Archive | January 2017

Canada 150: Somewhere Near McBride

Update: My friend tells me this field is along Barrett Station Road near Houston. The mountains are the Telkwa Range. Oops! I was only off by some 500  kilometres.

On the Travel Bucket List of every Canadian should be two trips: (1) a road trip across Canada and (2) the same by train. I’ve almost completed both.

The train trip I’ll save for another post; the road trip was done in several legs, several years apart. (Since Canada is such a vast country, it is my opinion that it is not cheating if you break these trips down into manageable chunks.)

Leg one of my cross-Canada road trip was completed the summer I moved from Vancouver to Toronto. I packed as many of my meager belongings as I could fit into the back of my Honda Civic hatchback, kissed my parents good-bye, got into my car and headed … north.

North? Why not? (What’s a 24-hour detour when you’re about to spend days driving across Canada?)

Yes, I started my trek east by driving north to the Bulkley Valley where some friends of mine were living, and it was only after that visit that I pointed my trusty little car east towards the Rockies.

I took this photo somewhere along the Yellowhead. My foggy memory tells me it was near McBride, but, truthfully, it could have been anywhere between Houston and Jasper. The hay bales are what made me pull over to take a photo.

I love hay bales.

Highway 16 Hay Bale

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Canada 150: Kamloops Lake

It’s not often that I travel to Alberta by car, but when I do, I am always struck by the diverse landscape of the province where I live. In just one day’s travel, you drive through the flat delta of the Fraser River, head up the narrow gorges of the Fraser Canyon or the steep incline of the Coquihalla Pass (depending on which route you take), then it’s through the grasslands and forests of the Interior before crossing a mountain range or three.

This photo, which I took from the Trans-Canada Highway during the summer of 2009, is of Kamloops Lake. I love the landscape around Kamloops. It’s got mountains, it’s got valleys, it’s got deserts.

And look. It’s got trains, too.

Kamloops Lake

Robbie Burns in Central Park

Robbie Burns

Look who I bumped into during my walk through Central Park last month. It’s the Scottish Bard himself, Robbie Burns. And seeing that today is Robbie Burns Day, I thought I would share the photo with you.

This bronze statue has stood on Central Park’s Literary Walk since 1880. The reason the poet looks so anguished is he is portrayed while writing a poem to one of his loves, Mary Campbell.

Apparently Robbie Burns had quite a few loves. Some of them at the same time.

Through My Lens: The Whitney

The Whitney

This photo shows some more of the art you can see in New York. At left is a photo by Richard Avedon and to the right is a painting by Guy Pène Du Bois. The sculpture in between is by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, an American sculptor and art collector.

When Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney offered her collection of work by American artists to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it was refused. So she turned around and opened her own museum. The Whitney Museum of Art, which focuses on American art, opened in 1931 in Greenwich Village. It has had a number of homes since then, but its latest, a purpose-built building at the south end of the High Line, opened in 2015.

The Met, the Frick, and the Guggenheim

The real reason I went to New York last month had more to do with me wanting to visit another Met.

That would be the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Met Exterior

I’ve written before about my love–hate relationship with the Vancouver Art Gallery. Which is why, after a rather trying visit to a popular exhibition at the VAG late last summer, I lamented to the friend I was with that I needed a proper art fix at a proper world class art gallery. Preferably in a city like Paris. Or London.

Or New York.

The Met Interior

A few hours later, as I was pondering my meltdown outside the VAG, I suddenly remembered that (1) I had enough points for a plane ticket to New York and (2) it had been far too long since I had visited my friend in Brooklyn.

A few emails back and forth, a few online bookings, and, within a few days, a few plans were in place.

And a few months later, just a few hours after touchdown at JFK, I was standing at the entrance to what most people rate as one of the top art galleries in the world.

Diana at the Met

The first time I walked into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on an earlier visit to New York, I did have a wee bit of a momentary breakdown. Its size almost did me in. I knew the Met was big ― I just didn’t realize it was that big. But within seconds, I shrugged off my frustrations. When you’re playing art tourist and you’re in the largest art gallery in the Western Hemisphere, there is no time to waste.

