02/19/13

As the World Turns…

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on Roaming By Design and there’s a reason for my absence. My writing life has changed since I began this effort four years ago next month, and rather than letting this blog, which once thrilled me as a place for a means of expression, languish without explanation I thought I’d let you know what I’m up to now and to direct you to the place where I feel I’ve finally created my online writing home. When I launched RBD, as I have come to call this virtual spot on the web, I was coming away from nearly two decades of writing for shelter publications, a career that had sincerely satisfied me while I was involved in the research of and writing about design and architecture, covering everything from Art Basel to Cleto Munari and Dale Chihuly to Droog. But I had begun to see the writing on the wall: the publishing industry was in disarray, especially magazines devoted to these two subjects in which I had become heavily invested.

Publications containing my monthly columns shuttered, the features I’d been assigned regularly came into my inbox with much less frequency, and the newspapers whose home design sections my name frequently appeared within evaporated. I was fortunate to have an architecture book, Four Florida Moderns, published during that time, and I felt very lucky to have found travel writing as a sustaining foundation to journalism because it allowed me to continue publishing articles in print and online as I transitioned to a work life that included content creation and editorial calendar management for clients through Improvateur, and social media platform development and management through adroyt.

It is only recently I have deepened my virtual focus, so to speak, and I feel excited I have finally found my bearings. I also celebrate that my point of view, if I may say so myself, has matured. The subjects I tackle are a bit more complex for the audience I targeted here so I have moved my attention to my blog at Improvateur.com. I usually post on #WriterWednesday but it depends upon the subject. I hope you will stop in and see me there; all you have to do is knock!

Here are a few links to my most recent posts in case there is a particular subject you’d prefer to explore first:

Julian Fellowes: A Sustained Narrative As Legacy

Dispatch From Amherst: Emily Dickinson Masters Love

Let’s Do Some Wilde Writing on This #WriterWednesday!

A Plumb Line Into Literary History

The Architecture of Tango

Of Salt Spray and Canvas: Weatherbeaten Maine

Melancholia: Depression as One Perspective

I’d like to take this moment to express deep gratitude to everyone who has supported me in my writing career over the years, both in print and in the virtual world. I truly enjoyed all the subjects and cities I covered here for the four years I posted. I had the privilege of staying in some of the world’s most incredible hotels, including the Hotel Principe di Savoia (right in the midst of the area that would soon host the World Expo 2015 when I was there), the Hotel Plaza Athenee, Le Meurice (covering their coveted Le Meurice Prize), a number of W Hotels and The Betsy Hotel. I’ve experienced wine tastings in Buenos Aires and interviewed Chef Gordon Ramsay in Tuscany. I walked through the Centre Pompidou with hot French designer Patrick Jouin and saw original Gibson Girl drawings by Charles Dana Gibson at the Bethel Inn in Bethel, Maine (though I still have yet to hear a loon in person)! Thanks to the Dorchester Collection during a trip to London, I had the great privilege to see the Paul Gauguin show at the Tate Modern. I had a profound moment standing alone in the study of Honore de Balzac and walked the same streets as Madame de Pompadour while in Paris!

It was the rare moment when I didn’t have my writer’s notebook with me (and it travels with me always so I feel there are many more adventures to come)! If you are inclined to let me know how you feel about my new effort of deepening my writing, I’d love to hear from you, either here or on Improvateur.

07/30/12

Music without Borders, Especially Considering Talent

I cannot think of a place I’ve visited where everyone I met was authentically generous and welcoming. Until my visit to Bethel, Maine, two weeks ago, that is. I was so genuinely impressed with how I was treated that I feel I have come away with a new community of friends. I will definitely return, hopefully to see the bucolic town covered in a blanket of snow.

My incredible food experiences included dinners at SS Milton, the Black Diamond Steakhouse, The Jolly Drayman Pub, The Millbrook Tavern and Grille at The Bethel Inn, 22 Broad Street, The Mill Hill Inn, and The Sudbury Inn. After dinner at Scott Davis’ Sudbury, the magnanimous host invited me; Bethel Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Robin Zinchuk; and Amanda Smith, co-owner of Nabos, to a remarkable event, which takes place at Gould Academy in Bethel each summer. Music without Borders brings its International Piano Festival to town and this year was its sixth incarnation.

Veselin “Vesko” Ninov, Kelia Ingraham and Mark Demidovich.

