Ascending Dragon, Barry Lyndon, Berkshires, Herman Melville, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Nejaimes Liquor Store, New England, New Marlborough, Oliver Knussen, Song Hong Ensemble, Stanley Kubrick, The Last of the Mohicans, The Old Inn on the Green, Vu Nhat Tan
There is an unescapable magic in the New England countryside of the Berkshire Hills in Western Massachusetts. The legendary fall foliage, the evanescent green of spring, the fireflies of summer, the winter white snow fall.
And this post is a story for my many curious and interested readers in over 80 countries around the globe. America is a complicated country, with huge frustrations, a complicated historical legacy concocted from British, French and Spanish colonial interests, and often maddening contradictions. There’s nothing like a good meal and a good book to help you start to understand a people and their country.
Do yourself a favor and make a reservation at The Old Inn on the Green.
Always trust the French when it comes to food and restaurant recommendations. We were at the best wine shop in Stockbridge, Nejaimes, and struck up a conversation with a young Parisian working there named Frank. He’d lived in Mexico City for three years and we’d spotted a few of the best tequilas in the shop, a beverage which is not in huge demand on the East Coast compared to the Spanish side of the United States.
Any Frenchman who becomes curious about other cuisines is a person to engage in conversation. Applying the background knowledge of one of the world’s finest food traditions, someone who knows the details of French food and wine from his mother rather from Julia Child, will not steer you down a dirt path.
“Peter Platt’s cooking is fantastic, you must go there of all the restaurants in the Berkshires,” said Frank from France.
My mother taught me to do as I was told. And when Jan looked the place up on the internet, we learned that the entire restaurant was illuminated by candlelight (except the out of sight kitchen). So we booked a table and headed around Lake Buel to New Marlborough, an old stage stop with an inn and restaurant for weary travelers.
The Inn does rent rooms for guests if you want to splurge on a vacation memory. And Frank was right, book a table for dinner mid-week, the three course meal is a reasonable prix fixe at $35, so you don’t have to save king’s ransom to eat here.
I agree with Matin Scorsese. He feels Barry Lyndon is the finest film of Stanley Kubrick. The last time I saw the movie I was in awe of Kubrick’s detail, which in musical terms is akin to Pierre Boulez tuning a chord in you name it.
Any period piece carries huge risks. If not done with absolutely fanatical detail backed up by genuine craft and technique you’ll find your audience bored to death. Just using gut strings and period instruments does not guarantee a superlative performance of old music. I’m more inclined to listen to Klemperer than fashionable HIP-ness for purity’s sake.
In other words, The Old Inn on the Green is not some Disneyland experience into colonial dining. Peter Platt’s food is world class, timely and seasonal. The carrot ginger soup had colonial spices in perfect balance. Entrees were fascinating and delivered fantastic flavors and desserts were exquisite. I just wished there been Madeira on the wine list, the colonial drink of choice!
Not only do the rooms glow from soft candles, the walls are uniquely American, quirky and homespun. You are not in Europe…
Essays, poems, journals, books, novels and plays. I mentioned earlier how important a good book is to understanding a country. Before going to Cambodia I read abridged versions by Indian authors of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. For the Bhaghavad Gita I relished some Los Angeles pride in the brilliant translation of Christopher Isherwood, whose rendering was praised by Aldous Huxley.
The first book I ever read, cover to cover, was The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, the favorite author of Franz Schubert in Vienna. Those tales of Chingachgook, Uncas, Magua and Hawkeye must have read to Schubert like 3D movies look to us today.
America’s genuine heart is in New England, Boston being the intellectual center of the United States, and still American universities, like American musicians, retain great international respect. We also have done tremendous things exploring outer space. I should know – most of my neighbors in Pasadena work for NASA-JPL.
Herman Melviille. Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Henry David Thoreau. W.E. Du Bois. Walt Whitman. These authors walked New England and the Northeast, creating a backbone of thought that still influences us. John Cage rooted his ideas not only in Asia, but in Henry David Thoreau who was, with Emerson, greatly influenced by Indian philosophy as they carved out American Transcendentalism.
I only believe in facts, not coincidences. And this is for my many readers in Vietnam. Jan and I received notification from the U.S State Department that we had received funding to produce Ascending Dragon, the largest cultural exchange in history between our countries, while we were at the Hawthorne Cottage at Tanglewood in July of 2007.
Karma? I don’t know, but it is fact.
We were visiting a masterclass for young composers by our dear friend Oliver Knussen, during a pounding rainstorm. Jan got a buzz on her cell phone, went outside and, it seemed to me, disappeared. When she came back in her face was glowing. The State Department was giving us phone notification of funding approval.
So when we went from dream to reality putting that groundbreaker together, we were in the Berkshires with our first thoughts. At Tanglewood. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Cottage with our good friend of over 30 years, Oliver Knussen.
And the friendships continue to deepen, mature and grow, as you know from my recent posts about my friends in the Song Hong Ensemble of Hanoi visiting Los Angeles. It all started here in the Berkshires. Without Tanglewood in 1979, Jan and I don’t meet each other. No meeting Aaron Copland and playing for Leonard Bernstein, who slapped me on the back a few hours before I proposed to Jan. I can still feel that moment in my body. True story, my hand to God.
Or when I was conducting Appalachian Spring at the Hanoi Opera House. Before I went onstage, I flashed back to meeting Aaron Copland here for his 80th birthday. I looked at my right hand which had shaken his, asked for help, and got it. Another reason my friends in Vietnam, I am sure, will enjoy reading this post.
But back to The Old Inn on the Green in New Marlborough. Being at home here is a wonderful part of my life. Our lives are rooted here, as much as in our home in California. I’ll have many more posts coming about this important part of the United States, so keep checking back.
I’ll close with a favorite photo from our evening at The Old Inn on the Green. After dinner, twilight was closing in and we took a wonderful stroll around the Green, where I took the photo of distant fog you’ve seen at the top of this post.
But of all the photos I have of my wife, this one seems to be out of The Tanglewood Tales of Hawthorne. Who says you can’t go home?
New England and the Berkshires are how we set our internal clocks as Americans. Los Angeles and California animate and encourage our deep love of Asia and Latin America.
We don’t choose between the two. But it all started in New Engand and the Berkshires. Just fact, not coincidence.
Best, best, best,