after 50 years of severed relations, the news sparked a renewed interest in All Things Cuba—cigars, music, tourism, food, baseball, history, culture—as well as flashes of old political battles.
For one Washington cultural leader, it could mean the fulfillment of a journey that began before he was born.
The son of an American sugar planter and his Cuban wife, Septime Webre has been the artistic director of the Washington Ballet for 15 years. Throughout his life, Cuba has been at the root of his coming to terms with a complex personal identity.
Sometimes, he seemed to imagine it in his head, even as he grew up in multicultural, often exotic, places: New Orleans (briefly), where he was born; the Bahamas, where his father conducted business; and Brownsville, in South Texas, just across the border from Mexico.
“I was the seventh son in the family. When my parents had to leave in 1959, all their property, including a sugar mill, their family home and all their financial assets, were taken after Fidel Castro toppled the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
“For a long time, I’d often wondered who I was in terms of my culture, because, growing up, I’d had all of these different influences, long before I got interested in dance in a serious way. Mexican food and music, the rhythms of the Islands and all those stories I would hear from my family, my mother and father, my sisters and brothers, cousins, about Cuba: the music, the land, the big ocean wall at Havana.”
To Webre, Cuba was part of his dreams, part of the way he thought and created.
“Some of my relatives in Miami, my brothers, cousins, they would say I had this Mexican way about me, from growing up in school in Texas,” he said. “And I’d think about the ocean in the islands and the music.”
By the time Webre had come to New York to begin a career in ballet, first as a dancer, then as a choreographer, he’d had plenty of time to think about it. When he became artistic director in Washington, he had his first opportunity to visit the country he thought of, in some sense, as home.
In 1999, he traveled to Cuba and met Alicia Alonso, the legendary cofounder of Ballet Nacional de Cuba. The meeting resulted in a historic trip to Cuba in 2000 by Webre and the Washington Ballet to appear in Ballet Nacional de Cuba’s 17th International Festival.
Webre brought the whole company, as well as then Mayor Anthony Williams and other officials, local arts leaders (including theater directors Molly Smith of Arena Stage and Joy Zinoman of Studio Theatre) and Washington Ballet founder Mary Day, who was in her nineties.
“That trip, that experience of performing there, bringing my company, that was a big thing for me,” he said. “It wasn’t until then that I really discovered how Cuban I really was, how much everything about Cuba was in my soul, in what I did, how I approached dance and ballet.
“It was a moment, a true moment—not just for me, but it was also a time were people were taking an interest in Cuba again. . . . This was the time when ‘The Buena Vista Social Club,’ which was about a number of great Cuban musicians, was very popular.”
Everywhere he went, he took in the sights, the sounds “and the smells. Cuban music is very lively and colorful, it’s soaked in all sorts of traditions: salsa, island rhythms, Latin American strains, the Spanish guitar and the music of Africa from the days of slavery here. But always, it’s about movement, everywhere.
“They say a Cuban child learns to dance before they can walk,” he said. “It’s in the soul of people, they walk in a very musical, stylized way.”
He recalled the strong visual impact. “I loved seeing the city and the countryside in detail for the first time. In those days, economically, things had been stale for a long time. You saw and still do a lot of old American cars, there was rust and decay, rusted old Chevrolets and Cadillacs, that sort of thing, those colors on the side of buildings. I love the colors of rust, what rust does to material.”
Cuba, said Webre, is “in the blood and soul. You listen to that music, the languages, the style.” He remembers the palm trees, the experience and sound of the ocean and how the sounds of the oceans infiltrate the music. “Some of that style, I think, has crept into my choreography, into my identity as an artist, no question about it.”
“To me, in spite of years under the economic and political hardship of Communism, the island, the people had retained their soul, their culture, their hearts. That’s what I responded to.”
During his tenure with the Washington Ballet, Webre has had several Cuban dancers in the company. This past year, two new members arrived, under quite different circumstances.
Gian Carlo Perez, from Havana, a member of Ballet Nacional, toured Spain with the company on its 70th anniversary. Emigrating legally with a work visa, he is now a member of the Washington Ballet.
