Category Archives: Cultural travel

Driveable Getaways: Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Great Northern Catskills

Sunset Rock. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin

Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

My getaway exploring the Hudson River School Art Trail in the Great Northern Catskills of New York starts at the trailhead to Kaaterskill Falls, where you get an amazing view of Kaaterskill Clove (HRSAT Site #4). You gaze out over the gorge where mountain peaks seem to thread together and compare the scene today to the way it is depicted by Hudson River School artist Asher B. Durand’s 1866 painting.

Kaaterskill Clove. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s a short walk along 23A (watch out for cars on the winding narrow road) to the trailhead for one of my favorite hikes, Kaaterskill Falls (HRSAT Site #5), a stunning scene that looks remarkably just as depicted in an 1835 painting by Thomas Cole, known as the father of the Hudson River School. “It is the voice of the landscape for it strikes its own chords, and rocks and mountains re-echo in rich unison,” Cole (who was also a poet and essayist) wrote.

Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Kaaterskill Falls were a favorite subject of many of the Hudson River School painters and for me, is the quintessential combination of stunning scenery plus the physical pleasure of the hike – half-mile up to the base of the double-falls, then another half-mile to the top.

Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The two-tiered Kaaterskill Falls, 175 and 85 feet, is the highest in New York State and was described by James Fenimore Cooper in “The Pioneers” which Thomas Cole, a friend of Cooper’s illustrated.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a small trail through the woods to the very top of the falls. Signs admonish hikers that climbing the ledges beside Kaaterskill Falls is extremely dangerous, and has resulted in numerous injuries and deaths. But the falls are not flowing when I come, so I get to walk on the ledges, giving me a really nervous view straight down and beyond, to the Valley and letting me look at the carved initials and graffiti from the 1920s and 30s, some even from the 1800s.  You feel a sense of kindred spirit with those who have passed through and passed on. You feel the height and the proximity to the drop off, and it makes your heart flutter.

At the top of the Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Later, I will recognize the view in Thomas Cole’s paintings and imagine how he must have stood in this precise place where you are standing.

Kaaterskill Falls. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, Great Northern Catskills, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a half-mile to the base, and another half- mile to the top of the falls, for a total of 2 miles roundtrip. There are some scrambles and it is uphill almost all the way (walking sticks are really recommended), and is thoroughly fantastic.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State
© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

(The parking lot is just west of the trailhead and across 23A, so you park and walk back along the road, being very careful. Haines Falls NY 12436, 518-589-5058, 800-456-2267).

HRSAT Hikes in North-South Campground 

For my second day, after an amazing breakfast at the Fairlawn Inn, I head to North-South Campground, where there are several of the Hudson River School of Art Trail hikes (as well as many other hiking trails) – the lake itself depicted in paintings such as Thomas Cole’s “Lake with Dead Trees,” 1825 (HRSAT Site #6).

Artists Rock, Escarpment Trail, North-South Lake Campground, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Escarpment Trail to Sunset Rock (HRSAT Trail Site #7) begins along the well-marked blue trail (you cut off to the yellow trail to Sunset Rock) that mostly wraps around the ledges, with the amazing views that so enthralled the artists of the Hudson River Valley. Close to the beginning is a fairly interesting scramble, then the trail winds through the woods along side fabulous rock formations before coming out again to the ledges. You reach Artists Rock at about a half-mile. Continuing on, you look for the yellow trail marker to Sunset Rock and from there, to Newman’s Point.

Escarpment Trail, North-South Lake Campground, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can either reverse and come back on the Escarpment Trail, or make a loop, coming down the Mary’s Glen trail, passing Ashley’s Falls.

Ashley’s Falls on Mary’s Glen Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mary’s Glen trail can also be the entrance to a more challenging hike, to North Point, a distance of 3.2 miles with 840 feet ascent. It is a mostly moderate climb but has some short, steep scrambles over rock, but you come to large open slabs and expansive vistas at North Point, a 3,000 ft. elevation with some of the most distant views.)

North-South Lake. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Back at the North-South Lake, you can follow around the shoreline to see the same views that inspired Hudson River School paintings.

You can also take the trail to the site of the Catskill Mountain House (HRSAT Site #8), one of the earliest tourist hotels. The majestic hotel, which was opened in 1823 and accommodated 400 guests a night (Presidents Arthur and Grant were among those who stayed here), burned down in 1963 but the view that attracted visitors still remains as one of the most magnificent panoramas in the region, and can be compared to Frederic Church’s “Above the Clouds at Sunrise” (1849).

Where the Catskill Mountain House used to stand. Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is fun to see the initials carved into the stone ledges from more than a century ago. The Mountain House began drawing thousands of guests each season from all over the country as well as from abroad, who came not just for the cooler, healthier climate but for what had already become one of the most renowned natural panoramas in the young nation: the valley 1,600 feet below, stretching east to the Taconic Mountains and the Berkshires, with the silvery thread of the Hudson visible for 60 miles from north to south.  On a clear day, you can see five states – Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. The hike is just a half-mile with only an 80-foot ascent.

Hiking the Hudson River School Art Trail, in the Catskill Mountains, Greene County, New York State © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is a $10/car day use fee for the NYS DEC’s North-South Lake Campground from early May through late October, however the fee is waived for NYS residents 62 years or older midweek. The campground is open May through October; 518-589-5058 or call DEC Regional Office year-round at 518-357-2234, www.greatnortherncatskills.com/outdoors/north-south-lake-campground.

The Hudson River School Art Trail also features Olana, the magnificent and whimsical mansion home of artist Frederick Edwin Church. At this writing, the entrancing mansion was not yet reopened to visits, but the 250-acre grounds and the first-ever legally protected “viewshed” to the Hudson River are open (5720 Route 9G, Hudson, NY 12534, 518-828-0135, olana.org.)

Frederick Edwin Church’s Olana, Hudson, NY © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, you can walk the grounds Thomas Cole Historic Site (the home has yet to be reopened, but is marvelous to visit, especially Cole’s studio). (218 Spring Street, Catskill, NY 12414, 518-943-7465, www.thomasscole.org)

Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, NY, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Get maps, directions and background on the Hudson River School Art Trail atwww.hudsonriverschool.org/hudsonriverschoolarttrail.

View from Thomas Cole National Historic Site, Catskill, NY, on the Hudson River School Art Trail © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, walk on the Hudson River Skywalk along the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to find incredible river views.

In Tannersville: Explore the Mountain Top Arboretum, 178 acres of trails, wetlands, gardens, and native plants; go on a mountain biking adventure at the Tannersville Bike Park, part of the Tannersville-Hathaway Trail System.

In Athens:Rent a kayak or paddleboard at Screaming Eagle Outdoor Adventures; explore along the Hudson River at the Athens Riverfront Park and look for the Hudson-Athens Lighthouse

Places to stay include:

Fairlawn Inn bed-and-breakfast, Hunter, NY, the Catskills © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In Hunter, the Fairlawn Inn where we have stayed, oozes charm; open year-round (7872 Main St. Hunter, NY 12442, 518-263-5025, www.fairlawninn.com).

Just outside of Catskill, A Tiny House Resort offers 10 tiny houses perched over the Catskill Creek; open-year-round (2754 CR 23BSouth Cairo, NY 12484, 518-622-2626,www.atinyhouseresort.com).

In Coxsackie, Gather Greene is a glamping destination offering 17 wooden glamping cabins on 100 acres of rolling hills and fields, each is equipped with air conditioning and heating, full bathrooms, a mini-fridge (176 Levitt RoadCoxsackie,  262-448-3683, www.gathergreene.com).

More information from Greene County Tourism, 800-355 CATS, 518-943-3223, discovergreene.com.

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© 2020 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

Memorable Meals in World’s Best Restaurants Remind How Restaurants are Mainstay of Community, Magnet for Travelers, a Doorway to Appreciating Culture, Heritage

Master sushi chef, Okane, Japanese gastropub, in San Francisco’s SoMa district © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Eric Leiberman, Sarah Falter

Restaurants are not just a mainstay, a staple, for a community, they also are a magnet for travelers – experiencing food has become a top priority for travelers who plan destinations and itineraries around it. Restaurants are vital to a local economy.

But at this point in time, they are among the most endangered of species as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Local, independent restaurants are the backbone of our communities, tourism, and redevelopment in every corner of the U.S.,” writes the newly formed Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), formed to lobby Congress for the interests of the more than 500,000 independent restaurants across the country. (https://www.saverestaurants.com/)

“We directly employ over 11 million people across the country, and indirectly employ hundreds of millions of workers up and down the food supply and delivery chain — from growers, packers, fisherman, linen services, delivery people and more — who depend on the continued revenue of restaurants to stay in business.

“We contribute $1 trillion to our economy, and represent 4% of our GDP. With the COVID-19 pandemic, we are closed for business. As of today, up to seven million people have been laid off, and millions of our suppliers will have their bills go unpaid, creating an unprecedented trickle down effect of economic damage to local restaurants and the small businesses that rely on them. We are the lifeblood of our economy and our communities, and we need help.”

The restaurant industry is also an industry that is singularly dependent upon human resources, with products and services that are perishable and cannot be stored on the shelf for a half-price sale months from now, vulnerable to the ebb and flow of cash flow.

“Independent restaurants are small businesses. But, unlike many other small businesses, our cash flow is completely dependent on current business. The bills from 45 days ago are paid with revenue earned today. If there is no revenue, those bills go unpaid. Independent restaurants estimate that there needs to be a minimum of $150 billion cash flow just to pay our current bills, rent, and taxes — and that’s before we pay our employees, who are the front line of service in this hospitality industry and the backbone to the local economies our businesses sustain.”

A Doorway to Savoring Heritage, Culture

Travelers especially appreciate food as a doorway to appreciate heritage, society, the ecosystem that forges a culture. The foods, the ingredients, the seasonings, the preparations, and the ambiance of restaurants – these forge sensory memories. Indeed, “food” has become one of the top factors for travelers when they choose a destination. Food is the front door into a culture, a community, a neighborhood – in fact, one of the tips travel experts offer is to find the best restaurant by simply asking a local, perhaps the Uber driver, for their favorite restaurant.

Remembering some of my most memorable dining experiences brings me back:

Shaving truffles onto rissotto at Restaurant RiziBizi, Portoroz, Slovenia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Restaurant RiziBizi, with Eric in Portoroz, Slovenia, capping our eight-day Venice-Croatia self-guided bike tour, specializes in truffles and serves one of the sensational meals that you remember forever. The restaurant has a tasting menu (from 50 to 60 E). We opt for a la carte: tuna tartar with zucchini, wasabi-reduced plum; truffle soup, the chef sends over pate, served on sticks in a plant; risotto with Adriatic scampi and truffles (the waiter brings a dish of black truffles to table and shaves them onto the dish); duck breast with wine sauce. All the selections are based on locally sourced produce. I can imagine the most devoted foodies getting on planes and coming to Rizi Bizi just for the truffles. And they should. This is a world-class restaurant and the dining experience has been truly memorable, with selections that uniquely reflect the local produce, exquisitely presented. The restaurant is exemplary in every way – we dine on a patio with a view overlooking the hillsides down to the sea; the service is impeccable. (Restaurant RiziBizi, Villanova ulica 10, 6320 Portoroz, Slovenia www.rizibizi.si).

I’ll never forget the meal we shared on the last night of our bike trip on the Danube Bike Trail, in Vienna. David and Eric found one of Vienna’s most famous restaurants on yelp: Figlmueller has been a popular restaurant since 1905 – so popular there are two locations on the same street and both are full. We go to Wollzeile, right behind St. Stephen’s Cathedral, inside a small alleyway. David manages to talk his way in – on the wall is a New York Times review with a photo of then-Senator Al D’Amato of New York on the page. The flagship restaurant is often referred to as the “Home of the Schnitzel”.

