“The Candy that Dares to be Different”

Only a little less “Disney” than the Hersey factory visit in Hersey, PA, the self-guided Pez 2014-04-25 11.22.58factory tour in Orange, CT is a wildly popular tourist stop.  Remembering fun Pez dispensers and the somewhat blah candy of my youth, I made my way there, too.

It’s really a case study of American marketing brilliance.  The candy, named based on the German word for peppermint, was actually invented in Vienna in 1927 by Eduard Haas III as an adult breath mint and alternative to smoking.  Really.

The dispenser first showed up in 1949 at the Vienna Trade Fair and was a straightforward device, with no marketing ploys.  The candy didn’t make its way to the US until 1952, when it started operations in New York City.  Then the ideas started generating.

2014-04-25 11.08.06One of the first American dispensers was this space gun in 1956, shown with the hgihest selling dispenser of all–Santa.  I happen to really like the alien.  In fact, aliens seem to be one of the popular dispenser themes, along with Disney figures, animated movie characters, animals, sports heroes, Elvis, and the Presidents of the United States.

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Yes, POTUS.  A teacher I talked with said she plans to use them in her classroom.  Really.




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And also, check these out–I think that’s a policeman and a nurse.



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In 1991, the first Pez Collector Convention was held.  Given the crazy things people collect, Pez dispensers are actually pretty darn appealing.

Moreso than the candy itself, when you find out how little food value it contains.  A truckload of sugar gets dumped into a silo that holds 70,000 pounds, and this factory goes through 100,000 pounds 2014-04-25 11.12.09of sugar per week.  I’m weak in the knees from the sugar rush just thinking about it.  Add a little corn syrup and flavor and you’re ready to mold some candy.

One computerized machine, displacing what was done by hand historically, can generate 500,000 candy tablets per hour, to the tune of 12,000,000 for the factory per day.  It’s been well over 40 years since I had a Pez candy.  They are pretty disgusting.  But I guess the world doesn’t think so.  Or maybe, like me, they just like the dispensers.

2014-04-25 11.12.47I had more fun looking at how marketing genius created the pin-up Pez Girl and branded fans as Pez Heads.

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The vintage Pez vending machines are pretty awesome.  I’d love one for my retro kitchen.

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Imitations, Fakes, Forgeries, Play on

2014-04-19 10.51.55It’s spring.  So spring!  The flowers are fragrant, and the sun is laughing.

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That means it’s time for a day trip.  And today, I met Alice in Springfield, MA to take in the museums there.  Two special exhibits and Dr. Seuss beckoned.

What drew us to the D’Amour Museum is the exhibit closing next weekend, “Intent to Deceive: Fakes and Forgeries in the Art World.”  It shows the pieces of five known forgers working in the twentieth century through today.  Alice was already familiar with the Vermeer forger Han van Meegeren.  She told me that at one time there were thought to be 100 Vermeers.  Thanks van Meegeren!  Now we’re down to about 35.

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I particularly like this one, “Girl with a Blue Bow.”  It’s a great example of how van Meegeren grew the Vermeer oeuvre.  It’s pretty convincing.  Vermeer loved the yellow jacket with white lace, using a similar fur-lined jacket in several paintings.  And of course, there’s the glistening pearl earrings.  Alice commented that Vermeer didn’t do portraits like this.  Another forger in the show created his version of “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which was never intended to be a portrait.




John Myatt substituted the face of an English pop star for Vermeer’s model.


Elmyr de Hory is plentifully featured in the exhibit, with works that he signed as the artist he forged (easy marks like Dufy and Matisse), and works that he signed as Elmyr, after he’d be caught.  He had become enough of a celebrity at that point, remarked the New York Times, that his fakes had value in and of themselves.

Here’s his darn good “Odalisque,” painted in 1974.

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I was reminded of a show I saw last weekend at the American Folk Art Museum, called “Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art.”  For such a small space, that museum is still putting on inspired shows.  This one looks at the fashions inspired by “folk art,” ranging from quilts to carved wood figures.  Aren’t these inspired pairings?

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The other exhibit Alice and I saw today also showed inspiration from established sources.  The Smith Art Museum has a “steampunk” exhibition of “humachines” called “Re-Imagining an Industrial City.”  You’re thinking steam…whaaat?  I know I was.  This was a really unexpected exhibit of artists’ works made in the last year that look at a kind of science fiction future.

