visiting museums: prolonging a journey | south asian galleries – philadelphia museum of art |

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” ~ Pat Conroy

When an invitation to relive or extend a journey offers itself, I will always take it, no matter in what form.  Often, after visiting a foreign country, I will bask in a book set in that locale, extending my experience of that place.  When I come across buildings or gardens with particular architectural styles, those commonly found in exotic locales — European Gothic cathedrals, Chinese dragons or gates, Japanese gardens, Islamic mosques — my heart skips a beat; I ease back in time to my wanderings through those magical places.  Whenever I take urban hikes through cities or natural landscapes, I feel that same sense of adventure I had when immersing myself in an exotic place; I remember the anticipation as I set off to explore China’s Longji Rice Terraces or Nepal’s village to village trails.

I felt a sense of exhilaration, as well as nostalgia and longing, on visiting the new South Asian Galleries at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  I was taken back to a not-so-long-ago time when I lived and traveled extensively in South Asia. I loved meandering through the happy reminders found in this place.

We had already visited the “Paint the Revolution” special exhibition and, rather than exhausting ourselves trying to see the rest of this great and sprawling museum, we picked one part of the permanent collection to visit.  We walked up to the second floor via the Great Stair Hall Balcony and headed for the reopened South Asian Galleries.

an archer at the top of the stairs
an archer at the top of the stairs

We passed through the European Art Gallery from 1100-1500 on our way to the South Asian Galleries.

First we came upon some mosaic tiles from Iran.  As these are Islamic, they reminded me of so many beautiful tiles I found in Oman, UAE, Egypt, and even in southern Spain, originating from the Moorish conquest.  These Tile Mosaic Panels from Iran (Isfahan) are from the Safavid dynasty, 1501-1736.

I visited what seemed like infinite numbers of Buddhist temples in Korea, Japan, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand, and, to this day, I always feel a sense of peace when I see Buddhist figures anywhere in the world.  Here, we found a gilded bronze White Tara, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion (1700s-1800s) from Inner Mongolia, Autonomous Region (Dolon Nor, Chahar province, China).  The compassionate Buddhist goddess Tara is a bodhisattva (Buddhist savior).  The eyes on her palms and forehead show that she sees and helps all living beings.

White Tara, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion
White Tara, Buddhist Goddess of Compassion

This Chinese cabinet is covered with symbols from ancient China: cranes as symbols of longevity and immortality; two deer, a stag and a doe, symbolic of domestic harmony between husband and wife; pot-shaped vase designs, painted in blue and green, suggestive of endless wealth; and lotuses representing purity.

Chinese cabinet
Chinese cabinet

The man in the detail of one panel is a successful merchant and the bolt of cloth next to him likely refers to his source of wealth.

Successful merchant on Chinese cabinet
Successful merchant on Chinese cabinet

In Tibetan Buddhism and Hinduism, a mandala helps seekers of enlightenment along their spiritual path.  It represents both god’s palace and the entire cosmos in a geometric-circular format.  It may be two-dimensional (a drawing or painting) or three-dimensional (a sculpture or architectural space).

By meditating on a mandala, a person undertakes a mental journey, beginning in the outermost circle – which can hold human patrons, teachers and lesser deities – and progresses inward to become one with the god or divine couple at the mandala’s center (according to a sign at the museum).

This Satchakravarti Samvara Mandala from Tibet is made up of six smaller mandalas.  Each holds a different Buddha in sexual union with his female counterpart.

Mandalas are also found throughout Nepal; I bought a couple in Kathmandu to bring home.  I still need to find a place in my house to hang them.

Tibetan mandala
Tibetan mandala

A thangka is the Tibetan term for a painting made on cloth that can be rolled up for travel or storage and unrolled and hung for use.  Thangkas most often depict Buddhist deities, renowned religious teachers, or a mandala (a god’s cosmic palace).  In Nepal, these types of paintings are often called paubhas.  I bought one of these in Nepal, as a memento of my journey.

I cherish the mementos I have of my Asian travels, and of all my travels.  They preserve and extend my travel experience.  Collecting these items turns my travel into a collective experience of my repeated immersions into different cultures.  Displaying them in my house surrounds me with happy recollections of travel moments and what I gleaned from them – a sense of independence, resilience, adventurousness and camaraderie with fellow travelers. These mementos spark a yearning to return to places I’ve been, to explore them again with fresh eyes and a new depth of appreciation.

