Category Archives: Uncategorized

Cabaret 313 brings an upbeat dimension to Detroit’s arts scene

Singer LaChanze wows a crowd at Cabaret 313. (Photos by Christine M.J. Hathaway.)

Making the most of my days in the D, I attended a pop-up cabaret.

Cabaret 313 (313’s the area code of Detroit) was started by Allan Nachman and Sandi Reitelman. How, I wondered, did 2 virtual novices pull this off?

Allan Nachman and Sandi Reitelman (left and right) with Alan Cumming at a Cabaret 313.

Allan and Sandi met on a committee. They both mentioned their love of cabaret. (Think Josephine Baker at the Folies Bergere or Toulouse-Lautrec posters for The Moulin Rouge in Paris; the satire of the Kabarett during the Weimar era in Berlin.) Sandi had studied music in college and worked behind the scenes for arts organizations. Allan and wife Joy loved Feinstein’s and the Café Carlyle cabarets in New York. Detroit was lacking in such entertainment. Allan and Sandi decided to do something about it.

For the past 4 years, the twosome have brought top notch singers to pop-up venues around Detroit. Nachman calls their audience “urban explorers who enjoy adventures in the city.” I attended the last performance of the 2016/17 season, held in a club-like setting of the Boll Theater in the downtown Y. What a treat.

Initially, Allan and Sandi tested the idea at soirees in homes of 3 “influential” friends. In the north end, hosts were Ethan & Gretchen Davidson (he’s the musician son of the late industrial scion/Pistons owner Bill Davidson). Downtown, Plante Moran chief marketing officer Jeff Antaya hosted in an empty loft next to his own in the Willis Building. In Grosse Pointe, dermatologist Ali Moiin hosted. Allan and Sandi invited friends to buy tickets. The evenings were a hit.

Sandi recalls sitting in back of the Davidsons’ living room the night of their first soiree. As Christine Andreas began to sing, “tears rolled down my cheeks. I thought: Wow. This is real. It’s going to happen.”

Response, Allan said, was “enthusiastic enough” to recruit donors to help finance a series. They created a board of directors from music-minded friends. Allan, a lawyer with Butzel Long, established a non-profit 501C3. They decided to rotate venues, encouraging suburbanites to visit different parts of the city.

“I had experience with artists and agents,” Sandi says. “Allan had legal experience. We learned as much as we could and created as many relationships as we could.” They both put in countless hours.

Ana Gasteyer at Cabaret 313.

A highlight was Allan Cumming, a singer/performer/actor, also a star of the TV series “The Good Wife.” (Cumming won a Tony on Broadway as the emcee in Cabaret.) It took 2 years to negotiate his contract. Demand was so great that they rented out The Cube at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, sold out all 350 seats, and turned away 100 more. Also sold out: Anna Gasteyer, a singer/comedienne who was on SNL.

High priced tickets, $125 and $60, don’t cover the expense of mounting cabarets. The difference is made up by donations from aficionados.

Sandi “loved the chance to use all the skills” she developed over her career. Aside from finding and contracting with talent, arranging locations, overseeing sound and lighting, “It’s taken leadership and passion. I feel as though we planted the seed, and it has roots.”

Sandi recently gave up her post as executive director. Husband Claud retired as a surgeon at Children’s Hospital. The couple want to spend more time traveling. She and Claud began checking off destinations on their bucket list. In the last month: Peru, New York and Napa.

While seeking Sandi’s replacement, Allan’s doing his best to fill her shoes. “We’ve put in 4 hard years and built something terrific. I want to see it continue.” His wife, Joy, is “very supportive.” Though many of Allan’s friends are retiring, he sees ensuring the future of Cabaret 313 as “worth giving up a few golf games.” Next season includes John Pizzarelli, a cabaret rock star with many solo albums and appearances on albums by Paul McCartney, James Taylor, etc.

Cabaret 313 features some of the best in the business. Along with friends Duffy Wineman and Tonia Victor, I saw LaChanze (Creole for “the charmed one”). LaChanze won the Tony in 2006 for her lead role as Celie in “The Color Purple.” (Based on the 1982 novel by Alice Walker, the play depicts an African-American woman in the American South in the early 20th century.)

