Ireland: Part 1

For the next few weeks, I’ll talk about our week long driving tour of Ireland. It was a week of art, hiking, and lots of Irish music. Everything a girl could want.

Our trip started with a few days in Dublin. We arrived early on Saturday and took the bus into the city. It dropped us off about a block and half away from our hotel. We were staying off Dame Street, a main thoroughfare that felt like a combination of tourist and student central. We threw our bags down, as is our custom, and ran off to explore the city.

First, we needed to get lunch. We wandered a little bit, passing a little farmer’s market with a display of cheeses that I would regret not tasting for the rest of the trip. We went to a little cafe that had a glorious display of different hot chocolates. I was disappointed that their orange and cinnamon chocolate was not available; i had a caramel chocolate, which was okay.

Next, we headed off to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. I had been in Dublin once in 2005 but we had missed seeing the Book of Kells because it was Christmas season and it was closed. As a lover of illuminated manuscripts, I was very keen on seeing it. There was a bit of a line but it went quickly. There is a room filled with explanations of everything from the ink, the binding, to the illuminated alphabet. I was thrilled that you can actually get up close to the Book of Kells. It’s crowded but you can make your way in and get really close. There is such an incredible amount of detail that no photo can do it justice. Several folks said it wasn’t the bees knees but they were wrong. It was well worth the wait.

After the Book of Kells, there is the delightful Long Room, a two story library with so many leather bound books. There’s even the harp that inspired the one Euro coin. When I asked one of the guards how one gets to the second story, he said, “Walk.” While it may sounds snotty, it was delightful and dry; I was reminded that Ireland is know for the gift of the gab. We chatted with him for awhile before making our way to St. Stephen’s Green.

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What a wonderful park! Talk about the greenery of Ireland. Ponds, playgrounds, and picnics. Everything a proper park needs. Apparently, during the Easter Rising, the Irish Citizen Army took over St. Stephen’s Green, a key strategic point. However, each day during the fighting, there would be a ceasefire to allow James Kearney, the park’s gamekeeper, to feed the ducks.

I wandered around a little bit afterwards and found what I think is a Luigi themed Stag party. This made me immensely happy.

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Plus many pub signs had extremely clever booze related messages. A sampling:

That evening, we were going to fight against jet lag by going on a ghost walk. As regular readers of this blog know, this is standard fare for trips with my husband. Ghost walks are a fun way to get to know a city and hear some great stories. This walking tour did not disappoint. The best story was about the ghost of Jonathan Swift. He was the Deacon of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and would regularly walk between the two cathedrals up a flight of stairs where beggars and prostitutes were known to ply their trade. He had pockets full of coins that he would give to people as he strode the stairs. After his death, beggars would find their cups with coins on them when no one came by. Those coins are attributed to Swift, making him the first philanthropic ghost I’ve heard of. (Well, a philanthropic ghost giving people things they want).

We ended the night with an attempt at some Irish music near our hotel. It was astonishing to see how many pubs and restaurants advertised Irish music. We walked in to some lovely fiddling tunes but as soon as we ordered a pint of cider, the music turned into US country music. Or covers of country songs. While I actually had a fondness for country, this was not quite what I was hoping for!

That’s all for now!

Boston 2017: Part 3

We awoke to our third and final day in Cambridge. For those of you keeping count, that is a different place each night. Our first night was in Boston, second in Westport, and third in Cambridge. And as luck would have it, we spent our first day in Cambridge and our final day in Boston!

We headed to the one of the finest museums in the country: the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Due to the generosity of our friend, we had passes to go and were able to bypass the incredible line outside to get in. What a place. We started in the brief exhibition of paintings by Renaissance Grandmaster Raphael. Very few of works ever make their way to America. While small, it did have some really exquisite pieces of his work along with some of his contemporaries. Here, his work outshined them all.