Figlmueller boasts Vienna’s best schnitzel, which comes as an enormous round, bigger-than-the-plate, breaded pork pancake pounded impossibly thin. It is delectable with a light, delicate, tender texture. The waiter tells us that four men do nothing but pound schnitzel all day long – 1,600 schnitzels each day. The secret to the delectable taste is using only the best light vegetable oil for frying. Only a few schnitzels are fried in the pan at a time. Then the vegetable oil is changed which means that each month several thousand liters of oil make their way in and out of the kitchen at Figlmüller; they are processed into biofuels. “To ensure that each schnitzel turns out tender and crispy we do not take any chances with the frying temperature of the vegetable oil. It takes 3 different pans to make the perfect schnitzel.” It is a memorable dining experience in every way, and a perfect way to celebrate the end of a perfect trip. (figlmueller.at)

Another memorable meal was a highlight of my around-the-world in 23 days Global Scavenger Hunt: at the Riad el Yacout where we stayed in Fes, Morocco, I savored a fantastic dinner  of chicken tagine and chicken couscous – the food and the atmosphere – amid the stunning tiles, fountains, patterned textiles, sheer perfection. Riad el Yacout was built in 1347 for Professor Laharchi, philosophy who taught at the famous Al Qaraouvine university and the house stayed in the family until 2000, when it was converted to a 33-room guesthouse (www.riadelyacoutfes.com/en/)

A memorable dinner at Riad el Yacout in Fes, Morocco of chicken tagine and chicken couscous © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another unforgettable dining experience was a dinner at the Castello di Verrazzano (the explorer’s actual family home, 1,500 years old), a vineyard and winery making fine Chianti wines, where you it can dine at its Farm restaurant, offering meals produced with raw ingredients from the farm and locality, including the wild board they raise here. The Castle became the property of the Verrazzano family in the VII century. Giovanni da Verrazzano, the navigator and discoverer of the bay of New York (the bridge was named for him in 1964) was born here in 1485. (They also recently opened “Foresteria Casanova, lodging, right in the midst of the vineyard).( Hosteria della Cantina, Via Citille, 32A Località Greti 50022 – Greve in Chianti (FI), Tel: +39 055 854243, https://www.verrazzano.com/en/the-place/)

Sea urchin, a specialty of Okane, a SoMa neighborhood izakaya (Japanese gastropub), flown in specially from Tokyo’s famous fish market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As astonishing find in San Francisco was Okane, the hip, casual sister restaurant to the more upscale, sophisticated Michelin-starred Omakase restaurant literally next door. Okane, which opened in 2015, by 2017 had been rated a Michelin Bib Gourmand. Okane is a SoMa neighborhood izakaya – a Japanese gastropub – serving traditional and refined Japanese “comfort” food and contemporary sushi.  Many of the selections would be common in Japan but are rarer to find in a Japanese restaurant in America. We dined on items that had been freshly purchased at Tokyo’s famous fish market and flown in that day. (Okane, 669 Townsend Street, San Francisco, CA 94103 415-865-9788, www.okanesf.com).

I can still taste the revelation of the sweetest, most succulent lobster, prepared over open fires on a secluded beach on Maine’s Penobscot Bay, a feature on every Maine Windjammer cruise on historic sailing ships (sailmainecoast.com).

Steaming fresh lobsters on a secluded beach, a highlight of a Maine Windjammer cruise aboard a historic sailing ship in the Penobscot Bay © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

Our globe-trotting correspondents Dave E. Leiberman and Laini Miranda offered their international favorites:

O Camilo, Estr. da Ponta da Piedade, 8600-544 Lagos, Portugal, +351 282 763 845, https://goo.gl/maps/n1CKYth49Tk27Rt8A

Tiger shrimp at O Camilo, Lagos, Portugal © Dave E. Leiberman

Punta Corcho, Avenida Rafael Melgar SM 01 MZ 6 Lote 01-01, 77580 Puerto Morelos, Q.R., Mexico, +52 998 206 9105, https://goo.gl/maps/vsfzyDJUxgZVW4X16

Punta Corcho, Puerto Morelos, Q.R. Mexico © Dave E. Leiberman

Les Bacchanales, 247 Avenue de Provence, 06140 Vence, France, +33 4 93 24 19 19, https://goo.gl/maps/nFgeymrduQB41BLU6

Les Bacchanales, Vence, France © Dave E. Leiberman

Pou Kitchen and Café, 136 Steung Thmei, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia, +855 70 716 969, https://goo.gl/maps/nxTtoojW1mks4z6M7

Club culinario toscano da Osvaldo, Piazza dei Peruzzi, 3/r, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy, +39 055 217919 https://goo.gl/maps/6mGpSW9sZey5JJAt7

Moran’s Oyster Cottage, The Weir, Roymore, Kilcolgan, Co. Galway, Ireland, +353 91 796 113, https://goo.gl/maps/uynTUXjNR8g2tSN97

Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits, 600 Poland Ave, New Orleans, LA 70117, 504-948-9111, https://goo.gl/maps/6i2vAFghD6WXVx2i8

Hell’s Backbone Grill, 20 UT-12, Boulder, UT 84716, 435-335-7464, https://goo.gl/maps/UihaCLLbafLnkY1f7

Pappy & Harriet’s, 53688 Pioneertown Rd, Pioneertown, CA 92268, 760-365-5956, https://goo.gl/maps/FAGatwLWgqMEvpta6

Peck’s Arcade, 217 Broadway, Troy, NY 12180, 518-326-3450, https://goo.gl/maps/MSZvH1j81tDindC57

In the tradition of omakase, Doma Sushi, San Francisco, gives the chef creative freedom and the customer a memorable dining experience. You watch him create his masterpiece right in front of you © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

World traveling gourmands Eric Leiberman and Sarah Falter shared these “top of mind” favorites:

Verjus, 52 Rue de Richelieu, 75001 Paris, France, +33 1 42 97 54 40, https://goo.gl/maps/c9SeBBtg9Yw6pKMLA

Matey Hut, Ella, Sri Lanka, +94 77 258 3450, https://goo.gl/maps/x7D4j2xvnVxBZYW89

Kyuyam-tei Shimokita-sou, Japan, 〒155-0032 Tokyo, Setagaya City, Daizawa, 5 Chome−29−9 ナイスビル, +81 3-6450-8986, https://goo.gl/maps/Sqsuuecx93s5AYgm9

Miznon, 22 Rue des Ecouffes, 75004 Paris, France, +33 9 71 34 53 84, https://goo.gl/maps/QzSo4Bpu8SvLSWpG7

Hungarikum Bisztró, Budapest, Steindl Imre u. 13, 1051 Hungary, +36 30 661 6244, https://goo.gl/maps/PfKwQEsFLsLEVUFV9

Memedof Balık Restaurant, Yalıkavak, Gerişaltı mevkii Çökertme cad. No:42, 48400 Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey, +90 252 385 46 46, https://goo.gl/maps/gAYc9eY1cSTn635w9

LİMON GÜMÜŞLÜK RESTAURANT, Gümüşlük, 10. Yıl Sk., 48970 Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey, +90 554 740 62 60, https://goo.gl/maps/vBFYD6N5zsq6ui4D6

Apoala, 97000 Calle 60 #471 x 55 Local 2 Portales de Santa Lucía, Centro, 97000 Centro, Mexico, +52 999 923 1979, https://goo.gl/maps/1DtAJhDXvgjsGEgA8

Doma Sushi, 433 Precita Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415-648-4417, https://goo.gl/maps/3fS86STAujFqd8WP6

Doma Sushi, San Francisco © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Restaurants can transport you, and bring the world to you, as well. Here in New York, we have a United Nations of culinary experiences, so you can travel the world without even getting on a plane.

On one wonderful evening, I found myself in Peru for the first time in Greenwich Village at Llamita, the sister restaurant  (80 Carmine St, New York, NY 10014, 646-590-2771, llamitanyc.com). (It is the sister restaurant to the popular Llama Inn, 50 Withers St., Brooklyn, NY 11211, 7183873434.

Shalom Japan, “authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food in South Williamsburg” marries two cultures, just as the chefs Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi are also married. Aaron hails from Great Neck, Long Island (a 2000 graduate of Great Neck North High School), and Sawako is from Hiroshima Japan. Not just a gimmick. Aaron’s flavor combinations are astonishing, a sensory surprise. (310 South Fourth St. Brooklyn NY, 11211, 718-388-4012, info@ShalomJapanNYC.com, ShalomJapanNYC.com).

At Shalom Japan, Brooklyn, which marries “authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food), a Jewish blintz has artistic Japanese flair © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is likely that New York City and surrounding suburbs will be among the last to be able to reopen, and even then, will only be able to reopen with reduced capacity, social distancing, and such. But here are suggestions how they can stay economically viable.

In the first place, restaurants can play a vital role in staving off the epidemic of hunger that is accompanying the collapse of the economy. Depending upon circumstances, restaurants could be contracted by government or nonprofits to supply meals to shut-ins – better to spend the money that way than on unemployment – and needy families, as well as supply food pantries and kitchens.

In this current phase, as one of the IRC founders, “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio, told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross on NPR, turn restaurants into community food centers, “Restaurants turned into community meal service. That would keep the ecosystem of the restaurant – employees, suppliers – intact, and feed a lot of hungry people.”

Restaurants might also create pop-up market in the morning and midday non-mealtime hours.  You can support them by ordering take-out, pick-up, and also pre-purchasing gift cards.

When restaurants can reopen, for the foreseeable future (that is until there is a treatment or better, a vaccine), they will have to provide greater distancing (versus arbitrarily reducing capacity by 25-50 percent), test employees, and even give customers a temperature check upon entering. How to stay economically viable, when restaurants already operate on very thin profit margins?

They might consider 1) taking reservations and giving people specific times to arrive; 2) charging premium prices for eat-in dining with a more limited, even pre-ordered menu (to avoid waste) and 3) offering curbside pick up and delivery for menu items at reduced (that is, present) rates in order to keep up volume.

As the rules become a bit relaxed, allow restaurants to set up tables for social distancing (not arbitrarily cut capacity 25-50%), allow dining outside (close off streets in “restaurant zones” to parking, traffic; have seating by timed reservation and pre-selected menu (to avoid waste and unnecessary overhead) with premium pricing, continue take-out and delivery options at regular pricing.

If landlords are smart, they will help support the restaurants, as well – perhaps lowering the rent, or even taking rent as a portion of sales until the rent is paid off. 

The federal government should treat restaurants in a separate category, not lump together with small businesses, and take into account the specific issues related to restaurants (high overhead, labor-intensive, perishable products and services). And state and local governments can do their best to lower overhead – perhaps with tax rebates or tax holiday, refinancing credit and loans at the ridiculously low interest rates that banks are getting.

Support the restaurant industry’s lobbying efforts. The industry is asking for $120 billion in funding and business-friendly rules. Sign the petition at https://www.saverestaurants.com/

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© 2020 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 Virtually: Greatest Cultural Institutions, Closed for Coronavirus, Share Exhibits Online

The Metropolitan Museum of Art may be temporarily closed, but you can explore its collections virtually © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City’s major cultural institutions are temporarily closed to help minimize the spread of coronavirus, but many are making their exhibits and programs available virtually, and have websites that really engage, that make the time spent in enforced hibernation that much richer and more productive, and frankly, less maddening.

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which is celebrating its 150 anniversary year, has temporarily closed all three locations—The Met Fifth Avenue, The Met Breuer, and The Met Cloisters—effective March 13. Meanwhile, you can watch videos from exhibition previews to curator talks and performances (https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia)) and experience the best of human creativity from every corner of the globe at The Met (I love watching the video of the conservation of the Degas tutu, https://www.metmuseum.org/metmedia/video/conservation-and-scientific-research/degas-tutu-conservation) and play audio guides (https://www.metmuseum.org/visit/audio-guide)

When the Met reopens, it will offer a series of special exhibits marking its 150th anniversary: The exhibition Making The Met, 1870–2020 will present more than 250 works of art from the collection while taking visitors on a journey through the Museum’s history; The reopening of the galleries for British decorative arts and design will reveal a compelling new curatorial narrative; Transformative new gifts, cross-cultural installations, and major international loan exhibitions will be on view throughout the year; and special programs and outreach will include a birthday commemoration on April 13, a range of public events June 4–6, and a story-collecting initiative.

“Our galleries may be closed, but never fear! Social media never sleeps.” Follow @metmuseum on Instagram for Tuesday Trivia, #MetCameos, and daily art content.

Being confined to home is a perfect time to take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?, available now on Coursera. This course offers an in-depth look at over 70 works of art from MoMA’s collection—many of which are currently on view in the expanded Museum—from 1980 to the present, with a focus on art produced in the last decade. Learners will hear directly from artists, architects, and designers from around the globe about their creative processes, materials, and inspiration. What Is Contemporary Art? can be found at mo.ma/whatiscontemporaryart.

Dorothea Lange’s iconic photograph is featured in MoMA’s exhibit “Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures”. Meanwhile, take advantage of the Museum of Modern Art’s free massive open online course What Is Contemporary Art?

I can’t wait for MoMA to reopen so I can see Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures, the first major solo exhibition at the Museum of the photographer’s incisive work in over 50 years. The exhibition includes approximately 100 photographs drawn entirely from the Museum’s collection. Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures also uses archival materials such as correspondence, historical publications, and oral histories, as well as contemporary voices, to examine the ways in which words inflect our understanding of Lange’s pictures. These new perspectives and responses from artists, scholars, critics, and writers, including Julie Ault, Wendy Red Star, and Rebecca Solnit, provide fresh insight into Lange’s practice. (Scheduled through May 9, 2020).

