Thursday, January 28, 2010

An Evening with an Old Master

"Young Woman Seated at the Virginals" - Johannes Vermeer

This was originally written on July 11, 2004, when I was studying law in Cambridge, England.

The wind and rain are howling, but that did not deter my classmates and my Art Law professor from donning our finest outfits and heading off to London to attend the Sotheby's Old Master's Auction. We take the train from Cambridge to London's King's Cross Station and then the Tube to Oxford Circus. Then we walk several blocks in Mayfair, a fashionable part of London, in the rain, past windows full of fine dress and expensive shoes (the Summer sales are on and all the signs in the store windows say 50% off, which is sheer torture, since the shops are all closed by this time of day). We arrive at Sotheby's about an hour and a half early. To avoid the inclement weather, we duck into a restaurant called Browns. Browns in Mayfair turns out to be a quite famous pub and restaurant, with dark carved wood interior and a glass solarium, but what we are most excited about, was that it was dry and warm.  So we order a round of drinks and some appetizers. Well, 1-1/2 hours later, we all brave the inclement weather again to attend the big event.

Sotheby's Old Masters' Auction happens only once a year in London. Tonight's event is special, because they are auctioning off a recently discovered painting by the Dutch master Johannes Vermeer called "Young Woman Seated at the Virginals." None of Vermeer's work have been up for public auction for 81 years and this is speculated to be the last time a Vermeer will ever be up for auction, since all the other known Vermeer's are in museum collections. The list price is set at £3 million (that is about a little under $6 million USD); however, everyone expects the price to go higher. We walk into the lobby and the room is filled with the art world's finest. Men with beautiful Italian custom made suits and women draped in jewels and pearls. One old grand dame, sitting on a bench, inspects my dress as I walk by. My dress is long, almost to the floor, made of beige silk with a pink floral motif, off the shoulder, with a matching wrap. The grand dame nods at me, as if to say she approves of my attire with her gaze. I definitely look the part of a potential bidder even though my pocketbook is empty.

Up a flight of stairs to the auction room we go. The main room is crowded with people absolutely buzzing. Each chair is marked "reserved" apparently for only those who are seriously bidders. I and my professor push our way into the room, the rest of my classmates go to an ante room to watch the auction on closed circuit video. At the front of the room is a podium and an easel, where each piece will be displayed as it comes up for bid. The surrounding walls have huge paintings that will apparently be auctioned off at some point in the evening. Underneath these paintings is a row of phones, on which anonymous bidders will call in at the crucial moment. The possibility of me findng an open seat is slim. I spy an unoccupied phone bank on the opposite side of the room on a raised platform, where I could possibly snag a place on the edge of the platform to prop myself up without blocking anyone's view. I deftly move in front of the podium and make my way over to the far side of the room. Sure enough, I find a spot at the bottom of the phone bank platform to wedge my backside against and end up sitting next to some French gentlemen, who like everyone else, are immaculately dressed. I ask if they mind if I sit there and they said it would be their pleasure.

A distinguished man mounts the podium and the auction begins. To the left of the podium is a screen, which flashes a computer image of the artwork for auction and to the right of the auctioneer is the easel, where the real work is presented by white gloved assistants. The first few items are sold in the £100,000 - £300,000 price range. The Frenchman next to me allows me to follow along in the auction catalogue and points out the estimate prices along the way, commenting under his breath as the gavel falls, as to whether each particular painting went for a good price or not. This is his way of educating me, the young novice in the silk dress propped up next to him.  Lot 8 is the Vermeer. I look up at the computer image close-up of the painting that shows young girl sitting at what looks like a miniature keyboard instrument called the virginals, which is similar to a harpsichord. The painting's young subject's hair is in curls and her dress and shawl have a yellowy-gold hue. My eyes then move to the easel to look at the actual painting, expecting a massive painting in an ornate gold frame, but instead a white gloved man holds the painting up unassisted. The painting is tiny, only about 10x8 in. This is totally unexpected. I thought that a painting worth £3 million would be a bit larger. But no, it is the quality and rarity which makes it special. The bidding starts and quickly rises above the £3 million estimate. The auctioneer cries out "£9, £10, £12, £13," the bids were going up by millions of pounds without a moments hesitation. Two anonymous bidders at the phone banks are vying for the prize. The crowd murmurs as the price continues to rise. The gavel finally falls at £16.2 million ($32 million USD). The crowd bursts into spontaneous applause. The auction comes to a halt as people jump out of their chairs and begin to discuss what they have just witnessed. The Frenchmen excuse themselves and leave the room, the main show is now over. They bequeath me their seats. The auction resumes after several minutes. It is all very exhilarating, being in that room, feeling the excitement of this sky high auction. I will never forget it. The next day, one of the London tabloids has a two page article in which a noted London art critic opines that the Vermeer was a fake and the anonymous bidder got ripped off. Sounds like a potential libel suit to me. The doubt surrounding the origins of this painting still do not tarnish the thrilling effect of the evening.

