How Opera Singer and Travel Lover Andrea Bocelli Defied the Odds​

How Opera Singer and Travel Lover Andrea Bocelli Defied the Odds​

July 30, 2019

Andrea Bocelli has never been one to balk at a good challenge. Blind since age 12 due to congenital glaucoma worsened by a soccer mishap, the internationally beloved Italian tenor says, “I was a restless kid. I had grown a taste for challenges, with a tendency to do all that I was forbidden or suggested not to do—and, if possible, to do it better than the others, even with enormous sacrifices.” Indeed, before he became a father, Bocelli, now 55, says, “I did not miss out on the excitement of water-skiing and paragliding as well as the thrill of speed.” Add to the list snow skiing, riding horses and bicycles—even skydiving and driving a car—and you’ll begin to grasp the confident tenacity that enthralls millions of fans worldwide.

What’s not challenging for Bocelli these days is selling out massive venues as well as albums, more than 80 million of them, making him the best-selling classical solo artist ever and one of the best-selling artists in music history. Perhaps the one bastion that may never fall to the richly emotional charms of his fluid, versatile voice is the conservative opera-world establishment. “Andrea Bocelli is one of those crossover artists who infuriate the opera purists, but is loved by many for his musical gifts,” says Michael Sinclair, editor of The Opera Critic. “I don’t consider him an opera singer in the true sense of the word.” In this way, Bocelli’s career shares parallels with The Three Tenors phenomenon, when Luciano Pavarotti, Plàcido Domingo, and José Carreras brought opera and classical music to huge stadium audiences, an anathema to opera traditionalists.

Given that opera is Bocelli’s first love, enflamed when his nanny Oriana gave him a record of the late Franco Corelli, the famous Italian tenor who would later become his teacher, disdain from some critics must sting a bit—but only enough to reaffirm his disciplined dedication to improving his bel canto every day and with each performance. Earlier this year, Bocelli released Passione, a collection of Mediterranean love songs. Essentially a sequel to his highly popular Amore, a 2006 collaboration with Grammy Award-winning producer David Foster, the well-reviewed album features classics like “Garota De Ipanema” (Girl from Ipanema), “Love Me Tender,” and “Sará Settembre” (better known to English-speaking audiences as Neil Diamond’s “September Morn”).

On the album, Bocelli sings in six languages (Italian, English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Neapolitan), is accompanied by Latin rhythms and a 63-piece orchestra recorded in London, and performs duets with pop stars Jennifer Lopez (“Quizás Quizás Quizás”), Nelly Furtado (“Corcovado”), and even the late French chanteuse Edith Piaf, whose vocal for “La Vie En Rose” Foster extracted from a 1940s-era master recording.  

Many of the songs on Passione were among those often requested when Bocelli sang and played piano six nights a week in bars throughout Tuscany in the mid-1970s, to help pay for voice lessons with Corelli. During this time, he also studied law at the University of Pisa, near the family farm in Lajatico, where he and his younger brother, Alberto, grew up. Bocelli remembers these youthful days fondly: “It often happened that a beautiful girl who could sing in tune would come up and ask to sing something with me.” “I have always been singing, since I was a boy,” Bocelli says. “I used to compete, in the living room of my home, with the voices of my heroes whose interpretations came through the record player.” At age 6, he began studying classical piano, later learning to play the flute, saxophone, trumpet, guitar, drums, and more.

“Up to age 18, I had quite a radical attitude toward pop, excluding a priori all that was not classical or opera,” he says. But when he began playing “light music” in piano bars, he says, “an entirely new world opened up to me; I realized pop has its masterpieces.” For Bocelli, it’s easy to identify beauty in a piece of music, whatever the genre. “The fundamental difference is in the consequences it generates; it slowly gets inside you and helps you to grow, developing your spirituality.”

For a year, Bocelli worked as a stateappointed attorney. But his heart was in music. His big break came in 1992, when Italian rock star Zucchero called for tenors to make demo tapes of his song “Miserere,” hoping to convince Luciano Pavarotti to record a duet with him. Legend has it that Pavarotti refused to believe Bocelli’s tape was made by an unknown piano player, then told Zucchero to use him instead, famously saying, “There is no finer voice.” Pavarotti did, however, record the duet, but it was Bocelli who performed in his place on Zucchero’s European tour, quickly gaining a name for himself. Around this time, Caterina Caselli signed Bocelli to her Sugar record label. Three things drew her to the tenor she says: a “deeply marvelous” voice, with “low frequencies that creep into our emotional fields and conquer our hearts”; beauty (“He looked like the young and absolutely heart-throbbing Omar Sharif ”); and charisma that “enables him to relate to people from all walks of life.” In 1996, Bocelli recorded “Time to Say Goodbye,” a duet with English soprano Sarah Brightman that quickly shot to the top of the charts in Europe. In 1999, he began a grueling world tour, which included his first performances in the U.S. His opening performance at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. won several standing ovations. This marked the beginning of a special relationship with America and with New York City in particular, where then-mayor Rudy Guiliani granted him the Crystal Apple in 1999. In 2011, Bocelli gave a Central Park concert broadcast on PBS and attended by 60,000, singing with Tony Bennett, Celine Dion, and many others.

At every break in the tour schedule, Bocelli traveled home to his expansive villa, a former hotel on the northern Italian coast near Pisa, to spend time with his two growing sons, Matteo and Amos. At a party in 2002, he met the younger woman who would become his fiancé and manager, Veronica Berti. “A few minutes after we met, he dedicated to me the romanza ‘Occhi di Fata’ [or Fairy Eyes],” she recalls. “That evening was enough for us both to decide to choose to spend our lives together.” Their light-filled home includes a large collection of musical instruments, ready for spontaneous harmonizing. Collaborator David Foster describes a typical scene: “We have so much fun when we’re working together. Andrea has an incredible sense of humor and his musical tastes are unbelievably varied. On any given night, while on a break, you could find us in the living room: me on piano; Pierpaolo, the sound engineer, on bass; Andrea’s sons on percussion; and Andrea himself on drums, playing and singing a Beatles song.”

Foster says the first time he heard Bocelli sing was a rare “aha” moment: “I was completely blown away by this powerful yet gentle voice singing in a style that I had never heard before. He is the only person I know who walks perfectly in both the pop world and the classical world. His pop voice is effortless and his knowledge of classical is vast. He prefers one over the other but he’s so clever that you will never figure out what his favorite is.” Those closest to Bocelli are clearly inspired by his will and passion for life, but are quick to add that these are balanced with a gentle humility, integrity and loyalty to his family, friends, and homeland. Together with his brother, Alberto, he owns a winery, “an adventure designed to honor and pass on the great love of our father, Sandro,” Alberto explains. “In the eighteenth century, the Bocelli family worked as sharecroppers on a property of the Corsini princes. The passion for our land has remained in our chromosomes.” Producing quality traditional Tuscan wines is a point of pride: “If we can recoup the expenses we are already happy.” In his hometown of Lajatico, Bocelli also helped sponsor construction of an open-air amphitheater, where he hosts a packed concert with special guests every July. Aptly named the Teatro del Silenzio, the venue goes dark the rest of the year. Growing up, Alberto watched his brother transform what could have been a limitation into opportunity for growth. “I think he grew his strong will in the difficult apprenticeship  of childhood, when he used to do half the things because he liked them, and the other half to demonstrate how silly others’ prejudices were.”

His old friend Adriano Fiaschi says that during their endless youthful discussions of dreams, love, and life, he came to appreciate Bocelli’s unique perspective on the dichotomy between being and appearing. “Since he was a boy, Andrea has pursued ‘to be,’ not ‘to look’,” he says. “Those who do not have any sight problems may be misled by the superficiality of the appearance, while Andrea is prone to see the essence of things; he knows how to capture what matters. Sight implies practical advantages, no doubt, but in this sense, also some disadvantages.”

