Wedding Bells, and a Broom

Below is a very invigorating post by my dear friend Sarah about her honeymoon in Fiji.
Here are photos from her wedding, a gorgeous ceremony on May 12 in the wine region of Southern California. One of the most interesting moments in the ceremony was the "jumping the broom," an old African tradition brought to America by slaves. In lieu of rings, the bride and groom would jump over a broom to signify their marriage.
In addition to the broom photo, there's a shot of Sarah and the groom, Steve Patterson, an emergency room doctor; me and fellow bridesmaid Reigan; and Sarah, her folks and her seven brothers (yes, seven!). (JM)


Spirited Fijians!

Posted by Sarah Patterson
Los Angeles is a far cry from the islands of Fiji. Having just returned from a ten day honeymoon in God's best kept secret I am longing for a daydream to kidnap me from this fast tracked lifestyle in the states and return me to the days of fresh coconut drinks, pristine diving, water taxis and kava! Fiji is a blissful destination comprised of six main island groups totaling over 300 islands. My husband and I spent majority of our time on two islands of the Northern island cluster, Vanua Levu and Matangi where we experienced Mother Nature in her finest. Natural hot springs within the city of Savu Savu, the explosion of color in the ocean life found on the rainbow reef and the majestic waterfalls found within the Garden Island of Taveuni is just a sampling of the abundant beauty. Life among the villages appear content yet filled with laughter and spirit. Fijians have a special presence, whether you are engaged in conversation with a local or just observing from afar you capture this presence. We were fortunate enough to travel through two local villages and witness a true simplicity. We drank tea and kava with the village chief while we dined on tapioca tree delights. A tour through the local school illustrated the stark reality that science and art would not be brought to the area unless financial support was generated. Moved by the harmonious singing of the church goers, our Sunday service in the village was quite impressionable. Children were my favorite, often found running barefoot and laughing, into one home and out another as if the whole village were raising them.
It is not everyday that we encounter such beauty or spirit, but everyday we certainly can be reminded of the interaction. This honeymoon pushed me into a place of not only pure relaxation but, a place of stillness and contentment. The islands hypnotize your nerves allowing you to roam without shoes, walk without fear and run with reckless abandon. Feeling a little strained? Trapped inside your own self? Spend the cash, endure the 10.5 hour plane ride and head to Fiji. Stay in an accomodation with an outdoor shower and let the stars bathe your stress away, let the geckos provide you with free entertainment and treat yourself to the ripe fruits of the island! Vinaka! (LA-SP)


Hot Off The Press

Syracuse, New York – The Hawley-Green Quarterly has hit the streets!
For the past two months, I’ve been working on creating a newsletter for historic Hawley-Green, an up-and-coming neighborhood located a few blocks from downtown.
Years ago, the area was teeming with crack heads and prostitutes. But vigilant and concerned residents, many of whom are gay, have injected major TLC into the neighborhood and turned it around.
I moved to Hawley-Green last summer, when I came to Syracuse for graduate school. I rent an apartment on a street lined with giant old trees and century-old homes. Seedy characters still linger, but the area definitely is on the upswing.
Every community needs its own publication, a forum where residents can exchange ideas and plug into what’s happening in their ’hood. And I really believe in this neighborhood. That’s why I decided to create the Hawley-Green Quarterly, a seasonal newsletter intended to capture the pulse of this community and keep residents informed and engaged.
The project entailed writing content, taking photographs, recruiting contributors, designing the publication, selling ads, etc.
A special thanks to Ben Gembler, a 20-something resident, and Dominick Battaglia, a towering and charismatic Italian guy who owns the local butcher/grocery store. (The store’s motto: The Meat People.) Dominick, Ben and I went door-to-door two weeks ago to sell ads for the newsletter. These guys were true believers! And we sold more ads than I initially had space for.
After a gazillion hours of work, this monster project is finally finished. Today, I picked up 1,400 beautiful copies of the 6-page, full-color newsletter at the printers. A gang of kids helped me deliver them to homes this afternoon. The newsletter also will be distributed at businesses and community events.
Hooray hooray!


