Category Archives: Days of Covid 19
In times of trouble, the New York Botanical Garden has been a place of asylum and peace for many.
The 250 acres of various gardens, the serene walks, the waterfall, old growth forest, LuEsther T. Mertz Library, greenhouses, Stone Mill, ponds and Zen water designs (the Native Plant Garden, one of my favorites) provide places to contemplate, restore, clear one’s mind and rejuvenate from the noise and chaos of our culture.
In keeping with our steadfast and wise Governor Cuomo’s phased approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NYBG has reopened carefully since July. They’ve accomplished this with timed-entrances, hand sanitizer stations everywhere and close monitoring of members and visitors along one-direction paths to provide 6 feet social distancing.
The bathrooms are meticulously disinfected as is the cafe which provides drinks and outdoor dining as does the Hudson Garden Grill. There is no indoor dining anywhere and the Hudson Garden Grill provides a few salads, wine, beer, cold drinks and snacks. You can sit at one of the tables under an umbrella and enjoy a light lunch viewing the beautiful pine trees, plantings and the seasonal gardens in the distance without fear of crowds, all tables separated from each other six feet or more.
Above all, one must visit the Garden with a mask. If one has symptoms of COVID: temperature, dry cough, body aches, digestive problems, difficulty breathing-94 oxygen level as tested by an oximeter, unusual rashes not typical of characteristic allergies, eczema, etc., in addition to cold-like flu symptoms) stay home, rest and recuperate. COVID requires not infecting others and taking care of oneself. The disease is deadly and social responsibility is an imperative when an infectious disease is easily spread in public. The Garden is a respite, but quarantine, rest, liquids, Elderberry, UMCKA and what the doctor prescribes is the only respite for COVID to avoid getting worse and having to be hospitalized.
I visited on Friday, September 25th at the last minute and found 10:30 A..M. available to visit Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and then go for a walk on the grounds. With a membership, one has free entrance to the Conservatory and parking passes are given.
The above pictures are what is happening around the Garden if you just plan to lift your spirits with a walk and not get involved in any other activities or go into the conservatory. The pictures below are the conservatory environs.
If you’ve run out of parking passes as I did, parking for members is discounted at $10.00 and that is well worth it. The visual beauty and healthfulness of the plants and gorgeous landscape with lovely, coordinated plantings is better than a sedative for one’s emotional state.
The Garden staff are preparing for the Kiku exhibit which takes place in the fall every year and coincides with fall activities like Pumpkin Weekend which they are already preparing. Both take place in October.
The Conservatory is monitored by following the path through all of the galleries in the Conservatory, from the Rainforest plantings, through the Desert plantings and the exhibition galleries.
One can also step outside to visit the Lotus and Water Lily Pond where one will see water plants, Lotus and a variety of Water Lilies.
Swimming amidst the plants are coy of various sizes. One old gentleman looks to be a few decades old and has grown to a renowned size.
There is also a frog whom I heard on a few visits to the Lotus and Water Lily Ponds hanging out in the vegetation. Two Lily Ponds are in the Courtyard in the center of the environs of the conservatory.
And there are frogs in the swampland and wild plants area of the Garden. I have heard them in the area of the Native Plant Garden.
I have also seen hummingbirds and cardinals in that area. The birds are as beautiful as the flowers that line the water features.
You will need a timed ticket to enter the Garden even if you do not go into the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. If you are a NYC resident, your entrance fee is discounted. If you go on Wednesdays, you may visit the Garden for free. Members may enter the grounds and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory for free.
For information and tickets go to the NYBG website. https://www.nybg.org/visit/admission/?keyword=NYCResidentZIPCheck
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As COVID-19 has prompted the Metropolitan Musuem to close its doors to its thousands of visitors on a slow day and stream daily content, we have a chance to look back at another time. It is a throwback to the past splendors of the Met and its 2018 Versailles exhibit captured in a Tribeca Film Festival offering. Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles, streamed online for press, fans and supporters. Tribeca Film Festival curtailed many of its events. However, they screened films in the midst of a global pandemic, the likes of which is perhaps worse than the French Revolution that felled the last of the French Kings (Louis XVI) and left the Palace of Versailles a shell of itself until later restoration.
Though I am a neophyte foodie, I had never heard of world renowned chef Yotam Ottolenghi (cookbooks include Jerusalem, Plenty). Nor had I the time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York during its “Visitors to Versailles” exhibit: https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/visitors-to-versailles.
The Metropolitan Museum enjoys featuring live events which bring important works to life. They attempt to ground them in the present by combining exhibits with other contemporary forms of expression. “Visitors to Versailles” was one such glorious presentation taking place in the Summer of 2018.
