the january cocktail hour – boy, do i ever need a drink!

Welcome to our January happy hour! Come right in, make yourself comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. I don’t know about you, but January has been a rough month, so I really need a drink (or two or three!).  Today I’m serving up a new concoction I discovered at Lolita in Philadelphia: a jalapeno-cucumber margarita.  I’m not a big fan of sweet drinks, so this is perfect and refreshing.  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.  I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.  Cheers!

I’m happy to see you.  We can mingle or we can sit, whatever is to your liking.  How are you surviving since the election?  Have you taken a stand in politics or are you sitting on the sidelines waiting for things to shake out? How are your resolutions coming along?  What kind of music are you listening to?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  Have you had any special family gatherings?

Some of you may remember my ambitious plans for 2017: here’s looking at you, twenty-seventeen

Well.  Let’s just say, at least for now, my plans have been slightly waylaid.

downtown Harper's Ferry
downtown Harper’s Ferry

“Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.” ~ Allen Saunders

The day after I signed up for three writing classes at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and one class through Fairfax County Adult Ed on starting a new business, I got a call from Virginia International University, a small private university not far from my house, to have a phone interview.  This was a shock as I had applied and been rejected for a job with them last August.  The phone interview was followed by a request to do a 20-minute teaching demo, which I also did.  They hired me as an adjunct to teach two intensive ESL classes, Mon-Thur (9:00-2:40).  I didn’t have much time to prepare as the classes started on Monday, January 16, on Martin Luther King Day, so I was pretty stressed out.

the town of Harper's Ferry
the town of Harper’s Ferry

When I teach, though I only have 20 contact hours/week, I end up working almost double that amount.  So, now and for the duration of the 7-week session, my time is not my own. Not only do I have to prepare for and mark papers for two classes, but I also am taking one writing class every Saturday for 6 weeks, and I have two more one-day classes I’ve signed up for, one this Thursday and one on a Saturday in March.  The writing teacher gives us writing assignments; we’re supposed to submit a piece for work-shopping every Saturday.  On Thursday night, I finished the two-night entrepreneurship course. In the last class, a speaker discussed franchising for most of the class, which I have no interest in!  It was mostly a waste of time and money.

Luckily the semesters are very short at 7 weeks, and I only have five more to go.  Also, as I’m an adjunct, VIU can either offer me a position next session or not, and I can choose to teach classes or not.  After seeing how much of my time is consumed, I’ve decided to either teach only one class, or none at all, in the next session.  It’s hardly worth it when I divide what I make per contact hour over the hours I actually work, plus take taxes off the top.  I’d rather focus on my personal goals.

That being said, the students are enjoyable.  I do love being in the classroom and interacting with my students, but I don’t enjoy the time I have to spend outside class hours to prepare.  As I am often a perfectionist, I can let the preparations get out of hand, and I never seem to know when to stop.

The Terrace Garage - Harper's Ferry
The Terrace Garage – Harper’s Ferry

On top of this, I applied back in December for The English Language Fellow Program, which sends experienced U.S. TESOL professionals on paid teaching assignments at universities and other academic institutions around the world.  It was quite an extensive application process; I had to write numerous essays about various aspects of teaching.  They don’t even look at an application until all references are turned in, and I knew my Chinese reference would hold me up.  Finally, in early January, after much prodding from a friend on the ground in China, my former supervisors submitted their references and I was contacted to have a Skype interview, which I did. The next day, I was informed that I’m now in the applicant pool and will be considered for programs worldwide.  Though there is no guarantee that I’ll get a fellowship, at least I’m happy I made it into the pool.  This would be for the 2017-2018 academic year.

So, this is why you haven’t seen much of me in the blogosphere. My classes end March 2, so I should have more time after that.

Wax Museum and Scoops
Wax Museum and Scoops

As for other random stuff in January, I’ve been to see three movies: Hidden Figures, Julieta, and La La Land.  I enjoyed them all, but I especially loved Hidden Figures because I grew up in southern Virginia near Langley during the early years of the NASA space program, and the fathers of many of my friends worked at NASA.  I also enjoyed the light-hearted romance and music in La La Land, as it gave me a welcome escape from the dark times our country is facing since January 20.

view above St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
view above St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

By the way, I made up a January playlist on Spotify that you might enjoy.  I call it: of true detectives and highway vagabonds:

  • “Far From Any Road” – From the HBO Series True Detective / Soundtrack
  • “Highway Vagabond” – Miranda Lambert – the weight of these wings
  • “The Angry River” – True Detective (From the HBO Series)
  • “Inside Out” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
  • “Do You” – Spoon – They Want My Soul
  • “You Know I’m No Good” – Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
  • “Hold On” – Alabama Shakes – Boys & Girls
  • “Gocce di memoria” – Giorgia – Spirito Libero
  • “Somebody’s Love” – Passenger – Somebody’s Love
  • “What I Am” – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians – Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars
  • “Love of the Loveless” – Eels – Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1
  • “Tighten Up” – The Black Keys – Brothers
  • “City of Stars – Ryan Gosling – From “La La Land” Soundtrack
  • “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” – Emma Stone – From “La La Land” Soundtrack

I haven’t had time for much else of interest, but I did go on Friday, January 13 to Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia for a bit of an outing.  It was before my first week of teaching and I was determined to do an outing each week on Friday (since I’m off); I’ve been trying hard not to let the job run me!  However, the following Friday was the inauguration and I didn’t want to go out in the traffic (and I certainly had no desire to attend the inauguration) and last Friday (the 27th), I had a mandatory teacher meeting (which I don’t get paid for, by the way).  So, it seems the job is running me after all.  The pictures scattered through this post are from Harper’s Ferry; I’ll write a blog post about it later.

The Small Arsenal - remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper's Ferry
The Small Arsenal – remains of a weapons storehouse in Harper’s Ferry
tree along the Potomac River
tree along the Potomac River

I finished reading several books this month.  My favorite was Nabokov’s Lolita, which is shocking by way of subject matter, but wonderful in terms of prose.  I listened to the audio book, and I felt thrilled with so many of Nabokov’s passages, just for his amazing use of language, that I had to go out and buy the book so I could reread many of the passages I listened to.  I plan to write about this in a separate post.  I also enjoyed City of Veils, by Zoë Ferraris.  It takes place in Saudi Arabia and is a murder story, not my usual cup of tea, but I love it because it portrays the nuances of Saudi culture.  I also listened to the audiobook Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents by Elisabeth Eaves, which I enjoyed because she traveled to places like Egypt and Yemen, echoing some of my own travels.  And everyone knows from my recent posts about visiting museums, that I also enjoyed the small book: How to Visit a Museum, by David Finn.

As for the aftermath of our election, I don’t want to ruin our cocktail hour, so I’ll write a separate post about it.  All I can say is I’m extremely proud of all the women who marched in the Women’s March on January 21, and I’m proud of the protestors at airports and at the White House who are protesting the Muslim Ban.  You can count me as part of the Resistance!!  We will NOT stand down.

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

I hope you’ll share what’s been going on with you.  As always, I wish wonderful things for all of you. 🙂

here’s looking at you, twenty-seventeen

“You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
– C.S. Lewis

Twenty-seventeen.  I like the sound of it.  Three-hundred-sixty-five days, each offering possibilities. Or at least invitations to take small steps here and there.

