Bucket Challenge: Don’t Pour Ice Water on This Guy

The Wall Street Journal
By Ralph Gardner Jr.
Aug. 26, 2014 9:40 p.m. ET

Officials from Little Ferry, N.J., take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Associated Press

The first I heard of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was a couple of weeks ago, when my daughter Lucy showed me a video of her cousin Emma accepting the challenge.

The challenge started out as a way to raise awareness of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and has turned into a remarkable fundraiser for the ALS Association as well.

Here’s how it works: You have someone dump a bucket of ice water on you and dare a few others to follow suit—on video. Then, post the video to social media—take your pick: Facebook, Twitter, etc. The folks you dare can either accept the challenge, donate $100 or preferably do both.

I was impressed and amused. Impressed because Emma, who lives in Kentucky, was willing to suffer the shock of ice water being poured over her head for a good cause. Amused because a friend takes her by surprise and does the honors before she can.

In accordance with the challenge, Emma posted her video along with who knows how many other shivering sufferers. The videos have gone famously viral—is that redundant?—and the amount raised by the ALS Association has been impressive: The group raised $88.5 million from July 29 through Tuesday, compared with $2.6 million for the same period last year.

My reaction to Emma’s video wasn’t to feel left out that I hadn’t been nominated yet. It was more relief that I was far from splash range of the driveway where Emma got soaked.

I suppose I assigned my niece’s fundraising effort to the “Those crazy college kids! What will they think of next?” category. Even though Emma is several years out of college.

Does this make me a bad person?

I checked with Lucy because my experience is that members of my family haven’t hesitated to bring my character flaws to my attention. Indeed, if you were to ask them whether they consider me a good person who occasionally indulges in selfish behavior, or a bad person, period, there would probably be a seven-second delay before they responded one way or the other.

So I was relieved when Lucy confessed she would probably also decline the invitation to get soaked—were she nominated.

“In general,” she explained, “I don’t put up pictures or videos of myself. I don’t believe anyone gives a [expletive] or should.”

Which, I suppose, raises the questions: Are people accepting the ALS challenge because they’re good Samaritans, because they briefly get to hog the limelight or a combination of the two? And has the selfie gone so far that the most efficient way to get us to cough up dough is to let us glorify ourselves?

And does it matter?

Because the gimmick seems to be working. After all, almost $90 million in a month has been raised. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a fatal and particularly diabolical disease of the nervous system—the person loses control of his or her muscles and eventually can’t speak, eat and even breathe.

Tony Judt, an historian and essayist, wrote a haunting series of stories in the New York Review of Books documenting how the disease ravaged his body. “In effect, ALS constitutes progressive imprisonment without parole,” he explained. He died in 2010.

“The cynicism I had about it has had to be put on hold,” my daughter acknowledged. “If a viral video is what it takes to raise money and awareness for research that isn’t getting enough recognition I think that’s great.”

However, she raised another point that also occurred to me—that the challenge seems to smack of coercion, no matter how gentle or fun-loving.

“It seems like the new chain email,” she said.

I’ve always hated chain mail, which depends on guilt compelling you to keep the chain going.

“I’m seeing more people donating money and ending the cycle rather than accepting the challenge,” my daughter said.

Those who have taken the easier, or at least less saturated, way out include President Obama, who declined to submit to a drenching.

However, Lucy said she felt no pressure either way, possibly because among her friends, “Only the preppiest people I know have done these videos. I think it hit a wall when it came to more alternative crew. Most people doing it among my friends are covered in Vineyard Vines.”

She was referring to a preppy clothing company.

My daughter, Gracie, raised a similar reservation with the campaign’s script. “You get nominated to donate $100,” she said. “Which I think is kind of elitist.”

Emma believes she was among the earliest ice bucket challengers, nominated by friends of hers who were New England college athletes. Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player with ALS, helped launch the campaign.

“People our age have all these big issues, but they feel they can do nothing about it,” Emma explained. “There’s no other issue where you feel you can donate a dollar and it will make a difference. You feel instant gratification. Which is something the millennials care about.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

On a Lobster Roll

The Wall Street Journal
By Ralph Gardner Jr.
Aug. 25, 2014 9:57 p.m. ET

The mayo, left, and ginger-scallion lobster roll at Eventide Oyster Co. in Portland, Maine. Ralph Gardner/The Wall Street Journal

After informing me that I’d cut in line—I swear it was by accident—a regular at the Net Result, a fish market and takeout restaurant on Martha’s Vineyard, strongly suggested I order the butter lobster roll.

This was the first I’d heard of a butter lobster roll. My favorite lobster rolls had always come with a touch of mayo. And just to confuse things more, the restaurant sold something called a lobster salad roll for a few bucks less.

Cooked lobster. Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dare I mess with my beloved lobster roll?

Part of what makes comfort food comfort food is its predictability. The results, net or otherwise, meet and sometimes exceed expectations. But rarely do they disappoint completely because they know not to venture too far outside the tried-and-true.

Actually, that is false. The margin for error when it comes to lobster rolls is huge. All it takes is too little mayo or a roll filled with too much rubbery claw meat or roe and I can be thrown into despondency—especially at the price of an average lobster roll.

I can live with the disappointment of an overcooked $6 cheeseburger, seeking refuge in the pickle and fries. But often at $20 or more there’s a lot riding on a lobster roll. Plus, the delicacy, if not quite seasonal, isn’t as universally accessible as a burger deluxe. They’re more a special occasion treat.

So should I have rolled the dice on a butter lobster roll or not?

I love steamed lobster wallowing in drawn butter, so how far wrong could I go with the same meal surrounded by a bun? And all the hard work removing the meat is already done.

Caption: A classic lobster roll from the Docksider restaurant in Northeast Harbor, Maine. Ralph Gardner/The Wall Street Journal

The warm butter lobster roll was superb. And even though it may strain credulity, there was so much tail meat it was a challenge to finish. But about halfway through the experience, I felt as if something was missing: coleslaw. So I had to go back and buy a container a la carte.

