Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Photographing New York Shadows

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In a recent post called “Reflections on the Windows of Greece” I mentioned that, when I’m traveling, for some reason I’m drawn to photographing windows in Greece, doors in Paris and chairs in Nicaragua. (Don’t know why—it’s not a conscious decision.  I think the doors and windows attract me because I’m always wondering what lies behind them.)

(What I love to photograph best in every country is people, especially children, but that can often get you in trouble.) 

Lately, while walking around Manhattan with a camera in my hand, I’ve become fascinated with the shadows cast by the fire escapes.  (I’ve mentioned before that my good friend Mari Seder, who is an award-winning professional photographer, once told me that sometimes the shadow is the most important part of the photograph.) 

Whenever I drive into Manhattan, when I turn off the FDR Drive onto 96th Street, I notice the building above, uninhabited except for the bodega on the ground floor. If the sun’s out and the shadows are there, I take a picture through the windshield (while I’m stopped, waiting for the light to change of course!)  I love the crazy zigzag patterns of the shadows.

The other day, while walking on Third Avenue in the Seventies, I came upon a block that was a virtual symphony of fire-escape shadows.  Do you like the panoramic photo above or the closer photo below best?


I also tend to photograph architectural details.  In Manhattan, it’s important to look up (except when crossing a street, of course!  Those taxis can be lethal!)  You’ll find all sorts of unexpected treasures, like these.



 Once I started looking for shadows that make pleasing patterns, I found them everywhere.  Here’s  a photo I took while waiting for a check-up in my doctor’s examining room!


And here’s a table and chairs outside near the pool.

When I left Manhattan last Friday, I rode on a LimoLiner bus which traversed Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard in Harlem.   It was lined with antique buildings with fire escapes. We were moving too fast for good positioning, but I snapped this photo through the window before Manhattan faded into the distance.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lunch at Mar-a-Lago with Donald Trump


This post, published in April of 2011, became one of my most popular--undoubtedly because of the super-flattering portrait of The Donald (below). Now that Trump has declared his run for the presidency, this post is once again getting lots of hits.
Palm Beach, I’ve noticed, is like Disney World for grown-ups—everything is bigger, better, cleaner, fancier (and more expensive) than in the real world. The latest example came yesterday (Sunday) when we were invited to lunch at the Mar-a-Logo Club by a friend who is a member.  (The cost, I’m told, is $150,000 initiation fee and $75,000 each year after that.)
I didn’t even know that Donald Trump had turned his palatial (think Versailles) private home into a private club in April of 1995.  His presence is still everywhere—from the plaque at the door to the name and crest on the paper hand towels (I stole one) in the gold-encrusted bathrooms and on the welcome mat, to a portrait that is apparently meant to portray The Donald at a younger age in sports clothes.


Everywhere you turn there are golden cherubs, marble statues, parrot and monkey motifs and antique Spanish tiles.  Flowers? Chandeliers? Fountains? Swimming pools? Don’t ask.

 The Mar-a-Lago Estate was built to the specifications of Marjorie Merriweather Post (then Mrs. E. F. Hutton)and completed in 1927. (The name is Latin for “Sea-to-Lake”—it has water views both front and back.)  Three boatloads of Dorian stone were brought from Genoa, Italy. There were 114 rooms in the original villa.  According to a “short history” of the place, “It was Mrs. Post’s plan to bring together many Old -World Features of the Spanish, Venetian and Portuguese styles.”
In January of 1969 the estate was named a “National Historic Site”.  After Mrs. Post died in 1973, she left the place to the federal government for use as a diplomatic/presidential retreat.  It was pretty costly to maintain--so in 1985, it was sold to Donald Trump who used it as a private residence for ten years  (and married his third wife, Melania, there in 2005).  Even his first wife, Ivana, used it for her ill-starred wedding to an Italian 24 years her junior in 2008. 
In April of 1995, it became the Mar-a-Lago Club.

