It is the people who are the best at what they do who are the most difficult to write about. How do you document the seam which is so well constructed that it appears seamless? I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain the concierge position for quite some time. Pfister Chief Concierge Peter Mortensen is a terrific storyteller, in addition to being an stellar concierge. Peter has a love for both the arts and Milwaukee history, both details which lead him to the story he tells below.
Peter and I traveled to record this piece…
That’s the best way I can describe this Narrator experience. My last few posts will be going live over the next couple of days and my successor will be at work getting acquainted with the speed and rhythm of this sparkling old gal on Wisconsin Avenue. From an artistic standpoint it’s been like getting to eat chocolate cake for breakfast every day. The staff have been great. They’ve been generous with information, gracious in introducing me to guests and other coworkers, and ever tolerant of my constant game of 20 questions.
Every day I’ve arrived…
This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the Wisconsin Dancesport Championships. The company has a long history with the hotel as they’ve held the annual event at the Pfister all these years. This high-heeled party brings dancers from across the country to compete at their specialized steps.
It is interesting to see the dancers’ posture and gait change depending upon which dance is announced. For example, to an untrained eye (mine) the tango appears stiff and exacting. The foxtrot takes on a more sly, playful, and sensual body movement. During waltzes dancers’ bodies become languid and…
“I’m going to be 22.”
That was Joe’s answer when I asked how old he was. His response was shared with a grin in that adorable way that only people up to a certain age are excited to tell you how old they’re going to be.
Joe started with the Pfister as a busser at the ripe young age of 18. After time spent cleaning tables Joe moved on to being a food runner and from there he has become a bartender. Joe bartends upstairs in Blu on occasion but most nights you can find him downstairs…
There tend to be patterns of why people live where they live. Often times they got a job nearby, or that’s where they went to school, or possibly their spouse’s family is from the area.
Roc is a concierge at the Pfister and his path to Milwaukee definitely did not follow any of these typical routes. Roc and his Quaker lineage hail from Northwest Indiana. In his home state Roc had been a teacher of Latin, German, and English before becoming involved in starting non-profit organization. The organization provided the beginnings of what we now know as…
I was sitting in Timothy Westbrook’s studio this afternoon. It is a few days after his first successful gallery showing and already the man is back at work. While Timothy constructed new fabric joining cassette tape and wool I listened to the repeating slick/slack/creak/crack sound of his loom in motion. With the new dress in the works I sat thinking about the ongoing, timeless, human dialogue we seem to have termed “The Great Conversation.” This may seem strange or lofty material to be considering at work, but when surrounded with artwork on every wall you…
A young girl
tells her grandfather
she’s learning to write.
the yellow pencils
and blue lined paper
She tells him she’s learned
how to write her name.
“Well that’s magnificent!”
“I’d love to read your handwriting.
Will you write something for me?”
She shakes her head,
you can’t read it yet,
“I’m just practicing.”
Her grandfather smiles
and leans down to whisper
gravelly grinning decades next to her face
that is the great secret.
The Medici Family were bankers from Tuscany, Italy. Their initial family monies were made in the textile industry and they were influential in developing the double entry bookkeeping system. During the renaissance they owned Europe’s largest bank.
I’m sure their advances in bookkeeping are fascinating but that is not generally why the Medici name has survived throughout history. The Medicis were great patrons of the arts and sciences. Artists so highly regarded we don’t bother speaking their entire names; Masaccio, Donatello, Brunelleschi, da Vinci, and even Galileo.
The first time I saw a concert in Summerfest…
You work at a hotel. A man checks in to the hotel with arms in plaster casts sticking straight out from his body. Later in the day the man calls down to your desk and explains that he’s not certain how to get himself dressed for the day.
What do you do?
Concierge Roc tells the story of how he teamed up with Annie, the Pfister’s Head of Housekeeping, to satisfy the needs of a guest in a whimsically compromising situation. No matter the job at hand, they’re always glad to serve.
Travelers. Travelers everywhere. Transient folks of every stripe walking, running, sitting, working, swimming, eating. Carrying luggage. Grabbing a cup of coffee. Adding sugar to their tea. En route toward somewhere. Arriving from someplace else.
Ah, airports. All of humanity distilled to a small area becoming a sudden, immediate culture. Unique and specific to that individual moment. The energy of not knowing what awaits on the other side of the tarmac touchdown chirp. I haven’t seen an airport in awhile but all the travelers inside this hotel make me feel as though I’m spending my time in a…
The Pfister specializes in weddings. They seem to happen here every weekend, sometimes a few concurrently. Here’s a poem about something we’ve all seen at weddings: The Generations Dance. You know, the one where all the married couples get up and gradually leave as the number of years they’ve been married are ticked away by the announcer.
* If you’d like to hear a spoken recording of this poem, please scroll to the bottom to listen or download *
Without further ado…
After the bride and groom
their first as
man and wife…
As mentioned in an earlier post I’ve put considerable thought toward how to chronicle Jeff, his playing, and more specifically his playing at the Pfister Hotel. There are several occasions when I’ve left the hotel and driven home in silence because after hearing him at the piano anything on the radio sounded like a frivolous muck.
Different ways to “capture” Jeff battled with one another in my head. Photographs, photographs of his hands, photographs of his facial expressions while playing. Brief videos of the way his hands dance across the keys. Recording the audio of him playing…
As I mentioned in an earlier blog post I was able to see Wild Institute founder Chris Heeter speak during UW-Milwaukee’s Women Leaders Conference. Chris’ speech struck a chord with me on many levels and I knew I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to document a few of her philosophies for the blog.
