Our pandemic round robin of cancelling international trips and searching for reasonably safe domestic substitutions continued unabated all through summer 2021. We had a 2+ week stretch off which had been intended for a dive trip to Tubbataha in the Philippines, rescheduled for 2024. We divided our time into 3 segments, Part 1 mountain biking with our friend Dave in the Methow Valley of eastern Washington state (luckily narrowly evading the terrible, record-setting heatwave) and Part 2 in Manhattan, exploring more forms of transportation and seeing the city come further back to life, even since our spring trip back after a pandemic-induced hiatus of 16 months.
Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Our first time to the Berkshires was finally here! Covid had postponed a trip we had planned in May 2020. Our friends Jon and Mayde have had a house here for years, since their kids Phoebe and Morley began attending summer camp in the area, replicating fond summer memories of Jon’s. Jon called when we were on the Takonic Parkway. He was finished playing golf nearby and personally escorted us, keeping up a running staccato commentary en route. The reception was terrible so it went something like this:
Most of the nouns dropped out, so we had to guess at what passing local wonders were being described. We garnered a little more content when he switched to dictating rapid-fire texts to Siri.
We made it to their house in Great Barrington by lunchtime. Mayde had a nice spread of salads waiting for lunch. Jon walked Steve and me into the luxuriant forest out back of the house. It was a steamy hot day, apparently unusually hot for June. Although we didn’t have any wildlife sightings while tramping around outside, we were all startled by an unexpected visitor which appeared momentarily outside their dining room: a sleek young black bear, which Jon startled into quickly ducking into the concealing foliage.
After lunch, we headed to our small nearby boutique hotel to check in. Mayde had suggested it and it was a perfect fit for us and Covid times: a 5 room inn, the Granville House. The proprietors are a couple, Terry and Terri, both veterans of the hospitality industry in NYC (Danny Meyer and Gramercy Tavern). Signed memorabilia from the many celebrities they encountered during their NYC years decorate the hallways of the Inn, as well as a fun mix of antiques, streamlined modern furniture and local ephemera.
The house’s name is a nod to a favorite film of theirs, It’s a Wonderful Life, with Granville House being the name of the home of the George and Mary Bailey family.
The grounds include a ping pong table, chairs for reading, a hammock and even a reading cabin, in which I took refuge when the first of serial late afternoon drenching storms began. This cooled the day’s heat down.
We had a delicious dinner back at the Weiner’s, with Mayde cooking up an Italian meatball dish, an eggplant stack and salad.
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Jon and Mayde accompanied us on our first visit to the The Clark, aka The Clark Art Institute, short for the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, established in 1955. Sterling was the grandson and heir of a co-founder of the Singer Company (of sewing machine fame), who had attended and established the geology collection at nearby Williams College, which is housed in Clark Hall. He met Francine in Paris in 1910, where she was an actress at the Comédie-Française. The couple shared an interest in art, leading them to acquire extensive holdings over the subsequent decades, especially in the French Impressionist (notably Renoir) and American arenas (Hopper is well represented in the collection).
We were surprised to realize the sleek architecture reflected Tadao Ando’s involvement, as well as Annabelle Selldorf.
My favorite exhibit was of the stylized animal sculptures and furniture of a deceased French couple, Claude (1924-2019) & François-Xavier (1927-2008) Lalanne called Nature Transformed.
After a relaxing lunch outside on the Adirondack chairs in the shade, Jon insisted I visit the Visions of Norway show of Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928). After training in Oslo and Paris, Astrup returned to the remote part of Norway where he was raised, on the shores of Lake Jølster, from which much of his imagery derived, including the parsonage in which he grew up and the home he made with his wife.
Also of interest were 3 large photographic hybrid works of Erin Shirreff, in which she layers metal printed slices of photographic depictions of mid-century sculpture.
Jon and I hiked up behind The Clark, only to retreat at the sound of a huge thunderclap at the crest of the hill, into the “black forest”, where Steve preceded us.
Thinking we could find an alternate way back, we tramped down the hill onto a neighboring property, until the grazing cows and a stream crossing forced us to retrace our steps back into the forest.
