Save the Everglades

March 21, 2015

 

cork2We spent much of the wicked winter in Naples, Florida where dangerously wealthy retirees and their ubiquitous wives, mainly from the Midwest, spend the cold months. Save the physical beauty, the warmth, the palmettoes it could be Oak Brook, Illinois, with a similar demographic, builder’s mansions, malls and golf clubs. Etcetera.

Biblical rainstorms plagued us from Chicago to Savannah so we saw little of the city Sherman stormed in the War of Northern Aggression. The landmark Riverfront Hotel, a converted cotton warehouse on the Savannah River, was casual at best, with that disturbing southern racial divide as in black staff, white guests. The same syndrome appeared in Paula Deen’s buffet restaurant, no more inviting than Waffle House. Forsyth Square featured in the hothouse fantasy Midnight in the Garden etc. was invisible in the storm.  Some other time, perhaps.

St. Augustine was celebrating its 450th anniversary in the somewhat bedraggled historical district with its chilling Spanish fort where the European assault on Florida all began. The skies lifted in Naples just in time to see pelicans plunging balletically into the Gulf against a blazing pink sunset. We had passed the tropical Mason Dixon into Southwest Florida where the foliage and climate become Caribbean, colorful, exotic. Which is precisely why it is so suffocatingly, chokingly overcrowded with cars, condos, people, shopping centers. In 2014, over 97 million tourists visited Florida, and with 18% of the state water, and 20 million residents no wonder it has a higher density of population per square mile than California.

Captiva

Captiva

In February the Imagine Solutions Conference, a TED- style think tank where retirees can have the Renaissance Man Experience, took place at the Ritz seeking “general solutions” to world problems. Over 600 seekers paid $600 for lunch and to listen to local healthcare experts in a state with the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the nation.  One seeker exclaimed, “holding a conference like Imagine Solutions makes a lot of sense in Naples, where there are so many smart retirees looking for something to do.”

Ah yes! Something To Do!  A Plague of Volunteers is much in evidence at every turn in this city of 20,000 with the world’s largest chapter of the Circumnavigators Club. Each week the Naples Daily News lists 200 plus events and club meetings, for soroptimists, optimists, orchid lovers, pastel painters, rubber bridge players, alums of Notre Dame, Delta Gamma, Midwest high schools, the list endless……stock options, canasta, Corvettes, DAR chapters. Philanthropy is High Sport.

Florida is recovering from the Great Recession and yet more gated communities are breaking ground with land grabbing golf courses called Chambord or Tuscany (even a St. Lucia!)  developed by Lennar builders. In 2015 SWFL tops the nation in job growth and a hot housing market and Naples and Marco (a sea of coastal) are exploding reminiscent of the 90s when Carl Hiaasen’s Sick Puppy described “Trucks, bulldozers, cement mixers, cranes, gasoline tankers….Here’s where the yacht harbor will be dredged. There’s where the golf courses go. That’s being cleared for the airstrip. And everywhere else: homesites. Very expensive houses also condominiums and townhouses and even some year round rentals. Duplexes and triplexes.”

1956Sadly and ineluctably Florida’s unique fragile ecosystem will not sustain the onslaught of even more prosperity. Though many of the winter billionaires have become feel-good conservationists their efforts are too late; the next generations need to make a buck from the weather, the weather, the waters, the waters, the exploitation of the fragments that remain of Old Florida.

There are facsimiles of Old Florida, like zoos for flora, called “preserves” that give one a sample of Nature in the past. The Southwest Conservancy has a patch of mangrove swamp near the heart of Naples, offering half hour electric boat tours down the Gordon River where one can see the expanding number of houses and the Bear Claw development lurking on the perimeter. Only a matter of time!  The Naples Botanic Garden has 90 acres of a river of grass, a restored habitat which you whip by on a path before entering the gift shop. There are state parks and endless environmental learning centers but it’s all….well, you know.

Corkscrew

Corkscrew

The Land Preservation Trust and the Conservancy are dedicated to saving wetlands but this year saw a very steep decline in wading birds’ nests, and sightings of egrets and herons and ibis. Corkscrew Swamp is 13,000 fragile acres of wetlands where the ancient old growth cypress, 100 feet tall, are submerged in a shallow slow moving river. So beautiful! So refreshing! A chap in a Tilly hat and walking stick emerged from the forest as we were about to enter the two mile boardwalk and mumbled sadly, “This is the real Florida, the old Florida.” The Romance of the Swamp. We saw  a couple of mammoth gators, two tiny turtles, two squirrels, two anhingas and one lonely white ibis in the hour’s walk though the Audubon guide said panthers and woodstorks are coming back one of the many promised sightings over the months.

