Serenbe Style and Soul

with Marie Nygren



May 2017

Books From Beyond: A Message From Mother Makes Sense Years Later

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous


Mother died June 28, 1998 in the house we built for her.

In 2001, a woman named Sally came to work for our bed and breakfast as a part-time housekeeper. She’d been with us for several months when she came to me and said, “Your mother wants to talk to you.” And I said, “Excuse me?” Sally had never met my mother. She said she was hesitant to approach me because some people don’t believe in ghosts.

margaret+lupoBut I do.

Sally was incredibly sweet. In the old days we would’ve called her “touched.” She had no filter, which left her  open to communicate with the other side.

I told her I was curious so we went to Mother’s house. Sally pointed to a spot, said Mother was sitting there and described things she couldn’t have otherwise known.

Sally said, “Mrs. Lupo, I brought Marie.” Mother wouldn’t talk to Sally so she said, “I suppose you’re going to have to go.” Off I went.

Sally came to me later and said Mother wanted me to read the last book she read. Mother was an insomniac in her later years and a voracious reader. The woman went through five books a week.

I had no idea what Mother read last, so Sally and I went back to the house with a box and started pulling books off the shelf. As I touched them, I had a gut feeling about one, but sent it home with Sally in the box.

She brought it and another book back with her the next day: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and All We 662Hold Dear by Kathryn Lynn Davis. The latter is the story of a young girl who searches for answers to a family issue — something her mother had been unable to accomplish. I was dealing with family issues at the time as well, so it felt right.

But I didn’t understand why she included Atlas Shrugged. I knew Mom had loved it. And even though I don’t believe in all of Rand’s philosophies, I had read and enjoyed the book long before Sally brought it to me.

Several years later, I was recounting the story of Mother, Sally and the books at a dinner party at our house, which is now the private dining room at the Inn. I was chatting away, connecting the dots, then looked at Steve and gasped. It finally hit me.

Sally gave me the book in 2001, just one year after we did the initial plan for Serenbe.

Atlas Shrugged is Rand’s diatribe against labor unions and how they can destroy society. In the book, labor unions fight against corporate CEOs. One by one, the CEOs remove themselves from the fight and disappear.

But one CEO, a woman named Dagny, stays and fights because she believes in capitalism. Eventually she too gets on a plane and is taken to a valley in Colorado. And there are all the CEOs. They all realized they couldn’t continue to fight anymore so they allowed the labor unions to take over. They knew the unions would eventually fail and their services would be needed. When it was time to return, they’d go together.

What Mother wanted me to know is that Serenbe is a valley of its own. A place for people to retreat. And it makes so much sense because some of the first people to get what we were doing and join the community were CEO types and business owners. It didn’t make sense on paper, and many said we’d fail. But sometimes you have to leave what you know to find what you need.

2016-05-05 11.30.51



March 2017

On the Same Page Hills & Hamlets Bookshop Makes Two Dreams Come True

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous


We traded city life for the country years ago and I’ve never regretted it for a second. But one of the things I’ve always missed is having a bookstore nearby.

Back when we lived in Atlanta, Steve and I had a Friday night ritual. We’d eat at Surin Thai, then head to the bookstore. For many years it was called the Oxford Bookshop, then it became Chapter 11. When we created Serenbe, we dreamed of having a bookstore in the community.

This is one time when reality is even better than the dream.

undergroundbooks4web1-1We heard about Josh Niesse and Megan Bell from AIR Serenbe’s executive director Brandon Hinman, who’d somehow gotten wind of our bookstore dream. They own Underground Books in Carrollton, about 35 minutes away near the University of West Georgia. It’s mostly used and rare books, with a huge online business.

At the time, the Textile Lofts were being built with three spaces on the ground level. One seemed perfect for a bookstore. Brandon connected Josh and Megan with Garnie and what began as a conversation is now Hills & Hamlets Bookshop.