Would I have felt the same way if I’d purchased a traditional cold mayo lobster roll?

The past few weeks, I’ve been on something of a lobster roll—pun intended. It started with that lunch on Martha’s Vineyard and continued last week during a lobster barnstorming tour that took me from Portland, Me., to Mount Desert Island, consuming these tender crustaceans in various permutations.

At Eventide, a well-known Portland oyster bar, I devoured—with the help of my family—three variations on the lobster roll: brown butter, mayo and ginger-scallion.

To complicate matters further, the lobster came not in a conventional lightly buttered and grilled New England-style hot dog bun but something more the consistency of a steamed, fluffy Asian-style bun.

It worked with the brown butter and the ginger-scallion, but the combination of bun and mayo seemed too bland by half.

A classic lobster roll from the Docksider restaurant in Northeast Harbor, Maine. Ralph Gardner/The Wall Street Journal

I found myself hankering for a lobster roll I’ve been able to count on over the years—the one served at the Docksider, a restaurant in Northeast Harbor, Me., that isn’t actually aside any dock. But I’m willing to entertain false advertising for the sake of a perfect lobster roll.

In the case of the Docksider, it’s the classic: fresh lobster with a little mayo stuffed in a hot dog bun—and fries on the side.

I can’t overstate the importance of fries. The relationship between lobster roll and fries is a mutual admiration society—loving siblings almost.

They get along so well. No other manifestation of the potato will do—not even potato chips, though they’ll suffice in a pinch.

I also think a Coke is helpful. I’m not sure it’s a case of showing the lobster roll who’s boss, though it does feel as if it acts like a solvent. Maybe it’s a matter of aesthetics—the darkness of the Coke setting off the milky reddish-whiteness of the lobster meat. I suppose a good beer would also do.

Mary’s Fish Camp in Manhattan Andrew Lamberson for The Wall Street Journal

Truth be told, my favorite, most dependable lobster roll is made and served in New York City at a place called Mary’s Fish Camp on Charles Street in Greenwich Village.

Made with mayo, this roll has so much lobster that I’ve seen customers request a backup bun for the overflow. And the shoestring fries play harmony to the lobster roll’s song. Nirvana doesn’t come cheap, however. A Mary’s lobster roll costs in the vicinity of $30.

But here’s how addictive it is: I once visited Mary’s at the end of lunch hour when the restaurant was virtually deserted. Nonetheless, because I was alone, I was informed I had to sit at the counter even though many tables were available.

The waitress refused to budge, explaining it was the owner’s unbendable rule. If I had any self-respect, I’d have thanked her and taken my business elsewhere. Restaurants should be a refuge from bubble-gum, high-school nonsense.

But when you’ve primed yourself for a world-class lobster roll, nothing else will do. Thus, I meekly took my place at the counter. I’ve been back several times since, always sitting at the counter.

I hate myself. But I love Mary’s lobster rolls more.

—ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Richard Estes: A Modest American Visionary

Aug. 24, 2014 10:22 p.m. ET

‘Water Taxi, Mount Desert,’ exemplifies the work of photorealist Richard Estes. An Estes retrospective opens Oct. 10 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Richard Estes/Marlborough Gallery, New York

We don’t know for certain the identity of the woman who has come to be known as Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” Or whether Édouard Manet bought a drink from the girl standing behind the counter in “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère.”

But we do know how “Water Taxi, Mount Desert” (1999), by Richard Estes came to be—a painting that I suspect will stand the test of time.

“Who paid for that?” Mr. Estes asked Nancy Monfredo of the boat ride depicted in the work, which shows Ms. Monfredo and her daughter, Nina, seated on a wicker chair gazing out at the ocean as they headed back to Northeast Harbor, Maine.

“You and I did,” Ms. Monfredo recalled, as she sat in the living room of Mr. Estes’s home in Maine last week. “Twenty dollars apiece.” She added, laughing: “You said, ‘I’ll take some pictures and I can deduct this.’ “

“I had about three frames left on the film,” remembered Mr. Estes, perhaps America’s greatest Photorealist painter. “I wanted to use it up so I could have it processed.”

Mr. Estes at his home in Northeast Harbor, Maine. Ralph Gardner/The Wall Street Journal

I visited Maine with several goals in mind: to swim and hike in Acadia National Park, to consume several lobster rolls and to see the retrospective of Mr. Estes work, “Richard Estes’ Realism” at the Portland Museum of Art. The show runs through Sept. 7, then travels to the nation’s capital, where it opens Oct. 10 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

I’d seen reproductions of “Water Taxi, Mount Desert” but never the painting itself, which normally resides at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Mo.

The original didn’t disappoint. Like Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère” or other great portraits, its timelessness is set off by a sense of immediacy.

I don’t think it makes any difference to my appreciation of the painting that Ms. Monfredo was my wife’s college roommate or that we were on our way to see her and her husband, Paul, in Seal Harbor. Nina, now 25, lives and works in Manhattan. None of the other museumgoers knew our friend. But as with a Vermeer, the image attracted a crowd.

I recall the painting that first drew me to Richard Estes’s work, if not the year or even the decade. Titled “Drugs” and painted in 1970, it depicts the streamlined facade of Weiner Drugs, the word “DRUGS” in large neon letters above it. The pharmacy, long gone, stood on the southeast corner of 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue. That’s where I’d spend my 25-cent allowance as a child. I had a particular weakness for Nestlé Crunch bars.

Another of his works is ‘Diner.’ Richard Estes/Marlborough Gallery, New York

“My parents came to visit me once,” Mr. Estes remembered of the ’60s and the neighborhood, less glamorous in those days. “I was living on 75th Street between Central Park West and Columbus. We were going to go out and eat. We couldn’t find a restaurant on Columbus Avenue. We had to go to Broadway.”

