30 May 2012

Night at the Opera

Inside the Metropolitan Opera House. Photo: Michele.

Earlier this month I went to the opera. I had never seen a live performance by the Metropolitan Opera before and was excited. 

I saw Verdi’s La Traviata. Based on the play La dame aux Camelias by Alexander Dumas, La Traviata is the tale of Violetta Valèry, a courtesan dying of consumption. Although pursued by many men she gives her heart to Alfredo Germont who toasts to true love. After a few blissful months together in the country, Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont, arrives and convinces Violetta to leave his son so he may preserve his family honour. Later while attending a ball with her new lover she runs into Alfredo who treats her horribly. He is chastised by his father, who tells him the real reason why Violetta left. Rushing to her side, the two lovers are reunited briefly before Violetta dies.

I picked La Traviata for one reason—Dmitri Hvorostovsky. A baritone who I first saw perform many years ago at the San Francisco Symphony, he has always been a favourite of mine. Not only is his voice incredible he’s also very handsome. He played the part of Giorgio Germont and did not disappoint. When he sang “Di Provenza il mar,” a song intended to remind Alfredo of his family, Hvorostovsky received some of the strongest applause of the evening. He also hammed it up during the curtain call, which was fun to see.

Natalie Dessay, who was suppose to sing the role of Violetta was sick that evening so the understudy, Hei-Kyung Hong, took her place (something that seems to be a trend with my theatre going this month). I quite enjoyed her performance. And Matthew Polenzani did an admirable job as Alfredo.

The set was modern and sparse, decorated with a large clock counting down Violetta’s days. I thought it worked well as a backdrop for the chorus dressed in androgynous black suits and Violetta in a shocking red dress.

And the venue. The Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center is impressive, especially its chandeliers (nicknamed Sputniks) that dramatically glide up to the ceiling before curtain. My seat was all the way up in the family circle (nosebleeds) where the acoustics are amazing but, unfortunately, if you want to see the faces of the performers you’re out of luck (where are those opera glasses when you need them?). 

I so enjoyed my visit, I’ve already checked out the new season schedule for my next trip to the opera.

For more information on the Metropolitan Opera, visit their website here.

23 May 2012

Fruit & Veg

I have a love/hate relationship with Eately, Mario Batali’s behemoth marketplace in the Flatiron District. The hate part comes in to play whenever it’s crowded (which is almost every time I’ve ever been) and the isles and passageways become almost impossible to navigate. The bad lighting doesn't help matters either. But the hate turns to love when I am finally able to manevour my way over to the fruit and veg section.

While I am fortunate to have many choices for groceries in my neighbourhood, Eately has been scoring points with me lately in the produce arena. For a relatively small produce department, they offer a wide array of choices. Armed with a grocery list, I rarely leave an item unchecked. Basics like strawberries, cherries, and asparagus? Check. Tomatoes? Red or Yellow? They have both. Check. Zucchini? Check. How about some Zucchini flowers too for your risotto? Check. And the fresh herbs. Unlike other shops that routinely seem to be out of whatever herbs I need (Whole Foods, I’m talking about you), Eately has a small but strong selection. And the prices are the same or lower than the local competitors. And they even have a vegetable butcher who will chop and clean your vegetables for free (ok, I'd feel kinda strange asking someone to chop up my vegetables for me but I like knowing I could ask).

On a recent trip, I came away with some lovely strawberries and red grapes, zucchini, baby artichokes, and butter lettuce, golden yellow tomatoes, and big bunches of fresh dill and basil. Everything was delicious and affordable (as was the fresh mozarella, bread, and coffee I picked up from other departments). Eately, I'll be coming back (but please figure out a way to improve the traffic flow).

For information about Eately, visit their website here.

Photos taken by Michele on her iPhone (which contrary to what many people claim, is not the same as taking photos with an actual camera).

21 May 2012

Meet the Steins

Left to right: Leo Stein, Allan Stein, Gertrude Stein, Theresa Ehrman, Sarah Stein, and Michael Stein. Photo: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

The other day I visited 27 rue de Fleurus in Paris. I didn't really. But it felt like I did when I went to the Met to see “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso and the Parisian Avant-Garde.” Chronicling the art collecting of the Stein siblings—Leo, Gertrude, Michael and his wife Sarah—the exhibit explores how their patronage of avant-garde painters, particularly Picasso and Matisse, and their famed Saturday salons introduced scores of people to these artists for the first time and had a major impact on modern art.

