Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Phils in Phive

The World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees begins Wednesday. Meanwhile, the trash talking between the fans in each city started the moment the Yankees clinched the American East title Sunday night.

In typical New York Post fashion, the tabloid placed an image on its front page that combined stupidity, childishness and homophobia. It Photoshopped, poorly, Phillies centerfielder Shane Victorino in a dress and called the team “Frillies.” I guess it was an attack on the manliness of the team that led the National League in home runs. New Yorkers in general are already talking like the victory has already been decided as if its legacy makes it a foregone conclusion.

Here's a picture of Victorino holding something that the Yankees haven't been near for years.

Of course the game will be played on the field and it has the potential to be an epic battle. While watching some of the series between the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (a team that can’t seem to decide where it resides) I did not see great baseball, particularly by the Angels. I saw teams that the Phillies should be able to beat rather handily.

Apparently, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins agrees. He told Jay Leno Tuesday night that the Phillies will win in five games. Rollins has made a number of predictions about the Phillies during the past three years that all came true, including winning the World Series last year. I’m certainly not going to argue with him. The only thing that may dampen what should be a true "fall classic" is the damp weather predicted for much of the week.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Windows of Florence

Photographs of the windows in the Piazza San Martino taken in July 2009. It is best known as the neighborhood where the 13th Century poet Dante Alighieri was born and spent a great deal of his life.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Philadelphia Philanthropist’s Diamond Ring Fetches $7.7M

A 32 carat diamond ring owned by billionaire philanthropist Leonore Annenberg sold for $7.7 million at action Wednesday at Christie’s, New York to an unidentified buyer, according to news reports.

Annenberg purchased the square emerald-cut diamond for her 90th birthday. The ring was offered for sale by Annenberg's estate. She died in March at the age of 91.

The ring is designed by Manhattan jeweler David Webb. It is flanked by two pear-shaped diamonds, one of them 1.61 carats and the other 1.51 carats.

“The Annenberg Diamond … combines the best of the 4 C’s: top color, perfect clarity, ideal cut, and excellent weight. And if you add to this the impeccable provenance of the Annenberg name, you have one of the finest gems to appear on the market for many years,” François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe and International Head of Jewels, said in a statement prior to the auction.

Annenberg, served as chairwoman and president of the Annenberg Foundation and was the U.S. chief of protocol during the Reagan administration. Her husband, Walter H. Annenberg, was a prominent newspaper publisher, broadcaster, diplomat, and philanthropist. He died in 2002 at the age of 94.

The Annenbergs lived in the suburban Philadelphia community of Wynnewood. Several of Walter Annenberg’s businesses were located in the area, including the newspapers, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, and TV Guide, which he founded in 1952.

More information is available on Christie’s Web site.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Doors of Florence

Photographs of the doors in the Piazza San Martino, the tiny square best known as the neighborhood where the great 13th Century poet Dante Alighieri was born and spent a great deal of his life.

The doorway to Torre Della Castagna, built in the 13th Century and used for a variety of purposes over the years.

The entrance to the Trattoria del Pennello, one of Florence's oldest restaurants.

The doorway to the tiny chapel of Compagnia dei Buonomini di. Founded in 1441, it consisted of twelve men—the Buonomini—with the mission to help “i poveri verghognosi,” wealthy families that had fallen on hard times. People were down to their last pennies lit a candle at their door. This is expressed as “essere ridotti al lumicino”—“to be reduced to a candle.”

The entrance to a modern day courthouse.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Life in the ‘Fast Lane,’ if Only for a Moment

Journalist and entrepreneur Tyler Brûlé has become an international cultural icon. In the mid-1990s he created Wallpaper, a groundbreaking international style and fashion magazine, which he sold to Time Warner. More recently he founded Monocle, an international magazine that covers international affairs, culture and design for wealthy, cosmopolitan readers. He also owns design agency Winkreative and writes a weekly column in the Financial Times called "The Fast Lane."

Whether jetting to Japan for all-night Karaoke sessions, traveling by train from Zurich to Milan, or moving his entire magazine operation to the Spanish island of Mallorca for the summer holiday, Brûlé lives a life (at least in his writings) that is of constant movement surrounded by creative people, high-design and luxury.

While vacationing in Europe this past summer, I had a brief opportunity to experience the Tyler Brûlé lifestyle. After spending a day at the Montreux Jazz Festival I went to Geneva for a day of sightseeing before taking a flight to Florence, where I would meet my wife, Maria, in a couple days after her visit with family members in Holland.

Brûlé is big on regional airlines that are able to provide a better level of service, efficiency and reliability in short-haul flights than the larger airlines. I was traveling on Baboo, a Brûlé-approved airline based in Geneva. Its five planes provide service to 19 destinations in Europe. After picking up the July issue of Monocle, I headed over to the well-designed and heavily branded Baboo waiting area, where I dozed off while sitting on a low, red-leather couch.

Boarding was quick and easy and before I knew it I was in the air with a commanding view of the Swiss Alps. The Dash 8 wasn't full, so I had two comfortable leather seats to myself, which led me to again descend into a restful slumber.