While the portrait of the Monfredo women was the main incentive to visit Portland—the food scene coming in a close second, especially for my daughters—the exhibition also made a case for Richard Estes as the most significant landscape painter of New York City.

These days, Mr. Estes divides his time between Maine and his apartment in the Eldorado on Central Park West. He paints for several hours in the afternoon.

Whether diners seated around a table at the Automat (1966-1968), Sunday afternoon sunbathers in Central Park (1989) or the Shake Shack on Columbus Avenue and 77th Street under scaffolding—the work that sat on his easel the morning I visited—Mr. Estes imbues his scenes, no matter how seemingly commonplace, with a delicacy and poignancy that rivals those of his influences, ranging from Canaletto and Frederic Church to Edward Hopper.

“Half of New York is under scaffolding,” he explained.

‘Brooklyn Bridge’ Richard Estes/Marlborough Gallery, New York

While ours was more a social visit than a formal interview, Mr. Estes’s fundamental modesty showed through—as it does in his art, where his signature is often hidden in plain sight.

He claims that several of his paintings decorate his walls, only because he can’t sell them—”Art collectors are funny,” he said. “They don’t necessarily buy what they want; they buy what they think they should buy”—and that he finds painting New York City and the frozen landscape of Antarctica, the subject of a 2007 painting in the exhibition, equally challenging: “I usually have just as much trouble with one as the other.”

But therein also lays the magic of his work. It manages to reduce to a bare minimum the obstructions that stand between the viewer and the truth of the subject matter.

Seeing a painting of New York City, circa 1970, makes me feel like I’m back in the ’70s with all its trappings—the storefronts, subway ads and empty building lots, long since filled in.

“You inject your own personality,” Mr. Estes said. “But if you think about it too much, it becomes phony.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Taking Life With Grains of Salt

Aug. 12, 2014 10:09 p.m. ET

The Meadow’s Jaime Lee Newman with customers at the Hudson Street store. Cassandra Giraldo for The Wall Street Journal

Have you ever thought what product you buy that gives you the most pleasure, the biggest bang for the buck?

For me, it’s hands down bird seed. I’m more than happy to suffer your snickering. But nothing lights up the world, especially on bleak winter days, like a 40-pound bag of black-oil bird seed—and for less than a $20 bill.

Running a not-too-distant second is salt. I’m not talking about Morton table salt, but that’s pretty great, too. I realized this recently as I sprinkled flakes of Black Diamond salt—hand-harvested from the Mediterranean and then combined with activated charcoal—on a lovely slice of heirloom tomato. I think I hear the snickering growing into a chorus of guffaws.

I acquired a 0.6-ounce vial of this flavor enhancer on a visit to the Meadow, a store on Hudson Street that sells 90 kinds of salt, including pink slabs of Himalayan salt so big they’re used as cutting boards.

“Don’t put them in the dishwasher,” manager Jaime Lee Newman warned about the slabs. “It will disappear.”

I’d been planning to visit the store for a long time, just to appease my curiosity. I love salt. But is that because my body requires it? Or might some salts be more flavorful than others?

The store sells 90 varieties of salt. Cassandra Giraldo for The Wall Street Journal

In salt, as with most things in life, there are Ford Fiestas and Toyota Corollas—not that I have anything against subcompacts (a ’91 Corolla remains active in our family fleet)—and Porsches and Bentleys.

Or is all salt intrinsically excellent? Perhaps it’s because I’m a cheapskate, but rare is the visit to the supermarket for salt when I don’t say to myself, “Wow, you get so much for $1.19 and it lasts so long! How to they make any money?”

Then again, I’m connoisseur enough that I once arranged a special order of pond salt from Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. When it arrived by boat in Tortola and was handed off to me, I felt as if I was participating in an illegal drug deal.

But did that salt taste better than table salt or was it all in my imagination? Was I combining one of nature’s most common substances with an exotic resort destination and coming up with a condiment that exceeded the sum of its parts?

Answers to such existential questions are what drove me to visit the Meadow, launched in Portland, Ore., by Mark Bitterman, salt maven and author of the encyclopedic “Salted” (10 Speed Press).

It depends on “where they’re harvested—the minerals in the area,” Ms. Newman explained of salt’s variety and taste. “And the process they harvest them.”

She pulled a container of Sugpo Asin off a high shelf. It’s a Philippine fleur de sel, a hand-harvested sea salt.

“Half the year the basins are used for shellfish,” she said. “And the other half as salt brines.”

Customers taste a few varieties of salt with an ice-cream sandwich. Cassandra Giraldo for The Wall Street Journal

I expected a mildly fishy smell. But it didn’t taste like shellfish at all. It tasted like salt. And, as I may have mentioned, salt tastes great.

I asked Ms. Newman what her favorite family of salt is and she selected Japanese shio. Other categories of salt include fleur de sel, flake salt and rock salt.

“It’s a really soft crystal,” she explained as she sprinkled a few flakes of Takesumi Bamboo, a type of shio, in my hand. “Taste that early iron-y taste?”

I can’t say for certain that I did.

“It’s a sea salt that’s stuffed in bamboo and incinerated three days,” she went on. “A soft, ashen crystal. Oh! I just tasted a real iron-y one.”

The delight of artisanal salt, I deduced when I got my $38 Meadow Finishing Salt Starter Set home, is that it embodies all the mystery and wonder of a chemistry set. It’s about experimentation:

“Sure, that cucumber wedge tastes great with the Molokai Red, made from evaporated sea salt combined with sacred Alaea volcanic clay. But might it be even better with the Maldon from England’s Blackwater river estuary, collected during fortnightly spring tides?”

I asked Ms. Newman her opinion of adding raw rice kernels to a salt shaker to prevent clumping during humid times?

