Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bee's Knees - The Frank Meier Gin & Lavender Cocktail

Bee's Knees - Gin & Lavender Cocktail original by Frank Meier
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017
With all this lemon and lavender you’d think it’s high tea time hour.  But for this drink that dates back to the hard times of the prohibition era, you’ll need a coupe glass, gin, lavender, honey and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

The Bee’s Knees takes us to Paris’ enigmatic Bar Hemingway located in the lobby of the Hotel Ritz where a mysterious bartender named Frank Meier, who served as a spy during the French Resistance when the Germans occupied Paris in the second World War, authored the classic aptly named cocktail.  

Meier trained at the legendary bar in New York’s Hoffman House Hotel and was in the eye of the hurricane during the prohibition of alcohol.  Lots of underground gin was being served, yet it was of inferior quality.  To mask the strong odor of the less than ideal gin, Meier added citrus and honey resulting in a cocktail that became “suave” or “the best”, thus the slang for the Bee’s Knees name among the jazz clubs.  With his bartending training underway, he returned to Paris to become the Hotel Ritz’ first head bartender in 1921 when it’s Cafe Parisian opened its doors.

Meier’s talent for creating delicious cocktails combined with his sense of hospitality to the glitzy and the Lost Generation of intellectuals made him famous.  It was the Golden Age at the Ritz and some of Meier’s clientele included the King of Spain, the Prince of Wales, the Russian Grand Dukes and one of his best friends, American author Ernest Hemingway.  

Meier was Austrian born and part Jewish, yet he continued to run his bar even when the Germans occupied Paris.  It was a risk he was willing to take.  He survived the war, avoided deportation and actively engaged in the resistance by assisting many Jewish residents to obtain fake documents and passports that allowed them to hide from the Gestapo’s concentration-camp round-ups.  

Frank Meier cocktail mixologist at the Hotel Ritz, Paris
Because Meier helped the French resistance and British spies, he was constantly under Gestapo surveillance.  He also passed notes for Hans Speidel and Carl Stülpnagel to assist them in planning the assassination attempt of Adolph Hitler which failled.  He was essentially running a mailbox with other Ritz staff members passing coded troop movements to the French Resistance via Switzerland.  

There’s no telling how many people benefited in avoiding death at the hands of the Nazis from the help of Frank Meier, but what is known is that a couple of years after the war in 1947, the mysterious anti-Nazi spy disappeared into the night but not before leaving his treasured recipes in a small book, The Artistry of Mixing Drinks.  Its publication was circulating since 1939 but included only 1300 copies and they’re sought after at auction to the highest bidder.  

One of the popular recipes in the book is the Knee’s Bees cocktail.  In Meier’s recipe it doesn’t include lavender, but for this version, in honor of France and its lavender fields  the cocktail includes an infusion of lavender syrup which you'll surely enjoy.  

Here’s a toast to the many lives saved by Frank Meier and to Meier himself, raise your glass with a Bee’s Knees.

Bee’s Knees with Lavender

Granulated sugar *
2 ounces (60 mL) Gin
3/4 ounce Lavender syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Fresh lavender (for garnish)

Rim a chilled coupe with sugar and set aside.  Combine the gin, lavender syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Shake well.  Strain into the sugar-rimmed coupe and serve garnished with fresh lavender.  Makes one cocktail.    

*Dried lavender can be added to the granulated sugar for garnish.  

Lavender Syrup

1 Cup of water
1 Tablespoon of dried lavender flowers
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
1/2 Cup of honey

In a saucepan, bring the water and lavender flowers to a boil.  Add the sugar and honey and bring to a second boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.  Strain, discarding the lavender flowers, and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  

Written by Leticia Alaniz © 2017

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Jonathan Ramirez - Portraits, Magic & Surrealism

Jonathan Ramirez
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2017
You paint portraits, you make sculptures, you create drawings, and you compose original rock n' roll full of imagery and messages, yet you don't consider yourself an artist?

"I don't consider myself an artist but yeah I always wanted to create something artistic all my life, from paintings or sculptures… I guess I'm not an artist but a person that's inspired to create things." 

Jonathan Ramirez may be humble in accepting the reality that he's on his way to superstardom in the art scene; yet he's already garnered countless art recognitions and has been invited to showcase his art in solo exhibitions in Europe, USA, and Latin America.  His pieces have been acquired by top galleries and collectors.  As a whole, his body of work is recognized for its complexity and depth and for encompassing cultural and political commentary in highly detailed portraits in a renaissance style mixed with modern art that includes surreal depictions in mixed media.  To describe Jonathan's art would be difficult to place it in one single style.  His portraits alone are prophetically sensitive, and they're suffused with a theatrical air.  They're images that reveal an enormous power of feeling and observation.  His underlying theme is the sentimentality and expressiveness of the deep gaze of the eyes in each of his portraits.  It's a gaze that may sense tragedy or the brevity of the moment in which we live in.  Elusive brushstrokes follow the gaze and in some portraits, drips of color roll down towards the bottom of the canvas, almost as if the beginning of life rolls down towards the end of life reminding us that life is a perfect delicate balance which must come to an end.    

