Saturday, December 10, 2016

A little New York by Day

December in New York, and not a snowflake in sight.  In fact, it was T-shirt and light jacket weather.  The stores were ready for Christmas though, even if the weather wasn't.  Saks on 5th Avenue unveiled its holiday decorum...and when darkness falls, the light show is bound to be spectacular.

Radio City Music Hall had their tree up and the Rockettes are likely doing a little Jingle Bell Rock after dark.  Admittedly, we spent a solid 3 days walking around New York, and about 50% of that was spent walking in the wrong direction from what was intended.  I now understand how hard it is to be an ant in a tall world and am amazed at their ability to continually find the anthill.  I am clearly less directionally gifted than the average insect.  I tried to use buildings like this as a beacon...and it was starting to work by the time I left.


I had to admit for the first few days I was really glad to be in New York.  All the stores, taxi's, and activity.  The novelty did wear off after a few days, but on those first few, I was happy to snap a few pictures of the classic urban jungle.  Those hot dog and food stands are just as prevalent as you expect...but I have to say they never once smelled good enough to tempt me.  I think it's an acquired urban taste, the phenomenon of street meat.

A beautiful sky day to display the characteristic spire of the Chrysler Building.  Despite being an icon of the NYC Skyline, the Chrysler Building is not open the the public.  It's observation deck on the 72nd floor closed in the 40's.  The Chrysler building has always had a bit of exclusivity about it -- early on the top floors were for an exclusive, members only club called "The Cloud Club"  It was a luxurious speakeasy in the prohibition era, with the booze being smuggled in and hidden in a barbershop in the building.  Texaco executives called this building home for many years.

Grand Central Station isn't just a busy train stop -- it's a busy taxi stop too.  I love walking in this area, Park Avenue, 5th Avenue, Lexington Avenue, Madison Avenue.

In the footprints of some of America's most legendary citizens; Cornelius Vanderbuilt, whose great grandfather came to New York as an indentured servant in 1640, amassed a $100 million dollar fortune by the time of his death in 1877.  A young man who was given a job on a harbour ferry at a young age rather than an education, but went on to fund arts and fine education (Vanderbilt University ring a bell?).  He transitioned with the times from ships to railways, and his children would own and sit on the board of directors for Grand Central Terminal.  John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Nicholas Tesla, Andrew Carnegie, and J.P. Morgan all roamed these same streets as America roared into the modern era through mid 1800-'s to 1900's.

The views at the time were very different.  Carnegie Steel would help change the face of New York.  This is a drawing of Manhattan in 1851.

Two things really jumped out at me about this building.  Firstly, the TD Bank in the bottom.  It's a Canadian thing to take place in the firm foot hold of a Canadian holding at the corner of Park Avenue and 42nd Street in New York.

The  second was the texture of the building, with the intricate bricklaying pattern and carvings.  I loved this building.

This picture was just a snapshot to show the 5th Avenue sign.  But in retrospect it shows a little something more.  Amid the beautiful brick and marble, there is the shiny glass of the Hyatt hotel.  Originally opened as "The Commodore" Grand Hyatt hotel in 1919, surely a nod to the late Cornelius Vanderbilt railway millionaire whose lifetime nickname was "The Commodore."  In the 1980's, the building was "Trumpified."  Considered one of Donald Trump's breakthrough deals, he used the promise of revitalizing the downtown as a negotiation to a 40 year tax relief on the property and used the press to announce the project without having secured finances (allegedly the loan was unsigned at the time of the announcement because he lacked the security deposit).  Donald got the loan and deal after it had been announced as a done deal to the public.  He glossed it up to make it shiny, and sold for a huge personal profit, and saved himself paying $160 million to the city of New York in taxes.  Interesting juxtaposition of symbolism here; both in the architecture and then men they represent.

Inside Grand Central Terminal is a lot of shiny marble.  And what might just be the world's best food court.  If you are in the area, definitely get let in the Dining Concourse.  Curry, beer, was one of my favorite meals of the week!

I can never quite capture the grandeur of Grand Central Terminal.  It's hard to find a spot where you can quietly take it in.  Or a spot where you can see the whole thing.  I will have to do another trip one day to figure it all out.  Next time...

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Return to the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- the Megablog

It's been a while since my last visit to New York.  Three years apparently.  One of the things I really wanted to do again was visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art again.  The last time I was there, a full day of staring at artifacts wasn't enough to take it all in, and I was pretty sure my brain had melted before the end anyway.  This time, I was pretty sure I knew how to pace myself.
a piece of one of the many wonders at the Met

I started with the greek and roman era.  Marble busts, marble statues, rooms and rooms of it.

And the pottery.  I realized that when I think of the classical theme in my head, I picture gods and war scenes, so this one jumped out at me because it was based on a fisherman.