We spotted two dolphin fins on a boat tour of Naples Bay and listened to numerous teasers about manatees but none materialized amidst all the racing speedboats. What we did see were ugly McMansions being constructed by corporations and syndicates, many foreign, and left uninhabited. They say 20% of the estates in Port Royal are empty. A panther was found hiding in a backyard of one of these rented mansions having swam across the bay from Keewaydin Island, a 22 -mile preserve. The cousin of the American cougar  is losing more and more habitat and there are weekly postings of how many were killed on highways like I-75, 2014 being highest and 2015 surpassing that already.

Anhinga

Anhinga

“The growth is coming. The growth is coming.” warn local newspapers about Fort Myers. Today the blue collar river town, where in 1881 Hamilton Disston from Philadelphia came to dredge and drain the Everglades, is seeing a building boom on the Caloosahatchee River, nice but not the Gulf. The main attractions are the airport and the Edison Ford Estate, 20 acres of experimental labs where the great inventors tried to find a cheap source of rubber, from goldenrod to banyan trees, for auto tires. The gardens by Olmsted are stunning but tough to navigate with the mobs.

 Old Florida, or what remains of it, became increasingly alluring as we took refuge from Mercato, Venetian Bay and Waterside (jewelry stores, sweatshirts and kitchen supplies) and escaped south to Everglades City for our annual crazy-fast airboat ride through the mangroves this time led by Shaun. Born on Chokoloskee Island as his father and grandfather were, this wiry Cracker lured a few raccoons out of the mangroves with Cheetos. The only Confederate flag we saw during this trip (and the only one since West Virginia!) was on a crabbing boat outside the Triad Café here which sold blue stone crabs.

16th century

16th century

The city was, as so many in early industrial Florida history, a company town built by another Everglades drainage outsider Barron Collier and is today a real backwater. The Rod and Gun Club hosted five presidents seeking great hunting and fishing and today is a restaurant.  The 11th Annual Marjory Stoneman Douglas Festival in the wee Museum of the Everglades, the Old Laundry Building, built in 1927 was organized by Friends of the Everglades. It was founded in 1962 (the Rachel Carson era) by the conservationist when she was 78 the media age of the club members listening to Seminole Indians talk about powerful women in their culture.

There are six Seminole reservations in Florida but the Seminoles are long gone and you need only one-fourth Indian blood to be a tribal member now. The tribe is more involved with the Immokalee casino and live in their own gated communities though the history of the tribe resonates. A loose amalgam of many southern tribes, they welcomed runaway slaves before the Civil War and after the Seminole Wars retreated deep into the Everglades rather than be forced onto western reservations.

msdFrom Everglades City it’s a short drive over a causeway to Chokoloskee Island, a Calusa Indian shell mound, where the Smallwood Store founded in 1906 was a trading post in the heart of Ten Thousand Islands. In 1982 it became a designated landmark and museum. Totch Brown and his pioneer family were born in Chokoloskee and his book which we bought one desperate day in Barnes & Noble in Waterside,  Totch!A Life in the Everglades, is wonderful oral history of the land and the life of this alligator hunter, fisherman, crabber, poacher, weed runner, singer and character of the Western Everglades. He appeared in Bud Schulberg’s Winds Across the Everglades which seems to be running permanently in some cinema or other. The Glades have inspired filmmakers and writers for a hundred years, the best of which is Peter Matthiesen’s Shadow Country a classic of the outlaw life in the Glades.  As usual an informed literary imagination is the redeeming factor in the arduous sport of traveling.

For 150 years wetlands have been considered wastelands to be drained so today half the Everglades is gone and the other half is dying, au revoir to the unique flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world.  What remains of the River of Grass is 2,500 square miles of Everglades National Park, designated in 1947 as a subtropical wilderness of mangroves, hardwood pine forests, cypress swamps and sawgrass prairies. It is located next door to the Big Cypress preserve another 2,400 square miles of subtropical swamp one- third covered with cypress trees.  You can a glimpse of the wilderness with a tram tour at Shark Alley on Highway 41 but no sense of the extent of the national park whose waters are disappearing or being ravaged.

coonsThe Everglades Restoration Plan 30 years and eight billion dollars later fresh water still does not flow in sheets across the sawgrass prairie. Jeb Bush crossed party lines to sign Clinton’s bill to balance restoration with growth management but alas uncontrolled development reigns, traffic, air and water pollution, ever more loss of trees and marches. Newspapers bristle with fights between developers and city councils struggling to preserve What’s Left even if it just a theme park like the Bonita Springs Everglades Wonder Garden.

