Monday, June 24, 2013

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT’S PINS, Czech Museum, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Guest post by Barbara Siebenschuh

Madeleine Albright's Pins at the National Czech and Slovak Museum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa
 My friend and fellow art student (at Grinnell College and University of Iowa) Barbara Siebenschuh recently went with friends from Iowa City to see the exhibit of Madeleine Albright’s brooches at the Czech Museum in Cedar Rapids.  Until now, I had not appreciated that Madeleine Albright originally came from the Czech Republic (then Czechoslovakia) nor had I realized that her pins became her hallmark as a diplomat.  I think you will enjoy reading Barbara’s report. Note: The Ladiez of Leisure is a group of retired women in Iowa City who get out periodically to visit museums and other places of interest in the area.

Yesterday all five Ladiez of Leisure set off for Cedar Rapids to go and see the Madeleine Albright "Read my Pins" exhibit at the Czech Museum in Cedar Rapids. We went by way of Ely, Iowa, and on the way were delighted to be able to drive by many tractors (antique and otherwise) on one of their yearly "migrations". In our case, they were all going the opposite way from us. Great fun and one can hardly plan for these surprises.

Once in the Cedar Rapids area, we set about looking for a place to eat. We ended up at "Gringos" where we all had plenty of food in a nice friendly setting. When we parked on First Ave. S.E. down from "Gringos" we had to navigate a new system of paying for parking. There are Pay Stations at intervals and one enters the parking 4 digit number near the car. It did not entirely go smoothly. It accepted my coins but then when I requested a receipt, none came out. I am not sure how it works but the "Gringos" help seemed to find it problematic as well.

The Czech Museum was accessible by an elevator from parking lower down than the museum. This museum will not flood in the future. [The Cedar River had a devastating flood in 2008, damaging much of the downtown.]

We all looked at every pin of Madeleine Albright. They were amazing. One pin was inspired by Alphonse Mucha, whose posters, paintings, photos, etc. we had seen previously in a huge Czech Museum exhibit. There were precious materials and there were political buttons and more like costume jewelry. Madeleine had many that were insects, butterflies, dragonflies; she had sea life, birds and animals, turtles, reptiles, etc. Some of the pins were so large that it almost looked like wall art. One in particular, a zebra, was shaped so that it could be worn over the shoulder and indeed, she did wear it like that to meet with Nelson Mandela.

Her botanical pins were wonderful. She also had pins with "edge" and we saw swords, assault rifles, etc. Some were so modern it was hard to imagine where they were made and some were patriotic - using the American flag in many various artistic ways.
This silver "Liberty" brooch by Gijs Bakker allows both Albright and her guest to tell time.
One could not take pictures of these pins. [You can see a slide show of some of the pins at the Bowers Museum website, the New Yorker blog, and the Mint Museum website.]There was a book in the gift shop featuring the exhibit. Madeleine had also loaned her festival dress from when she was about ten or twelve back in the old country. It was on display nearby with a photo of her.

The gift shop featured an artist I have admired for some time. Much of his work is for sale at a local shop called Glassando. His name is Michael Michaud and he does delicate and accurate botanical designs in jewelry. Unfortunately, he is pretty pricey. We then proceeded to Mount Vernon to a wonderfully packed antique shop where we all had our take on vital nostalgia pieces. We stopped at the Dairy Queen too on the way back to Iowa City. It was a lovely day without rain and just working up to hot and humid.

Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection
May 11-Oct. 27, 2013
National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library
Open Monday-Saturday 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday Noon- 4 p.m.
(319) 362-8500

Monday, June 17, 2013

GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING at the de Young Museum of Art, San Francisco

Poster for the Girl with a Pearl Earring Exhibit at the de Young Museum, San Francisco
I read the book. I saw the movie.  And now I have seen the painting!  The Girl With the Pearl Earring by Vermeer is the focus of a wonderful exhibit of Dutch paintings from the Mauritshaus Museum in Amsterdam which I saw recently at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. Billed as the Dutch Mona Lisa, the girl (who has never been identified) looks over her shoulder out of the painting, seeming to invite the viewer into her world.  The exhibit includes dozens of remarkable paintings by Vermeer, Rembrandt and other Dutch masters, organized by theme–a room each for portraits (formal and informal), landscapes (featuring huge skies over the flat water and land), still lifes (with flowers in brilliant detail), scenes of everyday life, and more. The paintings document the richness of Dutch life in the 17th Century.  The exhibit ended at the de Young on June 2nd but travels to the High Museum in Atlanta for the summer and will be at the Frick Museum in New York October 22, 2013–January 19, 2014.  See for more information about this exhibit.

Tower Viewing Area
After viewing the painting exhibit and an accompanying exhibit of prints from the same period–exquisite etchings, drypoints, engravings and mezzotints by Rembrandt and others–we went to the museum cafeteria for a delicious lunch, which we ate on the enclosed outdoor patio facing the sculpture garden.  I had cream of parsnip soup, which was very tasty.  Everything on the menu had a Dutch theme–to coordinate with the Mauritshaus exhibit.

Pond in front of the de Young Museum (viewed from Tower)
One of the special features of the de Young Museum is the Tower and its 360 degree view of San Francisco from its 9th floor viewing area.  It was a beautiful sunny day, so after lunch, we took the elevator up to the top of the tower and got a spectacular view of the city.  Immediately across the plaza in front of the museum we could look down the living roof garden of the science museum.  These two museums, which share a parking garage under the plaza, are among the jewels of Golden Gate Park.

