Travel Thursday Encore: Munich Museum Girl

Once again, timing is everything. . .

Those of you who have been to the Alte Pinakothek, the old arts museum–not old building, old art–in Munich, might remember that you walk in right in the middle and the paintings are mostly upstairs to both sides. Right at the entrance is the gift shop, which I figured I’d leave until the end, so I went up the stairs on the left side. It took me about two hours to go through all those paintings, and I was getting tired, so when I came down to get to the other side, I decided I’d take a break by going to the gift shop now. Immediately I saw this huge Hieronymus Bosch book that I must have spent half an hour looking through. The very last thing I saw was the price: 80 Deutchmarks. Even today I would never buy a book for that price, but back then I sure couldn’t afford it anyway.
So I put the book down with a sigh of despair and looked around at all the other stuff in the shop. I noticed a cute tall blonde kept looking at me with a slight smile; I thought she was watching in case I tried to steal it. I actually went back and looked at the book a few more times, and every time I looked up, there she was, smiling at me. So I went on to the other half of the museum, figuring I’d never see that book again, but when I looked through the rest of the paintings and came back down, I had to look at the book again, even if it was killing me. But when I got to the gift shop, the book was gone.
I must’ve looked devastated, because the blonde came out of the back room and froze when she saw my look. Then she smiled and came to where I was standing, reached down under the counter, and took out the book. She put it down on the counter, but with the back side up, which I thought was strange. She was still smiling, so I knew something was up. I looked down at the book again and finally saw that there was a new price tag: it now said 10 Deutchmarks.
Turned out it was her last day on the job; she probably wouldn’t have done it had she been going back to work the next day. She didn’t tell me at the time, of course: when I came out of the Neue Pinakothek across the square, she was waiting for me. She said that, since she’d saved me about fifty bucks, I could afford to buy her lunch. I didn’t think it was a particularly logical argument, but I took her to feed anyway.
Unfortunately I never saw her again after that. I would have liked to ask her if she did that for anyone else, maybe gotten a free dinner too. . . but on the other hand, why ruin it?


downtown Seattle, Seattle, Seattle landscape, Seattle panorama, Space Needle, Kerry Park

Travel Thursday Encore–How to mix pleasure with business–Seattle 05, Day 4, Part 3

Uninteresting hours passed by in the hotel room, followed by one last uninteresting hour of business crap, just long enough to make sure I’d be going to Scandinavia in a few months. Now that all the business stuff was settled and over, I hopped back on a bus and got off right next to the Frye Art museum, with Pill Hill in the background–it’s actually called First Hill, but there’s a bunch of hospitals there, and Seattleites–like stalactites–are witty people.
I start this with a sad admission: the savage Neanderthals that run the Frye Art Museum do not allow photo-taking! On the other hand, it’s free, which doesn’t come close to making up for it but is something very much worth mentioning. It looks kinda small from the outside, but felt really big inside, with plenty of places to sit and rest. The store and café are indeed tiny, but I had a lot of fun talking to the older lady who was clerking the store, at least for a while. She was one of the most talkative people I’ve ever met.
On to da show. I found their collection similar to the Huntington’s in Los Angeles, though of course much smaller. It leans toward the pastoral and portraits, mostly late 1800s/early 1900s, with no sign of taking a risk on anything. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pleasant enough, but I have to say Mr. and Mrs. Frye had a very narrow taste when it came to art.
But while I was there I saw an amazing–unfortunately temporary–exhibition called Moon Beam Caress, by an artist named Joseph Park, a graduate of the Cornish School I mentioned earlier. I’m not what you would call a Modern Art fan, nor do I spend any time gawking at anime, but somehow he’s managed to fuse the two. Half of his works on display had otherwise cute animals acting as humans, and usually acting very bad. One famous example had a gang of teddy bears/rabbits beating up a darker version. Most are sublime, like a painting of an NYC subway with a teddy bear trying to get out, or another bear ironing a shirt, or a rabbit sitting on a crate taking a cigarette break. And all in an almost cartoonish style, though there’s nothing silly about them. Most disturbing was the elephant-like submarine commander with the chilly gaze.
Someone told me this story about modern art, reputedly told by Picasso, but I can’t be sure: “When a master like Cezanne paints a wild horse, you see a wild horse, but when I paint a wild horse. . . you may not see the horse, but you will see the wild.” There’s one painting of a very wild horse, with tresses Farrah Fawcett would be proud to own, that somehow bridges the gap between those two extremes. He also takes famous paintings and puts his own spin on it, like Ingres’ “La Grande Odalisque” now being played by an elephant. There’s also Canaletto’s “Venice,” which he paints as if he were looking at the canal scene through a glass of water, or maybe after a nuclear holocaust, with the buildings looking melted. I loved his stuff so much I actually bought the book, which I NEVER do!
Walking aimlessly for a while after the museum, I found myself near the Metropolitan Grill again, and there was just something I needed another fix off. Okay, two things, but I was pretty sure Autumn wouldn’t still be on shift, and she wasn’t, so I settled in at the still-not-too-smoky bar for another of those amazing orange sodas, though the bartender, a totally Russian-looking guy, didn’t include any ice cream. Which makes Autumn all the more special, in my eyes, but enough of that. Stayed only long enough to finish it off, talking to a suited gentleman sitting next to me enjoying a shrimp cocktail–hey, TWO things I’m allergic to in one glass!–and trading jokes about Fresno.
Back to walking, I remembered a little clue to downtown Seattle’s geography, as told to me during pillow talk {don’t ask}: JESUS CHRIST MADE SEATTLE UNDER PROTEST! This is how you remember the order of streets, starting north of Yesler–Jefferson and James, Cherry and Columbia, Marion and Madison, Spring and Seneca, University and Union, and Pike and Pine. Have fun memorizing!
Back to the hotel with still no need for dinner, until it came time to walk back to Belltown for another concert at the Croc Café. Instead of walking at straight angles like I had the previous times, on this trip I zigzagged the route for fun, and to see new things. When I saw I’d gone as far south as I needed to, and noticed I only had to go one block to the west, I luckily looked up in time to see the name of the store on the corner, enough to make me stop: Salon Divas. Making sure it wasn’t a hair place, I peeked in through the window and laughed, thinking of the dancing waitress I’d fallen into severe like with a few hours ago. I might have figured her for a dance instructor, to earn a little extra cash, but luckily she was as un-diva as they came. It suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know what kind of dancer Autumn was. She coulda been salsa, coulda been ballroom, coulda been hip-hop–shit, did I just think that?–coulda been a ballerina. . . coulda been exotic. Hmmm. Glad I hadn’t thought of that before.
Concert, and its venue, not worth the pixels.
I got back to the hotel much later than I expected, where I fell on the bed and temporarily died.


