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We’re Hosting a Party, Old Sport! — How to Throw a Gatsby Summer Soiree

June 9, 2013 in American literature, Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Cocktails Inspired by Literature, Food, Music, Summer Fun

So you want to throw a party, old sport? A fabulous soiree that those on the East Egg would envy from across the bay? Now, I’m no Jay Gatsby, but I think we can put something together that’s pretty spectacular.

SETTING:

The ideal way to create a decadent party-going atmosphere would be to find yourself a mansion on the water as close as possible to old money (Newport, Rhode Island, perhaps?). Surround yourself with well-manicured gardens, and extravagant sunset views are a must!

Barring the many years necessary to acquire the funds (and the availability of appropriate historic mansions), it is possible to create an almost-as-good environment in your own home. Dim lighting is a necessity, and tastefully hung strings of white lights can foster an intimate setting. Your daily household clutter will, of course, be hidden away, and simple table cloths will add a feeling of elegance.

ENTERTAINMENT

Scrounging up an orchestra complete with oboes, trombones and saxophones would be for the best, but a playlist chock-full of speakeasy-flavor jazz music will do the trick as well. Duke Ellington would be a great place to start, but you can also find lengthy 1920s playlists already compiled on music sharing services such as Spotify.

COSTUME

A dress code, of course, will get all attendees in the right mood. If men do not own “white flannels” akin to Nick Carroway’s threads, elegant dress in the form of bowties, fedoras, and pastels of all types will be considered acceptable. Women should plan on sticking to the 1920s flapper style of loose dresses, long pearls, extravagant broaches, and flowered and/or beaded hair pieces. Oh, and shawls! Shawls of all types!

Fortunately, with the recent Gatsby film release, your party has plenty of inspiration. Create a ‘lookbook’ of preferred dress using images from the film adaptation to inform. Brooks Brothers also has created a fabulous line of menswear called (unsurprisingly) “The Great Gatsby Collection”.

FOOD

A buffet table laden with appetizers is the best way to encourage mingling and social levity. Gatsby himself served pastry pigs (today’s oh-so-delicious pigs in a blanket work just fine), as well as spiced ham and roasted turkey. To maintain an hors-d’oeuvres only rule, you should slice up the meat before rolling and anchoring with a toothpick. Throw a cherry tomato or olive on top for a flashy garnish.

Molded salads (jello, anyone?) were popular in the ‘20s; lemon cakes were served in Gatsby, as was fried chicken. Add in citrus delights where you can — nothing screams 1920s wealth like fresh fruit. I also don’t think any guests would object to a few anachronistic (yet delectable) contemporary dips added to the menu, but that’s up to you as the host.

DRINK

The most important part of a Prohibition-era party: the drinks. Keep the alcohol flowing and your party is bound to be a smashing success. Gin and whiskey were popular liquors at the time. Champagne aplenty is a must, and fresh orange juice on hand will lead to thirst-quenching mimosas once the party extends to the early morning hours. While Gatsby was partial to lemons and lemonades, I don’t think your guests will object to a little lime included in some of the following drinks.

  • Gin Rickey: A refreshing libation perfect for those warm summer nights. Gin, lime juice, and club soda in a Collins glass will get any party started.
  • Mint Julep: Whiskey, mint and a dash of sugar will make any lady (or gentleman) swoon with pleasure.
  • Highball: This simple drink was popular during the 1920s. Bourbon is the spirit of choice mixed with craft ginger beer right in the highball glass (perfect for speakeasy-level secrecy).
  • The Royal Highball: Popular among the upper-echelons of New York society, this classy beverage demands fresh strawberries, champagne, and Cognac.
  • Sidecar: This gem is made of Cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, in a 4-2-1 ratio that’s best served in a standard cocktail glass garnished with a lemon rind.

Remember to stock ice in abundance to guarantee maximum drink freshness!

GUEST LIST

Send out your formal invitations about one week in advance to create an air of exclusivity, but make sure to inform your guests that they are free to bring whomever! Because large parties are really so much more intimate, don’t you think, old sport?

Enjoy!

 

Exploring the Origins of the Charleston

May 21, 2013 in American History, American literature, Classic Literature, Dance, Kickstarter, Literary News, Music

Frank Farnum coaching Pauline Starke in the Charleston for a film role.

My recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina was incredible.  I have wanted to visit the city for years and I was delighted to partake in historical tours, hearing tales of the American Revolution and the Civil War, leisurely strolls and an abundance of incredible food and drink. The week-long getaway was exactly what the doctor ordered to cure the stresses, anxieties, and routine of day-to-day life.

But despite the feeling of freedom and blissful contentment at having no responsibilities, I found myself falling victim to that same sneaky trap that so many American travelers fall into: I was preoccupied with work.

Now let me say, for the record, that I love working with Literary Traveler. It’s a great company with great people and often when I’m working there it doesn’t feel like work at all.  This preoccupation may have been due, in part, to the knowledge that our Kickstarter was going live while I was away. It was weighing on my mind that if we were successful in meeting our funding goal we would be shooting our TV pilot and, that if we weren’t, we would be back to square one. The pilot episode and the Kickstarter campaign were just too big to put out of my mind.