Miguel Anaya, also a Ballet Nacional dancer, came to the U.S. and the Washington Ballet the hard way. Touring with the company in Mexico City, he took a bus to the Laredo border and walked across the bridge, seeking political asylum.
“They’ve certainly added a lot to the company, a rich flavor,” said Webre. “You saw that in how male dancers in Cuba perform. They have some of those classic moves you see in matadors. Both of them will be dancing leading roles for us, in the upcoming ‘Sleepy Hollow,’ for instance.”
Back to the Latin Playground?
Born March 2, 1917, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III became the symbol of America’s love affair with Cuba, the country from which his wealthy and prominent family fled in 1934.
Ironically, the original TV run of “I Love Lucy,” in which Desi Arnaz played bandleader Ricky Ricardo, nearly coincided with the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, who led the revolt that sent Arnaz’s family – and many others – into exile in Miami.
During the Desilu decade of the 1950s, Cuba was the “Holiday Isle of the Tropics,” 90 miles from Key West. Havana was the Latin Las Vegas.
An earlier wave of Cuba tourism lasted from the 1920s through the early 1930s, the Prohibition years, when famous and infamous Americans went to Cuba to drink, gamble, golf, fish and perhaps sin. After a few visits, Ernest Hemingway bought his winter retreat, Finca Vigía, in 1940. It is now a museum, a mandatory stop along with his favorite Havana bars, La Floridita (for daiquiris) and La Bodeguita del Medio (for mojitos).
But since the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro – now aged 88 and ailing, having stepped down from Communist Party leadership in 2011 – Cuba became known as a police state rather than a vacation paradise. Along with others, the politically powerful Cuban exile community in the United States made sure that economic sanctions, including a travel embargo, remained in effect.
Then, on Dec. 17, President Obama announced a move to reestablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, following negotiations (with the assistance of Pope Francis) that led to the release of American Alan Gross, imprisoned since Dec. 2009, in exchange for three Cuban agents.
Unimpeded travel to Cuba from the U. S. will require Congressional approval. However, several regulatory changes will make things easier. For instance, U.S.-based credit and debit cards will now be accepted in Cuba, and U.S. travelers will be able to bring home up to $400 worth of Cuban goods.
The U.S. government will also issue what are called general licenses, for citizens who wish to travel for humanitarian reasons, to perform or compete and for other specific purposes. Currently, only special licenses, requiring an arduous application process, are available. Americans who travel to Cuba without a license or through a travel provider that is not licensed by the Department of the Treasury are breaking the law and risk substantial fines.
The regulatory amendments putting these changes into effect are supposed to be issued “in the coming weeks.” More information may be found online at treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/pages/cuba.aspx, where there is a link to sign up for Cuba Sanctions email updates.
In the meantime, the easiest, if expensive, legal option to visit Cuba is through a “people-to-people” group tour organized by an authorized travel provider, either open to the public or under the auspices of a university, a museum or another nonprofit.
The Cuban government has been investing in tourism since the 1990s, restoring sections of Old Havana and building resort hotels with foreign, but not American, partners. Capacity is limited, and most facilities have not been modernized.
By far the largest source of international visitors to Cuba – nearly a million per year – is Canada, whose citizens tend to go to Varadero, about 14 miles east of Havana, for inexpensive beach and nature vacations. While around 650,000 U.S. citizens visit annually, the vast majority are Cuban Americans with visas to visit family members.
Over the next few years, there will be a strong curiosity factor. Americans will seek to feel the aura of Capone, Hemingway and Sinatra, gawk at the vintage cars, visit unfamiliar beaches and see for themselves what the country and the people are like.
After a few years of opening to America, and, presumably, a surge when the ban is finally lifted, the place that Cuba will come to occupy in the panoply of Caribbean destinations is unknown.
But wouldn’t it be nice to toast Desi’s 100th birthday with rum and cigars in Santiago de Cuba, where both his father and grandfather were mayor?
A Sunny Christmas in the Turks and Caicos Islands
Famous for its salt production in the 1600s, now it’s the potcake-puppy culture, pirate shipwrecks, pink flamingos and Keith Richards that all thrive on the powdery white sands that make up the Turks and Caicos Island chain in the British West Indies.
