Back to the Latin Playground?

January 29, 2015

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, 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 Maps and facts about the Turks and Caicos Islands can be found at
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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

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

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.

With Warhol & Carnegie

February 15, 2014

Paul Warhola, Andy Warhol’s older brother, died last month at age 91.

On Pennsylvania Avenue in Pittsburgh, painted on the side of a garage-like building of buff-colored brick, are the words: “PAUL WARHOLA – WE BUY SCRAP METAL.”

That a hometown junk dealer and a world-famous artist were brothers says a lot about the city of their birth, which a recent book calls “the Paris of Appalachia.” Soaking up immigrant labor and smoking up a picturesque landscape of rivers and hills, Pittsburgh’s industries made fortunes for Carnegie, Mellon, Frick, Phipps and Heinz, who became the city’s cultural benefactors.
Carnegie – Pittsburgh’s other Andy – launched an international art exhibition in 1896 (see article on page 28) and founded the Carnegie Technical Schools a few years later. The schools evolved into the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now part of Carnegie Mellon University), where a coal miner’s son, Andy Warhol, studied commercial art.

In 1949, this shy, church-going gay man with prematurely white hair moved to Manhattan. (His widowed mother joined him and stayed for two eye-opening decades.) Shoe ads and record album covers somehow led to paintings of Campbell’s soup cans, vivid silkscreened portraits of Marilyn and Jackie and an approach to art far ahead of its time.

The Warhol Museum – seven floors of paintings, ephemera, movies and taxidermy, entered through a hallway of cowhead wallpaper – opened 20 years ago on the north side of the Allegheny River. The largest single-artist museum in the country, it symbolizes the city’s pride in its contemporary art scene.

“Over the past 20 years, Pittsburgh has purposefully replaced its industrial smog with creativity in the form of world-class museums and festivals, coupled with neighborhoods infused with the arts,” explains Mitch Swain, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

The downtown cultural district’s 14 square blocks are home to seven theaters, including the Pittsburgh Symphony’s Heinz Hall, and a dozen galleries, notably Wood Street Galleries and SPACE. The Agnes R. Katz Plaza, located at 7th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, is nicknamed “Eyeball Park” for the three pairs of eye-shaped granite benches by sculptor Louise Bourgeois, who also designed a mini-mountain of a fountain.

In a once abandoned Sterns & Foster warehouse on the city’s Northside (not far from the Warhol Museum and the National Aviary) is the Mattress Factory, dedicated to installation art. Three light installations by James Turrell, who has been carving out an Arizona crater for more than 30 years, are encountered in disorientingly dark galleries. On another floor of the main building are two pop-inspired walk-ins by Yayoi Kusama, titled, “Infinity Dots Mirrored Room” and “Repetitive Vision.”

Across town at the Frick Art & Historical Center is “An American Odyssey: The Warner Collection of American Painting,” with works by Gilbert Stuart, Mary Cassatt, Childe Hassam and others. It’s on view from March 1 through May 25.

Two hotels provide glimpses into Pittsburgh’s Gilded Age: The Inn on the Mexican War Streets, built in 1888 for department store baron Russell H. Boggs; and the Mansions on Fifth, built in 1906 for Frick’s lawyer, Willis McCook. The Mansions on Fifth is a Historic Hotel of America, as is the landmark Omni William Penn downtown, built in 1916.

Near the Warhol Museum is the Priory Hotel, originally a Benedictine monastery. The city’s newest luxury hotel is the Fairmont Pittsburgh, which opened in 2010 in the Three PNC Plaza office building.

Several resorts and inns are located near Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, the two former residences designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the Laurel Highlands, about 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh.

Fallingwater is open for tours on March 1 to 2 and March 8 to 9, then daily, except Wednesdays starting March 15. [gallery ids="101631,146093" nav="thumbs"]

Winter Travel: The Caribbean

January 31, 2014

Mustique Island
By NIcole Cusick

Mustique Island is a private island
of the archipelago that makes up
St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is approximately two and half
square miles, covering 1,400 acres. At its highest
elevation the island has a view point of 500 feet
giving way to a series of small valleys leading to
pristine palm fringed beaches. The coconut tree
plantations, added more than 50 years ago, give
the island its thick and luscious vegetation. A
once hidden gem, Mustique is a growing tropical

Where to Stay:
The Villa Collection
Mustique has a collection of over a hundred
unique and individual houses. Many of the villas
are available to rent. House sizes range from
the intimate two bedroom cottages, suitable for
honeymooners and couples, to the 8-10 bedroom
private estates.