Tibetan thangka
Tibetan thangka

In a traditional residence of a Chinese nobleman, a reception hall was the most formal building, where official activities were conducted.  This Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhou, displayed in its entirety here, was originally part of a Beijing palace built in the early 1640s.  The hall has a thirty-foot ceiling and brilliantly painted floral and animal motifs on its beams and brackets that convey auspicious wishes.  This hall is presently furnished with works of art dating between the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the period during which the hall was in use.

It was dark in the room where this reception hall was exhibited, so it was difficult to get a photo of anything but one of the painted roof beams.  Beams such as these in China delighted me every time I encountered them and remembered to turn my eyes to the ceiling.

I love the grand vision of the museum’s Director Fiske Kimball (1888-1955), who envisioned architectural elements providing historical context to objects on display.  This whole reopened South Asian Gallery has architecture displayed in a grand way; I felt as if I were walking through ancient Asian cultures.

Painted bean in Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhou
Painted bean in Reception Hall from the Palace of Duke Zhou

The hall in one large room is constructed as part of the Madana Gopala Swamy temple complex, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu and his avatar Krishna. Apparently a woman, Adeline Pepper Gibson, purchased sixty granite carvings she found piled in the temple compound from local authorities in 1912.  Most of the complex still stands in the famous temple-city of Madurai in southern India.

Madana Gopala Swamy temple complex from Madurai in southern India
Madana Gopala Swamy temple complex from Madurai in southern India

A visit to South Asian galleries wouldn’t be complete without something from Japan. Some Japanese tea houses were set up here, but it was hard to get decent pictures in the strong light.

Japanese tea house
Japanese tea house
Japanese tea house
Japanese tea house

Surihaku theatrical robes are used exclusively in Noh drama to symbolize the uncontrolled passions of certain female roles.  This Noh Costume from 1700s Japan is a silk satin weave decorated with patinated metallic leaf applied to a stenciled paste base (surihaku), representing the reptilian skin of the character, who has been transformed into a serpent or demon by the corrosive power of jealousy and hatred.

Noh Costume
Noh Costume

A modern piece from 2008, Kotodama (the soul of language), is embellished with word-filled fragments from antique books and accounting ledgers and layered scraps of red silk from kimono undergarments.  For the artist, Maio Motoko, words had spiritual power.  Here, the assembled fragments create a visual world of words.

Kotodama
Kotodama
Detail - Kotodama
Detail – Kotodama

Finally as we exited the South Asian galleries and made our way back out through the European galleries, we stopped to admire the French Gothic Chapel.  I am always enamored by decorative doors, and these doors I find particularly beautiful.  This one reminds me of doors I found during the two years I lived in Oman.

doors from French Gothic Chapel
doors from French Gothic Chapel
Detail - doors from French Gothic Chapel
Detail – doors from French Gothic Chapel

The chapel was composed of elements from two buildings that were part of a large religious community at Aumonieres near Dijon in central France that was administered by the Knights of Saint Anthony.  This nursing order, founded in the 11th century, established many hospices.

Stained glass window from French Gothic Chapel
Stained glass window from French Gothic Chapel

We finally walked out of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by 3:20, only an hour and a half after we entered.  It was a good visit and not too tiresome, and we were able to enjoy the special exhibition and one part of the permanent collection.  We used a number of suggestions from the compact but interesting book, How to Visit a Museum.  I hope to take to heart more of David Finn’s ideas for exploring museums during these winter months, when it’s too cold and generally miserable to explore outdoors.

View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
View of Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