To select the songs for Passione, Foster spent two 14-day stretches at Bocelli’s villa, coming up with a list of 80 candidates. Asked what makes a great love song, Bocelli told Foster, “When I sing a song, I must first fall in love with it and feel it in my heart. It must arouse emotions and enter the fibers of those who are listening to it. It must become the voice of many in the world, so that they can mirror in it their most genuine feelings.” In the midst of his Passione tour this summer, Bocelli reflected on his ambivalence about touring. “Mine is a wandering life. The rhythms it requires still cost me physical and psychological strain today, as 20 years ago. I spend most part of the year abroad, and every time I have to leave the peace and the happiness of my house and most of all, my loved ones. At the same time, I am perfectly aware of how wonderful my work is, and I certainly do not complain.” His preparation for a tour is always the same, he says. But with rising fame and growing public expectations, he says, “I cannot afford leaving anything to chance. The set list is quite meticulously prepared and reasoned. 

The performance of the pieces, especially the opera ones needs constant study.” Thankfully, tour logistics are handled by his staff, ‘an enlarged family.’ And after a decade of exhausting airport waits and delays, he now travels by private plane, a luxury which affords him “the perception of a family ambiance even when I am among clouds, traveling from one continent to the other,” he says. While on tour, Bocelli maintains a strict regimen. “Between concerts, I try to spend my time in isolation. I avoid drinking wine, coffee, and other pleasant things. I follow the diet of an athlete and take with me a gym ball, a simple tool to keep in shape. I try to speak as little as possible and to maintain the maximum concentration. Therefore, there’s usually no shop- ping, no trips. In fact, I can say I have traveled the world wide and far, but most of the time, I just know the airport, my hotel room and the dressing room of the theater. Before concerts, I study, read, or write myself (poems and aphorisms) in order not to give in to laziness and to keep my brain fit.”

Caselli vouches for his disciplined work ethic. “Andrea always aims for the sky and gives his very best, even when he is not in tiptop shape,” she says. “I recall seeing him perform live on Good Morning America at 7 a.m. without a speck of hesitation, after waking up jet-lagged at 5 a.m. And this, let me say, is a rather unlikely practice among performing artists, who normally refuse to sing anything sooner than the early afternoon.” The day before any live performance, she says, he has a strict rule of almost religious silence: no interviews, no phone calls for the sake of his voice.

Shows share with all Bocelli’s live performances a special quality—an alchemy born of the magical effect his voice seems to have on his dedicated fans. His former piano teacher and collaborator for 20 years, Carlo Bernini, describes the effect, especially common in large concerts in the United States and South America. “[His] singing interacts at a deep level with the listener,” he says. “I see many couples arrive and absentmindedly occupy their places. Gradually, as the concert proceeds, people have a happier disposition and end up hugging or holding hands, or one is weeping and the other one is encircling his or her head. At the end of the concert, the public comes out visibly regenerated, pacified, and full of new energy.” Part of the magic is that his audience senses that Bocelli himself quite naturally embodies passion and romance.

 “I’m still very much in love with life. Love, the engine of the world, and even romance are essential ingredients of a whole existence, regardless of the passing of time. I think it is a priceless privilege for man to have the possibility to interpret, poetically, their own adventure on Earth,” he says. “What is often too large to be contained in the rational mechanisms of our minds, we can perhaps, if not really achieve, at least perceive through a poem, or perhaps a musical phrase.” With his fairy tale life and overwhelmingly positive outlook, Bocelli has little patience for labels like crossover artist or for petty critiques from opera-world purists. At the June opening of the opera season in Verona, he reportedly remarked with characteristic pragmatism to a journalist’s question about the attendance crisis in opera [houses] today, “We should invite young people to the theaters, to rehearsals. We have to spread it just as we do with sport. In a word, opera needs to be supported by an adequate marketing operation. For the rest, opera is more than alive and enjoys good health.”

When he looks ahead, Bocelli sees plenty of music projects— and a desire to give back something of what life has given him. He recently founded the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, which works to help people around the world who are in need due to illness, disability, poverty, and social exclusion. “I created a foundation to put all our strengths together, to make sure that my actions are not ‘a drop in the sea’ but united with all other drops—as Mother Teresa teaches us—to become an ocean,” he wrote in a letter on the nonprofit’s website. Appropriately, one of the first grants went to the MIT Fifth Sense Project, where researchers are working to develop a technology that can help blind people to perform the activities of daily life more independently and efficiently. Another, named Project Virginia, supports high-risk pregnancy care at a hospital in Haiti. After this tour wraps at the end of the year, Bocelli says he’s dreaming of just one thing. “At the top of my desires, there is always the peace and the quietness of my home in Tuscany, together with my children and the people I love,” he says. “That is my favorite holiday, the main goal in my wish list.”

Concierge Simona Bresciani’s List for Tuscany

Spa: Relax at Espa, a modern wellness center tucked into Castello del Nero, a 12th-century palace located among the rolling hills of western Chianti. After a massage and skin treatment, take in the view of vineyards and olive groves from its heated pool. 

Meal: Steps away from the duomo (cathedral) in Siena sits Antica Osteria Da Divo, which serves classic Tuscan fare in ancient Etruscan underground rooms carved out of the region’s soft volcanic rock.  Wine: Combine two Italian classics into one with a guided road trip in tiny 1960s’ vintage Fiat 500 cars that ends at a 15th-century villa and vineyard. Harvest grapes, stomp them into juice, and learn the Italian way to producing wine.

Discover One Of The Biggest Fishing Tournaments In The World

Discover One of the Biggest Fishing Tournaments in the World

July 26, 2019

A blue marlin roaming the Pacific Ocean can attain a body weight measuring over a half-ton. That girth is packed into a sleek, hydrodynamic body that can reach lengths of 16 feet. When swimming after prey, it can accelerate to nearly 70 mph. A black marlin, of similar proportion, can reach speeds close to 80 mph. When all that momentum zeroes in on a baited lure trolled behind a boat, the result could equate to the catch of a lifetime. And if you happen to hook into a black or blue off Los Cabos, Mexico, during the Bisbee’s Black & Blue Tournament, that fish could be worth millions of dollars.

Bisbee’s Black & Blue, which this year runs October 22-26, is advertised as the richest sportfishing tournament in the world. Anglers from all 50 states as well as up to 18 other countries come to Cabo San Lucas at the bottom of Baja California to try for the seven-figure jackpot. In 2006, the prize money totaled $4,165,960, the largest payout in fishing tournament history. Last year, the top boat hauled in nearly $2.4 million—all for catching a single fish—which is why for many tournament anglers, Bisbee’s is the ultimate competition.

“The major appeal of the Bisbee’s Black & Blue is that it is the worldwide, main event of marlin fishing,” says Colin Sarfeh of Pelagic Gear, which sponsored last year’s winning team. “Location, consistent fishing results, and an event that seems to grow larger by the year make Bisbee’s the place to be in October. And don’t forget the money. It’s no coincidence that Sports Illustrated hailed this tournament as ‘The Super Bowl of Fishing’.” The Bisbee family still runs the Black & Blue, which started back in 1981 thanks to Bob Bisbee, now 80 and the family patriarch. He owned a fuel dock and tackle store in Newport Beach, California, and originally set up the tournament to promote his business to the West Coast fishing circuit; many boats from the Newport area and the California coast made their way south to Cabo in the wintertime. But that’s not the whole story.

“In all honesty it was beer muscles flexing at the local bar,” says Wayne Bisbee, Bob’s son who now serves as the event’s director. “They were sitting LOS CABOS around saying, ‘I can fish better than you,’ and the next thing you know there’s serious money involved.” The first tournament consisted of six boats fishing for a total of $10,000 in prize money. Over the years the purse has added a few more zeroes to the bottom line and the number of fishing teams has swelled considerably. Last year, 106 boats with 740 anglers showed up in up in Cabo to hook a winner.