 “The days are long, but the years are short.” ~ Gretchen Rubin

I’m a big believer in New Year’s Resolutions, or, better yet, Intentions.  I always have been, although my success at achieving them is about as good as anyone else’s.  Still.  I love to dream.  If the day ever comes when I stop dreaming, I might as well call it quits.

Philadelphia Museum of Art - Perelman Building
Philadelphia Museum of Art – Perelman Building

I have a long list of resolutions that cover a wide array of categories: education, health & fitness, finances, household projects, spiritual & cultural growth.  I use the same categories every year, written in a large bound periwinkle-colored book full of blank pages. At the beginning of each new year, I write: Cathy’s 2017 Resolutions (or whatever year it is) and then I tape a copy of 2017 Yearly Horoscope: Scorpio (which rarely holds any truth in its predictions).  At the end of each year, I evaluate what I did and didn’t do (no rewards or punishments necessary), clip together the pages of the old year, and close it out. It’s my method, and I enjoy the process.  I love the bulk of those years of resolutions, some met and some not. My periwinkle book of wishes and dreams.

Urban hiking in Philadelphia
Urban hiking in Philadelphia

It has taken me a long time in life to figure out what’s most important to me, but now that I know what lights my fire, my intention for twenty-seventeen is to focus on the things I love, to expand on them and to delve deeper, to let the full expression of them bloom.

a tree-lined path near the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia
a tree-lined path near the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia

These are the things that set my heart on fire: inspirational and creative travel, writing & blogging, photography, walking (urban and nature hiking) and reading. I’ve also been toying with the idea of entrepreneurship as opposed to career-seeking in a world that seems infused with age discrimination.

I guess pedestrians go that way....
I guess pedestrians go that way….

Because I’m interested in so many things and I have so many ideas, because there are so many choices, I often feel overwhelmed; in fact, I feel utterly swamped.  When I read this passage from Robert Clark’s Love Among the Ruins (p. 162-3), I recognized myself in Jane:

Jane, “having resigned herself to the fact that a Ph.D. was not in the cards … for a personality, a character formation, that, truth to be told, has felt itself ‘swamped’ since perhaps the age of four — no, longer still, since before she seemingly alone rowed herself ashore and landed in this life.

“It is, Jane must admit, a curious thing to be so overwhelmed by obligations and duties — to have unfinished chores hugging at her hem while lined up behind them is the impending sense that some fundamental necessity has been completely overlooked — but also to experience moments of terribly clarity in which she sees that she is not busy, that in fact she is doing nothing.  And that ‘nothing’ is perhaps the substance which swamps her, the flood that threatens to sink her altogether.  For it is not merely nothing in the sense of a moment of inactivity, of respite or pause.  Nor is it the nothing of ‘nothing in particular,’ neither this nor that.  It is, Jane sees when she looks up to see it hovering just above and in front of her, her thumb holding a place in a magazine article whose subject she has already forgotten, the index finger of the other hand clawing in the near-spent cigarette pack, ‘nothing at all.’ It is the kind of nothing that is a force in its own right, that precludes all the possible somethings one might try to put in its place; that marks the fact of everything one is not doing and, looming stupidly, heavily like humidity, renders starting impossible.”

How I love it when I read a book of literary fiction (which I read to the near exclusion of anything else) and recognize myself.

following the glowing path
following the glowing path

The nothing that I’m doing, that nothing that has a life of its own, is so physically oppressive that starting something, anything, becomes a force to be reckoned with.  How does one start something when “all the possible somethings” remind me every moment of what I’m NOT doing? I often feel smothered by all those possibilities, and rendered inactive.

Philadelphia urban hike and Paint the Revolution banner
Philadelphia urban hike and Paint the Revolution banner

Yet.  I do continue to search.  To seek.  A good friend of mine once admitted to admiring me for always searching.  For what, he didn’t know.  Neither do I.  But I do believe it is important to keep searching, even if you don’t know what for.

urban hike through Philly
urban hike through Philly

In the excellent memoir-writing book, Writing Life Stories, teacher Bill Roorbach asks one of his 85-year-old students, coincidentally named Jane:

“Jane, tell us, what’s the secret of life?”

Jane smiled benignly, forgiving me my sardonic nature, tilted her head, and said without the slightest pause: “Searching.”

An indignant Chuck (one of the other students) said, “Not finding?”

“No, no, no,” Jane said emphatically, letting her beatific smile spread, “Searching.”

Searching is what keeps us alive, gives us hope, keeps us moving along, step by step, through our lives.

“What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”  ~ Vincent van Gogh

enticing shop window
enticing shop window

In the areas of life that excite me, here are my intentions for the year ahead:

Reading: I intend to bask in my love of reading, using Goodreads extensively, adding to my to-read list and writing reviews of every book I read.  My goal is to read 40 books in different areas: literary fiction, memoir, poetry, short stories and travel memoir; books on the craft of memoir, travel and fiction writing: and inspirational books on creativity. Last year, my goals was to read 35 books and I achieved that goal. I was enriched by every page I read. 🙂

a construction zone beneath a mural in Philly
a construction zone beneath a mural in Philly

Photography: I intend to read books on photography, push myself to play more with my camera, possibly take a photography workshop, and challenge myself to be more creative. I will try to participate in several photo challenges on WordPress.  I would also like to get and learn a new photo processing software.

diagonal walkways
diagonal walkways

Walking (urban and nature hiking):  I intend to continue my 3-mile walks 4x/week, but also to take local urban hikes through cities such as Washington, Philadelphia, and Richmond and natural hikes in the Shenandoah mountains or elsewhere on the East Coast.  I also hope to do three official 10K walks this year.  Of course, I walk a lot whenever I travel abroad because I believe it is the best way to fully experience any destination.  I also have a dream of walking the Camino de Santiago in the fall, possibly September-October. If I do it, I want to do the whole thing, The French Way, all 780 km of it.  I hope I can swing it this year.

As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. ~ Buddha

urban hike in Philly
urban hike in Philly

Inspirational and creative travel:  I intend to travel more intentionally this year, and to make something creative from my travels.  My plan for this spring is to try to volunteer at a bed & breakfast in Croatia for a week, travel solo in Croatia, and then meet Mike, where we will explore Hungary and Czech Republic, focusing on Budapest and Prague.  In the fall, I hope to be able to walk the Camino de Santiago.

urban hiking in Philly
urban hiking in Philly

Writing & blogging:  I’d like to stop being lazy in my travel writing and blogging and to push myself to be more creative and inspirational.  I intend to travel more intentionally and observantly, keeping a detailed travel journal and taking more creative photos. I hope to make something from my travels, whether the stuff of memoir or fiction, poetry or storytelling photography.

still decked out for the holidays
still decked out for the holidays

As for my fiction and memoir writing, I’d like to self-publish my novel and finish my memoir by year-end.  In addition, I plan to take classes at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.  I’ve already signed up for three classes: How to Build Complex Characters, Building Better Characters, and Character Building. I know, they all sound alike, don’t they?  However, they each have a slightly different focus and are taught by different teachers.  I’m interested in this subject because I want to create characters to take with me to Croatia and on my other travels.  I’m also interested in creating a course on how to create characters and bringing that character to …..(fill in the blank with a foreign country name).

