Thursday, July 21, 2016

Crystal Bridges

To continue my travelogue about friend L's and my trip to Arkansas (which began in this post)...

Given the short duration of our trip, we had a great deal we wanted to pack into a couple of days. The next morning the museum (aka Crystral Bridges Museum of American Art) opened at 10am, and we arrived at 10.15am.
At least one friend had jokingly asked me whether the museum would have greeters as Walmart stores do, and - unsurprisingly - it sure did. The greeter directed us to the admission desk (although there is no admission fee), where we were provided with one brochure that covers the indoor collection, and one that covers the outdoor trails and collection. We asked to make a reservation to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and the earliest time we were offered was 3.15pm -- we looked at one another, shrugged -- yes, after all we traveled hundreds of miles, and then were all set.

Before setting off on our explorations of the collection, we made our way to the basement to use the ladies' room. A space outside the restrooms contained a couch -- and an art film, which we watched, then returned upstairs begin our independent tours. 
Film: "Rainbow Narcosis" (Jonathan Monaghan, 2012)
Walking and each looking at our own pace, we spent a good two hours exploring the permanent collection, which was impressive in its breadth and diversity. In this post and the next, I have included many photos of works which I liked or was somehow touched by or interested in.
"The Ramsay-Polk Family, Maryland" (James Peale Sr., ca. 1793)
The animal on the table is a flying squirrel!
Part of series "Gems of Brazil" by Martin Johnson Heade
"Landscape" (Robert Seldon Duncanson, 1865)
The painting above was very pretty, but did not photograph well, yet I am including it here due to the interesting life story of its artist. As explained by the informative sign next to the work in the museum, "born to Scottish-Canadian father and African-American mother Duncanson established his career in Cincinnati, but left for Canada during the Civil War, searching for a place where racism would not affect his profession as a painter. When Duncanson arrived in Montreal, he was warmly received, and he exhibited his works there to great acclaim." What a shame that talented people are driven from their homelands due to society's narrow mindedness.
"World's Columbian Exposition" (Theodore Robinson, 1864)
One of my favorites! "Under the Willows" (John Singer Sargent, 1887)
"School Rules" (William Holbrook Beard, 1887)
"The Lantern Bearers" (Maxfield Parrish, 1908)
"Raspberries in a Wooded Landscape" (William Mason Brown, ca. 1865-1875)

More to follow!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Basilica of the National Shrine

I interrupt our regularly scheduled programming (the plan *was* to write more about Arkansas) for an outing to the largest Catholic church in the Americas! Believe it or not, this cathedral - called Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - is located right here in Washington, D.C. The church's foundation stone was laid in 1920, but the shrine was dedicated only in 1959. It has been visited by a number of Popes, most recently Pope Francis in 2015. Instead of boring you with more history or details, let's get right to the photos, as Catholics know how to do churches! I've not taken the time to do much (if any) editing of the photos, but you will be able to see why a friend and I spent a good while wandering around the building's many chapels and oratories.
St Frances Xavier Cabrini - Patroness of  Immigrants
Some great disco glamour!
Christopher Columbus

Mass was being celebrated during our visit, which is why I have no photos of the church's main area.
Words above the door: "Be of Good Heart."

Saturday, June 25, 2016

On the Road to...Arkansas!

In my quest to see something in each of the fifty states, a while back I convinced a friend (who happens to be an artist, as well as Latvian) that we needed to visit Bentonville, Arkansas. Fortunately she agreed, and we quickly planned our trip for the beginning of June. Why did I pick the small city of Bentonville as our destination? Because it is home of the less-than-five-year-old art museum Crystal Bridges, which boasts an impressive collection of American art housed in an interesting new building located on beautiful wooded grounds featuring trails and sculptures. The museum was founded by Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton. The Walton Family Foundation has provided a great deal of funding for the museum, which is an independent non-profit organization, while Walmart itself sponsors general public admission -- meaning the museum is free to visit.

My friend L lives in Houston, Texas, and our plans entailed me flying into Dallas while she drove there from Houston. Incredibly fortunately, my flight was on time, my suitcase also arrived, and we were on our way! When I'd left the DC area, the weather had been overcast and gray, but in Dallas I was greeted by blue skies and dense white clouds. There's a saying that everything's bigger in Texas -- and even these clouds looked big!

