Month of Travel: New York, Part 1

In 2011, I attended the Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, but have never been able to return due to work…until 2017! At last! The festival was just one of many delights during four days in New York.

Three days after arriving home from Toronto, John and I load up the car for New York. The drive up couldn’t be easier, especially now that we don’t have to stop for tolls. I simply chant “EZPass EZPass” and clap as we go through the express lanes.

In Brooklyn, Cousin Deanna stands in a parking spot and flags us down. Christmas trees lie on the sidewalks and it smells wonderful. For lunch, Deanna takes us to her spot, Le Paddock, where we all go nuts for deviled eggs.

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Day 1: World Trade Center to Greenwich Village

John and I head to Lower Manhattan for a hedonistic walking tour. We start at Le District, part grocery store, part French-themed food hall, to enjoy a red from Vacqueyras and a white from Savenniéres at the wine bar. A scoop of espresso ice cream follows for me! From there, we follow the Hudson Greenway bike path north to Greenwich Village.

Tribeca at dusk

We wander through narrow, quiet streets and spot one restaurant. From the corner, it beckons us with its multi-pane windows and the candlelight within. We see people inside and decide we should be early diners too. Sitting at the bar of the Little Owl, truly little with barely 10 tables, we drink Mondeuse and Falanghina, while I eat delicious Eggplant Parmesan.

From there, we stop at Employees Only, a cocktail bar that routinely lands on lists. The friendly doorman draws back a black velvet curtain and we find ourselves in the 1920s. The only anachronism is that the bartenders wear chef’s coats. John has the Billionaire’s Cocktail — bourbon, lemon, grenadine, absinthe bitters —  and for me, Besos Calientes — tequila, grapefruit, lime, habanero bitters. For the two of us, it’s such a relaxing moment. We haven’t seen each other much the last few weeks and tonight we are finally catching up.

On Bleecker Street, we look at the shops and ponder why a crowd is peacefully dissenting “Let her go! Let her go!” outside a police station. (One person across the street tells us a woman put a poster up where she wasn’t supposed to have, but how does that warrant arrest?) Like good Americans, we quickly forget justice and start shopping. John almost buys a vintage vest, but it is too small. Then, I spot the rainbow-colored storefront of David’s Tea and buy two small bags: Turmeric Glow and North African Mint. Good stuff! We take a whirl around Murray’s Cheese.

John hasn’t eaten much and when he spots the word “tacos” across from Murray’s, his hunger suddenly reveals itself. At garage-like Tacombi, we’re lucky to get seated right away. I move to non-alcoholic drinks and have a super sweet horchata. John tries almost every kind of tiny taco they have — fish, beef, pork, all delicious — and I eat two of the sweet potato-black bean tacos. With corn on the side, we are so content. It’s a short walk to the F train. And what do you know? We home in Brooklyn at 9pm.

Day 2: Upper East Side

For today we have two goals: see art and explore another food hall. On 58th Street, we strike out at Fika, a Swedish coffee shop that by 10am is cleaned out of every last morsel. But with a short walk east, we find heavenly croissants at Plaza Hotel’s Food Hall. We scope the place out and confirm our plans to return for lunch.

Plaza Hotel

In the shadow of Trump Tower, we walk to an unremarkable office building. In search of Galerie St. Etienne, we mistakenly press the elevator button for the 4th floor. The doors open onto a bizarre scene: in a cavernous space, white and purple lights flash and sputter. We can’t see anyone and there’s an accompanying sound, reminiscent of the blaring noises in Mad Max: Fury Road. We know it’s some kind of art installation, but we’re desperate to get away. On the 8th floor, however, we find the Galerie, tucked amidst doctors’ offices. The exhibit “You Say You Want a Revolution: American Artists and the Communist Party” brings us here. Hugo Gellert and Sue Coe are two artists whose work strikes us.

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At the Society of Illustrators, a few blocks north, we check our coats and settle into exploring this institution, which exhibits art, holds competitions, and offers workshops for artists. We see work by the most talented illustrators living today in the exhibit: “Illustrators 59: Uncommissioned, Institutional, Advertising”, an annual juried show. Then on the upper floors, John and I marvel (har-har) at the work of comic book illustrator Tony Harris. Still yet on the third floor, we see a Norman Rockwell mural and wonderful work by artists who designed covers for classic magazines like Woman’s Home Companion and Redbook. For John, this is a pilgrimage. Next time, he’ll go to one of their themed sketch nights!