The Cotton House Hotel
The Cotton House Hotel, formerly the old
cotton warehouse is the oldest building on the
island. Converted by architect Oliver Messel,
who designed many structures on the island,
the Cotton House has 17 rooms, ranging from
a presidential two-bedroomed suite with private
pool and drawing rooms to single rooms.
Both locations offer a full hospitality staff to
help provide a relaxing experience. The team
includes a cleaning staff, a kitchen staff to stock
up on all of your favorite foods upon arrival,
child care and spa professionals trained in various
spa treatments.

Where to Eat:
The Firefly
The Firefly’s cocktail bar is famous for its
legendary sunset views over Britannia Bay.
Home to the Mustique Champagne and Martini
Clubs, favorites amongst the island’s regulars,
the restaurant serves a range of dishes using
fresh, local ingredients with a Caribbean flair.
They also serve pizzas, which can be delivered
to you on the beach.

Basil’s Beach Bar & Restaurant
In the heart of Britannia Bay, Basil’s Bar
extends over the water and has been hosting an
international crowd for over 25 years. In season,
Wednesday night features a barbeque buffet dinner
with live music. Sunday night features sunset
jazz, followed by á la carte dining. Basil’s is
home to the legendary Mustique Blues Festival
in late January and early February, where A-list
musicians come to play, offering guests the
opportunity to enjoy world class music.

What to do in Mystique:
Taking advantage of the beach is a must, but
there are many other things to do in Mustique.
For the adventurous, several water sports, nature
and fitness trails, bird watching and horseback
riding are all available. The island also supplies
entertainment through an open air movie theater,
local museum and island library.

Explore what else this hidden treasure has to
offer and more at

Caribbean Tourism
By Terry Robe

One of the most popular destinations for
winter travel, the Caribbean is a region
of surprising diversity. While the 30
members of the Caribbean Tourism Organization
– from Anguilla to Venezuela – share a sea, theircitizens may speak English, Spanish, French or
To gain insight into Caribbean travel trends,
The Georgetowner recently spoke with Sylma
Brown Bramble, director of CTO-USA, Inc.,
the New York-based subsidiary of the Caribbean
Tourism Organization.

The Georgetowner: How important is the
North American market to the region’s tourism?
SBB: North America has delivered the most
visitors to the Caribbean over the past several
decades. In 2012, the region welcomed over 21
million long-stay visitors (not including cruise
visitors) to its shores, 60 % of whom came from
North America. As product offerings such as
sports, faith-based, adventure, cuisine and multigenerational
vacations continue to gain popularity,
we expect to see an increase in the numbers.
The Georgetowner: Many people think of
cruise ships and all-inclusive resorts when they
think of the Caribbean, but is this an outdated
SBB: Absolutely. There is a wide variety
of hotel choices in the Caribbean, from guesthouses
to tony boutique properties to villas to
time-shares to elegant luxury resorts.
The Georgetowner: Is the Caribbean also a
cultural heritage destination?
SBB: Yes, our cultural heritage is intimately
relevant to the development of tourism. Its
authenticity and diversity can be found in no
other destination. There are music and cultural
festivals, such as the Music Festival in St. Kitts,
the Reggae festivals in Jamaica and the Creole
Festival in Dominica. Trinidad and Tobago is
well known for Carnival, but in the Bahamas
it is Junkanoo and in Barbados it is Crop Over.
Our cuisine is another area that reflects our cultural
heritage and in which there is much variety.
In the French and French-influenced territories
of Martinique, Guadeloupe and St. Martin, there
is an unmistakable creole flair to the dishes. But
in all local fare in the Caribbean there is a delicious
infusion of locally grown ingredients with
the influences of European or African ancestry.
The Georgetowner: What is meant by
Leading Sustainable Tourism, CTO’s stated purpose?
SBB: Because the Caribbean is the most
tourism-dependent region in the world, we
have an immense challenge and opportunity:
to maintain tourist flows necessary to guarantee
economic stability; to ensure the proper use
of our resources for the benefit of visitors and
locals and to see that the resources that currently
attract visitors are protected and preserved
for future generations. The Caribbean Tourism
Organization, as the region’s tourism development
agency, is the leading advocate for development
issues, hence the purpose. CTO holds
an annual Conference on Sustainable Tourism
Development to share best practices and keep
our stakeholders updated. So we live our purpose
both in words and in deed.

Islands at a glance:
Language: Dutch
The 320-room Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, opened
in November.
The first international flights for Southwest
Airlines, announced this week, include flights
from BWI to Aruba (and also to the Bahamas
and Jamaica), beginning July 1.

Language: English
The SoCo (for South Coast) Hotel, allinclusive
but intimate with only 24 rooms,
opened in 2013.
One of the newest and best-rated restaurants
– in one of the Caribbean’s top dining
destinations – is Chez Max.

