Category Archives: Culture

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

The Brandenburg Gate, built in 1791, “survived 300 years, 2 world wars, 2 dictatorships, 1 wall” and restored to its glory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Berlin is a surprise. The last time I was here, which was just after the fall of the Wall, it seemed dark, grey. Berliners were literally chipping away at the Berlin Wall, selling the graffitied pieces (the first act of Capitalism).

Berlin 1990. The first act of capitalism is selling the pieces of the Berlin Wall after the fall. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Our guide, Sylvia, shows the “then and now” at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Now, I find the city bright, bustling and building. And an interesting amalgam of how Germany’s various historical époques, even the Soviet era, have been integrated in the reconstructed city after World War II.

What is most interesting to me, especially as we stop at the Brandenburg Gate, is how Nazism seems to have been ripped out from the roots, like weeds from a garden.

There is still some evidence of Soviet control, especially as we go through what would have been East Berlin (later, at Potsdam, we will learn the backstory of how Berlin was divided).

Reminder of a Berlin divided into sectors by the World War II victors © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 
Soviet era art on a building in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Elbe Princesse is docked in a lovely neighborhood park in one of the city’s 12 districts. We have a bus-tour today, which I am grateful for because the city is really vast and I only have one day here, but it is soon obvious, you need to spend at least two or three days.

Our guide, Sylvia, gives us a bit of history as we travel from district to district, neighborhood to neighborhood.

Apartment buildings built for workers before World War II © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

We drive around the Victory Column – Hitler had it moved in the 1930s as part of his plan to make Berlin the capital of the World, Germania. To cement his dictatorship, the Nazis set fire to the Reichstag, and blamed the opposition as an excuse to exert martial law.

We get out to walk around, stopping first at the new memorial to the Sinti and Roma murdered in the Holocaust. Out of 2.5 million Sinti & Roma, only 5000 survived (the German word for gypsy, Zigeuner, means trash and is forbidden).

The new Holocaust memorial to Sinti and Roma across from the Reischtag in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Very close to the Brandenburg Gate is the Reichstag – the Parliament Building. People are lined up to tour the building, and can go up to a modernized glass dome.

The Reischtag in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Visitors can ascend to the modern dome of the Reischtag for a great view © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Brandenburg Gate, which dates from 1791, was part of the original wall around Old Town, and is the only one of 18 historical gates still remaining. “It survived 300 years, 2 world wars, 2 dictatorships, 1 wall.”

In 1806, Napoleon arrived in Berlin after defeating Prussians, entering through center of gate. He promptly “expropriated” the sculpture on top of the gate.

The Brandenburg Gate, built in 1791, “survived 300 years, 2 world wars, 2 dictatorships, 1 wall” and restored to its glory © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

For 20 years, the Gate was in a no-man’s land between East and West Berlin, and could not be visited. Then, in November 1989, the wall came down.

All the buildings that flank the Gate were built after 1989, Today, the US Embassy and across from the embassy, a Holocaust memorial that opened in May 2005, 60 years after the end of World War II in Europe.

New York architect Peter Eisenman, who won a design competition to establish a central memorial site, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, placed 2,711 concrete slabs of different heights that appear as graves or coffins (the heights, Sylvia said, are supposed to represent the number of Jews killed in a place). The 19,000 sq. meter area is open day and night. The memorial is intentionally set on a slight slope and its wave-like form is different wherever you stand.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman, is across from the US Embassy in Berlin © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The memorial to the Shoah is supplemented by the underground information center, also designed by Eisenman. In a space covering 800 square meters you can find information on the victims and the locations. Themed rooms such as the Room of Dimensions, the Room of Families, the Room of Names and the Room of Sites deal with the fates of individuals, with photographs, diaries and farewell letters. Short biographies take the victims out of their anonymity. Historical photographs and film footage show the sites of persecution and extermination. (Cora-Berliner-Straße 110117 Berlin, www.stiftung-denkmal.de/en)

In the Museum Island complex we see where there are still holes from bullets and artillery fire in the Roman columns are the city’s most important museums (which were in the Soviet zone, so that the Allies had to build comparable museums): the Altes Museum (Old Museum), the Neues Museum (New Museum) the Bode Museum, the Pergamon Museum and the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery). The collections in these buildings encompass over 6,000 years of art and cultural history.

Museum Island was in the East German sector of Berlin controlled by the Soviet Union, so comparable cultural institutions had to be built in the West German sector © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sylvia tells us that because all the city’s important museums wound up in the Soviet zone, the Allies built comparable institutions in their quarter.

We pass the magnificent Berlin Cathedral, which dates back to the 15th century,.

Berlin’s stunning architecture © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

As we pass the Royal Library, Sylvia relates that on May 10 1933, Nazis entered Royal Library, stripped the shelves, and burned the books in the square. “It’s important to keep people stupid to impose dictatorship,” she remarks. I mutter something about a Tennessee legislator who, when asked what they should do about banned books, said, “They should burn them, I guess,” to which one of my traveling companions from Munich recoiled in horror. (Max Planck and Albert Einstein gave lectures here, Sylvia notes.)

The square outside the Royal Library was where Nazis burned books on May 10 1933 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We go by Alexanderplatz, which was a market in the Middle Ages. (I spot “Stop Wars” as graffiti painted on a nearby building. There are also Ukraine flags on many buildings.)

“Stop Wars”. © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We drive down an avenue that leads toward Frankfurt and the border with Poland. After WWII, Stalin renamed it for himself, but when Stalin died, it was renamed Karl Marx Allee (a German Jew and the ideological founder of Socialism).

Coca-Cola on a building along the boulevard named for Karl Marx © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The mark of East Germany’s time as part of the Soviet bloc is very clear when we arrive at a long, long wall – Sylvia said that the “first generation wall” was built in less than 24 hours. “Germans went to sleep on the night of August 12 and woke up on August 13 to find a 43 km wall built in middle of night, to separate east from west.”

Graffiti art on the Berlin Wall, 1990 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of East and West Germany, 118 artists from 21 countries were invited to paint murals along a 1316-meter long stretch of the wall – the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence. It officially opened as the open-air East Side Gallery on September 28, 1990, and a year later, was made a protected memorial.

The famous “Kiss” mural on the East Side Gallery, a 1316-meter long stretch of the former Berlin Wall © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sylvia points us to the mural that is very possibly the most famous: “The Kiss” by Russian painter Dimitri Vrubel in 1990, It depicts Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Union at the time, and Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of the GDR, based on a photograph taken in 1979, on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the GDR. “The photographer got two years in prison.”  

Possibly the most famous of the East Side Gallery murals is “The Kiss” by Russian painter Dimitri Vrubel, depicting Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet General Secretary and Erich Honecker, the General Secretary of the GDR Socialist Unity Party, based on a 1979 photo © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
118 artists from 21 countries were invited to paint murals along a 1316-meter long stretch of the wall, now enshrined as the East Side Gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Andre Sacharov is memorialized in one of the East Side Gallery murals © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
The 1316-meter long stretch of the wall – the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence – officially opened as the open-air East Side Gallery on September 28, 1990 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sylvia also points out Berlin’s pride and joy, the Berlin Television Tower, built in the 1960s. At 368m, it is the tallest building in Berlin. (You can go to the top for a 360° panoramic view of the city.) 

Berlin’s pride and joy, the Berlin Television Tower, built in the 1960s © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Potsdam, UNESCO World Heritage City

We are returned to the Princesse Elbe for lunch and then set out again by bus to Potsdam – famous as the place where the Allies decided Germany’s fate, split Europe, Germany and Berlin into sections, and launched the Cold War.

Potsdam, about a 45 minute drive from where we are in Berlin, is one of Germany’s most beautiful cities, and a UNESCO Heritage site.

