Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Famous ‘Goddess of Good Sex,’ Talks Frankly About Surviving Holocaust at Gold Coast Arts Center Screening of ‘Ask Dr. Ruth’

Dr. Ruth Westheimer answers questions from the audience at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the famous sex therapist, claims to have a rule against commenting on politics “someone who talks about sex as much as I do can’t tackle politics.” And yet, positions on sexual freedom, AIDs, abortion rights and reproductive freedom, and more recently, drawing upon painful memories as a Holocaust survivor, on the rise of anti-Semitism and how migrant children are being snatched from their families at the southern border.

She claims not to be a feminist, but when her granddaughter prods her on her views on abortion, on equal pay, on whether men and women should be equal in their relationship, and insists she is the text-book definition of a feminist, Dr. Ruth relents and says she is a feminist supporter, not a radical (she doesn’t hold with burning bras).

She also stood stalwartly for same-sex relationships and was an early advocate for research into prevention and cure of AIDs. She has consistently championed a philosophy of respect for individuals, that there is no such thing as “normal,” but that two consenting adults should do what brings both joy and satisfaction.

She claims to have a rule against commenting on politics “someone who talks about sex as much as I do can’t tackle politics.” And yet, positions on sexual freedom, AIDs, abortion and now, anti-Semitism, invariably bring her into that realm.

She has come to the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck, Long Island, on May 8, for the screening of a documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth.” The connection to these issues is Michael Glickman, a former president of the Arts Center and  President & CEO,  the Museum of Jewish Heritage (New York’s Holocaust Museum), where Dr. Ruth is also a trustee, and presently has an important exhibit, “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away” which opened May 8.

Michael Glickman, president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage, chats with Dr. Ruth Westheimer at the Great Neck screening of the documentary “Ask Dr. Ruth.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The documentary of her life focuses considerable attention on the Holocaust and how it shaped her life – beginning as a 10 year old, packed up on a train with other Orthodox Jewish children to Switzerland, forced to leave her mother and grandmother at a train station in Frankfurt (her father had already been taken by Nazis to a labor camp). She never saw her family again, but describes how she felt in those years living at an orphanage.

Her son and daughter say how she never really discussed her experience in the Holocaust nor fully mourned the loss of her family, but we see – through old photos and animation and diary entries – what she experienced. And it was only relatively recently that she brought herself to Yad VaShem in Israel to search the database to find out what happened to her parents. In the movie, she realizes that something is wrong when letters stop coming from her parents, and after years go by, she accepts that she is an orphan. She learns that her father was murdered in 1942 in Auschwitz, and her mother was simply “disappeared.”

But what we see throughout is an unbelievably positive, optimistic personality who was able to get the other children on that train to sing away their fear.

Dr. Ruth, as she delights in being known (the first tv/radio host to be known just by the first name), is turning 91 years old now, and on her 90th birthday, she reflected how 80 years before, she was on that train bravely waving goodbye to her family (her parents gave her life twice – the second time when they sent her away); 70 years before, she nearly lost her legs when a bomb went off in Israel, where she was a sniper in the Haganah.

While in the orphanage in Switzerland, the girls were being trained to become housemaids and weren’t allowed to attend high school, but her father always prized education. Her first boyfriend would sneak into her room at night with his textbooks, and hide under her bed while she read that day’s lessons.

After the war, she emigrated to Israel (Palestine) with some friends, changing her name from Karola, which sounded too German, to her middle name, Ruth (and hoping that her family, if they were still alive, could find her).

She’s been married three times – the first time to a very good-looking Israeli soldier; who took her to Paris with him when he attended medical school, affording the opportunity for her to study psychology at the Sorbonne; they divorced when he decided not to become a doctor and to return to Israel and she stayed to finish her studies.

In 1956, with $1,500 in restitution from the West German government, she and her boyfriend sailed to New York, traveling fourth class on the Liberty but sneaking up to first class in order to be able to view the Statue of Liberty as the ship came into New York harbor. They married after she got pregnant, but the marriage didn’t last.

She was a single parent and a working mother when that was still a rarity and an oddity. “We were very poor. There were no other single mothers…“I was on the forefront.” (One of my favorite parts of the movie was the clip of her talking with Gloria Steinem.)

She worked for Planned Parenthood in Harlem, where she found herself participating in frank discussions about sex.  By 1967, she was project director. She worked towards her doctorate in family and sex counseling at Columbia University, working with Helen Singer Kaplan, a pioneer in the field of sex therapy.

On a ski trip in the Catskills, she met the love of her life, Fred Westheimer who was the head of the Jewish Ski Club, 35 years old, an engineer and never married. From the first time she saw him, she was determined they would marry. They were married for more than 40 years before he died, in 1997, after a heart attack.

Dr. Ruth displays the sense of humor and optimistic outlook that no doubt helped her get through the tragedies in her life © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dr. Ruth, a 4 foot 7 inch tall woman famous for saying “Size doesn’t matter,” got her doctorate at the age of 42 and set up practice as a sex therapist.

A lecture she delivered in 1980 came to the attention of Betty Elam, community affairs manager of the New York radio station WYNY-FM, who offered Ruth $25 a week to make Sexually Speaking, a 15-minute show every Sunday that would air shortly after midnight. The show became a hit, expanding to two-hours, and by 1984 was nationally syndicated.

Her influence as the “Goddess of Good Sex,” as one called her, expanded with a syndicated newspaper column, television shows, appearances in movies and even commercials and a website.

She continues to live in the same Washington Heights apartment she has lived in for more than 54 years, saying that she feels comfortable among other immigrants.

The movie is expertly done – telling the story of a life that is even more dramatic and worthy of a movie than most people, who knew of Dr. Ruth only as someone breaking down barriers of frank talk about sex, realized. Who knew she was a sniper with the Haganah in the early days of Israel, who was caught in a bomb blast and almost lost her legs? Who knew she was married three times (the first two were legalized love affairs, she jokes, the third was the real thing). And who knew of the tragedy she suffered as a Holocaust survivor.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

She expresses her absolute surprise (and delight) in becoming a radio, then TV host (“I’m not tall, blonde, gorgeous”), but notes that being an older, mature woman (grandmotherly), she was able to get away with talking explicitly about sex, using such words as vagina, clitoris, masturbation. The fact that the Sexual Revolution (the Pill is 50 years old) was underway, with women beginning to demand their rights and identity, also was a factor. Still, as the film notes, there were censors standing by, protests, even a man who came up on stage where she was speaking to make a citizen’s arrest.

In the film, she revisits people from her childhood – her first boyfriend when she was 13 from the orphanage in Switzerland where she was sent by her mother to escape the Nazis (“My parents gave me life twice, the first time giving birth, the second time sending me away so I could live”); her childhood friend who lives in Israel; her earliest radio producers.

It shows her dogged determination to get an education – something her father, who owned a notions shop, valued so highly. She earned her Masters, then her PhD.

Media regulations at the time required radio stations to do community-oriented broadcasting and a producer appreciated how different Dr. Ruth would be, so put her show, pre-taped on a Thursday, on Sunday at midnight. Her show became more popular than most of the morning drive shows and they put her on live. She notes that she never previewed what questions the callers would be asking, so she could respond spontaneously (on the other hand, on TV, the people posing the questions were actors, though she still did not know what issues they would raise).

Dr. Ruth Westheimer at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When asked her greatest experience, she replies “My 4 grandchildren… You know, Hitler is dead and I and my grandchildren are alive.”

Asked about her reaction to the movie, she said she had trepidation about the device of using animation to show her early life, but the two Israelis who did the animation “did it brilliantly.”

She reflected on the scene they re-created at the railroad station in 1938, when she was 10 and being sent away by her mother and grandmother. “You know, there were all the other mothers and grandmothers – the fathers had been taken – but they did something brilliant [in suggesting there were only a few on the platform]: you could feel the loneliness of a mother and grandmother saying goodbye, not knowing what would happen, but sending their only child to safety. When I saw this – and I didn’t see it before it was done – I was very happy with the film.”

She jokes, “I promise good sex for anybody who gives this film an [Oscar] nomination.”

She acknowledges that she had not spoken much in the past about being a Holocaust survivor, but that the new exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, “Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away,” has brought that aspect of her life out. “My work has been about how to educate, to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

 “You have to go twice to the exhibit,” she says. “The first time you will be very upset. Go again to learn something about the history of Nazis coming to power.

“In the front [of the museum] is a cattle car –it is upsetting because I know parents, other grandparents- all of them went on a car like that – very upsetting – that makes me feel like I felt January 5 1939. On the other hand, you have to stand up to be counted, especially these days.

“As you have heard, I don’t do politics, but these days, I have to talk about anti-Semitism, to stand up and say all of us have to fight so this will not happen again.”

Also, “as you have seen in the film clearly, to stand up that abortion must remain legal and family planning needs funding.”

Though she does not “do politics,” she won an Oxford debate defending abortion and family planning. “I’m going again –I probably will be the oldest at age 91.” This time she will be debating pornography.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer at a screening of the documentary about her life, “Ask Dr. Ruth,” at the Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island with Joseph Gil, GCAC VP Fundraising, Regina Gil, Founder & Executive Director, Michael Glickman, past president and President and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Asked about her opinion of dating apps like Tinder, Dr. Ruth says, “I did not plant that question – but this summer, I have a book coming which warns about apps. It’s not that you shouldn’t use, but you have to use your brains not to meet in a secluded place – to meet in hotel lobby, movie, some place safe.

“Another thing that worries me – in my new book, is that the art of conversation is being lost. Everyone is looking at their phone as if world will crumble if not constantly looking. It’s difficult to have conversation. But the best sexual relationship is also when you have a good relationship.”

In another book that Dr. Ruth is coming out with this year, “Crocodile You’re Beautiful,” she says, “I am telling a little ant to be happy to be an ant – because if you cooperate, you can build bridges.”

Asked if she has been back to Frankfurt, where she was born, she says she goes each year to the Frankfurt book fair, and “every year I am back with a new contract. I also taught a seminar at Heidelberg. I have no problems with people my age or younger – it’s older people I didn’t want to know – like Fiddler. On the other hand, the Adenauer from Germany was instrumental in getting money to Israel when it was just being born. And even today, I go to Israel every year and even today there are young Germans who go for the summer or year to volunteer in old age homes. I appreciate that.”

But, she adds, saying, “Thank you for question – I never came near to that railroad station –it’s too painful – so whenever I had to go some place, I went around not to go to railroad station where I saw my mother and grandmother for the last time.”

She says that for her Masters degree, she did a longitudinal study of 50 children “who came with me to orphanage in Switzerland. I found them all, I went to archives in Switzerland and was in touch with many. They all made it – none of them committed suicide, none became drug addicts or alcoholics. The reason is the early socialization –their  early years of childhood. I was 10 ½ – the youngest was 6  – so the early socialization, all had in loving home with parents. That helped them all to overcome becoming orphans. They should do more studies about early socialization, how important early childhood years are.”

She adds, “I do say I am not involved in politics, except these days I have changed my mind – I am very upset when I see children being separated.”

She closes by urging people to visit the “Auschwitz” exhibit at the Museum for Jewish Heritage. “it’s the most remarkable Holocaust exhibition in this country.”

The groundbreaking exhibition, on view through January 3, 2020, brings together more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs from over 20 institutions and museums around the world.  “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away” is the most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the history of Auschwitz – a complex of 48 concentration and extermination camps where 1 million Jews and tens of thousands of others were murdered – and its role in the Holocaust ever presented in North America, and an unparalleled opportunity to confront the singular face of human evil—one that arose not long ago and not far away. (Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place, New York, NY 10280 https://mjhnyc.org/discover-the-exhibition/about-the-exhibition/)

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Global Scavenger Hunt: ‘World’s Greatest Travelers’ Winners Crowned in New York

The Three Graces, a Roman marble statue from 2nd C AD copying a Greek theme from the 2nd C BC, is repeated throughout Western civilization, on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Global Scavenger Hunt teams arrive in New York City for the last leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt that has taken us to 10 countries in 23 days. Bill Chalmers, the ringmaster and Chief Experience Officer of this around-the-world mystery tour, in which the challenges and scavenges are designed to get us out of our comfort zone and immerse us in a culture, fine-tune our skills as world travelers, and most significantly, “trust in the kindness of strangers.” Back in New York, he is delighted all 10 teams circumnavigated the world “in one piece” without dramatic incident, in this, the 15th annual Global Scavenger Hunt competition.

