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My Turn As a Tourist: A Day With Behold! New Lebanon

By Lisa Green

Behold! New Lebanon is a living museum of contemporary rural American life. There are no ladies in bonnets spinning wool a la Sturbridge Village. These people are the real deal, willing to open their lives to share their skills and experience of rural living as a step toward creating their own sustainable future through tourism. [See full story here.]

I chose to “take” two events on the first day, and while I enjoyed both of them immensely and learned a huge amount, I found that part of the fun was not only the give-and-take with the presenters but with my fellow “visitors” as well. The two-room Visitor’s Center is part gift shop (offering New Lebanon-made products and Behold! New Lebanon merchandise) and part sign-in desk. But furnished with rocking chairs, filled with sunshine and a light breeze, it is a welcoming gathering space where locals greet one another and the rest of us meet them and each other. On the bus ride to the events, the anticipation is palpable – what are we going to see and learn? — and on the ride back, oh my, it is a voluble, good-natured competition about whose experience was better.

At “Hitching the Horse to the Plow,” we met 23-year-old farmer Even Thaler-Null, who runs Abode Farm CSA with his partner, Sarah Steadman. A first generation farmer from Westchester, Thaler-Null farms the former Shaker land (which before was Mohican land) using two plow horses and somewhat ancient but working farm equipment. The couple’s mission is to provide more food for New Lebanon, so they attempt to keep their 150 varieties of crops affordable through their CSA.  It’s one thing to know that farmers work hard, but it is another to witness Thaler-Null’s commitment to this labor of love.

My afternoon event was “Going Once! Going Twice: Auctioneering 101” to meet with Dolores Meissner of Meissner’s Auction Service. I have attended these auctions in the past, and have walked out a bit dazzled by the speed, efficiency and humor with which the auction items are dispatched. But I didn’t know how Dolores and her late husband, Keith, built up their business, how she “reads” a crowd, learned the patter, where the merchandise comes from — and how she is coping with running the business without Keith. When it was time to get back on the bus, I was finally able to express my condolences to Dolores on the tragic loss of her husband just last December. “Now I need to give you a hug,” she said. And did.

I have beheld New Lebanon, and I will be going back.

Behold! New Lebanon
Friday, September 12 – Sunday, September 14
Friday, October 10 – Monday, October 13
Friday, October 31 – Sunday, November 2
Visitor’s Center
14398 NY Route 22, New Lebanon, NY   (518) 795-5756

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/01/14 at 02:24 PM • Permalink

Taking the Muzzle Off: WAM Theatre Invites Change Makers

cynthia wade wamBy Nichole Dupont

No matter where we are in the world, the rapid-fire barrage of social media and hard news headlines finds us: Child marriage in Jordan, school girls kidnapped in Nigeria, U.S. women among nation’s poorest, no public laughter in Turkey. The stories range from horrifying to ridiculous, yet the subject (or, I should say, the object) always lands squarely on the “fairer sex.” It’s hard not to feel a solid lump of hopelessness knowing what faces women and girls across the globe, every moment of every day.

“But there are women who are standing forward, and good men who are standing forward and good things are being manifested through the energy of women,” says actor and activist Jayne Atkinson. She is talking via cellphone from the Baltimore set of House of Cards—which is packed with strong female leads—where she is in the thick of shooting the series’ third season. “Put in the hands of women, look at the amazing changes we have seen in our world.”

Atkinson is a strong supporter and advocate for the Berkshire-based WAM (Women’s Action Movement) Theatre, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary with Change Makers, a high-profile panel discussion to be held on August 24 at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center. The event will be hosted by Marsha Norman and Sarah LaDuke and panelists include author/actor Jessica Blank, award-winning playwright Winter Miller, veteran photographer John Stanmeyer and Academy Award-winning (Berkshire-based) documentarian Cynthia Wade [above]. The panel discussion will address some of greatest challenges facing women (and men) in the world. Proceeds from the event will benefit WAM’s fall production of In Darfur, written by Miller, who was inspired by what she saw as a researcher for The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof at the start of the genocide in Darfur in 2004.

winter miller 300“I’m not capable of unseeing things,” says Miller [right] about the heavy content of most of her plays. “I try to figure out ‘how can I share what I’ve seen with people who may not have seen it.’ I have this goal of inciting curiosity; what they know versus what they think they know about a situation.”

Miller has written several plays (both commissioned and personal) about high-profile situations that we think we know about including the Trayvon Martin case, the Steubenville rape, gun control and sexual identity just to rattle off a few. And yet, no matter how many full-length productions or one-act workshops she writes, Miller still remains somewhat stupefied.

“It’s perplexing to me,” she says. “How is it that gay rights has rocketed ahead of women’s rights? Things have not panned out the way many people thought it would. Yes, there is sheer outrage and the desire to shout ‘everybody wake up!’”

Inciting action has been WAM’s purpose all along according to artistic director Kristen van Ginhoven, who says that at first “the whole endeavor felt like a gamble.”

“It’s so hard to raise the funds simply to produce an event, and then also we were going to donate funds? We really had no idea if it would work, and I often say it’s because we’re based in the Berkshires that it has worked. And it’s only through lots of hard work, incredible mentors, tons of support and many accomplishments that now I feel so much more comfortable in my role as ‘artistic director.’ I feel proud going into meetings to ask for support because I know WAM is a good investment.”

Certainly good enough to draw an eclectic panel of passionate champions for humanity who, as van Ginhoven puts it “all…desire to use our art for action. More specifically, to use our art to create positive change around social justice issues.”

john stanmeyer 300John Stanmeyer [left, photo by Rob Becker] sees women’s issues (though he is hesitant to call them that) through an entirely (literally) different lens. Having travelled across the globe to destinations which are typically viewed as especially hostile towards women, including parts of Africa, East Asia, India and the Middle East.

“I completely ‘get’ how males get to dominate borders and cultures. And I completely understand the weight and measure [of the movement] to empower women,” he says. “But I don’t believe in gender differences. It’s the weakness of humans, what we’ve done to humanity, that’s caused this inequality. Education is paramount. We do need to support greater empowerment for women in developing countries, and in our own country.”

He pauses, shaking his head. We are sitting in his photo gallery/café in West Stockbridge, MA. Just outside the window, his daughter, dressed in bright purple and orange, is fishing in the Williams River with her two older brothers.

“I can’t even fathom the notion that some bozo in a room would actually consider not paying someone fairly because they’re female. It blows my mind,” he says. “I just want human beings to function in their greatest and most prolific way and be driven by brilliance.”