The Glienicke Bridge, known as the “Bridge of Spies,” in Potsdam © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stop at Glienicke Bridge, known as the “Bridge of Spies”. Built in 1907, it was used as an exchange point between the Soviets and the Allies. In 1961, during the Cold War, no civilians were allowed on the bridge, only military, diplomats. To distinguish between the American and German Democratic Republic sides, you can see the dark green versus light green colors. The first exchange came in 1962: Francis Powers, who was taken prisoner in 1960 when his U-2 spy plane was shot down over Ukraine and sentenced to die, was exchanged for Soviet Colonel Rudolf Abel, a senior KGB spy. (The 2015 Tom Hanks thriller, “Bridge of Spies” depicting the events was actually shot here – they closed the bridge for a week).

Different shades of green demarcated the Soviet from the American sides of the Glienicke Bridge © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We stop at Cecilienhof Palace, where the Potsdam Conference took place in 1945, and are able to walk around the grounds. The palace was built in 1917 by Crown Prince Wilhelm, grandson of Queen Victoria, who would have been next emperor if Germany had won World War I. It hardly looks like a palace – he built it in Tudor style of a country manor to honor his grandmother. Today it is a hotel and museum.

Cecilienhof Palace, where the Potsdam Conference took place in 1945 and the Cold War began © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

What I hadn’t known before is that Harry Truman, who had just become president after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, got a phone call while here, ‘The baby is born,” code for the atom bomb was ready. He gave the order from here to bomb Hiroshima, seemingly as casually as that.

The Potsdam conference also lacked another major leader, Winston Churchill. In his place, a new Prime Minister. Clement Attlee. Stalin took advantage of them both.

Sylvia relates the back-story of how Stalin snuckered Truman and Atlee: on the last morning, Stalin drew a line in red pen through Germany and basically, said, “That’s mine.” “Potsdam set up the Cold War, a proxy war,” she says.

We next go to Sanssouci, Frederick II (Frederick the Great)’s fabulous palace. (We wander the outside, but do not have time to go into it).

Sanssouci Palace is like a mini-Versailles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Sanssouci Palace is like a mini-Versailles, with stunning formal gardens. The gardens were Frederick’s passion, and he built them even before the palace. It was the first royal park ever to be open to the public, and for free. (Versailles Palace was built first then garden, but was solely for royal use.)

Sanssouci Palace is like a mini-Versailles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Frederick loved this place – it was his private refuge and he even banned his wife from visiting. He wanted to be buried at Sanssouci and had a crypt built, but his nephew buried him elsewhere; then, 200 years later, Frederick was reburied here, as he wanted, with his 11 dogs. We notice that people leave potatoes at the gravesite. “The Seven Years War was under his administration.  Potato, brought from the Indian countries of America, was a fast solution to hunger.”

Sanssouci Palace is like a mini-Versailles © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Potsdam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, became the residence for Prussia’ royal family, spawning many fabulous buildings and palaces, making Potsdam one of the most-visited cities in Germany and deserves a full day visit (you can get to Potsdam by train from Berlin).

CroisiEurope’s MS Elbe Princesse, docked in Berlin, our last port on the Prague-Berlin rivercruise © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Our tours of Berlin and Potsdam have been a very good introduction, but I would have liked to spend another two days in Berlin and a full day in Potsdam. But I am doing what many American travelers to Europe are doing this year and doubling up on trips from my bucket list. So the next morning, I get myself to the Berlin railway station, heading to Bruges. for my BoatBikeTours bike trip from Bruges to Amsterdam by bike and boat!

Berlin’s central train station © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
Departing Berlin, enroute to Bruges, Belgium © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

CroisiEurope, 800-768-7232, info-us@croisieurope.com, www.CroisiEuropeRiverCruises.com

See also:

CroisiEurope Brings True Value, Quality to River Cruising Across the Globe

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Konigstein Fortress: Dramatic and Impregnable

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princess Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Dresden Rises Like a Phoenix; Meissen Preserves World Famous Brand

River Cruising on CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse, Prague-Berlin: Martin Luther, The Reformation and Wittenberg

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Prague-Berlin Rivercruise: Magdeburg, Long History, Surprising Heritage

CroisiEurope’s Elbe Princesse Rivercruise: Berlin, a Cultural Capital Again

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© 2022 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. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Lobkowicz Palace is Prague’s Jewel Box

 Lobkowicz Palace, the only privately owned palace within Prague Castle, commands a stunning view of Prague and holds exquisite cultural treasures © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

When I come out from Golden Lane, with its tiny houses that line the Prague Castle walls, I look across to see the Lobkowicz Palace and realize it is included on the Prague Cool Pass, so decide to check it out. This turns out to be the absolute highlight for me in Prague.

The Palace, itself, is fabulous, and the collection it houses, is breathtaking. And the family’s story is utterly fascinating.

Built in the mid-16th century, the Lobkowicz Palace is one of the most significant cultural sites in the Czech Republic (no hyperbole), and the only privately owned palace in the Prague Castle complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The family, once one of the richest and most powerful in Bohemia, have been key players in the history of the Czech Republic and the whole of Europe.

I know none of this when I walk in, but quickly am awe-struck.

The audio tour through 21 galleries is narrated by William Lobkowicz (b 1961), the current heir and manager of most of the Lobkowicz lands in the Czech Republic (Lobkowicz Palace, Nelahozeves, Roudnice and Strekov Castle), with some cameo appearances by his wife and mother. He puts faces as well as context to the portraits you see (as fabulous as they are, going back to the first Prince Lobkowicz, Zdenko Adalbert Popel).

The Lobkowicz Palace was built in the mid-16th century by Bohemian nobleman Jaroslav of Pernstein (1528–1569). It came into the Lobkowicz family through the marriage of Polyxena of Pernstein (1566-1642) to Zdenko Adalbert Popel, 1st Prince Lobkowicz (1568–1628), in 1603.

A painting in the Lobkowicz Palace immortalizes a key rolePolyxena and the palace played in one of the most significant events in Prague history: the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618 © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Polyxena and the palace played a key role in one of the most significant events in Prague history: the famous Defenestration of Prague in 1618, when Protestant rebels threw two Catholic Imperial Ministers and their secretary out the windows of the Royal Palace in Prague Castle. Surviving the fall (they fell on a pile of refuse in the moat), they were given refuge in the adjoining Lobkowicz Palace, where they were protected by Polyxena.  (The scene is immortalized in a painting which you can view.)

The Defenestration of Prague signaled the beginning of a Bohemian revolt against the Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II, leading to the Thirty Years’ War.

“It is no exaggeration to call the Thirty Years’ War the worst war in European history. The combatant nations lost between 25 and 40 percent of their populations to military action, famine and disease,” states historyextra.com.

Also in this room, there is a notable painting attributed to Velazquez of the “Infanta Margarita Teresa of Spain,” the daughter of Philip IV of Spain, and granddaughter of Emperor Ferdinand III, when she was four. At 15, she was married to her uncle, Emperor Leopold I, in 1666, and bore him four children before dying in childbirth at 22. (Philip would only have Velazquez paint the family). She is featured in one of Velazquez’ most famous portraits, “Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress” and in “Las Meninas” (“The Ladies-in-Waiting”), a painting that is recognized as one of the most important in Western art history.