Historically, the Black & Blue was once known as more of a party tournament than a serious fishing event thanks to the density of bars and nightclubs just off the marina in downtown Cabo San Lucas. “Teams used to stumble out of the bars and untie their boat just in time for the shotgun start,” says Bisbee. But as the tournament evolved into a big-money venture with the potential for million-dollar payouts, most of the fishing teams today focus on the actual fishing. “In the last eight to 10 years the prize money has gotten so insane that they take it more seriously,” he says. Then he adds with a grin, “On tournament days at least.”

Cabo San Lucas sits at the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula, a long sliver of land separated from the mainland by the Gulf of California (also known as the Sea of Cortez). The Gulf is home to one of the richest marine ecosystems in the entire world, harboring humpback, killer, and gray whales, as well as giant whale sharks, manta rays, and many species of sea turtles.

At the tip of the Baja Peninsula, water from the Gulf mixes with the Pacific Ocean, creating an abundant convergence of marine life. Strong Pacific currents swirl around the tip of the peninsula, trapping large concentrations of nutrients and baitfish in one giant eddy composed of several large reefs as well as underwater canyons and mountains. All of these things combine to create the perfect feeding grounds for large pelagic predators such as blue, black, and striped marlin. The once sleepy commercial fishing town of Cabo was “discovered” as a sport-fishing destination in the 1950s, and the big-game fishing for billfish became so legendary that the area earned the nickname “Marlin Alley.” The largest blue marlin ever caught at the tournament weighed 993 pounds; the largest black marlin weighed 645 pounds.

For years, the only practical way to get down to Cabo was by boat, giving the prospect of fishing there had an air of affluence since you had to have a vessel that could handle big seas on the multi-day trip south (see “Power Players,” page 47). You still do, if you plan on bringing your own boat, but Cabo has a thriving charter fleet that takes advantage of this amazing fishery. And during the Black & Blue, a good crew is what you need for a shot at the prize money.

On tournament days, more than 100 boats mill about offshore, just outside of the harbor. The crews go over last-minute bait and equipment checks and make sure everything is secure. The captain scans his electronic charts and GPS with a plan in place to sprint to where he thinks his team will have the best chance to hook a marlin. The anglers, the ones responsible for handling the rods and fighting the fish, stand on deck with butterflies in their stomachs and a nervous edge akin to a football player before a championship game. The lure of a big payday draws some of the best fishing crews from all over the world. (As one participant joked, “Just try getting a fishing charter in Kona [Hawaii] during the Black & Blue. They’re all in Baja.”) Some teams show up weeks before to do some pre-tournament scouting, and they all put down hefty entry fees for the chance at the big reward.

The Black & Blue runs over three days and differs from many billfish tournaments because the competition is comprised of a series of daily jackpots. There are six jackpot divisions, ranging from $500 to $10,000. A team fishing a jackpot must pay for that level over all three days. For example, entering the $500 daily jackpot costs a boat $1,500; the $1,000 jackpot requires $3,000 and so on. There are also top tournament prizes, as well as a separate jackpot division for other gamefish such as dorado and tuna. A boat can enter one or all of the daily jackpots—the bill for entering the whole enchilada runs $71,500. The team that weighs in the heaviest fish each day wins whichever jackpot it entered. If no one catches a qualifying fish—a marlin must weigh at least 300 pounds to count—the jackpot money rolls over to the next day. When this happens, the pots for a single fish can soar.

This is what happened last year when one team on the boat Frantic Pace caught a 465-pound blue marlin on the second day of the tournament. That fish turned out to be the only marlin landed during the entire three days of fishing. Since Frantic Pace had entered into all of the daily jackpot levels, they swept the entire prize board, winning a grand total of $2,396,800. A huge number, yes, but well short of the record payout of $3,902,998 won by a boat named Bad Company in 2006.

At 8 a.m. on October 23 all that prize money will be on the line, as the Black & Blue officially begins with a shotgun start—all boats have to remain behind an invisible starting line in the harbor and open their throttles as soon as the official start is broadcast over the radio. From there the captains point the bows of their boats to famous fishing areas like Iman Bank or Gorda Bank, or their own secretly scouted spots, in hopes of landing a worthy fish.

By 5 p.m., all the boats without a catch will be feverishly trolling for a bite and hoping they have time to race back to the harbor by 9 p.m. where they weigh their fish at the Island Global Yachting Marina, the nerve center for the entire event. As many as 5,000 people will show up to watch the weigh-ins, adding to the tourney’s arena-sized atmosphere. This year, Wayne Bisbee estimates that the Black & Blue could have 130 boats and more than $3 million in total prize money, an enticing lure to hundreds of anglers, all hoping to land a marlin big enough to take it all.

How to Experience Paris Like an Artist

How to Experience Paris Like an Artist

July 25, 2019

The City of Lights has captivated artists for centuries. Yet despite its modern trappings, at its core the area remains largely unchanged from the days of Degas, Monet and their fellow Impressionists. See for yourself with a tour through the paintings and locations that personify Paris’s artistic inspiration.

Paris’s beauty is universally understood. The city, its monuments, its people and its celebrations have been inspirational to artists over the centuries, and that spirit shines through in their work. Particularly with the Impressionists, who burst onto the scene in the 19th century and sought to capture the essence of their subject with loose, vibrant brushwork painted with urgency en plein air. Their works changed the portrayal of Paris from a classical still life to one of vitality, energy, landscapes and people—all captured in the moment. Through these paintings, many have fallen in love with Paris before even stepping foot in France. And while the city is ever-evolving, we can still see the very places that captured the imagination of these famous painters and, with the right eyes, the beauty and romance that inspired them.

View of the Grand Gallery of the Louvre by Hubert Robert, 1796 
Location Depicted: Grand Gallery, the Louvre Museum
Painting Location: History of the Louvre section of the museum

Long before Louis XIV moved his court to Versailles, the Palais du Louvre was essentially abandoned by the royal family for the more comfortable Palais des Tuileries built by Catherine di Medici. In the late 18th century, in the years leading up to the French Revolution, artists had already installed themselves into the Louvre, both to live and to work, sketching and painting the great works of art collected by the French monarchs over the previous centuries. By 1778 Louis XVI’s official “Guardian of the King’s Paintings,” Hubert Robert, was designated as the first curator of what would become the Louvre Museum. A celebrated landscape painter, he was nicknamed Robert des Ruines because of his fondness for painting picturesque ruins, both real and imagined. His pure Classical style gained him entrance into the prestigious French Royal Académie in 1766, and his works were shown at the annual Salons. 

Robert was also recognized for his ability to conceptualize landscapes, and his paintings guided the renovations of the gardens at Versailles. He also often painted the Louvre, where he lived from 1778 until 1802, and completed several idealized visions of what the Grand Gallery might look like once transformed from a long, empty corridor that connected the Louvre to the Tuileries into a museum gallery. His paintings later guided the architects’ renovations, including major details such as expanding the skylights and replacing the palace windows with nooks for statues. This 1801–1805 painting depicts great works of art such as Raphael’s Holy Family and Titian’s Entombment. The seated painter shown at bottom right is the artist himself. Today you can see eight of Robert’s paintings in the History of the Louvre section of the museum. And without a doubt you will still see young art students and amateur artists from all over the world with their sketchbooks and easels, capturing the beauty of the Grand Gallery.

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The Opera Orchestra by Edgar Degas, 1870 
Location Depicted: Salle Le Peletier Opera House 
Painting Location: Musée d’Orsay 

The Opéra de Paris was an important centerpiece in civic planner Georges-Eugene Haussmann’s urban transformations during Napoléon III’s Second Empire. In the second half of the 19th century, theaters were the place for the affluent class to see and be seen, bourgeoisie and aristocrats alike. And unlike the bawdy playhouses around République or Pigalle, the theaters and opera houses along the western Grands Boulevards were “respectable” places for artists to paint. Edgar Degas was not only a painter; he and his family were also seasonticket holders of the Opéra de Paris. This allowed Degas the opportunity to create many of his most famous paintings. 

