Author Archive | Lucia

Northern England O !

November 1, 2012

N.Yorkshire Moors

We returned to the royal throne of kings, the sceptered isle, after three decades to find that even in late October its cities and historic towns were overwhelmed with tourists. And so many from The Orient!  Our England is always the countryside, the counties, the gardens, the foliage, the farms, the fells and dales and moors, the sheep and ravens. The North.

We bolted out of Manchester straight up the M6 to Lancaster and the row house where we lived on St. Mary’s Parade in front of the Castle. Not much has changed in this gritty county town but the University which was muddy roads and two colleges in 1968 is now vast, unrecognizable with a –GASP—huge sports complex and 20,000 students, half foreign born.  The manager of the Horse and Carriage Hotel where we stayed on St. George’s Quay was however the son of the pub masters in Lonsdale College where we spent much time.


St. Mary’s Parade

Waking to what the locals call “filthy” weather where the black clouds seem a few feet from your head we remembered why we left years ago; continuing north to the Lake District. Then the preternatural gloom lifted, gloriously revealing a perfect autumn day in the high fells with Cumbrian mountains cloaked in muted colors reflected in the still lakes. The sky with its swiftly changing clouds and fluorescent surreal lighting sets this landscape apart from all the others in the world.  Right out of a Pre-Raph painting.

Grasmere, Ambleside, Hawkshead, Coniston, Keswick all have a few too many tea shoppes and Beatrix Potter outlets but commerce cannot ever ruin the staggering natural beauty that lured the poets and painters. We made the pilgrimage to Brantwood John Ruskin’s estate on Coniston Water which we tried to save from the wrecking ball and the University of Texas, successfully so it seems. The English off handed indifferent attempt at commercialism and being (depressingly) children friendly was much appreciated.

At Brantwood

Since The Toffs still rule the roost in old Albion where snobbery and class consciousness are as profound as ever, fancy restaurants are the costly alternatives to chippies. At The Samling on Windermere localism was at its self-conscious height and for 50 quid sans vin one et Morecambe Bay Crab, Cartmel Valley Quail and Salt Marsh Lamb. We didn’t make it this time to Sharrow Bay or Dungeon Ghyll or Miller Howe for there was too much to see and we wanted to move on.

We headed from Penrith to the North Riding of Yorkshire past Barnard Castle and Bowes Museum, both dark and dingy decades ago but now fully restored, then stopped at Eggleston Abbey where the first look at the expanse of North Yorkshire was breathtaking. This is why you come to England. Gorgeous countryside with picturesque ruins of castles and abbeys. Dreamlike, resonant.

The city of York a casualty of demographics, local and foreign, crowded, traffic clogged, ugly and dirty and so different from the beautiful walled town we remember. We attended a long Evensong in the choir of York Minster looking for carved gargoyles under the seats then repaired to The Hole in the Wall for local bitter and steak and ale pie. The option was a free bottle of plonk with two orders from the grill. So WC!

Castle Howard

It was a profound relief to escape just fifteen miles north to the Vanbrugh masterpiece Castle Howard the setting for all those films about the fictional Flyte family from Waugh’s novel Brideshead.  As in 1972 we sat on the great lawn, strolled the thousand acres of Capability Brown’s landscape genius and searched for Hawksmoor’s Temple of the Four Winds, still Gothically untended, blackened and crumbling.

Castle Howard

A quarter million visit annually but apparently not in late October and we had the house to ourselves with workmen who were setting up the outdoor stages and tents for a family celebration the following week. The Castle is inhabited by Simon Howard, his wife Victoria Barnsley, head of Harper Collins UK, and their children Octavia and Martin. According to The Telegraph they expended 250K pounds to entertain guests on the grounds, 200 seated, 200 for a buffet (can hardly imagine the social jockeying here.)

North Yorkshire

Since we had booked no rooms in advance and having sworn off B&Bs forever (shudder) we searched for local hotels. At the quintessential Yorks village Pickering we were advised to try The Feathers in Helmsley. Now that was jolly good luck. Located in Ryedale at the end of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and in the very centre of the medieval market square it was perfect, especially since our stay coincided with the weekly farmer’s market and the opening season of pheasant hunting. Local squires in Wellies and green tweeds and shotguns at the ready congregated on the square in the morning and in the pubs after a day’s shooting. Up Carlton Bank were the best views of the heather moors with a staggering number of pheasant families, alas with some casualties along the road that the hounds missed that morning.


Close by was Rielvaux Abbey at the valley on the edge of the moors where 900 years ago the first French Cistercian abbey in northern England was established. Monks and geese still walked the grounds of the ruins in the light fog. What more is there to say? Land of abbeys and castles and glorious ruins!


Off we went to Lincoln for a night at the Queen Charlotte Hotel, dark and forbidding with a loud local wedding party — very Breughelesque.  Finally the object of our quest, Cambridge. Cambridge. For thirty years we dreamed about our magical year reading Roger Fry’s papers in the King’s College Library with Quentin Bell who was also sifting through the papers of his teacher. Well in 2012 we were just another tourist, grabbing a beer at the absolutely mobbed Eagle where once we had supped with Sir Geoffrey Elton and now ……..oh never mind. One couldn’t visit old haunts since colleges were closed for half term graduation ceremonies. Punting has become a common activity for the plebes.

Actors in Oxford


Well at least Oxford didn’t have as many memories beyond the drinks in the digs of Richard Cobb at Bailliol or the annual stay at Lawrence Stone’s house in Woodstock. The bloody city was, however, like Cambridge, so swarming with people it was distracting and irritating, a year round tourist trap jumping with film companies and noisy hordes………oh dear.

We chose to stay inWoodstock in the Oxfordshire part of the Cotswolds which reach into six counties with beautiful villages in that honey colored Jurassic limestone. Each county jealously guards its piece of the pie like little chauvinistic principalities.   The Bear an inn in the old part of the town was a good choice and you could see Blenheim out the back door.  Though we were tempted to see another Vanbrugh masterpiece. where the 11th Duke of Marlborough still lives, the tour buses approaching at seven in the morning for a day on the grounds was discouraging.

Thence to Chipping Norton deemed a Set with residents like that creepy phone hacking journalist Rebekah whatever her name, the Prime Minister and other self made millionaires is an an upper crust town where the local tea shops offer excellent coffee and no bacon butties but fresh spinach and goat cheese eggs.

The Feathers

We raced past Stratford on Avon so quaint those years ago and now a logistics nightmare driving straight to Warwick Castle which had become more Disney than Disneyland, a theme park for thousands of children in Halloween mode, the worst single example of ersatz commercialism in England, tacky, over the top, absurd. We fled.

Then the weather let us down completely and the dark skies glowered for the last three days so no hope of seeing the Shropshire and Cheshire countryside which vanished in the mist. Burton on the Wold was barely visible in the white fog which lifted a wee bit at Moreton-le-Marsh an ancient market town with wonderful 18th century townhouses now housing fine shops. We bought some Wensleydale cheese and chutney for lunch then viewed the  Celia Lendis Gallery with Steve Mitchell’s paintings far more sophisticated than anything in River North and furniture stores to rival Manifeso.

Helmsley Hunters


Inching closer to Manchester we stayed in Shrewsbury in despair at having utterly mistaken that it was Ludlow and the Feathers where we wished to visit not this dowdy old town with the Prince Rupert Hotel right out of a 50s Tyrone Power flic.Oh well Chester was like Lancaster and Cambridge– largely unrecognizable. Located on the Welsh border and undecided whether to drive to Conway Castle we settled for thousand year old  Chester Cathedral and a walk along the roman walls then had lunch at the Chester Grosvenor a respite from the shoppers and the loud live music outside.

 Royal Lytham St.Anne’s Golf Course the site of  British Opens and a private club did not allow entrance to the clubhouse because of our friend’s sneakers and athletic pants.

Located near St.Anne’s a windy Irish Sea “resort” town, really a mini Blackpool or Morecambe with the early Beatles melancholia of lost working class lives, silted over sands on the beach, eternal fish and chips and bitters.

Lakeland Fells


England always resonates with us as with every literate person on the planet, because of its language and literature. One cannot imagine life without the Written English Word from Beowulf  to James Herriot from Thirsk, Yorks. We took Churchills’s  African Journal from 1908 along for reading on the long uncomfortable flight (never again to coach seating) and was overwhelmed by the beauty of his prose.