T. rex The Ultimate Predator at American Museum of Natural History. While the museum is closed, go online to its “Explore” site for videos, blogs and OLogy, a science website for kids of all ages. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

American Museum of Natural History while closed, the website is a treasure trove of information and engaging photos and ways to explore and interact on your own. At the section of its site labeled “Explore” https://www.amnh.org/explore, there are videos, blogs and OLogy: The Science Website for Kids, where kids of all ages can play games, do activities, watch videos and meet scientists to learn more about fossils, the universe, genetics, and more. (Check out https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/brain)

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC. While the exhibit is closed, there are excellent materials online. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, is in the midst of the landmark exhibit, Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. The most comprehensive Holocaust exhibition about Auschwitz ever presented in North America, the exhibit had already been extended until August 30, 2020. The museum so far is scheduled to reopen March 29; in the meanwhile, there are excellent materials at the website that will inform and prepare you for when the exhibit reopens (https://mjhnyc.org/discover-the-exhibition/about-the-exhibition/). (See Groundbreaking Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage Transports to ‘Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away’)

New-York Historical Society presents “Women March” exhibit marking centennial of Women’s Suffrage. Many materials are online, but you can also re-visit some of the N-YHS’s imortant past exhibits, like a personal favorite, “Harry Potter: A History of Magic.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New-York Historical Society is closed so you will have to wait to experience “Women March,”   presidential/election exhibits (take a selfie in Reagan’s Oval Office) and “Bill Graham” (phenomenal and surprising exhibit with fabulous musical accompaniment about this iconic concert impresario). Meanwhile, the N-YHS website offers sensational online exhibitions featuring some of their important past exhibits, including ‘Harry Potter; A History of Magic,” and “the Vietnam War: 1945-1975” and Chinese American: Exclusion/Inclusion (https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibitions/online-exhibitions). You can also delve into its digital collection, with selections from the N-YHS Museum and Library’s holdings paintings, drawings, photographs, manuscripts, broadsides, maps, and other materials that reveal the depth and breadth of over two centuries of collecting.  (http://digitalcollections.nyhistory.org/).  (See: Many Pathways to Mark Centennial of Women’s Suffrage)

Meanwhile, some outdoor venues are open, as of this writing (the situation has changed daily):

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden remains open to the public, having implemented stringent cleaning protocols and posted new signage on-site about best practices in personal hygiene. “We hope that the Garden might offer you some comfort and beauty even during a particularly stressful time.” (https://www.bbg.org/visit)

Central Park, Prospect Park and Flushing Meadows may well provide needed respite. However, the Wildlife Conservation Society has temporarily closed the Bronx Zoo, Central Park Zoo, Prospect Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and New York Aquarium, effective Monday, March 16. Check wcs.org for updates.

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© 2020 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

Groundbreaking Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage Transports to ‘Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away’

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Out of 1200 artifacts, photos, video testimonies, it comes down to one: a tiny, well-worn leather child’s shoe, the sock still hanging out of it. Was it taken off in anticipation the child was just going to a shower, or was the child ferociously pulled out of the shoe and sock?

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Shoes take on special significance at the “Auschwitz: Not so long ago. Not far away.” landmark exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in downtown Manhattan, which has been extended through August 30, 2020 before touring to other cities.

As you first walk in, there is a single red shoe in a glass case that perversely sparks an image of the ruby slippers in “Wizard of Oz.” set against a grey-toned wall-mural sized photo of piles of shoes. Further on as you walk through the three-floors of exhibits, there is the pair of hardened leather clog-looking shoes in a case with a prison uniform so rough and raw they would irritate, then infect and swell the feet, a death sentence for the hapless prisoner.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another display case in the “Selection” section contains shiny leather boots, much like those that the prisoners would see Mengele wearing as they were forced out of the freight cars minutes after being unloaded at Auschwitz, beneath the sign that said. ‘Work Sets You Free.” He was the doctor who selected out twin children for his medical experiments. The rest of the children – 200,000 of them – were immediately sent to the gas chamber along with their mother, aunt, sister, grandmother or friendly stranger who had accompanied them on their journey. The tiny leather shoe with the sock still in it is the only evidence this child existed at all, his life extinguished.

800,000 more Jews were immediately sent to their deaths in the gas chambers, 2000 at a time, their bodies thrown into crematoria that worked 24/7 to keep up with the factory-scale exterminations, their ashes thrown into a river.

Out of the 1.1 million “deported” to Auschwitz, the largest of the Nazi killing camps, only 200,000 were “selected” not for immediate death but to become slave labor in the concentration camp. They too were immediately marched into showers, their hair shaved, their arms tattooed, their bodies stripped of any dignity or humanness. Few lived more than a month or two under the atrocious conditions – dying of starvation, disease, overwork, beatings or simply shot on the spot. Some became so infirm, they settled into their fate, and welcomed being carried by stretcher to end their daily terror and pain. Others, packed six to a wooden plank in the barracks, would wake up to find a dead person next to them.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” offers a different perspective on the Holocaust, a horror on a scale that is incomprehensible, by focusing down to the most personal elements.

This exhibit, which focuses down to one “tiny dot” on a map that was the largest killing camp in the Nazi’s network – makes it as personal as is possible. You walk in their shoes. And yet, as well as they show the faces, the horrors, the personal objects, the testimonials of survivors, the drawings and photos, an actual freight car and an actual barracks, even so, it is still hard to comprehend.

Indeed, the incomprehensibility of the horror was key to its success – along with secrecy and deception. People could not imagine the level of brutality, cruelty, savageness. So they packed up what they could in suitcases, expecting they were being resettled to places free of anti-Semitism, where they could work and live out their lives.

It is also the danger that such dehumanization, genocide, industrial-scale killing can happen again. Indeed, Auschwitz was not that long ago, nor that far away.

“Auschwitz” isn’t just a look back with graphic evidence to plant a marker in the history books that others are working so hard to erase . It is a look at now, a look at where the trajectory can lead. That is what is embodied in the phrase. “Never Again.”

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I had been steeling myself to visit the Auschwitz exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. I recognized that I had an obligation, a responsibility to be a witness to the extent possible. A NYC-Arts special on PBS helped enormously because I could visualize, know what to expect and better prepare for the horror – unlike the millions who were sent to the killing camps. Then there was that television screening of the story of Irena Sendler, a Warsaw nurse who smuggled 2,500 children out of the Ghetto to safety – the film so graphic, her courage and nobility so palpable. Surely I could summon the courage to face the past. To Remember. Never Forget.

If you thought you knew about the Holocaust and the Nazis’ Final Solution that exterminated 6 million Jews and too many (40% of adults and 65% of young people) don’t know anything at all, this rare exhibit, with artifacts gathered from 20 institutions around the world, focuses just on Auschwitz – from how a simple Polish village, Oswiecim where half the population was made up of Jewish families who had lived there for centuries, was turned into the largest of six killing factories in Poland. Original artifacts – documents, personal items, posters, photos – show the roots of anti-Semitism and how being Jewish was converted from a religion to “an inferior race,” a sub-human species, stripped of legal, political, property and professional rights. That’s the first floor.

You see and hear from survivors how families were stuffed 100, 150 into a box car (like the one outside the museum), with the ploy of telling them they were being resettled to a better place free of anti-Semitism, then locked in with just one pail as a toilet and one pail for water, so crowded, one had to stand up in order for someone to sit down. And then they arrive on the “ramp”, where they are “selected,” crossing under a wrought iron sign that said, “Work Makes You Free.” That’s just the middle of the second floor.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here you see stacks of suitcases, a pram (a rare artifact) that eerily reminds you of the display as you enter Ellis Island, the gateway for millions of immigrants into the United States. But here, it shows how unwitting the victims were. Because they were only moments away from being sent to their death. And because access to safe harbors like the United States were shut off to them.

Turn the corner in a room shrouded in darkness and you come upon a white door of a gas chamber, a metal mesh chimney down which the Zykon B poison was sent, a gas mask. In another case, one of the innocuous looking showerheads that survived the fire the Nazis set to destroy evidence of their Final Solution. Extraordinarily powerful and horrifying drawings by survivor Alfred Kantor depict how women and children were told to undress and hang up their clothes on a numbered hook so they would find them again – “Remember your number.” And then they would be locked into the gas chamber.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They, too, were told they were going to shower to be de-loused. The Nazis made a show of having them undress in a changing room, have them put their clothes on numbered hooks so they could find them again. They were shoved 1000 at a time into a shower room, the doors clanked shut, and Zykon B poison pumped in. It took barely 15 minutes to exterminate them all.

The door would open at the other end and a group of Jewish prisoners, called Sonderkommandos, would pull the bodies out one by one, drag them to a dumbwaiter to the crematoria. To keep the secret safe, the Sonderkommandos were kept isolated from the rest of the camp, living in barracks above the crematoria. A rabbi among them, a Hungarian, took each child and said Kaddish before placing the small body in the crematorium.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But one of the Sonderkommandos, working with Polish resistance, smuggled a camera and film and took photos of bodies being burned in vast fields with the overflow that couldn’t be handled in the crematoria, working night and day. There are four of these photos on display.

The Nazis harvested their victims. As the bodies were pulled from the gas chamber, a Sonderkommando designated “The Dentist” would pull out their gold teeth. Their clothes and meager belongings had already been plundered and sent to “Kanada” – vast warehouses named for a country that was considered rich but out of reach. Between the various business enterprises that the Nazis used their slave labor and the looting, it is estimated that each prisoner returned $794 in profit to the SS.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

How were the Nazis able to lead 11 million including 6 million Jews to slaughter like sheep? The secret is how they kept such a massive killing secret, and who could have imagined such diabolical cruelty, such grotesque brutality, who could have imagined a Final Solution?

How did they keep such a monstrous secret? How they managed to move people by the thousands – trapping them into the freight cars when the people thought they were being resettled to a pleasant village where they would be allowed to work. They kept it a secret when immediately upon arriving at Auschwitz, they were separated into two groups. One line was pushed to showers, told to strip and were turned into slave labor – their hair shaved, arms tattooed, all their property stripped away along with their identity, their personhood, stuffed into a prison uniform with an appropriate identifying symbol as to their status.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You continue on to learn what life was like in Auschwitz for the 200,000 who were not immediately murdered. You listen to harrowing testimonials by survivors, see part of an actual barracks.

Indeed, Auschwitz  death toll of 1.1 million was the largest among all the German death camps. But it also had the greatest number of survivors – some 200,000 people brought to Auschwitz were sent to other camps before the war ended, and some 7,000 prisoners were liberated at Auschwitz in January 1945.

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You leave this section, which is dark, almost completely black, into a room called “Persistence and Resistance,” which is off-white, round, with natural light streaming from a domed ceiling.

Persistence took the form of ways that the prisoners preserved their humanity.

Resistance took the form of getting the story of what was going on in Auschwitz out to the world, in the hopes that the Allies would bomb the killing center or disrupt the deportations, and preserving evidence that would ultimately hold perpetrators of such colossal evil accountable.

This is the most moving section of all – when I can finally start breathing again.

The Auschwitz SS aimed to destroy any possible solidarity between prisoners…‘Resistance’ in Auschwitz therefore consisted of acts in which prisoners, against all odds, showed solidarity with others. It included heroic actions made with a view to the larger world outside of the camp, grand gestures of generosity and small acts of kindness and charity, along with spiritual resistance. And it was expressed in the determination that-despite the best efforts of the SS – death in Auschwitz would not remain anonymous, and the victims would not remain without names.

I learn the amazing story of Witold Pilecki, a Second Lieutenant in the Polish Army who had himself arrested under the name Tomasz Serafinski and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 (prisoner no. 4859) in order to spy for the Polish government.

Witold Pilecki, a Second Lieutenant in the Polish Army who had himself arrested under the name Tomasz Serafinski and sent to Auschwitz in 1940 (prisoner no. 4859) in order to spy for the Polish government. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

He managed to smuggle out messages about life and death in the camp while organizing fellow prisoners. In April 1943, Pilecki escaped, and returned to Warsaw to convince the Polish Resistance to attack Auschwitz in a coordinated effort with prisoners. But the commander who had sent him on his mission had been arrested, and the new leader judged an attack on the large and well-armed Auschwitz garrison to be suicidal. They also realized they wouldn’t be able to shelter the tens of thousands of inmates who might be freed. Pilecki wrote the first full report on conditions of Auschwitz and the mass murder of Jews in the gas chambers. The allies received the report but ignored it. Pilecki continued to fight the Germans, participating in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

Outrageously, in 1947, he was arrested by the Polish Communist government, tortured, and executed in 1948.

It was so critical to get information out that several risked their lives to smuggle information out.

I learn the story of The Auschwitz Protocols:  In March 1944, Slovakian Jewish inmates Walter Rosenberg (aka Rudolf Vrba) and Alfred Wetzler observed the Nazi’s preparations for the arrival of transports from Hungary. With a lot of planning and luck, they escaped from Auschwitz on April 7, 1944 and fled to Slovakia in the hopes of warning the Jews of Hungary.