In L’orchestre de l’Opéra he places the musicians front and center: Desire Dihau, a friend of the Degas family, is on bassoon in the most prominent position, with Achille Gouffé on double bass to the right and composer Emmanuel Chabrier in the box. The dancers, barely sketched in, are cut off in the background, their bright tutus glowing in the stage lights. This off-center composition, depiction of movement, and attention to color and light would soon make Degas one of the stars of the Impressionist movement; however, he often vehemently rejected the label, never adopted the “Impressionist paint fleck” style and mocked the idea of painting en pleine air. 

A great admirer of classic masters such as Ingres and Delacroix, Degas had been successful at the Salons early in his career, but soon became disenchanted with them and participated in every Impressionist exhibition from 1874 through 1881. This painting, along with many others featuring Degas’ dancers, can be seen in the Musée d’Orsay. 

Opera fans today can experience views of the stage from behind the orchestra at the Palais Garnier, although this isn’t the actual theater Degas painted. In 1870 the Opéra de Paris was still performing at the Salle Le Peletier, a theater at 12 rue Le Peletier (the approximate location of the Drouot Auction House) that burned down in 1873, just two years before the Opéra de Paris’s new home in the Palais Garnier finally opened after delays caused by the Franco-Prussian War. Historic photos and early drawings are usually displayed in the Bibliothèque de l’Opéra, the temporary exhibit space open to the general public on self-guided visits of the Palais Garnier. 

View of the Tuileries Gardens by Claude Monet, 1876 
Location Depicted: 
Tuileries Gardens
Painting Location: Musee Marmottan-Monet

It’s hard to exaggerate how scandalous it once was for a painter to work outside, en plein air. It just wasn’t done. Or rather, it couldn’t be done if an artist adhered to the stringent style of painting defined by the Société des Artistes Français. Sketches could be done outside, but the careful, meticulous brushwork of classical paintings could take weeks to complete back in the artist’s studio. But when oil paints became available in tubes in the mid1800s—thus eliminating the risk of them drying out—artists began venturing into the great outdoors, easels and palettes in hand. Monet learned about painting en plein air from the landscape artist Eugène Boudin, who taught Monet how to capture his first impression of the landscape—to capture the essence of the moment. This required the artist to work very quickly, which produced visible brush strokes that became one of the hallmarks of Impressionism. Monet was won over by the vibrancy, immediacy and dynamism this technique produced in his paintings, which he could never replicate in studio paintings. This panoramic painting captures the elegant, manicured gardens designed by André Le Notre for the Tuileries Palace, Catherine de Medici’s 16thcentury mansion that was burned down during the 1871 Paris Commune. Today, Les Tuileries is a large public park stretching from the Louvre Museum to the Place de la Concorde, with two cafes, several play areas for children and a collection of classical sculptures alongside contemporary artworks. Monet painted this vista from an apartment balcony on the Rue de Rivoli that belonged to Victor Chocquet, one of the painter’s earliest supporters. Although a minor customs officer in the Ministry of Finance, Chocquet devoted a substantial portion of his limited resources to acquiring an impressive collection of Impressionist paintings. He went so far as to stand in front of the works at exhibitions and explain the artist’s vision to passersby. Les Tuileries can be seen today at the Musée MarmottanMonet; although fans of Monet’s famous water lily series, Les Nymphéas, can see them in the Musée de l’Orangerie, located in the Tuileries Gardens. 

Ball at the Moulin De La Galette by Auguste Renoir, 1876 
Location Depicted: Montmartre 
Painting Location: Musée d’Orsay

Van Gogh, Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pissarro … many Impressionists were eager to capture the spirit of Montmartre’s most popular 19th-century guinguette, an open-air dance hall that served wine and food in a former 17th-century flour mill. But Renoir’s painting of the Bal du Moulin de la Galette was one of his greatest masterpieces, a successful portrayal of the popular culture of the time captured in all its ambience and joyfulness. Presented at the Third Impressionists Exhibition in 1877, the painting captured the public’s attention not just because of its use of typically Impressionist techniques—capturing light and shade without using black, prominent brushstrokes—but because of the sheer size of the work. Measuring 51¾ by 69½ inches, it was an ambitious painting and rare in its magnitude for an Impressionist work, given the spontaneous nature of its creation. But while it has a spontaneous feel to it, most of the figures are friends or informal models asked to pose, so Renoir’s painting is more accurately a carefully arranged set of portraits. One of the friends gathered around the central table is Georges Rivière, a writer whose description of Bal du Moulin de la Galette in the Exhibition program described the painting as a “page of history, a precious and strictly accurate portrayal of Parisian life.” 

The majority of Paris’s artist community relocated to the more affordable Montparnasse district on the Left Bank in the early 20th century, but artists can still be found hawking their wares at Montmartre’s Place du Tertre and its surrounding galleries. The original Moulin de la Galette, located at the intersection of Rue Lepic and Rue Tholoze, eventually closed to the public, but its two windmills are protected historic monuments. You can see the 17th-century Moulin Blute-Fin still standing at the top of the hill. The Moulin Radet was moved in 1924 to the corner of Rue Giradon, where today it stands guard over a new restaurant that calls itself the Moulin de la Galette. 

Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustav Caillebottle, 1877  
Location Depicted: Place de Dublin
Painting Location: Currently part of the traveling exhibition “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity.”

The
newly reconstructed Paris of the 1870s was a cosmopolitan city of tree-lined boulevards, elegant theaters, monumental churches and modern train stations. Nowhere else in Paris is this Second Empire vision more evident than the area stretching from the Palais Garnier at the Place de l’Opéra to the Place de Clichy, encompassing the Grands Boulevards and its Grands Magasins, and the Gare St-Lazare, which was particularly adored by the Impressionists. Monet rented a small studio nearby and presented a dozen canvases paying tribute to the train station in the 1877 Impressionist Exhibition, the same year that Gustave Caillebotte presented his memorable painting of the neighboring Place de Dublin, Paris Street, Rainy Day. Caillebotte was a relative newcomer at age 29, but an inheritance gave him considerable wealth and resources; and although artists like Pissarro, Monet, Renoir, Sisley and Degas ran the show, Caillebotte bankrolled almost every Impressionist Exhibition. 

Caillebotte was more interested in collecting than selling (unlike his financially strapped colleagues), and never gained the same fame, but when he died he left the State an incredible number of Impressionist works, which formed the foundation for the Musée d’Orsay’s collections. Ironically, the Institut de France tried to refuse Caillebotte’s donation of the paintings, which had been roundly rejected by the Salons, particularly those by Cézanne. So a large chunk of the collection was sold to Dr. Albert Barnes and later became part of the world-renowned Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. It wasn’t until the Chicago Art Institute acquired and displayed Paris Street, Rainy Day in the 1970s that Caillebotte became famous to a wider audience.

More than just a portrayal of urban life in late 19th-century Paris, the painting also reflects Caillebotte’s fascination with the new art of photography. The focus and cropping are meant to make it look spontaneous, like a photo, but it’s obviously a carefully planned composition. The painting makes the streets wider and the buildings larger than they really are at the Place de Dublin, and like Renoir’s painting it was done on a monumental canvas (83½ by 108¾ inches), which together convey the feelings of the pedestrians in this anonymous cityscape. 

The Seine with the Pont De La Grande Jatte by Vincent Van Gogh, 1887 
Location Depicted: Ile de la Jatte 
Painting Location: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

In 1860 Paris achieved its current geographic size with the annexation of the once bucolic suburbs, which were soon populated by new arrivals who came to work in the factories that sprang up during the Industrial Revolution. But the ease of train travel and the working class’ growing affluence also meant that it was possible to escape to the countryside for a day of fresh air. It was only natural the artists would follow. One of the favorite—and accessible—getaways of the Neo-impressonist painters was the Ile de la Jatte, a small island on the Seine known for its guinguettes. One of the bestknown pieces from this period is Georges Seurat’s Pointillist painting Sunday Afternoon on the Ile de la Grande-Jatte. Vincent van Gogh spent the summer of 1887 with family nearby, painting many of the bridges and riverbanks along the Seine, including the Courbevoie Bridge from the Ile de La Jatte. He was still experimenting stylistically, and both Impressionist and Pointillist techniques can be seen here in the long brushstrokes and smaller, almost dot-like points of paint. The bridge itself was replaced in 1965, but the Ile de la Jatte is still a leafy little escape from the city. From the Pont de Levallois metro station, visitors can walk to the Ile de la Jatte and enjoy a scenic walk along the Parcours des Impressionists, a trail around the island featuring reproductions of famous artworks produced here.