Love the Times, the Telegraph with their judicious blend of news and gossip, not to mention the Court Circulars.The big story was the dead entertainer Jimmy Savile’s purported pedophilia, rather ghoulish finger pointing at the BBC who Penn State like knew and did not tell.

Downton Abbey not as popular as in America though we saw upcoming episodes due here next year. A hundred years ago those Howards and Marlboroughs employed over 1/3rd of the English population so the life of service hits rather too close to home in England.

Piers Morgan a “transatlantic chatshow host” who has hung himself with his book The Insider revealing knowledge of hacking apparently.

Conrad Black the “tricky Teflon coated fraudster” unable to escape the “fragrant” extravagant wife and looking flabby and truculent, determined to return to the House of Lords, which is silly anyway.

Premier of the Bond flic with Chester lad Daniel Craig sour and churlish with the fans.

The Middleton family’s Party Pieces doing 007 theme parties and a general Hands Off Kate and Wills in the press.

The hard working royals helicoptering all over the counties all the time as in Charles at a Shropshire art gallery amused that his wife bought a painting of a chicken (yes, she loves them!) and quipping that he simply cannot control her.

Some Photos


St.John’s GradBuskers


Temple of the Four Winds


Portrait of Simon Howard


St. Oswald’s Church

Herdwick Sheep



J.Atkinson’s, Lancaster


Chester Cathedral

Rob at Horse & Wagon



Ruskin at Brantwood


Oliver Stone and Lincoln


October 15, 2012


Charity Watch

According to Bloomberg Markets, Americans give $300 billion a year to charities and over ¾ never reaches its destinations but rather lines the pockets of telemarketing armies, those irritating paid telephone solicitors. The American Cancer Society enlisted InfoC for ten years to raise $5.3 million and apparently nothing, not one penny, went to fund cancer research or help patients. Who else uses InfoC? American Heart Assoc, American Lung Assoc, MS, and many others of course.

The controversy over how charities value noncash gifts such as medicine continues to attract attention!  Drugs and other noncash items can mislead the public into assuming a nonprofit is doing more to help the needy than it actually is and can give inaccurate impressions of its revenue and overhead. The IRS slapped Food for the Hungry with a $50,000 fine for overvaluing the medicines it distributes overseas.


Kimberly and Vonita, Service Club Honorees

These problems usually occur with huge national charities which act like corporations or dense bureaucracies and what we used to call “poverty czars”   and not  local ones. One such local charity is exemplary. The Service Club is celebrating past Gala chairs on November 2nd at the Ritz, appropriately called With Gratitude.

Le Shopping

We popped in to Tiffany’s to buy the usual crystal decanter or porcelain coupe for a wedding present and were dismayed that it has turned into yet another  jewelry store (we have enough of those on Oak) with decidedly unpolished salesgirls which would have been unthinkable under Steiner or Christ.

Well we found something suitable in Neiman’s for John Scher and Betsy Stover who were married last week in a gorgeous transparent tent with the October sunset shining thorough in Lincolnshire. Rabbi Ted Gluck led the guests in singing It Had to be You before the vows. Cheryl and Monty Scher threw a lively celebration party at the Marriott and we danced like St. Vitus to Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan.

John and Betsy Scher

Memorandum to clothing buyers: thiMk about it darlings, why do the small sizes pile up? Because no one but Southeast Asians can wear them! Why not stock sizes American women can wear? It is all so tiresome and makes shopping a nightmare if you are over 50. Those ladies who can afford Brooks Brothers or Escada cannot squeeze into them and all the larger “styles” are in maroon and brown and look like grotesque garbage sacks.

In a recent interview for WSJ Ian Schrager, a fellow Brooklynite, says his favorite restaurants are Peter Luger, Nobu and 15 East. He loves the ballet and hates hotels and eateries with white gloves and epaulets.



John and Zoe at Volo

“Dined” at the Brauhaus on Lincoln with John, Zoe and JR; unfortunately it has become far too crowded and noisy to enjoy in October…..or any other time for that matter. We love the schmaltz and zithers but pas encore. Then we popped into Volo’s Orientalized garden on a cool night for some good expensivo vino.

It’s about time Anthony Bourdain retires from the little screen. His program has become a predictable bore and all the bad boy pose sounds false. In 2003 we met his handsome self at the James Beard awards in NY (when we were nominated for writing) and he was authentic not the buffoon television created.



Congratulations to TCW on its 30th anniversary. It has always taken the high road without being smarmy and its longevity proof of its successful formula. Where were you 30 years ago? We were working in Artemisia on Hubbard Street where all the avant-gardish were and where Al Friedman was just starting out in real estate.

Hideous neologism: Glamping, presumably for Glamor Camping. Just when one wanted to escape designer soap, spas, infinity pools and (disgusting) foie gras croutons for truffle soup they go ahead and stick them in Zambia and Tanzania game reserves. No thanks.

We’ll spend discretionary income in Africa only when ivory is truly banned and there is serious legislation to stop poaching and slaughter of the Big 5. Over 25,000 elephant were murdered last year.

Megan McKinney’s book The Magnificent Medills,  America’s Royal Family of Journalism During a Century of Turbulent Splendor was recently awarded the 2012 Spear’s Book Award for Family History of the Year. Spear’s is one of Europe’s preeminent wealth management brands and has rewarded books that distinguish themselves as the best in several categories.


The photogenic golfer Luke Donald appears everywhere in print these days because he lives in a Chicago suburb and not the UK. Ahem.

The Ryder Cup’s corny (the cows were enough) painted golf balls are still lingering around the malls and avenues here. Friends who attended never saw a live golfer and had to wait hours to get into the Pro shops for souvenirs.


Sitters and Runners

We love hotel lobbies; our mother Lucy would sit in them for hours smoking Chesterfields and drinking Oolong, or if after 5, gin Martinis. This was of course the age when only Jackie Kennedy could afford good wine. Now everyone in the United States has a niece or granddaughter who’s a sommelier.

The favorite lobby of the time was the “Fountain Blue” in Miami. Here in Chicago the Peninsula is cold and uninviting; the Ritz used to be wonderful now is blahsville; the Four Seasons never disappoints and we have a special feeling for the homely old Marriott on Michigan with its ghastly décor, hundreds of seats and total anonymity.

Huff Puff

Those brave seekers, all 45,000 of them, who ran, or walked, the Chicago Marathon are an enigma since most looked to be suffering in some sort of Cotton Matherish Puritan ether. Not so the East Africans however who have millennia of Masai blood in their veins.


Oh Boy. What worries John Bogle, Vanguard’s founder? “ the coming train wreck in the financial system”. A 401K was never meant to be a retirement plan as is now touted and soon 70% of Americans will rely on Social Security to live. We are on SocSec and it’s just enough to buy a couple of dinners out. One couldn’t live for a week on it.

One suspicions that the clever Romney’s 47% “blooper” was all staged. We were after all awfully shocked to learn the percentage of those who do not pay taxes is half the bloody population and sure you were too. Of course don’t watch debates outside the Oxford Union but caught Biden looking like Walter Matthauish in crazy old man mode.

Here’s a fine quote from Wait for Me by Deborah Mitford:  Eddy the Duke of Devonshire told his son Andrew, her husband, who was running for some office or other: “There is something you should ram home and you cannot repeat it too often. No government has any money of its own, the only money it has to spend is what it gets from you and me in taxes.”

Cannot resist gossip from this delightful book regarding Wallis Simpson who’s housekeeper revealed that she would only employ blondes at the Chateau de la Croe; the footmen, housemaids, the kitchen workers were all fair haired. Then again she and former HRH rather did like Hitler which makes their continuing popularity completely incomprehensible.

 Hugh Clayton Lowther, 8th Earl of Lonsdale  has been married three times which creates rather a sticky wicket in the dynastic game. With his first wife he has one adopted son born by artificial insemination, who thus does not stand in succession to his father’s titles. Ahem. The Hereditary Peerage Association, explains the procedure of entering one’s name on the Peerage Roll : “A child born as a result of egg, sperm or embryo donation is incapable of succeeding to a peerage.” Yoicks


Au Revoir


We are truly saddened at the passing of Joe Boden who we were lucky enough to know. Joe was a B-17 fighter pilot in the War and a true hero.

Writer and journalist JeAnne Ingersoll, a witty, classy and original gal. With her highly skilled journalist talents she created  accurate, factually important news releases and information.

Dorothy Fuller who we worked for briefly at AIBI; she wanted to go to Dubai to promote Chicago fashion. Another grand dame gone.

