Monday, December 21, 2015

A Night at the Opera

The cast of La Bohème takes a bow in front of the golden curtain.
The other night TD and I went to the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center to see La Bohème. I always love going to the Metropolitan Opera. Everything is dark red velvet - the seats, the carpeting, the walls - it's like being inside a jewel box. Also people really do dress up to go to the opera so it's good people-watching and you don't see the casual, sloppy clothes worn to Broadway theaters. I've always wanted to see La Bohème, which is the Met's most performed opera. There is that great scene in the movie Moonstruck where Cher and Nicholas Cage attend a performance of La Bohème at the Met. And of course it's fun to go at Christmastime as there is a beautiful snowy scene. You can read all about the production here.
Operas are interesting for me too because they are like art history come to life. La Bohème debuted in Italy in 1906, though it is set in Paris in 1830. It was written by Giacomo Puccini, who lived from 1858 to 1924. Here is Mr. Puccini, a dapper fellow -

I like his double-breasted coat and bowler hat.
La Bohème is of course the story of a group of artists, or bohemians, in the Latin Quarter in Paris, and a love affair between two of them. The arias in this opera are some of the best known in the classical world - it's one hit after another!
The Met's production, designed by Franco Zeffirelli in the 80s, is a splendor. It starts out in an intimate garret in Paris and then moves to a joyous parade in the street with a cast of seemingly thousands (photos from the Met web site) –

Act 3 is the snowy scene. It is set outside a small inn where the lovers meet. Snow falls and darkened figures travel along a road in the background. It really is like a painting.

Act 4 finds us back in the Parisian garret. I won't tell you how it ends.

The music is glorious and the visuals divine. It was such a holiday treat here is New York City.
Blog bonus - an excerpt from Act 1 -

I am wishing you dear reader a holiday season of beauty and love –

Thursday, November 5, 2015

TD and I Got Married!

When I began this blog in 2008, 469 posts ago, I started with a post about TD, Beautiful Thing #1. I am happy to say that recently, upon the occasion of our 30th anniversary (how can that be?), we got married! With the Supreme Court decision in June making gay marriage a right, it was high time. On our fifteenth anniversary in 2000, we had a big commitment ceremony celebration party with family and friends at the home of garden designer Rebecca Cole on King Street in Soho.

This marriage ceremony involved only our two ministers at Judson Memorial Church, Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper and Rev. Micah Bucey, to officiate. A few days before the ceremony, we went to the City Clerk's Office to apply for a marriage license. I had been to the office last summer with my sister Cynthia and Barb. The City Clerk's Office is a joyful, happy place because everyone there is getting married. There are all kinds of couples - young, old, gay, straight, every race and combination you can think of. It's very New York. Some people are dressed up, like women in bridal dresses, and we saw kids in short and flip flops. Some couples come with family and friends, some couple come alone. But everyone, as they wait anxiously for their number to come up, is happy to get married!

Once we had our marriage license we took it to Judson Memorial Church for the marriage ceremony with our two ministers. Our ministers know us very well so the marriage ceremony was very intimate and personal and perfect. We did it!

Afterwards, a picture outside in Washington Square Park –

We promptly high-tailed it out of town and headed north to Hudson, New York, a once prosperous river town which had fallen on hard times but is now a favorite destination with a plethora of good restaurants, bars, antique stores and art galleries. A lot of New Yorkers with good taste have moved up to Hudson. We stayed at the Inn At Hudson which was built as private home in 1903.

It's a beautiful inn with gracious hosts. We recommend it.

After enjoying the pleasures of Hudson we drove farther north up to Argyle, New York, to visit my uncle Brian and wife Susan. They own some houses on top of a hill with beautiful views and down the road is a peaceful lake.

Susan took us to her favorite antique stores in the area which was great fun, and we enjoyed some wonderful dinners with them. It was a most relaxing Labor Day weekend.

