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Thoughts from the First Day of Toronto Pursuits 2014

July 15, 2014 in Art, Canada Travel, Classical Pursuits, Famous Artists, Famous Museums, Great Artists, Special Events, Summer Fun, Toronto Pursuits

Susan Lahey signs up for Twitter Just before giving her talk on Chinese Decorative Arts.

Guest Post by Ann Kirkland of Classical Pursuits

The first full day of Toronto Pursuits was a great success. It was great to see and meet some of the new people and find out about how they discovered Toronto Pursuits. Some people said they were here for their love of discussions and great ideas. Others were from Toronto and lived here their entire lives but never knew about it. Many were repeat attendees who keep coming back to Toronto to join us and partake in sessions and discussions.

“The Forbidden City” Exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto

On Monday, we started the day with sessions and then after lunch had a great talk from Susan Lahey and learned more about an insider’s view of Chinese Decorative Art. We took a trip with her to the Royal Ontario Museum to see an exhibition on “The Forbidden City: Inside the Court of China’s Emperors.” Ian Scott shared his wealth of knowledge of Eastern and Western opera.

To finish off a rewarding day, we had an intimate reception at the Park Hyatt in Toronto. The week is just getting started and there is much more to come. Stay tuned!

Read more about Classical Pursuits and the Toronto Pursuits program.

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.


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.


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.


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”.


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.


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!


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?



Absolute Ale-literation

July 2, 2012 in Summer Fun

A renaissance is sweeping the nation, turning amber waves of grain to barley, malt, and hops. Brews with names like Mephistopheles Stout and Oberon Ale are delighting enlightened drinkers and reminding us all of the intertwined histories of good spirits and great stories. The days of diluted, yellow fizz seem numbered as American brewers look to literature for inspiration.

Recently, the most notorious beer crafters and consumers converged at the NationalBuildingMuseum in Washington, D.C. to partake in an annual beer summit called SAVOR. In it’s 5th year, the event sold out within 30 minutes. Only a few outsiders were allowed a taste, which varies from tart and earthy to sweet and crisp. Lucky for me, I was one of those few.

The rest of the crowd was comprised of brewers, distributors, and industry experts from across the country. Inside the museum, six massive pillars stretched from floor to ceiling with logos of sponsoring breweries emblazoned in gold lights. There were 15 groups of tables covered in black linens and arranged in squares. Platters of bite-size foods and bottles of rare beer were carefully arranged around their perimeters. One table was devoted entirely to cheese. Atriums on the edges of the museum contained private salons and tastings. Despite the sophisticated atmosphere, the people seemed thoroughly unpretentious and downright giddy to be there – myself included.

I began loving craft beer as an English major at Arizona State University. A classmate took me to a local microbrewery, FourPeaks, where we would discuss Faulkner over glistening amber pint glasses. To this day, I enjoy that classmate’s company and a cold beer on the balcony of our DC apartment.

Like a song can recall a memory – perhaps a high school dance or a roadtrip with a friend – craft beer marks many moments of my last five years. A Super Bock on the beach in Portugal, a rich Kasteel draft in a back-alley Antwerp bar, Guinness after Guinness set to the tune of folk music in Dublin, a pilsner atop a Prague cliff with a new Moravian friend, or a sweet cider at an Oxford pub. The people and adventures all tie into the taste of a finely fermented brew. Thus, wandering the stalls of SAVOR and filling my chalice with a cornucopia of caramelly foams, I felt like I was travelling through time.

Friends and fellow beer connoisseurs graced every table. Although SAVOR is strictly American beers, it reflects the ingenuity that the U.S. is built upon, and a similar fest outside of the states would be difficult to find. Our beer renaissance has flipped the industry on its head and changed the way Americans drink, hopefully forever. Small breweries devote themselves to originality when crafting their beers, unlike the Bud and Miller that remain synonymous with frat parties and football.

For example, CigarCity’s Tocobaga harkens back to the Native American tribes that established the Floridian home of the brewery. Their Kalevipoeg baltic porter was named for the hero of FriedrichReinholdKreutzwald’s epic Estonian poem. Christening a beer is a serious business for brewmasters, who think of it like an author thinks of a title for his or her life’s work. There is always a story behind the name of a craft beer – one that is meant to capture its flavor and the sentimentality of its creator. Often I question if parents put as much thought into naming their children as brewers do their beers.