L'Oiseau Blanc Restaurant Rooftop Day

The Wine Shop (Le Bistro) by Edward Hopper, 1909 
Location Depicted: Quai Voltaire
Painting Location: Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City

Although Edward Hopper is most remembered for his stark depictions of New England’s semi-deserted cityscapes and landscapes, this 20th-century American painter was forever influenced by his time in France. In the early 1900s, Paris was still the benchmark of success, and many artists came from around the world to study, show their works or simply create. Hopper visited Paris in 1906, after graduating from the New York Institute of Art and Design, and again in 1909 and 1910. Perhaps because he was shy and didn’t speak the language, he spent much of his time painting alone. Many experts believe the feeling of alienation he felt as an American Protestant in the exalted City of Lights helped him develop his signature style. This painting of a view over the Pont Royal from the Left Bank’s Quai Voltaire clearly shows Impressionist techniques with the attention to light and the unusual framing. But only Hopper could transform this bustling street scene into an empty landscape almost devoid of people, an aesthetic also seen in his paintings of the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and several other locales. Art lovers visiting Paris won’t want to miss the Quai Voltaire, strategically located between the famous Ecole des BeauxArts and the Musée d’Orsay. At #3 is Sennelier, where artists have been purchasing their paints and pastels since 1887. On any given Thursday, there’s at least one vernissage, or exhibition preview, in the prestigious art galleries located between the Quai Voltaire and the Boulevard St-Germain.

L’arc De Triomphe by Edouard Cortes, 1940s 
Location Depicted: Place Charles de Gaulle, Etoile
Painting Location: Private collection

The son of a Spanish court painter, Edouard Cortes was one of the most prolific Paris street-scene painters of the first half of the 20th century. After studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Art, he was accepted by the Société des Artistes Français to show his painting Paris Streets at Night at the 1902 Salon. He participated in every Salon after that until his retirement. His paintings were almost always Paris street scenes, often the same exact views of the boulevards, public squares or grand monuments like the Arc de Triomphe shown during different times of the day, in changing weather and in all four seasons. His canvases embraced the City of Lights, with glittering shop windows, streetlights and headlights reflected in the rain-slicked streets. Even in the dead of winter he managed to capture the warmth and energy of the city, with its never-ending flurry of activity. We also see the passage of time in Cortes’s paintings—which he produced over a course of nearly five decades— as horse carriages and trams change into cars and buses, gas lamps into neon, and women’s fashions evolve from hourglass dresses to smart Chanel suits. This particular portrayal of the Arc de Triomphe captures the monument from Avenue Friedland, as the sun sets a brilliant golden color behind the autumn trees. We see a 1940s car and a municipal streetcar matching the green bus shelters and Colonne Morris advertising pillars. Despite the popularity of Cortes’s paintings (reportedly copied more often than even Renoir or Monet), you won’t find them in any museum, but in countless private collections and galleries. 

Experience Austin Like a Local

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Experience Austin Like a Local

July 24, 2019

In Austin, nothing is strange at all,” muses alto powerhouse and beloved local crooner Shelly King. She’s referring to the eclectic music scene on which Austin has built its reputation. But these days the notion sums up a city that’s evolving from a musical melting pot into a chic cosmopolitan metropolis with swagger, where you’re as likely to see a dressed-to-the-nines socialite as a rough-hewn cowboy. The passing traffic I observe while lingering over a cup at Jo’s Coffee, a buzzing, laid-back watering hole on perpetually hip South Congress, illustrates Austin’s multifarious makeup: There’s a pedi-cab pedaled by a guy named Rags Olsson (who I happen to know sports a business card that reads “funk guitarist/ pedi-cab driver/artist/golf caddy”); a fleet of Zipcars; a trio of serious road bikers spinning like it’s the Tour de France; some cruising Harley-Davidsons propelled by chunky, bearded drivers; and a black convertible Ferrari 458 Spider.

That last one slips into a parking slot as nimbly as a stalking jungle cat. A nattily dressed man steps out and heads toward Enoteca, an Italian osteria with Romanstyle pizza, dishes to go and a stellar wine list. Since I’m bound for the same place for some antipasti (fire roasted peppers, pistachio-speckled mortadella and the kind of lemony-garlic olives you can usually find only in Tuscany), I catch up with him and strike up a conversation. Turns out, he doesn’t own the car. Rather—and even better— he belongs to écurie25, a supercar club that debuted its Austin chapter last fall. The other seven locations can be found spread around the globe. Membership entitles access to a collection of more than 50 of the world’s most desirable cars, as long as you happen to be in one of the écurie25 cities. This rare Ferrari 458 Spider is available in Austin, but members living or visiting here can also take a Lamborghini Gallardo, an Aston Martin Vantage, or even a McLaren MP4-12C out for a spin. 

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The club also organizes social gatherings, motor sport events, parties and Grand Prix experiences for like-minded enthusiasts, visiting and local members alike. In November, when Formula 1—with its festive parties, bottles of gold-flecked Champagne, automotive demos and racetrack madness— takes over Austin, these automobile folk, and the rest of Austin, are in their luxe motor-head element.

Exploring SOCO  

Bag of antipasti in hand, I leave the Ferrari driver to his pizza and meander up South Congress. Called SOCO, located across the river and south of downtown, this area was once a dilapidated, deteriorating bit of the city awash in flophouses, decaying buildings and the sort of questionable characters that keep local police on their toes. Now gentrified, revived and buzzing with vitality, SOCO is chock-full of independently owned boutiques, unique cafes and compelling bars. 

With casual see-and-be-seen verve, it’s where the cool kids of all ages congregate. Here, you’ll find the iconic Continental Club, a boozy speakeasy that draws from deep Southern juke joint roots and hosts live musical acts every day of the week. Stores like Allen’s Boots, with shelves and shelves of jaw-dropping cowboy boots; Lucy In Disguise With Diamonds, a vintage clothes and costumes boutique; Parts & Labour, peddling clothing and accessories by some of Austin’s coolest designers; Blackmail fashion designers’ workshop with an all-black theme; and Stag, a menswear shop with a James Dean-meets-hipster-aesthetic define the drag. Home Slice Pizza, Guero’s and Perla’s Seafood and Oyster Bar offer plenty of places to nibble. On the first Thursday of the month, pedestrian-friendly SOCO revs up the action with its First Thursday street party. Stores stay open late and many offer free snacks and libations. Most restaurants, including food trucks, lure folks to stay awhile with extended happy hours or food specials. Throughout, on bare bits of sidewalk and in parking lots, a coterie of artisans set up booths to hustle their wares. It’s an inviting scene that unveils Austin’s creative, ebullient spirit—one that makes tourists feel like insiders.

But SOCO’s a bit quieter on this Thursday after – noon, which makes the sidewalk easier to negotiate and the shop fronts simpler to peruse. I’m en route to Kendra Scott Jewelry—perhaps the district’s most glamorous, glittering gem in Austin’s proverbial crown. A favorite stop for visiting celebrities, Kendra Scott brand has six stores nationally and a seventh slated to open in Newport Beach, Calif., this spring. Her successful flagship studio, however, sits in an airy gallery on South Congress. Opened in 2010, one year after Austin held its premier fashion week, its success reflects the burgeoning vim and vigor of Austin’s style scene.

