Monday, December 29, 2014

Tabletop Christmas Tree

A friend recently remarked that once a tree is chosen and cut (he finds his upstate in a field), it is always the prettiest one, which makes sense when you observe that our brains, whether we know it or not, live in the present, rather than the past or future.

I've featured ours already, albeit in different light. And as far as that goes, this amateur photographer prefers these shots for their softness of light—light which is northern, cool and blue-grey to the eye. I give it a few days at most until the ornaments go back to their felt 1950's sample case, since the greens are more than ready for the tree pits that line each side of the street.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Day Walk

Sheep Meadow 

Looking towards 5th Avenue and Central Park South

Looking towards 5th Avenue 

Frick Museum 

Frick Museum Garden 

St. James Episcopal Church, Madison Avenue 

East 72nd Street 

Bethesda Terrace 

Central Park West 

A Christmas Day walk took Mr. Husband and I across Central Park to the Frick Museum and Madison Avenue, then back across the Park at 72nd Street, where we passed the Bethesda Terrace. It was a beautiful afternoon, with "stormy" light making the towering new building seen from Sheep Meadow look somewhat interesting for the first time ever. More tall buildings will be going up in the years to come, which will significantly change the skyline.

Speaking of building: The Frick Museum wants to build a tower where a lovely courtyard garden now stands (my photo of the Frick with a tree), which is protected by the Landmarks Commission. This kind of proposal having been shot down once before, we'll see what happens. Change is relentless in this town! 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

The photo above was snapped Christmas Eve morning at 10 am, when our local classical radio station WQXR broadcast Lessons & Carols from King's College, England, in real time. I made a pot of darjeeling while listening, and puttered around the kitchen getting things ready for today, when we'll host our ninety-five year old neighbor Charles for dinner (who caught Edith Piaf in his arms during her last appearance in Gotham—she died shortly afterwards—and also climbed the pyramids when he was ninety). Jacque Pépin's steamed turkey is on the menu as it was at Thanksgiving, while dessert will be a chocolate log from the fabulous French bakery around the corner. Sharp eyes will notice that I moved the tree to the other side of the table behind the sofa, where it is more at home in the room. It's an art, is it not, this thing called beauty? I'm still learning.

Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas at The Apthorp

I had a wonderful afternoon lunch with a friend here in Gotham yesterday, whereupon I sailed down Broadway to pick up a Christmas turkey at Fairway Market, passing by the Apthorp and snapping a few photos of its entrance. 

I was in one of the apartments once, which had a huge living room: 30 by 40, with 18 foot ceilings—the apartment had its own entrance right off the elevator, and hallways so wide extended arms did not touch the walls. That was years ago, before the building was taken over and made into condominiums, and the impala-buckback-something-or-other on the gate was gilded. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Bringing in the Green

I told myself that I wasn't going to do very much decorating this year, but found myself with a tabletop tree (see previous post) and garland on the mantel. The later was sourced from a Christmas tree stand a few blocks away. All I had to do was tie it up via existing screws and bring some gilded pine cones and faux cranberry branches out of storage. All in all, that took me about 15 minutes to execute from start to finish. 

The leftover branches found their way to frames, which makes for a very Victorian-styled Christmas; fitting perhaps, since the building was erected in 1895—the whole street of interconnected houses popping up in one fell swoop as I understand it. 

The gilt mirror dates from around 1850, and has been in the apartment since the 1950's, while the framed "green man" is 18th century—or so I was told. And yes, that's a green velvet curtain which separates the alcove kitchen from the main living area. You can see an antique china cabinet in the reflection, which is topped by a few old serving trays which I plan to restore, their current finish being beyond repair, but handy when a serving tray is needed. 

My mother's Seth Thomas is on the mantel, along with silver candlesticks which will receive a shining over the weekend, and a framed letter by Manuel García—a legendary voice teacher who wrote this particular note on his 100th birthday in 1905. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

O Christmas Tree

This Christmas tree business is very early for me, since I usually decorate for the Holidays only during the week before Christmas. But it was snowing in Gotham today as I passed a tree stand a few blocks away, and wouldn't you know it? The pine fragrance hit me in the face, my heart burst open.

Honey! Look what I brought home! And that's really unusual too, since Mr. Husband and I have not put up a tree in more than a decade, since there is no room for one that sits on the floor. But the idea of having a tabletop tree has been brewing in my brain. 