Viva la Line

Newark, New Jersey -- I'd like to include a picture in my profile. Does anyone know how to do that? I was told I could post it in a blog entry and then paste the link in my profile, but it's not working. Hmph.
So, I was perusing my digital photo library today and came upon this shot of me taken one evening in January at Gallery Aferro in downtown Newark.
Friends and I attended an event there called "48-Hour Line." The gallery walls became a giant canvas, as visitors, using a graphite stick, helped draw a continous line for two solid days, from noon Jan. 11 to noon Jan. 13. The stick had to be in constant contact with the wall, and you had to keep it moving while passing it to the next participant.
The communal project was the brainchild of artist Ryan Brown, who has done similar events in Berlin and NYC.
I remember sipping hot green tea brewed by Brown in the nippy gallery (no heaters). I drew the word "VIVRE," which means "to live" in French. I was donating a kidney to my mother two weeks later, and that word was constantly on my mind. (JM)

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Spa Dentistry

Syracuse, New York – My recent trip to the dentist was absolutely exhilarating. Honestly!
I made my appointment with Dr. Mohr three weeks ago. He was booked solid. That’s a good sign.
Another good sign came in the mail: a folder filled with glossy brochures, a dentist bio, directions to his office and, my favorite, his business card that featured Arts & Crafts typography. It appeared I inadvertently had found a dentist who shared my love of this architecture/design movement started in the 1800s.
My trip to his office on a soggy day this week confirmed my suspicions. Dr. Mohr works in a gray and green, Adirondack-style building in Manlius, a charming village a few miles east of Syracuse. Walking inside, I couldn’t believe I was at the dentist. The interior was gorgeous. The well-appointed waiting room was filled with stained glass lamps, a fireplace with a stone surround that stretched to the ceiling, and posh Stickley furniture, including a wooden coffee table with ceramic tile inlay that Mohr told me was custom-made. There were several houseplants and on one wall, a lovely mural of a wooded landscape.
And the accoutrements! A spacious coat rack; books and magazines about historic architecture and design; a tea and coffee bar, with Green Mountain coffee from Vermont (my favorite), cereal bars, packages of string cheese and juice.
It was ten minutes before the dentist could see me. I wish I could have waited longer.
But the rest of his office proved to be equally luxurious. No detail had been overlooked.
As the dental assistant (wearing forest green scrubs) scraped plaque off my teeth, and the news played on the television screen attached to my reclined chair, I admired the windows with their asymmetrical, wooden panes and the textured, earthy walls. “Is that wallpaper?” I asked (it was). It looked as if a decorator had stamped leaves into a thick layer of tan paint.
The lighting was soothing – and I promise they hadn’t given me any drugs. Natural light streamed in through the windows, and two contemporary light fixtures hung overhead.
Getting x-rays was even pleasant. They use a digital system, which means I was able to relax in my chair while looking at images of my teeth and jaw on the screen. (When I told my roommate, Suzanne, about my experience, she described it as spa-style dentistry. Brilliant.)
Of course, I hammered Dr. Mohr with questions and praised his decorating tastes. Yes, he was an Arts & Crafts enthusiast, and when he opened his own practice in 2003, he was determined to create his dream office. He said it was nicer than his own home.
I’m a huge fan of the Arts & Crafts style because it’s natural and cozy and simple. I think those qualities lend themselves very well to a dental office, a place where one often feels a bit squeamish.
Why can’t every office be this fabulous? Sure, the fresh coffee and gift bag I was given on my way out (with lip balm and mint lotion; it was customer-appreciation day) are extravagant, but creating a warm, inviting ambiance isn’t that tough. Good lighting, simple wood furniture, plants – that’s all it takes.
Fortunately, I’ll get another dose of spa dentistry next month. No cavities, but I do have a gap between two of my back teeth (food trap!). Dr. Mohr will fill that in during my next appointment. I can’t wait! (JM)



Less Is More

East Aurora, New York – I’m in heaven.
Last night, my sister (visiting from Arizona) and I embarked on a weekend road trip. First stop: East Aurora, a quaint village 20 miles south of Buffalo. I’ve been eager to explore this area because it was an Arts & Crafts (A&C) hub in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There was an artists' colony here called the Roycroft Campus, started by Elbert Hubbard.
A&C is a design movement I’m infatuated with right now. It started in England in the mid-1800s (ever heard of William Morris?) and spread to America a few decades later. It was all about craftsmanship, beautiful materials, nature… moderation, simply your life, less is more.

Textile and wallpaper patterns had organic motifs. Furnishings were austere, with simple lines and little ornamentation; wood, stained glass and copper were common materials. The same sensibility was applied to structures. Here in America, A&C gave rise to the bungalow, cozy little houses with low-pitched roofs and wide, overhanging eaves. These modest homes were meant to work in harmony with nature.