Among the family portraits at Lobkowicz Palace, a notable painting attributed to Velazquez of the “Infanta Margarita Teresa of Spain,” the daughter of Philip IV of Spain, and granddaughter of Emperor Ferdinand III, when she was four © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But this is nothing compared to the astonishment you experience when you enter the Music Room. Here you see various historical instruments on display and the important musical personalities within Lobkowicz family in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  

Ferdinand Philipp Lobkowicz (1724-1784) is described as “an eccentric melancholic, a passionate collector, scientist, painter and musician. He was the second born son, so expected to be able to devote himself to his passions – science and art. That plan was derailed when his older brother Wenzel died suddenly and Ferdinand was required to take over the ancestral estates. He preferred to reside alone in Eisenberg castle where he experimented with alchemy, created bizarre paintings, played violin and composed. He spent time outside the Hapsburg Empire – in England, Italy, Prussia – and became acquainted with important composers. He composed a Sinfonia with Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and was closely associated with Christoph Willibald Gluck. He married when he was 45 to a woman who shared his passion for music.

Joseph Frantisek Maximilian (1772-1816), 7th Prince Lobkowicz, was Beethoven’s greatest private patron. Beethoven dedicated his 3rd (Eroica), 5th and 6th (Pastoral) symphonies to Lobkowicz and original manuscripts are on view at Lobkowicz Palace © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

But the family’s paramount musical figure was Joseph Frantisek Maximilian (1772-1816), 7th Prince Lobkowicz, who was Beethoven’s greatest private patron. The first performances at both the family’s Vienna Palace and North Bohemian castle of Jezeri resulted in Beethoven dedicating numerous works to Lobkowicz, including his 3rd (Eroica), 5th and 6th (Pastoral) symphonies. Joseph was a founding member of the Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna,  a member of the Society for the Promotion of Musical Culture in Bohemia and a director of the Court Theatre of Vienna. He was also responsible for commissioning the reconstruction of the palace’s exterior, giving it the appearance it has today. Upon his early death, in 1816, his son Ferdinand Joseph, 8th Prince Lobkowicz (1797-1868), continued Beethoven’s annuity and maintained the family orchestra, most of instruments of which survive today in the collection, along with autographed manuscripts by Gluck, Mozart and Beethoven.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famous “Haymaking,” painting – one of only five known today is on view at Lobkowicz Palace © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Walk on and you find yourself in an intimate gallery with Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famous “Haymaking,” painting – one of only five known today (one in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, three in Kunsthistorisches museum in Vienna and this one), notable because it is among the  first landscape paintings depicting everyday life. Just beyond, in another gallery, are two masterpieces by Canaletto: “London: The River Thames on lord Mayor’s Day, and ‘The River Thames Looking Towards Westminster from Lambeth,” “an important and comprehensive visual record of how the city looked in mid-18th century, and among the greatest of the Venetian painter’s English period works.”

Another highlight of the visit to Lobkowicz Palace is an incomparable view overlooking the city from one of the balconies.

Lobkowicz Palace, the only privately owned palace within Prague Castle, commands a stunning view of Prague © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The tour continues on the first floor of this magnificent palace. In the Princess Ernestine Room you see a remarkable series of portraits painted by Princess Ernestine of Nassau-Siegen (1623-68) including her own self-portrait. Her work is notable as a 17th century woman painter, particularly because she was of noble birth. She was herself painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck in 1634, when she was 11, in one of his largest and greatest family group portraits, which possibly inspired her to paint. The portraits entered the collection through the marriage of the artist’s only daughter, Claudia Frantiska (1660-80) to the 3rd Prince Lobkowicz in 1677. (We are informed that they were cleaned and conserved through funding of Friends of Heritage Preservation.)

The Lobkowicz princes, throughout history, played important roles as high-level officials working closely with kings and emperors.

After World War I and following the end of hereditary titles in 1918, Maximilian Lobkowicz (1888–1967), son of Ferdinand Zdenko, 10th Prince Lobkowicz (1858–1938), provided crucial support to the newly formed, democratic Czechoslovakia as a lawyer and diplomat, campaigning abroad for international recognition. He demonstrated his support for the fledgling First Czechoslovak Republic by making several rooms at the Palace available to the government, headed by the new nation’s first President, Tomas G. Masaryk. 

In the 1930s, Maximilian mustered diplomatic support for opposition to the German annexation of the Sudetenland, and during World War II he served as ambassador to Great Britain for the Czechoslovakian government in exile.

“Max supported the new Czechoslovakia in 1918, even though it abolished inherited titles,” William narrates about his grandfather. “He was against the Nazi regime. He had a British wife and was active in the underground.” Their property was taken by the Nazis. Most of the possessions were returned in 1945, but confiscated again in 1948 when the Communists came to power. “Max was trapped in Czechoslovakia after it was taken over by the Communists. He got a two-day pass to visit his wife. He left with nothing but his hat and coat.”

The property was returned to the family in 2002, and in 2007, they opened the palace and all its collections to the public.

The surprises of this place continue.

At the end of the visit, is a special room dedicated to the “Queens of Ukraine”:  glamorous photographs of Ukrainian women who work in the Czech Republic.  “They have worked hard all their lives as housekeepers in our country, sending money to their families in Ukraine as there was no work. Now their sons are at war and their daughters are running away with little children from a country that’s fighting for its freedom.”

“Queens of Ukraine,”  glamorous photographs of Ukrainian women who work in the Czech Republic, is a photo exhibit on view at Lobkowicz Palace to raise awareness and funds for Ukraine’s plight after Russia’s invasion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is related to an exhibit of “Culture Under Siege” photos documenting the devastating destruction of cultural sites in Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion. They were taken by several Ukrainian photographers in two weeks early in the invasion. Religious buildings, museums, monuments, antiquities, “the silent cultural casualties in Ukraine continue to intensify, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian suffering. These photographs remind us that culture is an essential source of identity and community. Where culture is destroyed, humanity’s past, present and future is too.”

The project was created in collaboration with Ukrainian photographers – each photo uses a backdrop taken by Ukrainian photographers in the first days of the war. “Queens of Ukraine” is aimed at highlighting Ukrainian artists and raising funds to support families suffering from war. The works were sold as NFTs (non fungible tokens), with 50 percent of the sale supporting the Queen herself and the other 50 percent supporting the Ukrainian artist, writes Bet Orten, the photographer/artist.

There are also concerts here, and I can’t imagine a more impressive venue.

(Lobkowicz Palace, palace@lobkowicz.cz, www.lobkowicz.cz).

Walk out the Prague Castle gate and immediately in front and to the left is the Schwarzenberg Palace which houses the National Gallery’s Old Masters I collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Just outside the gate to the Prague Castle, flanking the enormous square, are two palaces that are now are part of the National Gallery Prague (also included in the Prague Cool Pass):

The Schwarzenberg Palace,  which it turns out was built by Johann iV Popel of Lobkowicz in 1567 and from World War II to 2002 was a Military History Museum, before being acquired by the National Gallery Prague) features Old Masters of the Renaissance (Albrecht Durer, El Greco, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Hans Holbein the Elder, Brueghel), Baroque (Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck) and Rococco.

The Sternberg Palace, with its gorgeous garden, houses the National Gallery’s Old Masters II collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The Sternberg Palace, built by Count Vaclav Vojtech of Sternberg, features Old Masters II, continuing a long tradition as the Picture Gallery of the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts, the National Gallery’s predecessor. It features Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s collection of Italian paintings of the 14th and 15th centuries, the largest collection of Italian primitive school outside of Italy. My favorite section, though, is an extraordinary collection of Dutch and Flemish painting of the 15-18th centuries from Antwerp, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Layden (Brueghal, Rubens, van Dyck).  There is also a delightful garden area.

More information at www.naprague.cz

Walking around Prague, I was struck by how demonstrably pro-Ukraine the Czechs are – banners unfurled at government buildings, apartment buildings – which is understandable considering the Czech people know full well what it is like to live under the Soviet yoke. I also came upon a climate protest, and after spending a lot of time in the Jewish Quarter (a square is named for the Jewish novelist Franz Kafka, in front of the Library), and even in the National Museum, I was struck by how respectful of its Jewish heritage Prague is.