Assuming her canine companion would like some grass respite I suggested we walk four blocks to the Lake Michigan lakefront. While walking I did the best I could to record our conversation, not trip on Tuu Weh’s leash (Chris explains her name…
This is the one I’ve avoided writing. The elephant in my room. The profile I’ve put off for five months while I watched and listened quietly in the background, leaning against a column with my arms crossed wondering how it happens and how to write about it.
Every time I’ve listened to Dr. Jeffrey Hollander play the piano I’ve had a clear desire to write about him, to chronicle the man and his work. I’m a music fan but I’ve never been a musician. I can converse in a limited manner regarding jazz…
I said I’d move here
for two years-
no more than two years.
That was my limit.
suggested a promotion
but said I had to relocate.
I was so sure
I’d move right back
that I considered
sub-letting my apartment
instead of ending the lease.
My friends all joked
that I was moving to Milwaukee
to become a cowboy.
That was fourteen years ago.
Before moving here
I thought this place
was a small town
and couldn’t wait
to get back to the city.
Ah, big brother Chicago. Just two hundred years ago we were part of the same Illinois territory.
People come to Milwaukee for many reasons. Business. Dinner. Conventions. Celebrations. Sporting events. Art openings. Museums.
Visitors ask certain key questions which lead me to conclude they’re not from Milwaukee. This line of conversation usually takes place after someone says, “So how do I get a cab around here?” or “This place is great, where else should I visit?” Or they call the water drinking oasis a fountain instead of a bubbler.
I’ve noticed a trend of Chicagoans visiting us just…
To my dismay I realized that the UW-Milwaukee Women Leaders Conference scheduled to take place at the Pfister Friday, March 30th was sold out. I’d hoped there was a possibility to watch from the perimeter and take in a little of the conference.
Thursday evening I was in the lobby lounge speaking with pianist Dr. Jeffrey Hollander regarding a Pfister blog I’ve been working on about the man. There was a woman seated at the table closest Jeffrey and the three of us talked for a bit. In conversation I asked if she was local or from…
That was the first thing out of his mouth when I mentioned I’d been shopping for a house.
“French doors can brighten up any space. If there is no doorway, build a doorway. Anything can be done. Of course, it’s easier if a house is exactly how you want it when you first walk through but that’s not realistic. Floor plans can be changed, walls can be built or removed, it all depends what you’d like to do. But the first most important thing is whether you like the house and whether you like…
The Pfister has received countless compliments on their Marcus Celebrated Chefs series. Many of the compliments centered around the hotel’s Executive Chef Brian Frakes. People talked about how generous he was with his knowledge and always sent them home with extra food. Guests went home energized with new ideas of how to invigorate their home cooking.
It turned out I’d met Brian briefly when I first came on as narrator. Concierge Peter Mortensen was giving me the introductory tour and we walked downstairs by the kitchen. Brian and I briefly shook hands and exchanged greetings. There were so…
Do you remember 1964, what happened after blues and rock and roll exported across the Atlantic Ocean and came back from a stop in England? The Kinks, The Dave Clark Five, The Animals, Donovan, The Rolling Stones, and of course The Beatles. When those four lads arrived in the States there was pandemonium along every stop. Each airport was crowded with admirers. Imagine a limousine driver trying to wade through a sea of screaming high school girls. These four gentlemen had not a moment to themselves once they hit stateside. Countless young ladies tried anything just for a handshake, a…
What is the meaning of life? I do not know and I’m quite sure many people are closer to having a conclusion than myself. The best I’ve managed to piece together is finding something you love and devising a way to make it pay your bills. Individuals who have successfully accomplished that have always fascinated me.
As an example I offer the sommelier. Their job is to become a walking wine database. How does one do this? Naturally, drinking wine is a large part of the job. But one can’t just become a lush and start wearing…
One day I was sitting in the lobby lounge waiting for something to happen. It can be a strange feeling to think qualitatively about conversation, hoping for a moment of random brilliance to spring from a happenstance stranger. This random Tuesday evening my mind started drifting for all the typical reason’s one’s mind wanders from the task at hand while working. Bills, or maybe errands forgotten or neglected. Maybe the current song grabbed my attention and reminded me of another song which presented a memory of an old friend and I pictured the car they drove which stranded…
Saturday afternoon I swung in to Mason Street Grill. The restaurant wasn’t open and jazz played quietly while the fireplace crackled to an audience of empty bar stools. This Saturday was a sunny thaw of a day which followed a sudden Friday snowstorm. Roads now cleared by snowplows and sunshine generally forecasts a busy night for bars and restaurants. I was hoping to sit down and speak with Heather Kanter-Kowal, the restaurant’s assistant manager and sommelier. A sommelier is certified as a wine expert and anyone who has been able to pursue a field they love…
A friend once told me that when she moved to Portland, Oregon she had a difficult time finding a job. Portland has become a bit of a mecca for young liberal folks looking to live the relaxed western life. However the city is a famously difficult place to find employment. She encountered this problem, but only until she informed potential employers that she was from Milwaukee. “Oh, you’re from the Midwest?” One possible employer said during an interview, “We’ll figure out a position for you. No problem.” It seemed she had cracked the code.
I was reminded of…
Saturday afternoon I was hanging out in Shelby’s studio watching her work on a painting of the Milwaukee Art Museum. She was searching to find her way through the piece. A stroke here, a stroke there. Step back, consider. Wipe with a moist towel, then determine another stroke. Having this rare intersection between a writer and a painter makes me feel like we’re living inside of Frank O’Hara’s poem Why I Am Not a Painter.
While I was seated on the couch a guy in his twenties walked in to the studio for a closer look…