July 20, 2019
When I booked an Amtrak Vacation to Glacier National Park everyone swooned, “ Oh! I’ve always wanted to take a long train trip.” Well, I had many years ago but it was the Orient Express from Paris to Vienna. Ergo, full of hope I reserved a roundtrip ticket with roomette for two costing about $5,000 including three night in Glacier Park Lodge in the most beautiful park in America.
On the first day of summer The Empire Builder left Union Station, late, at 3 p.m. for Seattle our final stop northwest Montana a few miles from Waterton, Alberta. With daylight for several hours on the Summer Solstice we arrived in North Dakota with its one-stoplight towns like Malta and Glasgow (where a large family of Amish from Indiana detrained). Atop the Bakken formation‘s mammoth oil reserves discovered in 1953, we sped past glacial drumlins and kettle moraines, oil tanks and grain elevators on the old Burlington Northern tracks. Stark and desolate, though it was of course next to the railroad tracks.
Our “superliner” sleeping car, launched in 1979 and purportedly upgraded in 2005, looked its age. After hoisting a heavy suitcase up a tiny cast iron step onto the train ( no redcaps here!) the Oh Nos began; the roomette was far too small for two people who had to sit stone cold upright ,knee to knee. I begged a disconsolate attendant for an upgrade to a bedroom for an extra thousand each way but no-go though several were empty. We made for the dingy observation car, first come, first serve musical chairs style and at 6 p.m. gloomily headed to the dining car. No North by Northwest here, just tubby strangers squeezed in next to us for pre-prepared airplane food. We avoided the mussels like grim death.
The 2006 fire on Red Eagle Mountain
Then the Struggle for Sleep: the top bunk was dangerous to ascend without a ladder (there were none) and Jack had to use the tiny armrest and bolt up onto the lurching mat. How is it up there? Pitch Black. Can’t Turn Over. Afraid I’ll fall out. The lower hard cot was hard but at lesat there was light, and the loos, small as an airplane’s, were down a long flight of stairs. Don’t ask about the lone shower.
Glacier 1911 and 2009
More than thirty long hours and 1,500 miles later what a relief to get out of there into the fresh air of the northern Rockies and to walk across the tracks to the red cedar lodge which opened in 1913 three years after the park itself. Though in dire need of renovation it was impressive with 48-foot high three-story Douglas-fir colonnade in the lobby though the rooms had not altered in a hundred years and were freezing in the 40 degree weather.
The lodge sits on the sovereign land of the Blackfeet Nation, Alongonquin speaking Piegan people who have lived here for 10,000 years. As on all of the 310 Native American reservations in the country, the judgments of American courts cannot be enforced in a well intentioned but obsolete system that has perpetuated poverty and welfare dependents — full blood, half blood and scores of “wannabees” according to our Blackfoot guide Kammi. It is difficult to get bank accounts or credit since the nation does not honor American contracts so she was saving up tips to put a tin roof on her bungalow. Land is held communally everyone owns it so in effect no one does and they can’t get clear title to the land and collateral from their mobile homes.
Kammi, one of the 16,000 members of the tribe, is a firefighter on the Hotshot Team that battled the 2006 conflagration of 64,000 acres on Red Eagle Mountain that will take 40 years to recover. She lives in Browning the headquarters of the 3,000 square mile reservation, a desolate trailer park of ramshackle dwelings with rusted cars just like the ones we saw last year in Wyoming, with rampant alcoholism,(Kammi said if you give a buck a can of beer he’ll disappear for a week), a high crime rate and 80% unemployment. There is a small casino next to a Holiday Inn with 300 slot machinea and a bingo parlor but the money does not filter down to the people. Though tribal reform is needed Chief Old Earl Person the 90 year old legend from Browning is still lobbying for indigenous people rights in D.C. John Two Guns White Calf (1872-1934), memorialized in profile on the American buffalo nickel is buried in Browning.
Glacier National Park has a million acres of forests, alpine meadows, lakes, 150 rugged peaks (many 10,000 feet) and glacial-carved valleys; sadly only 25 rapidly melting remain of the 200 a few decades ago. We joked, “They should call it Melting Glacier National Park.” This vast pristine “Crown of the Continent Ecosystem,” now includes some 300 buffalos which were wiped out in 1890 but a few years ago the Blackfeet imported some from Canada. We saw one baby mountain goat but no bears or grey wolves. though hikers were warned that a big grizzly was stalking hikers, their bear spray of no use.
One day one we took a boat ride on one of the eight deep water glacial lakes the sacred Badger Two Medicine Lake in mist, then rain, then descending fog past cascading Aster Falls, on the Continental Divide. The next day Kammi drove for eight hours up the vertiginois narrow winding impossibly steep 50 mile highway, built in 1930, the Going- to- the- Sun Road (there being no Blackfoot word for west) and reached the highest point in the park, Logan’s Pass where the impenetrable downpour forced us had to turn back. The road was steep with sharp drop offs and tiny stone barriers that made the Amalfi coast road look spacious. It was too dangeous to proceed on the road downhill to the west side of the park past Never Laughs Mountain and No Name Lake to Apgar Village.
In the front seat l could not see the yellow line and was imagining headlines, “SUV falls 10,000 feet into gorge killing all.” (A car fell just there a few days ago). Despite the peek- a- boo weather going back past Babb and St.Mary’s there were breathtaking mountain vistas and the scale of the starkly empty glacial landscape was such a contrast to lush Yellowstone! Four soaking wet middle aged back country hikers (must have been Brits) waved us down desperate to get a ride back into town since the ranger service not operating for another week. Kammi said she would send some emergency vehicles.
The return journey was predictably uncomfortable, sleepless and starchy and when we arrived, late naturally, back at Union Station, I vowed, to the cheers of cynical Amtrak employees, to write to CEO Richard Anderson. The former head of Delta has been so focussed on profit and the bottom line since 2017 that he has sadly neglected our national long distance network routes; in fact he intends to break up these routes completely in favor of Northeast corridor commuter lines, “we’re not here to run a museum.” He has a lot to answer for to me and to you.
