Tag: nga

Miscellaneous Monday: Summer Weekends

Are you, dear reader, a worshiper of the weekend?  On Monday mornings do those two precious days glimmer like a mirage on the far horizon; a heavenly vision that gets you through those nasty mid-week blues?  I must admit that I’m more tolerant of weekdays and less reverent about weekends since I’ve left the 9 to 5 routine but — they do remain special.  Weekends are little breaks from the mundanity of everyday routine, with even the most ordinary non-special-occasion weekend offering its own little serendipities.  The greatest, of course, is the weekend read.  An entire afternoon, with no chores or commitments, and nothing, absolutely nothing, between you and the book of your choice.  A treat of this caliber is rare, even on weekends, but there are lesser delights to savor.  On weekends, the morning’s hasty bagel breakfast can expand to include a friendly  interchange with the bagel chomper at the next table, or the harried trip to the grocery store can become leisurely enough to notice (finally) that nice patch of flowers along your route.  Or — hang on to your hat, Magellan! — you might feel relaxed and adventurous enough to explore a different route to a familiar destination; or even to try a different activity — a new store, an unfamiliar park or museum or that obscure cafe you’ve being hearing about.  Even the domestic routine mellows out — weekends are for trying new recipes, or looking at forgotten photos, or giving the cat an extra tummy tickle along with his/her’s Little Friskies Gravy Lovers’ Treat (a huge favorite in my household).  In short, weekends are for doing all those little things that are actually very big things.

Although weekends are pretty super any time of the year, summer weekends are really unbeatable.  One huge factor contributing to their charm — farmers’ markets!  Do any of you live near farmers’ markets and, if so, do you enjoy them as much as I do?  In my area, they’ve gone from being rather rare to being ubiquitous.  Although you may find, depending on location, a pop-up market on Friday, or even Thursday, Saturday morning markets tend to be the most popular.  Many of the markets also include much more than the usual fruits and veggies (although I tend to stick to the produce).  The Saturday morning farmer’s market is one of summer’s delights, combining exercise (well, sort of — you do have to walk past the stands), entertainment (if nothing else, there’s always people watching, or a clever dog chasing a frisbee) and really great food:

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Very early morning at the local farmers’ market.  Not all the vendors have set up their stands and the street entertainers haven’t yet made their appearance. In an hour or two, this place will be mobbed ……
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A few of the local offerings.   At this particular farmer’s market, items must be locally grown and preferably organic. As you can see, basil, greens and baby tomatoes are in season.  They will be followed later in the summer by local strawberries, cherries, peaches & corn.
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It’s no mystery why this particular bakery does quite a lively business at the Saturday market!
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If you’re ambitious, and unlike myself non-fatal to plants, you can even find things for your very own garden.
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At last, an entertainer shows up!
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A souvenir from the farmers’ market, to enjoy all week after the eatable goodies are gone.  Although I didn’t get photos of the stands, several of the vendors at my local market specialize in flowers, less expensive and far nicer than the greenhouse variety…

When you’ve had enough of the farmers’ market, or if you decide to skip it that week, not to worry!  Summer weekends have still more delightful possibilities for the dedicated hedonist!  Although my ideal physical exercise is ordinarily confined to turning a page, in the summer I actually like to walk.  One of my very favorite places for a summer’s stroll (quite accessible from where I live,  but, unfortunately, not terribly close) is Little Bennett, a gorgeous multi-use state park containing numerous paths and trails, natural wonders in the form of native plants and critters and some interesting historical sites.  Although Little Bennett is under increasing pressure from a growing population (it’s only a couple of miles from a recently developed “town center” that added approximately 20,000 people to this part of the state), it remains an incredible oasis of natural beauty.  Because Little Bennett is a large place (3700 acres or about 1497 hectares), quiet and solitude can be found there even on crowded weekends.  It has a variety of trails, suited to almost every energy level:

