Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Garden notes

                                                                                                                                         Photo by 123RF

I got back from Manhattan and got plugged into garden life here.....  The plants grow a foot in a week and I have been busy cutting back in the early morning before the sun gets strong.  The mornings are magical around here and I linger over my coffee on the terrace before I do a thing.

  I pruned two of my three bay trees ( sauces lauriers) as I don't want the trees to get out of control in height and girth.  Once that happens I will have to call in a proper tree trimmer with an electric saw.  I can keep my twenty trees in proportion for my small patch of ground just with a hand held cutter and a ladder.   But truth be told, I have already lost the game with my two cherry trees, the self seeded "fausse poivre"  (pepper tree) and the ornamental plum.

   We always get the tree guy, Pierre Mattera, to come out for the two olive trees on the cliff.  I am not going to risk life and my "limbs" without a harness and the proper tools and neither will I let Monsieur, mon mari.

 The coal tits ( mensonges)  fledged last week while we were watching the nesting box.  It all happens in a very few minutes, so it would have been easy to miss it.   There seemed to be 5 tiny ones although their clutches are usually a lot bigger than that.  They seem expert flyers from the moment they pop  of the nest...such an amazing chance to "mess up" in their world or you'll be cat or hawk lunch.  

Speaking of cats, there are at least 4 who come through our property on a regular basis.  Monsieur with his innocent animal names has called one Earl after Earl Grey for obvious reasons.  We ended up calling the little orange one Mozzi after a Maltese lawyer that K has met.  Its just easier to say and seems to have "taken".

                                                                                                                          Mozzi and Earl Grey

 Then there is "Meercat" a Siamese who has crossed eyes and a narrow wedge-shaped face.  Of course, there is Maddie, the matriarch, Maincoon from next door who puts the fear into Mozzi even though she is much older , crippled and deaf.


 Maddie has real authority and if you were to hear her loud exclamations, you too would stand up and take notice.    Most mornings, Mozzi and Grey have wrestling matches in the yard.   But in the hot sun all the cats disappear and are probably lying in a cool spot under a bush somewhere.

Last week also was the tiny drama of the blackbird who wouldn't stay hidden in the weeds in the field across from us.  Monsieur rescued him and returned him to the care of the parent birds 4 times last week when he wandered out into a street full of cats.

 The parents put up quite a racket when danger is near so its easy to know what is going on. ... but yesterday the Magpies got a hold of the baby..... evil creatures those.    They torment the babies for no reason that I can see, pecking out their eyes, dropping them in the street and then eating at their heads.

 If there is a distasteful bird, its this one...  and yes, I will anthropomorphize all I want, if you please.   Black and white menaces they are to all.... loud and aggressive.    All the other birds do their best to chase the Magpies but they are top of the  pecking order around here....  as huge as crows, very intelligent and wily.  Only the collared doves really have any ability to agitate them a little.  

Today we have a serenade from a cicada, the first time in our lower garden since staying here in Nice.   It is a loud insistent sound with amplification beyond imagining.

This one is just outside in the red leafed, ornamental, plum tree.   Poor chap has so little time to find a mate that he is sawing away with a fervor that I hope lands him a real babe...whatever that means in their world.

 Cicadas have such a "raw deal" otherwise....some species staying in the ground for 17 YEARS before they have a chance to emerge into their short life of mating.    I believe the species in FRance is grubbing around underground from 2-5 years.  There are plenty of "cigales" around the Riviera and so they have become a folkloric symbol for the Mediterranean area.  You see their replicas in every souvenir shop and their images on tablecloths or as a fabric design for various household items.

Yes, we are in the midst of our hottest season down here.  Tourists are piling into town and the beaches are littered with baking bodies and colorful parasols.  Bear breasts and bronzed buttocks are de rigeur.

I have not done the beach yet.     I am lying low.... trying to do my errands in the morning before I lose my nerve to go out there.  And after a lazy lunch,  its the time of year where the locals embrace the idea which I am endorsing wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Metropolitan and me

I was in the Metropolitan Museum of ARt two days in a row while in NYC last week.  My brother Dave and I went on Tuesday and then my friend Karen and I went to see a separate exhibition of clothes and fashion the following morning.   I am so grateful that the Met has a policy that you pay as you wish.  Otherwise one would try to take in too much at a time and get museum burn- out.