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Here’s one sparked by H.G. Wells and his “Time Manchine,” which turned on and off and whirred and grrred.  Just fun.

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Jules Verne, Thomas Edison, and Nichola Tesla were just a few of the other sources.  Inventive and original plays on the time-honored culture.

So I leave you with a bit of Dr. Seuss, a famous and beloved resident of Springfield.  The park with these sculptures comprises the courtyard bounded by the Springfield Museums.  A day full of questions and wonder and a breath of spring!

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Dancing and Dreaming

If you’ve ever danced around the living room, singing a Broadway musical song, then the new play “Somewhere” by Matthew Lopez, now at Hartford Stage, is for you.  It tells a distinctive story that is also very familiar, with elements of “Glass Menagerie” and cool mambo and the backstage drama, with characters so heart-throbbingly real that you want for them.  It’s an old show_somewhere_posterfashioned play, allowing characters to develop, patterns to emerge, and a third act crescendo to an emotional climax, combined with musical theater tropes.  We wait the whole show to see a character dance, and when he does…it’s a dream.

The time is 1959.  The place, the west side of New York.  A Puerto Rican family struggles to make it, but fills their tiny apartment with dance and dreams.  The mother and daughter work as ushers for Broadway theaters, memorizing every word, nuance, song, and dance of “West Side Story” and “Music Man” and “Gypsy” and more from that Golden Age.  One son was a child actor in the “King and I” with Yul Brenner.  “I walked in, I kneeled, I walked, I sat.”  He has let go of the dream, working to ground his family.  But this is like lassoing the Barrymore’s, here Puerto Rican Barrymore’s.

They live in the neighborhood of “West Side Story,” rough, rumbling, doomed.  Robert Moses had a vision to remake New York, and tactically, his changes changed lives.  Ten blocks surrounding this family’s apartment building were demolished, to make way for the largest cultural center in the world, Lincoln Center.  At the same time, the film version of “West Side Story” was coming to life.

Maybe you remember the opening dance sequence of “West Side Story.”

It was filmed on the streets of New York, in the few days between evicting residents and the wrecking ball.  Robert Wise supposedly paid the contractors $5000 to hold off on demolition between 67th and 58th Streets in August 1960 for shooting that dance sequence.

About 1/4 of the people who were evicted from this area were Puerto Rican, and many resisted moving until the desperate last moments, with power cut off, and demolition looming.  Only about 10% of those displaced from condemned buildings were ever relocated to public housing, as promised.

At intermission, audience members talked about their comparable local experience–tearing down the Italian neighborhood.  “I think Lincoln Center was more successful,” one commented.  Not all urban renewal works as well, sadly, leaving bombed-out areas like those post-industrial cities in Connecticut.

What was this experience like, living the real West Side Story?  That’s where “Somewhere” comes in.  When do hope-filled dreams become dangerous illusion?  When can we “imagine our troubles away,” and when are we merely deluded?  Who gets to dream, and who sacrifices for those dreams?

The play assuredly explores these questions while thrusting its family into an ironic version of the American theatrical dream.  Each dance in their tiny apartment heals for a moment, then the family is back to reality.  Or at least some of the family.  By the end, when the stalwart son is given permission to dream again, the final dance does what all musicals hope for–allow the audience to release its collectively held breath and soar with the spirit of the characters.

Jessica Naimy, Michael Rosen (background)And “Somewhere”?  I think it will soar, too, first to New York, then beyond.  Tomorrow, I go to Lincoln Center and will see how that feels after this experience.  I see a play about another New York legend, Moss Hart, and his autobiographical “Act One.”  The theater is in the blood–dance and dream on!


Mysteries of Nature

How does she do it?

Mother Nature has her own clock.  Take maple syrup.  The “working sugar season” lasts six weeks, but when it actually starts is up to her.

Today, in New Hampshire, sugaring has been delayed from an early February start, with the cold, cold winter.  Ideal sugaring needs a 25 degree night and 40 degree day.  We just have that today, and the sap is running.  Watch the buds on the tree as a clue for when to tap the tree, in preparation for making maple syrup.

