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Nantucket Photos

September 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Eight days have passed since we left Nantucket and the memories are fading, but there are some aspects of our visit that I still hope to write about. Our Nantucket Historical Association house tour, for instance. And our dinner at DeMarco, which after 33 years is apparently closing. We got back just in time. For now, I’ll put up some of the photos I took with my iPhone.

The photos aren’t great. I’ve brought our digital SLR on past visits. It does a better job, to say the least. But there’s some funny business going on with its willingness to work with the memory card — intermittent claims that the card isn’t formatted. I didn’t want to lug it around only to find that it couldn’t take photos. Just before we left on the trip, I looked into a replacement. Too many choices. I decided to be content with the phone. And anyway, we’ll soon have iPhone 5s. Their cameras will be much better. For one thing, they’ll work better in low light. As you can see, the photos I’m posting here tend toward darkness.

Let’s review some geography first. Have a look at the map below. You see the island, with the entrance to the harbor in the center to the north and the town on the harbor’s west side. The harbor runs way east, separated from the Atlantic at its eastern edge by a thin sliver of land. We stay in Wauwinet, at the southern end of that sliver, where 250 yards of sand and dune separate harbor from ocean. There are about two dozen houses to the north of our inn, then a small gap, then one last house, beyond which the land is held in trust and not developable, running miles northward to Great Point and its lighthouse.

At the top of the photo is a photo I took at sunset two weeks ago from outside our inn, looking westward across the harbor. A couple of mornings later, just past low tide, I took a walk along the stretch of ocean beach that is near our inn. The photo below was taken looking northward, with that last house I mentioned visible in the distance. After that, it’s just beach and dunes for miles.

I also tried to get a shot that showed ocean, harbor, and dunes together. With a better camera, you would be able to distinguish them more clearly. But this is what I got. You see the ocean on the right, the dunes and some of those last two dozen houses in the middle. Take a closer look and you may see the water of the harbor to the left center, above the houses, with the land that separates harbor and ocean curving northwestwards, from right to left as you go up the photo.

On our first visit to town, we headed to the Nantucket Historical Association’s Whaling Museum to renew our membership and get information on their walking tours. The museum’s rooftop observation deck offers one of the best vantages of town and harbor, as illustrated below. The museum is just down the street from the landing for the Steamship Authority‘s car ferry to Hyannis. That’s why you see lots of trucks to the lower left. You also see some of the Nantucket Yacht Club‘s tennis courts, which abut both the ferry and the museum.

On our last trip into town, we took a short walk down Orange Street. The commercial strip of stores and restaurants that runs from Straight Wharf on the harbor westward and uphill along Main Street comes to an end at Orange. Main Street continues west, but as a residential street, with some of the town’s most historic homes lining both sides. The last two stores are among Nantucket’s classic institutions: Mitchell’s Book Corner on the southeast corner of Main and Orange; Murray’s Toggery Shop to the southwest. We headed south on Orange to see the Second Congregational Meeting House, dating from 1809 and now the home of the Unitarian Church. (It also serves as home for some of the activities of Congregation Shirat Ha Yam. We had the pleasure of attending Rosh Hoshana services there two years ago.)

Just a little farther down the street is the Levi Starbuck house, built in 1838. The Starbucks, as you may know, are a famous Nantucket family, though the most famous of all is fictional, the chief mate of the Pequod in Moby-Dick.

That’s it for now. I hope to be back with news of our historical walking tour.

Categories: Travel

Paintings of the Ramayana

September 16, 2012 1 comment

Rama bends his bow, circa 1700, Kulu, from The San Diego Museum of Art

We went to the Seattle Asian Art Museum on Wednesday evening for the opening celebration of a new exhibition, Many Arrows from Rama’s Bow: Paintings of the Ramayana. The exhibition is a joint venture of the Seattle Art Museum and The San Diego Museum of Art, whose curator of Asian art, Sonya Quintanilla, provides the following description:

One of the world’s most captivating stories, the Ramayana, has inspired artists in India for more than 1500 years. The moral and epic struggles of kings, warriors, wives and brothers effortlessly traverse the worlds of humans, animals, gods and demons. In a special collaboration with the San Diego Museum of Art, the Seattle Art Museum will present an exhibition of art depicting scenes and heroes of the Ramayana.