The leading teams vying for the title of “World’s Greatest Travelers” as we enter this final leg of the contest in 4th place, SLO Folks from California with 96 points (where the low-score wins); in 3rd, Order & Chaos, doctors from San Francisco with 81 points; in 2nd place, Lazy Monday, computer networking consultant and think tank professional from California with 46 points, and Lawyers Without Borders, from Houston, with 33 points, five-time winners who are competing in the Global Scavenger Hunt for the 12th time.

There is one more challenge in New York (an easy urban Par 1), and even though, based on points and placement, the winners of the 15th annual, 2019 edition of the Global Scavenger Hunt have been determined, still the teams go out and give it their all. Those in contention must complete at least one of the scavenges in New York, and complete their time sheet and hand in by the 4 pm deadline.

Examples of the scavenges: take in a Yankees game or a Broadway show; have one of each of following: a New York bagel, a New York hot dog, a New York deli sandwich, a slice of New York pizza, New York cheesecake, a New York egg cream, or an old-fashion Manhattan; -locate five pieces from five of the nations you just visited in the Met; visit Strawberry Fields, pay John Lennon tribute; do one scavenge in each of the five boroughs of New York City.

A native New Yorker, this is really my turf (though there is the oddest sensation of feeling like I am in a foreign place, reminding myself of what is familiar like language, money, streets, drink water, eat salad), and I delight in walking up Madison Avenue to 82nd Street to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue.

Hunting for an object from Morocco, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I elect to take up the challenge of going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to seek out objects from five of the countries we visited (Canada, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, Abu Dhabi, Jordan, Greece, Morocco, Gibraltar, Portugal, Spain). Greece will be easy, of course, but Morocco and Jordan (Petra), Vietnam and Myanmar (Burma) are just a bit trickier. It is Chalmers’ way of making us experience things on a different level, and for me, it brings together so much of what we’ve seen, learned and experienced along the way.

An object from Thailand, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I first join a docent-led Highlights Tour, knowing from past experience that these always lead me to parts of the museum I am unfamiliar with, and enlighten about aspects of art and culture with the in-depth discussion of the pieces the docents select to discuss.

Not easy to find to complete the Global Scavenger Hunt: an object from Vietnam, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The docent, Alan, begins in the Greco-Roman exhibit with a stunning marble sculpture of the Three Graces, showing how this theme – essentially copied from the Greek bronzes (which no longer exist because the bronze was valuable and melted down for military use) – was repeated over the eons, into the Renaissance and even beyond.

The Magdala Stone, 1st Century, Migdal, Synagogue, on the Sea of Galilee. The stone, whose exact function is uncertain, dates to a time when the temple in Jerusalem still stood. One short side features a 7-branched menorah – the earliest such image known in a synagogue – flanked by amphorae and columns. The Migdal synagogue would have been in use during the lifetime of Jesus, whom the Gospels describe as preaching in synagogues throughout Galilee © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Obviously, finding an object from Greece is going to be easy, and I hope to find objects from Vietnam, Myanmar (Burma), and Thailand in the Asia wing where there is a massive collection of Buddhist art (it proves just a tad more difficult, but I succeed). Morocco and Jordan (Petra) proved trickier than I expected, but brought me to an astonishing exhibit, “The World Between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East,” with an extraordinary focus on the territories and trading networks of the Middle East that were contested between the Roman and Parthian Empires (ca. 100 BC and AD 250). “yet across the region life was not defined by these two superpowers alone. Local cultural and religious traditions flourished and sculptures, wall paintings, jewelry and other objects reveal how ancient identities were expressed through art.”

The Greek sun god Helios, from Petra, 1st C BC – 1st C AD, found at Qint al-Bint temple in Petra, visited on the Global Scavenger Hunt © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibit features 190 works from museums in the Middle East, Europe and the United States in an exhibition that follows the great incense and silk routes that connected cities in southwestern Arabia, Nabataea, Judea, Syria and Mesopotamia, that made the region a center of global trade along with spreading ideas, spurring innovations (such as in water control), and spawning art and culture.

It was the most incredible feeling to come upon the objects from Petra, having visited the site (was it only 10 days ago?) and having a context for seeing these isolated objects on display.

The World between Empires

The landmark exhibition The World between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East, which is on view through June 23, 2019, focuses on the remarkable cultural, religious and commercial exchange that took place in cities including Petra, Baalbek, Palmyra and Hatra between 100 B.C. and A.D. 250. “During this transformative period, the Middle East was the center of global commerce and the meeting point of two powerful empires—Parthian Iran in the east and Rome in the west—that struggled for regional control.”

The exhibition focuses on the diverse and distinctive cities and people that flourished in this environment by featuring 190 outstanding examples of stone and bronze sculpture, wall paintings, jewelry, and other objects from museums in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

Wall Painting of Christ Healing the Paralytic/Wall Painting of Christ Walking on Water, ca 232, Dura-Europos, Christian building, considered the world’s oldest surviving church. The paintings include images of Jesus Christ performing miracles, and are the earliest securely dated representations of him © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among the highlights is a Nabataean religious shrine, reconstructed from architectural elements in collections in the United States and Jordan; the unique Magdala Stone, discovered in a first-century synagogue at Migdal (ancient Magdala) and whose imagery refers to the Temple in Jerusalem; and wall paintings from a church in Dura-Europos that are the earliest securely dated images of Jesus. Sculptures from Baalbek illuminate religious traditions at one of the greatest sanctuaries in the ancient Middle East, and funerary portraits from Palmyra bring visitors face to face with ancient people. The exhibition also examines important contemporary issues—above all, the deliberate destruction and looting of sites including Palmyra, Dura-Europos, and Hatra.

Ossuaries, Israel, excavated at Azor, Chalcolithic period, early 4th millennium BC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The compelling works of art in this exhibition offer a view into how people in the ancient Middle East sought to define themselves during a time of tremendous religious, creative, and political activity, revealing aspects of their lives and communities that resonate some two millennia later,” said Max Hollein, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  “Further, in focusing on an area of the world that has been deeply affected by recent conflicts and the destruction of sites, monuments, and objects, this show also engages with complex questions about the preservation of cultural heritage.”

Dead Sea Scroll Jar and Lid, ca 2nd Century BC, found in the Qumran caves, the documents now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls represent biblical texts and Jewish religious practices in the last centuries BC and first century AD. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition evokes a journey along ancient trade routes, beginning in the southwestern Arabian kingdoms that grew rich from the caravan trade in frankincense and myrrh harvested there and used throughout the ancient world. Camel caravans crossed the desert to the Nabataean kingdom, with its spectacular capital city of Petra, which I had just visited, walking through very much as the caravan travelers would have.

Statuette of nude goddess, 2nd C BC-2nd C AD, Ctesiphon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

From here, goods traveled west to the Mediterranean and north and east through regions including Judaea and the Phoenician coast and across the Syrian desert, where the oasis city of Palmyra controlled trade routes that connected the Mediterranean world to Mesopotamia and Iran and ultimately China. In Mesopotamia, merchants transported cargoes down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to the Persian Gulf, where they joined maritime trade routes to India. These connections transcended the borders of empires, forming networks that linked cities and individuals over vast distances.

3rd C biblical wall paintings discovered in the Dura-Europos synagogue were exceptional because they demonstrated that early Jewish art included figural scenes. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandne

Across the entire region, diverse local political and religious identities were expressed in art. Artifacts from Judaea give a powerful sense of ancient Jewish identity during a critical period of struggle with Roman rule. Architectural sculptures from the colossal sanctuary at Baalbek and statuettes of its deities reveal the intertwined nature of Roman and ancient Middle Eastern religious practices. Funerary portraits from Palmyra represent the elite of an important hub of global trade. Wall paintings and sculptures from Dura-Europos on the River Euphrates illustrate the striking religious diversity of a settlement at the imperial frontier. And in Mesopotamia, texts from the last Babylonian cuneiform libraries show how ancient temple institutions waned and finally disappeared during this transformative period.

In Athens and Petra, particularly, you appreciate this synergy between trade, migration, environmental sustainability and technology (in Petra, the ability to control water supply was key), economic prosperity and political power, and the rise of art, culture, and community.

Bearded God, ca 1st C, Dura-Europos © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is rare (if ever ) for the Metropolitan Museum to venture into the political, but a key topic within the exhibition is the impact of recent armed conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen on archaeological sites, monuments, and museums, including deliberate destruction and looting. Some of the most iconic sites affected—Palmyra, Hatra, and Dura-Europos—are featured in the exhibition, which discusses this damage and raises questions regarding current and future responses to the destruction of heritage. Should the sites be restored or will they now only exist “on paper”? How much money and resources should go to restoring or excavation when villages and homes for people to live in also need to be rebuilt?

There is a fascinating, if frantic, presentation of three archaeologist/historians speaking about what the destruction by ISIS and Islamic fundamentalists of Palmyra, Eura-Europos and Hatra – what it means to destroy a people’s heritage, their cultural identity. “It may seem frivolous to focus on [archaeological sites] when people are enslaved, killed…but to wipe out, destroy culture is a way of destroying people.”

Happening upon this exhibit made the travel experiences we had to these extraordinary places all the more precious.

It is a humbling experience, to be sure, to go to the origins of the great civilizations, fast forward to today. How did they become great? How did they fall? Greatness is not inevitable or forever.  Empires rise and fall. Rulers use religion, art and monuments to establish their credibility and credentials to rule; successors blot out the culture and re-write history.

(“The World Between Empires” is featured on The Met website as well as on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter using the hashtag #WorldBetweenEmpires.)

I peek out from the American Café windows to Central Park and see sun and the early spring blossoms on the trees, and dash out to walk through my other favorite New York City place. There is nothing more beautiful than New York City in the spring – brides are out in force taking photos; there are musicians and entertainers. There is a festive atmosphere as I walk through the park toward the Palace Hotel in time for our 4:30 pm meeting.

Spring in Central Park, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

15th Annual Global Scavenger Hunt Winners Crowned

At the end of the New York City leg:

1st Lazy Monday, completed 10 scavenges earning 385 points

2nd SLO Folks with 6 scavenges, 250 pts

3rd Lawyers, with 150 pts

4th Order & Chaos

And now, drumroll please, Chalmers announces the winner of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt: “Only one team wins. The competition was fierce.”

3rd – Order & Chaos, Sal  Iaquinta & Vivian Reyes, doctors from San Francisco

2nd – Lazy Monday, Eric & Kathryn Verwillow, computer networking and think tank professional of Palo Alto, California (“I am in awe of how hard worked beginning to end – embraced the spirit,” Chalmers says.

1st Lawyers Without Borders, Rainey Booth and Zoe Littlepage of Houston, who have competed in the Global Scavenger Hunt 12 times, and won it for the 6th time. “You embody the spirit of the event, to go out of your comfort zone.” (You can follow Zoe’s blog of her experience to get a sense of how strenuous, outrageous, and determined the team was in accumulating their points: https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com/2019/05/gsh-2019)

We celebrate at a final bon voyage dinner.

The Global Scavenger Hunt is the brainchild of Bill and Pamela Chalmers, who in addition to forging understanding and bonds among travelers and the people in the destinations visited, use the program to promote voluntourism (one of the scavenges is to volunteer at an orphanage or school during our stay in Yangon, Myanmar, and in the past travelers visited & helped out at: Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal, orphanages in Laos, hospitals in Cambodia, homeless schools in India, hospices in Manila, disabled facilities in Sri Lanka, Ethiopian schools, the slums of Nairobi) and raised money for the GreatEscape Foundation.

“The foundation is one of main reasons we do the event,” Chalmers says. The foundation has raised money to build 12 schools (1 each in Niger, Haiti, Ecuador, India & Ethiopia; 2 each in Sri Lanka & Sierra Leone, and 3 in Kenya), helped build the Tamensa Medical Clinic in Niger for migrating Tuareg nomads which serves as a midwives & nurse training center too. “We know that we saved lives and bettered the lives of hundreds. We have helped over 2400 families in more than 60 countries (mostly women entrepreneurs) with our interest and fee free micro-loans (96% of which have gone to women with a 99% repayment).”