According to the “brief history” available at the desk, Trump has “since built a magnificent swimming pool, an award-winning beauty salon, a world-class spa, one grass and five red-clay championship tennis courts and a remarkable croquet court.…Completed in 2005 is the all-new Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom—the interior is in a Louis XIV  gold and crystal finish that is one of the finest spaces of its kind in the country.”

We joined our friends for lunch in the outdoor patio (where I ordered lobster quesadillas) and they told us that Jennifer Hudson was on the premises, resting after her recent performance on American Idol, and Joan Rivers had just checked out.
With the Trump name plastered everywhere, it sort of seemed natural that The Donald himself breezed in as we were eating. Wearing a baseball hat and casual clothes, he greeted the several tables of diners, making sure everyone was happy.  I asked about the décor, having been stymied by the mix of Spanish tiles and the Arabic-looking plasterwork.  Was it Moroccan? I asked and he agreed—Moroccan it was!  (At that point neither he nor I had read in the “brief history” that it’s actually “Spanish, Venetian, and Portuguese” all mixed together into a decadent , dazzling, over-the-top mish-mash that would send Mad King Ludwig into a jealous funk. There popped into my memory a French phrase which doesn’t really have an English equivalent.  It was all a bit “de trop.”)

Later in the afternoon we saw Trump depart, along with Melania and her parents, their young son and an older girl who was evidently Tiffany, the daughter he had with second wife Marla Maples.
Throughout the estate, which we explored post-lunch, poking into rooms and peeking behind doors, we kept encountering antique tiles with a Latin motto: “Plus Ultra”, which translates as “Beyond the Ultimate.” This is Mar-a-Lago’s slogan.  As we left, past the gilded cupids and the large brass lions at the gate , I was reminded of another ancient classical slogan carved into the Temple of Apollo at Delphi:   “Midhen Agan”—“Nothing in excess”. 


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Babies on Book Tour

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Photo by Eleni Gage.

Guest editor blog today Author (and daughter) Eleni N. Gage, author of The Ladies of Managua, relays her travel fiasco from New York to New Orleans to Miami and back home.  This first appeared on the travel website Fathom.

 I thought I had planned everything perfectly. But one of the things travel and motherhood have in common is that nothing ever goes as planned. When I did the math and confirmed that my novel, The Ladies of Managua, would be published while I was on maternity leave, I realized I'd be able to set up a book tour, something which would have been nearly impossible at any other time, given my full-time job as a magazine editor. For the first third of my three-month leave, I figured, I'd sit at home, recovering, breastfeeding, and staring into the eyes of newborn Nicolas. In the second month, I'd bring him and his three-and-a-half-year-old big sister, Amalia, with me from New York to New Orleans and Miami, both of which are settings for the novel, for book events. Again, perfect timing! I'd forgotten the cardinal rule of parenting: Just when you think you've got this motherhood thing down, someone is guaranteed to poop all over your white jeans.

As my book tour approached, I found myself right back on that parenting roller coaster, hurtling up peaks and down valleys. The new baby was a great eater: peak! But I now had mammoth, grandma-like 32E breasts and a gut that celeb moms such as Heidi Klum, who walked the runway for Victoria's Secret shortly after giving birth, would never recognize: valley. I finally found a dress (that concealed unloved body parts), to wear to every single book event: peak! While at my launch party, it was not wine but someone's breast milk that spilled on said dress: valley. When it came time to leave town for my event in New Orleans, the baby was in a feeding groove, and I felt invincible. Until people began to suggest that maybe I was just insensitive. Nicolas was only six weeks old, and my aunt wondered why I insisted on dragging the kids all over creation.

"Babies aren't easy to come by," she said. "Enjoy yours. Spend time with your kids instead of chasing money." Clearly, she knows nothing about publishing. The book tour was unlikely to bring me vast riches. But I wanted to give the book, which I'd been working on since Amalia was a year old, more visibility and to show my children, especially Amalia, that work you love matters. But was I making their lives more stressful in the bargain?