Lionized historian Eric Hobsbaum, who we often met at economic history conferences years ago when Socialism was all the Rage has joined Trotsky and Lenin in the sky; unfortunately he rationalized Communism and defended the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Academics are so out of touch.



Facebook is such a bore — all pretty skies and fancy sandwiches though we’re a sucker for the cute animals –and the BIRDS.  Twitter is too evanescent for people with things to actually do in the world– just for pollsters and stat guys

Ultimate Hilarious Snobbism: those who won’t join the Daughters of the American Revolution but salivate at becoming a Colonial Dame because to join one’s ancestor had to have been mayor or senator or dog catcher.


Wadsworth Wetlands

September 21, 2012

A little late due to Comcast router problems which held us up for a week.


Expo Chicago thrust the city back on to the serious international art map. Suave, sophisticated and easy to negotiate with dashing interior design and the subtle lighting it was mercifully free of gimmick and garbage that masqueraded as art in ArtChicago Tony Karman dodged trendy landmines and created a gorgeous global event. Evocative representational art exceeded the decorative wall covering of most abstraction.

The large scale photography breathtaking and loved Brian Bess’ use of video HD monitors behind wall mounted, framed pictures. The sketchy catalogue gives little idea of the scope of the talent. Chicago artists like Ellen Lanyon and Paschke seemed surprisingly provincial, too much “affect” if you know what we mean.  And though Douglas Dawson is our favorite gallery in the city, the18th and 19th century sculpture and artifacts a tad incongruous, as in this precious Japanese hare.


We made on our annual pilgrimage to Walworth, Wisconsin riding the back roads from to Union to Marengo, Huntley, lovely downtown Harvard, Illinois, crossing the state line to Sandy’s Upscale Consignment Shop which ain’t so upscale anymore. Gather the Lake Geneva ladies not unloading their wares much anymore. Along the way we observed the devastation of the hot summer in mile after mile after sad mile of scorched unpicked corn.

Trump is one of the great comical characters of all time like Shakespeare’s Falstaff or Tilleulenspiegel and whatever folkish character his Swedish forbears had. His inflated, imperial style evident in the extreme hotel/ tower which has the monumental intimidating scale of  Berlin or Dusseldorf between the wars.

Susan,Ed and Hazel

Tres Seizieme Arrondissment. Susan and Fred Gohl’s apartment was designed by John Regas and believe us the Duchesses of Windsor or Devonshire would feel right at home here with its haute European style. A late summer soiree included Ann Gerber, Barrington horse people,(remember Flying Dutchman Farm?)  Mamie Walton, Cynthia Olsen, Father Ken Velo, Cookie Cohen, Lynda Silverman listening to Cole on the Steinway and enjoying the views from one of the endless number of balconies.

The Paul McGrath Memorial at Riccardo’s brought back memories to many from the Jane Byrne era when Paul was chief of staff and Noreen McBride the decorum chief. A wild and woolly time with Jose’s very stiff drinks and free leftover lasagna verde consumed in view of the sepulchrous Ivan Abright painting of Mrs. Bloch. If you lasted long enough you could boogie to Clarence Peterson’s clarinet or argue with Don Rose about capitalism. Today 437 Restaurant on this hallowed space is homogenized, pasterurized, denatured, declawed like everything else in 2012.

Yon and Cheri

When did the world become a copy of the world we know? When did it become inauthentic? Well, friends, it’s called commercialism, raiding the past to sell something we don’t really need or probably even want.

The Astor Street al fresco street pahty was a faintest reflection of others, with numbers significantly down and one noting who was not there rather than who was. No Hermans and Malkins, no Leslie and Bill and no sightings of any aldermen. We always however enjoy saying bi annual howdee do to George Weeks, John Valentine, Bill Daley,  and those circling the bounteous table of Heather Johnston, this year’s host also Kimberly Gleeson.

We did spy Shia Kapos interviewing Police Chief Garry McCarthy surrounded by les flics and looking dour. We still don’t fully comprehend why every morning we read of murders and shootings galore in Chicago. Surely something can be done though there’d be the usual caterwauling about police state and such.

Chief McCarthy and Ms.Kapos

The Newberry’s 125th  Anniversary exhibition is worth a look even if you cannot actually read books or see the maps in the dark rooms; we can plop things down on Mars but cannot invent a light that will not damage paper? If you squinted and looked hard enough you could read the Dill Pickle Club’s “Night in Bohemia” program booklet, which took place on October 16, 1916 with Chicago’s “radical elite” including Darrow and Sandberg attending. (Do we have any more of these? Doubt it). Or the 1588 map of the USA which ends right on the Florida /Georgia border or the 1692 French contract for beaver pelts from Michilimachinac. If you have any historically important documents give them to the Newberry for posterity.

How to ruin a Farmer’s Market. Allow some street person to stand on the corner of Division and State with the largest imaginable boom box amped up to loudest count and massacre the classical music station while the too- polite vegetable eaters gamely endure it and the local shrugs as says it’s just fine because he’s got a permit.

At Expo

Pleasant  surprise to find an idyll in Vernon Hills Illinois namely Opa Estatoria – you know dolmades and mousakka on the banks of a river. Do go, a restaurant is after all 80 percent ambiance. Celebrating a seventh decade on planet earth we dined at Mon Ami Gabi  where so many tables were jammed onto the patio outdoors we could actually hear strangers chewing.  The food French such a relief from ubiquitous Italian which is basically so peasanty.

At a First Thursday lunch at the Peninsula we met witty Doreen Rogers board member of the Juvenile Protection Association which helps at risk vulnerable school children through counseling and therapy. Love Shanghai but the waitstaff too solicitous buzzing around with questions and the continuous filling of water glasses.

Schneider Family

En route to Kenosha Country Club (OK so it’s not Greenwich CT) over Labor Day the motorway passed by the endless Wadsworth Wetlands Preserve in Lake County. Before restoration work began in 1983, the land had been drained for farmland, mined for sand and gravel and then abandoned and most of the original wetlands  destroyed. Today, prairies have been restored, and the wetlands are again functioning to provide flood control and improve water quality. Worth a visit.

Errant Thoughts

When did the “Mother” universally become the childishly familiar “Mom”? The first lady calls herself Mom- in- Chief  recalling that ghastly character four years ago calling herself Soccer Mom.

We also loathe the word “amazing” which has replaced “awesome” in everyone’s increasingly limited vocabulary. And the ubiquitous “arguably” when you don’t have the conviction of what you are saying.  It either is or it isn’t. Wait a minute — when did “way” become a substitute for “very”?  To say something is way this or that is to….well never mind.

Canoe Birch, Harvard

You’ve got to read Nell Casey’s article in T&C, Me, A Love Story about those who’s egos are bigger than their talent as in that overbearing Huffington woman, (Mother would say she has “too many genes”)  or artist Julian Schnabel or the Loonies Gaga and Lohan.  BTW lucky Texan Dr.Phil. had a hilarious exchange with Dina Lohan who appeared to be a tad medicated and made fun of his shoes and tie. That’s good TV.

Now that the above glossy had the article on the Chicago Rockefeller, ChiMag quickens up the pace and ordains that her novel a Number One Must Read. Decidedly NOT the way to establish a literary reputation.

We spent what seems like a lifetime hating the National Review but today we must admit we like the prose and attitude, the sophisticated writing of an actual educated adult. As in “John Lennon’s juvenile paean to debonair nihilism, recently featured at the closing ceremonies of the XXX Olympiad,,,” .or Helen Gurley Brown’s many facelifts that ultimately left her “mummified.”

Who, one wonders, is the intended audience for the SunTimes SPLASH feature? So low brow it has everyone raising their’s in disbelief. The news is something someone doesn’t want published but in this case no one would care it is so blandly innocuous.

Books and Blokes

Goodbye East End Summer

It’s Time the British royals rethink their ridiculous anachronistic Pax Britannica ceremonies. The poor souls in the Firm will never get a rest no matter how many lawsuits are out there. The time is right now to put in place the Scandinavian model of “monarchy” (even the word is bizarre).

The Journals of novelist Anthony Powell (has anyone actually ever read Dance to the Music of Time?) are surprisingly replete with many I knew or met such as Rosamund (real name “Peggy”) Bernier at the old and much missed Arts Club when she lectured on Proust for two hours, never drawing a breath.

Powell wonderfully catty — Nancy Mitford a self conscious bore, Waugh a relentless and shameless social climber like so poor people were and are, Debo the current Duchess of Devonshire much the nicest of the lot. She is still extant and recently collected some essays into a new anthology All in One Basket. She said she buys her clothing at agricultural shows though no doubt lets out the seams of the old Mainbocher for special occasions. Love it when the aristos try to be democratic.


