Sunday, April 30, 2006

Walden Pond

A friend drove up from Rhode Island and took me to Walden Pond . We walked over to the site of Henry David Thoreau's original hut in the woods. Thoreau lived in the hut from 1845 until 1847 although he did have visitors and he often went into the nearby town of Concord. Walden Pond State Reservation is managed by the Division of Conservation and Recreation. There was a $5 charge for parking and the trails were clean and well maintained. Visitors were swimming, sunbathing, fly fishing, and kayaking, and of course walking around the Pond. Being a city dweller, it was the first time that I had walked over uneven terrain in quite some time. I had not been to Walden pond in three years. It seems that I always enjoy myself when I go there. With luck I will not have to wait another three years before I return.

Today we did not visit the rest of Concord and Lexington. The Concord Museum features the study of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other interesting exhibits. Nearby is the Old Manse where Nathaniel Hawthorne spent the first few years of his marriage to Sofia. It overlooks the Old North Bridge where colonists clashed with the British military in the first shots of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Two house museums owned by Historic New England , the Walter Gropius House and the Codman House are close to Walden Pond itself. This is just the beginning of the historic sites to visit in the area. In the summer Lexington and Concord are popular tourist destinations.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Greatest Hits of the Undersea World

The New England Aquarium (NEAQ) started an expansion project several years ago that they never completed. The short explanation is that they just plain ran out of money. Gone are the sea lion shows that were the delight of many. However, they did add a very large IMAX theater and decided to opt for movies in simulated 3D. The special glasses are issued before every show. Even with a discount, the movies are expensive, and they are short (about forty minutes). For years the nearby Museum of Science had the only large screen format in the area. That Museum has a giant curved screen that is sometimes referred to as an Omnimax theater that shows IMAX films. The NEAQ seemed to be opening their theater in direct competition with the Museum of Science. Now a local furniture retailer has an IMAX theater and there may be others nearby as well.

This evening I went to see Deep Sea 3D at NEAQ's Simon's IMAX Theater. It was like a greatest hits of the undersea world. The photography was beautiful. It was highly entertaining although the music was a little over the top. Featured were coral reefs, sharks, whales, octopi, jelly fish, shrimp, etc. Every ocean life form that I might want to see made a brief appearance. The educational content was there but obviously of secondary importance. Conservation was touched upon lightly, but the narration did not come across as self-righteous or moralistic. The ticket salesman said that it was one of his favorite 3D IMAX shows. I could see why.

American Watercolors and Pastels 1875-1950

On Friday I went to visit the American Watercolors and Pastels exhibit at the Fogg Art Museum. It was my third time viewing the exhibit, and I will probably go to see it again before it leaves on June 25, 2006. Harvard has assembled an excellent small collection of works that show the range of what can be accomplished in these media. My favorite work was "Summer in Venice" by Maurice Brazil Prendergast. Before this exhibit I was unfamiliar with his artwork. Winslow Homer dominates the exhibit with nine watercolors. There are three very bright and cheerful watercolors by Charles Demuth on display including a still life " Fruit and Daisies". The eight works by James McNeill Whistler include a chalk drawing on paper, pastels, and watercolors. His range and talent as an artist are showcased. A twelve page gallery guide with nice color pictures is offered at no extra charge.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Daytrip to Providence, Rhode Island.

It is very easy to get from Boston to Providence. The commuter rail, and for a little more money, Amtrak leaves from more than one location in Boston. The ride can take between forty and seventy minutes each way. This afternoon I walked from the Providence station to the Rhode Island School of Design Museum in about fifteen minutes. The campus of RISD has a lot of interesting and pleasing architecture. It is on the side of a hill in a historic section of the City.

The Museum was a real treat with very diverse collections, including Japanese, South Asian, Chinese, and an immense wooden Buddha that dwarfs any Asian sculpture on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. A very knowledgeable and entertaining guard showed me the woodpecker hole in the statue. He also told me stories about the family that collected the textiles from the old silk road trade route. The textiles on display today were mostly made from cotton. The guard told me that only three percent of the Museum's collection is currently on display. When a planned addition is complete, four percent of the collection will be able to be shown at any one time. He showed real pride in the collection and was also very proud to work at the Museum. Another guard seemed pleased that I had taken the train from Boston to see the RISD Museum. She said that she should consider a day trip to Boston someday.