“I don’t do that,” she said, without sounding judgmental. “We like to keep ours a little bit moist. Sea salt is supposed to be moist. It helps it dissolve better.”

Ms. Newman said the store’s best seller is Himalayan pink.

“It’s from Pakistan,” she confided. “Nobody knows that.”

She also let me try Kala Namak, an extremely fine, purplish, powdery Indian salt with a faint smell of rotten eggs.

I can’t say I loved it, but it certainly proved a point: Not all salts are the same.

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

It’s an Honor, Mr. President

Aug. 11, 2014 9:56 p.m. ET

A gamelan concert on Sunday at the Martha’s Vineyard home of Peter and Gwen Norton. Ralph Gardner/The Wall Street Journal

Some time early in the year, Peter Norton and his wife, Gwen, invited us to their home on Martha’s Vineyard for a weekend in July or August.

Mr. Norton likes to plan ahead. And as it was still winter, many dates were available.

But Mr. Norton, the computer software guru and a philanthropist who sits on the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Modern Art, suggested the weekend of Aug. 8.

“There’ll be something you might find of extra interest,” Mr. Norton hinted in an email.

What could that possibly be?

But then my wife and I recalled that President Obama and his family have spent Augusts on Martha’s Vineyard for the last several years.

It didn’t seem out of the question that Mr. Norton may have been referring to the Obama visit. Perhaps he was holding an intimate dinner for them and we’d be among the guests.

The possibility seemed only somewhat fantastical. The Nortons have lots of important friends, several of whom we met when we spent a weekend with them last summer, albeit in July. I could already see us sitting on the porch of their Oak Bluffs mansion shooting the breeze with the first family:

President Obama, as he puts his hand on my shoulder: “Ralph, I just wanted to let me know how much I enjoy your column. I’m a big fan.”

Me, elated but slightly skeptical: “Wow. But in print it’s only in the Greater New York section.”

Him: “I read it online. As a matter of fact, I’m planning to award you the National Humanities Medal.”

My hopes for a presidential tête-à-tête were further stoked when I discovered that the Obamas would be vacationing on the island for two weeks starting Aug. 9. We’d be arriving the eighth and departing the 10th. Admittedly, our overlap didn’t leave much time for socializing.

Also, if I were Barack Obama, given the kind of summer he’s having, the last thing I’d want to do my first night of vacation is party with strangers. I’d go for a swim, take a nap, take another nap, watch the sunset accompanied by a very dry martini, have dinner with the family and retire early.

I’d repeat that routine, with only minor variations for the next 14 days. As a matter of fact, I’d be loath to leave my compound, except for maybe once for a photo-op ice cream run with Sasha and Malia in Vineyard Haven or Edgartown.

Apparently, we weren’t the only friends of the Nortons who thought they might be hobnobbing with the Obamas. Mr. Norton sent out fliers to friends announcing an “American-Style Barbeque supplemented with Indonesian flavors” for Sunday afternoon.

Didn’t the president spend time in Indonesia as a child?

Also, on the invitation right below the Indonesian reference came this: “in honor of visiting guests.”

“People think, ‘The president’s in town. He must be coming over,’ ” Gwen Norton reported. She said friends had asked, ” ‘Do you need our Social Security numbers?’ “

The Nortons have a mischievous streak. They hold a hamburgers-and-hot dogs barbecue on their lawn overlooking Oak Bluffs’ end-of-season fireworks display.

“The president was still here,” Ms. Norton, a former banker and a Spelman College trustee, told me, referring to last year’s fireworks. “We did four chairs that said, ‘Reserved VIP,’ and two behind,” for the Secret Service, “(just because we’re evil) and people were like, ‘He’s coming!’ “

I’m pleased to report that shortly after noon on Saturday I saw the Obamas, or at least proof that they’d arrived on Martha’s Vineyard.

President Barack Obama golfing on Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday at the start of his family vacation. Associated Press

As we were bicycling around the island, I heard the rotors of a large helicopter beating the air, looked over my shoulder and spotted Marine One, or a look-alike, heading in the direction of Chilmark, where I understand the Obamas are staying.

Slightly later, while having an excellent lobster roll at the Net Result restaurant in Vineyard Haven, we saw a squadron of similar helicopters departing the island.

As it turned out the mysterious “visiting guests” to whom the Nortons referred in their invitation were the more than 20 members of Dharma Swara, a gamelan that Peter Norton brought to the island to perform for his guests on Sunday and to give a free public concert Monday afternoon.

(Mr. Norton has been a gamelan aficionado since college: Gamelan is the word for a group of Javanese or Balinese musicians who play xylophones and other instruments with hammers.)

I wasn’t totally disappointed with who the visiting guests were. I had known since last week. And one of the musicians was composer Dewa Alit, who is referred to as the “Beethoven of Bali.”

In fact, I believe I shall always remember taking a shower before the concert and all of a sudden hearing, just below our bedroom window, an explosion of sound—sort of like a celestial marching band—warming up for the afternoon’s performance.

The Obamas missed a great concert.

A Not-So-Still Life at the Met

Aug. 6, 2014 10:19 p.m. ET

Emily Rafferty, in her office at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is stepping down next year after a decade of leading the noted institution.      Natalie Keyssar for The Wall Street Journal

Before Monday afternoon, I’d never met Emily Rafferty, the president of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

But I had observed her for several hours in 2009 as a witness in the trial of Anthony Marshall, the son of the philanthropist Brooke Astor; I was covering the trial for the Daily Beast.

Ms. Rafferty took the stand to testify against Mr. Marshall, who was accused, and eventually convicted, of stealing from his mother’s estate.

Mrs. Astor was a longtime member of the museum’s board and the Met stood to gain millions from her will before Mr. Marshall tampered with it for his own benefit.

Throughout her testimony, Ms. Rafferty showed her sang-froid. She impressed me.