Prague, which knows something about being under Soviet Russia’s rule, shows its support for Ukraine after Russia’s invasion © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Also, how culturally liberal. Prague is a place of pleasure, of indulgence – you see it and feel it in the number of chocolate and sweet shops, cannabis shops, beer and wine, casino, Thai massage parlors,and a generally permissive attitude toward sex (you can visit the Sex Machine Museum at the archway to the Old Town Square).

Surprising liberal: Prague’ s Sex Museum just outside the arch to Old Town Square © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

And a streetscape that is out of a fairytale. Prague is a place to wander, explore, discover, get lost and be surprised and delighted.

By now, it’s time for me to return to the hotel, pick up my luggage, and make my way to Elbe Princess for my CroisiEurope river cruise. I will have one more full day here in Prague – the ship offers guided walks of the Jewish Quarter and the Prague Castle – before the ship begins its eight-day cruise to Berlin.

The Prague Cool Pass is extremely easy to purchase and use – you purchase it online, download an app, and it activates the first time you use it, and is good for the amount of time you purchase, 2 to 4 consecutive days. You just flash the QR code to the ticket counter and they issue you a ticket. (Each attraction can be visited only once. The pass provides free entry to some 70 attractions (including Prague Castle, Jewish Museum, Petrin Tower), free sightseeing bus tour, free river cruises, plus discounts on other attractions, tours in and outside Prague, concerts, entertainment, dining and other activities. The app is really helpful, giving details and visitor information about the attraction, plus maps. (See praguecoolpass.com)

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© 2022 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. Visit instagram.com/going_places_far_and_near and instagram.com/bigbackpacktraveler/ Send comments or questions to FamTravLtr@aol.com. Tweet @TravelFeatures. ‘Like’ us at facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures

Wine & Art: The Perfect Pairing in Sonoma, California

Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin with Dave E. Leiberman, Laini Miranda, Eric Leiberman & Sarah Falter
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Wine and art are a perfect pairing, we discovered touring Sonoma, California, famous for its vineyards and wine-tasting experiences.

Think about it: wine-making is the absolute synthesis of nature, science and art, the vineyards are themselves these bucolic pastoral settings that inspire art. Indeed, there’s a calming aesthetic  to the neat, symmetrical  rows, the pleasing colors, the sense of renewal.

Art is almost as ubiquitous as wine in Sonoma, art galleries like the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, have their own wine-tasting; vineyards have art, like the Donum Estate vineyard with a substantial sculpture garden, as well as special art, music and cultural events, like Gundlach Bundschu Winery which organizes pop-up outdoor art shows (concerts and weddings also when COVID restrictions are lifted), and Imagery which has its own art gallery of commissioned works for its labels.

Artist Laini Nemett at opening of “Between Walls” at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, California © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com
 

Sonoma wineries – along with restaurants, art galleries, shops, and the whole visitor ecosystem – have made accommodations to continue to welcome guests to wine tastings while maintaining health protocols. Visits are by advance reservations to limit capacity, served outside (heaters are ubiquitous now); the art galleries and shops are well ventilated, and at this writing require masks inside and social distancing.

Sonoma County has a remarkable range of terroir and microclimates – from the Pacific coastline, the redwood forests, fertile valleys and mountains – that has produced one of the most diverse winegrape-growing regions in the world, and also one of the most picturesque.

We experienced wineries and vineyards almost daily – visiting several for tastings, to be sure, but also as the scenic backdrop to biking. They are not only so exquisitely scenic – bucolic, pastoral landscapes with color and pattern of the rows rippling with the rolling hills – but offer interesting, even dramatic histories. And just as their wines are distinct, so is the tasting experience and ambiance.

On one of my bike excursions, I came upon Buena Vista Winery, which has an entertaining way of presenting history and its own back story with a claim to being California’s oldest commercial winery, in fact, the birthplace of the state’s modern wine industry:

Buena Vista Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The founder of Buena Vista Winery, Count Agoston Haraszthy, came from Hungary initially in pursuit of gold but in 1857, decided instead to build a stone winery on the property. He introduced cuttings from Europe’s best vineyards to California and basically proved that California could produce wine. You can sign up for the “Be the Count Experience,” wine blending as the Count might have done it, or taste a flight while touring the Wine Tool Museum. “If you run into the Count himself, don’t be surprised; it’s all a part of the experience.”

Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476, 800-926-1266, tastingroom@buenavistawinery.com, www.buenavistawinery.com

Imagery Estate Winery boasts “we’ve been exploring the intersection of art & wine for over 30 years.” They are extremely proud of inviting major artists to design their wine labels and even have an art gallery of the original paintings. We thoroughly enjoyed our 45-minute alfresco tasting of five small production wines at Imagery, a winery that prides itself on “crafting rare wines from uncommon varietals and character-rich vineyards, Imagery Estate Winery was forged from a thirst for experimentation.” They spotlight interesting, non-traditional varietals like Lagrein and Tempranillo, “creating expressive wines that broaden the palate.”

Imagery Estate Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Imagery Estate Winery infuses art throughout the winery, from specially commissioned artwork from notable contemporary artists, to its art gallery where the original artwork is displayed.

Imagery Estate Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Reservations are required, and the tasting room is currently open for outdoor seated tastings and outdoor picnic tables. No outside food is allowed yet, but there is an option to order a Charcuterie box with the reservation. Imagery was planning to reopen its picnic experiences in May. At this writing, the winery was anticipating some lifting of restrictions (so call).

Imagery, 14335 Hwy 12, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, 877-550-4278, 707-935-3000, www.imagerywinery.com, Open for outdoor seated tastings, limited to groups of 6, by appointment only Thursday-Monday

Benziger Family Winery, the sister winery to Imagery, for more than 25 years, has farmed the ranch on Sonoma Mountain using Certified Biodynamics, an organic and sustainable farming method. The result is a portfolio of memorable wines which visitors can explore through a seated tasting or other tours. Set just above the small town of Glen Ellen, the winery occupies one of the most beautiful locales in Sonoma Valley. The ranch is home to numerous species of plants, animals and insects, with gardens and an insectary that play an important part in their Biodynamic farming techniques.

Benziger is currently offering a 1.5-hour  Private Tribute Estate Tour & Tasting. providing an in-depth look at the Biodynamically farmed Sonoma Mountain Estate, complemented by wine tastings along the way (limited to private group of up to 6 guests).

Benziger plans to begin opening reservations for indoor tastings later this month, and plans to launch its picnic experiences in May.

Benziger has yet to re-start its two-hour ”Biodynamic Tram Tour, one of the most distinctive winery experiences in Sonoma Valley. Introduced in 1994, more than one million guests have taken the tour which highlights sustainable green-farming practices. “The true goal of the tour program was to create an experience for guests that went beyond the tasting room.  We wanted to immerse them in the natural environment of the land and help them understand the complexity of the Sonoma Mountain property and how it made our wines exceptional. This remains our number one goal… As our winemaking process evolved into Biodynamics with the release of our Estate grown Biodynamic wine, Tribute, in 2001, our tour evolved as well to what it looks like today.

“With the introduction of our caves, the tour was fine-tuned to give a full educational overview of the grape growing process, winery production facilities including barreling and cellaring to wine tasting. Visitors were now able to follow the full process of a working winery from the vineyard to the bottle. Further, at one of just a handful of Biodynamic vineyards in North America… ‘Farming for Flavors,’ our Certified Sustainability program, is still one of the most comprehensive sustainability programs in the country.” (Learn more about Benziger’s green farming practices here.)

