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)!

12/11/10
Bespoke Boxes for Storing Your Groovy City Guides

The Luxe Touch


Bespoke Boxes for Storing Your Groovy City Guides

Those of you who know me have heard me whining all week that one of the most fabulous trips I’ve ever been offered to Paris was derailed by a head cold. I know you’re all sick of it, cyber pals, but humor me for a moment while I wallow in self pity. For those of you who are just stopping in for the first time, forgive the melodramatics; the read will be worth the intro as I’ve got a few insider travel goodies up my sleeve.

At this very moment, I would have been in the presence of one of the world’s greatest chefs, Alain Ducasse, as he presented his new cooking concept “Essential,” a back-to-basics gastronomy that Chef Ducasse says takes a radical approach. “It takes courage to produce artlessly simple dishes by cooking elegantly,” he explains. “Like an architect that turns his back on flamboyance to achieve perfect harmony through austere lines.” If anyone can create simple elegance, that would be Chef Ducasse. Now are you getting the picture as to why I’m so disappointed to be sitting in front of my computer screen in Brooklyn?

As they liked to shout on those Ginsu knives commercials, “But wait!” I would have been staying at the incredible Hotel Plaza Athénée and I would have luxuriated in a spa treatment at the famed Dior Institut this morning. “But wait!”; that’s not all: I would be heading to Le Meurice this evening for cocktails at Bar 228 and dinner at Restaurant Le Dali, and I would have seen the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris yesterday. Hear that? It’s the sound of my heart breaking!

The Luxe Mobile App for Paris (and the Chic Guide)

How have I made myself feel better as I’ve gone through five boxes of kleenex? By playing with the Luxe City Guides new iPhone app for Paris. Well, a girl’s gotta dream! I’ve used the paper guides for a few years and I love how much information is packed into such a small package without sacrificing wit (and, when it’s warranted, snarkitude). The feisty first-take in each city always includes a tutorial as to a few phrases you’re likely to hear while in town.

Take the Miami edition, which I was carrying with me last week during the Art Basel/Design Miami mania: “Sorry, the sunbeds are all reserved” = “Honey, you’ve got more bush than Australia, ever heard of a wax…?” And who hasn’t bumped into this one in New York City: “Can I help you?” = “You look too poor to shop here and I have no interest in helping you now, or ever.”

My favorites, however, punctuate the opening page of the London guide, which I used during my trip to the UK a few weeks ago when I stayed at two beautiful Dorchester Collection properties, Coworth Park in Ascot and the Dorchester in London. Here are four phrases to help you decipher “Brit-speak”: “Really, how interesting” = “You’re boring me to death”; “Not bad” = “Very good” (Now I realize why they had a difficult time understanding me and vice versa! Not bad = Very good; really?) “Quite good” = “Rather disappointing”; and “Bob’s Your Uncle, Fanny’s Your Aunt” = “Voila!” They had to make me think of Paris again, didn’t they? Just when that fabulous trip to London had distracted me for a moment.

If you’re the hip/no-electronic type, you’ll love the cool bespoke boxes into which you can tuck your printed guides until you’re off on your next adventure. I hope to be back on the road before too long myself. Until then, I’m checking out the “Loves & Loathes” section of the Paris guide on my phone. Guess what? It says Le Meurice has the best luxe lunch deal in town. No kidding! Why don’t you just rub it in! Seriously, happy roaming everyone!

07/14/10
One of Bluestein's images of Cuba, on exhibit at the hotel...

A Stitch in Time…

The Classic Betsy Guestroom

During my last night as a full-time resident of South Beach (I’ll always call Miami Beach one of my homes, after all), I had the delicious pleasure of staying at The Betsy Hotel on Ocean Drive and dining at the hotel’s hip restaurant BLT Steak (not your grandmother’s BLT, but Bistro Laurent Tourondel, the French-trained chef who knows his way around a magnificent menu!). The hotel was named for Betsy Ross, the seamstress who was said to have stitched the first American flag for George Washington. Don’t be fooled by the historical reference because there’s nothing dated about the resort with its gem of a pool tucked into the interior courtyard surrounded by guest rooms. As I checked into the my room that afternoon, the intense heat of the tropics faded away. The lazy lancets of ceiling fans whirred in the hallway as I stepped through the door, feeling as if I were leaving the rest of the world behind me.

