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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 focuses mainly on art from the last 150 years or so. I enjoy the Impressionist works and there are always interesting temporary exhibits.
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.
I first read about The Getty in a magazine article, well before it opened, and knew I had to see the place if I ever made it to Los Angeles. And so, during my first-ever visit to Los Angeles some years ago, I made a beeline for The Getty. I was so enamoured with the architecture that I barely made it inside to look at the art.
Last month, on my second-ever visit to Los Angeles, I made a beeline for The Getty. This time I did make it inside, where I enjoyed some fine art, but, once again, I was awe-struck by the architecture of this world-class art museum.
The Getty sits atop a hillside in the midst of the Santa Monica Mountains (well, Angelenos refer to these hills as the Santa Monica Mountains, but, you know….). It overlooks the San Diego Freeway and offers a spectacular view of downtown Los Angeles. Look west, and you see the Pacific Ocean. Look east, and you see the San Gabriel Mountains.
Richard Meier was the architect and it was The Getty that catapulted him into the starchitect stratosphere. It was built from 1.2 million square feet (that’s 16,000 tons, folks!) of Italian Travertine stone. There are five pavilions of galleries, linked together with exterior courtyards and terraces.
I expect on my next visit to Los Angeles to yet again be making a beeline to The Getty.
When I first visited Prague, I thought to myself, “This city is like a mini-Vienna!”
I don’t think I’m too far off. After all, the two cities are only a few hours apart. They also share a long history.
Well, for starters, both cities were part of the Holy Roman Empire and both were later ruled by the Hapsburgs. That went on for a century or three. When the Austrian Empire was created in 1804, it absorbed the Kingdom of Bohemia ― that’s the half of the Czech Republic where Prague sits today. And then in 1867, when the Austrians and the Hungarians decided to get together and form the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bohemia was made one of its provinces and remained so until 1918.
That’s an awful lot of Austrians hovering in and around Prague for an awful lot of years.
I first visited Prague in the summer of 1998. I quickly realized it was a city of deep contrasts that was working hard to recover from all those centuries of domination by each of its neighbours in turn: the Hapsburgs and the Austrians I’ve already mentioned, and the Nazis, and, oh yeah, those Russians.
That same summer, I heard an American-Jew who had lived in both Prague and Vienna say that the Czech nation has always been western, and it was dragged kicking and screaming into the East in both 1948 (when the Communists took power) and 1968 (when the Russian tanks rolled into town).
From what I saw, Prague ― a definitively western city that bears a striking resemblance to Vienna ― had bounced back into the West with lightning speed. Less than a decade after the fall of communism, designer shops and McDonalds dominated the streets and a flurry of tourists from all over Europe filled the Old Town Square daily.
Prague has a long and storied history simply because of geography: it sits at the crossroads of Europe. I find that fascinating.
But even more fascinating is a city full of life and colour and music that is (at long last) relishing its independence.
I’ve had Vienna on my mind for much of the past few months ― and not only because I recently posted about Salzburg.
It all began with Frederic Morton’s A Nervous Splendor: Vienna, 1888–1889. The book was required reading for my Modern Europe history course a couple of decades ago, and I enjoyed it so much that I later bought Morton’s other book about Vienna: Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913–1914.
And then promptly packed both books in a box for one of my (many) moves.
This winter I finally got around to pulling both books off the shelf. I reread A Nervous Splendor and then, for the first time, I read Thunder at Twilight. (I’m about three-quarters of the way through the latter at the moment.) A Nervous Splendor tells the story of the last few months of Crown Prince Rudolph’s life and his suicide, while Thunder at Twilight tells the story of the last few months of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s life and his murder. Both men were heirs to the Austrian-Hungarian throne until their untimely deaths. The suicide of Rudolph was the beginning of the end for the Austrian-Hungarian empire, and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 ― we all know what happened after that ― was the nail in the empire’s coffin.
Both non-fiction books read like novels, and both are useful if you want to learn something about the waning decades of nineteenth-century Vienna and the city’s role in the build-up to World War I.