For a break, we walk over to Central Park where the sun spills over the rocks and the wind can’t reach us.

View from Central Park

Then to lunch at the Plaza Food Court! Seats may be hard to come by, but we eventually get a spot where we have no choice but to listen to a younger woman describe to an older woman, a family friend it seemed, every step in her thought process about whether to move in with her boyfriend. Meanwhile, my broccoli and feta sandwich from No. 7 Sub is fantastic, while John’s fennel sausage from Todd English hits the spot. While I finish up, John decides to find dessert; he comes back with a bag of hot cinnamon and sugar doughnut holes from the Doughnuttery. I buy a small canister from Kusmi tea and then we pick up a kouign amann pastry to eat later. Oh heaven!

Inspired by our visit to the Society of Illustrators, we set off for the St. Regis Hotel, where a Maxfield Parrish mural of “Old King Cole” dominates the bar. In San Francisco, we paid a pretty penny to sit beneath Parrish’s “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” at the Palace Hotel. The drinks cost even more here! But the little bar snacks are delicious.

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For the last mural of the day, we take a short subway ride up to the Met. In 2013, we went to the AXA Equitable Tower only to learn that the Thomas Hart Benton mural, American Today (1931), had been moved! Now, in 2017, we see it in its new home — a custom room where one can sit surrounded by the 10-canvas panorama!

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While at the Met, we also see an exhibit about Max Beckmann, a German artist who moved to New York in the late 1940s. He apparently spent much time at the St. Regis Hotel and the Plaza Hotel — exactly like us!  And I finally get to the Costume Institute!

A happy day of art and with so many lifelong dreams met, John and I board the subway back to the Brooklyn.

Now with Deanna, we head to dinner at Le Paddock and then on to Golden Fest at Grand Prospect Hall. The festival has gotten bigger, but the wine is just as strange and the music just as brilliant! I know to strip down to a tank top and jump into the circle. Deanna and John join me off and on, but mainly I am left to swirl in a sea of sweaty hands and nimble feet. I give myself over to the arrhythmic beats and bilateral dancing patterns.

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When I can dance no more, I go upstairs to the balcony to watch from above. Here one can easily spot the factions, the dancers out of sync, the knowledgeable dancers doing some trickier variant. It’s a marvelous chaotic soup.

Following tradition, we three must have pizza after Balkan Fest! No one remembers where we went six years ago, so Deanna and John do some searching and decide on American Cheez, a bar that serves free pizza when you buy a drink. Really? Yes! The owner treats us like he’s known us forever; 70s rock plays; the women’s bathroom is plastered with old John Travolta photos; posters everywhere; a few TVs — one showing an old movie. The owner gets down his Trump and Ron Burgundy figurines and puts them in all kinds of compromising positions. We love the whole spirit of the place. And truly, there is nothing better than pizza at midnight, but really I’m exhausted and ready to sleep.

Continue to Part 2

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Make Your Own Season Guide

The last five months took me to a number of performances — way more than I typically see in a such a short period. I will briefly catalog them here in my external memory.

Les Miserables, Imperial Theater. My mom loves Ramin Karimloo, so we took a family field trip to see him star as Jean Valjean. I was initially more excited about the theater itself — old, cozy, dressed in red velvet, home to performances by Ethel Merman and Ray Bolger. I felt giddy about seeing my very first Broadway show. When the music started, I discovered just how deeply the sounds of Les Mis had imprinted themselves on my brain. My mom recalled that as a child I loved “Master of the House” and that’s still my favorite — so many good words from “arse” to “shit”. The visual effects and design impressed me most. The set of half-timbered houses in the Parisian slums stretched beyond the proscenium arch (an excellent use of space), while the battle around the barricades looked like a Delacroix painting. Projection and mist enhanced the scenes in the tunnels and catacombs, and projection again created a cinematic illusion as the revolutionaries walked in place and a street scene moved along behind them (sounds cheesy in writing, but it was a fabulous effect). The theater productions I grew up with took place mostly outside and involved lots of paper mache; I’m still amazed to no end what theatrical engineers and technologists can do these days.

Cecile McLorin Salvant, Historic Sixth and I Synagogue. The night after my show, I went to see one of the brightest stars in jazz today. Salvant reveals her study of the inimitable divas — Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, and Betty Carter — in her own intelligent, playful style. She is a vocal gymnast, but she won my heart with her eclectic song choices, like “The Trolley Song.” And for an encore? She showed her classical training, artistry, and wit by performing Leonard Bernstein’s “I Hate Music.”