This little jewel of a space — named for the Chattahoochee Hills and Serenbe’s hamlets — was designed by Peter Clemens, a Serenbe resident and retired set designer. Peter fell in love with Josh and Megan and their bookstore in Carrollton. He knew they were on a budget and stepped forward to help with design. He even built all the cabinetry.

It’s charming: They have a little tea station and chairs, plusH&H 2 rare books in the back against the wall. They have great speakers and several book clubs going. I could go on and on, but Josh’s vision is as beautiful as the shop itself. Here’s what he says:

“The best bookstores today (and ever, really) are about the experience of a bookstore. The magic, the serendipity, the sense of discovery, the creation of community and connection with other readers, book lovers, dreamers and thinkers.

This stands in sharp contrast to the frictionless, one-click online book buying, or sterile big-box retail, that has come to dominate the American bookselling landscape.

What Serenbe is to suburban sprawl a good indie bookstore is to Barnes & Noble or Amazon. Serenbe is the perfect place to find people who appreciate conscious cultivation of community and creative placemaking. From our first visit to Serenbe, we were on fire with a vision for a bookstore in this one-of-a-kind place and our conversations with residents just added fuel to that fire until Hills & Hamlets Bookshop took on a life of its own. “



March 2017

Raising the Char: Kevin Gillespie Reimagines His Least Favorite Childhood Foods

Written by , Posted in Southern Chef Series

View More:

When chef Kevin Gillespie talks about food, he does so passionately. And with a striking combination of respect and knowledge. That red-bearded neighbor of mine can make the most humble head of broccoli seem like an adventure.

So it’s hard to imagine that he was ever a little kid who sat at a dinner table, scowling at broccoli and beets.

View More: he was. To be fair, that broccoli was usually frozen, then microwaved, then covered in processed cheese food. And the beets were both canned and bland. But like so many of us, he grew up, experienced those same foods in new presentations and thought, so this is what it’s supposed to taste like.

At his most recent visit to the Serenbe Chefs Series, Kevin prepared a winter-centric menu including milk-braised pork shoulder, saffron risotto, roasted pears with honey mousse and this pickled beet and charred broccoli salad.

I adore Kevin. He is Southern to his core and as good a person as he is a chef. So in many respects, I’m biased. But this salad is genius in its combination of pickled and charred. It makes sense in the same way we put pickles on a grilled burger, but in a much lighter, brighter way.

Pickled Beet and Charred Broccoli Salad

  • Serves 4
  • 4 beets, baseball-sized, about 2 pounds
  • 1 ½ cups red wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup pickling spice
  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 4 inches long
  • 1 pod star anise
  •  1 fist-size crown of broccoli, cut into small florets
  • ¼ cup (two ounces) fresh goat cheese
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup frisée, trimmed and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 fresh grinds black pepper
  • ¼ cup (two ounces) feta cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon pumpkin seed oil

Peel the beets, slice off the tops and roots, and cut the beets into 1-inch wedges.

In a medium, non-reactive saucepan, combine the red wine vinegar, sugar, pickling spice, cinnamon and star anise. Bring to a boil and stir until the sugar dissolves, about two minutes. Pull the pan from the heat and let the spices steep for about 10 minutes. Strain and reserve the liquid, discarding the spices. Return the liquid to the pot, add the beets and bring to a boil over high heat. Cut the heat down so that the liquid simmers, and cook for 10 minutes. Pull the pan from the heat and let the beets cool in the liquid; they will finish cooking as they cool.

Heat a medium cast-iron skillet over high heat until smoking hot. Drop half of the broccoli florets into the dry skillet, being careful not to crowd the pan. After about 30 seconds, toss the florets and continue tossing as they char and cook, about 2 ½ minutes total. The tender florets will char easily, which is good; you want that smoky flavor. Transfer the first batch to a plate and repeat with the remaining broccoli. Refrigerate the charred broccoli until read to serve.