(Coincidentally, I found out just a few days ago that Frederic Morton, an Austrian-American writer, died two weeks ago in Vienna.)
In addition to my Viennese reading, I recently enjoyed Vancouver Opera’s performance of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, which transported me to 1870s Vienna, if only for a few hours.
And a couple of weekends ago, I saw Woman in Gold, a Hollywood film that far surpassed my expectations, which tells the story of an Austrian-Jew who took the Austrian government to court to get back the paintings stolen from her family by the Nazis.
All of this adds up to an awful lot of Viennese armchair travel. And, except for my reading of the Morton books, all of it was unintentional.
But unintentional armchair travel is a good excuse for posting about Vienna.
Vienna was one of the cities I hit on my first European walk-about by Eurail. Initially I found it rather overwhelming; my travelling companion was ready to leave almost as soon as we arrived.
But there is a spectacular majesty to Vienna that I came to respect before we moved on a few days later and I now think the city is too often overlooked. The seventh largest city in the European Union, sandwiched between Bucharest and Budapest, it gets far less attention from tourists than London, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, and Paris (aka Europe’s Big Five).
At the heart of Vienna’s majesty is the Ringstrasse ― a 5 km ring of boulevards that forms a semicircle through the heart of Vienna. Emperor Franz Joseph I, father of the above-mentioned Crown Prince Rudolph and uncle of the above-mentioned Franz Ferdinand, was much influenced by Napoleon III’s demand that Paris be transformed by Baron Haussmann. In 1857, Franz Joseph ordered that Vienna’s decaying walls be torn down and replaced with a series of grand new buildings.
And so began one of the largest construction projects ever completed in Viennese history: neo-Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical buildings sprouted up along on the Ringstrasse over the next several decades. These include the Vienna State Opera, or Wiener Staatsoper (1869), the Votive Church, or Votivkirche (1879), the Palace of Justice (1881), the Austrian Parliament (1883), the Town Hall, or Rathaus (1883), the University of Vienna (1884), the Imperial Court Theatre, or Burgtheater (1888), and the twin museums of Natural History, or Naturhistorisches Museum (1889) and Fine Arts, or Kunsthistoriches Museum (1891). Only the imperial palace, the Hofburg, is older than the Ringstrasse.
I initially started writing this post about Vienna because of all the recent happy coincidences I described above, but while doing my research, I discovered another happy coincidence: it was 150 years ago today, in 1865, that Emperor Franz Joseph I officially opened the Ringstrasse. Hence, the title of this post.
I think Franz Joseph was perhaps a tad premature in opening the Ringstrasse ― it would be some years before the construction of all those grand buildings would be complete and who wants to promenade past a noisy, dusty construction site? Not me and I speak from personal experience. But eventually the “Ring” was to become an enjoyable city promenade for Viennese and tourist alike ― as I learned during my first visit to the city ― and has remained so for 150 years.
All of the world’s large cities have ring roads, but only Vienna has a Ringstrasse.
This is a favourite photo of mine, and today is a good day to post it to the blog. That’s because this afternoon my dad and I took a drive to Bentley to deliver his sister (my aunt) safely home after a family get-together. Bentley, Alberta, is a small town due west of Lacombe where I spent a good chunk of my childhood summers.
Yup, I’m back in Wild Rose Country.
I took this photo almost five years ago. Alberta’s grain elevators are quickly disappearing ― in 1934, there were over 1700 of these iconic structures, but today there are maybe 120. Happily for me, this one is still standing.
When I was blogging about spectacular European opera houses last spring, it occurred to me that spectacular Canadian opera houses are few and far between.
No matter. We do have some spectacular concert halls.
This is a photo of the Chan Centre. Located on the Point Grey campus of the University of British Columbia, it was designed by the Vancouver-based architect Bing Thom. Its main concert hall is shaped like a cello and the acoustics are state of the art.