Travel Thursday Encore: Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie, part 4

More Art edition

“When photography came into being, realism in painting pretty much died.”
“But photography doesn’t have to realistic either.”
Never letting an opportunity to tease her slip by, I tried, “Pascal once said, a long time ago, ‘How vain painting is, exciting admiration by its resemblance to things of which we do not admire the originals.’”
“Sounds like he was talking about Van Gogh.”
“It was long before the Earless Wonder.”
“He still had one ear.”
“Good thing he didn’t fall in love again. Imagine what body part he’d send his third love.”
“Overdoing it as usual,” she sighed. “Anyway, this Pascal dude missed the point. Admiring a painting that depicts a place we know but don’t like seems absurd and pretentious at first, but only if we imagine that painters do nothing but reproduce exactly what they see.”
I grinned, liking it so far, but she’d never believe it, so I let her ramble on.
“If that were true, then all we could admire in a painting would be the technical skills involved in the reproduction of an object.”
“I just thought of something.”
“I might have seen those five-legged creatures at the British Museum.”
“Moving on. . .” she sighed. (That’s two.)
“Cythera was a mythical island associated with the Goddess of Love,” I told her as she went glum again. She’d been hoping to reestablish superiority in the paintings, but I was already ahead of her.
“I didn’t know you were an expert on mythology as well,” she grumbled.
“You think I’m not going to know something about the goddess I worship?”
“That’s true,” she brightened. “I am the current priestess, right?”
“At least for today,” I bright-sided while flexing my biceps, knowing the blow would be coming. It did, but luckily she only had superhuman strength in bed.
We continued looking at The Embarkation for Cythera. To be completely honest, there was nothing in it to suggest it was a masterpiece. Except for the sky, the colors were very dark; all you could see was a large number of people heading away from the viewer toward the distant sea.
“Now that you know what it’s about,” I gave her a wicked grin, “what do you think they’re doing? Are they about to go to the island, and who wouldn’t, seeing it’s run by the goddess of love, or are they being forced to leave the island? If you look carefully, you can see they’re a bit sad.”
She looked closely for a bit longer, then turned to answer and found a stranger there. Looking around, she saw me walking toward the next gallery, but I saw the Mona Lisa was in that direction and made a rapid U-turn.
“I don’t know,” she admitted when she finally caught up with me. “which is it?”
“I don’t know either.” I interrupted her growing grin with, “Nobody knows. Watteau died of tuberculosis when he was 37, and he didn’t tell anyone.”
“Then why did you ask me?” she growled, nettled.
“No reason in particular,” I said lightly, walking along regardless of her slow pace. “You ready to stop this little competition?”
She startled, then was about to make things worse by saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” but luckily refrained.
I nodded, as if agreeing with that course of action. “Can you be satisfied with being the second most-intelligent person in this country? After all, I’ll be gone soon, and you’ll be back to being number one. The sad thought is that you’ll leave too, and then where will this country be?”
She stared at me for a while, then burst into laughter, causing me to do the same. The guard there this time was obviously immune to her blandishments–or just too plain old to bother anymore–and ordered us out of the hall.
“Gladly. Let’s get the hell out of here. I’ve seen enough of Reuben and almost the Mona Lisa to last me a lifetime anyway. . .”