In a small bowl, whisk the goat cheese, lemon juice, water and a large pinch of salt until smooth. In a separate bowl, toss the frisée with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Drain the beets and discard the pickling liquid. Place the beets in a third bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, ¼ teaspoon salt and 3 grinds of black pepper. In a fourth bowl, toss the chilled charred broccoli with the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 2 grinds of black pepper. Yes, I realize you’ve got four separate bowls; it’s imperative that the components stay separate until they are plated. You don’t want the ingredients to mingle because each item brings a specific flavor, texture and color to the final dish.

Divide the beets evenly among four plates. Top with the broccoli, the frisée and the crumbled feta. Drizzle on the goat cheese mixture and finish with a few drops of pumpkin seed oil around the outside of the plate.



February 2017

Second Helpings: When the Boys Commandeer the Kitchen

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous

How is February almost over when just yesterday was Christmas dinner? 

IMG_0997Our tradition of sit-down Christmas dinners started in 1997, based on a suggestion — actually it was more of a command — by my dear friend Father Austin Ford. For years he hosted Christmas Eve dinner and thought it’d be nice to have Christmas Day dinner at our house. 

It’s not one of those things where you say, let me think about it. You say, yes sir, I will. And I’ve done it ever since. 

This year the boys took over and I was happy to step aside. Garnie’s husband Matt and his brother. Paddy, created the menu. Kara’s husband Micah and Quinn’s boyfriend, Lucas, who’s Matt’s childhood best friend and former roommate, helped with the dishes.

Homemade chicken liver pate. Little radishes with butter. Charcuterie. French onion soup. Salad with buttermilk vinaigrette. Prime rib. Roasted broccoli and cauliflower. Stuffed cabbage rolls. French mashed potatoes with lots of cheese. 

For dessert, Quinn and Steve made their traditional chocolate roulade. When the girls took French classes years ago, they made a chocolate roulade with Steve and took it to class at the end of the year. 

The boys made everything offsite and walked it over to my house. The only dirty thing in my kitchen was the dishes, which they washed at the Blue Eyed Daisy while I relaxed on the couch with a belly full of mashed potatoes.

French Mashed Potatoes with Cheese and Garlic (Aligot)

  • Serves 6
  • The finished potatoes should have a smooth and slightly elastic texture. White cheddar can be substituted for Gruyere. For richer, stretchier aligot, double the mozzarella. 
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (4 to 6 medium), peeled, cut into ½-inch-thick slices,
  • rinsed well, and drained
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium garlic gloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1-1½ cups whole milk
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) (see note)
  • 4 ounces Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 cup) (see note)
  • Ground black pepper
  • Table salt

Place potatoes in large saucepan; add water to cover by 1 inch and add 1 tablespoon salt. Partially cover saucepan with lid and bring potatoes to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender and just break apart when poked with fork, 12-17 minutes. Drain potatoes and dry saucepan. 

Transfer potatoes to food processor; add butter, garlic and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Pulse until butter is melted and incorporated into potatoes, about ten 1-second pulses. Add 1 cup milk and continue to process until potatoes are smooth and creamy, about 20 seconds, scraping down sides halfway through. 

Return potato mixture to saucepan and set over medium heat. Stir in cheeses, 1 cup at a time, until incorporated. Continue to cook potatoes, stirring vigorously, until cheese is fully melted and mixture is smooth and elastic, 3 to 5 minutes. If mixture is difficult to stir and seems thick, stir in 2 tablespoons milk at a time (up to ½ cup) until potatoes are loose and creamy. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. 



January 2017

Winging It: Serenbe’s First Faerie Day

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous

View More:

One Saturday back in October, I was browsing around the Farmers Market when one of the neighborhood girls came up to say hello. I’d just seen a booth full of faerie costumes and asked the little girl if she had one. She said no, so I suggested we go pick one out so her mother could buy it for her.

She was very onboard with that plan.
View More:
I have always been enamored of faeries and decided Serenbe could do better than a booth. So I declared the last day of the Farmers Market was going to be Faerie Day.