From the airport we drove north through the eastern side of Oklahoma. The drive lasted approximately 5 1/2 hours, and our way we stopped for a roadside picnic that L had lovingly prepared. 
A well-rounded meal: sandwich, potato salad, mango, tomatoes.
Oklahoma was not the most exciting state to drive through, though the eastern side was not that terrible either (I have heard from people who have driven through the state from West to East or vice versa that such a route is quite dull). The vista was enhanced by a very large man-made body of water called Lake Eufaula, though the terrain was generally quite flat. Thus, arriving into Arkansas was a welcome surprise -- it was hilly and incredibly green.

After checking into our hotel near Bentonville, we drove to the museum with the intention of eating dinner at its restaurant and getting our first glimpse of the collection. Our meal took so long that it was closing time when we were done eating, but we were glad to have visited in the evening, as not only was our dinner memorable, but the museum looked stunning at night.
Photo credit: L.
More posts to follow about our fun trip!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Yale Whiffenpoofs on the Millennium Stage

Washington truly has an abundance of riches when it comes to cultural performances, particularly when one considers that a fair number of these events are free of charge. The best series of free performances happens at the Kennedy Center -- the Millennium Stage offers a daily dose of arts: classical music, dance, contemporary music, etc, are all performed for free every single day at 6pm. Just keep an eye the schedule online, and make time to either go see the performance in person, or watch online!

When I saw that the Yale Whiffenpoofs - the country's oldest and probably best known American collegiate acapella group - were going to be performing, I immediately invited a couple of friends to join me.

It was a wonderful concert -- quite a few of their numbers gave me goosebumps. Of course, as a Latvian, I can really appreciate good choral performances! The entire performance can be seen online via this link. In particular I enjoyed their version of Simon & Garfunkel's "The Boxer" and James Taylor's "Carolina on My Mind."

If you ever happen to have the chance to see the Whiffenpoofs perform, I highly suggest not passing that up, although the entire group changes over every year, as only seniors can be members.

And if you are ever in DC and tire of the museums, definitely check out what's happening on the Millennium Stage -- and show up at least 15 minutes (if not more!) early if you hope to get a seat!

Monday, May 16, 2016

An Artsy Day in Grand Rapids

Although I had visited Grand Rapids at the beginning of April, I made somewhat last minute plans to visit again at the very end of the month. The reasons are many and some are a bit convoluted, but I've never regretted a single trip I've taken! This was a brief trip -- I flew in late Friday night, and left absurdly early on Monday morning.

From my arrival late Friday until Sunday morning, I was grateful to partake in the hospitality of my friend J. We spent much of Saturday exploring Grand Rapids, doing things that are not necessarily kid-friendly, which explains why I was experiencing this fun stuff for the first time, seeing as my typical GR visits are very kid-centric.

First order of business on Saturday was a delicious and fun brunch at the home of our friend S. From there we headed into downtown Grand Rapids, where our first stop was Bang Blow Dry Bar, as we both have thick and relatively difficult-to-care-for hair, so having someone else wash and style it is a wonderful treat. When we left we practically looked ready to participate in a beauty pageant! Our next stop was Grand Rapids' best known coffee shop, Madcap. I was a bit disappointed in my seasonal drink - an iced coffee with various extras added...I should have stuck with a traditional cappuccino. However, J loved her fancy tea.
Looking glamorous while enjoying our caffeinated beverages.
From there we strolled around various shops, my absolute favorite being 6.25 Paper Studio, a beautifully curated stationary and gift shop. I could have easily spent a couple of hundred dollars there, though I managed to keep my expenditure slightly lower than that. 
At 6.25 Paper Studio
I also enjoyed this mural, which was painted for Artprize in 2014.
We also popped into the shop at the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts, which had cool art - both large and small - on sale.
Then we headed home to relax a while before heading back out, this time to the Richard App Gallery, where our friend S was having her 40th birthday party. It's a great location for a party, what with all the colorful art to look at!