 Through the event this and last year, the foundation will build 2 more co-ed elementary schools , in Ethiopia and Haiti.

TheGlobal Scavenger Hunt travel adventure competition is aimed at returning the romance of travel while testing the travel IQ of the most travel savvy of globetrotters. The travelers (who must apply and be accepted to compete) completed a series of highly participatory, authentic and challenging cultural site-doing scavenges in ten secret countries over a 23-day circumnavigation between April 12 and May 4, 2019 designed to bring people out of their comfort zone and trust strangers in strange lands.

 “The Global Scavenger Hunt covers a lot of extraordinary travel bases,” says Chalmers, who dubs his mystery tour, “A blind date with the world.”

For more information, contact GreatEscape Adventures at 310-281-7809, or visit GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

First Look at The Shed, NYC’s Newest Iconic Cultural Center Bent on Using Art for Social Action, Public Good

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The Shed is notable for a design based around flexibility; the new cultural arts center is adjacent to the Highline and The Nest and is the “beating heart” of the new Hudson Yards development on New York City’s West Side © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Imagine a structure 120 feet high that can fit 2000 people for a concert, but that can move, expand, shrink or be completely removed to expose an open-air plaza. An “anti-institution” cultural institution to provide a home and nurture the full spectrum of the arts, where emerging artists, local artists, and established artists have parity, and audiences represent the diversity and inclusivity of New York with low-priced ticket holders dispersed throughout the house.

This is The Shed, the newest cultural center to open in a city which prides culture above all, sure to be gain a place among the pantheon of iconic art institutions, along with its leading-edge approach to harnessing the arts as a force for social action and public good, its astonishing architecture, flexible, versatile and adaptable enough to enable artists of today and tomorrow and fulfill their vision to be a platform across multi-disciplines.

It’s “the Swiss army knife” of culture,” said Daniel L. Doctoroff, chair of the board, during a press preview prior to the April 5 grand opening, when the principals involved with the genesis of the project spoke of what The Shed, and its mission, meant to the city and society.

Indeed, they noted, in a city of 1200 cultural attractions, The Shed had to be different, beginning with its commitment to commissioning new works, creating a platform – the space and place – for artists across disciplines, engaging audiences across a spectrum of backgrounds and interests, but most significantly, creating a building, that like a “living organism” would keep morphing to accommodate artists’ visions today and decades from now, accommodating the unimaginable ways art and culture might change over time.

Six and a half years ago, after seeing a 60-second animation of what The Shed could be, purpose-built to house various forms of culture and building would move, John Tisch, vice chair of the new institution, told his wife, “The Shed is about future of NYC and we need to be involved.”

“6 ½ years later, here we are discovering the future of NYC and how we as citizens and creators of this institution will discuss culture and humanity, how we all need to be together in the 21st century in NYC.

 “There are many cultural institutions – many are about the past. The Shed is about the future.”

“The dictionary defines ‘shed’ as an opened-ended structure with tools,” said Doctoroff. “We designed The Shed as a platform, uniquely adaptable, to liberate artists to fulfill their dreams.”

More than a dozen years ago, Doctoroff said, The Shed “started as small square on map, a placeholder for To Be Determined cultural institution.

“Mayor Bloomberg said ‘Make it different from anything else in New York City.’ That’s not easy in a town of 1200 cultural institutions. It had to play a role in a new edge of New York City, keeping New York City as leading edge of the cultural world.”

The principals of The Shed, NYC’s newest iconic cultural institution housed in an architectural marvel: Hans Ulrich Obrist, David Rockwell, John Tisch, Dan Doctoroff, Liz Diller and Frank H McCourt, Jr. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Liz Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, lead architect, and David Rockwell of Rockwell Group, collaborating architect, responded to the mandate for flexibility, a one-of-a-kind structure.

“Just as it was to be designed to be flexible, we wanted it to be of and for our time and inclusive of artists across all disciplines,” Doctoroff said. “We proposed commissions of emerging artists across all art forms – the mission drives our work.

“It is a remarkable public/private investment of $500 million to design and construct building and create original works of art.

“New York City continues to be perfect partner under Mayor DiBlasio. The city provided $75 million and the land.

“We are standing in The McCourt, a spectacular space that can do anything an artist can imagine. It was named for the Board member who gave $45 million.

“Griffin Theater was named for one of most generous philanthropists, Ken Griffin, who gave $25 million.

“Altice USA is the founding fiber network partner – so that The Shed is an accessible arts organization with global reach, the first cultural institution with connectivity partner.

“Above all, Mayor Bloomberg, who had vision to transform West Side and create cultural institution as beating heart. The Shed is housed the Bloomberg Building, named for Mayor Bloomberg.

“It’s been a 14-year journey – kind of crazy, new kind of cultural institution in a completely new building in new part of town, new board, new team, performing miracles every day, producing our own work.

“Great architecture demands great purpose,” Doctoroff said. 

Alex Poots, on stage in The McCourt: “The Shed is place for invention, curiosity where all artists and audiences can meet.”  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Alex Poots, the Artistic Director and CEO, said, “I started to imagine the possibilities: a flexible building, built on city land. That was the draw to lure me from England –a  public purpose. It was a no brainer, building on what I had been doing for 15 years. [Poots is also involved with the Manchester Festival and with the Park Avenue Armory.]

“Parity among art forms; the ability to commission art – visual and performing arts. And it would not matter if the artist were emerging, established, or a community artist – we don’t need a false hierarchy.

“The Shed is place for invention, curiosity where all artists and audiences can meet.

Alongside all the venerable institutions of city, we hope The Shed can add something.

“It’s rare for a place to be open in the day as a museum, and in the evening a performance center.”

Alex Poots, Artistic Director and CEO of The Shed © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

First Commissions

Poots introduced the 2019 inaugural season’s first commissions (and the press were able to watch some rehearsals):

Soundtrack of America, a new live production celebrating the unrivaled impact of African American music on art and popular culture over the past 100 years, conceived by acclaimed filmmaker and artist Steve McQueenand developed with music visionaries and academic experts including Quincy Jones, Maureen Mahon, Dion ‘No I.D.’ Wilson, Tunji Balogun and Greg Philliganes, is a five-night concert series (April 5-14) celebrating the unrivaled impact of African American music on contemporary culture, with performances by emerging musicians.

The opening commissions at The Shed feature the world premiere of Reich Richter Pärt, an immersive live performance installation from iconic artists Steve Reich, Gerhard Richter, and Arvo Pärt, featuring new works by Richter and a new composition by Reich, performed with the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, here in rehearsal, that showcase The Shed’s support for mixing cultural disciplines © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reich Richter Pärt, a live performance/exhibition pairing works by master painter Gerhard Richter with a new composition by Steve Reich and an extant composition by Arvo Pärt, performed by The Choir of Trinity Wall Street (April 6-June 2).

Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, a reinvention of Euripides’ Helen by poet Anne Carson, starring Ben Whishaw and the opera singer, Renée Fleming (April 6-May 19).

Björk’s Cornucopia, the multidisciplinary artist’s most elaborate staged concert to date, directed by Lucrecia Martel (May 6-June 1).

Chen Shi-Zheng discusses “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise,” a futuristic kung fu musical conceived © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise. a futuristic kung fu musical conceived by Chen Shi-Zheng and Kung Fu Panda screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, with songs by Sia, choreography by Akram Khan, and production design and costumes by Tim Yip (June 22–July 27);

There are also, expansive exhibitions devoted to extant and newly commissioned work by trailblazing artists Trisha Donnelly and Agnes Denes; and an unprecedented opportunity for New York City-based emerging artists of all disciplines to develop and showcase their work throughout The Shed’s spaces via an Open Call commissioning program.

Beneath the stands and stage in The McCourt is the only permanent art installation, “In Front of Itself,” a large-scale, site-specific work by artist Lawrence Weiner embedded into the plaza. It serves as a walkable outdoor area when the movable shell is nested over the fixed building, or as the base of The McCourt when the shell is extended to the east. The 20,000-sq. ft. work features the phrase, “In front of itself” in 12-foot high letters fabricated with custom paving stones.  

These first commissions, Poots said, “shows the range of The Shed.” The flexibility of the building makes it possible to transform from one show to the next in just two days.

Dan Doctoroff, Alex Poots and Tamara McCaw discuss community outreach and the Open Call © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Art as Social Action

Tamara McCaw, Chief Program Civic Officer, is responsible for fulfilling the mission of The Shed to use art as social action.

“It is my responsibility to serve the community, particularly those under stress or have barriers [to artistic expression]. ]

McCaw oversees the Open Call program, an unprecedented opportunity for 52 New York City-based emerging artists and collectives to develop and showcase their work throughout The Shed’s primary spaces, free to the public (May 30-August 25) and continuing in 2020.

The 52 artists were selected from 930 applications in its first open call. Alex Poots said that The Shed will embark on its next round of emerging talent in 5-6 months.

The Shed has year round social justice residencies, serving 700 students a year

 “We are providing a platform for local and emerging artists – selected by diverse panel and Shed staff (2 are on the panel – to present in principal spaces, plaza, theater.” These performances and exhibits will be free to public.

“It is our civic responsibility to reflect, respond to the diverse communities of NYC – with affordable tickets ($10; free for 18 year olds and under and CUNY students), and reserve 10% of low-income seats that will be distributed throughout house (not the back or nosebleed section)

Addressing how The Shed intends to be responsive to diverse audiences, Doctoroff noted that the building is open – the restaurant, café and lobby. Anyone can come through without a ticket, and every gallery and theater can be separately ticketed. The goal is to make access to exhibits and performers and accessible as possible.

McCaw added, “People from public housing are already are coming because they are of process. We did outreach for open call. There are artists who live in public housing here. When you come with respect, people want to be involved.

“We are creating inventive new work, supporting creative expression, cultural equity and belief in power of art to effect social change.”

Ticket prices are intentionally low. Every gallery show – except Richter – is $10 ticket and free for those under 18. Open call programs are free (18 weeks of programming)

At the end of the first year, he expects that half  the entire audience will be admitted for $10 or free.

The Shed, a not-for-profit arts institution, expects to operate at a loss.

“That means we have to raise money,” Doctoroff said. “But we regard it as investing in society, not as a loss. The less box office, the more generous we are. There are high ticket prices for those who can afford it and low for those who can’t – low cost tickets are equally dispersed through theater, to promote equity.”

The Tisch Skylights © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A good source of real money, though, could be in renting out space in The Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch Skylights and The Tisch Lab  on the top floor, Level 8, where there is a 1,700-square-foot creative lab for local artists, a 3,300-square-foot rehearsal space, and a 9,500-square-foot flexible, multipurpose space for events.

“The Top floor is engine for that flexible space – dinners, small performances – will be rented year round while operating as not-for-profit art center.”

Frank H. McCourt Jr. reflected, “There is something else here – civic imagination, ideas put into action to serve people – address societal issues, change lives, make a better nation, a better humankind.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Frank H. McCourt Jr., Shed board member and entrepreneur, reflected, “There is something else here – civic imagination, ideas put into action to serve people – address societal issues, change lives, make a better nation, a better humankind.

“It is artistic creation but also social innovation. Human creativity for the greater good. My hope for The Shed is that it is home for both art and other intellectual activities. This place, including the institution created to animate it, is a bold, living example of civic action. An idea put into action for greater good.

“It’s not finished, just getting started. This week a milestone. In a world replete with cynicism, The Shed is the opposite.”

An Architectural Marvel

“We started the project 11 years ago – when it was a dotted line on a satellite photo and a question mark. It was the 2008 recession,” reflected Liz Diller, lead architect, who described what it was like to design a building around a mission.

“Arts in New York are siloed – dance, theater, music, visual. That’s not how artists think today, but how will artists think in one or two decades? We can’t know. We started a project without a client, an anti-institution institution, to serve artists of all kinds in a future we could not predict.

“How could architecture not get in the way of that? Art is in flux, so the building had to be able to change on demand, be flexible without defaulting.”

What she and collaborating architect David Rockwell devised is a fixed building with column-free exhibit and performance space, the Bloomberg Building.

Architectural discussion with David Rockwell, Dan Doctoroff and Liz Diller © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Shed’s Bloomberg Building—an innovative 200,000-square-foot structure designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Lead Architect, and Rockwell Group, Collaborating Architect—can physically transform to support artists’ most ambitious ideas. Its eight-level base building includes two levels of gallery space; the versatile Griffin Theater; and The Tisch Skylights, which comprise a rehearsal space, a creative lab for local artists, and a skylit event space.