I bounced from table to table and sipped each unique nectar like a bee at a garden party. When I passed the Flying Dog table, I cheered to Hunter S. Thompson, and raised my glass to Hemingway at Bell’s. Both these writers could not resist too much of a good thing, so I swore to only savor, never sink. The irony of commemorating authors who abused substances with an alcoholic beverage may seem distasteful, but to me it serves as a reminder that craft beer and fiction alike are an escape. Both are ancient and intrinsic to many cultures. They are to be enjoyed, but are meant to be a temporary break from reality, not permanent.

For this reason, I left the party before midnight. I went home to my poet and put to rest another craft beer adventure. Will I return next year? I certainly hope so, but either way, Kalevipoeg is now on my reading list.

Summer Reading: Asking Teens to ‘Own the Night’

May 23, 2012 in Literary News, Summer Fun, Summer Reading, YA Fiction

It seems like everyone feels nostalgia for school days-past during this fateful time leading into June. A time when we were given that final homework assignment: Summer Reading. Either a daunting or exciting task, depending on the student. For some kids it was an albatross preventing them from fully enjoying their summer camp adventures; for others, like me, it was a task just to wait to see which books were chosen. I would run to the local bookstore where the summer reading lists from nearby schools were displayed at the front of the store. I am not saying I always loved every book that was chosen, but reading each one was like unwrapping a present to find out what was inside. Some were the equivalent of a style sweater you would never wear, but you just had to open it to find out!

I’m interested in what “the kids” are reading “these days”. I pay attention partly out of curiosity and partly to get in ahead of the curve. After all, with the popularity among adults of young adult fiction such as Twilight and The Hunger Games, it seems that, for better or worse, teen readers are on to something.

This year, the Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), in affiliation with libraries across the country, is giving teenagers an opportunity to ‘Own the Night.’ While students may not be able to avoid that assigned copy of To Kill a Mockingbird (C’mon guys, just give it a chance!), they can also be part of a program designed to encourage leisure reading in teens and young adults. The program is nationwide and a Google search of “Own the Night Summer Reading” pulls up library websites from Albuquerque to Boston and everywhere in between. While each library system is putting its own spin on the program to garner interest, the basic plan is the same:

The program runs roughly from June until August, targeting students entering grades 6-12, with a list of contemporary books involving creatures of the ‘night,’ including tales of zombies, vampires and other fantastical dystopian adventures. Books vary by library and different libraries are offering different incentives for participating.

The J.V. Fletcher Library in Westford, Massachusetts is offering raffle tickets in exchange for reading log entries; the more you read, the more chances you have to win prizes such as movie passes and gift certificates. The Jasper County Public Library in Indiana is offering cold hard cash with its “Books for Bucks” theme. The Gaston County Public Library in North Carolina is expanding its program to include a multitude of events: games, crafts and movie nights, as well as a “Gruesome Gala” where teens can dress as their favorite creature of the ‘night.’

With so many locations participating, make sure to check out your local library’s website for more information and don’t forget to pass the word along to the teenagers in your life. There are similar programs for younger children and adults as well. The weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer and there is nothing quite like the joy of sitting in the sun with a good book. Whether you are a fan of the classics or in the mood for fifty shades of guilty pleasure, remember, summer reading doesn’t end with graduation. Whether you’re traveling to exotic places or venturing no further than your back porch, pick up a book and enjoy the trip.

Top 3 Literary Alternatives to Disney World

May 2, 2012 in Charles Dickens, Feature articles, Holidays Literary Traveler, Summer Fun, Travel

Everyone knows the Internet is the best place to find reliably accurate statistics and hard facts. No? Well, do me a favor and suspend your disbelief in that last sentence, at least until my 500 words are up.

According to the, ahem, Internet, over 70% of the American populace has visited Disney World and its affiliated attractions at least once in their lives.  That makes a pilgrimage to metropolitan Orlando as American as apple pie, NASCAR or a tenuous grasp of world geography.