The testimony of Vrba and Wetzler, along with information supplied by Czeslaw Mordowicz and Arnost Rosin, who escaped Auschwitz on May 27, 1944, yielded the first substantial report of the use of Auschwitz as a death factory. It became known as the “Auschwitz Protocols” and detailed the continuing massacres in the gas chambers. But the information didn’t reach the Hungarians in time: beginning in May, over 400,000 Jews were deported and murdered. A summary of the report arrived in the US in July. That same month, the Red Army’s liberation of the Majdanek camp led to the publication in the US of sensational reports written by well-known journalists in America media. Though it didn’t succeed in its primary objective, the Auschwitz Protocols led to diplomatic pressure that forced the Hungarian government [the leader now fearing he would be tried for war crimes] to stop further deportations, saving the lives of over 150,000 Jews. It also triggered a debate among the Allies: what parts of Auschwitz could or should be bombed.

On August 20, Allied bombers attacked the IG Farben factory, but not Auschwitz camps.

“I firmly believed that [the daily killing in the crematoria] was possible because the victims who came to Auschwitz didn’t know what was happening there,” Auschwitz survivor Rudolf Vrba wrote in 1985. “I thought that if this would be made known by any means within Europe, this might stir up the Resistance outside and bring help directly to Auschwitz. And thus the escape plans are finally formulated and the escape took place on April 7, 1944.

The Sonderkommandos organized an ill-fated revolt in October 1944.

Roza Robota recruited women prisoners working in the munitions factory operating next to the camp to smuggle gunpowder off-site. Robota passed it to Timofei Borodin, a Russian technician, who carried it to the Sonderkommandos. Their aim was to destroy the crematoria and spark a rebellion.

But the uprising went awry. The Sonderkommandos of Crematorium 5, hearing they were to b e gassed, revolted ahead of schedule. On October 7, they killed 3 SS, wounded 12 and burned down Crematorium 4. At the same time, the Sonderkommandos of Crematorium 2 attempted a breakout.

In retaliation the SS killed 451 Sonderkommandos. The camp Gestapo identified Robota and three other Jewish women – Regina Sapirstein, Ala Gertner and Ester Wajeblum – as plotters. After weeks of torture they were hanged publicly. As the noose was placed around her neck, Robota cried out ‘Nekama;’ (Revenge!)

Ester Wajeblum “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Auschwitz Sonderkommando Zalman Groiadowski (Sept 6, 1944), leaves a note. “Dear finder, search everywhere, in every inch of soil. Tons of documents are buried under it, mine and those of other persons, which will throw light on everything that was happening here. Great quantities of teeth are also buried here. We, the Sonderkommando workers, have expressly strewn them all over the terrain so that the world should find material traces of the millions of murdered people…”

Socks reinforced to muffle footsteps. Some 300,000 Jews went into hiding to avoid being rounded up and deported to concentration camps.“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This groundbreaking 18,000-square-foot exhibition takes up three floors, 20 thematic galleries. Through the artifacts and Holocaust survivor testimony, it brings you inside and re-creates the experience as best as possible, raising the alarm how the unimaginable, the inconceivable happened and can happen again. The commentary notes that one demagogue like Hitler could not have produced the Holocaust.

“Genocide is a social act,” the audio guide says toward the end of the exhibit. “It requires a society who conspires…But the same society can resist.”

Nazis attempted to burn all evidence of their atrocities. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But there is one question that is not answered: who, what and how those who administered torture, who beat and murdered and presided over such intense suffering. That is a critical question to knowing whether such a thing could happen again. Just what percentage of a given population are sociopaths?

There are some clues provided in the statements that are presented:

Once Hitler had decided that the “Final Solution” would be enacted, one important question remained: Who was to be in charge of the genocide? Heinrich Himmler sought this responsibility as he believed it would help him consolidate his power.

Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoss (1946) testified, “I visited Treblinka to find out how they carried out their exterminations. I did not think his methods were very efficient. I used Zykon B, a crystallized prussic acid dropped into the death chamber from a small opening. It took from three to 15 minutes to kill the people. Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process.”

“The children, they’re not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood inside them. The enemy is the growing up to be a Jew that could become dangerous. And because of that the children were included as well.” (Former Auschwitz SS man Oskar Groning explaining in a 2004 interview why he condoned killing Jewish children).

The exhibition explores the dual identity of the camp as a physical location—the largest documented mass murder site in human history—and as a symbol of the borderless manifestation of hatred and human barbarity.

Consider this: Jews had lived in Germany for 1000 years before the Holocaust; they had lived in the Polish town of Oswiecim.that the Germans renamed Auschwitz and repurposed for a killing factory for hundreds of years. It was only 10 quick years between when Hitler was democratically elected Chancellor in 1933, to the Final Solution in 1942. By the time Germany surrendered, two years later, 6 million Jews – two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population – had been exterminated.

That’s how fast things can descend into unimaginable evil.

Groundbreaking Exhibition

Produced by the international exhibition firm Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland, the groundbreaking exhibition is the largest ever on Auschwitz with more than 700 original objects and 400 photographs. The New York presentation of the exhibition allows visitors to experience artifacts from more than 20 international museums and institutions on view for the first time in North America, including hundreds of personal items—suitcases, eyeglasses and shoes—that belonged to survivors and victims of Auschwitz. Other artifacts include: concrete posts that were part of the fence of the Auschwitz camp; part of an original barrack for prisoners from the Auschwitz III-Monowitz camp; a desk and other possessions of the first and the longest-serving Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss; a gas mask used by the SS; Picasso’s Lithograph of Prisoner; and an original German-made Model 2 freight train car of the type used for the deportation of Jews to the ghettos and extermination camps in occupied Poland. 

“Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The exhibition also features 10 artifacts on loan from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which include the spilled, dried beans Anne wrote about in her diary and that were later discovered lodged between the cracks of stairs in the home where she hid from the German Nazis. The beans have never been displayed anywhere before. Most recently, the Museum announced the exhibition’s incorporation of a shofar (a ram’s horn that is made into a special wind instrument used during Jewish High Holiday services) that was hidden and clandestinely blown in the Auschwitz. The shofar was newly added to the exhibition on the cusp of the High Holy days and temporarily transported to two New York City synagogues to be blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

The Museum of Jewish Heritage has incorporated into the exhibition nearly 100 rare artifacts from its collection that relay the experience of survivors and liberators who found refuge in the greater New York area. Alfred Kantor’s sketchbook and portfolio that contain over 150 original paintings and drawings from Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Schwarzheide; the trumpet that musician Louis Bannet (acclaimed as “the Dutch Louis Armstrong”) credits for saving his life while he was imprisoned in Auschwitz; visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania often referred to as “Japan’s Oskar Schindler”; prisoner registration forms and identification cards; personal correspondence; tickets for passage on the St. Louis; and a rescued Torah scroll from the Bornplatz Synagogue in Hamburg, postcards sent home in order to deceive family members as to what was really going on at the camp. 

A rare film of a killing field. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most profound is a film that has survived showing a killing field in which the killers are so casual, even bored by the routine as villagers look on, and the four photos of Crematorium 5 smuggled out by Alberto Errera, a Jewish-Greek army officer who joined the resistance during the German occupation, assuming the name Aleksos (Alex) Michaelides. Captured, Errera was sent to Auschwitz in April 1944 and selected for the Sonderkommando. On August 9, Errera attempted an escape but was captured, tortured and killed.

One of four photos smuggled by Alberto Errera of bodies being burned in a desperate effort to notify the world. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Most poignant are the video testimonials of survivors describing their personal experiences.

Also on display from the Museum of Jewish Heritage collection is Heinrich Himmler’s SS helmet and his annotated copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, as well as an anti-Jewish proclamation issued in 1551 by Ferdinand I that was given to Hermann Göring by German security chief Reinhard Heydrich on the occasion of Göring’s birthday. The proclamation required Jews to identify themselves with a “yellow ring” on their clothes. Heydrich noted that, 400 years later, the Nazis were completing Ferdinand’s work. “These artifacts stand as evidence of a chapter of history that must never be forgotten.”

The information is presented as clearly, simply, directly, forth-rightly and in excruciatingly personal terms, but it is all still so hard to comprehend, to process, the magnitude, the scale of cruelty.

The artifacts and materials in the exhibition are on loan from more than 20 institutions and private collections around the world. In addition to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, participating institutions include Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oświęcim, the Memorial and Museum Sachsenhausen in Oranienburg, and the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London. 

Parallel Lives: One wall shows photos of Nazis frolicking at Auschwitz; the other the “Lost World”of Jews before the Holocaust. “Auschwitz: Not long ago. Not far away.” Exhibit at Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far awaywas conceived of by Musealia and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and curated by an international panel of experts, including world-renowned scholars Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, Dr. Michael Berenbaum, and Paul Salmons, in an unprecedented collaboration with historians and curators at the Research Center at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, led by Dr. Piotr Setkiewicz.

“When we, the Musealia curatorial team set out to design the Auschwitz exhibition, we realized that we faced a difficult problem. In Auschwitz over a million people, mostly Jews, were murdered shortly after their arrival or suffered and died in unimaginable circumstances. How does one create an exhibition about such a dark chapter in human history that, in our understanding, is not long ago and happened in a place not far away? How does one make the public, that has so many opportunities to explore a great city like New York, decide that it would want to see such an exhibition? Our tools were straightforward: a narrative told through more than 700 original artifacts, 400 original images, 100 stories, made present by means of filmed testimonies and quotes – all revealing individual experiences of a history we must learn from,” said Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, Chief Curator.

Following the New York presentation, the exhibition will tour to other cities around the world.

Visiting

You need 2 ½ to four hours to see just this exhibit (I was there five hours before I realized it). hours).

Entry is by timed ticket available at Auschwitz.nyc. Audio guide (available in 8 languages) is included with admission. Tickets are $25 Flexible Entry (entry any time on a specific day); $16 Adults; $12 Seniors and People with Disabilities; $10 Students and Veterans; $8 Museum Members.

FREE for Holocaust survivors, active members of the military and first responders, and students and teachers through grade 12 in schools located in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut (with valid school-issued ID). 

Garden of Stones is a memorial garden planted by the artist, Andy Goldsworthy, Holocaust survivors and families, overlooks the Statue of Liberty. Museum of Jewish Heritage, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is New York’s contribution to the global responsibility to never forget. The third largest Holocaust museum in the world and the second largest in North America, since 1997, the Museum of Jewish Heritage has welcomed more than 2.5 million visitors; it maintains a collection of more than 40,000 artifacts, photographs, documentary films, and survivor testimonies and contains classrooms, a 375-seat theater (Edmond J. Safra Hall), special exhibition galleries, a resource center for educators, and a memorial art installation, Garden of Stones, designed by internationally acclaimed sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Set in the southernmost tip of Manhattan overlooking the New York Harbor, the Museum completes the cultural and educational triad with the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, visible from its balcony.

The Museum also partners with Jewish Heritage Travel – offering heritage trips  to Germany & France; Poland; The Baltics; Germany; Spain & France; Argentina; and India (jhtravel.org, 845-256-0197).

The Museum is closed on Saturdays, Jewish holidays, and Thanksgiving. 

Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust, 36 Battery Place, New York City, 646-437-4202, mjhnyc.org.

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© 2020 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 Yorkers Show Solidarity with Chinese, Asian Community at Lunar New Year Parade

NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio presents proclamation to Steven Ting, organizer of the 21st Annual Lunar New Year parade and festival, with US Senator Chuck Schumer, China’s Consul General Huang Ping, Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, State Senator Brian Kavanaugh, among other dignitaries © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Always a show of support, solidarity and respect for the Chinese and Asian community in New York City, this year’s Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown in downtown Manhattan, welcoming the Year of the Rat, took on added urgency because of the coronavirus afflicting Wuhan, China, and the recent fire that destroyed a building housing much of the collection of the Museum of Chinese in America.

People held up signs, “Stay Strong Wuhan,” but even though there have been no instances of the coronavirus in New York City, visits to Chinatown, normally at peak during the Lunar New Year celebration, have declined and business has been affected.

The parade route went just passed 70 Mulberry Street, where on the night of Thursday, January 16, a fire destroyed most of the 85,000 items stored there for the Museum of Chinese in America, housed nearby in a new building on Centre Street since 2009. The rare and cherished items preserved the rich and challenging story of the Chinese migration to the United States through such personal objects as textiles, restaurant menus, handwritten letters, tickets for ship’s passage, traditional wedding dresses (cheongsam).

The building, a former school that educated generations of immigrants, is a community center that housed a senior center, the Chen Dance Center and several community groups, in addition to storing the museum’s artifacts that were not on display.

Political and parade officials praised the New York Fire Department, which had a prominent place – bagpipers and all – in the parade.

Meanwhile, fear over the virus has kept people from Chinatown and Chinese restaurants during what should have been the busiest time of year, the Lunar New Year celebration.

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Elected officials are urging the public to take normal precautions against illness, but not to let fears concerning coronavirus stop them from participating in the event. “It’s really important in this moment where everyone is understandably worried about the coronavirus, we need to be factual, we need to be scientific, and we need to be calm,” NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson said.

