A visit to St. Petersburg was a long held ambition that was every bit as dream like and wonderful as was anticipated. There for the annual CINOA (Confederation international des Negociants en Oeuvres d’Art) conference I was treated to what is likely the greatest repository of first class western art in the world at the Hermitage along with the startlingly great Russian Museum and the great Russian palaces of Tsarkoe Seloe, Pavlovsk, Yussopof and Peterhof.

Our Russian hosts were a small but dedicated group intent on opening up the art and antiques trade to the outside world. The Russian contemporary art world is active, the antiques world not as much. As much as Russia has become a capitalist society, there are still controls of trade in what is considered the fabric of Russian history, be it a painting by Picasso or a desk by David Roentgen.

The perception that history is tied to art and antiques, and hence should be restricted by the state, is not unique to Russia. What it clearly reveals is the refutation of revolutionary fervor that precipitated the loss of any of those self same art and antiques in periods of either unrest or dire need. It also reveals why conquerors do their best to eradicate cultural objects in order to dominate territory, although the wrong headedness of this approach cannot be overstated.

But what was so clear to me in this visit, and the same thing happened when I saw the University of Virginia campus designed by Thomas Jefferson and countless other historical venues, is that history is a living, tangible concept. In Tsarkoe Seloe, which has been completely re-fabricated on the interior, I, along with my colleagues Leon Dalva and Jim McConnaughy of New York, could see immediately that the work was contemporary–replaced because of Nazi vandalism. It was glamorous but felt wrong.

Is history well served by being re-constructed in this manner? This is a great question. Conservative ideologues believe they have the inside track on the Constitution and liberal ideologues feel that such an interpretation can only be flawed. The massive wood carving project at Tsarkoe Seloe is flawed, but it also, in a strange way, works. Who has the right answer? Maybe, in the end, it is about the debate. For the Russians, at least as far as the tangible history of the past is concerned, it is about putting on a show. What a great show it is.

Flying British Airways is, in my opinion, like getting a slice of England before you even get to the island nation. There is a confidence in their system that, at it’s best, is comforting, a reaffirmation of the value of the very system you are in. At it’s worst, however, the system feels like you have a nanny hovering over you that is cajoling, scolding and basically treating you like a child.

I have often wondered if this nanny-ism comes from having a king or queen. After all, the monarch is a bit like a conscience of the nation reminding us of just how lucky most of the people are. I remember the very first Christmas I spent in England and seeing the Queen’s address to the nation on television. It was the kind of talk a parent gives to a child.

It is quite obvious that things certainly changed as the Queen’s own family proved to be all too human. But more interesting to me is when did this sense of nanny-ism begin? Was it when Charles II was invited back to rule England in 1660? His role, though powerful, was not what it had been for his father. So, how else do you manifest your authority save through scolding and cajoling?

There are many moments that you could point to in British history where the British government wanted to convey their confidence in themselves as ministers in charge of the ship of state, despite the fact that the state was under intense attack be it from within or without. It is a small country and people must cooperate, just as the Japanese must, in order for it to run properly.

So perhaps this human approach by a country has a far more human response than, say, endless bureaucratic forms that arrive in the mail. Maybe it is better to be scolded and to be in some small way, shamed, than to be fined, threatened or arrested? After all, nannies are not just minders, they are teachers and the lesson for toddlers is no less valuable than for adults.

I accidentally dropped a cranberry into my (brewing) coffee yesterday and decided to leave it in the coffee to see whether I could taste any cranberry flavor. Since I was putting cranberries into my cereal, the taste test didn’t really fly, but it got me to thinking about how we become used to foods and why we eat what we eat. It also got me interested in lecithin, but in fact that is part of an ingredients story from the previous day. Lecithin is an emulsifier and because it is harmless to eat, it is used for melding foods as well as keeping pigment in suspension.

My first thought about the flavorful cranberry took me to England. When I moved to England in the fall of 1971, the harvest was in full flow and the fruit and vegetables of all kinds plentiful. But by November, the summer harvest foods were either being canned or frozen and if you wanted fresh vegetables, there was a plenitude of hardy greens such as kale, chard, leeks, Brussels sprouts, etc., and lots of root vegetables. These are the true vegetables of England, something Henry the VIII or even King Arthur probably would have eaten.

Clearly, the eating of fruits and vegetables every day is far preferable than eating red meat every day particularly if the red meat is part of industrialized food chain. But our bodies tell us what we want as flavor becomes an extension of need/desire. When I first tasted chard, I thought it bitter and not particularly flavorful. I could not have been more wrong as it is very flavorful, but my body, both mind and appetite, were not used to chard. I wasn’t borne to the taste so my body did not know how to crave it. I certainly did not understand how to savor it.

The food we eat is environmentally designated for us. If you live in France or Argentina, Thailand or Alaska, your body develops ways of asking you for what your body needs. Fifty years ago, anyone looking at the diet of an Eskimo would have said that they needed less fat in their diet, but in fact, Eskimos eat fat rich in Omega-3’s, called the good fat by my sister-in-law the writer on Omega-3’s, and are compensated in ways dieticians took a long time to understand. Seal blubber is manufactured from green things so their blubber is not bad for the Eskimo.