The faerie fascination struck me years ago when I saw a movie called FairyTale: A True Story about two girls in WWI England who photographed faeries and no one believed them. Then two men came forward to champion their cause. They weren’t believers at first, but they took the photos to an expert who said they had not been altered in any way. Those men were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini.

I love England’s love of faeries. It’s more than just faerie gardens: Every year, Oxford University gives out a Faerie Award. I just love that they do that.

On this side of the pond, Serenbe’s first Faerie Day was a success. I had the faerie lady from the farmers market make me a skirt out from strips of glittery material. I also had a wand, headpiece and big purple wings. I’m already planning a flowing robe for next year’s event.

View More:, adults and their inner children came out dressed as their favorite faerie. I learned that faeries are not just winged creatures; they’re also trolls, mermaids, elves and such. There are sub-sets in the faerie world. Who knew?

We made faerie charms, I read a faerie book and the otherworldly dance experience glo performed and formed a fairy circle with the children. The Blue Eyed Daisy had faerie cupcakes. We showed Fairy Tale at the Inn. And then there was a unicorn.

Of course there was a unicorn.

Sandy Sue, one of the horses at Serenbe Stables, was a perfect fit with her gorgeous white coat. We adorned her with a horn and she was resplendent.





December 2016

Daily Bread: Giving Thanks for the AIR Serenbe Board with Mom’s Cinnamon Rolls

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous

J Ashley Photography


Fresh off the plane from my NYC trip with Connie, I literally hit the ground running. Instead of heading home, I drove straight to Cherry Hollow Farm to have dinner with the AIR Serenbe National Advisory Council.

From the outside, it might’ve looked like a bunch of people enjoying each other and butternut squash pizza with honey truffle oil from a Charleston, South Carolina food truck. But this was a landmark event: It was the first time advisors from all over the country got together in one place. For some, it was their first visit to Serenbe.

J Ashley Photography

J Ashley Photography

Former AIR Serenbe artist-in-residence Anis Mojgani happened to be on the East Coast and flew in to perform fireside. As soon as I saw Anis, I wrapped my arms around him and said, “Any chance you’re doing my favorite?”

After AIR Serenbe director Brandon Hinman made the introductions and we listened to some live music, Anis did his thing. And what did he start with? My favorite: Come Closer. And there it was. So beautiful.

I slipped out around 9:30 p.m. because I’d invited all 27 people back to my house for brunch the next morning and hadn’t been home in days.

Now you know how I am: I’m so deeply, truly grateful to have this caliber of folks on our AIR advisory board. A non-fiction writer and poet. The senior vice president of brand development and creative services at Garden & Gun. A graduate dean emeritus and founding director of the Center for Race and Culture. A gallery owner. And so much more. They give their time to us so freely. And so I show my appreciation through food. In the South, we open our homes and feed people. That’s just what we do.

It was a team effort. Brenda, my housekeeper and assistant, arrived at 8 a.m. I’d been caramelizing onionsimg_3121 for the frittata since 7:30. I also did biscuits and a salad with Serenbe Farms braising greens and a mango vinaigrette. The Blue Eyed Daisy did the sausages, bacon and grits. And The Farmhouse did the breakfast breads, including mother’s cinnamon rolls.

When mother ran Mary Mac’s, they did thousands of cinnamon rolls every day. Shirley, one of the bakers, probably made more than a million of them over the course of her career. The bread basket at lunch had one corn muffin, one yeast roll and one bran muffin. But at dinner, they served all three plus the sweet roll, which was the yeast roll plus lots of butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. I still have dreams about them. You only got one. And if you wanted more than one — and believe me, everyone wanted more than one — you had to pay for it.

Gratitude comes in many forms. Sometimes a thank you will do. When that doesn’t do the trick, lots of bread, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon gets the message across just fine.


Cinnamon Rolls

Preheat oven to 400°

Place in ½ cup warm (not hot) water:

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ½ teaspoon sugar

Let yeast stand 5 minutes, until it bubbles.