Cosi fan tutte, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Despite having never seen this Mozart opera until last November, I have always felt a fondness for it. In high school, two classmates and I learned the trio from Act I “Soave sia il vento” and I’d always known that Cosi fan tutte features voices in all kinds of combinations from solo arias to sextets. This production starring six students of the Maryland Opera Studio was even more glorious than I’d expected and that little cast of six showed effortless endurance through the performance. It’s a goofy plot, but exquisite music.

The Merry Widow, Metropolitan Opera House. Speaking of goofy plots, this 1905 Viennese operetta echoes “Women are like that”, while looking forward to great American musical. Stanley Green’s Broadway Musicals 1891-1916 even includes music from The Merry Widow, which came to Broadway in 1907 and created such a feror it “prompted the introduction of Merry Widow hats, gowns, corsets, and cigarettes.” The reason for my seeing the opera was no history lesson; my mom loves baritone Nathan Gunn, so again we made a family field trip. It didn’t hurt that Renee Fleming, the great opera ambassador and soprano, would be co-starring with Gunn, or that we got to see luxurious Lincoln Center with its massive Chagall paintings and spangly, modern chandeliers. The performance featured gorgeous costumes, can-can girls, and wonderful Belle Epoque touches, but it was missing the pizazz a sparkling musical comedy requires. Gunn and Fleming seemed restrained and I only caught glimpses of their full power. John, mom, and I saw Gunn in recital once, a truly awesome experience, and now I feel compelled to seek out Fleming whatever the ticket price.

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, Kennedy Center. Since high school, I’ve wanted to see the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Everyone in theater and voice had to take a movement class and I remember we watched a video of “Revelations”, Alvin Ailey’s signature piece. It’s iconic movements inflected with African dance stuck with me because I had never seen anything like it. Now, more than ten years later, John and I went to see the company perform three pieces during their annual engagement in Washington, DC: “Odetta” (2014), “Bad Blood” (1984), and “Revelations” (1960). The audience went nuts for “Revelations”, but as Odetta is one of my musical idols, I particularly liked the piece that honored her activism and radiant humanism. I couldn’t help noting too its effective lighting design and set pieces (benches that could be stacked and arranged to evoke any number of items from columns to railroad ties). “Bad Blood” featured various couples dancing fiercely, tenderly, passionately; it was thrilling and so circa 1984.

Choir Boy, Studio Theater. How often do I get to see someone I know in professional theater! My fellow graduate of the class of ’03, Eric, appeared as Junior in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s musical play, which originally premiered in 2012 (I think). The intimate space of the Studio Theater suited the emotional tension of the story, which centers on an elite prep school for young black men and one student’s struggle with his sexuality, identity, and place within the world. If that isn’t already enough to unpack, the play finds its grounding in gospel music, which the characters use in different ways: to find comfort or strength, to express emotions they don’t have words for, to create bonds and friendship. The singing required tremendous versatility, power, and range from the actors. The headmaster stole the show for me with “Been in the Storm So Long”. When he sings, he is exhausted from investigating a violent act that occurred on campus, keeping peace among the students, and balancing the demands of the school’s trustees. Still, he finds strength and hope through music. Regarding the five boys at the heart of the story, I found the actors’ renditions of raw, boundary-testing teenagers pitch perfect.

Dialogues of the Carmelites, Kennedy Center. I end where I began: the French Revolution. Francis Poulenc’s 1956 opera follows a group of nuns through their daily life of religious debates, work, and song until the soldiers of the Revolution storm their doors. In the most gripping climax to any play or opera I have ever seen, some 15 nuns are executed, one by one, complete with the slicing sound effect. I can’t say I identified with the nuns or understood the internal turmoil and fearful outlook of the main character, Blanche. However, Poulenc’s music gave me all the tension and emotionality I needed. Alternating between ripping trumpets and lush harps, he is a master of mood and musical foreshadowing. Except for a few hymns, the opera is sung dialogue: more melodic than recitative, but without ever solidifying into any discrete song forms. With such a female-dominated cast, I loved hearing the many textures of the female voice: women who sound like barrels and women who sound like birds. I marveled at the set — three giant versatile walls — a dynamic modern sculpture that played with shadow and light so poetically. The opera may have left me exhausted and unsettled, wondering what kind of death I will have, but I left humming one of the themes.