A propos of which we just saw the usual preposterous Hollywood drivel The Duchess ( of the same Devonshire clan) set in 18th century and completely ruined by the spastic untalented Kiera Knightly who was only ever good as a Cockney teenager in Bend it Like Beckham.

 Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness is an exotic memoir of living with a dysfunctional , often drunk (English) mother in Africa in the 70s. Charming though we still recommend Elspeth Huxley’s books for a take on the earlier period which has an abiding allure for us.





Conrad Black

September 1, 2012


Patriotic Kid in Montauk

Welcome back to Conrad Black and his hyperbolic, incendiary prose as in The Republicans can end 15 years of stupidity in this country (Financial Times) an historical overview of why we are in the doldrums now…..outsourcing of our jobs, encouraging illegal immigrants to swell the demographic ranks and take what jobs remain, “and inundating the world with trillions of dollars of worthless real estate backed debt.” He’s hard on both parties as it should be.

Television is still inexcusably ghastly, the worst being the daytime garbage that feeds the poor people not able to find work, as in Rachael Ray, the former Lake George, NY waitress who, stupid though she is, valiantly tries to ask questions of people with actual brains. Sad. And know it’s not PC to knock the FAMOUS from Chicago but the Nate Berkus show has not gotten any better however long one has waited.

At the O'Connor's

For first time in many a year we stayed up to dwell awhile in Johnny Carson territory and found it hard to decide who was more dreadful, Leno with the evening’s guest, the repulsive, snakelike Bill Maher or smarmy, sycophantic Letterman chatting with the First Lady who was absolutely charming and very humorous. Why she would appear on such a nitwit program is ….well…….beyond us.

Here’s Newton Minow in 1961: “When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse……. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.”

Susie's Loft Party

We do, however, watch Africa Channel (133) not for the funny tri-lingual soaps like Isidingo, but for the news and culture reports. Africa is the new frontier and when the internecine strife settles down (it took us 500 years and two world wars in the West) it will, this may well be the land of the future. By the way, today it ain’t just safaris or tales of starvation and humanitarian aid—it’s a place to earn money in oil, gas, minerals. The Chinese are the new imperialists.


Susie Kealey has a talent for friendship and entertaining, first on Walton Street, now on Kingsbury. In her artful loft she threw a New Roof party and in the renovated Orangery enjoying Mitchell Cobey vittles were John Nelson, Allen Smart, Susie Barton, Stanley Paul, Jim Kinney and Brian White, Harriet Gulis and lots more friends and neighbors. As one ages fewer and fewer friends actually undertake the effort to entertain.

On the Roof

We have reversed our opinionated course and decided RL is really the only place to have lunch. Kind of like Michael’s in NY now mainly literary/PR types unlike the old days when Mortimer’s was king with socialites. Had lunch with Cynthia Olson, a fine animal portraitist by the by, sitting a few tables down from Table 68 where Meta Berger and Margie Korshak were engaged in conversation.

It was an unusually sociable fortnight for us, amiably topped off by dinner with  horsewoman from Naples and Chicago Susan Gohl at Quay on East Illinois. We two took that long always funny walk down memory lane (as in decades years ago) and had many laughs about those past and present. No place was smarter and more colorful than Riccardo’s.

A Fifties 12 year old

The terrace outside Gibson’s in Oak Brook was jumping on a sweltering Saturday night when KJ Reynolds was in town from Baltimore. John Pontarelli the GM accommodating as usual; we remember him from the Chop House. Rather a relief not to be in the mix, jockeying for the attention of an opposite sex or same sex or those in superior positions while one’s had several drinks and don’t remember what was said the next day.

It’s been irritatingly hot this long summer as we looked forward to a cloudy day to write. On yet another flawless afternoon we visited at the darling Beatrix Potterish- home of Lynda and Jim O’Connor in Lake Forest. We share an interest in Africana and was impressed with their library.


The Written Word

Jim Kirk editor -in -CHIEF of the New Sun Times cancelled our meeting via email at the last minute after standing us up the first time when a staffer insisted we didn’t have an appointment though one had been made three weeks before. Dahlink why would one show up with a portfolio in hand otherwise? Do we look certifiably insane? They appear disorganized and confused over there. Insulting.

KJ and Friends

At least the Tribune is trying to smarten up with the smart Printer’s row book review section. Caution: don’t make it too Midwest- oriented with annoying Our Town Boosterism for the congratulatory consensus. Think New York or London not Omaha or Normal, Illinois.

Cornelia Cochrane Churchill Guest recently had a book signing party hosted by John Demsey. Her’s is another one of those entertainment books by the very rich which gain the rapt attention of those considerably less rich with definitely with far less illustrious families. As if ye shall know them by attending a reception in a restaurant. That ole social climber Ernest Hemingway was the host of her parent’s wedding in Havana.

Avoided arts entertainment this fortnight sticking to TCN reruns like Babette’s Feast. Breathtakingly brilliant, based on Isak Dinesen’s Gothic tale with the sublime Stephane Audran. Crave films made for adults not for preteens. Speaking of preteens this is what a 12 year old looked like in the 50s – no glaring incipient cleavage or belly buttons here. Many are disturbed about the sexualization of  the littlest girls. So disgusting. Why is Gloria Steinen so quiet about this?

Airplane Spotting

The Air Show such a bore and when is the city going to stop inflating the viewing numbers? We live high up in the air a step from the drive and can see that the fewer and fewer bother to look up at the gnats in the air.


A Propose of Nothing


Spotted slim Alpana Singh outside of Hash on her cell phone detailing a recipe. We recommend her Facebook postings if you are a food- follower. Speaking of Facebook have you followed the Jonathon and Gail’s Hampton’s Classic Summer? The photos should be published in a coffee table book. Remember those?

Looking South from the 23rd Floor

Crazy Harry Fiasco. They need to get him out of the line of succession — fast. Who gives a hoot about royals in 2012? No rational person who knows it is all about marketing Britain for the masses, but and a big but they gave us the enlightened rebellious minds that created our Republic. And the language! And the literature! A few maudlin news people shed a 15 year old tear for Diana but we were never fooled by her.

The Museum of Broadcast Communications is a tribute to the hard work of Bruce Dumont. The location is awkward to say the least so the city should pick up the tab for free admission. We’re becoming the city of odd niche museums as in Poetry, etc.


World of Giving

Ken Berger the CEO of Charity Navigator laments celebrity involvement in nonprofits given their penchant for scandal and endless entourages that leach money from the causes. Ken’s also mad about expenses of charity fundraisers with those silly goody bags and endless expensive floral arrangements and….so forth. Lenny and Felicia Bernstein used to serve chili and beer and raised millions.

Lunch on Chicago Avenue

Adorable rascal Michael Musto, a fellow member of the Commentariat, writes Why I Hate Charity Events, Just write a check already, and save the gown in the Voice. Gigantic tax deductible yawns filled with self congratulations, thank yous and dull speeches where a fortune is spent on room rental, entertainment, food, promotion. He quotes Joan Rivers: “I am so bored with going to a 25 million dollar house to hear a mogul say, “Good news everyone. Tonight we’ve raised almost $12,000 .”

Power Style author Annette Tapert firmly believes one should always dress to impress, dress like it’s your last day on earth, as if you’re Marie Antoinette going to the ball not the gallows —  if only to pop in to Duane Read for a bottle of plonk. Our father would don a fedora and tie to go to the corner candy store for a pack of Parliaments.

Oh dear, we note the Public Hotel (i.e. Ambassador East/Pump) has withdrawn the welcome mat somewhat. First the Wall Street Journal was removed, then the good magazines, now there’s the occasional security guard with a cocked eye on the arriving guests. We feel uninvited to the ball.




Dame Daphne Sheldrick


August 15, 2012


Wild Thyme 1798

The Congo is the poorest country in the world but has a symphony orchestra that ebulliently plays Beethoven and Carl Orff. So inspiring!  Kinshasa the capital has ten million souls– when is Africa going to wake up and practice aggressive population control? Kenya is the neediest with the world’s highest birthrate.  There are not enough resources to sustain the population explosion that threatens to undermine the continent more than any other natural disaster. Melinda Gates is listening we know.