Driving back, it poured so hard, it was difficult to see, at least transiently.
At dinner at the Old Mill, I had a surprisingly blue Aviation (were they out of creme de violette and substituted curacao?) and debate broke out over whether the Caesar and chopped salads were dressed or not. Steve enjoyed his lamb moussaka and my salmon was very tasty.
Thursday, July 1, 2021
Our 32cd wedding anniversary and the Granville Inn’s first anniversary coincided today and were celebrated with mimosas to accompany our toasted bagels, which were topped with thick wedges of juicy tomato and savory lox, dotted with capers.
Our hotel was a long stone’s throw from the Guthrie Center, which occupies the Old Trinity Church, dating back to 1829. We stopped in at Jon’s urging and George took us around.
The Center was established by folk singer Arlo Guthrie and hosts concerts and a weekly free community lunch, as well as serving as an interdenominational church and community center. Arlo graduated from high school in nearby Stockbridge in 1965 and later stayed in the structure, then used as a house, with his friends Ray and Alice Brock. I fondly remember attending an Arlo Guthrie concert in college, part of a wonderfully varied and extremely inexpensive performance series I attended regularly. The tickets were astoundingly affordable-$2, $11, I don’t remember, I just remember they seemed very cheap even by the standards of the times and even considering I was a VERY impoverished, emancipated, scholarship student. The series included PDQ Bach and Mummenschanz, among other horizon-expanding cultural delights.
We were bound this rainy grey day to MassMOCA, in North Adams, in western Massachusetts, a full year after planning a pandemic-postponed trip here.
Of particular interest to us was a section devoted to the work of our friend Marcos Ramirez ERRE (pronounced like the rolled Rrrrrr in Spanish), whose large installation Us and Them had been a focus of our thwarted plans of the prior year.
His thoughtful and incisive commentary on US-Mexico border issues is consistently smart and perceptive. Marcos’ section was next to Louise Bourgeois, so his work was certainly in good company.
Large installations were devoted to Jenny Holzer’s text works and Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings.
Within the 10 person exhibit called Kissing Through a Curtain, I found the work of Clarissa Tossin and Kim Faler compelling. Apple’s Siri engages in conversation with Octavia Butler in You Got to Make Your Own Worlds (for when Siri is long gone). In Double Bubble, Faler created a field of suspended sculptures evoking wads of chewing gum from a variety of materials, some incorporating sound elements.
Well after our timed entry of 12:15 for admittance to the James Turrell exhibits, Steve realized there was a timed entry. We had to cajole the guard into admitting us later. We followed handrails through a dark maze to the 2-seat Dark installation, where our rods and cones played tricks on our eyes, trying desperately to pull images from extreme dark.
A large Glenn Kaino piece occupied a huge hall, with a dragon eating its tail and suspended stones.
We celebrated our 32cd wedding anniversary with dinner with the Weiners at John Andrew’s Farmhouse.
Friday, July 2, 2021
It rained again overnight and dawned grey, cloudy and cool. For our final day, we visited the Mount, the “cottage” Edith Wharton designed and built in 1902 and occupied until 1911 when her marriage dissolved and she moved to Paris. I was motivated by a love for her 1905 masterpiece, The House of Mirth, which she wrote at The Mount, as well as The Age of Innocence, for which she became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize, in 1921.
Drizzle accompanied us as we walked the beautiful garden and expansive grounds, enhanced by a sculpture installation (30 works courtesy of SculptureNow).
After a whirlwind tour of and casual sandwich lunch in Stockbridge with Jon (including a sprint through the historic Red Lion Inn, where George Washington had beers with his troops in the bar), we visited a wonderful glass gallery enjoyed by Jon’s uncle Arthur when he lived in the area, the Schantz Galleries, with fabulous pieces by Chihuly and other contemporary glass luminaries. We were drawn to a hanging piece by Baldwin and Guggisberg called Cantata Verde, with colorful geometric shapes suspended in a brass frame.