On the flight from LaGuardia to Miami, I carried Nicolas in a shirt made with a pouch for baby-wearing. Rocked to sleep by the motion and white noise of the plane, he slept the entire flight. Upon arrival, we learned that, after a long illness, my grandfather-in-law had passed away. My husband left for Nicaragua to attend the funeral the next morning and I stayed behind with Nicolas, whose passport had yet to arrive. En route to Miami alone, I tended to a screaming baby all through airport security at New Orleans airport (it lasted about 45 minutes). Older women corrected the way I held the baby, younger women looked horrified, and men averted their eyes in terror. When we arrived at my parents' apartment in Miami after midnight, I was covered in breast milk (mine), urine (the baby's), and sweat (who knows). All I wanted to do was shower and throw my clothes in the laundry. The next morning, I woke up clean but without my engagement and wedding rings. My mother and I tore up the house, the beds, and the washing machine looking for them. Then I remembered separating the trash from the recycling in a sleep-deprived haze the night before. My mom, bless her heart, went through the garbage and found my rings stuck to a dirty diaper. Exhausted and filthy, I had thrown out my most valuable pieces of jewelry (both practically and sentimentally).

The next day, after my final reading took place at my favorite independent bookstore, I signed books while Amalia drew on paper napkins with the Sharpies the store had provided. As I spoke to the woman in front of me, Amalia turned to the stranger behind her and said, "I'm drawing pictures for my mommy because I'm proud of her. She did a REALLY good job." It was the best moment of my book tour. The events were nice, but the highlights of the trip came from being on the road with my kids, whether we were schmoozing tattooed Cajuns in a French Quarter courtyard, feeding fish in the fountains of Miami Beach's Lincoln Road, or dabbing Nicolas's tiny feet in the ocean for the first time. And even though Amalia threw up on me during the eleven-minute drive to Miami International Airport on the way home and I caught a bug on the flight and was feverish for two days afterwards, I'd do it all over again.

Which reminds me of the second cardinal rule of parenting: Traveling with kids is never easy, but it's almost always worth the pain.




Monday, July 13, 2015

Are You Happiest at Age 23 and 69 and Gloomiest at 55?

Since this is a month of family birthdays for the Gage family, I'm re-posting this from two years ago. Would love to hear your opinion of these ratings for happiness at certain ages. I'm coming up on 75 and think that things just keep getting better (cuz I have a new grandchild!)