The antique cloisonné pot is in its usual place and is quite handy for champagne. All I had to do was put in antique glass fireplace "coals" that my father gave me as ballast, then wedge in floral foam to keep the tree from falling over, which I covered with moss. Then I trimmed away some of the branches and created a terraced structure—using brown shoe polish to touch up. Up came an old sample suitcase from the basement that I store ornaments in—some antique, some newer, all a riff on the colors in the apartment. 

Garland will go on the mantel in a week or so—no hurry on that just yet, with gilt pines cones (we're talking gold paint, ok?), gold ribbon and not much else.

Only one thing is missing, which is a tree top ornament. I'm thinking purple, pink, silver or gold. But then, I won't know until I see it. Isn't that how it goes?

Saturday, December 6, 2014


A very good friend sent an amaryllis in a pot about 10 days ago, which I promptly watered according to instructions, then watched shoot up like you can't believe. A day or so ago, it started blooming, and, as you can see, has the most amazing red flowers. It's probably not going to last another week, so when it gives up the ghost, the enamel pot next to it on the table behind the couch is going to house its first trimmed Christmas tree: you know, the Martha Stewart number where you trim away some of the branches in order to create a layered effect? I've always wanted to do it, and decided that this was the year. Pictures to follow when I have something to show. Just in time for Christmas. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Scene From a Feast

I asked Mr. Husband to bring back either orange or purple candles; or both—which is what he did, so used them in mismatched pairs, echoing the maple-glazed carrots and purple-red beets. Why be so damn predictable, I thought, while putting out old paperweights next to a small ice bucket with purple tulips, then cutting a pomegranate in half and stuffing it into the golden bird's cavity? Why indeed. The collision of color, crystal and spheres made me smile as did the chutney—a first for this year from the November issue of bon appétit. Savory and utterly scrumptious. 

The Menu

Mincemeat Pie with Maple-Whipped Cream


Hermann J. Wiener Dry Riesling from Finger Lakes, New York and Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup Cuvée Saint Agnés from Southern France

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing you a belated Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, from Mr. Husband and I here in Gotham, where I brought out my large Victorian Chinoiserie Copland platter and cooked up a feast. I found it at the 26th Street Flea Market about a decade ago, and as a result, started looking for other brown & white transferware (that's how it starts you know) and now have a modest collection of compote serving pieces and dishes, along with an assortment of bone and ivory handled serving utensils, some of them snapped up for nothing since moderns seem to have an aversion to anything that isn't stainless steel. (That's what 400 grade sandpaper is for, don't you know, which I keep on hand after I wash them by hand.)

What I love about this serving platter is the blue thumb print which is clearly visible on the front border and accompanied blue finger fingerprints on the back, both suggesting that the craftsman had his hands full and probably worked rather quickly. I suppose I could hang it on my kitchen wall, but it's great to pull it out of storage and see it anew. 

Wishing you a wonderful Holiday Weekend! I'll be making turkey soup

Monday, November 24, 2014

Carnegie Hall: a view not usually seen

Carnegie Hall as seen from the stage during a rehearsal—a view not usually seen. As it is, I've sung there many times over the years as a professional singer and choral artist, and it never gets old. Really. It's a thrill from beginning to end to stand on that stage which was not that long ago in danger of being demolished. This last concert was with the San Francisco Symphony which performed Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé and was broadcast live on New York City's classical radio station WQXR. Click on the link here, and you can listen to the archived performance. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Autumn in New York

Sheep Meadow

Autumn has been beautiful this year, with a lot more color than I remember for a long while with rust, umber, burnt orange, and deep gold throughout Central Park. The night before I snapped this photo (having come back from Carnegie Hall for a rehearsal—then later a performance), five feet of snow had dropped on Buffalo. Here in Gotham? We only had our first frost, which zapped the perennials out front (roses mostly) and snuffed the annuals, and made me take the air conditioner out of the window, which was creating a draft. Then the humidifier was brought out of storage, to keep the piano from being destroyed, the voice from being parched, and viruses at bay—which, my doc tells me, are more easily communicated in arid environments.

Why more people don't think about humidity in the winter is beyond me, especially those who have a feel for aesthetics, since there is nothing worse than being in a beautiful home and feeling like you are in the desert. Of course, too much humidity isn't good either. It's all about balance, which, for me, means filling the humidifier twice a day until spring. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

El Greco and a Walk Through Central Park

Mr. Husband and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see a modest exhibit of the paintings of El Greco this past Sunday (El Greco in New York), walking through the Park on the way home, and finding fall in all its glory.