It has been a year since I have posted here, busy writing a book WAHOGA, Bror Blixen in Africa. I did pay a long overdue visit to Austin, Texas and the Harry Ransom Center and on a rainy April day toured, thanks to Director Stephen Enniss, the country’s finest research library and museum, located on the campus of the University of Texas. The Center’s sheer number of scholarly materials, 42 million manuscripts, one million rare books, five million photographs, and 100,000 works of art is astonishing. The collection continues to expand had after 57 years finally received the balance of the Arthur Miller papers.
Curator Jessica McDonald gave us an in depth look at the photography collection which in addition to the earliest known surviving photograph by Nicéphore Niépce, 1823, contains the works of Julia Cameron, Lewis Carroll, Walker Evans, Cecil Beaton, and some taken by my father Richard Lee Adams. Born in the Lone Star State in 1908, like Harry Huntt Ransom, he took large format photographs in the 30s and 40s.
Austin is decidedly non Texan, the fastest growing city in America, young, trendy, cosmopolitan, commercial. It sure ain’t 1960s Texas Tech where I saw cow pokes riding to the Ag school on horseback. It is an industrious hive of historical societies, preservations societies, museums, archives, histtorical commissions, the LBJ Library, where Robert Caro spend three years poring through the million documents.
We were tourists not travellers in Apuglia (I prefer the older word) setting out to see as much as possible with a guided tour. It was a trade off to be sure, more a quantitative than qualitative experience, but that was fine, the purpose was served. For fifty years I longed to see Bari which my grandmother left forever in 1911, the land of poverty, the Land of Remorse, the land of chronic massacres. It was far more beautiful and haunting than I’d ever imagined and understood why Laura Terrone missed it every day of her life in the New World.
My DNA is half Apuglian; I had expected to see half Italian when I sent the sample to Ancestry which determined the other 50% originated in the British Isles. Instead it revealed 29% Greco Italian, with 21% an assortment of Balkan, European Jewish, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern with a touch of the Iberian peninsula, like a history of the eastern-most region of Italy. At one point in time it was the colony of Magna Graecia where
Pythagoras, Archimedes and Aeschylus lived and where Western Civilization started to flourish.
I could scarcely believe how congested, chaotic and graffiti -strewn Naples was on the drive from the airport to the Renaissance Mediterraneo hotel, a few minutes from the Bay and overlooking Vesuvio. After a sleepless night with singing giovanetti outside our window we spent the next day at the National Archaeological Museum one of the true wonders of the western cultural world housing the Farnese collection and artifacts and mosaics from Pompeii and Herculaneum. At the Herculaneum excavation site later that day a few miles south we walked down into the ruins of luxury villas in what had been a seaside resort for the wealthy, Ercolani, before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. It rained lava here not volcanic ash as in Pompeii which preserved the organic life in the bustling commercial center. Here only a few skeletons remained, in basements near the river bank and scholars are still debating what happened to the people.
The next day we were off to the northeast of Campania, stopping for lunch in the stunning mountain town lying on a ridge between two rivers, Benevento, on the Via Appia between Rome and Brindisi. Founded by Diomedes after the Trojan War it became a Roman colony then a Lombard city and has numerous Longobardian churches where a young Padre Pio worshipped. Trajan’s Arch still stands and from a later moment in time Santa Sofia where the locals congregated after mass then strolled in a colorful passeggiata on the Corso Garibaldi.
Later in the day we arrived at Apuglia’s most prominent landmark, the 13th century Castel del Monte, one of the 92 castles built in the region by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, Hohenstaufen. The dark moody day was perfect for visiting this massive Gothic castle sitting atop a 4,000 foot mountain overlooking the coast from the Gargano to Monopoli and the foothills of the Murge plateau. Equidistant between Chartres and Cheops it has an obsession with the number eight (as in the emperor’s crown!) , with eight rooms, all perfect octagons, on both floors, and eight octagonal towers, one of which we ascended on impossibly tiny steps. There was a lot of climbing up and down streets and staircases on this tour and you really had to have stamina. Most of us were past 60 some past 70 and 80 and the level of activity was considerable though we had not been forewarned.
Passing Cerignola, the storm center of revolt in the early 20th century when peasant farm workers struck against the brutal conditions imposed on them by the owners of the vast latifundi. The green and golden fields of wheat, the endless olive orchards and vineyards of the Tavoliere here in Foggia rolled by the window, once the land of extreme poverty and inhumanity imposed on Apuglians by men from the north who came south after the Risorgimento like carpetbaggers. Latifundism was another reason why millions emigrated from Apuglia.
Then Bari, Bari, Italy. Finally. We stayed in the new town on the Corso Cavour with its grid plan spaghetti-thin streets a few minutes walk from Bari Vecchia which reminded me of a medina in Tangiers with narrow streets winding around and around the port within the fortified castle walls. It is authentico, with a vigorous street, life old men sitting and smoking on plastic chairs, laundry hanging from each balcony, nonnas their daughters and grandaughters making the daily orrechiette and taralli drying them on screens in the sun.
The 11th century Basilica Pontificia San Nicola the vast Romanesque cathedral was my true destination, the church which my grandmother sent money to from America, $2 at a time, for stained glass windows. It was startlingly half Roman Catholic, half Orthodox, housing the bones of Saint Nicholas ( Santa Claus of legend) a Turkish bishop adopted by the Barese when 62 local sailors stole his relics from Myra in 1087. in the lower crypt babushked Russian women and Orthodox priests prayed before his bones at the silver alter behind a silver screen. Every May the 17th century statue, right there still in the basilica, is carried through the streets of Bari down to the sea by sailors. That St.Francis of Assisi prayed here and that my grandmother sometimes wore the Capuchin robes and scapulas of the Order of St. Francis was emotionally powerful.
At dinner In a trattoria on the Piazza Ferrarese, overflowing with Barese on a warm Sunday night, we had the best meal of the trip, with the main ingredients the mellow, fruity Apuglian olive oil and dark red wine from the Primitivo grape. It was virtually vegetarian, true cucina povera, rapini with orrechiette, fava bean puree, wild mushroom ragu, stacked eggplant sliced paper thin, ceci. Mussels and some veal made an appearance as almost always in Apuglia where I never saw chicken or beef because it is too expensive to raise cattle to maturity. The brown grainydurum wheat bread was a revelation.
