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Tuesday, July 31, 2007


To most folks, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is located on Museum Mile, Fifth Ave., New York City. But up in Ft. Tryon Park at the northern end of Manhattan, its medieval art and architecture collection is housed in The Cloisters, a magnificent building, actually the incorporation of five medieval cloisters from southern France. Germain Bazin, former director of the Musée du Louvre described it as “the crowning achievement of American museology.”

The Cloisters has an interesting history. Much of the sculpture was acquired by G. Grey Barnard, a collector of medieval art who maintained his collection in a churchlike building on Ft. Washington Ave. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. acquired that collection, financed the acquisition of 66.5 acres for Ft. Tryon Park and the building of a new structure, and also purchased 700 undeveloped acres across the Hudson River in New Jersey to insure that the view from the Cloisters remain pristine. He contributed from his own collection including what I love most in any Cloisters’ visit, the Unicorn Tapestries—“The Hunt of the Unicorn.”

The Cloisters is not a free museum. The “suggested donation” is $20.00 but you may donate as you wish. We take the audio tour, always a plus at the Met. The tour costs $7.00 but is free for those hearing impaired.

Architecturally, the buildings focus on the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Wandering as we wish and listening to descriptions and explanations, we are also rewarded with discussions of exquisite stained glass windows and panels, detailed illuminated manuscripts, sculptures, frescoes—you name it, it’s probably there.

I’m always fascinated by the Unicorn Tapestries. These seven tapestries representing the story of the hunt combine so many elements of art, mythology, and Christianity that it takes a long time to digest the different theories and interpretations. Additionally, there are many flowers depicted in the exquisitely intricate weaving, some of which grow today in the Cloisters’ gardens. Questions remain—whose initials are embroidered in the fabric, for instance. Also amazing is that these magnificent, priceless works of medieval art from South Netherlands were discovered when they were used to wrap piles of potatoes!

The audio tour enables us to find and understand the symbolism in many artistic pieces. In one triptych depicting The Annunciation, the audio identifies the different characters portrayed including the patrons who commissioned the painting and Joseph in his carpenter’s workshop. We are directed to examine the details included by the artist—even to following the path of the arrow shot by the Holy Spirit toward Mary. Without the “tour guide’s” explanations, so much of this painting as well as of the other works of art would be lost to many visitors.

Visiting in the warm weather adds another dimension of beauty: three of the reconstructed cloisters’ gardens include flowers and herbs featured in medieval art and poetry—some of which are not even available in the U.S. Signs designate the use of individual plants, and it’s interesting to see which was used medicinally, for color dyes, as antidotes to poisons, etc. There doesn’t seem to be anyplace in the Cloisters where I cannot learn something.

In the garden, two wonderful plants grab my attention. The first is thistle. Rob feeds gold finches all summer, and they, as well as other finches eat thistle seeds. It is interesting to see a thistle plant, tall and beautifully bright purple. The flower is heavy with pollen and two insects, sticky with white spots are doing their spring chores, gathering and moving from flower to flower. The second marvel is the espaliered pear trees trained to grow and split as man dictates. The trees are stately and formal. Lovely.

From the gardens I look out over the Hudson to New Jersey’s Palisades and silently thank John D. Rockefeller for the view. I picnic with my friends on the lawn in front of the Cloisters—a lawn already peopled by sunbathers, bicycle riders, walkers, and others just out to enjoy Ft. Tryon park on a perfect early summer day.

I can’t recommend The Cloisters strongly enough. On any level you approach it, you are surely in for a wonderful and full afternoon.

BELLVALE FARMS CREAMERY--We all scream for ice cream!!

It’s summer; it’s hot; you’re dying for ice cream. The best spot is high atop Mt. Peter on Rt. 17A between Greenwood Lake and Warwick, New York. The place is the Bellvale Farms Creamery, where the most creamy, delicious ice cream is dished out to locals, hikers on the Appalachian Trail (crosses right there), visitors to Mt. Peter Hawk Watch, and commuters who find driving by difficult.