LaChanze sings with intensity, rhythm and vocal range and moves as gracefully as she sings. In a small venue (an audience of about 80), she makes such direct eye contact that you’re sure she’s about to sit down at your table and order a drink.

LaChanze sang several numbers I didn’t know. “Have You Ever Felt This Way” was a knockout. She asked if anyone knew who wrote it. A lone voice from the back called out: Pink. After, I listened to Pink’s version. Not close to the power of LaChanze’s.

At the end of her performance, LaChanze revealed that when she was 8 months pregnant with her second child, her husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks. Securities trader Calvin Gooding was working at Cantor Fitzgerald in Tower One of the World Trade Center. 3 years ago LaChanze sang “Amazing Grace” at the dedication of the 9/11 memorial and museum. She dedicated her performance to her late husband.

Regarding her last song of the evening at Cabaret 313, LaChanze has sung it as a lullabye to her two daughters every night for many years. While singing at the Boll Theater, she murmured goodnight to each of her daughters by name. There can’t have been a dry eye in the house.

Her final song: “That’s All.”

My husband’s high stakes political bet pays off in perfectly grilled steaks

At a time when our political landscape is so polarized, a little levity…

Ben Eisendrath, Charles’ son, fires up a Grillery on the lawn outside the Eisendraths’ home in northwest Michigan. (Click the image to read a story in “Second Wave” magazine about the creation of the Grillery.)

Last summer we joined friends Charles and Julia Eisendrath for a cookout at their home in northern Michigan’s East Jordan. Their cookouts are a special treat because years ago Charles designed a remarkable wood burning grill. Frustrated with grills then on the market, he came up with a better mousetrap. He took his idea to a welder and had it built. He showed his new grill to a friend, who asked, “Can I buy one?” As did another and another.

Charles obliged. But The Grillery, as he called it, was a sideline. Charles was a journalist who held posts with publications like TIME. He also wrote for The New York Times.

After, he became a professor at the University of Michigan. For years, he ran an internationally known UofM program for journalists called The Knight-Wallace Fellows, funded in part and named for famed colleague Mike Wallace, Charles’ pal. Journalists who’d long pursued a special interest could take a fully funded year off and study something else. Charles took these smart young pros to meet journalists around the world, including in Russia and South America. He spent most of his time running the program.

Charles’ son Ben took over The Grillery and brought it to a new level. Stainless steel Argentinian-style grills made in northern Michigan can sell for thousands of dollars. Their cooking surface can be raised or lowered while hot and also catches juices.

Grillery grills were endorsed by James Beard and are used in famous restaurants like Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, NY. The largest grill yet (14’ across) is being installed at the soon to open Prime and Proper steak house in downtown Detroit. Grills are found on Jet Set yachts and in homes owned by luminaries like Tom Brokaw and Christiane Amanpour (who called herself “the culinary envy of our neighborhood.”)

But this column’s about politics.

That night last summer at the Eisendraths’, the subject of the then upcoming Presidential election arose. Charles voiced a widely held assumption: Hillary was a shoe in.

My husband shook his head. “I’m willing to bet Trump will win.” (Me, to self: What is he thinking??? This could cost big bucks.) My stomach clenched.

Burton said, “If Trump loses, I’ll take you fly fishing anywhere in the world.” (Burton and Charles are both outdoorsmen.) My stomach: full lockdown.

Charles, generally not a gambler, could already taste the brown trout he’d catch. “You’re on,” he said. In the unlikely event that he lost, he’d pay Burton off with a Grillery grill.

(Kate Marshall Rashid, also at dinner, wanted in. Her stake: delectables from American Spoon Products in NoMi. Kate and husband Justin Rashid started the company in 1982 and remain active. I featured Justin in a newspaper article in the ’80s.)

Later Burton confessed to me about the bet, “As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I wanted to take them back. But a deal’s a deal.”

A few days before the election, Burton called Charles and offered to cancel the wager. “No way,” Charles replied. “I’m tying flies for Chile.”

My husband fires up the Grillery for our post-election dinner.

The night of the election, Burton called again. Same offer. “No way,” Charles said. “I’m packing my bags for Chile.”

After the election, Burton called once more. “How do you like your steaks?”

“I’m not eating grilled steak,” Charles replied. “I’m eating grilled crow.”