Testifying at a criminal trial may have been one of Ms. Rafferty’s more stressful chores as president of America’s most prominent museum, but she pulled it off with characteristic aplomb.

“My relationship with Brooke Astor was a respectful one,” Ms. Rafferty remembered as she sat in her office overlooking Central Park on Monday afternoon. “We were devoted to each other in a wonderful way.”

She announced her retirement on July 29 after almost four decades at the Met, the past 10 years as its president.

I was told her decision took the museum’s top echelon by surprise.

“Somewhere between surprise and seismic shock,” as one of its executives put it.

Ms. Rafferty, who is 65, said she has no idea what she’ll do next.

“It’s truly a blank slate,” she said. “I came to the decision after a lot of thought. I’d like to have another experience in the public sector; I don’t know what it will be yet. My time clock gave me every possible signal.”

One of the Met’s projects at the moment—a collaboration with the Whitney Museum of American Art to present Met exhibitions at the Whitney’s landmark Marcel Breuer building on Madison Avenue when the Whitney moves downtown next year—would seem tailor-made for Ms. Rafferty’s administrative skills.

But she sounds unworried about its success without her.

“I’ve never gone to bed one time and felt the job was done,” Ms. Rafferty explained.

However, she added, “I do feel I’m leaving at a good time for the museum. Tom Campbell will be entering his seventh year as director. We’ve had a wonderful partnership.”

Ms. Rafferty’s congested desk is a study in organization, its composition of documents, memos, Post-it Notes, and printed emails no less rigorous than that of the Hubert Robert landscape that hangs on one wall.

She also has a large hand in fundraising—”I’m good at raising money,” she said—and, serving in an ex officio capacity, in handling the healthy egos on the Met’s Board of Trustees, perhaps the city’s most prominent and socially prestigious.

Ms. Rafferty resisted the invitation to dish about the power-broker personalities she has encountered there over the years.

“I’ve been offered the opportunity to meet extremely important people,” during her career, she acknowledged. “Queens, prime ministers, kings, heads of state. But universally, I look for the human quality. Their lives don’t all go smoothly.”

She has even been stuck in an elevator at the Met with the emperor and empress of Japan. They spoke perfect English.

“She said, ‘We’re able to take the elevator,’ ” the Met president remembered.

Ms. Rafferty grew up on Park Avenue, roller skating past the museum on her way to and from school at the Convent of the Sacred Heart.

These days, she’s a West Sider. She and husband John Rafferty, a retired partner with Ernst & Young, raised their two children there.

“I find the light on the West Side totally ravishing,” compared to the East Side, she said—a distinction perhaps best made by a native New Yorker. “I wanted my children to have rooms that were exposed to light all the time.”

After all these years at the Met, she remains humble about her knowledge of art, even though her appreciation for a John Singer Sargent portrait of two peasant women in her office—”The ambassador from Morocco was here; he said it’s definitely Moroccan”—makes it clear her relationships with Mr. Campbell; the director before him, Philippe de Montebello; and the museum’s dozens of department curators have rubbed off.

“Look at the lines,” she said. “Look at the flow of the skirt.”

Ms. Rafferty hopes to travel more after she leaves the Met. In any case, she probably won’t have any trouble filling her calendar. She also serves as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; of NYC & Company, the city’s marketing and tourism agency; and as a board member of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

Whatever she does, New York City will remain her base of operations.

“I wound up where I grew up. But I grew up were I wound up,” she said. “I owe to this place an enormous amount of opportunity for personal development.”

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Seeing the Merit in Moths

The Wall Street Journal By RALPH GARDNER JR. 
Aug. 5, 2014 9:35 p.m. ET

The American Museum of Natural History contains its moth collection in thousands of glass-topped drawers like the one pictured.         Brandon Thibodeaux for The Wall Street Journal

I don’t feel especially guilty that I missed National Moth Week 2014 a couple of weeks ago. As far as I’m concerned, every week of spring and summer, and sometimes even fall and the occasional unseasonably warm stretch of winter, is National Moth Week. These insects don’t seem to miss any opportunity to beat against your screens, feeling compelled to reach your reading light while you’re otherwise snug in bed, and give you the creeps.

David Grimaldi, curator of invertebrate zoology, with a tray of Chrysiridia Rhipheus moths.Brandon Thibodeaux for The Wall Street Journal

Actually, I do feel somewhat guilty. My hunch is that moths don’t get the credit they deserve. They’re like the unpopular kids in high school—all the attention and fun accruing to the beautiful ones. I’m speaking of butterflies, of course.

In an effort to confront and perhaps erase my prejudices, I paid a visit to the American Museum of Natural History last week. It has one of the world’s great moth collections. I also met with David Grimaldi, the museum’s curator of invertebrate zoology. Dr. Grimaldi has a particular interest in moths.

I shared everything I knew about moths and butterflies. That moths are generally nondescript. (I didn’t want to poison the well by describing them as ugly.) And they seem to have a particular talent for annoying humans.

Butterflies, on the other hand, are beautiful and we love them. Also, butterflies fly during the day and moths at night.

Dr. Grimaldi quickly disabused me of my ignorance. First of all, he explained that people who study moths feel in no way inferior to butterfly aficionados. “There are only 10,000 species of butterflies,” he said. “And the rest of the 160,000 species of Lepidoptera are moths. Butterflies are just a tiny lineage of moths that are day-flying and gaudy.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Butterflies are exquisite and fly during the day, when we can enjoy them. Moths are brown, bombard you at night—while you’re simultaneously being attacked by mosquitoes—and totally freak you out.

Dr. Grimaldi prefers to think of the average moth’s coloration—not that he finds anything average about them—as “cryptic” rather than boring. “When you fly during the day, you don’t camouflage yourself,” the zoologist said of butterflies. “They advertise themselves” to the opposite sex, or to intimidate predators.

Dr. Grimaldi described moths’ coloration as subtle and delicate—”tweeds and tapestries.”

