Omicron didn’t catch us in the Bahamas

We were superstars about lockdown. We were hermits. We masked. We bubbled. We vaccinated. We masked. We ventured out. We masked. We boosted. We locked down.

Then we cracked. We knew that Omicron might upset our plans to spend 12 days in the Bahamas this month. But as the date got closer we became more and more determined to go come hell or high water. I joked to friends and family that we were keeping ourselves negative long enough so that we could go to the Bahamas and get Covid. We were still cautious, but whatever fear we had about venturing to a country with a 37% vaccination rate was mitigated by the fact that we needed to get the hell out of Dodge.

So, after five flights (including some tiny airplanes where the pilot’s face mask was doing a good job keeping his chin warm), three hotels, and about 10 restaurant meals we managed to get ourselves home without getting Covid.

In addition to staying healthy and getting to spend a lot of time on the beach, it was also kind of nice to let go of some of the fear. We’ve been Pfizered thrice, we were still aware of our surroundings, masking, and reducing our risk…but we started to get over the feeling of being under assault and even managed to stop wanting to assault people who weren’t wearing masks.

First Stop (from my bucket list): Atlantis

For about 20 years, I have been dying to go to Atlantis.–waterslides that require a fair amount of courage, and a lazy river that is actually a Rapid River. Totally brings out the 12-year old in me. John, on the other hand, has been wanting to go to the much quieter part of the Bahamas for at least as long, but has been afraid to show his interest in Atlantis lest I drag him to the Bahamas without being able to go to Harbour Island. But, since Harbour Island was next on the itinerary, he actually had fun.

Either because of Covid or the time of year, it wasn’t crowded at all and we never really had to wait in any lines to go on any of the slides. I would probably like it less if it had been hotter and crammed with people. All in all, I’m glad I went and we definitely had fun, but I’m not sure I need to go again.

We didn’t know if we’d be able to go until 48 hours prior to leaving. But the test came back negative so we were off. We also had a (planned) overnight layover in Houston that had me worried about flight cancellations to Nassau, but United’s vax policy has kept them in pretty good shape and our flight arrived in the Bahamas without a hitch.

The view from our room in The Cove, Atlantis’s more adult friendly hotel onsite. What you don’t see are many more pools, the Rapid River, or any of the crazy slides in the two structures you see across the way. This is also not a bad stretch of beach. (Certainly much better than the beach at the Baha Mar complex about 12 minutes away, more on that further down the page.) I will also say that the food was better than expected. I was particularly surprised at how good room service was.

We originally had massages and pedicures scheduled but we cancelled them because we didn’t want to get Omicron before heading to our second stop.
Second stop (from John’s bucket list): Harbour Island

We had to get tested again to go to another island. Most (if not all) hotel properties have testing onsite that you can schedule once you check-in to ensure you can make it to your next destination (or home). Very convenient.

20 minute flight from Nassau to North Eleuthera, five minute taxi ride to the dock, 10 minute boat trip to Harbour Island, and then another three minutes in a taxi. (You can see me preparing tip money.)

John has wanted to go to Harbour Island for a long, long time. It has a long association with David Hicks and now style maven India Hicks. It is small, and quiet, and has some pretty nice places to stay. The eastern side of Harbour Island faces out to the Atlantic and has, by far, the best beach on the island.

Our resort had bikes you could use. We never touched them…but they make a nice photo. There are very few cars on the island so most people get around on golf carts. That can be a bit dodgy when you are trying to get to dinner in the driving wind and rain. Thankfully I was able to time our comings and goings with doppler radar projections online, so we stayed fairly dry.

The restaurant at the Pink Sands. We had a few meals here.

Our home for seven nights. The bed was blessedly firm.

The sand is so powdery and delightful, and there are no rocks or coral (or weeds) when you get in the water. It’s just absolutely delightful. This might possibly be the best beach we have ever experienced. If the wet sand looks a little pink to you, that’s because it is. Just enough pulverized coral to make it look pink.

I have no interest in being on a wet horse, but they were pretty to look at. Especially as I plowed my way through Lonesome Dove.

The view from our breakfast and lunch perch at the resort.

The nice thing about staying so close to the beach is you can jump in whenever you feel like it. One evening we even swam a bit in the rain.

It could get a tad bit chilly as the sun was going down, but still perfect for napping…I mean reading.

I’ve turned John into a Nevil Shute fan.

