Tuesday, August 23, 2016



Monday, August 22, 2016

Celia Thaxter American Poet by the Sea (c) by Polly Guerin

Celia Thaxter in her island garden painted by Childe Hassam

 The incredibly beauty of Celia Thaxter's poetry, inspired by her life on Appledore, one of the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire, is a solitary testament to her poignant prose about nature and the sea.
   When I visited her island garden, so painstakingly maintained by the Portsmouth Horticultural Society, it inspired me to think of the patience and endurance of a remarkable woman. Her love for the minutest detail of nature found its way not only into her poetry but also her watercolors and ceramics. Every flower, leaf, bug, slug, sandpiper, seabird and the mighty gray rocks were her intimate friends envisioned into poems that resound with a life well lived by the sound of the sea.
At first glance the Isles of Shoals seems very sad, stern and bleak, but to Celia Appledore  was an enchanted island, where her poignant poetry seemed to crest the waves of inspiration by the sound of the sea.
     In our fast paced electronic world one could revive at Appledore and to the imaginative mind, all things become a dreamy tableau of never ending beauty. The eternal sound of the sea on every side seemingly wears away the edge of preoccupation with the mainland; sharp images become blurred and softened like a sketch in charcoal and tranquility takes over the senses.
A SEASIDE SONNETBy Celia Thaxter: As happy dwellers by the seaside hear In every pause the sea’s mysterious sound, The infinite murmur, solemn and profound, Incessant, filling all the atmosphere, Even so I hear you, for you do surround My newly-waking life, and break for aye About the viewless shores, till they resound With echoes of God’s greatness night and day. Refreshed and glad I feel the full flood-tide Fill every inlet of my waiting soul; Long-striving, eager, hope, beyond control, For help and strength at last is satisfied; And you exalt me, like the sounding sea, With ceaseless whispers of eternity.
Celia reminisces “All flowers had for me such human interest, they were so dear and precious. I wondered how every flower knew what to do and to be; why the morning-glory didn’t forget sometimes, and bear a cluster of elder-bloom, or the elder hand out pennons of gold and purple like the iris; or the goldenrod suddenly blaze out a scarlet plume, the color of the pimpernel, was a mystery to my childish thought. 
     And why did the sweet wild primrose wait till after sunset to unclose its pale yellow buds; why did it unlock its treasure of rich perfume to the night alone? Few flowers bloomed for me upon the lonesome rock; but I made the most of all I had, and neither knew of nor desired more. Ah, how beautiful they were!” (From “Among the Isles of Shoals, by Celia Thaxter, 1873, J.R. Osgood publisher)
A LIFE SANCTIONED BY THE SEALife on the Isles of Shoals, in its remote and pristine beauty vividly colored Celia’s poetry and prose. As I witnessed this sea-locked vista I can tell you that the landscape of the Isles of Shoals has changed little since the time when Thaxter lived there. First as daughter of the lighthouse keeper on White Island Lighthouse and then later on Appledore where her family had the finest island hotel. 
     It became an intellectual and literary Mecca drawing artists like William Morris Hunt and Childe Hassam to the Shoals as well as well known authors. The burden of caring for her brain-damaged child, Karl, and an invalid husband, Levi, must have weighted heavily on her and would surely have been enough to discourage any writer, but Celia was committed to her role as a poet. She wrote with quiet passion of the place and land that she loved most and gave poetry readings daily throughout the summer season at Appledore.
AMERICA’S FAVORITE POETCelia Thaxter (1835-1894) reputation as the most popular of America’s women poets far surpassed many other poets’ names better known today. Although Celia’s fame began to fade, even in the school system that once had made Celia's poems a priority in nature studies, her poetry is regaining its place today new followers who have come to appreciate her beautiful words and poignant sentiments. And now in tribute to this great poet, may you find inspiration and solace; I leave you with an excerpt from Celia Thaxter’s poem “Land-Locked.”
O Earth! Thy summer song of joy may soar
Ringing to heaven in triumph. I but crave
The sad, caressing murmur of the wave
That breaks in tender music on the shore.
The Salem Athenaeum is featuring Celia Thaxter's Salon and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA celebrates American Impressionism with Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals through Nov 6, 2016. www.pem.org.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