I liked that.

Trying to reach across the moth/butterfly divide, I acknowledged that Luna moths—one visited our home recently and now resides in our wunderkammer (it died of natural causes; we had nothing to do with its demise)—as the equal of any butterfly in terms of size, majesty and beauty.

Mr. Grimaldi holds a case of Comet moths from Madagascar. Brandon Thibodeaux for The Wall Street Journal

Dr. Grimaldi seemed unimpressed by my effort at diplomacy. “They’re not particularly large,” he stated. He mentioned Hyalophora cecropia, North America’s largest native moth. “The largest one ever recorded,” the scientist reported, “had a wing span of a foot.”

Imagine going for a romantic moonlit walk in the woods and having that thing land on your head. Or how about a White Witch, an example of which sat on a high shelf in Dr. Grimaldi’s office. “It looks like a white bat when it’s flying,” he said.

But his larger point is that not all moths are brown and nocturnal. Some are day-flying. More to the point, they can be as beautiful as butterflies. For example, India’s green, turquoise, black and orange Zygaenidae. Or Madagascar’s Comet moth, which makes a swallowtail butterfly looked like chopped liver.

The zoologist made his point by giving us a guided tour of the museum’s collection, which includes thousands of glass-topped drawers filled with moths carefully arranged on pins. It included everything from almost microscopically small moths toSesiidae—”they’re wonderful wasp mimics; that’s how they protect themselves”—to, perhaps my personal favorite, Attacus atlas, found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia and considered to be the largest moth in the world in terms of total wing surface.

But as impressive as its size is its decoration. Its wings include small windows. Dr. Grimaldi explained why: “Sunlight comes through and helps camouflage the insect when it’s resting.”

Isn’t evolution amazing?

As is the museum’s 3.5 million-strong Lepidoptera collection, which even includes a few specimens collected by the great British naturalist and Charles Darwin rival Alfred Russel Wallace. Indeed, there’s something moving about removing a tray of Luna moths and discovering a card with a lovingly rendered watercolor of a Luna moth caterpillar by some anonymous 19th century collector.

Dr. Grimaldi said the collection definitely sparks a connection to his scientific forebears. But its importance well transcends sentimentality. “We’re able to track historical changes,” he explained. “We can see changes in the northern edge of the distribution and decline in the population size and range.”

As amazing as I’m now persuaded moths are, the scientist said not to expect them to guest star in the museum’s celebrated free-flying butterfly vivarium anytime soon. “Moths are more difficult to exhibit,” Dr. Grimaldi admitted. “They won’t flutter around much.”

Bully for Bangers and Chocolate

Aug. 4, 2014 9:29 p.m. ET

Pete Myers with daughter Jennifer Myers in his Hudson Street shop, which caters to British expatriates.               Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

The splendor of New York City is that some store, somewhere, has the product you’re looking for—no matter how exotic.

That’s what propelled me to the British grocery Myers of Keswick a few days ago. It’s on Hudson Street between Horatio and Jane.

But saying that Myers of Keswick specializes in British products is a grotesque understatement. The experience is similar to taking a trip to the British Isles absent the airfare.

I’d come hungering for three items, starting with bangers—British breakfast sausages. I can’t really explain why bangers. Last spring, I was down in the British Virgin Islands where I’d been able to find them in the past. But not this time. However, once your appetite is whet, there’s no turning back.

Also, I’d recently watched “The Trip,” where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon travel the Lake District and have several lovely meals, starting with a typical “fry,” or full, breakfast. I wanted a fry.

Next on my shopping list was a particular kind of marmalade: Frank Cooper’s Original Oxford (Course Cut Seville Orange.) After reading a column I’d written about marmalade, a British acquaintance informed me that Frank Cooper’s is the real thing and sent me a jar.

He wasn’t joking. It’s solemn stuff.

Mr. Myers’s pork pies stacked high. Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

Finally, there was my urge for British chocolate. Which I’m willing to admit is a full-fledged addiction. I wish I could kick it, but not really. I know how people hooked on cigarettes or worse feel.

My habit started when I was 8 years old, traveled to Ireland on summer vacation, and had my first Cadbury Flake. Or perhaps it was a 6-pence Dairy Milk chocolate bar.

I’d brought along $5 for the whole summer. (This was a long time ago when $5 was a huge sum.) But I blew it in the first week on British candy and spent the remainder of June, July and August begging me parents for money. It got pretty ugly.

Fortunately, it’s easier to get Flake, Dairy Milk and other British candies in New York than it used to be. Fairway, for instance, carries them. But I was still looking forward to basking in Myers’s selection, and curious whether the shop might carry Fry’s Chocolate Cream, a tasty dark chocolate candy bar with a fondant filling that I haven’t seen lately, even on visits to the United Kingdom.

Not only does Myers carry bangers—I was relieved to see as soon as I set foot in the store—but also pork pie, sausage roll, Cornish pastie and shepherd’s pie.

Pete Myers, who opened the store in 1985, told me in a telephone interview later that he comes from a long line of Keswick sausage makers.

“My father and grandfather was a butcher,” he explained.

There are probably many reasons he isn’t. But perhaps the most relevant is that the Keswick’s Lake District tourist economy didn’t lend itself to survival.

“The winter you could hibernate,” he said. “There were 11 butcher shops. Now there’s only one.”

He moved to the U.S. to find his fortune. Or rather his fortune found him.

“I met a guy from the consulate,” he said. “I remember him distinctly telling me there were 150,000 [Brits] in the city and another 100,000 in the tri-state area. Since then, I’ve heard there a million Brits on the East Coast.”

Mr. Myers said 90% of his clientele is British.

I’m pleased to report Mr. Myers shares my passion for his native candy bars.

“Fry’s cream. One of my favorites,” he said, even though he sadly doesn’t carry it. “In the purple-and-white wrapper. They’re ancient. They’ve been around forever.”