Here, Kendra Scott herself custom cuts and hand sets colorful, textured stones into craftsman sculpted metal. Her designs, born from her personal style, embody a bold fusion of vintage and contemporary that’s both avant-garde and elegant— truly an evocation of Austin chic. “I take inspiration from Austin’s art, architecture, food, landscape and people,” she says. “Austin has an unlimited supply of all. It’s a mecca for art, and I don’t mean in the traditional sense.”  

Indeed, art in Austin is not limited to museums or galleries. It’s ubiquitous: as murals, outdoor statuary, graffiti in the experimental style of its populace and, as Scott says, among the “young artists selling their treasures on the street.” Already an Austin tradition, a stop at Kendra Scott’s to purchase jewelry appeals to women—and their escorts—of all ages. 

Wine & Dine

To reward myself for resisting a Byzantine-style necklace with purple stones, I cross the Congress Avenue Bridge and park myself at riverside TRIO at the Four Seasons for a glass of wine. At a table with a view, I natter with my friend, sommelier Mark Sayre, who helms the wine program here. He tells me his restaurant sells about 700 bottles of wine a month. “Austin’s wine scene is fearless,” Sayre says. “Buyers are unafraid to experiment, and diners are willing to do the same. Winemakers worldwide want to sell their wine in Austin because of this vibe.” Known for its wine events and dinners, TRIO pairs clean, contemporary small plates with wine that Sayre has carefully curated from small vineyards around the globe. “Dinners here are a communal celebration of what is right in the world of wine, regardless of region,” he says.

Think wines from Walla Walla, Wash., (Pepper – bridge or Waters) or Champagne and rich Bordeaux by the Gonet Medeville family. “My goal is to deliver producers who are on the cutting edge,” he says. I stay at TRIO just long enough to see the bats roll out en masse from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge, like an undulating curtain of purplish black twilight. Their otherworldly chattering is a dissonant symphony and everyone watches in awe. Most people don’t know it, but Austin has the world’s biggest urban bat colony. At dusk, from April to October, they pour out from under the bridge to sate their hunger. A crowd-pleasing nightly tradition, the bats alone bring more than 50,000 tourists to Austin. To view this odd ritual, join the throngs atop the bridge, or do as I do and take a gander, glass of wine in hand, from TRIO’s lawn. Besides the bats and Austin’s touted live music scene (the city boasts more than 250 bona fide venues and hosts renowned music festivals like South by Southwest), Austin has most recently earned attention for gastronomy. 

With James Beard award winners and Bravo “Top Chef” participants, the city’s epicurean sensibilities lean toward the sophisticated. Take Lenoir, a Lilliputian bistro composed of repurposed wood and adorned with billowing fabrics. It delights local gourmands with a seasonal prix fixe menu that might include dishes such as fish curry with roasted squid and heirloom tomatoes. Or consider 24 Diner, bent on turning comfort food upside down. Not your granddaddy’s hangout, this all-day-and-all-night eatery stars “Top Chef” competitor and CIA New York valedictorian Andrew Curren, whose dedication to local products means farm-to-table cocktails at the bar and noshes like bruschetta with cauliflower puree, roasted mushrooms and herb salad. 

Curren’s 24 Hash— a concoction of house-cut Idaho potatoes, nitrate-free local pork and two runny eggs—is pure seduction. Just opened, Clark’s, a tiny oyster bar on West 6th Street, does a dazzling Gibson with house-pickled onions, offers plates of briny oysters flown in each day and does caper-topped Shrimp Louie that feels more Gulf Coast than landlocked central Texas. For three decades, Austin’s foodies have flocked to Fonda San Miguel for Mexican cuisine. In an art enveloped setting, mole (Puebla-style) and ancho rellenos stuffed with olives and roasted chicken keep the hoards coming back. Home to the original Whole Foods—along with a profusion of food trucks (more than 2,000 at last count) selling everything from bánh to barbecue—and abundant organic farms, foragers, family-owned food companies and farmer’s markets, the city draws from a food-obsessed foundation. Alchemist mixed cocktails, craft beer, homages to bacon, and sushi concocted from things such as blueberries and beef tongue set a voguish standard. And this liberal leaning town gobbles it up.

One of America's Most Fit Cities

Of course, if Austin’s denizens are going to enjoy food and drink so much, you can bet they’re equally obsessed with burning it off. Capturing a spot on nearly every “Most Fit City” list, Austin residents have earned the honor. There’s the extensive hike and bike path that winds around Lady Bird Lake, smack in the center of downtown. Nearby Barton Springs, a quarter-mile-long, natural spring-fed pool, beckons swimmers with its frigid waters (unceasingly set by nature at 68 degrees). It also harbors its own endangered species—a one-eyed albino salamander. 

A biker’s paradise, with a network of clearly marked paths, Austin embraces the two-wheeled lifestyle with gusto. Bike shops, like Mellow Johnny’s, offer visitors easy rentals, showers for post-workout cleanup and group rides that tour the city. Because so many lakes encircle Austin, water sports enthusiasts can kayak, canoe, boat, water ski—even paddleboard—to beat the heat. Sometimes, though, a gym calls—especially when summer temperatures soar. 

Mecca Gym & Spa, a sleek, urban oasis right downtown, has a mellow, tranquil mood and oodles of state-of-the-art equipment. Owner Jennifer Andrews says: “With our relaxed professionalism, meant to make people feel comfortable, we mirror Austin. Hey, we know you’d rather be doing something else more fun than exercising, but we’ll make the experience as pleasant as possible.” Accordingly, Mecca has a cafe (they even serve wine) and a gorgeous spa with unique treatments. Day passes are available. Lake Austin Spa Resort, a shoreside getaway ensconced within a wildlife preserve, offers another alternative for a day of respite. Posh, a top-rated destination spa, offers à la carte treatments and day packages as well as overnight stays. With a French chef, beautifully manicured grounds, three swimming pools and what may be the biggest spa menu in the world, Lake Austin Spa Resort is a threshold to another sphere. Authentic and as electrifying as a tonic, Austin marches to its own drummer. Visit, and you’ll feel the beat.

Experience Toronto Like a Local

Experience Toronto Like a Local

July 3, 2019

Toronto, the capital of Ontario, is known for its stunning skyline, with endless tourist attractions and greens paces to explore. If you’re lucky enough to visit this enchanting metropolis, here are the foods you have to eat, the places you have to see, and the activities you have to try. 

You don’t want to miss these Toronto restaurants where the city’s top chefs put their skills to work in kitchens across the city, testing the boundaries and pushing the limits of cuisine.  

Toronto Restaurants

Pizzeria Libretto: Staying true to Neapolitan  tradition, this pizzeria ordered its wood oven from a thirdgeneration pizza oven maker in Naples, Italy. Pizzas rely on authentic ingredients baked in a 900-degree oven

Acadia: This East Coast-inspired restaurant serves up dishes with fresh, sustainable ingredients that travelers love. The menu is rooted in the Atlantic provinces, with specialties like Lois Lake Steelhead and skillet cornbread. The drink menu lives up to the food.

La CarnitaWhat started as a pop-up taco food truck soon became a Toronto sensation. Now permanently located in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood, dine in this avant-garde space and enjoy authentic Mexican dishes with a hint of North American flair. 

Wine BarSet near the city’s unique Distillery District, Wine Bar offers an extensive wine list and locally sourced, artisanal foods served tapas style. With exposed brick, an open kitchen and a giant wall of pickled ingredients, this restaurant and lounge is a must-see. 

Bier Markt: With more than 100 beers from 24 countries, this is one place every beer lover should visit in the city. But the food holds its own with a bountiful mix of European favorites like Vienna schnitzel and a wurst board, along with lighter fare like Arctic char.  

If shopping is more of your forte, Toronto offers a wide range of shopping districts that offer everything from fashion to hard goods. 

Toronto Shopping

Yorkville: This snazzy district is the epicenter of high-end shopping in Toronto. Yorkville Avenue itself consists of elegant cafes, boutiques and galleries. South to Bloor Street and north to Davenport Road hosts everything ritzy from Holt Renfrew and Louis Vuitton to the Hazelton Lane shops and any designer store you can dream of.  

