Thursday, May 29, 2008

Baguette Quartette

Yesterday I attended a fabulous affair hosted by the incomparable Paula Le Duc, renowned as one of the best caterers in the Bay Area, and with good reason. The event was held at Beaulieu Gardens, one of the most beautiful gardens in wine country. The food was fabulous, the sun was shining, with just the hint of a breeze to blow the fine linens gently.

I was in the company of some of the best event planners in the business: Julie Nunn Martin, Rebecca Feeny, Traci Steuteville, Brooke Menconi, Angela Nelson, Mary Mix, Michelle Barrionuevo-Mazzini, Kathryn Kalabokes, Dee Merz and Kristjan Gavin among others. It was a heavenly day.

One of the carefully planned elements was the musical group Baguette Quartette playing real parisian cafe music. Oh my goodness! I have never liked accordion music, but this entirely changed my mind. This quartet of talented musicians played lively pieces from the 1920's and 1930's. If you closed your eyes you could imagine yourself in pre-war Paris at an outdoor cafe watching the beautiful people walk by.

When we edit an event, we get to observe how good or how bad a musical group is.
o Do they play on key? Do they hit any sour notes?
o Do they play as a group in a cohesive manner or does it sound like they have never played together before?
o Is there a nice balance among the instruments or do they all scream louder and louder to compete for your attention?
o Do the musicians play with expression, feeling and intensity - with passion?
o Do they transcend the notes on the page and take you to a another place?
o Do they entertain you?

Well, this group was perfect -they were technically excellent, they were beautifully balanced, they played at a perfect volume to lend an air to the party yet not so loud that you had to shout to be heard. They went beyond that. They dressed the part of 1930's Parisians and their repertoire was thoroughly unique. Mon dieu! They were superb! They made beautiful music and delighted our hearts.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Trio of Quirky Little Movies

What makes a good movie?

Well, it has to have a good story that compels you to keep watching until the end. The choice of camera angle should be surprising but completely consistent with the story. The script and acting should feel natural and authentic. And the editing should not call attention to itself.

Sometimes a great movie is epic, such as Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Indiana Jones, Schindler's List. But sometimes it can be a quirky little picture. Here are three for your consideration:

Scotland, PA (2001)

This is a satire that retells Shakespeare's Macbeth, while satirizing fast food and suburbia. Joe and Pat McBeth work at Duncan's hamburgers joint in the small Pennsylvania town of Scotland, in the 1970's, They plot and carry out Duncan's murder and it looks like they will get away with it. That is until Christopher Walken, as police lieutenant Ernie McDuff starts investigating and brings a "Twin Peaks"-esque feel to the movie. He delivers his lines with his usual unconventional cadence and it's perfect here.

There are plenty of great lines - "We're not bad people, we're just underachievers that have to make up for lost time." and plenty of little jokes - Duncan, it seems, made a fortune by selling a chain of donut stores.

Strictly Ballroom (1993)

Before Baz Luhrmann produced Moulin Rouge and La Boheme, he wrote and directed this little gem. It spoofs the stuffy world of ballroom dancing in which two young competitors attempt to be spontaneous and improvise novel dance steps while being told by The Federation that "there are no new steps". There is a madness in most of the characters that only the dancing couple seem to notice. This is a charming tale of taking on the powers that be and winning on your own terms.

Kinky Boots (2005)

The crazy thing about this movie is that it is based on a true story. A young man with ambitions to shake the dust of a small town off his boots and move to the big city is forced to reconsider when his father, the third generation to run a traditional men's shoe factory, dies suddenly. Charlie, the son, comes back to town, only to discover the company is about to go under. He searches for a way to keep all the workers employed. Ah ha! He finds a new niche market: thigh-high boots with stiletto heels that will bear up under the weight of a man, for drag queens.

There is a transformation not just of the products the factory turns out, but of people's prejudices about each other, resulting in triumph all around.

For more movies that are out of the mainstream, see Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On Wealth and Ethics

I was encouraged by Brent's appreciative comment to write a little more about Peter White's philosophy about ethics and wealth. Mr. White's principal interest is helping people find meaning in the context of material abundance. I am quoting liberally from Alice Cornwell Strauss who wrote a wonderful article on her fellow alum from Kenyon College. The full text can be found here. I have excerpted a few points that can apply to any business.

After returning from a summer at a dude ranch at the age of 13, Mr. White said, "I learned that there were other things of value besides the material things on which we tend to place too much emphasis. Once you have satisfied the basic survival needs, you must find meaning in your life. If you find meaning, the rest flows."

He applied this to his current business. His work stresses facilitation over advice. "Getting the family to decide what it wants to do and where it wants to go is the sine qua non of effective consulting. The real work is listening, making sure that everyone who has a stake in decisions also has a say, creating a safe place for the group to come together as people trying to solve a problem or reach an answer together, and moving the group toward resolution."

By age 32, Mr. White had achieved material success, was a partner at the fourth largest law firm in America and was deputy counsel for the House Ethics Committee. After chasing success but not finding happiness, White founded International Skye Associates, to provide personal counseling services in the field of private wealth and philanthropy. He stressed "taking advantage of opportunities and solving problems according to the needs and goals of each family as defined by them, integrating modern thinking about business and finance with timeless wisdom from religion, philosophy, and the social sciences. The Rockefeller Family was an early client.

