Friday, February 26, 2016

Lunch at Mar-a-Lago with The Donald (Trump, Of Course)

Because The New York Times today featured an article about how Donald Trump hires many illegal immigrants to staff his private club (formerly his home) of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, I thought I'd repost a photo essay from my blog of April 4, 2011 to give an inside view of just how over-the-top the place is, not to mention showing the portrait found inside that shows The Donald just as he imagines himself to be.

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”. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Invisible (Old) Woman

One of my favorite "older woman" bloggers is Judith Boyd who calls herself the "Style Crone" and is, like me, in her seventies.   She just published a blog post called "The Orange Jacket and the Concept of Erasure".  Her post and her orange jacket were inspired by an essay in the Feb. 2nd New York Times Magazine, written by Parul Sehgal , on "Erasure"  in which Sehgal says: “Erasure refers to the practice of collective indifference that renders certain people and groups invisible.”  Judith, the Style Crone, said: "Sehgal’s focus on older women at the end of her essay was profoundly powerful.  'There has been a blank around the lives of older women, who report feeling invisible as they age – which is, as it turn out, more fact than feeling.'”  Judith concluded: "I learned that no amount of orange could change the fact that older women are not 'seen' in our culture."

 Reading this inspired me to re-post an essay of mine that first appeared on "A Rolling Crone" on July 19, 2011 called "The Invisible (Old) Woman"  Here it is:

 A couple of days ago, my husband and I were staying in an antique-filled small hotel in Chania, Crete, which had, in the parlor, a wall of books in many languages discarded by previous guests.  (This is one of the delights of staying in small hotels.)

I picked up a paperback by Doris Lessing called “The Summer Before the Dark”, published in 1973, and I finished it as we arrived in Athens on Sunday night.

Briefly, it’s the story of a 48-year-old British housewife and mother, Catherine (or Kate) Brown, married to a doctor, who takes a summer off from domestic life, because her husband is at a medical conference in Boston and her three teen-aged children are traveling with friends in different countries.  She lets their house for the summer and begins working at a job as a translator at conferences around the world.  (Luckily, she’s fluent in four languages.)

When her well-paying work is over, Kate takes an American lover who is much younger—in his early 20’s.  They travel in Spain, he becomes very ill from some never-specified disease, then she becomes ill and returns to London alone, staying anonymously in a hotel. 

By the time she’s well enough to get out of bed, Kate has lost 15 pounds, her clothes hang on her, her dyed red hair is coming out gray at the roots and her face has aged dramatically.  As she weakly walks around London, even passing her own house, where her best friend doesn’t recognize her, Kate realizes that, by suddenly aging from an attractive, stylish, curvy redhead into a skeletal old hag in baggy clothes, she has become invisible.

Several times she plays this game: she walks past a group of men who ignore her or goes into a restaurant where the waiters scorn her, then she goes back to the hotel, puts on a stylish dress and ties her hair back, adds lipstick and returns to the same places, where she is coddled and admired.

I admit that it’s plausible for a 48-year-old woman to transform herself at will from an invisible hag into a noticed and admired woman, but when you’re sixty, or seventy (as I am) you’re permanently in the “invisible” category, unless you’re, say, Joan Collins or Jane Fonda.

I’ve been noticing this “invisible woman” phenomenon with both amusement and consternation over the years.  Haven’t you had the experience of walking into a coffee shop or a department store or a cocktail party where everyone looks right through you and you start searching for a mirror to make sure you’re actually visible?

Yesterday we checked into the Grande Bretagne Hotel in Athens, one of the grand old luxury hotels of the world.  We arrived a bit out of breath because there was a taxi strike and we came via subway, dragging our suitcases up stairwells when there was no escalator.

My husband walked in first and I was greeted on all sides: “Welcome back Mrs. Gage!”  My suitcases disappeared. Cold water was provided.

A couple of hours later, I came down to the lobby to ask a question at the concierge desk.  There were three concierges and no other guests waiting.  The white-haired concierge was on the phone confirming someone’s dinner reservations.  The middle one was explaining to the youngest one about the book where must be recorded all cars and busses and pick-up times. I learned a lot about the hotel business, standing there 18 inches in front of them, until finally one of them noticed me and said “Oh hi!  How can I help you?”

