Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

The Whitney Museum of American Art

Walking to the Whitney Museum on a mild winter day is a treat. Eager to be out and about in Manhattan, we begin our trek from The Marcel at Gramercy Hotel on East 24th Street near Gramercy Park. Walking down 23rd we make our way to the High Line – a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side that will deliver us to the Whitney.

Approaching the High Line.
Approaching the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.
Walking on the High Line.

The High Line’s planting design is inspired by the self-seeded landscape that grew on the out-of-use elevated rail tracks during the 25 years after trains stopped running. Species of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees were chosen for their hardiness, sustainability, and textural and color variation, with a focus on native species.

Italian architect and engineer, Renzo Piano, designed the new Whitney Museum. From a piece in the New Yorker I read:

  “He (Piano) expressed pride in the startling mismatch of the museum’s eastern and western fronts”. On the east, the building descends in tiers—“to bring down the scale,” he said—toward the historic low-rise buildings of the neighborhood. The side that faces the river is “more massive, more strong,” Piano said. A truncated-pyramid profile with jutting banks of large windows, it “talks to the rest of the world” from an attitude of confident majesty. Immodestly, but with proof in the product, the architect cited the elements that he had sought to incorporate in the design: “social life, urbanity, invention, construction, technology, poetry, light—an immense rich bouillabaisse.”

Whitney Museum
On the east side the Whitney descends in tiers.

Popular even during the week on a winter day, we wait in line outside for about 20 minutes to enter the Whitney. Observing the action in the Museum’s restaurant Untitled we decide to begin with an early lunch. Occupying a long, narrow space with glass walls on three sides, the restaurant, like the rest of the museum, was designed by Renzo Piano.

Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum.
Untitled restaurant at the Whitney Museum.

Untitled is a new restaurant from Chef Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and its menu is inspired by the seasons and the creative environment of the museum. While waiting we look through his cookbook – V is for Vegetables – delicious doable recipes with short ingredient lists and color photos, designed for home cooks.

Sitting at the Untitled bar, lunch was delicious and social. Our waiter was knowledgeable and guided me through what turned out to be a fairly gluten-free menu, and highly recommended their acclaimed chocolate chip cookie (entirely gluten-free). Turns out the recipe was born when pastry chef Miro Uskokovic took it upon himself to create the ultimate chocolate chip cookie – one combining a soft, gooey interior with a toothsome, crunchy exterior. Playing with varieties and ratios of sugar and butter, he settled on a combination of brown and white sugar with clarified browned butter. Then, to see if the cookie could be made gluten-free on special request, he tested the cookie with Thomas Keller’s Cup4Cup gluten-free flour. The result? The staff actually preferred the GF version.

Food truck in front of Whitney
Business is slow for artful food truck in front of the Whitney.

The Whitney Museum of American Art was born out of sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s advocacy on behalf of living American artists. At the beginning of the twentieth century, artists with new ideas found it nearly impossible to exhibit or sell their work in the United States. Recognizing the obstacles these artists faced, Mrs. Whitney began purchasing and showing their work, thereby becoming the leading patron of American art from 1907 until her death in 1942. Today the Whitney’s collection includes over 21,000 works created by more than 3,000 artists in the United States during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr.
Blues, 1929, Archibald J. Motley Jr. (Courtesy of Nasher Museum of Art)

At the time of our visit a special exhibit –  Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist – caught my attention and was the highlight of my visit. Archibald John Motley Jr. (1891–1981) was a bold and highly original modernist and one of the great visual chroniclers of twentieth-century African American life. As the Whitney exhibition notes of Motley’s artistic interest in these portraits: “On the one hand, he believed that seeing themselves in art would help African Americans feel pride in their own racial identities; on the other, he hoped that seeing beautiful contemporary black subjects would dispel stereotypes and undermine racism.”

View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the Hudson River from the Whitney .
View of the High Line from the Whitney.
View of the High Line and the neighborhood from the Whitney.

Savoring Motley’s paintings of jazz and blues, we end our day at Jazz Standard. Home to world-class jazz, warm Southern hospitality, and award-winning Southern cuisine and barbecue. Finding the setting intimate and comfortable we settle in to enjoy Children of the Light, two-thirds of the legendary Wayne Shorter Quartet. The music is clear and beautiful. Acoustic sound with some electric touches, simple but also majestic. Danilo Perez is the excellent pianist, John Patitucci is the great bass player and Brian Blade is called “one of the best drummers in this moment”. Amazing day… and only a 10 minute walk back to the Marcel at Gramercy Hotel!

Children of the Light at Jazz Standard
Drinks all around as we settle in for Children of the Light at Jazz Standard.

San Miguel de Allende: La Tercera Semana

Cactus cutouts form tree sculpture in San Miguel de Allende.
Cactus hearts and skulls decorate a tree in the Jardin Botanica.

Each Sunday since our arrival in San Miguel de Allende we begin the day with a morning walk around the Jardin Botanica. Located on a hilltop 1.5 km northeast of town, this 217 acre area is a wildlife and bird sanctuary. Today as we do our silent walk around the sanctuary we come upon this fantastic tree decorated with cactus hearts and skulls (perhaps an homage to Dia de Muertos – Day of the Dead).

Ruin on path near Botanica, San Miguel de Allende
Ruin on path near Jardin Botanica, San Miguel de Allende.
Cairn sculpture in San Miguel de Allende
Jay builds a cairn sculpture on side of path in Jardin Botanica.

Heading to town after our walk, an artful old structure exposes its bones.

Old stone wall in San Miguel de Allende
An old stone structure is art to our eyes.
Cross in electric meter, San Miguel de Allende
Even the electric meter is blessed with a cross.

A favorite activity is strolling around the city with camera in hand. Today we seem to be attracted to a certain yellow/gold color vibe.

Pizza in San Miguel de Allende
Pizza scooters lined up for the coming day's work.
Colorful San Miguel de Allende
Glorious colors surprise us on a quiet street in San Miguel de Allende.
Neighborhood juice bar, San Miguel de Allende
Neighborhood juice bars are a common sight.