Language: English
Grenada’s carnival, SpiceMas, will begin
in May instead of June in 2014 as part of the celebration
of the 40th anniversary of the country’s
Spice Island Beach Resort is on Island
Magazine’s new list of 15 of the World’s
Greatest Escapes.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Language: English
Two islands in the Grenadines – Bequia
and Canouan – made a recent Huffington Post
list of Caribbean Islands You’ve Never Heard Of
But Should Visit.
Saint Vincent’s new Argyle International
Airport, designed to accommodate large jets, is
scheduled for completion late in 2014.

Trinidad and Tobago
Language: English
“Voluntourism” opportunities are available
between March and September, when up to
12,000 nesting leatherback turtles come to the
beaches of Trinidad.
Tobago recently launched a tablet and
smart-phone app. [gallery ids="101617,146745,146749" nav="thumbs"]

Sugarloaf Mountain Day Trip

January 6, 2014

Ah, Sugarloaf—what views as our cable car rises above the islands of Guanabara Bay! Sorry, wrong Sugarloaf. We’re not in Rio de Janeiro. We’re 10 miles outside Frederick, Md., on the border of Montgomery County.
Slightly shorter than the one in Brazil and much easier to get to, Maryland’s Sugarloaf Mountain presides over a scenic and historic landscape at the edge of the Blue Ridge.

Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1969, the quartzite monadnock is 1,282 feet high, some 800 feet higher than the surrounding farmland. A lookout point for Union and Confederate forces, it just missed becoming the Presidential retreat we know as Camp David.

Though “Camp Sugarloaf” admittedly lacks gravitas, it was the mountain’s owner, Gordon Strong, who persuaded FDR to look elsewhere (at nearby Catoctin Mountain, as it turned out).

Strong, who managed and inherited his father’s Chicago real estate holdings, earned law degrees from George Washington University (called Columbian University at the time) and worked as a patent attorney.

He started buying land on the mountain in 1903 and by the 1920s owned most of it. At Strong’s request, Frank Lloyd Wright designed an “automobile objective”—a sort of spiral, drive-up observation tower with a nightclub (or a planetarium, in a later version)—for the summit, but Strong finally decided to leave the ’Loaf alone.

He and his wife Louise founded Stronghold, the nonprofit that owns and maintains the mountain as a public park, in 1946, eight years before he died. Stronghold acquired more land and is working to restore the American chestnut to the park. The Strong Mansion, built in 1915, with patio and formal gardens, is rented out for weddings and banquets.
Admission is free to the park, which opens daily at 8 a.m. Hiking Sugarloaf Mountain is suitable for beginners and just challenging enough to interest those more experienced. Trails—satisfyingly uncrowded during the winter months—lead from the East View and West View parking areas.

At the base of the mountain, in the historic village of Comus (postal address: Dickerson), is Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, Montgomery County’s only vineyard-winery. Its fields are planted with the grape varieties of Bordeaux—Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petit Verdot—and the white-wine grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Viognier. The vineyard opened in 2006. It’s received several awards and was chosen “Best of 2013: Vineyard ” by the Washington Post Express
Sugarloaf Mountain wines may be purchased at many shops in Frederick and Montgomery Counties and in D.C. at the Whole Foods markets in Foggy Bottom, Georgetown and Tenleytown. Their newest white, Penelope, sells at the vineyard’s tasting room for $23.95 per bottle and $263.45 per case. The tasting room is open seven days a week from 12 to 6 p.m. and closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

The nearby Comus Inn restaurant was originally the c. 1862 home of farmer Robert Johnson in what was then Johnsonville. During the Antietam Campaign, Union troops fired artillery at the Confederate position on Sugarloaf Mountain from the farm. The present five-bay main house, the handsome result of expansions in the 1880s and around 1900, incorporates Johnson’s chestnut log dwelling.

The view of Sugarloaf that made it a good place to fire your artillery makes the Comus Inn a popular wedding venue. The inn was a 2013 Wedding Wire Bride’s Choice and a Best of Weddings 2013 pick in The Knot.

In December, the inn is open for lunch Thursday to Saturday and dinner Wednesday to Sunday. The dinner menu is sophisticated country American, featuring steak, duck, pork, catch of the day, scallops and crab cake entrees, with family sides of iron skillet Applewood bacon cornbread with sweet sorghum butter, cast-iron baked macaroni and cheese and smoked tomato and cheddar Virginia stone-ground grits.

A few miles away, in Adamstown, is Lilypons Water Gardens, a leading plant and water garden supplier. It began in the early 1900s with G. Leicester Thomas, Sr.’s fondness for goldfish and water lilies. His hobby became a business, Three Springs Fisheries, in 1917. Eight years later, he expanded to 250 acres. The business thrived over the years to the point where a new post office was needed to handle Thomas’ blooming mail-order business. In 1936, the new post office was dedicated to Metropolitan Opera star Lily Pons, who was present for the festivities.