Back in New York my brother Thom and his wife Karen hosted a celebratory dinner. Karen, who is trained at Le Cordon Bleu, made an extremely delicious buttercream wedding cake decorated with two elegant grooms which she searched for -

She also made vanilla heart-shaped cookies personalized with our initials -

Two grooms –

It's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A Peaceful Week in Connecticut

A lot of blue and white clothes were packed for the trip. (click on the photos for larger, clearer versions)
TD and I miss going out to Connecticut where we visited my parents so at the end of the summer we rented a beach house for a week on the Connecticut Shoreline to have a chance to be back in the area. I found a nice beach cottage on the internet at, where I have in the past found vacation houses on Martha's Vineyard and the Jersey Shore. This one in Connecticut was located on the border of Clinton and Westbrook, not far from Guilford, where my parents lived. The location of the house was nice - across the street was the Long Island Sound for swimming 

and behind the house were peaceful salt marshes where the sun set in the evening and the only sound was the birds singing.

We took the train from Grand Central, as we often did, to the New Haven train station. There we rented a car and stopped in Guilford to visit the farmer that my father regularly frequented. We stocked up on vegetables and fruit and country flowers.

In that beach house we had the most relaxing week. After the cacophony of New York, the quiet was most welcome. The birds sang a lot in the morning at sunrise and again at sunset. It was a nice neighborhood to go running in. On a run I passed sidewalks that led down to the water

and other beautiful vistas out to the Long Island Sound.

TD and I always enjoy being near the water. We went to the beach at Hammonasset Park which was nearby. And we visited Guilford. We bought books at Breakwater Books, Guilford's wonderful independent bookstore, and headed to the town beach where we had spent many afternoons over the years -

At the end of the day we went to Chaffinch Island which is pretty place that my mother favored. She liked to bring drinks there for cocktail hour, and we have a good family black and white portrait which a photographer took of us there. After my mother passed away, I dropped her ashes in the water at Chaffinch Island -

One night we drove to nearby Essex, Connecticut, where we had dinner at the Griswold Inn, founded in 1776. The Tap Room there, its walls covered in paintings, is one of the great bar rooms.

After dinner, we walked around Essex which is such a pretty town and was famously attacked by the English in 1814 during the War of 1812. This is one of my favorite houses on Main Street. It reminded us of Cooperstown -

As dusk fell we walked down toward the water and all was still -

We had been before to the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme and we wanted to go back. This museum was originally a boarding house owned by Florence Griswold where American artists, known as the Lyme Art Colony, lived and painted. The original neoclassical mansion is charmingly preserved. Here is Miss Griswold pictured at home painted by William Chadwick circa 1905-1908.

Miss Griswold inherited the house from her father, Captain Robert Harper Griswold, who is here painted by Thomas Coke Ruckle in 1840. In her letters, his wife mentions gazing at his portrait during the Captain's long voyages out at sea.

Towards the rear of the property is a modern gallery where current exhibitions are displayed. TD and I enjoyed it all –

There was also a trip to the Clinton Crossings Premium Outlet mall where we stocked up on clothes!  We had such a nice relaxing week in Connecticut and it was great fun to visit our favorite places and see them again. On our last night there, the sun set dramatically over the salt marshes in the back - 

while in the front over the Sound the most extraordinary rainbow appeared. The last time I saw a rainbow was on the day my mother passed away when we were at the New Haven train station headed back to New York City.
This huge rainbow stretched from one side of the Sound

to the other. Too giant to get in one photograph!

I thought it was my mother saying a big Hello.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

John Singer Sargent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Self-Portrait of John Singer Sargent from 1886.
TD and I ventured up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art recently to see an exhibition of John Singer Sargent paintings called Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends. I am huge fan of Sargent's and try to take in his work whenever I can. A few years ago TD and I took a trip to Cooperstown where we saw an exhibition of his works at the Fenimore Art Museum on the banks of Otsega Lake, and we made a video about it. Sargent had such a great eye for personalities and clothes and interiors; he made everything look elegant. This show at the Met is a collection of portraits of the artist's friends so they are not as formal and studied as the famous portraits which Sargent did for paying clients. These paintings are more intimate, spontaneous and experimental. Sargent's work is always refined and sophisticated, but these paintings are also relaxed and easy-going, which is a combination that I love.
This famous photo shows Sargent working in his studio. The paintings below in the wonderful show at the Met took Sargent out of the studio, to be with his friends.

There are about 90 works in the Met exhibit. These are a few of my favorites -
This is Claude Monet. I always picture Monet with a big white beard at his home in Giverny. I didn't know he looked like this in his younger days - kind like a bearded Williamsburg hipster.