January 21 is General Ignacio José de Allende’s birthday (January 21, 1769 – June 26, 1811). He was a captain of the Spanish Army in Mexico who came to sympathize with the Mexican independence movement, and attended the secret meetings organized by Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez, where the possibility of an independent New Spain was discussed. He fought along with Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the first stage of the struggle, eventually succeeding him in leadership of the rebellion. In 1811 Allende was captured by Spanish colonial authorities while he was in Chihuahua and executed for treason. Each year his birthday is celebrated with a parade and all day festivities at the Jardin Principal.

General Ignacio Jose de Allende's birthday parade in San Miguel de Allende
Parade celebrating General Ignacio Jose de Allende's birthday.

To add an elegant and distinctive touch to a horse’s appearance, many of the riders create a design on their mount’s hindquarters. The most common of these designs, which are known as quarter marks, is the checkerboard pattern. A horse bearing quarter marks indicates that the owner has gone the extra mile in grooming and care.

Allende Parade in San Miguel de Allende
Many of the horses bear a quarter mark, in this case a checkerboard design.

We take a respite from the days festivities to have breakfast and shop at the Saturday Organic Market, where along with great vegetables and foodstuffs, we come across the local domestic violence booth. A blog post focused on the Market will be posted soon…

Domestic Violence booth at the Organic Market in San Miguel de Allende
Domestic Violence booth at the Organic Market in San Miguel de Allende.

From the market we head to the Jardin Principal where, amid all the birthday festivities, a wedding is under way at La Parroquia.

Wedding at La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Bride and father make their way through the crowd to La Parroquia.

Well into the evening the festivities continue with various musical guests, a full military symphony and choir.

Symphony at General Allende's birthday celebration in San Miguel de Allende
The Jardin Principal is aglow with lights and a symphony performance.

Our day comes to a satisfying conclusion at Cafe Rama, Calle Nueva #7. Known for its tapas, this Saturday evening we enjoy a fixed price tapas meal of their choice. Trusting in the chef’s abilities we relax with a bottle of wine as we received a taste delight every 10 minutes or so. Starting with a antipasto dish of serrano ham, goat cheese, pickled watermelon, olives and salty/sweet almonds, we go on to enjoy a savory polenta with a tasty tomato topping, a crispy risotto pancake topped with a shrimp, mussels with garlic & ginger… then a sensuous dessert finale of cappucino creme brulee and baked meringue with lemon custard and fresh strawberry sauce. Muy Bueno.

Note: Cafe Rama was able to accommodate my gluten-free needs without any problem.

Cafe Rama in San Miguel de Allende
We end the evening at the deliciously creative Cafe Rama.

San Miguel de Allende: Le Segundo Semana

Indian parade in San Miguel de Allende
Indian dancers and drummers parade in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

The day is just dawning this Sunday morning when we hear the sound of drummers very close by… Jay quickly dresses, grabs his camera and heads out the door. Men and boys dressed as Indian dancers and drummers are parading down a nearby street, creating a rich drum beat in rolling 4/4 time, as they dance and chant together. A ragtag procession of campesinas follow, carrying an altar on their shoulders. At the head of the parade an old man carries a wire contraption, from which he launches fireworks, signaling the imminent arrival of the parade to neighbors down the road.

The morning progresses with our walk down and around the Jardin Botanica, then breakfast at Cafe Buen Dia on Callejon Pueblito. During breakfast, a new acquaintance, Ruth, recommends the tamarind margarita’s on the rooftop terrace of La Posadita. We make a mental note. Ruth is a realtor in San Miguel and has a lovely property in the historic center of the town with two rentals. Comfortably elegant and private, you can view them on VRBO: Villa and Casita.

La Posadita restaurant in San Miguel de Allende
La Posadita restaurant has amazing views, good food and tamarind margaritas.

As the evening approaches we decide to walk over to Cuna de Allende and experience our first tamarind margarita as the sun sets. We walk up the narrow stairway to La Posadita, settle down at one of the rooftop tables and order our margarita. It’s wonderful and intense, not like anything I’ve ever tasted. Neither of us knows what a tamarind is. (I research later and learn it is the sweet & sour fruit of a tropical tree. It looks a bit like a carob pod and is an underlying flavor in Worcestershire sauce.) In the evening sky the city lights begin to glow and twinkle and the panoramic view from La Posadita is breathtaking. Next week when our friends arrive we will definitely return for dinner… and another margarita.

San Miguel de Allende at night.
View of San Miguel de Allende at sunset.

Walking home through the Jardin we once again step into La Parroquia to absorb its quiet magnificence.

Interior of La Parroquia in San Miguel de Allende
Evening view of La Parroquia interior
St. Paul's Presbyterian Church in San Miguel de Allende
We arrive early for a piano concert at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church.
Donkey carrying potting soil in San Miguel de Allende
Donkey carrying potting soil for sale in our neighborhood.

Peñon de los Banos, is a women-owned sustainable organic farm cooperative, a short ride from San Miguel de Allende. Jay and I are part of a field trip, organized by The Center for Global Justice, visiting the Campo (farm), to learn more about their work.

Residents of this small dairy farm have been part of a traditional ejido system for generations. Ejidos are communal lands, for growing food, shared and co-managed by the people of the community. The system was developed during ancient Aztec rule of Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has forced the Mexican government to do away with the ejido system, and open the land up to foreign agri-business. To read the full story, see: Peñon de los Banos, a women-owned farm cooperative.

Greenhouse at Penon del Los Banos
One of 8 greenhouses at the Penon del Los Banos Cooperative.
Comida at Penon de Los Banos
Sharing a midday meal, "comida", prepared by the women of the cooperative farm.