That doesn’t mean he endorses his entire inventory; the store these days is run by his daughter.

“We sell one called Refreshers,” he said, referring to a hard candy that apparently has an audience, though not with him. “Which I think are repulsive. I can’t stand them. They’re shockingly awful.”

We bonded over Cadbury Flake, which looks like a chocolate log and literally melts in your mouth. If I can quote the wrapper—it’s “the crumbliest, flakiest milk chocolate.” Ever.

“You can’t beat a plain Flake,” one of us said.

“Absolutely,” agreed the other.

Tins of Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls and Flake bars. Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal

We also had a learned discussion about whether Cadbury’s Dairy Milk made in Ireland tastes different than the same candy bar made England.

(Whether you can taste the difference between Cadbury’s Dairy Milk made in Britain and in the U.S. is a whole other discussion.)

An Irish friend of mine claimed his country’s milk is different, better, imparting a slightly sour taste to the candy bar, a bit of a yin-yang. I tend to agree.

“I’ve heard the same story,” Mr. Myers said without taking sides.

“They do have peculiar taste, the British,” he acknowledged. “We sell an item called Mushy Peas. That’s exactly what it is. It’s vegetables for people with no teeth.”

—ralph.gardner@wsj.com

Dinner with Passion and Purpose

The Wall Street Journal
By Ralph Gardner Jr.
Aug. 3, 2014 11:00 p.m. ET

At $198 per person, I can safely say that dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns was the most expensive meal I’ve ever had without any say over what I’d be eating. The only indication of what was in store was an attractive pocket-size monthly journal printed on recycled paper, in front of each seat.

Rob Shepperson

Turning to July I found an insert that stated, “Grazing, Pecking, Rooting,” the aforementioned price, and “pairing $138.”

We decided to forgo the pairing. But other than that we were fully game, no pun intended, because we’d been absorbing the gospel according to Dan Barber, Blue Hill’s owner, executive chef and sustainable-food-systems eminence, since at least May. This was when my daughter Gracie landed a job as a summer-camp counselor at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, a nonprofit farm and education center. Blue Hill purchases about 70% of what’s grown and raised on the farm.

Gracie and my wife, Debbie, had also been reading Mr. Barber’s new book, “The Third Plate” (Penguin), over the summer. My other daughter, Lucy, who I believe hasn’t yet, nonetheless reported she suffered insomnia the previous night, so excited was she at the prospect of dinner at Blue Hill.

Also joining us was Nick, Gracie’s boyfriend, whose level of anticipation, I believe, was similar to my own. Meaning that he was looking forward to a good meal—even though we’d been warned in advance by Gracie that it was 18 courses, though it would turn out to be 29, served over four hours—rather than expecting a full-blown religious experience.

We’d eaten lightly during the day, but hadn’t gone as far as Lucy, who went online to research how to pace yourself in advance of a feast. On the car ride from Manhattan to Pocantico in Westchester, where Stone Barns is located on the Rockefeller estate’s former dairy barns, Lucy reported her efforts were unsuccessful. Most of the advice concerned strategies for maximizing your intake at Midwestern all-you-can-eat buffets.

We arrived early so that Gracie—who was celebrating her 21st birthday (hence the extravagance)—could show us around the 80-acre farm, wander the vegetable fields on a perfect summer evening, and deliver a brief tutorial on crop rotation.

My understanding is that if you’re into food, food ethics and sustainability, there’s no better place to get a summer job than Stone Barns. Gracie would come home and report about Thursday night staff “family dinners” where guest speakers, such as visiting Spanish farmers, would lecture about integrated agriculture and raising jamon iberico on the “dehesa” of central and southern Spain. Needless to say, we were extremely proud of our daughter.

Not only don’t you know what you’ll be eating in advance, apparently Mr. Barber and his staff occasionally don’t either. Blue Hill’s website states that the menu changes daily, sometimes even hourly, to exploit ripeness and seize culinary opportunities.

One can observe this philosophy in action starting with the first dish: waiters arrived with handsome wooden boards embedded with spikes. Sticking from each spike was a piece of lightly salted vegetable—a lettuce leaf, a yellow cherry tomato, a head of baby bok choy, a sprig of fennel.

This is the sort of presentation that could expose Mr. Barber and his empire to parody. Except for one thing. These were the best lettuce, cherry tomatoes and bok choy I’d ever eaten. They summoned your taste buds to attention, serving as the perfect overture—though more Beethoven’s “Pastoral” than “My Fair Lady.”

Also, the service was impeccable—equivalent to a French Michelin three-star restaurant. The waiters doubled as educators, introducing most courses with an explanation. Perhaps most memorable was the charcoal made from animals bones, mussel shells and corn cobs that were presented to us as proof that nothing at Stone Barns is wasted; Mr. Barber and his crew are apparently the Caravaggios of composting.

For a moment I feared our server would place the bones before us with instructions to consume. Fortunately, they were spirited away.

Memorable dishes included potted plants that we were expected to cut with accompanying scissors and drag through a delightful tarragon pesto, morsels of liver paired with chocolate, and much appreciated, after several vegetable courses, tasty salami made from the farm’s pigs.

A four-hour meal requires more than a couple of breathers, and at least one of them was orchestrated; I’d noticed entire tables of guests vanishing and then returning about a quarter-hour later. Gracie told us she suspected at least some of them were being served their next course in the “manure shed,” a place formerly used for that purpose but since converted into a dining space.

We never made it there. But based upon the deep thoughtfulness with which our meal was presented, I’m confident that if the venue sparked a lecture on manure, it would only have whetted the appetite.

We were ushered into the kitchen, waiters carrying our wine glasses for us, where we were served fish tacos, the tacos accompanied by a video of a chef reeling in a fish, though apparently not the one we were eating. Then, Mr. Barber himself came over to greet us.