The popular but uncrowded beach town of Providenciales, TCI’s largest city, where I stayed in December at the Ocean Club Resort, seemed to have the perfect ratio of condos, resorts, restaurants, and shopping venues, with just the right amount of nothing thrown in. Nobody tried to sell me anything on the beach once.
The original Turks and Caicos Islanders lived in peace for 700 years until the European arrival in the early 16th century eradicated the population through the introduction of disease and slave recruitment. After a vacant period of 150 years, the salt industry, and later cotton, demanded the use of slaves who, after being emancipated in 1834, really formed the basis of the population there today. Americans form the majority of tourism now, and many snowbirds from Canada and the East Coast spend substantial parts of the year or retire here. Tourism, offshore banking and fishing account for most of this British Overseas Territory’s industry.
Thanks largely to an extremely comprehensive talk and music demonstration at Ocean Club West by Turks and Caicos Islands Culture Director David Bowen, I felt like I understood for the first time some of the challenges associated with historically interrupted areas like TCI, when it comes to recognizing, defining and promoting its own culture. Bowen demonstrated “Ripsaw” music, indigenous to TCI, which is made from scraping a bent saw with a knife or screwdriver. He has personally collected poetry and stories from the Islands’ elders and can recite them at will, which was mesmerizing. I valued this immensely and believe it is this type of undertaking by native locals that will distinguish and elevate the travel experience in a part of the world that seems in danger of becoming too homogenized.
The night of my arrival I had an almond-crusted fried grouper with coconut sauce right on the beach at the resort that was phenomenal. A dinner at the resort’s signature restaurant Opus was also a culinary bull’s eye, where I gleefully inhaled the crudo fish tasting and coconut curried conch.
Since Ocean Club has two locations a mile apart on Grace Bay, both of whose amenities were available to guests, I had an extremely pleasant dinner at the Seaside Café West location as well. The resort was three for three in the kitchen department. The two-location set-up works well. The east spot was nice and quiet, while the west one was closer to downtown shops and good for my ADHD loud fixes.
Off-campus dining favorites included Da Conch Shack, an open-air compound devoted to showcasing the conch from the water to the table in every way possible, and the weekly Wednesday night Island fish fry. With at least 20 restaurants there hawking their chewables, I spent a small fortune wolfing down grilled spiny lobster, varieties of jerked chicken and pork, enough plantains to fill a Fiat, and some little red pepper things that were great. If you suddenly find yourself needing a hand-painted tin gecko of any size or a chiseled coconut face, this is the venue where your tchotchke thirst can be quenched. A TCI-style Junkanoo featuring “The Conch Man” was fun, while attempts at an open-mike type format served as a reminder why you went on vacation in the first place. The three dentists I golfed with swore that Coco Bistro was a landmark eating establishment not to be missed, but I did.
The Provo Golf club was an expensively watered oasis on the limestone island, and I ended up playing two rounds of golf here during my short stay. A first for me was a golf course that had pink flamingos on it that were there by choice. Conversations with club pro Dave Douglas were representative of the interactions I had with almost all activities management in Providenciales: friendly and story-abound, affirming of the small island’s obvious network of friendships. While it may be the only game in town, it was clear from talking to other golfers that it was a focal point activity for many of the repeat travelers and condo owners on the Island. A second first was the introduction of Moringa to me by Douglas. Moringa is the newest protein leaf on the rise that he swears will soon be in every North American supermarket. He and his sons have planted them on the course. I can’t tell if my glass of Moringa Tea helped me hit the ball any farther than usual, but it tasted good.
Jumping at the chance to go saltwater fly-fishing with the resort’s game-fishing partner Silver Deep, I was channeling Hemingway, while whipping line back and forth from the skiff’s bow, but the elusive bonefish remained elusive and I had to settle for a small barracuda in its place. Shark sightings in crystal clear water and the countless bird species abound were amazing. An afternoon sailboat excursion was beautiful and the snorkeling colorful. I spent a relaxing evening touring the mangrove flats with a knowledgeable tour guide who showed me how to pick up jellyfish at rest and told good glow worm stories. I had a locally hand-rolled cigar each evening on the porch, while I listened to the warm winds blow through the palm trees. I had a really good time.