Bari has a long gracefully curved harbour and busy port, which was in October with the blinding sun still too hot to tarry on for long. One can only imagine the 100 to 120 degree temperatures in the summer which justifies these long siesta hours when everything is chiusa from 1.30 to 5. Everything still was this October, much to the tourist’s annoyance The port was a point of departure for the Crusades and the entry point for a dizzying array of conquerors including the Lombardian Dukes of Benevento and Muslim Saracens and the Byzantine emperors of the Levant . From the Neolithic, to the Peutians, the Messapians, the Greeks, the Romans, Swabians, Normans, expecially the Normans, the Longobards, the Angevins and Aragons and the Turks. It seems everyone who had a fleet raided this part of the Adriatic coast.
We checked out of the Hotel Oriente and boarded the bus to Lecce at the beginning of the humble Salentine peninsula, the southermost part of the heel. Deemed the Florence of the South, the Athens of Apuglia, the Florence of Baroque, all meaningless terms because it is perfect as it is, remote Lecce has now been discovered by Helen Mirren, Gerard Depardieu and countless Englishmen. After the great commercial successes of the 17th and 18th centuries the city’s architects embraced Baroque and Rococo decoration carving on to classical facades golden bouquets of stone putti, angels, saints, fruits and flowers as in the gay and exuberant Cathedral of Santa Croce. Though loved by most over the centuries, 18th century Marchese Grimaldi said the facade made him think of a lunatic who was having a nightmare.
There are numerous ornate palazzi where the elegant Salentino citizens lived (who called the Barese decadent Levantines), with Spanish style wrought iron balconies. The Piazza Oronzo is named for the the sainted bishop whose statue looms over countless African immigrants trying to supplement their stipends from Italy by selling trinkets. Though there were 62,000 migrants in 2015 and 200,000 since 2014 in a poor crowded country the Italians are tolerant and kind though the commercial harrassment of tourists continuous. The piazza is constructed atop a wonderful Roman ampitheater that once seated 25,000.
Our hotel was the remote Best Western’s Leone di Messapia (evocatively named for the Balkan Messapians, those Indo European Illlyrians who settled in Apuglia seven centuries before Christ). The restaurant Mbriana Bella was sparsely populated like the hotel and the veal dry and pasta pomodoro, always with ricotta mixed in, bland. Maybe the hotel and restaurant were like many of those optimistically built in the oughts when everyone predicted a tourist stampede to Lecce and the Salentine, which one suspects has not really materialized. Even the luxe high priced masseria like Borgo Ignazio may not have found it easy to attract tourists and one wonders how Francis Ford Coppola’s Palazzo Margherita is faring in Bernalda, Basilicata. This has been called the Great Tourism Fail in the Mezzogiorno with the Italian government using 98% of the tourism budget for salaries and where only 13% of all tourists to Italy venture.
The next night a wine tasting at the Masseria d’Astore in
Cutrofiano a few miles south of Lecce took place in a fortified farmhouse on a grand Salentine estate carefully restored by orthodontist Paolo Benegiamo who lives there with his family. It produces evoo and small batch wines mainly from the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes grown in their vineyard. We started dinner of with a Malvasia Bianca, then a Negroamaro Rose and on to two Filimei Reds one a year old the other five years made from the Aliarico grape. They were clean and crisp though lacking
L’Astore studiously makes biodynamic wines, subsidized by the government, using purely organic grapes, with no synthetic chemicals or mechanical irrigation and no added ingredients. That the harvesting and planting respect obscure astrological rituals detracts a bit from the credibility of this monoculture. The masseria was once a 16th century frantoio ipogeo and still retains the underground olive mill, in the original cave where olives were crushed and made into golden liquid for consumption for London street lamps. The workers were too poor to use the oil themselves and the subterranean conditions under which they labored to produce the oil was visibly worse than Dickensian, dark, underground, damp, with low ceilings which forced the men to remain bent over. Mamma mia!
Apuglia has olive trees some which still bear fruit though they predate the birth of Christ. Before the xyella fastidiosa outbreak there were about 60 million trees and some estimates claim over a million trees or more have been lost since 2013. The olive trees here are much larger, gargantuan even, than in Tuscany and like the people of Apuglia because they have had to struggle for survival in a harsh land they have grown tough, reaching deep down to reserves of strength.
The next day we drove through the Val d’Istria the lovely undulating Trulli Valley, stopping by Ostuni ,the White City, dazzling on a high hill about five miles inland to evade pirates. As usual in Apuglian towns it was repeatedly sacked, has a colorful but treacherous history, a riot of Norman churches, palazzi for the aristocratic familes past and present, winding streets and alleys with shops and family restaurants. English and German tourists flock here.
Tourism in Apuglia is usually promoted with endless photos of
Alberobello which until a hundred years ago was the lair of brigands hiding in thick woods and preying on travelers. Today the hundreds of picturesque trulli, the bee hived shaped conical houses that resemble farm tool sheds in the olive fields, are one or two room dwellings. Built of local limestone slabs their triangular roofs have Messapian roots with enigmatic icons and varied rooftop spindles. They tell the tale of the woodland town Sylva Arboris Belli and powerful Count Giangirolamo in the 16th century who told his feudal serfs to build houses without mortar to be easily dismantled to evade tax collectors.They are gleamingly whitewashed, with walls of several feet,perhaps one window and are charming en masse.
The restaurants were closed even before the magical siesta hour because of nearby construction so we spent our time walking up and down the hilly town about to close for the season. Sometimes called Trulliville with its endless tiny, poor tourist shops, it has chic weekend second homes for rich Milanese or Barese. Our hotel for the next two nights, the Grand Hotel Chiusa de Chietri, again far out in the suburbs, was built as a luxurious spa paradise with magnificent landscaping and spacious public spaces but alas had fallen on hard times perhaps because the working class English trippers tolerate substandard everything. Our feisty American tour group complained that the carpets were wet and the mold everywhere including the questionable bathrooms.