THE FRENCH QUARTER: New Orleans Remembered By Polly Guerin

St. Louis Cathedral-Basilica
This is the final report from Polly's recent Mississippi Riverboat cruise
New Orleans' Gallic charm, its enchanting historical rhetoric, Mardi Gras mania and Jazz Funerals light up the collective imagination with dreams of the 'good time' city that never ceases to amaze, entertain and renew itself over and over again.
      New Orleans has a strong vitality and has survived steadfast through the Civil War, World War I and II, the Great Depression, epidemics and storms, and even Katrina.
     I was drawn to the heart of Le Vieux Carre, the French Quarter at Franklin Square, the city's most historic area---its lacy balconies, elegant courtyards, unique boutiques and exceptional restaurants.
     At the heart of this ancient quarter is the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis King of France, which stands as a testament to the city's French influence and culture. Founded in 1718 and established as a parish in 1720, it was not until 1964 that it was designated a basilica. Looking back to its original setting, the curved road, bordered with tress and green hedges was the passageway where fine horse-drawn carriages arrived in style with fashionably dressed French women and noble men in military attire.  It was Sunday at its best "en famille" with lavish dinner to follow the service and time for romantic encounters under chaperon protection.
     Louisiana was claimed for France in 1682 and La Nouvelle Orleans was named in honor of the Duke of Orleans, France's ruling regent until the young Louis XV could take the throne. Unlike the Protestant founders of most New World settlements the French were Catholic and early formalities did not share the strict view of life with the New England Puritans. Although the major influence was religious, the French Catholics were a different breed of settlers and enjoyed good food and sensual pleasure. Mardi Gras, the most famous festival, is a Catholic holiday after all and in French, Mardi Gras, means "Fat Tuesday," a time of happy indulgence and merry-making before the self-imposed austerity of Lent.
      In 1872 the Russian Grand Duke visited he city and the masquerading and partying reached epic proportions and New Orleans declared Mardi Gras an official holiday in the Duke's honor. Then they crowned their own king---Rex, the Lord of Misrule---who decreed that the event's official colors were purple (for justice), green (for faith) and gold (for power). The city-wide celebration's extravagant floats, outrageous costumes, and non-stop partying are reason enough to attract visitors worldwide to experience Mardi Gras madness. The Mardi Gras Museum located in the French Quarter is an eye-popping experience with the historical account of Mardi Gras, a treasure trove of  costumes on display and memorabilia, which remain key components of the party ever since. Next door to the Mardi Gras Museum is the Katrina Museum which chronicles Katrina with memorabilia, photographs and artifacts.
     Such a neophyte place as New Orleans needed some form of discipline and the formality of instruction, To this end, a coterie of Ursuline nuns were invited to establish a convent to provide the colony spiritual guidance and instruction. No one was left out of their orbit, the nuns included all races, enslaved and free, into Catholicism which solidified New Orleans' Catholic character. The Catholic girl's school they established in 1727, the oldest one in America is still operating and debutante's emerge the wiser.
      However, immigrants today continue to shape the French Quarter but the heart of the city holds fast to its French roots. Even during forty years of Spanish rule, New Orleans remained French, schools taught lessons in French, newspapers published in French and New Orleanians adapted French culture and fashions. Since then New Orleans has become an iconic American City, but its French heart is still beating. Nearby St. Louis Basilica is the Old Ursuline Convent Museum.
                                                          BREAKFAST AT BRENNANS
Brennan;s Dining Patio