The McCourt, an iconic space for large-scale performances, installations, and events, is formed when The Shed’s telescoping outer shell is deployed from over the base building and glides along rails onto the adjoining plaza. The McCourt can have theater seating for 1400, or open the glass wall to expose the balcony for 300 seated and have 2000 on the floor.

The Plaza: When the movable shell is nested over the base building, the 20,000-square-foot Plaza will be open public space that also can be used for outdoor programming; the eastern façade can serve as a backdrop for projection with lighting and sound support. The Plaza is equipped with a distributed power supply for outdoor functions. Oversize deliveries can be brought by truck up Hudson Yards Boulevard and loaded directly onto The Plaza and into the base building or the shell when deployed. Those doors can be opened while the audience is under cover, for an open-air effect.

“It is the architecture of infrastructure:  all muscle, no fat,” Diller said. “Alex, an inspirational alchemical force, challenged the building to be smarter, more flexible, agile. This is a perpetual work in progress – always getting smarter more agile.

It will respond to the challenge of artists and challenge the artists back.”

“New York is so defined by art and its artists. Art creates community, at its best, and empathy with audiences,” said Architect David Rockwell.

 “What we created is a Swiss Army knife of culture,” said Doctoroff. “A beautiful design with practicality to respond to the notion that we don’t know where art will go, or where artists will be in 200 years.”

Gerhard Richter’s work is on view in The Gallery, a massive column-free space © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Shed’s eight-level base building includes two expansive, column-free galleries totaling 25,000 square feet of museum-quality space; a 500-seat theater that can be subdivided into even more intimate spaces; event and rehearsal space; and a creative lab.

A movable outer shell can double the building’s footprint when deployed over the adjoining plaza to create a 17,000-square-foot light-, sound-, and temperature-controlled space, named The McCourt, for large-scale performances, installations, and events for audiences ranging from 1,250 seated to 3,000 standing (when combined with space in the two adjoining galleries of the base building). When space is not needed, the movable shell can nest over the base building, opening up the plaza for outdoor use and programming.

Diller explained how the movable shell travels on a double-wheel track based on gantry crane technology commonly found in shipping ports and railway systems. A rack-and-pinion drive moves the shell forward and back on four single-axle and two double axle bogie wheels that measure six feet in diameter; the deployment of the shell takes approximately five minutes.

The exposed steel diagrid frame of the movable shell is clad in translucent pillows of durable and lightweight Teflon-based polymer, called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). With the thermal properties of insulating glass at  1/100th of the weight, the translucent ETFE allows light to pass through and can withstand hurricane-force winds. Measuring almost 70 feet in length in some areas, The Shed’s ETFE panels are some of the largest ever produced.

“Systems were adapted from other things but it is novel in the way we put together,” Diller said, adding that the architecture is “based on industrial crane technology, brought to 21st century” with an emphasis on functionality. But there were no real models among arts institutions.

“It was a constant process of invention, reinvention,” said Doctoroff. “We have 14 blackout shades. We had to rethink the system of shades – particularly when Alex came and knew he wanted concerts. They needed to also provide sound protection. We went to the sailmakers who designed sails for America’s Cup boats to design shade system. Extra performance capability of holding back 108 decibels (loud). The thickness, density had to be able to roll up.”

Form and function: the back wall of McCourt can be removed to open up a balcony © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Asked why New York needed another cultural institution, Doctoroff retorted, “Why have we been so successful raising money? Because people sense New York does need this. The criteria was that this had to be different from anything else in New York. We went to talk to artists and leaders of cultural institutions around the world to ask what do they not have and need. There were similar themes –the internet era gives artists the capacity of collaborating across distances and disciplines, but also producing work that didn’t fit in traditional institutions. Out of that came idea of flexibility.

“This is different: our mission of inclusivity embedded in value system,” said Doctoroff, said in a small discussion group with journalists.

“We prove it every day. This is personal for me: 36 years ago I imagined a new West Side – saving the Highline [now one of the most popular attractions in NYC, with 8 million visits a year], the subway. I always believed having a cultural heart to the new West Side was critical and would need to change over time to keep New York leading edge in culture. I believe cultural institutions are critical to New York,” said Doctoroff, who is also chairman and CEO of Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet company that looks at sustainable solutions to designing urban communities.

“The Shed will never be finished,” said Doctoroff. “The word ‘unfinished’ ends with ‘shed’. It will always be evolving because what we’ve done is created a platform for artists to use as their own. The building enables their vision – they will push, stretch us in ways we can’t imagine, they can’t imagine today. The Shed is an organism that keeps morphing.”

And that’s how Liz Diller expects not to go through post partum blues. “We will respond to the challenge of artists and challenge artists back.”

See also: The Shed, New York’s Newest Iconic Cultural Center, Opens April 5 with Commissioned New Works

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Spy v Spy Has New Addresses in NYC: At Spyscape Find Your Place in World of Espionage

The most chilling part of Spyscape, New York’s new spy experience, is the up-to-the-minute, torn from the headlines stuff: Here, Anonymous, as seen from two sides © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Are you Bond or Bourne? Once you leave Spyscape, you will learn there are many more roles to play in the complex and ever more ubiquitous world of intelligence. After going through eight “tests” and many stations which do their best to insert you into the realm of espionage and profile you to figure out what job you are best suited to, I would make a sorry spy. I knew from the start I wasn’t either Bond or Bourne. But I found a new calling.

I was expecting a museum, even as museums have become more interactive and engaging and multimedia. But Spyscape, one of the newest attractions in New York City, is not a museum. It is an interactive experience more than anything else, designed to inform you, yes, about the world of espionage and surveillance which, it turns out, is ubiquitous today, but put you in the picture so that you see yourself in the complex enterprise that is intelligence.

Spyscape is modern, state of the art, interactive, pulse-pounding, engaging, immersive experience that lets you peek into the world of espionage, spycraft, intelligence and counterintelligence today from the inside.

You don’t just get taken on a journey through the history of espionage from World War II and on, but become immersed in up-to-the-minute, ripped from the headlines events. Edward Snowdon. Wikileaks. Stuxnet. Black hat hackers.  Anonymous. “You might be persuaded not to vote.”

Pandora has truly been let out of her box.

There is a feeling of intensity from the moment you arrive – intended to give you that sense of tension and excitement that must be omnipresent in espionage, and visitors will enjoy as much as the adrenaline rush of skiing down a double-black trail. But is there a place for me?

I am risk adverse. I’m not a gamer. I don’t do puzzles. I’m frightened of going into small dark rooms when I don’t know what is there. I frighten easily.

As you arrive, you are given a bracelet that identifies you at scanning machines that basically track your progress as you go about the exhibit – you complete a series of tasks and quizzes and at the end, are assessed as to what role you might play in the spy apparatus – it turns out there are many, many different functions.

Your entrée into the world of spycraft is the largest passenger elevator in New York City,  escorted by a very professional person with a clipboard – it turns out that the ride up is also a multi-media orientation (think “Mission Impossible”).

Your mission: What kind of spy will you be? Or put another way: Where do you fit in the pantheon that is the world of espionage.

The experience is constructed as if a job interview, to immerse you and personalize what would otherwise be technical machines and bios. But it turns out that not all spies work for governments – corporations engage in some of the same techniques, so do journalists, and so do hackers and criminals. And it turns out that the profile you wind up with at the end of all the tasks and quizzes is authentic and serious – not tongue-in-cheek or hokey. I can see some young people seeing new career paths in intelligence (most of the CIA are analysts, not cloak-and-dagger operatives) or even outside, since, as is noted, the skills of a spy are broadly applicable.

The layout (Spyscape takes up a massive amount of space) is purposefully cold, grey, institutional, with constant pulsing sounds – sometimes electronic music, sometimes sound effects, sometimes narration.

I am quite unprepared for the experience, expecting a more conventional exhibit, so am put off stride when all of a sudden confronted with quizzes and tasks. It would have been completely different if I were primed and in a game mode.

One of the tasks I find more engaging (once I got the hang of it), was in the room about coding/decoding, the German’s Enigma machine and the Bombe that British mathematician Alan Turing and colleagues at Benchley developed to break the Enigma code. Here the task is to organize a spy’s escape, but you only have 3 minutes before the Germans will cut off communication to her, and you have to convert a message to code and then decode the response. I do this for the “Limping Lady”, who turns out to be a real person (I later realize she is the spy Virginia Hall) and this was a real scenario.

See what it would be like to code a message on a repiclica of the German Enigma that so confounded the Allies in World War II © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

You get personal insights into Alan Turing, the mathematician who developed a program to break the German “Enigma” machine code. (A fascinating artifact is a copy of Turing’s notes, as a teenager, summarizing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as a gift for his mother). There is also a brief bio of Joan Clark, one of the Enigma codebreakers who rose to become Deputy Head of the Hut eight. You get to type code on a replica Enigma machine.

After one “test”, in which I fail to figure out patterns, I am given these words of encouragement: “You didn’t do too well today, but you are obviously better in other things.”

Another that is sure to delight is a room of laser beams where the timed task is to shut off lights without piercing the beams – very Oceans 11. (This task gauges your agility.)

All through, the exhibits personalize the serious issue being raised – the history, technology, impact on society – with real people, real events and real artifacts. This is serious business after all with real life and death consequences. Double agents have been exposed and executed; moles have exposed agents who were executed. Wars declared or averted, extended or curtailed, won or lost.

As you weave through, taking your own quizzes and tasks, the exhibits tell stories about real spies, double agents, like Robert Hansen and how he was discovered. Hansen’s treachery led to the unmasking of three soviets who spied for the US, two of whom were executed. – how he was discovered and trapped. Would you have detected Hansen’s deceit?

I have all sorts of trepidation about going into a small dark room which turned out to be the test of how well I could detect Deception (I think I do well at that one, probably by accident).

“Gadgets of defiance” describes the devices that British and American operatives used to carry out perilous missions in Nazi-occupied Europe – forged documents to support their cover identifies; one-time encryption pads and miniature radios to communicate with handlers. They supplied downed Allied pilots with escape maps and compasses and targeted the enemy with weapons and explosives.

I learn about Virginia Hall, an American special operations officer who, as a girl, had dreamed of joining the US foreign service and became fluent in foreign languages, but after she lost part of her left leg in an accident, her dream was cut off as well. When Hitler invaded Paris in 1940, Hall was working for a French ambulance service. She made her way to Britain and joined British special operations. She worked as a journalist for the New York Post in occupied France, and the Germans nicknamed Artemis;the Gestapo  considered her “the most dangerous of all Allied spies”. Virginia Hall was the “Limping Lady” of the code scenario.

A spy plane camera from the Cuban Missile Crisis © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I learn about Oleg Penkovsky, known as “HERO” who was a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) colonel who was responsible for informing the United Kingdom about Soviet installing missiles in Cuba. The information he provided helped Kennedy through the Cuban Missile Crisis because he realized that a naval blockade could force the Soviet Union to stand down. Penkovsky, the highest ranking Soviet official to provide intelligence for the UK up until that time, is credited with altering the course of the Cold War. He was executed six months after being arrested.

I learn about the British couple, Ruari and Janet Chisholm, who were his handlers in Moscow. Ruari was Moscow Station Chief for M16, the British secret intelligence service. Janet collected much of Pankovsky’s intelligence. During one “brush contact” he walked casually over to her in a park and offered her children a tin of Vitamin C pills. Janet quickly swapped the tin which contained military secrets for another identical one hidden in her baby stroller. The thought of exposing children like that was chilling. (There’s a photo of Janet with her children on a park bench.)

We meet the real life “Q” gadget wizard, Charles Fraser Smith, who was Ian Fleming’s inspiration for the character he used in James Bond. The new multi-sensory James Bond experience explores the creative process behind the 007 movies while revealing the secrets of James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5. You get to peek at gadgets in Q’s lab, examine original concept art in Oscar®-winning Production Designer Sir Ken Adam’s studio and look behind the scenes of Skyfall’s explosive finale.