I’ve long been confused by the grades and color of maple syrup.  Let’s see if I can clear it up for you.  All maple syrup is 67 per cent sugar, regardless of grade or color.  Grade A is lighter in color and taste, resulting from sap that started at higher sugar content and needed less boiling time.  Darker maple syrup, longer boiling times, more flavor.  The darkest are Grade B.  Grade C is really only used for cooking.  All have the same sugar content.

Got it?

Well, let me try to explain with the process.

2014-04-05 11.47.52You start with the proper tools.  When the sap starts to run, you put your spigoter spirals (yes, really) in your right pocket and hooks in your left pocket.  Then you carry you buckets.

Pick a tree that is at least ten inches in diameter.

You tap the tree in a new spot, drilling in 2 1/2 inches.  That’s how deep the spigoter spiral goes into the tree.  Put it in and hang your hook on it.  Put the bucket on the hook, cover the bucket.  Leave it alone for six weeks.
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One tap generates about ten gallons of sap per season.  This 130 year old tree has about 600 gallons of sap, that continually regenerates.  No maple trees were harmed in the making of this syrup.

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The sap is taken to a sugar shack, where the sugar content is measured.  The sap color ranges widely from light yellow to dark brown.  It may range from 1 to 4 (or more) per cent sugar.  Then it has to be boiled until it reaches 67 per cent sugar content.

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This room is welcomingly warm and steamy and smells just like you think maple syrup would.  I’m not a huge sweets fan, but that smell was more than fine!

After the sap reaches 67 per cent, you have maple syrup (not to be confused with syrup in the supermarket, which is made of corn syrup and a shot of Grade C maple syrup–like 2 per cent).

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Finally it is filtered through cheesecloth to get out any remaining impurities, like bark.

Fun fact:  Native Americans first started sugaring in the 1600s.  The origin myth is that little Indian girls plucked icicles covered with sap, took a lick, and saw it was good.  No one today would disagree.



Certainly not Mother Nature, who relishes playing the trickster and creating a good mystery, as evidenced in our next stop.

2014-04-05 15.30.43Magic Wings, a butterfly garden of 8000 sf and 4000 free flying butterflies and moths.  Wow!

Tropically warm and very serene, this place transcends time and logic.

There are the mysteries of their beauty–each species has a fingerprint, immediately recognizable.  How and why did this happen?  Where’s the Monarch butterfly travel journal that helps three successive generations complete one migration cycle Mexico to New England?

But even better is to quit trying to solve mysteries and just immerse in the beauty and sweetness of the day.  Enjoy the slide show.

Good fortune

Today is the official grand opening of the new teahouse in downtown New Haven, Green Tea House.

2014-04-04 13.05.52The real good fortune came not with the mayor or the ribbon cutting, but with the Chinese Lion dance.  This dance was also performed on Chinese New Year’s to bless the businesses the  danced in front of.  That day, just too crowded to see.  Today, I was startled when I walked right up to the Lion, dancing and preening and and grooming and growling right in front of me.

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Later, the Lion came inside the teahouse to dance, nudge (me included), and generally harass the diners, as well as those of us who gathered for what came next.



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A tea ceremony was performed for six guests, including the mayor.  To really do the ceremony correctly, you want an hour, which the mayor didn’t have.  So we got a short-hand version.  The tea today was Phoenix Oolong, which is only produced twice per year in China.  I bought some to enjoy at home I liked it so much.

Tea is used after meals for digestion, relaxation, and general enjoyment in China.  No sugar or milk is used.  But from the samples I tasted today, plenty of the teas are sweet enough from the flowers and fruits mixed in with2014-04-04 13.22.15 the tea leaves.


To make tea, begin by rinsing the teapot with hot water.  This makes the teapot very hot by pouring hot water not only inside it, but also all around the outside.  Now the tea’s aroma will stand out more.




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Pour hot water over each of the sipping cups–larger and round–and aroma cups–slender and tall.

Place the tea leaves directly into the teapot.

Pour the water over the leaves and close the teapot to steep.

Now you are ready to drink your tea.  Pour the tea into the aroma cup.


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Place the sipping cup on top of the aroma cup.

Then with two hands, flip the cups over, so that the aroma cup, which still holds the tea, is on top.

Slowly let the tea pour into the sipping cup.




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Take a moment.  Close your eyes to enjoy the scent of the aroma cup.

Take the sipping cup in both hands.

