Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Cool Cultural Scene in the Northern Berkshires: 7+ Artsy Reasons To Go

Stone Hill, The Clark, Williamstown
(©Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute)
By Jacquelin Carnegie – (Pittsfield, MA)
Culture lovers already flock to the Southern Berkshires in Massachusetts for concerts at Tanglewood in Lenox and dance performances at Jacob’s Pillow in Becket. But venturing a few towns north--to Pittsfield and Williamstown--opens up another world of artsy possibilities. Even after summer is over, the cultural activities continue.
Taking the Pits Out of PITTSFIELD
Back in 1998, First Lady Hillary Clinton came to town on a Save America’s Treasures tour and gave a shot-in-the-arm to blighted Pittsfield. The town’s subsequent revitalization has been tied to the arts--and what an impressive transformation it is. Architecturally, Pittsfield is not a charming New England town like Lenox or Stockbridge, but it makes up for that with all its’ cultural offerings.

3rd Thursdays (photo: Karl Volkman)
Taking It To The Streets
Third Thursdays
Downtown Pittsfield, MA (May-Oct, 5pm-8pm; Free)
Once a month, a big street fair jazzes up Pittsfield’s main drag in the Upstreet Cultural District. There are bands playing, a variety of food stalls, and tons of entertaining activities for young and old. In addition to what’s going on in the street, shops, art studios, wine bars, and cafés stay open late. It’s also a great opportunity to chat with the friendly locals.
Karen Andrews Asian Fusion
Downtown Pittsfield, MA (Year round, 5pm-8pm; Free)
Third Thursdays runs May through October, but the First Fridays ArtsWalk takes place all year long. Who knew there were some 50 artist studios in downtown Pittsfield? On First Fridays, there’s art on display not only in the galleries and studios but in all sorts of places: restaurants, bagel shops, the Berkshire Medical Center, The Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, and loads of other off-beat spots.
The Write Stuff
Melville’s writing desk 
(photo: Pablo Sanchez)
780 Holmes Rd., Pittsfield, MA; Tel: 413/442-1793;
(Open: May-Oct, Thurs-Mon, 9:30am-5pm, visit by Tour. Tours available off-season by appointment; Fee)
Here’s something else you might not have known--Herman Melville wrote Moby Dick, and several other works, while living here from 1850 to 1863. Melville’s former home, restored by the Berkshire Historical Society, is now a National Historic Landmark and open to visitors.
It’s Showtime!
Barrington Stage Company
30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA, Tel:
Debra Jo Rupp, Dr. Ruth 
 ©Barrington Stage
Founded in 1995, the not-for-profit company, housed in a 1912 vaudeville theatre, produces award-winning plays and musicals, and finds innovative ways to attract new audiences and introduce young people to theatre. The new productions at Barrington Stage are so terrific they often transfer to Broadway (The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Freud’s Last Session), but you can see them first, right here!
The Colonial Theater 
111 South St., Pittsfield, MA; Tel: 413/997-4444;
The Colonial Theater
The Colonial, designed in 1903 by noted architect J.B. McElfatrick, was a popular Vaudeville theater. After years of neglect, it’s been beautifully restored to its Gilded Age grandeur and now provides a stunning venue for top-name stars for concerts, comedies, musicals, and family entertainment all year long.
A Museum With More
Berkshire Museum
39 South St., Pittsfield, MA; Tel: 413/443-7171;
(Open: Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm; Sun, 12pm-5pm. Fee)
Opened in 1903 by Zenas Crane as an art and natural history museum, the Berkshire Museum’s collection includes everything from fine art to fossils, an aquarium to ancient artifacts, and objects from every continent. In addition to nifty special exhibits, the museum hosts lots of creative events. 
A Fistful of Festivals
Here are a few examples:
February: 10X10 Upstreet: a contemporary arts festival. April: Pittsfield CityJazz Festival: annual jazz fest. 
Dining Options: There’s a huge selection of all kinds of restaurants, cafés and wine bars on North Street in the Upstreet Cultural District.
Spend the Night: Holiday Inn
Williamstown, MA 
(photo: Daderot)
Getting There: Drive or from New York (Port Authority Bus Terminal) take a Peter Pan bus to Pittsfield; about 4 hours, but worth it! Seasonal weekend train service: Amtrak's The Berkshire Flyer will run Fri/Sun from July thru August.
About a half-hour from Pittsfield, this quaint little town, home to Williams College founded in 1793, has some terrific cultural institutions you won’t want to miss. 
Must-See Art Collections
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
225 South St., Williamstown, MA; Tel: 413/458-2303;
(Open: Tues-Sun, 10am–5pm; daily in the summer. Fee)
Sterling & Francine Clark Art Institute
(photo: Betty Sartori)
Sterling Clark, heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, moved to Paris in 1910 and, along with his wife Francine, began acquiring an extraordinary collection of Impressionist and Old Master paintings. These masterpieces form the core of the Institute’s permanent collection. Opened in 1955, as both a museum and research center, The Clark’s original neoclassical building is now surrounded by modern additions by internationally-renown architect Tadao Ando. In addition to the artwork and special exhibits, other offerings include: live music performances, talks, and lectures. There are also walking trails on The Clark’s 140 acres of beautifully-landscaped forests and fields. (Plus a great gift shop!)
Eyes by Louise Bourgeois
 (©WCMA, photo: Arthur Evans)
Williams College Museum of Art
Rt. 2, 15 Lawrence Hall Dr., Williamstown, MA; Tel: 413/597-2429; (Open: Tues-Sun, 10am-5pm; Free) 
This lovely little spot is considered one of the finest college art museums in the country with 13,000 works that cover the history of art. But, WCMA is best known for modern and contemporary art, especially its collection of American art from the late-18th century to the present.
The Stars are Out
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Rt. 2, 1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA; Tel: 413/597-3400;; Summer
Blythe Danner, The Blue Deep
(photo: T. Charles Erickson) 
Every summer, for almost 70 years, the Festival brings top actors to this tiny town to perform in exciting versions of the classics and new works by gifted playwrights. It’s worth a trip to Williamstown to see a production. (It’s also fun to spot big-name stars eating in the local cafés.)
Dining Options: Along Spring Street, in the center of town, there are lots of nice little shops, galleries, and eateries
Spent the Night: Plenty of charming accommodations.
Getting There: Drive or from New York (Penn Station), take an Amtrak train to the Albany station (about 2 ½ hrs, with stunning views of the Hudson River along the way). Then, a taxi or car service to Williamstown, about an hour. (Abbott Limo Service: 413/243-1645)  Also, bus connections run between Pittsfield and Williamstown.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Marvelous Mosaic: 5+ Great Ways to Celebrate Irish Culture & St. Paddy’s Day in NYC

