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February 2007
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Andrew Patner on Arts and Culture

Critical Thinking, Critical Thinking on Tour: Ft. Lauderdale & Miami

The sun is out, but the temperature is stil mild and pleasant. We head back down U.S. 1 by foot again and try out the Dominican diner for reakfast/lunch. The proprietess, Carmen, is a bundle of energy, warmthm and humor switching rapidly between English, Spanish, and New York Dominican dialects, as well as between cooking, taking orders, serving, and clearing teh counter. “I’m pitchin’, catchin’, and coverin’ the bases!” she laughs using the baseball analogies that any good Domincan does. We have an amazing meal of chicken and rice and rice and beans with green salad and variosu coffees. What’s the difference between Cuban and Dominican coffee? I ask. “Cuban coffee?! Cuban Coffee?! It’s like — WOW! Electricity! Frankenstein!” Carmen demonstrates with exuberance. “Dominican coffee? It’s like — mellow. Like a wave,” and she demonstrates this contrast with a sultry salsa move.” We try both as well as one of the malt beverages we fell in love with in Miami and Key West some years ago. The check comes in at a litle oiver $10 for two. We want to bring Carmen to Chicago!

After packing clothes for tonight’s concert, I take a taxi to the Hilton at Ft. Lauderdale Beach where the orchestra is staying to check in with the orchestra and file some stories. Gil Shaham and his wife, violinist Adele Anthony, are in the lobby with their two adorable little children, Elijah and Ella Mei, and CSO concertmaster Ribert Chen, their old friend, preparing to head out for a walk on the beach. Workers are still taking the wrapping off of this brand-new facility and there’s a bit of confusion as to what is where. After finding and using the business center, I take a stroll myself. As with waterfronts around the world, the people who are not afraid of a few raindrops are Russian speakers who seem to enjoy having the beach in front of the hotel to themselves. Bass trombone whiz Charlie Vernon stands at the water’s edge gazing past the horizon. I stop to talk with bass player Rob Kassinger, mentioned in teh recent New York Times article on Ted Atkatz, who resigned his position as CSO principal percussion to pursue a career as a rock musician and songwriter. Rob has worked with Ted on many projects and does a wide variety of session work with other out-there performers and producers in Chicago. Tom comes in from Dania and we walk up teh boulevard to grab a bite before the bus ride with the orchestra to Miami.

There are three buses running about 15 mninutes apart to make what winds up being an hour ride given the time it takes to get through traffic to and from the interstate. All I can think of is what it would have been like to have been on this tour in the days of quality rail travel when the whole orchestra could have boarded a train down the coast and been in Miamin in 25 minutes, maybe even to be met by a high school band or two! Speaking of South Florida history, Tom and I notice that we pass the two patches of green along the endless-seeming development along the northern stretch of the Beach Boulevard — Bonnet House and Hugh Taylor Birch State Park each with a strong connection to Chicago. Hugh Taylor Birch was the investor who “discovered” Ft. Lauderdale and who later memorialized his talented and beautiful daughter Helen who died young with parks in Ohio and gifts to many institutions. Helen Birch was married to Chicago painter and heir Frederic Clay Bartlett who did the murals and stained glass at the University Club on Michigan Avenue and at Bartlet Gymnasium. Bartlett is perhaps most known for his own memorial to Helen, the Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago which includes, among many modern masterpieces, Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon: La Grande Jatte.” Some years ago, when Tom and I were bicycling in this area, we came up to the gate of Bonnet House which was clearly, at least in the winter, still a private residence. It turned out to belong to Frederic Clay Bartlett’s second wife, Evelyn Fortune, the former Mrs. Eli Lilly!, whom Bartlett married in 1931 and who spent her winters there and her summers in Beverly, Massachusetts. We had a fascinating twilight discussion with her Butler and were able to connect a number of Seuratian dots regarding the Art Institute, its then-recent reinstallation of its galleries, and Mrs, Bartletts’s devotion to her late husband’s legacy. She was then 105 and I later interviewed her — by telephone — for an article on Matisse when she was 106. She died in Beverly in 1997 at the age of 109. Bonnet House is now a museum of their lives, collections, and love of nature and architectuire, open year round.