Once windy night we heard a thud on the roof which I said was probably a coconut. Turns out it was our umbrella. Couldn’t believe it made it up there and then didn’t blow away again.

Stop 3: Rosewood Baha Mar

Since we were on a tiny plane to get to and from Harbour Island, I wanted to leave us a cushion before our flight back to DC, so we stayed two nights at the Rosewood Hotel in the Baha Mar development near in Nassau. Baha Mar is has three or four large hotels, tons of restaurants, bars, pools, shops, a casino, and a waterpark. What it doesn’t have is a good beach. The one at Atlantis is much better and, of course, the one on Harbour Island was the best.

Originally we were supposed to be on a trip during this period from Singapore to Hong Kong. On that itinerary we were set to stay at two Rosewood properties (Bangkok and Hong Kong). Since we couldn’t do that we thought we would try the Rosewood in the Bahamas. Extremely nice property (and very expensive). But one HUGE flaw was that the fancy lighting system in our room could go low, medium, and high. But it was all or nothing! There was no way to independently operate the lamps or other lights. Was quite annoying for reading.

If the Pink Sands had the best beach of my life, the Rosewood had the best pool service I have ever encountered. This is what happened when I asked for water (after pressing the service button on our umbrella). And they were super attentive. What I don’t show here is the fact that they also served us the best piña coladas of our lives as well. It’s our beach vacation drink of choice, and up to now, our favorite was the lava flow at the Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. But the one they served at the Rosewood is a reason unto itself to stay there again.

We were relaxed enough at this point that we actually kept our massage appointments (with masks) and they too were fabulous. And then one more negative test and we made it home to Lucy.

Gratuitous photos of Lucy

Ever wonder if your dog stays adorable when you’re away? They do. We got regular updates from our friend Sarah who stayed with Lucy while we were in the Bahamas.

I wish I could get this comfortable.
She loves newly fallen snow.
But it makes her tired.
Surprisingly enough, this face does not mean she wants to come in.
And this is what she looks like when we come home.

Bahamian Books

Okay, not really. Among the giant stack I took with us for 12 days, none of them were actually Bahamian, but they were books I read in the Bahamas and about four of them that I finished got left behind on Harbour Island. Not only has it been quite a while since I blogged, but it has been even longer since I actually wrote about books I’ve read.

My stack. I read five and a half of them. I’ll let you do the process of elimination to see which ones I didn’t get to.

The Last Days of America by Paul Erdman

This is a book I picked up at the Book Thing in Baltimore where all the books are free. I tend to find lots of Helen MacInnes and other spy/political thrillers there. I didn’t know anything about Paul Erdman but since they are free, I could afford to make a mistake. I was not disappointed. I think the author had a weird political axe to grind that I couldn’t entirely figure out. He seems to have disliked Reagan as much as he disliked Carter.

The action takes place in about 1985, but the book was published in 1981, so the geo-political and economic situation were different then reality, were sometimes wildy off, sometimes wildly prescient, and always entertaining. Predicting the dip in Apple’s fortunes after its initial success was prescient, but assuming its demise was the part was wildly off. Another bit that was disappointingly off was that he envisioned Reagan as a one-term president.

It is against this Reagan-less Cold War that Erdman weaves his tale of a missile manufacturer who tries to bribe NATO better than Boeing and General Dynamics but then ends up in a weird deal that has West Germany re-arming so they can be the dominant force in Europe. This in itself is prescient in a way, fears of a strong Germany played out when Thatcher and Mitterand opposed a reunified Germany in 89/90, but Erdman was wrong when he thought the reunification would a result in the entirety of Germany joining the Soviet-bloc. And the book kind of ends there, with the U.S. too weak to put any kind of effective political or military pressure to achieve a better outcome. If I had read this book prior to 2016, it would have seemed laughably impossible. Now, after four years of you know who, the reemergence of fascistic sympathies around the world, and Boris the idiot in charge of the UK, geopolitical chaos seems more likely than not.

I really enjoyed this book and plan to look out for more of his work.

Marion Fay by Anthony Trollope

Months ahead of this trip I was hankering for a chunky Trollope, but kept telling myself to wait for vacation. This is the story of a brother and sister each falling for lovers (in the Trollopian sense) well below their class. For anyone with working knowledge of Trollope you know the general back and forth that happens before this one wraps up. Although I enjoyed this fairly well, for those of you who haven’t read Trollope, I’m don’t think I would start here. Start with Rachel Ray or The Warden or The Eustace Diamonds. It may not have been my favorite Trollope, but it still did a great job scratching my Trollope itch.