A shiny new stainless steel grill awaited us in the pole barn of our northern Michigan farm when we arrived over Memorial Day weekend. Charles and Julia were our first guests to enjoy it. Along with prime tenderloin steaks from Burritt’s in Traverse City, we also grilled a crow. (Actually a pheasant. Charles “ate” it with good humor.)

The wood-fired steaks were delicious. We’ve been savoring the jams and salsas sent by the Rashids.

Thanks, pals, for living up to your word. And tempting our tastebuds.

On Prince Edward Island, Andrew Greenan arrives at the prom in his fantasy car—a Tesla


Andrew Greenan’s family is celebrating with him. Here, his “Grammy” Margaret Bassett presents a watch to mark his graduation.

A special joy of spending time in Florida is getting to know people from all over. One of those people, and among my faves, is Rita MacLure. She knows I love a good story. Riding together in a golf cart, she told me a charming one about her nephew in Newton, Prince Edward Island, CA.

Last year, Andrew Greenan was graduating from Kinkora Regional High, the same small country high school from which Rita graduated in 1970. Andrew, Rita said, had decisions to make. Where to apply for college? Whom to invite to his senior prom? As she put it, “All those late-teen, important matters.”

Rita says her younger sister Deanna’s son is “very self-motivated.” At 13, Andrew developed his own online gaming program “and realized a modest profit.” When it came to choosing a university, he researched lots of options. Several offered scholarships. He decided on Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and received a 4-year full ride scholarship. (He’ll add a 5th year to acquire both business and computer-science degrees.)

CLICK ON this image from the Journal/Pioneer news website to read more about Greenan.

Andrew learned of the scholarship from a cousin who’d previously received it. Andrew told the Journal/Pioneer, in an article last year, he considers Q.U. “the best there is.”

Janice Broderick, his high school English teacher, wrote his recommendation. She said, “I wanted them to know they are getting one of P.E.I.’s best students.”

Andrew’s prom date was a simple choice: girlfriend Reece MacKenzie. A more challenging decision: How should they arrive at the prom? At Kinkora there’s a long-standing tradition for graduates to arrive in vehicles that represent their personalities. Students have arrived in everything from a farm tractor to a wheelbarrow to a decorated rented flatbed. The procession is called the “drive in.” The whole community lines the street to watch.

Rita reports, “After much deliberation, Andrew decided he must arrive in a Tesla.” I asked Andrew about his fascination with the car. He said, “What I find intriguing is Tesla’s ability to shake up a car industry that’s controlled by billion dollar oil companies.” Not long before, while visiting Rita in Florida, Andrew had driven in a Tesla owned by Rita’s and my friends Bob and Renee Fritsch.

In Rita and Andrew’s small Canadian home province of 135,000, there were only 3 Teslas. 2 were owned by the same man, Harry Smith, a business consultant involved in raising awareness about renewable energy. Andrew sent out some “persuasive” emails and obtained Smith’s contact info. He sent a “polite” email to Mr. Smith, requesting to use his Tesla for prom. He’d be driving about ½ a mile at a speed of 10MPH or less.

This gracious stranger volunteered not just to loan his car, but to be Andrew’s driver. He even took Andrew for a test drive in advance. He said he’d been impressed with Andrew’s “pluckiness and tenacity.”

Andrew reports, “Experiencing the car was like looking into the future. It has unbelievable technology, acceleration and self-driving capability. I’m not a car enthusiast; I’m enthusiastic about developing technology that can impact our future, and that’s what Tesla is doing.”

Aside from impressing his date and neighbors that night, Andrew learned an important lesson. It echoes Kim Cornetet’s thoughts about small acts of kindness. (See the earlier column headlined, Small acts make a big difference for Kim Cornetet and those she touches)

“It may have been a simple act in Harry’s eyes to clean a car, dress up as a ‘chauffeur’ and spend a few hours at our school. But it made my prom experience one to remember. I learned a special lesson. Something that may seem small or insignificant to one person—like Harry’s taking the day to let us use his car—can make a huge impact on someone else’s life.”

Who knew there was so much action on Prince Edward Island? Before hearing about Andrew, all I knew about this province in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was: 1) It was known for succulent mussels, and 2) orphan Anne of Green Gables grew up there.