Even though the flight was just over an hour, the crew offered small ham and soft cheese sandwiches on flat bread, tiny skewers of marinated vegetables, and strawberry yogurt for dessert. It wasn’t an elaborate offering but it was appropriate for the size of the propeller-powered aircraft and the short length of the flight. The service throughout the flight was well prepared and well executed.

Before I knew it the plane landed in the shabby Florence airport (I thought it was recently renovated). After a long wait in the customs line inside the dimly lit processing area, I was finally and thankfully able to leave the airport.

In the darkness outside the airport I walked past the line of taxis, across the parking lot and onto the lonely bus stand, waiting for the local bus to take me into town—leaving the fast lane behind.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Park with a Purpose

One of the best kept secrets in Philadelphia is Fitler Square, a park so small and unnoticed that it doesn’t even appear on Google maps.

Less than the size of a full city block, the park on Pine St. between 23rd and 24th streets serves as the centerpiece of the Fitler Square neighborhood, one of the best neighborhoods in the city (and also a best-kept secret). It's a quiet place with brick walkways, leafy plants and trees, and plenty of comfortable benches. There’s a fountain in the middle and several attractive animal sculptures, all of which fit the park’s small dimensions. It’s a clean and comfortable respite that is just a few blocks south of the much more active Rittenhouse Square. Despite its center city location tourists as well as many city residents don’t know of its existence.

The park serves as the stage for a weekly farmer’s market, and annual occasions—such Halloween and Easter events. There’s even a Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Fitler Square was created in 1896 and named after Edwin H. Fitler, mayor of Philadelphia from 1887 to 1891. Its success is a testament to the Fitler Square Improvement Association, which raises money and works with the city’s parks and recreation department for its maintenance. I’m sure Mr. Fitler would be proud to see that a space named after him has served the community so well.

More images follow:

Grizzly by Eric Berg

The Ram by Gerd Hesness

Turtles by Eric Berg

Friday, October 9, 2009

First Look at Barnes Foundation Philadelphia Home

The residents of the Philadelphia region and the international art community got their first glimpse of what the new Barnes Foundation home will look like. The design by New York-based architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien did nothing to quell the long-brewing controversy of moving the foundation from its home in the upscale, suburban Merion neighborhood to downtown Philadelphia. But it did provide the first clear picture of how the new building will meld an institution that historically had a singular vision with a modern plan that will open its galleries to the world.

The plans for the 200,000-square-foot site on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway between 20th and 21st Streets, which can be seen here and here, were approved by the Philadelphia Art Commission in a unanimous vote on Oct. 7 (videos of the hearing can be found here). Construction could begin as early as November. The museum costs are estimated at $200 million, with much of the funding raised by local philanthropic organizations.

About 100 persons crammed into the Art Commission's meeting room to view the proposal. Here is a portion of the Oct. 7 presentation by the architects that I took with my video camera (Unfortunately, my position in the room didn't allow me to capture the architectural images and the crowd around me made it difficult for me to keep my camera still):

Not surprisingly, those against the move, hated the renderings, while those for the move found them inspiring. There appeared to be widespread concern over the building’s entrance, which doesn’t face the Parkway, and the open-surface parking lot.

One reason I was there was to hopefully capture some of the outrageous rhetoric among those who oppose the move. However, Moe Brooker of Moore College of Art and Design, who chaired the meeting, clamped down on the public comment, limiting the approximate 16 speakers to two minutes and limiting remarks to the building’s design, which after all was the sole responsibility of the commission.

A couple of the speakers illustrate the range of emotion caused by the move, follows:

About 90 percent of the hearing, including 14 of the 16 comments, can be found here.

In addition, here are links to reviews of the new design in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times.

A brief, rudimentary description of the Barnes Foundation Controversy

The Barnes Foundation seems to have been surrounded by controversy ever since Albert C. Barnes first created the foundation in 1922 as an “educational art institute” on a large piece of property that would eventually become his home. After his death, the already uneasy relations between the foundation and its neighbors erupted in the 1990s when the foundation attempted to break the will of its founder by increasing the public viewing of the famed private collection in order to raise much-needed funds.

Barnes, an inventor, amassed a fortune from his development of the antiseptic drug Argyrol. In 1910, he began collecting art, amassing a collection that is considered to be one of the most valuable private collections in the world. It is particularly strong in the Impressionist and Modernist masters.

The son of butcher who grew up in a middle class household in Philadelphia, Barnes dedicated the foundation to the teaching of art to the underprivileged working class. He gave administration control of the foundation to Lincoln University, an historically black college. He also had a personal view of how art should be displayed and taught and dedicated his foundation to teaching his personal philosophy. In addition, the collection was open only two days per week and those wishing to see it had to do so in writing, and many in high social standing were rejected.

His approach to teaching the working and lower classes, including African-Americans; housing the Foundation in the upscale neighborhood; and his unique views about art, created an antagonistic relationship with art critics and historians as well as his neighbors. By most accounts, Barnes was more than willing to fuel this hostility.