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Little Bennett is hilly; this particular trail has lots of dips and ascents.
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For a more sedate walk, you can use the remnants of an old road that once connected several of the farms whose acreage is now included in the park. This portion is relatively intact; the road disappears entirely further along.
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One of my favorite things about the park is its large and meandering stream, which provides habitat for fish and birds, including …….
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Louisiana Waterthrushes, a species of North American warbler.  These birds are regular summer residents of Little Bennett.
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An area I call “the Bluebird meadow” (I have NO idea of its official name, if any). If you squint really hard at the center of the photo (behind the tree shadow extending from the left) you can see two Bluebird nesting boxes (small square shapes on a pole).  This portion of the park is — surprise! — a pretty good spot to see ….
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Eastern Bluebirds.  Bluebirds eat bugs, love meadows and need cavities for their nests. Without nesting boxes, they would probably be totally displaced by non-native European starlings, which are more aggressive and are also cavity nesters.
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Wims Meadow, once part of a farm owned in the 1930s by Jim Wims, a prosperous African-American farmer. Mr. Wims donated the meadow as a baseball field for African-Americans, who had nowhere else to play in those segregated times.  The Wims teams became known for their excellence and a couple of the players went on to become professionals.

A third summer delight for those less outdoorsy moments is taking a bit more time to savor the cultural offerings that come with the season.  This year I hit the jackpot, as there’s a wonderful June-August exhibition at the National Gallery on:

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The exhibition, the first of its kind, covers 17 centuries and animals real and imaginary. Many of the objects, which include sculpture and ceramics as well as paintings, have rarely if ever left Japan.
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The wall banners are located outside and to the left of the exhibition’s entrance.  As I recall, the banners portray animals associated with the Japanese zodiac.

(in the first exhibition photo, you can see that this digital display is located to the right of the entrance; as you can tell from the sound — you may want to use mute — its animated  animals are quite popular with the kids).

Since summer is my time for exploring, I usually visit the Gallery’s east wing, devoted to modern art, more often than I do at other times of the year.  The east wing has recently reopened after a five-years renovation.  Its totally gorgeous galleries are expansive, roomy and filled with light.

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Although this photo shows only a portion of the East Building’s atrium, it does give you an idea of its size. If you like Alexander Calder’s mobiles, it doesn’t get any better than this!
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A gallery devoted to Calder’s smaller works.  My favorite is the glitter fish in the upper right.
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See what I mean about the gorgeous display spaces? I’m embarrassed to say I’ve forgotten the names of the artists whose works you see here — help anyone?
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I love Giorgio Morandi’s paintings .  My significant other finds his work dull; I find it deeply spiritual and contemplative. When I’m in the East Building, I NEVER skip these paintings!
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One of the very nicest features of the renovated East Building was the addition of a roof top terrace, an ideal “break” spot for the summer time art lover! Pay close attention to that hint of blue underneath the left-most tree …….
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. . . which is the bottom half of this huge plastic sculpture by the German artist Katharina Fritsch.   Just LOOK at its size (use the door to the left and the tree in the preceding photo for scale). Are you surprised to learn this is a popular spot for selfies?

Although this post is growing dangerously long, in the spirit of Miscellaneous Monday I’m throwing in some miscellaneous video, also from the National Gallery (as you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m learning how to use video on my website!)  One of my favorite parts of the museum is its “people mover,” part of an underground concourse that connects the older West Building to the Gallery’s newer East Wing.  The lights you see in the video are part of the  Multiverse light sculpture created by the American artist Leo Villarreal:

Immediately preceeding the people-mover/light sculpture is the National Gallery’s “waterfall,” which is visible from the underground cafeteria and bookstore and provides a source of natural light to these spaces:

Finally, if all this activity is just too energy consuming, nothing is better on a summer weekend than just plain taking it easy in a favorite spot:

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Farmers’ markets, hiking and museum exhibitions are all very well and good, but Percy knows the best way to pass a summer weekend . . . . on a nice cushion underneath an air conditioning vent!

 

Monday Miscellany: Museum Musings (plus photos!)

Despite my inability to concentrate on any one object for more than ten minutes, or to spend more than a couple of hours, max, on an art stroll, I adore museums.  Perhaps it’s because of their variety:  there’s a museum for everyone and for every mood and personality type.  Interested in the history of fire alarms?  The next time you’re on the Baltimore Beltway, take a detour to The Fire Museum of Maryland, which has one of the world’s greatest displays of working fire alarms.  Want to see some interesting stuff without getting out of your car?  Well, the Museum of Wonder in Seale Alabama (which claims to be the world’s only drive-through museum) is where you need to be!

