Pouting a la moue
Pont des Arts @$#%&
For Vanessa, my friend and mentor since 1968. With love and respect forever, xo
For Vanessa, my friend and mentor since 1968. With love and respect forever, xo
Fresh from my blues-immersion at the Montreal Jazz Fest, I head to picturesque Rockland for the most righteous blues event on the East Coast, the North Atlantic Blues Festival. The annual two-day event takes place at the public landing overlooking beautiful Rockland Harbor, Maine’s glorious coastline and endless blue sky.
Some of the top names in the blues are here, wow. Remarkably enough, the music gets started a early with the wonderful Dexter Allen, the award-winning foot-stomping bluesman. You may recognize Dexter — he’s handsome, he’s talented, and he’s been around. He sings, “I’m hooked!” and so am I.
Allen is followed by the hard-working Peterson Brothers. Ages 16 and 18, the brothers have opened for greats like B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Glen and Alex agree, “We love what we do, and this is our life.” Watch for this youthful and talented duo, they have an amazing future.
Continuing our Canadian vibe, Ontario’s soul-and-country bluesman Harrison Kennedy plays between sets, fueling crowd energy and winning fans. This “Chairman of the Board” has performed with greats James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and B.B. King whose beautiful spirit seems to be following me this summer. Maybe I’ll catch Kennedy as he opens for Ruthie Foster in his home province in 2016.
Nick Moss’s gritty, electric performance is inspired. As temps climb into 90s, he dances in the heat wearing a red buffalo plaid flannel shirt shirt, wow. Suddenly the red buffalo plaid flannel shirt comes off and it’s more wow. This beefy guy blends rock, soul, and funk with such ease, it’s a wild ride.
Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers take flight for over an hour, serving up their distinctive blend of Chicago-style blues, R&B, and rock. They’ve been named Best Blues Band of the Year four times, and it’s is no surprise. They make it look easy. To the delight of the crowd, they make a surprise return later to play with Marcia Bell at the festival close.
Check out the awesome array of food and goods for sale onsite, from sunglasses and hats to Maine crafts. I especially enjoy the Allen’s Coffee Brandy tent, where I pick up stickers and recipes for Maine’s most popular adult beverage —Toffee Coffeetini, anyone?
The food, onsite and off, is pretty great. We’re issued a coupon for the Trackside Station, a funky antique railroad station on nearby Union Street, where we enjoy sweet potato fries with plenty of crunchy salt. With a cold summer ale, we’re happily derailed for a cool respite. Never fear — the blues festival outside is piped in, live!
I think we’ve brought “la chaleur” (the heat) with us from Montreal. It’s unusually hot here on the rocky coast, and I get a little squiffy watching audience members turn as red as Maine lobsters.
The beautiful people are here, and it’s a gas to watch them dancing, singing and swaying to the music — even little kids wiggle and stomp. The crowd is friendly, and the vibe is relaxed, and no one seems to mind that I clap like Al Gore. The North Atlantic Blues Fest is a gas for blues fans of all ages — family-friendly, convivial, and safe.
Seagulls wheel overhead and temps finally begin to drop as Marcia Ball brings the festival to a close with awesome boogie-woogie piano, Big Easy blues and soulful style. She compliments this beautiful Maine site, saying, “What a dump!” — an inside joke that goes way over our over-heated heads. We forgive her as she sings “The Tattooed Lady and Alligator Man,” a tune that transports all of us to New Orleans.
I don’t know how she sings with her legs crossed like that, but it doesn’t seem to cramp her style. She provides a spectacular, generous closing to an outstanding Maine music festival.
Maine visitors, tourists and locals return year after year to this wondrous blues event, the North Atlantic Blues Festival in historic downtown Rockland. An no wonder — it’s a great opportunity to see some of the most prestigious and talented blues artists performing in a glorious waterfront setting. Kudos to organizers Jamie Isaacson and Paul Benjamin for creating this stellar event, their stewardship is “keepin’ the blues alive.”
I am making this inspired and inspiring two-day event an annual tradition as of right now. Don’t miss the 23rd Annual North Atlantic Blues Festival July 16-17, 2016!
We’re in Montreal for the 36th annual Jazz Festival and deliriously happy. Fresh from Paris, my French is in pretty good shape. We check into our bright and modern pied-a-terre from Like a Hotel on Rue Prince Arthur — in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles and a ten-minute walk to the Place des Arts. With a full kitchen, free WiFi, and abundant natural light, the apartment is perfect.