Did you happen to catch NBC’s segment where Chelsea Clinton visited Nairobi and Daphne Sheldrick’s baby elephant refuge? Their mothers had been slaughtered by poachers for ivory. There is no one doing better work to preserve what remains of wildlife in Africa than this naturalist. Here is a note we received last year; it is reprinted here because it shows how difficult it is to be a part of this cause. We have volunteered all over the world to help save The Big Five but as you can see it is complicated. Spread the word and the funds if you can.

Dear Lucia,

Thank you for your Email which was waiting on my desk when I returned from Tsavo a day or two ago.  Regretfully, I don’t have any Mid West contacts that I could pass on to you, but take heart, it took several years for my Agent to secure a Publisher for my (much abbreviated) autobiography, due out next year.   It is kind of you to offer to help the cause, but really the only thing that one can do is to spread the word and encourage folk to support our Orphans’ Project by fostering an elephant on line.   We are not permitted to accept hands on help, even if offered voluntarily, due to Kenya’s burgeoning population and mass unemployment, but also due to safety concerns involving dangerous wildlife when walking with the elephants out in the bush.

 Best wishes.  

 Dame Daphne Sheldrick


Cycling on Kinzie

Meanwhile closer to home, in the event you have ever wondered why  writers/journalists/wordsmiths of any stripe are such critics of the status quo, whatever that status might be,  it is that they take the mandate of the Fourth Estate seriously though now it is sadly equated with Rupert Murdoch and Robert Maxwell two massive rogue waves.

Those studying to be writers or journalists are taught in college to be the conscience of the times, objective, fair and dispassionate which is of course impossible to ask any man to be. They seem contrary because they often do not have a stake in the system so are able say things other wallets and vested interests cannot.  At least ideally.

Writers are often best when they have a personal experience to relate as in Evelyn Waugh dragging himself off the Abyssinia or Graham Greene wherever he was. Or Paul Theroux grumbling his way across the globe, so much more entertaining than that irritating chipper commentary from Bill Bryson.

This year we lost Christopher Hitchens, Alexander Cockburn, Gore Vidal, Robert Hughes all major misanthropes now in the Pantheon of Sourballs. In Chicago there is no longer much of that tradition left. John Kass has always tried to be the new Royko but never has had the wit or the comedic gift so his attacks on the mayors or Italians always come off flat and basically insulting. He bashes the politically correct stereotypical targets.

The Young Pythons

Writing about the expat writers from the UK in American exile, Geoffrey Wheatcroft writes, “Fleet Street refugees supply an antidote to U.S. journalism and its cult of suffocating respectability.” And you wonder why we have to resort to the internet to read anything worth reading?

Waters were stirred a bit here when Fleet Streeter Harold Evans tried to launch a newspaper Chicago Evening News, but when the major investors wanted control over content he bolted and married Tina Brown who falls over the bad taste edge. She brilliantly rescued Vanity Fair then flopped.  Did you see the latest cover of Newsweek? Desperate for sales, it’s in a major time warp with that supine asparagus eating fellatio (yawn) cover. Tina — sex doesn’t sell as much as it used to since it’s all over the bloody place.

Can you believe the obits about Helen Gurley Brown posing her as an advanced social thinker? Come On! Cosmopolitan has always been a deeply stupid magazine with women reduced to the role of Panting Male-Pleasers.  Hell with that noise

At the East Bank Club

Maybe we’re in the wrong! One sees the prosperity of hookers and kept women and wonder if all those books and education were to blame for our relative penury.

Hear Hear Chicago Big Two! You could afford to use more brain power and not assume the reader is a jamoke (as we used to say in the 42nd Ward.)  Perhaps you share the point of view of former president Clinton who, when asked why he used the tired metaphor “build a bridge between old and new”, responded, “Hey Junk Works!” There is a definite disconnect between political reporting and low brow cultural offerings.

The Guardian, a bright newspaper though not as bright as it was in the past, with its smart, critically aware theatre, film, art and book reviews, is claiming Britain’s Age of Decline is Officially Over because of the Olympics. Doubt it darlings.

The closing ceremony was all neon and noise and even Prince Harry looked bored. Eric Idle was downright embarrassing and the overblown tribute to John Lennon’s meek ditty Imagine. Ya gotta hand it to the Pythons however – they all tried to cash in on the Oxford undergrad drama success that the divine David Attenborough produced.  Palin tried some batty travelogues, Cleese became a broom salesman or something and funniest madcap Eric went into the movies, sort of.   Favorite line from the series…in a thick Cockney accent :“Whatcha doin luv?” “Just putting lard on the cat’s boils.”


Chicago Botanic Garden

Note from a friend, a professor, “The other day at my book sale, a

young, 25 year old guy was inspecting a photo book about JFK and asked

about others in the photos. He did not recognize the names of Bobby or

Eunice or Sarge. And he is a Ph.D. student. I explained and told

stories about seeing them at the demo convention in Chicago, visiting

with them and LBJ. He didn’t recognize that name either….so it goes.”


The Duc de Saint-Simon is the cattiest writer ever, a typical courtier toady who harbors resentment of his boss, in this case Louis XIVth. His description of Mme de Maintenon is especially delicious, reminding us of Princess Diana’s contrary personality (read Patrick Jephson much the best of the biographers)….thus “She was easily and excessively infatuated and just as easily lost interest and became disgusted and both usually without cause or reason.” Then again in a few more years she will be forgotten like LBJ or Bobby.

Made a special trip into the Loop to visit the new Target in Carson’s in a sort of memento mori mood.  The original Carson’s which opened on State Street in 1899 was a chain store too but the clothing and furniture still solid and once even stylish and today well it’s as if everything were bottom line, reduced to the lowest common denominator.  What does that tell you about the change in society? Less money to go around…and we still encourage illegal immigration!

Town and Country features an excerpt from Ashley Prentice Norton’s first novel. She is of course the daughter of Abra Wilkin and Jon Anderson, the brilliant journalist and friend from the past. The Rockefeller name still has pull in a time when there is a dearth of the upper class. T&C is on the case!

Did you know that those who went down on the Titanic were bourgeois businessmen and were frowned upon by the aristocrats in England and Europe? Consult the weighty academic tome The Decline and Fall of the English Aristocracy by David Cannadine.

Wildlife Pioneers

James Joyce helped many Jews escape from Austria and Germany during the war.  The good side of all this critical thinking/writing/ and so on is just that — there is frequently an uptick in humanity.


Never trust a TV food review! Yes, tried one of the hamburger places recommended. Lockdown – a hunk of ground beef served amidst ear splitting heavy metal noise. Once you get into the ‘hoods you’re in Alternative Land where young mothers bring infants into bars, wear tattoos and short shorts and –most horrifying– revealing halter tops when they’re enceinte. Shudder. We are old enough to remember when mothers wore flowered dresses and nylons.

Hash on State next to PJ’s. Though the location has The Curse of past failures we were optimistic about the chain’s latest effort. The food is Cracker Barrel -fattening and the Margaritas weak to extinction but it seems to be flourishing since breakfast is perhaps the last pleasure allowed in 2012.

We hear that NONE of the people in Illinois State government actually pay their gas bills’  apparently they wait for their gas to be turned off, then negotiate a payment plan, but cannily time it so it gets to a point where it becomes illegal for Peoples Gas to turn it off. Just what we hear mind you.

Please — someone enlighten us. What is the allure of fashion? As in the World of Fashion? We loathe shopping and cannot imagine how other women like to spend their time engaged in that irritating activity then dress up and parade in front of other women and the occasional disgruntled husband.  There has to be a subtext here. No doubt we’re the oddball once being voted The Worst Dressed Journalist in Chicago by Skyline. We’ve been laughing ever since.



Golfing in Gaylord


August 1, 2012



Treetops in Gaylord

The relentless heat propelled us 350 miles north to Gaylord, Michigan, 20 degrees cooler, into absolutely beautiful countryside. Accompanied by The Golfer we quickly discovered that golf courses are among the most stunning landscaped settings in the civilized world. Disregarding those sandy depressions called bunkers there we were amidst rolling moraines, undulating greens, wide expanses of bright green fairways, blue spruce, purple Scots thistles, wildflowers and wild turkeys.

The destination was Treetops Golf Resort,  3,500 acres of five championship courses, and 81 holes to anguish over, a golfer’s paradise. The word had spread. On this gorgeous weekend there were hundreds and hundreds of men (spotted two women) on the courses, in the clubhouses, in the bars and eateries on the site, so many in fact that one caused to remark it was like a golf factory.