Mix in separate bowl:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 table spoons melted lard
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup evaporated milk, undiluted and warm
  • 3 tablespoons mashed potatoes (leftovers or made from dried flakes)

Add activated yeast to flour mixture and beat well with bread hook for at least 5 minutes. If you are not using a mixer, turn this mixture onto a marble slab or floured board and knead it for about 5 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Allow dough to rise in warm place, covered with cloth and out of drafts, until double in bulk.

Punch down, cover, and let rise until again double in size, about 1 to 2 hours.

After dough has risen twice, divide it into four portions for easy handling. Roll each portion onto lightly floured board or marble slab. Roll each portion of dough very thin into a long strip about 8 inches wide.

Have prepared:

  • ½ cup melted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Brush the rolled-out dough portions with the melted butter, using a pastry brush. Sprinkle heavily with sugar and cinnamon.

Carefully roll dough like jelly roll, beginning with long side, and slice in circles ¼ to ½ inch thick.

Place the cinnamon rolls on buttered baking sheet barely touching each other. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon and sugar and let rise in warm place for 15 to 20 minutes. Bake until they smell too good to wait another minute, about 30 minutes. They store well in the refrigerator for a day or two, a month in the freezer.



December 2016

Off Campus With Connie: Art + Food = Friendship

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous

image-1-2Connie is one of my oldest, dearest friends. We’ve been together since we were 12, which makes it a 44-year friendship for those of you keeping track at home.

[Well, except for that one year she didn’t talk to me after I invited a guy to a swim party in eighth grade because she had a crush on him, then proceeded to date him for the next four years.]

Before Steve, before the girls, it was Connie and I. When we were 21, we drove from Atlanta to California and back over the course of five weeks in my1976 maroon BMW 2002. We took Road Food by Jane and Michael Stern — I have the first edition; Mary Mac’s was in it — our paper map and plotted our journey with our minds and mouths.

We discovered blue corn on a Hopi indian reservation in New Mexico. We had a Southern feast at Mrs. Bromley’s in Clarendon, Texas. This is before roadside coffee, so we took a percolator in the car and brewed coffee in our hotel rooms. We made cassette tapes for the road. I still have them somewhere.

We loved California so much that we waited until the very last minute and drove from San Diego, where we were visiting my sister, to Atlanta in 2 days. We only stopped once for an hour in Texas. And why? Because we were determined to get back in time to watch the wedding of Charles and Diana.

Speaking of weddings, Connie got married in my backyard. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding. I’m godmother to her daughter, Charlotte, and she’s godmother to Quinn.

Connie and I have a mutual Belgian friend who told me about the tradition of getting a piece of silver for your godchild every year as a birthday and Christmas gift to build a collection for their wedding. I called Connie 13 years ago and said, Let’s do this for Charlotte and Quinn. 

If you’re going to do silver, you have to go to Tiffany’s. And if you’re going to go to Tiffany’s, why not make a weekend out of it in New York City?

Quinn and I flew up, Connie and Charlotte took the bus up from Bethesda, Maryland, and each girl picked out a silver pattern. Just so happened that there was a Diane Arbusexhibit in town that weekend. Connie and I share a mutual love of her bizarre photographs, so we headed to Washington Square Park after having dim sum in Chinatown.

Connie had worked at a law firm in NYC and knew it well, but we walked all around Washington Square Park and couldn’t find the show. We finally gave up and went on, then later realized we’d missed it by 2 or 3 storefronts.

Two months ago, I read a piece in The New York Times arts section that the Met Breuerwas hosting an exhibit of Diane Arbus’ work. I texted Connie immediately:

Me: Diane’s back. Want to go?

Connie: Oh yes.

Two weeks later, I saw that the Morgan, my favorite museum in the city, had an exhibit up on Charlotte Brontë. I texted Connie again:

Me: Guess what?

Connie: What?

Me: Double whammy. Brontë at the Morgan.