Travel Thursday Encore: Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie, part 2

Archaeology edition.

Not wanting to face another embarrassment for a while, she led me toward the archaeology stuff. She knew I was far more expert at such things, but at least they weren’t open to as much interpretation as art.
She hoped.
We found ourselves in the Near Eastern Gallery after a while of wandering. It was rather dark in there, but when we approached a black stela in the middle of the hall, I recognized it instantly. I quickly left her behind and moved to it, the joy evident in my movements.
When she joined me again, she read the French explanation next to it. “Code of Hammurabi.” Then she looked up at the phallic-shaped piece of black basalt and said, “Not much to look at, is it?”
“I’m surprised you aren’t more excited to see it, considering how much of a feminist you are.”
Again she had her mouth open to speak, then decided not to provoke me and get the lecture over with. She moved her hands into position as if holding a pen and pad. “Go ahead; I’m all ears.”
Since I am always aware of my surroundings, I knew that at the moment we were alone and thus allowed my hand to land on the shapely hip encased in the blue dress. “Not ALL ears.”
She grinned and shook her head, but didn’t say what she obviously wanted to say.
“Hammurabi was an eighteenth century B.C. king of Babylonia–he’s the bearded one standing here with the god of justice–who wrote this code, which is one of the most significant legal documents in history. According to this code, women had many of the same rights as men: own property, have their own businesses, and work as scribes, which was a big thing back then, not like today when writers are treated like a lower life-form. It also stated that the strong should not subjugate the weak and gave protection to widows and orphans.”
The brunette grinned yet again. “Is that all, professor?”
I gave her a dark look, then continued at full speed so as to overwhelm her. “Most of the other laws were pretty harsh, although technically they weren’t laws at all. It was more the literary expression of his social responsibilities and his awareness of the disparity between the way things are and the way he wants them to be.”
Her eyes became either dreamy or bored, so after a quick pause for breath I kept going.
“The stela itself is written in cuneiform, in the Semitic language, covering 49 lines of writing. On the front is a prologue, 65 laws that are easily read–” She leaned forward. “–if you know cuneiform, of course.” She blushed and moved back to her original position. “There are another 40 laws on the front that are almost illegible.”
This time she saw my pause for breath and quickly got a word in. “If you can’t read them, how do you know what they say?”
I glared at her. “Next time raise your hand like a good girl.” She actually turned and looked around before remembering we weren’t in a classroom, but by that time I had continued. “This is not the only copy of the laws; others were found later in Nippur and Nineveh. On the back are 183 other laws and the epilogue.”
She suddenly looked intrigued. “Can you read this?”
Which made her completely lose interest, typical model.


Travel Thursday Encore: Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie, part 1

Bosch edition.