Much has to do with the reputation of the proprietor Rick Smith who has a mammoth reputation as a golf instructor. He is the architect of three of the courses including The Signature we played with the greens all going downhill on the front nine and uphill on the back. Though the elevation of the terrain is only 1,300 feet it is cannily designed to seem far steeper. In the winter Treetops becomes a ski resort northern Michigan being right in the snow belt.

Restaurant in Gaylord

No doubt we have been spoiled by the word resort, recalling the American Club in Kohler or Eagle Ridge in Galena so the spare rather tired Inn and Lodge at Treetops were a real disappointment. A smart hotel chain would swoop this property up with the Fazio and Jones and Par 3 courses and create a destination resort. As it is the hotel/motel is a men’s club for golfers who want to pop a few beers and catch a few winks before the next round.

Speaking of tired, well there’s dear old Gaylord.  We remember it as a posh, vibrant little village 30 years ago before the wholesale desertion of small towns and the appearance of Best Buy, addiction counselors and psychics. It still retains some Alpine Village motifs from the 50s with Tyrolean style buildings such as the Sugar Bowl, circa 1919, now a Greek restaurant. We were assured the best place in town was Bennethum’s Northern Inn, a lot of cedar and fatty chain fare with hefty wine and beer prices.

Signature Course

We longed for more sophisticated places like Petoskey (no, not Traverse City). By the by, Tribune writer J.B. Noel claims that Petoskey hasn’t changed much since Hemingway went there as a child. Yoicks.  Hem would turn over in his grave to see that the fresh green wilderness has become a sea of malls and condos. In the summer the entire Lake Michigan coast is a rumble of tourists roaming the streets looking for their next meal. They say Wisconsin the fattest state but hard to imagine fatter women anywhere than in Michigan. Actually amazing. Why does rural America breed potato ladies? The guys look OK.

Steppenwolf ‘s Three Sisters

What were they thinking? Chekov’s Three Sisters, the current production at Steppenwolf, is another one of those impossible conceits that show a desire to be different at all costs. Lionized playwright Tracy Letts rewrote the language of the 19th century Russian master of ponderous phrases and philosophical musings for characters who blurt “Life sucks”, “I’m pissed off” and …you get the idea. OK fine we get it but why dress them in 19th century costume and direct them with ritualized melodramatic gestures and phrasing? It doesn’t connect with the audience who tried to make sense of it. Some just fell asleep.

Steppenwolf Intermission

It is the reverse mode, but ultimately the same attempt at newness as Branagh’s Shakespearean flics that retain the Bard’s language and place his characters in anachronistic settings such as Coriolanus in Croatia or Hamlet in 21st century New Yawk. Spare us!

For Art’s Sake

We see the LA Museum of Contemporary Art will be using freelance curators after the Jeffrey Deitch Debacle. Whatever the case do try and remember that most contemporary art is not about heightening experience but creating portable collectibles, like new gold. Of course manufacturing big reputations is essential in all this process. For the 99% who don’t amass portable collectible objects it’s pretty much bollocks though to be fair  it does give tourists something to do after lunch and shopping.

So much collecting is like peasants hording potatoes in the 30 Year’s War. A hedge against disaster which is on everyone’s mind these days.

There still however plenty of room for modest proposals and unpretentious art to enhance our lives and the spaces we inhabit. This is where the colorful, impasto rich paintings of Tom O’Gormancome in. His current show Dublin

Oscar Tatosian and Brian White

Tenement drew a large crowd at Kiki’s  including Oscar Tatosian, Brian White, Cynthia Olsen, John Buck (remember the great star of 80s real estate?), Tom Gorman, Bob O’Neill et. al.

Cancer Charities

The Lynn Sage Cancer Cancer Research Foundation threw its third annual Summer Soiree at Roka Akor on Clark on a blistering hot night so no wonder most of the young ladies worse minimal couture . Proceeds went to Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center and the crowd was overflowing. It was however such a relief to escape the wilting sushi  to the superb Naha across the street.  Hear there is a French restaurant from the group set to open grace a Dieu – there is currently no good Gallic fare in Chicago.

Entre nous we are always a tad insulted by some PR staff who treat the media like gate crashers. We really don’t need those free pink designer cocktail, dears. We actually are interested in covering important charities.

We see the Sun Times is media sponsor for some American Cancer Society and Service Club events. There used to be a dividing line between charities and media but not anymore apparently. Oh well, times and ethics change.

Lynn Sage Foundation Board

Then there is the sudden shutdown of Y-Me breast cancer organization which prompted a call by Sen. Ira Silverstein for the state’s attorney general to investigate the charity. “Given the size of the organization, the number of people involved and the importance of their work, I think there should be some accountability,” he said. He was among the more than 20,000 people who participated in the May 13th walk which did not do as well as in previous years. Some said it was a public reaction to the Susan Komen brouhaha.


We hope you are reading Caitlin Rodwell’s field journal from Namibia at scientistatwork/nytimes for updates about Paula the outcast elephant mother and her baby Bruce. It is actually amazing there is any wildlife left in Africa considering the poaching and the destruction of the environment.  At the annual Newberry book sale we bought Wildflower by Mark Seal, about conservationist and filmmaker extraordinaire Joan Root who was murdered in Kenya/Tanzania as were other Western ecologists Dian Fossey, Joy Adamson, and George Adamson. Little hope for our eles so it seems.

Sooooooo comical to witness the pushing and shoving of book-seeking  bargain hunters in full crazy mode at this annual sale. We also bought the Memoirs of the Duc de Saint Simon, the Rise and Fall of the British Aristocracy by David Cannadine, some old Kenya settler memoirs and a book about the English Lake District.

Getting and Spending we lay waste our powers.

Wordsworth knew the score. The current administration is the biggest spender in world history with federal outlay 25.2% of our GNP. The trillion dollar stimulus package – well we suppose it got us some fresh tarmac and plants on the North Avenue exit from Lake Shore Drive, but really!!!! Stanford’s John Taylor rightly notes that the short term stimulus package and temporary tax rebates (and what about that preposterous cash for clunkers nonsense?) caused much of our economic misery with short-term Band Aids.

Bundler update: See Kevin Conlon is at it again; there’s the  Cubs’ Laura Ricketts, a host of LGBT bundlers  including Andrew Tobias and Fred Eychaner, Les Coney,  Charles Lewis, Penny Pritzker who has bundled somewhere between 200 and 500 thousand pas beaucoup. Desiree Rogers is taking a pass on bundling but is helping others bundle. According to Money mag we’re the top for numbers of millionaires (40% of global total) followed by Japan,China, GB and Germany. About 20%  have inherited their wealth here. So there.

Black Crowned Night Heron

Local News

Next time you’re on Montrose which could be the cutest street in Chicago pop into Nick Spencer’s Jolly Posh for some Heinz Beans and other British foodstuffs. Then go on a few block west to Alapash Home at 1944 West for Marco Chavarry’s circular terrariums. We frequent Elena at KE Salon which outperforms the downtown hair joints hands down – the ones that charge you an extra $45 to clip two hairs and another $45 to dry it after laying down $100 for a couple of blond streaks.

What happened to the Carleton Club in the Ritz? We were to go to lunch there last week with Marie Tyler only to find it was moved in to a back room off the café in the lobby. We did order lunch in the café presided over by the divine Pierre but we miss the greenery, the foliage and multileveled design of the space which today suffers from the inexplicable hotel redesign mania of  the past few years where everything became beige and stripped to essentials.

Trattoria Trullo on Lincoln Square is a fine place for Puglian cuisine with its light touch. The eggplant dishes are like clouds not the leaden parm fare we’re used to. Also love the old photos of Bari, the Adriatic farmers and the land where so many of our ancestors here originated. Bella.

See Stella Foster is about to leave the media spotlight. When we departed Spotlight those years ago the change from being loudly pursued to total silence was instantaneous.  In fact the very next day we were turned away from the opening of Planet Hollywood by the very person who had thrown us a grand party for Spotlight.

Gail and Jonathon at Parrish benefit

Thanks to Lincoln Park for protecting the black crowned night heron, and endangered species in Illinois. Walkers gladly forgo a few hundred yards of fenced in path for our feathered friends.

The Parrish Art Museum in Southampton held a swell summer soiree for the new museum, which looks like an elongated Long Island barn. But no one throws a party like the East Enders south of the highway.





Maryland, Monticello


July 10, 2010

Blue RIdge Mountains

Apologies for the delay in posting but travelling east in the summer inferno of 2012 was enervating to say the least. The single most unforgettable image of the excursion was the alarming 115 on the car’s temperature gauge en route from D.C. to Richmond, Virginia. Sans blague.