A Vegetarian in Elysian Fields

I never dreamed that I would ever visit a place outside of the East Coast more than once, let alone three times. I traveled to the New Orleans previously in 2010 and 2012 (links to blog posts). I found love, then disappointment, so I kept an open mind this time. I was going for work and decided to stay an extra day and a half for fun. Credit card points covered John’s flight.

Turns out January is a great time to visit. There was a biker convention and the Wizard World comic con happening simultaneously (along with the conference I was there for). The weather turned cold and windy, but with Mardi Gras about a month away, the city felt buoyant and not at all crowded.

Also, on this trip, I ate so well (2010 was truly a struggle). Sure, I had pizza three times, but through friends’ recommendations I experienced truly fabulous vegetarian meals. I’m super excited about all the new places catering to vegans and vegetarians (or at least being mindful of them and respecting their choices). Finally, I can make New Orleans a food destination.

Thursday

Sheraton. Not a good start. By the time my coworkers and I arrive on Canal Street at 2:30pm, we are starving and pressed for time. In the drafty, freezing bar, we eat salads with numb fingers and find ourselves confounded by the angled bowls.

Domenica. I delight my coworkers with this Italian restaurant inside the historic Roosevelt Hotel. The menu hits a range of price points, but we stay on the low end with pizza. What pizzas! To start, ethereal fried kale. I got a delicious and absurdly healthy pie: roasted carrot sauce, beets, shaved brussels sprout, goat cheese. Tip from Food and Wine.

Friday

Mother’s. I meet a friend, heretofore known as Ms. Hoodla, for breakfast and she takes me to this local institution that opened in 1938. We get omelets, which come with grits, biscuits, and outstanding jam. Everyone is super friendly and keeps checking to make sure we are happy: “How are you doing, babies?”. To top it off, there is a barbershop quartet singing to the cashier when we arrive.

Warehouse District-ish
On the way to Cafe Carmo: ASBESTOS!

Cafe Carmo. Around 2pm, a coworker and I escape for lunch and follow the recommendation of friend, henceforth known as Jimmy Beans. Reminds me of One World Cafe in Baltimore. I get the special: kushari, an Egyptian dish with lentils, chickpeas, pasta, and a spicy tomato sauce. Perfect for a cold, rainy day, which it was. Budget-friendly, healthy, soundtrack exclusively Brazilian: I wish Cafe Carmo was near me.

Cafe du Monde. It had to happen. My coworker had never been!

Cafe Maspero. Around 8:30pm, aforementioned coworker and I need a pick-me-up after listening to a report. We follow another recommendation of Jimmy Beans, because I want to try a vegetarian muffaletta (olive salad, swiss cheese). Food comes quickly and is pretty good. I would love everything to be a few degrees warmer, however.

Saturday

Bittersweet Confections. Realizing that this morning is the only time I will have to myself for the entire day, I go for a walk in the Warehouse District and have an everything bagel with spicy cream cheese in this sunny bakery. I’m so distracted by the cashier’s wild hair that I forget to buy a fruit cup, but I do remember to get two croissants to go. Good coffee too. I watch an older couple, clearly regulars, who sit with their newspapers.

Peanut shells in Beerfest
Meanwhile: John roams the French Quarter and finds heaven at Beerfest where he can watch the football playoffs and eat peanuts. Then he went to Spotted Cat and bought a CD by the band Panorama. I’m jealous.

Lunch is my leftover beet pizza. John arrives and I catch up with him while eating a croissant in the hotel room.

Dinner is food at the reception I’m hosting. Marriott catering turns out to be tasty.

Sazerac Bar. A little after 11pm, all my hosting duties are complete and I pack up. John and I go the short walk to the Roosevelt Hotel into the Sazerac Bar, which still possesses its 1938 vibe. He goes for the $18 sazerac and I for the more moderate Llama Mama, which introduces me to a new liquor: pisco. My drink is pale pink and deliciously sour. We learn that the wood-paneled walls and bar (African walnut) all came from one tree. We feel under-dressed and can’t stop looking at the WPA murals depicting agricultural and urban scenes. We both like social realism, but the work scenes seem odd for a bar: cotton-picking, white men overseeing black laborers. Later, a Google search reveals there is controversy about the place of these murals in our evolving world.