We’re thrilled to have tickets to the prodigious Patricia Barber, and equally eager for the array of free outdoor events like the 4-hour tribute to the late great B.B. King. Small, intimate venues like L’Astral and Club Soda are always a gas — bring it on.
At Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Patricia Barber delivers “Stay With Me” to an SRO crowd of 3,000. She knocks it out of the Place des Arts with lilting piano, accompanied by spectacular bass and saxophone. Barber punctuates the set with well-timed laughs and yelps — intentional, musical Tourette’s. Her take on the Motown classic, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” makes me, well, love her. When she gets to Henry Mancini’s, “Two for the Road,” I’m in a deep jazzy swoon.
Club Soda and Pokey LaFarge are already rockin’ when we arrive. We sing along with “The Devil Ain’t Lazy” (“no siree!”), and Pokey’s newest ode to beautiful women everywhere, “Something In The Water.” Download this great tune from Pokey’s website — it’s free.
All this music makes me hungry. We head southwest to Griffintown, a bustling neighborhood in a feverish growth spurt. “The Griff,” historically populated by Irish immigrants and laborers who built the Lachine Canal, also happens to be home of native son and jazz icon Oscar Peterson — how synchronous. The vibrant urban area is up-and-coming, and I’m very intrigued.
Our first brunch is an event. We settle in at Le Bureau’s outdoor terrasse and take in the stylish, urban vibe. We opt for the signature grilled cheese — gooey appenzeller and gruyere cheeses, local ham “on-the-bone,” and crusty bread. With chilled sangria, both red and white, this is our first and simplest meal in this great city — marvelous.
We cruise Boucherie Grinder and admire the dry-aged, ethically-sourced wares. The upscale butcher supplies restaurants Grinder, Le Hachoir, and Léa — more on that yummy triumvirate later.
Observe: Each sangria in Montreal is different. Due to an antique but sturdy law regarding fermentation, many are prepared á la minute, by the glass. The distinctive brew at Le Bureau features white wine, white rum, peach schnapps, apple juice, pineapple and 7-Up, which sounds thoroughly gross but is fresh and divine.
Our second brunch is at Le Hachoir of Boucherie Grinder fame. We’re seated in a breezy window, open to the street in authentic Montreal style. The vibe is funky and upscale, and the service is deliberately, purposefully slow. Rubén González recordings issue a Pavlovian command to relax. Hachoir’s white sangria is distinct and delicious, with raspberries, fragrant whole mint, Cassis, white cranberry and “un petit peu de brandy.”
Our burgers are as big as planets, each with an orbit of fries (and mayo), and small pile of salad, a nice counterpoint to the general unctuousness. Le Classique features a beef burger with bacon, aged cheddar, arugula, and satellite-size fried egg. Burger Jean-Guy is a venison burger with chevre noir, bacon, greens, and an unexpected sauce of sun-dried tomatoes and golden raisins.
Quel dommage: Meat of such distinguished provenance must be served rare or medium — never well-done.
We get religion with the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and especially enjoy Breezy, his slightly demented washboard-wielding wife. Other free outdoor favorites include Alan Gerber, a soulful bluesman with crazy Kabuki expressions; the sophisticated Pram Trio — not your daddy’s jazz, but equally smooth; and West Trainz’s mobile musical trolley that loops endlessly through the festival, enchanting music fans of all ages — babies wiggle, adults swing and sway.
Our informal Sangria-tasting continues as we sip and savor onsite at Café Nouveau Monde and Balmoral, and streetside, along St. Laurent and St. Denis. Some are red, some are white; most come with straws and mid-century maraschino cherries. I find the reds traditional, with Bordeaux or claret, fruit and 7-Up. The whites are less predictable and often wildly creative.
My favorite is delivered at a casual but very serious Spanish bistro, Casa Tapas, up the Plateau on Rue Rachel. The first sip nails it — the BEST sangria preparation of the entire superb experiment, with winning layers of wine, Cassis, a surprising hit of sweet vermouth, and the usual Montreal obsessions: white cranberry juice and 7-Up. It is fragrant, visually stunning and complex — perfect with our tapas trioof mussels with fennel, asparagus with manchego, and tiny green olives. We can’t wait to return.
