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!

07/17/12

What’s a Gibson Girl to do in Bethel, Maine?

The Gibson Girls get a day at the beach!

If you believe Wikipedia, we have illustrator Charles Dana Gibson, who created the slender-waisted, chignon-crowned Gibson Girl, to blame for the American woman’s obsession with beauty. The online encyclopedia claims he personified the feminine ideal with his “satirical” pen and ink drawings. If you believe Richard D. (Dick) Rasor, a former advertising executive for J. Walter Thompson and the current owner of The Bethel Inn Resort in Bethel, Maine, Gibson was the first American feminist.

The Gibson Room at The Bethel Inn Resort.

Rasor has dedicated an entire room at the Inn to the long-necked beauties and their eponymous creator. He took me on a tour of the Gibson Room earlier today, pointing out how the graphic designer riffed on men, the weaker sex, in many of his renderings: “With absolute clarity, he shows how screwed up men are!”

Leave it to Rasor to have a different take on Gibson’s standing in American history, as he has a razor sharp way of cutting through ambiguities (pun intended)! The hotelier bought a very different resort in 1979 than the one I am sitting within as I write this today. The 60-guestroom hotel surrounded by 100 acres and a 9-hole golf course saw 3,000 visitors a year in the late seventies. Today the property hosts 35,000 guests to its gracious spot off the commons in the Maine mountain village; has 200 acres surrounding its charming Victorian façade, an 18-hole golf course, 40 condominiums abutting the green, 40 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, and a popular spa.

During lunch in the Inn’s Millbrook Tavern & Grille, Rasor explained that from the start he was intent on founding a marketing-based business when he left the “Mad Men” world of New York City advertising. He paid $400,000 for the property in ’79, which he pointed out was about the same amount of money a home in Scarsdale, New York, would have cost during that time. In an article printed in Snow Country in 1989, Rasor advised everyone in the high-pressured world he had left to sell their $800,000 homes, buy a $150,000 home in Bethel, and use the rest of the money to open a small business: “There’s no way, really, to be on a power trip in Bethel, Me,” he quipped.

The talented businessman practiced what he preached, trading in his room at the top for a room at the Inn, and he’s been thrilled about his decision ever since. I, for one, am happy to have been in his spirited presence as he shared his passion about building a unique property with an abundance of character in the heart of one of the prettiest mountain destinations in our country. I am also happy he didn’t take his father’s advice. “Don’t get into the hotel business,” was the elder Rasor’s first caveat. Then he told his son, “If you do, don’t be dumb enough to buy a resort!” Had Rasor listened, not only would he have missed out on the opportunity to create a unique vacation experience for thousands of tourists each year, he might not have met his beautiful wife Gretchen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting last evening.

"A Little Story. By A Sleeve." by Charles Dana Gibson.

And back to the Gibson Room: Rasor owns several original Gibson Girl drawings, which explains his fascination with the comely women with pert chins and perfectly pursed lips. He motioned me over to a framed drawing—one of about a dozen in the room—titled “A Little Story. By a Sleeve.” As we leaned down and peered at the illustration, he asked me why I thought the piece of art was given such a title. I said, “I have no idea!” With a very pleased expression on his face, he said, “Look at her sleeves: one is flat! Guess where the guy would have been sitting before the waiter came in! And a Gibson Girl would never have a lock of hair out of place!”

Detail of one of Charles Dana Gibson's drawings in the Gibson Room at the Bethel Inn Resort. It's all in the details!

Though this may seem completely unrelated to a story about an inn, I beg to differ. A successful hospitality venue is built upon a precept that Rasor’s keen observation skills attest to: it’s all in the details. One of the results of this at the Bethel Inn Resort is an ample dose of charm.

You can like the Bethel Inn Resort Facebook page here, and follow them on Twitter here.

07/10/12

The Room by the Sea

The view from my terrace at The Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine.

I’m in Maine, enjoying the hospitality of The Cliff House in Ogunquit, perched above the sea on a wildly gorgeous stretch of rocky coast. Being able to drink in the surroundings has been one blessing from my opportunity to stay; having access to the same stretch of shoreline that wooed May Sarton when she lived a few miles from here is another. Having her words has brought my experiences greater depth and has intensified this writer’s pleasure beyond words.

As I’ve watched flotillas of waterfowl bobbing in the tiny coves created by the jagged outcropping below my terrace, I imagined Sarton at Wild Knoll. She wrote about living there in a journal she kept during 1974. It was published in 1976 as The House by the Sea. She described her first taste of the landscape in the book: “…once I had stood on the wide flagstone terrace and looked out over that immensely gentle field to a shining, still, blue expanse, the decision [to move there] was taken out of my hands.” She describes this part of Maine as a place “creating the atmosphere of a fairy tale, something open yet mysterious that every single person who comes here is led to explore.”

The waning light paints a resplendent portrait of the end of this day.

The blue expanse Sarton wrote about has a powerful presence that infuses every part of the day with altering moods. While having a glass of wine as the sun slid away to the west, I studied the view from the terrace from an al fresco table holding a bright red umbrella like summer’s promise of glee. The scene revealed a swath of water turned the color of liquid mercury, crimped in spots where the wind touched its surface. The sky, palest blue and powdery pink except at its meeting point with the water, seemed to want to emulate the blue notes from the strip of darkest hues where the ocean met the horizon. A boat cut a wake, marring the serenity and leaving an indelible blue line drawn in the liquid sheen. The mark became ruffled as the rising tide nudged it to shore. Caught in the movement, it splashed above boulders and slabs of striated moss-laden rock until it was picked up by the breeze and dashed heavenward. Puddles of water formed erratically shaped mirrors reflecting the waning daylight, mercurial in contrast to the wet darkness of the seaweed-draped stones.

Sarton wrote, “I have slipped into these wide spaces, this atmosphere of salt and amplitude, this amazing piece of natural Heaven and haven, like a ship slipping into her berth.” Like Sarton, I came here seeking a place to write, and I have found it. The staff here has been attentive but respectful of my desire for solitude as I scribbled in notebooks and slashed pieces of writing long needing my attention while “real life” made it impossible for me to give them the concentration they deserved. I had a wonderful massage yesterday and as Julie gently rocked me from side to side, causing tears to spring to my eyes from the gratitude of having someone create such a lovely experience just for me, I thought about how the theme of this stay is about being touched. Not just by her knowing hands, which helped to relieve the tensions brought on by the world; but by Christian’s carefully selected wines; by a staff eager to please; and most gloriously by a powerful landscape.

Christian Bahre shared with me a delightful Moscato D'Asti from Italy.

Thirty-eight years ago to this day, Sarton intended to take an afternoon nap; she found herself caught up in the surrounding natural activity instead: “…unable to fall asleep, I amused myself listening to all the summer sounds—the leaves stirring like the rustling of taffeta; beyond it the gentle steady roar of the sea, tide rising; but what surprised me was how many birds were singing at that hour, two in the afternoon…I lay there for a half hour, listening, and got up refreshed.” I am being given the same opportunity for refreshment as I let the magic of this place wash over me. Thanks to Patrick, Matt, Brenda, Cheryl, Courtney, Christian, Birget and Julie for making my stay so peaceful. You have helped me to achieve what Sarton sought when she wrote, “I mean every encounter here to be more than superficial…”

[This post was written on July 10, 2012, in Ogunquit, Maine. I have been given comped stay and services by this property but the generosity has in no way swayed my opinions expressed here.]

05/30/12

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!