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!


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)!


A Taste of Maine

I attended a wonderfully executed event held by Visit Maine earlier this month, which has me dreaming up some idyllic summer plans. The food during the evening at the St. Regis Hotel was delicious, and the wine crisp and clean juxtaposed against the rich flavors of crab, clams and lobster.

I’ll be sharing news here about treks to Ogunquit, where I will visit The Cliff House, as well as other wonderful venues in the seaside town. Then I’ll hightail it to the mountains to a charming spot on the hem of the White Mountain National Forest to a town called Bethel. I can’t wait to peruse the architecture of the quaint village, which will be celebrating its centennial next year.

I’ll be taking a day-trip to Cape Elizabeth to see how the eco-friendly initiatives being supported by Inn by the Sea are going. I will always have a soft spot for the wonderful resort perched on the edge of Crescent Beach Sate Park and Seal Cove. I’m especially keen to see their Bunny Habitat Restoration, which they are undertaking in collaboration with the Maine Department of Conservation and the Parks Department, as they take steps to restore the habitat for the endangered New England Cottontail rabbit.

My head was swimming with thoughts of fun escapades when I left that evening—cultural events at the Stonington Opera House and the Maine Maritime Museum, along with the sounds of the Kneisel Hall Chamber Music Festival caught my eye; a sand-nestled cottage from Seaside Vacation Rentals in York, and news of Amtrak’s Downeaster expanding northward to Brunswick rounded out the exploratory legwork I am hoping will take me far away from the steamy cement of NYC this summer!


Sax & the City: the Musical

Dead Can Dance lead singers Brendan Perry & Lisa Gerrard.

Sax in the City is stuck at the computer today so I thought I’d throw a question out to those of you who find yourselves in the same situations. I’m working on the last four chapters of a book project I’ve been writing for a client for the past several years (chapter 19 is coming along nicely and chapter 20 should be finished by the end of the day).

The book is an intense one, about an American family captured and tortured in Nicaragua in the 1970s during the insurgency there. I find I need some music to get me through the tough material but when I write, it’s tough for me to listen to music with lyrics (or at least English lyrics that I can understand) because they distract my mind from the words I need to be putting on the page.

This means I’ve cultivated a number of instrumental playlists that whisk me along during the process, one of which is Dead Can Dance. I especially like their album “Spiritchaser,” but “Toward the Within” is also an excellent one.

Below is their “Rakim,” a song from the latter album. I hope it brightens your weekend a bit. I’d love to know your favorite playlists for weekends stuck at your desk (or weekdays for that matter). If you’re lucky enough to be out roaming, what’s blasting through your earphones right now?


The Heft of Time

Journaling in the Piazza di Castel Monastero

Journaling in the Piazza di Castel Monastero

So, today’s #LetsBlogOff topic is “Are blogs as important as bloggers think they are?” Now what kind of question is that, Paul Anater, you instigator you? I can only seriously answer this in one way: “I have absolutely no idea whether anyone would consider my blogs important (Yes, plural; the amount of attention I’ve gotten from my internet platform has created a virtual monster!).” I’ve been thinking about the subject as I’ve traveled through Italy so some surprising things have come to mind as I’ve wondered what I might post.

Until yesterday, I was ensconced in the Tuscan countryside in a remarkable retreat called Castel Monastero that was a former nunnery. Several of the buildings surrounding the soulfully beautiful piazza date back to medieval times so strolling through the setting made me feel as if I’d stepped back in time. I sat in my room with the windows thrown open yesterday morning listening to Hildegard von Bingen, one of music’s most prolific contributors to the spiritual genre, while working on my memoir about the mission field, The Road to Promise. It was an incredible experience and I felt as if I’d transcended my humanity to reach into a realm I’d never touched before.

As I thought about von Bingen and all she represents to musicians and feminists as I zipped through the Tuscan countryside on the train to Milan yesterday afternoon, I realized that whether anyone thought her writings or musical compositions were important was likely a secondary concern if a consideration at all. She was simply involved in her deepest creative spirit, which is exactly what my blogs, particularly The Road to Promise, have given me—a depth of experience that is remarkable and invaluable to me spiritually and creatively.

Before I traveled to Tuscany, I spent three luscious days at CastaDiva Resort on Lago di Como. My duplex suite was in the tower of Villa Roccabruna, which was the original home of Giuditta Pasta, who became an important muse to the composer Vincenzo Bellini. Pasta’s first appearance in London was a flop, and yet legend has it that when Bellini—who was staying in a villa across from the soprano on Lake Como—heard her singing he rowed across the lake to find the woman with such an incredible voice.

She was the inspiration for two of his greatest works, “Norma” and “La Sonnambula.” Of course, Pasta cared how others felt about her performances and it must have been crushing to have received such bad reviews, but it never stopped her from studying with better mentors and performing to great acclaim in some of the most important cultural capitals in Europe.

I feel a connection to such a story because I have tried for decades to secure a book contract for The Road to Promise so that I could share my experiences. Not only have I been unable to interest anyone in publishing it, I have received some scathing feedback along the way, one particular editor at the University of Nebraska Press telling me to “get over myself” on a sticky note affixed to the manuscript.

The printed book proposal with his confetti of rejecting notes peppering its pages is in my war chest—the box of past challenges I have saved to keep me from giving up when the going gets tough! So blogging has given me the opportunity to do what I set out to do—send my thoughts and my ideas out into the world—and I truly appreciate all of you who have taken the time to read the material and to comment or support me in the varied ways that you have; it’s been a beautiful thing for me to experience.

So, for now, I am happy to continue to post every Wednesday so that I can share the journey I had, hoping that a publisher will recognize at some point that the material has merit. If not, maybe I’ll self-publish, but at the very least I will have been able—through the experience of posting online—to express myself in a way that’s rewarding, and that’s what makes my blogging important to me. Whether it’s of any consequence to anyone else, I’m not at all sure, but I’d like to think it is…

I’m now enjoying a stay at the incredible Hotel Principe di Savoia in Milan, which at one time hosted celebrities the likes of Josephine Baker, Charlie Chaplin and Maria Callas. I leave you with a video of Callas’ version of Casta Diva, a song that Bellini wrote for Pasta to perform, as Callas was compared to Pasta early in her career. I have to say that the parallels in life, even in three such diverse locales as I have stayed over the past week, can be quite breathtaking when one is roaming by design!

I’m posting The Road to Promise a day early this week so that those of you who’ve seen last Wednesday’s post will have something new to read if you decide to stop in. Thanks again for sharing my journey, everyone. I have to say you all mean so very much to me and I look forward to many rewarding interactions to come! To see other #LetsBlogOff posts, click here and enjoy the ride!