On the walls were at least four paintings by John Singer Sargent, who is a favorite American painter of mine. Also there was a Mary Cassatt, a Childe Hassam, and a host of French impressionists. The American wing had very nice period rooms and an excellent collection of silver. Drawers could be pulled out of the wall displaying additional cutlery. The modern art did little for me, but I did recognize many of the names of the artists, such as Jackson Pollack and Jeff Coons. I skipped the ancient Greek and Roman works to allow for a little time in the gift shop. The audio guide was free with the $8 entrance fee. The afternoon could not have gone more smoothly.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Concert at Faneuil Hall

Faneuil Hall is a very historic building that was the site of town meetings until Boston became incorporated as a City. Sometimes when the hall is not in use for concerts and other venues, U.S. Park Rangers welcome visitors and interpret the site. On one afternoon several summers ago I was the only visitor and the ranger told me that his sympathies were with the loyalists during the Revolutionary War. It is interesting to ponder what life would have been like if we had lost the war. Would we be more like Canada or Europe? Would we have ever become a world power? A reliable source told me that there used to be several Park Rangers in Boston who had similar sympathies. Different viewpoints make history an exciting subject, whether I agree with them or not.

This afternoon a generous friend treated me to an excellent concert held in the Great Hall on the second floor of Faneuil Hall, as well as dinner following the concert. The Boston Classical Orchestra started with a symphony by J.C. Bach, and then did Haydn's Farewell Symphony. The latter was quite a show as in the last movement the musicians slowly left the stage one by one carrying their instruments with them, as the remaining musicians continued to play. I was impressed with the grace with which the bass player took her leave. Finally there were only two violins playing a duet until they left as well. The reasoning behind this entertaining and unusual piece was explained to us in the pre-concert lecture. Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp was a gentle work that showcased the talents of Elizabeth Rowe, on flute, and Ann Hobson Pilot, on Harp, both musicians from the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Immediately after the concert we walked the short distance to Durgin Park Restaurant. Soon after we were seated at a table on the second floor, the musicians walked through the dining room carrying their instruments. They proceeded to the third floor where there must have been an end of the season reception. Joining them was Michael Dukakis, who is on the advisory council of the Orchestra. Generations of Bostonians have eaten at Durgin Park in the relaxed and spirited dining room. Needless to say, it was a very enjoyable afternoon and early evening.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Armenian Rugs and Weavings at the ALMA

My second visit this month to the Armenian Library and Museum of America was just as enjoyable as the first. The exhibit "Armenian Rugs and Weavings: Textiles of the Hearth and Heart" just opened last night. The rugs and textiles are beautiful and the sheer diversity of style and design took me by surprise. I had expected them to look like Persian carpets, but they seemed to be distinctly different, even though an employee told me that it can sometimes be difficult to define what an Armenian rug is. All on display had Armenian inscriptions and in many cases they featured large Armenian letters directly woven into the design. The employee was kind enough to spend fifteen minutes answering all of my questions and then adding lots of background information about Armenia and Armenian culture.

There is an independent country called Armenia that has been in its third republic since it declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Its first republic was established in 1918 and recognized internationally as a sovereign state. It was short lived because it was invaded by the Soviet Union. The Second republic under Soviet rule lasted from 1920 until 1991. On April 24, 1915 a large group of Armenian doctors, lawyers, intellectuals and poets such as Daniel Varoujan were massacred in Turkey. Earlier today this massacre was commemorated at the Massachusetts State House. As I mentioned in my last posting about the ALMA, the Armenian genocide is dealt with in a nuanced and very tasteful manner here. A small carpet was on display featuring the face of Varoujan with some family pictures underneath it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Swan Boat Ride

After work I took the T to Arlington Street Station and walked through the Public Garden. The trees are budding and just a few tulips are in flower. A young family with three small children, a picnic basket, and a huskie shepard, were sitting on a towel eating a late lunch. For $2.75 I had my first swan boat ride of the Season.
The Swan Boats seat about fifteen people each, on wooden benches and the whole boat itself is powered by a kid pedaling on the back. The ride lasts about fifteen minutes and it does a loop inside the small pond in the Public Garden. The woman taking tickets said that the swan boat rides started in 1877. The ride was relaxing and I saw ducks and Canadian Geese, but no sign of swans as of yet.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Armenian Library and Museum of America

The The Aremnian Library and Museum of America (ALMA), in Watertown, MA, has always been one of my favorite destinations. It is conveniently located in Watertown Square on several bus routes and near some very reasonable eateries. Its hours are limited so it is best to check in advance before planning a visit. It is a welcoming space and many of the exhibits change over time, so it is always fun to return and see what is new. Today the curator was kind enough to chat with me, despite the fact that he was very busy preparing for the opening April 20th of "Armenian Rugs and Weavings: Textiles of Heart and Hearth."

The third floor features contemporary art. One floor down are the permanent exhibits including some unusual musical instruments, a subdued memorial to the Armenian Holocaust, and two paintings by Dr. Jack Kevorkian. The first floor has rotating exhibits of textiles and clothing. On a previous visit wedding attire was featured. This time it was "Undercover Armenian Textiles of Bed and Bath". Some wonderful old maps were on display although I must confess that my knowledge of the geography of the area where Armenians live and have lived is limited.