By Jacquelin Carnegie – (New York, NY)
Every March, it’s time to dig out that bright green sweater and brace yourself for gallons of green beer, rowdy teenagers, and lousy weather--it's Saint Paddy’s Day in New York! But, Irish culture is so rich and varied, it should be celebrated for more than just one day! Here are some great ways to do so all year long in New York:
Come for The Craic
Irish Arts Center 
Celtic AppalachianCelebration II 
(photo: Brandilyn Davidson & Erin Baiano)
726 11th Ave (btw 51-52 St), Tel: 212/757-3318;
The IAC is a treasure-trove of Irish cultural activities. Throughout the year, attend concerts, dance performances, plays, films, lectures or readings, and be sure to enjoy “the craic” (great conversation). If you’re bitten by the Irish bug, the IAC also offers classes for children and adults in Irish music, dance, language, and history. Great annual events include: St. Patrick's Day Open House (Free): Celebrate Irish music & dance with performances and craft workshops for the whole family. Book Day: Snag a free book by a great Irish or Irish-American author.
Discover Irish Playwrights
Donnybrook! (photo: Carol Rosegg)
The Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd St; Tel: 212/727-2737;
The Irish Rep features plays and musicals by well-known and emerging Irish and Irish-American playwrights. 
Get Some Culture
American Irish Historical Society
991 Fifth Ave., at 80th St.; Tel: 212/288-2263, (Currently closed during a reorganization.)
Founded in 1897, the AIHS celebrates the Irish-American experience with a focus on contemporary Irish culture. Events range from talks to art exhibits to readings and concerts on the harp, piano, penny whistle, and bodhrán. All take place in AIHS’ magnificent Beaux-Arts townhouse.
Thrill to the Music
In New York, there are Irish musicians playing everything from traditional, to rock to pop. No matter what your taste, there’s a band for you.
Paddy Reilly's Music Bar (519 2nd Ave., at 29th St.; Tel: 212/686-1210; In NYC, there’s an Irish pub on almost every corner, but this is one of the best with great Irish music; Black 47 got their start here.

Old Favorites: For 25 years, Black 47 was “Rockin’ The Bronx,” giving voice to the joy and the sorrow of all the Irish immigrants who’ve found a second home on Bainbridge Avenue and in other New York boroughs. Band leader Larry Kirwan now does solo gigs with a St. Patrick's Day concert. 
Some years, The Celtic Tenors, doing traditional songs, and The Saw Doctors, with their folk-rock vibe, roll into town. 

Sober St. Patrick’s Day® - This is a wonderful way to enjoy the sprit of the day with great Irish entertainment--acclaimed musicians, dancers, singers, comedians--but without the rowdy drunks.

Worship in Gaelic
The Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral
263 Mulberry St, corner of Mott & Prince, Tel: 212-226-8075;
Long before people worshiped at Saint Patrick's Cathedral (1879), on Fifth Avenue and 50th St., they came here to the city's first Cathedral Church, founded in 1809. Today, Mass is given in English, Spanish, Chinese, and, on occasion, in the Irish language, Gaelic. Throughout the year, there are lovely concerts and other cultural offerings.