Kensington Market: For a completely different experience, visit the eclectic neighborhood of Kensington Market. Running along three streets in the downtown core, the area offers everything from distinctive art galleries to incredible independent cafes, stores and restaurants. 

The Distillery District: The historic Distillery District is unique in look and feel. Restored brick-lined streets of old breweries and Victorian warehouses create an inviting Old World charm highlighted by restaurants, theaters, shops and galleries. The Boiler House restaurant epitomizes this lively part of town with exposed brick-and-beam architecture and an innovative menu. 

The Toronto skyline at sunset on a calm summer night.
Toronto Skyline Sunset
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Toronto is an eclectic blend of bustling markets, old world charm, and a worldly cosmo flair. For travelers looking to get the most out of the city, the activities are endless.

Toronto Activities

Farmers’ Markets: Pick up farm-fresh ingredients for dinner or stop for a local, artisanal snack while walking through a park. Check out the seasonal markets at Trinity Bellwoods, Dufferin Grove, Evergreen Brickworks (to name a few) and the yearround St. Lawrence Market. 

HikingExtensive trails meander through the city and surrounds. Set out on the paths from High Park and enjoy more than 400 acres of rolling hills, ornamental gardens, rare oaks and even a zoo. If you left your gear at home, stop in to Mountain Equipment Coop to satiate your outdoor apparel needs. Discovery Walks is a system joining the city’s hundreds of acres of ravines, beaches and parks. Follow the signs for a self-guided adventure as long or short as you want. The Belt Line and Beaches are great choices. 

Gardens: Previously a garden estate, Edwards Gardens boasts wild flowers and mature trees along winding trails that span 35 acres. The Toronto Botanical Garden sits on the property, showcasing award-winning themed gardens.  

Get the Goods: The St. Lawrence Market offers an enormous array of fresh foods and personalities. A longstanding locals’ favorite, the market is a must-see for any visitor to get the true flavor of Toronto. 

The Women’s Network Looking to Empower Teen Girls

The Women's Network Looking to Empower Teen Girls

June 28, 2019

Chicago high school student Learesi Montes had never heard of Step Up Women’s Network when she happened to meet the program director at a class picnic. Afterward, she decided to check out a meeting. “It was amazing. I was so inspired,” Montes says. “There were so many women there who were so successful. I wasn’t exposed to that where I grew up.” One woman, a schoolteacher, became her mentor after that first meeting. They talked books, then colleges, application essays and career possibilities.

And that’s precisely how SUWN works: Teen girls in underserved communities connect with professional women mentors and chart new possibilities for their own futures. “When a girl has the opportunity to be mentored by a woman she admires, it is magic,” says SUWN CEO Jenni Luke. “A mentor’s role is to look at a girl and see her potential, not her past or her circumstances. It is life changing.”

SUWN currently partners with schools in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. Any girl enrolled in those school districts can join their mentorship programs that help girls become “confident, college bound and career-ready.”

During 9th and 10th grades, SUWN girls attend weekly afterschool programs that use the arts—collages, music, creative writing—to help them explore their identities, interests and skills. One example: A recent creative writing project had girls start with the words, “Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I…” Each one decided how to fill in that sentence (one wrote “… like to wear skirts”) and illustrated her declaration with photos.

In 11th grade, monthly meetings shift focus to career readiness, and the 12th grade program is all about college preparation, culminating in a paid summer internship.

SUWN is also dedicated to helping its professional mentors, creating an environment where those women can grow and connect with other like-minded women. They have access to networking opportunities, professional development events and power breakfasts. This commitment to the mentors keeps the cycle going. When the mentors advance professionally, they have more to invest and offer the program.

One measure of SUWN’s success: This is the third year in which 100 percent of Step Up seniors have graduated high school and 100 percent have been accepted to college. It is a telling statistic, considering the circumstances in which most of these girls are raised. 

Montes will attend the University of Wisconsin this fall, studying education policy. She still marvels at the power of SUWN, and that women she didn’t know were willing to help her find her way. “Someone I never met…they already believed in me,” she says. “Every girl should have that.” 

Step Up Women’s Network strives to empower teen girls in underserved urban communities. Through weekly activities and consistent mentoring with successful women, the girls benefit from a network of supportive individuals who help them dream—and achieve—big. Learn how you can help at suwn.org. 

The Destination the Former President’s Daughter Loves to Visit

The Destination the Former President's Daughter Loves to Visit

June 27, 2019

The breathtaking Il Campanile estate is a mix of 14th-century ambiance and 21st-century amenities with original architecture restored, brick by brick, in all three of the guest residences—La Villeta, Villa Belleza and Villa Collina. Think fully equipped, state-of-the-art kitchens with private chefs and cooking demonstrations, roaring fireplaces outfitted with pizza ovens, and a serene swimming pool surrounded by chaise lounges and lush Italian terrain. With nine bedrooms, nine and a half baths and 12,700 square feet for roaming and relaxing, the only reason to venture off the estate is to explore the nearby rolling hills and picturesque towns. 

“We sampled special wines from Tuscany and met the people who own the vineyards and heard their stories. Those days were just unbelievable.” 

The friends’ escape brought many adventures. Among the most memorable, Bush-Hager describes a starlit evening when a couple among them got engaged to the surprise and delight of everyone in attendance. Surrounded by their closest pals, the newly betrothed celebrated well into the night in “the most romantic place imaginable,” Bush-Hager gushes. “We’d always planned to dress up and have a masquerade themed last meal,” she says. “We all brought cocktail dresses, and the boys their tuxedos or suits, but we didn’t know our friends would be engaged, so of course that made it even more special. And we went around the table and gave toasts to the trip, and shared our favorite memories, and toasted the future bride and groom. It was a wonderful engagement!” 

Exploring Tuscany

But there were plenty other once-in-a-lifetime moments along the way. For instance, in Siena, the friends were directed by the Il Campanile chef to a truly hidden gem. “We walked all around the town, saw the old church and strolled the streets and shops. And then we went to a little restaurant that we would never have known about if Sophie the chef hadn’t recommended it,” she recalls. They also toured the region’s array of vineyards. “We sampled special wines from Tuscany and met the people who own the vineyards—these amazing people— and heard their stories. Those days were just unbelievable.” Bush-Hager, who’s frequently photographed by the tabloids working up a sweat while taking New York City spin classes, recounts the group bike trek they took into the Italian countryside. 

“We’re all super-athletic, but the hills of Tuscany were a bit more than we bargained for,” she says, laughing. “It was hard, but also really cool because we saw all these medieval towns and stopped at a vineyard, and we ended up at the owner of the bicycle tour’s home, off a dirt road with his kids running around. His wife cooked us this very fresh, really delicious, really authentic meal and told us all these wonderful tales. It was lovely to sit in his garden, their home and backyard, and [enjoy a meal] they would serve to their own family. Those are the authentic moments with people who live in the region that we loved.” 

Savoring the Culture

But Bush-Hager has a special spot in her heart for the Il Campanile estate itself. “On one of our favorite nights,” she recalls, “we had a chef come in and cook pizza in the pizza ovens in the house, right there in the courtyard. And on another night Sophie gave us a cooking lesson, and we made this incredible menu together. It was great learning the customs and culture of Italy through food.” So what did they prepare in the kitchen that night? “Sophie taught us how to make homemade pasta, which is a very complicated process if you’ve ever done it. Plus bruschetta,” she recalls. “Sophie brought in all the ingredients from her own garden. It couldn’t have been any fresher. We also made two kinds of sauces, one with vegetables and one classic bolognese sauce. And tiramisu for dessert… The typical Italian meal.” 