One day we drove straight east from Naples to Clewiston, past fields and fields of sugar cane plantations and humongous belching sugar refineries, to see what once was the beating heart of the Everglades, its headwaters at Lake Okeechobee. It has of course been dammed up since the 30s by the Herbert Hoover Dike forever preventing its clear waters to return to the Everglades. The Sweetest City in the World now an old former company town was built for executives of the US Sugar Corporation and we stopped briefly at the famous Clewiston Inn where the Windsors once stayed before going bass fishing on the lake. It was dark and empty and the new owner from New Delhi said the restaurant was now closed.

totchWe tried to see the lake but without a boat to go through the locks and levees it was accessible only on foot 35 feet high up so we settled for having a beer at Roland Martin’s Marina. At the Tiki Bar we continued to read Michael Grunwald’s extraordinary book The Swamp, one for the ages, telling the melancholy history of the ruination of Nature in south Florida from the 19th to the 21st centuries.  Apparently the sugar farmers are still back pumping polluted water into to Lake O which is then released into the Caloosahatchee, fouling Estero Bay and continuing on as red tide into the Atlantic.

The March 8th New York Times reports, Miami Port Project killing off coral reef. The Army Corps of Engineers is ignoring environmentalists and creating even more of an underwater moonscape by poor dredging, poor management. It’s all a Lost Cause. “Alligator” Ron Bergeron a Fish & Wildlife Commissioner writes, “you have to decompartmentalize the system to where it has a natural flow from Lake Okeechobee to the central Everglades and on to Florida Bay.”  That will never happen of course.

Smallwoods

Smallwoods

Before we left Florida we had to see Ave Maria a new town founded a decade or so ago by the Domino’s Pizza guy according to the strictest (loathe that word) Catholic principles. This Bizzaro Brave New World has a university whose president Jim Towey is the biggest donor to Jeb Bush.  The alien cult like atmosphere After the Bomb empty with a creepy cathedral where the entire town was at a service on the Sunday morning we appeared.

We should have taken the four hour ferry from Marco to Key West since driving was at gruesome snail’s pace. Eight hours in half way through we gave up at Marker 61 and stopped at Marathon’s Duck Key and the Hawks Cay Resort along with half of the Jersey shore. The Preferred Group hotel definitely needed Leona Helmsley and finding solace at yet another Tiki Bar we could not help but notice the clear aquamarine waters, the exquisite beauty of the lagoon and the breathtaking natural setting.

Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens

Hoping to avoid The Flood we returned home through the Panhandle en route to Alabama’s I-65, the War on Terror Memorial Highway. In all our American travels over the years no state seemed more impoverished than southern Alabama with countless derelict shacks next to billboards for the Robert Trent Jones Trail.  We arrived in Montgomery, trying to exploit its history to draw tourists, this time thankfully Civil Rights not the Civil War, on this the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma. We stayed at Hampton Inn next to the Hank Williams Museum and took a pass on the Zelda Fitzgerald and Jefferson Davis’ homes. We will definitely return to this living history museum someday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anjelica Huston

 

November 22, 2014

 

monet (2)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.

 

photo (39)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 !

 

photo (47)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

photo (53)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.

 

dukeA 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:

photo (45)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

bientot !

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Robert Sackville-West

 

 

October 8, 2014

 

treeAt 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….

EXPO beauty

EXPO beauty

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.

Robert Sackville-West

Robert Sackville-West

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.

At the Casino

At the Casino

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.

Wisconsin Huddle

Wisconsin Huddle

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.

A bientot

 

 

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Door County

Lunch at Maxwelton

August 21, 2014

 

All the chattering about Route 66 induced road trip fever and Door County was only five hours away so off we went. In 25 years, nothing much has changed, still the land of Illinois and Wisconsin tourists in moldy cottages, milling around leather hat and moccasin shoppes waiting for the next meal, breakfast, brats, fish boils and something in between. Unless you’re exhausted from grueling factory work and need to regain your strength …you know what we mean….

