Jazzy Days in Orvieto

December 2017
Orvieto, Italy

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

 Umbria Jazz Winter is now in its 25th year, filling the hilltop town of Orvieto with jazz all hours of the day and night. This marvelous town, halfway between Rome and Florence, is a joy any time of year, but especially delightful during this winter festival – jazz drifts through the doorways of bars and cafes, bundled up fans and families linger in the piazzas, sample a chewy nut from the chestnut vendor while sipping mulled wine, stroll the lanes during the evening passeggiata, pausing to greet friends, showing off holiday gifts of new cozy coats, follow the Tuscan troubadors Funk Off as they march through the streets twice a day – it’s all so much fun! It’s been 15 years since the first time we came, and my most vivid memory of that first year, 2002, is the New Orleans Jazz band strutting through the streets. The current marching jazzmen have been leading the parade for 14 years now – at noon and at 6.
The town goes to sleep for the winter, from what we’ve been told, after Umbria Jazz Winter, but it’s lively as ever right now – the florist under the arcades doing a brisk business, shop windows and entries showing off their best New Year’s Eve attire  the most beautiful boutique in town is esconced in a gorgeous old palazzo. Ready for a bite to eat, we grab a stump-table at Cantina Foresi, beside the majestic Duomo, and order the soup of the day and a platter of Umbrian tastes – superb as always! 
Hotel Palazzo Piccolomini is the perfect historic-center location to really feel a part of Umbria Jazz Winter  – each year some of the musicians stay there, making our breakfast and aperitif conversations quite memorable for both us and our tour guests. This year a legendary bass player, Henry Grimes from New York, and his wife, were a pleasure to talk to – and passed on a CD recorded with Henry’s trio in the renowned Village Vanguard where some tour clients took us last year!
On our way to check out the sunset from our hilltop perch, we pass through quiet lanes, and there it is – a beauty! The pink hue spreads from west to east, where the cliff edge reminds us how high we are.
Another strut through town with Funk Off, another delicious Umbrian meal, just one more stroll through beautiful Orvieto, and we say goodbye til next years’ Umbria Jazz Winter.

Ho-Ho-Holidays in New York City

December, 2017
New York City

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

It’s Christmas time in the city! Just can’t resist a few more holiday lights – so up we come from DC to NYC for a weekend! We’ve lately become fans of The Milburn, in the upper west side, and are happy to hear that we can check in early before stopping at one of the many excellent restaurants nearby for lunch (we chose tiny little Piccolo, on Amsterdam Avenue – and had a yummy authentic Italian meal). Then we’re off to see the Christmas sights, walking across Central Park and down 5th Avenue where the crowds really begin. Cartier exudes chic holiday elegance with its signature red bow, Tiffany glitters outside as well as in, and Bergdorf Goodman highlights New York city icons with their sleek decor – love this silver tree with musical instruments!The crowds are intense at the Rockefeller Center – this is as close as we’ll get to the tree! But we’re content to stand by the angels, eyes on Saks across the street,where the show is about to begin! Just after 4:30 in the evening the façade explodes with color and lights as music pours out over the crowds – a very Disney feel, appropriate as Saks’ windows celebrate 80 years of Snow White magic! Hear the snippets of “Whistle While You Work” or “Someday My Prince Will Come”?
One beautifully crafted window after another recounts the tale – that wicked stepmother and the poisoned apple, the 7 dwarfs’ hospitality, the prince’s kiss, and of course, the happily-ever-after! Designers share their holiday frocks, inspired by the tale, such as this colorful gown by Naaem Khan. We’re not shopping, but we peek inside too – feels like a wonderland!
And now time for some refreshment – a taste of Paris at Maison Kayser! Before we head back uptown we say hi to the garlanded lions at the New York Public Library. It’s just perfect walking weather – always a pleasure in the city!
Today we’ll focus on more intimate decorations, pausing at the Sunday market on Columbus before crossing Central Park. Walking up one block and down another of the Upper East Side, we ooh and aah at the holiday decor – from little accents by a stairpost, to a welcoming nutcracker by an English basement door. We often see a spread of greens and pine cones, accented with snow remaining from a couple of days ago, on the garden beds – an idea we’d like to try in our front yard next year.
We’ve saved a classic beauty for last – the angel tree in the Metropolitan Museum of Art! Superb 18th century creche figures from Naples adorn the towering spruce, placed in front of a delicate and impressive Spanish choir screen also from the 1700s. Charming as the village scenes and the worshipful nativity are, it’s  the bevy of angels, with their luxurious flowing silk robes and graceful poses, that are the show-stopper. Even if you see nothing else in the Met at Christmas, visit the tree!
We continue the Italian theme with a late lunch at Machiavelli in the upper west side – the decor nearly as sumptuous as that tree!  And the fritto misto was as good as any I’ve had in Italy, from where our next update will arrive!
May your holidays be merry and bright – and filled with light and beauty!

Paris all Aglow

Thanksgiving Week, 2017
Paris, France

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!
We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

Time for a quick holiday visit to Paris on our way back from the south of France to the US – and we’re checking out a new-to-us hotel this time. We arrive around noon after a speedy TGV (fast train) trip from Aix, and the Grand Hotel Dechampaigne, red geraniums tumbling from every window of the 16th century former townhome, has a room ready for us – thanks for the early checkin! That red theme continues into our boudoir-like room and spacious bathroom of this excellently located hotel. After 3 plus hours in the train, we’re ready to walk, and take in the Parisian eye candy (this is a metro stop!) on our way to the Grands Magasins (big department stores) whose Christmas windows we’re eager to see. We’re meeting our friends, Ed & Sandy, beside the opera – can’t miss it! And from there to Galeries Lafayette, whose windows this year are themed as a “fairground with a surrealist twist” – hmmm. The tree inside (a candy theme here) is spectacular – worth jostling through the crowds to appreciate!
As in past years, Printemps wins my vote for the best windows, with their playful Magical Journey theme – the Thalys (train from Paris to Brussels) whizzing by in one window, a vintage VW van chugging along in another, Parisian icons gleaming beside. I love this tradition of meeting friends and seeing the holiday lights and sights!
Ed and Sandy want to see the lights along the Champs Elysees too – and we’re game! We all stand in the middle to snap a shot of the shimmering boulevard. Then we just keep walking, and as we head down sparkling Avenue Montaigne the Eiffel Tower across the river begins to twinkle….aah, Paris, you’re ever a sparkling jewel!