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The Museum of Wonder (drive-through) in Seale, Alabama. Note the sports trophies glued onto the 1992 Cadilac.
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Butch Anthony, founder of the drive-through Museum of Wonder. As Butch puts it, “I let people self-serve.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you an aficionado of the circus?  Then go immediately to Sarasota, Florida!  It was formerly the winter home of the Ringling Brothers Circus (many circus performers settled there, not to mention John and Mabel Ringling themselves) and has a really great circus museum, founded in the late 1940s.

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Ringling Brothers Circus Museum, Sarasota, Florida
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Ringling Brothers Circus Museum, Sarasota Florida (interior)

 

And, of course, there are the big boys of the U.S. museum world — the Metropolitan, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Frick, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, to name only a few — those places you go when you’re in need of a serious dose of heavy culture, or a nice cafe to relax in on a hot day in the city or a browse in a great store full of art books and prints.  My favorite of these — the place where I head when I’m not in the mood for one of our quirkier little cultural hors d’oeuvres — is Washington, D.C.’s National Gallery of Art.  It’s a fabulous museum to visit especially when, as now, there’s a major exhibition or two going on.

A reasonably good street view of the West (old) building of the National Gallery of Art.  Notice the dome, over the columns?  Just scroll down, to see it from the inside!
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A street view of the NGA’s East Building, designed by I.M. Pei. The two buildings are connected by an underground complex, containing a cafeteria, bookstore and people mover; the triangular glass thingeys you see in the photo provide natural light to the underground museum space.

Although I love the East Building, which houses a wonderful collection of 20th century art, my focus today is on the older part of the Museum.  So — back to the dome!  We all have our little rituals and one of mine is to always stop here for a moment or two to admire and to contemplate.

A partial view of the dome, which was modeled on that of the Pantheon in ancient Rome.
More dome, from a slightly different angle. Those indented square things above the columns producing a honey-comb effect  are called “coffers.”
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Looking straight up, here’s my last dome picture (I promise!).  The opening at the top is an oculus, or “eye.” In ancient times, it would be open to the sky (and rain).  Modern museum folks, however, take a dim view of the elements, so the NGA has sealed its dome with glass.

The NGA usually has some sort of special show or exhibition going on.  The current attraction is a fabulous show on 16th century Venetian art, featuring the paintings of Tintoretto, a contemporary and rival of the great Titian (the two artists, by the way, loathed each other).  Since many of Tintoretto’s paintings are really, really large and seldom travel, this is a great opportunity to see something of his best work without a trip to Italy!

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Anyone out there like 16th century Italian art?  If so, the NGA’s current “big” exhibition should be right up your alley!
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The first room of the Tintoretto exhibition.  See the serious looking young guy in the small center portrait?  It’s the artist’s self portrait, done when he was in his 20s.  The last thing you see upon leaving the exhibition is another self-portrait, which he painted shortly before his death over fifty years later.  It’s surprisingly moving & a wonderful touch to a wonderful exhibition.
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One of my favorite Tintoretto’s. I love the fact that the princess is running away like hell, leaving her rescuer and the dragon to battle it out.  Sensible girl!

Besides the special Tintoretto exhibition (around for the next month or so), there’s always something to see or enjoy at the NGA.  If you’re not in the mood for paintings, or food, or books — well, the building itself is worth a visit!

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The photo is deceptive: this is a moving wall of water, visible from the underground cafeteria between the old (West) and new (East) buildings.  It provides natural light and visual interest while one is munching one’s potato chips and slurping one’s diet coke.
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The people mover in the underground passage connecting the West and East Buildings.  The light display, “Multiverse,” was created by the American artist Leo Villarreal.  The constant shifting and changing lights make little kids (and me) cry out in awe and wonder!  I NEVER get tired of this part of the museum!
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A sideways view of the NGA’s sizable main bookstore, also located in the underground concourse.  It’s much larger than it appears in this photo and has a fantastic selection of art books.  If it’s tchotchkes you’re after, there’s another large shop in the West Building dedicated to prints, cards, toys & museum related items.

And when the weary museum visitor needs a physical and mental time-out, he or she can always head for one of the garden courts in the old West Building, which are thoughtfully provided with very comfortable seating around the edges ……

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You can’t see ’em, but the chairs are there (and usually fully occupied!) in the space behind the columns  ….