American A&C architects/designers include Gustav Stickely (New York), Greene & Greene (Pasadena, Calif.) and the aforementioned Hubbard. Frank Lloyd Wright is connected with the A&C movement, although he certainly developed his own design language.
So, my sister and I are staying in the Roycroft Inn, built in 1905 and tediously restored in 1995. The rooms are gorgeous! We did a little dance when we entered our giant, cozy room.

There’s wood paneling on the walls and ceiling, with the exception of a few walls covered with brick-colored wallpaper with a muted floral motif (it looks very William Morris). The furniture is made of solid wood, mostly oak. The bathroom is enormous; there are two sinks, a jacuzzi tub and thick robes. The windows have wood shutters (and they are dust free!). The room feels so warm and soothing, yet spacious and immaculate.

No detail has been overlooked here. Our key even has style: it’s attached to a leather keychain stamped with our room number, 211.
More later. It’s check-out time!

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Watching the Grass, I Mean Mold, Grow

Syracuse, New York – Friends and I checked out the new exhibit at The Warehouse Gallery this evening, the fourth and final in a series about the environment.
This one is a winner!
The multimedia show, “Networked Nature,” features seven installations that explore the meaning of nature in our hyper-connected, techno world. The exhibit is sparse, but thought provoking and distinct, particularly given the humdrum artwork that abounds in this city.
In one piece featuring three LCD screens mounted to a wall, we watch mold growing in slow motion. In a dark side room, we are hypnotized by a trio of beeping, clicking robots with flashing lights. In another piece, we hear sounds from a secretly recorded conversation between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair; the sounds play through speakers embedded in vines that climb a column in the gallery.
My favorite was “Perfect View,” by C5, an art collective based in San Jose, Calif. This installation features three pieces. Each piece includes a panoramic photograph of a gorgeous location, along with a satellite image of the location and a computer rendering of its typography. It’s very National Geographic.
The story behind the installation really makes it interesting. The artists put a call out to GPS users, known as geo-cachers, asking for the latitude and longitudes of “sublime locations.” One of the C5 members grabbed a camera, hopped on a motorcycle and traveled 13,000 miles, through 33 states, to find and photograph the recommended spots.
In the local show, we see tranquil images from Oregon, Mississippi and The Adirondacks.
If you decide to see “Networked Nature,” be sure to read the placards that accompany each piece. They are essential to understanding, and being wowed by, this show.
Many might not know that The Warehouse Gallery opened less than a year ago. I haven’t loved every exhibit – those creepy pink squirrels from the “Faux Naturel” show still haunt me and the photographs of the guy in the brown bear costume in “Embracing Winter” were silly – but Astria Suparak, the gallery director, deserves hearty applause for presenting work that is stimulating and unusual. (JM)

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Steam and Spice

Montclair, New Jersey -- This was no ordinary feast.
On Sunday afternoon, my friends Kristina and Brandon threw a crawfish boil at their gorgeous Colonial home in Montclair. Brandon hails from Louisiana, where these sorts of parties are a treasured tradition.
My dear friends lugged home 60 pounds of live crawfish (more than $300 worth!) from the Chelsea fish market in Manhattan.
The cooking process went like this: Brandon fired up a burner in their detached garage and filled a giant steel pot with water, spices, potatoes, lemons and cobs of corn. The crawfish wiggled around in a large cardboard box, awaiting their doom.
Outside, it was cold and soggy. A half-dozen children and adults huddled around the steamy pot in the garage.
Once the water was boiling, Brandon, with the help of two guys, carefully poured the dark red crustaceans into the pot. There was no whimpering, no leaping out of the cauldron. The crawfish went silently to their death.
(Side note: I didn’t know how I would react to this. While I eat fish, I don’t eat other meat and I’m not a fan of boiling things alive. But this was a cultural experience I didn’t want to miss.)
After 15 minutes of boiling, Brandon turned down the burner and let the critters soak for awhile. Next, they were put into a cooler, carried inside and dumped onto the kitchen counter covered with pages from The New York Times. After a dusting with seasoning salt, the party guests dug in with gusto, using only their hands.
Crawfish aren’t meaty critters. You’ll find edible bits in the tail and in the claws, but you have to maneuver around a not-so-appetizing anatomy. Keep in mind: these guys hang around in swamps and bear the nickname “mudbug.” Yum!
The native Southerners at the party had no problem extracting the flesh. But I’m not so skilled at ripping through exoskeletons and sucking meat out of claws. It’s a lot of work with little payoff. I ate the crawfish, but I found that stuffing my face with Cajun-spiked corn and potatoes was more gratifying. My friend Erin agreed (She's the blonde chomping on a crawfish).
After we call cleaned up – this is a messy affair, after all – we were served the best homemade carrot cake I’ve ever had.
And as it turns out, two crawfish miraculously escaped death, thanks to two little girls who adopted them as pets.
The final verdict: What an experience! I won’t be boiling my own live crawfish anytime soon, if ever, but it was great feeling the spirit of the bayou on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon in Jersey. Thanks Kris and Brandon! (JM)