WAM Theatre: Change Makers
Sunday, August 24, 7 p.m.
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle St., Great Barrington, MA
For tickets, call (413) 528-0100.

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Posted by Nichole on 08/09/14 at 03:43 PM • Permalink

The Clark Art Institute Gala: A Truly Grand Re-Opening

Lisa Green reports from Williamstown.
On Saturday, June 28, the gala to celebrate the opening of the expanded Clark Art Institute was commensurate with the endeavor and investment that went into the creation of the magnificent new campus. More than 700 guests (and, it seemed, an almost equal number of earpiece-wearing catering crew and iPad-toting museum staff) milled around the capacious outdoor terrace and its stunning reflecting pool. Several open bars and a jazz trio kept the crowd occupied until the official opening remarks began.

Jazz trio members Andy Wrba, bass, Andy Jaffe, keyboard and Bill Chapman, drums, performed early in the evening, and later were joined by famed saxophonist Charles Neville; Christy Abel and Rob Abel with Jane Stuebner, a member of the host committee, enjoyed the perfect summer evening.

Michael Conforti, The Clark’s director, welcomed the guests and thanked the major players, community and staff for their efforts in the completion of the new facility.
Gov Deval Patrick praised the project (and quickly left for another event), and Peter Wilmott, president of the Board of Trustees, also spoke. Then, as the doors to the new Clark were opened at last, Conforti invited guests to follow him into the newly transformed Museum Building.

It was clear from conversations overhead that leaders in the museum and gallery worlds were present to assess, enjoy and compare notes.

Andrew Spindler, an antiques dealer from Gloucester, chatted with Mathias Waschek, director of the Worcester Art Museum; Melinda Wingate and Ealan Wingate, who is the director of the Gagosian Gallery in New York, strolled the Impressionist Gallery.

Marc Gotlieb, director of the Graduate Program in the History of Art at Williams College, talked shop with Brent Benjamin, director of the St. Louis Art Museum.

The visionary architects and designers were on hand, including Tadao Ando of Tadao Ando Architect & Associates, who designed the new Visitor Center.

Lisa Giersbach with Elizabeth Randall and Eric Kramer from Reed Hilderbrand of Cambridge, the firm that conceived the dramatic landscape design; Annabelle Selldorf, the architect who reconceived the original Museum Building, and Rachel Judlowe.

The gala engaged all the senses. There was music inside, carefully chosen to complement the galleries and The Clark’s ever-growing international stature. In the Impressionist Gallery, the flutist Alex Sopp performed Debussy’s “Syrinx” and Colin Jacobsen, violinist and Eric Jacobsen, cellist, played Ravel’s Duo for Violin and Cello.

Colin Jacobson and violist Max Mandel performed in the Glass Box; The Knights, an orchestral collective, performed contemporary works by Chinese composers and a bit of Mozart, a perfect blend of east and west, in the new special exhibition gallery.

As Director Conforti said, the project couldn’t have been completed without the support of the community, and many of them were present at the gala. At left, Massachusetts State Representative Gail Cariddi of the First Berkshire District and her colleague, State Representative Paul Mark of the Second Berkshire District, expressed their admiration for the new Clark.

George Ahl, a board member of MASS MoCA and Tracy Finnegan of Williamstown; Robert Lach, a member of the Class of 1990 History of Art program at Williams, with Ghetta Hirsch, a painter and museum supporter.

The evening brought out members of nearby cultural organizations. At right, Eric Kerns, director of Marketing and Development at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Kate Morris, Molly Kerns and Hans Morris, chairman of the MASS MoCA Foundation Board of Trustees.



The new gift shop was filled with buyers; Susan Lowry and Vicky Lowry live in New York, but still consider themselves Williamstown “townies.”

Henry Flynt (seated), who knew the Clarks, lived across the street from the museum and watched as the first building went up. “This is a very special day for him,” said Suzanne Flynt, his daughter-in-law (standing behind him). David Kriegel and Cynthia Flynt also shared the event with him.

It’s possible the opening was most meaningful to The Clark’s staff, who, it must be said, handled the massive gala celebration with aplomb (and the ever-present iPads and walkie-talkies). The event’s design was courtesy of David Stark Design & Productions. The food, served buffet style (much of it locally resourced), marked the debut of The Clark’s new catering service by Stephen STARR events, which created, among other shot-glass jewels, a to-die-for white chocolate pudding. Above, Ralph Colaizzi, Merritt Colaizzi, campaign director, Terri Boccia, Acquisitions librarian and Karl Mullen.

Museum Director Michael Conforti with his children, Peter Conforti and Julia Conforti; Laurie Marrs and Lydia Ross, both of the Advancement office.

The spectacular end to the evening? Not really — an after party followed at the Stone Hill Center.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 06/29/14 at 01:46 PM • Permalink

In Memoriam: John Harney of Harney & Sons Tea

John Harney, who founded a small tea company some thirty years ago in Salisbury, CT, which is now a prestigious and revered international brand with its headquarters in Millerton, NY, passed away suddenly at age 83 on June 17. Harney, whom many considered the unofficial mayor of northwestern Connecticut, was the proprietor of the storied White Hart Inn during its heyday. He and his wife, Elyse, a powerhouse in Litchfield County real estate, presided over a good-looking, good-hearted family that was committed to upholding small town values and traditions while simultaneously stoking the local economy. Considered a visionary in the tea and artisanal food worlds, John Harney was both a global figure and small-town hero. Rural Intelligence asked friends and neighbors for their remembrances.
—Dan Shaw

I will always remember him with the impish grin and smile when he told us at the pharmacy that he was going to Buckingham Palace for the first time and what he would wear! He would always be smiling when you met him on the street. He always had a kind word, an offering hand, a view of the world that was positive and hopeful. He was proud of his family, his community, his country and Harney Tea.  He represented what is best in this country. He embodied the American dream of integrity, hard work, accountability, generosity and community. He was a role model for all of us in his actions and his character,
—Elaine La Roche, proprietor Lion Rock Farm, Sharon, CT.