Benziger Family Winery, 1883 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen, CA 95442, 707-935-3000; benziger.com. Open Thursday-Monday by appointment only.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gundlach Bundschu makes a claim to being the oldest family-owned winery in California: for six generations and more than 160 years, since 1858, the Bundschu family has farmed the Rhinefarm estate vineyard at the crossroads of the Sonoma Valley, Carneros and Napa Valley (www.gunbun.com/history/). Gundlach Bundschu offers a delightful, bucolic setting.   The winery has been offering pop up art shows and when restrictions are lifted will return to presenting concerts and weddings.  We enjoyed music with a DJ during our wine tasting.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Gundlach offers tours aboard a six-wheeled Pinzgauer – an Austrian-made military vehicle – to get WAY off the beaten path on a Sonoma vineyard tour. Sip five estate selected wines at stops along the way, stop for an impromptu picnic in the vines, learn about modern grape farming techniques and soak up the views of the vinneyard on this off-road adventure. A minimum group size of 6, maximum group of 10 people is required to book. $85 per person + 18% gratuity.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another option: a walking tour through the vineyards, guided by a wine educator to learn about their Green Business Practices, Fish Friendly Farming and other sustainable vineyard practices. Sample five estate wines sourced from the 320-acre property. (No children under 12 years old or pets on the tour0. This private group experience requires a minimum group size of 6 guests, maximum of 10, and is available seven days a week. $65/person + 18% gratuity.

Open daily 11am-4:30 pm; must book reservation in advance; groups limited to six; dogs actually welcome

Gundlach Bundschu Winery, 2000 Denmark Street, Sonoma, CA 95476707.938.5277, info@gunbun.com, www.gunbun.com

Donum Estate: Wine merges with art at Donum Estate, renowned for its open-air sculpture collection featuring over 40 works by world-renowned artists. The Discover ($95) and Explore ($150) experiences are by appointment only and include tours of open-air art sculpture collection. 

Donum Estate is renowned for its outdoor sculpture collection © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Donum Estate, 24500 Ramal Road, Sonoma, 707-732-2200, thedonumestate.com.

We didn’t have the opportunity to do a wine tasting at Hanzell, which commands one of the most stunning views of the hillsides and mountains, but happened to be there at sunset. We plan to return. Hanzell Vineyards was founded by Ambassador James D. Zellerbach in 1953 with a vision to create wines that could compete on the world stage.  Named after his wife Hana, Hanzell sits at the southern toe of the Mayacamas mountain range overlooking the south-western end of Sonoma Valley and San Pablo Bay.  After extensive time spent in Burgundy, Zellerbach returned inspired and educated by the region’s wines and grapes—Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  He planted these two varieties at a time when there were less than a few hundred acres of each planted in North America. 

Hanzell Winery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Since 1975, Hanzell has been solely owned by the de Brye family, who is dedicated to the preservation of tradition with a progressive and holistic approach to ensure the sustainability for generations to come. The Hanzell Tasting experience takes place overlooking its historic “Ambassador’s 1953” vineyard block on one of its new outdoor platforms. During the 60-minute visit ($45/pp), you get to taste three current release wines while learning about the Hanzell story, our progressive integrated farming practices and winemaking philosophies. Tastings by appointment only; limited to six people. 

Hanzell, 18596 Lomita Avenue, Sonoma, CA 95476, visit www.cellarpass.com to make your reservation or call 707-996-3860.

People have the idea that wine tasting is an expensive activity, but many of the wineries in Sonoma County offer either free wine tasting or waive the tasting fee with a wine purchase.

Here’s the insider’s tip: it is often better value (cheaper) to join the wine club and enjoy a free wine tasting, rather than pay for the wine tasting, which provides additional privileges including discounted prices; they typically ship the bottles you choose.

Also, Sonoma County Tourism sells one- and three-day tasting pass (on mobile) that you can redeem at the wineries you choose to visit. For more information about what is open, arrangements to visit and lodging, and purchasing the tasting pass visit Sonoma County Tourism, https://www.sonomacounty.com/destinations/wine-regions

Art Experiences Abound

On the other side of the equation, art galleries pair with wine. Indeed, it was art, not wine, that brought us to Sonoma.

Our trip was timed for a special event: the opening of Laini Nemett’s art exhibit, “Between Walls” at the Paul Mahder Gallery in Healdsburg, near Sonoma (paulmahdergallery.com).

Wine-tasting room at the Paul Mahder Gallery amid sculpture (and what is claimed to be the largest moss wall in America) © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Healdsburg is a wonderfully vibrant town, culturally rich with some 25 art galleries and a food-and-wine haven with marvelous restaurants and 30 wine-tasting rooms. Healdsburg has become a haven for foodies, drawn to restaurants leading Sonoma County’s farm-to-table movement. Many are along the streets lining the Healdsburg Plaza, including artisan bakeries, local wine bars, and restaurants with locally-sourced ingredients from the surrounding gardens and farms. We loved our lunch at Bargas, and our dinner at the H2Hotel restaurant, with gorgeous outdoor seating areas, set around a lovely village square.

Healdsburg, California, a wine-food-art haven © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Healdsburg, which like Sonoma, depends on tourism, has taken public health precautions very seriously:  signs say you will be fined if you don’t wear a mask, and there are sanitizing stations at the crosswalks. Restaurants are organized for take-out and outdoor dining (space heaters available), menus are either disposable, online, or can be wiped off to minimize transactions; the retail stores have sanitizing stations, require masks, limit capacity and kept their doors open for added ventilation. The same for the art galleries like Paul Mahder Gallery, which is unusually large, well ventilated, and, as an added treat, has a wine-tasting experience, the wine bottles decorated with Paul’s paintings.

Artist Kevin Kearney in his studio/gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

It is a special experience to meet the artist at a gallery opening who gives personal insights into the work and creative process, but visiting an artist in his studio adds another dimension – seeing works-in progress on their easels, an entire career on display, and the opportunity to discuss the nuances and background of the works in such a personal setting.

In fact, Sonoma County has, since 1985, offered an Art Trails self-guided tour that gives visitors opportunities to learn first-hand from the artists what inspires their art, how it is made and where it is made. Juried professional artists invite you to explore Sonoma County, engage with artists in their own studios and collect beautiful art.  Art Trails is held in the fall. (https://sonomacountyarttrails.org/)

During our visit to Sonoma, we had that experience with Kevin Kearney, who epitomizes the marriage of art and wine (he used to own a vineyard)

Detail in painting by artist Kevin Kearney © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Kearney is a master of exquisite, mind-blowing fine realistic detail reminiscent of the Dutch masters, but with a quirky sense of surrealism and modern sensibility, often playing on ancient myths and images. He tells us that it took 100 hours just to paint the carpet in one of his works.

Artist Kevin Kearney in his studio/gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“In Kevin Kearney’s work, there are everyday chairs from which the viewer sees the world realistically. And there are magical thrones from which the viewer imagines haunting creatures on patterned carpets floating through cerulean skies above cerulean seas. His red walls and surreal ceruleans look tranquil enough, but beware, any minute, a tsunami could erupt,” writes Barry Nemett, in the catalog for Kearney’s 2019 exhibit, “Red Walls, Surreal Ceruleans, and a Tsunami,” at the Ice House Gallery, Petaluma.

Hearing the stories behind the symbols and the imagery from the artist directly transports you into the canvas and the artist’s mind.