Our next stop was a gallery of musical instruments, which I adored. There was a piano with blue white Wedgewood decorations, crazily shaped horns, and a wooden case filled with glasses that you filled with water and played! Next to the gallery was a little exhibition about revivalist jewelry; different eras of history became fashionable in jewel form.

The main special exhibition was an interesting pairing of Matisse’s paintings with the objects he owned and featured in said paintings. It had gotten really good reviews. It was thought-provoking to see certain objects depicted in multiple paintings but many weren’t his most interesting works. They did have some wonderful paintings of wall hangings and Moroccan chairs etc. that were worthwhile. You really got to see his passion for color jump out. It ended with some drawings of robes he made for the Matisse Chapel in Vence, one of my all-time favorite chapels!

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We spent the next hour or so wandering the museum as our whims took us. We ended up in the American wing to see some gigantic photos of Washington. I personally fell in love with this portraitist; I had seen his work earlier in an exhibition about food at the art Institute. This painting of a young boy and his pet squirrel made me particularly happy.

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We also ended up in the section of American indigenous art (in the same wing as the other American art!). I loved that they had incorporated some contemporary Native American art into the gallery of Native American artifacts. I always love seeing the juxtaposition of tradition and interpretation. This piece by Stan Natchez, inspired directly by Picasso’s Guernica, was particularly striking.

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By popular demand, we headed to the impressionist wing to check out the Monet’s. I found another one of Degas’ ballerinas, one of my favorite sculptures. The Art Institute has one. And so did the Harvard Art Museums. Two on one trip!

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We ended our trip to the museum with a brief foray into the contemporary art wing where I got to see a lovely Kara Walker and a Guerilla Girls piece. Next time, we’ll have to spend more time here.

We had a final lunch of sushi at a nearby restaurant and then headed to the airport.

It was a good but exhausting trip. Next time, we might try to stay put in one place and see a little bit more of Boston itself.

That’s all!

Part 3: Spring in Manhattan

The following day began at the Met, one of my favorite museums. It’s got an incredible collection but is rather overwhelming. I try to get into my head that we are only going to visit a few things because seeing the entire museum would be impossible.

Our first stop was a Seurat and circus exhibit. The exhibit featured Circus Sideshow, one of Seurat’s masterpieces, along with circus posters, other contemporary circus paintings, and sketches. It was nice to see some great circus posters from Cheret, a nice follow up to the Driehaus museum’s current exhibition. I was hoping for more of Seurat’s circus paintings since I’d had seen some really amazing works elsewhere but alas.

We then went to the rooftop garden at the Met. Every year they have an artist do some outdoor installation, which is always neat. This year’s piece was spectacular. Adrián Villar Rojas took 3D scans of pieces all over the museum, printed them, and created these sculptural collages. THey are laid out throughout the garden, some on tables, some freestanding. It’s called “The Theater of Disappearance.” I love juxtaposing things, like ancient Egyptian busts with animal parts or Ancient Greek torso. All while overlooking the beauty of Central Park and the NYC skyline. It could also be a great scavenger hunt, tracking down the pieces in the collection!

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We also visited the exhibit on ancient China featuring some incredible terracotta soldiers. Seeing them is always a treat. Someday I’ll make it to Xian to see the site! What I liked in particular about the exhibition was the sheer number of other artifacts that were included. There was a series of beautifully carved women dancing or playing instruments while another room featured animal sculptures. Wondrous!

After our brief visit to the museum, since any visit is brief at the Met, it was time to head to Broadway for a matinee of War Paint. To get there, we ended up passing by the Tax Rally (it was 4/15) and we saw some amazing puppets and signs. We had $1 pizza at a joint just off Times Square. Tasty tasty pizza.

War Paint is a musical about make up rivals, Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, and their decades long feud. It was interesting to see corporate sabotage and competition played out in a musical. I’m not sure if I loved the message of the musical (you’ll just have to see it) but it definitely had some pretty neat scenes and dances.