 ~ Thursday, December 29, 2016

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twenty-thirteen

In twenty-thirteen, I:  Explored wadis and ruins and painted walls on Jebel Akhdar.  Watched my son Adam collect sand in his eyes as he rolled down sand dunes at a Bedouin camp.  Checked out the Arabian Sea from a watchtower in Sur.  Watched Adam juggle stones.  Swam through glowing aquamarine pools at Wadi Shab into a sunlit cave & applauded as the boys jumped off cliffs.   Kissed my 20- & 21-year-old sons good morning and good night at my flat in Oman like I used to when they were babies. Wore long flowing cotton skirts and Indian cotton tunics to work at my “university” job.  Stood long boring hours at too many “invigilations” at UNIZWA.  Stood along the perimeter of the cattle market at Nizwa souq as men in dishdasha paraded their cows and goats in a circle. Kissed camels with Mike and the boys in Oman.  Visited the massive Bahla fort that, until 2013, evaded restoration for 25 years due to mischievous jinn.  Escaped gunshots, with Mario, in Wadi Arbiyyin.  Watched a tree grow out of a sidewalk at Bimmah Sinkhole.  Photographed an Indian roller at wetlands near Al Amerat.  Enjoyed a Valentine’s Day buffet at the Sahab with Mona Lisa and Beg after an invigorating hike.  Searched in vain for the Persian steps on a 6 hour hike to nowhere on Jebel Akhdar. Drank at least 168 glasses of mango juice.  Had a “Brothers & Sisters” marathon session while sick in Oman.  Enjoyed the blooming roses on Jebel Akhdar and met a visiting Irish couple who read my blog in Ireland and recognized me drinking wine at the Sahab.  Saw tree-climbing goats at Misfat Al Abriyyin.  Watched warily as the British invaded my apartment building in Nizwa.  Sold my GMC Terrain to an Omani man.  Watched all three seasons of Downton Abbey and got hopelessly addicted. Shared oranges, dates and coffee with Mario, an Omani man and his sisters in Wadi Bani Kharous.  Saw the roses on Jebel Akhdar, again, and toasted with bubbly to Sandy and Malcolm, my two British friends. Survived a rare rainy day and floods on a sepia day in Nizwa.  Went seeking the moonrise with Mario amidst the painted rocks of Izki.  Shared Shang Thai with Tahira in Muscat.  Went in search of the “essence” of Muscat on a steamy 42 degree day.  Explored the ruins and gardens of Adam with Mario.Sold much of my “stuff” from my Nizwa flat, and shipped the remainder home.  Said goodbye to my friends in Oman (a nomad in the land of nizwa).

Said “Namaste,” head bowed and hands in prayer, to scores of Nepalese. Circled around Swayambhunath, a 5th century Buddhist stupa, also known as the Monkey Temple, in Kathmandu. Caught a glimpse of the kumari at Durbar Square. Ate momos overlooking the Boudha stupa.  Watched a cremation at Pashupatinath. Experienced load-shedding, and shivered constantly, in Pokhara. Met wildman Nepali actor Sagar Ansari on the shore of Phewa Tal. Drank an Everest beer at Moondance to the tune of “Oye Como Va.”  Ate pumpkin soup at Love Kush. Learned to say thank you in Nepalese: “Danyaybat.” Woke up to views of the Annapurna range for 3 mornings straight. Watched the sunrise with a group of Chinese tourists over snow-covered Fish-Tailed at Sarangkot. Hiked past terraced hills from Nagarkot to Changu Narayan. Read What I Loved and Arresting God in Kathmandu. Bought royal blue and purple yak wool blankets in Kathmandu’s narrow streets and alleys.  Bought an ornamented Hindu deity mask and a ruby ring and turquoise earrings and Thangka paintings. Listened to Tibetan Incantations in Thamel (catbird in south asia).

Fell in love with balconies, gelato and Spanish fans in Barcelona. Met Antoni Gaudí at Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Casa Batlló, & La Perdrera. Saw a futuristic fashion show where a model sported a Peter Pan outfit with what looked like a piece of Kraft Singles cheese tied around his waist.  Got lost on my way to Montserrat. Got lost in the streets of Toledo.  Ate Marzipan Delicia in Toledo. Fell in love with the cloisters at Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. Admired tea roses at Alcázar of Toledo. Drove a Peugeot past giant bulls and windmill farms from Toledo to Malaga. Pretended to be Don Quixote at Consuegra’s windmills.  Bought tiered and colorful Spanish skirts in Barcelona and Andalucia. Enjoyed una cerveza with Aussies Carole & Barry in Ronda, Andalucia. Read Duende: A Journey Into the Heart of Flamenco and then listened to flamenco in Granada.  Read Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Andalucia.  Ate tapas in Seville and endured horrible heat in the Alcázar. Cried at the sight of the candy-cane Moorish arches at Cordoba’s Mezquita. Read Shadow of the Wind.  Ate fresh sardines at a chiringuito along the Mediterranean. Ate churros dipped in chocolate in Granada.  Sipped tinto de verano with Marianne from East of Malaga. Explored the white-washed village of Frigiliana with Marianne.

Had heart-to-heart talks on walks and over wine with Jo of restlessjo in Tavira, Portugal.  Went on a bird-watching boat tour.  Went postal with Jo in Tavira. Cried at the views from the Moorish Castle in Sintra, Portugal.  Enjoyed coffee & pastel de nata with Manuel and his wife in Sintra.  Listened to Fado and songs by Sutil, a band of Spanish boys, on the streets of Sintra. Learned how to say thank you in Portuguese: obrigado!  Got LOSTin Lisbon.  Climbed the Tower of Belem. Trekked up and down the hills of Alfama.  Saw the Atlantic Ocean from its eastern shore in Cascais (in search of a thousand cafés).