Surveillance. It’s all around you. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

At another section, you go through a dark curtain and find yourself in this dark round room, illuminated only by giant screens,that give you some sense of the state of surveillance (it is all around). This area showcases whistleblower Edward Snowden who exposed the NSA’s surveillance programs and the reporters who have unmasked government secrets – Laura Poitras  and Glenn Greenwald, the journalists who exposed modern day slavery(old school pad and pen, videocamera and computer are the weapons of choice).

This is where you see the message blazing out of a giant screen: “You might be persuaded not to vote.” This is the brave new world of intelligence – not extracting secrets, but in distorting and implanting messages to shape, disrupt or derail society.

Anonymous, the new face of intelligence/counterintelligence; governments no longer have a monopoly..© Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the last stations is actually the most chilling: Hacktivism discusses hacking, hackers – by anarchists, profiteers as well as nation states. Stuxnet, which was used to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program (a centrifuge is on view). After Iran realized what had been done, it called for the hackers to join in an army.

We learn that Stuxnet is now open source, sold on the blck market, and could be used by any number of actors to shut down electric grids, water systems or air traffic control or remotely give instructions to launch a nuclear attack. And no one knows who has it.

Whistleblower Edward Snowdown, at Spyscape © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

And now, I am really to go into my “debrief – encryption, deception, surveillance, special ops, brainpower (7/18), which comes up with my spy role: Agent Handler (I suspect they give that one to all those who don’t measure up as real spies).

But it isn’t done flippantly or tongue-in-cheek. The authentic personal spy profile is based on psychologists and a former Head of Training at British Intelligence, and sounds pretty authentic (as were the short tests for which I was totally unprepared):

“Your Spy Profile is your unique (and ever evolving) combination of attributes. When compared to others, it allows us to determine the Spy Role you are best suited to.”

My profile – “empathetic, inquisitive, composed” – turns out to be fairly accurate and also serious, developed with real psychologists.

At Spyscape’s Debriefing, you learn your role in espionage, based on the profile compiled. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later in the day, I am sent a comprehensive profile to my email and a Welcome letter. “Your Spy Skills can be valuable in everyday life. We’ve evaluated your Core Attributes and Spy Skills to determine your Spy Profile. Top psychologists and spymasters helped us build our Spy Profile system. We hope the self-knowledge in your Spy Profile will empower you, and inspire you to further develop your Spy Skills.”

The missive gives me more detail about my role as Agent Handler: A manager of agents who provide secret intelligence or operational support, and an insider view from General David Petreus.

In the real life example, I am given the bio of the agent handler for my new spy hero, Oleg Penkovsky (his code name was Hero) and the background that I found so compelling in the exhibit, about his handler, Ruari Chisholm, and an example of a typical operation, procuring cover material for an agent in the Iranian government who wants to provide info on Iran’s potential to develop nuclear weapons.

(This makes me think of important omissions in Spyscape: Valerie Plame, the CIA undercover agent who was infiltrating the Iran nuclear program until Plame’s identity as covert officer of the CIA working in counter proliferation was leaked to the press by members of George W Bush administration and subsequently made public  as retribution for her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s reveal about the false information that led to the US invasion of Iraq; she also had knowledge to disprove Bush’s contention that the aluminum tubes that Iraq had could be used as centrifuges for nuclear material. Also, how Andrew McCabe, the foremost counter-intelligence expert on Russia, was drummed out of the FBI by Trump to short-circuit the investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign and the 2016 election).

Spyscape will excite and thrill as it informs and intrigues. It helps to be prepared in advance for what you will encounter – I think I would have done considerably better and had better attitude.

And like skiing, it is an experience that adults and older children will relish doing together.

There is a continuing relationship – they send you the profile, and follow up with articles, stories, spy challenges, sharing news about factual and fictional worlds of spying and hacking “and helping you develop your own spy skills. We will be adding content from top hackers and spies to spyscape.com/academy so check in regularly to see what’s new.”

I think I’m being groomed. I’m definitely intrigued.

From Spyscape, I walk down to the KGB Museum in Chelsea. It is an interesting Spy v Spy counterpoint that enhances the experience of each one separately.

Visiting:  SPYSCAPE is optimized for adults and teens, but children are welcome. Bringing pre-school-age kids is not recommended. You need about two hours. There is a pleasant café and the gift shop is loaded with spy-related merch.  Open Monday-Friday, 10 am-9 pm and Saturday-Sunday, 9am-9 pm, last entry at 7:30 pm. (Adult, $39; child 3-12 $32).

Spyscape, 928 8th Avenue (entrance on SE corner of 55th Street), 646-585-7012, spyscape.com

Next: Spy v Spy in New York City: New KGB Spy Museum is Window into How Spies Impact World Affairs

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com, www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island Presents ‘Chinese Artists in America’ Exhibit

Artists Ping Wang and Arthur Liu with Town North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Gold Coast Arts Center Executive Director Regina Gil at opening of exhibit, “Chinese Artists in America© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gold Coast Arts Center, Great Neck, Long Island presents an exhibition of “Chinese Artists in America.” The works by eight contemporary Chinese-American artists is on view through March 20.

“The exhibition reflects the creative vitality of Chinese and American cultural interaction and growth through the arts and its historical and aesthetic links to other communities,” Gallery Curator Jude Amsel writes.

“These artists created a new visual language that embodies aspects of traditional Chinese art while responding to a time of great transition. Their artworks express personal beliefs, national pride, and international awareness.”

“The Gold Coast Arts Center is dedicated to promoting awareness and understanding through the arts and through public events that bring people together,” stated Regina Gil, founder and Executive Director of the Gold Coast Arts Center. “We are proud to have enabled artists from around the world to share their vision and craft with our audiences. The exhibition of art by Chinese-American artists weaves the heritage, experience and craft that has emerged from each artist’s personal exposure to Chinese and American culture and education.”

The opening reception for the art exhibition was accompanied by a cultural performance, music and dance presented under the aegis of the Great Neck Chinese Association.

Here are highlights, with the artists’ own statements.

Zhen Guo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zhen Guo: “With ‘Muted Landscape; I present a view of the world, and we who live on its surface, that is at once expansive and frightening.  The images, created (I do not say painted because there is no obvious brush work in the ink on rice paper creation) present a landscape as if from 36,000 feet, muted by both the gray color and by the distance.  Mountains, lakes, a sheer rock face wall, caldera, fields of snow, high and pointed peaks and rivers are joined and blended but not necessarily in the places or ways we expect.  It is as if the vision of Ansel Adams has been stirred shaken and kneaded merged a late Autumn vision of the natural world.  As our eyes travel over the painting the view changes and rivers become shadows, mountains become fields, and lakes become snow covered peaks.  We are entranced and at the same time afraid that, if we landed, there we could not find our way out. Perhaps this is a place for own internal search for a perch for our soul or to find our way forward.”

“Country Fair,” by Dexiang Qian © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Dexiang Qian: “I was born in Zhijiang. Many artists have come to Zhijiang to observe, sketch, and experiment with depicting the rural countryside. During my creation process, I use a glazing technique with a limited color palette. I continue to simplify the elements, and the resulting composition often is in geometric patterns.”  © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xiangdong Shi © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Xiangdong Shi: ““Food: Chinese beauty, taste and auspicious meaning. Chinese cuisine is not only delicious, but also the pursuit of form and color, such as Sweet Dumplings, put in a few red medlar, and immediately look happy, and eat the Sweet Dumplings at the Lantern Festival, so the Sweet Dumplings are also called Yuan Xiao, means the first full moon night of the year. Chinese cuisine is rich and auspicious Meaning, such as birthday, Chinese people often cook a bowl of noodles, called longevity noodles, meaning healthy longevity. Another example is the Traditional Chinese Rice-Pudding, is the exclusive food of the Dragon Boat Festival, it is to commemorate the ancient Chinese famous poet Qu Yuan, in addition, often in the  Traditional Chinese Rice-Pudding have any jujubes, white rice and red jujubes are put together, the color contrast is strong. Red has a special meaning in Chinese culture, and represents good luck. Therefore, the food series I painted not only expresses the taste of food, but also the sense of form and meaning of food. This is the true essence of Chinese culture.”

Arthur B. Liu © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Arthur B. Liu is President of Queens Art Education Center, New York, visiting professor of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, member of the Watercolor Society of USA, artist of the National Art League of USA, director of the Chinese Culture Art Association of New York, USA. He is the Educator, Artist and Inventor. He is the only one Chinese American artist who has been granted patents for inventions. He is showing “The flowing colors Chinese painting series” in this exhibition.

Ping Wang © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Ping Wang: “The initial idea of my “In and Out” series were body parts extended from a “Square”(space ) merged into a background. The background scenes are from Chinese illusional landscapes to recent New York City landmarks and daily life.  After a year or two reminiscing in depth I subconsciously escaped in the collision between China and American culture. I was enormously inspired by traditional Chinese composition and techniques. In the ‘Fight Club; series, I tried to combine some oriental perspectives and compositions into a Western story. Now living in New York for several years, I can see the integration of eastern and western cultures.”

“Sacrifice the Body to Feeding the Tiger,” by Yulin Huang
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yulin Huang: “In the face of the canvas, I have never forgotten all the so-called knowledge, just by intuition, in a simple, primitive, child-like way, straightforward and quick to smear. “Sacrifice the Body to Feeding the Tiger” (2018) is a “Dunhuang” mural from the ancient East, painted on the walls of the grotto 2000 years ago. It tells a Buddhist story. A prince, giving up his life and helping his hunger with his own flesh   The hungry tiger mother and son are born into Buddha after death. Like the cross that Jesus passed. In “Chinese New Year,” red lanterns, dragon dances, lion dances, firecrackers, fireworks, spring couplets, red envelopes… The people celebrate the biggest festivals, joyous and lively. But I feel a very loneliness.”

Hai Wei © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Hai Wei: “Even though we all advocate tolerance, different habits and beliefs sometimes constitute an offense.  Each different culture and art is connected of each other while learning from each other and integrating with each other. When the plane flies over the Arctic Circle, across the window, the outside is a mountain like a scarf, inside is a scarf like a mountain… All things connected, miraculous conversion. Similarly, in the body, the blood, the fresh life, can also be converted and reincarnation?  We have been watching ourselves for too long and rarely look at them. Most people think the sheep is weak ,ordinary, silent. In fact, they still have power and charm of wildness. The art created by nature is life, the beauty of life, and it does not depend on us. It is a kind of dignity.”

Yafu Wang with “Chinese Artists in America” curator Jude Amsel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Yafu Wang: Yafu’s works are varied and diverse.  Those selected art pieces cover his early works in road, shadows, posters, and temples etc.  Yafu always states that his work expresses his deep love and awe for the mighty God.  It fulfills all the missing parts in his life. 

Here are highlights from the performances:

Chinese Drum “Ma Deng Dance” featuring Anthony Wu, Dorie Liu, Kexin Huang, Yuxin Huang, Kingsley Liu. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Guzheng Duet “Dong Ting New Song” featuring Ella Li, Shiying Wei. © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Cucurbit Flute Solo, “Wedding Vow,” featuring Ricky Deng © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Violin & Piano in Chinese song, “Painted Heart” with Aili Tian, Phoenix tian, Joy Yang and Selena Lu (piano). © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Chinese Instruments ensemble “Xi Yang Yang (Be Happy)” “Turpan’s Grapes Turn Ripe (with Dance)” featuring Xiulu Xin (Banhu):, Yuqi Sun (Erhu), Xianyi Wang (Dulcimer), Xiuzhen Liang (Ruan), Rongxian Chen (Electronic Guitar), Cathong Li (Rock Percussion/Dance) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Children’s Chorus: Jasmine Flowers featuring Evan Cao, Derick Chen, Melissa Chiang, Jessica Chiang, Anthony Chiang, Athena Jin, Ella Li, Jack Pei, Dorothy Qian, Lucas Wang, Madeline Wang, Isabella Wu, Kenneth Wu, Katharine Xu, Carolyn Zuo and Kaitlyn Feng (piano) © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island Presents “Chinese Artists in America”

The Gallery is open when the Gold Coast Arts Center is open, 113 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck, NY, 516-829-2570, goldcoastarts.org.

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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin, and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Shops at Columbus Circle: Festive, Refined Shopping & Entertainment Destination Sparkles for the Holidays in New York

The cast of “Beautiful” performs at Broadway Under the Stars at the Shops at Columbus Circle, a holiday event © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

For a festive place to shop in New York, The Shops at Columbus Circle  is a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that priceless view (free) of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). And there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:

Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances, which began Monday, Nov. 12, take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10.