After the play, we decided to head to a new place for us: the Morgan Library. I had come across it a few months prior and it seemed like our cup of team. It turned out that it was JP Morgan’s library. What an astonishing collection. The main library room is breathtaking. Rows and floors of books with two secret staircases taking you to the upper floors. Also, we found some pretty neat books that make you wonder about their contents!  There were some exhibitions as well on display including works by Emily Dickinson and Symbolist poets. But the rooms themselves were well worth it. It’s a research library and it made me appreciate how awesome Chicago’s own Newberry library is. Here, it’s free to check out books etc. Morgan Library requires a hefty entry ticket.

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Dinner turned into a bit of an adventure! We had reservations to Tao, a fashionable Asian cuisine place near the hotel. When we walked in, the loud overhead music enveloped us. It was all very hip looking and made me feel a bit out of place. When we sat down to eat, we learned that there was nothing, absolutely nothing, on the menu that my mom could eat. Apparently, they premake things like steaks. :-/

So we left. We found a tiny quiet Italian place called Montebello where we were the only people at the beginning of the evening. The food was tasty, we could talk, and the staff were extremely nice. They overheard me talking about how my glass of Prosecco was such much better at their place than the place from the night before so they comped us limoncello! And there were cookies too. So go to Montebello, skip Tao.

Then more adventure!  had tried calling the number on the black card from the night before but couldn’t get through for an hour. At 5pm (an hour after they opened and I started calling), I was informed that there were only taking walk-ins; they were catering to a larger party. Boo. I found the name of a speakeasy called Bathtub Gin in Chelsea that took reservations.  Bathhouse Gin was going to be the place.

We entered through a hole in the wall coffee place, serving as the coatroom. As soon as we stepped in, the noise rose up like a wall. Loud pounding music. But we trekked on. We had a little table and ordered from their cocktail menu, which is always a hit or miss. One thing was a sure fire hit though: s’mores. It wasn’t going to be high quality chocolate or marshmallows but we couldn’t resist. They actually brought us an open brazier with Hershey’s chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmallows. It was amazing. We even convinced the table next to us to do it too.

Plus there was a golden bathtub that you can get into. And we totally took photos lounging in the bathtub. Because golden bathtub!

That’s all for now!

Part 2: Spring in Manhattan

The second half of our day took us to the southern part of Manhattan. My mom had wanted to check out the Oculus, the new transport station that was part of the World Trade Center network. The building is out of science fiction – weirdly shaped and white. Inside, there are several floors with high end shops and as far as we could tell, one restaurant/cafe. Very odd. It was a dramatic place architecturally but I’m still confused how you can have a massive transportation depot without food.

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After our tour of the space, we headed to Trinity Church nearby. Inside we found beautiful wooden carved chapel and windows. Outside, we discovered that this was where Alexander and Eliza Hamilton were buried. However, it took some time finding their grave. We learned that there are burial grounds on both sides of church. When we paid our respects to his grave, the lady next to us starting singing the section about Eliza from “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” Her grave had pennies all over it as well. Nice touch.

We passed by the Bull of Wall Street and the Little Girl standing him down. There was a line of mostly women waiting to get their photo taken with the Little Girl. I declined getting my photo taken since it was a long line of chaos.

We then went to the National Museum of the American Indian next to Bowling Green Park. The museum is housed in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, which is a pretty astonishing building. Big rotunda with murals. We learned from the guard that Bowling Green Park’s fence went back to colonial times; on the fence, there used to be symbols of the crown that revolutionaries had sawed off! Plus there was an amazing plaque talking about how the rental of the park was only a peppercorn. Back in the day, peppercorn was a big deal.

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I had read about the museum and its current exhibition “Native Fashion Now” in the New York Times a few weeks earlier so I was keen to check it out. They had gone to Native American designers to showcase their work in the show. It was spectacular. For instance, there were these high heeled boots covered in beadwork with hummingbird motif by Jamie Okuma. Another was a kimono that depicted ledger art by Toni Williams. Astonishing. They also had a quiver made in the famous Louis Vuitton fabric. Or a pair of moccasins made from electrical parts. Innovative and astonishing.

