Vacation! 5 Days in DC, 3 at the shore

By Caitlin Kelly

Our first long break since March 2021, which was five days upstate.

We drove south from NY, about 4.5 hours, and treated ourselves to a stay at The Willard, which opened in 1818 — the place where Martin Luther King wrote his “I have a dream” speech and where Julia Ward Howe wrote The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Name anyone powerful in politics here and they’ve stayed or visited — the White House is a few blocks further down Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is classic old-school elegance, and our room was large and quiet.

We arrived in time for Sunday afternoon tea. What a treat! Every table was filled with people, mostly women, dressed up in their best — one table full of women wearing THE BEST HATS.

We are terrible tourists! I am never one to rush around filling my days with seeing all the official sights.

The first day I visited a favorite shop, Goodwood, in business since 1994, an eclectic mix of clothing, accessories, lighting and furniture. A block away is a fun restaurant, Ted’s Bulletin, (the 14th Street location) where I sat at the counter for lunch — repeating both times a pleasure I discovered on my last solo visit there, in March 2020, just as COVID started destroying such simple amusements as travel and eating out.

I was advised to visit the Phillips Collection and whew! It’s now one of my favorite museums anywhere, a collection of art from Renoir and Degas and van Gogh to Rothko, Diebenkorn, Klee, Kandinsky — all set within a huge old mansion. Its courtyard is also very beautiful. The staff are really welcoming and the gift store excellent. I loved the current exhibition of work by Black artist David Driskell, whose work I had never seen.

We had a long great lunch at Le Diplomate with our dear friend and ex NYT photographer Steven Crowley.

We returned — for Jose’s birthday — to one of his old haunts, the jazz club Blues Alley, for the second show. Jose lived in D.C. for eight years as a New York Times photographer, having realized his dream of becoming a member of the White House Press Corps, covering Reagan, Bush and Clinton.

Another day, Jose got his NYT staff pal Doug Mills — too busy to meet for coffee since he covers The President and all his doings — outside the White House for a quick hello. He gave us these M and Ms candies, fresh from Air Force One.

I spent a day antiquing with a very dear friend, one of our rituals, and found a homespun coverlet in pristine condition. It was such a perfect mix of new sights and discoveries, renewing some of our oldest and deepest friendships, enjoying a luxurious hotel. The weather was perfect every day, a bit cool in the evenings and sunny and (not D.C. humid) in the daytime.

We loved our meal at Jaleo, a tapas restaurant.

I was sorry not to have seen more art, as we had planned, but it was just so good to finally see our friends — Jose also caught up with another former NYT colleague.

We then drove 90 minutes east to coastal Maryland and are in Easton for three days, off to a Maritime Museum tomorrow.

It has been a wonderful and badly needed break.

We’re ready to head home and dive back into work, refreshed,

American Workers Finally Protesting En Masse

By Caitlin Kelly

For the first time since 2009, thousands of American workers are on strike or soon to be on strike — from 60,000 members of IATSE who work on TV shows and film to nurses in Massachusetts to the 10,000 John Deere workers in Illinois. Iowa and Kansas. Cereal makers are on strike.

We’re seeing history.

For decades, American workers — many doing dangerous, tedious jobs — have suffered stagnant wages, while their corporate masters earning record profits blew that money on stock buybacks and massive compensation, like 300 times that of their lowest-paid workers. The federal minimum wage is a pathetic $7.25, in a time of such inflation that Social Security just boosted its payments a record 9.5 percent.

Americans workers have, for a variety of reasons, felt — and been — powerless.

Now thousands are quitting, leaving retail, hospitality, medicine and even trucking scrambling to hire new staff.

The country has long had very low union membership, not even 15 percent.

This is a nation with no paid maternity leave, no mandated sick days or vacation days.

A nation of “at will”employment — an abomination that means any employer can fire you any time for NO reason.

Awesome!

I grew up in Canada and spent my 25th year on a journalism fellowship based in Paris, where every newspaper had an alphabet soup of unions to memorize. And French workers have never been shy about showing their force.

The immense power American employers hold over their staff has always shocked me deeply, and the cowed obedience they get in return.

But if your only access to affordable health insurance is by getting and keeping your job, even if you hate it, what choice do you have?

And COVID has now killed 700,000 Americans — a number too large to make sense of really.

So there are simply thousands of fewer workers; basic economics mean when there are fewer people ready to take your job offer, you may have to make it a lot more appealing than you used to.

I watch this powerful and inspiring movement from the sidelines of self-employment, where I and my husband have been for 15 and six years respectively.

There are many challenges to working freelance, from finding well-paying, reliable clients to getting paid quickly to managing our own taxes and costs of health insurance unsubsidized by an employer.

But it offers a very significant source of power, the one — belatedly and long overdue — now being wielded by so many fed-up, exhausted and pissed-off American workers.

We can, and do, withdraw our skilled labor from abusive, cheap clients.

We can, and do, set our own pay rates.

We can, and do, arrange our work schedule to best suit our needs.

We can, and do, take sick days and vacations.

Once you have discovered your own autonomy — not everyone wants to or can hustle this hard! — it’s difficult-to-impossible to imagine re-assuming the absurdities imposed by too many employers and public policy that routinely ignores what workers need and want.

Have you ever just quit a miserable job?

Back to the ballet!

The ceiling of the Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, one of my NYC pleasures

By Caitlin Kelly

Ohhh, how I missed watching live ballet.

Last week a good friend, a New York Times colleague of my husband and I went to our second New York City Ballet performance; we also attended Sept. 20’s opening night, which opened to rapturous, grateful, relieved applause, every red velvet seat filled.