Otranto Otranto — where had I heard that? Was it Byron? No it was the Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (he had never been there but liked the sound of the name) the very first Gothick novel kicking off centuries of vampires and monsters and other nonsense. Bari and Otranto were ruled by the catapan of Byzantium before the explosion of Christianity in the middle ages, the 11th -13th centuries, when ruthless conquering Muslims were replaced by equally ruthless and even more cruel Catholic Normans, those footloose mercenaries who passed through Southern Italy in 1015 on their way back from the Crusades and by 1050 were powerful enough to defeat the papal army .
The capital of the Terra d’Otranto and the easternmost point in western Europe, Otranto seems like a Greek town. The Norman cathedral’s floor is the most important mosaic in Apuglia depicting the struggle of good and evil perhaps predicting the Turkish invasion of 1480, still called the sacco, which wiped out the town of 12,000 leaving only 800 who were canonized as saints.
We were however getting a tad churched-out so hurried up the steep hill to the cathedral then descended to the seaport to look at the meeting point of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. We bought a gelato at one of the few places still open at the end of the season and I thought of our trip to the seaside towns of northern England a few years ago when shuttered shops greeted autumn’s visitors. But there was one more important place to see.
Matera was once in Apuglia but today is the Sassi city on a hilltop in Basilicata. The bus was parked alongside a long string of buses about a mile from the center of the town of Matera located on top of the Sassi cave dwellings. We were herded on to a viewing platform as we had in Alberbello here with Italian tourists and their families taking selfies before the spectacle of the troglodyte village.
My grandmother often told me that people lived in caves in Apuglia and now I knew she was not exaggerating as I stood before a ghoulish stage set from a production of Dante’s Inferno. The caves carved into limestone ravine, treeless and desolate, a fortress standing above the plains and the Gravina River below. Although sassi existed in some form since Neolithic man they remained throughout the millennia dire peasant dwellings for the poorest of the poor in one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, like Aleppo. For several centuries the city was entirely underground hiding in a dense forest so invading Saracens could never see it from above.
Down, down, down Escher- like steps into the old city hewn we see limestone rocks, tufa, high above the river and plains, past the newer sassi now 4- star hotels and boutiques and second homes (some call it Tribeca) down down into the vertical chaos of the old city that was exposed by
Carlo Levi in Christ Stopped and Eboli. When it was published in 1945 a horrified government forced the evacuation of the population of 15,000 who lived with their animals in the filthy underground caves. They were moved into sterile new housing blocks, destroying the community, but in 1986 subsidies were made available to renovate the sassi and grotto churches cutting costs in half and in 1993 it had recovered enough to be declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
Ah would that we had happened upon this astonishing vision by chance in another era. Today the city of Matera with 60,000 residents with its elegant 18th century square with palazzi and restaurants was just declared the 2019 European Capitol of Culture. After viewing all the momento mori skulls and crossbones on the cathedral we grabbed an aperitivo at Hemingway’s Bistrot on the via Riobla Domenico. Yes. Hemingway again, even here in the Mezzogiorno. This man was a historical menace.
Such melancholy thoughts accompanied me the 200 miles to Sorrento. through Basilicata’s mountains that resemble the Dolomites which after the flatness of Apuglia was a shock. Both regions of the Mezzogiorno are still poor compared to the rest of Italy with over one quarter (some say 75%) of young men unemployed. One of our guides Simonetta told me with that characteristic menefreghismo that there were no opportunities in the south and that she will probably be stuck in her job forever if she choses to stay here. Many young people have already jumped the train out of there since Matteo Renzi’s master plan to resusitate Apuglia seems to have stalled.
Sorrento was a mass of humanity spilling off the sidewalks, so exquisite, so picturesque, so polluted with unregulated tourism, here on the beautiful Tyrrhenian. The Cristina Hotel had a spectacular view of the coast. You cannot ruin the beauty of the natural setting of the peninsula, the red clfffs against the blue sea and the golden light.
We took the bait and went to Capri via the hydrofoil, then on to a waiting speedboat that zipped around the gorgeous aquamarine grottoes (though the Blue one now off limits) past scores of boats some with divers. Then we were crammed into a funicular for the ride to the Piazza Umberto a seething scrum of comically overpriced shops and restaurants. We did get some stunning tourist shots from the Garden of Augustus at the base of the Krupp mansion but this was not the Villa of Jovis of Tiberius or the Capri of Graham Greene and Debussy. One needs to go to the private parts of the island for that and there was no more time.
One of the pitfalls of being a tourist is the relentless momentum of it all, when your brain cannot keep pace with your feet and spectacular sights flash by with one’s dwindling comprehension. I will have to return to Apuglia some day as a traveller but I will always be grateful for this chance to see what I have always dreamt of. Ciao
November 22, 2014
At the Union League Club, with its fine art collection including a first -rate Monet, was a book signing luncheon promoting Anjelica Huston’s latest autobiography Watch Me. A nervous local actor Kevin O’Connor asked her pre-approved questions warding off any soupcon of spontaneity and posing the inevitable question about being Hollywood Royalty. The 62 –year- old actress (intelligently free of plastic surgery) said her family was more rag tag gypsy than regal. Even that seemed scripted.
No slave to fashion on this freezing Midwestern day (for the New York book party she wore a black dress and diamond brooch) the actress-producer was coolly cordial and of course very much aware of being Hollywood Royalty. Estranged from her father as a girl she said he and Jack Nicholson were “two big rocks” in her life; she shared the loony actor’s advice “Never give brown presents” whatever that means and never mentioned her late husband sculptor Robert Graham.
Her mother, killed in a car crash when Angelica was 17, was an Italian restaurateur’s daughter from Brooklyn (way to go!) and they lived in the Little House on Huston’s estate in Western Ireland while he and his girlfriend lived in the Big House. She lamented that opportunities for women in film in Hollywood are few, worse than they were 40 years ago, “the boys should be more magnanimous when it comes to sharing.” Sensitive and a bit wounded by life (who isn’t?) she loves animals more then homo sapiens and offered universal advice: Never panic on a horse. Horses feel your heart. Breathe and let go.
A propos of horses we see The Daughters of the Famous, Spielberg, Bloomberg, Gates, Springsteen are now ubiquitously, conspicuously and ineluctably On Horseback.
