Enchanted Venice in black & white

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As the vaporetto travels down the Grand Canal, you see an elegant palazzo which houses the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a reminder that you are in one of the world's great centers of art. Now there's a new book of Venice photos, all in black & white, of which the former director of the museum says, "This remarkable anthology, thanks to the wintery season, the tones of black and white and the virtual absence of tourists, offers us the romantic melancholy, the poetry of reflections and the beauty of light that are the magic of Venice."

The photo at the top of this article is my own, and it doesn't do the scene justice. For that, you need the book, the whole book, and nothing but the book. Magnificent images, passionate words. Order this book (the third in a series of photo essays about La Serenissima) for the traveler on your list. Order two and keep one for yourself.


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St. Clouds is closing down

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Michael McGloin has decided to close St. Clouds, the long-running Madrona restaurant just a year after he took over from the founding partners, who retired to Utah. Much of the longtime staff left as well.

In a heartfelt email, McGloin wrote, "We have generated some new love, but food costs, labor costs and the shortage of cooks in Seattle have created challenges for being able to offer simple, consistent and exceptional food at a reasonable cost. This is what I intended to do when I took over and it now feels too elusive to continue." So Sunday, October 28th, will be the final day.

***

John Irving's novel called "The Cider House Rules' was set in an orphanage, St. Cloud's, in rural Maine, with a doctor, Wilbur Larch, who was both an obstetrician and an abortionist; and an orphan, Homer Wells, who was trained as his successor.

In the movie version, Michael Caine played the doctor, Tobey Maguire the youngster, but long before the movie came out, the book was adapted for the stage and produced at the Seattle Repertory Theatre. An English teacher from the Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, John Platt, ended up cooking for the Rep's cast and crew as they work-shopped the production.

Platt was no kitchen amateur; he had trained at Coastal Kitchen and 5-Spot and had been a general manager. When "Cider House" took itself to Los Angeles and then to Broadway, Platt teamed up with a colleague, Paul "Pablo" Butler, the Spanish teacher at Charles Wright, and plunged into the restaurant business.

Both were social activists and wanted to incorporate a spirit of community in their project, which took over the Madrona space vacated by Cool Hand Luke's at 1131 34th Ave. They decided to emulate Dr. Larch's sense of duty and generosity, so they named the restaurant St. Clouds, and they made a commitment to monthly "homeless cooking" events. That was 17 years ago.

Into this mix a year ago came Michael McGloin, originally from Middlebury, Vermont, by training a Russian historian and international journalist (Turner Broadcasting), who first visited Seattle to cover the International Goodwill Games. He ended up working for Microsoft in program management and business development, then (like so many) he jumped off the corporate ship head first and into front-line community relations. He took over the Judkins St. Cafe in the heart of Seattle's Central District. "Judkins is a wonderful community," McGloin maintains, and he would have happily stayed but the landlord is redeveloping the property and has kicked out all the tenants.

Fortunately, McGloin had been working part-time with Platt to help him develop the St Clouds catering business, and then, one day, Platt announced he was leaving, giving up the restaurant, and moving to the mountains of Utah. St Clouds was suddenly for sale. "I think you should buy it," Platt said to McGloin, so he did. He had something like four days to repaint, put down new carpet, and build a back patio before reopening in early June.
Not a lot of menu changes, but "more accessible" food from Devin Lowden (who took over from St Clouds' longtime chef Mike King). "The original St Clouds was an orphanage," McGloin reminds us. "Orphans don't eat $35 steaks." They do eat meatloaf, though, So there's a new meat loaf ($19), a delicious, dense and flavorful staple of family dinners everywhere, and all-too-rare on local restaurant menus.

But now the meatloaf, too, will be a thing of the past.

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Soraya Mafi as Flora and Rafi Bellamy Plaice as Miles in "The Turn of the Screw" at Seattle Opera. Photo © Jacob Lucas.

"The Turn of the Screw" began as a 12-installment serial in Collier's by the great American writer Henry James some 120 years ago. Often revised and reworked over the years by the author himself and others, it was adapted into a chamber opera (a dozen musicians) by the British composer Benjamin Britten in 1954, and that's what's playing at Seattle Opera this month..

A governess (soprano Elizabeth Caballero, who sang Donna Elvira here in 2015) hires on to take care of two orphaned children, 10-year-old Miles and 8-year-old Flora, in what turns out to be a haunted country mansion. The ghosts are Quint, once a valet at the property, and Miss Jessel, the former governess, who (just to complicate things) were also illicit lovers before their respective deaths.

So what is true, and what is false? Should we trust the author and the composer to tell us what to see, let alone how to feel? As the evening goes by, the screw tightens, and the possible explanations get more and more grim.

Are the ghosts even real? And if they are, are they a danger to the children? Or are they figments of the governess's imagination? Quint, certainly, has a hold over Miles, and Miss Jessel over Flora. The governess, increasingly frantic, is relieved when Quint seems to disappear for good, only to find that Miles has had the life sucked out of him. (Yeah, sorry, no spoiler alert; it's opera, remember: the good guys usually die.)

If you're into ghost stories, there's probably enough uncertainty and misdirection in this tale to keep you interested. On the other hand, if you're not a fan, there's Britten's atonal score to keep you awake.

"The ceremony of innocence is drowned," they keep saying in the libretto. It's a line from Yeats's prophetic poem, "The Second Coming," followed by the famous couplet "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." Yeats was writing about the period after the first World War, not modern day US politics. But maybe he's still with us, ghostly or not.

The role of Miles is played by a boy soprano (technically a "treble"); in this production he's the BBC's Young Chorister of the Year. In the original production, back in 1954, the performer was David Hemmings, who went on to stardom in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup, a role he got because the director's first choice turned him down. That was a very young Sean Connery.

Seattle Opera presents Benjamin Britten's "The Turn of the Screw" at McCaw Hall through Oct 28th.


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The second edition of FORKING SEATTLE, my independent guide to Seattle's restaurant scene and "food ecosystem" will be released on October 26th, 2018. List price for the 380-page trade paperback is $22.95. A Kindle edition will also be available for download at $9.99.

The new edition of FORKING SEATTLE includes over 300 restaurant recommendations based on cuisine, price, and neighborhood: "Eat this, not that. Eat here, not there." I'm also naming the top 25 restaurateurs in Seattle based on the quality of their food, their welcome, and their value. (It's easy to recommend Canlis, but finding Marmite or Mondello is a different story.)

I've included is a list of 21 "insanely delicious things you shouldn't miss" (for example: the oxtail pho at Ba Bar, the mousse of chicken livers at Le Pichet, Dinah's Cheese from Kurt Farm Shop, the lasagna bolognese at Mondello); 36 hidden neighborhood gems; another 36 top happy hour places; a dozen top steak houses; two dozen top Italian restaurants; and a broad selection of view and waterfront restaurants.

FORKING SEATTLE opens with a 36-page condensed history of key events in the development of Seattle's food scene. The time line covers almost 200 major mileposts like the first Starbucks (1971), the first Costco (1983), and the first Cinnabon (1985). But also less-known stories like the origins of the Seattle Dog (1988), the reason pho became so popular in Seattle, and the Pacific Northwest's politically fraught relationship with salmon habitat.

The book will be a print-on-demand title through Kindle Direct Publishing, and available on Amazon.com as well as through regular retail outlets.

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