Just a bit of background. Bellvale Farms has been operating since 1819—seven generations of family farming—and still it is re-inventing itself to deal with a changing world. You’ve got to look at their website to understand how marvelous a place Bellvale Farms is. It’s a lot more than its wonderful ice cream.

But back to the ice cream. Atop Mt. Peter, you overlook the beautiful Warwick Valley, and it is a view that awes. Spring, Summer, and Fall and Winter (the Creamery is open until Christmas), you’re treated to the bounty of Nature no matter where your eyes gaze. Arrive as the sun is setting; you’ll be spellbound.

You’ll have to pick up a brochure to explain the great flavors, but I’ll share a few with you. The complete menu is on the website. The ice cream, by the way, is made daily.

Coconut: Coconut ice cream with chocolate-covered almonds (my fav)
After Dinner Mint: Mint ice cream, a hint of chocolate with chocolate-covered mint pieces
Calf Trax: Vanilla ice cream with peanut butter swirl and mini peanut butter cups
Maple Cinnamon: Maple cinnamon ice cream with a cinnamon caramel swirl

Need I go on?

If you feel guilty after the ice cream, you can purchase their fresh produce at the stand. You can also check the websites for events on the farm: Pumpkin Picking, Horse Drawn Carriage Rides, and even scheduled tours to see a working dairy farm in action. Believe me, Bellvale Farms Creamery is worth the trip!


The best trip I’ve taken this month is down Memory Lane, a place familiar to everyone but not always accessible. At our biennial ΣΓΦ (Arethusa) sorority reunion at the Creek Locks Bed and Breakfast in Rosendale, New York, I was able to take that trip-- back more than 40 years to friendships that have endured all this time.

The Creek Locks Bed and Breakfast is a charming, gracious B&B owned by Kate and John McCormick. Kate is an Arethusa sister, and two years ago when they hosted our last marvelous reunion at their home in New Paltz, New York, they spoke about opening a B&B. How wonderful it is to see their dream come to fruition in this beautiful 1866 Gothic Revival farmhouse nestled among trees, spreading lawns, and meandering paths along the Delaware and Hudson Canal, a spot pulled out of picture books. It’s a perfect place.

Arethusa’s last sisters may have graduated in 1973, but here, under a big tent, years disappear. Sixty of us--sisters and many of their husbands-- gather to hug, laugh, catch up, sing, and smile at the scrapbooks and photo albums, some declaring, “You haven’t changed a bit!” even as others point and quietly ask, “Who is she?”

There’s wine, beer, music, and the loud chatter that Rob says always occurs when women get together. It’s glorious. Most of our children have flown, and many of us are grandmothers, but unlike reunions of days gone by, discussion of that aspect of our lives is dispensed with quickly. No one pulls out a personal photo album. We’ve reached an age where we are interested in each other because for most of us, we’ve graduated into a new stage of our lives.

It’s great to hear about Jane and Bob’s new house in Rhode Island near their children’s families. They’re expecting an additional grandchild. Others talk about downsizing or moving down to Myrtle Beach where one can easily get a New York area flight so family can come and go. Great to see my “little sister” Kathi is doing so well, and we promise, again, that we WILL get together. Good to see Nancy, too, and catch up about her and her son. Doris, class of ’44 is our most senior sister, and she brings a basket of homemade potholders as presents for us. That’s sisterhood at its best.

Some of the people I haven’t seen in far too many years—Liz and Doug, Ed, Mary and Bob, Mary Ellen and Greg, Alice—they’re there. The years just melt away, and we are able to pick up where we left off last time, whenever that was.

It’s also nice to see sisters I’ve come to know, not because we went to college together but because we’ve met at luncheons and reunions. That includes our hostess, Kate, and our Treasurer, Linda. Linda and I do a lot of emailing back and forth, so it’s nice to have a face-to-face every once in a while. Although we didn’t get much of chance to talk, Fran from PA is another sister I got to know a bit at our last reunion. No matter what the class year, we all seem to have things in common.