Sculpture and Shadows at de Young Museum
The de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park are the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.  To find out more about these museums and their many exhibits both permanent and temporary, go to

Monday, June 10, 2013

TURKEY: Ephesus and Sights Around Selkuk

The Ancient Greek City of Ephesus, Temple of Hadrianus
Until I visited Turkey, I never realized the breadth of the ancient Greek and Roman empires.  A little over a year ago, after spending a week in Istanbul for a writer’s workshop, I signed up for an add-on tour of Ephesus and other sights in Selkuk, plus a trip to the ancient city of Hierapolis and thermal baths of Pamukkele.  We flew from Istanbul to Izmir (the ancient Greek city of Smyrna) and boarded a bus from there to Selkuk, about an hour’s scenic ride along a river valley to the south. There we spent two and a half days, jam packed with sightseeing.
View of Selkuk from the path to the Cave of the Seven Sleepers on Mount Pion
Our first day included a visit to the Temple of Artemis, the caves of the Seven Sleepers, the Ephesus Museum (where many of the sculptures from the the ancient city are displayed), the House of the Virgin Mary (said to be the final resting place of Mary the mother of Jesus), and finally, a tour of the ancient city of Ephesus itself, which is just two kilometers outside the city.  Our English speaking guide narrated as we went.  Here are some selected photos from our first day:
Statue on grounds of the House of the Virgin Mary
Beginning of the mile-long ancient road through the city of Ephesus.  We walked from from parking lot at the top of the hill, down through the city to what had been the ancient port, now silted in, passing the remains of temples, fountains, public baths and lavatories, amphiteaters, a library and more along the way.
Facade of the Library of Celcus at Ephesus.  It initally housed 12,000 books.  The first human settlements at Ephesus were around 6,000 B.C. and it gradually grew into a city/state.  Alexander the Great conquered Ephesus in 304 B.C.  In the Augustan period of the Roman Empire, Ephesus was one of the most important cities of Roman Asia.  The library was built after the death of Celcus, the Roman Governor of Asia Minor, who died in 114 A.D.
Ephesus Museum in Selkuk.  Sculpture from one of the fountains at Ephesus.  In ancient times three rivers provided water at the rate of 100 liters per second.  Water was used for public baths and lavatories, fountains, and for daily use.
Ephesus, upper amphitheater, the Odeion, with the Stoa Basileios (the Royal Walk) to the left.
Mosaic floor, Ephesus
A report of our excursion to Pamukkele will be in a future post (8/12/2013).
My other posts on Turkey:
4/8/2013  Room With a View
8/27/2012  Ephesus: Temple of Artemis
8/20/2012  Letter from Istanbul
8/6/2012  Istanbul: A Food Lover's Delight
5/28/2012  Istanbul:  Museum of Innocence

Monday, June 3, 2013

PATAGONIA: Spectacular Scenery and Abundant Wildlife

View from Hosteria Pehoe in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
The trip to Patagonia in 1995 is among our top family vacations ever. At the extreme southern tip of South America,  Patagonia is a land of rugged seashores, jagged mountains, enormous glaciers, and vast, windy grasslands. It is half the size of Alaska with just 1.5 million inhabitants. As the climber Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia outdoor clothing line, says, “It is a mystical, almost imaginary place.” 
Rounding up the cattle

Some people in Patagonia live on remote estancias, or ranches, but the majority reside in Punta Arenas, a city that had its heyday in the era of clipper ships.  In those days, before the Panama Canal was built, ships traveling from Europe and the east coasts of the Americas had to go around the southern tip of South America to reach San Francisco and other west coast ports.  Victorian style architecture still dominates Punta Arenas.

Magellanic Penguin
Punta Arenas (which means Sandy Point in Spanish) sits on the edge of the Straits of Magellan, the connector of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. We flew into the Punta Arenas airport and then rented a car and drove north to the spectacular national park, Torres del Paine, passing few cars or signs of habitation on the way.  We did stop at a penguin colony and walked the paths between the nesting burrows of Magellanic penguins, who go there each Austral summer to raise their chicks. (See my post for June 20, 2011.)

Mustering the sheep on the Patagonian plain.
The broad plains bordering the Straits of Magellan provide rich grazing for huge herds of sheep and cattle and nesting grounds for millions of birds.  As we drove north we were awed by the giant flocks of flamingos, endless nesting geese, and vast array of small birds, all in the midst of laying eggs and rearing their young.

Torres del Paine is truly one of the last Edens on Earth.  Towering granite peaks rise above ice cold lakes, and flocks of giant Andean condors soar on the updrafts created by the ever present winds that collide with the mountains.  On the grassy slopes below the peaks, herds of guanacos, once in danger of becoming extinct, are now multiplying. Patagonia is a wildlife photographer’s paradise. I used a few of the photos we took of guanacos, foxes, penguins, and rheas (South American relatives of ostriches) to illustrate my book South American Animals (Morrow, 1999.)
Guanaco, Torres del Paine
In Torres del Paine we stayed at Hosteria Pehoe, a comfortable and somewhat rustic hotel with a spectacular view of the “torres”, or towers, of rock that are the iconic image of the park.  The hotel where we stayed when we went to Chile’s Atacama desert four years ago, the Tierra Atacama, has recently opened a sister hotel in Torres del Paine called the Tierra Patagonia.  Here’s a short (one minute) video from Tierra Patagonia that gives an overview of what you can expect when you visit the park.  It brought back many memories for us.  We’d love to go back someday.  Perhaps we will!
Update:  Here's another absolutely amazing video from Tierra Patagonia.  Enjoy!