      One special day I visited Brennan's restaurant to sample their famous Bananas Foster. a delicacy of honey fried bananas with vanilla ice cream and butterscotch drizzle and dined in the inner patio as a sweet summer breeze of summer wafted through the lush greenery.
    However, breakfast at Brennan's has much more to offer including an egg cuisine of particular note such as Eggs Sardou with crispy artichokes, Parmesan creamed spinach and choron (pork) sauce.
        As history would tell, when Owen Brennan, the proprietor of the old Absinthe House, was teased by Count Arnaud that an Irishman's culinary skills end with boiled potatoes, he was determined to prove him wrong. In 1946 he opened Owen Brennan's View Carre restaurant on Bourbon Street, where Bananas Foster and history were made in the process. After a successful decade the restaurant moved to its present quarters at 417 Royal Street, a new location with an illustrious past.
Brennan's Pink Building
      Legend has it that the building was constructed in 1795 by the great grandfather of Edgar Degas, The famous pink building building and patio, one of the Vieux Carre's most interesting it was erected during the twilight of Spanish rule over Louisiana by Don Jose Faurie, a wealthy merchant.
       Later the building housed The Louisiana State Bank, first banking in the Louisiana territory. Later still, it served as a private residence frequented by President Andrew Jackson, and was home to eccentric world-famous master chess champion Paul Murphy, who lived there until his death in 1884.    
     Then it was bequeathed to Tulane University, leased and the sold to Brennan family in 1984 and in 2013 it was bought by partners Ralph Brennan and Terry White, who completed a major restoration and re-established the iconic restaurant in 2014.  Today, Brennan;s is both historic and contemporary proof that fine dining remains proudly relevant in New Orleans. I also visited Bubbles at Brennan's courtyard and Roost Bar, which makes Bubbly libations and snacks a "must treat" after an afternoon of sightseeing.   www.brennan's.com.
Historical Postcard
     I'm an old-fashioned gal so when it came to dinner I went to Antoine's Restaurant at 713 Saint Louis Street. which has become as much a part of New Orleans as Jackson Square and Saint Louis Cathedral---a restaurant that have been operating continuously by the same family, since 1840.
     It all started when Antoine Alciatore arrived from Marseilles, France in 1840, and became immediately a culinary notable in New Orleans. He was eighteen years old, and young Antoine had been apprenticed, since the age of eight, to the Great French Chef, Collinet, of the Hotel de Noailles in Marseilles..
Oysters a la Rockefeller
        By the time he left France, Antoine had served Kings and royalty, and the aristocracy of that country. Before Antoine arrived here the meals served at public table were simple. Boiled or roasted meat, fowl, fish and sauces were mainly non-existent and haute cuisine preparations virtually unknown at that time Antoine changed all that. He was he first to serves visitors New Orleans culinary treasures such as Chicken Creole, Crayfish Etouffee, and Shrimp Remoulade. The names of his dishes tell a history of the great chefs of France.  His son Jules created such unique offerings as Oysters Bienville, Foch and Rockefeller Yes, Oysters a la Rockefeller was invented here; the recipe a sacred family secret. www.Antoines.com.
     The Vieux Carre has so much more to offer but these were a few of my favorite things to share with you. The French Quarter possesses an old-world charm but there are other districts of equal interest, such as Upland where antebellum mansions proudly stand their place grounded in history, the Garden District, Botanical Gardens, Audubon Zoo, and others. Not to be missed is New Orleans Historic French Market, since 1862, the 24-hour meeting place for New Orleans most delicious coffee and BEIGNETS, a pastry delicacy that melts in your mouth.
     Ta Ta darlings, fan mail welcome please email pollytalknyc@gmail.com. Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com and check the link in the left hand column to Blogs the resonate with your interest.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