  I really love the ambiance of this great old institution, the MET.  Did you ever take a gander at the towering displays of real flowers in the lobby .  They are exquisitely done and take a discreet back- seat to the hustle around them.   I have always loved a run through the book store as well to look for monographs of artists (though I have never actually bought any).  It's just nice to know that the book is there in case your house is feeling large enough to accept one more art book.  Not.
 (Did I just use that stupid usage?) Sorry.  It crept up on me.

The MET is also acoustically favorable to many other spaces.  There are indeed the herds of school children  tromping through it.   But depending on the teacher and her disciplinary skills controlling todays over-sugared little beasts, the school groups are more or less respectful of the place.  I do maintain though that we would all be better served if the museum let school tours in one morning a week or limit the number of class groups that are being admitted at one time.  I like kids, but I was also a teacher and you need to put some consequences for bad behavior in front of any child or you can't expect your wishes to come true.  In some cases, its the teachers who don't know what respectful behavior is.

Nevertheless, the space accommodates so many people and there are so many areas to be seen that Dave and I often found a hush- hush space like the wonderful engravings by Albrecht Durer and those of his period, that were being featured.

We covered all of the paintings on Tuesday from Impressionism to Modernism and again I was more impressed with the Met contemporary art selection than I was that of MOMa.    Here are a few favorites that I camera grabbed.

I have a great fondness for Bonnard and I had never come across this one.

 But this Bonnard is really amusingly wonderful and in the same  league with his famous spindly cat.  There is so much character in the children. ...unformed lumps that they are.   Bonnard as I have said before,  so beautifully marries cool and warm colors. Can you say which is predominant?  I would say warm colors .  But look at all of the cool blue in it.

 I spent the morning spraying my cypresses  as they are "malade" from a common summer fungus.  Now the two tall ones  looks just like this with all of its arms askew.  Van Gogh could just get inside his subject and take it to a higher level.   He helps us to really see a thing.

  I am pretty sure this is a Kandinsky and it has some effective illegible qualities.  You can look at it forever and find new stuff to contemplate or interpret.

Do you know who painted this one?  It just popped out at me so I snapped it.   It is by the Russian born Sonia Delaunay who was married to Robert Delaunay, another artist.   She did this in 1959.    I think that both husband and wife worked with geometric forms and colors...... its like painting a jig -saw puzzle with the possibility of  endless permutations.  If you like working with color, as I do, that idea appeals.

I don't think you will guess who did this one.........until you see the painting that follows.

  Yes, they had several Georgia O'Keeffe's on display but none of my favorites.  However this one is very powerful.

 I know this painting from a postcard that someone sent me, that I have had for years .  I never knew who painted it until now.  It is by the American artist, Charles Demuth 1883-1935 and it is called" I saw the figure 5 in Gold.    Oil on composition board. 1928.

Arguably two of the best Hopper's were on display at the Met the day we were there.   I never realized that Hopper effectively divided this painting in thirds by letting that lighthouse go off the page.   These little things determine "just good" or "remarkable"  to my mind.

 This painting by Edward Hopper looks even more stunning framed.   The frame somehow gives it another geometric dimension, doesn't it?  And look at the nuance of the building color...all those whites, yellows and greys.  Glorious.

This large hanging really enticed me. " It takes a village" and the Ghanaian artist El Anatsui ,  born in 1944, considered today Africa's foremost sculptor to conceive and execute the design.
  He calls it Dusasa II  2007, which means
"communal patchwork made by a team of townspeople".  I may have seen Dusasa I at the Seattle Art Museum as they have a smaller but similar hanging there.    (Maia and Martha, Joanne please report next time you are at SAM.)

AS you can see in the "close -up" it is made from thousands of liquor bottle tops,  and aluminum caps, seals, and copper wire.  Anatsui's work is anchored in the traditional Kente cloth of Ghana, Western art (mosaic, tapestry, chain mail armor ) and contemporary life ( alcohol consumption and consumerism) .   I find his composition and draping to have such flair.