Flew from Lisbon via London back to Virginia. Got an iPhone. Got a black Toyota Corolla.  Got obsessed with Instagram. Perused antiques and LAUGH signs in Lucketts, Virginia.  Had a “Bad day in progress: Approach at your own Risk.”  Toured wineries of Charlottesville with my daughter Sarah. Returned to work at Northern Virginia Community College to find my classes overrun by Saudi students. Visited Annette from Beauty Along the Road in Monterey, Virginia. Saw leaves the colors of pomegranates, squash & pumpkins in Virginia’s mountains, for the first time in 4 years.  Collected colorful maple and oak leaves. Turned 58. Hiked through Douthat State Park & to Saint Mary’s Rock. Celebrated Thanksgiving with my sister, my father, my husband and my children, for the first time in 4 years.  Cooked southern grits, a Martha Stewart breakfast frittata, chicken & apple sausage patties, and pancakes with cranberry maple compote for my traditional Christmas brunch.  Got hooked on Ann Patchett.  Lost at Bananagrams, Oodles, and Scattergories. Read The Seamstress and dreamt of Spain. Decided to take off spring semester 2014.  Prepared for my trip to Los Angeles and San Francisco in January.

It’s been a year of adventure, sad goodbyes, upheaval, and readjustment to life in America.  It’s been a year of highs (my trips around Oman, through Spain, Portugal and Nepal) and lows (returning to work at the community college and dealing with reverse culture shock).  It’s been a year of reconnecting with family and completing travel writing courses and exploring my home region of Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.  Overall, twenty-thirteen has been a time of great change and many challenges.  I’m ready to settle in and FOCUS, to take solid steps to achieve a number of personal goals in twenty-fourteen. 🙂

weekly photo challenge: unexpected

Tuesday, November 26:  The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is Unexpected. Says Cheri Lucas: The world is an interesting place: we stumble upon unexpected things each day, like signs that are unintentionally amusing, bizarre sculptures, or even strange evidence of a miniature world on the side of a building.

So, your photo challenge this week is to capture something unexpected. You can also interpret the theme in other ways: a street scene or landscape that just doesn’t look quite right, an impromptu portrait of a loved one, or any other image that reveals a sense of surprise.

In my travels over the last three years, I’ve run across too many unexpected things to count, but I thought I’d show some of the surprising people I encountered along my journey.

I found this white-haired monk at Donghae Yonggung-Sa, a temple in Busan, South Korea.  I thought it was funny that we both had the same color of hair (an april jaunt to busan), especially in Korea, land of the black-haired people. 🙂

a white haired monk at  Donghae Yonggung-Sa in Busan, South Korea
a white-haired monk at Donghae Yonggung-Sa in Busan, South Korea

I unexpectedly met this famous Nepali actor shooting a movie scene in Pokhara, Nepal (pokhaha: a stroll around phewa tal & seeking shelter (& warmth) at moondance).  He says he plays a fighter in the movie, Kale, that should be released in January 2014. His name is Sagar Ansari and he has been in other movies, including Kalapani, which he tells me I can buy in a DVD shop.  He asks me if I think he’s handsome and I just laugh, thinking to myself that this is one scary-looking guy. 🙂

Nepali actor Sagar Ansari
Nepali actor Sagar Ansari

I also had an unexpected encounter at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Muscat, Oman with Joanna Lumley, who plays Patsy Stone on Absolutely Fabulous (absolutely fabulous: a surprise encounter with patsy stone 🙂).

Neziha, Joanna Lumley and me in Muscat, Oman
Neziha, Joanna Lumley and me in Muscat, Oman

And finally, one day when I was walking through Nizwa Souq, not far from my house in Oman, I came upon this unexpected group of old Omani men and their guns.

Omani men and their guns at Nizwa souq
Omani men and their guns at Nizwa souq

And I bet this vendor at Nizwa souq didn’t expect me to catch him napping on the job.

a sleeping Omani vendor at Nizwa souq
a sleeping Omani vendor at Nizwa souq

I certainly never expected to encounter this group of fishermen on the beach at Al Musaanah in Oman.

sardine fishermen at Al Musaanah Beach in Oman
sardine fishermen at Al Musaanah Beach in Oman
Fisherman at Al Musaanah
Fisherman at Al Musaanah

“If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.”   ~ Heraclitus

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