Our friend Mary Daniels, a true horsewoman, and the Tribune’s art and design writer for many years died this month. If anyone has spotted an obituary in the newspaper please inform. Mary was pursued and lionized by PR hounds for a generation then poof !
Drove over to Fulton Street to visit art galleries and turned back due to absolutely no parking spaces. None. Not one. How do businesses survive there? Speaking of the art world have you been following the Perelman-Gagosian lawsuit revealing the dirty side of a huge tradeable asset these days when the Mugrabi family of the Caymans offered more for a rather dull Twombly than Perelman and Gagosian broke his promise to sell it to him.
We enjoyed the Royal Oak presentation at the Casino of Clarissa Clifford, Baroness Clifford of Chudleigh, interior designer, second wife of the 14th Baron Thomas Hugh, stepmother to Alexander who appeared with a Kardashian on Filthy Rich, chatelaine of Robert Adam’s Ugbrooke House in Devonshire. She showed many slides of her impressive renovation always with elaborate thanks, with a wee hint of condescension to her “heroes” (Let’s scrap that word for awhile) carpenters and other workmen and so forth.
Today this 17th century cadet branch of an 11th century family runs the stately home as a series of businesses, sand, gravel, waste, special events venue for weddings and conferences. This financial model appeared half a century ago with Longleat and has proven successful even without lions and circus tents
Alastair Bruce the historical advisor for Downton Abbey has had rather a time of it with anachronism checks, such as reminding actors NOT to go around hugging one another or stuffing their hands in pockets like the always poorly behaved rebellious Duke of Windsor invariably did.
At the invitation of a friend Monroe Trout, investor wizard and Ayn Rander, Randolph Churchill and his sister Jennie gave a lecture in Knoxville, Tennessee reading some correspondence of their namesakes Jennie Jerome and Lord Randolph. This was all on a new find, www.Anglotopia.net which we enjoy.
WSJ Magazine writes that Joss Kent son of Geoffrey was fired from A&K, returned, then resigned again in 2011 when the former family company was bought by a large investment group. He joined andBeyond a more au courant safari company with its community oriented Africa Foundation.
The Chicago History Museum, sigh! that name change, with relatively low admission rates, $14 and seniors $12, has a recommended memento mori of an exhibition currently on view (anyone who was even near Grant Park has been on a trip down memory lane recently). The 1968 Exhibit is a rather cramped assortment of posters and soundtracks of this tumultuous year with the most evocative item being a Huey helicopter actually flown in Vietnam. After August and the DNC Maire Daley the First was crowned as Beelzebub.
A bête noir these days (no this is not an old person’s rant, a la Jerry Seinfeld) is the “Cultural Appropriation of Intellectual Property.” We have a Watchlist of Offenders including Town and Country with its articles on Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co. and those ghastly Hemingway women. Basically it is a cynical commercial enterprise exploiting unique and valid cultural phenomena to sell magazine ads.
A petit rant. All is lost when the New York Times reviews the sounds produced by Brittany Spears and Taylor Swift with the same seriousness it once reserved for Renata Tebaldi or Joan Sutherland.
Raine Countess Spencer attended the luncheon of the Foreign Sisters recently in London. Remember when her Upset Stepdaughter Diana threw her down the stairs, or claimed to.
Someone or other said “We must select the illusion which appeals to our temperament, and embrace it with passion, if we want to be happy.” What is your illusion? Our’s is a High Bohemia of the educated and irreverent as in D. J. Taylor’s Bright Young People which cites Anthony Powell, Graham Green, Nancy Mitford and Ronald Firbank, and Evelyn Waugh literary chroniclers of “a society, cosmopolitan, sympathetic to the arts, well-mannered, above all ornamental even in rather bizarre ways”.
At LUX bar Upstairs Adam Umbach and Tom O’Gorman impressed the large crowd with their latest paintings in as good or better a show than you find in many galleries in the West Loop or River North. Nice chat with art lovers Mark Schimmelpfennig, Nora Gainer, Layne Jackson (also of alice gallery), Diane OConnell, Rosie O’Neill, Stanley, Mamie and Cynthia.
Local Restaurant notes:
We dined at Gibson’s several times this month for huge manly portions, great quality control and still the best hamburgers in Chicago. La Luce has undergone a seismic shift from a good red sauce joint to chain restaurant quality food with designer prices. We were not impressed with Dove Luncheonette with Mexican fare a little too porcinely authentic. The James bar is lively but and like drinking in a railway station waiting room.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo tells all the world his girlfriend, a TV cook, tall blond doll and Wisconsinite Sandra Lee is “an extraordinary lady”. Hmmmm. Is that so? Hey da man’s in love!
Malcolm Muggeridge’s papers are rather oddly in Wheaton, Illinois. Notre pere’s photographs have been added to the extraordinary archives of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.
On Wisconsin the alumni mag says that non-resident tuition per semester is now 26 thousand such an insane leap from the 600 when we labored there to pass endless examinations.
Anthony Bourdain’s Paraguay episode is truly compelling history of a sad country decimated by one family’s greed and home to Nazis after the war. It is however improving with oil blabla. Over 9000 Nazis took refuge in South America, and 2000 in Paraguay and Uruguay and thousands more north of the borders.
Encore sorry for the clunky placement of photos with stubborn WordPress
October 8, 2014
At the Newberry’s annual book sale we spent $100 for a year’s worth of entertainment. Edith Sitwell’s autobiography Taken Care Of is a harrowing account of an Edwardian childhood that she survived thanks to Osbert and Sacheverell. In the last chapter she describes a meeting with Marilyn Monroe trotted out like a freakish pony for visiting intelligentsia like Edith, Karen Blixen and so forth.
Painting as a Pastime, 1932, by the Rt. Honorable Sir Winston Churchill notes how he used the art as therapy to overcome “worry and mental strain” during a lacunae in his career after the disgrace of Gallipolli. His Jungian anti-shadow created sweet Impressionist style paintings now in the collection of Chartwell House.