Visitors will follow the unfolding of the dramatic narrative, become familiar with its protagonists and learn the underlying philosophical and devotional meanings of the Ramayana in this presentation of nearly 40 paintings of stunning quality—many of which have never been shown before. Representative works from a variety of regions, social classes and time periods reveal how artists depicted the same story in marvelously diverse means of visual expression, thereby testifying to the Ramayana’s timeless appeal.

Many of the paintings are from the San Diego museum. A few were lent by Seattle-area collectors Elvira and Gursharan Sidhu. Wednesday’s opening celebration included a program in the auditorium featuring Gursharan, who explained how the exhibition came to be. It seems that for many years he has nurtured the idea of an exhibition built around the Ramayana. On comparing notes with someone in San Diego — I have forgotten the details — he realized they had enough pieces between them for a viable show, and that was that.

Also speaking in the program was Sarah Loudon of the Seattle Art Museum, the show’s curator. She talked about both the Ramayana show and another exhibition that is running simultaneously, Women’s Paintings from the Land of Sita, for which she is guest curator. At the website for the second exhibition, she provides this description:

An artistic transformation took place among women living in a cluster of villages in Bihar, northeastern India, once high-quality paper became available to them in the 1960s. In the Mithila region—the region that was home to Sita, heroine of the Ramayana—women maintained a long tradition of painting the walls and floors of their households with auspicious diagrams and deities. As women began adapting traditional imagery and painting new subjects on paper, the work in their distinctive regional style was seen outside their immediate environment for the first time.

This exhibition of 30 paintings from a private collection includes works by 9 exceptional women artists from these villages. Their work became known in India’s cities within a couple of years, and connections to the international art world followed in the 1970s and 1980s. Their innovations and individual styles are introduced in the first grouping of art within the exhibition. Two groundbreaking series of narrative paintings are also featured: one depicting episodes from the artist Lalita Devi’s own life, and another series is by Baua Devi, based on a local legend of snake spirits (nagas). The progress of the artists’ work from this distinctive area—or “Land of Sita”—reflects some of the changes taking place in their lives and of many women elsewhere.

Here is the piece featured at the museum website, from the Sidhu collection:

Family gathering of nagas, 1975–1985, Baua Devi (Indian, born late 1940s)

Regarding the Sidhus, I found an interesting short piece in Apollo Magazine from six years ago about how they came to be collectors. Gursharan pinpoints when it all changed.

The key moment was the purchase of their fifth painting: “This is where the craziness starts. It was at the dealer Doris Wiener in New York. She had a fantastic Basholi. Its cost was equal to my annual salary. Elvira and I talked and decided we could live on her salary. So we bought the painting.”

At the end of the program, we all went back upstairs, where we were free to view the two exhibitions and to partake of food and wine. Taste, the restaurant in the Seattle Art Museum, catered an excellent Indian buffet dinner: rice, chicken on skewers, an eggplant dish, a cheese dish, a chickpea dish, bread, and baklava.

We had been back from our east coast trip less than 48 hours, had not eaten dinner yet, and it was nearing 7:30 PM Seattle time, so we were well past normal dinner time and decided to start with the food. Next was a viewing of the women’s paintings. By the time we got to the Ramayana show, we were beat. We circumnavigated the one large room that houses all the Ramayana paintings, stopping at several pieces for closer examination, but ultimately decided we should return another time for a more thorough viewing when we had more energy.

As we exited, we were treated to one of the great views Seattle has to offer, from the high point of Volunteer Park westward toward the Space Needle, the Sound, and the Olympic Mountains beyond. Dusk was drawing to a close, the western horizon washed in pink.

