A trio of celebrations in Beantown

by Sonja Stark on November 21, 2014

Birthdays are for celebrating and my gal friends wasted no time finding places to party with me this weekend. Whether you’re into dancing, drinks or, um, donkeys, it’s best to keep an open mind when the entourage is treating. Here are three hotspots (of many) that will make your moment memorable when in Boston, Mass.

Donkey Show
1. The Donkey Show
No, this is not a political assembly with a bunch of Dems queuing at the door. Better yet, it’s an outrageous drag-queen show that rivals anything you’d find in NYC. Residing inside the Oberon theater, on the fringe of Harvard Square, is the award-winning smash hit, set in a world of glittery freaks, fairies, flesh and fantasy. We danced ourselves dirty all night to 70s disco hits while watching scantily-clad libidos boogie about on stage. We wore beaded halter tops, polyester pants and platform shoes found in local consignments shops. How the hustle queen managed to keep her pasties pinned to certain body parts, I will never know!
Link: http://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/donkey-show

2. Beerunch at Cambridge Beer Company
Beer for Sunday brunch? Of course, this is your birthday! There’s no reason why you can’t have a Malt Battered French Toast or Pumpkin Ale Spiced Bread Pudding Sandwich with a pint of their toasted Boomsquash. The nationally acclaimed CBC is located in Kendall Square and has been brewing high quality crafts since 1989. Before you buy, always request a sip to see if the IBU (international bitterness unit) pleases your palate. Check out the mural of Bostonian faces painted on the wall. You can guess who’s who while you wait for your Beer Battered Fish and Chips.
Link: http://cambridgebrewingcompany.com/

Wahlburgers
3. Waiting at Wahlburgers
Hungry for 15-minutes of fame? Your birthday wish may come true if you dine at Wahlburgers restaurant in Hingham Shipyard. Actors Mark and Donnie with their older brother Chef Paul Wahlberg record monthly episodes of the A&E reality series at their popular eatery with the same name. We waited in line for 90 minutes (others have waited up to four hours) to try the $7.95 Thanksgiving Burger made with fresh seasoned turkey leftovers on a bun stuffed with cranberry sauce and roasted butternut squash. All burgers are topped off with Paul’s signature Wahl sauce, dill pickles and stockpiled government cheese – yes, you read correctly – that’s processed cheese that’s no better than powdered milk. The bright orange ingredient is an tribute to the federal assistance the brothers received growing up in a poor household in the 1970s. Kitty corner to the restaurant is Chef’s Paul’s higher-end hotspot, the Alma Nove, named after his mother, Alma, and her nine children.
Link: http://www.wahlburgersrestaurant.com/

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The Wilburton Inn; Museum of the Creative Process

by Sonja Stark on November 15, 2014

Curbside detritus is transformed into conceptual contemporary art sculptures and scattered about the grounds of the Wilburton Inn.

Curbside detritus is transformed into conceptual contemporary art sculptures and scattered about the grounds of the Wilburton Inn.

A tour of fanciful art delves deep into the meaning of life and the genesis of religion.

A tour of fanciful art delves deep into the meaning of life and the genesis of religion.

Psychiatrist and innkeeper Dr. Albert Levis has been bridging art and science with everyday rubbish for decades. It’s been a preoccupation his entire life, one that has culminated in dozens of outrageous, often obscure eccentricities that, to the untrained eye, resemble nothing more than abandoned piles of junk. But, as they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. His works have transformed the land around the Wilburton Inn into a sculpture park.

As I tour the grounds of the Inn, I learn that the sculptures are meant to depict the key existential issues of humanity. The museum is also a way for Levis to enlighten guests with what he calls Moral Science. He hands me his most recent scientific textbook, a companion written in 2011 to a book he wrote about Formal Theory. I’m at odds to provide a definition for either concept. This stuff is deep, folks!

Levis' Holocaust Memorial

Dr. Albert Levis

Born in Athens, Greece, in 1937 to a wealthy Jewish family, Levis witnessed resistance and conflict during his most formative years. First the fascists, then the Nazis. The Axis occupation of Greece inevitably played a profound role in the young boy’s quest for meaning and resolution. Being a holocaust survivor, Levis turned to studying several branches of science: physics, sociology, psychology, psychiatry, philosophy even religion, to better understand human aggression and contempt.