In Sturgeon Bay with a hotels.com reservation, we drove straight past a peeling white stucco bungalow on 1st Street, nahhhhhh this can’t be it. It was. A stuffed crow on top of the plastic Christmas tree in the lobby of the Holiday Music Hotel on 1st Street said it all. We wrote a tart email to the site and the even more inaccurate trip advisor and repaired to Maxwelton in Bailey’s Harbor, a once fashionable golf resort and now a bit down-in-the-heels though still fadedly- glamorous.It must have been swell in 1936. Washington Island

Foregoing kayaking, hopefully just a fad unlike the more sociable and even somewhat elegant canoeing, we hiked buggy trails in Peninsula State Park past family campsites, human settlements, ratty tents and tarps, to the American Folklore Theater where on a red bearded preacher exhorted the audience to be all that they could be.

Fish Creek is the liveliest town on the peninsula and we booked a $28 fish boil in a jammed eaterie, dining on laps with paper plates before an iron cauldron that boiled over on cue, transforming whitefish into paper pulp. We asked a bartender what people do off season here? He said, “Drink.”

A car ferry across Death’s Door to Washington Island, a 25 mile gap in the Niagara Escarpment which freezes in winter with shipwrecks and lighthouses created some  sense of drama. (Never did we long more for the ferry to Sag Harbor).

On an early Sunday morning there was a fly-in, a mini-Oshkosh, Pipers, Cessnas, for, yes, a fish boil. Only on Washington Island can you find fresh lawyers, the fish, a ‘burbot’ cross between cod and eel. On the drive back to Chicago we stopped at the Island of Herb Kohler, unrepentant snob, for lunch at Whistling Straits and a return to a somewhat more advanced civilization.

Yokum's

Yokum’s

Our next road trip was longer,the monotonous interstates between Chicago and Baltimore, 13 long hours of the ghastly industrial landscape of northern Indiana and its dirty unkempt bathrooms, through Ohio, thence the high terror of the Ho Chi Minh trail of the Pennsylvania turnpike which has not upgraded in 50 years.

Who were these people lining up at Hardee’s in the plazas? The truck drivers should be on treadmills (why are they not available?) not killing themselves with Cinnabons. And were we the only ones of our tribe who take road trips? Do the others just fly or perhaps rent old beaters and paste on tattoos for class camouflage?

The Baltimore suburb of Columbia is middle American dog-obsession country for NSA employees at nearby Fort Meade and prosperous Asians. We attended a preseason football match between the local Ravens (Poe lives!) and the 49ers, all fireworks, big screen televisions, and thunderous screaming, forcing us to try Zen once more. Our host said he sat next to George Will at a recent Orioles vs. Padres (baseball) game and he was very grumpy indeed when recognized. Oh dear!

Annapolis, the Naval Academy, 300 acres on the River Severn, 4,000 undergraduates in blinding whites and braced shoulders preparing to be Marines or Navy men. Alums include Jimmy Carter, John McCain, Montel Williams, Jim Lovell, and our left-wing  history prof  in Madison, William Appleman Williams. Preble Hall’s museum is a shrine to alums, practitioners of sea warfare with memorabilia such as Don’t Give Up the Ship the personal battle flag of Commodore Perry during the war of 1812, which still looms very large in these parts.

Bloody WordPress will not let us upload other photos into the text for some bizarro reason. iPhone takes poor photos anyway so we’ll return to the Canon next time.

The small city of Annapolis with its 18th century human scale is utterly charming and relatively untouched unlike the manicured reconstruction in “colonial” Williamsburg. It takes however some sincere effort of the imagination to get inspired by old buildings such as the Maryland State House, where the first Continental Congress, 1783, took place now the oldest capitol building in use. We recommend the Old Stein Inn in Edgewater where a lecture in the bier garten was about the remaining (only 35) descendants of Germans in the Maroon country in Jamaica live.

Departing Baltimore, forgoing the usual return route north through Hagerstown and Cumberland that tiny northern strip on Maryland, so beautiful, we drove past Harper’s Ferry, through the Shenandoah Valley’s Winchester and Woodstock Virginia, all hunting, cabins, knives, tractor pulls, drag races, lawnmower pulls and demolition derbys. Country roads, take me home to the place I belong, West Virginia mountain momma take me home country roads.

Then we decided to head towards the Monongahela National Forest and Elkins, West Virginia, the county seat of Randolph County and the Mountain Highlands. Maybe it was John Denver, or Dorothea Lange, or The Song Catcher, but we wanted to visit West Virginia in the Allegheny Mountains, the core region of Appalachia, and the only state completely in the Appalachian Mountain Region. The mountain road winds past the Smoke Hole Caverns named for the Seneca Indians who smoked wild game in them before being relocated to reservations. At Seneca Rocks in Germany Valley near Riverton was a climbing school and a few young people convened outside Yokum’s general store before ascending the needle, Gendarme.