 (photo: Laura_Mexico)
Saint Patrick's Day Parade
The first St. Patrick's Day Parade in New York was held in 1762, when Irish ex-patriots and Irish soldiers marched through the city. Every year, the Parade heads up Fifth Avenue, from 44th St to 86th St.

Did you know that there are other regions, referred to as 
"Celtic Nations," that share this heritage with Ireland: Brittany, France; Wales; Scotland; the Isle of Man & Cornwall.
(Often, Brittany's BZH NY society invites musicians from Brittany to perform and celebrate St. Patrick's Day in New York.)

Monday, March 6, 2023

5+ Ways To Get the Most Out of Paris: Hotel Hop, Apartment Swap, Meet the French & More

By Jacquelin Carnegie - (Paris, France) 

Les Parisiens by Kanako  
(Mairie de Paris, My Little Paris & Editions du Chêne)
Paris is all about neighborhoods. Instead of spending your whole stay in the same hotel, discover Paris' many wonderful neighborhoods by moving around! You can accomplish this in several different ways: Do a mix-and-match of hotel stays, apartment rentals, and bed & breakfasts. Yes, packing and unpacking is a drag, but this is such a great way to really get to know the city, just pack light.
Paris has 20 districts (arrondissements), each with a distinct personality. Do some research beforehand, and explore the cafes, shops, and sights unique to each neighborhood. [To figure out an arrondissement, just look at the last 2 digits of the address's zip code: i.e., 75008 = 8th arrondissement.]

HOTEL HOP: Try Different Neighborhoods
Several major chains have hotels in different neighborhoods. Spend two or three nights in a variety of locations. While you're assured of a similar level of service, each hotel has its own style to match the arrondissement.

Hotel Chains

Renaissance Paris le Parc Trocadero, 16th
Marriott has several Paris hotels, including the Renaissance & Courtyard brands.

Novotel has about 10 Paris hotels which can be selected by arrondissement. 
The Leading Hotels of The World has a group of luxury Paris hotels for a splurge.
Boutique Hotels:
These are lovely, smaller hotels with lots of character. There are so many to choose from, it's hard to know where to begin.
Perhaps pick an area you'd like to explore, then see what's nearby. For example:
Hôtel Observatoire Luxembourg (107, Blvd St Michel; Tel: +33 (0)1-46-34-10-12; - This little gem is right across from the famous Luxembourg Gardens in the 5th arrondissement.
Design Hotels recommends a group of Paris boutique hotels with oodles of style.

Chez Grace (photo: Owen Franken)
Bed & Breakfasts
Usually, a Bed & Breakfast (Chambres d'hôtes) means a room--a very nice room--in someone's Paris apartment. Not only does this give you the chance to experience a slice of life in the City of Light, it also gives you the opportunity to meet real Parisians. You can find Chambres d’hôtes in every arrondissement with your criteria (i.e., no smoking, free Wi-Fi, etc.) and, since they're booked by the night, combine a few in different neighborhoods:
Meeting the French (Tel: +33 (0)1-42-51-19-80;
No friends in Paris? Meet some. This company arranges interesting tours, French cooking classes, and get-togethers with locals. They can also help book nice accommodations.
Airbnb ( - When renting a room you can sometimes luck out with an interesting 
host, willing to show you around the neighborhood or suggest great, local hangouts. 

PRETEND YOU LIVE THERE: Rent an Apartment 
The most important aspect when renting an apartment abroad is a feeling of trust. When arriving in a strange city, where you may not speak the language, the last thing you want is for things to go wrong. While listings on Craigslist may be the most affordable, they're not necessarily the most reliable. So, in addition to checking out photos of apartments online:
- Make sure someone with responsibility will meet you with the key (door locks can be tricky & you'll need a code to get into most Paris buildings).
- Be sure to have a contact phone number (not just an email) for someone who can help if anything needs to be fixed during your stay.
- As soon as you walk in, make sure everything works (stove, shower, etc.) and that you know how to turn appliances on/off.
- Find out the refund policy beforehand should the apartment not be as advertised. 
Paris Through Expatriate Eyes (Tel: +33(0)6-7098-1368; Run by transplanted-American Terrance Gelenter, this company rents apartments in several different neighborhoods. Terrance, who's a real character and loads of fun, also organizes private tours and interesting events. 

(photo: Amélie Dupont © Paris Tourist Office)
VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) - I've heard only good things from people who've used this service.
House Sit or Swap
Instead of renting, you can swap apartments or house sit (this usually involves pet sitting). 
There are so many online sites to choose from, try to get recommendations from people you know who've done it and had positive experiences. Here are some sites:
House Sit (most require a fee to join):;;;
Swap: www.ihen.com

Couchsurfing & Servas: Members of both organizations will put you up for free. While Couchsurfing is a newer, online service--all the rage with the twentysomething set, Servas has been around since 1949 and has a philosophy behind it: Gandhi’s concept of promoting world peace through intercultural exchange.
A Good Source: The Paris tourism office, Paris Info, always has the latest on new hotels, B&B, apartment rentals, etc. Check their comprehensive list, constantly updated with new options.