IRIS, Rare Revival at Bard College's 2016 SummerScpe festival: Review by Polly Guerin

Poster for IRIS, 1898 
Pietro Mascagni's three-act opera IRIS, the tragic story of a young girl's innocence, abduction and betrayal is as relevant today as it was when first performed in 1898 at the Teatro Constanzi in Rome and a revised version in 1899 at La Scala, Milan. The story was set in Japan during legendary times, and the Opera's "Verismo" theme was a triumph.
     Maestro Leon Botstein, conductor/music director said, "It was the Hamilton of its day. It played for a long time in the 20's. In fact, 
Iris was performed more than Butterfly."
     Mascagni did not include love duets; the opera has a modern aspect to it---the oppression of women. The opera was timely because in 1920 women received the right to vote and their voice and plight was heard around the world. However, in Italy it was not granted until 1946.
    Mascagni's IRIS is based on a universal theme, the huge emotions it generates and the mastery of the music. For instance, unlike traditional operas, the music in the first act rises to a crashing climax, the instrumentation including cymbals, drums, and bells, the choired voices singing, "Calore!. Luce! Armor!" (Warmth! Light! Love!). Such an unexpected opening technique sets the high voltage mood throughout the opera.
     BARD's IRIS production is the first major professional North American staging in nearly a century (1898-2016). There are three more performances this rare revival this summer and tickets are available here (http://www.fishercenter.bard.edu/calendar/event.php. Left: Poster of IRIS, published by Casa Ricordi in 1898.
      As Maestro Leon Botstein said in his pre-performance talk on Sunday, "Mascagni was an innovator. While previous opera librettos relied upon literature for inspiration, Mascagni IRIS relied on a new element called "Verismo" or realism, telling stories that were drawn from everyday life. "
      Mascagni's introduction of "Verismo," influenced other opera composers' new operas with realistic themes. It is a well know fact that Giacomo Puccini observed Mascagni's opera IRIS, over and over, until he no doubt incorporated realism into the production of Madame Butterfly, which incidentally was a disaster at first and had to be revised. Then too, Luigi Illica wrote the original Italian libretto for both Mascagni's Iris and Puccini's Butterfly. To make matters worse, Mascagni's popularity waned and his politics factored into his decline-- his reputation became somewhat tarnished through his close links to Mussolini's fascist regime.  With Mascagni no longer in favor, in time Butterfly eventually went on to eclipse IRIS.
IRIS and Her Blind Father, Act One
    The first act is a very touching dramatization of innocence and abduction. Fujiyana glows in the early morning light as Iris, who is devoted to he blind father, sings as a shower of petals cascade. American soprano, Talise Trevigne's rich voice is resplendent and heart wrenching as the young, beautiful and vulnerable IRIS. 
     Kyoto, keeper of questionable establishment of ill repute, plots to obtain IRIS for the wealthy rake, Osaka.  While Iris is distracted in a fascinating dance sequence, three women representing Beauty, Death, and the Vampire, dance around her. In exotic black costumes they conceal her from view by spreading their skirts and IRIS is seized and carried off to Yoshiwara. a place of perdition. When Il Cieco, her father returns, he is led to believe that his daughter has gone voluntarily.
The Brothel in Yoshiwara
    The modern aura of the red and black set design for Act II provides the sensuality and mysterious interior of the brothel, where Iris awakens  The tenor, Gerard Schneider's "Osaka's" robust and buoyant voice attempts to woo her with jewels. Impatient he grows weary of her innocence and leaves. The dramatic baritone, Douglas Williams' Kyoto commands the scene with a frightening presents. He places Iris in sheer garments and places her up for the bidding.  Iris's father returns only to disown her believing she is a willing inmate of the brothel. In deep despair, Iris jumps into a gaping hole, falling into the subterranean sewer below to die.  Such a climatic end would not do for Mascagni, in his third act's additional sequence the composer gives Iris and the characters in the opera the opportunity to reappear and sing again. As Iris momentarily gains consciousness as in Act I, there is the choired tribute to warmth, light, love--the sun!
IRIS Disrobing from Innocence
BARD's Iris is a very touching opera, brilliant and dramatic, sensitive yet modern and so realistic that its universal appeal resonates with opera enthusiasts. Leon Botstein concluded, "Our mission is to stage under appreciated, rare operas like IRIS that deserve to be produced for modern audiences today." Order tickets online: fishercenter.bard.edu. By phone: 845.758.7900.

     Ta ta darlings!!! IRIS is worth a daytripping visit up to Bard at Annandale-on-Hudson. There is a Summerscape coach from New YOrk City on July 31.  Fan mail welcome please email Polly at pollytalknyc@gmail.com. Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com and click in he left hand column the link to the Blog that resonates with your interest.

Monday, July 18, 2016

DIANE ARBUS: at The Met Breuer: Review by Polly Guerin

Diane Arbus at Work
Part of the inaugural season at The Met Breuer, is the exhibition, "Diane Arbus: In The Beginning," which focuses on seven key years that represent a crucial period of the artist's genesis; Arbus as she developed her style and honed her practice. 
     The exhibition highlights never-before-seen early works from 1956 to 1962 of the iconic photographer's career---the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style and approach for which she has been recognized, praised, criticized, and copied the world over.  The exhibition will remain on display until November 27 at The Met Breuer 945 Madison Avenue.
     For my part I would like to know, "Who was Diane Arbus?"  I am not a photography aficionado so the significance of Arbus goes right over my head, but I am intrigued enough to write this review which may shed some light on how she became one of history's most famous documenters of urban life.
    Arbus' made most of her photographs in New York City, where she was born and died, and where she worked in locations such as Times Square, the Lower East Side, Coney Island, and other areas.  Her photographs of children and eccentrics, couples and circus performers, female impersonators and Fifth Avenue pedestrians are among the most intimate and surprising images of the era.
    These photographs on display at Breuer are presented individually, like a singular work of art, on a tall wall panel. This enclave of panel trees gives visitors the opportunity to pause and examine the diverse but highly individualistic images that captured a slice of life of a forgotten era.
Family on an  Outing
Arbus believed fully that she had something special to offer the world; a glimpse of its many secrets. She once tried to explain her art by saying, "I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it's very subtle and a little embarrassing to me but I really believe there are things which nobody would see  unless I photographed them."