The trick to large art galleries is to get a map, and quickly zero in on what you want to see, picking a floor or wing to focus on. Don’t even thinking of trying to see it all. And don’t be afraid to ask for directions. Those gallery guards know their way around.

I tend to gravitate towards European Painting no matter what art gallery I am in. But if the Old Masters put you to sleep, not to worry. The Met has everything from Greek, Roman, and Islamic art all the way to present-day contemporary art. And if you’re there in good weather, don’t skip the roof garden. It has an amazing bird’s eye view of Central Park.

Knights at the Met

If oversized galleries aren’t your thing at all, then go to the Frick. The Frick was the perfect antidote to my morning at the Met. It’s so small you can see the entire gallery in a little more than an hour depending on long you linger in each room. Which is what makes it so delightful. The Frick is my idea of a perfect art museum, actually, as I truly believe art should be consumed in small doses before it all becomes a blur.

The Frick Exterior

Henry Clay Frick, an industrialist who made his money in Pittsburgh steel, built the museum in 1914 as a private home for his family, although he fully intended it to be turned into a museum after his death. Many of the rooms remain furnished and decorated as they were when the Fricks lived there, including how and where the paintings are hung.

The collection focuses on European paintings, and has an entire room of Limoges enamels ― something I knew nothing about, but they are quite impressive. Old man Frick was quite the collector. How on earth did he get his hands on three Vermeers is what I’d like to know, given there are only about 35 in existence?

The Frick Interior

The Met and the Frick are both located on Fifth Avenue (aka Museum Mile). Still on Fifth Avenue, but further north, is the Guggenheim. This museum is worth a visit even if it is just to have a look at Frank Lloyd Wright’s amazing architectural design that is as much sculpture as it is building.

The Guggenheim Exterior

The Guggenheim focuses mainly on art from the last 150 years or so. I enjoy the Impressionist works and there are always interesting temporary exhibits.

The Guggenheim Interior

Spending a long weekend zipping from art gallery to art gallery may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is mine, and I can’t wait to get back to New York for another art fix.

The Met at Night

Live at the Met

Lincoln Centre

One of the reasons I wanted to spend a long weekend in New York last December was so I could strike one off my bucket list.

That one would be attending the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Here’s a pro-tip: If you’re going to go see the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, take along a native New Yorker. And here’s another: If you’re going to go see Nabucco by Verdi, take along an Italian.

I was lucky enough to get to do both.

My New Yorker friend and I made plans to meet for dinner across the street from Lincoln Center. And so, after a long day of sight-seeing, I made my way uptown, making sure to leave myself plenty of time to pick up our tickets from the Will Call window, and so I could take some photos. But I was taken aback when I saw the playbills outside Lincoln Center.

Nabucco Play Bill

“Plácido Domingo is singing tonight,” I told my friend when she arrived at the restaurant. I had paid absolutely no attention to who was performing when I had purchased the tickets online some months before.

“He’s directing,” she told me. “He doesn’t sing anymore.”

“Oh,” I said. Well, that made sense. Slightly deflated, I gave myself a shake. What did it matter who was performing? I was in New York City and I going to the opera.

But after we made our way across the street to Lincoln Center, walked up the grand staircase, found our seats, and opened our programs, we soon realized our mistake. Plácido Domingo was performing, in the title role. And conducting was the legendary James Levine. We were in for a memorable, you might even say, historic evening.

Metropolitan Opera House

Over dinner, my friend had told me about the political significance of Nabucco for Italians. Composed in 1841, it was Giuseppe Verdi’s third opera and his first big hit. But he almost never wrote it.

While Verdi was composing his second opera, his wife died, only a few years after their two young children had died. The opera bombed. Devastated, Verdi declared he was done composing.