Besides road food and road trips, Connie and I are very much on the same page when it comes to art. In 1981, when we did the cross-country trip, the Phillips Collection was touring America and we saw it at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco. She and I are the same type of museum go-er: We read everything on the wall. I’ll call across the hall to her, she’ll come over and we’ll discuss shading and symbolism. We lose all track of time.

latte-marie-connie-blog-postWe got to the hotel at the same time on Thursday, threw our bags in the room, bought some Belgian fries from a street vendor and ate them as we walked to the Morgan. Phenomenal exhibit. Charlotte’s original handwriting. The whole story of the sisters and their brother. Afterwards, we recharged with a latte then saw an exhibit of Jean Dubuffet’s drawings. I had no idea the guts of that man’s artistry.

We had an amazing dinner at Estela, one of New York City’s best restaurants. Still thinking about that salad of celery, meyer lemon and mint. The next morning we slept in a bit and lounged around the hotel room, watching Michael Moore talking about the election on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. Neither of us ever get to lie around, so we reveled in it a bit.

After grabbing a slice of pizza in Times Square at Patzeria Pizza, one of Connie’s favorite places, we got on a bus — I’d never ridden a bus in NYC before — and headed to the Met Breuer. Thirteen years after just missing a Diane Arbus show, we finally made it to another. We took our time, got lattes, a cookie and sticky bun right out of the oven at a place called Flora. At the counter, I saw a business card for Estela and asked the barista about it. She said they’re Estela’s sister restaurant. Small, delicious world.

Having been re-caffeinated, we went upstairs to the Arbus exhibit. It focused on her earlier works, which weren’t our favorite. As we headed up to the Klee exhibit, we decided to pop our heads into the Kerry James Marshall exhibit. Whoa. I don’t know how I’ve missed any information about his man, but I’m going to get books and drink him in. I was so blown away, I’m headed straight back there when I’m in NYC next month. With a stop at Flora, of course.

We saw the Klee as well, and there were some pieces we loved, but we were cooked. Done. It was like having the best meal of your life and there weren’t enough superlatives to describe it.

So we window shopped down Madison Avenue and caught a bus downtown to Italienne, a new restaurant I’d just read about in Time Out New York. It’s from two alum of Frasca, a Boulder restaurant we visited the week it opened when we dropped Kara off at college.

[Technically we walked into a restaurant, ordered a drink and didn’t realize we were in the wrong place until the bartender handed us an Indian menu.

The next morning, we hit the Union Square Greenmarket, bought apples and cheese, then went downtown and had dim sum in one of those massive halls which seats 1,000 people. It was good, not great.

We walked back up Broadway and over to Washington Square Park, where we’d first tried to see the Arbus exhibit 13 years ago. Full circle.

My return flight touched down at 5:30 p.m. and by 6:15 I was eating wood-fired pizza out of a food truck at the first ever in-person meeting of the AIR Serenbe advisory board.

But that is a story for another day. Circle back next week for it and my mother’s sweet roll recipe.



November 2016

Party Pooper: How to Beautify A Bathroom In Two Hours

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous


Four hours before a very important event at Serenbe Stables, I was doing some last-minute décor tweaks with Kristin Genet, Serenbe resident and former set designer. The whole place was beautiful. Breathtaking, really. And then we walked into the bathroom.

We hadn’t even thought about the bathroom. Our minds were filled with flowers and fabric. It was, after all, a bathroom in the stables and didn’t match the ambience we’d created for the guests. I immediately started a plan to beautify on the fly.

I walked over to the Blue Eyed Daisy and there was Grace, the operator of the stables, and said, “Do you mind if I bring a few things to the bathroom at the stables to make it pretty?” And she said, “I would love it.”

I reported the go-ahead to Kristin, who met me at the garage where I keep the good stuff: bolts of fabric, rugs, mirrors, lamps and various odds and ends I’ve used to stage spaces at Serenbe.

Then we ran into my friend, Karen, who reminded me about the yellow wicker table I’d lent her for her front porch.

