22 April 2014


Of the 29 statues in Central Park, by far one of the most popular is of a dog named Balto. On any given day you will find a steady line of children (and some adults) eager to climb up and pose for photos with the heroic dog who successfully led a sled team on the final leg of the great 1925 Serum Run to Nome. While many people are familiar with the statue, they may not know the story behind the real Balto's fame.

In January 1925, the small town of Nome, Alaska was hit with a diphtheria outbreak that threatened to turn into an epidemic. Their only hope of stopping the disease was a diphtheria antitoxin but the closest supply was in Anchorage, 1,000 miles away. With Nome's isolated location, wintry conditions, and no available planes, it became clear that the only way to get the serum to the town was by land. It was first sent by train from Anchorage to Nenana; from there, dog sleds took over. A relay totaling 20 mushers and 150  carried the life-saving serum the rest of the 674 miles in blizzard conditions that included strong winds and sub-zero temperatures. 

The real Balto.

Responsible for the second to last leg of the journey was musher Gunnar Kassen and his team with Balto at the lead. The five-year old Siberian Husky hadn’t appeared to be much of a leader in the past but now proved his worth, keeping the team on the trail in whiteout conditions and at one point even saving their lives by preventing them from plunging into the Topkok River. Kassen later said, "Many times I couldn't even see my dogs, so blinding was the gale. I gave Balto, my lead dog, his head and trusted him. He never once faltered. It was Balto who led the way."

When they arrived at their stop, Kassen found the final team asleep so he and his team pushed on and 
at 5:30 am on February 2, 1925, after 53 miles and 20 hours, they successfully arrived in Nome and delivered the serum.

The public, who had been following the story of the “Great Race of Mercy” with bated breath, hailed Kassen and Balto heroes, and they quickly became worldwide celebrities. On December 17, 1925 a statue of Balto, sculpted by Frederick G.R. Roth, was erected in Central Park with a plaque that reads: “Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the Winter of 1925.” Both Kassen and Balto were on hand for the unveiling. 

Kassen and his team spent more than a year touring the country on the vaudeville circuit before Kassen returned to Alaska, sadly, without the dogs. They were sold and kept on display at a freak show museum in Los Angeles where in 1927 former prizefighter turned Cleveland businessman George Kimble found them chained up, mistreated, and ill. Outraged, he founded the Balto Fund to raise the necessary $2,000 to purchase the dogs from their current owner and bring them to Cleveland. Within ten days, he had the money and on March 19, 1927, Balto along with Sye, Billy, Tillie, Fox, Old Moctoc, and Alaska Slim arrived in Cleveland where they were welcomed with a parade. They lived out their lives at the Brookside Zoo (now the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo) where Balto died on March 14, 1933 at the age of 14. 

Today, the famed Iditarod Dog Sled Race commemorates the valiant efforts of Balto and the rest of the 1925 rescue teams while at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History his preserved body can be found on display. As for the statue in Central Park, it remains a symbol of the words written on its plaque: "endurance, fidelity, and intelligence." What a grand dog.

Photos of the Balto statue by Michele.

18 April 2014

Cary Grant's Chest

Cary Grant in London, 1946.

"I loved sinking my head into Cary Grant's chest."—Jean Arthur.

The actress who starred with Grant in two films, Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and Talk of the Town (1942), must have been the luckiest woman in town. I mean, who wouldn't want to be in her place? And with that I bid you good night and have a wonderful weekend. 

The Frick Magnolias

With an unexpected free afternoon today and magnolias still on my brain, I decided to check out the famed magnolias at the Frick Collection.

Planted in the Fifth Avenue Garden in 1939, the two saucer magnolias and one star magnolia are magnificent and as much a part of the museum as the artwork inside. Some years I’ve missed the blooms and was afraid that this week’s cold snap would have done them in but there they were, a bit thinned out but still looking beautiful albeit against a grey sky.

A man on the sidewalk had his easel set up and was painting the lovely pink and white blooms. A doorman from one of the nearby buildings came around the corner and watched him for a while. I darted across the street to get a closer look (I really shouldn’t be playing chicken with MTA buses) at the painting and the magnolias, wishing once again that I could paint (no skill whatsoever).