Though I missed attending the Versailles exhibit and particularly “The Feast of Versailles,” presented by Ottolenghi and his pastry chef collaborators, “all’s well that end’s well.” Laura Gabbert the documentarian known for city of Gold, No Impact Man and Sunset Story decided to do a quick and dirty film about Yotam Ottolenghi’s commission to create the “Feast of Versailles” giving us an inside look behind the scenes at how the “feast” portion of the exhibit came into being.
From start to finish, Gabbert chronicles the philosopher-foodie Ottolenghi at his home and his restaurant. We witness clips of him with restaurant colleagues tasting and refining desserts. We immediately get a sense of Ottolenghi’s expertise, congeniality and collaborative skills to perfect dishes to will please his clientele.
The filmmaker features brief interview clips o Ottolenghi describing how he works and how he responded to the Met’s commission of his culinary artistry. Then she the chronicles the chef’s visit to New York City from his home base in London and reviews meetings with Met Museum experts who assist him in his research of the culture, opulence and luxury of Versailles as the seat of world culture for over 100 years during the reign of the Sun Kings. Importantly, the Met experts discuss the types of foods that the king and his patrons enjoyed, gleaned from the records and from oil paintings of that time.
As Ottolenghi visits Versailles, Gabbart includes panoramic views of the glorious gardens and various salons and rooms including the “hall of mirrors” which she films as Ottolenghi comments. This section perhaps could have been added to; there is never enough photography of the incredible palace. However, film clips include the drawings, renderings and other works capturing the style of the palace dating back three hundred-fifty years.
From his readings, his discussions with the experts and his Versailles visit, Ottolenghi decides to review online a myriad of pastry chefs to assess whom he might best collaborate with who will convey his vision. It’s an important selection process. They will help him elucidate the ethos of Versailles though a contemporary lens. After visiting their websites and scrutinizing their “wares” online, he hones in on five visionary dessert chefs: Dinara Kasko, Janice Wong, Bompas & Parr, Ghaya Oliveira, and Dominique Ansel. All of these chefs are as diverse from each other as is the east from the west.
Ottolenghi’s research of French history and epicurean tradition, meetings, planning and contacts which have taken months are everything. Then Gabbert slows down her time frame and follows the pressure on the five chefs as they arrive at the Met to set up their displays and work their magic two days before the culinary event the “Feast of Versailles.”
These unique and renowned pastry chefs (creator of the “Cronut” Dominique Ansel, among others) have been guided with a light hand by Ottolenghi who has envisioned the evening as an emulation of French decadence that manifests spinning reflections into our own age. Months before the event, each pâtissier works to create a unique dessert inspired by the conceptualization of Versailles’ over-the-top dramatic grandeur. Chocolate sun kings to elaborate jellies, tarts to swans and topiaries — Gabbert reveals the artistry of the dessert chef and the challenges they confront fashioning their presentations in a formidable setting like the Met which is not outfitted as a culinary institute, indeed, far from it.
As the tension rises, the worst possible scenarios occur. The electrical circuit doesn’t work and it is a trial for the electricians to come up with a solution so that the “tornado” effect delivered by the special machine will spin with gusto. In another instance, the cake batter is not the right consistency because the ingredients in the US are different. The pastry chef tries numerous times with the help of an American expert who insists another ingredient should be added. The director wisely leaves the chef unmoored from her art, questioning how to correct the batter. Will she find a solution the day of the Feast?
Importantly, the “Feast” is a living paean to the court of the monarchy which daily was a staged scene that gave audience to artists, writers, reporters, foreign tourists and subjects who witnessed the rich splendor of the King’s residence, his dominance over his officials and his power as head of state. French cuisine then and now had a great impact on French society which continues into our modern day with cultivars like Julia Child, Eric Ripert, Dominique Ansel and more. One cannot examine a cookbook and not see French words used for process and product: i.e. saute, flambe, mousse, omelet, etc.
One theme that Gabbert explores is this idea that there is little privacy in the world of the Sun Kings who exposed themselves, perhaps too much, for it led to their downfall in the extremes of poverty and wealth. Today, Social Media is used to eliminate our privacy, but the uber wealthy manage to stay away from the public spotlight, where the Sun Kings sought it. The reputed richest in the world are not necessarily so; old wealth that dominates for centuries is unknown and uninvestigated, for good reason.
Another theme that the director alludes to briefly, which should have been elucidated at length, is the idea of excess, crass opulence and decadence. The director includes one shot of Donald Trump’s gold room and makes the analogy that such excess caves in on itself as did the French Monarchy. On a superficial level the “equivalence” seems to make sense. She needed to extrapolate about the parallels and reveal that past their superficiality, there is no parallel. The Sun Kings were far from frivolous and unlearned. Their culture developed over a century and the accoutrements they surrounded themselves with were priceless. The same does not abide for the dim comparative currently in the White House and the occupants’ crass nouveau riche sensibilities.