Cafe Teatro Athanor, just around the corner from where we live (this month) is a gem of a theater that holds about 20 people or so. Most nights they show a thoughtful foreign film and this week we saw El Mural – a UK film about the renowned Mexican artist, David Siqueiros, and his time spent in Argentina painting a mural. A political, historical and romantic drama that we recommend. But on Friday nights they have a musical event – The Magic Mystery of Flamenco – featuring two female dancers/singers, a male dancer and a wonderful classical guitarist.

Flameno in San Miguel de Allende
Flamenco performance at Cafe Teatro Athanor.

Sunday morning ritual is a walk, and the Saturday morning ritual is the outdoor Organic Market. Entering the market one of the first things you see are tables of fresh organic vegetables – lettuces, spinach, kale, tomatoes, avocados, herbs… then you notice the tables and chairs under the shade trees and the smell of tortillas grilling and coffee brewing. Pottery pots filled with chicken in green mole, lamb stew, guacamole, chorizo and egg… next week we will skip breakfast at home and eat here. And that’s not all – there are homemade breads, cheeses, baked goods, natural skin care products, fresh eggs and a small selection of hand crafted items.

Cover of San Miguel de Allende bookMany ex-pats frequent the market and today we meet John Scherber, an American ex-pat and author of San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. His book explores the possibilities of starting an exciting new life in Mexico by sharing the experiences of 32 people who confess why they left the United States and show how their new life is more fulfilling than they ever dreamed. Imagine sitting down for a heart-to-heart conversation with people who made it happen.

Organic Farmers Market, San Miguel de Allende
Saturday Organic Farmers Market in San Miguel de Allende

Ever since American Stirling Dickinson arrived here in San Miguel de Allende in 1937, the Mexican town has been a magnet for artists and U.S. expatriates:

Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende
Garden statue in San Miguel de Allende

“In 1937, after several months spent traveling through Mexico, a gangly, 27-year-old Chicago native named Stirling Dickinson, who had been somewhat at loose ends since graduating from Princeton, got off a train in San Miguel de Allende, an arid, down-on-its-luck mountain town 166 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Taken from the ramshackle train station by a horse-drawn cart, he was dropped off at the town’s leafy main square, El Jardín. It was dawn, and the trees were erupting with the songs of a thousand birds. At the eastern side of the square stood the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, an outsize, pink-sandstone church with neo-Gothic spires, quite unlike Mexico’s traditional domed ecclesiastical buildings. The first rays of the sun glowed over mountain ridges to the east. “There was just enough light for me to see the parish church sticking out of the mist,” Dickinson would later recall. “I thought, My God, what a sight! What a place! I said to myself at that moment, I’m going to stay here.”

Click on the title to read the entire Smithsonian article by Jonathan Kandell : Under the Spell of San Miguel de Allende.

p.s. To read our other posts from San Miguel de Allende, click below:

The Metropolitan Opera Live in HD

This week in our yoga class Arron read from Eknath Eswaran’s Mantram HandbookThe Elephant and the Bamboo – comparing the elephant’s constantly moving trunk to our human mind. As the man in charge of the elephant gives him a stick of bamboo to hold onto in order to keep his trunk still, so may we quiet our mind by repeating a mantram/mantra. Struck by the reading I decided to write it out in my sketchbook; the watercolor elephant seemed a natural addition.

Coincidentally, at the end of yoga one of our classmate’s made an announcement… Philip Glass’s opera, Satyagraha, would be broadcast live at our local performing arts center this Sunday. Satyagraha tells the story of Gandhi’s early years in South Africa, where he developed his philosophy of non-violence. Jay and I went home and made reservations online. We were going to the Opera for $13 a piece!

Eknath Easwaran's The Elephant and the Bamboo
Eknath Easwaran's The Elephant and the Bamboo from my sketchbook

Metropolitan Opera Live in HD (also known as The Met: Live in HD) is a series of live opera performances transmitted in high-definition video via satellite from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City to select venues, primarily movie theaters, in the United States and other parts of the world. The first transmission was of a condensed English-language version of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte on December 30, 2006.

This year the Metropolitan Opera’s Peabody and Emmy Award-winning series The Met: Live in HD continues for its sixth season, featuring 11 live transmissions. Our local performing arts center is in its first year of transmission. When we saw Satyagraha, the transmission included interviews with the composer Philip Glass, the director, and some of the actors, including Richard Croft who plays Ghandi. The entire experience is incredible – picture a large movie screen, encompassing surround sound, and intimate multi-angled camera work that allows us to visually connect with the actors in a way not usually possible.

I took a quick look at the Met’s website and learned that in Washington State there are 19 venues for viewing. Russia is the latest country to join the Met’s groundbreaking live entertainment initiative; 1,600 theaters in 54 countries, including new additions: Israel and China. Don’t miss the chance to enjoy the Met live at your local movie theater or in a city you may be visiting. All the major cities have venues and click here on Met Live for a PDF of all the current locations for viewing. Can you tell I am excited about this?

There are recordings of the opera… click here on Satyagraha for information on the recording by composer, Philip Glass, with Christopher Keene conducting the New York City Opera Orchestra. And to read about Eknath Easwaran’s book: Gandhi the Man: How One Man Changed Himself to Change the World just click on the title of the book.

Seattle’s TEDxRainier 2011 Conference

Sue's TEDx Rainier notes, page 2
One page of my sketchbook notes from the TEDx Rainier Conference

Heading off the island Friday evening we are full of anticipation about tomorrow’s TEDx Rainier event. This year’s theme is Gained in Translation: Ideas Crossing Frontiers, featuring over twenty five speakers whose ideas and extraordinary work span across domains and fuel innovations and insights. Followers of TED for years online, this is our first live experience.

Earlier on Friday I received a book I had ordered from Amazon – An Illustrated Life: Drawing Inspiration from the Private Sketchbooks of Artists, Illustrators and Designers by Danny Gregory. I couldn’t wait to get on the ferry with no distractions and go through the book slowly, page by page.

An Illustrated Life, cover
click on book for more info

As Gregory says in the introduction, “a book full of sketchbooks and illustrated journals from all sorts of people who love nothing better than to hunch over a little book and fill its pages with lines and colors”. This treasure of a book has 78 five star reviews out of 84… it is stupendous with creativity overflowing tremendously inspiring.