Back at the house, learning that Phoebe was planning to catch a train to the city in the morning, we suggested she ride back to NYC with us, which was quickly organized. She and Mayde had been packing all day, laying the groundwork for her upcoming trip with the NBC crew covering the Olympics in Tokyo. It was smooth sailing south to the City, enlivened by a car engulfed in flames in the Bronx. On the way, we heard about the rigorous repetitive Covid testing she will have to self-administer before her departure, as well as the testing on arrival and mandatory quarantine in the Olympic village afterwards. She will not be able to take public transportation in Tokyo until after the first 2 weeks of their stay. After dropping our luggage off at home (finding convenient street parking was easy this time), we all walked to a quick dinner at San Mateo (pizza and panuozzo) before we loaded up to drop Phoebe off before driving downtown to give up the car. This went smoothly, even catching an express subway back home (Steve insisting we were heading north to our intended Wall Street stop, then finding ourselves at Bowling Green, a stop further south!).
Saturday, July 3, 2021
Salon 94 is a recently opened gallery outpost in a beautiful Rafael Viñoly-restored townhouse at 3 89th Street, just off Central Park.
The highlight for me was the small offering of ceramic works by Ruth Duckworth, including a groovy triptych in the entryway. I didn’t put together until later that abstract paintings on view by Elizabeth Neel are the work of the granddaughter of Alice Neel, whose retrospective we had seen the prior week at the Met.
We had an al fresco lunch in the hood at Table d’Hôte (burger à cheval for Steve and striped bass on quinoa for me).
The peace and serenity of the handful of timed entry visitors to Salon 94 was in stark contrast to the crowds at MOMA in the afternoon. Other than the required masks, the size of the crowd belied the pandemic which had so recently dominated all activities.
Sunday, July 4, 2021
Today, Independence Day, we celebrate a partial, uneven return to a semblance of normalcy, at least in the corners of the country we favor. Biden’s goal of having 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4th had been modified to 70% of adults age 27 and up (the goal has been realized for adults greater than 30 years of age).
In electing to fly home today, we missed one, no two, no three, yes four Independence Day parties in San Diego. Ellen and David hosted a gathering on Saturday, while on Sunday, we missed firework viewing celebrations hosted by James and Jill, Tatiana and Miles and Lucille and Ron. As a small consolation, from the plane, I could see over a dozen tiny fireworks displays all over the county. James had urged me by text to change our flight, due in at 9:45 pm, saying he had once flown in on July the Fourth to traffic so bad that he walked home from the airport! Indeed, I vividly remembered taking the train to their Fourth of July party downtown one year, which required leaving the party early to catch the last train north at 11:15 pm, from which we whizzed past an endless line of bumper to bumper traffic on I-5. We landed early and the traffic did require some evasive maneuvering by Howard, with me updating him on options via Google maps, snaking through Pt. Loma and eventually breaking free of the backed up traffic onto a relatively empty north-bound I-5.
Our trip to the Mount launched me over the ensuing months into a full-on Edith Wharton tear, aided by my Apple Airpod Pros and the Libby app on my phone. First up was a revisit with a beloved classic from 1905, The House of Mirth, the tragic tale of Lily Bart, an impoverished young woman whose upbringing in New York society has prepared her only to appreciate beauty and to abhor “dinginess”. Her economic standing is precarious and her best option is to marry well, but she is rapidly approaching an untouchable age-30! I stayed in the Gilded Age which Wharton knew so well and depicts so fluidly with another fondly recalled classic which won her a Pulitzer Prize (the first awarded to a woman, 1921), The Age of Innocence. The return from Europe of the Countess Olenska aroses discomfort among her peers and relatives in New York society, particularly in her cousin’s husband, Archer. I also made up for never having read Wharton’s novella, Ethan Frome, which is set in Berkshires, a very different and dour setting for the protagonist than the bucolic setting we encountered, which will undoubtedly draw us back before long. One quote from Edith Wharton perfectly sums up my sensation of her being a kindred spirit:
“I am an incorrigible life-lover & life-wonderer & adventurer.”