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When you sip, keep the tea in your mouth, allowing it to circulate to all the flavor centers, swallow, then exhale through your nose.

Enjoy your tea for the next 45 minutes.

The first pot of tea steeps only for about fifteen seconds, then longer for each successive pot.  Notice how tiny the pot is?  You might get 10 pots from one set of leaves.

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A family might own two or three tea sets, which involves all the pieces you see here.

How very civilized.


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“Cheers” is not in the Chinese tradition, but our brief ceremony concluded with American-style good wishes for the new teahouse, adding to the Lion’s blessings.

Charmed, I’m sure

Today in New York was a compilation of charming events.   No other particular theme, but lots and lots of charm.

2014-04-02 10.18.14The Transit Museum has a juried show of quilts commemorating the 100 birthday of Grand Central Terminal.  Each one is an eye blower, filled with buttons, bows, blocks, clocks, clocks, and more clocks.  A charming celebration of a most glorious building.

“What a treat!” exclaimed a man who wandered in.  “You never know what you’ll see here” (meaning NYC).  Others oohed and ahed over the workmanship in the pieces.

The quilt makers all had to work with at least one of four fabrics created by The City Quilter and cover at least 25 per cent of the surface with the selections.  So you’ll see a kind of consistent look among these glories.

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On a happy high, I had time to make it to the Brooklyn Museum.   I managed to show up on the day of the press tour for the show I really wanted to see : Judy Chicago’s early work.

So I went to the other exhibits, hoping to outstay the press.  The Civil Rights show is really worth a see.  Yes, there are the familiar, painful photographs and a hummable sound track.  But I appreciated seeing how artists commented on race and despair and anger and hope.

Themes like Politicizing Pop and Black is Beautiful and Beloved Community put some structure on the installation.  I found myself responding to Norman Rockwell’s “New Kids in the Neighborhood,” which he did for Look because the Saturday Evening Post didn’t want his social commentary works.

And while several of the artists depicted the importance of education, Charles White’s iconic “Awaken the Unknowing” is the most lyrical and powerful.

I also really like the anger in Robert Indiana’s “Confederacy: Alabama” from 1965.  More pointed than most of his work.  The video of Nina Simone performing–amazing.

I did leave with mixed feelings.  The hope the exhibit leaves us with and a wondering at our blithering politics since, which hasn’t accomplished anything close to 1964.

Then I surreptitiously walked through the rest of the museum, working my way to the Feminist Wing, where the Chicago “Dinner Party” and the special exhibit is.  What happened was symptomatic of my charmed day.  By standing at one corner of the “Dinne

Chicago in pink scarf

Chicago in pink scarf

r Party,” I could see and hear Chicago herself leading the press on a tour.

Then they walked right by me, and as she passed, she said, “hi. “. I said, “hi.”  Me at my most gracious and articulate.  Impressive, eh?  Not even a “charmed, I’m sure…”

Here is the best picture I dared take of the pixie-ish and stylish artist.  Her back, of course.  I

just couldn’t muster taking a picture when she was facing me.


Courage is what the working girl in the 1930s had to have, to endure the sexual harassment in the workplace. “London Wall” playwright John Van Druten handled this and the serious lack of options single women had then with a light touch and sure sense of modern justice.  Oh, and this was produced by Mint Theatre, which revives period plays that have been overlooked.  This one is a corker.  The play started slowly, but the third act is a refreshing whopper, all painted with a most charming brush.

My second celebrity brush of the day came with the ever-charming Dick Cavett.  One of the key players of my second show “Hellmam vs McCarthy,” about the famous literary slugfest between Lillian and Mary, after McCarthy’s appearance on Cavett’s show.

In the New York Times, Cavett quipped that he wasn’t the first choice to play himself, and the House Manager said everyone associated with the show is in love with him.  I got to the theater so early that I saw him arrive and share cheery greetings around.  Woo hoo!

The show was pretty good, too, with Cavett as a quasi-narrator, doing his folksy schtick along the way.  Afterward, he answered questions, keeping everyone in their seats for 15 more minutes.

So New York will do this sometimes–toss you a cookie.  It’s all pretty charming.

One of the Faberge eggs made by artists, placed around town; this one is at Grand Central Terminal

One of the Faberge eggs made by artists, placed around the City; this one is at Grand Central Terminal