The scale of the smallest of Canada’s 3 Maritime Provinces hasn’t stopped one enterprising resident. Andrew has big ambitions. His idol is Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla, founder of PayPal, Space X and more. With an estimated net worth over $15 billion, Musk is among the world’s 100 wealthiest people.

Andrew’s proud to claim that Elon Musk spent his first year of college at Q.U. He admires Musk not for his fortune but for his ideas. “He’s using his influence and technology for the betterment of the human race.” Andrew grew up learning to care for the planet. P.E.I. enforces stringent rules and recycles almost twice as much waste per person as anywhere else in Canada.

Andrew Greenan arrives at prom with his girlfriend Reece MacKenzie in his ideal car with a friendly chauffeur (Harry Smith).

Thanks, Rita, for the fine anecdote (which distracted me from pondering why your golf shot sails so far past mine). Thanks, Andrew, for sharing your story. Good luck at Q.U. And thanks in advance for all you’ll do for mankind.

Revived Detroit originals spark a night to remember starting with a Cass Corridor conversation

A Cass Conversation led by (from left) Vince Carducci, Nancy Mitchnick and Tim Van Laar in Detroit.

“I don’t think most of us thought we could be artists. We just couldn’t stop working,” Nancy Mitchnick said. Nancy was part of a group of artists around Detroit’s Wayne State University in the ‘60s and ‘70s. She was and is a painter. Others created assemblages from whatever flotsam they could find.

Nancy spoke at a recent discussion on what’s become known as Cass Corridor art, Detroit’s first avant garde movement. The panel included critic Vince Carducci, dean of undergrad studies at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, and Tim Van Laar, chair of fine arts at CCS. The conversation, at Detroit’s Simone DeSousa Gallery, kicked off the first of 3 shows of first gen Cass Corridor artists, guest curated by Mitchnick.

For me, the occasion was a homecoming. A chance to see old friends still professionally involved in art, like Valerie and Dennis Parks and Dennis Nawrocki. A chance to reunite with collectors Gayle and Andrew Camden. With Brenda Goodman, an artist long since moved to NY and receiving considerable acclaim (including an honorary doctorate from CCS). It was a chance to recall the excitement once stirred by dashing DIA contemporary art curator Sam Wagstaff and his acolytes, my friends Anne Manoogian Walker and Anne Perron Spivak.

It was a chance to remember…

As a journalist in the early ‘70s, I spent many lunchtimes at the Gertrude Kasle Gallery. There I fell in love with contemporary art. (Read more about Gertrude Kasle’s work here.) The gallery, on the mezzanine of the Fisher Building, was once part of space occupied by Antoine’s, the Saks Fifth Avenue hair salon where I had my hair done for my wedding. The iconic Beaux Arts office structure in mid-Detroit was designed by my great uncle, legendary architect Albert Kahn. (Farbman Group ran the building in recent years, then sold it to a group headed by Peter Cummings, son-in-law of philanthropist/investor Max Fisher, who also once owned it.)

In 1977, Jackie Feigenson took over Gertrude’s space, opening the Feigenson-Rosenstein Gallery (the latter name dropped soon after). Jackie had run the artists’ coop Willis Gallery. (Burton and I and several other couples had hosted dinner parties and visited the Willis en masse for its first exhibit.) Jackie gave up her career as a sculptor because, she said, “there were so many talented artists in Detroit who deserved serious representation.” Jackie was supported by husband Mort, who ran the Faygo Beverage Company. (“Which way did he go? Which way did he go?” Ask anyone who grew up in the D in the 60s: “He went for FAY-GO!”)

Our Michael Luchs piece we bought for our 10th anniversary.

In April, ‘77, Burton and I celebrated our 10th anniversary. Seeking to honor the occasion, I visited Jackie’s gallery before its official opening. Walls were hung with strangely beautiful assemblages resembling rabbits, made of wire and rags on weathered wood panels by Michael Luchs. We purchased one. 40 years later, that anniversary gift symbolizes our marriage—tough at times, tender at others, still rewarding. (The first of the 3 Cass Corridor shows at Simone DeSousa this summer, now on display, features Michael Luchs.)

Jackie went on to represent many artists since called “Urban Expressionists.” Burton and I purchased several more pieces. Sadly, cancer claimed my friend. She was determined to make it to my 40th birthday party, and she did. It was the last time Jackie appeared in public. (The gallery was taken over by director, Mary Preston, who ran it—capably–for several more years.)