Now, Charleston is a city rich with history and old-world elegance. One of the most preserved cities in the U.S., it looks today much as it did one-hundred years ago (besides the paved streets, upscale shopping boutiques and foodie hotspots). Meandering past war monuments, hotels and houses dating back as far as the 1800s, it was easy to imagine a world long ago and far away. But my mind wasn’t on war and it wasn’t going back that far. What I kept finding myself thinking about was The Great Gatsby, Nick, Daisy and Jordan, and of the roaring twenties.

Specifically, what I was wondering was whether that flapper-essential dance, the Charleston, was in fact named for my destination city. After digging up a little research, I found that the light and carefree dance had some dark history behind it.

Yes, the dance is named after the coastal landmark city. To be more precise, it is named for the show tune it was first danced to, “The Charleston,” by James P. Johnson, which premiered in the 1923 Broadway show Runnin’ Wild. The show was one of the most popular of the decade and created widespread love of the Charleston dance by women around the country who wanted to kick up their heels, flap their arms and let loose.

But long before the glamorized show-dance ever made its Broadway debut, it was being performed, though in a far less choreographed fashion, by African and African-American slaves. The Charleston, you see, is said to be based on the “Juba” dance, which originated in West Africa and was brought to America during one of our most shameful times in history.

The city of Charleston was a hub in the slave trade, housing an abundance of plantations for which slave labor was used and Ryan’s Mart, one of the most well-known slave auction centers ever to exist. Enslaved Africans and African-Americans have passed a number of our cultural treasures along including gospel, blues, and jazz music and the dancing to go with them. The Juba, sometimes called the “Hambone” or “Pattin’ Juba,” was usually danced in groups and consisted of slapping, clapping, and stomping in rhythm while rotating in a counterclockwise circle. The slaves were not allowed to use drums or other rhythmic instruments for fear that they were communicating with each other through the music, so they made their own rhythm using their bodies. This may not sound like the Charleston you have seen, but much of what has become jazz and tap dance originated from these steps.

Similarly, the women of the 1920s were using dance to express ideals that had once been forbidden and taboo: freedom, fun, carelessness and independence. As a matter of fact, the Charleston was outlawed in many places during the 20s because it was seen as crude and scandalous. It is interesting to see how these two groups of people, the slaves in the direst of circumstances and American flappers, many of whom were privileged monetarily and lived seemingly happy and easy lives, do relate to one another. Their environments were so ostensibly different, and yet, the feeling of being stifled, caged, confined, existed inside them all.  The dances of the day, the Juba and the Charleston, helped each group to cope with their circumstances and feelings and enabled genuine creative expression.

I wonder if Daisy ever thought about this.

A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein in Somerville, Massachusetts

November 12, 2011 in Cambridge, Leonard Bernstein, Music

Leonard Bernstein was born and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where his family ran a bookstore. He studied in Boston and Cambridge, as well as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In New York City he became known as a producer, in Vienna and Israel he was touted as one of the world’s greatest conductors; it was Tanglewood, however, to which Bernstein would “come home” to perform the work, and foster the friendships, that helped shape who he was as a person.

Cynthia Woods, Music Director of the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and acclaimed international guest conductor, sheds light on the importance of Place in Leonard Bernstein’s life and career.

While Bernstein had long standing associations with many orchestras and areas–New York, Vienna, Israel–his lifelong relationship with Tanglewood, Massachusetts, stands out as one of the most defining places and experiences of his life.

Leonard Bernstein was accepted into the Tanglewood program in 1940 by Serge Koussevitzky, the iconic conductor and director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at that time. Bernstein had already finished his studies at Curtis with Fritz Reiner, another major influence, but it would be his time spent studying with Koussevitzky that would shape the public persona that everyone would come to know; the flair for the dramatic, the commitment to new music, and a love of teaching became principals that defined him for the rest of his life. It would also be at Tanglewood that first summer where Bernstein would meet another of his greatest friends and musical influences, Aaron Copland.

Bernstein maintained a relationship with Tanglewood for the rest of his life, eventually taking over for Serge Koussevitzky, teaching young conductors and composers, and leading the BSO in their summer season. It would also be at Tanglewood that he would “come home” to give his final concert. On August 19, 1990, Bernstein gave his final concert, almost collapsing on stage from a coughing fit, forcing himself to continue on and giving one of his greatest performances. All of his friends and family say that he knew it would be his final performance. He would die a few weeks later on October 14, 1990.

The Cambridge Symphony Orchestra is playing A Tribute to Leonard Bernstein, Sunday November 13, 2011, at 4:00PM at the Somerville High School on Highland Avenue.

The program includes the Overture to Candide, an operetta composed by Bernstein in 1956, based on the satirical novella by French philosopher Voltaire; a sweet and compelling orchestration of West Side Story, which premiered on Broadway in 1957; and in excellent contrast, Symphony No. 3 by early Romantic composer, Robert Schumann.

Please join us for a beautiful program and a historical, musical tribute to Leonard Bernstein—the places that influenced him, and indeed, the places influenced by him.

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