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‘August, 2005’

Glorious London, from the gory Tower to trendy galleries

Glorious London, from the gory Tower to trendy galleries

London, glorious London. I know we Americans (or some of our ancestors) fought them in the 1700s, but they are still our best friends, aren’t they? For theater, art, and experience, London is like leaving home to visit cousins. (Leaving the colonies to cross the Pond, as the Brits would say.) What I find wonderful about London is the easy fusion of the traditional and the modern. Traditional, by the way, sometimes goes back a thousand years!

Start with the traditional. To get a good grasp of the gory Royals, there’s no place better than the Tower of London, founded by William the Conqueror in 1066-7 and enlarged and changed by royal houses that followed. The best way to see it is with a guided tour by one of the Beefeaters, those fellows who look like the picture on the gin bottle and take you around the Tower grounds explaining, with delicious, malicious enjoyment, the dreadful incarceration and murder of Anne Boleyn, two child princes, and other enemies of whoever was running the state. It’s a bit like having your own personal version of a Shakespeare play.

Be sure to get there by the last tour at 3:30 pm; I’ve done it both ways, and I’ve learned that you miss too much wandering around without a guide. You can also see the crown jewels at the Tower. It gives you an idea of what the royals were fighting for! And what the republican Oliver Cromwell was fighting against.

A Paris Exhibit about Jews Deported from the Marais

A Paris Exhibit about Jews Deported from the Marais

A boutique hotel for tourists, a modern one for business travelers   By Lucy Komisar I was walking along the rue de Rivoli in Paris and noticed a banner on the huge stone Hôtel de Ville, the city hall. It announced an exhibit, “Du Refuge au Piège (From Refuge to Trap), The Jews in the […]

Goethe’s poetic Weimar, the Nazis’ Buchenwald, and “Stasiland”

Goethe’s poetic Weimar, the Nazis’ Buchenwald, and “Stasiland”

Weimar and its surroundings represent the best and the worst of the German character and history. On the square is the neoclassical German National Theater, with a statue of poet Johann Goethe (who founded the theater) and his contemporary, dramatist Friedrich Schiller. They were part of the “Sturm und Drang” (storm and stress movement, which advocated a celebration of nature and emotion. On the day I visited, a group of theatrical activists in red and white robes were performing alongside the statue, handing passers-by advice cards labeled “Secret Agent: freedom training.” Considering what we would soon see, it was an appropriate idea.

Warwick’s Royal Windsor Hotel: a Brussels fantasy

Warwick’s Royal Windsor Hotel: a Brussels fantasy

How would you like to spend a few nights in an art museum? Not possible? How about a hotel room that’s as exciting and original as anything you’re likely to see in a gallery? You have never experienced anything like the stunning, stylized, avant garde and traditionally elegant one-of-a-kind new “fashion rooms” receiving guests at the luxury Royal Windsor Hotel Grand Place in Brussels. They are 10 veritable works of art by important Brussels fashion designers and they’ve been open for less than a year.

Brussels is a center of grand couture, although its designers are less recognized – perhaps because of snobbery – than their Paris cousins. The idea for the rooms started with a Belgian designer who mused at a cocktail party that the hotel ought to be a showcase for Belgian design. Claude Dufour, Director Sales & Marketing, originated the concept of the fashion rooms. It fit with the Warwick group’s resolve to make their hotels individualistic and distinctive.

Venice’s elegant Bauer and boutique 18th-century Il Palazzo

Venice’s elegant Bauer and boutique 18th-century Il Palazzo

Sitting on the “Bar Canale” terrace for breakfast, gazing at the 17th century Church of Santa Maria della Salute across the Grand Canal, I could imagine the lazy mornings of the Venice nobles who once owned the Bauer Il Palazzo. They might have finished their coffees and walked the five minutes to the Palace of the Doges, where government business was carried out.

They or their servants might have stepped into a gondola to travel quickly to the Rialto, the market at the site of the famous bridge. That might have happened in the 18th century, when the Palazzo was built.

Art tells the story of politics in vibrant, sophisticated Buenos Aires

Art tells the story of politics in vibrant, sophisticated Buenos Aires

The citizens of Buenos Aires are called “porteños,” people of the port. Perhaps this connection to the rest of the world contributes to their sophistication. “BA” is a city of grand, classical-style buildings, elegant neighborhoods, scruffy crowded “barrios,” pedestrian malls and even a kitchy tourist waterfront along the Río de la Plata, the Platt River. Like other great cities, it’s a center of contemporary art. Much of that reflects its turbulent political history.

Argentina has come a long way since the period of repression of 1976-1973, the time of the military’s “dirty war” against the left. The government has granted the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” concession booths at the square opposite the Presidential Palace, and they are mentioned in official guides. The café-bookstore is a tourist attraction! In this vibrant city, politics and culture mix with a Latin passion.

Celebrating the 500th Birthday of David in Florence

Celebrating the 500th Birthday of David in Florence

The most riotous time I had in Italy was at Michelangelo’s David 500th birthday party. Well, not exactly a party, an exhibit at the Academy Gallery (Galleria dell’Accademia) in Florence. Hmm? Isn’t David just a piece of white marble, beautiful, yes, but riotous?

I’m talking about Robert Morris’ “The Birthday Boy,” an hysterical send-up of two leftwing art historians, each in a separate video talking about “The David.” The American Morris did them in 2003-4. His satire has the art critics (played by actors), typically veering into discussions of international politics, feminism, all the hot-button issues. Or didn’t you think an art historian discussing “The David” could bring in an attack on George Bush?

Finding the Oldest Inn in the Oldest Town in England

Finding the Oldest Inn in the Oldest Town in England

Given a choice between a hotel that’s spiffy modern and one that’s historic, I’ll take the historic place every time. And when that history goes back 700 years, staying in a hotel becomes just as exciting as going out to see the sights. I discovered that in Colchester, where I found the oldest inn located in the oldest recorded town in Britain.

I was going to a conference at the University of Essex, just outside Colchester, which is an hour’s drive or train ride northeast of London. So I did some boning up on local history. I found that Cunobelin, King of the Britons, had lived here from 5 AD. Then the Romans invaded. The gritty Brits fought back! Queen Boudica burned the town and the Roman Temple to the ground in 60 AD.

Climbing down a coal shaft and up a castle keep in Wales

Climbing down a coal shaft and up a castle keep in Wales

Seeing how both halfs lived –

We were descending a into 300-foot-deep Welsh coal mine, hard hats firmly in place, watches and anything else with batteries removed because the law requires it to prevent a spark that could set off flammable methane gas.
Cardiff Big Pit visitors getting readyOur guide, a former miner, grinned and joked. We laughed nervously. If you want a memorable experience, visiting “The Big Pit,” an hour’s drive north of Cardiff, is high on the agenda!