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The annual event has not only paid tribute to the contribution the Asian community has made to the city, state and nation, but immigration as a whole.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, reading from a proclamation, said, “As a city built by immigrations, New York is the proud home to residents who hail from every corner of the map and speak a multitude of languages. This unparalleled diversity is the source of our singularity and strength and it is exemplified by our thriving population of Asian Americans that has made invaluable contributions to the cultural, civic and economic life of the five boroughs. On the occasion of the 21st Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival, hosted by Beter Chinatown U.S.A. I am pleased to recognize the indelible imprint this vital community has made on our great and global city.

“New York is fortunate to have an abundance of organizations devoted to advancing positive change. Established in 2001, Better Chinatown U.S.A. is guided by its mission to improve quality of life in Manhattan’s Chinatown and promote it as a destination of choice for our diverse residents and visitors. Its annual Lunar New Year Parade is a much anticipated event attracting thousands of spectators from far and wide for a pageant of traditional lion dances, music ensembles, and dancers in colorful folk costumes, followed by a party in Sara D. Roosevelt Park featuring Chinese food and cultural performances.”

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, one of the Grand Marshals, spoke of the resilience of the Chinese community, and how the community “contributes to the fabric of our city, our nation.”

“I’m here to say that Chinatown is open for business and we are behind you and we will remain strong,” Velazquez said. “Last night, I was here dining in a restaurant in Chinatown. I welcome everyone to come here and celebrate the culture and beauty of this community.”

China’s Consul General Huang Ping said “China is doing everything to confront the coronavirus. We have mobilized forces. We have strong leadership, resources, are working with the international community. Be strong China. Be strong Wuhan.”

Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, standing with China’s Consul General Huang Ping and messages to “Stay Strong China,” at Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Lt Governor Kathy Hochul, “We stand together at one family. Stay strong China. Stay strong Wuhan.”

Other dignitaries participating State Senator Brian Kavanaugh, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams, Assemblyman David Webrin.

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio declared the city stands in solidarity with China and the Asian community, “no matter what is thrown at us.” New York has the largest Chinese community outside Asia “and we are proud of that.” The city made the Lunar New Year a school holiday and teaches Mandarin as early as pre-K, and is actively promoting participation in the 2020 Census.

“In China, there are so many of loved ones, faced with coronavirus and we stand together as community,” De Blasio said. “We celebrate New Year together – we are united, and we celebrate this extraordinary Chinese community the largest of any city outside of Asia.”

He also presented a Proclamation to parade organizer Steven Ting day for his continued work on the parade, proclaiming February 9 “Steven Ting Day.”

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

US Senator Charles Schumer used a bull horn as he marched in the parade to cheer for immigration. “New Yorkers are proud people, who come from all over the world. We fight those who oppose us.”

And on that score, the parade was also used to promote the importance of being counted in the 2020 Census, with one group of even handing out flyers to recruit census takers ($28/hr, flexible hours).

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The census, De Blasio stressed, will make Chinatown better represented if everyone takes part.

Here are highlights from the 21st Annual Lunar New Year Parade:

Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Knicks players march in the Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The march of the Lunar New Year Parade stretches almost two miles, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Participate in the 2020 Census. Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Apply online to be a Census Taker! Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Lunar New Year Parade and Celebration, Chinatown, New York City © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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© 2020 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

Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine Welcomes New Year 2020, New Decade with Concert for Peace

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine welcomed in the New Year and a new decade as it has since 1984, with a concert devoted to Peace. The people who fill this enormous space, coming in many cases year after year, come for the solace the concert always brings, the re-commitment to a world of tolerance, acceptance, that comes together in peace and good will to resolve conflicts.

The Cathedral Choirs joined forces under the leadership of Kent Tritle, Director of Cathedral Music and one of America’s leading choral conductors. This signature event is one of many comprising the 2019–2020 season of Great Music in a Great Space.

Kent Tritle, one of America’s leading choral conductors, at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

When the first concert for peace was offered, in 1973 at its sister cathedral in Washington DC, America was at war, an election had been decided, but Leonard Bernstein inaugurated the New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace in 1984, years after the Vietnam War was concluded, because in the world, there has never been a time without conflict.

Even though technically, America is not at war, there is war raging in the land. “Americans are our own enemy, one against another,” Reverend Canon Patrick Malloy said. But every culture has the means to bring light out of darkness. “The world is varied and venerable ways, strikes fire, refuses to surrender to the dark.”

Kent Tritle conducts The Cathedral Choir and The Cathedral Orchestra at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This year, the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra performed music ranging from Baroque works of Handel and Bach to contemporary works of artist-in-residence, organist David Briggs and Lee Hoiby’s poignant setting of ”Last Letter Home.” This work is based on a letter sent by Jesse Givens, Private First Class, U.S. Army, who drowned in the Euphrates River on May 1, 2003 in the service of his country. His letter to his wife Melissa was sent with the directions, “Please, only read if I don’t come home.”

Tony-award winning composer Jason Robert Brown, an artist-in-residence at the Cathedral since 2000, performs a song especially written for the Concert for Peace, “Sanctuary,” with his wife and daughters © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Artist-in-Residence Jason Robert Brown , who has won three Tony Awards for scores for musical theater, including Parade, The Bridges of Madison County, and Honeymoon in Vegas, at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Artist-in-residence, jazz-saxaphonist Paul Winter at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Choir’s own Jamet Pittman again led the audience in “This Little Light of Mine” as the assembled in the sanctuary lit candles to welcome the new year with hope, joy, and affirmation.

Soprano Jamet Pittman (right) performs with friends at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Conductors Kent Tritle, Raymond Nagem and Bryan Zaros at New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The night also featured special guest appearances and performances by Judy Collins, who sang her iconic “Both Sides Now,” and “Amazing Grace” her voice ringing through this soaring space;  saxophonist and artist-in-residence Paul Winter performed Paul Halley’s “Winter’s Dream”;  artist-in-residence Jason Robert Brown, performed with his wife and daughters, “Sanctuary,” a song which Brown wrote especially for this concert; and host Harry Smith, the renowned journalist, who has hosted the Peace concert for some 30 years.

The incomparable Judy Collins fills the Great Space of Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine with her mellifluous voice © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reflecting on recent events, Smith said, “two-thirds of millennials don’t know what Auschwitz was; four out of 10 adults don’t know. So when things happen like what happened last weekend in a suburb of New York, we take pause.”

With that in mind, the Cathedral Choir offered an addition to its program, singing “Oseh Shalom”.

“The real news is terrible – also known as fake news. Mass shootings…Despair of an economy that works really well for a few. Wars without end, conflicts without resolution. It’s why so many of us show up here for New Year’s Eve…

“’We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek,’ said Barack Obama,” Smith said to applause.

Metaphorically wipe away the troubles of 2019 as we look ahead to 2020, Harry Smith, hosting the annual New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace at Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, quotes Barack Obama, “We are the change we seek.” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The atmosphere in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (not to mention the acoustics) is spectacular. You think you have been plunked down in Europe in a building 1000 years old – this grand Gothic stone structure with soaring arches 177 feet high. The original design, in the Byzantine Revival and Romanesque Revival styles, was begun in 1892, but after the opening of the crossing in 1909, the overall plan was changed to a Gothic Revival design. Actually, the building was never finished – it is still only two-thirds complete. After a fire damaged part of the cathedral in 2001, it was renovated and rededicated in 2008. Even without being fully built, it is the fifth largest church in the world, based on area (121,000 sq. ft.)

New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
New Year’s Eve Concert for Peace, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine is the Cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. It is chartered as a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership. People from many faiths and communities worship together in services held more than 30 times a week; the soup kitchen serves roughly 25,000 meals annually; social service outreach has an increasingly varied roster of programs; the distinguished Cathedral School prepares young students to be future leaders; Adults and Children in Trust, the renowned preschool, after-school and summer program, offers diverse educational and nurturing experiences; the outstanding Textile Conservation Lab preserves world treasures; concerts, exhibitions, performances and civic gatherings allow conversation, celebration, reflection and remembrance—such is the joyfully busy life of this beloved and venerated Cathedral.

The Cathedral is open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit stjohndivine.org for more information and a schedule of public programs including concerts, among them the Cathedral Choir and Orchestra performing J.S. Bach’s monumental “St. John Passion,” on March 31, 2020 at 7:30 pm.

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© 2020 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

Philadelphia Offers Treasure Trove of History, Heritage, Culture: Magic Gardens, Franklin Institute

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Philadelphia is a jewel box of unique and spectacular, even life-enhancing attractions, a trove of national treasures of history, heritage, culture that glitters particularly during the holidays. The holiday splendor is eye-catching and warms the heart, but any visitor still has to make time to experience first-hand at least some of these iconic places. I manage to bookend my holiday merrymaking with a mix of art (Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens) with history (Independence Hall) with heritage (National Museum of American Jewish History) with science and enlightenment (Philly is the hometown of one of our most enlightened inventors, Ben Franklin), and so I end this visit with the Franklin Institute and can’t wait to come back.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

You get a taste of what to expect in Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) as you enter the South Street neighborhood. The creator, Isaiah Zagar, who has lived in the neighborhood since moving there with his wife, Julia, in the late 1960s when it was derelict and blighted, turned trash and broken walls into sparkling mosaic art. Otherwise forbidding narrow alleyways and whole sides of buildings twinkle with the pieces of broken mirrors and glass and humor (you can’t help but smile). But nothing prepares you for the awe you feel when you walk out of the two indoor galleries into the Magic Gardens.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Here is a riot of handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirrors, international folk art, recreated into walls, pathways, stairways, layers and levels. There is so much to explore and discover – not just visually, but emotionally. Woven into the art are Zagar’s profound, personal sayings, expressions, thoughts, feelings: “I build this sanctuary to be inhabited by my ideas and my fantasies.” “Imagery which refuses to stabilize.” “The complexity of various problems. Rewind it.”

Messages not in a bottle. Artist Isaiah Zagar embeds his philosophy into his  Magic Gardens© Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It’s called Magic Gardens even though there are no plants, flowers or trees. But you aren’t here long before you realize how it nonetheless is a living organic thing, where broken and discarded trash and objects considered valueless or past their useful life, get new life, purpose, meaning. And value.

The “magic” is how the objects are re-animated – an expression of creativity, infusion of imagination. ”The Garden” grows organically, as if living organism.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It is one man’s vision, process, style,” Elisabeth Carter (Lis), a Magic Gardens guide, tells me. “He had assistants. Most of the smaller figurines and sculpture were made by Mexican folk artists and couple of local artists, especially the Aguilar family. Others helped make some of the tiles – including First Lady Michelle Obama (there is a letter that she sent to the Gardens).

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“It is still a work in progress – new pieces are added – plus it is outdoors, so weather (snow/ice) is factor. We have a full-time preservation team of thee who maintain, repair, and document new folk art.

“He’s interested in how things wear, fade, and change over time – things are constantly changing, new things added – like a breathing animal.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Zagar brings the art form of mosaic to a whole different dimension.  “Zagar is known for mosaics. He uses things that others think are trash or have no value. He is inspired by the Hindu God Shiva – the god of destruction and transformation.”

Zagar, who is 80 years old now, studied art at the Pratt Institute, Lis says, “but painting wasn’t fulfilling. He Is bipolar; he used mosaics as mental health therapy. Small, broken pieces of tile people were throwing away, he found satisfying to build into something positive and beautiful.”

Lis points me to a small sculpture which is a self-portrait, depicting the artist with three arms.

Isaiah Zagar (self-portrait in ceramic with three arms) inspired a movement of public art and showed that art could transform a culture, an attitude and create community © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There must be thousands and thousands of objects here. You first see what is in front of you as a whole, but then your eye goes to sections, narrower and narrower, until you spend time searching and discovering individual objects.  And what you see, what you experience would always be different – with light, time of day, weather affecting the colors and textures.

Wander twisted paths through layers and levels of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens of mosaics © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You have to walk through at least twice: the first time is very sensory, overload. The second time, you can focus more. You walk through an alley of art, curved paths, you see things differently from every angle, every step. Like a Japanese Garden, you cannot see the whole thing at once, and you don’t know what to expect beyond. It’s a carnival of art, a riot of color, texture, shapes and subjects that dazzle the eye and the brain and stir the heart.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Zagar has devoted himself to beautifying the South Street neighborhood since the late 1960s, when he moved to the area with his wife, Julia. The couple helped spur the revitalization of the area by renovating derelict buildings and adding colorful mosaics on both private and public walls. The Zagars, teamed with other artists and activists, transformed the neighborhood into a prosperous artistic haven and successfully led protests against the addition of a new highway that would have eliminated South Street. This period of artistic rebirth was coined the ‘South Street Renaissance.’ After the street was saved, Zagar continued creating mosaic murals, resulting in hundreds of public artworks over the next five decades.

