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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

Backstage at the Met

On my last trip to NYC, I scheduled a full day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; well, a full day interpsersed with lunch at the lovely Cafe Sabarsky (at the Neue Galerie), and walks in the park.  Besides seeing some favorite paintings and the Egyptian temple, we visited the arms and armor section to see the Negroli Helmet, which was quite stunning.  This on the recommendation of PS, who had been reading Danny Danziger’s book about the museum, entitled simply Museum, in which he interviews a wide selection of people employed by or connected with the museum, including the security guards, the Director himself, Board members, the cleaning crew, etc., giving a broad and fascinating portrait of a great institution.  Especially great was hearing from the curators about their personal favorites, the one thing they would save if the building caught on fire.  The point is, I never would have gone into arms and armor without some reference point, some item to hone in on. After reading Danziger’s book, I have a new list of such items and am looking forward to my next visit.

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A Book a Day – August

This project was inspired by a New York Times article about a woman who actually read a book a day for a full year. I was quite impressed! I’ve also been taking classes since January which ended on July 31, so I am more than ready for some extra-curricular reading. Here is how my first week went:

Sunday, August 1: Herman Melville, by Elizabeth Hardwick.  This is a short book that gives a poignant sketch of Melville’s life and works.  Hardwick is not a conventional biographer; she doesn’t exhaust her subject nor her reader. Her own rolling sentences and quirky tone compel attention. She seems sorry that Melville had such a tough time of it, yet remains philosophical.  (This was an easy, confidence-builder for the first day – only about 140 pages and it’s been lying around my study waiting for attention).

Monday, August 2: The Brass Verdict, by Michael Connelly.  Another one that’s been in my bookpile. It was an ambitious choice at 580 pages , but Connelly is a fast read, and I had a 4 1/4 bus ride, plus commuter train, and 2-3 hour car ride on an adventurous journey to southeastern Pennsylvania. So, it was no problem.  This is a great trial book which was particularly interesting given my recent classes in litigation and legal research. It was fun seeing how an aggressive defense lawyer might apply the rules of discovery, jury selection and evidence.

Tuesday, August 3:  I chose a smaller book for this leg of the road trip to Gettysburg, since our car ride was only 1 1/2 hours. Longitude, by Dava Sobel, is another book that I’ve been wanting to read and it fit the optimal page number (175). This was a fascinating true story of an obsessed inventor who solved a great challenge – how to calculate longitude by use of a clock.  The descriptions of his clocks, all of which can be viewed in London or Greenwich made me want to see them in person.  (I read a bit in the morning and on the car ride, but was sitting around with friends, enjoying the evening when I was reminded that it was 11:48 p.m. and I still had 30 or so pages to go.  I finished the book at 12:21 am, and decided that my “day” would go from getting up to going to bed, not necessarily following a strict 24 hour timeframe.

Wednesday, August 4: I had found another slim book (179 pp) that I bought at a book sale a long time ago and never got around to reading:  Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman.  This was our day for touring the battle of Gettysburg, so I got up early to get a good start on the book before the day’s activities.  This was a strange, yet compelling attempt to track Einstein’s visions of time. The repeating motifs and versions of the Swiss city of Berne made me want to visit and walk its streets, view its river, towers, market squares.

Thursday, August 5: The Road from Coorain, Jill Ker Conway.  I picked this up at the library book sale in Gettysburg. I love her descriptions of the outback of Australia where she grew up; it’s almost as fascinating as reading about Antarctica! However, once they move away from the sheep plantation, the story wanes a bit and in the end grows somewhat tiresome. In addition, I had a nagging feeling that I had read it before.  I finished it during the long car ride back to New England.