You get to see the actual cast performing in this extraordinarily intimate space – like your living room, except that it overlooks the massive stars that dip into the atrium. What is more, actor George Psomas (Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific) who hosts the event, elicits wonderful insights from the performers about their career and the shows in brief interviews.

The cast of “Head Over Heels” performs at Broadway Under the Stars at the Shops at Columbus Circle, a holiday event © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Nov. 19, we got to see performances from Head Over Heels, Ruben & Clay’s Christmas Show, The Band’s Visit, and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

Coming up:

Nov. 26: The Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Waitress

Dec. 3: The Prom, Dear Evan Hansen

Dec. 10: Mean Girls, Wicked

The shows begin at 5 pm.  They are free and open to the public – no reservations or tickets are required but people line up at least an hour before to get a decent view.

Cast members of “The Band’s Visit” performs at Broadway Under the Stars at the Shops at Columbus Circle, a holiday event © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

On Monday, November 26, there is the 19th Annual Winter’s Eve Event in conjunction with the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District. Artists, up-and-coming musicians, dancers, street performers and more will be present to welcome the holiday season and light up the Upper West Side with an evening of music, food, dancing and fun for everyone. The Shops at Columbus Circle will host an evening of entertainment, shopping discounts and food samplings.

Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.

The stars are aligned at the Shops at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a festive shopping, dining and entertainment destination especially at the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Culinary Delights:  Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars among two of its restaurants:Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa is the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., and the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se has the rest. The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.

The Bluebird London restaurant, imported from London, is one of the newest to open at the Shops at Columbus Circle, where two of the restaurants have six Michelin stars between them © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

With its proximity nestled between Lincoln Center a short walk to the north, and Broadway theater a short walk to the south, the restaurants all offer pre-theater dinner and after-theater dining, and will get you out in time for curtain. The shopping and dining venue is also a short walk from Rockefeller Center. (Reservations accepted.)

Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows, you can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.

What is remarkable is the ambiance of refinement, of calm that you don’t ordinarily feel shopping for the holidays – it’s not so much as a mall (perish the thought!) as an urban oasis. The Shops at Columbus Circle is a real neighborhood place, where Upper Westsiders come to buy groceries at Whole Foods and work out at the Equinox gym. The architecture and décor is absolutely lovely.

Many of the shops offer special events throughout the year. Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for ever-changing list of events and happenings.

The Shops at Columbus Circle, located in Time Warner Center in the heart of Manhattan on Columbus Circle, has become one of New York’s iconic destinations to dine, shop, entertain, and be entertained. The soaring 2.8 million-square-foot landmark has transformed Columbus Circle into a cultural portal to Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Central Park.

Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com to learn more and get the full schedule of events and activities throughout the holiday season.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Holidays in New York, Most Magical Time of the Year

 

The most stupendous float of all at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade carries Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer ushering in Christmas © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The winter holiday season may well be New York City’s most magical time of the year and gets underway with the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, continues with the iconic Christmas Tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center, and constantly delights with festivals, special events and attractions, and all the dazzle of holiday decorations right through New Year’s Day.

“The holiday season in New York City is a spectacle unlike any other,” said NYC & Company President and CEO Fred Dixon “It is a time when the vibrant energy that makes up the very fabric of our city is magnified through the joy of dozens of multicultural celebrations among New Yorkers and global visitors who make the five boroughs a centerpiece of their annual festivities.”

Highlights include landmark events and first-time New York–style holiday celebrations of a nearly endless variety for travelers to enjoy this winter. Visitors delight in historic and new shopping destinations, world-famous department store window displays (Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue), unrivaled outdoor ice-skating rinks and more scattered all throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. The five-borough-wide season wraps up in a fashion as dazzling as ever with various New Year’s Eve celebrations.

As always, three iconic events bookend the introduction and conclusion of the holiday season in New York City:

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade featuring larger-than-life helium balloons, performances by the casts of Broadway musicals, select marching bands from across the nation and celebrity appearances—kicks off the holiday season on November 22 at 9 am. A staple of the holiday season since 1924, the 92nd edition, the line-up will feature 16 giant character balloons; 43 novelty balloons, heritage balloons, balloonicles, balloonheads and trycaloons; 26 floats; 1,200 cheerleaders and dancers; more than 1,000 clowns; and 12 marching bands (macys.com/parade).

But the event has a pre-quel, The Great Balloon Inflation, that takes place the night before, when the streets around the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West are literally flooded with tens of thousands of people coming to delight in seeing the massive balloons being inflated by hundreds of volunteers.

Tens of thousands come out the night before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade to watch the Balloon Inflation © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Manhattan, November 28, 2018: A lineup of live performers rivaled by few events all year will help light up New York City’s biggest and brightest home for Santa’s Christmas eve delivery again. The more than seven-story tree will spread holiday cheer to the millions of visitors it welcomes until the lights dim on January 7 (rockefellercenter.com).

New Year’s Eve Times Square Ball Drop, Manhattan, December 31, 2018–January 1,2019: In 1904, the former New York Times owner convinced the City to rename Longacre Square in honor of the world-famous publication. In addition to the name change and the opening of NYC’s first subway line, that year marked the inaugural Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, and the “Crossroads of the World” has been the historic backdrop of the City’s New Year’s Eve celebration ever since. Approximately 1 million visitors are expected to gather to watch the ball drop in person again this year. This is something that should be on every bucket list to do at least once in a lifetime (timessquarenyc.org).

Angels light the way to the most famous holiday tree, at Rockefeller Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

My favorite activity for the holidays is an evening stroll to see the holiday windows and decorations. My route typically goes from Macy’s (this year’s theme, “Believe in the Wonder of Giving”), up to Fifth Avenue to Saks Fifth Avenue which is directly across from Rockefeller Center (from which you can see the amazing light show that is projected onto Saks building) and across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral (stop in), up to Bergdorf Goodman. Separately, I will take in Bloomingdale’s (a “Grinch” theme this year, connecting with the new movie), and Barney’s downtown on Broadway.

Meanwhile, there are more than a dozen celebratory events to delight this holiday season in NYC.

23 Days of Flatiron Cheer, Manhattan, December 1–23, 2018: The Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership welcomes visitors this December to enjoy contests, performances, free neighborhood walking tours, giveaways from local businesses and an interactive installation in the North Public Plaza. Other unparalleled offerings can be found in the historic 103-block neighborhood stretching from 23rd to 28th Street, bordered by Third and Sixth Avenues (flatirondistrict.nyc).

A Slice of Brooklyn Christmas Lights Tour, Brooklyn, December 1–30, 2018: Every holiday season, more than 100,000 visitors descend on Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood to view the most extravagant Christmas displays in the New York City area. This tour, operated by born and raised Brooklynites, stops by the most over-the-top exhibits of the season while telling patrons the story of how “Dyker Lights” came to be nearly 40 years ago (asliceofbrooklyn.com).

Enchanted by the holiday windows © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another popular tour is the holiday edition of The Ride, “a 21st century sleigh ride” aboard patented $1.5 million travelling high-tech theaters with floor-to-ceiling gigantic glass windows featuring side-facing VIP seating making the streets of New York the stage. Original seasonal music, videos and hilarious hosts support the dazzling Holiday performances along the 4.2 mile journey through Midtown Manhattan (http://experiencetheride.com, 212-221-0853).

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Holiday Engagement at New York City Center, Manhattan, November 28–December 30, 2018: City Center’s 75th Anniversary Season will feature a wide range of performances including new productions, annual favorites, live music and Alvin Ailey’s feature performance Revelations. A special show on December 11 celebrates City Center’s opening performance in 1943 (alvinailey.org).

Saks Fifth Avenue becomes a canvas for a holiday lightshow © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Museum of Natural History’s Holiday Season, Manhattan, November 20, 2018–January 7, 2019: The museum’s cultural celebrations begin with the decoration of the Origami Holiday Tree—complete with more than 800 hand-folded paper models created by local artists—and continue through the New Year. On December 29, the AMNH will host its 40th annual Kwanzaa celebration. The festival of African-American heritage celebrates the seven core principles of Kwanzaa while exploring the rich history behind its traditions. Family-friendly activities, musical performances and an international marketplace are also included (amnh.org).

Apollo Theater Presents “Kwanzaa Celebration: Regeneration Night,” Manhattan, December 29, 2018: The legendary Harlem theater is celebrating Kwanzaa with visitors for the 12th consecutive year with a night of music and dance that honors the principles of Kwanzaa—family, community and culture (apollotheater.org).

Brooklyn Ballet’s Nutcracker, Brooklyn, December 14, 2018: The hip-hop and ballet infused replication of the holiday classic, reimagined in various Brooklyn neighborhoods, is hosted by the iconic Kings Theatre, in Flatbush, for the first time this year (brooklynballet.org).

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical: Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, December 13–30, 2018: Dr. Seuss’ holiday classic is sure to cause audiences hearts to grow at least three sizes when they watch the story of the true meaning of Christmas come to life in this limited engagement at the world’s most famous arena (msg.com/hulu-theater-at-msg).

Gingerbread Lane at New York Hall of Science, Queens, November 10, 2018–January 21, 2019: Since 2013, the edible village at the New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, has set the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of gingerbread houses and structures with each new installment. The record is sure to be challenged again this year (nysci.org).

Grand Army Plaza, Largest Menorah Lighting, Brooklyn, December 2–10, 2018: With the help of local synagogues, the Grand Army Plaza, located in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has hosted the nightly lighting of the 32-foot menorah since 1984. Visitors are invited to celebrate the holiday with concerts and gifts for children through each day of the Jewish Festival of Lights (largestmenorah.com).

Holiday Workshop Weekend at Wave Hill, The Bronx, December 8–9, 2018: At this holiday craft fair, in addition to creating the usual wreaths and treasure boxes, families are invited to work on the feature project: the hamsa, or hamesh, the multicultural symbol of an open hand. Guests explore the spiritual side of the holidays as they make the palm-shaped amulets (wavehill.org).

New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show, The Bronx, November 17, 2018–January 21, 2019: The annual exhibition of classical model trains moving through a hand crafted display of New York City’s built environment is back for the 27th year. More than 175 miniature iconic city structures such as Yankee Stadium, The Brooklyn Bridge and The Statue of Liberty are replicated entirely out of plant parts and will coincide with other holiday celebrations such as a cappella performances, Bar Car Nights and more at the New York Botanical Garden (nybg.org).

The New York City Ballet presents George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, one of the most beloved and anticipated holiday classics, November 23–December 30 at Lincoln Center (nycballet.com).

Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society Presents “Harry Potter: A History of Magic”, Manhattan, through January 27: Quite literally, the most magical place to be during this holiday season is at the NYHS. Harry Potter: A History of Magic captures the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories through centuries-old treasures, including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library, the New-York Historical Society, and other museums, as well as never before seen material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives. The New York exhibition, showcasing a selection of objects not featured in the London presentation that are on view to the public for the very first time, is sponsored by Audible. There are also a slew of special events and family programming in conjunction with this not-to-be-missed exhibit, which vanishes, poof, after January 27, 2019. The tickets are timed; you can order online. Also visit The DiMenna Children’s History Museum, created for children  8-13, which presents 350 years of New York and American history through character-based pavilions, interactive exhibits and digital games. (New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), 212-873-3400, nyhistory.org)

New York Philharmonic Presents “Home Alone in Concert, ” Manhattan, December 20–21,2018: The acclaimed New York Philharmonic will perform John Williams’ score live to the classic Christmas film Home Alone, for a 2018–19 holiday season special event—booby traps and lovable bandits not included (nyphil.org).

A carriage ride down Fifth Avenue © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store at Grand Central Terminal Holiday Train Show, Manhattan, November 15, 2018–February 3, 2019: A staple of Grand Central Terminal during the holiday season since 2001, the train show features a 34-foot-long track where vintage trains from the museum’s collection travel through a miniature New York City and countryside scene all the way to the North Pole (grandcentralterminal.com).

Radio City Christmas Spectacular Starring the Rockettes, Manhattan, November 9, 2018–January 1, 2019: Everyone’s favorite high kickers dance their way from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve and champion the holiday spirit of New York City with their extravagant costumes and breathtaking state-of-the-art production (rockettes.com).