I called my curtain maker at noon and said, “Anne, I need a favor. Can you make me a skirt for a bathroom sink in a couple hours?” And she said, “Marie, get me the fabric and I’ll get it done.”

Such is the beauty of life in a small town.

We whipped that bathroom into shape in a matter of minutes. When it was done, I had just enough time to go home and transform myself into a party guest — an act that required a lot less hauling and sweating.







October 2016

Spirit Sisters, Part 2: Pulling Strings to Meet Joshua Bell

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous


Years ago, I saw a movie called Ladies in Lavender directed by Charles Dance. Starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, it’s the story of a gifted Polish violinist, a ship, a shipwreck and the two women who nurse him back to health when he washes up near their Cornwall home.

It is one of my favorite movies of all time, but not just because of the story. The soundtrack was so exquisite that I sat through the credits, found the name of the violinist, went straight to Barnes & Noble and said to the man behind the counter, “What do you have by Joshua Bell?”

The man looked at me and said, “You’ve just seen Ladies in Lavender, haven’t you?”

I have followed Joshua ever since. Like I wrote last week about Robert Spano, I am in awe of the depth and breadth of Joshua’s talent. There’s something so beautiful and pure about what he does and how he does it. I see him every time he comes to Atlanta, including his performance at the pre-season opening concert last month with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

It was an all-Tchaikovsky performance: Robert did six pieces from The Nutcracker, plus Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy. After the intermission the symphony returned to the stage, Robert came in and welcomed Joshua.

His performance was Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto No. 1 — and it was breathtaking. Everyone was on their feet with bravos and applause.

When he returned for his encore, Joshua said, “It’s been an all-Tchaikovsky evening and I think we need a little break.”

This is one of the many things I love about him. He understands how to play serious but also how to play and have fun.

Then he said, “Years ago, I did the soundtrack for a film and no, it wasn’t The Red Violin. I had the honor of playing music by one of England’s greatest composers, Nigel Hess.”

My friends Phyllis and Lynn, who knew the whole history of Ladies in Lavender, reached for me. They knew. And I thought, oh my God, he’s going to play it again.  

Over the summer, on the Atlanta stop of his national tour with jazz trumpeter Chris Bodie, Joshua said, “I want to play a song now from the soundtrack to a movie a lot of people have never seen.”

“I saw it!” I yelled out.

But now, during this performance with the symphony, I gasped (because one does not yell out during an ASO performance). I’ve listened to that CD weekly since 2004. It is my soul song — I know it note by note. And to see him perform it live? Not once but twice? And with one of the greatest maestros and greatest symphonies in the world?

He played it again. And I cried.

Music transforms us. It re-alters the vibrations in our body and the best musicians know that. Robert knows it. Joshua knows it. And they play in hopes that someone else gets it, too. By the grace of God, I got to sit there and listen to it live. To say that it was a life moment is an understatement.

If it ended there, right there, that’s all I needed. But there was more.

Because Lynn is a Symphony board member, the three of us were invited to a party in the Robert Shaw room, named for the man who made the ASO what it is. I went in and positioned myself and thought, I’m just going to stand here. I don’t have to talk to him. I’m not going to bother him.

That’s about me, of course. Joshua is so accessible: During intermissions he goes out and signs CDs in the foyer. It’s unbelievable and says a lot about his character. He knows he’s an instrument for divine music and he’s unbelievably gracious about it.

Joshua came in with his Stradivarius strapped across his chest, probably because it’s worth millions of dollars.

“You’re going to talk to him,” Phyllis said to me.

“No, I don’t do that,” I replied.

“Marie, if you don’t do this, you will regret it for the rest of your life,” she said.

So she and Lynn took me by the arms, put me in line and stood on either said of me. When it was my turn, I said, “Hi. I want to thank you for playing Ladies in Lavender.”

And he said, “You know, when I hit the first few notes, I remembered I played that same song here this summer.”

He was expressing regret for choosing it again.