One of Bluestein's images of Cuba, on exhibit at the hotel...

One of the things I loved most about the room from a design standpoint was the tailored feel that had been achieved with the furnishings, the moldings and the pale linens trimmed in tropical hues. Accents of straw, especially attractive on the ceiling, brought a textural liveliness to the room and heightened the great West Indies vibe that is so well executed in the lobby area. One of my favorite design aspects outside the room is the photography that peppers the corridors and the public spaces, some of it by Richard Bluestein. There was a rawness and patina to his images that made it the perfect relief to the crispness of the hotel’s interiors. If anyone ever doubted that a Georgian building could be infused with a modern-day beauty, one look at The Betsy clears that up!

BLT Steak South Beach

So, while living la vida Betsy, the first order of business was dinner in the lobby restaurant with its giant blackboard that holds a list meats that would make a cattleman swoon. I settled in for a feast that began with chicken liver pate served with crunchy bread. I had a glass of Far Niente Chardonnay (one of my favorite California wineries) and he tried a new Cabernet Sauvignon they were pouring that night. The signature popovers were followed by a salad of beets, apples, arugula and gorgonzola, the beets bleeding on my plate in a delicious earthiness that was tart on the tongue. The meal was all about beef, of course: Kobe, Wagyu and Angus the main stars of the lineup. Dessert was a crowning glory. The chocolate and peanut butter mouse with banana ice cream was complemented by a visit from the Chef de Cuisine, Samuel Gorenstein (there’s a nice piece about him on the NBC Miami web site). Last but not least, orange blossom madeleines had me pining for Paris. Compliments to the chef! [Some services were comped during my stay, though the consideration received no special treatment in terms of coverage. Had I not been pleased with any facet of the experience, I would simply have written nothing.]

03/25/10
Toma Clark Haines

Channeling Your Inner Diva

Toma Clark Haines

When The Antiques Diva tells you that she will have you shopping until you drop, you had better believe her! Accessories goddess Patty Otis Abel and I spent a day in Paris with the daring Toma Clark Haines, the Diva herself, and were just about to the point of crying uncle when she breezed us right into The Ritz and straight into the Bar Hemingway! After one of head barman Colin Field’s French 75 cocktails, which he claims are the perfect balm for soothing fretful feet after a day of shopping or sightseeing, we were nearly as good as new.

As a design journalist, I had been hearing about the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen, Paris’ famed flea market, for years. Some of my favorites among the homes I’ve covered were either filled with or accented with personable finds from the market, and I’d always dreamed of going myself. One of the reasons I had wrangled Patty into accompanying me to Paris (which, I’ll admit, was not a difficult task!) is that I don’t speak French and she does. But even with her language skills, we knew that trying to go it alone with tasks as intricate as price negotiations would be a mistake.

I learned about Toma through Carmen Natschke, The Decorating Diva, when she featured both of us on her kicky site that serves as one of my favorite surveys of what’s hot in design (I’ll be featuring her Look Books in a future post). I knew the minute I read Carmen’s write-up that Toma was a gift from the antique-shopping gods and I was right. We formulated a plan and Toma rang our buzzer at 9 a.m. the morning our adventure was to commence. It was non-stop action from that moment on and I was thrilled to hang on for the ride!

 

Patty and I were staying in an apartment in the 2nd arrondissement so Toma planned our route to take us to the Porte de Vanves Flea Market first, as it was on the way to the other venues she had planned for us. Toma calls Porte de Vanves the “other Paris flea market,” and Patty and I both nabbed great finds there. She also took us to a Vide Grenier, which literally means “empty-your-attic sale.” These are neighborhood flea markets that dot the city on weekends. After a quick lunch, she guided us to our most magnificent stop: Les Puce de Paris, or Clignancourt as some people call it, referring to its location at the city’s perimeter in the Porte de Clignancourt.

There are so many facets to the hulking market that it would have been impossible for Patty and I to have made sense of it on our own. Two thousand vendors are spread out through thirteen districts and 7 miles of alleyways! Toma had identified three districts that she felt would suit our needs the best, just one of the ways her expertise made the experience manageable. I hit the usual sensory overload that I always reach during such stimulating experiences, but I never once felt lost during the nearly 10 hours we moved through the city and its renowned markets.