Categories: Art

Afternoon at The Cloisters

September 15, 2012 Leave a comment

Two weeks ago today, we were in New York visiting assorted family members. Around 1:00 PM, we found ourselves in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side, with a few free hours. As I mentioned in this post, I voted to go down to the High Line, but Gail and Joel voted to head up to The Cloisters, so that’s what we did. And as I also observed, this turned out to be a wise choice, given the hot sun, the 90+ degree temperatures, and the high humidity. We would have wilted on the High Line, whereas we thrived at The Cloisters.

With the passage of time, I don’t have a whole lot to say anymore about the visit, but I do have some photos. Maybe I’ll mention our drive. We started at the Cloisters’ home base, the Metropolitan Museum, where our car happened to be. Up Madison we went, from 79th to 125th, turning left to cross the heart of Harlem. I had my doubts about this on a Saturday afternoon, with shoppers and traffic. Its lone advantage was that it was the simplest, most direct route, over to the west side and the Henry Hudson parkway, then up past the GW Bridge to Fort Tryon Park and The Cloisters. But that drive across 125th was exhausting. Double parked cars in the right lane. Left turners in the left lane. Buses swinging in and out. An empty bus on its way home blocking my view ahead much of the time.

Arriving at the park, we made a loop around The Cloisters, took in views across the Hudson to New Jersey, then parked on the south side and climbed up the hill to the entrance. Perhaps I should give some background. Let’s see what we can learn from the Cloisters’ website. There’s this:

The Cloisters museum and gardens, the branch of The Metropolitan Museum of Art devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe, was assembled from architectural elements, both domestic and religious, that date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century.

The building and its cloistered gardens—located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan—are treasures in themselves, effectively part of the collection housed there. The Cloisters’ collection comprises approximately three thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from about the ninth to the sixteenth century.

And from the history link, there’s more. I’ll quote the first few paragraphs, and leave the rest for you to find at the webpage, which also has the photo I’ve put at the top of the post.

The Cloisters museum and gardens, which opened to the public in 1938, is the branch of the Museum devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan, The Cloisters was assembled from architectural elements that date from the twelfth through the fifteenth century.

Located in a spectacular four-acre setting overlooking the Hudson River, the building incorporates elements from five medieval cloisters—Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville—and from other monastic sites located in southern France. Three of the cloisters reconstructed at the branch museum feature gardens planted according to horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals. Approximately three thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from the ninth to the sixteenth century and including exquisite illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, and tapestries, are exhibited in this unique context.

The modern museum building is not a copy of any specific medieval structure but an ensemble of spaces, rooms, and gardens that suggest a variety of artistic aspects of medieval Europe.

Much of the sculpture at The Cloisters was acquired by George Grey Barnard (1863–1938), a prominent American sculptor and an avid collector of medieval art. Barnard opened his original cloisters on Fort Washington Avenue to the public in 1914; through the generosity of philanthropist and collector John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874–1960), the Museum acquired the cloisters and all of their contents in 1925. By 1927, it was clear that a new, larger building would be needed to display the collection in a more scholarly fashion. In addition to financing the conversion of 66.5 acres of land just north of Barnard’s museum into a public park, which would house the new museum, Rockefeller donated 700 additional acres across the Hudson River to the state of New Jersey to ensure that no developments on the property would spoil the view from The Cloisters. In addition to providing the grounds and building to house the Barnard collection, Rockefeller contributed works of art from his own collection—including the celebrated Unicorn Tapestries—and established an endowment for operations and future acquisitions.

Wow! I didn’t know the part about Rockefeller Jr. giving New Jersey 700 acres so that the view wouldn’t be spoiled. I was indeed impressed with how beautiful it was, with just woods across the way. (I included my shot of the view in the earlier post. Here it is again.)

I forgot to mention as background for our little family vote that Joel had never been to the Cloisters. It had been decades since I was there, and years since Gail was. It’s a long way up from midtown if you don’t have a car, and not always the most pleasant drive if you do. But aside from our slow crawl across 125th, our drive was easy, and in any case, it’s worth it whatever the route.

Rather than writing in any detail about our visit, I’ll just put up some of the photos I took with my iPhone. Not high quality, but representative of The Cloisters’ glories.

Here’s a photo of one of the actual cloisters, with its beautiful plantings and some strangers passing through.

Here is a detail from a 15th century German oak sculpture of the death of the virgin, the central scene of an altarpiece from the workshop of Tilman van der Bruch.

I suppose the unicorn tapestries need no introduction, though if you want one, see here for lots of information. Below is a detail of the most famous of the tapestries, the unicorn in captivity.

And here is a detail from the unicorn at bay.

I’ll close with this wall painting of a camel from a Spanish monastery in the first half of the twelfth century.

Okay, one more:

These are scenes from the life of St. Augustine, from a Flemish painting, circa 1490, the central panel of a triptych. The left panel is lost; the right is in Ireland’s national museum.

The art alone is worth the detour. The magical setting is a bonus. So too, on a hot summer day, are the cool building and lovely outdoor spaces with plantings and views. Gail and Joel, thanks for outvoting me.

Categories: Art, Travel

A Wanted Man

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment

In my last post, two nights ago, I wrote about the challenge of deciding whether to continue reading the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography, The Passage of Power, which I was three-fourths of the way through, or to put it aside temporarily in favor of Lee Child’s 17th Jack Reacher thriller, A Wanted Man, which had just come out that day.

My fear with every Reacher thriller is that once I start it, I won’t stop, so that not just whatever else I’m reading, but my life as a whole, will get put on hold. It seems I am powerless to resist. So it was that I read the first 100 pages of A Wanted Man two nights ago. Gail came home at one point with news she thought was worthy of my attention, but failed to capture it.

I awoke before 6:00 AM yesterday and read another 180 pages. Just 125 pages to go. The power of Child’s books is mystifying. He grabs you in the first paragraph and doesn’t let go. But this was putting me in dangerous territory.

Was I prepared to stay home until I finished the book? I do have a job. I had to get to my office. I found the will to tear myself away and headed off.

Once free of the book’s spell, I was able to function normally. We had a museum opening at the Seattle Asian Art Museum to attend last night. When I got home from my office, rather than picking up the book, I picked Gail up and we headed back out. By the time I did open the book again, later in the evening, I couldn’t get through a dozen pages before falling asleep.

And then a funny thing happened. The spell was broken. When I picked the book up again this morning, I was less deeply engaged. Was it because of the break, or did I just happen to take my break at the very point in the book where it stops making sense? I don’t know. I do know that I found the first two-thirds unbearably gripping, only to bring to the rest of the book a mild curiosity and the sense that Child had taken a weak path in his plot development.

All the Reacher books, ultimately, are implausible in that they start with him stumbling on some local bad guy or crime, only to discover that he has become enmeshed in an international conspiracy with the fate of the world resting on his shoulders. How he thinks through the situations and sizes up the people is the best part of the books. That and the inevitable climax in which he uses his unique combination of brains and brawn to take down a couple of dozen bad guys before fading into the sunset. Over the last third of A Wanted Man, however, he wasn’t called on to apply his acuity so much. I think that’s what I missed.

Nonetheless, Reacher is an original, and I was happy to catch up with his latest doings. I will no doubt devour the next installment the moment it appears.

Categories: Books

LBJ vs. Reacher

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

What to do? What to do?

I knew this collision was coming, and here it is. No sooner do I start reading the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s Lyndon Johnson biography, The Passage of Power (as described here) than Lee Child’s 17th Jack Reacher thriller, A Wanted Man, comes out. Two great authors, perhaps the greatest writers of biography and thriller of our time. And two characters of awesome will.