We drove from Chicago to Baltimore, cutting the trip in half at Morgantown, West Virginia whose forlorn Lakeview Golf Resort had no soap in the room, scarce grass on the greens, and very drunk patrons in the Legends Tiki Bar. The lone waitress was also looped and spilled balsamic on our white shorts. The next day the high rolling country of Western Maryland, with hills up to 3,000 feet, and the Crepe Myrtle’s perpetual fuchsia, made for a stunning ride –the first of many in this part of the country.




Cumberland, Maryland, named for the county in the English Lake District where the first settlers originated,(there’s also a Westmorland County) was the second largest city in the state at the turn of the 20th century and now has 22,000 souls in the middle of nowhere. Hard Times are here amidst  the pre- WWI civic buildings now with boarded up antique shops or coffee houses with bluegrass concert posters (all current) and aging hippies serving Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee at four bucks a pop.

The mid Atlantic states seem like one vast American history theme park with an emphasis on Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields and monuments.  Twenty years ago we fought Disney’s efforts to build an artificial history theme park at Manassas but it appears local authorities have done it themselves by designating every downtown or  battlefield historic landmarks.

Chainsaw Art

Antietam National Battlefield saw the bloodiest battle of the Civil War where McClellan and Longstreet condemned to death 23,000 men  running head first into one another with muskets blasting; the confrontation which commenced at little Dunker Church, still standing, gave the Union the upper hand in the Civil War much to the chagrin of visitors in long beards  and overalls – and their motorcycle mates. Melancholy acre after melancholy acre of wooden fences over acres and acres of rolling field — all this memento mori not our cuppa. Besides has history ever taught any country a preventive lesson? Ha!

Baltimore! The beginning of the south. Our boat tour of the Inner Harbor revealed the best waterfront renovation we’ve ever seen and that includes Boston’s. A busy working seaport with trawlers unloading a million tons of raw cane sugar to Domino’s and Fort McHenry where Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics for the Star Spangled Banner when the English bombarded the fort in 1814. Then there are the new Ritz Carlton condos and other fancy residential developments close by the retired destroyers and oil tankers. Can’t imagine what……oh well. And yes, before Ellis Island Baltimore was the point of entry for immigrants since the end of the 17th century, our’s included.

Inner Harbor

We headed straight for crab shacks in years past on Chesapeake hols. No more. Alas, local crab fishing in season only a memory with the terribly polluted waters of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the largest estuary in North America which covers six states. Crabs are now imported from Texas and Louisiana because pollution from farms, waste water facilities, power plants is killing the bay. The beautiful Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michael’s on the eastern shore of the state was non committal about the source of the crab cakes so we drove to Tighlman Island which is another social and cultural world completely from the manicured neighbor across the wee bridge.

New York

Viand on Madison

Amtrak cancelled the Baltimore-New York train at the last minute so hopped a bus which rolled through the New Jersey industrial wasteland and stalled in the smoke filled Lincoln Tunnel. Flash of remembrance why we left the crowded East coast. The Fitzpatrick Hotel at Grand Central did have soap and sober tourists and was celtically delightful, a touch of ye old Europe with screaming soccer fans in the Wheel tapper bar.An Irish lass reminded us we should be thankful for the 100 degree/100% humidity compared with the great rainy skies of old Eire and the prospect of ruined crops this year. Something to think about. It is after all summer in the States.

Class of Nineteen Sixty

We boarded the LIRR to Rockville Center to see classmates had not seen in 50 years. Yup half a century. They looked happy and prosperous and within minutes we were back in St. Albans, Queens talking about the nuns at St. Pascal’s. New Yorkers are wry and sophisticated and instantly recognizable anywhere. Something to do with the worldly attitude and candor.

Early Sunday morning we walked from 44th to say hello to the Met on 86th. By then it was too hot to even walk up the long steps so went two blocks farther to say another hello to 1040 Fifth Avenue, once the home of Jacqueline Kennedy. All the blather about the comedy shtick writer Nora Ephron as the quintessential New Yorker…. not our New York.  It was always Jackie.

Ten Forty Fifth

Why Bloomberg, the best mayor in America, from his aeries on the Upper East, Southampton or Wellington, Florida permits tacky, dirty street fairs is beyond us. And in front of the Waldorf! Perhaps like us all he figures summer is just for the visiting hicks whose young have a penchant for falling asleep on the sidewalks.

The Central Park Zoo still there with the same old seals and extravagantly long queues since you seems to need a ticket for anything and everything in 2012 which has four times the population of 1960.  The world has changed no matter where you go it the same. No tickie. No shirtie.




Sigh! Alas! Fifteen years ago we drove up the 760 foot hill on a cool autumnal day to see Monticello atop the Piedmont Hills in Charlottesville, Virginia. After a pint or two at the Michie Tavern where Jefferson’s guests stayed farther down the hill we strolled into the Palladian house and moseyed around the plantation, marveling at the gardens , learning about horticulture, dismayed by the slave’s quarters. Using imagination we entered the spirit of the 18th century, intoxicating, and vowed to return one day to the home of the kindred spirit who could not live without books or wine.

Terrace farming Monticello

That day came this week but all was different. Very different indeed. We had to wait our turn in the hot crowds which at ten minute intervals were shuttled up to the house where children herded us into roped confines until our 9.20 slot opened. We always always loathed guided tours and balked then learned you could not even see the bloody house without the guided tour so we paid the 24 bucks and joined 25 annoyed strangers in our time slot time to see the tiny rooms (yes, Monticello is very small–and for a family of 14!)  for four minutes per room of infantile commentary about Jefferson’s favorite ice cream, commodes etc. Besides all the thousands and thousands continuously stomping on 200 year old floor boards is a preservationist’s nightmare.

There is now a Visitor’s Center, an Education Center with “interactive” exhibits, a theatre, a welcome pavilion, a museum, an information kiosk, a discovery room, a shop – all geared for grammar school or middle school children. On the same trip to Monticello those fifteen or twenty years ago we saw also visited Mount Vernon, Washington’s much grander estate, and had same ghastly experience a year or two ago with the same plethora of educational claptrap in our bafflingly child -centered society.

Powhatan Interior

Jamestown and Williamsburg

In any event we had never visited the first English settlement (given that Roanoke Island disappeared several years before) in America, Jamestown where in May of 1607 104 men and boys disembarked on the James River inlet and declared the land of the Powhatan Indians a colony of King James. What a mellow beautiful sight it must have been after four months on a wooden ship the Susan Constant with miniscule quarters in cavernous depths. What unthinkable courage they must have had – or maybe they were just escaping religious persecution and indentured slavery.


Hard not to hear the cliché “hallowed ground” reverberate on land that was settled years before Plymouth and the Mayflower in 1620. Virginia, named for the Virgin Queen, is where America really begins. An early morning drive down Old Colonial Road is the best approach to the national park with its 50 states memorial and the Powhatan Village replica await after you’ve run through the mandatory brand new educational exhibition building.

Thence to Williamsburg which from 1699 to 1780 was the seat of English power in the colonies. It was too scorching to walk the whole  Historic Area so we missed the Governor’s Palace three looooong blocks away from the parking lot but the 18th century buildings were perfectly restored and now house shoppes like Talbot’s or Williams Sonoma and other all the recognizable brands. Dinner at the Shield’s Tavern was however rather wonderful — beef in ale, meat pasties .pork shank and crab-like cakes with mace eaten in cool dark rooms with only candlelight. Now that’s the idea!!

In Virginia

At least we could still drive unfettered and uneducated through the mountains, Nothing much can ruin Nature and we blessed whatever Roosevelt was responsible for the 100 miles of the Shenandoah National Park’s scenic drive where the Blue Ridge Mountains rise to 3600 feet and really are blue. These are the hills that Jefferson saw from Monticello and regretted there was no body of water in the view.

Front Royal at the northern end of the park has a Stonewall Jackson Restaurant if you can believe it with the Confederate quote “If this Valley is lost, Virginia is lost”. This is backwoods Maryland a big theater in the Civil War and it may not be Mississippi but it is still the South, no doubt about it.

Outside the hospitality of Baltimore friends we were forced to stay in lodgings— avoid the Comfort Inn,  the even worse Clarion;  for the identical cost if not cheaper the Courtyard by Marriott or the Crowne Plaza far far better. The Hiltons are always booked solid so cannot comment. From Hagerstown we headed back north, a grueling 12 hour drive on the Penn Turnpike (the Ho Chi Minh Trail) and Ohio Turnpike, death defying driving on narrow lanes always under construction.

