Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fall Colors

Last weekend I went to the Catskills to catch the tail end of the fall foilage. "Leaf peeping" they call it here.

We were probably there a week too late, but there were still some gorgeous colors. There is nothing more beautiful than a clear blue sky, crisp air, the smell of damp earth and the autumn hues.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

End of an Icon?

The Chelsea Hotel is up for sale. This news has angered some old timer New Yorkers and just made others really sad. The last great bohemian outpost being sold to make way for a slick, modern, soulless hotel? Let's hope not.

The Chelsea opened in 1884 as one of the city's first co-op buildings. It was turned into a 250 room hotel in 1905 and can boast a history as checkered, controversial and colorful as many of its inhabitants. It was a place of bohemian and artistic creativity whilst also being the home of bad behavior. Bob Dylan composed songs here, Alan Ginsberg wrote here. Dylan Thomas died of alcohol poisoning here and Sid Vicious allegedly murdered girlfriend Nancy Spungen here.

It has been the topic of many a book.

It has featured in art.

Room 100, Chelsea Hotel, Dexter Dalwood, 1999

It has been immortalized in songs by Nico, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.

And it has been called home by Andy Warhol, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, and Arthur C Clarke, who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey whilst in residence.

I have to admit that I have never suggested for one of my visiting friends to stay at this hotel, offering instead The Bowery or the Standard. But I do appreciate the history of the place and the fantastic urban myths and legends attached to its corridors and rooms. Let's hope the new owners try and leave some pieces of this infamous hotel.

images: outside left, nancy 110mb, hotel chatter, saatchi gallery, new york times, chelsea hotel blog,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Lilting Lute

The Lute Player, Caravaggio

I went to a lovely lute recital on Sunday up in Harlem. I can't say I've ever really been a big lute fan, but after listening to recordings recently by lutenist extraordinaire Paul O'Dette, it seemed to be a sign when I saw a flyer promoting his concert in a church on West 121st Street.

O'Dette has been described as "the clearest case of genius to touch his instrument'" (Toronto Globe and  Mail) and certainly his fingers made the lute sing. The whole experience started me thinking about the history of the lute and how ubiquitous in has been in art, politics and everything in between.

The European instrument we know today derives both its name and form from the Arab instrument known as al 'Ud, which literally means 'the wood'. The Arab 'Ud was introduced into Europe by the Moors during their long occupation of Spain (711 - 1492), where it was played in the court of the Andalusian Emir.

Ivory Box, Louvre Paris

Since then it has spent centuries in the great courts of the world, appeared in art from Syria to Italy and beyond, had verse and subsequently songs written about it,  accompanied velvet-clad and buckle-shoed dancers and been played by gods and angels. In fact, Orpheus was never without his lute - sometimes lyre, but usually lute - and Masaccio's cherubs strummed gently to the Virgin and Child.

Young Orpheus, Henry Ryland 1901

Virgin and Child, Masaccio

During the Renaissance, the lute became the most prized instrument of the day and those who composed for or played the lute were considered rock stars. According to O'Dette, during the first half of the 16th century, three lutenists in particular were thought to be the living equivalents of Orpheus - Marco dall'Aquila, Francesco da Milano and Alberto Ripa da Mantova. They tended to play their own music which is still available today. Apparently Alberto was "headhunted" by the Ambassador of France  to come and play in King Francois I court. He was so highly revered that he was the second highest paid court member after the minister of defense!

Throughout history, the lute has been rich in symbolism. In the hands of angels it has represented the beauty of heaven, but in the hands of man, it has symbolised discord and division through a broken string (see Holbein's Ambassadors) or lasciviousness and scandal.

Angel with Lute, Fiorentino

Ambassadors, Holbein

A luteplayer carousing wtih a woman holding a roemer, Terbrugghen

Today the lute has waned in favor, but luckily O'Dette is keeping the music and instrument alive. I will leave you with him playing a piece by Alberto Ripa da Mantova.

Images: met museum, dsbx, art magick, artchive, flickr, artchive, hendrick brugghen

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Breast Cancer Month

Today Manhattan was awash with pink. Ten of thousands of people turned out for Avon's Walk for Breast Cancer. Central Park and the West Side highway were festooned with  pink balloons, water bottles, backpacks, scarves and more, held by mothers, fathers, sons, husbands, grandmothers, friends, and daughters. It was awe inspiring seeing the sheer number of people willing to spend a weekend walking for 39 miles to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer awareness. And even better was to see the number of people on the sidelines cheering the walkers on. It was a really beautiful and heartwarming sight.