 This is Robert Motherwell at his finest.    I love his large graphic gestures and as I didn't find any of his in the MOma, I was happy to have this familiar one before me.

Equally as pleasing to me is Franz Kline and these two pieces on the left were representative of his stark spontaneous, intense style.

Do any of you love the scribble scrabble of Cy Twombly?   This is a detail of a larger canvas. The first time I saw Twombly's work many, many, years ago I was outraged that this was considered art.

 But now I feel it a playful, intimate style and not easily copied either.... if you don't have his brain.  It looks easy and fun but just try it without getting self conscious.    You are either naive or you are not.

Time for Lunch.......
Huzzah.., this is one museum that I can come back to time and time again and still be pleased by the endless treasure on display, the cafeteria , the layout, and the organization.   Chapeaux to the MET.  See you tomorrow.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Museum of Modern Art , NYC

I have to say Dave and I were disappointed in our Monday visit to the MOMA, the world renown modern art museum now housed in a building designed by Yoshio Taniguchi.

The new building has acoustical problems.  Especially if there are a zillion school children waiting in the main lobby and then moving in herds up the staircases and escalators.   Another gripe was that there was too much "dark" themed art or conceptual art pieces being shown. The collection that I know they own didn't seem as balanced as it might have been this time.

   As you all know political,  provocative, grisly subjects are  "a la mode" these days .  Conceptual art being art in which the idea is more important than the execution of the objects to represent it:   from the Wiki:

Conceptual art is art in which the concepts(s) or ideas(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic and material concerns. Many of the works, sometimes called installations, of the artist Sol LeWitt may be constructed by anyone simply by following a set of written instructions. This method was fundamental to LeWitt's definition of Conceptual art, one of the first to appear in print:
In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.
  Myself I can only appreciate conceptual art if the artist    a) lets us in on the joke and
b) does an impressive job with the objects that are shown to illustrate the concept.

 After all , once we know the punchline all we have left to appreciate are the objects in place.

 The main show while we visited the MOMA was on the fifth floor.  It was Cindy Sherman who is  a conceptual artist of sorts.   Her idea is to show herself in all different guises that represent present or past society.  This means that she dresses up as various kinds of people (men and women) or historical or contemporary personages or paintings and then photographs herself in the full make-up and costume of that person.

      Cindy Sherman photos
The museum says it like this:
Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential artists in contemporary art. Throughout her career, she has presented a sustained, eloquent, and provocative exploration of the construction of contemporary identity and the nature of representation, drawn from the unlimited supply of images from movies, TV, magazines, the Internet, and art history. Working as her own model for more than 30 years, Sherman has captured herself in a range of guises and personas which are at turns amusing and disturbing, distasteful and affecting. To create her photographs, she assumes multiple roles of photographer, model, makeup artist, hairdresser, stylist, and wardrobe mistress. With an arsenal of wigs, costumes, makeup, prosthetics, and props, Sherman has deftly altered her physique and surroundings to create a myriad of intriguing tableaus and characters, from screen siren to clown to aging socialite.

                                                                   Cindy Sherman
I admire her work to a point.  I could really appreciate 3 or 4 pieces of her retrospective and admire some of the others.   These few struck a real mood or were more ambiguous and mysterious than the other photographs which are easily digested.   The problem for me is that those 30 years of photographs give me diminishing returns.  Is it really an idea worth pursuing for all those years?

 Well, only you and she can answer that...  maybe if Dave and I could sit down for a while we could go back to it with a fresh eye.

 Unfortunately for those who are saturated, there are very few seats available in the new MOMA.   We found an uninspired cafe which had a line in front and an expensive restaurant that appeared to be "complet" as well.    So much for a leisurely morning in a world class museum.  

Not surprisingly most of the crowds were on the fourth floor entitled "painting and sculpture".

  On this floor we were soon to find out that this is where all of the docents were ..... surrounded as they were each with 30 people in front of a painting giving their spiel.

And it was also where all the school kids had ended up. The museum lets in a "ton" of people , it is an immense space but always feels too crowded .   If painting and sculpture are still so popular why don't the powers of the museum devote a bit more space to it?

Here are a few snaps I managed to capture by maneuvering in front of tour groups.