Part of the fun at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is creating your own art, transforming Isaiah Zagar’s 3-D mosaics into 2-D images © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In 1991, Zagar started working on the vacant lots located near his studio at 1020 South Street. He first mosaicked the buildings on either side of the property, then spent years sculpting multi-layer walls out of found objects. In 2004, the Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar’s installation and decided to sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled. Unwilling to witness the destruction of the now-beloved neighborhood art environment, the community rushed to support the artist. His creation, newly titled Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, quickly became incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the intention of preserving the artwork at the PMG site and throughout the South Street region. Zagar was then able to develop the site even further; excavating tunnels and grottos.”

Philadelphia Magic Gardens opened to the public in 2008, giving visitors the opportunity to participate in tours, art activities, hands-on interpretive experiences, workshops, concerts, exhibitions, and more.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is open Wednesday-Monday, 11 am – 6 pm, closed Tuesdays. (1020 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147, 215-733-0390, www.phillymagicgardens.org)

I continue my walk to the Franklin Institute, all the while coming upon the fantastic public art throughout the city – magnificent murals that decorate buildings, that reflect and speak to that particular neighborhood and inspire with their beauty and their message. No doubt a public art movement inspired by Isaiah Zagar.

Everywhere you walk in Philadelphia you are surprised to come upon stunning murals which tell a neighborhood and a community’s story © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Everywhere you walk in Philadelphia you are surprised to come upon stunning murals which tell a neighborhood and a community’s story © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

There is also Philadelphia’s “Museum Without Walls” of sculptures and art work throughout the city (an audio tour is available, www.museumwithoutwallsaudio.org, 215-399-9000).

Franklin Institute

As you enter Franklin Institute. beneath a giant moon there is a sensational lighted statue of America’s first scientist and Philadelphia’s Favorite Founding Father, Ben Franklin, who inspired the institute’s founding in 1824. During the course of a few hours, I travel to outer space in search of life; walk through a human heart; tangle in neurons of the human brain; visit one of the earliest steam engines; and try to unravel the mystery (to me, anyway) of electricity.

Ben Franklin beneath the moon makes for a dramatic entrance to the Franklin Institute © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe,” Carl Sagan said, the quote opening the movie in the Fels Planetarium, one of the first ever built, that dates from 1933.

Founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest and premier centers of science education and development in the country.  Today, the Institute continues its dedication to public education and fostering a passion for science by offering new and exciting access to science and technology in ways that would dazzle and delight its namesake.

Everything about the Franklin Institute is designed to engage, immerse, interact.

I climb through a heart at Franklin Institute (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Climbing through a heart at Franklin Institute (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

This is exemplified in the special exhibition on view through April 12, 2020, the world-premiere exhibition of “The Worst Case Scenario Survival Experience,” based on the best-selling survival handbook series. The exhibit showcases strategies of survival and elements of escape in the form of a hands-on, minds-on logical series of immersive challenges providing the essential instructions for surviving unexpected but possible real-life scenarios with countless moments of excitement and levity throughout.

Learn how to jump from a moving train car, pick a lock, escape from quicksand, survive an avalanche, and more in the thirteen challenges that fill the Survival Gymnasium, which offers step by step instructions, expert advice, and the training to build the worst-case survival skills.

Tools for extreme survival, including counterintuitive uses for everyday items are on display, plus graphics that share how to identify anxiety and fear within the body and uncover how stress, physical exhaustion, and disorientation can make an activity, like surviving, more challenging.

Neurons become a climbing gym at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
A new perspective of the brain at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating founded The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts in 1824. The Franklin Institute science museum opened to the public on January 1, 1934, calling itself a “Wonderland of Science,” and was one of the first museums in the nation to offer a hands-on approach to learning about the physical world. It has been expanded over the years to contain more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, two auditoriums, and the Tuttleman IMAX Theater – becoming the most visited museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a top-five tourist destination in the City of Philadelphia, and one of the leading science centers in the country.

Learn hands-on about machines and technology, like a steam locomotive at Franklin Institute, Philadelphia (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com.

The Institute also operates the Fels Planetarium, the second oldest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. The Institute is home to the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, which was fully restored in 2010 and which is open free to the public. It is one of just a handful of national memorials in the custody of a private institution.

The new 53,000-square-foot Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion which opened in June 2014, houses a STEM education and conference center, a climate-controlled traveling exhibition gallery, and (an amazing) new permanent exhibit Your Brain, in which visitors can explore neuroscience and their own senses.

Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th St., 215-448-1200, www.fi.edu.

Staying at The Roost East Market apartment hotel really enabled us to be part of the city, most of what we wanted to see within walking distance. It’s not hyperbole to say the comfort of a fully-equipped, gorgeously furnished apartment meets luxury amenities of a boutique hotel.  All of the apartments feature full-size kitchens with cookware and utensils (I especially love not having to go out for breakfast) and king size beds. A third-floor is devoted to guest amenities including a well-equipped 24-hour fitness center, magnificent and comfortable lounge areas and library, a huge demo kitchen, a private screening room, an outside, 20-meter heated lap pool, barbecue area, landscaped terrace, community vegetable garden;  and bike-share program. There is also 24-hour front desk and concierge, security (you need your card to access the elevator and public areas); and direct access to a parking garage.  They even arrange dog-walking and grocery delivery services. (The Roost East Market, 1199 Ludlow Street Philadelphia, PA 19107, 844-697-6678, https://myroost.com/philadelphia/east-market/).

One of the lounge areas for guests at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The outdoor, heated lap pool at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The living room in our two-bedroom apartment at The Roost East Market © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package includes overnight free parking and perks, and is bookable at Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website, visitphilly.com, 800-537-7676 where you can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages.

See also:

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: The Barnes Foundation

Philadelphia is Trove of History, Heritage, Cultural National Treasures: Independence Hall, National Museum of American Jewish History

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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

Ben Vereen Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award in Kickoff to 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival

Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island, honors Actor, Entertainer Ben Vereen with Lifetime Achievement Award at opening of 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Actor, entertainer Ben Vereen, honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island, at the opening of its 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival, Nov. 4, 2019, brings a spiritual message to the arts which explains why he has been such a strong advocate for arts education, mentor and humanitarian.

“If you would ask, ‘Why is life so important to you?’ I would say, ‘In the beginning God created.’ It’s not ‘in the beginning God manufactured’. We are living, walking, talking art pieces of the One who created us. Our job is not just performing arts, but one aspect of life itself. Life is an art piece for everybody to see. We’re supposed to care for each other, love each other, show the wonders of creation – this building, these seats – didn’t just come here, they came from thought. A thought and we bring forth that which is manifested. 

“Arts have saved people throughout the centuries. Art has calmed people from war. Art is here to embrace our lives. We are healed through the arts.”

Vereen tells the audience which included the young people from Uniondale High School who performed in their nationally acclaimed choir, Rhythm of the Knight, “Go play in hospitals. When someone would come to do art, music, singing, the vibration in building is higher. It’s important we support – we call it the arts- what it really is is ‘Let’s support life,’” he said to applause.

“The arts. Change the name to life – arts of life, the teaching part of life, the engineering part of life is all art.

If we give our children arts from the beginning, they will be better at school.”

And what do you tell a young person about pursuing a career in arts? Dilla asked. “Know thyself, study you, who you are, you are that art you would bring forth. Be conscious of who you are. It’s okay to take baby steps, eventually you will get you there. Don’t take rejection as a ‘no’ to your life – your life isn’t over, just a steppingstone to your higher self. Keep stepping up.

“We need you. Your form of art may not be on stage, it may be going to government. Your art might not be an interviewer like Frank Dilella, it might be to head a country and make the world a better place for everybody. Know thyself and to thine own self be true.”

Vereen offered insights into his life in a conversation with Frank DiLella, Emmy Award winning host of On Stage on Spectrum News NY1.

Lifetime Achievement honoree Ben Vereen with Gold Coast Arts Center and Film Festival Founder & Executive Regina Gil, and Frank Dilella, host of Stage on Spectrum News © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Vereen was honored for his epic performances that have been woven into the fabric of the nation’s artistic legacy – first coming to worldwide attention as Chicken George in the ground-breaking television series, Roots for which he won an Emmy nomination in 1977. He won a Tony Award as well as the Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in A Musical in 1973 for Pippin; and starred in Jesus Christ Superstar, Fosse, Hair, Jelly’s Last Jam, Chicago, I’m Not Rappaport and Wicked; and films including Sweet Charity and All that Jazz

Vereen’s recent projects include the TV series Bull and Magnum PI, FOX’s Star, produced by Lee Daniels, Sneaky Pete with Bryan Cranston, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Time Out of Mind with Richard Gere, and Top Five with Chris Rock. He is currently working on his new Broadway musical, Reflections, written by Joe Calarco, to be directed by Tony nominee Josh Bergasse with music by Stephen Schwartz.

Vereen is heralded for promoting the talents and careers of young people – through education and access to the arts – wherever he gives concerts he holds master classes and in past concerts has provided the opportunity for a talented newcomer to make their debut on stage with him – and for his humanitarian work for which he has received numerous awards including Israel’s Cultural and Humanitarian Award, three NAACP Image Awards, Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award and a Victory Award.

In 2016, he signed with Americans for the Arts, the largest advocacy group of Arts in America and has spoken before Congress defending funding for the National endowment for the Arts.

Ben Vereen spoke of his career and his calling in a conversation with Frank Dilella:

Asked about how he got started in show business, a boy of modest means from Brooklyn, he said, “This career chose me.

“This career was handed to me. In my community in Brooklyn going to the High School of Performing Arts was like being a prodigal son. It is hard to say when I chose this, because it chose me. I would never have left Brooklyn except for performing arts school – –known as the Fame School.

Apparently he got into trouble, because he was placed in a so-called “three-digit school”.

“I was placed in class with Mr. Hill, the director of theater. I was with guys named Killer, Shank Diablo. Mr. Hill said he wanted me to do King and I. I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music – they had an all-African American company – 100 musicians – and did King and I. That was it – that was the bug.

Vereen attended the High School of Performing Arts from the age of 14 – where he studied dancing with stellar choreographers Martha Graham, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

He was 18 years old when he made his New York stage debut off-off-Broadway in The Prodigal Son at the Greenwich Mews Theater. The following year he was in Las Vegas performing in Bob Fosse’s production of Sweet Charity

He describes the audition for Sweet Charity.”Every dancer was on stage to audition – Bob Fosse was the coolest, he moved so smooth. He did the combination, smoked cigarettes, the ashes wouldn’t fall. He made the cut of dancers. Then it was time to sing. I had never seen a Broadway show.” He had nothing prepared but mimicked another and got the part anyway, going on to tour with the production from 1967-68.

He made his Broadway debut in original production of Hair. “It was a groundbreaking show, it made history.”

A real breakthrough was meeting Sammy Davis Jr. He reflected how important an influence Sammy Davis Jr. was to him. “Sammy was the first African American that I watched on tv. My father loved tv. One night Sammy was on the Ed Sullivan show.

Sammy saw Vereen at an audition. “I had attitude – Sammy Davis Jr saw it. He invited me to have dinner and hired me for Golden Boy. That’s where it began. I followed him, wanted to be like him, dress like him, the coolest cat. He loved everybody. People don’t give Sammy enough credit – he wasn’t just a song and dance man, but a great humanitarian. He died penniless because gave all his money to everybody.”

Davis took him on tour of Golden Boy to London when he was 25. That’s when he discovered he was adopted by James and Pauline Vereen, when he applied for a passport.

Vereen went on to be cast opposite Sammy Davis Jr. in the film version of Sweet Charity, and then as Davis’ understudy in Golden Boy in England.

His life changed – and nearly ended – on one fateful day in 1992 when he had three accidents the same day that put him in an ICU for 42 days when doctors thought he might never walk again.

“I don’t remember being hit by a car. The interesting thing about the spirit which inhabits this body, it decides to take a break, ‘but I’ll be back’. All I remember – Pamela [Cooper, his manager] told me this – I was driving and hit a tree, which damaged an artery in my brain. I was walking home, got a stroke, and was hit by an SUV. Amazingly, it was somebody I knew – David Foster, who I had met in Canada, a famous songwriter who wrote for Whitney Huston, Celine Dion, who had said, “We should get together.’  He could have left me and I wouldn’t be sitting here today but he stayed; he called 911, cradled me, waited for paramedics. They flew me to the hospital ICU. They told me I had a broken my left leg, suffered a stroke on right side, took out my spleen, I had an apparatus attached to my head, and a trach. The last thing I remember was getting into my car.”

“[In my mind I am thinking] what happened, why am I here? I can’t talk. All these things are going through your mind – this can’t be happening, I have show on Saturday.

“They told me it will be at least three years if you’ll ever walk again. At that point, I had just met a wonderful woman, Rev. Doctor Johnnie Coleman in Chicago [known as the “First Lady of the New Thought Christian Community]  who taught metaphysics and would say,  ‘Whenever you have something negative coming at you, learn this mantra, Cancel. That’s only man’s perception. Cancel.”