A more fraught episode occurred Saturday in Crete at the magnificent wedding reception of a very prominent Cretan family.  Nick and I passed through security and into the estate, up some stairs where we were greeted by waiters with glasses of champagne and a world-class view of the sea below.  Lit by the full moon was a football-field- sized clearing by the seaside, filled with flower-laden tables and lighted by candles and lanterns. I stopped to admire the view, then turned toward the swimming pool area where the family was greeting guests, but my husband had vanished into thin air.

For half an hour I walked around the pool area, even wandering into the nearby yard where I thought Nick might have gone to escape the crush.  As I circled, I kept looking for a familiar face, but the only ones I recognized were from TV and the newspapers. The predominant languages were French and Greek, which I know (far better Greek than French), but I couldn’t imagine plunging into one of the groups surrounding a prime minister and blurting out in any language: “Hi, I’m the wife of Nicholas Gage”.

At the far end of the swimming pool, on a white banquette, was a young woman in a long brown dress completely absorbed in her cell phone.  I decided to take the other banquette and watch the parade of Parisian fashions pass by. Unfortunately, I had left my phone at the hotel.

Eventually my husband re-appeared.  He had gone with friends to find the lists for our table seating. After we clambered down to the sea and found our table, I had no trouble talking to the Greek jewelry designer on my right and the elegant Frenchman across the table, but that first half hour of invisibility wasn’t fun.

But sometimes I delight in being invisible.  Yesterday, I repeated a summer ritual. I walked from Constitution Square down Hermou to a tourist shop just below the Cathedral on  Mitropouleas Street to  deliver another batch of my Greek Cat books for them to sell.  Then I went to a small restaurant called “Ithaki” where every summer I get a really good gyro and some chilled white wine. I sit at the same table every time and watch the owner charm the passing tourists into sitting down to eat.  I’m fascinated by the man’s ability to know each person’s language. He’s way more skilled than the usual restaurant shills who try to lure you in with the two or three sentences they know.

Yesterday he charmed two pretty girls from South Africa into sitting at the table at my left, treating them to a piece of his “famous spinach pie” as an appetizer.  Then he gathered a rollicking table of Italians and told them which beer to order.  Directly in front of me were two American boys who had befriended two girls whose accents suggested that they came from someplace once in the USSR. “Oh, I’ve always wanted to see America,” I heard one of them say.

Wrapped in my cloak of invisibility I could hear the South African girls complaining about their parents: “If my mother ever found out!”  I could watch the American boys rather awkwardly courting the much more sophisticated Slavic girls.  I reflected that every young person should be required to take a year off before the age of 30, to tour the world with a backpack and sit in a taverna like this one, listening to the owner speak a medley of languages and learning about the world.

When he brought me the (very modest) bill, I tried to tell the owner that I come back every year because I enjoy watching him speak so many languages so well, but he just shrugged and rushed off to greet some Japanese tourists.  I think he didn’t hear me.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Obama’s Mama Collected Textiles and So Do I

  In the “Antiques and The Arts” newspaper, some years ago, I came across a small item that thrilled me.  It said that Barack Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, wove textiles for wall hangings early in her life, and when she moved to Indonesia with her son in the 1960’s, she began to amass a collection of the vibrant batik textiles of the country.  “She did not acquire rare or expensive pieces, but rather contemporary examples that were an expression of a living tradition, patterned with both classic designs and those of passing fashion.”

Later, I learned, when Ann was studying anthropology at the University of Hawaii, she tried to find ways to help craftspeople.  She worked with the Ford Foundation in Jakarta and with USAID and the World Bank, and set up micro-credit projects in Indonesia, Pakistan and Kenya to benefit poor women making textiles.

I have always considered textile-making (weaving and embroidery) a fascinating art form. In many countries this is the only medium of artistic expression available to women and the only way they can earn money.  Whenever I travel, I buy textiles –ideally from the women who created them. Now my walls are covered with antique American quilts, Mexican huipils, Haitian voodoo flags and Greek embroidered table runners.

 Most pieces cost under $100 but they’re priceless, because they embody the maker’s artistic talent as well as (in some cases) their religious or political beliefs and their dreams, for example the wedding couple on a tablecloth that a young Greek girl embroidered as part of her dowry. (The teapot is also from an Anatolian tablecloth.) 

Around 1970 I got interested in antique American quilts. On our second floor stair landing I hung a “Tumbling Blocks” quilt behind a sea captain’s chest full of teddy bears.

The section from an unfinished velvet and silk Victorian quilt is called “Windmill Blades” and the large “Barn Raising” quilt on the staircase wall is from a very old variation on the Log Cabin pattern.