This was just the creative jumpstart I needed and somewhere along the way from home to Seattle the idea was born to capture the essence of each talk creatively in my sketchbook on two facing pages. So I arrived with Jay at the Conference Saturday morning with sketchbook and pen in hand. The first few moments I had some self-consciousness as the first speaker began… where and how to begin, is anyone watching me??? All the usual fears. Fortunately, I was able to move through the fear, pick a starting spot, realize everyone is mesmerized by the speakers (not me) and plunge into it. By the third speaker there was no looking back, I was totally hooked on my project.

Sue's TEDx Rainier notes, page 1
My second page of sketchbook notes from the TEDx Rainier Conference

Jay & I enjoyed many of the speakers, some of the highlights included:

  • Rick Steves‘ frank talk about how global travel brings us together, saying “Fear is for people that don’t get out much.” Rick is a world traveler and author of over 80 very readable helpful books on travel.
  • Amory Lovins on Reinventing Fire – how to transition to zero carbon clean renewable energy by 2050… I liked his quote – “Not all the fossils are in the fuel.”
  • Peter Blomquist on being humbled in his encounters with the kindness of simple traditional cultures. Peter is principal of Blomquist International, focused on organizational development, philanthropy, and global engagement. His words of wisdom – enter humbly, stay for tea, listen and learn.
  • ITGirl librarian Chrystie Hill on how libraries are transforming and evolving in the new world. When kids were asked what they would like in a library where everything is allowed, one replied – to hear the sounds of the forest as I approach the books about trees.
  • Leroy Hood on how insights from the human Genome project are bringing fundamental advances in early diagnosis and treatment of disease. P4 Medicine is his belief – predictive, preventative, personal and participatory.
  • Pediatrician Dimitri Christakis on how focusing on the first year of a child’s development can have stunning effects on the potential of the child, for the rest of life. Dr. Christakis is author of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Children.
  • Jenn Lim on happiness. Jenn Lim is the CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness, a company that she and Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) co-created in 2010 to inspire happiness in work, community and everyday life.
  • Adnan Mahmud on “Climbing the ladder that matters.” Adnan tells his story about how he came to create Jolkona, a nonprofit that helps people raise large amounts of money through small donation, and receive proof of how the donations helped make a difference for those in need.
  • The three  Interfaith Amigos, Pastor Don McKenzie, Rabbi Ted Falcon, and Imam Jamal Rahman on religious discord, and how to get along. Their presentation received a standing ovation. It was at once funny, touching and brimming with promise and hope. Their new book is Religion Gone Astray: What We Found at the Heart of Interfaith.

For both of us, the most powerful talk was given by photographic artist Chris Jordan. Jordan, a former corporate lawyer, explores the detritus of mass culture, using photographs and images to, at a gut level, convey the impact we are having on the earth. Earlier this year we saw his exhibit – Running the Numbers – at the University of Oregon’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art in  Eugene, OR.

Let’s see I’ve covered the Travel, Sketch, Write areas… now we get to the part about doing all this while eating gluten-free. This trip to Seattle we experienced two new restaurants. Both casual, affordable, gluten-free friendly and yummy.

Friday night we had a late dinner at Uneeda Burger. Located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, Uneeda Burger is a casual, roadside-style burger shack with seriously delicious burgers. I had the lamb burger special on a gluten-free bun with a side of spicy sweet potato fries while Jay splurged and went with the Whidbey Island Crescent Harbor 100% Wagyu (Kobe) grass-fed beef (additional $3) with caramelized onions, watercress and blue cheese. Both were deliciously juicy and messy and enjoyed with one of their craft-brewed beers. Not a beef eater, not to worry, they have chicken and veggie options.

Saturday at our lunch break two of the student volunteers at TEDx Rainier suggested we try Shultzys. Nothing better than to walk into a busy restaurant and find a quiet seat near the fireplace on a rainy fall day. Jay tried the “Schultzy”, a char-grilled sausage burger made with mild Italian pork, served on a toasted, garlic-buttered roll with grilled onions & peppers – very good subtle flavors. I had the Bratwurst, a mild but nicely spiced pork and beef sausage, served with grilled onions & sauerkraut. Easily gluten-free by eliminating the bun. Very tasty. The service was prompt and our food came quickly which we appreciated given our limited time.  Seattle’s Wurst Restaurant is located at 4114 University Way NE.

I end with a tip from my sweet husband… Looking for an idea for taking your sweetie out on a date? Go to a TED conference. Ideas are hot! Follow up the conference with a nice dinner, in a quiet romantic place, and prepare to have some great conversation. TED talks will inspire, enlighten, and fill you with hope.

Cincinnati, OH and Covington, KY too

Ohio River, Cincinnati, Ohio
View of the Ohio River from Cincinnati with the lights of Covington, Ky just over the bridge.

Experience, travel – these are as education in themselves” ~ Euripides, Greek playwright, c. 480-406 BC. In the ancient tradition of traveling across lands, I find myself stimulated and curious to learn about each area we are driving through or stopping to visit as we traverse the country.

Sitting with our friends on their balcony this first evening in downtown Cincinnati, watching the barges maneuver past each other on the river, we start talking about the Ohio River’s history. During the Civil War the Ohio River, which forms the southern border of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, was part of the border between free states and slave states. “Sold down the river” was a phrase used by Upper South slaves, especially from Kentucky, who were shipped by way of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South. On the flip side, before and during the Civil War, the Ohio River was called the “River Jordan” by slaves crossing it to escape to freedom in the North via the Underground Railroad. Some research reveals that more escaping slaves, estimated in the thousands, made the perilous journey north to freedom across the Ohio River than anywhere else across the north-south frontier. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s best-selling novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, portrayed such escapes across the Ohio and fueled abolitionist work.