More information about this resort can be found at www.oceanclubresorts.com. Maps and facts about the Turks and Caicos Islands can be found at www.gov.tc.
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Easton’s Bartlett Pear Inn: Food Fit for Romance
We’ve been married just a few months and reality got in the way of any sort of honeymoon – unless a quick trip up the Hudson Valley to meet the in-laws counts (it doesn’t). Romance for us has come in bits and bites, counted in hours snatched between deadlines and page designs.
What counts as a getaway for us is calling ahead to Moby Dick’s in Georgetown, stuffing down a sandwich, then running over to the Loews 14 for an action flick or settling in for an episode of “Bewitched” on Amazon.
When the opportunity to find a romantic B&B getaway for a 450-word story came up, my wife and I pounced. We shortlisted our choices based on several criteria: driveable in a couple of hours, a million cosmic miles away from our day-to-day grind, great food and a bathtub big enough for two.
A couple friends pointed us to Easton, Md., and Alice and Jordan Lloyd’s Bartlett Pear Inn on Harrison Street, said to be the ideal place to catch our breath and shake off the city. In less than two hours we were there.
Walking around the sleepy town a bit to get a sense of things, we stopped at an antique shop across the street. A nearby drugstore and soda fountain seemed straight out of the 1950s.
Then, making our way past a giant ceramic pear in the garden, we walked into the Inn. A quick look at the menu, and we quickly realized that the 30-seat restaurant on the first floor was the heart of the place and – as it turned out – the perfect place for the perfect meal.
The laid-back co-owner and chef Jordan Lloyd explained the restaurant’s holistic focus. “We try to incorporate our passion for all things fresh in everything we do: local, natural, wholesome. This philosophy allows us to stretch our imagination across all aspects of our business. Without the help of our local farmers, dedicated teammates and supportive families, we wouldn’t be who we are.”
Taking him at his word, we put our faith in the expert waitstaff, who guided us through the menu and wine choices. I tried the lamb loin, made with a light yogurt marinade and a natural mint jus. The sides were sautéed greens, burnt root vegetables and a parsnip puré. She went with the whole roast quail, stuffed and served with Swiss chard, D’Anjou pears, pecans and sugar-glazed butternut squash.
If ever there were a meal to foster romance, this was it. After the dessert of Alaskan s’mores made with graham crackers, roasted marshmallow meringue and white chocolate ice cream – well, if we weren’t already married, I would have asked her to marry me all over again.
For more information about the Bartlett Pear Inn, call 410-770-3300 or visit bartlettpearinn.
Manhattan Magic at the Rainbow Room and the Algonquin
Mary Ann Treger • December 17, 2014
The Rainbow Room: the Ultimate Room with a View
The dance floor rotates at a snail’s pace. A ringside crowd, dressed to the nines, longs for the Count Basie Orchestra to begin. The anticipation is palpable. Under a chandeliered 23-foot dome, vintage wine and Champagne flow as if it is New Year’s Eve, not an ordinary weekday night.
We are seated in the Rainbow Room, 65 floors above Rockefeller Center, surrounded by one of the few vistas in the world with the power to intoxicate: the magical Manhattan skyline. The only embellishments to an uninterrupted 30-mile view are “curtains” of glittering crystals in prism shapes, suspended like icicles above each floor-to-ceiling window. The streets of Gotham below us may have potholes, trashcans and petty crime, but up here, close to the clouds, it’s heavenly.
Pinch me. I must be dreaming.
When this high-altitude hot spot closed its doors several years ago, I mourned the loss as if an old friend had passed. In this hallowed space, I sipped
my first glass of Dom Perignon and celebrated many a birthday. When news of its reopening – and major facelift – promised an update to its original 1930s-era style, revisiting soared to the top of my bucket list.
One push of the lone elevator button and we feel like astronauts rocketing into space. After ascending, nonstop, to the “Top of the Rock,” we begin with martinis at Sixty Five, the snazzy new cocktail lounge with unobstructed views.