A tribute to my old friend John Harney is easy to do. Missing his sustaining and strong presence in our community will be the hard part for so many. I’ve known him since the early 70s.  It is, of course, through the White Hart Inn that so many people first came to know John and Elyse. I cannot even count the number of personal family celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas parties, and town-wide social events that were held there. You wanted to be near that fireplace!  But his commitment to so many areas of the town of Salisbury and the state speak to his humanity and a deep sense of caring about his friends and neighbors and his willingness to simply be a part of making things better ... and in many ways more fun. Did you ever see John without a smile? Did you ever sense that he wasn’t glad to hear what you had to say?
—Susan Galuzzo, The White Gallery, Lakeville, CT

John Harney was a loving, doting, father figure to me, taking me under his wing when I was sixteen. He gave me a room at the White Hart Inn, teaching me all aspects of restaurant management, chambermaid work, preparing shrimp cocktails and salads, and babysitting for the many visiting politicos such as Governor Thomas Meskill’s family. When I close my eyes, the picture that instantly comes to mind is of John Harney smiling and running. Whatever project he was involved in, whoever he was speaking with, those eyes would twinkle and there’d always be that big laugh and hug. He was someone I truly admired, still going strong at 83, ready to take on another business venture, never sitting still, devoted to his family and faith, loved by the masses. What a difference he made in the northwest corner of Connecticut, and the world.
—Mary Palmer, Town Clerk, Falls Village, CT

There is not one person in our area who has not been affected in some way by John Harney. He was the unofficial mayor of our area, always with a smile on his face. I was having lunch with him and his son the day he passed, and he told me his life story of being an orphan at age six, working on the farm, and even though it sounded horrible, he laughed as he always did and put on a big smile. The many leaves of life make the world interesting. John was always searching for a new one, a rare one, an exotic one, because his sprit was alive and that energy was infectious.
—Jonathan Bee, Hunter-Bee, Millerton, NY

Simply put, John Harney, our friend for 36 years, was the best. He was kind, generous and passionate in his beliefs and his love of family, friends and his community. His infectious laugh and friendly outgoing personality exuded his positive life force. He never hesitated to offer help and support. We were working on the Millerton Clocktower Restoration Project in 2007, when John graciously offered to create a Millerton Tea; it’s still sold today and it really helped raise awareness for the symbol of the Village of Millerton. Thirty years ago, when we opened Simmons Way Village Inn, John was there for us, offering sage advice on the joys and pitfalls of running a small inn and restaurant. He was the ultimate host and loved being with people. We will all miss our special friend.
—Carol and Robert Sadlon, The Moviehouse, Millerton, NY

I knew John as a man with a twinkle in his eyes, a passion for tea and his family and as a fellow business person who always offered support and respect for me and the development of Hammertown. He was a community activist, and we have to thank him and his vision for the wonderful development that has happened here in our valley. And, on a personal note, he was there at most of the meetings supporting my son, Gregg, and Brooke Lehman as they faced their uphill battle to open The Watershed Center in Millerton.  His presence and the respect he gave them and their project spoke to many in the community: If John approves, well…there you go!
—Joan Osofsky, Hammertown, Pine Plains, NY

What I remember most about John is his vivaciousness, sense of humor and presence in a room. Of course I also admire him as an entrepreneur as he built an impressive global, luxury brand. The ultimate decision in choosing Millerton in 2006 for the site of Little Gates and Co. Wine Merchants certainly took into account in no small part the Harney Tea’s presence.
—Andrew Gates

John immediately befriended me when I moved to Salisbury, and I soon learned that he was like the Scarlet Pimpernel, he was here, he was there, he was everywhere! He was the NICEST man — always a kind word for and about everyone, and with that twinkle in his eye…there were always guaranteed belly laughs! We’ve lost a good friend — he was one in a million.
—Pete Hathaway, proprietor Hathaway-Young at Ragamont House, Salisbury, CT

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 06/19/14 at 06:58 AM • Permalink

MASS MoCA: Party Like It’s 15!

By Robert Burke Warren

Since the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, a.k.a. MASS MoCA, opened its doors in 1999, it has garnered a reputation as one of the liveliest arts centers in the country, if not the world. That’s code for “great party museum.” Keeping its reputation intact, the thriving institution, bursting with life in the walls of a sprawling 19th century factory, is throwing a big 15th anniversary shindig, a not-to-be-missed bash, on Saturday, May 24 from 4 p.m. until late. Among other things, the museum promises “funk, fun food, festive spirits, cheap beer, and dazzling new art.” Rest assured, when it comes to creating memorable events, the folks at MASS MoCA know what they’re doing, and the “Celebrate 15 Years” party will be no exception.

Festivities begin with a reception for Brooklyn-based Teresita Fernandez, whose immersive art exhibit, As Above So Below, opens that day. The artist uses natural and manufactured light to create an ever-changing atmospheric landscape, quite a good metaphor, actually for all that is MASS MoCA. The museum galleries will be open until 8 p.m.

Dancing takes over at 7 p.m., with DJ Rekha, and at 8, Brooklyn’s dance-party faves Red Baraat, who describe their music as “a merging of hard driving North Indian bhangra rhythms with elements of jazz, go-go, brass funk, and hip-hop, created with no less a purposeful agenda than manifesting joy and unity in all people.”

But that’s not all. Not by a long shot. If you’ve attended the Museum’s Solid Sound festivals, you know about “pop-up performances.” These can happen at any time, anywhere on the museum grounds. Performers promising appearances include Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion), writer-composer-multimedia artist Cynthia Hopkins, and Paul Simon and Sting’s musical director Mark Stewart, but museum director Joseph Thompson assures us the party will feature a fair share of unscripted surprises. “With so many good friends and terrific performers from our first 15 years, you never know who may show up,” he says. “Expect a rollicking dance party with lots of friends and family returning to MASS MoCA, interesting food trucks and newly concocted drinks, and excellent art and music from stem to stern.”

MASS MoCA’s 15-Year Anniversary Party
$15 members / $30 general admission / $45 gold star supporters receive 15th anniversary schwag
4-6 p.m. Opening reception for Teresita Fernández: As Above So Below
6 p.m. Food trucks and bars (buy your own)
7 p.m. DJ Rekha
8:30 p.m. Red Baraat
10:30 p.m. DJ Rekha
Pop-up performances by special friends

1040 MASS MoCA Way
North Adams, MA
(413) 662-2111

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/12/14 at 08:21 PM • Permalink

From Pittsfield to Sochi: Terry Holland Heads For the Olympics

By Lisa Green

Terry Holland goes for a run.

“There are a lot of religious conversions at the top of a skeleton run,” says Terry Holland, who’s on his way to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where he’ll be coaching New Zealand’s Olympic skeleton team.

No kidding. You’re belly down on barely the rails of a slide, about to burn up the bobsled track with your chin inches away from the ice. Even a diehard atheist might suddenly find belief in a higher power. Competitors steer the steel and fiberglass sled with their body movements, even though their arms are plastered to their sides. At 80 to 90 miles per hour, the G forces are comparable to those endured by jet pilots.