Yesterday in the local paper I read an essay by syndicated columnist Tom Purcell saying that a study published by the Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, as reported in the Daily Mail, had determined that happiness among humans peaks at age 23, tanks at 55 and then peaks again at 69.
Purcell said, “The findings make sense to me”, because “at 23 you are…confident your future includes great riches and fame, a lovely wife and a perfect family and home.  As you move along, though, it doesn’t take long for the disappointments to begin piling up.”
Purcell mulled on each of the decades he had passed, as reality and expectations clashed.  “And then you are 50.  Good God, a half century?…Your mistakes and regrets come into sharp focus…You worry about the future more than you ever have.” 
I learned, at the end of his essay, that Purcell is about 51. “I still have four years to reach my peak crankiness,” he concluded.
I mentioned the study’s findings to daughter Eleni, who is presently 38, and she disputed the idea that  23 is one of the happiest ages, pointing out that it’s when life can be most challenging—you’re looking for a job, a career, a life partner. Everything is up in the air and you’re suddenly faced with all sorts of worries and responsibilities you didn’t have before.
I  searched to find out more about the study, which I learned was conducted on 23,161 Germans between the ages of 17 and 85, and led by Princeton researcher Hannes Schwandt for the London School of Economics.   He cited  “unmet aspirations which are painfully felt in midlife but beneficially abandoned later in life.”  But at around age 60, he learned, happiness began to steadily increase as people move beyond past regrets and onto a level of acceptance.
The study did find, however, that after age 70, happiness again starts to decline.
Personally, I remember age 23, just out of graduate school and working at my first job, as being stressful and pretty depressing.  At thirty I was newly wed and I spent the next decade having babies and moving overseas, which means that I pretty much missed the 1970’s.
To tell you the truth, I can’t remember being 55—that was in 1996—but I think it was a pretty good time of life. 
Not long ago I was asked to contribute an essay for a book which is being published in the fall called “70 Things to Do When You Turn 70”. 
I titled my contribution “Musing on the Joys of Cronehood” (naturally!) and said in part: “I used to think the best time of life was when your children are young and future triumphs are still possible.  But now I think that, if you’re a woman and lucky enough to remain in good health, your cronehood – after 60—is the best era, free of the drama, responsibilities, worries and the insecurities of youth….When women reach that milestone, they often channel the creative energy they spent on home, children and jobs into some long-hidden passion….They allow themselves to try the things they’d always dreamed of but never had time to do.”
So yes, I’d say that right now, age 72, is one of the happiest times of my life—enjoying travel and some “bucket list” experiences (which of course I record here as they happen).  High among them is the joy of hanging out with a 2-year-old first grandchild who is showing me how to look at everything with awe, as if for the first time.
Of course being healthy is critical to being happy at this age. Every day I say a prayer of thanks that I can still climb stairs and carry my own suitcase--though not as easily as before—because many of my friends are not so lucky.  But I think even those who are weathering hip and knee replacements and all the other hard knocks that old age has in store would still rate their happiness level as pretty high, because by now we’ve made peace with the disappointments and unrealized dreams of our younger selves.
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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Reflections on the Windows of Greece

         The critical referendum vote in Greece is upon us, Greek TV is filled with frantic people shouting Yes! (Nai) and No! (Ohi).  But I'm convinced this beautiful country will survive and the resilient Greek people will prevail.  We've just come back from a month traveling around the country, and everywhere the people are as welcoming as ever, the landscape just as heartbreakingly beautiful and the food, beaches and olive trees as magnificent as ever.  So don't hesitate to go there!  We go as a family every year.
         Thinking about Greece reminded me of this blog post from three years ago, about how I'm always admiring and photographing the windows that reflect the beauty and art of the Greek people, who have suffered so many disasters in the past and have pulled through and rebuilt their unique country every time. 
         As I’ve mentioned before, when I’m traveling in Greece, I find myself often photographing windows. (In Paris it’s doors and in Nicaragua, it’s chairs!)
         Greek windows, with their pristine white lace or cut-work curtains and the inevitable pot of basil in the window, are so carefully composed and so indicative of the creativity of the homemaker within, that I think you can call them found art.
         The pot of basil, by the way, is not just for cooking.  It’s considered a holy plant, and brings good luck, so every home must have one.
         At the recent Grecian Festival in the Cathedral of Saint Spyridon, our church in Worcester, MA,  I sold out of the packets of note cards of my Greek windows.  Guess I’d better print some more.
Here are eleven of the designs and a little about where I found them.
          The window on the left, on the green island of Skopelos in the northeast, demonstrates the beautiful cutwork of the handmade curtains. The reflection shows the arched window of a church (?) next door. 
         The window on the right, of a shop in the mountains of Crete, displays the colorful local embroidery and the classic caned Greek chair found everywhere throughout the country.
         Both these windows are in the charming Hotel Kastro, in the walled city in Yannina, Greece, which looks exactly as it did when the Turks ruled the country.  Now the mosques have been turned into museums, but the city still has the exotic beauty that seduced Lord Byron when he came to visit Ali Pasha and marvel at his riches.  The window on the left shows the Greek tendency to train climbing vines everywhere.  In the photo on the right, I was remembering something my friend, award-winning photographer Mari Seder, once told me--sometimes the shadows are the most important part of the photograph.
         On the left, a window in a popular taverna on the island of Hydra echoes the blue and white of the Greek flag.  The miniature sailing boat in the window speaks of the seafaring history of the island.          The  window on the right belongs to a humble restaurant on Mykonos, tucked far, far away from the areas thronged with tourists.  The food is magnificent and so is the view.  If I could remember the name of the restaurant I wouldn't tell.  Its patrons want to keep it unspoiled.  (Here's a hint. The beach far below is called Agios Sostis.)
        The window on the left is in a very rustic eco-resort--Milia-- high in the mountains of Crete.  The views far down the mountain are to die for.  On the right, in the unique town of Pirgi, on the island of Chios, the curtain in the window echoes the geometric designs scratched into the plaster of the exterior walls on all the buildings.
         On the left, outside a taverna on Crete, is what I call the mermaid window, although it may have started life as a door before it was boarded up and turned into illustrations for the story of the Gorgona--the giant mermaid who was the sister of Alexander the Great before he cursed her.  (If you want to know the whole story of the mermaid, read it in my book "The Secret Life of Greek Cats.")
         The window on the right is in an ancient church in the beautiful town of Pirgi on the island of Chios.  Originally I posted this photo in a blog post called "The Scraped Walls of Pirgi, Chios".  I said the angel-like figure over the window was a representation of the Holy Spirit, but I was wrong.  A sharp-eyed and much better-informed reader named Matthew Kalamidas wrote: "Lastly, the angel in the wall painting is actually a six-winged seraphim. In Greek, an exapterygo. Besides the six wings, the words beside it are 'Holy, Holy, Holy Lord', which is an abbreviated form of the never-ending prayer."



