Merry Old England

The beauty of Hyde Park

Just returned from an absolutely fabulous trip to London with my good friend Julia London.  I am exhausted.  But happily so!  Although, I arrived last night from England to find a 2 and a half hour wait at customs.  Man o’ man was that a room full of unhappy people.  But once through to the other side it was home and bed and goodbye to tea and crumpets.

We really did have a marvelous time.

High Street outside of Windsor Castle

The weather was gorgeous (no rain at all if you can believe it!).  And the museums, castles, parks and walks were to die for.  We ate bangers and mash,  sausage rolls, fish and chips, leek and potato pastys, and really amazing Moroccan food.  We shopped until we dropped.  Harrods, High Marleybone, Knightsbridge, Oxford and Portobello Road.  We rarely got lost.  Which was a miracle a couple of times.  We rode the tube and the trains like professionals.  And walked our rear-ends off.

Charming building in Lacock where, among other things, they filmed Cranford

We watched telly with a glass of wine.  The show about the groom planning the wedding was absolutely wonderful.  Not to mention the one about choosing a manor house (I’ll take all three).  We also watched a comic that had us in stitches (unfortunately I can’t remember his name, but he was very naughty). And also saw several game shows that were beyond anything we have here–my favorite one being where teams of celebrities guess whether or not the others are lying (they all quite good at it).  The only sad note there is that we missed episode one of Season three of Downton Abbey–it was the night we arrived and we weren’t clued in.)

We had drinks at the Savoy.  And went to Covent Garden.  We saw London from the top

The Pump Room in Bath

of the Gherkin.  Traipsed through Bath and Mayfair, dreaming of gorgeous dresses and men in top hats and tails.  We saw Stonehenge and Windsor Castle.  We went to Lacock where they filmed Cranford, parts of Harry Potter, Emma, and scenes from Pride and Prejudice.  We saw the Victoria and Albert museum (complete with a period clothing exhibition).  We strolled through the gardens at Hampton Court, and the lovely wilds of Hyde Park.  Julia London ran along the canal (not for her life, but actually for fun–which I simply can’t fathom).

Courtyard from a window in Hampton Court (can you see who is walking across the way?)

We drank loads of tea, a little bitter and learned the difference between light and dark beer in Britain.  And of course we some great Malbec (from our own local wine store on the corner).  We shopped for our own supper.  And salivated over the fabulous offerings in the various Food Halls.  I had scones at the V&A,  and Julia had chocolate confections and we were in heaven.  We also can report that Stinky Bishop’s cheese lives up to it’s name.

English Gardens!

All in all it was a magical trip!

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde

This weekend we had the pleasure of attending a pre-screening for the new Stein exhibit opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.   Gertrude Stein and her brothers Leo and Michael (along with his wife Sarah) were important patrons of modern art in Paris during the first two decades of the 20th century.

If you’ve seen the movie Midnight in Paris, you’ve had a quick study in the type of environment that the Stein’s fostered, both at the apartment shared by Leo and Gertrude and the home of Michael and Sarah.  In the movie, Gertrude is portrayed by the wonderful Kathy Bates and after seeing the exhibit we watched it again, surprised by how accurate the portrayal was, right down to the little details.

Leo and Gertrude moved to Paris in the early part of the century and immediately realized that if they pooled their resources they could buy contemporary art, considering the best of investments.  Leo who had fallen in love with the works of Renoir concentrated on buying his work, while Gertrude made fast friends with a young Picasso, also collecting his paintings and drawings.  All of which were displayed on the walls of their apartment.

Their brother Michael and his wife Sarah soon followed, moving to Paris and beginning their own collection, her fascination with the works of Henri Matisse dominating their collection.  (Much of which, sadly was lost at the dawn of WWI when the principal paintings in the collection were trapped behind German lines.)

Both Gertrude and Leo (and later after the two split, Gertrude and her companion Alice), and Michael and Sarah, opened their homes as salons on Saturday and Sundays, making for a lively collection of artists, writers, and other bohemians of the time.  The Met’s exhibit encompasses 200 works from the time period, most of them having passed through the Steins’ hands at some point or another.

While the works on display are stunning, including Matisse’s Blue Nude and Picasso’s Boy Leading Horse, it is the context of their history that makes the exhibit so fascinating.  Seeing these now famous painters as relatively unknowns, who without the patronage of the Steins might never have reached their current status.

Highly recommended.  The exhibit runs through June 3rd.  And if you haven’t seen Midnight in Paris, it’s really fun to watch it either just before or just after seeing the exhibit.

Long Ago and not so Far Away

So on Monday we went to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side.  Spurred on by visiting friends, (isn’t that always the way), we decided to tag along with their plans, and all met up in time for the 1:45 tour.

The Museum, founded around 1988 by Ruth Abrams and Anita Jacobson, owns the now partially restored tenement at 97 Orchard Street.  Built in 1863, the tenement (actually just a common word for apartment, despite negative connotations) had over 7000 occupants in the fifty years that it was open for business.  After sitting idle for almost as long, the building was discovered, and the museum’s journey begun.