The permanent collection had some pretty spectacular objects from a diverse number of groups. There were drums from Mapuche in Chile all the way up to various groups in the Pacific Northwest. They even had a room set aside for Native American Contemporary art where there was a paper jingle dress.

Another special exhibition included pottery from Central America, which was a treat. As I have gotten older, I have grown to love pottery, especially from Latin America. I love all the pots of local animals!

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We then walked from the museum to the Strand, not a small walk. It was delightful wandering around the city. I enjoyed all the street art, as per usual. The Strand was great as always. We met up with a good friend and my parents at a Spanish restaurant in Greenwich Village.

Afterwards, we wandered with our friend to find a speakeasy. There is a trend in bars in NY (and elsewhere) of speakeasies that are accessed in unusual places. The first place we tried involved going through a toy store. Sadly, it was merely a shelf of toys and the bar was extremely crowded and loud.

We then began our trek to find an available place. There was another one that involved going into a phone booth in a hole-in-the-wall hot dog stand. When we got there, there was a line, so it wasn’t truly hidden. When it was our time to get to the front of the line, a man pulled back a wall of the phone booth and I could peer inside. It was a quiet bar with a taxidermied pheasant on the wall. We were informed it was a three hour wait, which wasn’t happening. He ended up handing my friend and I a black business card with a number and the name of the address. Someday we’ll go.

Ultimately we ended up a regular bar, notably only for the strange channel it showed of people embarrassing themselves by doing stupid things. It wasn’t “Funniest Home Videos” but it was an actual channel that bars can request. Strange.

That’s all for now!

Part 1: Spring in Manhattan

I’m going to return for the next few weeks ago to my travel adventures. Stay tuned for more interviews with street artists!

Now I’ll talk about our amazing trip to NY, NY over Easter weekend. It was full of speakeasys, friends and family, and art. What else can one ask for!

The trip began with a hopeful quest to the Guggenheim on Friday morning. A few weeks prior, I had learned about Doug Wheeler’s PSAD Synthetic Desert at the Guggenheim where he built a room designed to minimize noise. You can enter the room for 10 or 20 minutes and relish in the silence and incredibly bizarre landscape. (Article from NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/07/arts/design/guggenheim-museum-doug-wheeler-synthetic-desert.html)  It is included with admission but you need a timed ticket since only 5 people can go at a time. Advance tickets were gone for the month of April but they had some walk-ins available. So I got to the Guggenheim before it opened in the hopes of securing such a ticket. THere were already lines there when I arrived but a separate line for the Doug Wheeler exhibit. While waiting I met this lovely lady from Oxford and her son who had spent 6 days in NYC and enjoyed the city. They had even more of an adventure getting to the Guggenheim, which involved checking out early from their hotel, getting on the wrong train and ending up in Harlem.

And we all got tickets! My ticket was for 12pm so I had 2 hours to kill. Fortunately, I was in a museum. The Guggenheim had a retrospective of the original art that Solomon Guggenheim had collected with the significant help of Hilda von Rebay, his curator. Much of the art he collected was during my favorite time in art: early 20th century. The first side room that I saw was filled with magnificent compositions by Kandinsky, one of my favorites. I was struck dumb by the beauty of his abstract colors and shapes. Clearly, I had made the right choice.

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I wandered my way up to the top of the museum where the Doug Wheeler room was. There was even a few works from his niece Peggy Guggenheim’s museum in Venice; her collection is a must see any time we are in Venice. It was like meeting old friends that I hadn’t seen in years. They had her magnificent Calder mobile that slowly shifted with people’s movements.

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I really enjoyed my experience in PSAD Synthetic Desert. The 5 of us and the museum staff person were brought into the room through at least 2 doors (requiring a key card). The room was out of Sci-Fi. These white foam pyramids lay in rows before me and on the wall. There was a platform you could stand on and survey the rows of pyramids. All was suffused with a light purple glow. We were encouraged to sit to  minimize movement. Early on you understood why.