Old row house on Cypress and Juniper, modern Kimmel Performing Arts Center, Art Deco 1920s Drake Hotel converted to luxury apartments
Old row house on Cypress and Juniper, modern Kimmel Performing Arts Center, Art Deco 1920s Drake Hotel converted to luxury apartments

Entrepreneurship/Career:  Finally, there is the issue of work.  I’ve been reading a book by Gail Sheehy called Sex and the Seasoned Woman.  I started this book years ago, but I finally finished it this year.  What I found most interesting were the stories of older women who decided to reinvent their lives and bring their passions into fruition.  I found a story about Elaine, who started out as a schoolteacher, to be funny and inspirational (p. 232-235):

Elaine’s husband asked her: “What are you passionate about?”

“Books,” she said.  “This may be a really dumb idea, but I’ve always wanted to be a bookseller.”  Now she is the proprietor of a large bookstore in California.  Later, her husband asked her again if there were anything she was missing in life.

“Teaching,” she admitted.  “This may be a really dumb idea, but what if we started a conference for travel writers?”  Now their bookstore has expanded into a small university of sorts.

Elaine says “But these things didn’t start as smart business ideas.”  They started with Elaine saying to her husband, “This is probably a dumb idea, but….”

So, THIS is probably a dumb idea, but I hope to start a new blog where I don my teaching hat and write posts about how to immerse oneself more creatively and intentionally in travel, how to approach travel with awe and with an eye to inspiring creativity in oneself.

The Church of St. Luke & The Ephiphany
The Church of St. Luke & The Epiphany

I’m hoping that eventually this will lead to me offering creative travel retreats.  Slowly, slowly.  As a teacher, writer, and traveler, I know I am perfectly capable of doing this.  Yet.  And of course, there is always a YET!  I’ve never been an entrepreneur before, so I know I will have a steep learning curve. I intend to climb that curve, even if it involves backsliding down that slope as I learn.  I will need confidence and courage.

Philadelphia urban hike
Philadelphia urban hike

In that vein, I’ve written a lot of notes about defining my business and my market, signed up for a course called Starting Your Own Business, and have subscribed to Entrepreneur magazine.  Now I need to come up with a name!

I will reveal more about my ideas for this business on a new blog at some point soon, I hope.  I have lots of ideas. 🙂

southside Philly
Southside Philly

As for my ESL career, I will cut back on my job applications, but I will periodically apply to jobs abroad or at home.  My heart isn’t really in the work itself, except for the travel opportunities offered.  If I get a job, it may waylay my aforementioned plans, but I’m open to any adventure the world throws my way! 🙂

facade in Philadelphia
facade in Philadelphia

I hope everyone continues to dream and grow in twenty-seventeen, and I hope all your wishes come true. 🙂

(All photos were taken on urban hikes in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 29-30, 2016)

a drive through amish country: lancaster, pennsylvania

Friday, December 30:  On our way home from Philadelphia, we take the roundabout route through Lancaster, Pennsylvania, just to get off the boring interstate.  It’s always fun to drive on American back roads, through farmland and small towns.

The Pennsylvania Amish of Lancaster County are America’s oldest Amish settlement.  Here, the horse and buggy remains a primary form of transportation, and the Amish people work in agriculture, businesses and cottage industries.
Farm in Lancaster County

The light is beautiful on this winter afternoon, painting the silos and barns with a golden color.

Farm in Lancaster County

We see many homes with laundry flapping in the breeze.

Laundry on the line

The small town of Intercourse is a hub where many Amish and local people do business.  It’s just east of Bird-in-Hand and north of Paradise.  Here, shops sell Amish quilts, furniture and other handmade crafts.  You can click on the link to read about how the town of Intercourse got its name.

Welcome to Intercourse
Farm in Lancaster
Another farm

Bird-in-Hand is another cute town in Lancaster, with cute shops congregating along the roadside. The history of Bird-in-Hand and its unusual name is here.

Bird-in-Hand
Lancaster Farm

We come across some of the buggies that are so common here.  This one is taking a rest.

horseless buggy

We pass many on the road, but I have a hard time capturing them because they move at quite a clip. I do manage to snatch a photo of one.

Horse and buggy in Lancaster
Amish farm
house in Lancaster
Barn
Lancaster farm
Lancaster farm
Home in Lancaster
another home

The rest of our drive home isn’t quite so scenic.  We do manage to get home safely after our fabulous trip to Philadelphia and to ring in the New Year the next evening, with me asleep before midnight. 🙂

philadelphia’s magic gardens: the outdoor installation

Friday, December 30:  After exploring the indoor galleries at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, we take a walk around the outdoor installation.

Magic Gardens – outdoor installation

In 1994, Isaiah Zagar started working on the vacant lots located near his studio at 1020 South Street, according to the museum’s pamphlet. He first constructed a massive fence to protect the area then spent years sculpting multi-layer walls out of found objects.

Magic Gardens – outdoor installation

In 2002, the Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar’s installation and decided to sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled.  Unwilling to allow the now-beloved neighborhood art environment to be destroyed, the community rushed to support the artist.  After a two-year legal battle, his creation, newly titled Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, became a non-profit organization intended to preserve the artwork, says the pamphlet.

Embedded in the walls of the outdoor installation are bottles, bicycle wheels, pottery shards, and folk sculptures.

green bottles and bicycle wheels
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation

We find a lot of names, phrases and sayings embedded in chains across the walled-canvas.

THE WORKS OF THE INSANE

Some of the Magic Gardens’ values include inspiring others, creating community, championing originality, and embracing the creative process unbound by conventional norms.

stairway to heaven

The Gardens also interprets Isaiah Zagar’s art with a lighthearted, celebratory attitude. They believe in working hard while still maintaining levity and humor, according to the website.

Slowly but Surely
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
THE VERY ESSENCE OF EXISTENCE
SOURCES OF INSPIRATION
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation

I love the multi-armed painter who might bear a slight resemblance to Zagar.

multi-armed painter

Here, the artist is cradled by a three-headed woman.

three headed lady holding artist
alleyway
hombre

PHILADELPHIA is spelled out along one passageway.

PHILADELPHIA
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
JEREMIAH FILMMAKER “IN” A DREAM
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
me at Magic Gardens
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
ZEKE REUNITES WITH HIS SON YOEL
Isaiah decided to get remarried
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
Magic Gardens – outdoor installation
fabulous stairway
THREE DIMENSIONALITY

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is like a wilder version of Gaudi’s Park Güell in Barcelona, though it has no actual gardens.  I highly recommend visiting here for a quirky afternoon.

After we finish our visit, it’s time for us to head back to Virginia.  We decide to take a convoluted route home, passing through the Amish countryside of Lancaster County.

philadelphia’s magic gardens: indoor galleries

Friday, December 30:  After walking the southern half of the Mural Arts Walk, we head to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.  As we walk down South Street, we pass a number of the artist’s murals on buildings and in alleys.

Public Zagar Mural near Magic Gardens
Zagar Mural near Magic Gardens
Detail of Zagar Mural

We find another mural with some religious verses adjacent to a small parking lot.

Someone’s house is even decked out in mosaics.

on the way to Magic Gardens

The museum, spanning half a block on South Street, includes an immersive outdoor art installation and indoor galleries.  As it’s the middle of winter, we first walk around the indoor galleries.

Indoor galleries – Magic Gardens

The artist, Isaiah Zagar, is an award-winning mosaic mural artist whose work can be found in over 200 public walls throughout Philadelphia and around the world, according to a museum pamphlet.

Indoor galleries – Magic Gardens

Zagar was born in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn; he received a B.F.A. in Painting and Graphics at the Pratt Institute of Art in New York City.  The artist and his wife Julia settled in Philadelphia after serving 3 years in Peru with the Peace Corps.  Zagar’s work is influenced by his travels as well as his interactions with international folk and visionary artists, says the pamphlet.

Indoor galleries – Magic Gardens

Zagar created the space at Magic Gardens using nontraditional materials such as folk art statues, found objects, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, hand-made tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors.

Indoor galleries – Magic Gardens

Visual anecdotes and personal narratives refer to Zagar’s life, family and community, as well as to the wider world, such as influential art history figures and other visionary artists and environments.

Indoor galleries – Magic Gardens

This place is a photographer’s paradise.  Every surface is covered with mosaics and found objects, including the ceilings, stairs and bathrooms.

Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries

We walk outdoors into a small enclosed patio, but then are led right back into the indoor galleries.

a small outdoor patio in the midst of the indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries

We could spend hours and hours here marveling at all the details.

Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor gallery ceiling
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries
Magic Gardens – indoor galleries

We brace ourselves to go the outdoor art installation.  Luckily the area is enclosed and it doesn’t feel that cold outside.  I hear it’s super crowded in summer, so I think it’s best we came at this time of year.  The outdoor installation will follow in another post. 🙂

finding inspiration from literature: nabokov’s & philadelphia’s lolita

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

– Jim Jarmusch

the streets of Philadelphia at night
the streets of Philadelphia at night

On December 20, I started reading the classic novel by Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita.  I wrote this review of it on Goodreads:

It’s easy to despise the deeply flawed pedophile Humbert Humbert, with his long-time sexual abuse of his 12-year-old nymphet/daughter Dolores Haze (his Lolita, his Lo). I have put off reading the book forever because of the subject matter, which is certainly hard to take.

That being said, it’s hard not to fall in love with Nabokov’s prose. I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Jeremy Irons, and found some scenes to be so perfectly rendered, so engrossing, that I had to check the book out of the library so I could read and study the passages. Nabokov’s prose is so detailed, so observant, so meticulous, so perfect, so nuanced! If only I had such command of the English language. And to think that Nabokov was born in St. Petersburg in 1899 and English wasn’t even his first language, having moved to the U.S. in 1940. I highly recommend this book just to experience the author’s writing style and wonderful use of language.

Philadelphia nights
Philadelphia nights

I was engrossed in the book at the time we went to Philadelphia, admittedly bowled over by the author’s writing style.  So it was a strange coincidence when we went out to look for a dinner restaurant near our hotel, The Independent, and we happened upon the enticing Lolita tucked into a narrow space on South 13th Street.

Philadelphia Muses by Meg Saligman, 13th and Locust Streets, Center City
Philadelphia Muses by Meg Saligman, 13th and Locust Streets, Center City

We sat down at the bar because it was crowded; no matter, we enjoy sitting at the bar anyway.  I found an appealing new drink on the menu: a jalapeno and cucumber margarita, which was ultra-refreshing and not too sweet.  As I sipped this marvelous concoction, I mentioned to one of the bartenders, a young woman, that it was serendipitous that we found Lolita because I’m right in the middle of listening to the audiobook.

jalapeno and cucumber margarita at Lolita
jalapeno and cucumber margarita at Lolita

She gushed that she adored Nabokov: “His prose is amazing!  There is nothing like it!”  Her enthusiasm matched my feelings, and I felt an instant kinship with her. This is what reading will do to a person.

Lolita in Philadelphia
Lolita in Philadelphia

We enjoyed Lolita’s ambiance, as well as our fabulous dinners: chipotle shrimp enchiladas verdes (charred tomatillos, serranos, garlic & cilantro) stuffed with roasted sunchokes, sauteed local greens, queso mixto & radish salad for me, and queso fundido (charred corn puree, queso mixto, local mushroom mix, roasted baby corn & poblanos, served with warm corn tortillas – served with house-made chorizo for Mike.

food
chipotle shrimp enchiladas verdes (charred tomatillos, serranos, garlic & cilantro) stuffed with roasted sunchokes, sauteed local greens, queso mixto & radish salad

Inspiration is found in unlikely places.  All one has to do it be open to it, recognize it, and run with it.  After reading Lolita,  I can only dream of writing like Nabokov. I know I don’t have that talent, but if I could remotely approach him, I would be happy.  I’ve been thrilled by writers before, and I’ve yearned to have such natural and spontaneous creativity.  In writing classes, teachers often encourage students to find admired masters and try to mimic their style.  Of course, a writer is also supposed to find his or her own “voice” when writing.  But my voice seems so boring!

When I read something like Lolita that makes my heart beat faster, that takes my breath away, then I want to study it, dissect it, analyze it, and try to take something away from it.  If I could write even one sentence like that, just one….it might be possible to write another, and yet another.

In the book, at the beginning of part two, Humbert Humbert and Lolita take a road trip across the country.  I’ve taken many American road trips in my life, and Nabokov captures a small part of their journey perfectly in this passage:

Now and then, in the vastness of those plains, huge trees would advance toward us to cluster self-consciously by the roadside, and provide a bit of humanitarian shade above a picnic table, with sun flecks, flattened paper cups, samaras and discarded ice-cream sticks littering the brown ground. A great user of roadside facilities, my unfastidious Lo would be charmed by toilet signs — Guys-Gals, John-Jane, Jack-Jill and even Buck’s-Doe’s; while lost in an artist’s dream, I would stare at the honest brightness of the gasoline paraphernalia against the splendid green of oaks, or at a distant hill scrambling out — scarred but still untamed — from the wilderness of agriculture that was trying to swallow it. (p. 153, 50th anniversary edition, Lolita, June 1997)

This scene is wonderfully rendered.  The picture of “huge trees” advancing toward the moving car, clustering “self-consciously by the roadside,” and providing “a bit of humanitarian shade” is not only great description but it prompts in the reader a leap of imagination.  It endows the trees with human qualities — self-consciousness and humanitarianism — and prods us to see them with vague and tender recognition. We might not have described them that way ourselves, but we feel the rightness of the description.  The “sun flecks” suggest a summer afternoon, indolent and barely breezy, the setting for a romantic rendezvous that has now ended, with remnants of confetti scattered as reminders.  Samaras seem exotic; when I look them up, I find they are a type of fruit with a flattened wing of papery tissue developing from the ovary wall.  The discarded ice-cream sticks conjure up children, and yes, Lolita is a child, a nymphet, that thing Humbert longs for, that thing he can’t resist.  Here, like the child Lolita is the object of Humbert’s desires, the flower and the ice-cream sticks are both exotic and sexual; together, they hint at  the protagonist’s pedophilia, of which we are all too aware from our reading.  Humbert even finds Lo’s unfastidiousness attractive; we already know this from what we’ve read before. Nabokov doesn’t waste any opportunity to infuse his writing with reminders of Humbert’s obsession.

I love the different names on the toilet signs, a fantastic detail which captures the nuances in the monotony that one sees on a road trip. We all know the frequent stops we have to make on a road trip, especially as a child, “How much further, Dad?  I need to go to the bathroom!”  I can just picture the gleaming “gasoline paraphernalia” of the 1950s (Lolita was published in 1955), painstakingly polished by gas station attendants who cared lovingly for their roadside facilities. And I love how the distant hill “scrambles out — scarred but still untamed” much like his own Lolita.  She is certainly scarred, but he’s never really able to tame her.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Philadelphia’s Lolita –  the day after

How can we write fabulous prose?  It seems to me some people have a natural ability to do so; others of us have to struggle mightily to come up with one good sentence.  Just looking at Nabokov’s prose, here’s what I take away:

  • Be observant when you’re out in the world.  Notice every little detail.    This one is hardest for me, as I seem to wander around with blinders on half the time.
  • Carry a notebook or a camera so you’re always ready to capture what you see or feel, what you smell or hear, what you taste.  Take time-outs with your notebook at a cafe to write notes.
  • Note anything unique and unusual; anything that is out of place.  The flattened paper cups, the discarded ice-cream sticks.  Things that seem unimportant yet create such perfect details in a story.
  • Note things that are mundane: the picnic tables, the roadside facilities, the gasoline paraphernalia, the names on the toilets.  These are things that everyone sees and expects to see, and often go unnoticed.
  • Describe the things you see using human qualities – “cluster self-consciously” or “provide a bit of humanitarian shade.”
  • If you have trouble with this, note what you see and then brainstorm words that might describe human emotions or states.  Experiment with word pairings.  I love when a word is paired with another word in a surprising way.
  • Find active verbs to describe static things: “a distant hill scrambling out.”
  • Make something mundane seem interesting: as in the frequent stops at the roadside facilities and the bathroom names.

So, what could I come up with in my attempt to write a Nabokov-like paragraph about a road trip?

________________________

As we drive north on that white-lined freeway fenced in by concrete barriers, the Toyota RAV’s rubber wipers swish the drizzle to and fro on the windshield, a squeaky metronome.  Sedans and SUVs from Maryland, Virginia, The Garden State — even the Sunshine State with its green-leafed oranges — press in as they whizz past, their tires flinging dirt-infused mist on our windshield.  A Warehouse for Lease! slumps on the fringes, punctuated by green highway signs with white letters announcing exits like Bel Air and Emmorton Road.  Black spiny trees blur along the roadside approaching Exit 80, where blue signs announce Food: McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, Wendy’s, Dunkin’ Donuts.  U2 sings “Mysterious Ways” and highway vagabond Miranda Lambert wants to “go somewhere where nobody knows.”  I’ve snagged my left thumbnail and as usual, I don’t have any nail clippers in my purse.  The annoying snag persists. A brown sign announces we’re passing Susquehanna State Park and another forbids U-turns and when we cross the bridge, a ghost brigade of mist rises off the Susquehanna. Barns, silos, and bristly sepia fields scroll past and an aqua “Town of Perryville” water tower mutters a greeting.  On the stretch of industrial corridor near Port of Wilm, metal utility towers spread their triple-triangle arms and factories belch smoke, gasping their last breath.  Blue-green porta-potties stand in formation along the tracks and containers lie like coffins on idle trains.  The derelict train station’s windows are broken.  Citywide Limousine squats beside a lot of Ryder trucks and an empty pedestrian bridge covered in chain-link looms over us as we sputter underneath.

Finally, “Pennsylvania, State of Independence,” welcomes us while Hidden Figures of NASA stand in all their mathematical genius on an electronic billboard.  Run-down brick row houses hug the highway behind a thin veil of chain-links.  CSX rail cars hunker along the highway, dead in their tracks.  Another billboard promises “The Wounded Warrior Project helps me heal the wounds you can’t see.”  At Philadelphia Energy Solutions, giant cylindrical tanks with blue bands around the tops squat on the land and, next door, bundled paper haphazardly occupies a recycling plant. A pink “Risqué Video” sign entices those so-inclined.   We skid into the Philly outskirts, land of the free and home of the tired.

______________________

I’d like to challenge my readers to write a paragraph describing something or someplace and share it as a link in my comments.

visiting museums: in search of inspiration at the barnes foundation

Sometimes you need to take a departure from what you do to something that’s slightly different in order to get inspiration. ~ Tori Amos

I love to find inspiration in unlikely places. On our trip to Philadelphia, I was inspired by art, architecture, photography, observation, and even by an encounter in a restaurant.  I’m always seeking an answer to the question: How do I live my life more creatively? How do I travel mindfully and create art?  Whether it’s photography, a short story, a poem, a novel, a blog post, or an essay — even a cocktail hour — how can I make my daily life more fulfilling and give something of myself to the world?  How can I express myself and be utterly true to who I am?  These are questions I grapple with, and my blog(s) and other creative outlets are the way I express myself and hope to connect with others.

on the way to the Barnes Foundation
on the way to the Barnes Foundation

Since we were on a roll through the museums of Philadelphia, we made a beeline at 4:30 p.m. for the Barnes Foundation, practically next door to the Rodin Museum on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Even though we were burnt out on museums by this late afternoon, we decided that if the museum was open for at least one more hour, we’d make a quick visit.

Albert Coombs Barnes (1872-1951), “established the Foundation as an educational institution with the goal of using art as a teaching tool to foster critical thinking and analytical skills.”  The Barnes holds one of the finest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist, and early modern paintings, with extensive works by Renoir, Cezanne, Matisse, Picasso and many others.

The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation

The walls of the museum are unconventionally displayed, with art arranged as composition or “ensemble.”  Each wall in the permanent collection mixes art and craft across cultures and periods.  Barnes experimented with arrangement according to light, line, color, and space, rather than chronology, nationality, style or genre. Walking through the permanent collection at the Barnes Foundation is a very different experience than one at other museums because of the unusual and creative displays.

The Barnes Foundation
The Barnes Foundation

When we found the museum was open until 6:00 because it was a Friday, we paid the admission and went in.  We headed directly for the special exhibition, Live and Life Will Give You Pictures: Masterworks of French Photography, 1890-1950, in the Roberts Gallery; the exhibition was to end on January 9.  We would do a quick walk through the permanent collection if we had time and energy, as we had heard amazing things about it.

Though we were allowed to take pictures of the special exhibition, we weren’t allowed to do so in the permanent collection.  So if you want to see the magnificent paintings and art so creatively arranged in this place, you’ll have to visit here yourselves. 🙂

View from the Barnes looking down Benjamin Franklin Parkway
View from the Barnes looking down Benjamin Franklin Parkway

You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved. ~ Ansel Adams

From the late 19th century to the early 20th, photographers and painters traded aesthetic ideas and were interested in many of the same features of contemporary experience.  These photographers focused on Paris, which was radically transformed in this period of rapid industrialization, urbanization, and class stratification. As with the other visual arts, progressive photography tried to innovatively represent these developments in the modern-day cities.

This exhibition was titled after a remark by Henri Cartier-Bresson and displayed vintage prints of nearly 200 classic images made between 1890 and 1950 by French photographers and photographers working extensively in France. The salon-style hang was organized thematically.

I found the thematic arrangement of photos at this exhibition to be inspirational and thought-provoking; similarly, I am inspired by the thematic arrangements of photos on blogs resulting from WordPress and other bloggers’ photo challenges; one blog I especially love to visit for inspiration in this regard is Steve McCurry’s blog. Generally, when I write my blog, I arrange my photos in a logistical day-by-day accounting of a journey, or a place. I feel like I’d like to get out of the rut of doing this and to focus on thematic photographic storytelling.  It would be more time-consuming and challenging, but I think it would be more rewarding.

STREET LIFE

Paris’s population quadrupled during the 19th century, and the bustling crowds became a signature motif for the impressionist painters, such as Monet’s 1873 Boulevard des Capucines. Decades later, photographers explored the possibilities of the ever-shifting crowd.  Others honed in on the crowds, picking out the new spectrum of characters — from the homeless to sex workers, to laborers, shop and factory workers, businessmen and aristocrats (from a sign at the museum).

Greta Garbo, Paris (1932) by Ilse Bing
Greta Garbo, Paris (1932) by Ilse Bing
Facade, rue de l
Facade, rue de l”hotel de Ville, Paris (c. 1936) by Brassai
crowds in Paris
crowds in Paris
Hyeres, France (1932) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Hyeres, France (1932) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Men Reading Yiddish Theater Posters, Paris (1932) - Ilse Bing
Men Reading Yiddish Theater Posters, Paris (1932) – Ilse Bing

Here are a few photos of mine on the theme of STREET LIFE:

Rishikesh, India
Rishikesh, India
Street life in Cascais, Portugal
Street life in Cascais, Portugal

COMMERCE

Manufacturing and the demands of a new middle class led to an increase in commodity culture in 19th-century Paris.  The world’s first department store, Le Bon Marche, opened there in 1852, and photography became enamored of commerce, reflected in images of shops, store windows, advertising, and bodies available for purchase on streets and in brothels.

Eugene Atget became intrigued by consumerism — shop windows, the artful presentation of goods, mannequins as uncanny substitutes for the human form — shown in this image of a corset shop on a fashionable boulevard.  Corsets were 19th century fashion necessities.  Their arrangement in rows emphasizes their regularizing effect on the female body, according to a sign in the museum.

Boulevarad de Strasbourg, Paris (1912) Eugene Atget
Boulevarad de Strasbourg, Paris (1912) Eugene Atget

Here are some photos of COMMERCE from Richmond, Virginia and Santorini, Greece.

vintage shop in Carytown, Richmond, VA
vintage shop in Carytown, Richmond, VA
Shop window in Carytown, Richmond
Shop window in Carytown, Richmond

LABOR

The new forms of industry visible in and around cities became important motifs for photographers in the latter part of the 19th century and at the same time prompted a nostalgia for pre-industrial times and the communal values associated with non-mechanized labor.

LEISURE

The middle class grew hungry for entertainment, so cafes and bars began to dominate the urban landscape, as did dance halls and theaters, street entertainers and sporting events. On weekends, trains carried the new leisured classes to suburban retreats.

French gambler, promenade des Anglais, Nice (1934) by Lisette Model
French gambler, promenade des Anglais, Nice (1934) by Lisette Model

Two working class couples picnic on the banks of the Marne River outside Paris.  Their social status is significant: the photograph was snapped in the year that French workers were first awarded a paid annual vacation.  Cartier-Bresson shoots the group from behind, capturing one figure refilling his glass.

Sunday on the Banks of the Marne (1938) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Sunday on the Banks of the Marne (1938) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Fortune-Teller's Booth, Street Fair, Paris (1933) - Ilse Bing
Fortune-Teller’s Booth, Street Fair, Paris (1933) – Ilse Bing

Here’s a photo capturing LEISURE in Cascais, Portugal.

a leisurely tourist in Cascais, Portugal
a leisurely tourist in Cascais, Portugal

REPORTAGE

Henri Cartier-Bresson took his first photographs in 1931, but it was when he bought a Leica in 1932 that he began to capture pictures on the fly, capturing what he called “the decisive moment:” “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”

In 1947, Cartier-Bresson co-founded Magnum Photos, the first international cooperative agency for photojournalists.  Under its auspices, he documented international events.  He was perhaps best known in the later 1940s and 1950s for his coverage of Asia.

Budapest (1932) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Budapest (1932) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Srinagar, Kashmir (1946) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Srinagar, Kashmir (1946) – Henri Cartier-Bresson

In 1948 and 1949, Cartier-Bresson photographed extensively in China, just as the Communists were wresting control of the country from its exiled last emperor, Puyi (1906-1967).  Cartier-Bresson’s photos introduced Western audiences to a mysterious place and culture, and, at the same time to evidence of its transformation.  Here, a court servant, castrated in order to focus his loyalties on the imperial dynasty, grins awkwardly at the photographer.

A Eunuch of the Imperial Court of the Last Dynasty, Peking (1949) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
A Eunuch of the Imperial Court of the Last Dynasty, Peking (1949) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Rice Fields in the Minangkabau Country, Sumatra, Indonesia (1950) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Rice Fields in the Minangkabau Country, Sumatra, Indonesia (1950) – Henri Cartier-Bresson

Based on the theme of REPORTAGE, and the photos exhibited here, below are a few photos showing cultures in far-flung lands.  I hope to find more time to create thematic blog posts in the future, because I find them fascinating. 🙂

ART FOR ART’S SAKE

Some early photographers aspired to make images that would be embraced as fine art.  Resisting photography’s documentary competencies, they selected subjects associated with painting — biblical, mythological and historical narratives; landscapes, portraiture, and still life — and manipulated their pictures to approximate the look of painting and drawing.

Henri Matisse at HIs Home, Villa Le Reve, Vence, France (1944) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Henri Matisse at HIs Home, Villa Le Reve, Vence, France (1944) – Henri Cartier-Bresson
Tivoli, Italy (1933) - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Tivoli, Italy (1933) – Henri Cartier-Bresson

I love being inspired to create stories or themes around photography and I hope I’ll find time to do this in the near future.

If you feel inclined to create a thematic photo collage or blog post around one of these themes, I’d love for you to link your blog to this post!  It would be fun to see what you come up with. 🙂

~ Thursday, December 29, 2016

visiting museums for individual artists | the rodin museum |

“Man’s naked form belongs to no particular moment in history; it is eternal, and can be looked upon with joy by the people of all ages.” ~ Auguste Rodin

When we paid admission to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, we also got free admission to the Rodin Museum, a short walk down Benjamin Franklin Parkway, itself intended to evoke the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris.  The more famous Musée Rodin in Paris opened in 1919.  Its collection includes 6,600 sculptures, 8,000 drawings, 8,000 old photographs and 7,000 objets d’art. The more intimately scaled Rodin Museum in Philadelphia has over 140 bronzes, marbles, and plasters, as well as eight works in the garden outside.

Though I’m not particularly enamored of sculpture as an art form, I figured it wouldn’t hurt me to learn something about this greatly admired artist.  Rodin possessed a unique ability to model a turbulent and deeply complex surface in clay. Many of his most notable sculptures were criticized during his lifetime; his work clashed with thematic and classical sculptural traditions, as well as mythology and allegory.  He modeled the human body with realism, and celebrated individual character and physicality. Although Rodin was sensitive to the controversy surrounding his work, he refused to change his style. Before finally earning fame, he spent several decades as a decorative artist, as he was denied entrance to the École des Beaux-Arts three times (Wikipedia: Auguste Rodin).

Approaching the museum, we meet Rodin’s famous sculpture, The Thinker.

Rodin Museum
Rodin Museum

Rodin originally conceived The Thinker for The Gates of Hell in 1880-81, but in 1889 he exhibited it as an independent sculpture, titled The Thinker; The Poet, Fragment of a Door.

The Thinker
The Thinker

On August 16, 1880, Rodin received a commission to create a pair of bronze doors for a new decorative arts museum in Paris which never materialized. Nevertheless, the sculptor worked on The Gates of Hell for 37 years, during which time he continually added, removed, or altered the more than two hundred human figures that appear on the doors. Some of his most famous works, like The Thinker, The Three Shades, and The Kiss, were originally conceived as part of The Gates and were only later removed, enlarged, and cast as independent pieces.

The Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell

Rodin’s initial inspiration came from Inferno, the first part of Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy. Rodin imagined the scenes described by Dante as a world with infinite space and freedom from gravity. This allowed for radical experimentation by the artist, with figures that obey no rules in their poses, emotive gestures, or sexuality. According to the Rodin Museum‘s website, for Rodin, the chaotic figures on The Gates of Hell enjoyed only one final freedom—the ability to express their agony with complete abandon.

Details - The Gates of Hell
Details – The Gates of Hell

Inside the museum, we find a despairing marble figure modeled on Greek mythology, Danaid (The Source), condemned to eternally carry water from a leaking jug.  The figure was originally modeled for The Gates of Hell, but Rodin didn’t include it in the final version.

Danaid (The Source)
Danaid (The Source)

The Martyr, modeled in 1885, depicts a naked dead or sleeping female figure in blackened bronze.

The Martyr
The Martyr

The founder of the Rodin Museum wanted a large marble as the centerpiece of the collection and asked the Musée Rodin in Paris for permission to have a copy made of the artist’s famous embracing couple.  Carved after Rodin’s death, this replica of The Kiss is marked as such on the back.

Copy of Rodin's
Copy of Rodin’s “The Kiss” – carved in marble 1929 by Henri Greber (French, 1855-1941)
Details - Copy of
Details – Copy of “The Kiss”

The Thinker was subsequently cast in bronze in three different sizes, including this one inside the museum, of the original, or medium, size.  Despite the fame of this piece, the individual who modeled for it is unknown making him an “everyman.”

The Thinker
The Thinker

Samuel Stockton White III (American, 1876-1952) was the only Philadelphian to model for Rodin.  The award-winning bodybuilder was introduced to the artist in 1901 as a possible subject.  White assumed this position, which recalls The Thinker.

The Athlete
The Athlete

Adele Abbnruzzesi, a young Italian woman who was one of Rodin’s favorite models, assumed this provocative pose in The Crouching Woman while resting between modeling sessions.  Rodin nicknamed this figure “the frog” and used it on The Gates of Hell and in I Am Beautiful.

The Crouching Woman
The Crouching Woman

The Crouching Woman holds a special place in my heart.  Some years ago, while I was taking poetry classes at Northern Virginia Community College, I went to the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington for a poetry-writing session led by one of the curators at the museum. She encouraged us to use art as inspiration for poetry.  I loved the session as I was learning that you could write poetry about anything in life, no matter how mundane or how grand. As we wandered around the museum, I was captured by a Rodin sculpture, She Who Was The Helmet Maker’s Once-Beautiful Wife (Celle qui fut la belle heaulmière), 1885-1887.  At that time, I was depressed by the toll aging was taking on me, so I focused on this sculpture.  I studied the sculpture with great interest, taking notes for a poem I’d try to write at home.  The Crouching Woman was also at the Hirshhorn, in the same room, and I included her in the poem.  You can find the poem at the end of this post.  I’m not into rhyming poetry, so you’ll be disappointed if you enjoy rhymes.

I love the idea of creating something from my travels, or even my day trips — a short story, a poem, a novel, a blog post, a photograph or series of photos based around a theme.  I love immersing myself in a place and discovering something that moves me and inspires me to be creative.  The experience becomes an interactive one: a place or experience gives something to me, which I take and shape into something meaningful for myself and for the world.

“Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded” ~ Virginia Woolf

We can walk all the way around Saint John the Baptist Preaching.  Says Rodin about the peasant who offered his services as a model and inspired this sculpture: “I immediately thought of a Saint John the Baptist, in other words, a man of nature, a visionary, a believer, a precursor who came to announce one greater than himself. The peasant undressed, climbed onto the revolving stand as if he had never posed before; he planted himself firmly on his feet, head up, torso straight, at the same time putting his weight on both legs, open like a compass.  The movement was so right, so straightforward and so true that I cried: ‘But it’s a man walking!’ I immediately resolved to model what I had seen” (Musee Rodin).

Rodin made a sculpture to honor Honoré de Balzac, the French novelist and playwright. According to Rodin, the sculpture aims to portray the writer’s character rather than a physical likeness.  I’m unable to get a decent photo of the sculpture, which is here in the museum.  However, in the same room, I find a bust of the novelist Jules-Amedee Barbey d’Aurevilly (French, 1808-1889), one of Balzac’s most fervent supporters and an early sponsor of the Balzac monument.  In 1909 Rodin was approached to design a memorial to d’Aurevilly; a version of this bust, showing the author’s fashionable features and dress, sits on a high pedestal in the Norman City of Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, his birthplace.

Barbey d'Aurevilly
Barbey d’Aurevilly

Eternal Springtime was modeled in clay in 1884; cast in plaster and painted white in 1885.  Rodin originally conceived of Eternal Springtime as part of The Gates of Hell, but he didn’t include it because the happiness expressed by the lovers did not seem appropriate to the theme of The Gates.

Eternal Springtime
Eternal Springtime

The Cathedral is a combination of two right hands, belonging to two different figures. Parallels may be drawn between the mysterious inner space that seems to emanate from the composition and Gothic architecture (Musée Rodin: Cathedral).

We find another sculpture, Two Hands, modeled before 1909 and cast in 1925.

hands
Two Hands
Inside the museum
Inside the museum

Outside, in the garden, we find The Three Shades.  These identical male figures — known as shades, or ghosts from the underworld — are closely related to Rodin’s figure of Adam.  However, rather than awakening to life as Adam does, the shades embody death, sleep and loss of consciousness.  Rodin placed The Three Shades atop The Gates of Hell to draw attention to the scenes of damnation unfolding below, and years later, enlarged and exhibited them as an independent figure group.

The Three Shades
The Three Shades
me with the Three Shades
me with the Three Shades
Farewell to the Rodin Museum
Farewell to the Rodin Museum

Here’s my poem from the my little poetry session at the Hirshhorn.  I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of the sculpture, but you can find it in the link above, from the Boston Museum.

She Who Was the Helmet Maker’s Once-Beautiful Wife

Her skin flows –
          lava, rippling
down her frail neck, rib cage, legs –
then solidifies, bronzed.
          Gravity – hypnotic –
tugs at her deflated breasts. Punctuated
by sunken nipples, invisible aureoles, they lounge
against her ribs, her tired mound of belly.
Her hair hangs in a horseshoe on her back.
Her kneecaps jut in knotted knobs, dark
and pockmarked as peppercorns.

The pitted surfaces of her skin
refract the museum light,
          deflect her despair
to her companions – Crouching Woman,
Head of Sorrow, Kneeling Woman Combing Her Hair.
The Hirshhorn docent points at her,
while students scribble in notebooks,
          raincoats tossed over their arms.
Rodin insists she was once beautiful,
and maybe she was, but today
and until bronze disintegrates,
her essence hides within a craggy oyster shell,
pearly, air-thin bones under loose-fitting skin.

     Inside her hollows, she just remembers
wandering to her husband’s shop
on woolen summer evenings,
moonlight glancing off canary grass,
a whippoorwill’s lament in liquid air.

          Goosebumps blossomed
on her skin as she watched his shoulders
strain in the light from the fire.
She silently slid her fingers over the cool ridge
of a helmet, her own reflection – beguiling –
in the metal-mirror curve.

She loved to seduce him on those ancient evenings,
the helmets – like a crowd
     of   floating,   gleaming   heads – peering   
               silently,
as she and her husband
          made tangled love
                    on the dusty floor.

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

christmas eve & christmas 2016

Saturday, December 24:  Mike, Alex and I drive on this overcast Saturday to the Washington National Cathedral for our annual Christmas Eve visit. We’re a small group this Christmas, as Adam is body-surfing at a beach in Maui and Sarah is hanging with her dad, his two pugs, her dog Bagel, her stepmother and half-brothers in Virginia Beach.

In the Cathedral’s nave, we admire an owl hidden in a Christmas tree amidst poinsettia and cranberry garlands, and columns decked out in red-bowed wreaths.  We crane our necks to admire the Space Window, celebrating the Apollo mission to the moon, and the three Rose windows and all the stained glass scenes that bring the stories of Christianity to life.

an owl in the Christmas tree
an owl in the Christmas tree
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

I light a candle and pray for peace and love, for healing in our country after our divisive election and under our upcoming regime change, for the Syrian refugees and other people suffering because of war and famine and corruption, and for my children, who I hope will someday thrive. I also pray that I can find my quest, my own personal legend, in my life.  I squeeze a lot of hope into that one candle.

The Canterbury Pulpit depicts people and scenes relating to the Bible’s translation into English.  Stories for the pulpit came from Canterbury Cathedral in England.

Canterbury Pulpit
Canterbury Pulpit

We find the Pentagon Cross, made by Alvin Neider from fragments of the facade of the Pentagon after the attacks of 11 September 2001, in recognition that we are “united in memory, freedom, and faith, and in the hope of and love for God, our nation, and all peoples of the earth.”

The Pentagon cross
The Pentagon cross

We find HOLY CITY, a pilgrimage of sight, by Irish citizen Brian Whelan, a nine-paneled painting showing “a vision of unity amongst the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.”  Says the artist: “The daily news is full of stories of faith against faith; a never-ending holy war and perversion of God’s love.  Wars, conflicts and acts of terrorism are often described with religious labels.  This is not a perspective shared by most people.  Across the faiths, we have far more in common that divides us.”

Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan
Holy City: a pilgrimage of sight by Brian Whelan

The artist says this doesn’t depict any one Holy City that exists in today’s world: “This is my aspirational vision of what a Holy City looks like.  Each of the canvases contain churches, mosques and synagogues, representing the Abrahamic faiths, painted in bright, playful and colorful forms.  An abstracted, disarming vision of cultural unity; living together in peace, acceptance and in harmony; a haven for the soul. … In this Holy City, hospitality would be offered to all pilgrims.”

For close-ups of the nine panels of Holy City, click on any picture in the tiled mosaic below.

In the Crypt level, we visit the Bethlehem Chapel, showing the genealogy and birth of Jesus, and the Chapel of St. Joseph of Arimathea, telling the story of Jesus’ entombment following his crucifixion.

chapel
chapel
iron door
iron door
chapel
chapel

The main reason we come to the Cathedral on Christmas Eve is to see the crèches from all over the world.  We see nativity scenes made from natural materials found in Mexico, India, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, New Mexico, Arizona, Turkey, Uganda and others.

In the Jamaican nativity, the bodies are made of rolled woven mats with painted gourds for heads.  They are dressed in woven fiber and fabric garments.  The figures’ eyes are painted with touches of gold, which make them glow.  As for the Wise Men: one Magi is from Africa, one from Asia, and one from Europe, each wearing elaborate fiber headdresses that represent their home continents.

The bodies of the figures in the Singapore nativity are made from the trunk of the cinnamon tree.  While the bark is ground into cinnamon, the trunk is ground into a powder and mixed with water to form a soft dough.  The figures are then formed on a wire armature.  The entire process takes anywhere from 2 1/2 – 15 hours, depending upon the intricacy of the figure.

Singapore - joss stick powder
Singapore – joss stick powder

Finally, a crèche made of wood depicts the traditions and cultures of Alaska.  The figures of Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child sit within a lodgehouse, which is set on poles to store winter provisions.  Mary is dressed in native garb, while Joseph is dressed as a Russian settler.  On the roof is a star, and a snowy owl rests nearby, representing an angel.  The animals include a caribou, a walrus, a puffin, a moose, a polar bear, and the Alaskan state bird, the ptarmigan.  Native plants are represented by the spruce tree, the fuchsia fireweed, which grows profusely along Alaskan roadways, and the Alaskan state flower, the forget-me-not.  A totem pole completes the scene.

The Resurrection Chapel is decorated with colorful mosaics, portraying the appearances of Jesus after his resurrection.

mosaic
mosaic

Outside, we take some parting shots of the Cathedral and then drink coffee and tea in the gift-shop-turned-cafe, amidst steam, hissing and the chatter of other pilgrims.

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
St. Albans
St. Albans
me at the Cathedral
me at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral
a tree at the Cathedral

The Bishop’s Garden is modeled on a medieval walled garden and features herb and rose beds.

Cathedral garden
Cathedral garden

On the way home from our visit, we stop at the Lebanese Taverna market, where we eat a smorgasbord of kibbeh, sambousick, fatayer cheese, arnabeet, loubieh, and fattoush. I pick up a few stocking stuffers at the market here.

Back home, after wrapping our remaining presents and preparing the chicken apple sausages for tomorrow’s Christmas brunch, we meet my sister-in-law Barbara and a friend of hers at Luciano Italian Restaurant and pizzeria for Christmas Eve dinner.

Though we’ve never done this in Christmases past, we attend my sister-in-law’s 8:00 church service at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax, where she sings in the choir.  We hear a wonderful and moving rendition of “Ave Maria” that brings tears to my eyes.

We spend some time at Barbara’s house for gift exchange and good cheer, and then return home, where we bid goodnight to our Christmas tree. 🙂

our Christmas tree
our Christmas tree

In the morning, in our typical Christmas fashion, we open our gifts one by one, and we have the same Christmas brunch I got from a 1992 issue of Martha Stewart Living and have been making for nearly 25 years (except the years I was abroad, when my family made the same brunch): Breakfast Frittata, Chicken Apple Sausages, Cheese Grit casserole, pancakes with cranberry maple compote, mimosas, and Barbara’s addition of a fruit salad with an orange sauce.

A good but quiet Christmas all around.

I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas!  Happy New Year in 2017! 🙂