Passport to Panic by Eric Ambler and Charles Rhodda

I recently read a memoir by Eric Ambler where he mentions how most of his collaborations with Charles Rhodda under the pen name Eliot Reed where much more Rhodda than Ambler. I don’t remember if this was one of those, but it does feel a bit like Ambler-lite. However, it is still a delight to read with all the things I like about a vintage political thriller–voyages, telegrams, newspapers, and very little violence. Man goes to South America to find out what’s up with his non-communicative brother only to find his brother in a coma with the situation being managed by his brother’s, hitherto unknown, supposed brother-in-law. Intrigue ensues.

A great vacation read. But, if you haven’t read Ambler, go for his named work before you start to look for these Eliot Reed titles. Save those for when you discover you love Ambler and are worried about running out of the real stuff.

Man Overboard by Monica Dickens

British naval officer in the 1950s finds himself forcibly retired as the Royal Navy continues its post-war force reductions. Although 35-year-old Charles was a captain, and is looking forward to having a shot at the private sector he soon realizes he isn’t trained to really do anything. He is also a widower with a, I want to say 11-year-old daughter. Early in the book, while still in the Navy, he starts dating a television star and one is led to believe that the whole book is going to be about him juggling his status with the vagaries of his diva girlfriend. But about halfway through the book Dickens seems to have decided that that wasn’t as interesting as Charles himself. This is where I think things became more like the kind of book I wanted to read. I enjoyed the ladies at an employment agency who kind of adopt him. I loved his mother-in-law and his daughter. I really liked how a decades-old fascination with a house and family he sees from the train window turns into reality. And I was really excited when he becomes bursar at a boys school and really starts to stir things up.

Ultimately enjoyable, but there are better Monica Dickens novels out there.

Temporary by Hilary Leichter

This is the “half book” of the six and half that I read on vacation. I still haven’t finished it and vacation ends today. However, I will indeed finish it. So far I am loving it. The main character is a temporary employee and everything kind of hangs off the notion of temporary. There is some really brilliant writing in this and it gives me a similar vibe as The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris–two books I absolutely love.

So far I love this book. An absolute delight.

Sight Reading by Daphne Kalotay

Focused on a young violinist, I was really looking forward to this one. But alas, it was not to be. I realized I was in for a formulaic rollercoaster ride by an MFA-author. You know the type. I left it behind in the resort library without reading beyond page 40.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

If you haven’t read Lonesome Dove, forget what you think you know about these 858 pages and give it a go. If you’re like me, you’re no fan of Westerns, but you can suspend your general disinterest when something good comes along (like John Williams’s brilliant book Butcher’s Crossing). And this is good. Very good.

It is an epic tale of two former Texas Rangers who lead a group of cowboys, gamblers, hands, a prostitute, a cookie, two pigs, and about 3,000 head of cattle on a drive from the Texas borderlands up to Montana. Among the very harsh physical realities and stunted intellectual development of most of the characters, there is so much pain and beauty.

Once you get into the swing of this one, it is hard to put down. On one day of vacation I read over 400 pages and couldn’t wait until the next day when I could pick it up again. There is much that is problematic for our 2022 sensibilities, and I can see it pushing buttons, it pushed some of mine, but if you accept it for what it is, it’s worth the trip.

Aging Gen Xers Having Fun

As semi-lockdown, not quite normal, is still the way of the world, it can sometimes escape me that working from home (staying safe and employed) can be damn stressful. Yes, I am lucky to have that kind of stress. I am very aware of those who have been impacted by Covid in much more pressing ways. But all experience is relative, and sometimes I don’t know how stressed out I am.

It was against this backdrop that we recently had friends in town to stay for a long weekend. They are friends of mine from grad school who have, happily, also become good friends with John over the past 19 years. There was a time when they lived here in DC, about six blocks from us, and we would get together one or two times a week for dinner. Having them here for three days was like Christmas in November. All of the day-to-day crud just sloughed off my body. I could literally feel my blood pressure diminish.

So what did we do? We did go out and about on Saturday, but then on Sunday, rather than head off to the National Gallery like planned. We stayed home and did nothing. Well, not really nothing. We did taste tests. What? you say. Yes, we did taste tests. At some point as she emerged from lockdown, Jennifer decided she liked doing taste tests. And who are we to say no to something that includes food?