Pendleton Art Center, Cincinnati, Ohio
Pendleton Art Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati is home to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center located at 50 East Freedom Way. Their mission is to reveal stories about freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today.

And while we are on the topic, for those of you who are bicyclists, The Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR) honors the bravery of those who fled bondage and those who provided shelter. The route passes points of interest and historic sites along a 2,008-mile corridor. Beginning in Mobile, Alabama – a busy port for slavery during the pre-civil war era – the route goes north following rivers through Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Waterways, as well as the North Star, were often used by freedom seekers as a guide in their journeys to escape slavery. Upon crossing into Ohio, the route leaves the river to head toward Lake Erie and enters Canada at the Peace Bridge near Buffalo, New York. In Ontario, the route follows the shores of Lake Ontario and ends at Owen Sound, a town founded by freedom seekers in 1857.

Now, back to Cincinnati. Our friend, Judith Serling-Sturm, is a book artist and hand binder who has her studio in the Pendleton Art Center. Judith creates custom books – designing covers with leather, textiles, and artisan-made papers from around the world. Visiting her studio we are fascinated by the exposed bindings and book covers embedded with natural elements, semi-precious stones, and found objects.

Judith Serling-Sturm Book Art
One of Judith Serling-Sturm's handmade books from her "Bill of Rights" art piece.

Built in 1909 for a shoe company, the Pendleton Art Center is now home to over 200 artists. As we walk up the stairs to the eighth story, the building’s history is revealed in the original pine floors, tall arched windows, ancient radiators and fine old doors. Visitors are welcome to studio walks on the Final Friday of each month from 6 to 10pm.

Findlay Market, Cincinnati, Ohio
Findlay Market, Cincinnati, Ohio
Butcher in Cincinnati's Findlay Market
Charles Bare Meats in Cincinnati's Findlay Market

Never missing an opportunity to eat, we head to Findlay Market for lunch. In operation since 1855, this is Ohio’s oldest continuously operating public market. First stop is Pho Lang Thang for a bowl of Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), and then a cruise around the market checking out the many year-round merchants. Meat, tea, cheese, gelato, wine, fish and seafood… at Colonel De’s we find Raz Al Hanout, a Moroccan blend of spices that Jay enjoys cooking with… and at Dean’s Mediterranean Imports we buy a delicious Fig jam with sesame seeds and anise seed. Dojo Gelato seriously tempts us as we leave the market but still full from lunch and with dinner reservations at Lavomatic Cafe we walk on by.

Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices in Findlay Market
Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices in Findlay Market

Next, knowing Jay’s love of music, Judith takes us over the Roebling Suspension Bridge to Covington, Kentucky to visit Cymbal House. Located at 524 Main Street in downtown Covington. As you can see in the photo this is a gorgeous, highly efficient space. We walk in as a well-seasoned local jazz musician is carefully listening to various cymbals.

The owner is very friendly and explains to me that the size of the cymbal affects its sound, larger cymbals usually being louder and having longer sustain. Heavier cymbals (measured by thickness) have a louder volume, more cut, and better drum stick articulation. Thin cymbals have a fuller sound, a lowered pitch, and faster response. The jazz musician tells us he will be performing just down the street from Cymbal House at Chez Nora – A Rooftop Terrace Bar and Jazz Club. They offer live music five nights a week and spectacular views of downtown Cincinnati and the scenic Ohio River.

Owner of Cymbal House, Covington, Kentucky
Proud owner of Cymbal House in Covington, Kentucky
Main Street, Covington, Kentucky
Main Street, Covington, Kentucky

For dinner we drive to Over-the-Rhine, sometimes shortened to OTR, a neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is believed to be the largest, most intact urban historic district in the United States. Over-the-Rhine was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and contains the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the United States. Its architectural significance has been compared to the French Quarter in New Orleans, the historic districts of Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina, and Greenwich Village in New York City. Besides being a historic district, the neighborhood has an arts community that is unparalleled within Cincinnati.

Lavomatic Cafe, Cincinnati, Ohio
Welcome to Lavomatic Cafe, Cincinnati, Ohio

Our destination is Lavomatic Cafe, an urban wine bar and restaurant. Blessed with a beautiful evening we chose the rooftop patio for dining. Several of us start with the Seasonal Soup – Gazpacho – made with fresh, local tomatoes and seasoned with smoked paprika. Divine. For dinner, Judy & Peter both chose the Bruschetta Salad with Shrimp, Jay has the Grilled Caesar with Salmon (served with a house bleu cheese dressing), and I decide on the Duck Confit Salad. All delicious and totally enjoyed with a chilled bottle of white wine recommended by our server.

Lavomatic Cafe is a great place to go before or after a show, as it is moments away from Cincinnati Music Hall, The Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, The School for the Creative and Performing Arts and Know Theater of Cincinnati.

Our stay was much too brief, so we offer some local tips on dining recommendations from our friend in Cincinnati… thank you Judith!

Casual dining:
Riverside Korean Restaurant, Covington, Ky – fabulous Korean food, extremely reasonable
Lime Taqueria, Covington, Ky – huge organic buritos, inexpensive

Lunch/coffee – inexpensive:
Melt – eclectic deli, organic, vegetarian friendly – casual backyard seating – Cincinnati, Northside neighborhood
Coffee Emporium – great locally roasted coffee and best black bean burgers in Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine
Iris Book Cafe – local sources, vegan friendly, wonderful courtyard in historic Over-the-Rhine

Lunch and/or dinner – moderately priced:
Nectar – seasonal cuisine, casual backyard patio in Mt Lookout, Cincinnati (Best Restaurant 2011)
Honey – farm to table, Northside neighborhood, Cincinnati (Best Restaurant 2011)
Cumin – eclectic world cuisine, Hyde Park neighborhood, Cincinnati (Best Restaurant 2011)
Jean-Roberts Table – casual French, downtown Cincinnati (Best New Restaurant 2011)

Fine Dining:
Daveeds at 934 – farm to table, Mt Adams neighborhood, Cincinnati (Best Restaurant 2011)
Nicola’s Ristorante – Italian – Cincinnati, Over-the-Rhine (Best Restaurant 2011)
Boka – Italian, Mt Oaklet, Cincinnati, but moving downtown (Best Restaurant 2011)

Visit Cincinnati Magazine on Best Restaurants 2011 to read their impressions of the award winners, and visit Livin’ in the “Cin” the official travel blog for Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

New York City

Ice pops made from anything brewed: tea, root beer, espresso; markets galore – artisan, farmers, flea, antique; and exploring Brooklyn… here are some fun tips on the big Apple.