Meanwhile, he reflected, people crowded the hospital lobby praying for him. “There were letters, boxes of letters come in. Looking at boxes, thinking were bills, but they were from you [the fans].”

“[The doctors were saying] ‘We think you should think about another occupation.’ So when they sent in an occupational therapist, I thought they were to get me a new occupation instead of teaching me fine motor skills. Cancel, Cancel – I couldn’t talk.

“I said to myself if I can’t walk again, Lord, whatever you want me to do I’ll do… I had to show up – I couldn’t just lay there and ask God to heal me. I got to show up.”

“The thing about prayer, how it works – the doctor instinctively knew where to cut- spirit is always working in our favor. Steven Hawkins became my hero – if you can do that with Steven Hawkins, here I am.”

At the rehabilitation center in Kessler, NJ, he recalls, “There was a young man who had been shot named Michael Jackson, an orderly called Juice because he delivered the juice but his real name was Glen Miller, a therapist named Jerry Lewis.

“You don’t have the luxury of a negative thought. But I did what no one thought I could do, get back on Broadway.”

He was told there would be a part for him in Jelly’s Last Jam if he could be ready.

The therapists from Kessler went to show, and said, “We can do this, and a few months later, I walked on stage in Jelly’s Last Jam.

“Hear what that story is really about: the inner spirit is stronger than our physical human understanding of who we are. The idea, called surrender, take me as I am, I will go.”

Asked what he considers the highlight of his career, he reflects back to Roots.

“I heard about a show, Roots. Every African American in the world wanted to be a part of that. I go back to the same agent who said Pippin won’t make it and told him ABC was brave enough to put on show, Roots and I wanted to be a part. ‘Be real,’ he said. ‘They’re looking for actors. You’re song and dance man. So I went to Chicago –I was introducing Sister Sledge – then went to Savannah,Georgia. I did a character Bert Williams – African Americans in show business had to wear blackface and Williams made it art form. I did a tribute to him. [Roots’ producer] Stan Margulies knocked on my door and said he loved the show. ‘We’re shooting Roots for ABC, I want you to be my Chicken George.’ I fired my agent and off to Hollywood I went.”

In being awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Gold Coast Arts Center, Ben Vereen is in good company. Previous honorees and special guests of the Gold Coast International Film Festival include film industry VIPs Francis Ford Coppola, Hugh Grant, Robert Wagner, Jill St. John, Baz Luhrmann, Brian Dennehy, Paul Sorvino, Ed Burns, Bruce Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Lou Diamond Phillips, Morgan Spurlock, Eli Wallach, Gabriel Byrne, Jacques Pepin, Bill Plympton, Phil Donahue, Phylicia Rashaad, Joan Allen, Jay McInerney and Michael Cuesta, as well as composer Morton Gould, artists James Rosenquist, Oleg Cassini, Edwina SandysandBob Gruencomedian Susie Essman, Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara, Melissa Errico andSavion Glover, and 4-time Oscar winner for production and costume design Catherine Martin. 

Ben Vereen with another Gold Coast Arts Center Lifetime Achievement honoree, artist Edwina Sandys, who is Winston Churchill’s granddaughter © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The 9th annual Gold Coast International Film Festival taking place From November 4-13, 2019, presents more than 80 feature-length and short films in venues throughout North Hempstead, Long Island and an opportunity to

This year’s highlights include The Two Popes, starring Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce; which will be the Festival’s Closing Night Spotlight Film. Other films of note this year include Marriage Story, starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the winner of the Best Screenplay at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and Clemency, starring Alfre Woodard, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. The Festival will also be screening By the Grace of God, the Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival.

“Films are a unique art form, bringing together drama, dance, music, art in 90 minutes. It’s one of the most accessible and affordable art forms. You come together with 200 others, smile, laugh, cry, think, learn, and sometimes be moved to action. How often do you get to hear from artists and creators how and why they made the film?” reflected Caroline Sorokoff, the festival director.

Among the narrative films that will provoke thought and action, “Wasted! The Story of Food Waste” from executive producer Anthony Bourdain, co-sponsored by Island Harvest, the first film in a new Gold Coast series spotlighting social issues of concern to Long Island.

Uniondale High School’s Show Choir, Rhythm of the Knight, performs as Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island, honors Actor, Entertainer Ben Vereen with Lifetime Achievement Award at opening of 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Gold Coast Arts Center is a nonprofit 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 from toddlers, tweens, teens to totterers throughout the region for 25 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; concerts and lectures; 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.

Gold Coast Arts Center President Jon Kaiman and Founder and Executive Director Regina Gil (center) with North Hempstead town Councilwoman Viviana L. Russell, North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Nassau County Executive Laura Curran. The Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island, honored Actor, Entertainer Ben Vereen with Lifetime Achievement Award at opening of 9th Annual Gold Coast International Film Festival © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For information about upcoming films in the Festival’s year-round film screening program plus the latest news on the 2019 Festival visit www.goldcoastfilmfestival.org 516-829-2570.

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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

Feeling Like a Foreigner in my Hometown: Global Scavenger Hunt Ends in New York City

Feeling like a foreigner in my own hometown, I undertake my last scavenge of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, to uncover art from five of the countries we visited on our 23-day around-the-world mystery tour © 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, a mystery tour 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, has designed the rules, challenges and scavenges 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.

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. The four teams still 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.

Paying tribute to John Lennon at Strawberry Fields, in Central Park, one of the New York City scavenges on the Global Scavenger Hunt (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Examples of the scavenges: take in a Yankees game or a Broadway show (actually difficult because of the deadline of 4 pm); 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 to 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 and not having to think twice about things like language, currency, drinking water from the tap, eating raw vegetable, the street grid).

In fact, that is the genius of the way the Global Scavenger Hunt is designed – we are supposed to feel off-balance, disoriented because that’s when you focus most, the experiences are more intense, you are out of your comfort zone and need to rely on the kindness of strangers, as opposed to the style of travel where you stay long enough to become familiar, comfortable in a place so it (and you) no longer feels foreign.

On the hunt 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 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. I have a context in which to appreciate the artifacts, dare I say a personal connection. Indeed, the Metropolitan Museum of Art enables you to travel around the world, be transported over millennia, within the confines of its walls.

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 me about aspects of art and culture with the in-depth discussion of the pieces the docents select to discuss.

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

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. Greece. One down.

Obviously, finding an object from Greece would 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).

An object from Burma (Myanmar), at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Morocco and Jordan (Petra) prove trickier than I expected, but bring me to an astonishing, landmark 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.”

This is a goldmine for my hunt. Featuring 190 works from museums in the Middle East, Europe and the United States, the exhibition 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 is a treasure trove for my scavenger hunt.

It is 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. I recall seeing their counterparts in the newly opened Archaeological Museum at Petra.

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 World Between Empires

The landmark exhibition The World between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East (unfortunately it is only 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 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

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) with imagery that 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.

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

“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,” stated Max Hollein, Director, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a video that accompanies the exhibit.  “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.”

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 have just visited, walking through very much as the caravan travelers would have.

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/goingplacesfarandnews.com

“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.”

From my visits in Athens and Petra, particularly, I appreciate this synergy between trade, migration, environmental sustainability and technology (in Petra’s Archaeology Museum, you learn how the ability to control water supply was key to the city’s development) and the links to economic prosperity and political power, and the rise of art, culture, and community. (I recall the notes from the National Archaeology Museum in Athens that made this very point.)

The docent’s “Highlights Tour” brings us to Assyria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City © 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.

Central Park, NYC. Experiencing my hometown like a tourist. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

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.

Plan your visit and get information on current exhibits, www.metmuseum.org.

Plan your visit to New York City, www.nycgo.com.

15th Annual Global Scavenger Hunt Winners Crowned

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

Third place winners of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt third place is Order & Chaos, Sal  Iaquinta & Vivian Reyes with Bill Chalmers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In third place is Order & Chaos, Sal  Iaquinta & Vivian Reyes, doctors from San Francisco.

Second place winners of the 2019 Global Scavenger Hunt, Lazy Monday, Eric & Kathryn Verwillow with Bill Chalmers © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

In second place, Lazy Monday, Eric & Kathryn Verwillow, computer networking and think tank professional of Palo Alto, California “I am in awe of how hard working, beginning to end – embracing the spirit,” Chalmers says.

2019 Global Scavenger Hunt “World’s Greatest Travelers,” Lawyers Without Borders, Zoe Littlepage and Rainey Booth © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And the World’s Greatest Travelers of 2019: Lawyers Without Borders, Rainey Booth and Zoe Littlepage of Houston, who have competed in the Global Scavenger Hunt 12 times, and win it for their 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 raise money for the GreatEscape Foundation and promote voluntourism – one of the scavenges in Yangon, Myanmar is to volunteer at an orphanage or school; past GSH travelers visited and 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.

“The foundation is one of main reasons we do the event,” Chalmers says at our final meeting before going out for a celebration dinner. 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.

2020 Global Scavenger Hunt Set for April 17-May 9

Chalmers has just set the dates for the 23-day 2020 Global Scavenger Hunt: April 17-May 9, 2020. Entry applications are now being accepted.

Eager Indiana Jones-types of adventurers and curious travelers wanting to test their travel IQ against other travelers in an extraordinary around-the-world travel adventure competition that crowns The World’s Greatest Travelers, can apply at GlobalScavengerHunt.com

The 2020 event will pit savvy international travelers against each other by taking them on A Blind Date with the World, visiting ten secret destinations without any prior preparation, and then have them unravel a constant blitz of highly authentic, participatory and challenging culturally-oriented scavenges along the way, like: meditating with monks, training elephants, taking flamenco lessons, cooking local dishes with local chefs, searching out Lost Cities, cracking sacred temple mysteries, joining in local celebrations, and learning local languages enough to decipher their scavenger hunt clues. Trusting strangers in strange lands will be their focus as they circle the globe for three weeks. Over the past 15 years, the event has touched foot in 85 countries.

The title of The World’s Greatest Travelers and free trip around the world to defend their titles in the 2021 event await the travelers worthy enough to win the 16th edition of the world travel championship.    

Event participation is open but limited; the $25,000 per team entry fee includes all international airfare, First Class hotels, 40% of meals, and special event travel gear. All travelers are interviewed for suitability and single travelers are welcome to apply. For additional information visit GlobalScavengerHunt.com, or contact GreatEscape Adventures Inc. at 310-281-7809.

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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: Seville to Porto to Complete Toughest Leg of 23-Day Around-the-World Mystery Tour

A couple enjoys the sunset over Gualdelquivir river, Seville, Spain. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

I am overwhelmed by the beauty of Seville, Spain. The bus ride from Le Leigne de la Conception in southernmost point of Spain (the closest bus stop to Gibraltar) as I continue on this leg on the Global Scavenger Hunt that began in Marrakesh, Morocco, has been absolutely beautiful, providing glimpses of farms and villages and graceful wind turbines. As the bus turns into the city, the exquisite architecture, the vast green parks, the bike lanes, the atmosphere is just breathtaking. Even the bus station is magnificently decorated.

Wind turbines along the highway from Le Leigne de la Conception to Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I have booked Apartements Hom Sevilla through hotels.com, choosing a place that seemed closest to the city center (0.2 miles) and The Cathedral which seemed the major landmark (0.2 miles) that also was within the budget allotted by the Global Scavenger Hunt (under $100 since my teammate, Margo, went directly to Porto from Gibraltar instead). It is a delightful 15 minute walk from the bus station that literally transports me.

Even the bus station in Seville is beautiful © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 It is the late afternoon and the Cathedral that takes up much of Avenida de la Constitution is bathed in golden light. A tram moves smoothly, virtually noiselessly down the boulevard; cyclists stream by, pedestrians meander by. The hotel is right in the midst of this historic district. The manager, who has been texting me while I was on the bus asking when I expected to arrive and giving me walking directions, is (thankfully) still on duty when I arrive. He shows me how to use the espresso coffee maker in their lounge/lobby (the hotel is self-service after hours) and offers suggestions on how to get around, gives me a map of the city and suggests places to go to restaurants that are less touristic, more typical, and where to get the bus to the airport the next day.

The Cathedral, Seville in the golden light of late afternoon © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

 The hotel is absolutely lovely – a modern, chic boutique apartment hotel. I am beyond delighted and  think how clever I am to have chosen this ideal place. (Apartamentos Hom Sevilla, Calle Fernández y González 13B, Sevilla, 41001, Spain)

I rush out to catch the remaining light and am treated to an amazing, flaming sunset. I find myself drawn to the historic Torre Del Oro (Tower of Gold), built in the 13th century (1220-1221) during the reign of the Taifa Kings, a time when Spain was invaded by the Moors, to prevent attacks from Christians. Restored in 2005, it apparently got its name because it was covered in lime and straw mortar which would have given it a golden reflection. Over the centuries, the tower has been used as a fortress, a chapel, a warehouse, a prison and even as the Guadalquivir River Company main office. Today it is the Naval Museum and an iconic symbol of Seville.