The key is that your body will crave what it knows will fulfill its demands. All of those root vegetables and hardy greens are good for you, but if you learn to eat oranges at a young age, your body may prefer that to the greens. It is a fascinating thought that the food manufacturers goal is to wean your body away from knowing what it needs to eating what your mind says that it wants. Next time I think I should drop some pepper corns into my coffee. That, I am quite certain, I will taste.

I had an automobile when I lived in London forty years ago which was enjoyable save for the fact that London cabbies were such inconsiderate drivers. Or were they? Maybe it was just because they were so identifiable in their black cabs that they were easy to scapegoat. It is nice to have someone or something that you can rail at from time to time and there were enough bad cab drivers so that you could tar the whole bunch.

This is true of politicians, not my favorite species of person. They are very easy prey for a host of reasons. Allegedly, they stand for something and most of them use their families to get elected with the spouse almost always in tow to demonstrate the candidate’s family values. So, if they are caught out in some bad behavior, the lingering odor of hypocrisy insures the tabloid vultures of some great coverage.

So, who else has sinned? The law of averages suggests that there are a great many powerful men who have abused their positions to behave in some scandalous fashion. But these men aren’t in the business of currying publicity and establishing themselves as paragons of domestic bliss. But, if others do it, does this diminish the sins of the politicos in any fashion? Both the short and the long answers are no, not matter how you slice it.

In essence, therefore, if you want to hold office, you are going to be held to a higher standard. There is no doubt about that. And when you sin and if you are caught, the humiliation will be complete with both your friends and your enemies unloading on you in a way that you never thought possible. You have to ask, who would want to be in such a position?

One has to wonder about our elected officials who so routinely find themselves in hot water for some kind of sexual peccadillo. When you’re caught, you’re caught and there is no getting around it, party affiliation notwithstanding. The libido will have its way and if you are smart, you won’t let your desire to hush things up overbear your understanding of what a lie is. That is disastrous. The peccadilloes just never stop. Our Washington elite seem to have a lot of time on their hands.

The concept of lying is interesting. I was having lunch with an Englishwoman the other day who, in contradicting part of her own story, stated, “no, I tell a lie”. Well, no, she hadn’t, she had remembered something incorrectly which is not a lie. This English tic is generational, I believe, and it is damned annoying as it makes a lie sound so banal. Stephen Colbert’s term, “truthiness”, is much better because it rather accurately demonstrates the gradation of lying from the white to the psychopathic kinds.

I admit, shamefacedly. to having lied in my life. On the truthiness scale, I would say that my lies were minor, but who really knows? I suspect, being realistic, that most everyone has lied and who knows just what havoc they have wrought? So, having thus sinned, I find it hard to throw the gauntlet of “liar” in anyone’s face as, who am I to judge? This may be a wishy-washy position, morally speaking, but it allows me not to be a hypocrite, a far more heinous title in my eyes than liar. But then, politicians don’t seem to notice that distinction.

The closing section of “Ulysses”, James Joyce’s infamous novel of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, finishes with a monologue by his wife Molly that is extraordinarily revealing of the human condition. It is long, more like a diatribe, but it reveals the conflicts of life and love that are the basis of both joy and ruination. Words like “deep” or “intense” don’t really convey the quality of the prose. It is, unlike Woody Allen’s charming film, “Midnight in Paris”, almost impossible to categorize.

English antique furniture can be charming and it can be a whole lot more. Learning the vocabulary of the rococo, for example, is difficult. Meaning seems elusive in the style, but when the style is done well, it has an intensity that almost requires people to look at it. I don’t usually refer to my inventory in this venue, but I have three superb, large, rococo mirror frames in stock at the moment, all singular and yet different and yet great.

I have long believed that if you can break something down to its simplest elements, you can grasp meaning that much more easily. Essentially Ray Kroc did that with food, creating a meal in a hamburger patty. Complexity in its entirety, however, has its rewards. Molly Bloom makes it clear that she not only needs her man, but that she also loves him and that he is not enough and so she needs more. It is a realistic take on life, in my opinion, no matter how hard a concept it is to swallow.

Woody Allen’s new film, “Midnight in Paris”, is a charming film, really delightful. There is nothing condescending in this review. I would not mind seeing it again, something I seldom say about films. The truth of the matter is that I think everyone can use a little charming in their lives. Indeed, in these times, charming has a particular significance. That significance is about the joy of simple pleasures, the excitement of time and place.

Would it be enjoyable to visit 18th century England? This question relates to Allen’s film where his hero (Owen Wilson) travels into the past to hobnob with some of his literary heroes such as Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald. Thomas Chippendale might be interesting to meet as would John Cobb who was labeled “haughty” by Sophie von La Roche, something tradesmen weren’t, still aren’t in fact, supposed to be.

The past has an allure that often makes the present seem thin by comparison. And yet, I remember when my late sister turned 21. She said to me that she was free and that she had waited for this day all her life. She didn’t seem any different than she had been the day before. Her desire to move on seemed predicated by her birthday–a very odd notion. In truth, I think we would all like to jiggle with time, whether it was to meet Scott Fitzgerald, or Genghis Khan or to have some anticipated moment come earlier than expected. That is human nature. Frankly, I would love to have a chat with some of my ancestors. That would be a revelation to both of us.