Jennifer is an ace amateur mixologist and kept us plied with fancy cocktails throughout the proceedings. I forget what this one is called, and we didn’t really rate them since we didn’t drink them side by side like we did with other items. In addition to cheese and pate (also not rated) you can see a whole lot of cornichon in the middle of the table. That was the first of our blind taste tests.
Everyone but me ended up choosing the cornichon from the Whole Foods Olive Bar as their favorite. And we all thought the oversized ones at the bottom were not good at all.
Jennifer adding the final touch to The Aviators she made for us. (That’s Crème de Violette she’s adding.)
I’m actually not a huge cocktail fan unless they have umbrellas. But everything she made was amazing.
Round Two in the blind taste tests consisted of six kinds of potato chips. John and I put all six of them in the same exact order of preference. Like he always says, we are MFEO (made for each other).
The score sheet became very confusing since we were putting numbered chips in numbered order of preference. More then once we got our axes mixed up.
I was responsible for this heat. I had numbered them in a way that even I didn’t know which was which once they were on the table. It was fun to do the reveal. There was definitely dissent around the table, but John and I easily settled on Cape Cod kettle style as our favorites.
General tasting mayhem.
The bar snack tasting. Everyone but me chose the corn nut mix at the bottom. I chose the spicy pistachios at left (and refused to even try the peanuts, which I will only eat on SE Asian food).
We were quite surprised by the results of the club soda test. John and I both put Navy Hill at number one and Fever Tree at number four. Among the cheaper brands we preferred the 365 over Canada Dry.

And then three hours later I was making tuna puttanesca over pasta. Fabulous way to spend a Sunday.

Non-fiction November?

As regular readers of Hoggletstock know, I can get pretty excited about a book challenge. Being an adult, I also love the fact that I can drop out of said challenge whenever I feel like it. But the other night, I was lazing about in my library poking about in my non-fiction section. So many things I never make time for because fiction is much more my bag. And then I thought, why not? Let’s give it a go. I can always drop out whenever I feel like it.

I tried to pull books that were varied enough to capture my mood at any given time. And I also tried to make sure that I had enough on the pile that aren’t too academic. (Although, I must say, almost none of my non-fiction collection could be classified as academic.) So this is what I came up with.

Here’s the whole stack. Have you read any of them? Any favorites? I have more I can pick from still on the shelves, but thought it would be fun to come up with a reading list for the month.
I doubt Dewey Decimal would put all these in the same area, but I’m roughly calling them the pastoral group.
A subtitle worth showing.
I’m not sure if this is going to be science or history. Maybe both.
Here is my literary group. Author focused on the bottom, books on books toward the top. After reading a bio of May Sarton where the author trashed her for 400 pages, I’m going to follow Nancy Pearl’s advice and never read bios of authors I love. I’m breaking that with the Trollope, but surely Glendinning can’t say too much about Anthony that will cause discomfort?
Also a subtitle worth seeing.
And how could I not show you this from the front of the Ambler autobiography.
My music stack is pretty small. I’ve already started The Ninth, its about the Beethoven and the world in 1824. The oral history of Charles Ives is the one I am most looking forward to. I know his music well, and I know he sold insurance for a living, but I don’t know much else.
This, along with the CIA book, is meant to slake my thirst if I get in a mood for Helen MacInnes or Ward Just.
Some illustrations will help break things up a bit.
Science and History? I listened to about 50% of a great recording of the Bryson several years ago. Might be time to actually start from the beginning and finish it. During lockdown I went through a bit of a archaeology/history phase that I’d like to continue. And then the stuff at the very top should be a little less serious.

We’ll see how all of this goes. I think I’ve chosen enough that I consider truly fun reads, so I shouldn’t find it too problematic. But the second something is expected of me (even by myself) I tend to rebel.

2021 Road Trip : Book Buying

Because our 17-day road trip was cut down to eight, I didn’t do as much book browsing as I anticipated doing. I was particularly looking forward to going to used book stores and just having a good rummage around. Prior to hitting the road, I think I had only been in two used bookstores since March 2020. Buying used books online is even less satisfying as buying new books online. Plus the I was hoping to come across some of the dusty old forgotten authors that aren’t desired enough for someone to put them for sale online. I was looking forward to the hunt.

As you may already have seen in an earlier post, I did have a good hour at the Book Barn of the Finger Lakes, but its so over filled that it was somewhat challenging.