Much of the first floor space was being prepared for the rugs to hang there. I would like to return this summer and see them in their glory. Today there was a children's event upstairs. On other visits I have seen meetings on the third floor in session. The ALMA seems to be an active center, but the Museum itself usually has fewer visitors than I would expect considering the quality of its contents. As I was leaving, a family announced that they had just driven down from Toronto. They wanted to know if the Museum could be kept open after closing time for them. The busy curator who had just taken time to answer my questions, said that he would be working late, and of course they could stay late as well. I owe him a thank you note. I hope that the family from Toronto thanks him as well. The biggest Museums in Boston lack the charm of smaller institutions such as this one.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Gibson House Museum

A college student gave a fairly good tour of the The Gibson House Museum today. It is a Victorian row house in the Back Bay of Boston on Beacon Street near the Public Garden. The inside looks a little shabby and run down. It could definitely use some more attention. Still it does a good job of documenting the living conditions of the middle class in Victorian Boston. It was my third visit and I enjoy the tour every time I go.

Until just a few months ago there were guides living in the house. That must have been quite an experience to live in a historic house with period furnishings. Many of the paintings in the house are imitations of famous paintings and the wallpaper is made to look like much more expensive wall covering. To me that makes the house more interesting. The corners cut to impress visitors are all part of the story of the middle class of that period.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Fogg Art Museum

Visited the Fogg Art Museum, which is one of several Harvard University Art Museums. The Fogg features American and European works; the Busch Reisinger has German art; and the Sackler has Asian, Middle Eastern, and ancient art. The Fogg has vast collections that are primarily used for educational purposes and are rarely on display to the public. The print department has limited hours when the general public can view specific works on paper and photographs upon request.

Harvard trains its docents well. A wide variety of art tours and gallery talks are offered during the academic year. Some days I am the only person to take a specific tour. Often the docents will custom tailor the presentation to match my interests. My guide today had lived in the Netherlands for four years. She gave me a very thorough tour of Dutch Golden Age and Flemish paintings, with a smattering of Poussin (French Baroque) and original clay models by Bellini. (Italian Baroque Sculpture) She was patient with my questions and observations.

There is so much that I could say about this Museum alone. It has much of the intimacy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum but many more changing exhibits. In a future blog entry I will write about the watercolor and pastel exhibit that just opened there.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

LYRICA Boston Concert

Lyrica Boston gave an outstanding performance of Schubert's Quintet for two violins, viola, and two cellos in C Major. The musicians were in perfect synch with each other and that missed note that I always wait for never came. It was really superb. The room was small and very live without any dampening, so every minute sound was amplified. In this case it was all the better for the audience. The first violinist, Laura Bossert, said that at first it was a little intimidating to perform there. The musicians very graciously mingled with the audience after the concert.

I arrived early and found a seat in the second row. What a treat to see talented musicians perform from only a few feet away. The concert was free and it seemed that every seat was taken. The Quintet in C Major itself is a beautiful and popular piece of music. These five musicians had only played together as a group for one year although some had collaborated with each other for seven years. Ashley Vandiver was second violin, Paula Majerfeld played the viola, and the two cellists were Yuan Zhang and Nick Upton. Bravo!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Qing Dynasty Chinese Compound

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA has several historic houses on and off their property. The most famous is the Yin Yu Tang compound that was taken apart in China and reassembled in the parking lot. Once they had reassembled the Chinese building they built an extension to the Museum around it. The website has lots of pictures and information about the residence and the family who lived there for many generations. For those interested in China and the China trade, this house and the Museum are a must see.

The Yin Yu Tang house has antique furniture as well as more modern items such as a loudspeaker installed during the reign of Chairman Mao. A hand held device provides detailed information about the compound as you tour it. The exhibit outside has additional information that is well worth the time. On each visit there is only thirty minutes allotted inside the house, so a little advance preparation at the accompanying exhibit or at the website is a good idea.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Musicians of the Old Post Road

The Musicians of the Old Post Road perform early music and romantic era classical music on period and reproductions of period instruments. The group attempts to perform in settings that would resemble where the music might have been performed hundreds of years ago. The cellist, flutist, and pianist/harpsichord player are very talented and consistently give excellent performances. The audience is often small so it is easy to get a good view of the musicians and chat with them after their performances.

The theme of their last concert was Mozart in Paris. The cellist told us a little about Mozart's visits to that great city without going into excessive detail. In addition to pieces by Mozart the musicians performed other works by his contemporaries composing in France. This being the 250th birthday year of Mozart, Boston has many concerts featuring his work.

On the day of his birthday Russell Sherman gave an outstanding performance of his piano sonatas in Emmanuel Church on Newbury Street. Sherman is one of the distinguished faculty at the New England Conservatory. Hundreds of people came to that concert and I am certain that none were disappointed. Sherman is giving several concerts of Mozart piano sonatas this season. I hope to be able to attend another concert in the series.