One of those pizza places on Bourbon Street. We are hungry and stop in the first Big Easy Pizza Daiquiris place we see. The slices are satisfying, cheesy, with a baking powder crust (a guess here), just like the pizza served in my elementary school’s cafeteria. We eat as we walk to the hotel.

Sunday

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The Old Coffee Pot Restaurant

Old Coffee Pot. John and I have a delicious eggy breakfast at this neat old place as per the recommendation of one of his friends. Shortly after, I’m back to work. By 1:30pm the conference closes up for good and I’m free!

Lost and Found. I change into warmer clothes and we set out for lunch. We take a detour on Chartres Street to this adorable boutique and find a dress just my style. One of the women working there is eating pizza; a seed is planted.

Horn’s. Our intention is to follow Ms. Hoodla’s recommendation and we walk 1 mile to the Marigny neighborhood. Horn’s offers vegetarian-friendly lunch items, but on Sunday afternoon they are still doing brunch. We have a nice chat with the waiter and tell him that sadly we’ve already had eggs that morning because we had to get up early. He is super cool. He had to get up early too.

Pizza Delicious. What the hell — what’s one more mile. We go to the Bywater neighborhood past warehouses, pro-literacy-themed graffiti, and Santa skulls.

Near Bywater
I’m very proud of this photo.
Mystery Novels
John talked to the guy pictured there with his truck. His interpretation of the graffiti: read mystery novels.
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Not sure what was more frightening: the giant plant or these heads.

Once there, we order four slices: cheese and one each of the daily specials — potato and rosemary, Hawaiian, and spinach with roasted garlic. Totally worth the two mile walk.

Bacchanal. At this point “less than a mile” becomes our catch phrase. We tarry forth another 10-15 minutes and arrive at this wine shop/bar. Its big backyard is lined with Christmas lights and gas heaters. Over the course of the afternoon, John tries the three red wines offered by the glass and I try a rose and two half glasses of whites. The winner: Tauburno’s Falanghina. We order dessert too: a deconstructed lemon meringue pie with lavender. On the stage two men channel Django Reinhardt and trade who plays rhythm and who solos. A stray cat the color of gravel and dead leaves calls the courtyard home and darts under our feet hunting birds. We notice a heavy fog settling in and hear ships on the Mississippi blurt their horns.

Crescent Park. We fall in love with this brand new park, like the New Orleans version of the Highline or the Promenade des Plantes. Although the park isn’t elevated, it makes the same connection between old industry and new living, it transforms the surrounding city into art, and offers green space and public art. Come take a tour:

Crescent Park

Crescent Park

Crescent Park

Crescent Park

We have no idea that the riverside park is still under construction and are bummed when we must make a U-turn to retrace our steps, cross over a bridge, etc to get back to a real street. Our bladders constrict and our steady progress toward the French Quarter is suddenly stymied by a stopped train. We watch a girl with her groceries run under it. Cheered on by a motorcyclist, we quickly move under a car too and proceed on our way. John is so proud of me.

The Friendly Bar. We need to pee badly now and John says, “How can we pass up a place called the Friendly Bar?” A man holds open the door. What else to do, but go in. We have Shiner Bock and count 7 disco balls. The bathroom may have a plywood floor, but it is one of the cleanest I’ve seen on the trip. John and I read and discuss the NYTimes’ list of places to visit in 2015. It includes New Orleans!

Maison. Tired from all the walking, we know we can’t make it back to Frenchmen Street for music later. We sit here for a bit to watch a hot jazz band and two tap dancers. The guy can break dance too. When he really gets going, he does a headstand and clicks his heels over head.

Green Goddess. Of course, we had to go back. We sit outside in the mist, alone in the alley. I like our friendly, unpretentious waitress. I see they’ve changed their hours and focused the menu. An excellent hot buttered rum keeps me warm along with squash soup. John starts with beef stew. Regarding our mains, my wasabi bruleed tofu is probably the best preparation of tofu I’ve ever had. John happily eats his Mediterranean meatloaf with lamb and halloumi. Instead of dessert, we share a glass of dessert wine: Hill Family Estate, Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, 2009. It’s floral and sweet, but not syrupy. We run into friends, then chat up one of the cooks on his break. The whole meal is easy and casual, yet divine.

Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone. We don’t get seats at the spinning bar. From the side we can marvel at the painted seat backs. We drink coffee; John has Bailey’s in his. Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams came here too. It’s a relaxing way to end the misty night. I take a drink stirrer for my mom’s collection (look, I mentioned you!).