Helping visitors understand life in working class New York at the end of the nineteenth century is the goal of the museum.  By taking museum patrons on a journey through the life of one of four different families, the tours open a specific window into lives that were difficult by modern standards, and yet surprisingly parallel to experiences some immigrants still have today.

We chose the newest tour, the Moores, a family of Irish immigrants that were part of the wave of Irish people coming to the US in the 1860’s.   The Moores lived briefly at 97 Orchard Street starting in 1869.  A primarily German area at the time, the Moores would have been out of place in the building, isolated because of language.  But the building itself had certain amenities that would have meant a “step-up” from other more Irish neighborhoods.  Certainly nothing to speak of now, the building’s underground sewage system meant that waste was carried away from outhouses located in the back “yard” of the building, and that running water in the form of a tap out back (next to the outhouses) was available.

Inside the apartments, however, there was no water and no indoor plumbing.  Because there were no city health ordnances yet, there was no protection for renters. Diseae ran rampant.  So  much so that infant mortality was exceedingly high–as Bridget and John Moore found out when their five and a half month old passed away.

Wages at the time (if you could find a job—racism was at an all-time high—especially where immigrants were involved), were something like $20 a month.  To put it in perspective, rent at 97 Orchard at that time was $10.   So the Moores were paying half their income for a three room walk up on the fourth floor with five of them, including the baby, in residence at the time.

The apartment itself, had a large (for New York) living area, a smallish kitchen/workroom and a tiny bedroom.   Only one room had windows, and while it might have afforded a breeze, the rest of the apartment would have been stifling in the summer and probably except for the kitchen with its iron stove, freezing in the winter.   Living just below subsistence level, families were malnourished, which lead often times to disease and early death.

In addition immigrants also delt with isolation, due to in part to prejudice and in larger part to the fact that often one’s entire family had been left in the “old country”. And yet, many of these people not only survived but triumphed, their children moving up and onward, finding their place as Americans in New York.

The Museum, open every day except holidays, can be contacted through their website at   or by phone, 866-606-7232.  Tour reservations are recommended.    Other tours include different decades and immigrants, so I suspect repeat visits would be equally interesting.  All in all I highly recommend taking the time to get to know a little bit more about New York’s immigrant communities.  There are also two walking tours of the area available.

Photographs are not allowed, so all pictures used here are from Flickr and the Tenement Museum website.

A Trip to 1775

So last weekend we visited Emerson College for accepted students day  (where my daughter officially ended College Quest by accepting).  And because the Boston Marathon was on Monday, we decided that instead of staying the weekend, we’d move on and check out the Patriots Day celebrations in Lexington and Concord.

As many of you probably already know, Lexington and Concord, MA were the locations of the first battles of the Revolutionary War.  The British set off for Concord in search of the munitions—including cannons—they believed to be housed there.   Unfortunately, patriots Samuel Adams and John Hancock of the banned provisional congress were in residence in Lexington at the time.  So Paul Revere was dispatched along with William Dawes to make sure that the men were removed before the British arrived.

Thus began the famous ride of Paul Revere.  And though he did manage to warn Hancock and Adams, he was captured before he could reach Concord.  (Another dispatch did arrive in time).  He was later released, and the story of Paul Revere’s ride recorded for infamy.

The British, with 700 troops, arrived in Concord and split up to capture the arms.  Some traveling into town, while others headed for the farm where the cannons were supposedly being held, and a third group remaining at the old north bridge in between.   The patriots, forewarned, managed to bury the cannons before the troops arrived, and when the militia confronted the British at the bridge, shots were fired (the first ones not actually attributed to one side or the other).   The Revolution had begun.

Additional militia arrived, and the British sounded retreat, moving back toward Boston as the numbers of militia men swelled, the fight culminating along Battle Road which stretched from Concord to Lexington.   Though strategically the battle was not an important one, historically it marked the beginning.  As John Adams would remark shortly after…  “the die is cast, the Rubicon crossed.”

We were lucky enough to visit the house where Paul Revere found both John Hancock and Samuel Adams, as well as the Lexington Green where eight militiamen were killed.  We also watched as reenactors brought the British retreat through the Bloody Angle to life.  Having heard of reenactions all my life, it was amazing to actually see one.   The sound of the muskets was so much louder than I expected.  And the time between volleys ridiculously long.  I’d have had trouble holding my ground, anticipating the destruction coming any second.

After a visit to Captain Smith’s house and the Hartwell Tavern, we headed to Concord and the green there.   Tying literature into history, we visited The Old Manse where both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne resided.  And jumped forward in time to post-civil war days and Louisa May Alcott’s house.  Then back again as we visited the Old North Bridge, and a verbal recreation of what happened there in 1775.

We take our democracy for granted.  But, perhaps especially in these troubled days, it’s important to stop and remember the people who sacrificed to buy us our freedom.  I for one, couldn’t have been prouder to have the chance to relive such an important moment in our history.

What about you?  Have you visited Lexington and Concord?  Other Revolutionary War sites?