Afterwards, I walked around the corner to see what was blooming in the 70th Street garden. There along the side of the museum were tiny snowdrops and grape hyacinth while a blanket of bluish purple pansies greeted you in the front of the garden. Both of the Frick gardens are off limits to visitors even if you’re a member of the museum (like I am). One of these days, I hope to get inside the gates and see everything up close. But for now, at least I got to see the magnolias.

All photos by Michele.

17 April 2014

The Photographer of Paris

"Passage Saint-Benoît (sixth arrondissement)" Charles Marville (1864-67)

“Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris,” an exhibit currently on display at the Met, allows visitors a glimpse of a forgotten Paris, one before planning and grand design turned it into the City of Lights that we know today, and a chance to discover the work of the photographer who captured it all.

In 1862, Charles Marville was made the official photographer of Paris, tasked by Napoleon III’s urban planner, Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann, to document the enormous renovation plans for the city of Paris. Marville made roughly 425 images of areas of the city that were slated for demolition as well as of the new construction taking place. Some of these images, collectively known as the Album du Vieux Paris, are included in the exhibit along with other works from Marville's career. 

Born Charles Bossu in 1813, he changed his unfortunate last name (which means hunchback in French) to the more pleasant Marville as a young man and went to work as an illustrator. Around 1850, he took up the fairly new medium of photography and travelled throughout France, Germany, and Italy photographing natural settings and architecture. Earning a reputation as a photographer of architecture, he was made photographer to the Louvre before being asked to document the newly created Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement, one of the earliest projects in the renovation plans for Paris.

Napoleon III had a vision of a grander, more modern Paris that would ease some of the burdens of the crowded city. To fulfill his plans, people and businesses were evicted and whole streets were torn down and replaced with wide boulevards and newer buildings of a similar size and design. The Gare de Lyon and the Gare du Nord were built at this time as was the magnificent Paris Opera; four major parks were created and existing ones were renovated; and water and sanitation systems were revamped, giving the citizens of Paris better living conditions. 

"Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche (from the Rue de la Huchette)" Charles Marville (ca. 1868)

"Colonne-affiches pour les Théâtres, menuiserie, fonte et zinc (Cie Morris)" Charles Marville (1876)

In the exhibit, you see the massive new opera house rising, Les Halles with its shiny glass ceiling, and the items that were to help the citizens and modernize the city—20,000 gas lights, public urinals, and those iconic Morris columns covered with advertisements. 

Unlike Brassaï, who famously roamed the streets of Paris at night with his camera, Marville worked mainly in the early morning (probably due to the exposure time needed for his images) so most of the photographs are void of people. We see deserted streets, a lone gaslight, empty parks. Occasionally a person will make an appearance, usually  looking away from the camera in a pose that was probably dictated by the photographer. 

The photos that are the most interesting in the exhibit are the before shots, the images of the places that ended up on the chopping block. These show a dirtier Paris, a medieval Paris that at times resembles a small village more than a European capital. Among these are images of various passageways that hint of mystery, beckoning the viewer to walk down them and see what's on the other side (you get the feeling that Marville was drawn to these as well). The one that I chose as my favourite was because of its name: the Rue du Chat-qui-Pêche (the fishing cat street), the narrowest street in the city, which luckily survived destruction.

Not all of the images in the exhibit are of the renovations. Though he rarely made portraits, there are some unusual ones of his assistant, Charles Delahaye, looking dark and brooding and even a few self-portraits of the photographer himself. There is also a series of images of the rooftops of Notre Dame including the various animals that decorate the top of the cathedral (it's not just gargoyles up there).

And then there are his pioneering cloud studies. In the early days of photography, clouds were difficult to capture and photographers often took to erasing them from the images all together. In 1855, Marville successfully made a series of cloud images from the roof of his studio using the new collodion negative process. In addition to being quite striking, they serve as a document of a skyline that would soon be altered. Marville, it seems, was already the photographer of Paris.

"Charles Marville" Photographer of Paris" is at the Met through May 4, 2014. For information, visit here.