Barnes, who died in 1951, set in his will a number of strict guidelines that included:

*Limiting public admission to two days a week;

*Prohibiting the lending of works in the collection, touring the collection, and presenting touring exhibitions; and

*Keeping the Barnes in its Merion location.

However, maintaining the foundation proved difficult. Funds were insufficient to meet expenses. The restrictions in allowing people to view the art made it difficult to raise funds. Attempts to keep the museum open for more days or longer hours drew hostile protests from the neighbors and the devotees of the Barnes Foundation who wanted the will to be honored at all costs. A 1999 audit revealed that the Barnes Foundation was nearly bankrupt.

In 2004, the foundation won a two-year court battle to break the will. Two years after that, the foundation announced that it raised $150 million for the relocation of the Barnes to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Since then, it has raised another $50 million.

Somewhat ironically, the neighbors who were against any attempts by the Barnes Foundation to open the museum to more people are also vehemently opposed to moving the museum. An organization called “Friends of the Barnes” was formed that is fighting the move in the courts and public forums. So far they’ve lost all their battles.

Some of the speakers at the Art Commission hearing said that Barnes would be rolling over in his grave to learn what has happened to his Foundation. I think that maybe he would be dancing in his grave to see that the move has frustrated many of the same people he spent half his life antagonizing.

Monday, October 5, 2009

An Urban Oasis

Strollers, joggers and bike riders pass by on a sandy road. Just beyond the path, children play on a well-kept lawn by the side of a narrow and shallow creek. The pines and broad leaf trees are in full bloom. It’s a rustic setting that is far removed from urban distractions, yet I am in the city of Philadelphia. It’s Labor Day and I, along with my wife, Maria, and her sister Lucy, are enjoying lunch on the front porch of the Valley Green Inn.

The white-painted building with the shingled roof was first built as an inn on what was a stagecoach path during the 1850s. Today, it is a restaurant and banquet hall in what is now called the Wissahickon Valley. The Wissahickon Creek runs past the front of the building. The inn operates under the joint care of the Friends of the Wissahickon (a volunteer organization) and Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Commission, yet is a privately run business.

The inside is divided into small dining areas and a bar area. There’s also a banquet room and a takeout window selling hot dogs, ice cream and other treats.

While the rooms inside are cozy, the seats of choice on this cloudy, cool, comfortable day are outside on the expansive porch. We all ordered sandwiches which were all good, but could have used a bit more flavor. However, the day wasn’t about food. It was about relaxing. The setting that is at the same time alive with people and nature while serene couldn’t have been better.

By the time we were finished our meals we were practically melting. We moved to sit on a park bench by the creek and watched as a family, with children and a dog in tow, walk out on a rocky creek bed to feed and otherwise annoy a flock of ducks minding their own business to our right. After awhile the ducks had enough and the entire group flew past us and joined another flock of ducks about 10 yards to our left. The dog then repeatedly burrowed its face into the creek bed as if chasing something under the ground.

Around us children continued playing while their parents talked among themselves. The path, now behind us, remained active, and the front porch of the restaurant was filled with contented diners. Time passed slowly. I don’t think there’s a better way to spend a holiday.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Class Organization

Class is a word that gets thrown around far too often in sports terminology. But if any organization personifies the word in its true form, it would have to be the Philadelphia Phillies. The defending World Series Champions beat the Houston Astros 10-3 Wednesday (Sept. 30) to earn its third consecutive National League East Title.

They were lots of ways the “Phightin’ Phils” showed its class last night. It included paying its respects publicly to Harry Kalas, the longtime voice of the Phillies who died suddenly early this season; and by its pitchers, a close-knit group by all accounts, taking a moment to return to the bullpen to salute one another. But the way its class was best expressed was by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel’s decision to have Brad Lidge throw the last out. The fans went wild, along with the players in the dugout and the bullpen.

In 2008, Lidge, the designated closer for the Phillies, had a perfect 45 saves, including throwing the last pitch in the World Series to beat Tampa Bay Rays. This year, the story has been far different. Lidge blew 11 saves, a Major League Baseball record and his earn run average is 7.34, among the highest in the majors. After many chances, he finally lost his position as the team’s closer.

Players after the game in interviews described the move as a respectful gesture toward someone who has meant so much to the organization. Some observers also saw a show of confidence by Manuel and the organization. During the playoff run, the team will need Lidge at some point if they are going to repeat as champions.

Last night’s display wasn’t just a one-time occurrence. It’s the hallmark of an organization from the top down. Dave Montgomery, its president is committed the Phillies to be a fan friendly organization. For example, when the Phillies built its new ballpark (Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004), it made it a true democratic venue to watch a ballgame. Fans, no matter where their seats are located, have access to the entire park, which is rare in modern ballparks. Those with standing room tickets can watch the game in most areas of the ballpark. Behind the lower section there are long metals tables for these fans to buy a hot dog and beer and stand and have a high-priced view of the game.

Whatever happens in the playoffs, through its play and through its involvement with fans and the greater Philadelphia community, the Phillies have already earned a place in the hearts and minds of residents.