West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1861, joined the Union, and abolished slavery but you wouldn’t know that today here in the High South, the land that time forgot, with the confederate flags still flying on top of log cabins and everything from rivers to restaurants named for Stonewall Jackson. Finally four hours later Elkins, one of Theroux’s “vast number of dying and depopulated towns” in the south. The largest regional municipality it was a boomtown from 1900-20 then died for good sometime in the 1980s.

Though not the Appalachia in last week’s 60 Minutes, poverty stricken southwestern Virginia, in West Virginia you just know that those who remain here, working men, inherit adversity. Elkins is located just a few miles from Sago Mine on the Buckhannon River where 12 miners died in 2006 after grave dancing Palm Beach fancy man Wilbur Ross ignored 21 citations times for toxic gas build up.

West Virginia’s new governor Earl Ray Tomblin is a progressive Democrat and native son who is trying to revitalize a feeble economy. After Wyoming it is  the top coal mining state in the country though exports fell 40% in 2013, population radically declined, and the state is last in the Gallup Economic Index, last in employment to population ration with the revenue growth in the country. There are two different Americas, and life is a lot harder in one of them not just in urban slums but in Appalachia.

We stayed in the showpiece of the town, the spotless but empty Holiday Inn Xpress in front of the defunct railway station, across the dusty path from the American Mountain Theater and the Delmonte Hotel where we just missed the Bluegrass and Southern Gospel Fests. The locals are elaborately courteous and mannerly in an ante bellum way or maybe they were just happy to see a tourist or two. The 1863 Grill with portraits of Robert E. Lee in the lobby didn’t serve drinks so we went to a deserted boarded up downtown and ended up in Scottie’s where the wiry chicken under thick white gravy was inedible. Sunday dinner was eight bucks and the parking lot was full.

There’s no obvious starvation here but malnutrition, bad teeth, and wrinkled, resigned demeanors on the faces of the Ulster Scots’ descendants. Passing up the Hatfield McCoy Trails for jeeps and dune buggies and nearby Weston’s tour of the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum we headed north.

 

Memorial -John L. Lewis

 

Miners mural in Weston

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Obama on Banks

July 15, 2014

Ophoto (2)ne 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).

brantRight 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.

In the Garden

In the Garden

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.

Karen and Bror Blixen

Karen and Bror Blixen

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.

kandinskyThe 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.

Art Lovers

Art Lovers

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.

Waiting for Obama

Waiting for Obama

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.

A bientot

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On Downton Abbey

June 1, 2014

temple1970

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

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Switzerland by Rail

October 25, 2013

Switzerland was warm, sunny, and spectacular this October, always the best time to travel to Europe. Swiss Air, the only nonstop from Chicago, landed in Zurich and we headed out straight away for Luzern. Yes, that Lucerne on Lake Lucerne de rigueur on the Grand Tour of Queen Victoria, Mark Twain, and home of Richard Wagner. Today the old city remains intact, survivor of wars, with authentic 14th century ramparts and wooden bridges, 16th century clock towers and 17th century Rathaus and cathedral.

Smart Switzerland. Quiet Switzerland. In the airplane, the airport, the outdoor cafes with the wool felt knee blankets, in the restaurants and the bare bones Hotel Alpina — the lack of noise was startling, the muted tones, even whispers, of the citizens in public places and — no music. Two weeks of peace, no rap, no Sinatra, a vacation in itself.

Mountains being the raison d’etre of this trip, and trains being the chosen transport, we left the next day for Interlaken in the foothills of the Alps, beckoning in the blue mist. The original Alpine resort, another Grand Tour standard it has Jamesian reminders, the Victoria Jungfrau or Royal St. George hotels now afforded by those from the east, Arabia, India, the Orient. Bollywood films are made here instead of Kashmir so there are more currie, foo yong and kebab places than eateries like the Alps Restaurant where we settled for Rosti the potato national dish in a cuisine that doesn’t exist in the nether cantons. Would that the wonderful Fendant white wine, rye bread and Emmenthaler could sustain one.

Luzern

Interlaken is however the best starting point for a visit to Jungfraujoch, in the Bernese Oberland, an hour away, the ”Top of Europe” with the Eiger, still claiming lives, though not this time when a 19 year old Brit had just scaled a huge rock face on the North Side, Paciencia. Jungfraujoch the highest railway station in Europe has the lowest temperatures and highest wind speeds in Switzerland and is accessible only from the village of Klein Scheidegg where we boarded a special cog wheel train straight up to 13,000 feet to the base of Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger.  Such a thrill to walk on the  Aletsch Glacier the glory of the high altitude Alps and a UNESCO Protected Area, 14 miles long and the largest ice glacier in Europe which sadly since 1950 has shrunk by one third.

