A Day in the Berkshires

I lay back on my colorful blanket with my head on my little backpack full of half-eaten vegan goodies. I looked up at the stars and let Mahler wash over me. The air smelled of fresh grass and images of the sunset still danced in my mind. I had finally made it to Tanglewood!

I wonder how many amazing performances this tree has experienced. (Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts)

Thrive Diner

I was visiting my friend Beth at her new house in Torrington, Connecticut and was delighted to discover that the Berkshires were only an hour north. With a day on my own, I looked up places to visit that might interest me and ended up planning what turned out to be the perfect day.

My first stop was at the Thrive Diner, a vegan eatery at 145 Wahconah St in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I was welcomed immediately and the friendly, relaxed vibe made it easy to settle into my booth. The other patrons seemed to be a mix of locals ordering “the usual” and those like me, who were just passing through and were happy to find a vegan restaurant.

Thrive Diner in PIttsfield, Massachusetts

At some point, I realized that I was eating in a train car. According to a message from the owner on the Thrive menu, the restaurant is a 1936 Sterling train car that was built in Hoboken, New Jersey. It was brought to Pittsfield in 1957 and used as a typical American diner (Adien’s) for over 50 years. The current owner, Shari, bought the train car diner in 2018 after it had sat vacant for 4 years. She renovated it and opened Thrive in January 2019.

The Thrive menu is extensive and has something for everyone. I had to choose among burgers, sandwiches, tacos, buddha bowls, noodle dishes, rice dishes, soups, salads and more. The fries are hand cut and their sandwiches include melts and Beyond meat. I finally settled on coconut tahini noodles with roasted cauliflower on top – great way to start my Berkshire adventure! Oh and did I mention that they make their own natural soda? I liked the lemon-ginger.

Norman Rockwell Museum

The Norman Rockwell Museum was only 30 minutes south of Thrive Diner. Eager to see other works by the artist who created the iconic Rosie the Riveter (the original is housed at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas), I purchased a ticket.

Outside of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts

The first painting that stuck me was Norman Rockwell’s “Glen Canyon Dam”, that he painted towards the end of his life. I found this piece so poignantly summed up the relationship of the United States with the Indigenous Peoples who survived the genocide that began our country. I have visited the Glen Canyon Dam (Page, Arizona) and this painting made me realize that during my entire visit, I never once thought about the Navajo and the affect the dam might have on them.

Glen Canyon Dam, 1969

Rockwell’s painting “The Problem We All Live With” hit me hard, even causing me to cry. I was glad that the mandatory mask I was wearing partially hid my reaction to this depiction of such a painful time in recent US history. It also made me grieve the ongoing injustices African Americans face.

The Problem We All Live With, 1963

I was struck too by Norman Rockwell’s humor. I couldn’t help but to chuckle at his painting “Art Critic” and fully appreciating its message.

Art Critic, 1955

Another piece that caused me to crack a smile behind my mask was this cover of The Saturday Evening Post from March 15, 1958. I couldn’t help but think how this bit of humor might reflect many people’s current-day apprehension about getting a Covid vaccination.

The Saturday Evening Post Cover from March 15, 1958

Starting in 1916, Norman Rockwell was the illustrator for the Saturday Evening Post magazine for 47 years. In all, he created 321 covers and the museum showcases them on the basement level. It was so interesting to see the various covers from over the years and how they reflected what was going on in society and/or in politics at the time of publication.

One of the three walls dedicated to The Saturday Evening Post Covers that Norman Rockwell painted

One in particular was Rosie the Riveter from May 1943, during World War II. Until visiting the museum, I had been unaware there was a second “Rosie” painting, only being familiar with the “We Can Do It” iconic one. I was thrilled to see Rosie sitting there in overalls with muscular arms, a confident “I got this” expression on her face and eating a well-deserved sandwich.

The Saturday Evening Post Cover from May 29, 1943

The museum was also displaying works by artist Kadir Nelson in an exhibit called “In Our Lifetime: Paintings from the Pandemic”. I felt this exhibition, both in subject and in style, fit perfectly at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

In a room full of Nelson’s paintings, my eye first went to “Black-ish Tea” simply because I was familiar with the popular (and hilarious, well-written and well-acted) TV show.

Black-ish Tea, 2020

A piece that struck me was “Say Their Names” in which a portrait of George Floyd contains images of the history of violence against African Americans starting from slavery. I found this Nelson painting very succinctly demonstrates that the murder of George Floyd was not an exception, but rather a pattern. I also learned that periwinkles were used at burial sites of enslaved African Americans. Below is the information plaque from the museum, as I believe they describe this painting much better than I do:

A frequent publisher of Kadir Nelson’s artwork, The New
Yorker presented the artist’s powerful painted commentary,
Say Their Names, on the cover of the June 22, 2020
issue, less than one month after George Floyd was killed
while enduring unnecessary force by Minneapolis police
officers. In addition to Floyd’s image, Say Their Names
references scenes of racial injustice and images of those
who were unjustly harmed or murdered, including the
enslaved, victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the
lynching of African Americans, the assassination of Civil
Rights icons Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and
the videotaped assault on Rodney King by Los Angeles
police. The brutal images are interspersed with the resilient
Periwinkle flower, historically used to mark burial grounds
and burial sites of enslaved African Americans.