“96% of the Jewish community in Greece were exterminated,” said Levis. “And, that’s part of my reason for search and for meaning. It comes from trying to understand what happened in my childhood.”

Some of Levis’ installations deliberately fuel discomfort, even repulsion; the holocaust memorial is the most visceral. The head of Hitler peeks through a set of steel bars perched atop hundreds of safe deposit boxes stolen from the Jews during WWII. Other pieces baffle and bemuse, like the upright purple bathtubs that represent sex organs. All are contemplative, like the rusting cylinder head from an old Ford Escort transformed into a part of a metaphorical metal dragon.

When I ask Levis, “What do you say to people who just don’t get it?,” he replies, “Well, they have to take the time to look a little deeper.” I’m afraid it will take my simple brain a lifetime to comprehend his theories.

None of the sculptures is supposed to be, necessarily, attractive, but at the end of the tour I do find one appealing. It’s a smooth, white, modern monolith that represents a bride and groom. It sits on a hill overlooking the beautiful Vermont Green mountains in the distance.

When you visit the Wilburton Inn, you’ll immediately feel the intellectual subculture that thrives here, all thanks to 77-year-old Dr. Albert Levis.

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Manchester, Vermont: Murder at the Wilburton Inn

by Sonja Stark on November 10, 2014

Fabio is found dead at the buffet table struck down by a stale baguette.

Fabio is found dead at the buffet table, struck down by a stale baguette.

The Wilburton Inn, Manchester, Vermont

It was death by baguette! The victim was “gluten” for punishment! Did the Hollywood Director “kill” for a chance to get rich?

Over 100 guests attended the 2nd annual post-Halloween Murder Mystery Dinner on November 9 at the Wilburton Inn in Manchester, Vermont. The flamboyant interactive mystery takes place in 1955 at a secret acquisition meeting between RKO Pictures and the board members of the General Tire Corporation. At the turn of the century, the Tudor style hotel was a popular summer home for Hollywood celebrities because it, indeed, was owned by the illustrious film and distribution company.

Several humorous characters set the stage for a suspense-filled scandal that includes internationally renowned German Director Eric Von Strobelight (“I taught Leni Riefenstahl everything she knows. Not much of a sense of humor but she was good in a rally!”) and the satirical motion picture dance duo, Fred Astaire and Pepper Rogers (not quite Ginger).

During dinner the plot quickly escalates into tragedy when a rampaging murderer in a King Kong costume chokes a linguine-loving Fabio Fortunato with a dangerously stale French baguette. A gasping audience is left to guess, ‘Who done it?’. The killer and the motive are revealed after several more comic moments.

“We’ve always been about celebrating creativity and its many forms,” said Inn co-owner Tajlei Levis. “Manchester is a very creative place and the Wilburton Inn is a part of this cultural community. Throughout the year, we have sing-alongs, play-readings, live music, farm night and interesting interpretations of contemporary art. We attract people who value art and creativity and fun.”

Levis, an off-Broadway playwright who wrote the Murder Mystery, joined her father and siblings to purchase the sprawling Wilburton Inn from RKO in 1987. More on the family in the next blog!

The cast of the Murder Mystery Dinner held at the Wilburton Inn, Manchester, Vermont.

The cast of the Murder Mystery Dinner held at the Wilburton Inn, Manchester, Vermont.

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Spend Veterans Day at West Point

by Sonja Stark on November 4, 2014

West Point Columbarium Not sure what to do for your beloved veteran next Tuesday? Having been there countless times with my stepdad, a decorated Vietnam paratrooper, I can say without reservation that West Point is the answer.

The idyllic military campus overlooks the Hudson river from what was once a strategically important position during the Revolutionary War. The fortifications date back to 1778, and West Point is the oldest continuously occupied military post in America.

Military cemeteries provide a historic connection to the past and few are as notable as this military campus. The somber burial ground pays homage to fallen soldiers and national heros, many who were West Point grads like Persian Gulf commander Norman Schwarzkopf, George Armstrong Custer (Battle of the Little Bighorn), Army Chief of Staff General William “Westy” Westmoreland and the first American to walk in space, Edward White II.

Directly behind the Old Cadet Chapel is a shiny, new, parabolic-shaped columbarium gifted by the Class of 1966. Inside the rear of the Caretaker’s Cottage Visitors Center is a helpful book with maps for grave locator assistance. May it be said, “Well done; Be thou at peace.”