Holland knows about staring down the ice. The Pittsfield entrepreneur (you read about him and his drones in Rural Intelligence a few weeks ago) was captain of the U.S. skeleton team for 21 years and is a multiple-time U.S. and North American champion; he came in fourth place at the 1997 World Championships at Lake Placid. He was instrumental in getting skeleton accepted as an Olympic sport in 2002, but just missed qualifying for the U.S. team by a fraction of a second. So Holland, one of the top American sliders, became one of the coaches and trained the American Olympic team that won men’s gold and women’s silver and gold medals that year in Salt Lake City.

And now he’s going to Sochi to coach the New Zealand team, one man and one woman. Holland had worked with them at Lake Placid, and coached them at a pre-Olympic event in Sochi last November. That’s where he shot the video, below, for New Zealand TV, using an iPad mini. He’s doing the voiceover, too.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games run February 7 – 23.

Tall, skeleton-sled slim and looking as fit as in his competitive days, Holland lives in Pittsfield with his wife (all three of his daughters have gotten married in the past two years), and it’s where he developed and honed his passion for winter sports. As a teenager, he was a competitive cross-country skier and Nordic ski jumper, which he’d practice in the Pittsfield State Forest.

Why the skeleton?

Holland sans the helmet.

“When you’re really bored in the winter…” he starts out. “It feels like when you jump on a sled,” he tries again. We get it. It’s a rush.

In 2004, the Australian Institute of Sport tapped Holland to develop a women’s skeleton team. It was for a study to determine if talent in one area transfers to another. Out of dozens of athletes, he picked out 10 women, (athletes, yes, but some had never seen ice outside of their drinks), and turned them into world-class skeleton competitors. In two years.

“I’m a big fan of can’t-do-it projects,” he says.

If that’s the case, you’d think he might be a tad more excited to be going to the games in Russia, considering all the doubts about Russia’s ability to pull off its latest megaproject. Having been there last fall as the Russian Olympic committee was preparing for the athletes and crowds, Holland is holding his enthusiasm in reserve. He had good-to-great experiences at the Olympics in Salt Lake City (2002), Torino (2006) and Vancouver (2010), but Sochi may be an entirely different story. (Much of what he observed in Sochi is captured in a New York Times article.)

Holland’s Olympic rings, left to right: 2010 (Vancouver), 2006 (Torino) and 2002 (Salt Lake City).

To say that the Russians are focused on winning is an understatement,” Holland says. He’s concerned about rule bending and perceived infractions, which pains the lifelong competitor who still believes in the Olympic credo, where humans strive for excellence and push the boundaries of what they can do. He’ll be staying in the Olympic Village, and although no one knows what mayhem might arise, he feels there’s safety in the Village’s security bubble. The Internet is spotty and monitored, though, so he won’t be bringing his personal computer. It’s possible he’ll be marching in the opening ceremonies, as he’s done in the past — if it doesn’t conflict with the bobsled and luge training and competitions, which he wants to watch.

And once his New Zealanders finish their runs, Holland will be back on Siberian Airlines to start the 33-hour trek back to Pittsfield, wearing his fourth Olympics ring and ready to do some good old downhill skiing in the Berkshires. If it’s not too tame for him.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/25/14 at 02:35 PM • Permalink

Inside Rubi’s: Living The Hipster Barista Fantasy

Last winter, I had a bad case of yearning to be young. I was a middle-aged guy seeking a short cut back to the future. Inspired partly by a book called How Starbucks Changed My Life, I set out to become a barista, a hipster archetype that did not even exist when I was a young man in the 1980s. With stubborn conviction, I imagined that by putting on a pair of skinny jeans, tying a long white bistro apron around my waist and standing behind the counter at the hippest cafe in Great Barrington, I might be able to turn the clock back a couple of decades. Working side by side with inked and pierced twentysomethings, I thought I might become awesome by osmosis.

I applied for a part-time job with Matt Rubiner, the erudite and punctilious cheesemonger who runs Rubi’s café and the adjacent cheese shop. “You’ll have to work your way up to making coffee,” he told me. “First you’ll learn the register. Then you’ll train on sandwiches. If you last that long, we’ll send you to barista boot camp.”

Was he kidding? Of course, I could master sandwich making—I had worked one summer at a high-end deli during college—but I conveniently ignored the part where Matt told me that my duties would include loading the dishwasher and mopping floors. “It’s drudgery,” he warned me. Unwittingly, I was creating my own version of a reality TV series: So You Think You Want to be a Barista?

I rationalized this midlife folly in many ways: I was doing on-the-job research for a concept about opening a food shop of my own; I was exploring Great Barrington as a place to live because, ironically, it seemed it might be a good place to grow old. Working at the café would be an antidote to the solitary writer’s life, and I was tired of spending my days in front of a computer screen. I longed to do something social, tangible and physical. I reasoned that nothing could be more satisfying than feeding people.

I assumed I’d spend my days in conversation with the diverse clientele: organic farmers, screenwriters, chefs, professors, second-home owners from New York and Boston, and assorted creative types from 18 to 80. Alas, no one goes to Rubi’s to flirt with a cashier whose beard is flecked with gray.

Located in the back of a renovated 19th century red brick bank building, Rubi’s paneled dining room was the bank president’s office, and it has a chic serenity when empty; it would probably make a nice Pilates studio, which may be why I mistakenly thought that working there eight hours a day would be invigorating and restorative.

I quickly discovered that being a barista would require more than attitude and skinny jeans. Although I’d learned to steam milk to make café au lait at an East Village tearoom called Danal in the early 1990s when I was between journalism jobs (and before Starbucks came to New York and coffee drinks got so convoluted), I did not have a clue about how to prepare a chai latte or a half-caf soy macciato.

But I refused to believe that I was too old to learn to be a barista: For if that were true, what else was I too old to do?

I thought of Rubi’s swaggering baristas as caffeine cowboys:  Eric, the lanky, buff guy with a large heavy-metal tattoo on his forearm and empathetic eyes who was ogled by men and women alike; Amy, the charismatic manager, who had a nose ring and was brimming with sassy energy.

As they took turns behind the Faema E61 semi-automatic espresso machine, they basked in their coffee-making expertise with nonchalance that bordered on arrogance. The more I studied them, the less they seemed like cowboys and the more they seemed like porn stars (yet another job I was too old for!) because they earned their living being watched while getting people off.

The way they made lattes and cappuccinos was erotic. It began with jerking the handle on the grinder multiple times, caressing the ground coffee with bare hands in the portafilter, and then rhythmically inserting the steamwand into a small pot of milk to get it very, very hot . . . and only stopping after reaching climax: creamy white foam.