Looking through my photos, I realize that I didn’t document things very well. It was nice to forget about the phone in my pocket, so I guess that was a good thing.

Yellow House Books in Great Barrington, MA
A great shop with really good stock.
The last time we went on a road trip like this I took a chance on a whole stack of May Sartons. I had never read her before, but thought, what if I like her, I’d kick myself for not buying all of them. I had the same experience this time with Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. She was a great collaborator of Merchant-Ivory. I’ve loved both novels I’ve read by Damon Galgut, so picking up this one was a no-brainer.
The Bookstore in Lenox, Massachusetts is a very nice new book store. The top book is a kind of social history of the life and times of Beethoven’s ninth symphony.
I was not a fan of the one Patrick Melrose novel I read, but I couldn’t resist this cover.
Two doors down from The Bookstore in Lenox was this used bookstore that was closing. It didn’t have a sign, I think it was a pop-up of sorts run by The Bookstore. This would have been a ton of fun, and it was right across from our hotel, but alas I never made it there when it was open.
Raven Books in Northampton, Massachusetts. Pretty fun place, but not as neglected as I would like.
Only found two things at Raven Books.
I wasn’t expecting to find any books at a home interiors/antique shop in New Preston, Connecticut. They had a lot of Mitford stuff and books about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. And they also had these fabulous editions of Mrs Harris–they came home with me.
I bought a fourth book at Baldwin’s, but I have no recollection of what it was.

Road Trip 2021 : Art Saves Us Again

As I mentioned in an earlier post, with lots of mid-week closures throughout western MA we had a day to kill and weren’t quite sure how we were going to do it. Doing my research the night before really narrowed down the choices. It seems like the only thing open on this particular day was The Springfield Museums in Springfield, Massachusetts. It’s a series of four buildings, one for science, one for history, and two for art. In the end we only had time for the art buildings.

Historical Monument of the American Republic
Erastus Salisbury Field
This rather large painting is what you see when you walk into the main gallery space in one of the buildings. Look at the train tracks in the sky!
View of the Marketplace with the Great Church at Haarlem
Gerrit Adriaensz Berckheyde
Study for a fresco at the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh (1936)
Howard Cook
I might not have been thinking of art when I failed to note the artist or title of this work. (detail)
Church Supper (1933)
Paul Sample
I love this for so many reasons. Don’t you think it would make a good novel?
The Net Mender (c. 1870s)
George Newell Bowers
You know I love lots of domestic details in my novels. Not to mention how perfect the room is.
The Newsboy (1889)
George Newell Bowers
The subject is a little too “Newsies” for me to covet this one for my own walls, but I love all the background detail. I’m particularly taken with the glimpse of the hallway. As a historic preservationist by training, it is fascinating to see the vernacular detail in what is a rather simple, but probably fancy for where and what it was, hallway. Paintings of this period are more often filled with images of rooms like the one in the foreground, but not the circulation space beyond. Photos from the time similarly tend to overlook documenting something as mundane as a hallway, and even if they do, we don’t get to see them rendered in color like this.
Sixth Avenue (1940)
Andrée Ruellan
This one I do covet for my own on so many levels. I’m always a sucker for urban scenes and domestic detail. It also stokes my desire to travel in time. And again, I’m realizing as I do this post, how most of the art I am drawn to and tack pictures of could be turned into novels. Not a novel of the painting, but what is happening in the painting. I’m going to say that little boy is with his grandmother.

2021 Road Trip : Birthday Bust?

It’s always nice to be on vacation for your birthday, but that doesn’t always guarantee a great time. Since we had exhausted most of what we wanted to do in the lower Berkshires–I might have just made that up, I guess we would probably say the southern Berkshires here in the US, but ‘the lower Berkshires’ makes it sound like I’m in rural England–anyhoo, since we had kind of run out of things to do and so many shops are closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, we decided we needed to go further afield for our day’s adventures.

One of the beauties of a road trip is you can be spontaneous. The night before my birthday, I looked at a map and decided we could drive north with Bennington, VT as our main destination with the idea of being in Troy, NY for my birthday meal. In doing so I broke the the cardinal rule of any good trip–Always do your research. But more on that later in this post.

On the drive up to Bennington, which I quickly realized we had started on too early in the morning, we came to Williamstown, MA the home of both Williams College and the Clark Art Institute. We hadn’t intended on going to the Clark because we had been there on our previous trip to the Berkshires and I knew that they had implemented timed entry tickets due to Covid, and we didn’t have a timed ticket. But since we had plenty of time we decided to take a chance on being able to get in. I’m so glad we did. Having expanded since 2008, the Clark is even more amazing than before and it provided a really nice way to spend a couple of hours.

