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. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


A student preparing for a major role in a musical brought me lilies as a thank you—and lo and behold, they looked beautiful in the afternoon light so I snapped a photo. I think their reddish-purple sings in harmony with the bluish-purple cushions and candlesticks from a dinner earlier in the week if only because there is green, green, green everywhere. You can't have too much of that as far as I am concerned. Love the color. 

The vase is handblown, big and masculine, and was picked up by my father at the Golden Nugget Flea Market in Lambertville, New Jersey. He gave it to me a number of years ago. The mouth being quite small, lilies are about the only flower that fit into it. Bringing it out from storage makes me fall in love with it all over again. Funny thing too: my father died two years ago this week. He loved beautiful, baroque colors and objects, and Tiffany with a passion. I miss him. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cranky Christ

This photo makes me smile—laugh actually, every time I look at it—a detail of a much larger altar painting at href="" target="_blank">Sant'Eufemia Museum in Spoleto, Italy, I snapped it the same day Umbrian Serenades was there to give its last concert.  

Re the title: I'm not sure this is an image of a saint or the creator of Christianity (so to speak), but the title is more interesting that "Cranky Saint," don't you think? Some may consider this irreverent, but I have learned—after many years of singing in church, that a little humor is a good thing. Oh, the things I have seen! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Burning History

I took a walk up Central Park West over the weekend, and was astonished to find the New York Historical Society in flames. Of course, it wasn't burning at all, but this was the effect created by a light sculpture installed in the park-side windows. It was pretty cool until "The New York Historical Society" scrolled before my eyes from right to left, which stuck me as tacky and inartistic. Better to leave the viewer gaping in wonder, I thought. But no, branding is everywhere; although I did hear Abercrombie & Fitch is deleting their logo from their clothing line because kids in their 20's think it passé. I'm with them. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gotham Before the Dark

I'm coming back from Fairway, the Upper West Side market only a few blocks from this location, and snap this photo, one eye on the lens of my dinky iPhone, the other on the sky, which is about to let loose in torrents of rain, which come not ten minutes later. The light is luminous and threatening; a beautiful combination, not unlike the light you sometimes see onstage which takes the viewer into another world. Dark and wonderful. This is Gotham. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Umbrian Serenades: Amazing Meals

Melon & Prosciutto Salad at Hotel dei Duchi 

Beautiful White at Il Panciolle 

Truffle Pasta at Il Panciolle 

Gnocchi with Wild Boar Sauce at Il Panciolle 

Incredible Bruschetta with Monini Olive Oil 

Wild Boar Stew at Ristorante Sabatini 

Grilled Vegetables at Il Panciolle 

Farewell Dinner at Hotel dei Duchi 

My fourth Umbrian Serenades experience this past summer was a complete joy from start to finish with wonderful friends making music, having fabulous dinners and beautiful wines. Really, I had so much fun, I often forgot to take pictures; these photos being just a sliver of the amazing meals I had.

The binding agent of Umbrian Serenades is, of course, the musical aspect, which brought out the best in everyone. Having been involved for four seasons, I can say that each successive year has been a deeper and richer experience than the one before—a testament to founder Paulo Faustini's vision and hard work.

This year, I found myself craving grilled vegetables, which was a good thing since it meant light lunches allowed me more freedom at dinner. Those incredible first courses like strapazzata di uovo con tartufo (scrambled eggs with truffles) that magically kept being served? I didn't say no. Not a bad way to live, huh? 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Death in Rome: Santa Maria sopra Minerva

How curious to visit Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome for the second time in July and find death all around me. How could I have missed it last year? Yes, I saw the famous tombs the first time around, but this time, it seemed skulls and bones were fairly jumping off the walls. Funny how the eye can look and not see, isn't it? As I stood there and took these photos, it occurred to me that American's don't have the dance with death that Italians of the 19th century had. Not by a long shot. No ornate tombs and extroverted reminders of the grim reaper for us. What do they have? Skulls and bones carved out of marble so exquisitely that you'd think they were the real thing from a few feet away.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Trevi: Chiesa di San Francesco

The trouble with carrying my handy-dandy iPhone around with me in Italy while attending Umbrian Serenades is that it doesn't take very good photos in anything but really good light. That's why I can't show you very much of one my favorite places: Chiesa di San Francesco.

A 12th century deconsecrated church with a 14th century organ (that I had the pleasure of hearing last year) in the beautiful hill-top town of Trevi, Chiesa di San Francesco has incredible acoustics in which to sing. This year I was part of a quartet that sang behind the altar in concert with the larger choir which sang in front, our sotto-voce singing carrying out into the space in a remarkable manner. Really, for a musician this is one of the most thrilling things imaginable; the opportunity to sing glorious music in a space that was made for it is second to none.

My heart soars every time I enter this space, one that I hope you have the chance to see and hear for yourself, hopefully with Umbrian Serenades in attendance! Then you'll be able to tag along to the reception at Villa Fabri, which overlooks the Umbrian Valley towards Spoleto. The view there is spectacular.