Although associated with Paris, the Steins were Americans from Oakland, California. They were well-off but not rich; their income was derived from real estate and streetcar investments their father had made. After dropping out of Harvard, Leo moved to Paris in 1903. Gertrude followed that fall while Michael along with his wife, Sarah, and their son, Allan, arrived the following year.

"Woman With a Hat" Henri Matisse (1905)

In 1904 when Michael informed his brother and sister that they each had received $1,600 from the family business, Leo and Gertrude decided to pool their money and buy art, purchasing small works by Cézanne, Gauguin, and Renoir. Unable to afford the masters, Leo decided to focus on new artists. The following year he purchased two works by a little known Spanish painter named Pablo Picasso. A few months later, he paid $100 ($100!) for “Woman with a Hat” by another unknown artist named Henri Matisse (Leo referred to the painting as “the nastiest smear of paint”).

Michael and Sarah, who began collecting as well, were introduced to Matisse, and they became good friends and staunch supporters of the artist with Sarah even taking lessons from him. Soon the walls of Michael and Sarah’s flat at 58 rue Madame were filled with the artist’s work, probably the greatest collection of Matisse at the time.

As the siblings continued to buy, news of their collecting spread and the Steins found themselves inundated with requests to view the paintings. So Leo and Gertrude, who shared a flat and atelier at 27 rue de Fleurus, and Michael and Sarah, began to host Saturday salons, opening their homes to anyone with a reference. For many of the visitors who flocked to these gatherings, it was the only place where they could view these bold new works of art. Some visitors came just to criticize while others were inspired by what they saw. 

"The Bay of Nice" Henri Matisse (1916)

In 1913 Leo moved to his own flat, dividing the collection between him and Gertrude (Leo took the Renoirs, Gertrude the Picassos). Along with her companion, Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude would continue to live at rue de Fleurus for the next 25 years. There she held court, giving her opinion on various topics. By the 1920s, with Gertrude focused on her writing, more writers began calling, including Ernest Hemingway (Gertrude acted as mentor to the young writer and is often credited with coining the phrase “the Lost Generation”). Yet her collection was still a draw for her visitors, and Gertrude continued to add to it, including works by Picasso until the artist who she had been an early champion of became too expensive for her.

Two hundred paintings, drawings, and other items once owned by the Stein siblings are on display in the exhibit, which is divided into sections highlighting each sibling’s contribution. The rue de Fleurus atelier is even replicated. In a space the same size as the atelier (460 square feet), various photographs that were taken over the years to document the collection are projected onto the walls, allowing one to see how the space changed as paintings were added and taken away. This was one of my favourite parts of the exhibit; I stood there for quite a while, imagining what it must have been like to be in that room and wishing once again that I could have a Midnight in Paris moment.

"Gertrude Stein" Pablo Picasso (1905-1906)

I must confess I have never been a big Gertrude Stein fan. Much of her writing is over hyped and her larger-than-life ego hard to take at times. Yet there are some things I do like—her libretto for the opera Four Saints in Three Acts (which is included at the end of the exhibit), the story that she was hurt that Matisse never asked her to sit for him (I like to believe this was one case where her ego wasn’t involved), her later mentoring of young writers, and her Saturday salons, which allowed such brilliant minds to come together. And I do like Picasso's portrait of her. With signs of the cubism that was to come, there is a melding of the traditional with the new in the painting that is so fitting of Gertrude.

While I was most familiar with Gertrude, I found myself drawn to the sections on Michael and Sarah because I knew so little about them. Michael is often overshadowed by Gertrude and Leo; he was known as the sensible Stein (he made sure the family’s business interests were taken care of as well as his siblings). Yet Michael and Sarah’s impact on modern art is just as important as Leo and Gertrude’s. As early as 1906, on a trip to San Francisco to check out damages to their properties from the Great Earthquake, the couple brought some works of Matisse back with them, the first time he was seen outside of Europe (people were reportedly shocked). And when the couple returned to California for good in 1935, their collection became the basis for Matisse's first solo show on the West Coast, influencing a new generation of artists.

By the end of the 1930s Gertrude and Alice had left 27 rue de Fleurus (the lease hadn't been renewed by the landlord), Leo was living in Italy, Sarah was in California, and Michael was dead. Much of their collections had been broken up or sold. This exhibit brings it all back together.