I couldn't help myself, of course, and snapped a few photos of El Greco's paintings before I heard to female voice tell another museum-goer behind me that photos were not allowed. Oops. Naughty Daniel. But in my defense, I didn't see the "No Photos" sign. Of course, I didn't look for it either, did I? But no matter. What did I see in the one large room of his paintings? Lots of green, more than I remember seeing before. 

His Byzantine iconographic figures stretch and twist towards heaven in a peculiar manner. And then there is his famous painting of Christ holding a cross, eyes all dewy and radiant. Mr. Husband said it looked like a black velvet painting. And I must say, he had a point. 

Then we crossed Central Park, making our way home to a steaming pot of darjeeling and a chocolate confection from a lovely French bakery. 

As I write this words, rain is pouring from the sky, and I anticipate going out tomorrow and seeing  trees nearly bare of leaves. 

That's when I know the long winter has started, even if the calendar says otherwise. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Pining for Rome (or Sant'Andrea delle Valle to be exact)

I took these photos of Sant'Andrea delle Valle with my iPhone while in Rome this past July, having been in Rome for a few days before joining Umbrian Serenades, and making my way to Spoleto, Italy. I'm sure I may have used these photos before, or perhaps ones like them, but no matter: they jumped out at me as I was going through my laptop, moving and deleting photos to make room for its startup disk. (Yes, that's what happens when you spill wine on your old one, and obtain a new one that doesn't have quite as much storage space: you find yourself moving things.)

I love this church, and have visited it every time I am in Rome. Puccini featured one of its chapels in his opera Tosca, which appears in the first act—an opera I've performed quite a few times in traditional and modern productions; one which was black, white and red with a huge cross on the floor; a rip off—you might say—of another (unnamed) production at the Metropolitan Opera which I saw many years ago. But I am sure those of you with opera brains can guess, no? 

Next year will be Umbrian Serenades' tenth season, and I see myself staying at Hotel Mimosa again for a few days, and visiting Tosca's church, with its golden light, saint under the altar, and reliquary doll in the chapel. But that's not what makes my heart sing, which is does every time that I stand in the space. No, that is something ineffable, more sum of the parts kind of thing; part architecture, soaring space, gilt, marble, fine proportions and unmitigated grandeur—the likes of which is hard to come by in Gotham, big buildings notwithstanding. It's the kind of place that makes you, nay, impels you to look up, mouth agape, in awe and wonder. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

All Hallow's Eve

Mr. Husband got his Dracula on again this All Hallow's Eve, scaring the kids on our block, which is closed off to traffic with cars removed—a tradition that was founded by Gwen Verdon in the 60's, hundreds of them trick or treating after the sun falls from the sky. 

I did the makeup as I always do, which brings my makeup box from the opera out of storage. Mister did protest somewhat as he was cleaning up later, saying how hard it was on his skin. "Welcome to show business," I said. "Now you know what it was like to do 8 shows a week!" The only salvation was moisturizer, and it was only partial salvation, since the face really gets abused applying and removing greasepaint. You just learn to live with it, and remind yourself that the rawness you feel is a blessing, since you—lucky boy that you are—are onstage when thousands like you are not. Do I miss the constant performing, now that I am teaching full-time? Actually, I do and I don't. While being onstage is a real kick (and I still perform from time to time), I'm quite happy with my life in the studio, which is another kind of theatre, believe me. 

Speaking of theatre: this photo was taken 24 hours after Jack was lit, by virtue of a long lasting candle which stayed lit all through the night, next day, and then into the second night. We had watched Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" the night before Halloween, so, of course, I found myself carving the face one sees at the beginning of the movie. Grisly fun that. I love the film's coloration and tone. All blues and grays, washed out and monochromatic, which is how I feel now that daylight saving's time has been inflicted upon us. If the cows don't care, why do we? You don't see them depriving themselves of light which one needs as the days grow shorter. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fall in Deerfield

Fall comes to Gotham, of course. But I saw it anew this year in Deerfield, Massachusetts, while visiting wonderful friends this past weekend. Notable, of course, were the huge pumpkins at one house, the kind of which I've seen in photographs in the past, but not up close. The word elephantine came to mind, as well as lumbering, rolling, and crushing. Don't even think about trick or treating at this door!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Weekend in Philadelphia

30th Street Station 

A 24-hour trip to Philadelphia to visit friends meant arriving at 30th Street Station from New York on Amtrak, taking in a Paul Strand photography exhibit (must see) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, then a lovely dinner in Fairmont, one which included Tabarrini wines from Umbria which I had ordered online. 