Friday, August 6: The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Roddy Doyle. I never read Paddy Doyle, Ha, Ha, Ha, his first novel that got a lot of attention, but I’ve read some good short stories by him and like his style. This book was pretty good, especially in the beginning. The story of the young girl growing up and the choices presented to her is nothing short of tragic, but it’s told in an elliptic, unsentimental style. In the end though, the story became meandering and repetitive, the resolution unbelievable and many issues and questions left hanging. Still, for the most part, I couldn’t put it down and finished at 12:03 a.m. –

Saturday, August 7:  It’s 9:30 a.m., and I haven’t picked out my book yet!

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Key West was great fun, with gorgeous weather and great food.  My favorite attraction was the Hemingway House Museum.  It’s a beautiful, historic house with two-story verandas, tall shutters and lush gardens.  The guide was a bit jaded, but told all the amusing stories about the wives, the cats, the pool, etc.  The photos on the wall are worth perusing and the cats are fun to observe (there is also a cat condo and cat cemetery).  After that we went to the Key West Art and Historical Society located in the Old Custom House. They had a intriguing exhibit by J. Seward Johnson who does the lifelike plaster statues of ordinary people.  In this exhibit, entitled “Icons”, he has replicated famous works of art as plaster statues, so there is a three-dimensional “Mona Lisa” as well as “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.”  By floating frames in the air in front of the statue, the viewer gets the impression of looking at the actual painting, then you can have your companion stand in the frame with the subject.  It sounds weird, but it was actually rather thought-provoking.  They also have a pretty good history of Key West exhibition and a Hemingway room that adds a slightly different perspective to what is learned at the Hemingway House museum.  Both are well worth visiting.  As you might expect, there are lots of local artists in Key West.  Some of the best local galleries are at the southern end of Duval, away from the Bourbon Street atmosphere toward Front Street.  We liked 1100 So Du and bought a painted tile of Hemingway’s House by Fran Decker.  When I settled by the pool on our first afternoon, after finishing both of my New Yorker magazines on the plane, I discovered that the book I brought with me (The Ionian Mission, by Patrick O’Brian) was not the next one I needed to read in the series (I should have brought Desolation Island instead.)  Once I am involved in a series, I must stay in order, so I started up Duval in search of a bookstore.  I was sure I was out of luck until I spied “Key West Island Books” down a side street (513 Fleming).  It is just the kind of bookstore I love, filled with a jumble of new and used books, and I quickly snatched one off the shelf, “A Confederacy of Dunces”  by John Kennedy Toole.  What a mistake! It definitely had promise, and I bought into the initial bizarreness of Ignatius, his mother and all the rest, but after awhile I gave up.  It was mildly amusing in the beginning, but gradually became tiresome.  I left it on the plane. 

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London

I was lucky enough to be in London, during which time I was reading North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell.  Not many scenes are set in London, though for a time the heroine lives on Harley St (which is off Marleybone towards Regents Park, a part of the city I haven’t yet been.  I was interested to hear how they walk all the way to Hampstead Heath one day (another area I didn’t get to).  I liked the book, especially some of the minor characters, like Mr. Bell with his witty repartee and Dixon. Also, Mrs. Thornton is very well done; she’s rather like Coriolanus’ mother, I fancy.  While the book is mostly dramatic, even melodramatic in spots, it is also full of humorous touches and interesting insights.  For more on my trip to London, visit my Go List on TripAdvisor.

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Dickens

Just got back from vacation. I read “The Old Curiousity Shop” by Dickens, but mistakenly bought an abridged version at a book sale. It was an engaging story with a bit of bathos toward the end, but with some excellent characters, especially Dick Swiveller, the Marchioness and Sally Brass. The evil dwarf Quilp was a bit too much and Nell, of course, was a bit too good to be true. I hate abridged books. I don’t think I can even say I read it, since there was a good bit missing. It was rather like watching a foreign movie without subtitles since sometimes motivations and relationships were not clear. Plus with Dickens, the incidental and descriptive parts are often the best. I also regret not trying to see the actual shop when I was in London, but couldn’t get there, nor to his house, though I did see his grave in the poet’s corner at Westminster Abbey.

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