Update 2010

If you are wondering who bought the painting, it was Vegas hotelier Steve Wynn. The painting in now held in private collection and was displayed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2004 and last year at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City. It seems that art experts have come to a consensus that the painting was indeed created over 250 years ago and at least partially painted by Vermeer's hand. The gold shawl may have been overpainted by another artist at a later date.

Copyright Romy Schneider 2010. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Rainy Day Meatloaf - The Most Delicious Ever!

It's been very cold, windy and rainy in Southern California lately. The local FOX 11 weather anchor, Mark Thompson has been calling the storms we have been experiencing this week "biblical!" LOL. Such nasty weather has me craving something warm and filling on the inside. My solution for my craving is oven baked, hardy MEATLOAF. But not just any meatloaf, I have the recipe for the most delicious meatloaf ever and I wanted to share with you all.

2 tbsps. of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup of (yellow or white) Onion (diced small)
2-3 cloves of Garlic (peeled and diced small)
2-3 stalks of Celery (diced small)
2 medium Carrots (peeled and diced small)
1 dried Bay Leaf
Splash of Dry White Wine (I prefer Pinot Grigio)
2 tbsps. of dried Parsley
2 tsps. of dried Thyme
2 lbs. of Ground Beef (you can substitute Ground Turkey, if you want)
2 large Eggs (slightly beaten)
1 cup of dry Bread Crumbs (unseasoned) (I use Progresso brand)
1 cup of Ketchup (1/2 cup mixed inside of meatloaf and 1/2 cup reserved for the top of loaf)
1 tbsp. of Worchestershire Sauce
2 tsps. of Kosher Salt
1 tsp. of ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. Line loaf pan with piece of parchment paper width-wise. Cut the parchment paper so only about a 1/2 inch is above the rim of the loaf pan.

 In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sauté diced onions, garlic, carrots and celery with bay leaf until tender.

When vegetables are almost done, add a splash of white wine, parsley, thyme and continue cooking until the alcohol has burned off and vegetables are tender. Remove skillet from fire and let contents cool off.  Discard bay leaf.

Thoroughly wash your hands with soap before next step.

In a large bowl, combine ground beef, eggs, bread crumbs 1/2 cup of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, cooled vegetables, salt and pepper.  Mix together with your hands.

Once all ingredients are thoroughly combined, form a ball and transfer to parchment-lined loaf pan. Push down on ball to form a loaf evenly distributed in the pan. Coat the meat loaf with remaining 1/2 cup of ketchup. Use a knife to smooth ketchup evenly over the top.

Bake meatloaf for 1 to 1-1/2 hours, until meatloaf is firm. Let stand for about 5 minutes before removing from pan. Lift meatloaf out of pan by the edge of the parchment paper and then slice. Yummy.

Copyright 2010 Romy Schneider. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Special Place for CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Recently, I have become quite a fan of CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.  Dr. Gupta, a practicing neurosurgeon based in Atlanta, frequently appears on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 and on ABC's Good Morning America, to discuss various medical issues. He also anchors his own show on CNN on Saturday and Sunday mornings called Sanjay Gupta M.D.  Dr. Gupta travels on location as a reporter for CNN to report about breaking medical related news, including traveling to Mexico City during the H1N1 outbreak and Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the devastating South Asian tsunami.  So, on January 12, 2010, the same day as a devastating 7.0 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince, the capitol of Haiti on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, Dr. Gupta was on his way to witness and report on behalf of CNN from the aftermath of this latest world crisis.  I have been following Dr. Gupta on Twitter for some time, and these are his tweets discussing his travel and arrival in Haiti:

@sanjayguptaCNN: Spent a lot of time in #haiti. now heading back to report on this awful tragedy. this poor country has been hit so hard. #cnn tomorrow 7:46 PM Jan 12th from web

@sanjayguptaCNN: Many have asked: of course, if needed, I will help people with my neurosurgical skills. yes, I am a reporter, but a doctor first. 7:07 PM Jan 13th from web

Dr. Gupta's statement "I am a reporter, but a doctor first." would be tested on January 15th, when Dr. Gupta was reporting from a field hospital set up by the United Nations.  Dr. Gupta and his CNN crew started out by reporting on the work being done by a UN medical staff from Belgium conducting surgery in makeshift tents attempting to save victims of the earthquake. 