What may abide in this romp through Versailles and the lovely feast of extravagant and clever desserts is the theme that the draining wealth and riches it takes to sustain the luxurious materialism chokes off everything. Eventually, the debts pile up and the enemies threaten. Soon the borrowing becomes so great one is entailed with quid pro quos, not a way to remain autonomous. And then the revolution comes when there is not enough food to go around. The film is an interesting view of the days of glory during a time when new elites strive for similitude but fall so short, they don’t recognize their foibles and pretensions.
But Gabbert manages to tie the times vaguely together with the elaborate desserts and concepts of the grand master of the “Feast of Versailles,” Ottolenghi. And she infers gently that the sustainability of such excess is as mortal as its keepers. We recognize the fragility of excess more than ever in this COVID-19 global pandemic.
I screened and reviewed Banksy Most Wanted as a Tribeca Film Festival offering, which appears on https://blogcritics.org/ and in a longer review: https://caroleditosti.com/2020/04/29/banksy-most-wanted-a-tribeca-film-festival-review/
I enjoyed the film which raised questions about the confluence of Banky’s art and Banksy’ anonymity. Would his art have the power it does if his identity is disclosed? The film, directed by Aurélia Rouvier and Seamus Haley delves into the Banksy myth and reality with a profound and in-depth portrait of a man who performs a great service to humanity which happens to be illegal. I had the opportunity after screening and writing the review to chat with directors via email about the film and how they arrived at their subject.
What inspired you to do a film about Banksy?
If you think of a Banksy piece, like the one he did in a bathroom during the lockdown for example. If the minute after you have seen it, you can imagine the man doing the stencil, because you know his face, his name, you know in which town the house is, you know that his wife and his 13-year-old son or daughter is probably behind the door.. it is immediately less fun.
When did both of you first learn about Banksy?
I had the opportunity to see Th McGowan Trilogy and review it on Blogcritics as an offering of The Origin Company’s 1st Irish Theater Festival 2014. Since then I have been in touch with Seamus Scanlon on social media and have kept up with his activities from time to time during posts. Finally, I caught up with him during the COVID-19 pandemic when we both had the time for me to interview him online via email.
Seamus, give the readers a bit of backstory about yourself.
My background is in science so I am a late convert to the arts. I am a first generation college goer in my family so gainful employment was the priority not frivolity (i.e. the creative arts). Science did appeal to me because it was definitive; equations and formulae were a great attraction for me. Also, my hand writing is appalling. I can’t even read it myself. I knew I would never be able to write papers or complete an analysis in college that a teacher could decipher.
Despite this, I recall playing a recording of Dylan Thomas reading Do Not Go Gentle Into That Night and I was immediately affected by it although I did not let on because our school was an artistic black hole. (In 2018, the Japanese production of The McGowan Trilogy played this recording during the performance which was an amazing surprise for me. I felt I had come full circle!) In English class we also read the poetry of Patrick Kavanagh – a self taught genius raised in poverty in rural County Monaghan. This poetry stirred me and remained with me despite my selection of science to pursue for a career
My hometown of Galway is an artistic epicenter with the Tony Award winning Druid Theater Company; the Galway International Arts Festival and The Cúirt International Festival of Literature. Nora Barnacle (James Joyce’s wife) was born there and Lady Gregory (Yeats’ mentor and co-founder of the Abbey Theater in Dublin) lived about 15 miles from Galway, Ireland. Galway county was the backdrop for Synge and Martin McDonagh. So there was no excuse for me not to be enamored of literature, but I just ignored it all. I was too timid to explore it.
How long did you work on the McGowan Trilogy?
Not very long. It was kick started by Nancy Manocherian’s Cell Theater Company Ltd (artistic director Kira Simring) who read a short play of mine Dancing at Lunacy and then staged it as part of the The Irish Cell event in March 2012. They then asked for a full play so I developed two other inter related one acts – The Long Wet Grass and Boys Swam Before Me. They were great to work with – two Jewish women interested in all things Irish. This was staged in Oct 2014 as part of the 1st Irish Theater Festival and was well received. The play was also published by Arlen House. Get a free digital copy here.
What experiences helped you frame the story?