Kingsmill in Virginia

Shocking headlines all over the country about Chicago’s violent crimes rise of 38% in one year.  When asked where we’re from we say Illinois never mentioning Chicago which unleashes commentary, still today, about Al Capone, crime, murder. Some things never change. Washington Post’s George Wills comments that the Merchandise Mart looks like a gigantic architectural Stonehenge and laments Rahm’s “roughneck reputation and stevedore’s profanity”. Christ – why doesn’t he just stop swearing? His ideas and actions fine, especially the 7 billion infrastructure privatization so why let style get in the way?

A propose of which this is our blog and we’re allowed a wee rant, no? American productivity was  great from 1973-2009 but median wages didn’t come close to matching the gains and today America today is a slow growth entitlement society. FDR style handouts do not address the problem of dynamic growth essential for our economy. Pathetic. If anything it impedes progress. OK that’s it.

Back to travel wrap up, one is getting the decided feeling that there really is no real travel anymore in  homogeneous America—maybe not in the whole world for that matter. Travel is simply the much needed psychological necessity of moving about in a static world…not so much what you’re seeing but the fact you’re seeing it and far from home. It is refreshing but addictive as a drug – as soon as you get home you want to move again. And yes, there’s a Birkenstock shoe store, a thousand bucks a night hotel and 12 flights a week to Easter Island. No wonder we  have to go to Mars.








June 15, 2012


Hyatt Lobby

NeoCon was sparsely attended and the programs were dullsville. When sales people are talking to other sales people and not customers you know that NeoCon has lost the audience it once enjoyed. Apparently the Mart has increased the costs for exhibitors hence the empty spaces.

Printer’s Row Book Fair saw noticeably higher prices this year. Two years ago bought first edition of Out of Africa for a few dollars and now the same book is $100. We made a fortuitous stop by the Gerald Rilling bookstall, replete with Africana and Brian Garfield’s book about yet another fraudulent author this one Colonel Meinertzhagen who fabricated journals and diaries (in 1906) from East Africa.

Gerald RIlling and his new book

Oprah is promoting a new book Wild by one Cheryl Strayed that upon reading seems curious and curiouser. It tells the tale of the author’s eleven-hundred-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—ALONE. She was “reeling from catastrophe” (who isn’t?), and was healed by the odyssey.  Genre Inspiratiana!

Lurie Children's Hospital

We went over early last Saturday to see the move into the Ann & Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital. Did anyone read any national press coverage about this important event? We didn’t. National press concentrates on all the violence and murders here and reinforces the stereotype of a dangerous city. Which in fact it appears to be these days.

Crain’s reports that health care costs in the Chicago area are higher than most of the nation’s. With more leverage against health insurance companies, big hospitals can demand higher reimbursement rates from insurers, which in turn help drive up premiums. “It is a big threat,” says Robert Town, professor of health care management at the University of Pennsylvania. “As hospital markets become more consolidated, hospitals gain bargaining power . . . and prices tend to go up.” Oh dear!

Old Town Art Fair

An international architecture firm Zimmer Gunsul Frasca was employed for the Lurie project which always leads one to ask why? We have some of the best architects in the world right here who understand the local environment. Not a big fan of the massive angular building which looks like a corporate headquarters.  Much prefer Perkins and Will’s suave, graceful Rush Hospital though they are being sued for unnecessary cost overruns to the tune of eight million.

Lydia at the Shanghai

Cannot look at Legrange’s Elysian (AKA Waldorf) silhouette without seeing the Mansard Roof as Shriner’s Fez, thanks to Blair Kamin’s wit. Tried to like it but the scale is utterly wrong. Always did feel it rather odd that the grand bourgeois style of dix-neufieme FRANCE popped up all over Chicago in the past ten years.

Everyone is a Francophile of the Heart here though no one seems to know the language or the back roads of Languedoc or the Massif Central.

A bluebird told us the Richter in the Hyatt cost a cool $5.5 million dollars. No wonder he’s mass producing them these days.

Saturday Celebration at Aqua

Good Grief—we see the new Reader is using the inexpressibly vulgar expression “Kicking ass since 1971” right under the logo. Mike Miner doing the PC thing by attacking the Tribune.

New book Barack Obama by David Maraniss tells of his calculated decision to be half white in a black world instead of half black in a white world. Better social advantage to forge an identity from that vantage point. This cautious calculating controlled nature has been a hallmark of the administration.

Fighting Breast Cancer

Is it just us or do others also feel that actors and actresses and the entertainment complex have too much power in politics. Recall Barbra Streisand and her “special relationship” with Virginia Clinton? So comically Brooklyn.  What gives hoofers the right to wield such authority? Do they think they’ll get an even bigger piece of the pie or is their hubris so strong that they just want power?  George Clooney swanning around like a senator is cringe-worthy. The Revenge of Democracy.

What does he know about hardship? Why listen to him any more than to the mega rich bundlers and their “social consciences? Listen rather to the brilliant economists like Professor Robert Barro from Harvard and the Hoover Institute at Stanford who know that the current administration’s short term safety net programs like food stamps and “green energy “ have been ineffective for the past three years. The real need if for long term reforms to the tax structure and policies focusing on individual incentives to work, produce and invest.

NOMI roof

The Shanghai Terrace at the Peninsula is the ne plus ultra of an outdoor eaterie.  Décor very 30s Hollywood Shanghai red and black laquerie, with.lunch offerings modest in price. Very sparsely populated (unlike Nomi rooftop) with  tall, elegant Chinese waiters padding around; thoroughly clean of the tables of boisterous women having lunch in overcrowded hot rooms like RL’s which is so headache-making.

Outdoors at the Lux and Tavern always a parade of the usual gals with those F-Me Heels strolling back and forth, before the table-packs of beefy males

Alderman Joe Moore briefly succeeded in getting foie gras banned in Chicago which decision was then was overturned by the City Council whose members are hardly the foie gras and caviar type so we can only assume they caved in to pressure from restaurant associations and Fancy Schmancy Chefs. Now California soon to remove this disgusting comestible from plates – you know it’s extreme animal torture. We note that Cyrano’s on Wells has a full menu of numerous goose liver items.

Calder Cleaning

Alexandra Stanley covering the Diamond Jubilee for the New York Times correctly noted that American TeeVee reporters were like giddy teenager girls on a sugar high at the mall. Sure the Royals relieved they don’t have to be “accessible” for the colonials and the working class for awhile – did you notice a few shots of Kate looking irritated, a nice break from that perpetual grin that Queen Mary would have loathed and that Anne eschews.

Rev. John P. Smyth who made Maryville Academy what it once was, a place that turned no child away (now a pale shadow of its former self—such a shame)  is one of the truly remarkable men you’ll ever meet. On June 9th 500 friends congregated at Gibson’s in Rosemont to celebrate his Golden Jubilee. Tom Dart, Cook County Sheriff had inspiring opening remarks as did the Bear’s Pat McCaskey.

Didya luv the revelation (or maybe not such a revelation) that that dictator Assad from Syria paid the American PR firm Brown Lloyd Whatever five thousand a month to get his wife into Vogue. You know journalists and publishers and promotional types really need to do some due diligence before they bow before the buck. Ya listening Anna? We always knew you could buy your way into society (whatever shreds remain) via print.

If the press not a watch dog who is? Wake up.

Shanghai Terrace

Spent another Julius Meinl breakfast idly counting the ad pages in the Big Two glossy social magazines, both of which have over 75 full pages, another 20 or so of half or quarter and well within the profit ad/copy ration range of profitability. We always used the 2/3rds ads, 1/3 copy rule when we edited newspapers. Glad they’re making it in this economy though please no more Celebrities in Our Town!. Emily Blunt looked lobotomized in that photo shoot and that other one Britanny or Bettany…….oh never mind!

Divine Alexander Payne is being celebrated at the Gene Siskel for his brilliant films with their insights into social class nuances in About Schmidt and Descendants alluring, two of our favorite films in recent years. You can keep Wes Anderson.

Dump Your Ivory. Last July in Philadelphia, US Fish and Wildlife officers made their biggest ivory seizure ever of approximately 1 ton of ivory; in August, a China-bound shipment from Tanzania was seized in Malaysia with 664 elephant tusks; China is one of the largest consumers of wildlife products.  In Chinese, “ivory” literally means “elephant tooth.” A recent study found that 70% of Chinese consumers did not know that elephants were killed for ivory and some thought elephants lose tusks like people lose teeth.