Artist Kevin Kearney studio/gallery © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

You can request to visit the studio/gallery of artist Kevin Kearney who has his own vineyard and wine collection (https://www.kevinkearney.org/, https://www.kevinkearney.org/contact/)

Biking amid Sonoma’s vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During our visit, we rented bikes to ride on a gorgeous recreational trail that connected to back-country roads flanked by vineyards, riding into neighboring Napa county.  When biking, it is fun to happen upon – discover, if you will – historic sites like the Depot Park Museum and General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo’s Home, which you come upon along the trail (Wine Country Cyclery, 262 W Napa St, Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-996-6800; Sonoma Valley Bike Tours & Rentals, 254 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, 707-996-2453)

Biking amid Sonoma’s vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

We did wine-tastings at several vineyards and visited art galleries and shops; went hiking on the Kortum Trail along the Pacific Coast (what an amazing contrast to our hiking holiday in Death Valley National Park!), dined outdoors at restaurants (loved Salt & Stone, Kenwood, www.saltstonekenwood.com, 707-833-6326), played tennis on community courts, went to the farmer’s market – each and every place, from the hiking trails to the vineyards, to the restaurants, galleries and shops – all followed stringent health protocols. 

Biking amid Sonoma’s vineyards © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, many Sonoma County wine and food experiences are still available but certain activities have been temporarily restricted or were unavailable. Sonoma County Tourism has a See What’s Open website, and encourages everyone to follow public health authorities’ recommendations and to review the Safe Travels Promise.

“Sonoma County is an ideal destination to reset and recover post-pandemic,” said Birgitt Vaughan, Director of Global Media Relations. A lot of this is attributed to the nature immersion that happens when you’re in Sonoma County. Sonoma County Tourism shifted years ago to a Destination Stewardship organization, instituting a Travel Kindly pledge and partnership with Kind Traveler. Part of your lodging cost go toward supporting local charities.

“Sonoma County Tourism just began a partnership with our Regional Parks and Leave No Trace to help ensure visitors who enjoy the region’s parks and other natural resource areas do so responsibly and sustainably.” Check out how Life Opens Up in Sonoma County (https://www.sonomacounty.com/life-opens-up) and view Sonoma County Tourism’s 2021 Spring/Summer Inspiration Guide.

Sonoma County Tourism can help plan your getaway (request a Sonoma County visitors guide and map).

Sonoma County Tourism, 800-576-6662, info@sonomacounty.com, www.sonomacounty.com.

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© 2021 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

‘Solar Impressions’ Exhibit at Gold Coast Arts Center Features Innovative ‘Solarplate’ Etching Process, Workshop

Regina Gil, Founder and Executive Director of the Gold Coast Arts Center; DanWelden, artist, master printmaker, and director of Hampton Editions, Ltd., in Sag Harbor; and Jude Amsel, Gallery Director at Gold Coast Arts Center  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Solar Impressions,” a new art exhibit featuring works using the innovative Solarplate print-making process, has opened at the Gold Coast Arts Center in Great Neck, Long Island. The exhibit, which runs through April 10, 2020, brings together the works of more than 40 artists including internationally acclaimed American painter Eric Fischl. Each work of art is a representation of an ongoing exploration of the Solarplate etching process developed by Dan Welden, and reflects the extraordinary diversity of applications of the technique.

Noted artist, master printmaker, educator, and author, Dan Welden, was among scores of artists and art lovers on hand at an opening reception that took place on Sunday, January 26. Welden, director of Hampton Editions, Ltd., in Sag Harbor, is the developer of the Solarplate etching process, which uses light-sensitive material applied to a metal plate, and then hardened by the sun. The innovative process is a simpler and safer alternative to traditional etching that uses corrosive acids and is now used at universities and art schools all over the world.

Ron Pokrasso, Who is Pulling My Chain, 2019 , “Solar Impressions” exhibit, Gold Coast Arts Center, Long Island.

Solarplate eco-friendly sunlight and water to fix an image from a photograph or drawing into a steel plate which has been treated with polymer. Artists can apply color by hand into the ridges and grooves, or use a silk-screen process.

What is impressive is the versatility of the Solarplate process for artists across various media – photographers, painters, printers, collage makers – as well as the materials they use – paper, textured paper, Mulberry paper, fabric – which is very much on view in the Gold Coast exhibit.

“Rather than using all of these harmful materials that get inside an artist’s lungs and immune system, solarplate etching uses sunlight and water,” Welden said in an interview with Robert Pelaez of Blank Slate Media. “It’s pretty easy to grasp for people of all ages, and you don’t need an extensive artistic background for this.”

Solarplate is a light-sensitized steel-backed polymer material. Artist can work on the plate directly, with opaque materials in nonwater-based pigments, or by expose the plate through a transparent film with artwork on it. The artwork is printed on the plate through UV exposure for 2 to 5 minutes depending on light exposure, time of day and other variables.

When Welden first developed the technique, he called fellow artist Jude Amsel. and current Gold Coast Gallery Director Jude Amsel.  More than 30 years later, Amsel, the Gold Coast Gallery Director, brought together 40 pieces of solarplate etching from across the country for the Gold Coast exhibit.

“At first I definitely had some questions about the process,” Amsel told Pelaez during a studio tour. “But once I did it, I realized how revolutionary an art form this would be for artists all over the world.”

Curator and artist Jude Amsel, with her works. Gold Coast Arts Gallery, Long Island, Presents “Solar Impressions: Contemporary Printmaking” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“There’s a common ground of personal creativity,” Amsel said. “Some feature nature, traveling, or aspects of life that resonate with an artist, but there’s no limit to what can be done with solarplate etching. It’s one of the many things I think is fascinating about it.”

Jude Amsel, “Temps,” (2018) which incorporates Solarplate, Polaroid transfer and pastel. Gold Coast Arts Gallery, Long Island, Presents “Solar Impressions: Contemporary Printmaking” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Amsel said artists from all backgrounds are able to use the technique. Even photographers can use the art form by reprinting and then shading in the outline of their subject through etching.

Kelli Glancy with her works,  “Freedom Tower, Pier A” (2019) and “The Conductor” (2019). Gold Coast Arts Gallery, Long Island, Presents “Solar Impressions: Contemporary Printmaking” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of them, photographer Kelli Glancey, has two pieces in the exhibit. Using the process, she has created photo images – shot in color on a phone – that harken back to Steichen and Stieglitz. Two of her works, “Freedom Tower, Pier A” (2019) and “The Conductor” (2019), are images taken from the 1907 Lackawana train depot in Hoboken, NJ, pay homage to Steiglitz who lived in Hoboken.

Describing herself as a “newbie” to solarplate, Lori Horowitz said, “Artists are so fixated on making art we poison ourselves. This is safe process for print making.” She holds up the original color photograph from which she made the black-and-white solarplate.

Lori Horowitz, “Four Under Four” (2019 ), Solar Impressions (c) Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“The realm of possibilities is really endless with solarplate,” Amsel told Pelaez. “My personal relationship with Dan makes this exhibit even more special. Watching him work and being a part of the early stages of this art is a blessing.”

Welden innovated the process but says he has not patented it. “I did it to share, not to own.” He travels around the world giving workshops in the technique.

Printmaking, which is almost 2,000 years old, developed in China with the invention of paper, is a process used in art to transfer images from a template onto another surface. The design is created on the template by working its flat surface with either tools or chemicals. Traditional printmaking techniques include engraving, etching, woodcut, lithography and screen-printing. In the 1970’s, Dan Weldon, a Long Island printmaker created Solarplate, a new printmaking technique.

Time-honored printing press is used in the Solarplate process. Gold Coast Arts Gallery, Long Island, Presents “Solar Impressions: Contemporary Printmaking” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Printmaking with Solarplate is a simple approach and safer alternative to traditional etching and relief printing,” Amsel writes in the introduction to the exhibit. “Solarplate is a prepared, light-sensitive polymer surface on a steel backing for artists to produce fine prints. Since Dan Welden’s development of the process in the 1970s, printmakers, painters, photographers and art teachers interested in multiple impressions have found printmaking with Solarplate a new tool. All an artist needs is inspiration, a graphic image crated on a transparent film (acetate or glass), sun or UV light, and ordinary tap water. Both positives and negatives can be utilized; intaglio and relief printing techniques can be applied.