The baristas would bend over backwards to be kind to older customers who seemed to be down on their luck. They assumed I fell into that category, for why else would a middle-aged guy [left] be willing to haul crates of milk and buckets of ice up from the cellar? I approached my apprenticeship as if I were working in a Michelin three-star restaurant: I would stoically do all the scut work so I’d earn the privilege of being sent to barista boot camp at Barrington Coffee Roasting Company in nearby Lee, MA.

However, I seriously miscalculated how hard it would be to make Rubi’s artisanal sandwiches.

The compact sandwich station was like a miniature golf course with obstacles at every turn. The squeeze bottles were unmarked so it was easy to mistake mustard and the house-made hot sauce. I couldn’t distinguish between the comte and asiago cheeses, and all the pale pink meats looked the same to my untrained eye so it was easy to confuse prosciutto, porchetta and cotto. A timer had to be set for each hot sandwich, and the cooking times varied so you needed to do some algebra if you wanted a hot dog, a tuna melt and a classic grilled cheese sandwich to all be ready to serve at the same time.

The breakfast sandwich was the most challenging item on the menu and learning how to make one perfectly was as essential as wearing skinny jeans. A dastardly piece of culinary engineering, it’s basically a grilled cheese-and-ham sandwich with a medium-cooked runny egg in the center, and it’s sublime when made right.  (And it’s delicious even when flubbed.)

How do you manage to put a raw egg between two slices of bread and into a panini press without breaking the yolk or having the white slither out?  You take one slice of bread and make a depression in it with a rubber-gloved fist and then use your fingers to massage the cavity to make it as wide as possible without cracking the crust, which contains the raw, local farm-fresh egg like a seawall. One bright, generous co-worker (a pre-med student at Bard College) confided that she made depressions in both slices of bread to create an ample pocket for the egg, ham and cheese. Her method worked like a charm, but by the time I finally made a perfect egg sandwich I’d had enough of being a barista-in-waiting.

Although I was working at what felt like break-neck speed, there was one co-worker who seemed to think I was a slacker. She wasn’t a manager, just a busybody whose role models were apparently the cast of Jersey Shore. She needled me and rolled her eyes at everything I did. Dan! That’s not how to cut a Cuban sandwich! [photo right]. She snapped at me for running the dishwasher only 75 percent full. Dan! You’re wasting water! This was a dishwasher that only ran for 60 seconds! How much water could I be wasting? After she scolded me for the umpteenth time about how I loaded the dishwasher, it was my turn to roll my eyes.

I went next door to the cheese shop and gave Matt my two weeks’ notice. I did not tell on my Mean Girl colleague, because I still had to work with her for the duration so I merely said, “I’m not cut out for this. It’s harder than I thought,” which was true. He laughed and said, “I told you so,” which was also true. (Nine months later, I learned that Matt eventually fired the Mean Girl after she reduced another employee to tears.)

Still, I had learned a valuable lesson during my time at Rubi’s. I went home and devised my own version of the signature egg sandwich in an ordinary skillet. I did not have to wrap it in parchment paper. I did not have to pray that the weight of the industrial-strength panini press would crush the yolk. I did not have to wear rubber gloves or skinny jeans. I made it free-style—with attitude. I hadn’t been able to turn back the clock, but I’d found my inner hipster after all.

Dan Shaw, a co-founder of Rural Intelligence and regular contributor to The New York Times, is writing a book about life in the closet.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 01/14/14 at 10:28 AM • Permalink

In Memoriam: Jane P. Fitzpatrick of the Red Lion Inn

Jane Pratt Fitzpatrick was the undisputed queen of the Berkshires, a regal woman with a common touch. When she passed away at age 89 on November 9, she left behind an unparalleled and indelible legacy. As Brooke Astor was to New York City, Jane Fitzpatrick was to the Berkshires, a grande dame whose philanthropy was personal, heartfelt, and ubiquitous. As the co-founder of Country Curtains with her late husband, Jack (a.k.a. “The Senator”), who resuscitated the Red Lion Inn when they bought it in 1968, Mrs. Fitz probably did more than anyone to make the Berkshires a world-renown tourist destination.

As one of the visionaries who founded the Norman Rockwell Museum more than forty years ago, she understood not only Rockwell’s extraordinary contribution to American culture but also the importance of the small town values he depicted in his paintings, which she perpetuated with her good works. Known for her impeccable taste and keen sense of humor, her support for the arts in the Berkshires is evident on plaques throughout the county—from the Berkshire Theatre Group and MASS MoCA to Hancock Shaker Village and the Norman Rockwell Museum. Her spirit lives on in her dynamic daughters, Nancy Fitzpatrick, who owns the Red Lion, and Ann Brown Fitzpatrick, who owns Blantyre. Rural Intelligence asked friends, relatives, and colleagues to share their memories of this remarkable woman.—Dan Shaw

 height=Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum
Jane Fitzpatrick passed away one day after the 35th anniverary of Norman Rockwell’s death in 1978. That is when I realized that I had first met Jane nearly 35 years ago when she was a founding trustee of the early Norman Rockwell Museum, The Old Corner House. I was struck that she must have been just the age I am now and I thought what a tremendous amount of work and good can be done in the world over 35 years. Jane was an inspiration and mentor to me. I learned so much from Jane—that details matter, saying “thank you” matters, being generous matters, and being nice matters. She was fond of saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” She also liked to say when you thanked her for a gift to help the Museum, “It is easy to write the check. You are doing the hard work.”

She and all her family and community of employees worked hard to raise the resources they gave away so generously throughout the entire community. Jane was strong, determined, and a woman of conviction. I know she influenced my leadership. Jane and Jack were a true partnership. They helped everyone. And without their generosity, Norman Rockwell Museum would not be the beautiful place it is today. I can’t but feel happy that she led such a beautiful, generous life, and has passed her zest for living on to her daughters and grandchildren. I feel blessed that our life paths crossed. These have been special years in Stockbridge. An era draws to a close and I shall miss her greatly. Now it is each of our responsibility to carry forward Jane’s generosity of spirit and joy.

 height=Sarah E. Eustis, director of business development for The Red Lion Inn
I have know Jane F. for 40 years, when, as a child, she welcomed me and my brother into her magical life. As a housekeeper and a waitress at the Red Lion in my teens, I was always aware of her presence and stood up straighter as a result. She was somewhat terrifying as she inspected our uniforms and grooming to be sure we were fit to represent the Inn—I got no special treatment!