St. Thomas Church which is famous for the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and its annual performances of Handel’s Messiah (Dec. 4, 6). Also this year, “A Ceremony of Carols” by Benjamin Britten (Dec. 13). (Purchase tickets, www.saintthomaschurch.org/music/concerts); also take a tour of this magnificent edifice, built in 1913 in the French High Gothic style. (5th Avenue and 53rd Street, www.saintthomaschurch.org).

Visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue is also a highlight of the holidays and it is remarkable that you can just walk in and enjoy an inspirational service.

Cathedral of St John the Divine offers inspiring concerts throughout the holiday season, with a Concert for Peace on New Year’s Eve © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

I personally love to close out the holiday season on New Year’s Eve at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which presents the most magnificent annual Concert for Peace, founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1984 with the idea of bringing together New Yorkers and visitors from around the world for an evening filled with uplifting music in a most magnificent setting. Indeed, the cathedral offers a rich calendar of concerts throughout the holiday season, as well as tours of this architectural jewel. Check the website for details.(The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, at 112th Street, New York, NY 10025, 212-316-7540, info@stjohndivine.org, www.stjohndivine.org)

Favorite Places to Catch the Holiday Spirit

Central Park is magical in any season, but particularly for the holidays. In addition to the Wollman Rink (wollmanskatingrink.com), The Swedish Cottage is an enchanting place that is home to one of the last public marionette companies in the country. The cottage was originally constructed as a model pre-fabricated schoolhouse, and became Sweden’s entry in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the exhibit, Central Park’s co-designer Frederick Law Olmsted had it placed in Central Park, where it has been headquarters for the Marionette Theater since 1939 (West Side at 79th Street). Currently playing is “Yet, Set, Snow!”, an original story and production from the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, with performances through the season until Feb. 24, 2019. (Purchase tickets, www.cityparksfoundation.org/arts/swedish-cottage-marionette-theatre)

Other favorite venues to get into the Christmas Spirit: Bryant Park, with its massive Christmas tree, ice skating rink, festive holiday markets, cafes, and carousel (wintervillage.org) has become one of the city’s iconic holiday places. Of course, there is skating right below the magnificent Christmas tree at the Rink at Rockefeller Center (therinkatrockcenter.com). There is also skating and The Rink at Brookfield Place opens November 1 (230 Vesey St., 860-209-3459, gpice.com).

Skating at Bryant Park where there is also a holiday market © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

Besides Bryant Park, there are holiday markets at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Grand Central Terminal.

For a festive place to shop: The Shops at Columbus Circle, a destination within a destination that draws more than 16 million visitors per year to its 50 shops, renowned restaurants, bars and that free priceless view of Central Park (not to mention temperature-controlled and pet-friendly). But there are some spectacular happenings for the holidays:

Broadway Under the Stars is a five-week series of free public performances from today’s hottest Broadway musicals performing on the second floor mezzanine at The Shops at Columbus Circle. Participating shows include: Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Chicago, Dear Evan Hansen, Head Over Heels, Kinky Boots, The Phantom of the Opera, School of Rock, Waitress and Wicked (check out theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for schedules). Performances begin Monday, Nov. 12 and take place for five consecutive Mondays through Dec. 10. Shows begin at 5 pm and last approximately 20 minutes.  (Free and open to the public, no reservations or tickets are required.)

The stars are aligned at the Shops at Columbus Circle, in the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a festive shopping, dining and entertainment destination especially at the holidays © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Holiday Under the Stars is The Shops at Columbus Circle’s holiday lights display, featuring 12 massive 14-foot stars which hang from the 100-foot-high ceilings. This is claimed to be the largest specialty crafted exhibit of illuminated color display in the world. There is a 5-minute daily musical light show every half hour from 5 pm to 9 pm, through the end of the year.

Culinary Delights:  Among the restaurants are six Michelin Stars: from Chef Masayoshi Takayama’s Masa, the only three-star Michelin Japanese/Sushi restaurant in the U.S., to the gastronomic jewel box that is Thomas Keller’s Per Se). The Bluebird London restaurant in London and Momofuku Noodle Bar are newly opened and join the Landmarc and Porter House restaurants.

Also, from the 150-foot-high panoramic windows,  visitors can take in the breathtaking views of Central Park. It’s one of the few indoor places in Manhattan where you can enjoy this vantage point.

(Visit www.theshopsatcolumbuscircle.com for ever-changing list of events and happenings.)

For more information regarding the most wonderful time of the year in the five boroughs, find NYC & Company’s official guide to the holidays in New York City at NYCgo.com/holiday.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gold Coast International Film Festival Announces 2018 Winners

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Regina Gil, executive director of the Gold Coast International Film Festival and Gold Coast Arts Center, at awards luncheon © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

After 10 days and 80 films from 22 countries screened, many the United States or Long Island premiere, the 2018 Gold Coast International Film Festival came to a close and declared the winners:

The Audience Award Winner for Best Narrative was “The Lost Suit,” a bittersweet story made in Argentina and Spain by Pablo Solarz about an 88-year-old Jewish tailor who embarks on a long, transcontinental journey to try and find the man who saved him from certain death during the Holocaust. Heartfelt and charming, with a wonderful comedic flavor, the film reminds us of the importance of family, friendship, and keeping your word. Out of 230 audience-goers, 212 gave the film the highest ranking. “People were obsessed with it.” The Gold Coast arts center, which stages cinema series throughout the year, is hoping to bring it back.

Regina Gil, GCIFF founder, and Caroline Sorokoff, Festival Director, present GCIFF 2018 award for Best Narrative to “The Last Suit” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Audience Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature Film went to “Heading Home,” by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller, Jeremy Newberger, a stirring underdog chronicle of the unexpected triumph of Israel’s national baseball team at the 2017 World Baseball Classic. With their Mensch on the Bench mascot by their side, the team laughs and cries as they discover the pride of representing Israel on the world stage. The screening featured a Q&A with Co-Director Jeremy Newberger.

The Audience and Jury Award Winners for Best Narrative Short Film went to “Stems” and Best Documentary Short Film award was won by two films, “Wendy’s Shabbat” and “One Small Step.”

Regina Gil, GCIFF founder, and Alexandra Gil, curator of the festival Shorts, present GCIFF 2018 awards for Best Short Documentary Film to “Wendy’s Shabbat” and “One Small Step” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A new award this year, Best Family Short Film, went to Rag Dolls.

Shorts film curator Alexandra Gil viewed some 2,000 submissions before making the selections for the festival.

The winner of the new Gold Coast International Film Festival 2018 Award for Best Family Short Film went to “Rag Dolls” © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The awards winners for the 8th annual festival were named at a gala lunch at the NM Café at Neiman Marcus Roosevelt Field, a major sponsor of the festival, which also supports youth arts programs. Other major sponsors included the Town of North Hempstead and Douglas Elliman Real Estate, which provided important seed money “when we were just an idea” and have kept up. Hofstra University is also a major supporter, offering film programs including internships.

Some 4,000 tickets were sold; audience goers came from 180 zipcodes. Audience goers get to see films that are rarely screened outside of independent theaters in New York City – the festival brings films to the suburbs. Many of the documentaries, like “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” an astonishing documentary about Steve Young’s quest to collect Industrial Musicals which sets him on a journey to meet the makers; and “Happy” Academy Award® nominated director Roko Belic’s film explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion, traveling from the bayous of Louisiana, the deserts of Namibia, the beaches of Brazil and the villages of Okinawa to a communal home in Denmark; and short films are only seen at festivals. There are also opportunities to hear from filmmakers and historians and engage in question and answers. One special program gives Young Filmmakers, from K-12, a chance to shine (and shine they did).

Here are more highlights from the festival:

A musical-comedy-documentary! Comedy writer Steve Young’s assignment to scour bargain-bin vinyl for a Late Night with David Letterman segment becomes an unexpected, decades-spanning obsession when he stumbles upon the strange and hilarious world of industrial musicals in this amazing, revelatory and entertaining film, “Bathtubs Over Broadway,” by Dava Whisenant. The film’s star, Steve Young, participated in a Q&A after the GCIFF screening © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Paul Lieberstein, best known as Toby from “The Office,” plays nice-guy Fred in “Song of Back and Neck,” this charming romantic comedy which Lieberstan also directed. Fred rarely gets through the day without falling to the ground with crippling back and neck pain, and is not taken seriously by anyone at work. But as he discovers unexpected love and a rather unique talent, it is just the start of the unpredictable happenings coming his way. Lieberstein joined an audience Q&A via Skype following the Long Island premiere of his film © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Howard,” an intimate and insightful tribute to a once-in-a-generation talent, the legendary lyricist Howard Ashman by Don Hahn, revealed the incalculable impact Ashman had on Broadway, movies and the culture at large even beyond his ingenious lyrics. The audience gets to see much of his creative process behind such stellar hits as “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Little Shop of Horrors.” Howard’s sister, Sarah Ashman Gillespie and his partner Bill Lauch were on hand after the screening, which was sponsored by AARP Long Island, for a Q&A and to share their personal reflections © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What makes you happy? Money? Kids and family? Your work? Academy Award-nominated director Roko Belic’s documentary, “Happy” explores the secrets behind our most valued emotion. From the bayous of Louisiana, the deserts of Namibia, the beaches of Brazil and the villages of Okinawa to a communal home in Denmark, Belic goes in search of what really makes people happy. The GCIFF presentation was sponsored by Katz Institute for women’s Health at Northwell Health, and a panel of experts from the Center for Wellness and Integrative Medicine and Katz Institute were on hand to discuss the role of mindfulness and innovations in integrated, holistic approaches: Tina Conroy, Director of Energy and Healing; Bella Grossman, Clinical Psychologist, Marissa Licata, Registered Dietition, Deborah McElligott, Cardiac Nurse Practitioner and Lucy Gade, Medical Director © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Filmmaker Andrew Toscanao, who is in fifth grade at Northside elementary in Plainview, NY, discusses his film, “The Lego Agent: Dr. Evil’s Revenge” at the Gold Coast International Film Festival’s Young Filmmakers Program. Young Filmmakers are also invited to participate in a free day of hands-on filmmaker workshops for filmmakers in grades 7-12, Saturday, March 16, at Hofstra University, a festival sponsor © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Eliad Lienhardt came from Switzerland to discuss the making of his film short, “Alison”after the screening at the Gold Coast International Film Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Famed director Peter Bogdanovich has created a love-letter to Buster Keaton, one of Hollywood’s most prolific, influential and innovative filmmakers, Buster Keaton. “The Great Buster,” is a celebration of Keaton’s life, career and legacy. The story told with stunning restorations of archival works that bring Keaton’s magic to life on the big screen, plus interviews with his friends, family, collaborators, and a broad array of artists influenced by his singular vision, including Mel Brooks, Bill Hader, Cybil Shepherd and Quentin Tarantino. Professor Rodney F. Hill, film scholar, was on hand for a Q&A after the screening of the documentary © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 2018 festival kicked off with a Gold Coast Arts Center gala in Great Neck, Long Island honoring film and television star Robert Wagner with the second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in recognition of his long, illustrious career that began in 1950. (See story.)

Actor Robert Wagner, honored with the Gold Coast Film Festival’s second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award at the Gold Coast Arts Center’s gala, discusses his career with film historian, author, and professor Foster Hirsch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Gold Coast Film Festival Kicks Off With Gala Honoring Film & TV Legend Robert Wagner with Hollywood Golden Era Award

Actor Robert Wagner, honored with the Gold Coast Film Festival’s second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award at the Gold Coast Arts Center’s gala, discusses his career with film historian, author, and professor Foster Hirsch © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The stars shone over the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck, Long Island as film and television star Robert Wagner was honored with the second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in recognition of his long, illustrious career that began in 1950 with his film debut in The Happy Years The award was presented at the center’s annual gala which also helped raise funds for the nonprofit Arts Center and its Gold Coast International Film Festival, which starts on Friday, November 2, 2018 on the storied Gold Coast of Nassau County’s North Shore, once home to entertainment legends including W. C. Fields, Paulette Goddard, Oscar Hammerstein, Alan King, Francis Ford Coppola, George Segal, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Joining Wagner at the gala were such luminaries as his wife, actress Jill St. John; his daughter Courtney Wagner, who co-hosts Boulevard, their new cable program about the movie stars of Hollywood; actress Sharon Gless (Cagney and Lacey) and her husband, producer Barney Rosenzweig; and Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, whose mother, the late Rita Hayworth, posthumously received the first Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award in 2017.