ARBUS: The Early Years
    Arbus was fascinated with photography even before she received a camera in 1941 at the age of 18 as a present from her husband Allan. She ran a fashion photography studio with him for years before starting the work which she is best known for--portraits of people outside the mainstream often on the fringes of society.
    But in 1956 she  numbered a roll of 35mm film #1, as if to claim to herself that this moment would be be her definitive beginning. During the course of the next seven years (the period when she primarily used a 35mm camera), a dramatic change took place----from pictures of individuals that sprang out of fortuitous chance encounters to portraits in which the chosen subjects became engaged participants, with as much stake in the outcome as the photographer. Throughout her oeuvre Arbus sought the poignancy of a direct personal encounter.
Arbus's Circus Entertainers 
    After her suicide at 48 in 1971, Arbus's family found boxes filled with a cache of photographic memorabilia in her basement darkroom at 29 Charles Street in Greenwich Village. and included unpublished photographs from the late 1950s, when she officially began her career as an independent artist.  The majority of the photographs included in the exhibition are part of the Museum's vast Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist's daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. It was only when the archive---a treasury of photographs, negatives, notebooks, appointment books, correspondence, and collections---came to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007 that this early work began to be fully explored.
     Accompanying the exhition is a gallery devoted to a selection of works by Arbus's predecessors and contermporaries, including August Sander, Lisette Model, Walker Evans, Helen Levitt and others. Education programs include a Studio Workshop: Portrait Photography on July 23, a Sunday at The Met on September 25, family tours and exhibition hours. The exhibition is featured on the Museum's website: www.metmuseum.org as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using #dianearbus and #MetBreuer.
    Ta Ta Darlings!!!  Diane Arbus has captured a time and a place where ordinary citizens as well as freaks have their 15 minutes of timeless fame, worth the viewing. Fan mail always welcome at pollytalknyc@gmail.com.  Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com and click on the Blog that resonates with your interest listed on the left-hand side of the page on fashion, visionary men, women determined to succeed, and poetry.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

AMERICA: A Mississippi Riverboat Cruise: By Polly Guerin

By WSS member Polly Guerin

Review for the WORLD SHIP SOCIETY Port of New York Branch
The AMERICA Christening Ceremony 

I'm an old-fashioned gal who waxes nostalgic when comes to sentimental journeys. So when it came to deciding on a riverboat cruise this year I fancied remembering the 1927 musical "Showboat" and opted to take a River Boat cruise right here in the good old USA.
     Although I had taken riverboat cruises on the Volga in Russia and the Rhone in France I decided that it was time to travel through the land of the bayous and Southern Belles, where the culture of the the Old South would emanate throughout the trip.  So I took an eight-day/seven night round trip cruise,  to and from New Orleans, Louisiana, May 28 to June 4, on American Cruise Lines' newest ship, christened AMERICA.  An overnight stay on May 27th at the AC Marriott in New Orleans was included in the cruise package so that guests could embark early the next day.
       Festive events were woven into the cruise with ports-of-call along the Mississippi at Houmas House, Baton Rouge, St. Francisville, Natchez, Vicksburg and Oak Alley. In addition to visiting antebellum mansions/plantations. daily highlights included Bill Wiemuth, the River Historian's lectures, the Mississippi Songbird, Laura Sable and other showboat entertainments, plus on site afternoon tea, a visit to the Pilot House and the amazing Kitchen Galley with its efficient quarters. 
       However, the capstone of the festivities was the christening ceremony of the brand new AMERICA;  I knew then that special memories were aboard as well. As Riverboat Historian Bill Wiemuth said, "It is so exciting to see riverboat cruising have a vibrant future. The new riverboat America keeps alive the tradition of the Mississippi riverboat travel that dates back more than two centuries.  The 2016 launch of America is the second riverboat built in the past twenty years to ply the Mississippi River system. "
     America, the cruise line's largest ship with a capacity of 185 guests, maintains the intimacy and personalization of small ship travel. The ship brings never before seen features to Mississippi including advanced engineering for faster yet quieter travel allowing guests to spend more time at the ports-of-call and travel at a higher level of comfort.  For die-hard WSS cruise historians the propulsion of the boat is two 1600-horsepower Z-drives for a total of 3200 horsepower. The newly built paddlewheeler America was built at Chespeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland.  The launch of America includes four authentic paddlewheelers, while an additional four are coastal cruises.  Like its fleetmates, AMERICA flies the United States flag with an all American crew.  It is the eighth ship for American Cruise Lines, which is based in Guilford, Connecticut. 
      While the ship is adorned with gleaming woodwork, brass fixtures, and historic decor, it was constructed with the latest cruise technology. The cabins, public spaces and lounges are designed with traditional Southern-inspired flair that elegantly blends with a traditional appearance with modern features and amenities. Every cabin has a balcony.  I especially enjoyed taking breakfast served on mine each morning, and the room itself had a certain tasteful Southern cham with exquisite textiles, pillows, a comfortable bed, an upholstered swivel chair, dressers and a bathroom with perfectly adequate shower stall.
      Although I traveled alone on this cruise, as I always do, meeting new people is a friendly exchange and  it extends to the Dining Salon where open seating provides another opportunity for conversation. The three meals a day are presented in an atmosphere of Southern decor and Southern hospitality. The pleasant surroundings provide an opportunity to sit as you please, at tables that accommodate four, six, eight and even twelve guests. American culinary care to the ship's cuisine has gourmet flare and wine is served. It is interesting to note the the American crew included college/waiters who were efficient, prompt, but especially polite.
      The first welcome aboard day  guests were invited to meet River Historian Bill Wiemuth for a fascinating introduction to the significance of "The Mississippi River, Then and Now." And, if you were not inclined to venture out of your cabin, his daily lectures and commentary was broadcast each day on the ship's "Narration" channel. Visit Bill at www.riverhistory.com. 
AMERICA's Paddlewheel Lounge
After a day of sightseeing and mansion/plantation visits the activities get into full swing at 5:30 p.m. when cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are served in the Magnolia Lounge on Deck 2. Although the River Historian Bill Wiemuth and Mississippi songbird, Laura Sable are the entertainment headliners on this riverboat other notables included the Victory Belles for an evening of songs and stories from the Andrews Sisters and a salute to our military men and women. On another night  Captain Hopkin's cocktail hour honored all of our veterans that served in the Armed Forces, with a bit of Old New Orleans jazz with Tom Hook and Wendell Brunious. Comic relief came with comedian Judy Davis, for song, storytelling, and a whole lot of laughs and guest were invited to "Bring your dancin' shoes to the Magnolia Lounge to enjoy some old time classics with entertainers Osgood and Blaque.