When you go to the Met, your eyes and mind cannot take it all in during the span of a day trip.  I quickly realized that what I absorbed on my first visit 3 years ago -- my eyes had locked onto everything I had seen before in pictures and magazines and shows, happy to see the classic rare treasures with my own eyes.  On my second trip, I quickly recognized and remembered some things from my past visit, but my eyes sought out something new -- the things that were different that what I expect from those pictures and magazines, and shows.  The bust below is actually a bit uncommon for the smoothness of her eyes.  In most, the eyes are placed using a second material, such as limestone, that do not withstand the ages, making this bust a beauty amongst the remains.

This next bust shows the more typical limestone eyes and cuts a beautiful figure on an intricately weathered stone.

And if you stop to look at every trinket, you would need days, but some just catch your eye.  They had this labelled as a two headed creature, type unknown.  I remain convinced they are double heading snapping crocodiles.  World history would be different if I had gone into archaeology (not necessarily for the better)!

I wandered out of the time of the greeks into a more modern era.

But it turns out modern art is still too modern for my tastes.  All I could think about when I saw this was the poor mother who has to explain to her friends why they really shouldn't go to her child's show.

I found a favorite piece from my last trip, the Demidof table, which actually isn't all that old.  1845 to be exact, carved in Italy for a russian prince with a bit of a bad reputation, but a beautiful piece.

I came across a man sitting quietly and drawing one of the statues in charcoal.

Turns out he looked talented enough to be on display himself!  Check out that drawing!

This is perhaps the oldest painting I saw.  It's a funerary painting from Egypt around 60AD.  It's amazing that something as fragile as a painting survives 2000 years.  I fear our only legacy will be plastic.

And speaking of Egypt, it's always fun to visit the Egyptian wing.  Once again there are the more classical sarcophagus figures...

...and the likes of which I have never seen in my books.  I acutally think I like the mummy with the lifelike painting more than the traditional form.

I am used to thinking of Egyptian culture as being adorned in gold, such as this below.

However, I honestly didn't realize they had glasswares, like these shown below.

Nor did I associate Egyptian relics with the brightly colored artifacts of adornment seen below.

There were rows upon rows of carved Egyptian figurines, but this little section of cobalt blue ones caught my imagination. 

And in a "yick" moment, there were shelves and shelves of these.  Creepy little carved scarab beetles.  Yuk.

This room has hardly changed since I was here last.  I had to ask -- is this just a fake display?  They wouldn't seriously have gotten all these stones from Egypt, would they?  Well, it turns out, yes, they did.  This is the Temple of Dendur, built in Egypt, under Roman rule, 15 years before Christ.  For millenia it sat peacefully overlooking the Nile.  However, with the construction of the Aswan Dam, it was to be flooded and lost.  Since the United States assisted Egypt with relocation of several ruins threatened by the damn, the Temple was given to the United States as a gift from Egypt in 1965 (Jaqueline Kennedy was on hand for the occassion).  The Met took possession of the temple in 1975, promising to build a room in which the temple would be protected from the elements (and further vandalism and grafitti such as that which adorns its walls from the 1800's), and also in a location where it could be seen even at night, through the windows, when in Central Park.

The temple isn't too lonely -- Cleopatra's needle, another gift to the U.S. stands in Central Park to this day.

I walked through one door and found I had left Egypt and arrived in America's Industrial Revolution.  If you were a Vanderbilt, this was what your clock would look like in New York in the mid 1800's.

And this is the kind of chair you would sit your rich butt in.

The American wing hadn't changed much since my last visit, so I went on a mission to find the Masters.  En route, I was happy to find this, one of my favorite statues in the whole museum.  It HAD been moved since my last visit (9 days out of 10 I can't find my car in the parking lot, but I remember the placement of 1 object out of 2.4 million in a building I saw once three years brain is wierd).  Again, from the 1800's, but I like it.  The children are Apollo and Diana, the woman, Latona, mother of the two gods.

I lost a few hours in the European Art Collection.  Literally.  I couldn't find my way back out of the maze of paintings.  Here is a classic Rembrandt.

And another not so classic (ok all Rembrandts are classic, but a female nude was an unusual painting for him).  This is "The Toilet of Bathsheba," a somewhat erotic rendition of a biblical tale.

Overall it turns out I was in a Monet mood.  Monet paintings look more beautiful and lifelike the further you are away from them in my opinion.  I am still a little too close to get the best effect, but look at how well done the reflections are (and not the one on random dude's head -- he was just going to stand there all day so he got in the picture).

Up close it's easier to see the individual brushstrokes that create the effect.

Another Monet...the water in this reminded me of my Bermuda days.

One of my favorite paintings however remains Monet's "Bouquet of Sunflowers."  The museum notes a letter from Van Gogh, saying Gaugain saw this painting by Monet but preferred Van Gogh's, but Van Gogh believes Monet's is the better.  While I like Van Gogh's Sunflower very much, Monet's just always makes me smile.