The Clark’s most recent addition includes this wonderfully peaceful plaza and fountain with views of the expansive grounds.
You’ll forgive me if I thought this looked like a character in a Margaret Atwood dystopia.
Choupatte (Cabbagefeet) (2017)
Claude Lalanne
The Messenger (detail) (1815)
Martin Drölling
One of those moments where you think “That’s where this painting is…” The bib and metal attachments always reminds me of being at the dentist.
Fumée d’amgre gris (Smoke of Ambergris) (1880)
John Singer Sargent
Portrait of Madame Lemasson (1891)
Émile Henri Bernard
Interior Still Life: Christmas Morning (1926-27)
Nikolai Astrup
By the Open Door (before 1911)
Visions of Norway, the extensive retrospective the Clark was having on the work of artist Nikolai Astrup has me wanting to visit the tiny villages around Lake Jølster, northeast of Bergen, Norway.
From one of the galleries I spotted this mezzanine of books that were faced on the shelves to perfection and a serene research library.
Happily, the library was not off limits to rank and file museum goers, so I could get closer to the two mezzanines of perfectly faced books. But as I stood there I realized there was no access to either wall of books. What a horror. What was going on?
Inaccessible, but very pleasing to the eye.
Photos rarely do justice to meadows, so this close-up of clover (I think) will have to suffice for the lovely grounds that surrounded the Clark.

After the Clark we continued our path north by zigging over to North Adams the home of MassMOCA, another art museum we had been to in 2008. I opted out of going there this time because the art tends to be room-size conceptual kind of stuff, or other things that are somewhat lost on me. I mean how long can you stare at a Dan Flavin. (Look it up, not long.) And because we had Bennington to look forward to, we didn’t bother to poke around the former mill town.

Now, when I picked Bennington as our destination, I had visions in my head of another serendipitous stop we had made in Vermont on our previous road trip in 2008 in which we stayed the night in the very charming town of Woodstock where there was one of my favorite used bookstores of all time (and the place where I first discovered the work of May Sarton).

But Bennington is no Woodstock. While the town has some very nice architectural bones, there was a lot of empty retail space that appears to have been vacant prior to Covid. Half of the shops that were closed that day and not very interesting to start with. This town could use about 100 LGBTQ families to fill up the great old buildings with shops you actually want to visit.

There are a couple of museums that we might have enjoyed in town, but as I mentioned, I hadn’t done my research, and I didn’t know they existed.

And I hate to say it, but the indie bookstore that was there had recently moved locations and was not even remotely conducive to browsing. I’m sure my mood had something to do with it, but the store felt very suburban and not at all cozy. I literally spent less than a minute inside and turned around and left without even touching a book. Back out on the street I saw one of those “open” flags that seem to be all over the place in vacationland to draw attention to shops that visitors might be interested in. We crossed the street and walked a bit to go see what we could see only to find a vape shop. Time to leave Bennington.

When we go on a road trip we go to roadfood.com to see what delicious local food we can find along the way. In 2008 we made a slight detour to go to Famous Lunch in Troy, NY. I’ve literally been thinking about going back to this place ever since. Although I may not have done my research on Bennington, I knew that Famous Lunch was only about an hour from where we were staying in Lenox. It seemed to me the perfect place for my birthday dinner.
The house specialty, and, although it would probably be good, I wouldn’t even think of ordering anything else. These are the most amazing chili dogs you will ever have in your life. They are only about the length of a credit card and each one only costs $1.11. When we were here in 2008, John didn’t know how small they were and somehow talked me into only getting two of them. I never quite forgave him for that. This time we each got three and I ate one of John’s. Perfect. I think we also got some fries, but the star were these lovely jewels of greasy perfection. And did I mention they have RC cola and Diet Rite? Who knew they even still made RC and Diet Rite.
After our dogs in Troy, we headed about 35 minutes south to get to the Dairy Queen in Ghent, NY which was the closest DQ to Lenox. It was the perfect birthday desert. I love DQ and we don’t have any in DC. Perfect way to end the day. But by the time we got back to Lenox, I wanted another one.

Although my birthday felt like a bust at times because of Bennington, if we had only planned to go to the Clark, Famous Lunch, and the DQ, I would have considered it a fantastic day. I guess it is all about setting expectations.