Mr. White's concerns led him to expand his services to offer the Skye Summer Institute, an educational program for young adults who had inherited considerable wealth centered on living a complete and purposeful life, helping them to realize what's important to them in life. An heir to the General Electric Company fortune, remarked that White's "emphasis on finding meaning in their lives--and not focusing on their money--helps them evolve from being merely wealthy people to being wealthy with a cause to spend their money on."

In Mr. White's opinion, you can "indoctrinate people when they are young, or you can shame them when they are older, but real philanthropy comes from going beyond one's own immediate needs, being connected to the world and realizing that the world is hurting in many ways and that one can do something to alleviate that hurt."

In the words of the "king of soul" Sam Cooke, if we all took this view, "what a wonderful world this can be".

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Ten Elements of Care by Peter White

Peter White has spent more than 20 years counseling wealthy parents and privileged children about how to better understand the adverse effects of wealth and to search for more meaningful lives. Over time he created a list of the 10 things parents should provide for their children, which he called “The 10 Elements of Care.” It seems like a good list regardless of the amount of wealth in a family. In fact, #3-#7 are general principles we share with our clients and they with us, and in doing so, we often arrive at #2.

1. Necessaries — food, clothing, shelter, medical attention, basic education.

2. Affection — This involves “the great big person who takes care of me opening him or herself to me, making him or herself vulnerable and human in a way, connecting with me physically and in spirit, and thus affirms my significance as a person.”

3. Affirmation and Support — This is basically about expressing sincere belief in the child: “You want to be a cheerleader – or a doctor or an astronaut – and you can do it!”

4. Boundaries — Peter says that “we are living in an age where the lack of boundaries for children is epidemic. Boundaries, of course, reflect a closing value – that certain, reasonably well-defined behaviors are unacceptable, and that when these behaviors occur, unpleasant consequences will result.”

5. Guidance — “Telling and showing children how to cope, how to deal, how to create, how to succeed. Guidance involves how-to techniques such as how to do the dishes or drive a car but at essence guidance is about beliefs — belief in the sense of action motivated and circumscribed by values held by the parents. In the wealth context, guidance on budgeting is essential, and guidance on philanthropy, which may come from participating in family philanthropy together as a group, are good examples. Parents of wealthy kids are worried about passing their values to their children, but they needn’t worry about that if they are present to them, in quality and non-quality times.”

6. Respect — “This is really about listening. It is respectful to listen seriously to what the other person is saying seriously and to empathize with what the other is feeling genuinely.”

7. Trust — This means “relying on the other to act responsibly,” and to allow someone the opportunity to do the wrong thing.

8. Forgiveness — This is not about the glib “I forgive you.” “Forgiveness does not erase the hurt; by definition, it feels the hurt but decides to carry on the relationship despite the hurt.”

9. Religion or Spirituality — “My experience over the last 20 years tells me that children raised in an environment of religion tend to be more in touch with themselves than those who are not. When I use the word religion, I am not referring only to the organized religions — though I am not excluding them either — but I am speaking about an aspiration to higher and enduring truth.”

10. Letting Go — This is the most difficult and along with Necessaries and Affection, the most important. We must say to our kids, ‘I’ve done the lion’s share of the motherly or fatherly work, and I’m here and will be here for you as long as I can be; but the responsibility for you is now yours.’ ”

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Real Events

I attended a fabulous event this week at Merryvale Vineyards, sponsored by a terrific caterer, Real Events. Gaspar Sayoc, the Director of Sales and Marketing at Real Events in St Helena, 707-963-0100, not only knows how to cater exceptional food, but he knows how to create an exceptional experience.

We have long been fans of the Real Restaurant Group which includes Fog City Diner, Betelnut, Buckeye Roadhouse, Bix, Tra Vigne and 8 more hip, spirited, reasonable restaurants in the Bay Area. And now, the Group is offering catering and event coordination. Because of its origins, one unique aspect of Real Events is that it feels more like a restaurant experience than a stodgy ol' banquet experience.

Signature dishes from the various Real Restaurants were offered at serving stations including sushi and assorted pot stickers; deeply decadent and velvety macaroni and cheese, prime rib with three out-of-this-world sauces and so much more. It allowed guests to move freely and it kept the party lively. Gaspar is the master of orchestrating a party so it has energy and sizzle. If we had to do it all again, this is exactly the format we would choose for any event we hosted. It allows you to eat as much or as little as you wish, and it gives you a CHOICE.

Other professionals who contributed to the success were:

Merryvale Vineyards- they served superb wines which were thoughtfully paired with the fabulous foods. Their Cask Room (see photo above) is exactly what you envision when you think of a Napa Valley wine cellar. Dark and atmospheric.

Julie Stevens Design - Julie and Anthony created large, lush floral arrangements for each food station that echoed the theme whether asian cuisine, California cuisine, comfort food, or the dessert bar. My favorite was the profusion of cascading white phaelanopsis orchids from backlit blue glass vases. It looked like the orchids were suspended in mid-air.

Weddings With Michael Peterson - Michael carefully created a song list that was perfect for the occasion, and was played at the perfect sound level so you could comfortably speak and hear your companion. You know how uncomfortable it can be when the music is so loud you are screaming and still can't be heard. Michael provides very sleek, modern speakers that blend into the decor, not those huge, ugly black boxes you usually see. Michael perfectly created the mood that Gaspar had in mind - casual, sophisticated, fun.