Category Archives: Architecture

Christmas at Château de Vaux le Vicomte

My Mother, who usually started decorating for Christmas sometime around Columbus Day, would have loved Christmas at Château de Vaux le Vicomte, although she might have found it a bit too restrained and understated. During the Christmas season, roughly mid-November through mid-January, she left no space untouched by toys and trees, tinsel and glitter.

I didn’t go home for Christmas as an adult. My painfully extreme introversion makes things like that simply impossible for me. But I saw the pictures, and, later, the videotape of what she’d created, and I heard the awed descriptions from one of my nieces: “It’s amazing! It’s like being in a toy store!”

Here’s a sampling of Christmas at Château de Vaux le Vicomte.


The Château is about an hour southeast of Paris. You can get there by public transit, using a train and shuttle, on those days when they’re not on strike.


This year’s “Vaux-le-Vicomte Celebrates Christmas” festivities began on 23 November and will be open from Wednesday to Sunday until 22 December. From 23 December until 5 January 2020, the celebration will be open every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day.


While the Chrstmas season is the most popular time to visit Château de Vaux le Vicomte, the estate is open to the public between mid-March and early November.

Well, maybe next year. The closest I’ll get to France this Christmas is having the $13 lunch special at Le Café Descartes, the cafeteria at the French Embassy.


Château de Vaux le Vicomte

This video begins with two or three minutes of superb drone views of the Château’s grounds, followed by some appropriately spectacular images from the Château’s appropriately spectacular interior. I have no idea why they decided to use what sounds like an Irish jig for the soundtrack, but you can always mute it if it gets too irritating. I sure did.

Need I remind you to view in full screen for the best results?

Knives Out — First Trailers

I think I must share a common sensibility with Rian Johnson, the writer/director of the upcoming movie Knives Out, because the film so perfectly matches my idea of what a purely entertaining movie should be. It’s a murder mystery set in a posh but isolated location, peopled by diverse and glamourous characters who are all hiding secrets.

The plot to my dream movie should be reminiscent of an M. C. Escher print. One big switch isn’t enough—there should be switches-on-switches.  And switches-on-switches-on-switches.

And the location matters. A snowbound English country house is an ideal setting, but a snowbound train works as well. Even a luxurious boat will do if it’s in a suitably exotic part of the world, just as long as there’s a room large enough to assemble all the suspects and expose the killer(s) in the closing moments of the film.

Let’s think. Who’s famous for that sort of thing? (Hint: Her initials are “A. C.”, and she’s not Al Capone.)

Knives Out has Agatha Christie’s bloody fingerprints are all over it, and Rian Johnson happily acknowledges his debt to the best-selling fiction writer of all time, with the possible exceptions of Shakespeare and the authors of the New Testament. Johnson has improved on his inspiration by adding a dash of wit to the mix; Christie’s works are conspicuously devoid of humour.

He’s also assembled the kind of All-Star cast that brings in an audience for those remakes of Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile that earn nice profits every decade or so, even though everyone in that audience found out whodunit years ago.

And what a cast it is! The film has Chris Evans,  Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette(!), Lakeith Stanfield, and Christopher Plummer. Best of all, there’s James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, playing a detective with the intriguing surname of “Blanc”.  I can only hope he introduces himself as “Blanc. Benoit Blanc.” For reasons yet to be explained, Craig plays the part with a Southern accent.

Here’s the latest trailer for Knives Out:

And here’s the original one:


http://www.mynewplaidpants.com/2019/09/so-sharp-these-knives.html

Knives Out opens on 27 November 2019, the night before (US) Thanksgiving Day. Can’t wait for this one.


Professor Plum, in the Library, with the Candlestick

Toni Collette

Toni Collette

Michael Shannon and Chris Evans

Michael Shannon and Chris Evans

Daniel Craig and LaKeith Stanfield

Daniel Craig and LaKeith Stanfield

Jamie Lee Curtis

Jamie Lee Curtis

“Gloria Swanson’s Mansion” Is Ready for It’s Close-Up

Prepare to be dazzled.

Some of the articles describing Gloria Crest, a spectacular estate a few miles from New York City, identify it as “Gloria Swanson’s Mansion”. Depending on which rumour the author cites, Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of future President John F. Kennedy, either gave Swanson the property or installed her there in the 1920s, when she was his mistress.

It’s well documented that Swanson had an affair with the elder Kennedy that began in the mid-1920s and lasted into the early 1930s, but the rest of the story is almost certainly untrue. Property ownership is easy to trace, but no one is particularly interested in debunking the myth. As the old newspaper adage put it, “the story is too good to check out”.