As you can see from the video I took that evening, the pianists are of remarkable talent. What also may occur to you is that they are quite young for the level of ability they have achieved. The prodigies of Tamara Poddubnaya visit Bethel for three weeks each summer to study with the lauded solo pianist and chamber musician, who is currently a professor at and head of the piano department at the Long Island Conservatory, and a visiting professor at the Portland Conservatory of Music. They ranged in age from 13 to 24 this year and hailed from diverse countries, including Russia, the Netherlands and the United States.

Performing the evening I attended were Kelia Ingraham, Mark Demidovich and Veselin “Vesko” Ninov. The video is of Ninov performing Franz Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12” in C-sharp minor. As the notes flowed into the room, I was inspired to try to capture the experience in words so I could translate how it felt to have the experience. Here are the riffs that flowed from my pen as the notes poured into the small theater:

Tamara Poddubnaya with prodigies Veselin “Vesko” Ninov, Kelia Ingraham and Mark Demidovich.

Those soft refrains bring joy to the lips of the chords. The upper body sways as the music ebbs and flows, the arms lifted as if in a ballet of sound. Eyes closed, a smile, then a creased forehead when the music grows serious. As the whimsical rhythms come, eyes open, head swaying, not in a refusal but in the loving gesture one shows to a serious moment of emotional impact.

When the music slows, the last chords leak into the room like fireflies dancing on a summer night or fairies flitting across an azure sky. Marching. Scampering. Sprightly. Then death knell, followed by the relief of gentle notes lifting sound to serenity. Chaos. Keys bluntly ordered into submission by strong, nimble fingers. Ah, breezy riffs of melody. How can staccato be interwoven with high-tinged wanderings so perfectly?

The softest notes seem to hang in the air and pauses are built for the sounds to linger, the piano’s voice gleefully loving the opportunity to dally. Then marching notes return, signaling a change in mood. The staccato melody is a volley unleashed to make one fall in love with reverberation. And so I did! Bravo, I say!

06/12/12

Catch an Expeditious App and Put It In Your Pocket!

Geolocation is integrated into Fodor's City Guide apps.

Six cities have updated wanderlusting apps from Fodor’s Travel, who has announced the re-launch of their City Guide apps for iPhone and iPad (Nook and Android versions are in the works). The free apps now integrate partner functionality from Expedia, OpenTable and Ticketmaster, and are available for New York City, Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona and San Francisco. They offer geolocation features and interactive offline maps, which are powered by developer Red Foundry’s new Fusion Platform, the world’s first network uniting app developers and publishers with service providers.

Travelers can book hotels through the Expedia Affiliate Network, make dinner plans with OpenTable, and buy show and concert tickets through TicketsNow, Ticketmaster’s resale marketplace. The geolocation features allow sojourners to see what is nearby by interest—categories include what to see, what to eat, shopping, nightlife/arts, and where to stay.

Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is a trendsetter's alternative to Little Italy in Manhattan. Photo by Paul Clemence.

I decided to take the New York City app for a test drive on my iPad, and it nailed my location quickly. I agreed with many of the “what to see” listings it put up, several of which I would recommend for tourists visiting NYC who want more than the usual suspects of places to see. One of which was Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, which my pal and architectural photographer Paul Clemence has photographed so eloquently, as the above photo proves.

Fodor's City Guide Apps Offer OpenTable Reservations.

The “what to eat” suggestions were a bit all over the place but I did ask for the best recommendations in New York City without determining a culinary style, and the fact that they could narrow it down as tightly as they did impressed me! Shopping brought up everything from Betsey Johnson in SoHo to Beads of Paradise in the Flatiron District and the Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn, which I have frequented (and give the app a high five for referencing).

The oh-so-edgy tiki bar Painkiller wasn’t listed under “Nightlife & the Arts” (though I’ll admit, it would probably cause anyone who is less than an intrepid traveler to freak out when standing on the street in front of the bar’s address and see no discernable sign of a party until someone entering or exiting opened the graffiti panel serving as the venue’s door)-steamy! Pegu Club is there—excellent sourcing by featuring this mixology-driven venue, Fodor’s.

The Lower East Side has its own version of a hip, Parisian cafe for writers and filmmakers to hang.

Kudos to the travel experts for listing the Pink Pony on the Lower East Side. Any café with a mural of Arthur Rimbaud on the wall and a tagline like “Café Littéraire & Ciné Club” is high on my “kicky and quirky venues” list, which we locals pride ourselves in compiling for those times we want something out-of-the-ordinary. The Field Notes section is great—the perfect place for accumulating the lists you’d like to share with friends who will be visitng the same city or for resourcing your highlights the next time Hērmēs, the god of travel, wings you to the same town.