Monday

Bittersweet Confections. I send John here and he brings delicious bagels and fruit back to the hotel.

Ogden Museum of Southern Art. We have time before the museum opens and walk to the Convention Center (free bathrooms!) and then through the Warehouse District to marvel at grand old buildings. We walk past the mammoth WWII museum, the Civil War Museum in a beautiful 1860s library, and Lee Circle. On the side of the Ogden, we see this crowdsourced art project:

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Inside we find everything: Basquiat, outsider art, decorative art, work by regional artists, a photography project documenting the lives of men at Angola Prison. We both like the “tramp art” — unbelievably intricate boxes, mirrors, and furniture made from matchsticks or found wood. I marvel at the pastels by Will Henry Stevens (here’s a link to a gallery selling his work), while John spends time with the striking cast glass sculptures by Rick Beck and Stephen Dee Edwards. There is a cool photography exhibit too with modern tintypes and photos taken with a homemade pinhole camera.

Contemporary Arts Center. Across the street, I decide to go through the CAC, while John rests his legs. I buy tickets from a young man with glorious hair: close shave on one side and crazy curls spilling out everywhere else. The whole museum — all three floors — is dedicated to P.3 or Prospect.3: Notes for Now, a city-wide art exhibit (Basquiat at the Ogden was part of this). The installation at CAC features artists from all over the world. The themes I pick up from the video art, photographs, paintings, repurposed textiles, and even tanks of coral include balancing-building-reconciling-understanding one’s identity caught between the past/traditional culture and modern life. I think my favorite work is Zarina Bhimji’s short film with beautiful light and abstract, entrancing close-ups of sisal. I also like the modern iconography and medievalism of Douglas Bourgeois’ paintings. Each work in the museum packs so much meaning, symbolism, and purpose, I feel mentally drained by the time I meet John in the lobby 45 minutes later.

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Inside the CAC

Seed. We are hungry! We continue walking, under the highway overpass, to a quiet neighborhood less than a mile from the museums. Jimmy Beans recommended this vegan/vegetarian paradise which aims for “garden based, NOLA taste” cuisine. We enjoy a leisurely meal of gumbo, tofu po’ boy, BBQ seitan sandwich, and chocolate cake. Our sandwiches are incredible — perfect texture and flavor — and we share everything. Since we don’t really know where we are in relation to anything else, we ask our radiant waitress for recommendations and she tells us to check out her favorite coffee shop on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. We do.

Tasseology. Our intention is to explore OC Haley Blvd, but it feels really good to sit in Tasseology’s backyard garden drinking coffee and plum tea that is thick like cider. The sun on our faces, we listen to the fountain and watch big canvas tarps flap in the wind. Then we walk the mile back to the hotel for naptime.

P.3 art in New Orleans
We spot more P.3 art!

Bar Tonique. After resting up, we take advantage of the $5 Pimm’s Cup special at this little place on Rampart. The next round is beer. Although we’re the only people there for a while, the bartender isn’t social. We leave to seek music and dinner on Frenchmen St and happen to walk by Tennessee Williams’ house.

Three Muses. When we meet Daisy, the hostess, we know we’re in the right place. She’s friendly and has cateye glasses. The piano man is playing right inside the door — jazz standards. I try the cocktail of the day, a heavenly Champagne and grapefruit concoction that our awesome waitress created: “Champagne cocktails are kind of my jam.” We share three plates — deviled eggs, a root vegetable salad with falafel-encrusted goat cheese, and mac and cheese — plus John got scallops. It’s tapas style and all the portions are perfect.

Spotted Cat. Crossing the street, we settle in at this smoky, cash-only bar to watch Dominick Grillo and the Frenchmen Street All-Stars: trumpet, sax, piano, bass, drums. They’re all really good and I like their range, bop to “When You’re Smiling”; we never know what will be next. So much people watching and I’m tickled by the piano in the bathroom. The pianist looks like a military guy and he plays solo during the band’s break. I know all the songs.

Maison. We cross the street again and are lucky to get a table near the front. We’ve come for the 10pm band — Smoking Time Jazz Club — whom we’ve seen on every trip. The band that’s playing now though? Awesome and I’m in love with the bandleader: multi-instrumentalist Aurora Nealand. The arrangements are killer including “Ne Me Quitte Pas” as a tango. We buy a CD. Garlic fries and another grapefruit drink (I’ve forgotten the details, but I do remember John had a margarita) keep us going. The same tap dancer as before makes a cameo.