Gloria Crest is in the news these days because it’s for sale at a greatly reduced price. Don’t call your mortgage broker quite yet, though. The sale price is $9,999,999.*

What makes that a bargain is that Gloria Crest was previously on the market with an asking price of almost $40 million.

Gloria Crest

Gloria Crest

Here’s what Forbes had to say about the estate:

“Gloria Crest is a 24,000-square-foot mansion on one of Englewood, New Jersey’s historic streets. It was built in 1926 for Stefan and Edith Poniatowski (Stefan is said to be a descendant of a former King of Poland) but their fortunes soon crumbled when the stock market crashed in 1929. …and they soon had to auction their house along with most of their belongings in order to move to a condo in New York City. The home has had numerous owners over the years, and comes with the unconfirmed but oft-repeated rumor that it was occupied by film star Gloria Swanson while she was involved with Ambassador Joseph Kennedy…..

“Its most recent sale history had it on the market for $39 million back in 2013…then nearly going to foreclosure a little while later, then almost finding a foreign buyer for $20 million. Throughout all this Gloria Crest is still standing, as an eight-bedroom, 14-bathroom home on five lake-front acres, with its original Mediterranean style design intact now asking $9.99 million for the entire estate. While New Jersey does have some of the highest property taxes in the country, this is still a good deal.”

For those interested in purchasing Gloria Crest, here’s the listing.

For those interested in Gloria Swanson, here’s the last scene from Sunset Boulevard:


* I think the owners were afraid that people would be scared off if the property was listed at an even $10,000,000, so they lowered the asking price to attract bargain hunters. Clever sellers!

PassionFish Bethesda — Lunch on 9 August 2019

PassionFish

PassionFish

It’s that time of the year again, when restaurateurs counter the industry’s traditional late-summer slump by offering special deals to attract diners. Between late July and mid-September, you can find a Restaurant Week promotion in almost every American city where “going out for a good meal” implies something a little more exciting than having dinner at Burger King.

Washington, DC, and its suburbs have three overlapping Restaurant Week programs: one based in Bethesda, featuring restaurants in suburban Maryland, one in Alexandria, Virginia, and one covering the entire metropolitan area. It’s not unusual for some restaurants to extend their Restaurant Week specials for a second week, or even longer, which means that in August, I tend to dine very well, at a relatively low cost.

First stop for me this summer: PassionFish Bethesda.

Lobster and Carrot Ginger Bisque

Lobster and Carrot Ginger Bisque

I’ve gotten into the habit of almost always beginning RW at one of the Passion Food Hospitality group’s restaurants, like PassionFish Bethesda, District Commons, or the now-closed and much-missed Acadiana, and I’ve never had any regrets.

This time, I started with a Lobster and Carrot Ginger Bisque, with lobster (duh), carrots, and peas.

Red Thai Curry and Golden Pineapple

Red Thai Curry and Golden Pineapple

The Red Thai Curry, with a hint of Kaffir lime, had just the right heat for my Western tastes, and the golden pineapple was a nice complement. Served with shrimp over jasmine rice.

Chocolate Mousse Crunch

Chocolate Mousse Crunch

A wonderful dessert, but I kept thinking that it looked like it belonged with another meal. It was a very “European” dessert following an Asian main, resulting in a slight culture clash. That didn’t stop me from enjoying this Chocolate Mousse Crunch with strawberry coulis.


At the Bethesda Metro Station

It was good to see the waters flowing again at the entrance to the Bethesda Metro Station. In its earlier years, Metro put a lot of effort into making some of the approaches to station entrances architecturally interesting. That’s no longer a priority, unfortunately.

Scott and Zelda and Gerald and Sara

On the left, Scott and Zelda Fitgerald, sometime in the 1920s. On the right, Gerald and Sara Murphy at Cap d’Antibes beach in 1923.


Last week I made a passing reference to Gerald and Sara Murphy, the wealthy American couple who played a huge part in the literary and artistic communities in Paris during the 1920s, when Paris was the center of the literary and artistic world. “Paris was where the twentieth century was,” wrote Gertrude Stein.

Dick and Nicole Diver, the central characters in F. Scott Fitgerald’s novel, Tender is the Night, are based partly on the Murphys and partly on Scott and Zelda Fitgerald themselves.

Fitzgerald thought the book was his best work. It was the last novel he completed.

I mentioned that I planned to re-read Calvin Tomkins’ 1962 New Yorker article about the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds, and posted a link. I’ve just finished it, and it’s even more impressive than I remembered it being.  It’s a beautifully written piece about some extraordinary people.

Here once again is a link for “Living Well Is the Best Revenge”, along with my highest recommendation.


After The Flood—An Update

It’s been a while. Anybody still out there?