I lived in Belfast for five years so I was exposed to the daily life of Army patrols, constantly hovering Army helicopters, riots, shootings, July 12th marches where the deep seated tribal differences are in full flow. Before living in Belfast I had been affected greatly by the Hunger Strike in Belfast where 7 IRA and 3 INLA political prisoners died. Hunger strikes in Ireland have a long tradition. They are doubly significant and symbolic in Ireland because of the Great Famine (1847) which killed 1.5 million and caused forced emigration of 1.5 million to the US. A therapist in Belfast treating ex gunmen (late teens and early twenties) who had killed for the ‘cause’ and were suffering major trauma after killing someone.
Where has it been produced since it premiered in the US?
After The Cell production in 2014, they brought it to Hastings (UK) to the Kino-Teatr owned by a devoted Russian Hibernophile, Olga Manonova. The same Summer it was staged in two venues in Galway, and in Westport’s Townhall.
The major surprise for me came in 2018. The McGowan Trilogy (in Japanese) play was staged in Japan (in Japanese) to full houses (the lead was a rising movie star so that helped!). I traveled to Tokyo to see it and it was an amazing experience. They were selling merchandise in the foyer so I felt like a rock star! Japan has an amazing richness of theater and other art forms.
In Ireland three amateur drama groups have staged parts of the Trilogy and the feed back is usually positive. Amateur drama in Ireland is a long standing cultural phenomenon.
In April 2020 a theater student, Molly Flanagan at Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU) was to direct The Long Wet Grass. I was very excited to see this but it had to be cancelled because of the COVID-19 situation. Our mixed genre presentation Galway: The Good, the Bad, The Ugly at the New York Irish Center for April 23 had to be cancelled as well as an April performance at Lehman College.
In addition to The McGowan Trilogy, what are some of your successes over the years of which you are most proud?
Since 2016 I have self produced The Long Wet Grass at a number of locations such as Lehman College, City College Downtown, Art House, An Beal Bocht, Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and The New York Irish Center.
In February 2020 I collaborated on the immersive theater event Echoes of Calling with the Japanese dancer and choreographer Akiko Kitamura. If the COVID-19 restrictions lift in time this may be staged again in the Fall.
I worked on two film projects The Long Wet Grass (Ireland/USA, 2017) and The Butterfly Love Song (Ireland/USA, 2019) which was a new medium for me and challenging. I learned a lot – mainly that I should stick to play writing!
My first art form was fiction so I managed to have seven pieces published in Akashic Books’ Mondays Are Murder slot.
What projects do you have in the works?
My next full length play The Blood Flow Game is a sequel to The McGowan Trilogy and is due for publication shortly. The end game for all plays is to have them produced so that is my goal. I have had four table readings of it as part of that process. I thought after The McGowan Trilogy success in Japan I would be a hot prospect but that is not the case!!
The radio play script of The Butterfly Love Song was short listed in Ireland in 2020 and that was a great thrill for me. It was the first radio play I had written. The Cell Theater, where I started off with Dancing at Lunacy, is going to develop it in Fall 2020 as a radio play/podcast.
I have few short films in the works including Three-Nil, Move Baby, Recycle This and The Resurrection Love Song.
Have you been able to get around Covid 19 virtually as other playwrights and artists have done?
The Butterfly Love Song which premiered in NYC in October 2019 and was screened in Dublin in early March 2020 is now being screened offline by various film festivals so that is encouraging. Film lends itself to this more than any other artistic format. Watch the trailer and the full film free at Irish Film London.
What is the first thing you will do, once the medical profession and the government has a handle on Covid 19 and has decided that businesses can reopen along with bars and restaurants?
I am looking forward to getting back to job as a librarian at City College Downtown. It was set up by the Labor Unions in 1981. Many students are first time college goers (like myself), many are from blue collar backgrounds (like myself) so I have a natural affinity with these students. We offer BA, BS and MA programs. Classes run weekday evenings and Saturdays. We specialize in one-on-one advising from day one. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
I am pretty deaf so I can’t really hear anyone in a noisy café or bar. I write in cafés. My office in Galway – when I am home – is The Secret Garden where I accomplish a lot. I hope it is open by July or I will be in trouble.
I have no writing schedule or format or craft advice or a writing desk or writing techniques. I am probably the worst person to look at for guidance since I do not really know how I write etc. I did an MFA in City College in New York and that was very useful because I had writing deadlines so I had to produce.
You can update Seamus’ activities on his website at www.seamusscanlon.com
New York Botanical Garden is helping New Yorkers and global fans enjoy Spring in New York by maintaining social distancing during New York “Pause.” They have been holding online watch parties and have kept their virtual programming alive to involve those sheltering at home with interactive events and online classes that stream via YouTube.
While the Garden’s gates may be closed temporarily, their virtual gates are wide open. The Garden invites its community near and and far to stay connected during this challenging time. Earth Day 50 with NYBG at Home is one way to do that.