Also bought for pennies, Clive Fisher’s Cyril Connolly, Fawn Brodie’s The Devil Drives a life of Sir Richard Burton (the explorer), Crome Yellow, A.L. Rowse’s annotated Shakespeare Sonnets, Malraux’s Anti-Memoirs, Janet Flanner’s Paris Journals 1965-71, history of Harrow. Diana Cooper’s Autobiography.
Diana Cooper was “an orchid among cowslips and a black tulip in a garden of cucumbers.” In her later years she called Margaret Thatcher “my niece” because her own natural (she was illegitimate) father, the supernaturally handsome Harry Cockayne-Cust, was also the lover of the future prime minister’s great grandmother, a housemaid, who had a child Beatrice ….and so on….
Noel Annan in Our Age calls Diana a déclassé aristocrat like Nancy Mitford. The last of the Mitford lot Deborah Devonshire has been elaborately lauded in obituaries for being the dowager of Chatsworth, and an aristocrat. She preferred Elvis and chickens to reading and once said, “Oh Proust. Shall I try it now or later? I do hope it’s too late.”
The Upper Ten Thousand was a 19th century term to denote Britain’s ruling elite who had divvied up all the land by the 11th century.
The surname Sackville-West is dazzling enough and Robert (“don’t call me Baron”) the current resident of Knole in Kent added an extra frisson at the Casino for a lecture about his latest book The Disinherited, another chapter in the upper classes illegitimate children saga, one of whom was the grandmother of Vita. Fourteen generations of Sackville-Wests have lived in the house which was built for show and always a drain on resources and psyches.
We are contemplating writing a book maybe to be called Keepers of the Piles, about the current residents of the grandest homes, Castle Howard, Knole, Chatsworth, Highclere and so forth. Crime writers and other nincompoops get 15 million dollar advances and we would have a smaller audience who can actually read.
Florence King in the stodgy National Review calls Claire Booth Luce a rapacious, stupid man-eater, another Pamela Harrington putain-type. We were misinformed that brains got the man.
Ken Burn’s Roosevelt extravaganza on PBS dwelled rather much on FDR’s polio and on Eleanor (early model Hillary) who raised the president’s blood pressure to 240 over 150 after every conversation. She loved being the center of attention and never had dinner alone. Teddy was Da Man! but we can never forgive him the slaughter of 11,000 animals including endangered (even in 1909) white rhino during his trip to Africa.
Eric Hobsbawn’s memoir Interesting Times laments the Lost Civilization of prewar Europa and Mittel Europa, a time when there actually was an elite not a pack of phony baloney Hollywood types jamming the canals in Venice; formerly “a place made sacred by building” it would horrify Ruskin and Mary McCarthy today.
The Gone With the Wind revival prompted another viewing and it was utterly impossible to get past the false depiction of the life of African-Americans under the yoke of slavery. As in Downton Abbey it embraced the Myth of the Loving Servant. Read Mary Chesnut or Ella Clanton to see what plantation mistresses were really like, even worse than the thoroughly loathsome Scarlet.
Hugh Lowther, the 8th earl of Lonsdale is a truck driver currently selling the mountain Blencathra (we called it Saddleback in our climbing days in the Lake District.) The mystery bidder probably some “swivel eyed loon” who wants the meaningless title of Lord of the Manor of Threlkeld.
EXPO was bloodless this year, with the absence of those magnificent monumental –scale photographs. Jeanne Gang did a splendid job in the atmosphere-y communal spaces but the identical cubicles, so glaringly lit, created La Nausee.
Free community college to any student with at least a 3.0 in high school. Wunderbar, Now, Rahm, will you address the absurd entrance fees to the Big Five? Those who could most benefit cannot afford to go. And let’s not get started again on the parking costs on Museum Campus.
Fig and Olive served a ghastly tagine with dried rock-like apricots, mammoth stuffed green olives and a deconstructed cold couscous. Prosecco on Wells is still wonderful however and a new rule emerges: let a restaurant prove itself for a year before dropping dollars.
Poor old Woody Allen looked more bummed out than usual here in Chicago for his latest movie premier probably to please backers Ron Chez and Michael Rose.
The new Aspen Art Museum by Pritzker winner Shigeru Ban was deemed an ugly squat box by Holland Cotter. Museum board members of the future should just hire Gehry and be done with it or if he’s busy call Libeskind or Renzo Piano.
A Suddenly-It- All-Became-Clear Moment occurred when director David Steinberg told Robert Osborne how he loved films and how art never really did it for him. All those years racing through the Uffizi or the Alte Pinakothek now made sense.
A Channel 5 survey concluded that New Yorkers, i.e. smart, are the unhappiest and Louisianans, i.e. stupid, the happiest people in America at the same time another survey claimed Utah the happiest and West Virginia the most miserable which makes more sense. Monocle names the top 25 livable cities in the world and only one in America, Portland, borrrrrrrrrrring, makes the cut.
We note that owner Oscar Farinetti’s third food emporium, Eataly on Ohio, is exploiting locally born writer (he left as soon as he could) Ernest Hemingway to promote wares with posters of the Great Misogynist and an idiotic book.
At a recent benefit fashion show at the Fairmont, such an old dark renovated dog these days, we witnessed the spectacle of women coyly parading in front of other women and figured out it was less about the shmatte than about sizing up the competition.
Dickie Arbiter blows another lid off the Diana and Charles teapot, confirming that she was crazier than we thought (if that’s possible) and wanted to murder Camilla.
It’s medically official! We are now, along with many others in the civilized world who drink a glass or two of wine at dinner, “a mild alcoholic.” Makes you want to take up smoking again.
The Secret of Life: Do Not Dabble. We learned that one too late.
July 15, 2014
One hundred years ago, in the summer of 1914, Karen and Bror Blixen had just planted 1,500 acres of coffee in British East Africa when the war broke out, and today as Jeffrey Gettleman reports from Kenya, corruption and terrorism is worse than ever. There are only the rich and the poor, fancy high rises in Nairobi next to Kibera the worst slum in the world and complex tribal arithmetic.
Obama’s father was of the Luo tribe which bred generations of civil servants but when he returned from America he could not find a job because the Kikuyu were in power, the descendants of those Kikuyu we saw in the bucolic idyll, Out of Africa.