Artist Barry Stern, “End of a Way” (2017) Gold Coast Arts Gallery, Long Island, Presents “Solar Impressions: Contemporary Printmaking” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Universities and art schools all over the world are using Solarplate as part of their curriculum. The simple, spontaneous approach also makes it faster and more economical for use in professional printmaking workshops and collaborations with artists. Educators are replacing traditional acid techniques with Solarplate because of safety regulations. Photographic in nature, Solarplate incorporates a broader range of techniques than any other printing medium,” Amsel writes in the introduction to the exhibit.

Welden’s 50-year career includes collaborations with numerous artists, including Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Jimmy Ernst, James Brooks, Kurt Vonnegut, and Eric Fischl, andis among those on display at the Gold Coast Arts Center Gallery. Fischl’s work graces the cover of the “Solar Impressions” souvenir catalog guide.

Artist Justin Greenwalk, “Crisis” (2019). Gold Coast Arts Gallery, Long Island, Presents “Solar Impressions: Contemporary Printmaking” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Artworks in the exhibit are available for sale to the public, according to Regina Gil, Founder and Executive Director of the Gold Coast Arts Center. The artists have priced the art well to make them affordable to art lovers and collectors.

“‘Solar Impressions’ presents the public with a display of unique and creative works of art using Dan Welden’s innovative process now used by artists and art students around the world,” Gil said. “This is an opportunity for everyone to acquire some of these outstanding pieces.”

Chris Ann Ambery, “Guardian of the Past” (2019). Gold Coast Arts Gallery, Long Island, Presents “Solar Impressions: Contemporary Printmaking” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The gallery is open to the public and is free. For more information about “Solar Impressions,” including gallery hours, visit www.goldcoastarts.org. For tour information or to register for classes, visit https://goldcoastarts.org/art-gallery/ or call 516-829-2570.

Gold Coast Arts Gallery, Long Island, Presents “Solar Impressions: Contemporary Printmaking” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Printmaking workshops for adults will be offered at the Gold Coast Arts Center on Sunday, March 15, from 12-3 p.m. No experience necessary. (For information, visit https://goldcoastarts.org/event/solarplate-printmaking-workshop/)

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

Gold Coast Arts Center, 113 Middle Neck Rd.,  Great Neck, NY 11021, 516-829-2570, www.goldcoastarts.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

Rush to See the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ ‘Mikado,’ Showpiece of its 45th Season

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players take their bows after a stellar performance of “The Mikado” at the Kaye Playhouse, at Hunter College © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

by Karen Rubin, Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

One of my earliest memories of New York theater is of seeing the D’oyly Carte production of “The Mikado,” one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s most iconic works. So I am jarred when the curtain rises on a very different production –a first scene which I don’t recall, in which composer Arthur Sullivan, librettist William S. Gilbert and producer Richard D’Oyly Carte himself appear, reflect on the new exhibit of Japanese art at Knightsbridge, and Gilbert imagines a new opera set in Japan. When the curtain rises on the fictional town of Titipu, instead of elaborate Japanese kimonos, the Gentlemen of Japan look a lot like Englishmen with odd hats and outfits, and so do the ladies when they appeared in their modified flowing dresses.

I soon appreciate the bold innovation including the new opening scene and characters, and costumes that make clear these are Victorian Englishmen pretending to be Japanese – as the new character of Gilbert says “They dress like us,” except with bright colors. The device, to address the sensibilities of a modern audience, puts the focus of Mikado properly where it should be: a satire on human nature. And in revising the work in this way, a new generation can be delighted by the magnificent music and ingenious lyrics. If anything makes us laugh, especially at ourselves, that is a gift.

Indeed, Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic operas – basically inventing today’s musical theater form – are on par with Shakespeare and similarly deserve to be tweaked and reinterpreted, just as “Much Ado About Nothing” was at this year’s Public Theater production, and performed generation after generation.

This production, was first introduced in 2016 as a response to an outcry from New York’s Asian-American community in 2015 over the political incorrectness and insensitivity of the original, regularly performed with Caucasian actors in yellowish makeup and taped-back eyelids. There is no danger of that: this cast is multi-racial.

“NYGASP listened for a simple reason – it was the right thing to do. One year later we created an imaginative new production which all communities, audiences and artists could embrace,” the program notes. The show opened to sold-out crowds and critical acclaim in December 2016; this is its second New York City run. Run to see it before the season concludes, January 5.

The new opening scene and costuming make sure there is no confusion that the Mikado represents Englishmen satirizing Victorian society and politics, capitalizing on British fascination with all things Japanese in the 1880s, to defuse the pointed references that might have gotten Gilbert & Sullivan, who were under censorship of Lord Chamberlain, into trouble. And frankly, the depiction of The Mikado (who doesn’t even appear for the first 2 ½ hours of the three-hour show) as a cruel but ridiculous tyrant is reminiscent of how the Red Queen is depicted in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865). If anything, that character is more relevant today than in 2015 or even 1885.

Of course British audiences of 1885 could have cared less about “political correctness.” The object of Gilbert & Sullivan’s satire was British society and human nature and the human condition, and they created their fictional Titipu, Japan, to make their satire more palatable.

We take advantage of seeing the December 30 afternoon “Grandparents” performance, geared to families, which features a before-show talk introducing the plot and music and an after-show backstage tour in the company with the players.

Conductor and Musical Director Albert Bergeret, who founded the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players 45 years ago, gives a family-friendly talk introducing “The Mikado”  © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

During the talk, by the Conductor and Musical Director Albert Bergeret, who founded the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players 45 years ago, I learn that my comparison of “Mikado” for Gilbert & Sullivan to “Madame Butterfly” by Puccini is not entirely unfounded. While the music that Sullivan composed runs the gamut of British musical styles (ballad, madrigal, march), he incorporates the Japanese five-note scale and an actual Japanese folk song, Miya-sama (though for this production, new English lyrics are substituted for the Japanese) – music which Puccini also expropriates in “Madame Butterfly.”

“We took out what’s incomprehensible or inappropriate,” Bergeret says, who adds that Sullivan was a brilliant, classically trained musician who was well versed in all genres of music and composers from around the world. In “Mikado” Sullivan demonstrates his virtuosity in writing in many different forms.

Just as Gilbert incorporated contemporaneous digs, so too does this Ko-Ko, a common tailor taken from the county jail (for flirting) and elevated to Lord High Executioner, update his “List” of those who shan’t be missed, to be as current has yesterday’s tweet, changing it each performance, surprising even the rest of the cast.

Ko-Ko, brilliantly played by David Macaluso, includes “the wealthy narcisscist, he never will be missed” on his list and manages to spell out T-R-U-M-P in the subheads of the long, long list as the scroll unfurls.

Backstage with David Macaluso who shows off Ko-Ko’s executioner’s ax in New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The premise of “The Mikado,” is a society under the thumb of an all-powerful sadistic but ridiculous ruler who makes ridiculous but cruel laws on a whim: flirting as a capital offense, then demanding to know why no executions have been carried out. 

The Mikado, played by David Wannen, exclaims, “My object all sublime/I shall achieve in time/ to let the punishment fit the crime.. And make each prisoner pent/Unwillingly represent/A source of innocent merriment.”

The Mikado’s updated list of who to punish and how, includes the instagrammer “made to endure a dungeon cell without not one cellular bar” and “political pundits, who must sail for weeks on a boat full of leaks on a sea of alternative facts.” (That gets tremendous laughs.)