2021 Road Trip : Tanglewood!

The last time I was at an orchestra concert was in Bologna in February 2020 just as Covid-19 was taking hold in Italy. A few weeks later I saw my last opera just days before Washington locked down. We planned to make the Berkshires in western Massachusetts a stop on our trip, but then I discovered that the Tanglewood Festival was actually and the two days I had planned expanded to four.

Tanglewood

Tanglewood wasn’t the only reason we wanted to go to the Berkshires (more on that in the next installment), but once I realized I could hear three orchestra concerts and two chamber concerts in a three-day span, it did become a bit of an organizing framework for everything else. For those who may not know, the Tanglewood Festival has its roots in a series of concerts the Boston Symphony Orchestra gave in the Berkshire in August 1936. Not long after, they built the “Shed” that is still used today. And not long after that, the Tanglewood Music Center was created to offer advanced musical study to young musicians, composers, and conductors. Essentially a summer camp for musicians.

Having played such a central role in the lives and careers of so many musicians in the U.S., I’ve read about Tanglewood since I was 18 and plowing my way through musical biographies. The idea of a bunch of musicians hanging out in the idyllic Berkshire Hills with Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland was always very compelling for me. And having once sung in the chorus of an outdoor performance Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 with the Minnesota Orchestra and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, I knew there was something magical about classical music outdoors on a warm summer evening.

We heard two concerts by the BSO and one by the orchestra of TMC Fellows. The first and last concert consisted of a fantastic mix of repertoire including newer pieces by women and composer of color as well as the dead white guys. And then there was one intensely boring all-Brahms concert which solidified my dislike for single-composer concerts as well as a growing disinterest in the orchestral music of Brahms. I should note that the Brahms concert certainly had the crowd excited. As soon as the applause started we headed out and the crowd went crazy the whole time we walked to our car. (For those who care, I will list out the programs we attended at the end of this post.)

The beautiful Berkshire Hills from the grounds of the Tanglewood Music Center. Many parts of the campus were not in use this summer due to Covid, but the essence of the place seemed to be intact.
Our first glimpse of the Shed. Wide open on three sides with wooded slat seats, it definitely felt like summer camp. For our first concert it was lovely and cool with a breeze that had us reaching for our sweaters. A nice change from summer in DC.
No, the audience isn’t ignoring the BSO. This was before the concert with some in the orchestra warming up. The Shed was at about 50% capacity because of Covid. This was kind of fabulous because it meant we had lots of room to spread out, but it also meant that a father and daughter were too far away to be effectively shushed as they talked endessly during the music.
At full capacity the Shed seats about 6,000 with another 18,000 on the lawn. They also have the orchestra on big screens for the lawn dwellers.
One person’s solution to the mosquitos. We only noticed them in Shed at the final concert when there was very little breeze.
Perhaps the most magical concert for me was the chamber concert on Sunday morning. It is free and general admission, so I got there an hour early to make sure I had the seat I wanted. This video gives a good overview of what the Shed looks like. These concerts are performed by the TMC Fellows and are a delight.
Where we spent our time in between concerts.

It is hard to put in to words why Tanglewood was so special. Certainly, some of it had to do with getting to hear live music for the first time in 16 months. But there is something about having crickets accompany the music and the summer air, and the sense of something out of the ordinary that also makes it magical.

For my own satisfaction, I doubt I will ever be a lawn person. Too far removed from the music surrounded by folks that might be more interested in a picnic than the music. (I know that is an overgeneralization, but true enough that it would annoy me.) Even within the Shed, I now know to keep my seat choice in the first two sections. The back section of the Shed was too far removed–the music just sounds too far away.

Concert One

Saturday 8:00 p.m.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Anna Rakitina, conductor
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano

Elena LANGER – Figaro Gets a Divorce, Orchestral Suite
Maurice RAVEL – Piano Concerto in G
Edward ELGAR – Variations on an Original Theme, Enigma

Everything about this concert was a delight. The weather was breezy and cool, it was great to see a female conductor, and the program was great. The Langer piece was fantastic, kind of Bernsteinesque and with a great part for accordion. It’s so nice to hear ‘new’ music that is consonant. I wasn’t a fan of the Ravel previously, but I am now. I’ve heard the Elgar a million times on CD and three times now in concert. I think it gets better every time I hear it.