This time of year, the Chan looks particularly spectacular.
One advantage of being in South Beach on a rainy day, I was pleased to discover, is that the wet made for some nice reflections when the lights came on after dark. Here, again, are a few of the many, many photos I took during my one evening in South Beach.
Editing these photos made me realize I should make more of an effort to do night photography in Vancouver. Since, you know, we do get a lot of the wet stuff here.
Living in a beach town, as I do, I’m always keen to check out other beach towns. Some remind me of Vancouver (sort of ― that would be Cape Town), some don’t make me think of Vancouver at all (that would be Barcelona), and some make me think I could still be in Vancouver (almost ― Waikiki, I’m talking ’bout you).
South Beach is in a category all its own. Separated from the city of Miami by Biscayne Bay, it’s located on a series of barrier islands that front the Atlantic Ocean. The beach itself is massive ― unfortunately for me, the one day I had to spend in South Beach was stormy and windy, scuttling my plans to spend my last afternoon in Florida lying on the beach.
No matter. I had a second reason for visiting South Beach: its architecture. South Beach was developed quickly during the 1920s and ’30s and many of its buildings were built in a similar style. As a result, South Beach has one of the finest collections of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings, with more than 900 of them considered to be of historical significance. The Miami Art Deco District was added to the list of U.S. historic districts in 1979, but many credit the 1980s TV show Miami Vice with providing the incentive to clean up what had become a run-down and crime-ridden neighbourhood.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might have figured this out about me: give me a subject to photograph and I’m content, no matter the weather. And so, as it turned out, I had a great time exploring South Beach in the wind and the rain. Here are a handful of the more than 100 photos I took that day.
And it’s yet another birthday post, this time for Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral. The congregation worshipped together for the first time 125 years ago today at 720 Granville (which, funnily enough, is now the site of a Starbucks) and was made the Cathedral Church of the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada in 1929.
Although Christ Church is not the oldest congregation in Vancouver, it does worship in Vancouver’s oldest church building. That would be the stone building standing at the corner of Burrard and West Georgia. It was constructed on land bought from the Canadian Pacific Railway, but for several years the congregation didn’t get much beyond finishing the basement, which was nicknamed the Root House. When the CPR objected to what they called an eyesore, the current building was built in the Gothic Revival architectural style. The exterior is sandstone, its ceiling is cedar, and the beams and floor are made from old growth Douglas fir. The building was dedicated in February 1895.
Christ Church is located right in the centre of Vancouver’s downtown district. In the 1970s, the congregation voted to tear down the existing building and replace it with an Arthur Erickson–designed high-rise tower, but public opposition was so strong that in 1976 the cathedral was declared a heritage building. The building has been renovated six times; its most recent renovation was completed in 2004 with the installation of a new Kenneth Jones organ. The congregation had plans to build a bell tower, but before it had the chance to do so, the city passed a by-law restricting church bells. Christ Church is the only church in downtown Vancouver without a steeple.
A special treat this Christmas season is the almost life-sized nativity figures on display in the west alcove of the church; these are on loan from the Hudson’s Bay and are the same nativity figures that used to be displayed in the store’s windows at Christmas time. They were carved in Italy in the 1950s and belonged to Woodward’s before they were passed on to The Bay. Christ Church Cathedral asked to borrow them this Christmas season as the congregation begins a year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary.
I’ve been to the cathedral for many a worship service ― these photos were taken last night after the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols ― as well as several concerts and author readings for which the cathedral is a popular venue. After arriving very early many years ago to get a good seat to hear Timothy Findley read from his newest novel (and, as it turned out, only months before his death), I eavesdropped while a woman seated behind me explained to her companion that Christ Church was known as the church of lawyers because the funerals for the city’s most powerful lawyers are typically held there. It was one of the more bizarre bits of trivia I have ever heard about the cathedral.
But then, I like to think that there are 125 years’ worth of weird and wonderful stories to be told about Christ Church Cathedral. If only its walls could talk.