David Wannen who plays the title role of “The Mikado” gives audiences a backstage tour after New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

They do manage to slip in a few names, carefully spreading their barbs more or less equally: but one placement in particular is rich – Pooh-Bah, marvelously played by Matthew Wages, signs the execution order with all his official positions, but adds to the list signing of those supposedly witnessed Nanki-Poo’s execution Attorney General William Barr and the chair of the Judiciary Committee (balance).

The Mikado then looks to execute Ko-Ko (the Lord High Executioner), Pooh-Bah (the “Lord High Everything”) and Pitti-Sing (one of the “three little maids from school” and Ko-Ko’s wards, played by Amy Maude Helfer) for carrying out the Mikado’s orders to execute somebody but unwittingly executing the heir to the throne. The Mikado appreciates the effort (he only wishes he could have witnessed the execution) but insists they still should be executed for, well, killing the heir and looks for the entertainment value in their lingering death.

The Mikado justifies killing the three because, after all, this is an unfair world where the virtuous suffer and the undeserving succeed. This leads to the song that probably best sums up the moral of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado,” in which the three condemned sing, “See how the Fates their gifts allot/For A is happy, B is not/Yet B is worthy, I dare say/Of more prosperity than A…If I were Fortune which I’m not/B should enjoy A’s happy lot/And A should die in miserie/That is, assuming I am B.”

In the end The Mikado is less a jab at all-powerful monarchal misrule, than a comic contemplation of what human beings do when in that situation. Their focus is on human nature and the human condition. In Mikado, we see self-preservation – even by Yum-Yum who is willing to marry Nanki-Poo who loves her so much he is willing to be executed after just a month, until she realizes that as the wife of an executed man, she would be buried alive.

This production makes another change at the end, stopping the show for a return to the Gilbert & Sullivan characters trying to figure out an ending that would not rely on a magical or fantastical device like the “magic lozenge” they used in their 1877 opera “The Sorcerer” and almost breaks up their collaboration. (Gilbert finally gets to use the device in “The Mountebanks,” written with Alfred Cellier in 1892). Instead, Gilbert comes up with an argument that actually makes sense given the circumstance: Any order by the Mikado must be carried out, so having given the order, it must have been carried out (not much more absurd than “He was too stupid to know withholding military aid to a vulnerable ally in exchange for political favor was illegal”).

Caitlin Burke as lovelorn and overbearing Katisha, shows off the Titipu Depot set during a backstage tour of New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

Another part that young people might assume was added as a nod to “Me Too” to make relevant, is Katisha espousing on ‘beauty’ –her face might not be much (and doesn’t cruelty hold some allure?), but she has a shoulder blade, a right elbow, and a heel that admirers come miles to see.

“The Mikado,” the ninth of 14 collaborations between Gilbert & Sullivan, was immensely popular when it opened on March 14 1885 in London, running for 672 performances, the second longest run for any musical theater production. By the end of 1885, some 150 companies in Europe and America were performing the operetta. It even was widely performed in Japan (apparently they took no offense).

There were decades when a production of Mikado could be seen somewhere in the English speaking world any day of the year. Performed for the last 135 years, some of its word inventions have entered the lexicon, such as “the grand Poo-Bah” and “Let the punishment fit the crime.”

The brilliant David Auxier, who plays W.S. Gilbert as well as Pish-Tush, would make the real Gilbert proud in his crafting of a new Prologue for New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The new Prologue, written by NYGASP Director and Choreographer David Auxier-Loyola (who also plays W.S. Gilbert and Pish-Tush), appears actually a distillation of the actual background (or rather the mythology) to Gilbert & Sullivan creating “The Mikado,” especially their references to avoiding a similar plot solution of a magic lozenge. Apparently, the Knightsbridge exhibition of Japanese art came after Mikado opened, though British fascination in Japan had built up from the 1860s and 1870s, after Japan opened to Western trade in 1854. (The 1999 film “Topsy Turvy” is a marvelous film depicting their lives around this time.)

Gilbert & Sullivan actually invented musical theater. At the time Gilbert & Sullivan were writing, there were opera, light opera and music hall theatricals, but nothing like a musical show with story – music that had both class and pop – with real story lines, music advanced the story, Bergeret tells us. This is where musical theater started,. Watching “Mikado” you see a straight line to Rogers & Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim.

Matthew Wages plays the grand Pooh-Bah, a Gilbert & Sullivan character that has entered the lexicon, in New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

All eight-performances that are being presented this season are family friendly, but some have special events attached. We had the marvelous experience of attending a “Grandparents” performance which featured a before-show talk introducing the show (especially to children), and a most marvelous after-show backstage tour with cast members. (David Auxler, who plays the Gilbert character said they only had five rehearsals) and so enjoyed going backstage with David Macaluso (Ko-Ko), who showed us the various props including his giant executioner’s ax.

This not-to-be-missed production of the iconic comic opera is fabulous,  featuring original choreography and direction by NYGASP Associate Stage Director David Auxier, who also authored the show’s prologue and plays Gilbert and Pish-Tush, and Assistant Direction by Broadway performer/director Kelvin Moon Loh.

The show’s sensational cast includes: dynamic bass David Wannen as The Mikado; clever patter man and comic David Macaluso as Sullivan and Ko-Ko; blustering Matthew Wages as Richard D’Oyly Carte and the pompous Pooh-Bah; creative David Auxier as author Gilbert and town leader Pish-Tush; charming tenor John Charles McLaughlin as romantic hero Nanki-Poo; formidable Caitlin Burke as lovelorn and overbearing Katisha; beautiful soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith as self-aware Yum Yum; Rebecca Hargrove as maiden sister Peep-Bo, and mellifluous mezzo Amy Maude Helfer as adventurous Pitti-Sing. 

We get to see the magnificent scenery designed by Anshuman Bhatia close up during a backstage tour with Daivd Macaluso, who plays Ko-Ko in New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players production of “The Mikado” © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

The production showcases magnificent scenery designed by Anshuman Bhatia, costumes by Quinto Ott and lighting by Benjamin Weill.  The Mikado is produced by NYGASP Executive Director David Wannen. 

Since its founding in 1974, the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) has presented more than 2,000 performances of the Gilbert & Sullivan masterpieces throughout the United States, Canada and England, captivating audiences of all ages.

NYGASP has been hailed as “the leading custodian of the G&S classics” by New York Magazine and has created its own special niche in the cultural mosaic of New York City and the nation.  According to the Company’s Founder/Artistic Director/General Manager Albert Bergeret, NYGASP’s mission is “giving vitality to the living legacy of Gilbert & Sullivan.”

Conductor and Musical Director Albert Bergeret, who founded the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players 45 years ago, talks with audience on stage © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

“Everyone loves The Mikado and our new production, with its celebrated premise of imagination, keeps the revered story alive and colorful,” he says.  “I’m delighted to once more be involved in elevating the humor and musical values of this evolving and very theatrical production, while alternating on the conductor’s podium with my colleague, Joseph Rubin, as part of NYGASP’s commitment to the future development of the Company”.

“The Mikado” is the showpiece of NYGASP’s 45th season, presenting eight family friendly performances after Christmas, Dec. 27 through Jan. 5, 2020 at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. An encore Family Overture presentation will take place at 12:45 pm before the Jan. 4 Saturday matinee at 2 pm which features a musical introduction and plot summary made entertaining for the whole family (free to all ticket holders).

Tickets are $95/orchestra, $50/balcony; $25/rear balcony; special discounts:  50% off for children 12 and under accompanied by an adult, 10% off for seniors 65 and older; order by phone:  212-772-4448, order pnline:  www.nygasp.org, or purchase in person at the box office (Monday-Friday, noon-7pm).

The next NYGASP production is Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Gondoliers,” April 18-19, 2020.

The Kaye Playhouse, 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues. 

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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

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