New York’s New Frozen Treats

“I HAD never been so grateful to see a banana. Peeled and skewered, just plucked from the freezer, it was nearly smoking from the cold. It was then plunged into molten chocolate, sprinkled with sea salt and slowly twirled under a shower of crushed almonds.”

36 Hours in Brooklyn

Brooklyn, New York City’s most populous borough, is a destination in its own right. Ideas are where to stay, what to do and where to eat.

Markets of New York City: A Guide to the Best Artisan, Farmer, Food, and Flea Markets

markets of new york cityThis lovely little book is a guide to the traditional, charming and edgy markets of New York City: antique and flea markets, artisan markets, farmers’ markets, seasonal markets, and more. Markets of New York City also includes recommendations for great food in and around the markets and suggested routes for full or half-day excursions.

Portland, Oregon for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving in Portland – what a great idea. Jay, his mom and I drive down while Jay’s brother and his family fly up. Time to relax, visit, and play for a few days in a friendly, welcoming city.

We all stay at the Hotel Vintage Plaza and take advantage of one of their AAA packages that is $140/night and includes free valet parking, a $25 gas card and a gift certificate for the mini bar. Our rooms are double queens (many of the hotels had full size beds), very spacious, and newly renovated. This is a pet friendly hotel and we all marvel at the good mannered hounds in the lobby.

Portland Hotel Vintage Plaza
Hotel Vintage Park occupies a lovely old stone & brick building

Soon after check-in we head back down to the lobby for wine hour. Oregon wines are poured while Italian bread & pizza is provided by Pazzo, the restaurant connected to the hotel. This takes the edge off our hunger but we are still weary from a long drive south so we decide to eat a light meal in the Pazzo bar. A nice trend with boutique hotels is having a restaurant connected to the hotel that is independently owned and operated. Pazzo is a gem. Comfortable with delicious Italian cuisine. We find a cozy corner in the bar and share a light meal of mushroom risotto, salad, and a pate and cheese plate. Over the next few days we dine at Pazzo for breakfast and lunch, finding their selections and quality very good. Breakfast favorites are the french toast, spinach/pancetta omelette and scramble of the day.

Daily we are out walking… on one of his solo adventures to Powell’s Bookstore, Jay comes across this bronze elephant sculpture…

Portland Bronze Elephant Sculpture
Bronze elephant sculpture in the park between Burnside and Couch Streets

A little research reveals that in October 2002, a 12-foot bronze sculpture titled Da Tung (Universal Peace), a replica of a Chinese antique dating from the late Shang Dynasty (1200-1100 BC), was installed in the park between Burnside and Couch streets. The elephant is embellished with figures from ancient Chinese mythology, and carries a baby elephant, Xiang bao bao (Baby Elephant), symbolizing that offspring shall be safe and prosperous.

Portland’s street food has a reputation and unlike other cities the vendors are out and open during the cold weather. Out taking photos we come across a block of vendors downtown, various types of buildings, carts, trailers… giving off a deliciously international blend of smells.

portland street food stand
Street food stands are quiet the day before Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving morning Pazzo is closed so we step next door to Typhoon for a Thai breakfast. The fried rice with an over easy egg on top is the breakfast favorite, and a very yummy change for a gluten-free eater! As you might imagine the tea menu is huge. I settle on a pot of green tea with peppermint. Perfect for a chilly morning. Typhoon is connected to another boutique hotel, Hotel Lucia. The restrooms are in the hotel, so after breakfast we stroll over to check out the scene… the lobby is like a museum. Filled with sculpture, paintings and Photographer David Hume Kennerly’s work we spend some time looking around. A very cool sculpture made of silver crayola crayons captures our attention… but unfortunately didn’t make it into a photo!

portland hotel lucia
Art filled lobby at Portland's Hotel Lucia

After breakfast the family convenes and decides a movie is in order. It just happens that the latest Harry Potter is playing a few blocks away… so the seven of us (ages 12 to 87) take in a matinee. Turns out there are several movie theaters within walking distance of our hotel. Yippee.

We arrive on time for our 4:30 Thanksgiving dinner reservation at Heathman Restaurant in the Heathman Hotel (another easy walk). Seated within minutes of our arrival we peruse the three course fixed-price menu. Each course has several choices – some of the first course options are pumpkin soup, poached pear salad and caesar salad. The main course offerings are traditional turkey with dressing, prime rib with yorkshire pudding, stuffed pork loin, and a vegetarian option. Desserts include pumpkin napolean, flourless chocolate cake and apple cake. I choose prime rib and flourless chocolate cake – both are amazing. We learn from a staff member that they have 1300 reservations for Thanksgiving, including the buffet upstairs… we are even more impressed with the prompt service and delicious meal!

Thanksgiving Day we watch the Macy’s Day Parade in New York City on the television… the next day, Friday, at 9am we watch the Portland Macy’s Holiday Parade seated in front of our hotel (chair provided by the hotel). Great local marching bands, horses, lhamas, costumed characters, and of course … floats.