Below is a charcoal sketch of the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. Yeats, the greatest English-speaking poet of his generation, lived in County Sligo in Ireland, which is where my great grandfather Dan O'Donnell was from. Yeats wrote a beautiful poem about a lake near Sligo called The Lake Isle of Innisfree. I love this drawing - was there ever a more handsome poet? The description notes that "Yeats cultivated his appearance as a poet and an aesthete, wearing a velvet coat and bow tie as a reminder of his elevated status as an artist."

Here is Claude Monet again, this time painting by the edge of a wood. I like his blue coat and his light grey pants. 

Here is a similar subject matter - this time it is artist Paul Helleu sketching with his wife. The painter concentrates on his work as his wife gazes off. His mouse brown coat contrasts with his light grey pants.

Here is another artist named Ambrogio Raffele, who is pictured in his hotel room as he considers his landscape painting which straddles the washstand and the bed. A hat and bed clothes are strewn over the bed linens as the artist surveys his work. What a charming way to live. 

The painting below, called A Dinner Table at Night, pictures the dining room at the home of Edith Vickers who is shown drinking a glass of port at the end of a meal. The silky ruby red lampshades cast a romantic glow over the scene. 

Lastly is one of my very favorite Sargents called An Interior in Venice from 1898. It shows the grand salon of the Palazzo Barbaro in Venice where Daniel Sargent Curtis (right) and his wife Ariana (center) lived. Standing at the rear are their son and his wife, both elegantly rendered in long lines. All are dressed in black and grey and white, and the vast space of the salon recedes back into the shadows as golden chandeliers and gilt frames hang overhead. Sargent painted this as a gift but Ariana refused the gift, feeling she looked too old and that the lounging pose of her son was indecorous.

In the gift shop I bought a book of the paintings, here pictured at home with little Bell on top of a Double RL Ralph Lauren scarf.

I enjoy looking at the paintings at home now and learning more about them. A trip to a Sargent exhibition to me is a trip back in time to a more cultured and aesthetic era. It's always inspiring and I find it comforting and reassuring. This show is up at the Met until October 4 - go if you can.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ralph Lauren Volunteers at the Farmers Market for City Harvest

My associate Anne and I in the office before we headed down to the Farmers Market. 
    My employer Ralph Lauren is super-committed to volunteering and philanthropy and making the world better. For instance, a big initiative of the company each October is the Pink Pony program which raises money and awareness for cancer care and research. In fact, The Polo Ralph Lauren Foundation funds the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention in Harlem in order to provide excellent care in an underserved community.
    Four times a year the Company sponsors Gives Back weeks, when employees around the world volunteer for a wide variety of organizations. Recently, myself and some associates signed up to help out City Harvest at the Union Square Farmers Market. TD and I love the Union Square Farmers Market where we shop for food and flowers every Saturday. The last chapter of my book is about the Market. City Harvest is an important organization here in New York which works to feed the city's hungry by gathering or "rescuing" food from restaurants, groceries, bakeries and farms. Our job at the end of the day at the Farmer's Market would be to gather leftover food from the farmers.
    On a Wednesday night, my department associate Anne and I took the subway down to Union Square where we gathered with other Ralph Lauren volunteers and met a volunteer from City Harvest who gave us instructions. Armed with big plastic bags, we were directed to approach the farmers and ask if they had any leftovers to donate. The farmers had been through this drill before so they were familiar with the request.
   We split up in groups and off we went. Some farmers had nothing to donate and some had A LOT. We filled the plastic bags and then the bags went in big plastic rolling carts.
We packed up loads of basil and herbs -

Beautiful red and yellow tomatoes - 

Luscious peaches and firm green beans -

We stripped the tables bare -

The bags piled up in the big rolling carts -

     All of the fresh food smelled and looked so good - I wanted to take it home myself!
     We rolled the plastic carts to a big City Harvest truck. An employee there emptied the carts into the truck. It all happened pretty quickly as the farmers were packing up and going home. When we were done we were told that we had gathered 6,500 pounds of food in 190 bags which were going directly to a food bank in Brooklyn that night! That was satisfying.
   That evening I posted a picture from the Market on Facebook, and a friend of ours who is a minister in Brooklyn left a comment saying that her church's food bank got a delivery from City Harvest every Wednesday night, and that perhaps the guests there were enjoying the very food that we had just packed up. Amazing!
   Check out City Harvest - it's a great organization. And kudos to Ralph Lauren for encouraging employees to volunteer and help in important ways.