Thomas’ great-granddaughter, Margaret Thomas Koogle, now heads tthe company, which describes itself online as “Serenity for Sale.” Through February, Lilypons is open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, it is closed from Christmas to New Year’s Day. In March, it will be open seven days a week when many special events are planned.

N.Y.C. Art Exhibitions

November 22, 2013

MoMA has Magritte. The Jewish Museum, Chagall. Kandinsky is at the Neue Galerie and Gaultier is in Brooklyn. Christopher Wool is getting raves at the Guggenheim.
But this brief double-review talks about a small show at a large museum and a large show at a small museum, each worth a special trip.
Few Americans—other than Korean-Americans—have more than a cursory knowledge of Korean culture. When we think of Korean art, we tend to picture gray-green celadon pottery. “Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Feb. 23, opens a new and fascinating window.
And it’s a picture window. At the entrance to the exhibition, projected onto a wide curved screen, are alternating video views of Hwangnam Daechong, the grass-covered Great Tomb of Hwangnam in Gyeongju, a city in southeast Korea. Conjoined burial mounds (His and Hers), the Great Tomb is the largest in the kingdom’s former capital.
Silla endured for nearly a millennium, until A.D. 935, when it gave way to the Goryeo dynasty, for which the country is named.
Most of the objects on display were excavated from tombs and date from the fifth to the eighth century (Buddhism became the official religion in 527.). Made of stoneware, jade, gilt bronze, and gold, they have been restored as nearly as possible to their original brilliance.
The label text for “National Treasure 83,” a gilt bronze statue of a bodhisattva, probably Maitreya (Mireuk in Korean), notes the “extraordinary balance between his contemplative aura and the sense of energy captured by the drumming fingers of his left hand and the upturned toes of his right foot.” The smooth musculature of the figure’s bare upper body reminds one of the influence of Asian sculpture on Art Deco sculptors, such as Paul Manship.
There are several other national treasures in the exhibition, curated by the Met’s Soyoung Lee and Denise Leidy, including a crown with stylized, antler-like projections—and pieces of jade shaped like hooks or tiger’s teeth—and a belt with pendant ornaments. Stunning examples of craftsmanship in gold, they came from the north portion of the Great Tomb, in which the queen was interred.

Another section focuses on objects that reached Silla through trade, diplomacy, or war. An elaborate gold dagger and sheath, inlaid with garnet and glass using the technique known as cloisonné, originated in the Black Sea region or Central Asia.
After watching a four-minute animation about the construction of the Seokguram Grotto, a World Heritage Site, visitors proceed to a final, shadowy gallery in which sits a monumental cast-iron Buddha from the late eighth or early ninth century, similar to the one at the center of the Grotto.

Also currently at the Met: “Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade 1500-1800,” “Julia Margaret Cameron” and “Balthus: Cats and Girls.”

Though Jan. 19, the International Center of Photography is showing “Lewis Hine,” a major retrospective of the pioneering American photojournalist, who died at age 66 in 1940.

Exhibition curator Alison Nordstrom has filled most of ICP’s lower level with Hine’s pictures, on loan from Rochester’s George Eastman House (the collection was initially offered to MoMA, which turned it down). Many are classics:

• A young blond girl in filthy clothing in a North Carolina cotton mill, the rows of white bobbins and the floorboards themselves seeming to converge on her (1908);

• An Italian immigrant in full blouse and long skirt, like the drapery on a statue, carrying a bundle of garments on her head in New York’s tenement district (1910);

• A newspaper boy in D.C. (Danny Mercurio, 150 Scholes Alley), wearing a hat like a helmet and looking as if he’s about to spit tobacco at the photographer (1912);

• A bare-armed, coveralls-wearing construction worker in mid-air, his legs wrapped around a steel cable, high above Manhattan, the Hudson River, New Jersey, America (1931).

Raised in Wisconsin, Hine began to photograph while teaching at New York’s Ethical Culture School. Another Midwesterner, Paul Kellogg, hired him to take photographs for a comprehensive sociological study of Pittsburgh, published between 1908 and 1914. Editor of the progressive magazine, Charities and the Commons, later renamed The Survey (which launched a supplement called The Survey Graphic in 1921), Kellogg regularly commissioned Hine to illustrate social welfare stories, copies of which are on display.

Passing through the different sections of the exhibition—Ellis Island, child labor, the Pittsburgh Survey, worker portraits, photographs of African Americans, the American Red Cross Survey, the Empire State Building—one sees how Hine’s images inspired photographers now recognized as important artists: Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon, to name a few.

A single-gallery companion show, “The Future of America: Lewis Hine’s New Deal Photographs,” curated by Judith Gutman from ICP’s holdings, covers Hine’s last years.

Also currently at ICP: “Zoe Strauss: 10 Years” and “JFK November 22, 1963: A Bystander’s View of History.” [gallery ids="101549,149590" nav="thumbs"]