I remember the event where I first met Jonathan at a Battle of the Bands concert where he was playing with his band called Moon Fluid.  The music of Moon Fluid was a progressive style of rock n' roll with a blending of blues, post-punk, ska, jazz, gothic rock and even latin influences.  He was playing chords on his guitar and naturally, his music stood out and it was loud.  I was there to photograph the concert and I wanted to know what Moon Fluid was all about.  Soon after, I was photographing covers for his singles and band portraits. 

Jonathan was born in Monterrey, Mexico and the famous neighborhood, Barrio Antiguo, famously known for its art scene, poets, writers, and intellectuals may have been the right place to shape his artistic persona.

In his words: 

"My childhood was very strange… I was a quiet kid, always drawing USSR war propaganda posters… I was very interested in war propaganda since I was a kid.  I used to copy and create my art-war drawings in mixed media with popular Disney characters interwoven.  I think that's why my current paintings resemble my childhood art.  I grew up in a poor neighborhood in a middle-class family.  I'm very proud of my heritage, of my background, and where I came from. "

LA - Does your heritage have a place in your art?

Ramirez - Yes, in fact, I started my first collection inspired by my Mayan culture with a touch of a modern perspective.  I love to combine some of my roots and cultures in most of my paintings.  Even if I'm finished doing the Mayan collection, I try to apply my Hispanic heritage to my artwork.  

Portrait of Rasputin by Jonathan Ramirez
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017
LA - What kind of subjects do you mostly paint?

Ramirez - I love to paint portraits but I also like to do detailed work and there are a few times that I paint surreal subjects in different mediums.  I'm known for painting using the natural stain from wine, coffee, spices and of course traditional oils, acrylics, and charcoal.  Fire makes it on my canvases quite often and it's quite a spectacle when I paint.  It's like a rock concert.  My art, in general, is emotional and colorful.  It's magical and dark with a flair of gothic.

LA - Your art seems to speak its own language that transcends time.  It has a sense of universality.  Are you a storyteller through your art?

Ramirez - I think each of my pieces has a story to tell so I'm definitely a visual storyteller.  I let my art speak for me.  I'm a very shy person so everything you see in my work is related to something I might say or a personal story.  

LA - Do you think your art reflects your ideas and opinions on the world we live in?

Ramirez - Yes, my art reflects the modern world we live in because the world I live in inspires me to create so it's a balance.

LA - How do you view social issues of the world today?  Do negative social issues portrayed in the media bother you?

Ramirez - I don't get angry, the world is already angry with each other, so instead I get inspired to create what I do.  For everything I see in social media, I create something that will have an impact.  I mean, you have to be a creator to not fall into those games.  I keep myself distracted from all of that.  If I see a subject I like and If think I can project that into art I make that happen.  I believe art can make a difference.  In the world we live in, I can't step away or blind myself to current social issues so I just find a way to express myself thru art and let the world see my point of view thru my art.     

Jonathan Ramirez
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017
LA - Are you spiritual or what do you believe in?

Ramirez - I would say the older I become the more I become non-religious.  But I would say I'm spiritual and I'm really trying to look for the answers of existence, you know… is there life after death?  Or what's next?  Things like that… I'm not sure if you call that spiritual but yeah I really love peace.  And on the subject of philosophy, I love Plato. 

LA - I think Plato was the philosopher that argued the issue of "being alive" and "being dead", two opposite states, and "dying" and "coming-to-life" must balance out dying… so it's interesting to wonder about what comes next.

LA - Do you question anything in life, for example, what our purpose is and the existentialism of life itself?  

Ramirez - Yes, I do all the time.  Before I go to sleep and close my eyes I think deep.  There are so many questions and not enough answers.  It's very difficult for me to go to bed thinking what there might be after this life and how I can apply that to my next painting.  Waking up and having those six hours face to face with a canvas and trying to apply my feelings and emotions raises a lot of questions.  Existentialism definitely has a place in my paintings.  

LA - How do you prepare yourself mentally when you begin a new canvas?  What's your studio setup like?

Ramirez - My studio is a mess, but that's how it should be.  It's the only place I feel secure and happy.  I try not to think before I start painting, then I play music depending on the mood.  Then, of course, I drink wine or something to get a little high on emotions if you know what I mean!  

LA - What bands do you listen to?  