After 18 months of a dark theater, what an intense joy it was to be with thousands of others as happy and grateful for such beauty and this powerful and emotional shared moment.

The two nights cost me $190 for two tickets…yes, a lot of income for many people, I know! But worth every penny for me and for my friend.

We both cried when the first notes of Tchaikovksy’s Serenade in C began, the music for the 1938 Balanchine ballet, Serenade.

I defy anyone to hear those first few notes and remain unmoved, dammit!


The opening moment of Serenade has the entire female corps de ballet bathed in blue light, standing on an angle, their right arms raised at an an angle, flat hands, wrists cocked — as Balanchine saw them initially trying to block sunlight from their eyes, and retained the gesture.

I love this ballet so much and my friend does as well, which made my pleasure even greater.

The first program also included After the Rain (slow, lovely) and Symphony in C, which he loved and I liked.

The interior of the theater…each balcony is called a Ring, so you sit in Rings 1, 2, 3 or 4

The Sept. 30 evening was Pieces of Glass, choreographed brilliantly by Jerome Robbins (West Side Story’s legendary choreographer), to Philip Glass’ distinctive and unmistakable music and two world premieres, much heralded. I love Nicholas Britell’s music for the HBO series Succession, so I had high hopes for the piece he scored…

I have to admit — agreeing with the Times’ scathing review — that the latter two were…not good. At all. Garish costumes, tedious choreography, OK music. The dancing, of course, strong, but in service of not very much.

This is the true cost (if you buy tickets to any live art form) that you might not actually like or enjoy what you see! It’s a risk. But, and yes this sounds elitist and bourgeois (sorry!) how else can you educate your eye but by through seeing a fair bit of whatever it is you want to better know and understand, and then deciding not only what you most enjoy and why, but also what just doesn’t work, sometimes despite lavish production values.

I studied ballet for many years and did ballet criticism and reviews for The Globe and Mail, so I did get to see a lot of ballet in my 20s, free of charge. Now, my eye sharpened after 18 months without it, I am seeing things quite differently (and analytically.)

But one of the many reliable pleasures, for me, of attending ballet at the Koch Theater is also just how beautiful the theater is, all white marble and lacy gold balcony railings and light fixtures that look like massive jewels. It’s 50 years old but still so perfect, not at all dated. It gives you such a sense of elegance and anticipation.

People dress way, way up! Oh my, the gowns and furs and black tie and stiletto heels.

Then the orchestra is there (masked!) and the maestro finally comes out, to our applause. The waiting is part of the ritual pleasure. Then the performance, and the curtain call, then bouquets for the women principal dancers.

It was just wonderful to be back.

A weekend at the TWA hotel at JFK

All photos by Jose R. Lopez

By Caitlin Kelly

Manhattan has so many old-school uptown elegant hotels — from the Pierre and the St. Regis and the Carlyle — to the glossy hip ones downtown.

But Jose made the best possible choice for our anniversary weekend — the TWA Hotel at JFK, which opened in 2019 on the site of the legendary 1961 TWA terminal designed by Eero Saarinen.

I am a hopeless and total #avgeek, and plane spotting is one of my joys, aided by the extremely cool website Flight Radar 24 which tracks aircraft worldwide.

So we sat in bed facing one of the runways and watched planes arriving from London and Paris and Mexico and Jamaica and Lima watched others leave for Beijing and Casablanca and Milan and Madrid and Tokyo and Istanbul and Dubai and Bogota and Seoul.

We also saw a Turkish miltary aircraft take off (destination hidden); I guessed it might have delivered Afghan refugees originating in Kabul but having been processed in Turkey.

Of course I brought my binoculars!

Sigh!

I so so so miss international travel! When each plane took off for my beloved Paris I cried a bit and waved au revoir — my last international flight was on a 747 home to JFK from London in July 2017.

Next year, dammit!

The hotel is gorgeous: white penny tile floors, sleek metal handrails, high ceilings, walls of freshly cleaned glass, everything curved. The signage is beautifully designed, a marble fountain on one floor quiet and lovely, surrounded by fresh green plants.

Two vintage cars, one inside, one at the entrance, show young visitors what a 60s land yacht — aka a Lincoln Cadillac — looked like.

The lobby music is 50s and 60s, fun for older visitors and likely a surprise for younger ones, let alone (!) the black dial phones in the rooms, which work.

THRILL!!! An A380 — the largest commercial passenger plane in the world.

There’s one formal restaurant with thick carpeting (gray, with the TWA logo in the tufting) which makes the room blessedly quiet. The food is very good although expensive — the only alternative is a food court.

There are several indoor bars and tucked one inside a vintage plane.

I loved the hidden lounges, circular spaces tucked inside and easily missed, and quiet places to sit and read alone in silence on crisp red upholstery. Everything is in TWA colors — cherry red and white.

There is a pool and observation desk ($50 for 90 minutes) and a shop selling every possible iteration of TWA stuff — sneakers ($60) red cotton hoodies, playing cards, metal pins. slippers, caps.

I loved the exhibit of TWA flight attendant uniforms, all the way back to 1944. They changed every three or four years, and the most gorgeous — deep plum and chocolate brown — were of course by Valentino.

The only omission, which I found a bit shocking, was no detailed mention (!?) of Saarinen and his design team. That history is essential, too.

The reviews from the NYT when it opened in May 2019 are very mixed indeed, but we really enjoyed it.

Minor complaints to consider:

Only one restaurant and it’s expensive (like $150+ for appetizer/entree/one drink for two people)

A lot of kids and screaming kids in the pool

The music gets a bit much after two days of it 24/7

Valet parking also very costly at $40 day