As a grandmother she was also slightly intimidating, but so generous, and she always had something festive going on. She felt strongly that things should be done properly and made sure I knew how she felt about table settings, clean sinks, neat hair, hard work, clean fingernails, hospital corners… you get the idea. Even though I was her “step-grandchild,” she treated me like her own, showing up at every lacrosse game, every graduation, every birthday party, every baptism of every child, every wedding event as if it were her first priority. She was fully engaged and was really there for us.

As her health declined in recent years, her powerful exterior softened a bit and a more philosophical and gentle Jane emerged. We talked about life, about love, and all kinds of things when we would see each other; it was often extremely humorous. In the last year of working full time at the Inn and enjoying her radiant presence in the lobby as she chatted with guests, I got to know her even better. I feel proud to be a steward of that amazing place and feel a huge responsibility to keep it up to her standards as Nancy has done for more than two decades.

Annie Selke, founder and CEO of Pine Cone Hill
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Mrs. Fitz. I knew and appreciated her in so many different roles. Her personality and presence was simply a part of growing up in Stockbridge and I am truly grateful for it. Jane Fitzpatrick set an awe-inspiring example of what an individual with passion, commitment, and style can accomplish in a lifetime. Her vision changed the face of the Berkshires. Her attention to detail benefited not only everyone who ever worked for her and with her, but every guest that has ever slept or dined at The Red Lion. Her candor, forthright nature, and sometimes stunning frankness was disarmingly refreshing. She has always been and will continue to be an inspiration to me. Her legacy informs my path.

 height=Brian Alberg, executive chef of the Red Lion Inn
Mrs. Fitz was a force of inspiration for me and others who knew her, not only holding high standards and maintaining a gracious hospitable attitude towards our guests, but also instilling the importance of community support and involvement. She built the platform on which we stand as we continue to welcome people through our doors and desire to make the lives of the people around us better through service.

Hilary Somers Deely, founder, Made in the Berkshires Festival
I joined the Berkshire Theatre Festival board in 1990, when Jane Fitzpatrick was in her prime as chairman. I saw Jane as a wise, kind, and generous mentor, whom I really looked up to. I put together winter theatre bus trips for the board to attend regional productions, so I spent quite a bit of time chatting with Jane, as she liked to sit in the front of the bus. She gave me life tips, such as “Never be on more than two boards at a time, because you won’t give your best” and “I won’t last forever, so we need the next generation to keep working hard!” along with many other tips, including a few to the bus driver on good routes to take to see the countryside!

Jane also showed me how to run an organization. Her advice: “It should last no longer than an hour and always have hot coffee and donuts, to make everyone comfortable.” Jane took a real interest in mentoring me, inspiring me, and encouraging me, which has kept me engaged to give my all to an organization that she (and I) really loved. Her point was simple: Treat your volunteers with respect, warmth, and discipline and they will give you their best.

height= Joe Thompson, director of MASS MoCA
Business leaders in Berkshire County have recently begun to fret about our region’s population decline. Jane was way ahead of the curve, but didn’t express herself abstractly through charts and graphs. I’ll never forget a meeting with Jane and Jack – in 1995 or so – during which Jennifer and I were rattling our MASS MoCA tin cup over a pleasant lunch at the Red Lion. After our pitch, we moved on to polite small talk over dessert, until Jane suddenly looked up and fixed me with those unforgettable eyes of hers and said, “Joe, you know, we really need more families here in the Berkshires, so when are you and Jennifer going to have children?” It wasn’t so much question, as decree. Jack gruffed in: “You might as well just get started: family, friends and employees—the idea is you want to make sure you have enough of all of ‘em.” 

Ellen Spear, president of the Heritage Museums & Gardens and former CEO of Hancock Shaker Village
Jane epitomized the warm heart of the Berkshires. She was keenly interested in everything that made the place special. I remember sitting on the porch of the Red Lion with her, hearing her many stories and catching up on what was going on at Hancock Shaker Village. Her interest, enthusiasm, and command of detail as well as the big picture made for lively discussion. She was truly a great lady and a role model.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 11/11/13 at 02:06 PM • Permalink

The Best of Media Matters 2012

Ah, 2012. We remember it....vaguely. Actually, it turned out to be another year in which not only The New York Times continued to be fascinated with what's happening in our territory. Many magazines, national radio networks, webzines, and other newspapers reported on us, too. Here are some of the greatest hits from the "Media Matters" column on our home page from last year, dating from the most recent headlines all the way back to spring, the glorious time of RI's new beginning in May.

Yankee Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Visit to Stockbridge
A well-illustrated tour of the Red Lion Inn and Norman Rockwell Museum.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
Quirky Culture North of NYC
The British are coming . . . to Hudson!

Albany Times-Union
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Tiny NPR Affiliate Expands
Now Robin Hood Radio based in Sharon, CT, is also broadcasting to the Hudson Valley from Bard College.

The Guardian
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Six Cool U.S. Cities
Great Barrington is included with Detroit, Tuscon, and Portland.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Karen Allen Returns in Summer Day at Cherry Lane Theater
Our Berkshire neighbor is back Off Broadway.

New York Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
The All-Artisanal Weekenders
Favorite new spots such as Hillrock Estate Distillery and Crimson Sparrow are featured as part of a Hudson Valley getaway.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Shopping for Doorknobs
Millbrook architect and author Gil Schafer gives the Times a tutorial.

The Wall Street Journal
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Chefs Put Down Roots
David Bouley's farm in Kent and Zakary Pelaccio's in Old Chatham are part of a farm-to-table national trend.

New York Times Book Review
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Berkshire resident John Kelly's "moving account of the famine."

Boston Globe
Rural Intelligence Blogs
At High Lawn Farm in Lee, Cows Have Produced Rich Milk for 77 years.
In praise of one of the last dairy farms in the Berkshires.

O Magazine
Rural Intelligence
Thanksgiving at the Dream-Away Lodge
Guess who discovered the charms of Daniel Osman's magical hideaway? The one-and-only Oprah.

T Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Show & Tell
A preview of Carey Maloney's Stuff: The M (Group) Interactive Guide to Collecting, Decorating With, and Learning About, Wonderful and Unusual Things.

Boston Globe
Rural Intelligence Blogs
The Berkshires on a Budget
Affordable, accessible, and beautiful.

T Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Chartered Waters
A Columbia County double play: John Dolan's photograph accompanies Verlyn Klinkenborg's article on Ireland.