Eye candy is everywhere. Massive displays of orchids accent walls of Italian silver travertine. Textured bronze mosaic tiles shimmer. A marble-topped rosewood bar, smoky gray mirrors, leather chairs and mother-of-pearl tables scattered under a faceted metallic-leaf ceiling make it hard to focus on ordering a drink.
Even the nibbles that accompany cocktails push the envelope. Warmed olives marinated in olive oil are infused with an exotic blend of harissa (North African chili paste), fresh thyme, lemon zest, toasted cumin and caraway and coriander seeds. I could devour the entire bowlful, but I fear spoiling my dinner.
Led by executive chef Jonathan Wright, formerly of the two Michelin-starred Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford and The Setai in South Beach, the culinary team has created a prix fixe menu featuring American and international fare ($175 per person plus tax and tip, alcohol not included). Judging from the selection and creativity, he is also inspired by the views.
In between exquisite courses – beet salad with goat cheese and crumbled hazelnuts, wild black bass with calamari and chorizo and decadent molten chocolate cake for dessert – we head to the dance floor, centered on the original, meticulously restored “Compass Rose.”
I think about the boldface guests who’ve waltzed through this very room: Barbra Streisand, Al Pacino, Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson for starters. Happily, the crowd isn’t limited to older folks seeking to recreate the past. Young couples who weren’t even born during the Rainbow Room’s heyday seem equally excited to be here.
Some things are exactly how you remember them. Others, like the Rainbow Room, are better. But attempting to describe this surreal experience is a futile task. Just go. The sky’s the limit.
The Algonquin Hotel: Oh, if these walls could talk…
One step inside the Algonquin’s lobby and I swear I can feel the vibes of those who have come before me. Nearly 100 years ago, Dorothy Parker and a group of 20-something writers for Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker gathered here for lunch at the famous Round Table.
The daily exchange of ideas and wit set the standard for literary style. In fact, the ritual became so famous that people dropped by just to watch the members of the Round Table eat.
The New Yorker magazine was essentially created here. Fittingly, all guests receive a complimentary copy.
Perhaps trying to channel the same spirit I’m picking up, an artsy crowd mingles in the lobby. The high ceiling and dark-paneled walls create the ambiance of a private club rather than of a big city hotel. Off in one corner, a young Dorothy Parker-ish woman in a fitted red suit and vintage cloche holds the attention of her entourage. Two men in black turtlenecks huddle together on a red leather sofa, manuscript in hand.
Velvet chairs and leather sofas grouped around an eclectic mix of tables encourage conversation. So does the hotel’s policy of round-the-clock complimentary coffee and tea. Peering into the dining room, I see that the hallowed Round Table is empty, perhaps awaiting a new set of aspiring writers.
We check out the Blue Bar off the lobby, so named because years ago John Barrymore convinced the owner that actors look best in blue light. Though the Blue Bar has moved within the hotel, and been refurbished many times, blue lighting still permeates the space. One step inside and I expect someone to yell: “Lights, camera, action!”
While the Algonquin may be the oldest operating hotel in New York City, rooms and suites have every 21st-century amenity, thanks to a top-to-bottom renovation in 2012 when it became part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. Bright contemporary furnishings, plush terry robes, thick duvets and fancy 350-count sheets are de rigueur.
The perk I like best? Complimentary WiFi. (I hate to get nickel-and-dimed for that, don’t you?)
Friendliness and pride prevails. Bellmen and waiters are walking history books and love sharing an abundant collection of hotel trivia. We learn that Orson Welles honeymooned here, Lerner and Loewe wrote “My Fair Lady” in a suite, Sinclair Lewis and William Faulkner were regulars and iconic female stars such as Angela Lansbury made the Algonquin their New York home – it was the first hotel to accommodate women traveling solo.
The place has plenty of performing arts history, too. Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall and Michael Feinstein were discovered here.
In an era when hotels are homogenized, for the most part, thank heavens the Algonquin has maintained its unique personality. The morning we depart, we take note of a few hotel room doors. Each one has framed words of wisdom written by a Round Table member.