Kadir Nelson – Say Their Names, 2020

Nelson’s “American Uprising” evoked emotion in me as well. I loved the power this piece portrays as a clearly strong African American woman is leading a protest, indeed leading a revolution. Again, I will defer to the Norman Rockwell Museum write-up on this piece:

Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis,
many concerned Americans took to the streets to protest
racism and violence committed by police against African
Americans, a period that has been compared to the
“long, hot summer” of 1967. In American Uprising, Kadir
Nelson commemorates the events of that summer and
acknowledges the role of African American women in the
2020 protests in an homage to Eugéne Delacroix’s 1830
painting, Liberty Leading the People, which celebrated the
French Revolution. In that work, a woman leads a crowd
in marching to depose King Charles X. The woman holds
a French flag while she and her son raise their arms in
solidarity. Similarly, Nelson includes an American flag in the
background and as a bandana around the main subject,
suggesting that the elimination of racism is a patriotic act,
as affirmed in the statement “all men are created equal” in
the Declaration of Independence.

Kadir Nelson – American Uprising, 2020

I left Kadir Nelson’s exhibit feeling hopeful. This was in part due to his painting, “After the Storm”. I loved how the sun seemed to be shining on the faces of people ranging in age from all stages of life and how they all seem to be looking towards a common goal. What a wonderful world that would be!

Kadir Nelson – After the Storm, 2020

For an additional $5 your museum admission ticket can include a tour of Norman Rockwell’s studio that is also on campus. There were no tour spots available, but I enjoyed walking around the beautiful grounds full of manicured lawns, beautiful flowers and big towering trees. The view from his studio is breathtaking.

The grounds of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Olivia’s Outlook

After securing a lawn ticket at Tanglewood, I had extra time and Olivia’s Outlook was recommended to me by the Tanglewood staff. The gates didn’t open until 5:30pm for the 8pm concert, so I had plenty of time to walk in the woods a bit.

View from the parking lot of Olivia’s Overlook in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Olivia’s Overlook was only a few minutes drive from Tanglewood, up the mountain a bit. I turned left into the little parking lot and already enjoyed the view before I fully parked the car. It was a pastel dream with beautiful shades of green and the blue body of water in the distance perfectly matched the blue cloudless sky.

The beginning (or end) of the Charcoal Loop Trail at Olivia’s Overlook in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Noticing a small path leading into the woods (opposite the scenic view), I followed it and came to the Charcoal Loop Trail. I figured I could walk the 1.6 miles and be back at Tanglewood in plenty of time to find a good spot on the lawn.

With the choice of going uphill to the right or downhill to the left, I chose the latter. I loved being in the woods; I always do. Living in Florida, I miss the deciduousness of the north. And during my hike, I remembered something else the Sunshine State doesn’t have – mountains. I had forgotten that a 1.6 mile hike in Florida is guaranteed to be nothing but flat, but in New English, especially in the Berkshires, I was to expect some up and down.

Charcoal Trail at Olivia’s Overlook in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Having taken the seemingly easier path proved to be a mistake for someone who finds climbing a bit of a challenge. It was also 91F degrees out and I ran out of water rather quickly. I realized only later, that if I had gone the other way, there would have been less of a climb overall. But, there were some beautiful views towards the end of the hike, making my climb worth it. Despite feeling physically tired, I’m glad for my time amidst the trees and frankly, I don’t think a day in the Berkshires would be complete without them.

Tanglewood

I parked the car among others with license plates mostly from Massachusetts and neighboring states. Handing over my ticket and walking under the Tanglewood sign made my heart beat faster. “I’ve finally made it to Tanglewood”, I thought.

Tanglewood Entrance Sign, Lenox, Massachusetts

I quickly came to the famous green lawn and looked for a spot. Due to the heat, I was told not to expect the lawn to be very crowded. I decided to sit in the middle to take it all in and methodically set up my little area. I lay down the blanket, set up my chair and proceeded to take the picnic dinner out of my backpack.

My vegan spread at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts

Confident that no one would steal my belongings, I strolled around the grounds a bit and noticed that they rent chairs there for $7 and they rented cushions for $3. Beer and wine were for sale too. I located the trash bins and the bathrooms, (both close to the exit to the left of the stage).

“The Shed” at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts

I made sure to walk up to The Shed, to get a feel for it and I must say it seemed to have great acoustics. My favorite part of my walkabout was looking at others’ setups. Many people brought tables with tablecloths and even fancy chinaware. I saw candlesticks and even a candelabra. I also saw beautiful flowers decorating more than one picnic.

A fellow picnic-goer’s beautiful flowers on the lawn at Tanglewood in Lenox, Massachusetts

Food seemed to range from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to fancy multi-course dinners. People kept to themselves, respecting others’ space and yet when the man on the blanket to my right had forgotten his corkscrew, he was happily lent one from the neighbors behind him.

Tanglewood “lawn professionals” (Lenox, Massachusetts)

An evening at Tanglewood has the potential of being very romantic. An upscale picnic on a beautiful green lawn in the Berkshires where you can bring champagne, strawberries and chocolate to share on a blanket under the stars as you listen to beautiful live classical music? Sounds like the perfect date to me!

The chimes dinged giving the signal that the concert was about to start. The conductor was ushered on stage by applause as was soprano Christine Goerke. She was there to sing Berlioz’ La Mort de Cléopâtre (the Death of Cleopatra). I first became acquainted with Ms. Goerke’s voice when I saw Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Met in the spring of 2019. No matter what she sings, she will always be Brunhilde to me. When the conductor turned to face the orchestra, a hush fell over the crowd.

People with lawn tickets can watch the performance via a large screen. (Tanglewood, Lenox, Massachusetts)

I enjoyed hearing this rarely-performed piece and as I don’t speak French, I made sure to read the translation of the text ahead of time. They do not have surtitles at Tanglewood.

During intermission I made sure to clean up my area a bit, throwing away trash and packing up the food to ensure that I use what was left of the sunlight. I happened to notice the pink clouds in the sky and decided to leave my chair and listen to the second half of the concert from my blanket. As the orchestra began to play again, I noticed the very first star appear as the thin clouds moved swiftly over the sky. What a perfect mix of music and nature – no better way to end a day in the Berkshires!

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