The Jungfrau Erlebnis (Experience) was however not for sophisticates and Alpinists, with shrieking Japanese schoolgirls, a dreadful “Bollywood Restaurant”, a phony Ice Palace, Shopping Fun stores, Snow Fun kid runs. Switzerland caught the Kid Bug. in the years we were away as had England as when last year we saw Warwick Castle transformed into a grisly fun fair for children.

An antique steamer slowly cruised Lake Briesz which with the larger Lake Thun gives Interlaken its name, stopping at little wood-carving villages for fuzzy apples, picking up passengers who seemed Scandinavian but were actually speaking singsong Swiss German Schwyzeritsch. After vertically ascending the steep Harder Klum funicular for dinner at the top of a mountain we were off with the Swiss Saver Pass.

Eiger from Kleine Scheidegg

Heading south through landscape that instantly became breathtaking, and more breathtaking a half hour out of Interlaken, The Alps. Gasps all around, windows dashed opened in the rushing wind, iPhones and cameras on high alert. You could not snap enough photos quickly enough. Everywhere you look in Switzerland right around the corner there is an even better view than the previous, absolutely uncanny how absurdly beautiful the southern half of this small country is. Endless valleys with tiny mountain villages in the distance, and cows, glorious, big, subsidized by the government, brown cows, black cows trekking down from high mountain pastures in the annual Parade of Cows. And black faced sheep, larger and heartier than English Herdwicks.

Aletsch Glacier

Mountains and more mountains and finally three hours later, almost into Italy – Zermatt in the canton Valais. A classic ski town it was zwischenzeit, between times, the shoulder season, about to close down in November but due to earlier snows skiers and snowboarders were already taking the lifts up to Matterhorn Paradise Park. It was a stiff climb up Steinmattstrasse to the hunting lodge Hotel Jagerhof where our room had a direct view of the Matterhorn transforming itself by the hour from the cloudy shroud in morning to blazing pink at sunset.

On to the Gornergrat Bahn a high altitude cogwheel railroad all in the open air, no tunnels, was a completely different experience from the Jungfrauloch. From Zermatt to Riffelalp and Rotenboden to the viewing station over the Alps and the base of the Matterhorn we were outside, the apex of Europe, snow laden, cold, another world. So astounding to see lone hikers lighting out in the white wilderness, all glacial ice and a bleak netherworld of white peaks and treacherous steps, a challenge to keep upright. Seemingly every Swiss was born with backpacks and walking sticks, from small children to octogenarians. And yes, they were thin, tall and disturbingly good looking.

The Glacier Express to St. Moritz on the east side of Switzerland was booked up but we took the identical route, on the same tracks by slow local trains, five of them, in a nine hour journey, making all stops along the way. At Andermatt, the largest Swiss Army base, we had lunch watching soldiers on maneuvers. Switzerland has mandatory national conscription, the defense of the mountain paradise very much in evidence in fighter pilots whizzing overhead in formation. There is a huge underground network of hidden fortresses in the Alps and every new construction mandates a bomb shelter with supplies.

From Andermatt up the Oberalppass to Disentis, then Rheinegau finally St.Moritz in the beautiful historic Upper Engadine, the Eastern Alps, a long sunny valley, home of the Romansh people who still speak a Latin dialect. St. Moritz, the birthplace of Alpine resort skiing, celebrating its 150 anniversary of winter tourism in 2014, originated in 1864 when hotelier Johannes Badrutt urged his friends to ski in this insulted valley where the sun shines 323 days a year. There was no wind at all for three days and it was warm enough to walk along the lovely lake in shirt sleeves. We stayed at the Languard Hotel on the Via Veglia with its thick masonry Engandiner architecture built in 1867 and perfectly restored.

Rick Steves hates “the glitz” in St. Moritz, so mild compared to Aspen’s. with all the usual suspects, Gucci, Lauren, Tom Ford and where everything was 25% higher and far too small for Americans. There were even acceptable restaurants the Steffani, the Schweizerhof, the Hauser and three wonderful museums the Segantini, Berry and Engadiner celebrating the local culture. We hopped a free bus to Pontresina (Saracen’s Gate) a chic resort with Engadiner style hotels and ski shops. Arabs made it this far north in late Middle Ages as they did to nearby Samedan but were nowhere in evidence though numbering 400,000 Arabs in country of 7.5 million. There is urban Switzerland and there is Alpine Switzerland, homogeneous, conservative, insular.