Ramirez - I love Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Smashing Pumpkins… in fact, I'm working on a collection inspired by one of their albums: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.  You can also find Tool and A Perfect Circle on my playlist.  They really inspire me in my creative process.

LA - Music is a very big driving force that keeps us going.  What else has had an influence on your work?

Ramirez - In the past four years, my art is influenced by my personal experiences.  My love life especially, my heart has been getting hurt a lot.  So in a way, my loneliness drives me to keep painting or the fact that I don't feel like going out much and meet people.  It's a strange thing to say, I'm not very social so I project myself into my paintings.  My love life has been very disappointing.  Past relationships, lost love, death and of course, music is what keep me going.  

2016 Collection by Jonathan Ramirez
LA - Are you happy with your life?

Ramirez - Death is a surprise party that may come at any moment.  I'm very happy now but who knows tomorrow?  I live every minute of my life as if it was the last one.  I enjoy the moment and never look back or look into the future.  For now, I feel proud of my art, my work, everything I do and create. 

LA - Life is full of pain and death.  It's an indisputable truth and in between, we can find happiness among ourselves.  Your paintings certainly speak of life and death and their vibrant colors seem to seek authenticity and they convey the message that we can get more out of life. 

LA - What are your artistic dreams for the future?

Ramirez - As far as workflow, I would like to keep creating every day, even if it's a small sketch which I may never share with people.  I see myself today and my future alone, creating art, making crazy and dark paintings and sculptures.  I would love to display my new collection and share it with the world for sure.  I would like to experiment with new mediums and I would like to explore my brain and be more active with art.  And as for my music, it's a little bit harder to accomplish because I have to depend on others so that I can play a gig.  I love my band Moon Fluid but I need the other musicians and many times they're not available.  So painting is more of a solo activity and it has actually possessed me more strongly, so I'll just keep creating solo.    

LA - What has been a highlight of your career?

Ramirez - I guess I consider it a major highlight when I exhibit my work.  It gives me great satisfaction when people see my work in person and see the time and work that I have put into the art.  It makes me feel that I have something good going for me.  Exhibits keep me going because it's the drive that I need to inspire me.  I'm not always dependent on a public, but it does give me a great boost.  

LA - Where was your first exhibit and when?

Ramirez - It was in London I believe in 2011 at Debut Contemporary.  After that show, it seems Dallas started paying more attention to my art so I started to do more exhibits in my base city of Dallas, but I still keep traveling to Europe to display my art.

LA - Is there a city in the world that you think is more suited for you?  

Ramirez - I think a lot of artists might choose New York or Los Angeles but I feel better suited for London.  I think the art scene is growing so much in London and I think it's also so beautiful and inspiring for me.  I react to the city and it's like a strong energy from which I draw inspiration.  

LA - What has criticism on your art been like, whether positive or negative?

Ramirez - Because its art there will always be a lot of different opinions and I have received both negative and positive critiques.  What I do is just listen and I try to see their point of view.  Does it affect me?  Not at all, I respect peoples' opinion all the time and I love to get feedback. 

LA -  How do you view the artistic scene in Dallas?

Ramirez - I usually check the art scene, I go to exhibits.  I mean it seems to me everyone is famous nowadays, you see a new model, photographer or a painter coming on social media every day.  So I think art has a place on social media and it's a great platform to get the word out.  All the cool people come out on social media, so I'm just gonna ride the same train.   

LA - Do you have your family's support and approval?

Ramirez - My family is very supportive.  I'm lucky that I came from a family that always embraced the arts.  For example, my father was a musician and my mother sang in a choir.  So music and the arts have always been a part of our lives.  It just came naturally to me.  At first, they were a little bit shocked or scared when they saw my paintings, especially the darker ones with dark themes, but now they understand me and support me all the way.  They do wonder why I paint so many portraits, but they're cool, portraits are my passion so they love them now.

LA - Your portraits assertively embrace the renaissance art movement, especially the way light glances along the flesh of the faces which is hard to accomplish.  And speaking of the renaissance, is there an artist of that period or other periods that you would have liked to meet if you could?

Ramirez - I would have really like to meet Leonardo, Michelangelo or Dali.  All the people that I have dreamt of meeting left a legacy behind either in art or music.  Their legacy makes me happy and that's why we're here, to experience that.  I like to live in the moment but I wish I could meet a couple of those guys.  I have learned a lot from studying their works.  I only aspire for my work to make a mark somewhere, to leave its legacy and to perhaps make an impression on a person for the better.  It really makes me happy when people enjoy my art which I create with my heart.

"Great art takes all that we've got to put into it.  And when we're gone, all that remains is art." - Jonathan Ramirez
Mayan Prophesy by Jonathan Ramirez © 2016