Macy's Holiday Parade Portland, OR
Macy's Holiday Parade in Portland, OR
macy's holiday parade portland OR
Raggedy Ann leads the way in the Macy's Holiday parade

Location, location, location… ours allows us to walk everywhere but there is a very cool modern streetcar system in Portland that we see constantly as we do a little Christmas shopping at Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Portland Outdoor Store, Moonstruck Chocolates…

portland, oregon, streetcar
Portland Streetcar began operations July 20, 2001 as the first modern streetcar system in the country
portland oregon outdoor store
Portland Outdoor Store - a great retreat on a rainy afternoon
portland hotel christmas tree
Christmas season begins at the Hotel Vintage Plaza

Needless to say, we are not too hungry the day after our fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, and since we have no leftovers to snack on we checkout a sushi restaurant that we have noticed on our walks… and right after dinner we head to Pioneer Courthouse Square, the place to be, starting at 5:30 pm for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting. After some musical performances and caroling a 75-foot tree lights up the square. Well you can imagine how much energy holding yourself up in a crowd takes… so as the crowd disperses some of us head to Baskin Robbins across the street for ice cream cones! And since this is our last night we go back to the hotel, check out the movie schedule and head to a movie… something fun – RED (Retired and Extremely Dangerous). As my favorite movie critic Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times concludes: “Red is neither a good movie nor a bad one. It features actors we like doing things we wish were more interesting.” Those actors being Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich and others. All day Friday staff at the Hotel Vintage Plaza have been decorating the live tree in the atrium of the lobby… when we return after the movie the tree is resplendent. We have officially moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas!

How “Playing For Change” is changing the world

Bill Moyers calls it a remarkable example of “the simple yet transformative power of music… to touch something in each of us.” As we sit down to watch the DVD Songs from Around the World by the nonprofit group Playing For Change, our friends, Noel & Steve, can’t contain how amazing and emotional this film is to them – goosebumps, tears… check it out…

Here’s one of the most viewed songs from the film – Stand By Me.

Here is the story in their words:

Several years ago, a small group of filmmakers set out with a dream to make a documentary film about street musicians from around the world. Using innovative mobile audio/video techniques, Playing for Change (PFC) records musicians outdoors in cities and townships worldwide. They’ve traveled from post-Katrina New Orleans to post-apartheid South Africa, from the remote beauty of the Himalayas to the religious diversity of Jerusalem. Their talents are captured in myriad environments: under the sun and beneath the streetlights… in public parks, plazas and promenades… in doorways, on cobblestone streets, amid hilly pueblos. Their performances are subsequently combined in allowing them to collaborate – albeit separated by hundreds, or even thousands, of miles.

While traveling to around the world to film and record these musicians, the crew became intimately involved with the music and people of each community they visited. Many of these people lived very modestly in communities with limited resources; nevertheless, they were full of generosity, warmth, and above all they were connected to each other by a common thread: music.

In an effort to ensure that anyone with the desire to receive a music education would have the opportunity to do so, the Playing For Change Foundation was born. The Playing For Change Foundation (PFCF) is dedicated to the fundamental idea that peace and change are possible through the universal language of music.

By providing a safe place to learn and flourish, PFCF schools offer a positive alternative to the struggles that many children face daily. The mentorship and guidance the students receive from musicians and teachers provides a strong foundation for them to grow and thrive. In an effort to preserve history and cultural traditions, each school’s curriculum is focused on regional music and instruments.  The global role of music is also explored via interaction with other schools, students, teachers and musical cultures. In addition to building music schools, we provide resources and opportunities to communities in need, thereby empowering these communities with the ability to establish thriving and sustainable economies.

These are not our schools; each school belongs to the people in the community. The community is invested in the school and its success.  The people create the energy that the schools – and the community – need to succeed.

The Playing For Change Foundation is committed to creating positive change through music education. You can contribute directly to the foundation or support the cause by purchasing the DVD/CD: Songs from Around the World.

Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, video by Stiegemeier, music by Jónsi

If you are traveling through Europe and encounter delays due to the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, here’s something beautiful to watch while you pass time waiting for your flight. This is an amazing time-lapse video of the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, filmed by Sean Stiegemeier on May 1st and 2nd, 2010. The music is by Icelandic musician Jónsi.  The song is Kolniður, from the Go album.

A note about the time-lapse video. It was filmed using a Canon 5d mkII, which is a very fine digital camera, not a video camera.  The clarity and sharpness of the images comes from the  Canon 5d mkII’s 21.1-megapixel image sensor, and though it can film HD video clips in addition to taking pictures, Stiegemeier created this time-lapse video by setting the camera to automatically take a picture every second or so – a nice feature of the Canon camera.


Dunedin, NZ

Our first stop on the 226 mile drive from Christchurch to Dunedin is Oamaru. An historic seaport town nestled on the South Island’s east coast. While Oamaru’s early wealth was founded on gold, it was agriculture that provided the driving force for a thriving commercial port and harbor area. Although commercial usage has steadily declined over time, the original structures remain intact and the area is undergoing a revival. The Woolstore Cafe is in a restored building and there we enjoyed the day’s special – lamb burgers with fries. Once again I was delighted to find gluten-free “slices” – wonderfully moist, cake-like treats: chocolate hazelnut and a pear honey (my waistline is not in decline!).

Oamaru Bay

During our stay in Christchurch we were advised to stop and see the Moeraki Boulders on our trip south. The boulders are situated some 40km south of Oamaru at Moeraki on State Highway One. It is a five minute walk along the beach to the boulders. From a distance they are not impressive in size, but up close the details become apparent. A little research revealed there incredible history… the boulders were embedded in the soft mudstone cliff at the beach and the forces of the sea have eroded the cliff away, exposing the round formation of the boulders. The boulders were formed by the crystallization of calcium and carbonates around charged particles, as one website described it – “a process similar to the way pearls are formed”. Although this process took four million years.

Moeraki Boulders

Originally we had planned to end our journey in Christchurch, but our friends, Sally & Bruce, encouraged us to continue south to Dunedin and the Otago peninsula. Dunedin is home to the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university and the Otago Polytechnic. The University accounts for about 20 percent of the city’s population and this weekend was the start of the semester so lodging was booked downtown. Online we found a room at the newly opened St. Clair Beach Resort and after driving through the city found ourselves at the oceanfront where surfers were rallying and practicing for the next day’s Asia Pacific Long Board Championship. An excited Jay was soon talking to his buddy, Mark (surfer dude), via Skype – holding up the MacBook (see Jay’s  review of the Ultimate Travel Computer) so Mark could see the surfers. Enjoying the sound of the surf and tired from a long day of driving, that night we dined nearby at Salt – a great little restaurant about two blocks from the hotel.