Today on Travel Thursday, we have a semi-virtual tour of my favorite parts of the Louvre, that gigantic building in Paris that houses the coolest stuff in all of France, with commentary by a mysterious (in her own mind) dark-haired model.
I helped the supposed damsel out of the taxi and then handed the driver a bigger sum than he would have expected, tip included. The man returned part of it and said something in French, which made her blush and say “Merci.”
After the driver left, she turned to see me grinning. With her mouth open to answer, I shook my head. “Never mind, I understood perfectly.”
She blushed again.
Since she was a simple girl who made more money than she knew what to do with, I let her pay the entrance fee. Once inside she turned to me. “Do you want to wander like we did in the Hermitage, or go straight for the Mona Lisa?”
Grimace. “I want nothing to do with that pathetic work. I think we should just wander. . . after I check out Bosch’s Ship of Fools.”
She sighed. “Somehow I’m not surprised.” When I frowned, she hastened to add, “Because of Bosch, not because you’re a fool.”
I shook my head at her, as if not convinced.
As had been our custom in the other museums we’d seen together, we stared at a painting we both liked for a good while before discussing it. On the surface Ship of Fools was easy enough to look at, though you could never be sure at the deeper meanings Bosch intended. It consisted of a tiny boat on some body of water, obviously a small one because of the trees growing out of it. There were two naked men swimming alongside, one holding an empty bowl while the other seemingly tried to get aboard. There were eight people on the boat: one was lying at the front, trying to raise a flask cooling in the water, while another was either attempting to talk him out of it or telling him to hurry it up. {It’s hard to tell if that one’s male or fem, but since it was holding a cup in its hand and looking impatient for the flask, we assumed it was a guy.} There was another figure looking down over the edge of the stern, which consisted of an old tree branch as the rudder; in the center, to the back, was a fat man with an arm raised and mouth open as if doing opera. And the central part was dominated by four people bobbing for a piece of bread hanging before their faces. One of these was a monk, and another was a lute-playing nun.
There were two more figures in the painting: a small man dressed as a joker, drinking from a bowl while sitting in the upper branches of the rudder, and a man up in the tree the ship had bumped into, trying to liberate the plucked body of an unlucky fowl that had been strapped to the mast.
“Rather easy to figure out,” she smirked as we sat down where we could still see it and discuss it without being shushed. “Bosch is obviously telling everyone, including those in the church, to lighten up and enjoy life.”
I would have usually agreed with such a statement about Bosch, but this time logic did not fit. “Why did he title it Ship of Fools, then?”
She had her mouth ready for an answer, then shut it and frowned, obviously thinking about it. Soon enough she pouted, “Well, what other explanation is there?”
“It could be he was warning the people about such fools. For instance, he could be angry at the way certain members of the religious orders abuse their influence. Those people are supposed to be noble and in the service of their god, but they waste their time singing and goofing off and are just as much gluttons as the rest of the people. They might have been the televangelists of their day.”
She smiled, admitting it was possible. “But then he would have made them suffer a bit, like he did in the Hell of the Garden of Delights.”
“He did. Didn’t you see the guy at the rear of the boat, the one leaning over the side, throwing up?”
She frowned again–I hope she wasn’t worried about wrinkles–and got up to make sure I was telling the truth. When she came back she seemed very contrite. “Are you going to tell me I missed something else, or can I say it’s unusual to see a Bosch painting without animals or demons?”
“Ha! You missed the owl in the tree.”
She frowned again, got up again, and walked over to the painting again. This time she did not sit back down on her return, instead grabbing my arm and hauling me up before leading me out of the room and on to another part of the museum. Some of the onlookers chuckled at her antics, especially when I grabbed the doorjamb as if to avoid being led to the slaughter, but this only inspired one guy to say, “I would go anywhere that woman wanted to drag me to.”
She blushed again.
But of course I could never leave well enough alone. “I thought you were dragging me to the ladies’ room for a quickie.”
Thanks for the set-up! her smile beamed. “Pierre. . . cuz my bladder’s empty.”
I poked her in the stomach to see if this was indeed the case, causing her to yelp loud enough to grab the attention of everyone in the next room. Fortunately she was already through the doorway, and made a quick left into the hall. I followed at a more sedate pace, not caring what people I was never going to see again thought.


Book Reviews: Road trip to the Moon

RoadTrip America Arizona & New Mexico: 25 Scenic Side Trips
As the title tells ya, here’s side trips off what can be boring landscapes along the main throughways, in a vehicle the author named the Dirty Queen. Sounds like an oxymoron, but okay.
The first part features side trips off Interstate 10, which is a great idea, as long stretches of this road can lull you to sleep, especially when driving.
Some highlights:
Carlsbad Caverns is an oldie but goodie.
For Roswell there’s a green alien dressed as a mariachi playing a trumpet. That’s an image I’ll never get out of my head, thanks a lot.
I feel an urge to go see the world’s largest pistachio. . . right now!
The thing about the spelling of “chile” and Texas was hilarious.
Spaceport is cool, but not for four hours, as I recall. I’d rather spend that time at the cliff dwellings.
The Coronado Scenic Trail byway looks like just the thing to make me throw up, but if you like roller coasters, this one’s free.
Given a choice between photographing hoodoos and the Shootout at the OK Corral. . . well, I think the choice is obvious. I do find it hilarious that the Tombstone newspaper is called “The Epitaph.”
I need to go see Oak Creek Canyon NOW!
I’ve traveled extensively through both states, and this book told me about places I haven’t seen, and now want to visit. For that alone this book is worth the money.