        Festivities included marvelous music with the lovely Laura Sable performing hits of timeless singers including Garland, Streisand and Parton, 's accompanied by River Historian, Bill Wiemuth at the piano.  A departure from Bill's daily historical lectures included "10 Amazing Card Tricks Anyone can Do," held in the Paddlewheel Lounge.
      By far, AMERICA'S Christening Ceremony was a major highlight with passengers gathered on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th deck bows to watch Mrs. Barbara Suttles christen the ship by smashing the requisite champagne bottle against its railing. We all sang God Bless America, and sipped champagne as our voices rang out with pride of the moment. Visit Bill at RiverHistory.
      Plantation/mansion visits at ports-of-call were facilitated with coordinated ease so that when the AMERICA docked passengers could walk directly to the plantation. The ship also provided golf carts to transport anyone with special needs.
      Herewith I capsulate some my observations. 
      The first welcome mat was open to the southern splendor of Houmas House, once a massive sugar plantation, aptly called "The Sugar Palace." It is a total immersion into the Old South's grandeur and features 16 rooms filled with period antiques and furnishings, plus time to explore the 38 lush acres of exquisite gardens. A charming docent in period costume made the experience of Southern Plantation life memorable.
     In St. Francisville we visited Rosedown Plantation is considered on of the most beautiful plantations in the South. As Keats wrote, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." The magnificent property provides insight into Southern culture and hospitality.
     Oak Alley with its alley of 300-old Live Oak Trees leads to "The Grand Dame of the Great River Road. This antebellum home with historical culture makes it worthy enough to become a Downton-Abbey-like American series. The restored slave quarters and magnificent grounds invite your observation.
       If you are interested in reading in-depth features on some of these plantation/mansion visits visit Polly's  Blog: www.pollytalkfromnewyork.blogspot.com.