Concert Two

Sunday 10 a.m.
Tanglewood Music Center Fellows

Benjamin BRITTEN – Russian Funeral Music
Paul TERRACINI – Gegensätze
Max BRUCH – Octet for Strings in B-flat
Johannes BRAHMS – Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor

As I mentioned earlier, this was a really special experience. I would love to hear more of these chamber concerts. The first two pieces were for brass ensemble. There aren’t that many opportunities to hear this kind of rep, so it was quite nice. I loved the Britten, but I loved the Terracini even more. So much so that I found the need to listen to it a few more times later that day and wrote the Australian composer a fan email. He wrote me back with a link to really great performance of the piece by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. I was surprised how much I liked the Bruch. Normally I find his stuff a bit too virtuosic just for the sake of it. This however, was lovely.

Concert Three

Sunday 2:30 p.m.
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Herbert Blomstedt, conductor
Leonidas Kvakos, violin

Johannes BRAHMS – Violin Concerto in D
Johannes BRAHMS – Symphony No. 4 in E minor

This just wasn’t for me. Too much of one thing, not the biggest fan of Brahms orchestral output, and we were just one click too far back in the Shed. Oh, we also fought sleep like crazy at this time of day. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it more if I had been wider awake, but I sure wanted a hammock during this one. The audience gave a rapturous ovation. Probably because it was Blomstedt and because it was Brahms. Meh.

Concert Four

Monday 8:00 p.m.
Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra
Stefan Asbury, conductor (Dvořák)
TMC Fellow Kevin Fitzgerald (Nabors, Smetana)
TMC Fellow Adam Hickox (Vaughn Williams)

Brian Raphael NABORS – lubilo
Bedřich SMETANA – The High Castle from Má vlast 
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS – Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Antonín DVOŘÁK – Symphony No. 7 in D minor

After the Brahms bust the day before, it was nice to get back to a program with more variety. And what a delight it was. Except for three BSO musicians and three “guest” musicians, the TMC orchestra is made up of TMC fellows studying for the summer. The quality of their playing was fantastic. Everything on this program was interesting, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I had a really hard time walking away from this concert. Not only was it our final concert at Tanglewood this season, but it was also the final festival concert at Tanglewood this season. And seeing classical music concerts three days in a row, I had some serious withdrawal in the days that followed. Now that I have finally been to Tanglewood, I will definitely be going back in the future.



2021 Road Trip : On our way

I can’t remember why we opted for a domestic trip for our summer vacation…oh that’s right, Covid. And because we spent 16 months in splendid isolation with the cutest dog on the planet, we decided that maybe we didn’t need two weeks in splendid isolation with Lucy in Maine this summer. Instead we opted for a Northeast road trip like one we took back in 2008 before we were dog parents. After all that time at home shopping online and not really interacting with humans, we thought that something that gave us the chance to be out and about and go antiquing and used bookstore hopping, and restaurant eating, and museum gazing, seemed like just the ticket.

I had meticulously planned and replanned our itinerary until I had something that ticked a lot of boxes.

Washington, DC to Ithaca, NY

When we go on a road trip I can never wait until Saturday morning to pack the car and get going. Originally we were going to head out on Friday after work and spend the night in Harrisburg, PA just so we could be that much closer to our vacation when we woke up on Saturday morning. But then the Boston Symphony Orchestra announced they were going to actually have a Tanglewood season this summer, and I realized we needed to get out butts up to the Berkshires sooner than I had planned. So instead of leaving DC after work on Friday we left at 9:39 AM so we could comfortably drive up to Ithaca to see friends for dinner and stay the night.

The dog we left at home. (Very happy and comfortable with her Aunt Sarah.)
Trunk kit. So much easier to pack than a carry-on. Empty book bag? Check. Silverware in case we get take out food with crappy plasticware? Check. Juicy Fruit, extra masks, measuring tape, headphones, etc.
I am nothing if not organized. I even did turn-by-turn directions for some days so we could take the back roads instead of the way Waze or Google would take us. (And lest you think I am still on vacation, we had to cut the trip short for reasons that will be explained in future posts.)
Always nice to wander around Cornell where I spent two great years in grad school.
The peaceful Cornell Arboretum pond was teeming with turtles.
I was hoping to find more dusty old hard covers of forgotten authors, but had to settle for oldish trade paperbacks. I should say, I wanted the HCs not for the sake of having HCs, but because I was looking titles that hadn’t had a revival.

Next Stop: The Berkshires and Tanglewood