That's one of the great things about writing blog posts -- you learn so much.




Wednesday, July 1, 2015

World Largest Crustacean Means Summer in Worcester




(Click on Buster to make him bigger.)

( It's July again and once again I'm frantically writing toward a deadline on a magazine article,  so I'm running this post over again. It's a tribute to Worcester, MA ,which is still as quirky and full of surprises as ever, and to Buster, who is back once again, telling us to eat crab.)
We who live in (or near) Worcester MA, population 170,000, are fiercely loyal, even though big city papers like The New York Times tend to refer to Worcester as a “sleepy industrial backwater”.

Worcesterites fondly refer to their town as “Wormtown” and “The Paris of the Eighties”. The Worcester Historical Museum even sells a T-shirt (below) that makes fun of the way people always mispronounce the city’s name . (The correct pronunciation in the local accent is: ”Wusta.” If you call it “Wor-chester” everyone here will think you are wicked lame.)



With its rows of three-deckers and its mostly deserted brick factories, Worcester is like a time capsule that was sealed in the 1950s or ‘60’s. (It’s also a great place to shoot a movie—and several have been filmed here.) We have at the moment an airport with no scheduled commercial flights (well, I think there’s one to Florida), an auditorium,a courthouse and a vocational high school that stand empty (making great movie sets) and a central downtown discount fashion mall that has been deserted for years awaiting the wrecking ball.

Worcester has a quirky history full of rebels-- from Isaiah Thomas, who took his printing press and exited Boston ahead of the Tories (the Declaration of Independence was first read in public on our courthouse steps) to Abbie Hoffman who grew up in one of Worcester’s three-deckers (they were built for the families of the factory workers.)

We still have Coney Island Hotdogs with its famous neon sign, and the Boulevard Diner where Madonna ate spaghetti after a concert at the Centrum, Table Talk Pies and Sir Morgan’s Cove (now Lucky Dog, I think) where the Rolling Stones in 1981 gave an impromptu free concert. Worcester boasts seven colleges and universities including Holy Cross, WPI and Clark (where, in 1909 Freud gave his only American lectures.)

Luminaries who came from Worcester are a motley bunch including S. N. Berman, Emma Goldman, Stanley Kunitz, Elizabeth Bishop, Dennis Leary and Marcia Cross--the red-headed desperate housewife. Also the Coors twins, Diane and Elaine Klimaszewski.