Following a tour of the cannons and the great iron chain, head to a nearby town called Cornwall-on-Hudson to enjoy dinner set in an original 1897 savings bank called The River Bank Bistro. The restaurant opened under new ownership this past Mothers Day. Share generous portions of their Wild Mushroom Flatbread appetizer followed by the Lobster Mac And Cheese entree. Top it off with an eight-ounce glass of pumpkin beer.

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Prepare for take-off with cheeky videos

by Sonja Stark on November 2, 2014

Richard Simmons Fit to Fly Video

“Ninety-nine percent is in the delivery. If you have the right voice and the right delivery…you can say anything and make people laugh” said Buddy Hackett.

The same is true of boring, monotonous in-flight safety videos – content we’ve had repeated to us a million times.

Ever since the cult following of Delta’s 2008 video featuring a redhead nicknamed Deltalina, other airlines have followed suite. Instructions that used to be verbally narrated to a mostly passive, indifferent crowd, are now given via celebrity figures using dry humor, wit and high production values.

You’re bound to have seen some of these as their branding is brilliant.

One of my favorites include, already a 2011 classic by Air New Zealand called “Mile-high Madness.” I’ve never been on a Kiwi flight, but I can just imagine the laughter that this video incites. The video features the flamboyant 80′s fitness guru Richard Simmons dancing to words like – grab, click and pull to demonstrate the importance of stowing your bags and buckling up. The workout crew behind him are bonafide flight attendants and pilots, even a cameo from the CEO.

“I’m on a plane full of crazies,” says a passenger on his cell phone with his laptop open. Simmons jumps next to him and requests “Stop broadcasting buddy!” and closes his laptop screen and unexpectedly kisses the man on the cheek. Hilarious.

Others by Air New Zealand include a NAKED demonstration, Betty White informing fliers while making fun of old people and this year, a Lord of the Rings parody with Elijah Wood and Peter Jackson.

So, the next time you fly, make a point of staying awake just long enough to enjoy the innovative, wacky, sometimes awkward, but always funny, safety videos.

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Experience Fremont Street is a bargain

by Sonja Stark on October 28, 2014

Las Vegas Puppeteer

Most people who visit Las Vegas never see more than The Strip. They come to try their luck at craps, relax by the pool with bottle service or catch a show. Or, in my case, attend a full-day conference with barely time for a quick dinner and a snooze. But, should you come to Vegas and are feeling a little overwhelmed by the manufactured look of perfection, catch a transit bus to Fremont Street for some rich history and cheap entertainment.

Flesh on Fremont StreetFor a few dollars ($6 for 2 hours, $8 for 24 hours, and $20 for 3 days), I hopped aboard a San Francisco-style double-decker bus called The Deuce that runs up and down the Vegas strip and stops at virtually every hotel and casino. Taxis are not allowed to pick up passengers from the street. The Deuce is painfully slow so instead take a single level express bus called the SDX (I learned that on my return trip). Both buses are air-conditioned, clean and make final stops on Fremont Street before turning around.

Prepare your pockets with a dozen $1 bills for the eclectic entertainment you’re about to experience. “Busking” as it’s called for performers who sing, dance and play publicly is perfectly legal on Fremont Street. It’s not required but returning the favor with a tip is appreciated. Be respectful – never take a photo-op without tossing a few dollars first.

Glitter Gulch

For the next 5 blocks, a plentiful number of street performers, semi-strippers, puppeteers, magicians and musicians are bound to catch your fancy. If you’re not careful though, Glitter Gulch might be more than what you bargained for. The acts perform on a pedestrian mall protected from the elements by an overhead canopy that acts like a light show at night — the world’s largest and most spectacular. Some of the exhibitionists are too weird, others think just showing a little flesh is enough for a tip, but most are skilled talents waiting to be discovered.

Life is Beautiful Entrance

If you are able to time your visit to Fremont Street with a few hours at the Life is Beautiful” Music Festival, even better! It was wrapping up its third day at Container Park when I visited. There were four separate stages for dozens of chart-topping bands including Alt-J, Broken Bells, Arctic Monkeys and the Foo Fighters along with art displays and interactive exhibits. Did I have a ticket? Regrettably, not this time but definitely the next!

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