Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Notes from Barbara (She's seen Hemingway's Ghost in France!)

She hasn't actually, but it seemed like a good attention getting headline. Barbara's notes from her vacation follow, full of things much greater than ghosts actually, volcanoes.



Who knew when arranging travel plans last fall that despite all precautions, a major disruption (ouch, bad pun) would occur? A volcano.

Actually, we were very lucky, we ended up being stranded in New York City, if one viewed a bonus day in the Big Apple as “stranded,” for just one day. It was fun, really, and since we were staying at my sister’s while she and her husband were stranded in Rome, no real crisis arose. Many travelers were truly inconvenienced and faced real expenses. Those on the European end had some protections from the EU regarding hotel and restaurant expenses, but on the US side, the enforced layovers were costly.

So, what did we do? Met with various publishers for one, did some work.

Two museum junkies us, so we saw in our 3 ½ days: A show on architect Andrea Palladio at the Morgan Library, drawing and models including one of Thomas Jefferson’s design he submitted for the White House, based on Palladian principles such as Jefferson used for Monticello and the University of Virginia. America is actually loaded with Palladian-style buildings drawing on classics principles.

A visit to the Frick Museum at 5th and 70th. Frick left a remarkable collection of art in his mansion for the public to enjoy and, good for him, he did not decree that it remain forever static. Thus changes had been made since my last visit. It’s very much like visiting a home (well, a huge home) to tour the Frick. I was inspired in part to return to it by our visit to Pittsburgh last fall where the first Frick mansion,
Edwardian, and museum are located. Fascinating to contrast the two and see how
Frick, once a collaborator of Andrew Carnegie, scaled up as he grew richer.

The Asian Museum at Park and 70th. Killer restaurant where we had lunch. Excellent show on Viet Nam discoveries and one on Buddhist pilgrimages. We’d not been to this fine museum before but highly recommend it, and its terrific gift shop. The shows obviously will change so check ahead.

The Metropolitan Museum up 5th at about 82nd Street. A gorgeous spring walk through Central Park from the Frick to get there. A fine show, Japanese, from the Packard collection, with a killer scroll in black and white: a river landscape/journey, with poems and drawings. A superb illustrated manuscript show with magnifying glasses provided through which to view the separate page displays. An excellent video on the art of making illuminated manuscripts on vellum. Much documentation on the history of Jean, duc du Berry, as well as the purpose of his book and how it was used. Most of the time you just get to see a page or two of a gem like Les Tres Riches Heures, but here you could view the whole thing, page by page. Some new stuff in the American wing, a revisit of the chariot claimed by an Italian town which the Met is not returning. Coffee in the sculpture court. The Met has gone so smart and now stays open until9 pm Friday and Saturday nights, it’s a happening place, the gallery becomes a bar with music, the NY Philharmonic was doing a ticketed concert
(sold out) for Sunday: what a good idea to use this wonderful building so well.

And finally, in a short trip on our Sunday half day before heading off to Newark and an in-the-end successful effort to board a flight from NY-Toulouse rather than NY-Paris as planned, a visit to MOMA. The Museum of Modern Art featured a Picasso show, early drawings mostly, a living artists exhibition (some nudes we here, we didn’t take the time to go in), and a superb photography show,, the work of Cartier-Bresson. Portraits mostly, and most candid, but urban and country scenes, too. I especially liked the very young Truman Capote and the very manic Ezra Pound portraits. The range of his work, all over the world including scenes inside China in 1947-48 and inside Stalin’s Russia, is shown by huge maps on the walls tracing his routes.

What did we do at night? A dinner meeting. A performance of Wicked on Broadway. I had a night at the opera, Armida with Renee Fleming and six tenors. And we had a dinner for two at a restaurant Rob discovered that was superb: Veritas. Plus a pre-theater meal at the Red Cat. Both highly recommended. You have to run around all day to burn up enough calories to do this, and museums give you hours of walking plus there’s all the toing and froing to get there. Through parks like Central and Bryant and pocket parks and, a discovery, the new High Line Park along the Hudson for a ways, a creative use of old elevated train tracks now landscaped with wild grasses and made into a unique pedestrian thoroughfare. I did the whole length and also grabbed the subway to get down to near City Hall and visit our colleagues at the Mysterious Bookshop.

The real challenge however of our four days in the city was to leave the city and get to France where we were meeting up with Laurie R King in Paris, in theory, and then heading to the Dordogne for some weeks. Rob monitored volcano reports. Our airline, a boutique offshoot of British air that flies only Newark to Paris right now, emailed us updates. Sunday morning April 18 they said they had clearance to take two planes to Toulouse as Paris remained closed.

Now here’s a tip if you don’t travel a lot. When this happens, you must confirm with the airline that you wish to fly, and you wish to choose this option. To do that can mean you call in and hang on hold forever. Many passengers either did not or got fed up after an hour on hold, and so did not get on the Sunday fly list. Rob put the phone on speaker and cooked brunch for our nephew and his wife and so we eventually made it onto the second flight manifest. Thus when we trundled out to Newark we were OK despite the three-hour check in line.

I thought it unfair, frankly, that people originally booked to fly Sunday night got bumped unless they had reconfirmed – you wouldn’t normally think you could be cancelled by other passengers from earlier flights – but the change of destination and the delays meant, one guesses, from the airline’s point of view that a lot of ticketed passengers might not show up. Plus they wanted to move people able to get to the airport and go to Toulouse to France and start clearing backlog.

The flight itself was a breeze and for us, Toulouse was actually more convenient than Paris. But we did end up having to rent a car, drive to the Dordogne, and then
Drive back to Toulouse in two cars the next day in order to retrieve Laurie who had found a flight from Lisbon to Toulouse. We have now memorized the auto route between Saint Cere and Toulouse and know the airport better than our own.

All of which is intended to say, travel is not for the faint hearted or the inflexible. Know yourself before committing.

Part II next: Visiting the Dordogne and Lot.

Part III will be our vacation from the vacation: driving up to Paris via the Auvergne and one of the world’s best restaurants (5th best some say) and an overnight to NY for the Edgars, then some chateaux and some porcelain in Limoges on our way back south to the village we are visiting. Even now Rob is tracking our main luggage which we discover only today has made it to Toulouse. Is yet a third trip to its airport tomorrow in our plans?

Here is where we are dining with or without our luggage:

It’s not just indulgence: this is the basis for Peter May’s 2011 novel, the 5th of the Enzo files about the death of a famous chef who runs a fantastic restaurant/hotel in a small village in the Auvergne. His genius has earned him three Michelin stars and gigs in NY such as shown in the link. So, we can call our visit there “research.”

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