Helen Frankenthayer paints directly on a bare canvas.  I have always admired the muted colors that come from her choice and process.  I really like this one.

 detail of a Jackson Pollack.   They had fewer Pollacks on show than the Metropolitan Museum.

 Close up of a detail of the same painting..

 A Picasso I never remember seeing.   It's a nice one, non?

This is the fur covered cup and spoon by Meret Oppenheim called Le Dejeuner en Fourrure, 1936.   I like this kind of "conceptual" art because it is also well executed.

I was attracted to this Modigliani as I sold a copy this painting  in Italy years ago when I started to paint.

Quite a few attractive paintings by Matisse were being exhibited.

And arguably this is the pivotal painting in the whole museum and maybe the whole town.     As the museum elucidates:

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973)

The result of months of preparation and revision, this painting revolutionized the art world when first seen in Picasso's studio. Its monumental size underscored the shocking incoherence resulting from the outright sabotage of conventional representation. Picasso drew on sources as diverse as Iberian sculpture, African tribal masks, and El Greco's painting to make this startling composition. In his preparatory studies, the figure at left was a medical student entering a brothel. Picasso, wanting no anecdotal detail to interfere with the sheer impact of the work, decided to eliminate it in the final painting. The only remaining allusion to the brothel lies in the title: Avignon was a street in Barcelona famed for its brothel.

I snapped this Van Gogh because it also has memories for me.  When I lived in Italy,  I made a copy of it and sold the copy for 1000 dollars framed.  Hmmm. Maybe I should go back to doing copies.  
I loved seeing the painting.  I'm just not fond of seeing it depicted on mugs and t-shirts. 

Dave and I were charmed by this Gauguin that we had never seen before

Another wonderful Gauguin

I am beginning to love "a Rousseau" more each time I see one.

 THE Artist has a wonderful naive quality that works so well.  Look at the angled arm so unlikely in a sleeping person ...but Rousseau I am sure was convinced that he had the natural pose.  Likewise the feet that look as if the person were standing.     And how wonderful is the lion's tail in the moonlight and the way the moon illuminates the lion's back and legs.    It is a successful painting because of all its unexpectedness, its simplicity and spareness.  And the colors are soothing and perfectly modulated .

To cap our experience at MOMA:

   I was chagrined that out of a collection of 7 or 8 Gerhard Richters there was only one tiny one on display.   I was also hoping to see a Joan Mitchell as I know they have several good ones and you can't find them many places. If I lived in NYC I would check the web site to see what they are showing before paying the high price of a ticket.

    A major problem is that there is just too much art to experience in one morning and you have to choose what you will see.  This is probably one of the reasons that people crowd the paintings and sculpture works which are much easier to understand.   The latest Modernist art isn't as easy to take in, so you really need a leisurely visit or the chance to come back at a reduced rate for another day.

 Exhausted by our morning, we headed down the stairs where I got some consolation by finding this Joan Mitchell high up on the wall in the lobby.  However,  the room was too crowded and noisy to give it more than a moment of my time and I quickly snapped this photo.  

 Outside in the rain the line squirmed down the block to get into this renowned museum.   It seems that Art is alive and well in NYC and the museum is a popular destination. 

 I just hope those folks waiting to get in have brought an umbrella, a full wallet,  a snack, ear plugs , a camp chair and more enthusiasm and resilence than I could muster.   Maybe I have it all wrong.  Maybe this museum was designed for kids.  They seem to have been enjoying it, shouting and racing about with glee. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Brooklyn , New York

I can't say that I know Brooklyn at all.  I have only been there once or twice and that was maybe 30 years ago.   Since Susan had a baby shower to go to in the afternoon, Dave and I headed out on our Sunday afternoon in New York to see the Botanical Garden that was founded in 1910.   As the brochure says, It features "more than 12,000 species and cultivars of plants from around the world".  But since it was lunch time we thought we would eat first.

So wandering down Washington Avenue with all it's "down at heel" ethnic restaurants  and laundromats, we happened upon the KIMCHI GRILL , a simple,  storefront eatery which looks like a modern, well conceived take-out "joint" more than a restaurant.

 The place was opened by Phillip Lee who also has a Kimchi Taco truck that he still runs.    The resident chef however is Michael Calderon who has an able international staff, seen cutting and dicing and cooking- up creative Korean dishes like kimchi quesadillas, ssam buns with spicy pork or beef and a barbecued diced beef which can be served as a dish over the rice or as a burrito.  

 We ordered the barbecue in the dish and with all its fresh relishes and accompanying salads it was a winner.  We sat at one of just a few tables but there was a brisk trade in take-out as well.   This little gem for meat-eaters can be found at 766Washington Ave ( Sterling place), Prospect Heights, Brooklyn  ( 718) 360-1839.  just minutes from the Brooklyn Art Museum.

  After that though,  I just had to have a soft ice cream from one of the trucks that abound in Manhattan and its surrounds.  It was on my innocent little list of American foods I wanted to eat again during the week.   This one wasn't as good as the Foster's Freeze I remember as a kid but it was good and much different from French soft ice cream which I believe uses more vanilla bean flavor.    I will never order a cone dipped in chocolate again.  After French chocolate, the brown stuff was terrible to taste and behold how it clung to the ice cream.   I should have known better. 

Next was the entry to the" Gardens" and quickly we were ducking into the Japanese Garden Koi house to dodge the beginning of rain.

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden is peaceful and comprehensive ranging from a Shakespeare Garden and a Cherry Tree Esplanade to a large conservatory housing the Bonsai Museum and the Aquatic House,  two rooms of plants that live in or around water including tree ferns and carnivorous plants.   They have a desert and a tropical pavilion and a large room housing many plants I recognized from the Mediterranean called the Warm Temperature Pavilion.    In fact the Botanical Garden can not easily be seen in one visit and we didn't try.

A beauty from the bonsai house

  Tropical Pavilion:  Giant Lily pads

In the conservatory we came upon a gallery featuring artworks inspired by the natural world.  Here is a mobil that reminded me of Medusa, the little dreaded jelly fish we sometimes encounter on our beach in summer.  Only ours aren't neon pink!!  

Seeing the plants and pausing on the terrace cafe for an iced coffee was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday , especially one with intermittent showers. 

Next time I visit New York City I will make time for the Brooklyn Art Museum just around the corner from the Gardens and probably enjoy another Korean delicacy from the sleek KIMCHI GRILL.  

Brooklyn at a glance is a wonderful combination of yuppies and old-time residents who certainly wouldn't have the money to buy a place there now.... (or most likely even live there if it weren't for rent control.)   As in Manhattan, you see the rich and the poor... but this time, we saw them pretty much side by side...a wide variety of ethnicities in the streets and crowded restaurants.  

  I hope Brooklyn won't get too gentrified.  It would spoil the delicate balance that seems a part of it all. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Manhattan has the coolest people

One of the things I love about New York City is the diversity of styles, cultures, and ethnicities all blending and mingling side by side AND getting along. 

   Plus the food....don't get me started on the rich diversity of food to be had:   Korean, Turkish, Greek, Japanese, Italian...just to name a few I consumed while there.

 Of course, there are also huge differences in wealth in Manhattan and it was interesting to be staying in the ritziest part of town on East 70th but finding myself in the poorer areas within minutes, thanks to the efficient subway. 

 Street music is part of the cultural and economic divide as well.  Some of the "coolest" musicians are to be found busking... especially down in the underground transit areas.  One of the favorites on my watch was the fellow below whose face was as amazing as his percussion.


He should definitely be on Humans of New York blog, a photographic census of the Big Apple by

 Another was a doo-wop group singing 60s songs that I heard in the subway on the way  JFK on my last day.
  That quintet ,with a female lead ,was really compelling and not a one of them was under 70 years old.  They had great voices,  great moves, great attitude ... a mic and a speaker system.  And it was fantastic. 

 Another successful clutch of buskers is an a cappella group that hangs outside of the Met .   I found this video on You tube : .  

       Black American music and voices are unique and I am homesick for them.   Once in a while we get a gospel group in Nice and we have a good jazz festival in the summer, but this type of street music is a specialty of the American culture and thrives in New York City.

 And to enjoy it , you needn't pay $500. a ticket..... the price that some seats are going for on Broadway.   
You pay what you can and you can only hope that  it is enough to keep these folks going strong.