Tuesday

Cafe Beignet. It’s a dreary morning. Breakfast is a bran muffin, cherry turnover, yogurt, and coffee. Our flight is at 11:30am.

Notes for Next Time

Go for a week. Suck it in and savor. Dig far and wide. Travel with friends and have a true vacation. AirBnB!

Try to find an affable gutter punk to interview about the lifestyle.

Find music off of Frenchmen. The “Where” magazine I took from the hotel is giving me lots of ideas. And I need to witness a Second Line.

Visit the New Orleans Museum of Art and City Park.

Return to Bywater, Warehouse District, and Crescent Park. Check out OC Haley Blvd and visit the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (and soon the be the new home of the American Cocktail Museum).

Closing Statement

NYTimes says “resilient and renewed.” With my tiny window into this diverse, expansive city, I must agree. I feel so excited for New Orleans and can’t wait to go back in a few years. Maybe see what the autumn is like?

Red beans and ricely yours,
Lanah

P.S. I’ve converted to a Tabasco-on-eggs person.

Afternoon Rendezvous

for Monica

A weekday escape is a lovely way to put oneself in vacation mode even if only for a few hours. I’m also constantly seeking “the new” in my ordinary world. Surprises still lurk a few miles off well-traveled roads.

Two weeks ago, I planned a surprise afternoon for John and told him to pick me up from work at 3pm on Friday. I navigated him out of the city into the moneyed-iest part of Montgomery County. We past no mere Mc-mansions. These were serious estates with land and on former hunting grounds a generous couple has opened a private museum, dedicated to the work of established, contemporary artists. Glenstone offers an unparalleled visitor experience. Visits are by appointment and a docent accompanies each party through the museum. John and I ended up striking a lively conversation with our docent, a young art student who could answer any of our questions and gave us great insights into the whimsical, engaging work on display by Peter Fischli and David Weiss. The museum features about 8 galleries and every two years the contents of the entire museum change for a new exhibit. Glenstone plans to expand with a new building to house more of the permanent collection. We can’t wait to go back.

From the Glenstone website: Peter Fischli David Weiss ‘At the Carpet Shop’ from Wurstserie [Sausage Series]
We wound our way from Potomac to Garrett Park, a beautiful Victorian neighborhood hidden between bustling Rockville Pike and Connecticut Avenue. Next to the commuter rail stop, we sat on the porch of Black Market Bistro for a relaxing dinner (except when a train would go by): bean soup, pizza, wine, a decadent Nutella Mousse Tart. Though less than 10 miles from home, we were in another world.

From the Black Market Bistro website

An Aside: Insidious Meat Fridays

The curse lifted yesterday, but on the three previous Fridays meat found its way onto my plate! Three consecutive Fridays! First, at a food truck festival I received the wrong tacos; then at the aforementioned bistro the bean soup had secret hammy bites (I should have known better, but a note on the menu would have helped); and then at work I tried stewed okra on a whim…bacon! So bizarre.

 

Something Old, Something Paper?

Yesterday, my mom and I made a day of seeing two clothing-related exhibits, one at the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum and another at the Hillwood Museum.

At the DAR, we received an orientation to the building and the organization’s history. The DAR’s genealogical library is in a beautiful space, once an assembly hall with a stage. I took this picture from one of the old box seats.
The DAR Museum consists of 31 period rooms, each associated with a state. Most states have chosen to showcase exquisite furniture, held only by the wealthiest citizens. The Texas period room presented the bedroom of a German immigrant family. I love the stencil work and painted chairs.
In the DAR’s small gallery off the gift shop, we explored the exhibit, “Fashioning the New Woman, 1890-1925” or the Downton Abbey costume shoppe.
This case shows how undergarments for women simplified over time, from restrictive bodices to brassieres and slips.
This case displays the variety of women’s accessories: pins, hair ornaments, stockings, hats, fans, shoes.
We also saw this lovely jar for leeches among highlights from the museum’s porcelain collection.
Following 18th Street to Connecticut Avenue, we went to the Hillwood Museum. We last visited in 2010. On this trip, the garden greenhouse contained some lovely orchids.
For this visit, we focused on a truly fantastic exhibit of dresses by artist Isabelle de Borchgrave. Her life-sized creations, made from painstakingly manipulated and painted paper, are unlike any paper art I’ve ever seen.  The artist does not strive to make accurate historical representations of Renaissance, Baroque, or later fashions, and she freely introduces patterns from other traditions, such as Asian textiles. The combination of Hillwood’s opulence (it was the mansion of Marjorie Merriweather Post) and these exquisite dresses made for a stunning experience. (Photo from the Hillwood Museum website)

Here’s a close look at de Borchgrave’s creations for a 2009 exhibit at the Medici Palace in Florence:

Isabelle de Borchgrave @ Palazzo Medici Riccardi / Firenze from Artenews on Vimeo.