One of my favorite shops is Kaliyana in the Plateau on Rue St. Denis, close to our mod digs. Check out Kaliyana’s flowing sculptural designs — contemporary, avant-garde pieces created by über-talented Canadian designer, Jana Kalous.
Tired of looking like everybody else? Head for Montreal.
The festival winds down and wraps up with its ultimate event, The Grand Blues Evening in Memory of B.B. King, a tribute to the iconic musician from Mississippi who devoted his life to the blues for 70 years. A massive crowd gathers on Place des Festivals stretching from the stage, down Jeanne Mance to St. Catherine. There are thousands of people. I’ll cop to a bit of crowd-phobia, but this event feels very safe and secure — seriously worth it.The Québécois homage is split into two sets, with guests Jordan Officer, Jimmy James, Mike Goudreau and Conor Gains; singers Angel Forrest, Kim Richardson, Mathieu Holubowski, and more. Magnificent harmonicist Guy Bélanger anchors the event, which beloved festival founder André Ménard describes as “one huge Bistro à Jojo,” Montreal’s iconic blues club.
Bob Walsh launches into “The Thrill Is Gone,” and the electric evening is off and running. Kim Richardson is introduced by Bélanger as “Soul Sister #1,″ and follows Walsh with a spirited, “Let the Good Times Roll.” Mike Goudreau trades vocals with Richardson on “Everybody Wants to Know Why I Sing the Blues,” and for my personal favorite, “Caledonia.” Belanger plays with just about everybody, and the crowd is ecstatic — it’s truly a magical evening. We let the good times roll and celebrate B.B. King’s legacy until after midnight.
In the words of the immortal bluesman from Mississippi, the Montreal Jazz Festival “is the best in the world.”
Lucky me: I’m heading for the 36th edition of the world’s largest jazz festival, the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Celebrating a passion for music for over three decades, North America’s French-speaking metropolis annually welcomes fans to 10 days of jazz-centric celebration — June 26-July 5 — where humble music fans like me can rub shoulders with aficionados of the genre in its purest form.
We’ve experienced performances by luminaries as diverse as Leonard Cohen, Wynton Marsalis, the B-52s, Stevie Wonder, Madeleine Peyroux, Woody Allen, Jamie Cullum and many more. This year I am looking forward to Patricia Barber, Wayne Shorter, and somebody named Pokey LaFarge.
The Jazz Festival hosts 30 countries, 3,000 musicians and entertainers, 1,000 concerts and activities—two-thirds of them free – in 15 concert halls and on eight outdoor stages, welcoming more than two million visitors to the city, noon to midnight. And it all happens on a beautiful urban “place” in the heart of Montreal’s downtown core — a green, safe, car-free zone. There’s no doubt – c’est magnifique!
While Jazz Fest takes over the downtown Quartier des Spectacles, diverse restaurants and dining opportunities abound on the sprawling festival site — everything from haute-cuisine to gourmet sandwiches and open-air food trucks. Stroll to Chinatown for dim sum, or hike to the Plateau for the best bagels and smoked meat sandwiches in North America. Don’t miss Old Montreal, with its quaint, open-front bistros and old-world ambiance. My personal favorite is Le Club Chasse et Pêche; ask for a garden table.
Montreal nightlife features unabashed, prolonged bar-hopping and no shortage of watering holes. Dance the night away at clubs onsite or in Old Montreal. Conduct a personal pub crawl through the city’s abundant wine bars and microbreweries, like Benelux on Sherbrooke, Cheval Blanc on Ontario St., Brutopia on Crescent St., L’amere a Boire and Le Saint Bock on Saint-Denis, and Les Soeurs Grises in the Old Port. Or try a magical, mystical sip of absinthe at the Bar Sarah B., named for the divine Sarah Bernhardt, at the lovely and historic Hotel Intercontinental.
This year we’ve rented an upscale apartment five-minutes from Place des Arts. I trust Montreal’s sprawling open-air markets — Atwater and Jean Talon — will supply more than enough colorful, fresh produce, crusty breads, local duck and fine wines for residents, musicians and jazz fans to sip, savor and explore.
So join me on Planet Jazz in my favorite North American city for the biggest and best of Montreal’s year-round festivals. As the late, great B.B. King said, “It’s the best in the world.” •
Crossing the Rue Longchamp after visiting Pâtisserie des Rêves, I stumble onto Renoma and a new fascination is born.