The Dorothy Parker quote on our door sums up our stay perfectly: “I suppose that is the thing about New York. It is always a little more than you had hoped for.”
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Brandywine: Wyeth’s Other World
Richard Selden • July 2, 2014
Andrew Wyeth’s “Wind from the Sea” – the centerpiece of the “Looking Out, Looking In” exhibition at the National Gallery of Art (reviewed in the May 7 issue of The Georgetowner) – was painted a year before and on the same Maine farm as his iconic “Christina’s World” of 1948.
Cushing, Maine, where Christina Olson lived, was the painter’s summer home. Andrew Wyeth’s roots were in Chadds Ford, Pa., where the Brandywine River Museum of Art offers scheduled tours of his studio and the Kuerner Farm, both portrayed in several works in “Looking Out, Looking In.”
“His art is all about sense of place – things that mean something to him, people that mean something to him,” says Virginia O’Hara, the Brandywine museum’s curator of collections.
Upon their marriage in 1940, Andrew and Betsy Wyeth made a 19th-century schoolhouse their home and Andrew’s studio. Restored to look as it did when they lived there, the modest building – white, inside and out – is filled with old furniture, artists’ materials (brushes, a carton of eggs for making tempera paints, large blocks of watercolor paper), books on art, ship models and armies of toy soldiers. The kitchen has “modern” appliances from the 1950s.
Part of the studio is set up as the studio of their son James, known as Jamie, as if he were working on his 1967 portrait of John F. Kennedy. A short distance away is the expansive, prop-filled studio of Andrew Wyeth’s father and teacher, famed illustrator N.C. Wyeth, who built it in 1911 with earnings from his work on Scribner’s edition of “Treasure Island.” (The museum also has scheduled tours of N.C. Wyeth’s studio.)
Even more evocative is the bleakly beautiful farm of German immigrant Karl Kuerner, designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011 along with the Olson House in Cushing. A square, stone trough in front of two windows in the ancient barn is clearly the motif of the painting “Spring Fed” in “Looking Out, Looking In.” Another work in the National Gallery show depicts the farmhouse attic, with iron hooks from which onions and potatoes were hung.
No portraits of Wyeth’s Chadds Ford muse, Helga Testorf, who was Karl Kuerner’s nurse, are part of “Looking Out, Looking In,” but the painter had a way of instilling a human presence in his still lifes (not just art-history talk: in some cases a figure in an initial version of a work was later removed).
Much of the credit for preserving the scenic and historic landscape that Wyeth painted goes to the Brandywine Conservancy, founded in 1967 to protect the watershed. Having created the museum in 1971, the organization – based in a former gristmill off U.S. 1 – recently renamed itself the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art.
A selection of Andrew Wyeth’s watercolors of Chadds Ford from the 1940s through the 2000s (he died in 2009) is on view at the museum through the end of September. “Exalted Nature: The Real and Fantastic World of Charles Burchfield,” an exhibition of more than 50 paintings by a very different American artist, opens Aug. 23.
The only name that looms larger than Wyeth in the Brandywine Valley is du Pont. DuPont, the chemical company, began in 1802 as Éleuthère Irénée du Pont de Nemours’s gunpowder mill on the Brandywine. His little family of Huguenot immigrants from Burgundy expanded in size and wealth in the 19th and 20th centuries to produce some of America’s greatest industrialists and philanthropists.
In 1906, Pierre S. du Pont bought the historic arboretum in Kennett Square, Pa., known as Peirce’s Park, making it his private estate and expanding it to more than 1,000 acres of gardens, fountains and greenhouses. We know it today as Longwood Gardens, welcoming roughly a million visitors annually. The latest addition to Longwood is an 86-acre Meadow Garden. Among the upcoming events are Summer Soirées on July 18 and Aug. 22 (free with admission) and Patti LuPone on July 10 ($45-75) and Savion Glover on Aug. 14 ($36-56).
Winterthur, the Wilmington mansion of one of Pierre’s cousins, Henry Francis du Pont, is furnished with his exceptional collection of American antiques and surrounded by gardens. It is a suitable setting for an audience-broadening Winterthur exhibition, “Costumes of Downton Abbey,” displaying 40 historically inspired costumes from the PBS series (through Jan. 4).