We try to get the news about sisters who aren’t at the reunion. Everyone is in touch with other sisters, and so there’s always news to share. Good to hear a bit about Cookie, T-Bone, Leslie and Toots. Nice to hear that a California sister, Hillary, will be in at the end of August and that maybe I’ll get a chance to see her. It’s been far too many years!

There’s always singing! Maybe our memories are a bit short, but there were so many songs and it’s always fun to sing “Hey Arethusa’s Here” and “The Call,” songs by which we were identified in college. Those memories do not fade away!

I know I haven’t begun to touch on everyone who attended—but I know my reactions are not unique. It was a good day for everyone. Some advice—if you have a reunion of some kind coming up and you’re torn about going—GO. You just might have your version of my trip down Memory Lane, and you won’t be disappointed!

Sunday, July 29, 2007


When a non-fiction book read as fiction and the result is startling and almost difficult to believe, I know I've found an intriguing book companion. Erik Larson’s #1 National best seller The Devil in the White City--great title--is a highly researched account of both the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition AND a diabolical mass murderer who used the special aura of the fair to commit his heinous crimes. It is also a riveting look at power: its definition and its irresistible allure for those who use it for both good and evil.

Coming shortly after the France’s Exposition Universelle in which Alexandre Eiffel unveiled his tower and amazed the entire world, the Chicago Fair sought to out-Eiffel Eiffel and prove to the world--and to the eastern cities of the U.S.--that Chicago, despite its well-deserved reputation as the nation's slaughterhouse (and all the filth and odors that accompany that reputation) was a place of refinement and beauty. Its architects could design a fair that would never be forgotten.

The task of designing the fair and bringing it to life was snagged by Daniel H. Burnham and his partner John Root. Burnham, years before, had been rebuffed by both Harvard and Yale after doing poorly on admissions tests. He had his own ax to grind. He wanted to prove both schools made a mistake in not recognizing his potential. He sought glory to vindicate himself and to bring the riches and prestige he desired. How he does this and how he enlists the genius of such men as Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of Central Park and North Carolina’s Biltmore Estate is only part of the story. Burnham was not the only man anxious for power, and the various struggles among geniuses seeking to secure their places in history is astounding and incredible, once again proving that truth is stranger than fiction!

Meanwhile, in the shadows of monumental development and artistic genius, another man slinks along bent on satisfying his own lust for power. For him it is power over women. Chicago in the 1890s lured a new type of woman, one anxious to be her own person, willing to work for her independence and desperate to leave the monotonous routines of hometown life far behind. Exactly the women H. H. Holmes sought. He, too, was a genius—but an evil one.

As I followed the Fair's development, I also followed Holmes' ability to create his own amazing fantasy world into which his victims, drawn by his looks and charm, entered only to disappear into his underworld.

The intertwining of these stories and of the men who made history during these years of development creates an exciting rush. The history of the fair and the crimes comes alive, and so do the times. It is possible to envision in one's imagination how Chicago must have been in the 1890s before sanitation was adequate and before housing was adequate. It was a time when dead horses littered the streets, the smells from the slaughterhouse offal permeated the air, and the drinking water ran rancid and dangerous. It was a time when tooth problems might be insurmountable; a cold might end in death, and diseases like typhoid and cholera were common and rampant.

Nevertheless, miracles happen. The Fair out-Eiffeled Eiffel through a fluke and one engineer’s persistence. Burnham once said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” The fair even left its mark on our own times. Walt Disney's father, for instance, worked on the fair, and his elder son Roy's name would have been Columbus had Mrs. Disney not been insistent that it be Roy. Surely young Roy and Walt heard tales of this Fantasyland. Things we eat and use today were first introduced at the Fair, and it is an amazing read to learn about them. I also read other famous names, some who contributed and some whose genius went unrecognized at the time. Even H. H. Holmes' story has twists and turns I did not expect. What happens to him and the way he handles it is a story in itself. How’s this for an intriguing quotation: “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than a poet can help the inspiration to sing.”