“The Steins Collect” is at the Met through June 3, 2012. For more information, visit their website here.

20 May 2012

Library Lions

One of the many, many reasons to love the main branch of the New York Public Library—the water fountains are lion heads.

by Michele.

16 May 2012


I adore Emma Bridgewater pottery. My daily dishes are the Black Toast and Marmalade pattern, and I have a variety of mugs (my Union Jack one is in heavy rotation). So when I saw that they had some special Diamond Jubilee pieces I knew I would love them.

After checking out their website I came to one conclusion. I want everything. The mug, pet bowl, tea towels, egg cosy, and most of all the Diamond Jubilee Crown. How brilliant is that?

see all of the Jubilee products, visit Emma Bridgewater here.

15 May 2012

Jefferson Market Garden

Walking through the Village on Sunday I spotted some lovely red roses peeping over a black iron fence near the Jefferson Market library. To my amazement, the gates were open and inside I made a wonderful discovery.

Mere steps from busy Sixth Avenue was a hidden garden. Walking slowly along a brick path that wrapped around a lush green lawn, I took in the trees including yellowwoods and crabapples, a pond filled with koi and goldfish, a blooming rose garden, and benches tucked into hollows including one under a rose-draped trellis. I couldn't believe my eyes. How was it I hadn't been inside before?

I soon found the answer. The garden is opened to visitors only on certain afternoons in spring and summer when the weather is nice so I've probably always passed by at the wrong time. I also learned that the site was originally the location of the Women's House of Detention (the library next door was a courthouse at the time). Built in 1931, the prison generated a lot of attention for its art deco design and for stories of the constant noise that rang out from the prison as the incarcerated women shouted down to people below. The prison was demolished in 1973 and two years later the Jefferson Market Garden was born.

Today the garden is maintained by a group of volunteers and plays host to concerts and children's events. I can't wait to return with my camera (I only had my phone that day) and capture more of the garden's loveliness. 

To find out more about the garden, visit their website here

Photos by Michele. 

14 May 2012

Pigs on Grand

No, it's not the name of a new restaurant. There were literally pigs on Grand Street in Soho today. I was leaving work when I noticed what seemed from afar to be two extremely large dogs in front of the James Hotel. Getting closer, I realized that they were pigs, oinking and everything. I heard one of the men with them say something about a special promotion of that breed, and I don't think he meant as pets. Oh dear.

Photo by Michele.

11 May 2012

Tuckered Out

"Jove decadent" Ramon Casas i Carbó (1899)
Lately I haven't been posting as much as I would like (in a perfect world I would post something every day). But the past few weeks have been filled with long hours at work and more nights than not I've come home, completely exhausted, and collapsed on the sofa with little energy to do much else. Last night I managed to sneak out early to make a seven o'clock curtain only to find myself yawning throughout the play. But I will try to do better. So have a lovely weekend, and look for more tales coming soon.

06 May 2012

Sunday on the High Line

Sunday afternoon I decided to take a stroll on the High Line. Although I live a few blocks away, I have to admit that I don't visit often enough. But the sun was shining and there were loads of butterflies out in force flitting between the 'Pink Delight' sage, and the 'Rhapsody in Blue' sage and 'Blue Ice’ bluestar.'

The paths were crowded with tourists and locals alike but I didn't mind as I was too busy taking in the 'Mount Everest’ ornamental onion and spotting a lone orange poppy.

The view from the elevated park was lovely as well, from the traditional brick buildings to the east to the modern Frank Gehry I.A.C. Building to the west.

Afterwards, I walked through the Meatpacking District before heading over to Chelsea Market to pick up some supplies for dinner. Along the way, I saw a musician moving his piano down the street with his little dog hitching a ride. A perfect ending to a great afternoon.

Photos by Michele.

02 May 2012

Twisted Roots

Reason one million and one that Central Park is so amazing: trees that look like fairies live in them.

Photo by Michele.

01 May 2012

Merry May

Welcome to the merry month of May, the first day of which is a spring holiday for many. There is so much to like about May. There's sunshine, flowers, horse races (the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes), outdoor seating at restaurants, fresh asparagus and spring peas, the storing of winter wools, and a day off of work at the end of the month. Have a lovely May everyone!

Image from
the New York Public Library.


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