The room was so quiet that turning your head seemed magnified. Even the shuffling of feet was audible. It wasn’t so quiet that you could hear your heartbeat but it definitely wasn’t just a silent room. I had expected to get very bored very quickly but I was surprised when our ten minutes was up.

I wandered down the Guggenheim, nodding my head at my old friends and new favorites (Those Kandinsky’s) and made my way to 5th avenue. It was a glorious day in Manhattan. I walked up 5th, next to Central Park, and met my husband in the middle. He had just arrived from Chicago that morning. We both walked back to our hotel, enjoying the fresh temperate air.

Next time, I’ll talk about our adventures at the Oculus, Trinity Church, National Museum of American Indian, and our adventures finding a speakeasy.

 

That’s all for now!

Part 3: Dogsledding

It was our final day of dogsledding. We rose early to feed the dogs before breakfast. At breakfast, we were joined by two deer at the birdfeeder, which was delightful. Breakfast with deer! Then it was time for more mushing.

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This time my run was a little bit more exciting… As we left the yard, it was clear that one of the lead dogs wasn’t pulling so we switched up a wheel and lead dog. Nothing like stopping 20 yards from the start and having to hold on to the sled with dear life as the dogs were being switched. However, after a few minutes, the decision was made to switch them back! As we got closer to the end of the course, the dogs failed to heed a command of mine to go straight rather than go right. (The old course would go right so the dogs were used to that). We had to stop the sled, I had to hold on for dear might, as we pulled the team back on the right course! So it was definitely no run of the mill run. But it was still fun to be at the helm, watching the dogs gallop through the forest. I can see why people do this for 1000s of miles in the Iditarod and Yukon.

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After our run, we helped set up the teams for the other guests before getting an early start on our drive home. We had a 7-8 hour drive back to Chicago since my friend and I both had work the next day.

We briefly stopped at Gronks, a fast food joint we passed on our way to Duluth. It is delightful ridiculous.

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We decided to take a detour in Duluth since we were passing by. We first stopped at the Duluth Trading Company, a retail store that sells outdoors gear. When we parked in the nearby parking lot, I decided that my boot was bothering me. I felt like I was stepping on uneven surface. So in the lobby, I had to take off the boot and see what was up. That’s when 8-10 sunflower seeds fell out! We think a squirrel or some other rodent had stashed them there during the day. We could hear small rustling above us at night!

The Duluth Trading Company was fun especially after spending the weekend outside. It made me wonder what gear I could have used to keep myself warmer.   We then decided to get a spot of lunch at a pizza place nearby; it was okay but it did the trick. As we walked down the main street back to the car, we passed the most amazing curious shop. It was an unending maze of treasures – I found a tiny t-rex fetish made of stone and a green glass top hat pencil holder. At the checkout desk, there were vending machines for shark teeth, gemstones, and antique coins!

As we drove down to Chicago, we decided to stop at various places on the way to break up the drive. We briefly got our photos taken at Gronk’s, a seemingly prehistoric themed eatery that had this giant arrow outside. Most of the drive was in Wisconsin itself. We stopped for pie at the Norske Nook that had 30+ pies, which was delightful.

At one gas station, I found the most ridiculous thing ever: a tiny knife shaped like an old timey gun. At this point we decided to have some fun with my husband at home. I texted him a succession of messages. The first was: “I bought a knife.” The second one was: “A squirrel used my boot to store sunflower seeds.” And the final one was “We’re looking for a liquor store.” His comment was “This thread is amazing.” We had stopped to find a gas station that sold cheese curds and New Glarus beer, a must on any trip to Wisconsin.

We got home close to 11pm after a delightful weekend.
That’s all for now! Posts are going to be a little sporadic for a few weeks as I work on some other projects. Just a reminder, I just launched my first Kickstarter for a new literary journal that I co-founded called the Antelope. So consider supporting it today:  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1943130585/the-antelope