16 April 2014

Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me

There is a certain type of New Yorker who I’ve always admired: she’s an older woman who usually dresses a bit eccentric, is fond of exceedingly large glasses, normally resides on the Upper East Side, and can always be found speaking her mind. The legendary Elaine Stritch is one of those women.

The straight-talking star of screen and stage is a New York treasure who has done everything from being a member of the original Broadway production of Company to playing Alec Baldwin’s mother on 30 Rock. In the new documentary Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me, filmmaker Chiemi Karasawa follows the 87-year old Stritch around as she prepares to perform a one woman cabaret show, Elaine Stritch Singin' Sondheim…One Song at a Time, at the Carlyle Hotel where she lived until her retirement last year to Michigan to be near her family.

The grand dame of the theatre spares no punches, talking candidly about her sobriety (or lack thereof), the loss of her beloved husband to cancer, her frustration with and fear about the diabetes that causes her to have memory lapses, and the famous people she’s known (including a story about a date she had with a young John F. Kennedy). She has no qualms telling people what she thinks of them, including the film crew. In one scene, she gets angry with a cameraman over how a scene is shot (she’s unpacking a box of her Bays English muffins) and demands a reshoot.

The film is filled with laughs and light-hearted moments like calling a late Alec Baldwin "Alec 'Joan Crawford' Baldwin," faking an injury to get out of a parking ticket, or telling John Turturro about the first time she had an orgasm (it was during a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf). Friends and colleagues discuss her skills as a performer and her various eccentricities like the fact that she doesn’t like to wear pants—Stritch's trademark uniform is a white button-down shirt and black tights. One of the people interviewed is the late James Gandolfini, who Stritch clearly adores (the film is also dedicated to him); his appearance on screen brought sighs from the audience.

Stritch may be one tough cookie who is brutally honest with everyone but she is hardest on herself. Nowhere is this more evident than when you see footage from D.A. Pennebaker’s 1970 documentary Company: Original Cast Album in which Stritch is seen throwing a fit as she struggles to record her signature song, “The Ladies Who Lunch,” while a mainly silent Stephen Sondheim sits nearby.

Yet beneath all the bravado, the film reminds us that Stritch is vulnerable. We watch as a diabetes-related attack renders her temporarily disoriented and scared, crying for her accompanist, the saint-like Rob Bowman, to get her doctor. This scene and one later in the hospital are difficult to watch, leaving you feeling like an 

The film open
s with Stritch walking down Fifth Avenue dressed in a wild fur coat and her trademark glasses. People stop her along the way to say hello or ask to take a photo. “I wish I could fucking drive,” she says back at the hotel. “Then I’d really be a menace.” Love you Elaine Stritch.

14 April 2014

Of Daffodils and Magnolias

After what seemed like endless weekends filled with rain and cold, the sun finally came out and so with camera in tow, I headed up to the 79th Street entrance of Central Park and slowly made my way across to the East Side.

I spent some time wandering around the Shakespeare Garden, which was filled with yellow daffodils, snakeshead fritillary, tiny chionodoxa, and various small tulips. Two bright red Northern Cardinals darted back and forth overhead while the squirrels were busy digging away. Leaving the garden, I walked toward Belvedere Castle, spotting bunches of yellow and white daffodils along the way. They were all lovely but the real beauty queens were the flowering trees.

There was a pretty cherry blossom tree in bloom near the great lawn while the magnolias were out in full force behind the Met, creating canopies of colour. One white magnolia was particularly fragrant, conjuring up memories of the South (or at least the magnolia perfume I found once in an old perfumery in New Orleans), and the saucer magnolias, with their pink and white cupped petals, were absolutely stunning. How wonderful it would be to sit underneath one and read a book or lay down and a take a little nap (preferably without so many people walking by). A little sparrow landed on a branch of one of the trees that I was shooting and just hung out, totally cool with me standing right in front of him. Finally, spring has arrived.

All photos by Michele.

11 April 2014

Cup of Tea and a Biscuit

"Always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous 
breakdown—you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit." —Caitlin Moran 

Isn't this so true? The next time I start to go into panic mode, I need to remember these words, take a deep breath, and go put the kettle on. Have a lovely weekend, everyone.


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