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra

But a friend persisted in showing Verdi a libretto he thought was worth a look. It was about the Jews after they were conquered and subjugated by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (in Italian, Nabucco). Verdi’s attention was caught by a single line of text in the libretto, “Va pensiero, sull’ ali dorate” (“Fly, thought, on golden wings”). This line, inspired by Psalm 137 (“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept”), became the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.

And that chorus, my friend told me, became a rallying call for the oppressed Italians during the unification of Italy. Many consider the chorus to be an unofficial Italian anthem that lamented how the Italian people were occupied by other forces (namely, the Austrians) on Italian land. The Italian audiences would cheer and holler until the opera companies repeated the chorus as an encore.

Metropolitan Opera Curtain Call 1

Which is also what happened that night not four weeks ago when my friend and I heard Nabucco performed live by the Metropolitan Opera. In post-election America, the significance of the encore was not lost on us.

Nabucco was first performed by the Metropolitan Opera in 1960. The performance we saw was the 329th time that James Levine and Plácido Domingo had performed together, over a period 45 years. (And here’s a fun bit of trivia: none of the other soloists performing that night had been born when those two began their professional relationship.)

Metropolitan Opera Curtain Call 2

I’ve written before about how my love of opera intersects with my love of travel. What I had forgotten until I started writing this post was how it had been my mother who had introduced me to opera. She had an album of opera choruses and would play it, full volume, on our brand new component stereo. That album was my introduction to “Va pensiero, sull’ ali dorate,” and the tune has stuck in my head ever since.

Long before I began attending live opera performances, I used to listen to CBC Radio Two’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, which is a live broadcast of the Saturday matinee performances at Lincoln Center. I don’t know why I stopped listening to them, but today I made a point of tuning in.

This afternoon’s broadcast was Nabucco. Live from the Met. I closed my eyes as I listened to “Va pensiero, sull’ ali dorate” and was instantly transported back to New York. Not in body, obviously, but certainly in spirit.

I expect it will be that way every time I hear the chorus from now on. As I told a friend after I got back from New York, seeing Nabucco live at the Met was pretty much a religious experience for me. I don’t want that feeling to ever go away.

new-york-2016-14Metropolitan Opera Curtain Call 3

Canada 150: Broken Group Islands

Happy New Year, everyone! I think we’re all glad to see the backside of 2016, but the big question for today is: what will 2017 bring us?

For Canadians, 2017 is going to be one long party. Yup, it’s our sesquicentennial (enriching your word power, I am). All that fancy word means is this: we Canadians are celebrating our nation’s 150th birthday in 2017. Canada 150 is what we are calling this little party.

Canada came into existence, formally, on July 1, 1867, when the British Parliament passed the British North America Act of 1867 (commonly referred to as Confederation). But although our official birthday isn’t until July 1, the party is already well underway. Even Lonely Planet has taken note. It has Canada as the # 1 choice in its list of places to visit in 2017. It’s even posted a free PDF chapter of how to plan your trip. You can download it here.

The Canadian government is encouraging that spirit of travel and adventure by giving anyone and everyone (that’s you, me, and the entire world — everyone is invited!) free admission to any of its Parks Canada locations. Which are quite a few: 47 national parks, 171 national historic sites, and four marine conservation areas. You can order your 2017 Discovery Pass here.

As for my part in celebrating Canada’s sesquicentennial, I’ve decided to take you all on a cross-Canada photographic tour. I’ve been blessed by the opportunity to live in three different provinces of this great nation, and I have travelled from coast to coast to coast through much of the rest of the country. And so, at least once a month throughout 2017 (maybe more often if I get really excited about this), I will post a photo from a different province or territory of Canada.

To begin: the Broken Group Islands. Accessible only by boat, these islands are located on the west coast of Vancouver Island in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Your 2017 Discovery Pass will get you there!) I’ve camped and kayaked in the Broken Group Islands twice already and hope to go back many more times as they are, quite simply, one of the most spectacular places I’ve ever been to. Anywhere.

The Broken Group Islands are also the westernmost point of Canada that I’ve been to. I took this photo in August 2008 from the beach on Gibraltar Island where my friends and I were camped.

Broken Group Islands