US News & World Report
Rural Intelligence Blogs
National Liberal Arts College Rankings
Williams is #1, Vassar is #10, and Bard is #36.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
Hollywood in the Berkshires
How our region became a visual effects capital.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Border Crossing Identity Crisis
Oh, Canada exhibition at Mass MoCA.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Appreciating Edith Wharton's Other Career
A Q&A with Richard Guy Wilson, an architectural historian and author of Edith Wharton at Home: Life at the Mount.

National Public Radio
Rural Intelligence Blogs
A Manufacturing Town for Art
How MASS MoCA is (and isn't) transforming North Adams.

Jewish Daily Forward
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Tangled up in Jews
Of Bach, Bernstein, Brahmins, and Brachas in the Berkshires.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
The Custom of the Country
An Annie Leibovitz fashion shoot at Chesterwood and The Mount for the September issue.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
A Summer Blockbuster, Far From the Multiplex
John Williams' Birthday Concert at Tanglewood.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
City Dozen: Berkshire Mountains
A gourmand guide to eating well locally.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
A Family, and Mom's in Charge
Ben Brantley reviews The Tempest at Shakespeare & Company.

The Wall Street Journal
Rural Intelligence Blogs
The Magic of Tanglewood
75 years of glorious music under the stars.

Food & Wine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Great Country Escapes: The Berkshires
Shout outs to Rubiner's and the Hillsdale General Store.

Hampshire Gazette
Rural Intelligence Blogs
First Lady Schedules Pittsfield Fundraiser
At the Colonial Theatre on August 3 with James Taylor.

Bloomberg Businessweek
Rural Intelligence Blogs
James Taylor, Brad Cooper Lead Summer Berkshires Exodus
Welcome to our cultural vortex.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Audiences Can Now Analyze Dr. Ruth
About the new play by Mark St. Germain at Barrington Stage Company.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
In Defense of the Decorator
Our Falls Village neighbor Bunny Williams is dubbed "the decorating world's grande dame."

Boston Globe
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Brewer, Distiller Concoct A Joint Venture
Berkshire Mountain Distillers will make whiskey with Sam Adams Beer.

The New Yorker
Rural Intelligence Blogs
There's No Place Like Jacob's Pillow
We agree.

The New York Times Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
The Devil in Marina Abramovic
The woman who plans to open a museum of performance art in Hudson is annoyed with MoMA.

New York Daily News
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Tea House Soothes with Decor
The lofty look of Millerton-based Harney & Sons Tea's SoHo branch is by Poesis Design of Lakeville.

Wall Street Journal
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Beauty Emerging
Alice Aycock's bunker, "A Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels," at the Fields Sculpture Park at Omi.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Running from the City
Young artists are heading to Hudson, NY and other places far afield from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
A Weekend Visit to History
NYC fashion designers Proenza Schouler have a teepee at their Berkshires home.

The New Yorker
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Edith Wharton's Houses
Of course, the best one is The Mount in Lenox.

NPR Planet Money
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Where Dollars Are Born
At Crane & Co. in the Berkshires, of course.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Imagine That: Peter Dinklage to Star in All-Male 'Imaginary Invalid'
We're pleased that we scooped the Times on this story. Remember reading about this two weeks ago in Hot Tickets?

Hartford Courant
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Tyne Daly Leads Acting Roster At Williamstown
WTF is bringing in the stars this summer.

Poughkeepsie Journal
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Trailer Shows Actor as FDR
Bill Murray (who owns the Hudson Valley Renegades minor league baseball team) stars as local legend FDR opposite Salisbury resident Laura Linney in a new biopic by Rhinebeck's Richard Nelson.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
Rhinebeck Writers Retreat to Develop Musicals
The RI region is a theater incubator.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
American Bread: 45 Loaves We Love
Hooray for our locals: Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Bread Alone, and Wild Hive Farm Bakery.

The New York Post
Rural Intelligence Blogs
9 Ways Not to be a City Slicker When Spending Time in the Hudson Valley
First, be patient.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
The 20 Best Small Towns in America
Great Barrington is at the top of the list.

Boston Globe
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Homemade vs. Store-Bought
Recipes from the new book by Alana Chernila of Great Barrington get the thumb's up.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Canadian D.J. to Kick Off a Summer of Canadian Art at Mass MoCA
A dance party on Memorial Day weekend coincides with the opening of the "Oh, Canada" exhibition.

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 03/04/13 at 08:06 AM • Permalink

In Memoriam: Robert Willis, Owner of Lakeville’s Cafe Giulia

Rural Intelligence CommunityRestaurants occupy a very special place in the life of our rural towns because they bring us together, providing a convivial alternative to quiet nights at home. Restaurateur Robert Willis created just such a place (twice) in Lakeville, CT called Cafe Giulia, which happened to serve very delicious and unfussy Italian food. As the chef/owner, Willis made a restaurant in his own image: cosmopolitan yet casual, serious but unpretentious. The bargain $9 carafe of wine he offered was the sign of a guy whose primary motivation was to please people and make them feel they belonged. He had proven himself as a restaurateur in hyper-competetive Brooklyn in the late 1990s with his Vaux Bistro. Ten days ago, he was behind the stove in Cafe Giulia’s open kitchen and doing the rounds in the dining room, schmoozing and making sure everybody was enjoying themselves. You could not tell that he was sick, so it came as a shock last Thursday when we learned that cancer had beat him before he even had a fighting chance. Rural Intelligence asked some of his friends, colleagues and customers for their remembrances.—Dan Shaw

Rural Intelligence Community

“Robert Willis was a lover of coffee, cars, good food, art, architecture, photography and a supremely social being. He has had many professional lives— architect, chef, race car driver—and he loved his current incarnation as a restaurateur and we loved him for making Cafe Giulia the cozy and delicious restaurant it was.
    He loved to be at the center of the table at the coffee shop—he could talk about everything, and he rarely spoke ill of anyone. He had a wide circle of friends, which I found my self included in, He was always interested in his friends. He adored his children McCullough and Jack, and he loved his life. He was a man who tumbled, rolled and came up fighting in tough times.  Robert called my house last Saturday evening to tell me the news about his diagnosis, I was not home so he told my husband all of the plans he had to fight the cancer. I was traveling that week, I sent him a note on Sunday saying that I would do whatever I could and would see him the end of the week. Shockingly that did not happen, he is simply gone, spirited away into the heat of the unknown. It is unfathomable. Goodbye Robert we will all miss you.”
Anne Day, photographer, Lakeville, CT