In 1980, then DIA curator Mary Jane Jacob organized an exhibit, Kick Out the Jams: Detroit’s Cass Corridor 1963-1977. (Named for the song by the MC5, Detroit’s nationally known rock band.) We loaned sculptures by Ellen Phelan and Gordon Newton. I still remember the tears that pricked my eyes on my first visit, knowing works from our home were displayed in one of the world’s great museums.

At the recent discussion, Carducci spoke about the timeliness of art from that period. “The downward slide of Detroit was intensifying, the lid was coming off. The MC5 and the Cass Corridor artists reflected that slide. Detroit was ground zero for the destruction of the working class. It was reverting to a field. The rabbits were coming back.”

Van Laar pointed out the influence of Vietnam. “People were either anxious to avoid the draft or screwed up because they didn’t. The Cass Corridor aesthetic exhibits that rawness.”

Detroit Foundation Hotel

After, friends Brenda and Howard Rosenberg, Cara Kazanowski and I visited the hip Detroit Foundation Hotel, just opened, created from an old firehouse across from Cobo Center. Outside: a shiny red old-fashioned firetruck. Inside: cool white tiled bar. They served Collins drinks from Valentine’s Detroit-made gin and marshmallows flavored with Detroit’s Vernors ginger ale.

Cara defected via Lyft. The Rosenbergs and I dined at the London Chop House, which has such history for all of us. Burton took me to the Chop House to celebrate our engagement, 51 years ago. We were part of the (unsuccessful) group to finance the Chop House several years back when Detroit was in the tank. The Rosenbergs threw a party there for Howard’s 70th birthday. It’s now being well run by the Gatzaros family of Detroit restaurateurs. Not only did they seat us in Booth #1, but they agreed to make Pancho burgers, a hamburger slathered with a divine sauce developed decades ago by then LCH Chef Pancho.

For an old Detroit girl, I never dreamed I’d live long enough to witness the renewed energy that’s revitalizing the city. It was a splendid night of nostalgia and optimism. Visually, emotionally and gastronomically.

Yes, that’s me—your columnist—in the center with the Basquiat-inspired t-shirt among some friends who also are strong supporters of Detroit’s revival. We are standing in front of the Simone DeSousa Gallery in Detroit, from left: Dolores Slowinski, Cara Kazanowski, Suzy Farbman, Brenda Goodman, Carla Anderson and Dennis Nawrocki.

Louis Armstrong’s secret daughter, Sharon Preston-Folta owns her roots at last

Slim and Sweets in their prime in a 1945 photograph. (The image is now stored in one of the University of Washington Library digital photo collections.)

Sharon had had it with deception. Her existence had been secret long enough. As a grandmother, she decided to research, and go public with, her past.

“It’s a basic human right to know from whence we’ve come,” Sharon says.

Sharon’s mother, Lucille “Sweets” Preston, carried on a long-term affair with one of the most famous musicians in history. Although Satchmo financed his mistress and daughter for many years, he was married to a different Lucille. Publicly, he denied Sweets and Sharon.

Sweets was a vaudeville dancer in the 30’s and 40’s and also played the “Chitlin Circuit.” (Safe and acceptable venues for African-American performers during the era of segregation.) She was a part of the dance team of Slim & Sweets with her husband Luther Preston.

Slim and Sweets opened for big stars including Satchmo and Billie Holiday. Slim died young. Armstrong, a womanizer, promised Slim’s widow he’d take care of her. He pledged to divorce his 4th wife and marry Sweets. She abided by his insistence that the affair, and their daughter, remain private. Sharon says, “He dangled that elation in front of my mother’s face like a carrot, and she bit, because she adored him.”

Sharon Preston-Folta now lives in Sarasota. We met when she spoke to our YPO Gold chapter (a business group). She’s low key and likable. Not a trace of showbiz flash. She works in advertising for WUSF. After a lifetime of secrecy, she launched a several year quest and self-published a book, Little Satchmo: Living in the Shadow of my Father Louis Daniel Armstrong.

In her book Sharon proclaims “that I do, indeed, exist. That I am not invisible. That I have a history, a legacy, and a voice that deserves to be heard.” She wrote the book, she says, “Not just for my own peace of mind, but for the millions of children who have grown up not knowing their history, living with family secrets, or are growing up in fatherless households… It is for them that I am stepping out of the shadows… for my children and grandchildren. For me.”