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When Justice Isn't Served

Note from Jenna: I just returned from a two-week trip to Ireland and England. This is my review of a production my colleagues and I saw in Dublin.

Dublin -- Attending a Shakespeare play, or any play for that matter, is always a gamble: will it dazzle and invigorate, or will it rock you to sleep.
The Abbey Theatre Company’s production of “Julius Caesar,” which I saw on March 13, fell somewhere in between: it wasn’t bad, yet it wasn’t exceptionally good. The set was interesting enough; the brief interludes of intense, throbbing music were effective. Most of the 34-member cast delivered decent performances, and a few really shined. But you just didn’t leave the show thinking, “Wow. That was outstanding.”
If your high school memories of studying this Shakespearean tragedy are a bit fuzzy, the basic story is this: It’s 44 B.C. in Rome. The beloved Caesar is stabbed to death by traitors. The traitors intend to win the affection of the people, but Caesar’s loyalists, led by Marc Antony, retaliate.
A battle ensues. The traitors fumble. The loyalists triumph.
The show, which ran through March 17, was directed by Jason Byrne. The 35-year-old directed the same play ten years ago with his company Loose Cannon. Given Byrne’s fairly young age, one might have expected a contemporary interpretation or a few modern twists. Such was not the case. Byrne took a fairly traditional approach, delivering a play that felt stark and pure. There were no ornate costumes or elaborate sets; the focus was squarely on the dialogue.
In the first three acts, which came before intermission, we watched as Caesar’s traitors, led by Cassius and Brutus, schemed their murder of the king and ultimately stabbed him to death on the Ides of March.
The set was quite barren: an empty space surrounded by gray walls and punctuated with moody lighting. The costumes were equally ascetic: the men were wrapped in khaki and gray sheets; the only bolts of color we saw were a green dress worn by Caesar’s wife, and a purple gown worn by Porsia, the wife of Brutus.
In the play’s second half – acts four and five – we found the characters on a sparsely lit battlefield, wearing gladiator uniforms. This part of the show was laden with distracting quirks. In one scene, Cassius and Brutus stood under what looked like a mess tent that might be featured in an episode of MASH. To add to it, classical music played from a gramophone sitting on a table.
Acts four and five certainly had more action – men shouted, men dueled, men committed suicide. But the story was much weaker here, and the play fizzled to an end. This was more a product of Shakespeare’s writing than the acting and directing.
But still, Byrne could have done better. Certainly producing a 400-year-old play is no easy task. But considering the Abbey is Ireland’s premiere theater, it should have been capable of doing better justice to the world’s premiere playwright. (JM)



Who's the Copy Cat?

Syracuse – No, this is not a relative of Hello Kitty.
This is Miffy, a picture book character invented in 1955 by Dick Bruna, a Dutch artist. Many think she’s Japanese, but Miffy was around long before that peculiar kitty (introduced in the ’70s).
Bruna, apparently inspired by his own imagination, thought up Miffy after telling his one-year-old son a story about a white rabbit.
She’s been quite a hit over the past five decades. The Miffy children’s books – which sometimes address tough subjects like death but always end on a happy note – are translated into 40 languages. They have names like “Miffy at the Zoo” and “Miffy in the Snow.” Miffy also has a TV show, “Miffy and Friends.” Her gang of buddies include Aggie, Boris Bear, Poppy Pig, Grunty and her dog Snuffy.
Isn’t this little bunny adorable? -- JM

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Happy Happy

Syracuse – Today is my flatmate’s birthday. Eat cake and be merry, Suzanne!
Last night, we had a little soiree at our house and then headed to Armory Square, the bar/cultural district in downtown Syracuse.
Here’s a photo of the gang at the piano bar, Daniel Jack’s (a very cool, narrow space with beat-up brick walls and a balcony that overlooks the basement-level dining area).
There was no piano player last night, but there was a very hammered patron who kept shouting and falling off his seat. He wasn't part of our crew. -- JM.