St. Moritz from the Languard

The real reason to stay in the area is The Bernina Express slowly traversing over 200 bridges and through 55 tunnels and high viaducts to Tirano, Italy, the highest railway line in the Alps from high glaciers to palm trees and Renaissance palazzos. After the Bernina Pass at Ospizio Italian speaking Switzerland begins and from higher up at Diavolezza you pass the famous Pitz Palu glacier in the Bernina Range the setting of the 1929 Pabst film The White Hell of Pitz Palu with Leni Riefenstahl in her first role. Then the Morteratsch Glacier receding 56 feet a year since 1878 and accelerating to 330 feet from 2005-2006.  The high Alps watersheds of Europe flowing into the Danube, the Rhine and Rhone have a problematical future.

Finally some days in Zurich, grey, Germanic, homely, functional bridges over the lake and Limmat River, no Pont Alexandre Trois here. We stayed near the university in the stark Hotel Bristol, the Bohemian Zurich of Cabaret Voltaire, Dada, and James Joyce, buried here with his family. A trolley tour revealed the other side of this rich city of 300,000 the richest city in Europe, many the descendants of the Celtic Helvetii tribe who Tiberius Caesar conquered and created the commercial outpost it still is.

The aloof, cool descendants of the tribes tolerate outsiders which is what you always will be if not Swiss born. With a federal system of 23 cantons where each has as much state’s rights as here in the States, the Italian canton of Ticino had just banned the wearing of burkas. The tax haven business is under attack by America and some small banks are folding but not UBS with its secret accounts in a country where one third of all global wealth is controlled.  The sheer number of building cranes in the sky reveal all is well here in  this beautiful country with the purest water in the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Middlefork Savannah

 

 

July 15, 2013

O Frabjous Day! Calloo Callay! Summertime and a long walk on July 4th in the Middle Fork Savannah grasslands of Lake County, the weather glorious, the livin’ easy. Unlike forests, savannahs have no dark tree canopies and speckled light shines on the prairie flowers.

Our joy was marred however by a jailed bird at a ramshackle zoo at Elawa Farms where the spectacular redwing hawk perched alone behind bars, so forlorn so forlorn. Remember the redwing hawks Pale Male and Lola who flew free from Mary Tyler Moore’s apartment building across from Central Park?

Met an old friend from the 60s, Barry Schutz, Visiting Scholar of African Studies at Stanford, at The James on Ontario. We laughed about old times in England, at the University of Lancaster, and the blowhard blogger Glenn Greenwald, the puppet master in the Snowden fiasco, obviously trying hard to make a BIG NAME for himself.

The James

The James has hazardous looking garbage littering the lobby but a bellboy said that it was ART. Maybe the MCA should take a look.

Friends and family of Fred Gohl bid adieu at a mass at Holy Name and a celebration of his life at The Arts Club in a touching tribute to a swell fellow organized by his wife Susan.

Louis XIV’s chef Francois Vatel killed himself when the seafood arrived late for a banquet at the Chateau de Chantilly. Today we have sadsack television cooks like Paula Deen or Martha Stewart who refuse to disappear.

“What I want for dinner is a bass fished in Lake Huron in 1920.” William Burroughs.

Self-styled Citizen of the World Orson Welles, a Kenosha, Wisconsin lad, gave hilarious interviews, just published, roasting old chestnuts like the libidinous Grace Kelly on the prowl in H’wood. He found Bette Davis and Woody Allen too ugly to look at, called Wolfgang Puck “a terrible little man” and refused to meet Richard Burton after he married the cosmic joke Taylor. ”The Godfather was the glorification of a bunch of bums who never existed”.

Renoir by Tissot

In Chicago for the unfortunate production of Private Lives Burton called his ex-wife “as coy as a fat owl”. Worth repeating it is so comical.

Speaking of owls the funniest book review we have ever read could just be Dwight Garner’s in the NYT of Terry Eagleton’s Across the Pond which “hauls out that taxidermied owl Alexis de Tocqueville” (will the guilty please rise). Eagleton gives Garner “that most queasy of literary sensations: that of encountering a writer who isn’t as charming as he thinks he is.” (remind you of someone you know?) as he runs the gamut of Brit vs. Yank clichés.