Other Wilmington cultural attractions include the Hagley Museum and Nemours Mansion, both connected to du Ponts, and the Delaware Art Museum, which features works by the Pre-Raphaelites, John Sloan and illustrators such as Howard Pyle.
Good dining choices may be found on State Street in downtown Kennett Square, where there is a monthly First Friday Art Stroll. For a country inn ambiance, try Buckley’s Tavern in Centerville, Pa., on Kennett Pike between Kennett Square and Wilmington.
To make an overnight or a weekend of it, there are 11 B&Bs listed on the Brandywine Valley Bed and Breakfast Association website. The landmark 1913 Hotel du Pont in Wilmington displays works by N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth in its elegant public rooms. [gallery ids="116309,116312" nav="thumbs"]
In Brazil for the World Cup
We arrived in Sao Paulo at 8 a.m. to start our World Cup celebration. It’s the Brazilian winter and it was only 59 degrees. We watched a couple of games with friends from Brazil, Chile and Boston, then left that night for our rumble in the jungle.
Our flight to Manaus arrived at 11:30 p.m. We went immediately to our boat, taking us to our floating hotel in the Amazon. On a jungle hike the next morning, we saw enormous spiders, monkeys, gargantuan poison ants and all sorts of other nature.
We left the floating hotel to transfer into town that afternoon to be closer to the stadium. The Portuguese team was staying at our new hotel. Their star player is Ronaldo, considered by some to be the best player in the world right now, and totally hot. Security and paparazzi at our hotel could have been for the president. Our taxi was able to follow their motorcade all the way to the stadium. The blocked-off streets were lined with photo takers. I felt like the Queen of England.
The stadium was brand new and beautiful. There were tons of U.S. fans. Our seats were front row, center. My Queen of England feeling continued. The U.S. had a fantastic game until Portugal’s goal in the final seconds of extra time deflated our spirits. But a tie was still better than expected for our team.
After the game, literally thousands of people from all over the world were dancing in the streets. The locals from Manaus loved Americans. We had a lot of pictures taken and our dance card was full.
The next day, we went out on the Amazon River to where two rivers – Rio Solimoes (from Peru) and Rio Negro – merge and run next to each other for four miles without mixing. The colors and temperatures of the water are completely different. Pretty wild to see.
We spent the evening at the FIFA Fan Fest, where you can watch the matches if you aren’t able to be in the stadium. We and about 30,000 Brazilians watched their team beat Cameroon.
That night we had a 2 a.m. flight to Rio. We stayed on the beach at Copacabana, which was like a no-holds-barred South Beach, if you can imagine. After two days, we had to move on to Recife for the next U.S. game, which we hoped would not be the last.
We played the Germans in a torrential downpour. Being the fair-weather fan that I am, this was not what I signed up for. It was sort of the opposite of my Queen of England feeling. The roads were like rivers, our very high-end hotel room was leaking, cabs were sparse and I didn’t think to pack a raincoat. We found an intrepid driver to take us to the express bus station. We could hear water lapping at the bottom of the cab. I thought we would float away.
The stadium is about an hour outside the city, so we had to join thousands of other wet fans trying to cram onto buses. It somehow all worked out and we made it the stadium in time to get a beer and find our seats before kickoff. Unfortunately, we had excellent seats again, so no overhang. It was a soggy day. And even though the Germans won, the U.S. advanced to the next round, so the celebration was on. More dancing in the streets. And then a nice hot shower.
Of course, the next day the weather was spectacular. We hung out in the sun but didn’t swim in the ocean. Recife is known for its shark attacks (Yikes!). That afternoon, we headed back to Sao Paolo to prepare for Brazil’s first game in the knockout round. I haven’t been to Carnival, but I cannot imagine it is any more festive then what we experienced. Whole areas of the city were cordoned off and mobbed with fans. The Brazilians won in the final seconds and the dancing in the streets continued. But by then we had to fly back to D.C. and catch the games on T.V.