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Happy Arizona Statehood Day!

Yup, it’s that day again. The day we celebrate all things Arizona.

But you knew that, right?

Exactly 105 years ago today, Arizona became the 48th state of the United States of America. And so, to celebrate, here is a photo of Arizona’s Painted Desert. I took this in late 2006 while on a short road trip through the northeastern part of the state.

Stunning country, isn’t it?

Painted Desert

Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder!

This week was the 150th anniversary of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birth on February 7, 1867, and the 60th anniversary of her death on February 10, 1957. I’m a few days late, but I couldn’t let both dates pass by without acknowledging them.

That’s because I owe Laura Ingalls Wilder an enormous debt of gratitude. She is the author of the Little House books that I devoured as a child and that had a lot to do with shaping who I am today.

But this is not a book blog. It’s a travel blog, and you would do well to wonder what the connection is between the books I read as a little girl and the travelling I do today. It’s quite simple, really. The Little House books ignited my fascination with the past and made me the history geek that I am today. And I think I’ve mentioned once or twice on this blog how it is my interest in history that often dictates where I go or what I’m interested in seeing when I’m off on walkabout.

So that’s the connection. Like I said: simple.

I was introduced to the Little House books by family friends from Iowa. (Like Laura, I also spent part of my childhood living in the American Midwest.) For the first few years after our move to Canada, these friends would send my sisters and me a birthday box. (My two sisters and I share a birth month.) Inside that box one year, along with socks that were far too small, were two books: Little House in the Big Woods and Little House on the Prairie. I claimed one, my sister took the other, and my future as a lifelong booklover and history geek was sealed.

My mother used to tell us how, when we lived in Iowa, she could feed us kids platefuls of buttered corn on the cob for dinner and nothing but and we would eat it all. Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family lived in Iowa for a short time and so, based on that shared connection, here is a photo of Iowa corn, taken on the same farm where the family who introduced me to her books lived. I visited those friends with my parents some years ago, giving me the unique opportunity to reflect as an adult on what living in that community must have been like for my Canadian parents.

For the record: those stalks of corn are almost half as tall as me again. Which puts them at about ten feet high.

Now that’s fertile country. Corn Belt, indeed.

Iowa Corn

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

Merry Christmas!

Rockefeller Center, New York City

Rockefeller Center, New York City

Through My Lens: Central Park in Winter

Central Park Ice Rink

The other cool thing about visiting New York City in the winter? All those wonderful outdoor ice rinks.

Like this one in Central Park.

Through My Lens: Empire State Building in Winter

Empire State Building in Winter

So here’s a thing. When you go to New York City in December, like I did the other weekend, you get all kinds of weather. Here’s a view of the Empire State Building from Bryant Park. Snow was softly falling, which is why the third-tallest building in New York has a ghostly look in the photo.

Pearl Harbor

Last weekend I spent an afternoon with a friend who had just returned from a week in Hawaii. Yes, it was painful, given the solid eight weeks of rain we Vancouverites have just endured. Yes, I turned green with envy when I learned it had been her fifth trip to the Aloha State. And yes, it brought back memories of my (sniff) single trip to Oahu.

Oahu is a popular destination for first-time visitors to Hawaii, and a bonus for me was that Oahu is the location of Pearl Harbor, which let me feed my inner history geek. Since today is the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I thought a post about my visit to the harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial would be timely.

The memorial straddles the wreck of the USS Arizona, which took a direct hit on December 7, 1941, and sank within minutes. The battleship burned for three days, having taken on more than a million gallons of fuel the day before. Most of the 1177 sailors and marines who died on the Arizona are entombed in the shipwreck that lies at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. Oil still seeps out of the wreck, as much as nine quarts of oil a day.

Pearl Harbor was the deadliest single attack on American soil until September 11, 2001. In just under two hours, 20 ships and 300 airplanes were damaged or destroyed and 2400 Americans lost their lives. The USS Arizona Memorial is a touching memorial to 1177 of those lives.

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