Regular postings will resume in the next few days. What follows here is a brief rundown on why I’ve been hors de combat since Memorial Day. It isn’t very pretty, and you may just want to skip this entry and wait for the new posts.


Summer of 2019 has not been anything close to the most wonderful summer of my life. In fact, I’d probably rank it near the bottom three, only slightly higher than the summer I spent in a Bulgarian prison (mistaken identity), the summer I got lost on the Appalachian trail and had to survive on berries and mushrooms for six weeks, or the summer when that Abercrombie and Fitch model kept calling me and emailing me and stalking me until I finally got the restraining order. (Actually, that one was rather fun.)

The season had started with such high hopes and great expectations! In late May I returned to Washington from a couple of weeks in gloomy and glorious Budapest,* restored, revitalized, and ready to live a much richer and more, well, elegant life. Think Gerald and Sara Murphy in Paris and on the French Riviera in the 1920s.**

The first warning signs came during an otherwise delightful visit by my Nevada brother and sister-in-law, when my long-standing pulmonary problems started to act up. I knew from experience that this meant I was in the early stages of a two- to four-weeks of low-level morbidity, marked by fatigue, marathon coughing sessions, and general yuckiness. And then The Flood happened.

Here’s where things get serious.

I wasn’t aware of it until later, but the whole mess—illness and injury, loss of autonomy and privacy, property damage and disruption of plans, and general uncertainty—left me seriously depressed and effectively paralyzed, unable to do much more than sleep, play online games, and watch immediately forgettable junk TV.  I stopped returning phone calls and answering email. My big project for the year, improving my cooking skills? Abandoned. I had no desire to be in my post-Flood, chaotically disarranged kitchen, and no interest in exploring new restaurants. I survived on deli take-out and on great quantities of Diet Cherry Pepsi.

It was only just before Bastille Day, six weeks post-Flood, that I (metaphorically) slapped myself in the face and told myself that I couldn’t continue to live the way I’d been living, that the numbness began to diminish. I turned off the TV in the middle of an episode of Can’t Pay We’ll Take It Away and made reservations at regular hang-out ARTECHOUSE and at a couple of good restaurants. Not only would I get out of bed and dressed before 2 PM, but I would also actually leave the apartment!

And I did.

So while things here are still ugly—restoration of my condo and of the ~30 other units damaged by The Flood may not even be completed before the end of 2019—it seems life is finally, slowly, back on the upswing.

I’ll be spending the rest of my Unwonderful Summer posting here, dining out, and re-reading Living Well Is the Best Revenge and Tender Is the Night.


*It was my fourth visit to that endlessly fascinating city, my third in 18 months. I’ve told people that entitles me to honourary citizenship, but I may have been misinformed.

**See Living Well Is the Best Revenge.

New Tales of the City

“When I first got off the bus years ago, I had the strangest feeling that I’d come home.”
—Laura Linney as Mary Ann Singleton in Tales of the City

Oh, yes, Mary Ann, in this you are not unique. The first time I was in San Francisco, I had exactly the same feeling.*

And now, thanks to Netflix, we’re going home again.

“inspired by the books of Armistead Maupin, the new Netflix Limited Series Tales of the City begins a new chapter in the beloved story. Mary Ann (Laura Linney) returns to present-day San Francisco and is reunited with her daughter Shawna (Ellen Page) and ex-husband Brian (Paul Gross), twenty years after leaving them behind to pursue her career. Fleeing the midlife crisis that her picture-perfect Connecticut life created, Mary Ann is quickly drawn back into the orbit of Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis), her chosen family and a new generation of queer young residents living at 28 Barbary Lane.”

Tales of the City had its start as a three-times-a-week serial in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Author Armistead Maupin mixed real and (mainly) fictional characters to capture the essence of San Francisco in the 1970s.  Maupin succeeded in doing for The City what Tom Wolfe failed to do for New York in Bonfire of the Vanities, probably the most overrated novel of the late 20th century. The column became must-read material, and a cult was born.

The first novelization of the serial was published in 1978, followed by five more volumes published at two-year intervals, with three more books released after a 20-year gap.

In 1993, Channel 4 (UK) turned the first book into a superb miniseries, which was shown on PBS in the US in early 1994. Here’s the trailer:

Good news! That original series is currently streaming on Acorn.

The new series will be released on Netflix on 7  June  2019.


Bonus Track

The great Laura Linney makes an uncredited appearance in this video for the also-great Aimee Mann. Watch closely, and see if you can spot her.


* Granted, I also had exactly the same feeling the first time I was in London, and the first time I was in Paris. Never had it in my own hometown,  though, for some reason….