National Park Seminary

Anyone driving between Georgia Avenue and Connecticut Avenue near Silver Spring, MD is likely to encounter a strange sight. On one side of Linden Avenue, you see an ordinary town house complex:

On the other side of the street, however, you see this:

I’ve long wanted to explore this property, known as National Park Seminary. Once a month, the Save Our Seminary organization offers a tour, so my mom and I went. Here’s what we learned:

This lodge first opened as a resort for folks to escape Washington, DC in the late 1880s. In 1894, a couple brought the property to open a finishing school for young women. They named it “National Park Seminary.” After serious restoration in the 2000s, the building now contains apartments and condos.
The best buildings on the property are the old sorority houses. Sororities anchored the social life at National Park Seminary. For the 400 students, there were at least eight sororities.
Many of the sorority houses, which were used only for entertaining, showcase architectural designs from around the world. This is the Dutch windmill building.
Here’s the pagoda…
the Swiss chalet…
and the Spanish mission.
These two sorority houses have been lost to the forest glen.
Bridges originally connected the seminary to a B&O railroad station. This statue stands close to where a bridge used to cross the glen. The girls affectionately called it “Oh, I’ve missed the train!”
The second director of the seminary, Dr. Ament, foisted his amateurish architectural ambitions onto the campus. He didn’t want any of the girls at his elite institution (the tuition is said to have cost more than Harvard’s) to ever get wet, so he built lots of covered walkways. Though the hodgepodge looks ridiculous, I have to applaud Dr. Ament for his installation of the caryatids (see below).

After the stock market crash in 1929, the school lost most of its students and never recovered. The Army took over the property during WWII and used it as an extension to the Walter Reed Army Hospital. About 10 years ago, the Army decided it no longer needed the property. More recently, developers have done an incredible job restoring and re-purposing the buildings. Most of the sorority houses are still waiting for buyers, but the old lodge and the buildings connected to it, like the chapel and the president’s house, now contain apartments and condos. Meanwhile, new townhouses have sprung up in and around the campus. As interesting as the history of this property is, I’m most impressed by how creatively the developers gave the buildings new life while still preserving their style and key features.

For more information, see Save Our Seminary.

It’s a Kind of Magic

Seeing Ballet Preljocaj last night at the Kennedy Center felt like a wonderful dream and now this morning I am determined to confirm its reality by finding videos on YouTube of other performances. This modern ballet company from France performed Snow White with costumes by Jean Paul Gauthier. Their rendition of the Grimm fairy tale proved to be clever, deliciously dark and seductive. They elevated a familiar story to refreshing, nuanced, visceral art.

I’ve collected a few videos to give taste of this show, which was part traditional ballet and part super cool modern theater. First, here’s something like a trailer with an overview of the plot.

After the evil stepmother arrives at court, Snow White runs away and encounters a little community of playful forest dwellers. Snow White’s own lover then finds her and they do a passionate dance, first in silence and then with music. The dance is so fluid and has such momentum, I feel myself moving along with them.

Genius: the dwarves are rock climbing miners. Their dance was real audience pleaser. I also enjoyed the second part, which is not in the video below. Although at first Snow White doesn’t understand the dwarves’ rhythmic movements all in unison, she quickly adapts to their routine and finds them dear friends.

Meanwhile, the cruel dominatrix queen can’t bear to see Snow White’s face in her mirror so she creates the poisoned apple and transforms herself into an old hag. Here she offers the malicious fruit, but the ghost of Snow White’s mother has her magic too.

Following this sequence is an incredible dance wherein Snow White’s prince tries to bring back her dead body to life and when she finally rises, they reprise their earlier celebration of love.

All ends happily with Snow White getting married and fully becoming a woman (she gets a dress instead of nymph-like swaddling clothes), while the witch (and I had to look up the story on Wikipedia, because I didn’t remember this bit) dances to her death in smoldering iron shoes.