We informed him our daughter was working as a counselor at his camp.

“I know,” he said.

It was the perfect culmination to a 21st birthday party, even if we had a dozen courses left to go.

The Many Courses of a Four-Hour Dinner

Raw vegetables on the fence

Milkweed spritzer

Nectarines and speck

Watermelon rind pastrami

Mexico midget tomatoes, seeds

Weeds & pea sprouts, tarragon pesto

Duck liver and malted grain flatbread

Smoked tomato, speck, steamed egg yolk

Onion top vichyssoise

Tomato burger

Ham sandwich

Liver and chocolate

Coppa, corn flatbread

Hudson Valley veal marrow, beef heart

Beans and elderflower

Salami, fermented and pickled vegetables

Red and Green gazpacho

Bone char cheese, melon and bone barrow

Cucumber, fish cream, caviar

Eggplant cooked in ferns

Zucchini, curried almonds

Summer ricotta, 100% whole-wheat brioche

Farm tacos, buckwheat crepe, tuna, herbs, corned beef, sour cream, peas

Stone Barns egg, foraged mushrooms, lettuce, herbs

Berkshire pork, berries, lovage

Pastured lamb, milkweed capers, black trumpet mushrooms, herbs

Birthday cake, blackberries, zucchini

Peaches and cream

Farm board

—Source: Blue Hill at Stone Barns

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com

 

Making Peace With War

The Wall Street Journal

By RALPH GARDNER JR.

Updated July 31, 2014 1:11 p.m. ET

Elizabeth Suda founded Article 22, which makes jewelry from bombs dropped over Laos during the Vietnam War era. Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

As the parent of daughters approximately her age, I was curious about the reaction of Elizabeth Suda’s mother and father when, at 24, she told them she was quitting her promising job at Coach Inc.COH -2.49% to travel to Laos and work with local weavers.

“Everyone was like, ‘But your Coach discount!’ I got 50% off the retail price. I’d get them gifts for Christmas,” Ms. Suda told me.

But on a more serious note, were they concerned?

“They were,” admitted Ms. Suda, who today—seven years later—is the founder and creative director of Article 22, a company that makes recycled jewelry from bombs dropped over Laos during the Vietnam War era. “My parents were worried. I was going alone.”

And at the last moment, the unpaid job—her task was to create a textile foundation to support the weavers—fell through.

“I’d been sold something that didn’t exist.”

She decided to go anyway.

“I had self-funded my plane ticket and six months there,” she recalled. “I left my French boyfriend in New York.”

Article 22 spoons. Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

They’re married now. She also told herself: ” ‘This is the moment in my life I need to take this risk.’ “

One thing led to another after her arrival: Ms. Suda, who wasn’t a fashion designer, created a line of clothes and held a runway show that ended up on the pages of the Vientiane Times, a newspaper in the Laotian capital. (“It was a very humble runway,” she explained.)

The write-up gave her some credibility and got her known among Vientiane’s expat community.

Her first experience with the legacy of the so-called Secret War, where Laos served as a covert battlefield, came when she traveled to several remote villages as a consultant to Helvetas, a Swiss nonprofit that was bringing hydropower to the area. Her vehicle was waved off by a local crew about to detonate a bomb in a farmer’s field.

“I didn’t know what the Secret War was all about,” she said. “Not only is Laos the most heavily bombed country in history, per capita, but 30% of the bombs they dropped didn’t detonate. There are 80 million bombs today that are still active.”

Perhaps as much an eye- opener as the problem was the locals’ response: They were melting down bomb metal in earthen kilns behind their homes and using it to make spoons.

Bangle bracelets. Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

“A woman brought me over to a shed of scrap metal,” Ms. Suda said. “[One piece] literally said ‘Rocket mortar.’ In that moment I had the idea to create a bracelet to serve two purposes: It could expand their production potential and link to a global market; and the object had the ability to tell a story. That would literally allow us to buy back the bombs.”

The result was the “Peacebomb” collection and a polished gunmetal bangle bracelet with the words “Dropped + Made In Laos” on the interior.

“At first [the villagers] were a little skeptical about how it would be sold,” said Ms. Suda, who grew up in Bay Shore, Long Island, and graduated from Williams College.

“A lot of people want to come help, but after there’s not follow-up. I said, I can’t promise anything except I’ll buy the first 500 bracelets.”

These days, Ms. Suda travels to Laos once a year for several months and her jewelry line has expanded significantly.

Now, there are leather bracelets bound with bomb material, charms that feature a tiny bomb, medallions with the cheeky messages such as “Peace is the bomb” and bomb shards cast in bronze and silver.

Article 22, by the way, takes its name from U.N.’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Charms. Ramsay de Give for The Wall Street Journal

“It’s a little bit kitschy,” Ms. Suda said of her accessories, “but people seem to love them. It’s a feel-good item.”

“When I first started I didn’t know if people would find this offensive,” she added. “But so many Vietnam vets wrote in asking for bracelets and telling me a little bit about their story.”

The jewelry is sold through Article 22′s website and at 120 boutiques in 39 countries, including at the New Museum and starting this summer at a boutique called Curve—both on the Bowery.

Ms. Suda said the artisans, most of them subsistence farmers, are paid the equivalent of the average Laotian salary. Also, for each object sold, funds are donated to village development funds and to clear live ordnance from the land.

“To date we’ve donated to clear 50,000 square meters of land,” she said.

Ms. Suda’s father hasn’t visited Laos but her mother has.

“Clearly, I have incredibly supportive parents,” Ms. Suda said. “Growing up I had the vision that politics was the only answer if you wanted to make the world a better place.

“Business is an incredible tool to create market solutions to problems. I’d never have envisioned at Williams that I’d be an international arms dealer.”

Corrections & Amplifications: The name of Bay Shore, Long Island, was incorrectly spelled as Bayshore in an earlier version of this article.

— ralph.gardner@wsj.com