Now, you may or may not be saying to yourself, “70%! That seems so low! What is the rest of America doing with their precious vacation time? Exploring the natural beauty of one of our world-class national parks? Comparing the food at T.G.I. Friday’s in Times Square to the one at the mall near their house?”

Wrong. The remaining 30% are the hip insiders who know that when it comes to theme parks, one with a few quirks and lots of heart will always beat the sprawling, vaguely imperial nature of Walt Disney’s brainchild.  So, on that note, here’s a list of some of those “underground” theme parks to shake up your family’s tri-annual trips to central Florida.

The House on the Rock – Iowa County, Wisconsin: While not a “theme park” in the traditional sense, this one of a kind architectural wonder is treat for fans of whimsy and kitsch. The House itself rests on a 60-foot tower of rock and resembles a modernist’s fever dream. Its interior is an extensive complex of themed rooms and corridors. There’s a nautical room, a Christmas room, a room containing an entire automated symphony orchestra and even one that resembles a 1950s era America even Norman Rockwell would find too sanitized. Home to both the “world’s largest indoor carousel” and a massive collection of dollhouses, The House on the Rock is sure to provide ample, if somewhat over-stimulating fun for the whole family.

Grūtas Park – Vilnius, Lithuania: For those families out there with a macabre sensibility and ambition to spare, this tribute to Soviet brutality is a trendy pick. What it lacks in rides and traditional theme park fare, it makes up in meticulously recreated Gulag prison camps and something called “The Terror Sphere.” The park’s core consists of 86 statues; each dedicated to a famous Communist or political dissident whose life’s work shaped the story of Soviet occupation. Fun fact: this is the only attraction on the list that has won the Nobel Peace Prize, which it did in 2001. Once you’ve had your fill of staring unflinchingly into the faces of totalitarianism, the park also offers restaurants, playgrounds and even a small zoo. While Grūtas Park may seem a bit stern or melancholy for a family vacation, keep in mind that the next time little Billy thinks about refusing to do his chores, he’ll have the stark, indelible image of that Gulag in his head to send him on his way.

Dickens World – Kent, England: Sure to delight the English majors out there, this recently opened theme park is dedicated entirely to the life and work of Charles Dickens. Complete with a “Great Expectations” log flume and the haunted house of Ebenezer Scrooge, Dickens World promises an immersive trip to Victorian London. How immersive? Cleverly hidden “smell pots” that reek of rotten cabbage and animal parts are a masterstroke.  There is even a hi-definition cinema show based on Dickens’ final completed novel, Our Mutual Friend, because you haven’t seen urban squalor and class struggle until you’ve seen it in 3-D! Once you’ve had your pocket picked by the Artful Dodger in the impressively rendered central square, head over to the themed restaurant for a room temperature beer and some figgy pudding (I know, I’m not sure either). Word to the wise: if you let little Billy into the colorful and colorfully named “Fagin’s Den” play area, it could take weeks to wash that Cockney street urchin accent out of his mouth.

BONUS! – The still-in-development “Napoleon’s Bivouac” theme park – Paris, France: Kids today. You know, I bet they don’t even know that Napoleon wasn’t even short. In fact, he was about 5’7”: quite average for his era. Luckily, a group of French venture capitalists are out to remedy this sort of ignorance to the greatest Frenchman of them all. In early 2014, ground will be broken in Montereau, France on a project that promises to bring the “little” general’s exploits to vivid life. Early blueprints seem to divide the grounds into the different episodes of his life. Visitors will begin and end their Napoleonic journey on two islands. First, Corsica, where they’ll witness the humble beginnings of the future Emperor of Europe and finally, Saint Helena, almost 1,200 miles off the Atlantic coast of Africa where the grizzled old general died in exile. Though traditional rides and rollercoasters are a given, the park’s designers have hinted that the big attraction will be elaborately choreographed battle reenactments complete with gunfire, pyrotechnics and a cast of hundreds. So, come 2014, wear your bicorne hat at a jaunty angle and meet me in Montereau! Euro Disney, eat your heart out!

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