Monday, May 27, 2013

Becoming a Groupie on a Swiss Hiking Trip

Group tour? Forced march? Spending two weeks with strangers?  Yikes.  Two independent travellers reconsider the advantages during an exciting hike in the Swiss Alps.  My article on travelsignposts

Peak Experiences in Jamaica

From the musty hiker's lodge in the Blue Mountains, to the butlered luxury mansions of the Tryall Club, the diversity of Jamaica revealed a country rich in heritage and adventure.  The guelling nine-hour moonlit hike followed by extreme pampering showed two sides of this exciting destination.  Read my article it here: Peak Experiences in Jamaica on

Hiking in the full moon light to the Blue Mountain summit.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Ambassadors of Southern Hospitality

           And you thought you were having fun at Spoleto! Have you been greeted by a live elephant as you arrived at a party? Introduced the Polish dancers to the beach? Walked your dog with opera stars? When double bass player Anthony Manzo calls Charleston “the most welcoming city there is” it’s because of the Charlestonians who are the ambassadors of the festival’s hospitality.                                                              
         Judith Vane chaired Spoleto’s hospitality committee for 26 years. Festival general director Nigel Redden once boasted of attending 45 parties in one season. “I never found it hard. People like to be involved,” Judith says. Sometimes she’d call people she didn’t even know and ask them to host lavish affairs. “It must take a lot of nerve to call someone you’ve never met and ask them to host a party for 200 people,” one told her before she agreed. In the early days of the festival the gatherings were listed in the newspaper. Once an entire busload of tourists crashed the party and ate all the hors d’oeurves. Judith had to run home and get more cheese! Driven by insatiable curiosity and humor, Judith says she has derived innumerable benefits from the festival. “I can’t tell you how much Spoleto has brought to my life…people I never would have known.” Art by Cletus Johnson adorns her historic home, theatrical director Jack Garfein has become a personal friend and she continues to stay in touch with many of the performers she’s hosted over the years.
       Sharon Bowers’ family has shared their home with many Spoleto performers, some staying up to six weeks while rehearsing. “You really get to know these people. It makes for some wildly interesting conversations while we’re peeling potatoes together.” Her intention to introduce her children to other cultures has really paid off. They have become more open minded and are comfortable everywhere. But the lasting friendships have been the best part, most notably with opera star Benedicte Jourdois. “Nobody is more fun at a party than Benedicte,” she says. “It’s also quite thrilling to attend the Metropolitan Opera in New York and know the performers personally.”
      Mitzi Legerton was lucky enough to be assigned rising opera star Rebecca Russell as a house guest and was thrilled when Rene Fleming joined her to rehearse in the living room.  “Keeping the opera people was a blessing.  The house was joyfully full of music.  And it’s been amazing to watch their careers develop.”
      Behind the scenes of the most extravagant parties in town, you’ll often find Mitchell Crosby of JMC Charleston. When he was 20 he worked at the festival box office. “That was when I fell in love with Spoleto.  Wherever I lived, I always came home for Spoleto,” he said.  He devoted countless hours volunteering on festival committees and now his company stages some of the city’s most memorable parties.   Long-time Spoleto hostess Bessie Hanahan and her cook Lucille Grant set a standard that he keeps in mind today.  “The greatest honor is being invited into people’s homes.  Visitors want a Charleston experience.”   Even huge parties in event halls represent Charleston: fanciful centerpieces crafted from local produce, themes inspired by the Charleston Renaissance or the ocean for example.  Mitch stresses that while the food is important it is the creative elements that make a party memorable.  Theatrical lighting,  a stage suspended above a swimming pool, cushy outdoor living rooms, a costumed dancer inside a huge transparent ball…these are the memories he creates.  “I always hear from performers that they’re so appreciative of Charleston hospitality,” he says.  Mitch stays in touch with many of the stars he’s feted including baritone Nmon Ford whose career he has enjoyed following.  His passion for the festival is unquenched.  “I would not know about opera or contemporary dance or sight specific art were it not for Spoleto.”  
            Chamber musician Anthony Manzo tells a poignant story. His father was quite ill and came to Charleston to hear his son play one last concert. He stayed a week. “The visit here buoyed my Dad up like nothing else did.”  The Dock Street ushers took special care to see that he was comfortable.  People seated nearby effusively complimented his son’s music.  “It’s something I’ll never forget,” Anthony says.  A Catfish Row apartment is his Charleston “oasis.”  Musicians come to rehearse there; he can walk to the Dock Street to perform.  People like Susu Ravenel and the Hagertys are “hugely welcoming.”  Between living in Washington DC and frenetically touring, Charleston’s more laid back atmosphere has become very important to him and the other musicians.   “We’re doing the music we love with people we enjoy.  It’s a focused, relaxed, intense way of playing.  Sometimes when I’m elsewhere I step back and pretend I’m at Spoleto to calm myself,” he says.
            Beyond the transcendent artistic moments, the cosmopolitan infusion and tourist dollars that Spoleto brings to Charleston, there are these authentic human connections.  It is because of the hosts and their generosity that our city has the well-earned reputation as the Capital of Southern Hospitality.   
To get involved:

Photo credits:  MCG Photography and jwkpec photography