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon
There are some really long bios on the astronauts, which start interesting but drag far too long. Makes it feel like a standard bio, but I suppose the title should have warned me. Everything that happened to bring the astronauts’ lives to the launch is important, but it’s still at about the halfway point of the book, when the massive rocket actually takes them into space, that things really get interesting. . . just like in real life, I suppose.
I do like that there’s so much here about the wives in the time up to and including the launch, even more so than the astronauts themselves, with their macho “I’m not scared” attitude.
At this point it turns from biography to something more akin to a very technical science fiction novel.
In the middle of the flight the author pauses for a chapter on how the year 1968 had gone, musically as well as politically and socially. I guess it resonated with me because it’s the year I was born, though of course I don’t remember it. RFK was assassinated only a month before my birth, not far from where my parents lived, and as someone who enjoys counterfactuals—what ifs—it’s easy to speculate what might have happened: no Nixon presidency. On the other hand, there’s no way to gauge how far civil rights would have gone if MLK hadn’t been shot. The chapter mentions the Beatles and Stones, but at the end there’s Jimi Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower, and put in this perspective, the lyrics hit home like never before.
It’s a tough road, but if you make it through the first half there’s plenty of reward. Definitely think said first half could have been shorter.
Such a poignant way to end it. . .

Eric Stanton & the History of the Bizarre Underground
I enjoy finding out about new artists, and here’s one I had no idea existed.
Right off I can say there’s lots of bondage drawings and comic strips amongst biographic text. Bettie Page shows up, as kinda expected. Exactly halfway through Spiderman gets makes an appearance.
To be honest, it feels like this artist is being celebrated more for longevity than any special artistry. This book is kinda fringe, good for the people interested in the subject. I wasn’t as much as I thought I would be, so I didn’t find it that entertaining in the end.

The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes: Essays on Victorian England, Volume Two
This book basically takes one small item from a Holmes story and makes a small lecture out of it, but doesn’t really have anything to do with Sherlock. Each small entry feels like something out of the Sherlock Holmes Encyclopedia (which I proudly own) or wiki; in fact, according to the notes at the end of each chapter, some of the information down here is indeed gathered from Wikipedia.
Three of the first five essays cover sports.
While not putting down the research work that went into making each article, much more info could be found by a simple internet search. One can imagine the author never running out of topics in which to write these very short treatises, as only a mention in a Holmes story is required for inclusion.

National Parks of the USA
This book is geared for kids, but has plenty of info for the adult as well, starting with a brief history of how the park system came about.
After a map showing the locations in the east, each park gets a few pages, the first a stylized poster-like painting, followed by stats and facts. The same scenario is then played out with the central, southwest, Rocky Mountains, and West, although the Virgin Islands seems to be misplaced. At the end is an A-Z of animals and an index, as well as a plea to help protect the parks.
It’s pretty to look at, and the information is nicely presented. I’m not happy with the font, which looks kinda like italics but tougher to read, but everything else was well done.


Travel Thursday Encores

To my surprise, someone asked me why I stopped doing my Travel Thursday blogs. Very simple answer: I ran out of stories! And due to some health issues in the family I have not traveled for almost two years now, so no new content. I had tried squeezing some more juice out of trips I didn’t blog much about, like the last one to Jordan, but that always takes a back burner to other stuff.
So instead I’m going to repost some of the old travel blogs, since there are a lot of new subscribers since then. The first few are from a trip about six years ago, when I was hired to shoot a number of places in Morocco and Tunisia, including some of the places where scenes from the original Star Wars were shot. But the first post is about where I first landed. . .

Took Iberian Airlines from Los Angeles to Madrid, the same airline I’ll be using to go to Marrakesh after an afternoon and night in the Spanish capital. This was my first time on this airline, and was pleasant enough, without any problems but lacking the outright lusciousness of Icelandair or Air New Zealand. The flight attendants seemed more peppy than most I’ve seen on a transcontinental/transatlantic flight.
Knowing I had that much time in Madrid, I knew I would immediately toodle over to the Prado museum, because I’d be visiting yet again my favorite painting in the world, Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. It’s like visiting an old friend. Before leaving I once again went through one of my favorite possessions, a giant book that has page after page of incredible closeups of the famous painting, revealing things you can’t see when you’re standing in front of the real thing, though of course it’s even more awesome being in its presence. I still remember picking this book up for about 50 American cents at a used book store a couple of blocks from the Academia San Carlos in Mexico City, then sitting in the Alameda for over an hour, simply flipping through and making delighted sounds that no doubt kept the tourists, locals, and especially the pancake vendors away from my bench.
But as I said, nothing beats seeing it in person, even when you stand there contemplating it for what seems like hours and people jostle for a better look, though careful to avoid me. For once I’m glad I look menacing. . .