The backstory is that we had such a great time thanks to Toma’s bubbly personality and positive attitude that Patty and I both walked away from the experience feeling as if we’d made a new friend (see for yourself here). Once our antiquing adventures were finished, we freshened up at The Ritz before hitting the bar. Thanks to Toma’s urging, I’d packed one of my prettiest scarves, which I tied around my neck, instantly feeling an elegance befitting Paris and our storied locale.

When Colin ornamented our drinks with a fresh flower that he said he chose to compliment how he perceived our personalities, it felt like the icing on the cake. Getting to bring two very special finds home from Paris is the decorative marzipan curlicues! To schedule tours, visit Toma’s web site; to keep up with the latest, she had an informative blog. Happy antiquing all you Divas out there!

03/23/10
My Paris Apartment (for a time)!

Of All the Stars in the Parisian Sky!

My Paris Apartment (for a time)!

Would you call me crazy if I told you I turned down luxurious rooms at the George V, Le Meurice and the Hôtel Plaza Athénée during my recent trip to Paris? Would you ask, “What in the world got into you?” if I said I traded the famed address 228 rue de Rivoli across from the Jardin des Tuileries for a tiny lane in the 2nd arrondissement? What had gotten into me was the desire to have a Paris experience that included a Parisian’s point of view so I exchanged my condo in South Beach for a place in Paris and voila: a light-filled apartment on a quaint street that trickled to its end beneath the elaborate stone arch at Faubourg Saint-Denis!

As I journaled during my first morning there, lounging on fluffy pillows stacked against a headboard upholstered in toile, I thought how fitting it was that I was staying in an apartment filled with antiques and collectibles, which had obviously been gathered and arranged with love. As a design journalist, I was realizing a dream that day as I headed to the Porte de Vanves and the Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen at Clignancourt to have my first crack at the famed Paris flea markets

The apartment, which was a spacious two-bedroom with high ceilings, was tucked into Paris’ version of the garment district. Every morning when I exited the building, I found myself facing a fabric shop window holding a cranberry-colored tulle dress that would have made Marie Antoinette take notice—all flouncing folds and cascading creases. Walking down the street to catch the Metro at Bonne Nouvelle meant ducking between brawny men carrying bolts of fabric over their shoulders and circumventing hanging carts with assorted prêt-à-porter collections swaying with the chilly February breeze.

Before I’d set foot in the sophisticated city, I’d imagined myself shopping for brie, a baguette and a bottle of Sancere; then kicking back in the apartment to rest my weary feet from a grueling day of doing research for the articles I would write. That didn’t happen: there were simply too many restaurants calling, too many incredible experiences beckoning and too few hours available before I hopped my ride with Air France back to New York. I did shop for milk for my morning coffee and yogurt for breakfast in the neighborhood supermarket, which held a jostling throng of Parisians looking impatient to scurry quickly home from work. It doesn’t get more local than this, I thought, happy to be the only one standing in line with a pleasant expression on my face rather than a frown or a yawn.

The one night I was tempted to stay in, pop the cork on a bottle of wine, fix a salad, and work my way through some of the homeowner’s impressive collection of Italian opera CD’s, my travel-mate simply wouldn’t have it. She shamed me into action by reminding me that I was in Paris and I wasn’t allowed to stay home! We walked the quiet maze of cobblestone streets, an advantage of staying in a neighborhood that held lots of activity by day and little traffic by night, to a tiny brasserie we’d heard was a favorite eatery of François Pinault. The quaint restaurant was packed with locals and presented us with one of the strangest celebrity sightings either of us had ever had. Sitting at one of the tables was Joan Collins of “Dynasty” fame, quietly eating dinner with what appeared to be her family. The other diners were trying to be gracious and not watch her eat but there was a bit of fanfare taking place that had the maître d’ flustered.

As we strolled through the inky air toward home, we shook our heads at seeing the most unlikely star we would have imagined bumping into on any given night in Paris. As I sipped my coffee the next morning, I wondered how Aaron Spelling, Dynasty’s producer, might have spun a backstory for our evening. I sure hoped it would include a catfight between those high-haired Denver divas Krystle and Alexis. I could only imagine how the maître d’ would have handled that! Because this post has been submitted to the Grantourismo-HomeAway travel writing competition, I’d love to have your comments as to whether the post resonates with you; whether it inspires you; whether you’ve had similar experiences or whether you’ve visited a city in a similarly “local” way.