Sax in the City has only one request of the developers: I would like to have seen an easier search function for places by name. Those of us who travel frequently, especially travel journalists who are writing about cities, often go armed with recommendations for venues to experience. This app only allows search by previously determined categories unless it’s not obvious and if it’s not obvious to me someone using this level of technology for the first time wouldn’t likely find it. That said, these apps are definitely well worth the time it takes to download them. Off I go to Paris (if only)!

03/22/10
Flowers at George V

On Elegance

The Eiffel Tower

As I nestled into my seat on the Air France flight to Paris, the word elegance came to mind and never left it during a six-day trip that was one of the finest adventures of my life thus far. I don’t fly business class often so when the stewardess handed me the printed dinner menu and I saw that the airline’s sommelier had handpicked wines to accompany the meals—from champagne and Languedoc Blanc to Bourgogne Rouge and Bordeaux Rouge—I thought to myself, “Thirty-thousand feet isn’t heaven but it’s seeming pretty darned close!” It wasn’t just that I was seated in the front of the aircraft that made it an elegant experience. I have been in business class on other carriers and had yet to be served Camembert and Brie on a beautiful cheese leaf onboard an airplane! The tiny bottle of olive oil on my tray was shaped like the Eiffel Tower. I actually kept it as a souvenir because I’m a total sap for such finely considered aesthetic details. The steak, served with horseradish-spiked potatoes, was pink and tender, and the crunchy asparagus tasted earthy as if it had just been plucked from the ground. This was only the first physical manifestation of the truism “the French really know how to live.” [

The Louvre

From the stately beauty of its neoclassic architecture to its shockingly clean and chic arched metro stops clad in white subway tile, the city lived up to its sophisticated reputation. So did the experiences that unfolded during my time there. Sometimes it was the grand gestures that stood out, but often it was the subtleties of an experience that made an impression. I was traveling with my friend Patty Otis Abel, who began her every-six-hour-pink-champagne rule our first evening there. We were ensconced in a settee at the beautiful Bar 228 at Le Meurice on the rue de Rivoli across from the Tuileries Garden. A crisp Sancere in my glass and Rosé Champagne in hers, we toasted our good fortune at having one of the most luxurious settings possible for our first drinks in Paris—being bathed in soft candlelight, nestled into sumptuous leather and treated like royalty by the bar’s manager William Oliveri was simply the cream.

Flowers at George V

The next afternoon—while strolling through the lobby of another storied property, the George V—we marveled at the floral arrangements created by the hotel’s artistic director Jeff Leatham, who orders 9,000 blooms each week from the Netherlands to make his fragrant creations for the public spaces. The attention to quality and freshness truly showed. That day, tall clear and jeweled-green glass vases were filled with white orchids and bisque-colored heather, the intermingling of which created an interplay of whispery, texturally-rich paleness against the intricately veined marble of their surroundings.

Another experience at the hotel came to symbolize the pinnacle of elegance, as it brought with it the realization that the French understand the art of making a meal into an event worth savoring. After our tour of the George V, we had the exquisite pleasure of feasting on Chef Éric Briffard’s tasting menu at Le Cinq (where we had watercress soup that was dreamier than I could ever have imagined). The variety of flavors and the ways in which they were combined during the meal had us wondering how the next dish could possibly top the ones that had come before, but they always did. We also dined at Le Relais Plaza in the Plaza Athénée, which was nostalgically beautiful with its interiors designed after the ocean liner Le Normandie.

Chef Phillippe Marc’s interpretations of Alain Ducasse’s lauded fare were served in sensual waves of tasteful abundance within the buoyant setting. To be honest, I had expected these meals in two of Paris’s “starred” restaurants to be among our finest experiences but whether we were eating dishes prepared by a Michelin-tapped gastronomic luminary or in a corner café sharing a ham and cheese sandwich on a crunchy baguette, we didn’t have an unmemorable meal.

Museo Carnavalet

During our only weekend there, for example, we decided to spend Sunday morning at the Place des Vosges, which had been one of Patty’s favorite haunts when she lived in Paris. We left our apartment at around eleven, stopping in to visit the Musée Carnavalet, which was once the home of Madame de Sévigné, France’s first woman to collect and publish her letters. This was a pilgrimage for me, as I’d read biographies of her and most of her letters, which were written during the reign of Louis XIV. The museum held a retrospective of French history during her time, and I loved seeing the artifacts and knowing I’d walked along the pavers where her elegant slippers had once trod. With a buoyed feeling of having touched history, I strolled beneath the expansive colonnades that surround the park at Place des Vosges.