Center City Window 

The next morning, we had brunch in Center City at near Rittenhouse Square, then walked along the new promenade along the river. A beautiful weekend all around. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Falling Leaves

I was walking back through Central Park from the East Side this past Sunday where I sing for donuts, and come upon fall in the form of a tree that had shed most of its leaves in a carpet of brown—and stood there for a moment, my mouth gaping in wonder. The Climate March was just beyond in the fog, making its way down Central Park West, having drawn more than 400 thousand participants—another kind of wonder which went on for more than four hours. No, I wasn't able to join it, but did cross it—a young female cop letting me wade through the crowd which was courteous and represented by people of every description. I heard later that the major news outlets didn't bother to cover it. No news in saving the planet? Everyone out of town at their Hampton houses? Clearly, it's time for change. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Debo leaves the stage

Dowager Duchess of Chatsworth 

She's the person I wanted to meet while visiting Chatsworth. I would find her at the ticket booth as she sometimes was: the lady of the house "a housewife," as she referred to herself on occasion. But Chatsworth is no ordinary house, and she was no ordinary lady with her love for Elvis Presley, chickens and a good turn of phrase—though you wouldn't have expected her to say she liked her own writing, though she wrote very well. Funny and forthright without trying to be either, you had the feeling you could talk to her about all manner of things. I loved her stories, especially the one about Evelyn Waugh sending a copy of one of his novels with blank pages because he knew she wouldn't read it. 

When her obit appeared in the NYTimes not more than an hour ago, I found myself jumping up and pulling her book about Chatsworth off the shelf. It's one that I've returned to again and again. Of course, I have yet to visit the grand house she brought back from the brink of ruin. She won't be there, in fact, hasn't been for quite some time, having moved into the "Old Vicarage" in a village a short distance away (find a very good interview here), which can be found in The World of Interiors, September 2010. Yet, in some way—at least for me—she always will be. 

Rest in Peace, dear lady. 

Photo Credit: Chatsworth: The House, by The Duchess of Devonshire with Photographs by Simon Upton. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dick, Death & Doorways

During my last morning in Spoleto, Italy, with Umbrian Serenades, I spent a long while at the Museo Archeologico, which is just around the corner from Hotel dei Duchi (where everyone stays of course, the perfect place since it is a short walk from rehearsal space). The odd thing is that I had always wanted to go, but for some reason, never did until this year. 

Of course, I had to put the most salacious photo first, right? It made me laugh when I saw it, and inspired the alliterative title. Did the Romans have the puritan values that still course through modern American culture? Nope. Don't think so. Not if all the phallic statuary strewn around the ruins of Pompeii are any indication. But back to Spoleto... 

I walked around the corner into the Piazza del Liberta, made sharp left down the hill, and found myself at the entrance to the museum after a few paces. There is a lot to see and take in, the photos on this page only giving one a smattering of the articles on display. 

Among the treasures, the most significant is a monument from the sacred forest of Monteluco, which I posted about recently. Of course, did I think to get a picture of it? I am afraid not. To see this most ancient structure, you'll have to see it in person. 

The Roman amphitheater lies adjacent to the museum, the latter looking down on it, from which you can obtain a clear view of its restoration, a great many stones having been used in Spoleto's buildings over the ages. 

A whole room of funeral monuments is contained within the museum, some of them etched in red and black, which seems quite graphic to us now, and quite eye catching, which must have been the point. They were excavated near San Salvatore, of which I have also written in a previous post. 

An arch in the amphitheater, right next to another which has been walled up.

Of course, as I walked through, I had the theme from "I Claudius" on a loop in my head, where everyone is killed off by Lydia who wants to be a goddess. If you haven't seen it, must. It holds up very well. The theme was fitting, I suppose, but in contrast to the music that I had been rehearsing for the past two weeks. 

Arch upon arch, and column upon column.

More monuments.. 

The bowels of the amphitheater...

And a restored arch which frames a modern light. 

What I can't show you is the smell and light which strikes one in a particular way when you are standing and walking through the space. Ancient dust within golden light, swirling in the mind, and bringing to mind plays set at dusk, accompanied by a glorious Umbrian sunset.