Friday, July 8, 2016

GARDEN OASIS at St. John Baptist Church Manhattan W. 30th Street: By Polly Guerin

 Friday, July 15, 2016 
Left: The Garden Welcome at St. John the Baptist
Like many less trodden side streets in Manhattan West 30th Street, for quite sometime, rested on its distant past where the fur industry once flourished and the bells of St. John the Baptist Church told the story of the passing workers as they headed for Pennsylvania Station.
     One might say "Plant it and they will come!" That is just what St. John the Baptist created.  Located in Manhattan at 211 West 30th Street just off Seventh Avenue, St. John the Baptist remains a sanctuary today for a new generation of pedestrians and travelers with inviting outdoor gardens. The side steps at the front of the church have been reclaimed with the installation of two small garden retreats and benches on either side of the church's entrance steps for peaceful repose, prayer or meditation. 
Left: The Garden Welcome at St. John the Baptist
     One side garden has a statue of the Blessed Mary, Lady of Fatima and on the other side St. Anthony of Padua holds the infant child Jesus. It is such a lovely oasis in the bustling city and each week as I walk along on 30th Street I have more reason than before to take some extra time to sit in one of the gardens. There in peaceful refrain I claim my gratitude for the team at St. John the Baptist who opened up the side gates and created such an inviting place.
      Without any official announcement, the gardens are attracting a diverse audience. The other day, when I passed by the church, I found three teenagers taking restful repose as their parents, obviously on a tourist visit, were on their cell phone. Then, just recently,  two young men in summer attire sat opposite each other on the white wrought iron benches surrounded by shrubbery, small trees and colorful flowers in large ceramic vases.; all provided by Lifesource Irrigation Corporation at 214 W. 30th. Street.   
       I was told by Brother Sal at St. John the Baptist that it was a synergistic relationship; the church provided space in their parking lot for Lifesource Irrigation's storage and Lifesource provided the lush garden foliage, plants and fragrant flowers. Lifesource's Declan Keane said, "The garden is an area that I especially like taking care of.  Here at Lifesource, similar to the garden at St. John the Baptist Church we have grown from humble beginnings in our up-and-coming community and continue to serve our clients on a daily basis." Incidentally, in the spirit of mutual cooperation, Lifesource provided the images for this feature.
St. John the Baptist Before the Gardens
HISTORICAL SOUPCON   St. John the Baptist has been a mainstay in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan through the Civil War, World War I and II, Vietnam and 911, a veritable survivor from Old New York's history. To the church's rear is the Capuchin Monastery of St. John the Baptist, located at 210 West 31st Street, across from Pennsylvania Station and Madison Square Garden. 
     It is interesting to note that West 30th street is becoming an upscale "in" destination with a chic restaurant nearer to eighth avenue and continues its place as a music mecca including the NYC Guitar School, Gotham Guitar Works and other music and recording companies.
      The parish was established in 1840 as the second parish to serve German Catholics in New York City and was dedicated on September 20 1840.  The present French Gothic edifice was consecrated on June 20, 1872 to the designs of the prolific ecclesiastical architect Napoleon LeBrun. The church originally accommodated l, 200 people.  
      In preparation for the church's 125th anniversary, it underwent a complete renovation. The church was rededicated on June 24, 1996. Then sadly fire struck; on January 1997 the church's organ and choir gallery as well as a number of statues and irreplaceable stained glass windows were destroyed. Through generous donations and the combined support of its parishioners the church recovered its former glory and the bells continue to toll glad tidings each day.
      St. John the Baptist was rededicated November 7, 1998 and is the site of the Padre Pio shrine. Today leadership of the church and its congregation are led by the newly appointed pastor Thomas Franks.  For further information: http://www.padrepioshrine.com.
      Dear Readers: PollyTalk says, "Take a side trip to a heavenly garden where the stress of the city melts away with calm and contemplation. I always welcomes fan mail, please email your comments to pollytalknyc@gmail.com. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