Support Your Local Filmmaker

Syracuse -- The Redhouse, a renovated three-story brick building in downtown, is one of this city's cultural jewels. Since opening in 2004, it has presented musicians, plays, visual artists and films from around the world. But for the next two weeks, the focus is on talent cultivated right here in central New York.
The Redhouse’s Local Filmmakers Showcase starts today and runs through March 18. The event features three documentaries and one feature film, all created by filmmakers with roots in this region.
Each film will be presented twice during the showcase; tickets are $6 per show. I produced a podcast about the event, which you can listen to at http://pulse.syr.edu/podcast/
Here are brief summaries about each film (I haven't seen any of them):
* In Prisoners of Freedom,” we learn the little known story of Fort Ontario, a camp in Oswego where nearly 1,000 European refugees were housed during WWII. The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and was both a sanctuary and a prison for the people who stayed there. The 90-minute documentary features old photos, reenactments and interviews with surviving residents. The film was written by two Syracuse University professors, Tom Friedman and Owen Shapiro. Shapiro also directed the film.
* “North of 49” examines the burning of a temple in rural Oswego County two months after Sept. 11. The temple was a converted farmhouse that belonged to members of the Sikh faith, a religion founded in the Punjab region of India. The temple was set aflame by four teenagers who thought the Sikhs supported Osama Bin Laden. The 55-minute film was directed by Richard Breyer, an SU professor, and co-written by Breyer and David Coryell.
* In “Pledge of Allegiance Blues,” we meet Michael Newdow, a California doctor and atheist who brought the “under God” lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court. Newdow believed his daughter shouldn’t be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school. The issue was complicated by the fact that Newdow didn’t have legal custody of his daughter. The 70-minute documentary, which features the publisher Larry Flynt, was directed by Lisa Seidenberg, a Syracuse native.
* In the fictional film “Hearts Unarmored,” a young man and woman meet a small train station, where time seems to have stopped. The woman is deeply troubled by her marriage to a soldier who has just returned from war, while the young man carries his own dark secrets. The film was directed by Radu Olievschi, a native of Romania and Utica College graduate.
For more information, visit www.theredhouse.org. – JM


Gem of a Play

Syracuse -- Friends and I saw “Gem of the Ocean” on Saturday night at Syracuse Stage. The first act was a bit sleepy, but the second act was strange and powerful and made sitting for nearly three hours (run time) well worth it.
This play marks the start of a 10-play epic about African-American life in the 20th century by August Wilson, a Pulitzer-prize winning playwright who died in 2005.
This particular story is about a group of Blacks living in Pittsburgh in 1904. It focuses on their personal struggles and the lingering effects of slavery, abolished 40 years earlier.
A troubled young man named Citizen shows up at the house of Aunt Esther, an elderly sage who cleanses people of their sins. He seeks forgiveness for a crime; we don’t learn what that crime is until the play's second half, when Esther takes him on an imaginary journey to the “City of Bones,” a metaphor for a slave ship and the sea.
Meanwhile, tension is high in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where Esther lives. A black man accused of stealing has jumped off a bridge and killed himself; there’s unrest at the local mill; and a fierce black sheriff who has forgotten his roots is terrorizing residents.
This play, directed by Timothy Douglas, is very layered yet tightly woven; you’re never lost. And the characters are richly developed and well cast.
This was my first time seeing a show at Syracuse Stage, and I was quite impressed.
“Gem of the Ocean” runs through March 11.
For information, visit http://www.syracusestage.org/. -- JM

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Good Karma

Syracuse – Delicious coffee alert!
For those who are tired of having Starbuck’s pumping through their veins, swing by Laci’s Coffee Café, near Carousel Mall. I had hazelnut coffee, café-au-lait style, and a slice of pumpkin roll swirled with cream cheese. Tasty!
The service was good, too. A chipper gal named Lauren Houck, a senior at LeMoyne College, recently bought Laci’s, which she plans to rename Karma Kafé. (That’s the name of the Hawaiian coffee served there.) Houck and her sister were both working at the café when I stopped by. I felt good to be supporting a mom-and-pop café, particularly one owned by a student.
The place is tiny: five small tables and a wee bar. Beyond great coffee, there are smoothies and inexpensive cookies, scones, muffins and other sweets baked by local Mennonites. There’s also free, wireless Internet.
Laci’s is located in the indoor shopping center on Park Street, next to the regional farmer’s market. Once you have your cup of joe, you might want to peek inside the Mediterranean food shop and deli next door. -- JM.