Surfers at St Clair Beach in Dunedin

Waking the next morning to the sounds of loud speakers announcing the surfers we check it out for awhile from our balcony, then jump in the car and head out to the Otago Peninsula. Our destination is the Royal Albatross Colony at Taiaroa Head, on the tip of the Otago Peninsula. We drive out on Portobello Road along the edge of the harbor, then return on Highcliff Road along the top of the Peninsula enjoying the spectacular views of both routes.

Taiaroa Head is unique for the diversity of wildlife which abounds on this small headland. The albatross is one of eleven bird species which breed in the area and this is the only mainland breeding colony for any albatross species found in the southern hemisphere. The first Taiaroa-reared albatross chick flew in 1938 and this now protected nature reserve has grown into an established colony with a population of around 140 birds.

The breeding birds arrive at Taiaroa Head in September. The nest, built during early November, is formed by a bird sitting down and pulling vegetation and earth around itself with its bill. The white egg, weighing up to 500 grams, is laid during the first three weeks of November. The parents share incubation duty in spells of two to eight days over a period of 11 weeks – one of the longest incubation periods of any bird. The incubating bird sleeps much of the time its mate is away

Albatross with chick

When the chick has hatched, the parents take turns at guarding it for the first 30 to 40 days, and the feeding of the chick is also shared by both parents. Nearly 12 months after their arrival at Taiaroa Head, having cared for egg and chick over a period of some 300 days, the parents will leave the colony to spend a year at sea before returning to breed again. The chicks hatch during late January and early February; it takes about three to six days to finally emerge from the egg after making a hole in the shell. Albatross Breading Cycle For the first 20 days the chick is fed on demand, then meals decrease to three or four times a week. At 100 days the chick’s down reaches a maximum length of 12 centimetres. At this age the chick is fed larger meals, up to two kilograms at a time, of more solid substance. From early August the chick is fed lighter meals and in September, when fully fledged, it wanders from the nest testing its outstretched wings and eventually takes off with the aid of a strong wind. The young albatross will spend the next three to six years at sea; many then return to this unique headland to start another generation of Royals of Taiaroa.

Stomach contents of a deceased albatross

While away at sea the albatross swallows plastic debris – in the North Pacific debris is concentrated in two huge eddies – in these areas the surface water contains six times more plastic than plankton by weight. Adult albatrosses breeding on Hawaiian atolls ingest the plastic, probably mistaking it for food, and then feed it to their chicks. As a result, thousands of chicks die yearly in Hawaii because their stomachs fill with plastic leaving no room for real food.

Rare Stewart Island Shag mud nests

From the nature reserve viewing area we saw the rare Stewart Island Shag mud nests.

Lighthouse on the Otago Peninsula

The lighthouse is a short walk from the reserve with views of the ocean and seals camouflaged among the dark stones.

Sheep, Dunedin, NZ
Shade loving sheep along the roadside

Driving back on the Highcliff Road we came upon these wool laden sheep enjoying the shade; below is a view of the lush Otago Peninsula.

Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, NZ
View of the Otaga Peninsula

After a full day out on the Otago Peninsula we make reservations to dine in downtown Dunedin at Bacchus. Set in the heart of Dunedin in one of Dunedin’s historic buildings, Bacchus overlooks the Octagon (city center of Dunedin), and is known for it’s quality lamb and beef dishes and a first rate wine selection. We enjoyed a first class meal and good wine recommendations.

The following morning we check out at 10am (the standard time in NZ), return our rental car, check our luggage at train station and head to Plato for brunch. Plato is a relaxed eatery located on the harborfront of Dunedin and was recommended by our waitress at Bacchus last night. Hands down one of the best brunch dishes ever – Basque Eggs – free-range eggs broken over pan-fried potatoes, mushrooms, chorizo, tomatoes, feta and spinach, grilled with grated parmesan.

Walking into town we make a visit to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. As we made our way through the galleries the exhibit that stood out was Taryn Simon: An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar.  Described as  “A collection of photographs that document the inaccessible places that exit below the surface of American identity.” The two images that stood out for me and contrasted each other were both in Washington State – a nuclear waste shot and the Olympic National Temperate Rainforest. The museum is worth checking out and this exhibit is there until May 9, 2010.

We eventually make it back to the Octogon to check out the South Island Bagpipe competition… here are Jay’s photos…

Bagpipers Practicing, Dunedin, NZ
Bagpipers practicing for the South Island Competition
Bagpipers, Dunedin, NZ
Bagpipers present themselves to the Competition Official
Young bagpipers, Dunedin, NZ
The tradition continues with these young bagpipers
Bagpipe Competition Judge, Dunedin, NZ
Bagpipe Competition Judges chat with an onlooker

Our train leaves mid-afternoon… we are taking The Taieri Gorge Limited train, Dunedin’s prestige tourist train operating from the historic Railway Station. This scenic train & bus tour will eventually land us in Queenstown, NZ. This historic train travels through the rugged and spectacular Taieri River Gorge, across wrought iron viaducts and through tunnels carved by hand more than 100 years ago.

Dunedin Train Station, NZ
Dunedin Train Station
Dunedin Train Station, Dunedin, NZ
Platform at the Dunedin Train Station
Historic Taieri Gorge Train, Dunedin, NZ
Interior of the historic Taieri Gorge train
Taieri Gorge Train, Dunedin to Queenstown, NZ
Gramma's traveling bears on Taieri Gorge Train

At one of our stops along the way, a grandma sets her bears out and photographs them. She tells Jay she will email the pictures to her grandchildren later as a fun way for them to follow her travels.