On the Road Again

Bush-Hager was in London this summer to broadcast a story on the Olympics for NBC, and next she will “travel around Europe a bit,” she says. “I’ve been…a few times; Henry and I are trying to find someplace new to explore.” They also want to do more jetsetting before starting a family, which she demurely admits her parents, George W. and former first lady Laura Bush, would love to see happen soon. For now, the couple is quite content with “our pet Barney,” once famously known as America’s first dog, now pushing 13 years old. Besides, she insists, there are so many more exotic lands to discover. “I’ve always had serious wanderlust,” she explains. “My husband and I both have jobs that keep us traveling incessantly. I’ve never been to Asia, and I’m really hoping to get there sooner rather than later. I’m also dying to go to India. I’d say those will be my two next trips whenever I get a second. And sometimes it’s nice, since we’re so busy, to just have a weekend at home in New York—it feels almost luxurious. But I love, love, love traveling.”

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Once famed for keeping her Secret Service detail on its toes—she and her sister, Barbara, loved nothing more than outsmarting and losing the agents assigned to them—a more seasoned Jenna Bush-Hager now focuses on work, travel, philanthropy and social consciousness, not hijinks.

Bush-Hager is the chair of Next Generation, launched in 2009 to “save, protect and improve the lives of children around the world,” according to the organization’s website. The former first daughter adds, “By volunteering, fundraising and advocating for UNICEF’s lifesaving programs, we hope to mobilize a new generation and end the senseless deaths of so many young children.” The group tackles malnutrition as a first-line defense in developing nations, plus raises funds and awareness.

Close friends and founders of The Novo Project, BushHager and Mia Baxter “share a passion for travel, food, art, stories and photos of the people and things that are making an impact in the global community,” claims their website. Its mission is to spotlight game-changers, thought-influencers and serve as inspiration for innovations in design and creative pursuits. For example, “we might highlight a sustainable bakery,” Bush-Hager tells us. “Or anything that shapes our culture.” 

The National Children’s Cancer Society Provides Support In Trying Times

The National Children’s Cancer Society Provides Support In Trying Times

June 26, 2019

A cancer diagnosis is always overwhelming, but even more so when a child is involved. In seconds, a family’s entire life can be turned upside down. The months and years of treatments, complicated medication regimens and doctor visits that follow can push any family to its emotional and financial limits. That’s where The National Children’s Cancer Society comes in. “We provide financial, educational and emotional support for families with a child in treatment,” says the NCCS Director of Marketing Lori Millner. Over the past 25 years, the NCCS has helped more than 30,000 families get their children the necessary treatment and better deal with cancer’s many impacts.

It starts with the family’s non-medical expenses. “Travel, meals, gas—these are the ancillary expenses no one thinks about,” Millner says. To date, they’ve distributed some $54 million to cover those costs. NCCS also offers educational support and resources, including free web conferences on topics such as “Late Effects from Radiation.” And crucial emotional support is fostered through the close relationships that develop among families in crisis. “These families become very connected to our caseworkers,” Millner says. “The caseworkers share their joys and traumas; they provide counsel.”

Any child diagnosed with cancer, anywhere in the country, is eligible for assistance from the NCCS. First contact is usually made by a social worker at the hospital where the child is diagnosed. “They let us know about the family’s treatment plan,” says Jessica Cook, program coordinator for the NCCS. “Then we contact the family, find out needs and talk about how they’re doing.”

Transportation costs are often a large financial burden. “A lot of hospitals offer specialized treatment,” Cook explains. “Maybe the best treatment is in New York, but the family lives in Idaho… traveling to New York every three weeks would be cost prohibitive. Even if the hospital is only half an hour away, driving there every day for radiation is a burden.” More often than not, families also struggle financially with a loss of income because one parent has left a job to care for the child.

Yet, Cook says, it’s typically the child who keeps the family strong throughout the process. “I’m always amazed how the children often keep the parents’ spirits up. The parents struggle with being scared, with wanting to take the burden away from the child. But the spirit of the child keeps the family going.” In every way possible, the NCCS keeps a family strong too.

The National Children’s Cancer Society helps families bear the burden of treatment through financial assistance and a network of people and events to support emotional and medical needs. With the help of this community, Melanie, far left, finished a 5k race just five months after a bone marrow transplant and a 3-year-old’s dream came true when she met Snow White. The network helped Grayson, above left, battle a brain stem tumor at 1, and 14-year old Brandon, shown above right two months after brain surgery, get back to a normal teenage life.

NBA Star Anthony Parker’s Interview and Travel Priorities

NBA Star Anthony Parker's Interview and Travel Priorities

June 25, 2019

A successful career isn’t as fulfilling if you don’t take time to enjoy the rewards. Anthony Parker’s fast-paced life as a professional basketball player took him around the country during nine years in the NBA and around the world playing overseas for six years, yet he rarely had time for more than a quick meal in any one place before moving on to the next. Parker retired from the Cleveland Cavaliers recently and accepted a scouting position with the Orlando Magic, a job that will keep him closer to home and his wife and two young sons, in Tampa, Fla.

We caught up with Parker, 37, to talk about how he’s enjoying his newfound free time, including a family trip to the London Olympics to cheer on his sister and the gold-medal-winning women’s basketball team

It’s only been a few months since you announced your retirement from the NBA, but how’s the adjustment been?

I’m enjoying it. It’s been good for my family because we know we’ll be settled here going forward, as opposed to always having to migrate either from the season back home or from home to wherever I’m playing at the time. My sons have gotten involved in some activities that they wouldn’t normally have been able to participate in, which is important as they get older. I moved around a lot as a kid, so I can relate. I’m enjoying time with my family and enjoying things that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

You initially left the NBA to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel; how was that experience?

My first year over there was the biggest adjustment, both on and off the court. A lot changed in a short amount of time—I had just gotten married, and we moved to the other side of the world where we didn’t understand the language. But it turned out to be the best experience. We have friends all over the world now, and being familiar with a lot of different countries and languages really gives you a different perspective on people both abroad and at home. I really embraced the experience and am so happy that I was able to have it.

How did playing overseas advance your game and allow you to return to the NBA as a starter?

It gave me the opportunity to continue playing at a high level and, in doing so, to mature as a player and evolve my game. My best basketball experiences happened when I played for Maccabi Tel Aviv. I went over there with the intent of trying to get back to the NBA the very next year, but after that first year I was like, “This is kind of nice. I could get used to this.” If the NBA was something that made sense and happened to me then great, and if it didn’t then I would be content with my career overseas.

You led Maccabi Tel Aviv to five Israeli Super League national championships, three European titles and you were also voted Euroleague MVP two years in a row. Was there a degree of recognition when you went out in public?

Yes, there was. Israel isn’t in Europe, but we participate in the European league, and among European teams Israel and Lithuania are hugely into basketball. People think of the Yankees and the Dallas Cowboys as America’s teams, and that’s how Maccabi Tel Aviv is to Israel. There’s a great degree of national pride in Israel, and people really rallied around our team. I developed a great relationship with the fans; however, I was always happy to come back to the U.S. and be with my family and have private time.

That’s also where you adopted the number 18, which you wore throughout the rest of your basketball career.

The number 18 is related to chai, which is a symbol of life and good fortune in the Jewish faith. For me it was a way to bring the experience that I had with Israel and Maccabi Tel Aviv and the fans back to the States—to let them know that it wasn’t all forgotten.

Were you always focused on your next game, or did you have time to enjoy the places that you visited?

With a basketball schedule you don’t have a lot of time to see the sites while you’re traveling, but we did have a couple of rare opportunities. I did get a sense for different cultures and perspectives around the world, and that was really refreshing. Anywhere you go people are basically the same—they want good things for their children and pretty much the same things that you or I would want. Traveling abroad really drove that point home.

What are your travel priorities now?

Living overseas really sparked a love of travel, and we try to take our kids along with us as much as we can. Last summer we went back to Israel—it was the first time we’d been back since my youngest son was born there—and it was great to show him where he was born and visit our friends. It’s so valuable to experience different things. I can’t imagine how much my kids’ perspective differs from mine at that same age, not having been to nearly as many places as they have.