The party was good fun, and included a couple of creative touches. Because the party included many different friends, we each had to wear a name tag to help us get to know one another. The name tags were paint samples with wonderful names and one had to choose a moniker which reflected one's mood.
Of course I picked the "refined amber" color, though no amber is this color!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Mmm, European Rye Bread

Living in the Washington area, I'm fortunate in that I can purchase both Storye Latvian rye bread and Black Rooster Latvian-style rye bread locally. Many other folks around the U.S. are not so lucky. Thus I was intrigued when I heard about the Kickstarter campagn to bring European rye bread to a wider audience. The very cool thing is if I you back this campaign with a donation of $20 or more, your reward -- if the project is fully funded -- is bread shipped to your house! I backed the campaign, but it needs quite a few more backers in a very short period of time, as it will expire on Saturday May 14 at 8pm Eastern time. Knowing my readers are fans of quality cuisine, I figured I may as well spread the news.  So, follow this link and contribute. Remember -- with Kickstarter, your credit card will be charged only if the project is fully funded!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Frankenmuth - Michigan's Little Bavaria

When I visit Michigan, most of my time is spent in the southwestern area -- either in Grand Rapids or at our Latvian camp, Garezers. While I've made a few trips to northern Michigan (such as this one), there are many areas of Michigan I have yet to explore. One was the town of Frankenuth, which is known as Michigan's Little Bavaria. Because my sister and I both speak German and we as a family lived in Germany for a year at one point, we have a love of most things German. So, we a short family trip to Frankenmuth was planned. (Our mom did point out that we had both visited it a few years ago -- when we were about 3 and 4 years old!)

Located in the eastern part of the state, about half-way between Flint and Saginaw, Frankenmuth was settled in 1845 by immigrants from southern Germany. We arrived at lunchtime, and immediately headed to the Frankenmuth Brewery to eat. Having been founded in 1862, it happens to be the oldest brewery in the entire state.However, the building in which the brewery is located is relatively new, as the previous building was destroyed by a powerful tornado in June 1996. We all enjoyed our meals (enormous portions!), though the sauerkraut which came with the bratwurst dinner was underwhelming.
The brewery
The bratwurst
After lunch our plan had been to walk along the town's Main Street, but the uncomfortably chilly temperatures and off-and-on precipitation put a damper on our plans, so instead we headed to Bronner's, which bills itself as the world's largest Christmas store. This does not seem to be an understatement. We drove over in two cars, then had difficulties finding one another in the store itself -- even with entrances marked "The Southeast Entrance", etc. As I later learned from the website, the store is the size of one-and-a-half football fields. 
Welcome sign: Latvian is in 2nd column from left, Lithuanian in 2nd from right.
The store's thousands of Christmas tree ornaments are categorized into rather specific categories. Whether you are looking for something sports-related, or maybe a food or beverage-related ornament, you have plenty to choose from here! And to help orient you, store maps are available!
Every nook and cranny of the store is Christmas-themed, whether it's a choir of caroling teddy bears...
or Santa Claus himself...

Today the town of Frankenmuth is home to about 5,000 people and offers wholesome (maybe because the original founders were conservative Lutherans who apparently came to the U.S. to try to convert others) family fun. My sister, brother-in-law, and the kids stayed at Zehnder's Splash Village, which is popular with families as it has a two large indoor water parks. Because we didn't need a water park, my mom and I stayed at the Marv Herzog Hotel, which I can highly recommend. Each room has a balcony - with either a view of the river or of Main Street, plus amenities include parking underneath the hotel (nice bonus on this visit as it did ice overnight), an evening happy hour, and an enormous breakfast buffet in the morning.

After enjoying our wine, cheese, and other snacks during happy hour, mom and I met up with the rest of the family for dinner. Frankenmuth has two large competing restaurants, both supposedly famous for their fried chicken dinner. Confusingly - or helpfully - they are located across the street from another. We chose to eat at the Bavarian Inn
All of the portions were gigantic - whether for the kids' meals, appetizers, or dinners. My broiled chicken was surprisingly moist and flavorful, and my sister and I both particularly enjoyed the cranberry relish side dish, which was a mixture of cranberries and apples. With its German heritage, the restaurant does offer some German dishes as well -- the apple strudel dessert was absolutely delectable.

The next morning I was happy to discover Harvest CoffeeHouse, which certainly has the best caffeinated beverages in town. Soon it was time for me to head to the airport for my flight home, but I certainly would not mind returning to Frankenmuth in warmer weather!