Iconic talent agent, Budd Burton Moss, the award’s namesake, also attended the event in tribute to his childhood friend.  Moss, the most respected and admired talent agent of Hollywood’s Golden Age, attended elementary school in California with Wagner, forging a relationship that has endured since.

Actress Diane Baker and noted radio and television personality Larry King sent along their best wishes via video. Also in attendance were Harriet Fields, granddaughter of the late W.C. Fields, and renowned film historian and film professor, Foster Hirsch, who moderated a candid, lively and informative discussion with Wagner before the presentation of the award.

Wagner may well hold the record for longest continuous career – he has been acting for 70 years, a fact acknowledged by tributes from Larry King and actor Diane Baker.

During the conversation with Hirsch, Wagner spoke of his mentors, who bolstered his career: actor Spencer Tracy, who “changed my life,” and film producer Darryl Zanuck, who basically discovered him, developed him and said of him, “You will be a big star.”

Clark Gable got him a screen test at MGM, but that didn’t work out, and got a contract with 20th Century Fox ($55 a week), where he stayed for 20 years, a part of the studio system.

“The studio system worked well for me. People at 20th Century Fox looked out for their people.”  His departure coincided with the collapse of the studio system.

“I owe my career to Darryl Zanuck,” he said. “He knew scripts, stories, believed in the people around him. He really cared about me.. Darryl was watching me. When he left [the studio], it was a different situation.”

Actor Robert Wagner, honored with the Gold Coast Film Festival’s second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award at the Gold Coast Arts Center’s gala, discusses his career © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He joked that he wasn’t happy doing “Prince Valiant,” revolutionary for being one of the first movies filmed in Cinemascope. “It was the wig – it got in the way. Dean Martin talked to me for 10 minutes; he thought I was Jane Wyman.”

He reflected on his transition from film to television – something that wasn’t done at the time. “Lou Wasserman said to me, ‘I want you in this magazine – TV Guide. I think this medium is for you.” Wasserman proposed making a pilot for “It Takes a Thief,” and promised that if it wasn’t picked up, he would make it into a movie. It wasn’t picked up; he made the movie, and then it was picked up.”

“It started mid-season,” Wagner related. “That’s death. I thought my career was gone. But the audience liked it.”

Fred Astaire was his co-star. “There was nobody like him. A meticulous man. I asked him to play my father. I knew him when I was a kid – I went to boarding school with his son. Who asked me over for the weekend at his house. Astaire picked me up, put me in the back seat of his convertible – I was 7 or 8 years old. I didn’t know who Astaire was at the time. I spent a lot of time with him over the years.”

Hirsch pressed him on how his mentors seemed to all be father figures because his own father was “rather difficult.”

“My father was a product of that era. He did things his way. I was programmed to go into his business – steel. I always wanted to be actor in movies, from time I saw my first movie.”

Gold Coast Arts Center/Gold Coast Film Festival Executive Director Regina Gil with actor and gala honoree Robert Wagner and professor Foster Hirsch at the Gold Coast Arts Center gala. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He spoke of the many “marvelous leading ladies” he worked with: Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, to list but a few,” writing about them in his book, “I Loved Her in the Movies,” one of three Hollywood memoirs he has published.

“You can’t be a leading man without a leading lady.”

And he spoke lovingly and admiringly of his wife, the actress Natalie Wood, whose real name was Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, a child of Russian immigrants. She made her debut before she was five years old in a 15-second scene in the 1943 film, “Happy Land,” and at the age of seven, played a German orphan opposite Orson Welles and Claudette Colbert in “Tomorrow is Forever” (1946).

“They dyed her hair blond and taught her a German accent… She had God-given talent.”

He said that he doesn’t believe “West Side Story” would have been made without Wood. “She was so good at accents. She was good at everything.”

Among the stars in attendance at the Gold Coast Arts Center Gala honoring actor Robert Wagner with the second annual Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award, were actor Jill St. John, his wife; Sharon Gless and her husband, Barney Rosenzweig, the producer of Cagney & Lacey; and Hollywood agent Burton Moss © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In the audience was his wife, Jill St. John, “the first Bond girl,” with whom he performed “Love Letters” on the stage, criss-crossing the country for nine years.

“The performances had to be different, otherwise they would have had to take me away with a net. We had to keep it different.”

Wagner’s numerous film credits includes With a Song in My Heart, Broken Lance with the legendary Spencer Tracy, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Pink Panther, The Curse of the Pink Panther, Midway, The Towering Inferno, Banning, Harper, Prince Valiant, The True Story of Jesse James, and All the Fine Young Cannibals. He re-created his role of Number Two, the villainous henchman to Dr. Evil, the archenemy of Mike Myers’ title character in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

On television, Wagner has starred in three long-running hit series, It Takes a Thiefwith Fred Astaire, Switch, with Eddie Albert and Sharon Gless and Hart to Hart, with Stefanie Powers.  He also starred in the top-rated miniseries Windmills of the Gods, based on Sidney Sheldon’s best-selling novel; with Joanne Woodward in A Kiss Before Dying; and with Elizabeth Taylor in There Must Be a Pony. He also appeared in the memorable Seinfeld episode, “The Yada, Yada, Yada,” as Dr. Abbot.

Edwina Sandys, the sculptor (and Winston Churchill’s granddaughter); actor and honoree Robert Wagner; Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, daughter of Rita Haywood, the award’s first recipient and spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association; and Hollywood agent Burton Ross at the presentation of the Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award at the Gold Coat Arts Center gala © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Named for the man who has represented some of Hollywood’s finest stars, the Burton Moss Hollywood Golden Era Award pays tribute to film legends who may not have been honored adequately during their lifetimes, and whose names and legacy are in danger of becoming forgotten by newer generations of filmgoers.  The award itself, an original work of art, was created by celebrated sculptor Edwina Sandys, who also attended the event, is a granddaughter of Sir Winston Churchill.

Presenting the award to Wagner, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan, who had received the first award on behalf of her mother, Rita Hayworth, said she had devoted her life as a spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association, working for a cure, andnoted that among the many programs offered at the Gold Coast Arts Center (programs “from womb to tomb” in art, music, performance) are Making Memories a program that serves those with Alzheimer’s and memory impairment.

Gold Coast Arts Center/Gold Coast Film Festival Executive Director Regina Gil with actor Jill St. John, sculptor Edwina Sandys, honoree actor Robert Wagner, and his daughter, Courtney Wagner and Jon Kaiman, co-president of the Arts Center © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Proceeds from the benefit support the Arts Center’s outreach projects including Making Memories, as well as ArtReach, a program that brings Arts Center faculty and programs to underserved schoolchildren and others, to enrich their curriculum with arts education in the areas of ceramics, painting, music, dance, and chess.

The gala kicks off this year’s Gold Coast International Film Festival, taking place November 2 – 13 at various venues in North Hempstead, Long Island. The festival this year features 80 films over 10 days. (Tickets and information at www.goldcoastfilmfestival.org).

Since 2011, the Gold Coast International Film Festival has brought the latest Hollywood hits and Indie favorites to standing-room-only audiences throughout the fabled Gold Coast of Long Island and beyond. Add A-list celebrities and unforgettable events to the mix, and it’s easy to see why the Gold Coast International Film Festival has become the “go to” festival for film buffs and the public; (it is also the last major film festival on the East Coast before Awards season). The Gold Coast International Film Festival is produced by the not-for-profit Gold Coast Arts Center.

The Gold Coast Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to promoting the arts through education, exhibition, performance, and outreach. Located on the North Shore of Long Island, it has brought the arts to tens of thousands of people throughout the region for over 20 years. Among the Center’s offerings are its School for the Arts, which holds year-round classes in visual and performing arts for students of all ages and abilities; a free public art gallery; a concert and lecture series; film screenings and discussions; the annual Gold Coast International Film Festival; and initiatives that focus on senior citizens and underserved communities. These initiatives include artist residencies, after-school programs, school assemblies, teacher-training workshops, and parent-child workshops. The Gold Coast Arts Center is an affiliate of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Partners in Education program, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. More information can be found at www.goldcoastarts.org.

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

 

New York City’s 45th Annual Village Halloween Parade Dazzles with “I AM a Robot” Theme

The 45th annual, iconic New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of costumed participants around the theme, “I AM a Robot!” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

 

The 45th annual, iconic New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of costumed participants around the theme, “I AM a Robot!”

“With artificial intelligences learning, adapting, interpreting and reacting as humans do, the times we live in can be overwhelming,” said  Jeanne Fleming, Artistic/Producing Director of New York’s Village Halloween Parade. “This traditional and beloved event aspires to bring folks into their creative imagination—celebrating that quality that differentiates us from robots—and by extension make the world a better place. We as New Yorkers and those visiting the Big Apple can come together, affirm our identity, block out the distractions, focus on joy and inhabit the streets of New York LIVE.”

“This traditional and beloved event aspires to bring folks into their creative imagination—celebrating that quality that differentiates us from robots—and by extension make the world a better place,” said Jeanne Fleming, Artistic/Producing Director of the Village Halloween Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The 2018 Village Halloween Parade celebrates what makes us human by exploring how we remake ourselves. For our part, we will deploy a floating phalanx of cybernetic figures, each tethered by glowing wires to its human controller to evoke the increasingly complex strands of identity that entangle man with machine. We invite all of our Halloween makers and marchers to join our positronic collective, expressing your inner cyborgs for an evening of robotic revelry as we employ our most uniquely human qualities–dreaming, fantasizing, creating–to do our best robot impersonations.”

The theme is timely, considering 2018 is also the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s publication of “Frankenstein”.

Grand Marshal Machine Dazzle led the VIP Robot Section.

Grand Marshal Machine Dazzle led the VIP Robot Section of the 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Village Halloween Parade is:

The nation’s largest public Halloween celebration

Named as The Greatest Event on Earth by Festivals International for October 31

Attended by over 2 million people, seen by over 1 million on TV.

The nation’s only major night Parade.

Listed as one of the 100 Things to do Before You Die.

Picked by Events International as The Greatest Event on Earth on October 31, and ranked 3rd by Citysearch as the best event in New York City.

Ranked by Biz Bash as one of the top 10 events in NYC.

Recipient of the Municipal Arts Society of New York’s Award for making a major contribution to the cultural life of New York City.

Recipient of a major grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in recognition of Longtime Artistic Achievement.

Recipient of the Mayor’s Tourism Grant in recognition of the Parade’s major impact on the economic life of New York City and grants from the Manhattan Borough President’s Tourism Initiative.

The 45th annual, iconic New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of costumed participants around the theme, “I AM a Robot!” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Started by Greenwich Village mask maker and puppeteer in 1974, the Parade began as a walk from house to house in his neighborhood for his children and their friends.

After the second year of this local promenade, Theater for the New City stepped in and produced the event on a larger scale as part of their City in the Streets program. That year the Parade went through many more streets in Greenwich Village and attracted larger participation because of the involvement of the Theater.

After the third year, the Parade formed itself into a not-for-profit organization, discontinued its association with Theater for the New City and produced the Parade on its own.

The Village Halloween Parade has been a significant factor in the revitalization of the city and its spirit.

It also affords an opportunity for political expression.

One of the more political demonstrations during the 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the more political demonstrations during the 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For more information on the Parade, visit https://www.halloween-nyc.com/.

Here are more highlights:

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual, iconic New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of costumed participants around the theme, “I AM a Robot!” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Village Halloween Parade is New York City’s answer to New Orleans’ Carnival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Village Halloween Parade is a family affair © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade brought out thousands of participants © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of the more political demonstrations during the 45th annual New York City Village Halloween Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Many marchers used the Village Halloween Parade for political expression © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Notorious RBG made an appearance at the 45th Annual Village Halloween Parade in New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The New York City Village Halloween Parade is an opportunity for artistic expression © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Making a political point to #Vote at the New York City Village Halloween Parade © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2018 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.com,  www.huffingtonpost.com/author/karen-rubin , and travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate/. Blogging at goingplacesnearandfar.wordpress.com and moralcompasstravel.info. Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures