Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Minneapolis has been a revealation. I never dreamed there could be so much to see and do in a city that's only a third of the size of Tucson.
You could easily spend an entire day at the Walker Art Center and that's basically what we did yesterday. Our host was Phil Von Blon, one of the Museum Directors. (I teach a course in Chinese history in Tucson, and Phil is one of my students. In fact, he's the one who talked me into coming to Minneapolis)
This is a lovely, welcoming museum. White walls, soaring vistas, huge windows. I kept imagining what it must be like during the winter, surrounded with snow, white on white.
First, we toured the Picasso and American Art Exhibition. Picasso never visited the United States, but his paintings created a huge stir when they were first exhibited here in 1914. This particular exhibition explores the impact that Picasso had on American artists, many of whom took cubism as a starting point to be followed wherever it led. The juxtapositions were astounding. Plus lots of wonderful Picassos.
After lunch, a leisurely stroll through the Sculpture Garden, which also features a wonderful glass conservatory with palm trees (in Minneapolis!) and a huge, glass leaping fish by Frank Gehry.
Phil and his wife JoAnn were our hosts for dinner at their breathtaking condo in the sky overlooking the Mississippi River. It's a converted flour mill, one huge room as big as a football field, fabulous art competing with fabulous views. I've only ever seen homes like this in the glossy pages of architectural magazines.
What an absolutely fantastic day!
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Monday, June 25, 2007
You went through Des Moines and you didn't see the Art Center?
That's what people said last year. How could I miss the Art Center? Maybe I was tired. Or maybe it was Monday.
So this time, we stopped. And yes, it's something to see. Another architectural triumph. Three amazing buildings, designed by Eliel Saarinen, I M Pei and Richard Meier and set in lush, green gardens. (You're looking at the Richard Meier bit) The art is amazing, too. Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Giacommetti, Georgia O'Keefe, wonderful things, gallery after gallery. To my surprise, the Art Center's award-winning restaurant is closed on Sundays. Luckily, I had one, last banana.
I'd selected a motel just off the exit ramp, for convenience. And guess what? The exit ramp was closed for construction, as were adjacent streets. Barbara (my name for the navigation system) had hysterics. She kept saying, Take the next right turn and then the second left turn. We went round in circles, three times. Barbara finally fell silent. Talk to me Barbara, I pleaded. Nothing. When the navigation system gives up, you know you're in trouble.
The other reason I'd picked this motel -- the Quality Inn -- was because it had a restaurant. "The best-kept secret in Iowa" they boast on their website. What they don't tell you is that it's closed on Sunday. I was so hungry by now that even Bao's Cesar Canine Cuisine was looking good. Maybe, I thought, with ketchup. Bao was horrified. There are boundaries, after all.
I knew if I went out, I'd never find my way back. And of course, I didn't. Not for hours. And then the air conditioner roared all night and left puddles on the carpet. At least there was a hot, buffet breakfast -- although the presiding Misery Chops looked daggers at me when I went back for a second helping of bacon.
By all means see the Art Center if you're in Des Moines.
Then keep going.
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The road to Wichita took us through Greensburg, home of the largest hand-dug well in the world. You can actually walk down a stairway into it, or rather, you used to be able to walk down a stairway into it, before the tornado hit last month.
I'd seen the photos, of course. You probably saw them too. But I didn't connect the dots (as they say) until I was driving into Greensburg, or what's left of it. Not much is left. And forget about photographs, or even videos. Nothing -- absolutely nothing -- could possibly convey the utter destruction and desolation, the obliteration of an entire town and just about everything in it. Everywhere, rubble. Everything flattened. Torn-up, blackened trees. And the silence. Total devastation. Unexpected, and quite awful.
By the time we reached Wichita, what I really wanted was a nice lunch and a couple of glasses of wine. We drove around looking for a restaurant, but all we could find were buffet places, so I ended up eating the banana I got at the La Quinta and saved for just such an emergency. Then we visited to the Ulrich Museum of Art at Wichita State University.
It's beautifully done. And one of the exhibitions -- Poets on Painting -- really grabbed me. This is one of the most unusual and effective artistic collaborations I've seen, pairing 20 artists with 20 poets and simultaneously evoking both a visual and a literary response. Here's a taste. You're looking at Mequita Ahuja's "Tsunami Generation". It's about animals, wolves and seals and elephants and polar bears. (Bao is the blur at the bottom)
The poem is by Eric Baus:
"One blue word removed from the sky is what is noisy in the sky's return. One may decide to leave out the sun.
The song produced inside a wolf is the sound of leaving its wool behind.
A bank becomes blank, sun smears.
Beeds revolve, flowers end in the month of cow.
Sleep next to a wolf, sleep next to the ground it effaces.
A bear may lift a woman when its fur no longer culls. Some blood shifts mid-breast. Some blood becomes a red dress."
Next stop, Kansas City.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
On to Wichita.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Would you believe a huge, modern art museum filled with top-quality works by dozens of exciting contemporary artists, in Roswell? Would you believe two modern art museums in Roswell?
Bao and I are visiting the Roswell Museum and Art Center, surrounded by sculpture and the kind of innovative and experimental work you'd expect to see (but don't, anymore) at MOMA. This is unbelievable. And there's room after room after room of it. When we're done here we'll continue on to the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art and another seven galleries (comprising 17,000 square feet) of photographs, paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture. All of it top quality.
How can such a small town support two major art museums, neither of which charges admission? asks Bao.
Since 1967, the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program (founded and funded by local businessman and artist Donald Anderson) has been bringing artists from all over the world to Roswell, providing them with a full year of accommodation, studio space and monthly stipends. The Roswell Museum showcases their work, and the artists show their gratitude by either lending pieces or donating them outright. Everybody wins. Roswell gets an Art Museum filled with a collection other cities would kill to acquire, and the artists get a "gift of time" that allows them to work without distraction and break new ground. Pure genius.
Plus they have the Anderson Museum, which is also a venue for civic and charitable events, dinners, meetings and workshops. And a fabulous collection of Donald Anderson's own evocative, haunting landscapes, which fill an entire gallery.
Turns out, there's a lot more to Roswell than UFOs. Bao is impressed. I'm impressed.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
The sand really is white, almost blindingly white. And surprisingly cool to the touch, because the heat reflects off it. This isn't just any white sand. It's gypsum, and rarely found in the form of sand because it's soluble, and usually ends up being washed into the sea. Rain dissolved gypsum from the rocks in the surrounding mountains and carried it down into the Tularosa Valley where it turned into crystals that were worn down to sand by the weather. But no river drains the Tularosa basin, and this 275 square mile area of shifting sands in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert is the largest of its kind in the world.
So where's the ocean? Bao wanted to know.
No ocean, but lots of dunes. And they're constantly on the move, sometimes traveling as much as 30 feet in a year. So you can walk -- or dune surf -- anywhere. There are no signs telling you to keep off the dunes. I mean, what would be the point?
It's a bit tricky for the plants, though. Some of them (notably, the Soaptree Yucca) have adapted by learning how to grow faster than the sand moves, which enables them to keep their heads above water. Or I should say, their stems above sand. The Soaptree Yucca can grow a foot a year, if it has to.
Cottonwood trees can survive almost total burial, so long as a few leaves remain exposed. And then of course the sand dune moves on, and the cottonwood shakes itself off and goes on doing whatever cottonwoods do. Pocket mice and lizards have evolved a white coloration to help them blend in. And if you're lucky, you'll see the occasional oryx, a South African antelope originally introduced onto the White Sands Missile Range, God knows why. The park rangers consider the oryx a threat to native plants and wildlife. I'm sure the oryx consider the missile tests that still occur twice a week on the missile range an even worse threat.
White Sands National Monument was established before White Sands Missile Range, which is just as well. The Missile Range surrounds it, and they close both the road and the park whenever they conduct tests.
Bao liked it. He got to go to the beach without getting wet.
Tomorrow, Roswell. The truth is out there, or so they say.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
On the road again
The sky in New Mexico is fabulous, a constantly changing panorama of cloud and color, endless permutations of blue and white and grey. It's as if God took up watercolors. That's what it's like -- driving through a watercolor someone else is painting.
Las Cruces is bigger than what you'd expect after 200 miles of nothing but desert, rocks, bare hills and cactus. The Mogollon used to live here. Then came the Spanish and in 1848, the Americans. The US Army laid out the city with rawhide rope and stakes and people drew lots for their property.
Billy the Kid was tried and convicted of murder here.
There's a Farmer's and Artisan's Market this morning. We're going. I love markets.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Friday, June 08, 2007
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Friday, June 01, 2007
Oh, the agony of it all.
The little schnauzer bitch four houses down from us has just come into heat. They're keeping her inside, of course. It doesn't matter. Bao knows. He spends his days lying on the rug in front of the door, catching whatever whiff of her wafts past. He is totally at the mercy of his hormones. And he knows it. He looks at me from time to time as if to say, Do something! But what can I do?
Our morning walks have turned into an extended tour of their front garden. Every shrub is inspected, and marked. Every place at which she may have squatted is sniffed with an almost religious reverence. There are long pauses, during which Bao simply stands gazing at their closed front door. He sniffs and stares, pauses and pees. There is nothing and nobody else in the world. Bao is besotted.
You're too old for her, I tell him.
He just looks at me.
It all takes me back to the not-so-good old days when I was 17, and in love with Neil. He was my first love. He didn't know I was alive, but what difference did that make? I used to wait on a particular street corner for hours, waiting for him to drive by on his way to work. I was pathetic. Nothing ever came of it, of course. Nothing will come of this, either.