Mexican and Guatemalan embroideries fascinate me with their sophisticated and wild use of color. I’ve decorated the wall of my studio (shown at top) with antique, wonderfully embroidered Mexican huipils.  The design of each blouse indicates the native village of the woman who wears it. 

The lady posing above with her work is Maria, whom we met in the marketplace of San Cristobal, Chiapas, Mexico.  She was the best among the many women weavers and embroiderers who crowded the marketplace.  (San Cristobal is heaven for the collector of textiles.) 

Near the border of Guatemala I found the embroidery at left made by a Sandinista woman who was also selling dolls with faces masked like Comandante  Marcos. The pillow at the right, made in Guatemala, looks to me like a man walking in a graveyard.  Could this be a memorial or something to do with the Day of the Dead? 

Daughter Eleni, who studied folklore and mythology, introduced me to the sequined voodoo flags made in Haiti and used in religious rites.  They are usually made (and signed) by men and they represent the gods who take possession of the worshiper.  These sequin flags and the artists who make them are taken very seriously as art now, which means they can be very expensive. The two large ones represent La Sirene—-The Enchantress—and Baron Samedi—who mitigates between life and death.

Textile artists reflect the life they see around them—the Greek wall hanging is an island scene with table, chairs and cat. The festive wedding scene (brought from Pakistan by Eleni) shows a wedding party celebrating beneath an umbrella.  

This exquisite, antique Chinese embroidery (now framed under glass) was in a box of textiles that I bought for $75.  The detailed work and the wonderful reproduction of all those birds, animals and flowers make it beyond price. The knots are so small, I think it must include the “forbidden knot” that would make the sewers eventually lose their sight. 


 Finally there is lace: a simple lace handkerchief and lace runner that I'm told represents French cathedrals.  It may sound silly to buy pieces like this for a few dollars and then spend a great deal more to frame them, but I do it, because I consider them found art.

It cost a lot more than a few dollars when I encountered this stunning set of Madeira lace work – ten place mats and a table runner—at a summer yard sale near our village common.  They came with their own blue brocade carrying case plus a handwritten note that it was “Made on the Island of Madeira for the Beede Family, makers of Madeira Wines”.

I couldn’t resist, telling myself it was for a daughter’s trousseau, but let’s face it, young women today have no use for fragile lace tablecloths, napkins and embroidered linens, so the fine Madeira set now lives with the “turkey work” embroidered pillow shams, the hand-smocked baby dresses (mine! from 75 years ago!). and the Dresden Plate quilt that my grandmother made for my mother’s wedding in 1932—all stored in tissue and special boxes, hidden under my bed.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Amalia's Florida Escape

All winter I've been going out on the balcony in New York looking for snow but nothing happened.

Then at the end of  January, Yiayia and Papou said that we should come down to South Beach, Miami for a long weekend because Papi was traveling in Asia on business.
Here we are in the airport: Mommy, Nicolas and me.

When we got to the apartment in South Beach where we lived when I was born, Nicolas took a nap in the courtyard while Mommy worked and I rode my bicycle around.  

It has three wheels and gives directions in Spanish.
Inside the apartment I showed Papou and Yiayia what I had learned in gymnastics and yoga.
One day we went to Flamingo Park where I rode on the dinosaur that used to scare me when I was little.
And went down the big curvy slide
While Mommy and Nicolas sat under the Banyan tree
Then we all rode on the little train. I was the engineer.

Later we went to Espanola Way and had crepes at A La Folie.  I made a design out of the sugar packets.
Then we went to the gelateria place nearby.
I got strawberry. I always get strawberry.
On another day we went to Lincoln Road and I did crafts at Books and Books with my Miami friends Eleni and Phaedra.

I colored this purse.  Do you like it?

On Lincoln Road, Nicolas liked to crawl around on the grassy knoll.

And at night on the grassy knoll I would shoot off into the sky rockets with colored lights, sold by the rocket man, while behind me a man was dancing and vogue-ing.

We were supposed to fly back on Sunday but all the flights were cancelled because of a huge snowstorm in New York, so we went to Eleni and Phaedra's house for dinner and their Mommy cut the King cake.
Finally on Tuesday we got on a plane for New York and Nicolas screamed and made a big fuss until Yiayia showed him Peppa Pig on her phone.

In New York there were huge piles of snow everywhere and the cars were all stuck in the snow.  After school on Wednesday, outside our apartment building, Yiayia and I made our first snowman of the winter.
It was the best snowman on East 80th Street.