(According to the US Census Bureau, in 2014, 17.4 million children under 18 lived in father-absent homes.)

The promised divorce never happened. After several years, the affair ended, though Armstrong’s financial support continued for 3 years after he died.

One of the letters published by the New Orleans newspaper in 2012. Click on this image to see the letter enlarged.

In 2012, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper published a story about Armstrong as Sharon’s father, when a series of letters written by the famous musician were on the auction block. The story says, in part: “In letters to Lucille ‘Sweets’ Preston, a performer with whom he maintained a years-long affair, Armstrong made clear that he believed himself to be the father of her daughter, Sharon, who was born in 1955.”

Sharon shares the joys as well as disappointments. Summers on tour with her father were “the highlight of my then young life.” She loved meeting singers like Velma Middleton and Jewel Brown—“always ready with a smile, a few nice words, a piece of candy or two.” Occasionally, she recalls, her father “would play a little something to get the bus swinging.”

Sharon touches upon segregation. She remembers her father warning her, “In this world, no matter how big you get, you will always be a n***r.” Satchmo succeeded as a crossover artist. He cared about his people but “faced mounting criticism for not hitching himself fully and vocally to the Civil Rights movement.”

Sharon and her mom moved from Harlem to Mt. Vernon, NY. At 7, Sharon enrolled in a mostly white Catholic grammar school, “where 95% of the children came from 2-parent families… And so the secrets began anew.”

With time, her father’s visits became “less frequent and more unpleasant.” When Satchmo died in 1971, Sharon and her mom were asked not to attend the funeral.

Sharon, too, had a baby out of wedlock. She was 16. Juggling motherhood, school and work proved daunting and she dropped out of school. Realizing she “wanted more,” she returned to school, graduated with a B.A. in Communication Arts, and began working in media sales. She met and married Howard, a drummer—white, Jewish, with similar background issues. “He was—is—a man I can trust.”

Sharon’s friend, the daughter of a jazz pianist, convinced her to rethink the secrecy with which she lived. They attended a concert together. Sharon writes, “As we swayed to the rhythm and colors and light of the music, my friend turned to me and let it rip. How can you not fight for this? …if you’re not going to correct the lie for yourself, then you have to fight for your grandchildren’s legacy.”

So began Sharon’s exploration involving an entertainment lawyer, an estate attorney, a retired judge and, ultimately, a look at her father’s will. She learned her father’s wife Lucille, who years before had offered to adopt her, had signed an affidavit that her husband never had children. That document, she says, made her “blood boil.” That’s when she decided to tell her story.

“To tell the world that I am here. That I matter.”

(Thanks for sharing your story, Sharon, and for the comfort you bring to others.)

Sharon and her mother Lucille “Sweets” in 2017.

Santa Barbara and my sister lose a legend, Michael Towbes

Anne and Michael getting their costumes ready for a trip to Burning Man.

When my sister, Anne, dated and married Michael Towbes, almost 18 years older, within 9 months, I thought she was nuts. I’m pleased to say I was wrong.

Anne’s 2nd husband, who died recently, was an amazing man. The Santa Barbara Independent called him an “all-around mensch.” As a couple, Anne and M.T. were even more amazing. They were the king and queen of Santa Barbara.

Rabbi Steven Cohen’s eulogy at Michael’s by invitation burial was eloquent and apt. He repeated what he’d said when he married them 11 and ½ years before…

“Michael told me the speed with which he asked Anne to marry him was uncharacteristic. He’s usually a deliberative man, but he’d fallen head over heels in love.” He called Anne “an unusual combination of elegance and earthiness who’d had the nerve to make the first move with Michael Towbes, first citizen of Santa Barbara.” (In second marriage, love blossoms again. 09/03/13)

Rabbi Cohen mentioned the joy of being around young love. “There’s something even more inspiring when the two young lovers are individuals who have lived fully, have known both love and loss, and somehow found the open-ness and vulnerability to fall completely in love again.”