Rural Intelligence Community“I knew Robert intimately on both professional and personal levels, and in either case, I knew I had a friend. We would often meet for coffee in early morning hours to talk about our joys and frustrations of having a restaurant in the Tri-State area. I know he was proud of Cafe Giulia’s reincarnation, as he should have been because of the focused effort he put in giving it a new life at its current location. It’s hard to believe I will no longer see him at Back in the Kitchen, dipping his scone in his cappuccino with his big blue eyes intently focused on the conversation at hand. He was a wonderful, caring man, and I shall miss him.”
Serge Madikians, chef/owner Serevan, Amenia, NY

“GK Chesterton said, The aim of life is appreciation. Robert showed his enthusiasm for living by becoming accomplished in a series of passions: architecture, design, photography, food, tennis, billiards, boats, race cars. He didn’t need to be the best in the world at these things but he did want to be exceedingly competent. He was an aesthete whose love of design made him appreciate the antique car in which he drove noisily all the way to Cornwall to share with me the first iphone, hailing it “the coolest gadget ever made.” Robert was a connoisseur of low culture, knew the art of a latte, the French fry, and which James Bond movies were the coolest. Of his many passions two were lifelong devotions: his children, McCullough and Jack.
His love of the art of conversation made him the honorary mayor of the coffee shop. His appreciation of people made him compassionate and discrete as a listener. He loved to laugh. He digested and accepted extreme personal upheaval faster than anyone I’ve known, and spoke about being vulnerable with the right ingredients of humor, grace and optimism. Few extroverts have the capacity for such gentle thoughtfulness and intimacy.
Out of love and necessity he made a great little restaurant in Lakeville. Café Giulia had the unmistakable imprint of Robert’s personality, his design, the simple creative menu, his favorite car parked subtly on the lawn. He created a convivial place where people came to enjoy good food and company. It was significant to him to show his children that they could thrive by working hard at something they loved. He was a good man and will be sorely missed.”
Brendan O’Connell, artist, Cornwall, CT

Rural Intelligence Community“Cafe Giulia had a soul because it was Robert’s home, his creative work space, and stylish setting where we had the honor to share in his delicious talent with food. There was a seamlessness between the kitchen and dining room that he maintained by being with you in both places with a warm and yet cool sophistication that will long be remembered. Robert did not have very long to enjoy his dream creation. But create it he did. And for that we are joyful.
We remember asking for grappa after a meal in the new bistro, the waiter said no, their permit did not allow it to be sold. A minute later Robert appeared with a small glass of it saying he could not sell it, but hoped we would enjoy it as a friendly offering. It was good, and will be long remembered.”
Robin and Allen Cockerline, Whippoorwill Farm, Salisbury, CT

“Robert and I were morning coffee, catch-up-and-discuss-everything-on-earth-friends, and had a lot of great belly laughs together. He was such a fixture in the village, and there are only a handful of such people, when you think to yourself: “Hey there’s Robert . . . right on schedule,everything is well in the world”. He had fine-tuned Cafe Giulia to a fare-thee-well and it was at the top of the list of “go to” restaurants for our guests here. Robert coming out of the kitchen and checking on his patrons well being…chatting, and then moving on is something that I will always remember . . . and miss.”
Pete Hathaway, Ragamont, Salisbury, CT

“Robert and I shared a capacity for hard work and a love of good food.  We bonded over the growing and prepping of Puntarelle, a bizarre green served in Rome that I tried growing last season - not very successfully.  When we last saw each other, just days before he passed, he spoke not a word of his illness; instead he discussed the herb garden he had just put into his restaurant and how it felt to finally have a very successful restaurant.  I think of this as I hoe around this year’s crop of Punterelle; the hard irony of life, and the heart of a man whose passion was feeding people and nurturing plants for as long as he could.  Rest in peace, Robert.”
Maria Nation, screenwriter, Sheffield, MA

Rural Intelligence Community“I met Rob a few years ago when he popped into my newly opened book shop to admire my new hanging lamp—he had just hung several like it in his newly decorated Cafe Giulia (Mark I) and thought we must have something in common!  From our first meeting he was curious about my business—and how it was doing—while sharing his own thoughts about his new ‘baby.’  While chatting away he discovered that I had a new found interest in motor racing and immediately pulled out his cell phone to show me a photo of a beloved Lola (since sold) as though it were a newborn—I totally understood and he didn’t miss a beat in describing it.
    My wife Lucinda and I were keen to try the new restaurant and when we did were very impressed—we sent friends whenever we could and made a habit of going there for a late quiet meal after holding an event in my shop.  Over the last couple of years I would see him at Lime Rock, in Cafe Giulia, waving from the stop sign in front of my shop, or just around.  When Cafe Giulia (Mark II) opened, we were right back in.  The first time, we brought friends from Sharon who hadn’t been before and again had a lovely time—no surprise!  He had the very good habit of walking through the dining room during your meal, checking in with friends and introducing himself to newcomers—it was good business but seemed effortless—he truly cared.  He always gave the impression that he loved his restaurant, loved pleasing people and was just a happy guy—you always remember people like that.
      Many years ago, at a memorial service for a friend, cards were given out with John Donne’s famous poem ‘No Man Is An Island’—something I had read countless times—and was struck by the lines: ‘Each man’s death diminishes me/For I am involved in mankind.’  Rob was a big part of our little corner of Heaven and now he’s gone—we’ve lost a friend and a neighbor who was unique in this world.”
Darren Winston, bookseller, Sharon, CT

Both Jill Goodman and I are saddened by the passing of Robert Willis More than a great Chef, Robert was a great person! He very quickly became a close friend to us. Compassionate, kind, and involved in life, from racing to cars to food. He lit up the lives of those around him,and like a streaking shooting star that lights up the night, he is gone to quick. But like that star, he will remain with us the rest of our lives.
Marshall Miles, Robin Hood Radio WHDD

“Our hearts are full of sadness at the loss of our beloved Robert. We are so glad it was a peaceful, painless and loving departure. Robert’s fervent wish was to be home with those he loved—and that was more than granted. While he spoke often of getting back to Maine, home as they say, is where the heart is, and that was Lakeville where he was front and center.
Robert lived to proudly witness his son Jack graduate, to revel in the success of Café Giulia, to savor his daughter McCullough’s companionship at the restaurant, to enjoy the Sweet William “salon” on weekend mornings with a patchwork quilt of friends and regulars, and to drive full throttle in his yellow race car. He accepted the gritty truth of impending death with equanimity and courage, such an enormous burden lightened by so many friends’ constant support. He lived to know that he was loved by a boatload of people. Like Seinfeld, Robert left us at the top—at the height of professional success, personal fulfillment and pride in his wonderful children. He was a man in full. We will miss him terribly.
Licia Hahn, Lakeville

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 07/01/12 at 12:30 PM • Permalink