“Trust me,” I told him, “this is a completely different audience. Thank you for playing one of my favorite songs of all time. It was just as beautiful tonight as it was when you played it this summer. It’s the song that made me fall in love with your work.

And the next thing I knew, someone came up and asked if they could get a photo of all of us together. And there I was, taking a photo with Joshua Bell. And when it was over I thanked him again, then turned to Lynn and Phyllis and thanked my spirit sisters for opening doors, pushing me through them and helping my dreams become reality.



September 2016

Spirit Sisters, Part 1: Spano at Serenbe

Written by , Posted in Miscellaneous


For years, I’ve had a not-so-secret crush on Robert Spano — the six-time Grammy Award winning music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The music director of the Aspen Music Festival.  One of the top five maestros in the world. One of only two classical musicians inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

It’s not like I want to make out with him in a parked car. I’ve admired him from afar for a very long time for his incredible talent, what he’s done for the ASO, his passion for music and devotion to mentoring young artists. He humbles and inspires me.

Atlanta is silly with celebrities and I couldn’t care less. But for years I’ve asked people, Do you know Robert Spano? And if so, can I meet him? 

Nothing ever came of it, but I have faith in timing. I knew the universe would send me what I was supposed to have, when I was supposed to have it. And recently it sent me spirit sisters who’ve been showing up and shaking things up in a big way.

It all started with Lauri Stallings, my friend and the founding artist of glo — the movement group that defies description. What that woman creates is not of this world. She is not of this world. Lauri read Kierkegaard when she was 11. She wears these big, clunky shoes that I’m convinced keep her on this earth and not floating above it.

Turns out, Lauri and Robert Spano are two peas in a pod. Robert commissioned her to do a collaboration between glo and the ASO. And Lauri, in her infinite magic, had honest-to-God sod brought in and laid on the stage of symphony hall. Instead of walking in from the usual entrance, patrons had to enter from backstage and walk across the sod to their seats. After everyone was settled in, the symphony sat down and played on the grass.

img_7099Their latest collaboration, cloth field, was set to open September 7. One day, Lauri called and said, “Hey Marie. I’d like to do a fundraiser for glo and thought I’d bring Robert Spano to do a preview of cloth field at Serenbe.”

To say that my jaw dropped is an understatement. You want to bring Robert Spano to Serenbe? Really? 

And so it was that the Sunday before the debut, Robert Spano played a Steinway. In a skirt. On the grass. At Serenbe.

Robert arrived early; he’d heard of Serenbe but had never been. We had dinner. Oh my.

Afterwards, he went out into the meadow and played a Steinway. In a skirt. On the grass. At Serenbe. I thought I was going to levitate.

We were sitting where, exactly one year before, Micah and Kara had their wedding dinner. Twelve months later, Micah held my grandson, Amos, and sat right beside the piano. Later, Micah said Amos went into a dream state while Robert was playing. He must’ve been remembering when he was in utero and Kara played classical music to him every day.

While glo was moving, fireflies appeared and danced with them. When the performance was over, Lauri opened it up to questions. John Graham, executive director of the Serenbe Institute and, in his former life, the executive director of the Florida Philharmonic and the Boca Pops, asked Robert if the music he was playing was Debussy. Robert replied that it was his own original composition.

I audibly gasped. Robert Spano played a piece he’d written himself. On a Steinway. In a skirt. On the grass. At Serenbe.

What Robert and Lauri did was church. Magic and beauty was there, all in one. And my heart overflowed because Robert Spano was there, all my children and my grandson were there and it was a gift beyond words.

After they finished, I hugged both Lauri and Robert and cried over the exquisite beauty I’d witnessed in my former backyard. It was breathtaking and in my top five best things that have ever happened at Serenbe.

I invited everyone in attendance back to my house for libations, savories and sweets. I had wine and Robert’s favorite vodka, Tito’s, served cold. And there was Robert Spano. In my house. Talking to me. Blowing my mind.