Together, Anne and Michael were unstoppable. Both were widowers who’d nursed ill first spouses for several years. Anne and M.T. made up for lost time, traveling to faraway lands like Australia, China and the Galapagos. Closer to home, they visited New York regularly and invested in Broadway theater. They attended Michael’s reunions at Princeton and the opera in Santa Fe. In 2015, they even donned crazy costumes and went to Burning Man in the Nevada desert.

The couple built a beautiful home and opened it for dozens of causes including the Granada Theater and the Santa Barbara Symphony and Opera. They attended, and were often honored at, hundreds more events.

Rabbi Cohen spoke of Michael’s growing up “in a modest row house,” and how he went on to build an empire. He developed over 6,000 apartments, almost 2 million s.f. of commercial properties, a bank with assets over $1.3 billion. Montecito B&T gives away more than $1.3 million annually to area non-profits. Towbes Foundation gifts aren’t far behind.

Michael never stopped working. Even when he and my sister visited us in Florida, Michael spent afternoons bent over piles of paperwork and a laptop.

Together they were unstoppable. Until they weren’t.

M.T. died, at home, of pancreatic cancer. When his body was taken away, he was dressed in a suit and tie, his omnipresent red pen in his pocket. A stickler for grammar, he edited others’ communiques as rigorously as his own.

Michael’s burial took place at a cemetery atop a hill overlooking the ocean. My sister’s ashes will someday be split between the graves of Michael and her first husband, Bob Smith. (A sensible reason for cremation.)

Concluding his eulogy, Rabbi Cohen said, “For the past ten plus years, Anne and Michael have been Santa Barbara’s leading couple. Two human beings, with just as many problems as the rest of us, and good days and bad days, but two human beings who were willing to show up in the center of our community, and to stand up and remind everyone what civilization means.”

Once an English and teacher and drama coach, Anne spoke as well. “A quote from Hamlet comes to mind: ‘He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.’ I’ll miss my Mr. Wonderful terribly. I’ll miss our Sunday tennis games, our amazing trips around the world, our holding hands with every step we took together. Our waltzing around the dance floor, our shared pride in our children’s and grandchildren’s accomplishments. But I know he is now at peace.”

Getting dressed that night for Michael’s shiva at Congregation B’nai Brith, I walked into Anne’s bathroom to borrow hairspray. There, on her counter, where only she could see it, was a silver framed picture of M.T. She’d handwritten a different quote from Shakespeare and taped it across the top. “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

In Santa Barbara, contemplating this column, I heard someone at the front door. The FedEx man introduced himself to my sister. “I’ve been dropping off packages here for years,” he said. “I just dropped off another one and was about to leave. I decided to come back and see if you were here. I wanted to offer my condolences. I also wanted to thank you.”

He related something that happened a couple years before. He’d visited a branch of Montecito B&T. There, on the wall, he saw a photo of his family. He wondered why. He learned that one of the bank’s philanthropic recipients was an agency which finds homes for unwanted babies and had facilitated the adoption of his young son. He proudly took out his cell phone to show us a picture of his family. The FedEx man showed up at the shiva that night. He’d changed out of his uniform into a black velvet blazer.

God bless you, Michael. You’ll never know how many lives you’ve touched.

After 50 years, Suzy and Burt keep believin’

Renewal of vows.

Kate Marshall (center) helps Suzy and Burton Farbman renew their vows. (All photos with this column from Arieli Kinzer Photography.)

Last summer, I began pondering. Our Golden Anniversary was approaching. Burton and I had never renewed our vows.

Where to hold such a miraculous event? It was the height of the Zika virus scare. Travel maven son Andy said: “Somewhere with no Zika. Santa Fe?”

Soon after, at a dinner party, we sat with friends Kate Marshall and Justin Rashid. They started American Spoon. (Decades ago I interviewed Justin for an article on his divine jams, salsas and dried cherries.) Kate’s a talented painter and past mayor of Petoskey, MI. I mentioned our upcoming observance.

“I’ve married one couple,” Kate said. “Come to Santa Fe. I’ll do your service.”

Kate wasn’t overly experienced, I grant you. But she’s a cool chick. She was willing. She and Justin spend several weeks in Santa Fe every spring, and she knew the territory.

2 votes for Santa Fe? Godsign.

Months ahead, I coordinated dates with grandkids’ schedules. Called Casas de Santa Fe and booked casitas for the family. I signed up Casa Nova Catering, Absolute Entertainment and Arieli Photography.