The Torre del Oro (Golden Tower), an iconic symbol of Seville, was built by the Moors in the 13th century. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I wander along the river and across the San Telmo Bridge over the Gualdelquivir, which I learn is the only navigatable river in Spain and “has played a leading role in many of the city’s historic moments: sieges, defenses and conquests have been fought on its waters, and exploits and crossings have been forged from its shores.”

I had not realized that the first trip to circumnavigate the world originated from Seville: that in 1519, Ferdinand Magellan began his voyage here; crossing the San Telmo bridge, you can see the armillary sphere that commemorates mile zero of that voyage.

“Seville in the 16th century was the mercantile center of the western world, and its river was the main maritime route for Atlantic traffic for more than 200 years…Seville was known as ‘the city where the world’s heart beats’. Its maritime activity permeated commerce, population, culture, and its own urban development, making it unique,” the visitor bureau notes (www.visitasevilla.es/en/history/guadalquivir-river).

Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The lights of the city come on, reflected in the cobblestone streets; there are couples along the river bank enjoying the scene. Seville is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen. It is a dream.

Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I delight in just walking around, taking in the exquisite architecture, the colors and textures and shapes, the peace of this place. There is such a wonderful feeling that even a fellow riding his bike is singing.

The Cathedral, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Unfortunately, under the Global Scavenger Hunt challenge, I am only here through early afternoon the next day – having elected to fly out to Porto, rather than take a nine-hour bus ride through Faro and Lisbon to Porto, in order to arrive by the deadline on Friday, 11:30 am. The deadline is pretty firm because we are taking the 3:55 pm flight to New York City, our final stop of the 23-day around-the-world mystery tour. (Those teams that are still in contention are not allowed to fly to Porto; instead, they have to take bus and/or train, a 9-hour proposition from Seville, with stops along the way to do scavenges.)

I plan the morning carefully – getting up extra early to arrange my bags (to avoid paying baggage fees on Iberia Airlines) – and stroll over to the Parque de María Luisa – one of the prettiest parks I have ever seen. It is comparable to Central Park in New York City, the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and the Ueno Park in Tokyo, in that in addition to being an urban oasis, also contains important cultural sites.  

Parque de María Luisa, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Parque de María Luisa, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Parque de María Luisa, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Among them is Plaza de España, the most extravagant of the building projects completed for the 1929 Exposición Iberoamericana (this is reminiscent of Palace of Fine Arts, built for San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific exhibition). This is a vast brick-and-tile structure features fountains, mini-canals, and a series of tile pictures depicting historical scenes from each Spanish province (one of our Global Scavenger Hunt travelers found her family’s province). Archeological Museum and the Museum of Folk Arts and Traditions. There are row boats and bikes to rent.

Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

At some point, I find myself in front of a gate with a sign on the wall that says “Juderia,” which, I later learn, turns out to have been the old Jewish Quarter (before Spain evicted Jews, in 1492, known as the Inquisition). It has been converted into a hotel, Las Casas de la Juderia,  comprised of a vast complex of interwoven dwellings, a city within a city, a sprawling maze of 27 houses and two palaces, restored to their 15th century glory, literally in the shadow of the Cathedral and the Alcázar (https://www.lascasasdelajuderiasevilla.com/en/).

Judeira, once the Jewish Quarter of Seville, Spain, is now a family-run hotel © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Unmistakably Spanish, the family-run hotel is an alluring retreat hidden right in the heart of the city,” writes Trafalgar, a tour company which features this “accommodation with a story” in its Seville program.

“At Las Casas de la Juderia, you‘ll tread in the footsteps of nobility and even royalty. Over the centuries, Christopher Columbus, The Duke of Bejar and The Count of Villamanrique have all stayed here. In fact, after returning from America, Columbus’s men all resided in these houses. Perhaps most compelling of all is the network of subterranean tunnels connecting houses commissioned by former owner, the Duke of Segorbe. You can wander through these today; in fact, breakfast is taken in the captivating underground Hall of Mirrors.” (https://blog.trafalgar.com/2018/02/26/stays-stories-sevilles-las-casas-de-la-juderia/)

Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I get lost walking to the Real Alcázar, the major attraction in Seville and for my limited time here, which costs me dearly. By the time I arrive at 9:38 am (it opens at 9:30 am) there are what seems 1000 people ahead of me on the line for people (like me) without pre-purchased tickets, and a guard who only lets in a handful of people every 20 minutes. At first, I don’t understand the sign that says (“Limited access, 4-5 hours wait”) for those without pre-purchased tickets (recommended to purchase online, they give you a time to come, or visit in the afternoon, https://realAlcázarsevilla.sacatuentrada.es/en) who go in on a separate line. As it turns out, my wait is 3 ½ hours, but It is touch-and-go as to whether I would get in with enough time to see the Alcázar before having to get back to the hotel, pick up my luggage, and get to the bus to go to the airport.

Real Alcázar, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Finally, at 1 pm, just at my absolute deadline, the guard lets me in to the Alcázar and I take advantage of the senior rate (3E versus 11E, so even the limited time is well worth it; Mondays offer free admission). I have to be out by 2:30 pm.

Though you take loads of photos, none can do the Alcázar justice because the beauty is in the exquisite details of architecture, pattern in the decoration, the symmetry, the delicacy and grace, the ambiance, how you are constantly surprised by beautiful images and scale. You look up at magnificent ceilings, at the gorgeous archways, the passages that lead on and on. I think I have seen it all in about 45 minutes, only to discover two other palaces and gardens. (A separate ticket is required to visit the personal apartments still used by the royal family when they visit Seville).

Real Alcázar, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Alcázar royal palace complex that was originally developed as a fort in 913 was built for the Christian king Peter of Castile by Castilian Christians on the site of an Abbadid Muslim fortress, destroyed after the Christian conquest of Seville and reflects the mix of the different architectural cultures. The palace is a preeminent example of Mudéjar architecture in the Iberian Peninsula and renowned as one of the most beautiful. 

Real Alcázar, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It has been built and rebuilt and modified many times in the last 1000 years, most spectacularly in the 14th century when King Pedro added the Palacio de Don Pedro. I wonder how many people waiting with me on the long, long line have been intrigued to visit because the Alcázar was featured as a location for the Game of Thrones TV series. The Alcázar has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987.

Real Alcázar, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

A guided tour would be helpful here, especially since there do not seem to be any notes or guided material, and I have to go quickly through, just taking in the stunning visual images and details. I reconstruct the details later from various sources (See www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/seville/attractions/real-alcazar/a/poi-sig/411802/360736)

We enter through the Puerta del León (Lion Gate) on Plaza del Triunfo, to the Patio del León (Lion Patio), which was the garrison yard of the original Al-Muwarak palace. The Sala de la Justicia (Hall of Justice), with beautiful Mudéjar plasterwork and an artesonado (ceiling of interlaced beams with decorative insertions) was built in the 1340s by the Christian King Alfonso XI. It leads to the Patio del Yeso, part of the 12th-century Almohad palace reconstructed in the 19th century.

You wind through what seems a maze of rooms and courtyards and porticos:

The Hunting Courtyard was where hunters would meet before hunts with King Pedro. The Casa de la Contratación (Contracting House) dates from 1503 to control trade with Spain’s American colonies. The Salón del Almirante (Admiral’s Hall) houses 19th- and 20th-century paintings showing historical events and people. The Sala de Audiencias (Chapter House) is notable for its tapestries.  

Real Alcázar, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Palacio de Don Pedro, also known as the Palacio Mudéjar, “is considered Seville’s single most stunning architectural feature. King Pedro, had an alliance with the Muslim emir of Granada, Mohammed V, who was responsible for much of the decoration at the Alhambra. When Pedro decided to build a new palace in the Alcázar in 1364, Mohammed sent many of his top artisans, who were joined by others from Seville and Toledo. Drawing on the Islamic traditions of the Almohads and caliphal Córdoba, the result is a synthesis of Iberian Islamic art.”

The Patio de las Doncellas (Patio of the Maidens) is surrounded by beautiful arches, plasterwork and tiling. A sunken garden was discovered by archaeologists in 2004 from under a 16th-century marble covering.

The most spectacular room in the Palacio is the Salón de Embajadores (Hall of Ambassadors) which originally was Pedro I’s throne room.

Real Alcázar, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I come upon the breathtaking formal gardens with pools and fountains. From one, the Jardín de la Danza (Garden of the Dance), a passage runs beneath the Salones de Carlos V to the Baños de Doña María de Padilla (María de Padilla Baths). I find myself in the vaults beneath the Patio del Crucero with a grotto that replaced the patio’s original pool.

Above the gardens is the Galeria de Grutesco, a raised gallery with porticoes fashioned in the 16th century out of an old Islamic-era wall. There is also a hedge maze that adds to the romance and mystery of the Alcázar.

Real Alcázar, Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Alcázar is still a royal palace. In 1995 it hosted the wedding feast of Infanta Elena, daughter of King Juan Carlos I, after her marriage in Seville’s cathedral (another magnificent structure to visit which was too crowded for me to fit into my too brief visit). The Cuarto Real Alto (Upper Royal Quarters), the rooms used by the Spanish royal family on their visits to Seville, are open for guided tours (€4.50; half hourly 10am to 1.30pm). Highlights of the tours include the 14th-century Salón de Audiencias, still the monarch’s reception room, and Pedro I’s bedroom, with Mudéjar tiles and plasterwork. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time to visit myself.

Seville, Spain © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Mindful of the time, I walk back to the hotel along the beautiful promenades, get a coffee gelato as my lunch, and get myself to the bus station for the airport.

(More information at www.visitasevilla.es)

Porto, Portugal

I arrive in Porto at about 8 pm after changing planes in Madrid (by now I am second-guessing whether I should have instead taken the nine-hour bus from Seville to Porto). Coincidentally, I meet up with two other teams from the Global Scavenger Hunt at the airport who are following the same route.

They take an Uber from the Porto airport to the Sheraton Porto Hotel; I hop on the Metro, amazed at the convenience and speed of the service and low cost (just about $3 to get into town about 20 minutes from the airport). The hardest part is figuring which way to walk from the station which happens to be quite dark, but a kindly person points me in the right direction. It’s about a 15 minute walk to the hotel.

Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I get up early to hop on the Metro again for the 12 minute ride to Center City. I just want to absorb the gorgeous ambiance and color of Porto before having to meet the deadline of 11:30 am for the Global Scavenger Hunt. We will be taking the 3:55 pm flight to New York City, our final leg of our 23-day, around-the-world mystery tour, and the crowning of the World’s Greatest Traveler.

Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Porto, which I visited much more extensively years ago (the Lello Bookshop and Majestic Café which J.K. Rowling frequented when she was writing the “Harry Potter” books are now overrun with tourists who queue up and pay admission), is absolutely lovely. I just want to immerse myself in the ambiance, wandering around the boulevards to take in the gorgeous “exuberant Baroque style with some Rococo touches” of the buildings, the colorful tiles facades.

Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

I wander to the port where the Port wineries are located (popular for tours and tastings) and a cable car, walk across the bridge, before getting back to meet the group.

Traditional boats on the Douro River, Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Porto, Portugal © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Visitor information is available from Porto & Northern Portugal Tourism Association, portocvb@portocvb.com, www.portocvb.com, www.visitportoandnorth.travel.

The results for this most difficult leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt (our “final exam” as world travelers), that took us to four countries (Morocco, Gibraltar, Spain and Portugal) in just five days:

In third place having completed 92 scavenges, 5 bonuses and amassing 5310 points, Order & Chaos (the doctors from San Francisco).

In second place with 102 scavenges (that’s 20 a day), 7 bonuses and accumulating 5680 points, Lazy Monday.

In first place with 105 scavenges, 7 bonuses, and 6110 points, Lawyers Without Borders, putting Zoe and Rainey Littlepage of Houston, in great position to win the competition for “World’s Best Traveler.” (See Zoe Littlepage’s blog, https://zoeandraineygreatescape.blogspot.com/2019/05/gsh-2019-rock-seville-in-spain-and.html).

We’re off to New York City, the last leg of the Global Scavenger Hunt, when we will learn who will be crowned the 2019 “World’s Greatest Travelers.”

The Global Scavenger Hunt is an annual travel program that has been operated for the past 15 years by Bill and Pamela Chalmers, GreatEscape Adventures, 310-281-7809, GlobalScavengerHunt.com.

Dates have just been set for the 16th annual edition of The Global Scavenger Hunt, April 17-May 9, 2020, Applications for the around-the-world travel adventure competition that crowns The World’s Greatest Travelers are now being accepted at GlobalScavengerHunt.com
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© 2019 Travel Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. Visit goingplacesfarandnear.comwww.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 on  facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures