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Monday, June 20, 2011

NYC: the Met, Andean tunics, McQueen, subway art, the High Line, family& friends. and, oh, the Ad Club Awards dinner.

Here in NYC, or rather at my mother’s apt in Yonkers. My mother has lived here 40 plus years, my siblings spent at least part of their teen years here, but I never really lived here, except for my last few months of high school, and about nine months in between living in Paris and subsequently in New Mexico. So I have never really considered this home, although it was my parents’ home for many more years than we lived in the Bronx.

This trip has been prompted by the Westchester Ad Club’s annual dinner, where they present awards in about 2 zillion categories, capped off by an award presented in honor of my dad, It can be a long evening, mitigated by the great food and the cleverness of the mc. pro bono work, Last year the Norm Liss Service Award went to a group that designed the annual report for the Lemur Conservation Organization, this year to a company that designed invitations for the for the Norwalk Aquarium’s annual fundraiser. I believe this is all work done pro bono.My dad's work was mostly for large corporations, like Topps, Renault, etc. but I appreciate that whoever created the award made it for service for a non-profit.

This is the third time I’ve attended, and I believe the 12th year the award has been presented. My mother goes every year, and each year they have her stand next to the mc and present the award.

This time, I related the story of the lap sitting contest my father created on college campuses to promote his client, Burlington Menswear, and their crease proof slacks, culminating in bringing the winner, a lanky Texan, to appear on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show, and break the record of nine coeds on his lap.

I, and nine of my high school friends, were the lap sitters, or sittees, or whatever. Johnny Carson actually picked me up and put me on top of the pile. This remains one of the highlights of my life, or, as I told the audience of ad and pr professionals, my 15 minutes of fame. Even though it was probably less than five minutes. Does that mean I've got another ten left?

I told the story not just because it’s such a great story,bud because I thought it demonstrated my father’s ability to create offbeat ideas and events, and make them happen. I realize that in the audience each year there are fewer and fewer people who remember my father personally. And it’s important to me to have the award be something more than an award in the name of someone they know nothing about. Last year one of the people at our table told me how she had considered my father her mentor. This year, someone else who knew was retiring, so one less who actually knew him.This is why it's important to me to participate, and let people know a little bit about who my father was.

Several people came up afterwards and told me what a great speech it had been, (and I had been worrying that I spoke too long at the end of an already long dinner.) Someone asked me if I was in "the business." I had similar feedback last year, which I’m sure was part of what encouraged me to do it again.

My mother and sister would never consider speaking in front of a crowd. I, and I think my brother, thrive on it, as did my dad. I am beginning to realize just how much I enjoy speaking publicly. I always enjoyed doing my cultural programs for school audiences. And now, presentations about my volunteer stints abroad, and also, my work in the Legacy Project, where I present the story of Sarah Miller, a Massachusetts woman who is a Holocaust survivor.

Is it too late, I wonder, for me to consider a career in some type of public speaking? I think I am just a very late bloomer!

It was also very gratifying, a few days later, to see, on the company's website, a reference to the award and to my father, how he'd been an inspiration to many, etc. Even if it is, in the end, all pr.

So, the awards dinner was the motivation for my trip down here. But no trip to NYC, in my book, is complete without at least one museum visit and some other New York type adventures, which to me can consist of just wandering around the city, as in other great cities I like to spend time in.

Wednesday was the bus trip, Greyhound this time, from Boston, then a two hour stroll, wheeling my suitcase, around Manhattan and then the express bus up Madison Ave. to Westchester. A long but pleasurable day capped off by the awards dinner. My walk took me through the theatre district, rather crowded as I expected as it was matinee day. A little difficult to negotiate, especially in the extreme heat, with my suitcase. Many many tourists, but nothing like Venice, or at least the sheer size of New York makes it able to better absorb the numbers.

I did have a mission for my hours between bus from Boston and bus up to Yonkers. In DC we’d seen a small exhibit of murals and mosaics designed in the early 20th century by a woman named Hildreth Meiere. There were several in New York, including some at Radio City, one at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, some supposedly in the underground corridor at Rockefeller Center, and more. So, suitcase in hand, I went in search of them. I found the Radio City medallions, although it took a couple of tries, because you can only see them from the opposite side of the street. I walked some of the corridor, but never located them. St. Patrick’s was under renovation, the doors were closed and I didn’t see anyone enter or exit, just lots of people sitting on the steps. And as I was hot and tired, didn’t relish the idea of hauling my suitcase up the steps, and didn’t know if they’d let me in with it anyway, I abandoned that idea. I wasn’t particularly frustrated, though, since it had been a minor mission. Nothing on the level of my quest for Canaletto.

Here’s the funny thing, though. I had looked on the Meiere website to locate her works in New York. Then, out of curiousity, I looked to see if there were any pieces in Massachusetts. There is, just one. Guess where it is? That’s right, Beverly!!
In the 42nd street subway there were incredible mosaic tile murals depicting city folks in a carnival like setting, and others that looked like giant marbles or colorful bubbles. One wrapped around a corner. Another framed the restroom entrances. The background was the traditional white subway tiles, they looked like the old ones, but they must have been new because the mosaics were integrated into them. I need to research this subway art more.

On Thursday, I headed back into the city. THE CITY, as New Yorkers say, (and I am one), as if it were the only city. And for many New Yorkers, that is the case. Think early Woody Allen, before he actually left New York, and truth be told, myself too. I truly thought New York was the center of the world, until, that is, I saw Paris. Hmmm, maybe Woody Allen, the creep, and I have more in common than I thought.

I went to visit Nancy, my high school friend, and her husband Jim. We had kept in touch for a while after hs, but had been out of touch many years until she hosted a reunion of our high school class a couple of years ago. They live in an elegant apartment overlooking Central Park West. In high school Nancy was a poiticall radical, participating in the Columbia riots, and later, being involved with the infamous Chicago Seven. (Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, etc.) Her politics are still pretty left, but now they are in the position of being able to financially support political candidates, etc. They have also become orthodox Jews, which still somewhat throws me for a loop. I have yet to talk to them about how they came to their religious commitment, but will be very interested to do so at some point. One thing about Nancy, whatever she commits herself to she does with full force.
Nancy has been a lawyer and literary agent for many years. Jim was a hedge fund director, but has closed that fund. He is now working on a major project that would involve developing a material derived from hemp that could be used for low cost housing. He is trying to establish pilot projects in Haiti, Bolivia, and Mali, where the crops would be grown, building materials produced, and housing built.

While I was there, Nancy received a call she’d been eagerly awaiting from a California producer or agent. Their older son has been working for quite a while on a screenplay, and they have been working with him on trying to get the film made. Nancy would be one of the producers, they were looking for some help on raising funding, and getting the actors and director they wanted. They were throwing around names like Daniel Day Lewis, Marion Cotillard, Mira Scorvino ( have I got that right? Natalie Portman’s nemesis in the Black Swan) and apparently the guy on the California side was interested and amenable to all Nancy’s ideas. So, who knows, perhaps there will be a film soon in the works. The story is based on a true one, and is quite compelling. It takes place in two time periods, World War II and then in Bosnia in the 1990’s, has two intertwined stories, and deals with people making the decision to risk their lives to attempt to save the lives of others.

On Friday, once again the express bus down. This time, my destination was the Met. It’s a double treat to go there, one, because I get to see my other friend Nancy, and also because I get to see the museum. Nancy, who I actually know from Massachusetts, moved to the city (see?!) more than 20 years ago, to take a job at the Met. And despite lots of gripes about the way the museum treats its employees, she does still seem to thrive on her work. She is a conservator in the textile department, always working on some interesting project. I enjoy going into the bowels of the museum to visit her lab. Right now she is working on restoring a Duncan Phyfe sofa. It makes one marvel at all the behind the scenes work that goes into just one individual piece. The last time I visited, Nancy was working on several small boxes for a soon to open exhibit called Thinking Outside the Box. I was thrilled to know that the exhibit is still there, through October. The ones Nancy was working on were made of an intricately patterned straw. They were too fragile for the insides to be on exhibit. But I got to see them open in Nancy’s lab!

The exhibit was on a small scale, although not all the boxes were small. They were all from the Museum’s collection, and, if I remember right, none of them had ever been exhibited before. It boggles my mind. I wonder how much of the Museum’s collection hasn’t ever been on exhibit. The boxes ranged from the 1500s to the 1900’s, were in a variety of materials including wood, mother of pearl, ivory, the aforementioned straw, and more. Some were travelling cases, one was a games box, some were what were called necessaires, containing items for a woman’s toilette, etc. It’s an exhibit I may well have passed by, just because of the overwhelming wealth of objects at the museum. But I certainly wasn’t the only one perusing it.

From Nancy, I knew about the Alexander McQueen exhibit, of which she spoke a bit disparagingly. (The whole mega show issue.) The name was slightly familiar to me, but I didn’t know much about him or the exhibit. I did wind up going to it, but before I did, I was delighted to find there was another exhibit on “The Andean Tunic.” I It was just a stroke of luck that I saw it mentioned in the flier about special exhibits. In retrospect, I am surprised that Nancy didn’t mention it to me, as she well knows my interest in things Peruvian and Andean, and she herself has been to Peru several times on textile related trips. It may be just a matter of her being much more oriented to the behind the scenes work and what is upcoming rather than what is currently on exhibit.

Anyway, we spent about an hour and a half together, eating lunch in the employee cafeteria, and then a visit to her lab, and then she left me to wander the museum on my own, as usual when I visit her at work. It is amazing how much catching up we always manage to do in just an hour or two.

Since I have bombarded myself with museum visits lately, between the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the MFA in Boston right before we left for Italy, Venice, Washington, and now here, I was planning a brief laid back wander through. Fat chance! (I wonder where that expression comes from.) It turned out the museum was open that night until 8, or was it 9, and I wound up staying until 7:30. Who knows, I may have stayed even longer if I hadn’t had to catch the last bus back to Westchester. I was at the museum for nearly eight hours, including the time I spent with Nancy, six hours of exhibit visiting and museum store cruising. I believe that may be a record time for me of museum visiting in a single day, even on a day, like in venice or DC recently, of visiting more than one museum in a single day. Yikes! And this at the end of a month of marathon museum visiting. When will it end? I think I need a break. But I said that a week or two ago, too.

I’m not finished yet, still have to describe the Andean and The Alexander McQueen exhibits, too very different shows , but having the common thread (haha) of being related to textiles, and apparel.

First, the Andean. I saw it before the other, and am glad I did. After being bombarded with the McQueen, I am not sure I would have been able to absorb much more.
The Andean pieces ranged from 400 bc, or bce which I should try to adopt, to 1800 ae. I forget what these stand for, but I know they eliminate the orientation to Christ, which is certainly more appropriate for a nice Jewish girl and/or atheist.

Some were pieces from Paracas, along the coast south of Lima, where we have been, some were Wari pieces from inland in the mountains in the Ayacucho area, where I spent several weeks working with street kids, and which has long been a center for weaving as well as other crafts. They were all exquisite, and more varied than the Peruvian textiles I’ve seen before. One was all white, or off white, cotton, almost lacelike in appearance. Two were tie dyed, and I thought of Max and Carolina. I didn’t know that ancient Peruvians had done tie dying. One was a miniature piece, as if for a doll, but there was no information about what it might have been used for. One had brightly colored dots around the other more traditional patterns, and had an almost contemporary look. The exhibit had a no photos sign, but I took some anyway.
Then, onto the McQueen. All I knew was fashion, mega show, outrageous. There was a line to enter, but it moved quickly. While I was still at the Andean exhibit, a couple walked by me, and the woman said, I probably would have preferred this, wish we’d stopped here instead of the McQueen, but now I’m too tired. That’s how it often is, isn’t it? That what you’re looking or turns out to be not all it was cracked up to be, and something else you stumble upon is exhilarating.

So, I was prepared not to like the McQeen exhibit, having not had much for expectations, and the comments by Nancy and the unknown woman passing by me. As I entered, strange music blared, the walls were painted faux grey brown bricks, the room was dark, and a black costume flared out, propelled by an unseen fan. We edged forward as a group. I couldn’t help but be reminded of a haunted house, a rather tacky one. Throughout the exhibit, the feeling never fully subsided. Despite the tackiness, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit. Think Tim Burton, with whom McQueen had actually collaborated on some of the collections. Or Lady Gaga. And Princess Beatrice’s hat.The fashions were creative and bizarre. McQ himself described himself as a romantic at heart, and I could see what he meant. Leather and lace, but also a skirt resembling a balsa lattice fan, with slits through which the light shone and formed shadows. McQueen also created, in 1994, the bumster, extremely low rise pants, that I guess inspired the subsequent trend in half falling down pants, or trousers, as they would say in Mcqueen’s native England. (pants meaning underpants there, as I once found out to my embarrassment.) The exhibit quoted McQueen as saying the butt was the most sexy part of a woman’s body. I did find his pants very appealing.

The exhibit also featured films of many of his runway shows. They were really performance pieces, and appropriately outrageous. Much more interesting than your typical runway show, outrageous but not particularly creative. The show, that is. The fashions certainly can be.

I knew McQueen had died, just a couple of years ago, but didn’t realize until googling him later that he’d committed suicide. Some might say it isn’t surprising, given the darkness of some of his creations. I don’t particularly see it that way, but would like to know more. There does seem to be a connection between creativity and depression. At least that's what I try to tell myself when I am feeling depressed.

I took the last bus home again, felt like a regular, from the same stop in front of Mt. Sinai hospital as the previous night. There was actually a much closer stop, at 84th st, which I somehow missed entirely. When I couldn’t find it, I walked all the way up to 99th, nearly a mile, all the while concerned that I’d miss it and be stranded in Manhattan overnight. Well, I’m sure I could have stayed at either Nancy’s house, but it didn’t prove necessary. I was actually quite early for the bus. On the bus were some of whom I’d figured were regulars the previous night, becauses they’d all been chatting, with the bus driver, about the state of education, most of the way up. This night some of the same folks were there, different topic of conversation though.

Saturday I’d reserved to get together with Bonnie and Chico. When I called they had several ideas, all in the city, all of which sounded good. One was to visit the High Line, a relatively new elevated park built along the tracks of an abandoned freight rail line. I’d previously heard of it, and in fact there’d been an article in Sunday’s Times (the feature sections are printed and distributed on Saturday) that very morning. There is a similar park in Paris, the Promenade Plantee, which I have visited, and I believe this one is partly inspired by the Paris park. When I told the volunteer, later in the day, that I thought this one was even better than the paris park, he seemed very pleased, of course.

We all loved it, as it seemed did all the many others strolling the 10 block length in spite of the drizzle. I only wondered, and later asked the volunteer, what it was like on a sunny day. He said they actually had to time visits, which was sad to hear, but he thought it was just temporary since the extension had just opened very recently. The Times article, by the way, was about how, contrary to expectations, there had been no issue of crime at all at the park What I didn’t know is how late it remains open after dark.

There were various sculptures and creative kinds of seating along the length. The ones with which I was most impressed were the sculptural bird feeders that seemed to echo the city architecture, the framed window on the street against which one could lean, and from which below on the street gave a wonderful image of the folks framed above, and the talking water fountain. This was straight out of Candid Camera, except for a more electronic sounding voice. It had various messages, about water conservation, but also about making sure not to touch your lips to the metal, etc. The first time we walked right by it, not noticing that it spoke. While we listened and drank and giggled, others walked by, clearly wondering what we were laughing about. This is my favorite kind of art, something interactive that provokes reactions, in a playful way, and appeals to folks of all ages.

Also wonderful were the views of the city, an entirely different perspective than one would have from the street or from buildings. One of the best was a multilevel car garage, the kind that has an elevator to bring the cars to the different levels. We were looking down on the open garage, and also at the back of a billboard frame.

At 30th street the park stops, there is a chain link fence, and the abandoned and overgrown tracks continue on. I am not sure whether the plan is eventually to extend the walk. I kind of like it the way it is, where you can see the transition and what it had been.

The plantings were actually the best part of the park. According to our friendly volunteer, the original concept was to use the same plants that had been growing wild. But as many of those were invasive, the eventual idea was to mimic the wild feeling of the previous growth but more appropriate plantings. There are all kinds of flowering plants, and grasses, many just coming into flower. I imagine it will be even more beaurtiful in another week. But, of course, also more crowded. There was a whole calendar of scheduled events, including an urban dance performance that very night. But it wasn’t clear, with the weather, wether that would actually happen. And we had plans, anyway, to join my mother and sisiter’s family for dinner. I, and also my family, have known Bonnie since she and I were 11. I consider her my oldest friend, even though I have now reconnected with some from further back in elementary school. And though sometimes we are not in contact for even a few years, I have never felt out of contact with her.

Leaving the High Line, we went cruising, in the same neighborhood, a number of different art galleries, all on the same street. I believe it was 23rd. I’d been on the same block several years back with Beatrice, our Venezuelan exchange student. None of us was very impressed with the first gallery, but several down the street were stupendous and fun. There was a Jasper Johns exhibit, which probably wouldn’t have interested me much if I hadn’t known who he was. Best of all was a tiny gallery, named Carolina something, filled entirely with clear resin heads on pedestals. The heads themselves were filled with a variety of detritous, soda cans, postcards, shoes, viewmaster cards, etc. I told the woman, jokingly, that I would like just one of the molds so I could fill it myself. She thought it was a good idea, and said she’d pass it along to Carolina whoever, the gallery owner. I doubt either she or the artist would go for it , though. In the tiny office next to the gallery room were several clear bags filled with trash, and I was totally unsure whether they were actual trash or art. You couldn’t really see them from the gallery, and they were in several piles in the office. The young woman told me that, oh yes, that was the artist’s "trash bag series." The bags were resin, same process as the heads in the next room. I still wasn’t sure if they were being stored in the office or if the intention was for them to be displayed there. I should have asked her. She did say the place was a mess because the gallery owner was in the midst of doing something or other. And the only thing that seemed at all messy was the trash bag series.

We visited about a half dozen galleries, all on the same street. And we didn’t even make it to the Chelsea Art Museum. The few times I’ve tried to go gallery hopping in Boston it wasn’t very successful. Too much stuff that didn’t interest me. But here, and especially paired with the walk along the High Line, it made for a wonderful afternoon. Even in the rain.

Back home to Yonkers and to dinner with Mom, Wendy and family, and Bonnie and Chico. My mother was delighted to see them, and it took her mind at least partly away from the brake failure incident that had shaken her up so much that morning.
Sunday I left for Boston, again via Greyhound. Alan drove me to the subway, (actually the elevated, in the Bronx.) from where it was a straight shoot although a longish ride, into 42nd street and the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I had a ticket and plenty of time so was relaxed. Each stop featured stained glass art. I was really pleased to see public art in the subway, although the contrast with the peeling paint of the apartment buildings along the way was noticeable.

There were several interesting characters sitting opposite me at various points on the trip. Maybe there always are, but I am not always in the frame of mind to notice them.

Most remarkable was the Orange Lady. She was dressed almost entirely in shades of orange. Her hair was orange. Her tote bag was orange. Most impressively, she was painting her extremely long fingernails, as the train lurched along, with orange (of course) nail polish. The bottle was balanced on her purse which was on her lap. Her long fingers arched backwards ,just as mine do. She noticed me noticing her, and I smiled and said, “I’m impressed,” referring to the nail polish application. She laughed and said, never enough time. A couple of other passengers smiled too.

The bus ride down from Boston had been uneventful. The oneback was anything but. I have come to the conclusion that Greyhound is a dysfunctional company. Seriously. I had misunderstood the website when purchasing my ticket down, and wound up with two. I called customer service, they arranged for a refund, and said it would take six weeks.

For the trip back,, it took Loring about 20 minutes on the computer (I had no internet access) to find me a ticket, and I had to go to the station early because I didn’t have a printer to print it on. Spent at least a half hour on a line where every single person had a problem. Some had already missed their busses. They only had one live person handling the line, because they wanted to encourage people to use the computers. But everyone had a problem with the machines and had to come over to our line anyway. W here they were directed to the front of the line. Is there something wrong with this picture? When I got to the front, the woman looked at my conf.irmation # and said, uh-oh. That was reassuring. She said she didn’t think she could print out my ticket but would give it a try. Miraculously, it worked.

Finally on the bus, we got stuck in traffic leaving the city, because of the Puerto Rico Day parade. The driver hadn’t been informed of it. I knew about it. It seemed like everyone in the city knew about it. Then, in Hartford, he apparently missed the exit, as my seatmate called out, sir, you’ve gone by the exit. Turns out the company had informed him that there was a detour and he way to go another way. (that detour didn’t seem to exist.) The passenger next to me eventually got him to the stop, and he very graciously thanked her as he announced the bus’s arrival. I felt bad for him. He must have been both frustrated and embarrassed, but handled it pretty well.

Somehow, we made up enough time so that we were early heading into Boston, and the bus driver said we had time for a stop at Roy Rogers, which we did. Next time, I think I'll go back to Bolt, though, or try another company. Not Greyhound, or Trailways, or Peter Pan, since they are all the same company. But then again, for $18, how much can you expect?

It's amazing how much there is to say about even a short trip. And I don't even feel like I've told it all.

That brings me to the end of my New York episode. Next, next museum, back in Massachusetts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How I found Canaletto, visited 5 museums in 2 ½ days, and learned to stop worrying about using every minute to see as many things as I possibly could.

Washington DC Memorial Day Weekend
Eureka! I found him!

How I found Canaletto, visited 5 museums in 2 ½ days, and learned to stop worrying about using every minute productively to see as many things as I possibly could.

We are here in Washington DC, first time in at least 10 years.The last times we were here, as far as I can remember, were on my bday when C was about 3 yrs old, when Loring planned to shave his beard off for a bday present, sent me off to a museum, and when I came back no shaved beard, C hysterical saying you wont be my daddy any more, hence no surprise present. The other time I was with the kids, L must have gone home after, I think, Sidra’s wedding in Balltimore. I remember staying at a hotel in Dupont Circle, and going to a restaurant where they served samores as a dessert, on a platter with all the ingredients, and a little sterno stove on which to toast the marshmallows with skewers. The place is still there, it’s called Cosi, in fact Loring and I had breakfast there yesterday.I didn't find it nearly as appealing as I remembered it, though.

So here we are, once again at Dupont Circle, waiting in the lobby of the Churchill Hotel, which I picked because it’s on the historical register, was originally an elegant apartment building, and because it was one of the cheapest hotels I found online. It was $109 plus tax per night, granted that was with $10 for AARP, which they didn’t check anyway. I suppose if my hair wasn’t gray they might have!

It’s my kind of place, has a certain amount of character and ‘charming ambience.” I would probably like it more if it was a little more rundown,, but certainly prefer it to the Marriot or Hilton , which are next door and across the street. Ok, no hair dryer in the room, not that I have ever really needed a hotel hair dryer. Except this am, because I somehow didn’t bring enough underwear, washed some last night, which wasn’t dry this morning. But there was an iron, which actually probably made better sense than the hairdryer method anyway, and gave me a chance to use the desk for something, so I didn’t have to haul out the ironing board.

Okay that’s probably more than you wanted to hear about my underwear, onto other things…(didn't I write about my underwear in Venice, too?)

It was Canaletto that brought us here. In case you didn’t see the last post, I could not find any of the famed panoramic Canalettos in Venice, because there arent’ any there. Then discovered there had been a major exhibit at the Natitional Gallery in London, until January, then discovered said exhibit was now at the National Gallery here in Washington, but only through this weekend. Therefore the rather impulsive visit here, only a week after our return from Italy.

The exhibit, actually of Canaletto and his “rivals” was wonderful, panorama after panorama, some of places quite recognizable to us, where we’d been so recently, until I was quite satiated. Some of the so called rivals’ paintings were equally as wonderful, and I don’t think I could have discerned, in many cases, which were his and which weren’t. But, no worry, some of them had been attributed to Canaletto, even until fairly recently, so I shouldn’t and didn’t feel bad. Some were by his nephew/ student and were quite obviously done after Canaletto. Interestingly, the nephew had signed them with his famous uncle’s name (with his knowledge? It didn’t say) and so many contemporary collectors, and maybe some modern ones, were duped.
Here’s the funny thing, though. In the end, I think the Venetian painters I discovered at the Accademia in Venice while seeking Canaletto, Mansueti, Carpaccio, and, I think Guardi (also featured as one of the rivals I the exhibit here) actually appeal to me and intrique me more.

The National Art Gallery, where we saw the Canaletto, is impressive, architecturally and in terms of its collection. We saw very little of the permanent collection, but what we did see included two Vermeers and many other masters. There was a Gaugin exhibit there too, but we skipped it. I was trying to pace myself a bit, and keep Loring from a total museum overdose. So much more to see here, anyway, than one possibly could in one trip, even a longer one. I was beginning to get a bit museum fatigued myself.

Next on the international museum tour, the sculpture garden of the National, lovely and also appreciated especially for the shallow pool/ fountain where many folks, myself included, soaked our feet after long hours (at least in my case) of walking the streets of Washington and length of the mall.

Sunday morning we started out,with breakfast at Cosi. This is the same place where the kids and I had indoor samores many years ago, which seems to be the only thing I can recollect about that trip. Cosi, by the way, does not mean cosy in Italian. It means "like that" or something like that.

After breakfast we went to the Rennick Museum of American Crafts. I didn’t have a clue what was on exhibit there. But, crazily coincidental, the poster outside the museum, advertising its permanent collection, was a vase by, guess who! – Lino Tagliapietra, the Venetian glass maestro whose wonderful exhibit had been the first thing we went to in Venice.( This is where I make soft Twilight Zone theme song sounds.)

How, you might wonder, is he even included, much less featured, in a museum of American Crafts? Answer: his residence is listed as Venice and Seattle. (Where Dale Chihuly’s glass works is located.) Does he really live there part of the year? I know he has taught there in the past. But who am I to question or complain?! Oh, one of Chihuly’s pieces is there, as well. We'd just seen the impressive Chihuly exhibit in Boston, before we left for Venice. I loved it, even if the Globe critic, Sebastian Smee, didn't. Even if he just won the Pulitzer Prize! I like his writing, and usually his opinions. But not this time. I think he said it lacked meaning. Meaning, schmeaning. Who says art has to have meaning? Anything that gets my son to enjoy going to an art museum has enough meaning for me. As does anything that gets a lot of adult MFA goers to lie on the floor looking up at one of his works!

One non museum, and unexpected event we stumbled upon was the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle parade, a Memorial Day event since sometime in the 80’s, although we’d never heard of it. As we exited the metro the first day at Judiary Square, we noticed tons of motorcycles parked on the street. Turning around, we saw an equal number, and then some, of motorcyclists, mostly around our age, some with long grey or white hair, almost all with tattoos, your typical motorcycle bunch, several hundred strong. They were participating in a wreath laying ceremony, as we later heard on the news, the beginning of a weekend of activities highlighted by an hours long motorcycle parade around the city, starting at the Pentagon, ending at Arlington National Cemetery, where Obama was scheduled to appear.

The Rolling Thunder Motorcyclists number about 7500, began in the 1980’s to highlight and protest the fact that the government was not paying enough attention to the many MIAs and POWs. I don’t know if they are still focusing on bringing home all of those people or not. But the event has gotten huge, is participated in by many other bikers from all over the country as well as the many who’d come to watch the parade. Nearly all the people on bikes were about our vintage, the crowds of course were very mixed, but I didn’t notice anyone that seemed to be currently military, unless they were with family and didn’t stand out as such.
Our timing was perfect. We hadn’t even known the route or planned to attend, but again, came out of the metro on the mall just before it began. The procession began was a guard of police on bikes, and then thousands of bikers, mostly it did seem of Vietnam vintage. Many of them waved at the observers, I did wave back, repeatedly. Although I am not a big fan of biker types, I do respect that they were Vietnam vets, and I must say that I feel we did them wrong in our protests of the war. So I guess I was waving to assuage my guilt for having denigrated, even denounced, Vietnam fighters at the time.. And whoever these vets are, whatever their politics, (at least a few had shirts saying Vietnam vets against the war) this kind of tribute is far preferable to me to a show of arms, military uniforms, etc. I think we’ve gotten it better this time around in being able to separate the fighters from the war.

The Rolling Thunder name, by the way, comes from the name of one of the bombing campaings during the Vietnam War, which was called Operation Rolling Thunder, for the sound of the jet engines doing the bombing, I guess. So, where I wonder, did the name of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review come from?

Guess who was there, but whom we only heard about later on the news?. Sarah Palin, husband Todd, and at least one daughter. On bikes! Jeez, maybe I waved at her. No, don’t think so, we would have known, right, if she had ridden by us? We seem to have had a knack, lately, for running into celebrities on our travels. Not the Brad and Angie type, but Benedetto, and now Sarah. From the news, it sounded like Palin was kicking off a presidential campaign. I have mixed feelings, on one hand, it would be great entertainment, and divert some of the Republican vote. On the other hand, could she possibly win? It couldn’t be, could it? If it does, I am moving out of the country. (When I talked to my mother, just after writing this, she said the same thing, virtually verbatim, about leaving the country.)

After the parade (it was still going on when we left, you, or I anyway, can only watch so many thousand people on motorcycles) next on the list was the National Museum of the American Indian. I had followed the establishment of this museum, which I was pleased to see was going to feature native Americans from Central and South America as well as North, and made a contribution when they were building,g it in honor of Max and Carolina. The architecture and gardens of the museum were impressive, plantings indicative of the various terrains of different groups and areas, building aligned so the sunlight aligned with something or other at the summer solstice, etc.

But, both of us were sadly disappointed with the exhibits themselves. In an effort to group native peoples by certain themes, like religious beliefs, etc. it seems that they neglected to identify information about individual groups and parts of their cultures. We were both confused by the displays, sometimes not having any clue which groups were being represented. There was a short film introduction in a high tech round theatre with projections all around, on the ceiling too, and on some magic glowing rock in the center (pardon my cynicism).

There were some neat displays, especially one of beadwork from many cultures, all kinds of wonderful items, which you could identify and learn more about on touchscreens. There was a similar one of animals depicted in pottery. And there were stations in several places where museum staff did demonstrations . A woman was doing beadwork, although from a culture other than her own Cherokee heritage, and a man who looked clearly South American (he was Aymara, from Bolivia on Lake Titicaca) was demonstrating native boatmaking, but northern birchbark canoes, not the reed boats from where he’s from.)

I think perhaps what left me uneasy about the museum approach was that they seemed to lump all native people together, although that can’t have been their intention. Isnt that what non native people have always done, from Columbus onward? I would like to have seen more exhibits that compared and contrasted, things like religious beliefs, boatmaking, or beadwork, and focussed on the differences as well as similarities, my usual spiel when introducing kids to different cultures. I would have thought this was just my own impression, but Loring felt just the same as I did about the museum.

The best part of the museum, seriously, was the café. It had different stations representing different geographical areas, and foods native to the area. There were lots of wonderful possibilities, Loring had ceviche, I had a sampler plate(any four side dishes) including quinoa pudding and wild rice salad with watercress and pine nuts. I am on somewhat of a quinoa binge, although must say I wasn’t too wild about the pudding. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a grain native to Peru, supposedly very high in protein, pretty, delicious, with a kind of crunchy texture. It comes in different colors, red, black, white. I have been putting it in lots of things, soups, pilafs, etc. If you haven’t tried it, you should!

The museum shop was also appealing, although not as nice as the one at the Building Museum, (see below.) Best thing about the shop at the Indian Museum is that it had Peruvian gourds, of which I have at least a dozen, ranging from intricately crafted to the more primitive but also very wonderful ones done by kids. The sophisticated, highly detailed ones at the museum shop ranged in price from $100 to over $800. I have several that were in the several hundred dollar range at the shop. Guess I’d better document them for insurance purposes! I had long wanted to bring some of those to a U.S. audience, especially the ones made by my Peruvian friends, the Garcia family. I just hope whoever they are getting them from in Peru is getting adequately compensated.

Best of all, though, was that they had arpilleras, the embroidered, appliqued and crocheted three dimensional wall hangings that I have collected and also had a number of special designed ones made for relatives, friends, and others who ordered them from me in the 90s. The dimensions of the ones I have is the traditional 18x18 inches, and many of them have political and social themes, although the market and harvest ones I bought in the crafts market are also quite nice, though more naïve in style.

The ones in the shop were all much smaller. Tiny ones, perhaps 6 inches square, were $45. Larger ones, still perhaps half the size of mine, were $110. Guess I’d better upgrade that insurance policy! Seriously, it makes me want to find places to exhibit them again! If I could bear to sell a few I could finance my next trip to wherever it might be.

To digress slightly for a minute:

Loring is reading a book about a Chinese American man’s travels through China in the 90s and beyond. He is reading to me, an excerpt about a visit the author makes to an artist’s colony, an area the government has set aside for artists to live, rent free. The woman he visits is an entrepreneur who went to, but hated art school, and seems to hate painting as well. She makes a good living, however, painting scenes of places like Venice(!) over and over again, to be sold as original art abroad. She also makes paintings from photos as special requests (one was of Park City Utah, to be sold to Sundance attendees?) , but apparently misinterprets things like signage on a street scene because she can’t read the English letters.

This somehow reminds me of the arpillera made for Ken and Jill’s wedding, which came out beautifully, except for the church with the cross which it never dawned on me would be an essential part of a Peruvian wedding scene. Monica, my Peruvian artisan friend, ripped out the stitches of the cross with a safety pin ( I probably offended her religion terribly, not sure she understood my explanation of being Jewish) and in any case, the cross was still there in ball point pen underneath. Makes a great story though!

Well, back to Washington, although I am already enroute to Boston.

IN addition to the Renwick and the Indian Museums yesterday, we also went back to the National Gallery for a second visit. A nice thing about Washington is that so many of the museums are free. (In my ideal world, museums, also public transportation, would be free.) It makes for a different attitude. You can pop into one for just a brief visit if you like. Not that we did. But we saw entirely different things in another part of the museum second time around. Including an entire room of Calder mobiles. A couple were different from what one usually thinks of as Calder. One was a large metal frame in the shape of a fish, with many pieces of glass and pottery wrapped with wire and suspended within the frame. And there was a wire sculpture, also a mobile, of Josephine Baker, which was wonderful. I later read that there was another exhibit, elsewhere, all of figural mobiles by Calder. Oh well, for another time. Did you know, by the way, that Calder invented the mobile? I thought he’d created the word, but he apparently created the idea itself. And it was Marcel Duchamp who came up with the word. Think of a world without mobiles above cribs. Without Calder, where would we be?

We also saw a portrait of a woman by Da Vinci, apparently the only Da Vinci in the U.S. And I remember reading, a while back, that he only painted three portraits of women. Two, Mona Lisa, and the other one whose name I forget but which I much prefer to ML, are at the Louvre, and now I guess I’ve seen the third. (Update, just checked, Wikipedia, my source for all authoritative information, says the second one in the Louvre is disputed, the third female portrait is in Krakov, which I remember now, wanted to see it but the museum was closed, the DC one is generally attributed to him, the Krakov one also generally accepted. In all, I just read, there are only 15 definitely or generallly attributed to da Vinci, and another half dozen in dispute. Who knew!?)

Last museum, the Building Museum, on Monday morning. I had not known anything about this museum, except that my brother had mentioned it recently, not in conversation but on facebook. And wouldn’t have thought of visiting, except that we emerged from metro at Judiaciary Square the first day, and there it was right in front of us, away from the mall. It is an impressive building, although the outside gives little idea of the beauty within. Built in the 1880’s and used by the Pension agency until the 1920s. There was a lego building exhibit there, although we didn’t see it , other than peering in through the window (Boy does lego seem to have a good pr agency!) But in the lobby was a replica of the actual building we were in. Very cool! Although I have to say I preferred the Windsor Legoland Royal Wedding scene, complete with Queen, Elton John(both wearing the same hat!), and all the rest. Don’t think they had Pippa, though. I should go back and look. And also the Escher pictures reproduced in lego that my brother posted on fb today.

We saw two small exhibits. One focussed on World's Fairs of the 1930's, their architecture but also the message they tried to convey of a rosy future in the midst of the Depression. The other was the work of American artist Hildreth Meire, early 20th century muralist and mosaicist who did spectacular works in the domes and walls of many buildings in this country, including figures on the outside of Radio City Music Hall, which were familiar but which I had never really focussed on. She was inspired, she said, by her early trips to Italy. The exhibit was mostly of photos and sketches of her works, and was enjoyable, but now I want to see some of her actual work.

We ate out more meals here, and as many dinners, in three days as in nine days in Venice. First dinner was at a place called Zorba’s, Greek obviously, and yes they did play music from the movie. It was self service, the typical stuff, moussaka (although with beef, I didn’t think that was authentic) grape leaves, souflaki, etc I ordered one of the few things I was not familiar with, just for that reason. It was ground beef in a flat bread, with yogurt. But I forget what it was called.. The food was good, the outdoor seating wonderful on a very warm night. Next to me ordering was a man who said he needed some good food for three Armenian men, that the man at the counter, who could have been the owner, should decide for them what they should eat. He gave the restaurant guy a credit card and said he should hold it until he decided what to make for them. I guess it’s not uncommon to ask the cook to just make whatever he recommends, but it seemed a bit odd in this type of place. Then again, he was from Armenia. I was curious to know what they got, but even though they were sitting next to us I didn’t ask. They were also heavy smokers, and I wasn’t sure if smoking was allowed outdoors. I considered asking the staff, but just then their food came, luckily, and they stopped smoking.

Our second dinner was at a French bistro called Bistro au Coin, although it wasn’t on a corner. It felt very authentic, and reasonably priced for Dupont Circle. I had duckling, Loring a white bean cassoulet. Both were good, although the pepper sauce on my duck was too heavy and salty. I can’t eat heavy sauces anymore, which basically is a good thing, except when you get served something way too heavy.
Lunches we didn’t really do, more snacks like a pastry or ice cream, not so different from in Italy! One place had some of the most unusual flavors I have ever come across. I sampled the halvah ice cream, but decided to go with some intense chocolate flavor. Much as I love halvah, it didn’t work for me as an ice cream flavor.

Second breakfast: Loring would have been happy with Cosi again, but I wasn’t. There was not one greasy spoon type place we could find. So we wound up going to Starbucks. Is there an anti Starbucks group? I should be in it. I don’t think I’ve been in one more than a half dozen times. I will confess they have excellent chocolate, I have stopped in before a show a couple of times for a bar to bring to an event. Movie chocolate, we call it. But I resent the contrived cosy atmosphere and that so many people seem to go for it. And damned if I’m going to order a vente or a molte or whatever. But there wasn’t much choice. So I got a mocha coffee and a pastry, which was excellent. The coffee was way too intense, too much coffee, too much chocolate, I like the ones I make myself better.

Sitting next to us was an obviously homeless man. He had a bottle with a bit of soda in it, an empty plastic bag, and terrible blisters on his feet. We began to talk. He didn’t ask me for anything. I offered him a band aid, but he declined. It wouldnt have helped much, anyway. I wss just searchng for something to say. He seemed sober and was pleasant, although I had trouble understanding some of what he said. He had no top teeth, so that was probably part of it.

He got up and came back with a glass of ice water. I was interested that the Starbucks staff seemed to tolerate his presence. After a while, I asked him if he would like something to eat. He said yes, of course. But he didn’t want anything at Starbucks, saying he wanted some real food, not sweets. There was a place across the street , he said, that served burgers and fries, and that he thought it was open at 10am. When we got there, though, it was closed.

So we wound up at Cosi, where I hadn’t wanted to go for breakfast. Of course, if we’d gone there, I wouldn’t have met him. At Cosi, he wanted meat. They had the breakfast menu, so the choices were bacon and ham. He wanted veggies, like lettuce,which he could see, but weren’t available until lunch. He was quiet in manner, but he knew what he wanted. The staff was patient, but I wondered if they would have been if I hadn’t been there. He wound up with a basil cheese bagel, I think because of the flecks of green in it, although he was worried he might not be able to chew it. I told him my mother had lost most of her teeth, but could, to her surprise, still chew bagels! I guess I convinced him, I hope I was right. He also wanted a smoothie (so much for the no sweets, but that was okay.) A banana smoothie. They had bananas there, for sale, but didn’t make banana smoothies. So we ordered a strawberry smoothie from the woman. And then, without saying a thing, she threw in a banana.

While they were making the food, he went up to the counter where the condiments and utensils were. He came back with about six slices of lemon and some sugar packets. In just a few seconds, he had opened the packets and licked the sugar out, and eaten the lemons. Even with a meal coming, he needed to do that, whether out of habit or hunger or both, I don’t know.


That was about it. We left him there, at a table outside, to enjoy his meal. I do hope he was able to chew the bagel.

I know I didn’t make any major changes in this man’s life. He will still be hungry and homeless tomorrow. On the other hand, he was certainly appreciative of the gesture, and I think, the half hour of company, and shook my hand in gratitude. I know the encounter affected me at least as much as it affected him.

Well, home to Massachusetts, and maybe a week or two of relaxing, sans travelling or museums. Oh well, , no I just remembered that I am going to New York next week! Museum row, here I come...!