Cynthia Olson, The Best Brit in Town, invited us to the Sustaining Fellows of the Art Institute lecture by curator Gloria Grooms who described the exhibition we all were to see, Passion for Fashion, a real crowd pleaser combining actual 19th century dresses with contemporary Impressionist paintings. Over 800 guests retired to the Piano garden’s Versailles- length great hall for an extravagant buffet but most fun was dinner with Cynthia and Tom Gorman, the real estate guru. At RL we spotted Jocelyn Stoller and Mike Segal with Steve Lombardo and beaucoup d’autres.

Fashion as fashion strictly a middle class urban phenome, depending on advertising to sell shmatte. We prefer the comfortable “rural” Empire style as in Jane Austen or David’s Mme. Recamier. Shopkeeper’s wives submitted to wasp waisted, slope shouldered, tight bodiced, voluminous skirts that kept them in inside the house with all that mass produced Biedermeier furniture (the IKEA of the time).

Sharon

Did you happen to catch Peregrine Cavendish’s tour of Chatsworth? Nice but no Castle Howard. The duke said that there is no more English aristocracy but gave his son the estate in the last gasp of primogeniture, only providing something or other for his daughters. The next Duke of Devonshire title is a photographer who goes by the name Bill Burlington.

Jolly Posh the English food shop on Montrose sells the usual Heinz beans and Branston Pickle but could spiff the place up a bit. You don’t have to be that English after all.

Oxford donnish sex symbol 49 year old Niall Ferguson has a new book The Great Degeneration , how over regulation is ruining the West along with the education system which perpetuates a mandarin class. He apparently wants socialism and capitalism at the same time. Niall, darling, don’t let the fool’s gold of popular publishing waste any more of your time.

Tom' O' Gorman's Plein Air exhibit

Aren’t these Big Concept books always a bore anyway — and off the mark? We recently read David Halberstam’s  American Century published in 1991 where he tapped Japan as the next super power with no mention of China.

Best Boring Rag that Used to be Somewhat Readable: The Chicago Reader.

Women should never ever be photographed standing next to Gwyneth Paltrow—they invariably look dumpy and short not to mention ungroomed. The ubiquitous actress was recently bestowed a “Renaissance” Award at the Siskel Theatre.

A previously beautiful TV “anchor” as seen in a recent online column is now a candidate for the Meg Ryan Funny Face award. And no the 86 year old Queen of England should not lose 20 pounds and get all dolled up as has been suggested by some in Chicago, Illinois.

Renaud Hendricks’ Belgian Bakery on Walton charges a few extra pence for buttery croissants but they are worth it.

Barry

You are invited to join Lydia De Chakov and Symposia on the First Thursdays of the month at noon at the Shanghai in the Peninsula. This week we were joined by dress designer and fine artist Yolanda Lorente and Tom O’Gorman who will be exhibiting his paintings at O’Brien’s in August with Adam Umbach.

We chatted with Tom and Joan Cusack, unforgettable as “Cyn” in Working Girl, at Judy Maxwell’s, her shoppe that is an artwork in itself, with Edwardian jewelry, antique nightgowns, paintings by Dorian Allsworthy. Unfortunately they have to vacate the premises on State by August 31s. This little strip of street has been a mess for years.

Golfer Sharon MacGregor visiting from Chandler AZ met old friends like Diane Angstrom, Ron Luccicione, and Jack Reynolds at the East Bank Club. Joey remained at home in the west but we drank to the health of this most psychically brilliant African grey who roams uncaged.

Middlefork Savannah

We counted four policeman on every corner of Michigan Avenue one recent Saturday night, presumably so Dubuquers can feel assured they won’t be assaulted by packs of teenagers. Some have blamed the paucity of shoppers in Bloomies as well as Water Tower on fear but it has more to do with monotony of goods offered in a Coachified World.

Sur La Table is now at 900 Michigan but is no Williams Sonoma, so cluttered, and let’s face it you don’t need 97.5% of these kitchen gadgets. Anyway the Kitchen, Cooking, Chef Craze is OVER! Finito! Kaput!

In 1972 Angela Davis was found not guilty by 12 white jurors on charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in the death of Judge Haley killed by guns registered in her name.

Go rent Gosford Park written by Julian Fellowes a bracing antidote to the saccharine Downton Abbey .

Peggy Noonan versus Maureen Dowd. Both are annoyingly predictable. Column writers a thing of the past anyway. Shake up the mix a bit.

Pauvre Ami

The UK offshore tax shelters are Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Island, Cayman (you knew that) and Bermuda.

Bill Ayers memoir Fugitive Days came across our desk recently – what a naïve dumbbell this guy was – and he’s a university teacher?

” I let out a ghastly laugh when I thought of anyone saying over my battered corpse, He died doing what he loved.” Paul Theroux

 

 

 

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