I have been making good progress through The Passage of Power. When we got off the plane in Seattle last night, I was three-fourths of the way through, having finished Caro’s riveting account of the week that began on November 21, 1963, in San Antonio. So many extraordinary moments. Caro’s depiction of LBJ’s instant transformation from powerless and humiliated vice-president to a president with utter calm and clarity about the steps that must be taken on domestic and foreign fronts is a mini-thriller in its own right.

Yet, Child is the master of the thriller. His books are irresistible. I know that if I allow myself to read even one page of A Wanted Man, I won’t stop. And I do know how the LBJ story turns out. For the most part. But I have no idea what’s next for Reacher.

I’m being pulled. Perhaps I should give in.

Categories: Books

Company of the Cauldron

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Two days ago, as we were about to depart from Nantucket, I wrote about our dinner last Friday at Ventuno. The next night we ate at Company of the Cauldron, which is just around the corner. It is equally deserving of a post.

I explained last year that despite walking past regularly on previous visits, I was never curious to try it. Something about the darkened room, the odd name, the people crowded together in the small space enjoying themselves too much. And the nightly fixed menu, everyone arriving at the same time and eating the same meal, one I feared might not suit my taste.

Truth is, the fixed menu issue isn’t a big deal. They post the menu for the coming week each Friday, online and onsite. No surprises. Gail insisted last year that we try it, and when we did I wrote, “Why oh why did we wait so long to eat there?” We didn’t wait so long again. I grabbed a printed copy of the menu as we were walking by last week and we decided to spend our last evening of this year’s stay there.

This time, I was facing into the room rather than the wall, allowing me to get a much better sense of just how beautifully furnished that dark room is. Fortunately, I don’t have to work too hard to capture it in words. I can turn to Malcolm Wilson, restaurant reviewer for Cape Cod Times, who is quoted at the restaurant website.

This little Nantucket restaurant has charm written all over it — from its dark red, ivy-framed, single-story front, pierced by small-paned windows, to its darkly handsome, romantic-as-a-novel interior.

The inside’s post-and-beam and rough plaster construction seems more like a stage set than interior design. And careful decoration gives Company of the Cauldron one of the prettiest dining rooms around.

Copper pans hang on the walls, along with a full-rigged half model ship. Pie-plate sconces are set with flickering candles, and, overhead, there are pierced antique tin lanterns and large, gracefully curved chandeliers for soft lighting.

Antique ship paintings on the walls and boat models hanging from the ceilings seem secure in their antiquity. Tables are covered with flowered cloths, and there are real candles in brass holders and tea roses in vases.

In addition to the candle sconces and the hanging fixtures, each table has its own candle, providing enchanting, more than sufficient lighting of food and companions. As for the name, the website provides the explanation:

Lorenzo The Magnificent, born April 8, 1449, died April 9, 1492 was one of the leaders of the Republic of Florence, and went on to become the most important Medici of the Italian Renaissance. While better known for his political achievements, his interests included gastronomy. Waverley Root tells us that the first cooking academy since Roman times was established in Florence. It was called the Company of the Cauldron; each member had to create a new dish for every meeting. Lorenzo supposedly composed songs honoring the chefs and olive oil makers.

Here is the menu for the dinner we had:

Jumbo lump crab cake with a chard corn salad, basil and tomatoes.

Twin tournedos of tenderloin with two sauces: green peppercorn au poivre and red onion demi over citrus thyme, fingerling potatoes.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with cassis and passion fruit curd and shortbread crumble.

Especially noteworthy is the high quality of all ingredients. The corn salad was stunning. I could have made a meal of it alone. Every little morsel was special. Likewise, the beef was as fine as any I can remember having in a long time. As for the panna cotta, there must have been a last-minute change. We had lemon curd, with some other fruit flavor, some berry. I can’t remember. No matter. I couldn’t have been happier. I just wish we didn’t have to wait so long for our next visit.