The Devil in the White City is a wonderful book. Don't miss it. BTW, each fall the Town of Warwick does a program called One Town One Book. Each of the villages participates in presenting a program over the course of several weeks. This year The Devil in the White City is the book. I'll be the presenter in the Village of Florida on Oct. 24th. I'm really looking forward to it!

Friday, July 20, 2007

THE AUSLÄNDER--Fredericksburg, Texas

Deep in the heart of Texas—hill country, that is—a section of the state basically isolated well into the 20th century, is an area originally settled by German immigrants, and there, among the broken terrain, rocky outcroppings and beautiful wildflowers, is a piece of Texas alive with the traditions, styles, and food of those original Germans. We passed New Braunfels on our way to San Antonio, but while visiting the Johnson Ranch, we decided to head to nearby Frederickburg, Texas for a good old fashioned German lunch—with a distinctly Texas twang.

As soon as we reach Fredericksburg, we regret not having more time to spend here. It’s a great place. Right in town are the Pioneer Museum and the Admiral Nimitz Foundation which does fundraising for the National Museum of the Pacific War. We counted at least six German restaurants and dozens of shops, including one exclusively of antler art, Salt Branch Outpost. (Use the hyperlink to take a virtual look at this shop)

We settle on lunch at the Ausländer Biergarten and Restaurant. How absolutely different from any German restaurant in my experience! The Ausländer is definitely Texas-accented German!

We enter through the rear, a big open area of picnic-style tables meant for group seating, vaguely reminiscent of Munich’s Hofbräuhaus. The latticework ceiling serves as protection from the sun, and perhaps, during the summer months, flowers grow. Table cloths are vinyl, and the Ausländer proudly flies the American and Texas Lone Star flags at its entryway.

Don’t be fooled by the informality of the Ausländer. This restaurant takes itself seriously and claims to have the largest beer selection in the Texas Hill Country. Its impressive list of domestic and international beers as well as its unique draft beer system allows the Ausländer to serve what it boasts is the coldest draft beer in the world, something I like a lot. I choose the Oktoberfest draft and Rob goes for the Flensburger Dunkel. I like the Flensburger bottle!

We are seated inside the restaurant near the bar, but outside there is a quartet playing wonderful music. It’s a great atmosphere—and this is a weekday lunchtime! We like Texas hospitality.

Many of the diners around us are eating other than German food, but we are here expressly for the German touch. Before I tell you what we order, I want to give you a Texas-ized view of German food: “Texaschnitzel: A local twist on an Old World favorite! Hand breaded cutlet topped with ranchero sauce, Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream and guacamole.”

Rob and I select conservatively. We order Jagerschnizel and Wiener Schnitzel respectively. Each is accompanied by a garden fresh salad and a choice of two vegetables: hot German potato salad, red cabbage, potato pancakes, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, or green beans. We both order the potato salad, and it is exceptional—warm and vinegary with diced red onion and bits of bacon. I order the red cabbage, and Rob tries the potato pancakes, admitting that my homemade ones are better. I like that. But the meal is nice; the beer is good; the atmosphere is German Texas. It’s altogether a very pleasant way to spend part of the afternoon.

If you get to the Ausländer at other times, you might try a Thursday evening when Texas Rebel Radio broadcasts live. There’s live music Thursday through Saturday. If you want an Ausländer tee, they’re available. The back says, “Life is too short to drink cheap beer.” A thought to ponder.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


With so many delays in flights—legit or illegit depending how you look at it—it is wise to give yourself added time between connecting flights. I know, you don’t want to hang around an airport, but hanging around for an hour or so is better than being stuck there until you can find a new flight. Give yourself at least an hour, but two is even better.