Comedic Relief: Kenya, Nigeria, the UAE elite and you mate, can learn how to run a country house, fire staff, write a Christmas card, fold a towel correctly, or make tea in the etiquette school in London, the English Manner (dot com).
Right next door to our dwelling on Astor and Banks, Obama entered the tented-over side door to the Polskys now living in Jamie Dimon’s old house (still looks like a funeral parlor) then a week or so later the corner is named for Ruth Edelman a great courter of the press. We were lunch mates with Mary Ella Smith when Harold was mayor.
Printer’s Row Book Fair was a shove-fest by ten on Saturday but we showed up earlier when the booksellers (that odd tatterdemalion lot) were setting up. We scored a first edition,1941, of Churchill’s Blood Sweat and Tears for a fiver, a physical icon of the past with sturdy leatherette cover, gold embossed lettering, sumptuous paper.
The last sentence is his plea to Roosevelt to join the war effort, “Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well. We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, not the long-drawn trial of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” Such oratory unheard today.
If you are in London this summer head over to the Tate for Kenneth Clark: Looking for Civilization (Good Luck!) Some of you may remember the fulsome television series he hosted about the Western tradition of art. For an enchanted view of an Edwardian childhood read Another Part of the Wood.
China is a land of superstitious peasants. Last year in Switzerland, in contrast to the polite Japanese, they were loud and offensive in public spaces. They are also the force behind the loathsome ivory trade, rhino decimation, and now destruction of snow leopards. The brand new Donggou, a massive theme park with reconstruction of world heritage sites, has a full sized replica of the Sphinx, in reinforced concrete. The Worst! Go see the bloody wall if you must but we’ll stick with Hadrian’s.
By the way, Bravo to Mexico City for barring circus animals! Let Chicago be the next to banish animal cruelty of this dimension.
The Food Network’s Pioneer Woman reminds us there is a big Other America out there on the hard-working farm where folks constantly say ‘yes sir’ after every ‘yup’ and ‘golly’, frequent church basements for pot luck casseroles (killers for urbanites) and abound in good lookin cowboys.
John Maynard Keynes secured 16% annual returns as a money manager from 1922-46. His portfolio included hedge funds and long term value stocks.
Of Nabokov’s Speak Memory Joseph Epstein writes it is, “a reminder of what good luck it is in life to love one’s mother and father”. Indeed! Would that Frances Mayes had heeded that in her recent memoir. The author of Under the Tuscan Sun savages her southern parents in order to create a Faulknerian “Gothic” feel. Shudder.
One gets the distinct feeling Barnes and Noble will soon fade into dust with non buyers treating it like a library, scouring magazines to kill time. We usually skim The Nation and the National Review, very left and very right, both wanly preaching to the converted, knowing their days are numbered.
The Lucas Museum is as unChicago as Trump Tower’s sign which thumbs its nose at Hicksville, and reminds us the coastals think the city is the metropolis in the cornfields.
Pugs, the exclusive London club, recently blackballed homely, abusive ad man Charles Saatchi and the singer Jay Zee. They were however admitted into the T&C 50 Most Powerfuls in the World,(good grief) where the mayor and carpetbagger Lucas also made the cut.
TakiMag takes frequent potshots at the Flyover State as in demolishing the painfully hip Write Club where local scribes compete for audience laughs in “funky” bars. We like Bunky (yes another one) Mortimer’s “Black Tie for Dummies” and his other offerings.
It took a decade to get to Milwaukee to see Calatrava’s Quadracci Pavilion and breathtaking Brise Soleil. Oh that we had a suave new art palace instead of the Ode to Weimar. The MCA gets uglier each time we see it.
The Kandinsy at MMA, a retrospective organized in conjunction with the Centre Pompidou, is weighted heavily on his last phase in Paris, 33-44, when mired in theory- heavy Constructivism he created rather sterile works. His earlier works from Nabi to Blaue Reiter exquisite.
Bierstadt’s Wild River Mountain, Nebraska, 1862, and William Merritt Chase’s Gathering Wild Flowers of the time were a refreshing air filled contrast to the claustrophobic cartoonish Pop art collection.
Local restaurant notes: The Pump’s transformation in the New World Order of paranoid darkness and starkness never fails to remind us of the gaiety of Essie and Irv in white leather Booth One with a white telephone on the table.
Fred’s was empty at lunch; Nico’s louche crowd very Rush Street; Le Colonial a crowded railway station in Orlando/Saigon; make a point of avoiding Brisciola on Damen and dreadful Hema’s on Devon where we had lunch with Susie Kealey and Vikki Jackson after searching for those nifty white men’s cotton Nehru jackets and trousers.
The Sun Times marketed Roger Ebert’s Pulitzer to the max. We know a half dozen recipients of the prize who never created into such a huge brand.
In the TCW issue featuring the 100 most inspirational women in the city we counted only 10% owing their success to fathers or husbands though there probably are a few more lurking beneath the figures.
Candy Spelling is still mad at the late Dominick Dunne for his Vanity Fair piece implying she had an affair with a county commissioner later jailed for extortion. The old gossip also wrote about Gary Condit and Chandra Levy’s murder for which he was sued. That still stung when we had over drinks at the Four Seasons when Nick was in Chicago to visit Conrad Black just about to enter the hoosegow.
Maureen Dowd’s show-offy ‘I Have a Way-with-Words’ columns seem composed by leagues of graduate students. She blamed Cheney and W, easy targets, for 9/11 when in fact it was Clinton who was asleep at the wheel, wink wink nudge nudge, when the debacle being planned.
David Pollock on the success of Bob and Ray, the funny men of olde (now on uTube), which came down to “how to seem lusty and purposeful when less than nothing is going on.” We know exactly what that means.
If you haven’t seen the Faberge egg of a movie The Grand Budapest Hotel do so. Divinely ersatz MittelEuropa the ancestral home of the Budapest Bombshells, Eva ZsaZsa and Magda, the Kardashians of their day.
Consumer Reports: a $2 nail polish, Sinful Color, beats Chanel ranked the worst at $35 based on wear.