Categories: Restaurants, Travel

Polite Pinkerton Agents of Education Reform

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

Pinkerton agents escorting strikebreakers, Buchtel, Ohio, 1884

It has become popular to blame teachers and their unions for the failures of our urban public schools, and to propose solutions that amount to privatizing the schools. The horrors of socialism; the wonders of capitalism. There’s no problem too big for the market to solve. Health care. Social security. Education. Just let the invisible hand of the free market do its magic.

As a counterpoint, we can turn to the series of articles Diane Ravitch has been writing for The New York Review of Books recently. I quoted from one in a post last May. Here’s a passage from another.

The current reform movement in education has embraced Teach for America and privately managed charter schools as remedies for the nation’s schools. But this combination is unlikely to succeed because one alienates career educators and the other destabilizes our public education system. It is hard to imagine improving the schools without the support and trust of the people who work in them every day.

[snip]

The problems of American education are not unsolvable, but the remedies must be rooted in reality. Schools are crucial institutions in our society and teachers can make a huge difference in changing children’s lives, but schools and teachers alone cannot cure the ills of an unequal and stratified society. Every testing program—whether the SAT, the ACT, or state and national tests—demonstrates that low scores are strongly correlated to poverty. On the SAT, for example, students from the most affluent families have the highest scores, and children from the poorest families have the lowest scores. Children need better schools, and they also need health clinics, high-quality early childhood education, arts programs, after-school activities, safe neighborhoods, and basic economic security. To the extent that we reduce poverty, we will improve student achievement.

A few weeks ago, I spent most of a day at a small conference of science teachers and science educators from around the state. When I speak of science teachers, I don’t mean just secondary science teachers. Elementary teachers, after all, teach science, and may be the most important teachers of science, since they have the responsibility of introducing our youngest students to the subject as an exciting way to think, do, discover.

By the end of the day, I was in awe of these teachers’ commitment, creativity, and energy in the face of the daily difficulties imposed by an underfunded system. Several were elementary teachers here in Seattle. One was told she couldn’t use water this summer on the school garden she had set up. Another — who had no experience teaching science when he was hired a couple of decades ago as the ESL instructor at a high school in a small community in the eastern part of the state — learned on arrival that he was to teach his non-English-speaking students science as well as English and other subjects. (And, of course, it was suggested to him that these would be low-performing students.) With help from professional science educators here at the university, he was soon teaching such a successful course that the native-English-speaking students wanted to get in.

I know. Anecdotes aren’t worth much. We need test scores and all that. I simply want to point out that I’ve encountered many wonderful teachers who deserve all the support we can give them, plus our respect.

Which brings me to Rebecca Mead’s commentary at The New Yorker blog today on the Chicago school teachers’ strike, from which I’ve stolen the title of this post. Perhaps I should explain that the Pinkerton agency got its start in the 1850s. By the end of the century, its agents had become synonymous with union-busting. I close with an excerpt:

Not long ago, I ran into someone I’d not seen for a while, who moves in moneyed circles in New York. We started chatting about the usual things—kids, schools—and she told me she’d been consumed lately with political work, raising money for candidates nationwide who were committed to breaking teachers’ unions. She said this with the same kind of social enthusiasm with which she might have recommended a new Zumba class, or passed on the name of a place to get really great birthday cakes.

[snip]

One problem with Chicago’s schools—like schools in urban centers all over this country—is that their constituents, the students, suffer from the usual hindrances of poverty: having no place at home to study; having no support at home for studying; sometimes having no home at all. Another problem is that talk of breaking teachers’ unions has become common parlance among the kind of people whose kids do not live below the poverty line, polite Pinkerton agents of education reform, circling at cocktail parties. No doubt there are some lousy teachers in Chicago, as there are everywhere. But blaming teachers for the failure of schools is like blaming doctors for the diseases they are seeking to treat.

Categories: Education, Labor, Language