A few days after our April 8th anniversary, Burton and I flew to Santa Fe with Nadine and the boys. (Rest of family came later.) We picked up keys to our casitas and followed the map, down a winding road to a tiny dirt lane barely wide enough for our rented GMC.

Our family likes nice accommodations. At the front gate of the first, I wondered why I’d dragged us across country to this dusty back road. Nadine and I gave each other a glance best described as: Oy vey.

“They looked good online,” I said.

Taking a breath, I turned the key. The interior was even better than the photo online. Hip southwestern architecture, Native American pottery, Navajo blankets, kiva fireplaces, soft linens, comfortable seating. There were bright tulips and a bag of fresh ground coffee. The other casitas, equally nice. Whew.

On to the main event.

After fun visits to the Farmers Market and Meow Wolf (a not-to-be-missed creative new interactive art installation) and a yummy Cuban Ruben at Café Palacio, I returned to our casita to rest. Phone calls. The DJ just got out of the hospital. The photographer had stomach flu. Both found replacements.

Memo to self: Go with the flow.

Kids showed up at our casita, took seats, and actually paid attention. DJ Victor played Pachelbel’s Canon in D. I step/paused/step/paused down the aisle. (Okay, around the corner.) Everyone stood.

Greeting Burton in front of the fireplace, I spoke. I recalled our 25th wedding anniversary party when I’d I told the story of the frogs on a dairy farm. Andy brought the story back from a teenage trip with National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) years ago. Now his daughter Alexis was almost 13.

2 frogs fall into a bucket of cream. They paddle and paddle but can’t get out. One says, “Face it. We’re history.” The other says, “We’ll think of something. Just keep paddling.” The pessimist sinks to the bottom and dies. The next morning, the optimistic frog is found to be sitting on a pad of butter he’s churned up all by himself, licking up the flies that swarm from all directions.

“The moral of the story,” I said, “and the way you stay married for 25 years, and in a heartbeat 25 more: keep…” Everyone chorused: “Paddling.” I thanked Burton for a life “beyond my wildest dreams.”

Burton said, “I don’t know when it happens, but at some point two people become one, committed for life.” He talked about recently cleaning our stuffed refrigerator, and how some foods were penicillin prone. “Suzy hates to throw anything out. That’s probably why I’m still here.”

Kate—whom we designated our Rabbi Pro Tem—isn’t Jewish. But she looked rabbinical in a black and white striped scarf that resembled a tallit (Jewish pverayer shawl). Kate said, “No one else shares the same joy you feel in your family. You’ve faced struggles together. You’ overcome struggles together. 50 years later, you remain husband and wife not because of a legal document, but because you still want to be by each other’s side.”

We repeated the best known sentence from the “Song of Songs” by King Solomon. We’d first spoken it at our wedding. “Ani L’Dodi, V’Dodi Li. I am my beloved’s; my beloved is mine.”

Our whole family mentioned something they appreciate about us. David: “So many fun moments. Always encouraging me to be my best.” Nadine: “Blessed to be part of such a special family.“ Amy: “You put family first.” Andy: “Santa Fe’s the perfect synthesis of Dad, the cowboy, and Mom, the artist.”

Fischer, our youngest, brought us rings on a Kilim pillow. (Fact: We borrowed Andy’s ring. Burton’s ADD and a golfer and lost more than one of his own.)

The DJ cranked up the music and we danced for 2 hours, only breaking to attack a delicious southwestern buffet. Chef Eduardo apologized that the planned maple cream cake had collapsed on the first and second tries. The baker had been in tears. (Creating a dessert that’s gluten, lactose and chocolate free is a challenge.) His 3 non-dairy cheesecake substitutes were still a hit.

Italian author Cesare Pavese once said, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”

Burton and Suzy dance at renewal celebration.

I loved having our whole family together, relishing each other’s company, creating such a moment. What joy to renew our vows in the presence of children and grandchildren, none of whom were there originally. At times in the past, I never expected to get this far.

Even with a replacement photographer, DJ and dessert, the evening was perfect. Our sons and their wives agreed on the final song. That was perfect, too. It was written by the rock group Journey in the 1980s and references Detroit, our hometown. It became a theme song of the TV show “Glee.”

“Don’t Stop Believin’.”

We loved having our family around us at the celebration.