Do you ever read www.secondcitycop. blogspot.com? It gives us updates on the “Rahm and Gary Show” and insights into wildings and other local phenomena.
The Duke of Northumberland had three of the five best sales at Sotheby’s disappointing Old Masters auction such as Gilbert Stuart’s Mohawk Chieftain Thayendanegea, AKA Joseph Brant from 1786.
Sorry for photo quality; WordPress has fiddled with the mechanics of blogging again.
June 1, 2014
During this six month hiatus we had surgery and treatment at Prentice Women’s Hospital, very grateful indeed to live near Northwestern! Dr. Erie Dell Adams our late aunt from Lubbock, Texas once admonished, “if you go for one of those tests they’re sure to find something.”
Writers need something to write about, Greene in Liberia, Orwell in Burma, Waugh in Abyssinia but here we are offering observations about The Lives of Others culled from books. Henry Hitchings’ Sorry! the usual pack of clichés about the mother country writes,“Anglophilia means loving not the English, but the more archaic fragments of the English past.” So it is.
Pamela Mountbatten Hicks’s Daughter of the Empire is a hard headed, unsentimental personal history of the waning years of the British Empire. Her parents, Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, and Edwina (rather a bolter) loathed Wallis Simpson as much as the author does, “Princess” Diana.
The Cincinnati Museum of Art (in Ohio!) announced its Celebrate Diana exhibition on the same day the Murdoch hackers revealed the traitor princess dropped Buckingham Palace’s telephone directory, the Green Book, into their laps in 1992. Oh dear!
Fiona, the current Countess of Carnarvon, an accountant from Cornwall, met her then-married husband Geordie the 8th Earl in 1999 at a fundraiser. Following up her book about Almina Rothschild an American who bailed out the 6th earl (King Tut), her recent tome is a soft soap version of the life of the 7th earl and his American wife Catherine,(Mayflower and Robert E. Lee descendant). William Cross’ Catherine and Tilley about Porchy’s two beleaguered wives much more fun.
Servants by Lucy Lethbridge reveals that the so-named had to face the wall when their employers entered a room, so much for the confidences between maids and mistresses in Downton. Fellowes got that one wrong.
P.G. Wodehouse in 1945 wondered what to do when, “one is a specialist in country houses and butlers, both of which had ceased to exist.”
Well they do exist, physically, as hotels like Cliveden or corporations where heirs can still live in designated quarters providing they promote tourism to pay estate taxes. The grandest manse of them all is Castle Howard (not technically a castle) in the North Riding of Yorkshire. In 2012 we visited after many a summer, the swans were still there and we were pleased it had not been ruined by dollying up. No dreaded interactive displays benighted the Baroque beauty and even the requisite Brideshead exhibits on the second floor were a haphazard afterthought. The Temple of the Four Winds is still in a glorious Gothic state, moss, mold and crumbling stone.
Third son the Hon. Simon Howard was recently in Chicago to stimulate tourism, however unlikely that Americans ever venture that far north. Recently the very wicked Fourth Estate followed up on the old Vanity Fair piece about the woman who sold her soul for the castle, who recently moved into a “ small, whitewashed cottage in the tiny hamlet of Wharram-le-Street………which could hardly be said to boast anything resembling architectural glory or historical significance.”Rebecca Seiff Howard , second wife of Simon, is rumored to have a boyfriend.
Artemis Cooper’s life of Patrick Leigh Fermor who Somerset Maugham called ”that middle class gigolo for upper class women,” was gorged with facts, the reason we dislike biographies. Absurdly handsome Paddy was a celestial, transcendent travel writer with a cultish following, a reminder that in the middle of the last century there still existed people of education and culture in a frontierless unchartered Europe.
The editors in chief of the New York Times and Le Monde who happened to be women were both fired on the same day, for poor management and abrasive behavior. Women simply must learn to be better top dogs. That Jill Abramson seems rather a crass piece of work, with the usual signs of potential top-blowing at poor staff! Good Grief!
Alexander Cockburn’s A Colossal Wreck excoriates another boss lady HRC (Hillary) and her husband Bill, a cunning Slobovian. He urges us to recall “her commodity trades, or her membership on the board of an incinerator company, or her treatment of the employees of the White House travel office.” Her robotic memoir Hard Choices is not one of the best of the Obama years as is Robert Gates’ Duty where he describes Rahm Emanuel as “hell on wheels” with ADD and Biden the abiding dope most take him to be.
Chicago Life magazine clearly states its writers do not accept gratuities. The other Chicago glossies do not tell us when hotels, dinners and airfare are paid for by the subjects of the articles, thus blurring the line between editorial content and advertising. Tsk.Tsk. If we missed the statement that the writers paid their own way at the Four Seasons in the Maldives or Costa Rica and Panama or the Qatar then excusez nous.
Despite the tiresome bad boy act Anthony Bourdain stars in some fine travel programs on CNN. The segments on Congo and the Punjab were profoundly interesting, forcing one to think about the third world after “liberation” from European civilization. Now we need the brilliant Paul Theroux to get on the boob tube. Before you go on your next manicured safari-package read Last Train to Zona Verde: Namibia the bloodiest country in the world for the savage sport of hunting. You must love a man who writes, “I have a hatred of taming animals.” We do too. A bird in a cage actually makes us physically ill as do zoos and circuses which should be abolished.
At the dark unwelcoming Newberry a little celebration of Shakespeare’s 450th ( “Were I in England now, as once I was.”) recalling that the Shakespeare Theater’s first production in 1986 was staged on the roof of the Red Lion on Lincoln when the Fabulous Cordwells welcomed all things from their native land.
The Little Ice Age lasted from 1350-1850 reminding us that weather is cyclical due to changes in solar radiation, volcanic activity and ocean circulation. The planet has been warming since the middle of the 19th century everything sped up of course by the Malthusian Nightmare (whatever happened to planned parenting?) that has become the world, where honeybees have been decimated by pesticides and bats by wind farms.
Gay Talese:” Anybody who seriously believes they’re improving themselves through some product, either a cream or a surgeon’s needle, is crazy. I have seen so many once-lovely women misguided in having surgery done, and they look worse. Even Jackie Kennedy had a bad job.” A bientot