Maurice Renoma transformed French menswear in the 1960s. Unfettered and original, he used sensual fabrics, bold color and sculptural designs that contour the body — remember his fab unisex suits? In the 90s, Renoma developed a passion for photography and began a second career as modographe, creating provocative black-and-white images with cinematic charm. Now Renoma is designing furniture — look out world.
You’ll find art, art, and more art at the Louis Vuitton Foundation on the edge of the historic green space that is the Bois de Boulogne. Since 1853, the enormous Bois has delighted Parisians with horse paths, gardens and ponds. With the addition of Frank Gehry’s swooping free-form museum, it is a treat for both eye and spirit. We experience the current exhibition, Keys to a Passion, with works by Bacon, Bonnard, Brancusi, Dix, Delaunay, Giacometti, Hodler, Kandinsky, Léger, Malevich, Matisse, Mondrian, Monet, Munch, Nolde, Picabia, Picasso, Rothko, Schjerfbeck and Severini — a veritable who’s who, each represented by a small group or single work. We are thoroughly engaged and delighted. July 6 brings the next installation of Keys, don’t miss it.
On the left bank of the Seine sits the former Beaux-Arts railway station that is now the Musée d’Orsay. A short rive gauche stroll from our beloved St. Michel neighborhood, the d’Orsay houses the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in the world — Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh.
The d’Orsay always takes my breath away. A brief bomb scare gives me a moment in the grand hall to compose myself. Picasso’s Femme en Vert stuns me, as does Cézanne’s Woman with a Coffeepot. Room 10 is devoted to disturbing and mesmerizing scenes of Bohemian Paris — this is where Picasso’s powerful Absinthe Drinker hangs alongside Toulouse-Lautrec’s scenes of dance halls and brothels. Raboteurs by Caillebotte, below, is a d’Orsay favorite, the workmen muscled and sweaty, the light glorious.
As a true Italophile, I am drawn to the d’Orsay’s special exhibition, Dolce Vita, showcasing Italian design from 1900-1940. Che buono.
At Musée d’Art Moderne, the quirky permanent collection includes an exhibition in-the-round of Raul Dufy, a sprawling but sparse Matisse room, and several free-range surprises like the irreverent La Battaille de Waterl’eau. Best of all, this bright and sassy waterfront musée is free.
So we head to our favorite bistro in Le Marais, Chez Janou, where we enjoy a fine meal of warm goat cheese in tomato, grilled fish, an amazing bit of duck and of course several helpings from the magic olive bowl. We declare Janou our private club and pinky-swear to return. And we will.
From museum-art to to street-art to flower-art to food-art: You never know what you will see in Paris. •
I am crossing the oldest bridge in Paris, pinching myself, heading for my daughter’s flat on Rue de L’Hirondelle. By “flat” I mean two burners and a giant window, c’est tout – think Madeline without pink roses. I’m hopelessly bourgeois but think it’s all terribly romantic. I climb the ancient, grooved wooden stairway to apt. 2-B, hoist my bags inside and stub my toe on the skinny, cast-iron ladder to her sleeping loft. Welcome to Paris.
My first taste in this city is an artichoke, beautiful. The second taste is, of course, cheese – a pungent blue, a heady truffle, and velvety Brie. Followed by a memorable bite of braised rabbit with sweet roasted fennel. Baguette. Crispy duck with potatoes roasted in duckfat, and a crisp white table wine, mon dieu, wildly simple.
Of course formule lunches (what we used to call prix fixe) are the main event each day, with robust and tasty fare enjoyed indoors or out, for hours. Head for the Marais and the lovely garden at L’Ebouillante, where 15€ buys robust soup, salad, and fromage blanc with raspberries. Linger. Check out the floor-to-ceiling posters. Have a coffee. And please don’t feed the birds.
If you’re feeling decadent, head for Pâtisserie des Rêves for delicate mille-feuille treats like legendary hazelnut-cream Paris-Brest, “the best in Paris.” My personal fave: Tarte Framboise, perfect.
Or head for Maison Pradier for a swoon-worthy chocolate éclair. How do they do it? Who cares. Just eat one. Or two.
Surprise! We have tickets to Paul McCartney’s “Out There” concert at the Stade de France, Paris. I experienced the coup de foudre of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964 along with 73 million other people – my first taste of “fab” and color TV that remains stubbornly and dreamily black and white.
Still a sloe-eyed babe at 72, McCartney is dazzling and slightly formal in white shirt and Beatle boots (he still rocks the boots). He opens the set with a pounding Eight Days A Week. We scream, we twist and shout.