The moment turned magical when I heard the stains of one of my favorite Django Reinhardt numbers wafting across the plaza. We followed the sound to a trio of musicians named Borsalino and stood listening to their cocky renditions of the French jazz artist’s tunes. After stopping in at a few shops that caught our eye, we came across a brasserie with cheerful red café chairs and tables on the sidewalk. The energy was lively but intimate inside so we decided it would be the perfect spot for brunch. [

A colonnade at Place des Vosges

We ordered the prix fixe and were delighted when the waiter placed pale plum-colored kirs in front of us. Our courses began with a delicious lentil salad and a half bottle of wine. As we progressed through the fresh, flavorful fare, we lingered in the cloistered atmosphere—talking, laughing and, as it turned out, crying our way into the afternoon. No one reached for our plates before each of us had completed our courses, no one offered us the check before we asked for it and at no time did anyone make us feel as if they needed our table for another guest, though the restaurant was teeming with customers. This, I believe, is the hallmark of a civilized, cultivated culture.

Patty remarked as we were leaving: “You’ve just had a true Parisian Sunday afternoon!” The brasserie was La Place Royale; it was simple and elegant, and I was in love with every moment we spent there! I’m guessing you might be asking, “Why in the world would two women with Paris at their disposal be crying on a glorious Sunday afternoon?” We were remembering the person who had introduced us. My first next-door neighbor in New York City and Patty’s decades-long best friend was Steve Hogan. From the minute he met me, he said he had a friend I simply had to meet because he knew we would hit it off. Needless to say, we did. Patty and I knew we’d be thinking of him as we made our way through the adventures that Paris offered us, but we didn’t know just how present his essence would be.

The relization began as soon as our first day there. Fresh from the airport, we dropped our suitcases at our apartment in the 2nd and, literally, hit the ground running. Our first task was getting to the Centre Pompidou, which we decided to do on foot. We were on our way to see an exhibition by one of Paris’ hottest designers Patrick Jouin, who was meeting us there. I have no idea why, but about halfway there I blurted out that the song “Volare” was running through my mind. We laughed because not only is it not a French song, it is a pretty corny Italian one at that! As we frantically searched for the next street sign pointing our way to the Boo Boo, which seemed to appear and disappear in no orderly fashion that we could tell, Patty remarked that if Steve had been with us, he’d have known the etymology of the word Volare, the cultural significance of it and quite possibly why it had popped into my mind!

Bar 228 at Le Meurice (photo by Guillaume de Laubier)

That evening, while we were sipping our drinks in Bar 228, we were reminded of that moment when an ensemble of musicians gathered around the grand piano and suddenly began playing “Volare.” Patty and I froze in stunned silence as they sang the word Volare, then abruptly stopped and moved on to another song. It would have been so much less remarkable had they continued the song through its rhythmic end, but they didn’t. It was as if they simply changed their mind without further ado!

These seemingly small but powerful occurrences happened again and again while we were there. The thing is, I would never have thought of Steve in the context of elegance had I not written this, but it is fitting. Yes, he was always the first one to knock a drink over at any given get-together because he loved to talk with his hands, and his gestures were sweeping and expressive. He also had a loping gate that made me run to keep up with him when he was excited, which was most of the time. But there was something groundedly ethereal about him, if you’ll forgive me the made-up word and the oxymoron.

Flowers at Au Jardin de Mexico Fleuriste Decoraeur

During one of my first weeks as his next-door neighbor in New York, I heard a noise in the hallway. When I peered through the ocular eye tamped into my door, I saw him leading an elderly woman up the flight of stairs to our floor. When they reached our landing, he smiled at her and handed her a bouquet of flowers. She smiled back, saying thank you in an odd-sounding accent, as he led her into his apartment. He later told me she was a Russian linguistics coach. Of course, I thought. He was eternally learning a new language—could, in fact, master one in about a week. He was simply that brilliant. But it was the fact that he’d taken the time to buy this elderly woman flowers that touched me. Who does that for a language teacher? I never did.

As it turns out, he bought her a bouquet every week, explaining when I asked about it that he did so because she’d lost her husband not long before the two of them had met and she felt alone for the first time in her life. So I bring these memories of Paris to a close by celebrating that among the treasures I found in The City of Light are happy memories of Steve and a remarkable time with his best friend, whom I now count among my cadre of closest compatriots.

[I was comped airfare and some of the meals reviewed in this article during my trip to Paris, though the consideration received no special treatment in terms of coverage.]