Worcester is especially proud of its “famous firsts”, including barbed wire, shredded wheat, the monkey wrench, the first commercial Valentines, the birth control pill, the first perfect game in major league baseball and, most famous of all, the ubiquitous yellow Smiley Face icon.

In Worcester, the perennial sign of summer, as sure as the fireworks and concert in Christopher Colombo Park on the Fourth, is the arrival of the gigantic figure of Buster the Crab, lying on the roof and hanging over the Sole Proprietor Restaurant on Highland Street.

My husband and I ate there last week. There was a special menu of crab dishes, in addition to the regular Sole offerings. From the menu, I learned the following fascinating facts: This is Buster’s 17th year at the Sole Proprietor. Buster is the world’s largest inflatable crustacean. It takes 45,000 cubic feet of air to inflate him. He has a 75-foot claw spam. Buster could feed 200,000 people if he were real. That would require 35,116 pounds of butter and 45,447 lemons.

The crab dishes on the special menu ranged from fried tomato and crab Napoleon with smoky tomato dressing , Spyder Maki with soft-shelled crab, masago, cucumber and asparagus, to crab, mango and pickled cucumber cocktail and Crabmeat Casserole au gratin. I had crab and shrimp salad, which included avocado and tomatoes and sweet lemon herb vinaigrette. My husband had the soft-shelled crabs (sautéed, not fried). It was delicious. On the way out, I even wangled a copy of the Buster the Crab coloring book, usually meant only for kids. When we left, the wind was blowing and Buster’s giant claws waved good-bye.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Photo Tribute to a Dad and two Grandpa’s

I posted this for father's day four years ago, but now, while traveling in Greece with daughter Eleni, her husband Emilio and our two beautiful grandchildren--Amalia 3 1/2 and Nicolas, only 11 weeks old, my husband Nick Gage has proved himself a super Papou (grandfather.) Although he still doesn't change diapers.  But he's great at telling stories to Amalia until she falls asleep.


                                                                  Nick & Christos 1972
When our three children were born in the 1970’s, my husband Nick was not the kind of dad who'd change diapers, take a kid to the park or coach them in sports. But as these photos  suggest, he was always an important presence in their lives, ready to offer support, advice and unconditional love when they needed it.
                                                               Nick & Eleni circa 1976
This past week, President Obama launched the “Year of Strong Families” to do something about father absence, which he experienced growing up without a father.  Nick experienced it too, because, as he wrote in “A Place for Us”, he never knew his father, a short-order cook in Worcester, MA, until he and his sisters arrived in the U.S. as refugees in 1949 after their mother was executed during the Greek civil war.  Nick was nine years old.  His father, Christos, was 58.
                                                         Nick & Marina, circa  1979
My father, Robert O. Paulson, was born in 1906 and died in 1986.  Because my parents lived far away, he was not a real presence in our children’s lives, but when we visited California in 1973 I took these photos of him showing our son, Christos, his first view of the ocean, and reading to him at bedtime.


I only met my paternal grandfather, Par Paulson, once.  He was stern and completely deaf and the only way to communicate with him was by writing on a blackboard in chalk. But my step-grandfather, John Erickson, my grandmother’s second husband, had a special relationship with me during the years I lived near their small town of Monticello, Minnesota. 

 I still have a small garnet ring that once belonged to his mother. I remember vividly how he taught me to shoot his rifle across the wide Mississippi river, and in the spring, when it was time to get new baby chicks for the chicken yard, he would take me down to the hatchery, pull open drawers of chirping chicks and let me pick out the ones I liked.
                                                              Ida & John Erickson circa1952
 In the current "People" magazine President Obama wrote, “I grew up without a father around. I have certain memories of him taking me to my first jazz concert and giving me my first basketball as a Christmas present, But he left when I was two years old.”

 As he knows, even a one-time memory—choosing chicks at a hatchery, showing a grandson the ocean, reading a bedtime story or unwrapping a first basketball can be a gift that a child will cherish for a lifetime.