My favorite bit of Maccaphemera is a quirky version of Temporary Secretary. 42 songs and three hours later, he concludes with two encores and a sentimental version of The End. Definitely worth the 50-year wait. •
It’s late afternoon here in Argegno. I sip an Aperol spritz; my daughter Rachel sips Campari. It’s an honor to introduce millennial mini-me to the fine Italian custom (always in English) of Happy Hour at Hotel Villa Belvedere. We enjoy the glorious lakeside primavera through floor-to-ceiling windows, and admire the shelves of Martini & Rossi, Aperol, Campari and mysterious Fernet Branca behind the sleek hotel bar.
Classic Spritz Cocktail 3 oz. prosecco
1½ oz. Aperol or Campari
1½ oz. soda water
Orange slice to garnish
Combine prosecco, liqueur and soda water in a tall glass filled with ice; garnish with orange – Rachel prefers a blood orange.
Prices often rise during happy hour. This is understandable. Here in Argegno, the vast sea of complimentary aperitivi at Cafè Colombo includes panini, chunks of Parmigiano, ribbons of pink prosciutto, puffy pizzette and warm squares of polenta. At Pensavo Meglio, they deliver a similar assortment on a plate. At Bar Motta, it’s olives or my weakness, potato chips. The happy hour crowd spills into the Piazza Roma. No one is in a hurry. A proper Italian happy hour often stretches into evening.
Believe it or not, it can get a little boring sitting around eating and drinking. Our group, which has grown from 3 to 10 over the last few days, decides to take a day-boat to Bellagio, the “Pearl of the Lake.” With indoor and outdoor seating, views are spectacular. The lake is a necklace of small jewels, towns with stone bell towers, grand villas and tranquil gardens. A day-ticket allows you to visit as many as you’d like. Of course, we disembark at Bellagio, utterly beautiful once you escape the touristy center. We pass Cadenabbia, Varenna, Tremezzo and Lenno, and admire glorious Villa del Balbianello with its panoramic terraced gardens, bellissimo.
Our magical mystery tour has made us us sleepy. Back on the boat, tucked along the wall, we doze. Our viaggio ends in Menaggio at Bar Constantin, a central restaurant crowded with locals. I adore the verde pizza with spinach, topped with fresh arugula. Meatier pizzas include a tasty “speck” pie. Share a pitcher or two of the heavy red wine, “it feels like a Seder,” says Rachel. Bar Constantin closes around 2:00 each afternoon for la pausa (the time of day when Italian businesses shut down), so don’t be late.
Fog and drizzle provide an opening for a urban exploration of historic Como center. Some of us attend a very crowded Easter mass, redolent of incense, that makes me a little teary. We stroll the fashion-forward centro and admire styles from Armani and Missoni. We hit the renaissance Palazzo Giovio, now an archaeological museum, chock full of local antiquities, historical artifacts, and surprising kitchy paintings.
Rachel observes that the ideal climate features both pine and palm trees. We agree. Lake Como has an abundance of pines and palms, plus flowering plants, fragrant herbs, warm breezes and sunshine. And it is several miserable-weather weeks ahead of our home in snowy northern New England. Is it Maine? I confess I can barely remember.
At midday we sprawl like lizards in the sun on our stone patio amid fragrant rosemary. Mid-afternoon, we chat over glasses of Vermentino at Pensavo Meglio. Later, we enjoy a passeggiata, or evening stroll, and return to our pebbled courtyard with the little terracotta fire pit high on Via Schignano. Life is good.
One of us is celebrating a decade-birthday, I will not say who. This is maggiore. We decide to celebrate at a charming nearby restaurant, La P’Osteria, a beloved riverside spot that served as Argegno’s post office in the 1800s. Rustic starters of salumi are wonderful — don’t miss the polenta sticks.
Regional specialties include lake fish, duck, meaty agnolotti and tagliatelle pastas. I especially enjoy an unconventional broccoli and bottarga dish. Yes, dried fish eggs. Delicious. Our thoughtful friend Barrie Webb creates an authentic, not-too-sweet Tiramisu for the occasion. Rachel adds a crazy candle that resembles a roadside flare, and it’s a sparkling celebration.
Our languid lakeside spell has been a tranquil vacanza da poesia, a poetic holiday. Arrivederci, Argegno. •