@sanjayguptaCNN: - view inside a field surgical suite in haiti. operations in a tent with generator power. finally! 2:07 PM Jan 15th from TwitPic

However, at some point during that day, the UN Belgiun medical staff was ordered to leave the field hospital and take most of their supplies with them.  Apparently violence had broken out nearby, and the UN felt it was unsafe for the medical staff to stay at the field hospital throughout the night.  Patients, who were just recovering from surgery and still new wounded coming in, were going to be abandoned to fend for themselves.  In a report from the scene, Dr. Gupta seemed very distressed that the evacuation of the UN medical staff was happening and his concern for the patients at this field hospital was palpable.  Unable to leave the patients at the field hospital, some suffering head trauma and recent

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haitian Earthquake Relief - LAFD Urban Search and Rescue

As most people are becoming aware, the Caribbean island country of Haiti has suffering nearly complete devastation from a 7.0 earthquake centered in its capital of Port-au-Prince just a little over 24 hours ago. The images on the news are haunting; home, hospitals, schools, and even the presidential palace has collapsed. The devastation is of catastrophic proportions to Haiti’s already impoverished population. People are wandering the streets, homeless, disoriented and wounded. Thousands of people are still trapped under the rubble and the domestic Haitian aid-workers are both understaffed and lacking the equipment and expertise to effectively help save the victims. The international response to the crisis has begun. Within the last hour, 75 members of the Los Angeles Fire Department Urban Search and Rescue, along with 5 search canines and specialized recovery equipment boarded a U.S. Air Force plane at March Air Force Base and are now en route to Haiti to help with the rescue efforts. This mission to Haiti will be the first international mission for the elite LAFD Urban Search and Rescue unit, who specialize in locating and extracting victims trapped in collapsed structure. Domestically, this unit has previously helped in the rescue and recovery efforts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and at the World Trade Center in New York City after the terror attacks on 9/11. Within 8 hrs, the unit will be on the ground walking into a completely chaotic situation. Most of the infrastructure of the country has been damaged, roads are impassible and basic services such as water and electricity have collapsed almost entirely. They will also be dealing with a severe language barrier, since the primary languages spoken in Haiti are French and Creole. The LAFD Search and Rescue team has been trained to be logistically self sufficient for the first 72 hours and to function up to 10 days. Given the severity of the situation they are walking into, the team will need to rely on all of their mental and physical strength and stamina to carry out their mission successfully and return back here to Los Angeles safe. To say that the 75 members of the LAFD Urban Search and Rescue unit on their way to Haiti are brave is a gross understatement. I will be praying for their safe return along as for all of the Haitian victims of this terrible disaster. Godspeed to everyone.

If you would like to donate to the Haitian earthquake relief, below at some links to organizations assisting in the relief efforts:

The Red Cross

Oxfam America
World Food Programme

Doctors Without Boarders

World Vision

Copyright 2010 Romy Schneider.  All rights reserved.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Taking Care of Your Breasts

(AP Photo/Stuart Ramson)

Yesterday, I saw an interview with the fabulous actor Stanley Tucci on CBS Sunday Morning.  In the interview, Mr. Tucci spoke about the recent loss his wife of 14 years, Kate, to breast cancer on May 1, 2009.  Kate Tucci was diagnosed four years ago with Stage 4 breast cancer.  She left behind 3 children who Stanley Tucci is now raising by himself.  My mother was also diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer over 10 years ago.  She died only four months later.  Just last week, a viral message was sent to the female population on the social networking site FaceBook that asked women to post their bra color in their status update to raise awareness of breast cancer.  I complied and posted my bra color (it was red, btw).  Posting your bra color on FaceBook may have been fun, but not enough to make a difference in fighting this disease.  Early detection is the key.  If you catch breast cancer early, this disease does not have to be fatal. Please ladies, do your self-breast exam every month and your mammogram as recommended by your physician.  Taking care of your breasts can save your life.  If you don't know how to do a self-breast exam, please check out this link below.   

How to perform a breast self exam.

Copyright Romy Schneider 2010. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Twelfth Night - The Holidays are Official Over

Well it's the 12th Night of Christmas, the Feast of the Epiphany.  The Three Wise Men made it the baby Jesus in my Nativity and it's time to tuck the holiday decorations away for another year.   I can honestly say that I really enjoyed the holiday season. For the first time in about 20 years, I bought a real Christmas tree.  I loved it.  I came home every day and put on the colorful tree lights.  It just made me so happy to look at the tree. I also decorated my mantle with white lights, candles, and all of the Christmas cards I received.  Every card made me feel cherished by the wonderful friend who had sent it.  In a busy electronic world, with texts, e-mails, blogs, Twitter and Facebook as the main source of communication, it is so nice that people still take time to track down your address, write a holiday greeting, buy stamps, and mail actual cards to you.  I arranged them on the mantle carefully and looked at them often.  I had ten days off work between Christmas and New Years.  I went to the Main Library in downtown Los Angeles and checked out several books.   It was absolute heaven to sit at home and read for pleasure.  I also took advantage of the time off to cooked new recipes I found in a cookbook and to do some nagging tasks around my home like cleaning out the freezer, rearranging books on my bookself and haul off some donations to Good Will.  I also slept in every day.  I loved being under the warm blankets knowing that there was nowhere in particular I needed to be on any given day.  What a peaceful, relaxing holiday season.

Holiday reading material checked out from the library:

Copyright Romy Schneider 2010. All rights reserved.