OAK ALLEY PLANTATION: Bon Sejour: Review by Polly Guerin

Oak Alley Plantations Live Oak Tree Allee,: View from the Mississippi River
As the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, might have written "A Cruel Beauty" best describes the amazing, monumental Live Oak Trees at Oak Alley Plantation. Massive tendrils reach out from the trunks of these 300 year old Virginia Live Oaks; a strong testaments to the lasting legacy of a bygone era. With their twisted and gnarly branches dipping into the land they form a French Allee, an invitation to the large Greek revival antebellum mansion, Bon Sejour.
      If those ancient oaks could speak what would they say? "Planted in the 1700s by an unknown settler, the double row of 28 evenly spaced trees were there at Oak Alley Plantation, long before the majestic, present house was built." The awesome Allee or tree avenue invites visitors to Oak Alley Plantation with a sweeping panorama that leads to the mansion creating a stunning vista from the direction of the Mississippi River. The site is located in the community of Vacherie, St. James Parrish, Louisiana on the west bank of the Mississippi River.
      The Bon Sejour (Good Visit) Plantation as Oak Alley was originally named, was established to grow sugar cane, by the pioneer French entrepreneur, Valcour Aime, who purchased the land in 1830. The history of Oak Alley Plantation is an American romantic epic as equal in importance as Downton Abbey. It is surprising, to me, that no film producer has seen the potential to make Oak Alley's eventful history into a television series.  Instead, Bon Sejour has been deemed worthy enough to be the location for numerous productions filmed in part or entirely on location; including Primary Colors, NightRider, Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Days of our Lives, and others.     
Bon Sejour Living Room where Celina Enertained
      In the halcyon days of  Bon Sejour Monsieur Valcour Aime was one of the wealthiest men in the South and reigned in society as the "King of Sugar." He must have enjoyed the fruits of his labor so much that he wanted to downsize and in 1836, Valcour exchanged this piece of property with his brother-in-law, Jacques Telesphore Roman for a property owned by Roman.             Thus begins another phase in the management of the land and the dream of an antebellum mansion.The impressive maison that Jacques built, entirely with enslaved labor, was completed in 1839. One interesting story involves the slave, named Antoine. who is listed in the estate's records as gardener, expert grafter of pecan trees." Antoine was a master of grafting and perfected a pecan variety that won a prize at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The trees may still be found throughout southern Louisiana, where the pecan was once a cash crop.
      Jacques, had become, like Aime, a wealthy sugar cane planter, but he had a good reason to erect the mansion, and like a Romance Novel, the story was motivated by Love.  At this time his young socialite bride, Marie Therese Josephine 'Celina' Pilie Roman, was enjoying the privileges of French New Orlean's high society balls and entertainments.  It was a daunting task but Jacques wanted to entice Celina away from the allure and pleasures of New Orleans' city life to live on the plantation where she could indulge in her social commitments and entertain friends and family in the grand style that she was accustomed to. Jacques had the tenacity of persuasion succeeded in this endeavor by providing Celina with an elegant mansion
Dining Room's Lyre Fly Swatter
for her social entertainments, that long, long ago were the epitome of southern hospitality. In the impressive dining room it is worth noting that one of the slaves would come in and using a pulley system, he would pull the big Music Lyre fan over the table, moving it back and forth to keep the air circulating and flies away from the table. Such luxuries are discussed by guides in period costumes who remind us how difficult life was without the slave counterparts who made it possible to live so luxuriously in the Old South. The pleasures of life in the elegant mansion lasted for nearly a decade, and then the halcyon days faded.

       Sadly, when Jacques Roman died, in 1848, Celina did not have a skill for managing a sugar plantation and her heavy spending nearly bankrupt the estate. In 1859, her son Henri, took control to turn things around but in 1866 the crisis of mounting debt, brought his uncle, Valcour Aime to the rescue and with Jacques' sisters,  the plantation was put up for auction and it was sold to John Armstrong.
The Master Bedroom with Regal Accoutrements
     As with the plight of so many Mississippi mansions, successive owners could not afford the cost of upkeep and by the 1920s, Bon Sejour mansion had fallen into the dust of history, and magnificent antebellum mansion unrecognizable. Then in 1925 along came Andrew Stewart, another romantic, who bought the mansion as a gift to his wife, Josephine.  She had a far sighted vision and recognized the mansion's  historical significance and began an extensive restoration and modernization of the house. 
The Stewarts were the last owners to live in in the residence.  When Josephine Stewart died she left the historic house and grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation, which opened in 1972 to the public as a tourist attraction and site for corporate events, weddings and private parties. The property was designated a National Historic Landmark for its architecture and landscaping, and for the agricultural innovation of grafting pecan tress, performed here in 1846-47 by Antoine, the enslaved gardener.  If you want to experience Southern hospitality the estate's overnight cottages are available for rental. For culinary indulgences there is a cafe/ice cream parlor and a restaurant recognized for its creole/cajun cuisine. In addition to films made at Oak Alley, there have also been a number of commercials, fashion location shoots and magazine articles which have appeared in almost every category of media coverage.
     It is also interesting to note that the 300 year old Virginia Live Oak trees on the Alley were inducted into the Live Oak Society in 1905 and each tree was registered and given a name.
    For further information visit www.OakAlleyPlantation.com or call 1-800-44ALLEY.
     Ta Ta darlings!!! Fan is mail always welcome, please send your comments to POLLY at pollytalknyc@gmail.com.  Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com on fashion, visionary men, women determined to succeed and poetry.