Monday, January 27, 2020

CAMELS AND ANCIENT KINGS: Trip to Egypt from Aunt Carolyn's Memoir

Carolyn T. Arnold at Luxor, Egypt, August 1963
My husband's Aunt Carolyn was an intrepid tourist, first on her own and then as a tour group leader. This is an excerpt from her memoir, recalling a trip to Egypt in the summer of 1963.

My group flew to Cairo one year. After spending some time in Cairo, we flew to Luxor to see the Valley of the Pharaohs and King Tut’s tomb as well as tombs of lesser nobles. It was extremely hot in the desert, but we sat in the shade of a small rest house while our guide told us of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb and other stories of the Valley of the Queens and of the old city of Thebes.

On the other side of the river we visited the magnificent ruins of ancient Karnak, excavated more than one hundred years ago. They were situated only a short distance from our hotel, but it was traditional to ride to the site in old-fashioned horse-drawn buggies. So, of course, we rode to the site, two or three to a buggy. We made quite a caravan. When we returned many children lined the road shouting and clapping their hands. I asked the driver what they were saying. He replied, “They were saying, ‘Hello Father!’” We thought they were clapping for us!

That evening I suggested a ride in a felucca--a small sailboat--on the Nile River at sunset. The guide offered to recruit several feluccas for us at $3.00 each. I should have remembered that since this was his first asking price, I should have bargained. Still, it was delightful on the river with the farmers and donkeys on the opposite bank silhouetted against a glorious red and gold sunset.

Later, back in Cairo, while waiting for our plane at the airport, we recalled the pleasant time we had in Egypt–the dinner at the hotel with the belly dancer and fortune teller, the visit to the pyramids and the Sphinx. We laughed about our camel ride. One mounts while the camel is sitting with legs folded under. After one is seated in the broad wooden saddle, the camel starts to rise, first on the front feet, which swings the rider violently back. Then, the rear feet unfold, which jerks the rider forward. There were many squeals as we climbed onto our saddles. A “driver” walks down the road beside each camel and rider on the way to the Sphinx. Once the driver asked me if I wanted to hold the reins. I agreed, as it was something to hold on to. Immediately, my camel took off at a gallop away from the road toward the desert. Smart animal, it knew a greenhorn was aboard! My screams were loud. I expected to become lost on the endless desert with that mean animal. However, the driver called the camel. It did smirk, the arrogant creature.

Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1950.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today. A number of excerpts from her memoir have appeared on The Intrepid Tourist. You can find them by searching for "Aunt Carolyn" in the Index.

Monday, January 20, 2020

ART IN VENICE: Part 2, the Accademia Gallery

Accademia Gallery, Venice, Italy
Note: This report is based on our visit to Venice in September 2019, before the devastating high tides that inundated many of the historic sites of the city. Luckily the collections of the Accademia Gallery were not damaged.
The Accademia Gallery is a treasure trove of Venetian art. Look up and you see the elaborately carved and painted ceilings; look down, and you walk on beautiful variegated marble tile floors; and on the surrounding walls you will find scenes crowded with endless details revealing the wealth and glory of Venice in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it dominated trade and commerce in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Annunciation by Lorenzo Veneziano 1376-1372, center of a large altarpiece
On our recent visit to Venice, we visited the Accademia Gallery, located on the Grand Canal at the foot of the Accademia Bridge. My guidebook admonished visiting in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and long ticket lines (during high season.) We went in the morning and didn't have to wait at all. After purchasing our tickets we climbed the grand staircase to the second floor where the exhibits began. I was overawed just by the elegance of the rooms-- the ceilings and floors are amazing--and by the scale of the paintings. The art ranges from golden Byzantine altarpieces to grand paintings documenting daily life in Venice and much more.
Madonna with the Red Cherubs, Giovanni Bellini 1485-1490
In a whole room of paintings by Giovanni Bellini, my favorite was the one with the red angels.  Bellini was a member of a well-known Venetian painting family. His sumptuous coloring and fluent, atmospheric landscapes had a great effect on the Venetian painting school, especially on his pupils Giorgione and Titian.
In the large paintings with dozens of figures, I was struck by how the painting as a whole functioned in the same way as today's graphic novels, with each figure and detail playing its own part in telling the larger story.

Detail from the Sacred Conversation by Giovanni Bellini, 1487
Throughout the museum I loved the glimpses of daily life revealed in the paintings--even when the main subject was religious or classical-- and was particularly charmed by the depictions of musicians and their instruments, as in Bellini's Sacred Conversation. In another painting, by Vittore Carpaccio, gondoliers crowd the canal--just as they do today, although in different costumes. Notably, one of the gondoliers is black, a reference to the fact that even in the 15th century Venice was an international center.
Detail of gondoliers, The Miracle of the Cross at the Ponte di Rialto, also known as The Healing of the Madman by Vittore Carpaccio, 1494.

Procession in Piazza San Marco, Gentile Bellini, 1496.
The Basilica San Marco has always been a focus of Venetian life. The grand scene in St. Mark's square,in the painting by Gentile Bellini (brother of Giovanni) show that the square was just as crowded then as it is today with tourists.
Detail from the Marriage of Saint Catherine by Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese, 1565-70.
As a center of trade, Venetians had access to goods from around the world, especially from the Orient. The colors and luxuriousness of the fabrics of people's clothing as depicted in the paintings is typically Venetian.

Annunciation by Paolo Veronese
I was interested to see how certain religious themes, such as the Annunciation, were treated differently by different artists.

Annunciation, Giovanni Bellini, 1490
In some, Mary is quite docile, in others, visibly surprised. In all, the angel arrives carrying lilies.

Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese
Paolo Veronese's Feast in the House of Levi fills a whole wall in one of the galleries, dwarfing onlookers. It is one of the museum's most well-known paintings. Originally titled The Last Supper, the name was changed after Inquisition leaders objected to the depiction of dogs and drunkards cavorting with the Apostles. Rather than making changes to the art, Veronese simply changed the title.

Detail from Feast in the House of Levi by Paolo Veronese
My favorite part of the painting is the detail of the dog and cat under the table. The cat has the bone and the dog looks wishful. Note the detail in the fabric of the tablecloth.
Billboard along the canal just outside the entrance to the Accademia Gallery.
The paintings in the Accademia Gallery truly are a feast for the eyes. And these are just a few! The paintings are all well-labelled in both Italian and English and we found it easy to navigate around the museum.

Poster for Baselitz Academy Exhibit, part of the Venice Biennale
In a separate wing of the museum we saw a retrospective exhibit of the living artist Georg Baselitz, whose signature style is to paint his figures upside down. His stated goal in turning the figures upside down was to separate art from life, changing the relationship between viewer and subject.

Georg Baselitz is a German artist who began working at the Villa Romana in Florence in 1965. This exhibit examines the influence of Italian artists and Renaissance traditions on his work over the course of his career.

Monday, January 13, 2020

ART IN VENICE: Part 1, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Venice, Italy. In the courtyard of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum
Note: Our visit to Venice was in September 2019, before the devastating high tides that inundated many of the historic sites of the city. Although the Peggy Guggenheim museum was closed temporarily, the director posted the following statement on Instagram: “Fortunately, the museum staff is well and safe, the museum and collections are safe and have not been damaged." The following report is an overview of our visit before the floods.

Venice is an art lover's paradise. Art is everywhere you look, from the magnificent mosaics on the walls of St. Mark’s Basilica to the interiors of churches and museums, to the galleries lining the streets along the canals.
"White Cross" by Vasily Kandinsky, 1922
On our recent visit to Venice, we visited two of Venice’s most outstanding art museums, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, with its fabulous examples of 20th century paintings and sculpture, and the Accademia Gallery, with room after room of Venetian masterpieces and more.
Entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection from the Grand Canal
The paintings and sculptures in the Peggy Guggenheim museum, housed in a palace on the banks of the Grand Canal, brought back memories of my modern art courses in college--from the cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque to the surrealist art of Dali, Magritte and Miro, to the abstract expressionist art of the 1950s.
Ticket stub with map of museum.
Peggy Guggenheim, niece of Solomon Guggenheim (whose collection is in the the famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed museum in New York), began collecting art in 1938 and in 1942 opened a gallery in New York. In 1949 she bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice and began filling it with art. She opened it to the public in 1951.
View across the Grand Canal from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum
A temporary exhibit in the museum shows Peggy Guggenheim when she was actually living in the house. Last year was the 70th anniversary. After Peggy Guggenheim's death in 1979 her house and collection of art became part of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, established by her uncle.
Here are just a few of my favorite pieces of art in the museum.
Man Ray, "Silhouette" 1916
Joan Miro "Dutch Interior" 1928

Corneille, "The Great Solar Symphony" 1964
The chair in the corner is a piece of art--not for sitting.
I especially liked that the pictures were hung with plenty of "breathing space" so each could be enjoyed without competing with a neighbor.
Alexander Calder "Silver Bed Head" 1945-46, detail
Several pieces by sculptor Alexander Calder were on display, both mobiles and some of his smaller pieces, like "Silver Bed Head" in which the wires and their shadows function like a playful lined drawing.
This large painting by Jackson Pollack, framed in the museum doorways, can be seen three rooms away.

Jackson Pollack, "Alchemy" 1947. A close-up view reveals the complexity of colors and textures.
Peggy Guggenheim was an enthusiastic supporter of Jackson Pollack and has eleven of his paintings in her collection, including several of his "drip" paintings. She supported him financially and in November 1943 gave him his first one-man show at her gallery in New York.
Grace Hartigan, "Ireland", 1959
The only painting by a woman in the Peggy Guggenheim collection is Grace Hartigan's "Ireland." As a woman artist in a male-dominated era, she got less recognition than abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollack and Robert Motherwell, but she is one of the few female painters to receive a level of comparable exposure. In 1957, Life magazine caller her "the most celebrated of the young American women painters."

Marino Marini, "The Angel of the City" 1948, bronze sculpture of a boy on a horse, greets visitors on the patio of the museum.
Peggy Guggenheim lived in Venice for thirty-three years. She died at age 81 in December 1979. Her ashes are placed in a corner of the garden of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, next to the place where she customarily buried her beloved dogs.

After visiting the Peggy Guggenheim collection and browsing the gift shop, we had a nice lunch in the adjacent garden cafe. A wide variety of art galleries line the streets of Venice, especially in the area between the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Gallery Accademia. Here are a couple of gallery exhibits that struck my fancy as we walked by:
This portrait of Marilyn Monroe was created with tiny images of butterfly wings.
"Dog" by Fernando Bottero, 2008
These whimsical cats reflect the theatrical personality of Venice
I like to take pictures in museums and galleries to remind me of what I saw and so I can enjoy seeing the art again. My visit to the Accademia Gallery will be in Part 2 of my report on Venice art.

Monday, January 6, 2020


Experience California’s history at Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento.
My friend and fellow children’s book author Caroline Hatton visited Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California in September 2019. She took all the photos in this post. 

The main gate, as seen from outside the fort.
After years of visiting family in Sacramento, I finally made it downtown to Sutter’sFort. Founded in 1839 by John Sutter, a Swiss entrepreneur, it is an important place in California’s history because it was near the end of the California Trail (followed by emigrants in covered wagons, half-way across the continent) and it was associated with the California Gold Rush. This made Sutter’s Fort a key point in the dreams of pioneers spurred on by unbridled ambition and wild hope.

As a fort where they could seek refuge and find protection, I had imagined a fortress. But it’s so small!

Inside the fort the wall is lined with a single row of reconstructed rooms and historic work areas, except where two gates open. Only one building stands in the middle, the former administration building.

Why, then, the advice to allow two hours to visit? Because, in addition to strolling around and looking inside every room, it’s worth listening to the audio commentary, triggered when leaning into the doorway of each room. After an introduction to the room’s function in its context, actors’ voices read quotes from diaries and letters to immerse visitors in life at the fort.
My favorite was the horse tack room, with types of saddles and wooden stirrups I’d never seen before, because as a horse lover, learning new horse stuff makes my day.
Each room--from the horse tack room to John Sutter’s bedroom to the kitchen to the jail--is labeled on the one-page map provided at the entrance. The rooms are full of every-day items, which help picture life in the 1800s. Hopefully they are devoid of the fleas that tormented residents and guests!
The only original building is the former administration building. Upstairs are the long wooden table and benches where all those present at the fort ate their meals.
My other favorite place at the fort was the upstairs room in the administration building with its wooden table and benches, because as a writer, I’d love to work there on new children’s stories-- perhaps a horse story having to do with the fort or the period when it was used. After all, Sutter’s Fort was the end point of the Pony Express, the Old West mail service relay staffed by orphan boys riding horses at top gallop. From now on, the fort’s name will also evoke dreams for me to achieve, modest ones compared to those of the pioneers’.

An extra hour on site is enough to visit the California State Indian Museum, housed in a small building outside of the fort, but inside the same small city park. Plans are underway to move this museum to the California Indian Heritage Center, in a different location in Sacramento. Like many visitors, I found the miniature, fingernail-size baskets to be the most amazing display. Since photography is not allowed, you’ll have to go see them for yourself!