I have been remarkably - and thankfully, touchwood - untouched by breast cancer in my close circle of friends. I know three strong women of different ages who got the disease, but through sheer determination, wonderful doctors and after care, as well as enormous support of friends and family, all have survived and are 'clear'. 

In honor of these women and for the sake of all my friends over 40, I took a pledge this year through the Estee Lauder Companies' BReast Cancer Awareness Campaign, to remind women 40+ to have an annual mammogram. I know there has been a lot of controversy about mammograms this year, but I simply don't understand how prevention can be a bad thing. Even if the breast fibers of a younger woman are denser than a 50 year old and thus more difficult to read, surely it is worth a 20 minute mammogram to even remind yourself to do a regular self examination. So this is my pledge to all of you dear female readers over 40. Please use this month of October to take the time to have a mammogram. And let's keep spreading the word to make sure our darling friends remain healthy and breast cancer free as well. Happy Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Images: ny city mama, cosmetic world

Monday, October 11, 2010


Off to Tokyo to get lost in translation for work.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Stick House

I went to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens last weekend because I was intrigued to see Patrick Dougherty's sculpture 'Natural History'. It's quite remarkable. And very beautiful. And constructed on site for 3 weeks, made entirely from woven saplings.

Dougherty is based in North Carolina and has constructed over 200 twig art installations all over the world. His work alludes to cocoons, nests, hives and lairs created by animals, as well as woven baskets, haystacks and primitive huts. Some of them look like trees or brush that have been twisted and distorted into some weird shape during a tornado. He creates these pieces by literally weaving branches and twigs together. Personally, I think this particular sculpture looks like a herd of elephants huddled together, until you get up close and then it's like entering some magical fairy or goblin village. When asked to describe what he created for Brooklyn, Dougherty replied, "a place for feral children and wayward adults."

'Natural History' will be in the Gardens for 12 months so we can experience it during all four seasons. Some of his other amazing work is below.

Summer Palace, Philadelphia, PA

Close Ties, Scottish Highlands

Toad Hall, Santa Barbara, CA.

Na Hale 'o waiawi, Hawaii

Runnng in Circle, Langeland, Denmark

Around the Corner, New Harmony, IN.

Sorite de Cave, Chateaubourg, France

If you are interested in reading more about this fascinating artist, you can buy his book Stickwork at Amazon.

Images: (1- 6) mine, (7-13) stickwork, (14) amazon

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Puss in Boots

I have to confess I am mad about puppets. I remember making papier mache puppets at our next door neighbor's house in the seventies. We'd use pieces of old knitting wool for the hair, fabric cut offs for the clothes and our imagination for the face.

Later, I was enthralled by the puppet show created by the Von Trapp family in The Sound of Music, and dreamt I was part of a big family with our own marionettes, painting extravagant backdrops and delighting friends and family with a show in a grand and spacious ballroom!

The local Punch and Judy show scared me but also mesmerized me, as I watched simple puppets literally bash out very adult concepts.

And of course, my favorite puppet growing up was Pinocchio.

As I got older, I yearned to collect those wonderfully elaborate Venetian masks and puppets.

And still the love of puppets is with me. As it is with other people so it seems, because there is a wonderful production of Puss in Boots on in New York this week. And it's for children and adults alike.

The very clever director Moises Kaufman (The Laramie Project, Gross Indecency: 33 Variations) and his Tectonic Theatre Project have teamed up with the Gotham Chamber Opera and London's Blind Summit Theatre who specialize in creating puppetry, to present a wonderful opera/puppet pageantry of the famous fairytale Puss in Boots. The opera part is by Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge, with singers telling the story beside the life size puppets, or becoming part of the puppets in the case of the fat little king and his merry men. The puppets are remarkable as are the people who make them move. Somehow they inject personality into an inanimate object so no longer are you watching a puppet, but a cunning Puss or a raging ogre.

It is a heartwarming 70 minutes that should not be missed if you are here. Alternatively, Blind Summit have another puppet opera on in London in November. Go on. Delight your inner child. 

And to relive a magical puppet moment from our childhood, enjoy the Goatherd clip from The Sound of Music.

images: (1) new victory, (2) more things, (3) catherine wheale, (4) askville amazon, (5) photopedia, (6) puppet stuff blog, (7-11) gotham chamber orchestra