And speaking of Van Gogh, he had many gorgeous works on display himself.

Pablo Picasso is so known for his bright and bold works, but my favorite piece of his is this almost sepia simple image of "A Woman in White."

Ah, here is one of Van Gogh's Sunflowers, but I believe the one referenced in his letter is a vase of 15 sunflowers.  I quite like this one though.

Degas is most famous for his ballet scenes.  There were quite beautiful.  

The Degas images that I was most drawn to though were those with the bold, charcoal outlines.

One last Degas to end the day.  The Met.  Always a great experience!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Spirit Houses

It's kind of almost winter here.  The sky was grey, the snow from a few weeks ago is still on the ground, and I had a day off.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but settled on heading to a very pretty lake to get some pictures of what I hoped would be ice like glass with snow packed trails and a few birds to try to photograph.  I packed my winter boots, my extra lens, and a light fall jacket and headed north.  When I got to my destination, I reached for my camera, and realized I had my zoom lens, but the body of my camera was miles away, at home, sitting on the kitchen counter where I left it.

I figured I would at least go enjoy the pretty scene myself.  However, the ice was dull and gray, and the scene was somewhat unremarkable, other than an awful lot of yellow snow.  There is either a lot of wildlife traffic, or, well, let's hope it's wildlife traffic.  I tromped around in the snow for a bit before finally conceding that my jacket choice was also too light and it wasn't much fun to walk around when you're cold.  It looked like it was just going to be  yellow snow kind of day.

I headed back towards town and thought I would pull off the road and scout for a spot to take pictures tomorrow.  I often drive by the village of Eklutna.  I stopped there once and saw some a church with some miniature houses.  I was later told they were built for deceased elders.  So today I thought I would stop and check it out.

The tourist stop in Eklutna Village was of course closed for the season as of September 15th.  After seeing me stop and read the closed sign on the door, three gentlemen who had been standing in the parking lot asked me if I wanted to go in.  He said his mother and grandparents grew up in this village.  "Although my father was from Texas.  I guess that makes me half cowboy and half Indian.  I never know if I should shoot myself or scalp myself," he deadpanned.  I couldn't help but laugh.  He started to explain what I was seeing.  "This is the Eklutna cemetary," he told me.  He pointed to an old wooden church and told me "That building is over 200 years old.  This used to be a Russian fishing village," he told me.  "They say the village may be 400 years old."  (In fact I googled this when I got home and this little church structure built in the 1830's is thought to be the oldest standing structure in Alaska.  Eklutna has been continually occupied since at least 1650)

He asked where I was from.  When I told them "Canada," they all started to laugh and say
eh" a lot.  One gentleman was from Ruby, a stop on the Iditarod trail.  The sign said Tanaina tribe.  This means the place was originally settled by the Dena'ina people, so Athabaskan roots.  I asked about the houses, expecting to hear what I had read -- that these were Spirit Houses.  I assumed they were a type of tombstone.

Instead he told me about that the color of the house represented the family.  His family, he told me, would be all to the right and their houses would all be red and white.

The houses are almost exclusively wooden, nestled in amongst the trees.  They are personalized by the family.  Some note names, this one listed the sunrise and sunset for birthdate and death date.

"Those with fences," he told me, "are people who wanted to be buried here but are not from this village.  They are still Indian but they are not from here...but they can be buried here."

"The size of the house is the person's age.  A little house with a big house means the mom and baby died in childbirth."

This white house stands out.  It has a red tin roof, vinyl siding, a porch, and tiny glass windows.  It is the exception to the mostly wooden buildings.  In the tradition of spirit houses, the houses are not maintained or repaired but allowed to weather and crumble -- as their ancestors believed, all things must eventually return to earth. 

I did some research at home.  It seems the Athabaskan people used to cremate the remains of those who had passed, and leave the ashes in a birch box in a tree until the spirit could journey to its next place.  When Russian settlers came, they brought their Orthodox religion and burial rites with them.  From this merging of cultures, the spirit houses were born.  The Athabaskans agreed to begin burying their dead.  They would lay a blanket on the grave, which symbolized wealth and respect.  The belief was that the spirit would remain for 40 days.  And so they began building homes for the spirits so they would not haunt their own.

The gentlemen I talked to today told me they would bury their cousin and friend here next week.  They had come today to dig the grave.  "We did the grave by hand," he told me.  "That's the custom."  His friend told me they were lucky it's not so cold yet.  The task is much harder further north.

So it may be a strange place to end up on a Saturday.  But I found myself feeling appreciative for the chance to stand in the snow in such an "old place," and have a local tell me these little details about the place, the meanings, and customs.  And it seems the times are still changing.  I did find a moose monument in lieu of a spirit house.  All part of the wild and free spirit of Alaska.